Does God Always Heal?

Does God Always Heal?

John 4:46-54

Dr. Jim Denison

Thesis: Jesus always heals—physically, spiritually, or eternally

A friend in our congregation recently sent me an interesting e-mail. It seems that he was watching a particular news commentator on television one night, and heard the reporter try to make his point by saying, “There’s the passage that says, ‘God helps those who help themselves.'” Right after, the station went to a commercial break.

My friend and his wife were just starting to comment on how often that non-biblical reference is attributed to God’s word when one of our church’s televisions spots came on the screen. In this particular TV spot I begin by saying, “My favorite verse in the Bible used to be, ‘God helps those who help themselves.’ Until I discovered it’s not in the Bible.” Then I proceed to explain that God helps those who cannot help themselves, by his grace. It’s been said that coincidence is when God prefers to remain anonymous.

Sometimes God manifests his presence and power in small, unseen ways. But sometimes we need him to help us with dramatic, life-transforming power. In this study, a pagan Roman official will help us answer a vital question: Does God always heal? When you need him most, will he be there? Will he heal you? Will he answer your prayer for someone you love? Does God always heal?

Remember what Jesus has done

Our story begins: “Once more he visited Cana in Galilee, where he had turned the water into wine. And there was a certain royal official whose son lay sick at Capernaum. When this man heard that Jesus had arrived in Galilee from Judea, he went to him and begged him to come and heal his son, who was close to death” (John 2:46-47).

This “certain royal official” was a most unlikely candidate for a miracle from a Jewish rabbi. The Jews hated Gentiles, considering them pagan idolaters. They commonly said that God made Gentiles so there would be firewood in hell. They would not allow their nurses to help Gentile women in childbirth, for this would only bring another Gentile into the world. Every Jewish male began every morning with the same prayer: “God, I thank you that I am not a Gentile, a slave, or a woman.”

And this man was not just any Gentile. He was a “certain royal official,” part of the cursed, despised Roman occupation. He was most probably a court officer for King Herod (his Greek title, basilikos, was used by the Jewish historian Josephus to refer to Herodian troops. Though it can have other functions, an army official is its most likely definition here; cf. Brown 190). It was his job to protect Herod from the masses who despised his rule, and to enforce that rule among the Jews. Israel was oppressed by Rome, and he was one of the chief oppressors.

By now the Jewish nation has suffered under the boot of Rome for generations. They are an occupied territory. They must pay Rome exorbitant taxes, and bow to Caesar’s rule. They have lost the right to govern themselves, and have no hope of independence in the future. John’s readers knew that 40 or so years after the events recorded in his Gospel, Rome would destroy the Jewish temple forever and scatter the people across the world. Thanks to Rome, Israel would cease to exist as a nation. And this man’s army would ensure their destruction.

I spent a summer doing mission work in East Malaysia, a Muslim nation. One cannot work for the government unless he is Muslim. The government severely restricts the Christian church there. If a believer shares his faith with a Muslim, he can be arrested and sent to prison. Christians find it hard to advance in work or education. Many lose their homes for their faith, and some, their lives. If a government official were to come to such an oppressed believer for help, he would be in somewhat the position of this Roman who stood before the rabbi, surrounded by an incredulous crowd of hostile Jews.

Why would this man believe that Jesus would even hear his request, much less honor it?

The clues begin early in our story. Because not a single word in holy Scripture is wasted, we must ask why John states that it was in Cana that Jesus “had turned the water into wine.” We will remember our Lord’s first miracle, recorded only two chapters earlier. I think it is likely that the writer includes this episode not to remind us but to connect this miracle to the official who needs such a miracle in his own life. Perhaps he had heard of Jesus’ power in that tiny town, his assistance given to simple peasants. If Jesus would help them, perhaps he would help him as well.

The official “heard that Jesus had arrived in Galilee from Judea” (v. 47). What had Jesus been doing down south? Cleansing the temple in Jerusalem (John 2:12ff), evangelizing a member of the Sanhedrin (3:1ff), receiving the testimony of John the Baptist as to his divinity (3:22ff), and ministering to a Samaritan woman and her entire town (4:1ff). John 4:45 adds further, “When he arrived in Galilee, the Galileans welcomed him. They had seen all that he had done in Jerusalem at the Passover Feast, for they also had been there.” These two chapters of John’s Gospel occupied eighteen months of our Lord’s life (Hobbs, Study Guide 24).

So our Roman official has heard much to encourage him about Jesus. He would help peasants—perhaps he will help a nobleman. He would “heal” the temple—maybe he will heal his son. He would speak with a Sanhedrin member—perhaps he will speak with a Roman official. He would minister to a Samaritan—maybe he will minister to a Gentile in need. And he was right.

Do you need God to heal you or someone you love? To heal physically, emotionally, relationally, or spiritually? Are you wondering if he will? First, remember what Jesus has already done for you. Think about the ways he has already proven his love for you. His Son left heaven’s glory to be born in a peasant’s feedtrough, just for you. He endured crucifixion, a form of execution so horrific it is outlawed all over the world today, just for you. He has forgiven every failure you have ever confessed to him, and will continue to do so. He knows every sin you’ve ever committed, and what’s more, he sees every sin you will ever commit in the future. But he loves you anyway. He likes you. He finds joy in you even as you read these words.


Expect The Best From God

Expect the Best From God

John 5:1-18

Dr. Jim Denison

Thesis: Jesus always gives us what we ask, or something better

Dr. David Fite is a former missionary to Cuba and was a colleague of mine when I served on the faculty of Southwestern Seminary in Fort Worth. Dr. Fite and his father-in-law were both imprisoned in Cuba for preaching the gospel. They were often put in solitary confinement or made to stand at attention all day. Dr. Fite’s father-in-law, advanced in years, often fell when standing in the hot Cuban sun. The guards would then hit him.

One day was especially hot. Dr. Fite and his father-in-law stood at attention all through the day; the elderly man never flinched, but stood with amazing strength. That night, David asked him how he had done so. His answer: “David, I’m surprised at you. You forgot that my birthday is today! Southern Baptists all over the world were praying for our missionaries. God’s grace was my strength!”

The New Testament specifically describes thirty-five such miracles of the Lord Jesus. They fall into four categories. Nine times Jesus changed the natural world, such as turning the water into wine (John 2:1-11), calming the storm (Matthew 8:23-27) and feeding the multitude (Mathew 14:13-21). Six of his recorded miracles were exorcisms (cf. Mark 1:21-28; Matthew 12:22; Luke 8:26-39). Three times he raised the dead (Matthew 9:18-26; Luke 7:11-15; John 11:1-44). But the majority of his recorded miracles were devoted to the suffering. Seventeen times he healed. Our Lord was indeed the Great Physician.

We will study another such miracle in this study. But this one comes with a twist: here Jesus initiates the action. The man doesn’t ask him for help; Jesus offers it. Just as he offers it to you today. Let’s learn how to hear his invitation to hope.

Listen to his voice

Our story begins: “Some time later, Jesus went up to Jerusalem for a feast of the Jews” (John 5:1). “Some time later” translates a vague phrase by which John supplemented the accounts given in the Synoptic Gospels (Robertson 78).

Here is what John assumes we have already read from the other Gospels: between last week’s miracle and today’s text, Jesus preached in Nazareth and was rejected by the people (Luke 4:16-30); he made Capernaum his residence and called Andrew and Peter, James and John to permanent discipleship (Matthew 4:18-22); he healed a demoniac in the synagogue (Mark 1:21-28) and Peter’s mother-in-law (Matthew 8:14-17); he preached throughout Galilee, healing many including a leper (Mark 1:35-45); he healed a paralytic in Capernaum (Mark 2:1-12); he called Matthew, and attended a feast in his house (Mark 2:13-17); and he gave instructions with regard to fasting (Mark 2:16-20) (Hovey 128).

Now John supplements the Synoptics with his own material, giving us a miracle story found nowhere else in Scripture. (Herschel Hobbs, who wrote his dissertation on the subject, believed that John added such unique stories as part of his intentional strategy to give the Church the full story of Jesus’ life and work; Invitation 42).

So Jesus has been busy. Now he “went up to Jerusalem for a feast of the Jews.” He had to go “up,” because Jerusalem sits atop a plateau whose sides must be scaled by pilgrims coming to the Holy City. He came for a “feast of the Jews,” but which one? The options are Purim in March, Passover in April, Pentecost in May, Tabernacles in October, and Dedication in December. This episode likely occurred during the springtime, as the lame were lying outside in the weather and Jesus referred to the time of harvest earlier (John 4:35). Thus Purim and Passover are the best guesses (Bruce 735); Lenski settles on Passover (358-60), and Hobbs agrees (Study Guide 27).

If this feast was Passover, Jesus attended it out of religious obligation. Every Jew within 15 miles of Jerusalem was legally required to attend Passover, Pentecost, and Tabernacles (Barclay 177). Our Lord knew the controversy which awaited him, but he came anyway. The healing of a paralyzed man was worth all the trouble it cost him.

Verse 2 continues the narrative: “Now there is in Jerusalem near the Sheep Gate a pool, which in Aramaic is called Bethesda and which is surrounded by five covered colonnades.” John used the present tense, “there is in Jerusalem,” even though he wrote these words long after the Roman destruction of the city in AD 70 (Robertson 78). He wanted us to experience the reality of this miracle as if it occurred in our time, for it still can.

The Sheep Gate was one of the entrances through the walls of the city of Jerusalem. It had been rebuilt by Eliashib the High Priest and his fellow priests during the time of Nehemiah (Nehemiah 3:1), more 400 years earlier. It was likely the entrance through which sheep and lambs were brought from the neighboring fields to the Temple for sacrifice. Through this gate the Lamb of God came to heal a crippled man, as one day he would die for the spiritual healing of our crippled world.

Here lay a “pool” (this word is found only here in the New Testament; Robertson 78). It was surrounded by “five covered colonnades.” These colonnades were covered porches called stoa where people gathered (the “Stoics” are named for the fact that they began by meeting on porches like these). The pool in question was trapezoidal in form, 165-220 feet wide by 315 feet long, divided by a central partition. There were colonnades on four sides of this partition, and one on it. Stairways in the corners permitted descent into the pools (Brown 207).

The Crusaders built a church over this pool, with a crypt framed like the five porches and an opening in the floor which descended to the water (Bruce 736). This structure is known as the Church of St. Anne; its remains stand today on the northwest corner of Jerusalem near the gate by the sheep market (Tenney 62). I’ve seen it, as do all tourists in the city. The pool was called Bethesda in Aramaic, a term meaning “House of Mercy” (Robertson 78). Jesus fulfilled its name this day.


Faith In A Time Of War

Faith in a Time of War

John 20:1-9

Dr. Jim Denison

Last Monday evening, President Bush told the world that diplomatic efforts in Iraq had ended, giving Saddam Hussein 48 hours to leave or face military conflict. That period has ended, and the conflict has begun.

This morning we face a confusing mixture of feelings and fears. We hope for quick victory in this conflict, and fear loss of life. We hope for protection against terrorist reprisals, and fear further attacks. We hope for our friends and family engaged directly in this conflict, and fear for their lives and futures. We need faith in a time of war.

This week I’ve asked God for a word to give to you. I believe I have that word, for my heart and ours. John has been my guide to faith. Now he stands ready to guide us all.

Meet our guide

You may remember that John, the “beloved disciple” of Jesus Christ, grew up in Capernaum, a fishing village on the northern coast of the Sea of Galilee. His brother was John, his father Zebedee. Theirs was a thriving fishing business in partnership with Simon and his brother Andrew.

John and Andrew were followers of John the Baptist, until the day he identified Jesus of Nazareth as the Messiah, the “Lamb of God” (John 1.36). John was Jesus’ cousin. Now he immediately became his first disciple. Jesus called John and James, Andrew and Simon to leave their fishing business to follow him. And they did.

But now the movement John was the first to join is over. The cause to which he has dedicated his life has failed. The One he had believed would be the Messiah, God’s ruler on earth, the General who would overthrow the cursed Romans and reign over Israel, is dead. Their army is dissolved, in retreat and chaos and failure. Their lives have no purpose, no direction, no destiny, no hope.

And his own life is in peril.

John is known to the High Priest, and was seen standing in the house of Caiaphas during Jesus’ trial there.

He was the only disciple at the cross, clearly visible to the authorities.

He cannot flee easily, for he has charge of Mary, Jesus’ mother.

He was Jesus’ best friend; verse 2 calls him the disciple “whom Jesus loved.” He is Jesus’ cousin, his relative, the most visible and famous follower in his band. If the Roman and Jewish authorities decide to destroy Jesus’ movement as they destroyed him, John knows the one they’ll come after first.

If Jeb Bush were to visit in Baghdad today, he’d be in no less danger than John the beloved disciple in Jerusalem.

Join him at the empty tomb

Now it is Sunday morning. John, Mary, and Jesus’ band of followers have passed the Sabbath of Friday night and Saturday in mourning.

Early this morning, some of the women return to Jesus’ tomb to finish burying his body. But they find that “the stone had been removed from the entrance” (v. 1)—the Greek states that it had been removed from the groove in which it had rested, and thrown to the side.

We know what happened: the burial stone was but a pebble compared with the Rock of Ages inside. We know that the God of the universe tossed it aside so much as trash as he raised his Son to life. We know this, but Mary doesn’t.

F. B. Meyer describes Mary’s mind well: she came with aromatic spices that her money had bought and her hands prepared; she did not know that his garments were already smelling of aloes and grace, of the perfume of heaven with which his Father had dressed him. She thought she came to a victim who had fallen beneath the knife of his foes as a lamb led to slaughter; she was not aware that he was a Priest who had entered the Most Holy Place willingly for her. She came for the vanquished, but failed to understand that he was the victor over the principalities and powers of hell, that the keys of Hades and the grave now hung on his belt, with the serpent bruised beneath his feet. She thought she had come to put the final touch on his life and death, and had no conception that on that morning a career had been inaugurated which was endless, unassailable, destined to change the course of human history forever.

She doesn’t know. We find her running back to Peter and John, telling them that his body is gone: “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!” (John 20:2).

So John and Peter run to the tomb.

It’s interesting that the only two times in the New Testament we find someone actually “running” are here and in Matthew 28:8, where the women ran to bring the disciples the news of his resurrection. They ran in joy, these men in bitter anger. Not only is their beloved leader dead, but now his grave has been desecrated. How would you feel to learn that someone had robbed the grave of the one you love?

John arrives first, and looks in. He sees the linen strips which Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea had used to wrap the body. Then Peter arrives, and the two enter the tomb.

What they discover is astounding. The robes are lying empty on the burial slab. Not unwrapped, but collapsed on themselves as though the body which had been inside has simply vanished. The cloth which had been wrapped around Jesus’ head like a turban is also folded on itself, not unwrapped. The head inside has disappeared (John 20:7).

This was a physical impossibility. Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus had previously coated the burial clothes with 75 pounds of myrrh and aloes (John 19:39) to preserve the body as best they could. Myrrh binds fabric to the flesh of the corpse as surely as glue. The only way to get the burial clothes off the body would have been to rip them off, tearing them to shreds. Not only was it impossible for someone to remove the clothes without unwrapping them, it was even more impossible for them to be in one piece. But here they are, wrapped around themselves and intact.


Fight Fear With Faith

Fight Fear With Faith

John 6:5-21

Dr. Jim Denison

Thesis: true faith in Jesus will defeat every fear we face

Bill and Vonette Bright were hard at work on the UCLA campus, seeking to win students to faith in Christ. But results were mediocre, and their supporters feared for the future of this ministry. Then, in 1951, a 24-hour prayer chain for UCLA was started in Los Angeles churches. The day was divided into 96 15-minute periods, with people praying around the clock for the students on the campus.

Following the inauguration of this prayer movement, in the first evangelistic meeting at a particular sorority house, over half the women present indicated they wanted to know Jesus Christ personally. Evangelistic meetings followed with various fraternities, sororities and athletic teams, with similar responses. Hundreds of students came to saving faith in the Lord Jesus, including the most outstanding student leaders on the campus. And Campus Crusade for Christ was born.

Are you afraid for your future? Are your results mediocre? Are your dreams stagnant? Is your purpose dim? Are your finances low? Is your health poor? You may be faced with overwhelming problems, but it’s always too soon to give up. If Jesus can use a small boy’s lunch to feed 5,000 families, then walk on a stormy sea to rescue terrified fishermen, he can help you today. But we must do what the Brights did—we must go to Jesus in faith. Not to earn his power, but to receive it.

“Fear knocked at the door. Faith answered, and there was nobody there.” Let’s learn how to answer the fear knocking at your door today.

Refuse to be discouraged (vs. 5-7)

As this week’s miracle begins, we find Jesus on the “far shore” of the Sea of Galilee (John 6:1) at “a town called Bethsaida” (Luke 9:10). This town was situated on the northeastern tip of the Sea of Galilee, near the fords of the Jordan (Barclay 201). It was known as Bethsaida Julius, to distinguish it from Bethsaida of Galilee to the west.

Skeptics have claimed a contradiction between Luke 9.10, which places this miracle at Bethsaida, and Mark 6.45, which records that after this miracle “Jesus made his disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to Bethsaida.” But Mark’s account refers to the western Bethsaida of Galilee, not the Bethsaida Julius which was the location of our story; cf. Robertson 96, Bruce 746, Barclay 201.

It was springtime, with the Passover near (John 6.4). A considerable time has elapsed since the close of John 5, from a month (if the “feast” of John 5.1 was Purim) to more likely a year (if the “feast” was the previous Passover). Jesus has been extremely busy in his public ministry, and has come under much attack from the authorities (cf. 7.1, “Jesus went around Galilee, purposely staying away from Judea because the Jews there were waiting to take his life”).

And so our Lord wanted time alone with his disciples for teaching and rest. However, the crowds did not cooperate: “a great crowd of people followed him because they saw the miraculous signs he had performed on the sick” (v. 2). So he withdrew to this remote location. But they could follow him around the shore of the Sea, so that “Jesus looked up and saw a great crowd coming toward him” (v. 5).

They were 5,000 men in number (v. 10), not including their families (Matthew 14.21: “The number of those who ate was about five thousand men, besides women and children”). Philip’s estimate of the money required to feed them (v. 7) would indicate that as many as 10,000 were present in total (Bruce 747).

With their arrival, the only miracle (except the Resurrection) to be recorded in all four Gospels began. Jesus spent the day with this persistent crowd, “teaching them many things” (Mark 6.34). More specifically, he “welcomed them and spoke to them about the kingdom of God, and healed those who needed healing” (Luke 9.11).

Now the hour was late, the location remote. The crowd has been with Jesus all day, with no food or supplies. Jesus’ disciples urged him to send them away to find their own food (Matthew 14.15, Mark 6.35-36, Luke 9.12). But he was unwilling to feed spiritual hunger while ignoring the physical. And he saw in the need of the multitude a spiritual opportunity for one particular disciple.

So Jesus said to Philip, “Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?” (v. 5). Did he ask Philip for help because he was from Bethsaida? No, for Andrew and Peter were from this town as well (John 1.44). Did he need his help? No: “He asked this only to test him, for he already had in mind what he was going to do” (v.6). He knew already how to meet this need. But Philip did not.

Here was an opportunity for faith. A chance to believe that the One who had turned water to wine could feed this crowd as well. An opportunity to trust the Healer of the nobleman’s son and the Bethesda paralytic. Philip could have asked Jesus what he wanted done; he could have found the resources at hand and delivered them to his Master; at the very least he could have prayed.

Instead, he gave up: “Philip answered him, ‘Eight months’ wages would not buy enough bread for each one to have a bite!'” (v. 7). In the Greek, 200 denarii. A denarius was a Roman coin worth 18 cents (Rienecker 231), the usual pay for a day’s labor (Robertson 98); 200 would be payment for eight months of work. Even then, the people of the crowd would have only “a bite” (a detail only John supplies).

If Philip had been the only follower of Jesus present, the story would likely have ended here, with the words of a discouraged disciple. Disheartened by a need greater than he could meet, frustrated by a request he could not possibly honor, Philip responded with fear rather than faith. He was not the last.


How to Live on 24 Hours a Day

How to Live on 24 Hours a Day

Dr. Jim Denison

Matthew 25:1-13

Thesis: To live fully in the Kingdom of God,

we must be ready for the King to return today

In the Middle Ages, people had no concept of time as we experience and measure it. Mechanical clocks were not available to the vast majority of people. Most did not know what year it was, or even what century they lived in. If only we were so lucky.

Campbell’s Soup has discovered that people will not use microwave meals if they take longer than six minutes to prepare. McDonald’s reports that their typical customer spends seven minutes eating one of their meals.

We are busy people. No wonder: every day in America,

•the Smithsonian adds 2,500 items to its collections

•we purchase 45,000 new cars and trucks, and wreck 87,000

•20,000 people write a letter to the president

•dogs bite 11,000 citizens, including 20 mail carriers

•we eat 75 acres of pizza, 53 million hot dogs, 167 million eggs, 3 million gallons of ice cream, and 3,000 tons of candy. We then jog 17 million miles in an effort to burn it all off.

Time is our most precious commodity. Winston Churchill spoke for us all: “Curse ruthless time! Curse our mortality! How cruelly short is the allotted span for all we must cram into it! We are all worms.”

Our concluding study of Jesus’ parables will help us deal with time, the greatest pressure we face. The central truth of our Lord’s story is simple: to live fully in the Kingdom of God, we must be ready for the King to return today. As we will see, such a lifestyle is the best way to redeem the time we have, to achieve significance with each day and hour, to use time for eternity. If we live prepared for Jesus to return each day, we’ll live in the will and blessing of God. And one day, we’ll be right.

Meet the players in the drama

Jesus is seated at the Mount of Olives with his disciples. This is the last afternoon of his public ministry (Broadus 498). His disciples have asked him, “What will be the sign of your coming and the end of the age?” (Matthew 24.3). Matthew records Jesus’ answers to that question with the narrative and stories of chapters 24-25. And so the parable of this week deals with the future and its impact on the present.

“At that time the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom” (Matthew 25.1). “At that time” points us to the previous parable, the story of the servants and their returning master (Matthew 24.45-51). That story ends with this warning: “The master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he is not aware of. He will cut him to pieces and assign him a place with the hypocrites, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (vs. 50-51).

Now Jesus finds another way to emphasize the urgency of preparing for the Kingdom to come. Here the kingdom “will be like” virgins with lamps. This is the future tense (unlike the parable of last week) because it deals with future events (cf. Hagner 728). The kingdom is not like the virgins themselves, but like their situation in Jesus’ story.

The virgins are ten in number. A. T. Robertson, the eminent Greek scholar, sees “no special point” in this fact (196). But most commentators disagree. Broadus quotes Lightfoot: the Jews “delighted mightily in the number ten” (499). The frequency of the number in Jewish tradition and literature is interesting: there are Ten Commandments, ten talents (Matthew 25.28), ten pieces of silver (Luke 15.8), ten servants, ten points, and ten cities (Luke 19.13-17), an instrument of ten strings (Psalm 33.2), at least ten families needed to establish a synagogue, and ten persons for a funeral procession (Lenski 963; cf. Josephus, War 6.9.3). At the very least, their number signifies a complete assembly. The problem some will face this night is not due to any lack of friends within their group.

They are virgins “who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom” (v. 1). The “lamps” here were not the tiny clay vessels mentioned by Jesus in Matthew 5.15, the so-called “Herodian” lamps. Rather, they were torches with a wooden staff and some sort of dish or container on top. In this container was placed a piece of rope or cloth dipped in oil (Bruce 299; Broadus 499). The same word, lampas, is found in John 18.2, “They were carrying torches, lanterns and weapons”; and Revelation 8.10, “The third angel sounded his trumpet, and a great star, blazing like a torch, fell from the sky.”

The text states that the torch-bearing attendants “went out to meet the bridegroom” (v. 1). And so the virgins are part of a wedding, one of the greatest festivities in an ancient Palestinian village. The bride, groom, and guests were excused from most religious responsibilities. Scholars forsook the study of the Torah to attend. This was a great and holy festival (Johnson 555).

The event in our parable represents the third stage of matrimony in ancient Israel. First the couple was engaged (usually when the bride was very young), then they were “betrothed” for a year (during which they were considered to be married legally but lived in separate homes). Finally came the “marriage,” when the couple was given to each other (cf. Rienecker 73).

Following the marriage ceremony itself came a feast which lasted seven days (cf. Judges 14.12; Genesis 29.27, “Finish this daughter’s bridal week . . .”); it was shortened to three days if she was a widow. At the end of this week, the bridegroom came for his bride, conducting her from her father’s home to his own. This final marriage procession always occurred in the evening. Friends accompanied the bridegroom, and others stayed with the bride until her groom came for her, then processed with her to her new home (Barnes 264).


The United Nations And The United States

The United Nations and the United States

Matthew 6:19-24

Dr. Jim Denison

Why is the United Nations at odds with the United States?

We were instrumental in founding the UN. The term “United Nations” was first coined by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. The organization was created under American leadership, and is headquartered in New York City.

Other permanent members of the UN Security Council include Britain, France, the Russian Federation, and China, each of whom we aided during World War II at the cost of over 400,000 American lives.

Yet most members of the UN have continued to criticize the American position on disarming Iraq. Why?

It’s over purpose.

Europe is committed to socialism, America to capitalism. But there’s more.

Europe affirms secularism passionately, while America is the most religious democracy on earth. Europeans in the main reject moral absolutes and judgments, and find President Bush’s description of an “axis of evil” to be contemptible.

Europe is committed to a collective identity through the UN. Two nationalism-based World Wars have caused Europeans to conclude that national identities lead to war. America believes as strongly in our distinct national identity as Europe does in its collective existence.

And Europe is committed to pacifism, another result of the World Wars fought on its soil. America believes that confrontation is sometimes tragically necessary.

World events are being dictated by purposes. They always are.

What is true of nations is true of their people. Today we will watch as two life purposes go to war with each other. And we will choose our side. Choose well.

You will keep only what you give to God (19-20)

One-fifth of the Sermon on the Mount deals directly with money. This week’s lesson begins, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth” (v. 19). In the Greek, “do not treasure for yourselves treasure on earth.” Rather, “treasure for yourselves treasure in heaven.”

Here’s the conflict: treasure on earth vs. treasure in heaven. As you decide which side to choose, consider two facts. First: you will keep only what you give to God.

Jesus deals directly with the three great sources of wealth in his world: garment, grain, and gold.

Clothing styles didn’t change in the ancient world, so people kept their garments as an investment. But moths do what styles did not. You find your treasure in your garments, but they’re soon gone. And they still are today. How many clothes do you still wear from five years ago?

The ancients built giant granaries and thought they were wealthy when they were full. But “rust” destroys—the Greek word means “that which eats,” referring to mice, worms, and rats. You find your treasure in your grain, but it’s soon gone. It’s still true today: it takes a year to build a house, and a week to destroy it; a car is demolished in a moment. Possessions are soon gone.

And the world has always valued its gold. Most didn’t have banks, so they buried their gold in the ground near the wall of their house. But their walls were thin, made of mud bricks and adobe. Thieves could easily “break in and steal.” And no insurance companies existed to help. You find your treasure in your gold, but it’s soon gone. Stock market investors know it’s still true.

Only in heaven are our possessions safe: “store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal” (v. 20). Our treasure is safe only with its Creator.

If money on earth could last, the Egyptian pyramids would have kept it. But within a generation, thieves broke into the most elaborate safes ever constructed.

Jacob Hammer was wealthy from birth because of a large inheritance. His investors stored his money in salt domes along the Caspian Sea. But a freak typhoon swept it all away, and Jacob went from tycoon to pauper in one afternoon.

The Titanic carried John Jacob Astor, George B. Widener, John B. Thayer, and Benjamin Guggenheim to their deaths. Their wealth could not buy another moment of life.

Alexander the Great left instructions that he was to be buried with his hands outside his casket, to show the world that its conqueror’s hands were empty. The Spanish have a proverb: a burial shroud has no pockets. A mortician puts nothing into the pockets of those he buries. There are never U-Hauls attached to hearses.

A man gave several thousand dollars to help build a church. Then came the 1929 Great Depression, and he lost everything. A friend said to him, “If you had the money you gave to start that church, you would have had enough to set yourself up in business again.” He replied, “I would have lost that money in the crash as well. As it is, it is the only money I saved. It is now in the bank of heaven yielding interest which will accumulate until eternity. Hundreds have come to Christ through the church it helped build.”

Why give God your tithe, offering, and benevolence? Because he can do more with it than we can. We will lose all we own. He will keep all we give. That’s a fact.

We cannot serve both God and money (21-24)

Here’s the other fact: you and I cannot serve both God and money. We must choose which will be our master, for one always is. And that one will shape our life purpose and mold our soul.

How we use our money reveals our true values: “where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (v. 21). But money also creates our values. How we spend our money shows and shapes who we are.

We will live either for the Creator or his creation. We will define success either by pleasing him or pleasing the world; accumulating reward in heaven or possessions on earth; acclaim in eternity or popularity today. We cannot have both.

But some try, as Jesus makes clear. He calls the eye the “lamp of the body.” He says it must be “good,” translating the word for “single.” If your eye gives your body a single image, you are “full of light”—you can see where you’re going.


To Open Blind Eyes, First Open Yours

To Open Blind Eyes, First Open Yours

John 9:1-7

Dr. Jim Denison

Thesis: Jesus heals us as he healed this man,

and now calls us to join him in his ministry of compassion

The following report to a state industrial commission was filed by a worker who was injured in the act of repairing a chimney:

“Respected Sir:

“When I got to the building, I found that the hurricane had knocked some bricks off the top. So I rigged up a beam with a pulley at the top of the building and hoisted up a couple of barrels full of bricks. When I had fixed the building, there were a lot of bricks left over.

“I hoisted the barrel back up again and secured the line at the bottom, and then went and filled the barrel with extra bricks. Then I went to the bottom and cast off the line.

“Unfortunately, the barrel of bricks was heavier than I was, and before I knew what was happening, the barrel started down, jerking me off the ground. I decided to hang on, and halfway up, I met the barrel coming down and received a severe blow on the shoulder. I then continued to the top, banging my head against the beam and getting my finger jammed in the pulley. When the barrel hit the ground, it burst its bottom, allowing the bricks to spill out. I was heavier than the empty barrel, so I started up again at high speed. Halfway down, I met the barrel coming up, and received severe injuries to my shins. When I hit the ground, I landed on the bricks, getting several painful cuts from the sharp edges.

“At this point I must have lost my presence of mind, because I let go of the line. The barrel then came down giving me another heavy blow on the head and putting me in the hospital.”

We’ve all been on that brickpile, and we’ll all return there again. Are you there today? This week’s miracle will help you find the Great Physician and his hope. Do you know people on brickpiles of pain, despair, or loneliness? The miracle before us will help you help them. Our suffering can be great, but our Savior is greater, as this week’s study will prove.

See the need (v. 1)

Our story occurred on a Sabbath (John 9.14). Jesus has returned to Judea, where he has been teaching in the temple courts (John 8.2). The annual Feast of Tabernacles has just occurred in mid-October (Tenney 100). Jesus may have met the man in our story as he sat begging by the Temple, or at the Pool of Siloam (since its waters were used for the Feast of Tabernacle rituals just completed). Wherever our story began, it started with Jesus. He noticed a man who could not see him: “As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth” (John 9.1).

Jesus had not begun the day intending to heal this man. He was “passing along,” walking through the day before him. So much of his ministry was done by “walking around,” helping the people he chanced to meet, seeing their pain and offering his hope.

So it was that he “saw” this man. The Greek word translated “saw” here means to fix the gaze, to look earnestly (Hovey 201). Jesus gave him more than a passing glance—he paid attention to his predicament.

When he saw the man, he saw his need: he was “blind from birth.” Simple observation could not have told him this. How would anyone know when the man’s blindness had begun? It’s possible that the man told him (Lenski 675), or that his reputation preceded him (cf. v. 8). But the syntax suggests to me that the instant Jesus saw the man he knew that his blindness was congenital. If he could heal this man’s blindness, he could determine its source.

This insight gave the Great Physician enough information for a diagnosis: his illness has persisted for many years, caused by a physical abnormality which could not be treated by first-century medicine. There was no medical option for this man. He needed not a physician, but a miracle.

What Jesus knew of this man, he knows today of you: “My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place. When I was woven together in the depths of the earth, your eyes saw my unformed body. All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be. How precious concerning me are your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them! Were I to count them, they would outnumber the grains of sand” (Psalm 139.15-18, NIV footnote). The Physician who saw this man and his need sees yours. The blind man could not see Jesus, as we cannot see him today. But the one who cannot see is visible to the One who can.

He sees you and your problems today: “your Father knows what you need before you ask him” (Matthew 6.8). Our prayers do not inform God of our needs; rather, they yield them to the only One who can solve them.

Now Jesus calls us to see others as he sees us. This week’s miracle is the only account in the gospels of Jesus healing a person with a congenital physical problem (Robertson 160, Barclay 37). But we find another such account early in Christian history: “One day Peter and John were going up to the temple at the time of prayer—at three in the afternoon. Now a man crippled from birth was being carried to the temple gate called Beautiful, where he was put every day to beg from those going into the temple courts” (Acts 3.1-2). Here is a man who had begged for 40 years beside the Temple (Acts 4.22). For their entire lives, Peter and John have seen him there and passed him by. But not today.


What’s Your Problem?

What’s Your Problem?

John 2:1-11

Dr. Jim Denison

Thesis: We should give our needs to Jesus as Mary did—

in simple faith and obedience

In the summer of 1994 the Associated Press reported a robbery which ended in a very unusual way. In Conway, Arkansas, Cindy Hartman was awakened by the telephone. As she started to answer it, she was stopped by a burglar. The burglar tore the phone cord from the wall and told her to get in the closet.

Cindy dropped to her knees to pray. She then turned to the robber and asked if she could pray for him. She told him that God loved him and so did she. She told the man that she forgave him for what he was doing.

How did this hardened criminal react? He fell to his knees beside her in prayer, and asked her forgiveness. He told the other burglar with him that they could not steal from a Christian family, so they unloaded everything they had taken He borrowed a shirt from Cindy and removed his fingerprints. He then removed the bullets from his gun and gave it to Cindy. Not that she wanted it—she had all the protection she needed.

Webster defines a “miracle” as “an event or action that apparently contradicts known scientific laws and is hence thought to be due to supernatural causes, especially to an act of God.” Cindy Hartman would agree. How can we receive such help in our lives?

We begin a study of the miracles of Jesus as found in the Gospel of John. Our purpose will not be a theoretical investigation of the miraculous, but a practical study of ways people like us experienced the miraculous power of God in their daily lives. We all need the help Cindy Hartman found. Perhaps, for you or someone in your class, the burglar is in your house right now.

Where do you need the miraculous power of God in your life today? Keep that problem or burden in mind as we study together. It may be that at the end of our story, it will include you.

Invite Jesus to your home

The first miracle performed by the Son of God began in a most inauspicious place: “On the third day a wedding took place at Cana in Galilee” (John 2:1). Cana was a village so insignificant that its location has not been determined with absolute certainty. Most archaeologists identify it as Kefr Kenna, 3.5 miles from Nazareth, though other locations are also possible (Robertson 33). It is mentioned twice more in John’s Gospel: Jesus performed a second miracle there (4:46, the event we’ll study next); and the disciple Nathaniel is identified as being from this tiny village (21:2). Cana of Galilee is found nowhere else in the word of God. If Jesus would begin his ministry there, he will continue it where you live today.

Our story unfolds on a Wednesday afternoon, the fourth day of the Jewish week, at a wedding. This was the day for the marriage of virgins, as prescribed in the Jewish law (Morris 178; Brown 98; Robertson 33).

When we trace the events of the week leading to the wedding, we learn that Jesus has been busy. He called James and John to be his first followers on the previous Sabbath (our Saturday) in John 1:39. Andrew and Simon joined him the following day (John 1:40-42). On Monday he called Philip and Nathaniel to discipleship, and “decided to leave for Galilee” (John 1:43). His fledgling group traveled on Tuesday, arriving late that evening or Wednesday morning (cf. Brown 98). This chronology will become important to our story momentarily.

Jesus’ group has come to a wedding, “one of the supreme occasions” of common life in ancient Palestine (Barclay 97). The marriage ceremony was celebrated late Wednesday evening, following an all-day feast. Then the couple was led to their new home under the light of flaming torches, with a canopy held over their heads. For a week they wore crowns, dressed in bridal robes, and were treated and even addressed as a king and queen. In lives filled with poverty and hard work, this was a joyous celebration for the entire village (Barclay 96-7).

Why did Jesus come? Later in our study we will explore the wonderful spiritual lessons found in the fact that Jesus chose to begin his public ministry at such a party. For now, let’s focus on the practical: “Jesus’ mother was there, and Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding” (John 2:1b-2). Our Lord came because he was invited.

So, why was he invited? We have no knowledge of any previous relationship between Jesus and this village. Cana was likely close to Nazareth, so Jesus could simply have known the wedding party or their friends and thus been included in their party. But Mary was already at the wedding, acting in a somewhat official capacity, when her Son arrived. As we will observe in a moment, she felt responsibility for the fact that the wedding wine had run out, had the authority to order the servants to obey Jesus’ instructions, and assumed that he would give them. Not a typical role for a typical guest.

So twenty centuries of commentators have speculated as to Mary’s purpose at this wedding, and have connected Jesus’ invitation to her role there. Her husband Joseph is not mentioned in the story, and was apparently already dead. And so it is possible that Mary was serving the wedding in some professional capacity, as a means to self-support; we might call her the “caterer” today. But it is much more likely that she was a relative of someone in the wedding party (David Brown 1085; Barnes 191).

The text gives us nothing beyond this possibility. But legend proceeds where biblical exposition will not go. Some ancient traditions suggested that Simon the Zealot, one of Jesus’ twelve disciples, was the bridegroom in question, and even that he was the son of Mary’s sister. Others made the bridegroom none other than John himself, the author of this Gospel, and claimed that he was the son of Mary’s sister (cf. Barclay 96). No one can, or should, say.


Why Does God Allow War?

Why Does God Allow War?

John 20:10-18

Dr. Jim Denison

Why does God allow war? I trust we understand that he does not cause it. Japanese bombers invading Pearl Harbor, or Hitler’s tanks invading Poland, or Saddam Hussein invading Kuwait or harboring weapons of mass destruction—these things cause war. It is a simple fact, regardless of our political views, that we would not be at war in Iraq today if Hussein had disarmed.

But why does God allow it? Our Creator has given us freedom of will, so we have the capacity to choose to love him and live by his word. And so he must allow us the capacity to choose to reject him and refuse his word. The consequences of such misused freedom are not God’s fault but ours.

But still, why does he allow such consequences? Here’s one reason: to use human crisis for spiritual purposes.

If a person escapes adolescence without faith in Christ, he typically does not turn to the Lord unless he needs him. Unless there’s a divorce, or illness, or job loss, or crisis. Unless there’s a war. During the Civil War, for instance, as many as 300,000 soldiers came to faith in Christ.

Already we’re hearing such stories from Iraq. Servicemen and women turning to faith in Jesus, sharing their faith in Jesus, standing for Jesus. In the contemporary service I showed the picture of Pfc. David Kurns, one of eight members of the 3rd Infantry Division who were baptized north of Kuwait City on March 12. They made a hole in the desert, filled it with bottled water, and used it to tell the world they trust in Jesus.

How can we redeem this crisis, this suffering, this tragedy for spiritual and eternal good? As we meet Mary Magdalene, the first to tell the world about Jesus’ resurrection, we must ask: how can we do for Jesus what Mary did for him?

We’re unqualified

So, we have today a message about personal ministry and evangelism. But we aren’t all pleased with the topic.We know the need is great: 100,000 living within three miles of our church who are not in any worship service this morning.

And we know people personally who need Jesus. Think of someone you know who is spiritually lost. Why have you not told that person about Jesus? I bet I know some of the reasons. I face them myself. So did Mary.

First: you’re unqualified. You don’t have the education, the training, the ability, the calling.

You wouldn’t see a heart attack victim in a hospital and think you could perform heart surgery unless you were qualified; you wouldn’t hear that a friend has cancer and administer radiation unless you were trained.

It’s the same with souls as bodies, isn’t it? Spiritual surgery is for spiritual surgeons. They might ask a question you can’t answer, or you might not do this properly. Best to leave evangelism and ministry to the professionals.

Well, meet one such “professional,” the first evangelist for the risen Christ. Here are her qualifications:

She’s a woman, of course. And women had no social status whatever. A female was the possession of her father until she became the possession of her husband. Making things worse, she was from Magdala, a town on the western shore of the Sea of Galilee, so she’s a Galilean. A backwoods country bumpkin in the eyes of sophisticated society. She fails socially. But things get worse.

Mary sees the same miracle as John: the grave clothes intact and folded. But she doesn’t “see and believe.” She misses the point. She has no formal education or biblical background, and so she doesn’t put the scriptures together. She fails intellectually. But things get worse still.

Luke’s Gospel gives us the only reference to Mary from Magdala before Jesus’ crucifixion when it describes her as one “from whom seven demons had come out” (Luke 8:2). A demoniac when Jesus met her.

Imagine this: a person of inferior social rank and status, with no theological training or educational background, and a former demoniac at that—the first person given responsibility for Easter. No one could be less qualified.

Unless, that is, it’s Simon Peter, the leader of the apostles who slept through Jesus’ Garden temptations, denied him three times to servants, and fled from the cross. Or perhaps Saul of Tarsus, the enraged Pharisee who murdered Christians.

Or perhaps Augustine, the immoral adulterer; or Martin Luther, the confused and troubled monk; or John Smyth and Thomas Helwys, the English outlaws who started the church called Baptist; or William Carey, the shoe cobbler shouted down by the ministerial alliance to whom he appealed for missions support; or Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German prisoner of war “silenced” by the Gestapo.

No one is less qualified than Mary, unless it’s me, a convert to Christ out of a bus ministry in Houston. Or you.

We’re unmotivated

Sometimes we’re afraid to tell the world about the risen Christ, because we don’t feel qualified. And sometimes we’re just not motivated. We don’t want to pay the price.

We’re afraid of failing, or of being rejected. We’re afraid of offending the person with whom we share our faith.

Or we’re not convinced that this is really necessary. After all, our friends believe in God. They live moral lives. A loving Father wouldn’t send his children to hell—that’s just a tactic to scare people into the church. It doesn’t really matter what they believe, so long as they’re sincere. Actor Adrien Brody said it well at the Oscars: whether you believe in God or Allah, may he watch over you.

Or we’re not convinced that Christianity is really true. It’s true for us but it may not be for everyone. After all, there are lots of unanswered questions about this faith. What about contradictions in the Bible? What about science and faith issues? And what about evil and suffering—why would an all-good, all-powerful allow such evil as 9-11? Why would he allow my father’s heart disease, or your child’s cancer?