For Such a Time as This

For Such a Time as This

Esther 4

Dr. Jim Denison

Thesis: every believer has a unique and crucial ministry

Persuade: to stand for God when you are called to do so

Who are some of your favorite biblical characters? One of mine is Hathach. We’ll meet him in this study.

We meet with the most famous statement in Esther: “Who knows but that you have come to royal position for such a time as this?” (4.14). Your position is just as much the choice of God as hers, and just as crucial to the Kingdom.

What job does God have for you? There are three in this chapter—yours is one of them.

Mordecai’s role: some initiate (1-3)

“When Mordecai learned of all that had been done, he tore his clothes, put on sackcloth and ashes, and went out into the city, wailing loudly and bitterly” (v. 1). These were Jewish expressions of grief and mourning.

What were his other options? He could have asked forgiveness of Haman for himself and the nation. Or he could pretend not to be Jewish, or at least publicly so.

Now Mordecai “went only as far as the king’s gate” (2a). This was the last place a Jew would want to be in these days. Haman could have him killed instantly, ahead of the massacre. So why did he go there? He went so Esther could know. And God arranged things so that she did.

Someone must initiate ministry, especially in a crisis. God must give the vision, the direction to someone. Be willing to be that someone. You may think you are not qualified, or have too much in your past. Consider these men called by God to lead ministries: Moses the murderer, Joshua the old man, the disciples, Paul the persecutor. And there are others.

The church’s job is to help you find and fulfill your ministry. We exist not to initiate ministries for you to support, but to help you do yours. If you could do anything to serve Jesus, what would it be? “For such a time as this,” God calls some to lead in ministry. Are you one?

Hathach’s role: some serve (4-9)

Now, before we get to the main hero of the chapter and the story, let’s not overlook someone used by God in crucial ways: Hathach, “one of the king’s eunuchs” (v. 5). Here’s his story.

Mordecai “went only as far as the king’s gate, because no one clothed in sackcloth was allowed to enter it” (v. 2). He was not allowed near the palace itself. So Esther’s “maids and eunuchs” told her about him and his distress. But she had no idea why he was grieving so. She sent him clothes, but he would not wear them. This was obviously serious.

She “summoned Hathach, one of the king’s eunuchs assigned to attend her, and ordered him to find out what was troubling Mordecai and why” (v. 5). There were probably hundreds of eunuchs guarding and serving the queen and the harem. Why him? His character, honesty, and trustworthiness must have somehow impressed her.

So Hathach goes out to Mordecai, receives the entire story, and hears his request that he “urge her to go into the king’s presence to beg for mercy and plead with him for her people” (8).

Now, what are Hathach’s options? If Haman hears of this, what will he do to him? He’s not a Jew. He can clearly say, “This is not my battle.” Or he can serve faithfully. He “went back and reported to Esther what Mordecai had said.” If he had not, the story would have been very different.

Some lead, some serve. Service is just as crucial as leadership. Who has most impressed you with Christ? Someone who served you. In my case, it was a gentleman in Houston, TX, Julian Unger, who answered God’s call to a bus ministry.

When he followed the Holy Spirit’s leadership in establishing a bus ministry for College Park Baptist Church more than 30 years ago, he could not have known the Kingdom impact of his obedience. Every door in the community opened to bus ministry workers was opened to the word of God. Every child and teenager who heard the gospel through that ministry heard God’s love. And every person influenced for the Lord through that bus ministry has been a spiritual descendant of his faithfulness.

When I opened our apartment door in August of 1973, I had no understanding of God’s love. I assumed a “Christian” was a good person who believed in God. Our family had attended worship services very few times in my life, and I had no interest in “religion.” If Julian Unger and his fellow worker, Tom McGrady, had not come to me, I would never have gone to church. I would today be one of the millions of Americans who are spiritually lost, destined for an eternity separated from God. I will spend eternity in heaven because they were faithful to God. And so will hundreds and thousands of others.

Martin Luther King: “Anyone can be great, because anyone can serve.” Anyone can serve God and his people. In a crisis, God calls some to serve “for such a time as this.” Are you in their number?

Esther’s role: some obey sacrificially (10-17)

Now Esther knows the situation, and has a dire problem. No one can go to the king without his invitation. Law required death for the person doing so. And she has not been invited to the king for 30 days. With one exception: He could extend his gold scepter to spare the person’s life.

Mordecai’s reply is one of the most famous paragraphs in all the word of God: “Do not think that because you are in the king’s house you alone of all the Jews will escape. For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father’s family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to royal position for such a time as this?” (vv. 12-14).

Mordecai helped Esther realize her situation was as bad as his and the other Jews. Only her uncle/father could speak to the queen with such honesty. God will preserve the Jews, but she will miss his blessing and help. This is why she is in the position which is hers.

What is your position in life? You are there for such a time as this.

Esther’s responded courageously: “Go, gather together all the Jews who are in Susa, and fast for me. Do not eat or drink for three days, night or day. I and my maids will fast as you do. When this is done, I will go to the king even though it is against the law. And if I perish, I perish” (vv. 15-16).

Esther got spiritual help from others. And she joined them in fasting and seeking God passionately. Then, she followed through by going to the king, risking everything.

We cannot win spiritual wars alone. Satan loves to isolate us. At the first sign of need, get others praying for you and with you. We must prepare for the battle. Esther knew to spend three days in preparation. And we must be willing to lose everything for Christ. Nothing matters as much as faithfulness to him.

“So Mordecai went away and carried out all of Esther’s instructions” (v. 17). And the plot proceeds to its climax.

Who has God used greatly in your life. Did that person lead, serve, or sacrifice? Julian Unger and Tom McGrady used greatly by God in my life. Will someone describe you and me in the same way one day?

Is There Any Hope?

Is There Any Hope?

Mark 16:1-8

Dr. Jim Denison

This is the 1,973rd Easter Sunday since the first one. Think how the world has changed.

A population of 25 million is today 6,215,090,567. Most of them drive on Central Expressway. The world would wait seventeen centuries to discover electricity; today’s news is all about cloning, G3 wireless technology, and video streaming for interactive television on our computers. Whatever that means.

Futurologist Ian Pearson recently predicted that within four years we’ll see emotionally interactive toys, and the first extinct organism brought back to life. University Park will become Jurassic Park. By 2025 there will be more robots than people. Then they can deal with all the dinosaurs.

More change has occurred in this century than all of human history combined.

But the more things change, the more they stay the same.

We are stealing television shows through digital technology, and music through online downloading. Recent news reports have documented the epidemic of online sermon theft by preachers. (Just so you know, you have no one to thank or blame for this message but me.)

But sin doesn’t stay secret. Microsoft just admitted that its Windows XP software monitors what movies people watch on their computers, and tells Bill Gates. Big Brother is watching.

And since September 11, we’ve been living in a different world, and we don’t like it.

If the Pentagon and World Trade Center were not safe, this building is not safe. If a suicide bomber would attack a Passover feast in Netanya, Israel this week, would someone attack an Easter service here?

If airplanes—the most closely monitored transportation in the world—are not safe, what is?

Years ago, a submarine was rammed and sank to the bottom of the ocean. Rescue divers, unable to open the hatch, heard the crew tapping on the metal hull in Morse Code, over and over, “Is there any hope?”

We’re all tapping that message. Does Easter offer any hope to our world? To your life? The answer is up to you. Let me explain.

Either Easter is a lie …

Mark 16:8 says, “Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.”

The New International Version contains this note next: “The earliest manuscripts and some other ancient witnesses do not have Mark 16:9-20.” The reason is that they were not part of the original Gospel of Mark. They were written by the presbyter Ariston in the second century, as he combined facts from the other gospels and some new information.

Nearly all scholars, including the very conservative, believe that Mark’s Gospel as we have it, ended with verse 8. Some think the rest has been lost, or he was prevented from writing it. Most believe that he meant the book to end here. That’s what I think. God would never let even one word of his inspired Scriptures be lost to us. We have exactly the ending God intended for us.

Why does it end as it does? So we can finish the story. Because Easter is not done until we are done with it. Because we must each determine how the story ends for us.

And we have only two choices. Either Easter is a lie, or Jesus Christ is Lord. Let’s examine the first choice, first.

The women left Easter “bewildered” by the message. So can we.

All they had was the angel’s testimony and the empty tomb. All you have is the same. We’re scientific, advanced, sophisticated people. We know that bodies don’t rise from the dead.

So you can leave today bewildered, skeptical, doubting that Easter is anything more than a nice religious story, a fable, a pleasant myth. You can leave Easter this morning with your heart as empty as this tomb. Why not believe Easter is a lie?

Consider the evidence. First, Jesus’ existence and death are facts of history.

Roman and Jewish historians such as Tacitus, Thallus the Samaritan, Pliny the Younger, Seutonius, Mara bar Serapion, and Josephus all record the fact of Jesus’ life.

The Roman soldiers knew that he died. Blood loss, exhaustion, exposure, shock, and suffocation combined to end his life.

Then Nicodemus embalmed his corpse with 100 pounds of ointment in an airtight burial shroud.

And he was left for three days without air, food, or water. Even if he survived all that, he could not possibly have moved aside the massive stone sealing his tomb. His life and death are facts.

Second, his empty tomb is a fact of history.

The women did not go to the wrong tomb, for they watched him being buried. And the owner and the soldiers knew the right location.

They did not rob his corpse to pretend a resurrection. Verse 1 is clear: they came to anoint a dead body, not steal it. Grave robbing was a capital offense, so that such a theft would cost their lives. And those who later proclaimed the resurrection died for their “lie.”

His tomb was empty that day. It still is.

Third, changed lives are a fact of history. A dozen followers have become two billion worshipping the risen Christ this Easter morning. All because of the first Easter morning.

On April 19, AD 29, an angel came to the grave of Jesus of Nazareth and flung its stone away. Not so Jesus could get out, for he was already gone. So we could get in. The massive stone was but a pebble compared to the Rock of Ages inside.

He is risen”—three words which changed their lives, and our world. If Easter were a lie, there would be no hope. But it’s not. So there is.

…or Jesus Christ is Lord

And if Easter is true, then Jesus Christ is Lord. He was and is the only person in human history to rise from the dead to eternal life. Even Lazarus died again. But not Jesus. His tomb is still empty. Because Jesus Christ is Lord. And so there’s hope for us.

There’s hope for your soul, for you can know his saving love personally.

“You will see him,” they were promised. And they did. 500 of them. Not a ghost or illusion; 500 people don’t have the same hallucination. Mary clasped his feet; he later made breakfast for them. This is not Halloween but Easter.

They met him in Jerusalem and in Galilee. You can meet him in Dallas. No matter your sins and failures. The angel said, “tell his disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him'” (v. 7). “His disciples.” Not his “failures” or his “cowards,” though they were. Peter, though he had denied him three times. But they were still his, because of his gracious love for them. The same gracious love he feels for you today.

Simply ask him to forgive your mistakes and failures, and be your Lord. And he will. You can meet him personally, this morning. There’s hope for your soul, because Easter is true and Jesus is Lord.

And there’s hope for your life, for you can share his saving love with someone else. Easter will give your life purpose, meaning, and eternal significance. As only it can.

Our Lord intentionally chose these women to be his first evangelists, the first to carry his hope to their hopeless world. In a world which viewed women as possessions, not people. A culture which saw peasants as pitiful, not powerful. But they started it all.

You can continue it. Your gifts and abilities, possessions and relationships are a means to the end of loving and serving Jesus. Nothing you will do this week will stand the test of time. Grades will be forgotten, possessions will belong to someone else, status will fade. But if you influence someone for Jesus, his or her soul will forever be different because of you.

There’s hope for your life, because Easter is true and Jesus is Lord.

See it this way. A basketball in my hands is worth about $19; in Michael Jordan’s it’s worth $33 million. A baseball in my hands is worth $6; in Randy Johnson’s hands, it’s worth $13 million a year. A golf club in my hands is virtually useless; in Tiger Woods’, it’s worth $30 million a year. Your value depends on whose you are.

Billy Graham says it this way: “God made you and me, and he alone knows how to run your life and mine. We could make a complete wreck of our lives without Christ. When he is at the controls, all goes well. Without him, we can do nothing.”

Only the Lord Jesus can give your life true significance. So yield it to him. Put him at the controls. Don’t just give him Easter Sunday. Worship him every week. Give him every day. And you’ll find hope for your life, every day.

When I was in high school, my career ambitions were to be a professional trumpet player or tennis player. I still have the trumpet I played in high school, and I can still play it for about five minutes, then my lip is gone. I have to choose between warming up and playing. Today it sits in a closet, because the trumpet wasn’t God’s plan for my life.

I still have the tennis racket my college mentor used when we played together. I’ve long since lost mine, but I cherish his. It sits on a shelf in my study, because tennis wasn’t God’s plan for my life.

Do you know God’s plan for yours? Either Easter is a lie, or Jesus Christ is Lord. Is he your Lord?


Mark left the ending of Easter to us. So, is there any hope for our world? For your life? The answer is up to you, right now.

Think of the difference a day can make. One day you’re a student, then you graduate. One day you’re unemployed, then you find your life’s work. One day you have no one in your life, then you meet the person you will love for the rest of your life. One day all hope is gone, then there is Easter. Will this be your day?

On September 11, Todd Beamer was a passenger on United Airlines Flight 93. Terrorists herded the passengers to the back of the jet. Todd called the GTE Customer Center in Oakbrook, Illinois and told supervisor Lisa Jefferson about the hijacking. He told her that he and some others were planning to jump the terrorists. And then he asked her to pray with him.

Together they prayed the Lord’s Prayer. Todd added, “Jesus, help me.” Then he and his fellow passengers recited the 23rd Psalm. Then came his famous last words: “Are you guys ready? Let’s roll.”

We know from the cockpit voice recorder that Beamer and the other passengers wrestled with the hijackers and forced the plane to crash, killing themselves but foiling the terrorists’ plan to fly Flight 93 into the Capitol or the White House.

Todd Beamer now has a permanent place as one of the heroes of American history. And even more important, his life and faith have moved and inspired millions of others. Because the risen Christ was his Lord, Todd sought his will for his life on September 11. He then gave his life to obey his Lord.

Jesus hasn’t asked us to die for him. But he has asked us to live for him. Because only then is there hope for our souls, hope for our lives, hope for our world.

Either Easter is a lie, or Jesus Christ is Lord. Is he your Lord? If he is, put your life in his hands today. Give him control of your purpose.

Then listen as he says, “Let’s roll.”

Knowing Who Holds the Future

Knowing Who Holds the Future

Esther 1

Dr. Jim Denison

Thesis: God is right now orchestrating events to protect our future

Persuade: to trust him with your problems today

Perhaps the most perplexing theological issue Christians face today deals with sovereignty and free will. Put in short form, the question I am so often asked is: if God know the future, do we have freedom to choose? If we have such freedom, is God still in charge? The one option makes us robots, puppets on divine strings; the other makes God subject to our will. Neither feels right to us.

This question has become much more practical since September 11. Why did God permit such atrocities in our country? Did he cause the attacks? If not, did he allow them? Or is he subject to our choices and free will?

Is God in control in your life? Or are you? With the problems you face right now—health issues, financial questions, family concerns—is God sovereign? Or is he not?

There’s another way to face the issue, a third option. To explore it, I’d like us to walk together through a favorite OT book, the book of Esther. Let’s learn who holds the future, from a person who experienced God’s sovereignty in a way which will relate directly to every one of us.

Welcome to Esther

First, a few introductory facts. One: God is present, whether we see him or not. Esther is one of two OT books which never mention the name of God, the other being the Song of Solomon. Not a single time is his name cited in the book. This fact so perplexed Jewish readers that many did not feel the book should be included in their OT canon.

Two: God is sovereign, whether we understand him or not.. Esther is all about the providence of God. For reasons we’ll discover as we study the book together, God’s name is never mentioned but his power is made evident at every turn. When God seems silent, he is not. He is sovereign in ways we do not see or understand.

Three: God can use every one of us. The fact that the book was named for a woman, and features her as its primary hero, bothered many in the Jewish community as well. That fact should tell every one of us that God values us all, and has a plan for every life here tonight.

Four: God cares for his own. Esther describes the last great crisis facing the Jewish nation in the OT. After Assyria and Babylon came the genocide plotted by Haman. God’s answer to this crisis shows his answer to ours.

Consider these biblical promises we can claim right now: “And my God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4.19); “But now, this is what the Lord says—he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: ‘Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze'” (Isaiah 43.1-3).

Historical data

The book deals with the Jewish community still living in Persia after the Babylonian Captivity was ended. In 586 BC Babylon enslaved Judah and transported most of the nation to their country. In 538 Cyrus, king of Persia, destroyed Babylon and freed the Jews. The first group of exiles returned to Israel under Zerubbabel at that time. In 458, a second group returned under Ezra; in 432 the last group returned under Nehemiah.

The events of Esther occurred between 538 and 458. In fact, the date of the first Purim is stated in Esther 8.12: “the thirteenth day of the twelfth month, the month of Adar.” This was March 7, 473 B.C.

So, before 458 B.C. the Jews remaining in Persia were threatened with genocidal extinction. God responded to this terrorist threat in exactly the way he responds to our problems today. Esther will show us how.

The first “coincidence”

Coincidence has been defined as those times when God prefers to remain anonymous. Here’s the first such “coincidence” in the book.

The king is introduced first (1.1). Xerxes was the son of Darius, who was himself the son of Cyrus, the liberator of the Jewish nation. Xerxes ruled Persia from 486 to 465 B.C. In the third year of his reign (483 B.C.), he gave a great party for the military leaders and political nobles of the entire nation. For 180 days he showed them his wealth; then he gave a great banquet.

This was a way of showing his leaders his own might and significance. Today, the Sultan of Brunei’s opens his palace and its grounds for his annual birthday celebration for the same reason.

All this occurred in Susa, the winter residence of the Persian kings. Banquets will become very important in the book. Ten are described. The king gave his own, allowing people to choose any wine they might drink, and even the goblet they might wish to use. Queen Vashti gave her own banquet as well (v. 9).

These banquets lead to the first crisis and coincidence in the book. The inebriated king commands his seven eunuchs to bring his queen before his guests, so that he might display her for them. Some think verse 11 indicates that Xerxes meant Queen Vashti to wear only her crown, to appear nude before them. For whatever reason, she refused (v. 12).

Xerxes consulted his legal counsel. They replied:

“Then Memucan replied in the presence of the king and the nobles, ‘Queen Vashti has done wrong, not only against the kind but also against all the nobles and the peoples of the provinces of King Xerxes. For the queen’s conduct will become known to all the women, and they will despise their husbands and say, ‘King Xerxes commanded Queen Vashti to be brought before him, but she would not come.’ This very day the Persian and Median women of the nobility who have heard about the queen’s conduct will respond to all the king’s nobles in the same way. There will be no end of the disrespect and discord” (vv. 16-18).

With this conclusion:

“Therefore, if it pleases the king, let him issue a royal decree and let it be written in the laws of Persia and Media, which cannot be repealed, that Vashti is never again to enter the presence of King Xerxes. Also let the king give her royal position to someone else who is better than she. Then when the king’s edict is proclaimed throughout all his vast realm, all the women will respect their husbands, from the least to the greatest” (vv.19-20).

And this result:

“The king and his nobles were pleased with this advice, so the king did as Memucan proposed. He sent dispatches to all parts of the kingdom, to each province in its own script and to each people in its own language, proclaiming in each people’s tongue that every man should be ruler over his own household” (vv. 21-22).

Here is the chain now set in motion:

Esther will be chosen queen.

Haman, the king’s chief adviser, will plot the destruction of the entire Jewish population in Persia.

Esther will appeal for her people; Haman will be executed, and they will be spared.

But none of this could have happened if the king had not become drunk at his own banquet, and his queen had not refused his request to be displayed before his guests.

God’s lessons for us

God hits straight licks with crooked sticks. He can use any event for his glory and his will. Other biblical examples include Joseph in the dungeon; Moses’ murder of the Egyptian soldier; Daniel in the lion’s den; and John exiled on Patmos. Most of all, the death of the Lord Jesus on the cross demonstrates this. Satan thought he won, when he lost most of all.

So ask God to use your events, your problems for his glory and your good. Claim Romans 8.28.

God is in charge of tomorrow, today. Here he is already planning his response to Haman’s attack on the people. If these events had not begun here, Esther could not have been in place by the time the attack came. She spent twelve months simply being prepared to meet the king for the first time (2.12). Then he had to choose her, and fall in love with her. The entire process from Vashti’s fall to her coronation took some four years (cf. 2.16). Then she had to muster the courage to stand before him on behalf of her fellow Jews.

God knew all that would happen in the future, for there is no such thing as the future with him. He began planning for this crisis four years before it occurred.

So know that he is already planning for tomorrow, today. He’s in charge. He’ll tell you what you need to do. And when he does, know that he knows more than you do. Know that he sees the end, the result, right now. Be obedient to his will and his word today, and one day you’ll understand why.

Who is your Haman? What is your crisis? Stay faithful to the last word you heard from God. Put the future in his hands. They are strong hands, indeed. Esther is proof.

Seeing God in Everything

Seeing God in Everything

Esther 2

Dr. Jim Denison

Thesis: God is in every detail of our lives

Problem: we don’t know how to find him when we need him

Answer: look for him in small, hard, physical, and coincidental places

Persuade: to see God in every event of your life today

A little girl went to church, leaving her invalid father at home. In his anger and frustration he wrote on a piece of paper the letters, GODISNOWHERE. She came home, saw the sign, smiled, and said out loud, “God is now here!” And he is.

As you hurt, God hurts with you. And he promises you his presence, help, and hope. Every day. This day.

Where do you go when you need to hear from God? When you’re facing a decision, or a problem, or a pain. When it seems that the heavens are silent and prayer is unanswered?

Listen to the perplexed poet:

“My words fly up, my thoughts remain below;

Words without thoughts never to heaven go.”

How can you find God every day, all day? Esther 2 tells us.

God turns small things into big things (2.1)

The first verse of our text is proof: “Later when the anger of King Xerxes had subsided, he remembered Vashti and what she had done and what he had decreed about her.”

Here’s the chronology to chapter 2:

•Xerxes succeeded his father Darius in 486/5 B.C.

•Three years later he gave the banquet which led to Queen Vashti’s deposal as queen (483/2 B.C.).

•Now Persia enters into three years of disastrous war with Greece (482-479).

•At the war’s end the king “remembered Vashti and what she had done and what he had decreed about her” (2.1).

The nation has been at war for three years, but this war is not even mentioned in the book of Esther. Imagine a history book which left out WWI, II, Korean, Vietnam, Desert Storm, the Taliban. At the same time, the relatively trivial matter of palace politics and the next queen is the occupying issue of the book. In a day when kings had many wives and concubines (Solomon had 700 and 300, respectively).

Why is this so? The Bible tells us what we need to know about God, not about the world. Thus no dinosaurs in Scripture. God uses events we wouldn’t consider. A fugitive shepherd in time will defy the mighty Egyptian nation. A shepherd boy will become king. An enslaved prophet will find God in a lion’s den. A Galilean carpenter will die on a cross and save the world. God uses small things in big ways.

How can God use small things in big ways?

I became the senior pastor of First Baptist Church in Midland, Texas at the age of 30. My previous pastorate, which I served while teaching at Southwestern Seminary in Ft. Worth, Texas, averaged less than 100 on Sunday morning; our new congregation had more than 8,000 members and more staff than our previous church had in Sunday night worship.

I had not been in Midland long when it became apparent that my previous experience and expertise was not sufficient to this new calling. I remember to this day those feelings of overwhelmed inadequacy. One evening I was sitting on our back porch, asking God to give me direction and strength for this ministry. My attention was drawn to a leaf which had fallen from the peach tree in our back yard and landed at my feet. I felt the Spirit’s leading to pick it up and examine it.

I had never paid much attention to a leaf, but I did that day. As I studied its intricate design, I was amazed by the minute detail it exhibited. I considered the chlorophyll and photosynthesis which it employed with ease. I reflected on the fact that modern scientists, with all our amazing tools, cannot produce from nothing a single leaf. As I focused on that leaf, I sensed God’s Spirit say to me, “If I can design a leaf, I can design your life.” With that thought came “the peace of God, which transcends all understanding” (Philippians 4:7).

God called our family from Midland to Atlanta, Georgia in 1994 and then to Park Cities Baptist Church in Dallas only four years later. Not long after our move to Dallas, I returned to Atlanta to conduct the wedding of a dear friend’s daughter. I spent much of that weekend at Ignatius House, a Jesuit Catholic retreat center on the Chattahoochee River in northern Atlanta.

God has spoken to me often at this remarkable place, and that weekend was no exception. As I sat on a wooden deck overlooking the river in late August, I admitted to God my confusion. We were excited to be in Dallas, but didn’t understand why he had led us to make this move. I could discern no great narrative or strategy for our new ministry. I asked him for a sense of his plans and purpose for us.

As with the leaf in Midland years earlier, I sensed again the Spirit’s strange direction, this time to a caterpillar crawling along the wooden fencing of the deck. There I watched the hairy green insect make its way along the board, bunching and then stretching itself over and over again along the wood.

It was impervious to my presence, and had no idea that a Jesuit retreat center was responsible for its pathway. It seemed unaware of the river flowing beneath its porch or the swimmers inner tubing along that river. It didn’t know that I could squash it with my sandal if I wished. It simply did what it was made to do, and its Maker did the rest.

The Spirit spoke from that caterpillar directly to my spirit. If I would be as wise as that insect, crawling along the two-by-four which God had chosen as my pathway, he would take care of all that I could neither see nor understand. Once again the Creator used his creation to draw his child closer to himself.

How long ago did God make the first caterpillar? The first human? How did he make us? His word doesn’t say. It seems to me that we are wise to focus on what he intends us to know, defending his clear revelation rather than our opinions.

God turns bad things into good things (2-7)

God uses small things, and bad things. The king’s personal attendants proposed a national search for the next queen: “‘Then let the girl who pleases the king be queen instead of Vashti.’ This advice appealed to the king, and he followed it.”

Now our heroes enter the story, and not from easy places. First we meet Mordecai. There is interesting archaeological data regarding this man. A tablet found near Babylon mentions a Mardukaya who was a minister at the court of Susa in the early years of King Xerxes. Many scholars believe that this is the Mordecai of our text.

Mordecai’s great grandfather Kish “had been carried into exile from Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon” (v. 6). This occurred in 597 B.C., when Jehoiachin was king of Judah.

Mordecai has now been in exile from his homeland for four generations. He has not seen the land of his home and faith in his entire lifetime. But this fact means that God began preparing four generations earlier, specifically 118 years earlier, for this time and event.

God used the destruction of Israel to save Israel.

Esther’s background was no easier. Her parents had both died. Her father had been Mordecai’s uncle. So Mordecai raised this cousin from her birth. If he had not, he would not have had the relationship with her which God used to spare the nation.

So God used the destruction of the nation to save her; and the death of Esther’s parents to save her people. God turns bad things into good things. Paul reminded us of this: “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Romans 8.28).

Our faith tendency when bad things happen to us is to turn from God and refuse to listen to him.

God will use bad things in our lives for spiritual purposes to grow us spiritually and to give witness. But we have to allow him to redeem our hurt. We will find God only when we let him use the hard places for good.

God turns the physical into the spiritual (8-18)

Now the king’s advisers are looking for the next queen, and Esther “was lovely in form and features” (v. 7). So she was brought to the harem with other candidates. God used her beauty and personality to please Hegai, the head of the harem (v. 9), so she was given preferential treatment.

God used Hegai to show her what to take to the king (v. 15). And so “the king was attracted to Esther more than to any of the other women, and she won his favor and approval more than any of the other virgins. So he set a royal crown on her head and made her queen instead of Vashti” (v. 17). And he gave a great banquet and holiday in her honor.

God used Esther’s physical beauty and charm to impress Hegai, and used Hegai to help her win the king. All so he could use the king to save his people. God turns the physical into the spiritual.

What resources are at your disposal today? Physical abilities? Experience? Finances? Time? What spiritual gifts? Everything God has given to you, he intends to use through you. Are you open to his use, available to his call?

We will find God when we are totally available to him.

God turns coincidence into providence (19-23)

Esther 2 isn’t finished. God has used the small thing of Vashti’s disobedience to begin the process which will save the nation; he has used the bad thing of Mordecai’s and Esther’s background for good; he has used physical for spiritual. Now he turns coincidence into providence.

Mordecai “happened” to be sitting at the king’s gate (v. 21). The gates of the city were its markets, and the “city hall” as well. One was typically used by the king, and Mordecai happened to be sitting there.

Here he overhears an assassination plot against King Xerxes. He tells Esther, who tells the king, giving credit to Mordecai. The two officials were hanged, and the event was recorded in the king’s annals. And you remember how God will use these annals to remind the king of Mordecai’s service, leading to the beginning of the end for the enemies of his people.

Coincidence is when God prefers to remain anonymous. There is really no such thing for the child of God. God orchestrates some events, but he uses all events.

So look for God in the happenstances of your life. For there you will often find him.


Do you need to see God? To hear from him? To know his word and will for your life? Then look to these four places:

•The small events of your life

•The hard places

•The physical resources and abilities he has given you

•The coincidences of your daily experience

God loves us as much as the exiled Jews in Persia. And he will be found, if only we will look. “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened” (Matthew 7.7-8).

The Price Of Personal Integrity

The price of personal integrity

Esther 3

Dr. Jim Denison

Thesis: we will pay a price for our Christian commitment, but God will redeem it

Persuade: to stand for God when you are tested

True character is what you do in private when no one is looking. But you will always pay a price for integrity. We’ll see that fact in Esther 3.

In many places in the world, enormous sacrifice is essential to Christian faith. There are half a million Christian martyrs every year.

There is such life and vitality in Cuban worship and faith, despite the difficulties and oppression many believers face. I spoke with a taxi driver who told me that he now believes in God, though he is not yet a Christian. He said that when he was growing up, anyone who went to church could not find a job or advancement in Cuban society. Atheism was taught in every school (as it still is in many places in Cuba). But the vitality and joy he sees in the Cuban churches intrigues and attracts him. As it does us.

Karl Heinz Walter is the Executive of the European Baptist Federation. At a recent meeting of the Baptist World Alliance he reported a growing form of persecution against Christians in Muslim countries. If these believers will not renounce their faith, the authorities cut off a finger. Then later, another and then another. They do this knowing that these men and women cannot work and may not survive with such disability. But the Christians are refusing to renounce their Lord, whatever the price they must pay.

When he gave this report, thousands of believers in the crowd raised their hands in worship. Fingerless hands.

Where does God call Christians in America today to pay a price for their obedience? Is there someplace he is calling you to such obedience?

It’s been said, “Character is fate.” We’ll see that statement proven by three facts in this study


God’s work is always done (1)

“After these events” (1a)—four years have passed since Esther’s choice as queen. God’s timing is so seldom ours. Note other examples from the Scriptures:

Moses and the Israelites were in the desert for 40 years,

Lazarus was raised from the dead on the fourth day (“he stinketh”).

Jesus was in the tomb for three days.

Now the enemy in the story is named: “King Xerxes honored Haman son of Hammedatha, the Agagite, elevating him and giving him a seat of honor higher than that of all the other nobles” (v. 1). No explanation for his honor is given in the story.

Mordecai deserved honor (chapter 2) but did not receive it; Haman has done nothing worthy of honor, but receives it. The world’s justice is so seldom fair. But know that God’s justice will be done, in this world or in the next, or both.

The Jewish audience understood immediately some fascinating history here:

Agagite refers to Agag, the ancient king of the Amalekites (1 Samuel 15). The Amalekites had attacked Israel after her exodus from Egypt; for this fact God told Israel to “blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven” (Deuteronomy 25.17-19).

The first king to wage war against them was Saul (1 Samuel 15). Saul was from the tribe of Benjamin.

Now, 500 years later, Mordecai from the tribe of Benjamin (2.5) will continue the war with the Amalekites.

God’s will and word are always accomplished, even five centuries after they are revealed to us.

In Genesis 49, the dying Jacob says to his sons Simeon and Levi, “I will scatter them in Jacob and disperse them in Israel” (v. 7). In Joshua 19 we read, five centuries later, that Simeon’s descendants were absorbed into the territory of Judah and Levi’s descendants were dispersed throughout the land, living in 48 towns.

Other biblical examples: Moses, Joshua and the promised land; God’s promise to Paul that he would testify to Caesar in Rome; Jesus’ promise that he would rise from the dead.

When God tells you to do something, do it. For his will is always done, finally. Is he calling you to something in his will today?

Faith requires courage (2)

Now the conflict is joined: “All the royal officials at the king’s gate knelt down and paid honor to Haman, for the king had commanded this concerning him. But Mordecai would not kneel down or pay him honor” (v. 2).

This was Mordecai’s consistent commitment: “Then the royal officials at the king’s gate asked Mordecai, ‘Why do you disobey the king’s command?’ Day after day they spoke to him but he refused to comply” (3-4a).

No Jew would worship another person or image, for this was idolatry, the violation of the first and second Commandments: “You shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God” (Exodus 20.3-5).

Refusing to worship others was one of the cardinal principles of the Jewish faith. And it constantly got them into trouble.

Daniel 3.1: “King Nebuchadnezzar made an image of gold, ninety feet high and nine feet wide, and set it up on the plain of Dura in the province of Babylon.” With this threat: “Whoever does not fall down and worship will immediately be thrown into a blazing furnace” (v. 6). Remember the results for Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednigo.

We think of Martin Luther, before the emperor and his court, announcing his decision to continue his Reformation despite opposition and threats. Luther appeared before the Diet at Worms on April 17, 1521. According to a traditional but apocryphal account, he ended his statement before his accusers with the words, “Here I stand. I can do no other. God help me. Amen.”

Although every effort was made to induce Luther to recant his theology, in the end the discussions failed over his refusal to repudiate a single sentence from the 41 cited in the papal bull.

Luther was taken secretly to Wartburg Castle, near the town of Eisenach, where he remained in hiding for the better part of a year. During his there, he began work on what proved to be one of his foremost achievements—the translation of the New Testament into the German vernacular. Luther’s translation profoundly affected the development of the written German language. The precedent he set was followed by other scholars, whose work made the Bible widely available in the vernacular and contributed significantly to the emergence of national languages.

What areas of life today call us to take a stand for Jesus at sacrifice? What about ethics, popular jokes and movies, sexual pressure, drugs, etc.?

Obedience affects others

It doesn’t take long for Haman to learn of Mordecai’s disobedience: “Therefore [the royal officials] told Haman about it to see whether Mordecai’s behavior would be tolerated, for he had told them he was a Jew” (4b).

And Mordecai’s obedience to the Scriptures would affect the entire Jewish population in Persia: “When Haman saw that Mordecai would not kneel down or pay him honor, he was enraged” (5). Note: The will to power is the basic drive in human nature.

“Yet having learned who Mordecai’s people were, he scorned the idea of killing only Mordecai. Instead Haman looked for a way to destroy all Mordecai’s people, the Jews, throughout the whole kingdom of Xerxes” (v. 6).

So Haman and his associated begin their plot to destroy the Jews: They choose the day for the massacre to begin by using the Pur. This was a kind of lot, probably a kind of dice. The festival of Purim takes its name from their use of the Pur. They begin their plot in the month of Nisan, which is the same month of the Jewish Passover. See the irony here.

The Pur lead them to choose a date which is eleven months away, in the month of Adar.

Now Haman lies to Xerxes about the Jews, to secure his permission for their massacre. He claims that the entire people “do not obey the king’s laws” (v. 8). This is technically true only for Mordecai, and only for one law.

Haman arranges for 10,000 talents of silver to be used in carrying out the massacre. This was 2/3 of the annual Persian national income, according to Herodotus. He sends the decree for Jewish massacre to every province of Persia, in every language spoken there.

All are ordered to “destroy, kill, and annihilate all the Jews—young and old, women and little children—on a single day, the thirteenth day of the twelfth month, the month of Adar, and to plunder their goods” (v. 13). This would be March 7, 473 B.C.

What if this edict were declared against all Christians in America, or all Baptists? To be carried out next February, with nothing we could do in our defense?

All this because of one man’s obedience. Our obedience will cost others.

Nearly always, obedience leads to blessing. Biblical examples: Moses and the Promised Land; Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednigo; Daniel in the lions’ den; following Christ, to salvation.

Often our obedience affects only us: John on Patmos, Peter’s crucifixion upside down. There is often a personal price to pay for obedience to Jesus—sins we will not commit, things we will not do or buy or say.

But sometimes our obedience will cost others as well. Abraham “went out not knowing,” and his entire family was forced to join him. The disciples’ obedience in following Jesus affected their families, as they left them to the care of others and lived with Jesus across three years. Paul’s conversion probably cost him his marriage.

What are examples today where our obedience will cost others? Vocational decisions; conversion to Christ; financial obedience.

When such obedience is required, we must trust others to the care of God as well. We must believe that he loves them as much as he loves us, and that he will care for them when he cares for us.

Dr. Baker James Cauthen resigned from the faculty of Southwestern Seminary and the pastorate of Travis Avenue Baptist Church in Ft. Worth to take his family to China in 1939, in the midst of war. His explanation was simple: “The safest place in all the world to be is the center of the will of God.”


Before he left for China, Dr. Cauthen said to his friend Bill Howse: “Bill, many people are making a lot out of what we are trying to do, but for us it’s simply the will of God. It’s such a good feeling that I can say that if our ship is bombed in Hong Kong harbor and we never set foot on Chinese soil, I will have a sense of completeness because I will have been doing the will of God for me.”


The fact of Esther 3 is that we must pay a price for our faith commitment to Jesus. He promised us, “In the world you will have tribulation” (John 16.33). The word means the weight used to crush grain into flour. Expect to pay a price for anything of value.

William Barclay: “A man progresses in life in proportion to the fare he is willing to pay.” And in faith as well.

But God paid the ultimate price for us. Nothing we pay here can compare to what he paid for us. Or to the reward he offers his faithful: “I do not consider the present sufferings worth comparing to the glory that will be revealed in us” (Romans 8.18).

You cannot outgive God. He will reward your sacrificial faithfulness, every time. Whether you know it this side of glory or not.

When God Goes To Church

When God Goes to Church

John 12:2-8

Dr. Jim Denison

Pride and humility have been much in the news lately.

We’re all aware of Enron’s fall from 7th largest corporation in America to bankruptcy. You may remember Olga Korbut, the three-time gold medalist in the 1972 Olympics, recently arrested for shoplifting $19. Actress Winona Ryder’s arrest for shoplifting is still in legal process. And basketball giant Shaquille O’Neal has been sidelined for much of the NBA season by an arthritic toe.

But our hubris goes on. This week’s Fortune magazine tells us that for $200,000 you can buy your own biographical documentary. You’ll get two cameramen, three producers, and two-time Emmy winner Bill McGowan. He’ll write the script for your biography, conduct interviews over ten to 15 days, select sound bites, and edit the finished product.

But when you receive your documentary, don’t be too impressed. You’ll have spent one-fifth of what each cast member in the TV show Friends now makes. Per week.

Pride and humility have been issues long before Kenneth Lay took the fifth. On Tuesday of Holy Week, God went to church. On this day, in the Temple, Jesus confronted religious pride and commended spiritual humility. He taught us that God accepts and loves us, no matter who we are or what we’ve done. You’re worthy to know God personally and intimately—unless you think you are. Let’s explore that fact and its relevance for your life.

Refuse religious pride

It’s now Tuesday morning of Holy Week, and Jesus and his disciples return to the Temple he cleansed the day before. This is politically and even physically unsafe. His enemies have had the night to get ready for him. They fear that the crowds will crown him their king, a rival to Caesar, and that Rome will have their heads. They must stop him. Jesus is walking into a trap, and he knows it.

His enemies confront our Lord in four orchestrated groups. Here are their attacks, as briefly as I can describe them.

First comes the legal challenge of the Sanhedrin, the Supreme Court of ancient Israel. They question Jesus’ legal authority to drive out the moneychangers and do his ministry. He asks them by what authority John the Baptist did his ministry. They’re afraid of John’s continuing popularity and won’t answer. So Jesus doesn’t have to answer, and they are defeated.

Next comes a political challenge: should we pay taxes to Caesar or not? If Jesus says yes, the crowds will desert him; if he says no, Rome will arrest him. He holds up a coin and makes the famous declaration, “Render to Caesar the things which are Caesar’s, and to God the things which are God’s.” Luke 20:26 says, “Astonished by his answer, they became silent.”

The third attack is theological. It comes from the Sadducees, who deny the resurrection. They ask Jesus about a wife with seven husbands—whose wife will she be in the afterlife? Jesus quotes Exodus 3:6 to prove the reality of the resurrection, and they are defeated.

Last comes a scholar with a biblical challenge: “Which is the greatest commandment in the law?” His fellow Pharisees recognized 613 such laws; any Jesus omits he can be accused of rejecting. Our Lord responds with the two great commandments: Love God, and love your neighbor. Even the scholar is impressed: “Well said, teacher” (Mark 12:32). With this result: “From then on no one dared ask him any more questions” (Mark 12:34).

Here’s the point Tuesday morning proves: religious pride rejects Jesus, and is rejected by him. If we want to love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength, we must refuse such spiritual, religious pride. We are worthy to give God our worship and lives, unless we think we are.

How do we refuse religious pride? We admit our need for God.

Religion tempts us to believe that we merit God’s love and help. After all, we believe in Jesus and go to church. We try to live good lives and obey the Bible. Of course God will hear our prayers and receive our worship.

But God’s word says that all of us have sinned and come short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23), and the just payment for our sin is death (Romans 6:23). Jesus promised us, “Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted” (Matthew 23:12).

We have no status before God except his Son’s death for our sins. The Bible is clear: “By grace are you saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest any man should boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9). So we come to God in humility, in gratitude for his grace and love for us, loving him because he first loved us. And when we do that every day, we find his arms open to us all.

One of the most moving experiences of Holy Land travels for me is always visiting the Church of the Nativity. Built over the cave where Jesus was born, it is probably the oldest church building in Christendom. In the twelfth century, riders on horseback often broke into the church and pillaged its possessions. So the members made the door into the church so small that those who enter must do so on their knees. It is called the Door of Humiliation.

Anyone can come to the birthplace of Christ to worship him. Anyone. But only on our knees.

Give your best gifts

Now the scene shifts to two more dramatic events. One at the Temple, the other at a home in Bethany.

Our Lord, exhausted by his confrontation with the religious authorities, sits down in the Temple by the treasury where worshipers bring their offerings. Here he watches the rich giving their large gifts. What comes next is one of the most famous scenes in Scripture.

Mark 12:42 says, “a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a fraction of a penny.” These were the “lepta,” the smallest coins then in circulation. Two pennies to us. But not to our Lord.

This is his comment: “I tell you the truth, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on” (vs. 43-44). Because it is her best, given in humble worship, the God of the universe receives her pennies with delight.

That night Jesus and his disciples return to Bethany. Here they are guests at a dinner.

After the meal, our text tells us that “Mary took about a pint of pure nard, an expensive perfume; she poured it on Jesus’ feet and wiped his feet with her hair” (v. 3). “Pint” here was a Roman pound, 12 ounces to us. The “nard” she used was a very fragrant oil imported from the mountains of northern India.

It was extremely expensive; in fact Judas complains, “It was worth a year’s wages” (v. 5). Imagine spending a year of your salary on a jar of perfume. Most likely this had been handed down to Mary as an heirloom from previous generations. It was undoubtedly the most costly and precious possession she owned.

Matthew and Mark tell us that Mary poured the perfume on Jesus’ head; John adds that she also anointed his feet.

Then she let down her hair, something a proper woman never did in public, and used her hair to dry his feet. This is the most extravagant expression of love for Jesus to be found in all the word of God. Like the widow, this is her best.

On Tuesday of Holy Week, our Lord received the smallest gift ever recorded in the gospels, and the most expensive. He welcomed each with delight, for they were their best, given in humble love.

Now he has come to our church, to see what we will give to him. He is worthy of our best gifts, our highest sacrifice, our most passionate worship, our most devoted service. He died for our sins, purchased our eternal life in heaven, and loves each of us without condition. He waits to see if we love him in the same way.

All he wants is your best, whatever it is. Widow’s mite or pure nard—both are welcome. So long as they are your best worship. So long as they come from a grateful heart.


So God went to church on Tuesday, and found every one of us there. Some of us are tempted to join the religious leaders. Sure of our biblical knowledge, secure in our spiritual attainments and status, we think we deserve to be in the Temple today. We think we have earned the right to have our prayers heard and our worship received.

But we haven’t. We can’t. Watch the religious leaders. Learn that we must come to God in humility and gratitude for his forgiving grace, or we cannot come to him at all.

Conversely, some of us are the widow with her mite. We don’t think we have much to give, or that we really deserve to know God or be used by him.

We know our sins and failures, so we know that God knows them. We wonder if he could ever really accept us again, if he likes us at all.

When bad things happen to us, we wonder if God is punishing us. When he seems distant, we wonder if he has turned his back on us. We think we’ll live on God’s Plan B for the rest of our lives, never achieving all we could have been, never fully significant in his will and purpose.

So watch the widow bring her mite to Jesus. Hear his words of delighted commendation. Bring your best to God, whatever it is. And know that he welcomes your gifts, your service, your worship and love, with joy.

And some are Mary with her ointment. God has blessed you wonderfully with spiritual gifts, abilities, finances, opportunities for service. We have all been given spiritual gifts for ministry, as today’s Bible study makes clear. Have you given your best to your Lord, or kept something in reserve? Is your life “broken and spilled out” for him?

We are all worthy of our Lord, except those who believe that we are.

The three greatest preachers of the last three generations are probably Charles Spurgeon, Dwight Moody, and Billy Graham. What do they have in common?

Here is what Spurgeon said of himself, recorded in the preface to his collected sermons: “Recollect who I am, and what I am—a child, having little education, little learning, ability, or …Without the Spirit of God I feel I am utterly unable to speak to you. I have not those gifts and talents which qualify me to speak; I need an afflatus from on high; otherwise, I stand like other men, and have naught to say. May that be given me, for without it I am dumb!” And God used him to preach to 10 million across his ministry.

D. L. Moody was the son of an alcoholic who died when Moody was four years old. He completed seven grades of school. He said of himself: “I know that other men can preach better than I can. All I can say is that when I preach, God uses me.” And he did—more than a million came to Christ through him.

Here is what Billy Graham says of himself: “I have often said that the first thing I am going to do when I get to Heaven is to ask, ‘Why me, Lord? Why did You choose a farm boy from North Carolina to preach to so many people, to have such a wonderful team of associates, and to have a part in what You were doing in the latter half of the twentieth century?’ I have thought about that question a great deal, but I know also that only God knows the answer.” And he has preached to more people than anyone in Christian history.

Why did God use them so? Because they gave their best in humility. Who will be next?

When God Needs To Pray

When God Needs to Pray

Matthew 26:31-35

Dr. Jim Denison

Botox is all the rage these days. Botulinum toxin is an injection which removes lines and wrinkles from the face. At $300 to $1,000 a shot, it is the most popular cosmetic procedure in America. A “face-life in a bottle,” one doctor calls it. We will apparently do anything to look better than we really do.

Physically, and spiritually. I’m good at hiding the wrinkles on my soul, and so are you. What secret are you glad we don’t know? What secret shame or pain in your past still bothers you? What sin or failure do you constantly battle and wish you could defeat? What wrinkles on your soul are you trying to hide today?

This Easter season, we’re seeking ways to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. On Wednesday of Holy Week, Jesus showed us the key to victory over spiritual failure, frustration and defeat. On Thursday his disciples showed us that we each need that key today.

Let’s learn how to defeat temptation and failure before they come, and when they arrive.

Expect the crisis of faith

We’re now to Wednesday and Thursday of Holy Week.

On Wednesday Jesus did nothing which is recorded in the Scriptures. In a moment we’ll discover why that’s so, and why we each need Silent Wednesdays for our souls.

On Thursday Jesus gathered with his close friends for one last meal together, the Lord’s Supper as we know it. This night, Judas left the band to betray our Lord. Jesus and his disciples retreated to the Mount of Olives, and from there to the Garden of Gethsemane. Along the way the events of our text occurred.

“Then Jesus told them, ‘This very night you will all fall away on account of me'” (v. 31).

“You will all”—plural, every disciple. From Jesus’ best friend to his weakest disciple. We will all face crisis in life.

“Fall away” in the Greek means to be caught in a trap. The world is waiting to trap us. Satan is a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour (1 Peter 5:8). And lions only roar when they’re attacking.

“This very night”—the trap is always closer than you think. The lion is in the bushes just behind you.

“Because of me”—the enemy hates Jesus, so he hates us. He will tempt us and trap us because we belong to Jesus. Don’t think that your Christian faith will keep you from temptation. It’s the reason you are tempted.

“But after I have risen, I will go ahead of you into Galilee” (v. 32).

“After I have risen”—Jesus is still in charge of life and death, of this world and the next.

“I will go ahead of you into Galilee”—even though you forsake me, I will not forsake you. My love for you is unconditional and absolute. No matter what failures you have committed or will commit, I will never fail you.

Now comes Peter’s proud reply: “Even if all fall away on account of you, I never will” (v. 33).

“If all fall away” is a first class conditional in the Greek, expressing the reality of the situation. In other words, Peter is saying, “They will all fall away on account of you.” But “I never will.” “I” is emphatic in the Greek: “I myself, I especially will never fail you.”

So Jesus must warn him: “this very night, before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times” (v. 34). Peter promised that he would die before doing so. All the other disciples said the same. All were wrong.

Expect the crisis of faith. If it came to Jesus’ followers then, it will come to us today. No one is immune. Not Jesus. Not us.

Seek God privately, before the crisis comes

But when the crisis came, Jesus did not fail. Even though it meant the horrors of crucifixion. And even worse: his first separation from his Father since eternity began and time was created. Yet he did not falter or fail.

Why not? What was his key to success over temptation, fear, and defeat?

The answer is Silent Wednesday, and all the Silent Wednesdays before it. On Wednesday of Holy Week, Jesus did nothing which is recorded in God’s word. So what occupied his day? From his known activities across the week, we can assume these facts.

Jesus was resting with friends in Bethany: Mary, Martha, Lazarus, his disciples. He needed friends to support him before the crisis came, as we do.

Before the crisis comes, get with those you trust. Pray for each other, support each other, hold each other accountable to God’s will and purpose for your lives. Redwood trees stand for centuries because their roots are intertwined. A coal left alone goes out. So does a soul.

Jesus was together with his friends, and he was alone with his Father. As he regularly was. Watch his pattern: Mark 1:35: “Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed;” Mark 6:46: “After leaving them, he went up on a mountainside to pray;” Luke 5:16: “Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed;” Luke 6:12: “One of those days Jesus went out to a mountainside to pray, and spent the night praying to God;” Luke 9:18: “Jesus was praying in private and his disciples were with him;” Luke 22:41: “He withdrew about a stone’s throw beyond them, knelt down and prayed.”

Before the crisis of Thursday came the preparations of Wednesday. We must seek God before we think we need him. There will not be less wind in our sails, so we need more sails for the wind. If we wait until the temptation comes, the crisis hits, the world tumbles in, it may be too late.

So, how long since you’ve spent a Silent Wednesday? Are you ready for Temptation Thursday? Are you praying for your friends, and they for you? Is your soul right with your Father?

How do you spend a Silent Wednesday? Fast from certain foods or activities so you can concentrate on God. Turn off the television, the cell phone, the computer. Read the Scriptures, in depth. Listen to their words; imagine their scenes. Meditate on their truths. Take a walk with God in his creation. Feel his presence, his love for you , his delight in you.

Pray specifically about the future as you know it, its problems and temptations. Give tomorrow to God, today. If the Lord of the universe needed a Silent Wednesday, don’t we?

An elderly woman began showing up in a church’s sanctuary. She sat alone in a pew, for a long time, each morning. After several days, the pastor asked her what she was doing in those hours of silence. She smiled and said, “I look at him and he looks at me. And we tell each other that we love each other.”

When was your last Silent Wednesday? When will be your next?

Seek God honestly, when the crisis comes

So we learn to seek God privately before the crisis comes. And we seek him honestly, when it comes. When Silent Wednesday becomes Temptation Thursday.

Peter was convinced that he could not fail his Lord. The other disciples were just as sure of themselves. They were wrong. That night Peter denied he had ever met his Savior, before a serving girl in the outer court of the high priest’s home. The others didn’t even follow Jesus that far. The crisis is inevitable. Seeking God when it comes is not.

Sometimes we think that the problem doesn’t really matter, that it’s not worth seeking God about. But we’re wrong. Jesus was clear: an adulterous thought is adultery; a murderous thought is murder. There are no “small” sins with God.

My friend John Haggai, in his January diary, quoted Bishop A. M. Fairbairn: “Every time we engage in a thought or action that falls short of our highest values, we weaken our character, no matter how seemingly miniscule the decline.” He’s exactly right.

Go to God honestly, the moment the temptation appears. Because it is cancer. And there’s no such thing as a minor malignancy.

Sometimes we think we don’t need his help, that we can go it alone. We can handle the serving girls of life. But we’re wrong.

Over the years I have learned this spiritual fact: Satan will bring no temptation against us which we can conquer without God’s help. He knows our natural strengths, and will not bring against us temptations, sins, and stress he knows we can defeat. So whatever you’re facing today can only be conquered with God’s help. Satan hopes you’ll do what Peter did, that you’ll try to win on your own. Because then you’ll fail.


For every one of us, today is either Wednesday or Thursday of Holy Week. You’re either in a crisis, or about to enter one. There is no third option.

If it’s Wednesday, would you make it a Silent Wednesday? Set an appointment with the Father right now. Before the weekend is over, spend an extended time alone with him. If you have spring break this week, use some of it to break from the world and get alone with God. Build solitude with the Father into your weekly pattern. Because your soul needs a Silent Wednesday. If you’re too busy to make one, you of all people need one the most.

If it’s Thursday, would you seek God honestly and humbly? Don’t be deceived: any problem large enough to trouble your heart today is too large to face alone. If you’re facing a test or temptation, know that you’ll fail without God’s help. Give this issue to him, specifically and humbly. Ask for his strength and power. Don’t be Peter, before the rooster crows over your soul.

What Jesus did in defeating the crisis of life, we can do in his strength. We can do all things through Christ who strengthens us. His Spirit will empower us to do what feels impossible right now.

A Christian leader named Dietrich Bonhoeffer proved that it was so. He was teaching theology in New York in 1939, but felt compelled to return to his German homeland to join the resistance against Hitler. His friends did all they could to dissuade him, but he knew he was called to this crisis.

In 1943 he was arrested. From his prison cell his greatest work was accomplished, including his classic The Cost of Discipleship. The guards were impressed with him and helped smuggle his letters out to the larger world. They also secretly took him to the cells of despairing prisoners so he could minister to them.

And so one imprisoned English officer met him and later said about him: “Bonhoeffer always seemed to me to spread an atmosphere of happiness and joy over the least incident and profound gratitude for the mere fact that he was alive… He was one of the very few persons I have ever met for whom God was real and always near…On Sunday, April 8, 1945, Pastor Bonhoeffer conducted a little service of worship and spoke to us in a way that went to the heart of all of us. He had hardly ended his last prayer when the door opened and two civilians entered. They said, ‘Prisoner Bonhoeffer, come with us.’ That had only one meaning for all prisoners—the gallows.

“We said good-by to him. He took me aside: ‘This is the end, but for me it is the beginning of life.’ The next day he was hanged in Flossburg… The text on which he spoke that last day was, ‘By his stripes we are healed.'”

Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s life of communion with his Father gave him strength for the crisis. His humble reliance on the help of God sustained him in it. What Jesus did for him, he will do for every one of us.

Which day of the week is it, for you?

When God Rides A Donkey

When God Rides a Donkey

Matthew 21:1-11

Dr. Jim Denison

In February of 1996 a limousine driving down the New Jersey expressway got a flat tire. The limo driver got out to change the tire, only to discover that the spare was also flat. Before he could call for roadside assistance, a man in a pickup truck and an air tank stopped to help.

When the man and the driver finished the repair, the car window slid down and the man was shocked to see Donald Trump sitting inside. “That was very nice of you to stop and help,” Trump said. “What can I do to thank you?” The man thought for a moment and said, “Tomorrow is Valentine’s Day. My wife would really get a kick out of receiving a dozen roses from you.” Trump agreed and drove off.

The next day a messenger arrived with a box. Inside were two dozen roses and a note: “Happy Valentine’s Day from a friend of your husband. (signed) Donald Trump. P.S. Thanks for helping us out. By the way, I paid off your mortgage.”

While that’s a great story, I found out it’s not true. You never know where help is coming from. It may be driving a truck. It may be riding in a limousine. It may even be riding a donkey…and that’s a true story which withstands close examination..

Let’s see why God did, and why that fact is so important to our lives today.

Why did God ride a donkey?

On Sunday, April 12, in the year AD 29, Jesus of Nazareth entered Jerusalem for the last week of his earthly life and the most monumental week in all of human history. The next day he would drive the moneychangers from the Temple. On Tuesday he would confront the religious authorities, and be anointed by Mary. He spent Wednesday in solitude and in spiritual preparation for the cross. Thursday led to his Last Supper, his betrayal, and his arrest and night of trials. On Friday he was crucified at 9:00 a.m., and died at 3:00 p.m.. On Sunday he rose from the grave.

And he chose to begin all of that on a donkey. Why? He has just walked fifteen miles from Jericho to Jerusalem, up an elevation of some 3,000 feet, through some of the most barren and dangerous landscape to be found anywhere in the world. I’ve been over this road twice in an air-conditioned bus, and wouldn’t want to walk it even today. If Jesus could walk this distance, he could walk into the city itself. But he rode on a donkey instead. Why?

It was a most unusual choice.

Roman conquerors rode into their cities in a parade procession, riding in a chariot drawn by four horses, with a slave holding his crown above his head.

But when the King of Kings and Lord of Lords came into his Holy City, he chose to ride a donkey. In fact, he arranged the whole thing. He sent his disciples to a certain house in a certain village, to bring a particular donkey back to him. Either he had made these preparations earlier, or his divine omniscience knew that this donkey would be available to him. Either way, riding that donkey that day was his explicit and deliberate choice.

It was something like the American President riding to his inauguration in my 1974 Chevy Vega. An odd choice at best.

Why did he make it? Matthew gives us part of the answer: “This took place to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet” (v. 4). And Matthew proceeds to quote from Zechariah 9:9-10. But why did God tell the prophet to make this prediction, 567 years before it was fulfilled?

Zechariah answers our question:

The donkey was a beast of suffering. He was used to carry burdens that no other animal would. And he would endure a great deal of suffering and pain. So would his rider: “See, your king comes to you, righteous and having salvation, gentle and riding on a donkey” (v. 9). “Gentle” means to be humbled before God. “Having salvation” means that he is our Savior. The One who would suffer for us to purchase our salvation. The donkey symbolized the suffering his rider would endure.

The donkey was a symbol of peace as well. Horses were ridden in Jesus’ day almost exclusively for war purposes, but a donkey was used during peacetime and for peaceful purposes. In the same way, his rider “will proclaim peace to the nations” (v. 10a). Peace between us and God, and between each other. The peace found only in Jesus.

And the donkey was paradoxically a promise of glory. Solomon rode to his coronation on David’s donkey; Mephibosheth, grandson of King Saul, rode a donkey as well. And so the prophet promised, “His rule will extend from sea to sea and from the River to the ends of the earth” (v. 10b). One day every knee will bow before this rider. Pilate will bow before the Lord he condemned; the religious leaders before the Messiah they crucified; this crowd before the Savior they mocked; these soldiers before the Creator they beat and pierced. All will worship him. We can start now.

So God rode a donkey on Palm Sunday, to show us what his coming crucifixion and resurrection would mean: our salvation, our peace, his glory.

Why did he ride a donkey into Jerusalem?

A second question: why did he ride this donkey into Jerusalem, during Passover? He could not possibly have chosen a more dangerous time to enter a more dangerous city.

Nearly three million people were crowded into Jerusalem for the Passover week. Many of them thought he was the military Messiah who would overthrow the Romans and set their nation free. “Hosanna to the Son of David!” meant, “The Messiah has come to set us free!”

This was a powder keg, and he was the match. The religious authorities would do anything to put down revolt, and the Romans would punish rebellion instantly. An American entering Afghanistan just as our war against the Taliban began would fare no better than he would that week.

And yet he chose to ride his donkey into Jerusalem at just the time when his entrance would most assuredly lead to his crucifixion. Why?

On May 21, 1946, at Los Alamos, New Mexico, a young scientist named Louis Slotin was conducting a uranium experiment, seeking to determine the precise amount of U-235 necessary for a chain reaction. He conducted the experiment many times. He would put two containers of uranium together and, just as the mass became critical and the chain reaction began, he would push the containers apart with a long screwdriver.

On this day, however, the screwdriver slipped from Slotin’s hand. The containers came together, the chain reaction began, and the room was filled with a dazzling blue light. Instead of trying to save himself, Slotin tore the containers apart with his bare hands and interrupted the reaction, saving the lives of seven other people in the room. Louis Slotin died in agony nine days later.

How would you feel if you had been in the room with him?

On April 26, 1986, the Chernobyl nuclear plant suffered the worst nuclear accident in history. Millions of people were immediately in danger of radiation sickness and death. The authorities decided their best response was to dump hundreds of tons of sand and concrete into the live reactor to seal it.

One helicopter pilot was decorated for his heroism in making many dozens of passes over the hot reactor to dump huge cargoes of sand and concrete. The pilot knew that each pass increased the danger to himself, but he put the lives of millions of people before his own. He later died of radiation sickness.

How would you feel if you and your family had been living in Chernobyl?

Nicolas Berdyaev, who abandoned Marxism for Christianity, says it was not theology which brought him to the Christian faith, but a simple woman named Mother Maria. Berdyaev was present at a concentration camp when the Nazis were murdering Jews in gas chambers. One distraught mother refused to part with her baby. When Maria saw that the officer was only interested in correct numbers, without a word she pushed the mother aside and quickly took her place. Her action explained the true meaning of the Christian faith.

It still does.

Why does it all matter today?

What does it all mean, that Jesus chose to ride a donkey into Jerusalem for Passover on April 12, in the year AD 29? That he chose a symbol of suffering, peace, and glory? That he chose to die to give us that suffering, peace, and glory? That he paid the penalty for our sins, died in our place, purchased our eternal salvation and righteousness with the God of heaven? That he was our Louis Slotin, our pilot, our Mother Maria?

In my hand is a $20 bill, a piece of paper worth twenty dollars of American currency. I can wad it up, but it’s still worth $20. I can step on it, but it’s still worth $20. I can wash it and dry it and write on it, but it’s still worth $20. No matter where it is or how I treat it, it’s worth $20. Why? Not because of its appearance, or its circumstances. Not because of the way it is treated. Because of its identity, its inherent value. Because the United States Treasury says this green piece of paper is worth $20.

On Palm Sunday, God rode a donkey to tell you that you are worth his Son’s life. You are worth his Son’s suffering and humiliation and crucifixion. Not because of your appearance or circumstances, the way you look or the way you’re treated. Because the Lord of the universe says you are.

What’s the worst sin you’ve ever committed? Unless you’ve driven spikes into the wrists of the Son of God, you’ve done nothing worse than these soldiers did to him. But from the cross he asked his Father to forgive them. And if they asked him as well, he did.

What’s the worst way you’ve ever denied Christ? Unless you’ve shouted “Crucify” in a bloodthirsty crowd, you’ve done nothing worse than this crowd did to him. But from the cross he asked his Father to forgive them. And if they asked him as well, he did.

What’s the worst sin you’ve ever committed? The worst failure and shame you’ve ever experienced? The God who rode a donkey loves you anyway, accepts you anyway, values you anyway. If he would use a donkey, he’ll use your life, failures and all. If you’ll carry him and his love to someone you know, he’ll ride your gifts and abilities, your sins and mistakes. Palm Sunday proves it. He’s waiting to prove it again today.


I want to tell you a story I’ve not told in sixteen years, since Ryan was born. You’ve perhaps heard it from someone else, as I have. It concerns a drawbridge engineer, a man who operated the gigantic railroad drawbridge which spanned a mighty river. He would pull the lever to raise the bridge so ships could pass beneath, and lower it so the train could pass over.

One day he brought his young son with him to work. They walked around the bridge as he showed him the gears and levers. Then he heard a train’s whistle. As the bridge was up, he rushed back to his control room to lower it. Just as he pulled the lever, he realized his son was not with him. Looking out the control room window, he saw him. To his horror, he was playing in the massive gears and shafts which controlled the bridge.

There was no time to get him. There was only time to pull the lever and save the hundreds riding in the train hurtling toward him. He had only a moment to choose. He pulled the lever.

I haven’t told that story since Ryan’s birth, because as a father I cannot imagine it. But it really happened. Not just at a drawbridge. Twenty centuries earlier, at a cross as well.

That’s how much the God of heaven loves you. You’re worth the life of his Son. Would you welcome his Son and his love into your life? Would you dedicate your life, gifts, abilities, and time to carrying his Son and his love to others?

Karl Barth, the greatest theologian of the twentieth century, was lecturing to an American university near the end of his life. During the questions period following the lecture, a doctoral student asked Dr. Barth for the most profound theological insight he had ever experienced. Everyone held his or her pen, ready to write.

Dr. Barth took off his glasses, smiled, stepped around the podium, and in English said, “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.”

He was right.

When God Stands Trial

When God Stands Trial

Luke 23:13-25

Dr. Jim Denison

A pastor tells how one ingenious mother handled her fidgety seven-year-old son in church: about halfway through the sermon, she leaned over and whispered, “If you don’t be quiet, the pastor is going to lose his place and he’ll have to start his sermon all over again!” It worked.

When we journey to the cross during the Easter season, we start the same sermon all over again. The same event you learned about as a small child, and remember every year during this season. We start the sermon over each year because we need to. Our souls need to remember what happened on the Friday we call Good. What happened to Jesus. What happened to us.

Today we’ll come to the cross through the eyes of Barabbas. Because we are all Barabbas. Let me explain.

Who is guilty?

“Barabbas” most likely means “Son of the Rabbi,” a famous religious leader and teacher in the land. In addition, Matthew’s account (26:16-17) includes in some of the oldest Greek versions the first name, “Jesus Barabbas.” The majority of scholars accept this addition today. So we have “Jesus Christ” and “Jesus Barabbas.” One the Son of God, the other the Son of the Rabbi. Which one deserved to die?

Consider Barabbas first.

This man was a robber and rebel who had committed murder during a political insurrection (Mark 15:7, Luke 23:19, John 18:40). He was a terrorist, joined to the bands then seeking the violent overthrow of Rome. He was willing to do anything to advance his political cause, and his personal fortunes as well.

For his crimes, Rome had convicted him and was holding him for crucifixion until that day when the crowd chose him over Jesus. Jesus Barabbas was a convicted political insurrectionist and terrorist.

Ironically, this was exactly the accusation the authorities leveled against Jesus Christ. Theirs was one of the most illegal trials in recorded history: no formal charge, no defense, bribed witnesses, self-incrimination, and a pre-dawn meeting which violated their statutes. Nonetheless, seven times Jesus was found innocent of all charges.

First comes the Jewish phase of Jesus’ trial.

After his arrest in the Garden of Gethsemane, our Lord is taken to Annas, the father-in-law of Caiaphas, the high priest (John 18:12-24). Here they wait for the Sanhedrin, their Supreme Court, to assemble. But Annas can find nothing with which to charge Jesus. Acquittal number one.

Next he is brought to the house of Caiaphas, the high priest, to stand trial before the Sanhedrin. Matthew 26:59 says, “The chief priests and the whole Sanhedrin were looking for false evidence against Jesus so that they could put him to death.” But with this result: “But they did not find any, though many false witnesses came forward” (v. 60). They can find no guilt. Acquittal number two. Had Jesus remained silent, he would have been freed. So he admits that he is the Messiah, and they convict him of blasphemy (Matthew 26:66).

When Judas sees that Jesus has been condemned, he returns the silver coins of his bribery with the admission, “I have sinned, for I have betrayed innocent blood” (Matthew 27:4). They don’t care, and he hangs himself. His words are the third proclamation of Jesus’ innocence.

Next comes the Roman phase, and four more such declarations of his innocence.

The Jews need Rome to inflict the death penalty. So they parade Jesus to Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor of their province. They know he won’t convict on their theological charge of blasphemy, any more than our civil courts would convict you or me of such a charge. So they change their accusation to political subversion, a charge for which they have absolutely no proof. Pilate sees Jesus’ innocence and says, “I find no basis for a charge against this man” (Luke 23:4). Acquittal number four.

But Pilate learns that Jesus is from Galilee, the jurisdiction of Herod Antipas. Seeking a way out of his dilemma, he sends our Lord to Herod. But Herod can find no charge to make against him, and sends him back to Pilate (Luke. 23:6-12). Acquittal number five.

Now Pilate utters the sixth acquittal: “You brought me this man as one who was inciting the people to rebellion. I have examined him in your presence and have found no basis for your charges against him. Neither has Herod, for he sent him back to us; as you can see, he has done nothing to deserve death” (Luke 23:13-15).

The religious authorities are desperate. Pilate offers the crowd Jesus Barabbas or Jesus Christ, and they incite the people to choose Barabbas and condemn Christ. Still Pilate wants to release Jesus, so the authorities play their trump card: “If you let this man go, you are no friend of Caesar. Anyone who claims to be a king opposes Caesar” (John 19:12). In other words, if you don’t condemn Jesus, we’ll tell Rome, and they’ll condemn you.

Pilate calls for water. He washes his hands in front of the crowd. He shouts, “I am innocent of this man’s blood. It is your responsibility” (Matthew 27:24). Acquittal number seven. But Pilate must choose between Jesus and himself. And you know his choice.

Who was guilty—Jesus Barabbas or Jesus Christ? Who is guilty—us or Jesus? Romans 3:23 says, “All have sinned and come short of the glory of God.” What was the first sin you remember committing? What was your most recent?

Who died?

Romans 6:23 adds, “The wages for sin is death.” The just punishment by a holy God for our sins is death. So who died for our sins?

Now Jesus is handed over to the governor’s soldiers in the Praetorium.

They strip him and flog him, using a whip of leather strips in which is embedded pieces of lead and sharp shells. The flogging splits his skin and lays his back open—many men died under it.

Now Jesus has been up all night, paraded around Jerusalem in chains. Flogged, suffering from exhaustion, shock, and blood loss, he is led down the “via dolorosa,” the way of suffering.

The soldiers make him carry his own crossbeam, and endure the mocking of the crowds along the way. The same people who had cried “Hosanna” on Palm Sunday now shout “Crucify.” Their palm branches are replaced with curses and taunts.

He falls under absolute exhaustion and physical shock, and a man named Simon of Cyrene is forced to carry the crossbeam the rest of the way.

They make their way to Golgotha, which means “the place of the skull.” So named because so many crucifixions occurred here, and because the hill looks so much like a skull. The soldiers drove their spikes through his wrists into the crossbeam. They secured it to the upright beam and nailed his heels to it. Now he must use his pierced wrists to support his weight and to breathe.

From the cross Jesus utters his famous “seven last words.” Seven acquittals—seven replies. At 9:00 a.m., “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34). Two hours later, to the thief at his side, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43). Twenty minutes later he said to Mary and John, “Dear woman, here is your son;” “Here is your mother” (John 19:26-27).

At 1:30 p.m. comes the moment of separation from his Father, as he bore the sins of all of humanity in his innocent holiness: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 27:46). At 1:45 p.m., “I am thirsty” (John 19:28). An hour later, “It is finished!” (John 19:30). At 3:00 p.m., “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit” (Luke 23:46).

A Mayo Clinic pathologist has determined that our Lord died from blood loss, exhaustion, exposure, shock, and suffocation. Joseph of Arimathea claims his corpse; he and Nicodemus pay for his burial in Joseph’s tomb. The Romans place a rock over it, and a wax seal upon the rock. They set their guards on duty.

And Good Friday ends. For Jesus, for Barabbas, for us.


Who was guilty of sin—Jesus Barabbas or Jesus Christ? Who died for that sin—Jesus Barabbas or Jesus Christ? Who is guilty of sin—you or Jesus? Who died for that sin—you or Jesus?

I found recently a story which moved me. The unnamed author of the story says:

“In 1967, while taking a class in photography at the University of Cincinnati, I became acquainted with a young man named Charles Murray who also was a student at the school and training for the Olympics of 1968 as a high diver.

“Charles was very patient with me as I would speak to him for hours about Jesus Christ and how he had saved me. He was not raised in a home that attended any kind of church, so all that I had to tell him was a fascination to him. He even began to ask questions about forgiveness of sin.

“Finally the day came that I put a question to him. I asked if he realized his need of a Redeemer and if he was ready to trust Christ as his own Savior. I saw his countenance fall and the guilt in his face. But his reply was a strong ‘No.’

“In the days that followed he was quiet and often I felt that he was avoiding me, until I got a phone call from him. He wanted to know where to look in the New Testament for some verses I had given him about salvation. I gave him the references to several passages and asked if I could meet with him. He declined my offer and thanked me for the scripture. I could tell that he was greatly troubled, but I did not know where he was or how to help him.

“Because he was training for the Olympic Games, Charles had special privileges at the University pool facilities. Some time between 10:30 and 11:00 that evening he decided to go swim and practice a few dives.

“It was a clear night in October and the moon was big and bright. The University pool was housed under a ceiling of glass panes so the moon shone bright across the top of the wall in the pool area.

“Charles climbed to the highest platform to take his first dive. At that moment the Spirit of God began to convict him of his sins. All the scripture he had read, all the occasions of witnessing to him about Christ flooded his mind.

“He stood on the platform backwards to make his dive, spread his arms to gather his balance, looked up to the wall and saw his own shadow caused by the light of the moon. It was the shape of a cross. He could bear the burden of his sin no longer. His heart broke and he sat down on the platform and asked God to forgive him and save him. He trusted Jesus Christ some twenty feet in the air.

“Suddenly, the lights in the pool area came on. The attendant had come in to check the area. As Charles looked down from his platform he saw an empty pool which had been drained for repairs. He had almost plummeted to his death, but the cross had saved him.”

And Barabbas, and you, and me. Are you grateful?