Covenant Restored

Covenant Restored

Joshua 8: 1-35

Dr. Jim Denison

Thesis: We must seek God’s will for each battle we fight.

Goal: Learn why and how to seek God’s will daily.

One of the most common questions I’ve been asked in 20 years of pastoral ministry has been: how can I know the will of God? We need his will for specific decisions—vocational opportunities or problems, family issues, financial commitments. We need his will for our relationships. We need his will for the use of our time, talent, and treasure. Nothing is more important to the follower of Jesus than that we know and follow the will of God for our lives. So how can we find this will each day?

Frederick Buechner was right: “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” He has an overarching will for our lives, a purpose for our existence. Stephen Covey distinguishes between the compass (our values, vision, principles and mission) and the clock (our commitments, appointments, activities). We want God’s will for both.

When we find and fulfill that will, we can follow Jim Elliot’s advice: “Wherever you are, be all there. Live to the hilt every situation you believe to be the will of God.” You and I will live with purpose, fulfillment, and significance only to the degree that we live in the will of God. So again we ask: how can we find this daily will?

Review all the ways God has led his people to this point. At the Red Sea, Moses held up his shepherd’s rod and the waters parted. At the flooded Jordan, the priests stepped into the water before it stopped. At Jericho, the army marched around the city walls. Now they would embark on yet another strategy, one of the most ingenious in war literature.

What’s the point? We must seek God’s will each day, for that day. His plans for yesterday may not be his plans for today. The way we cross the Red Sea may not be the way we cross the Jordan. We will defeat Ai differently than we defeated Jericho. Only when we live in this day, seeking God’s will for this moment, can we find and fulfill that will.

Norman Vincent Peale used to illustrate the point this way. He and his wife had a summer house, to which they would often arrive at night. A rough path of stepping stones led from the parking area to the house. Their flashlight would not illumine the entire path, just the stones directly before them. But when they stepped on each stone as the light revealed it to them, they reached their house safely. Let’s learn how to find that next stone.

Seek God’s will for this moment (vs. 1-2)

Francis Schaeffer was right: God is there and he is not silent. Hundreds of times the Bible records the words, “the Lord said to….” He speaks through his creation, his word, our worship, his Spirit. Just because we do not hear him does not mean he is not speaking. Radio and television waves fill the room where you are reading these words. You will not hear them unless you are “tuned in” to their frequency. The problem is not with them but with you.

In our text, the Lord began with yet another word of personal, direct encouragement to his general: “Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.” He repeated the message for emphasis, an early example of Jewish parallelism. Three times already he has given Joshua such verbal support (1:3-5; 3:11-13; 6:2-5). But never was this encouragement more needed than now.

When we sin, we often feel shame and discouragement more than courage and hope. After the first military defeat in their history, Joshua and his people needed to know that the Lord was still with them, that they were his covenant people and heirs to his promises and provision.

His word not only encouraged their spirit, but also guided their next step: “Take the whole army with you, and go up and attack Ai.” Not the 3,000 dictated earlier by human wisdom (7:3). Not led by the priests, as at the Jordan. In a moment he will show Joshua how to use this army victoriously.

They would march with this assurance: “I have delivered into your hands the king of Ai, his people, his city and his land” (v. 1b). It is already done—the battle is won. Now that Joshua and his people are walking in the covenant will of God, their victory is assured. They could have won this victory earlier, but their sin hindered the power of God. Now the king, his people, his city and his land would be theirs.

With this change from the Jericho strategy: “you may carry off their plunder and livestock for yourselves” (v. 2a). If only Achan had waited! God’s will is always determined by the need of the moment. Now they would need this sustenance as they proceeded further into the land.

They would go with this military gambit: “Set an ambush behind the city” (v. 2b). God has a will not only for our needs, but also for our service. We must ever remain flexible to his purposes. We never change the message, but we must always examine the means.

Martin Luther set Protestant theology to familiar melodies, including barroom tunes, creating what we now sing as “traditional” hymns. The organ was divisive when first introduced to sacred worship, as it did not use human breath and was not sanctioned by the New Testament. The Sunday school was a novelty in the early 18th century. Many of us remember when churches did not have a “youth ministry.”

90% of the changes in human history occurred in the 20th century, 90% of those in the last decade. We currently possess 3% of the information which will be available to us by the year 2025. And so we must seek God’s will for this moment.

Carlyle’s advice is worth following: “Our main business is not to see what lies dimly in the future, but to do what lies clearly at hand.” Augustine added: “God will not suffer man to have a knowledge of things to come; for if he had prescience of his prosperity, he would be careless; and if understanding of his adversity, he would be despairing and senseless.” I know I would.

We want to avoid the “paralysis of analysis.” George MacDonald speaks for us all: “Doing the will of God leaves me no time for disputing about his plans.” Even God cannot help me with that which does not exist, and “tomorrow” does not exist. It is not a reality but an expectation nowhere promised by the word of God. So seek God’s will for this moment, and he will reveal it to you. He wants you to know his will more than you do. If you’re unclear as to the next step to take, don’t step until you know his will. In his time, in his ways, he will light your path. One step at a time.

Prepare for the battles to come (vs. 3-13)

Now we find the paradox of God’s will: we do not live in the future, but we prepare for it. We are to be sure that we are in his sovereign will and purpose with this day. And we are to seek his will as regards the preparations we are to make for the future. We need his guidance, for each day and each event of our lives is a spiritual conflict. There are no exceptions.

The apostle Peter knew whereof he spoke: “Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8). We are to “be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power,” because “our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 6:10, 12).

Joshua’s coming war was no more real than ours. The God who guided his preparations will guide ours as well. In this case, Joshua was led to select the right people: 30,000 of his “best fighting men.” They were shown the right timing: at night, when they would not be detected by their enemy. They were directed to the right location: behind the city, not far from its walls (v. 4).

They were given the right strategy: advance on the city, drawing the army of Ai out to battle with a feigned retreat. Then those stationed behind the city would be free to attack it. The resulting fire would signal Joshua’s troops to begin their own offensive against the surrounded and ambushed army. When all was ready, “Joshua spent the night with the people” (v. 9). They were in danger in this valley. But in every valley, their Lord and ours is with his people (Psalm 23:4).

Now came Joshua’s advance. The army marched 15 miles from Gilgal to the front of Ai, setting up camp to the north. 5,000 lay in ambush to the west of the city, between Bethel and Ai. The rest of the 30,000 who had been chosen earlier were probably stationed still further back, to prevent retreat when Joshua’s forces reversed and attacked. And the rest of the army was likely stationed further north of the city, where the king of Ai could not see them. This rough sketch may help to visualize the theater of war:


The remainder of the Israeli army


Joshua and his men

The remainder of The 5,000Ai

the 30,000 troopstroops

Joshua would begin the attack with the small contingent which had camped with him in sight of the king of Ai. The king would send his men to repel what he thought was an assault identical to the one they had defeated earlier. All was in place.

Once we know the will of God, we must do whatever that will requires of us in preparation for its fulfillment. Noah was told to build an Ark when it likely had never rained, and spent 100 years in preparation for that day. Moses and his people made their preparations for the Passover before the death angel visited Egypt. Elijah prepared the altar before God sent the fire (1 Kings 18). Solomon built the Temple before the glory of the Lord would fill it. Jesus blessed the small lunch provided by the boy before he used it to feed the multitude.

James warned us: “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it—he will be blessed in what he does” (James 1:22-25).

Before you step into the battle which is before you, be sure your heart and plans are prepared in the will of God. Is there a place where you are disobedient to his word? Grieving his Spirit? Unprepared for his next step in your life? To know the will of God, first we seek it for this day. Then we seek it for the preparations we must make for tomorrow.

The victory goes to those who saw it before it ever transpired. At the opening of Disneyworld in Orlando, Walt Disney’s widow was told, “It’s a shame Walt never saw this day.” She quietly replied, “He did.”

Stay obedient to the plan of God (vs. 14-29)

We are right with the Father for today. We are prepared for the next step as he has revealed it to us. Now we must take that step, always a decision of faith. Spiritual obedience always transcends the empirical evidence at hand. Always.

Joshua has divided his army, so that the 30,000 cannot help their general if he is overrun in battle. The Ai army has defeated them before; will they lose to them again? Their leader is in personal jeopardy; will he be defeated or worse?

Joshua and his contingent attacked, then retreated according to God’s plan. Then he held high his javelin, signaling the attack from the ambush. As with Moses’ rod of old, God used a stick in the hand of his man to bring himself glory. As the text makes clear, the ambush was successful beyond all expectations: all of Ai was captured, without a single recorded Israeli casualty. Such perfection is impossible in human strategy. But it can be the gift of God.

The people killed the pagan, idolatrous inhabitants of Ai, kept the plunder for themselves, burned the city, and executed the king publicly. They likely stoned him to death, as the Jews did not execute people by hanging them from ropes. They then impaled his corpse on a tree or pole as a public example. Finally they buried his corpse beneath a large pile of rocks (v. 29), in obedience to the word of God which forbade leaving a body hanging overnight (Deuteronomy 21:23).

Note that if any part of the army had disobeyed this plan, all would have been lost. If Joshua and his contingent had not retreated, the Ai army would have been in the city when the ambush occurred. If the ambush had not been effected, Joshua’s troops could not have trapped their enemy. Total, consistent obedience is essential to the victory God intends to give his people.

Said the poet:

For want of a nail, a horse was lost;

For want of a horse, a rider was lost;

For want of a rider, a message was lost;

For want of a message, a battle was lost;

For want of a battle, a war was lost.

Every follower of Jesus is crucial to his body, whether we are his hands or feet, his eyes or ears (1 Corinthians 12:12-31). Which part of your body are you ready to sacrifice today? What don’t you need?

I was invited to church by two men who asked me to ride their bus to church the following Sunday morning. If that bus had broken down in August of 1973, I might not be writing these words today. A mechanic had as must to do with my conversion as a minister. Your obedience to God’s plan for your life is crucial to the spiritual growth of those you teach. And to your own soul as well.

Stand on the word of God (vs. 30-35)

Joshua knew that guidance is first of all a relationship with the Guide. And so he concluded the battle of Ai with another altar, built to the glory of the One who had given them the victory.

He built the altar of stones of uncut stones according to the word of God (Exodus 20:25).

Then he gathered the people according to earlier instructions given by Moses to the people (Deuteronomy 11:26-30), stationing half before Mount Gerazim and the other half before Mount Ebal. It has been noted that these mountains comprised land not yet subdued by Israel, at least in the recorded history of their conquest. Some suggest that the Gibeonite treaty described in chapter 9 led to the peace made apparent by the narrative of 8:30-35, so that the present text actually follows chronologically the events about to be narrated. Nothing in the text forbids such an interpretation, as the writer nowhere indicated that he would be bound by strict chronology in telling the story.

It is also possible that events not recorded in the book of Joshua led to the conquest required by the nation’s peaceful stance before Gerazim and Ebal. And it is entirely possible that the peoples in this part of the land, seeing the conquest of Ai and Jericho before, chose to join Israel rather than fight them. They would then be part of the “aliens” referenced as part of “all Israel” (v. 33).

Here Joshua led the assembled people in burnt offerings in atonement for their sins (see Leviticus 1:1-17) and fellowship offerings as voluntary acts of worship and community (see Leviticus 3:1-17; 7:11-18). He knew that their military victory did not guarantee their spiritual health. They must stay obedient to the word of God for their souls as well as their nation.

Now he copied the “law of Moses” on stones covered with plaster, according to the regulation of Moses (v. 32, cf. Deuteronomy 27:2-4; the syntax indicates that the stones were specially prepared earlier). From these words Joshua then read: “There was not a word of all that Moses had commanded that Joshua did not read to the whole assembly of Israel, including the women and children, and the aliens who lived among them” (v. 35).

We don’t know if Joshua read only the Ten Commandments, a section of Deuteronomy, or the entire book. But the entire nation heard every word he read. The mountains formed a kind of natural amphitheater where his voice carried to every person in the family of Israel.

The point was clear: the nation would stand on the word of God. They would follow that word into their future, together. Every member of the children of Israel was equally obligated to this word, equally privileged to obey its truth, equally charged with its obedience.

It is of course the same with us. God’s will never contradicts his revealed truth. You will never be led by God into a course of action which is contrary to Holy Scripture. To walk in his will, you must stand on his word.


What battle is before you this week? Have you consulted the Lord to find his plan for waging it? Or are you planning to do what you have always done? Someone has defined “insanity” as doing the same thing while expecting a different result. The “seven last words of the church” are always the same: we never did it that way before. What if this were the motto of Israel in Joshua 8?

So how do we determine God’s will for the present moment? We begin by seeking it; even God cannot give us what we will not receive. We have not because we ask not (James 4:2). But when we lack wisdom and ask for it from God, he will give “generously to all without finding fault” (1:5). We prepare for the steps before us, as the Father leads us. We stay obedient to his plan, no matter who opposes it. And we stand continually on his word, for it is the armament which always win spiritual victory.

Along with these steps from Joshua 8, some practical guidelines may help you. Jim Pleitz, former pastor of Park Cities Baptist Church, suggested these questions years ago; I’ve kept them in my “God’s will” file, and share them with gratitude.

Personality test: will doing this make me a better or worse Christian?

Social test: will it influence others for better or worse?

Practical test: will the results of my doing it be desirable?

Universal test: if everyone did it, would society be improved or degraded?

Scriptural test: does the Bible endorse or condemn it?

Stewardship test: will this constitute a waste of talent or goods?

Missionary test: will it enhance or harm my influence?

Character test: will it harm or help my moral stamina?

Publicity test: would I be willing to have my fellow Christians know it?

Family test: will it bring dishonor or embarrassment to my family?

Common sense test: does it agree with ordinary common sense?

Financial test: will it rob me of my ability to do my part in supporting the financial needs of God’s kingdom?

Fairness test: is it honest? Is it a demonstration of the Golden Rule?

Know that God wants you to know his will more than you do. Seek it for this day, this moment, this battle. Ask him to guide you through scripture, prayer, worship, circumstances, and the influence of others. Ask him to open and close doors of opportunity. Determine beforehand to do whatever he reveals. As you seek his will for today, preparing for tomorrow, obeying all he reveals through his word, the victory will come. And it will exceed any expectation you had any right to hold.

Fred Rogers was interviewed near the end of his life and remarkable career. He closed this way: “I think God is at the junction of every choice we make, and knows the consequences before we do, and is with us as they unfold. You know, when I decided to look for work in television, I couldn’t possibly have known how I would be used. I’ve simply tried to be open to the possibilities God has made available to me.”

When we stay open in this way, God is able to move us into his plan. As we seek him in prayer, he molds us to his purpose. Henrietta Mears, the education director at First Presbyterian Church in Hollywood, California, was enormously influential in the lives of Billy Graham and Bill Bright. She once said, “If I throw out a boat-hook from the boat and catch hold of the shore and pull, do I pull the shore to me, or do I pull myself to the shore? Prayer is not pulling God to my will, but the aligning of my will to the will of God.” And only he knows the full significance of that will for us.

The most popular biblical commentary in the English language is undoubtedly William Barclay’s Daily Study Bible series. While preachers the world over own its volumes and read them with great appreciation, myself included, few know how they came to be.

The Church of Scotland’s Publications Committee had been tentatively experimenting with the idea of commentaries on selected books of the Bible. One or two had already appeared in print. Then William Barclay received a call from the Committee’s Publishing Manager, Rev. Andrew McCosh, a long-standing friend and former fellow student of Dr. Barclay. “We’ve been rather let down in our planning,” said McCosh. “Could you help us out, Willie, and do a commentary in a hurry on one of the books of the Bible? That will fill the gap and give us time to look around for someone really good.”

In response to the need of the moment, Barclay wrote his Daily Study Commentary on the Acts of the Apostles. It was an immediately, tremendous success. He was invited to follow it with another volume, then another. And so the 17 volumes were written. I’m looking at my copy as I write these words, with great gratitude.

What “books” does God have in mind for you?

Final Preparations

Final Preparations

Joshua 5:1-12

Dr. Jim Denison

Thesis: We can win spiritual battles only when we are prepared spiritually.

Goal: Identify disciplines by which we are prepared for spiritual warfare today.

In John Bunyan’s classic Pilgrim’s Progress, the main character is appropriately named Christian. Early in his pilgrimage, Christian arrives at the House Beautiful, where he is taken to the spiritual “armory.” Here “he saw all kinds of equipment for soldiers in the holy war: swords, shields, helmets, breastplates, effectual prayer, and shoes that would never wear out.” He was told that “the Ruler of the hill had enough of this equipment to furnish every person who desired to resist evil in his progress to the promised land. No matter how great the number who needed such equipment, there was enough for all.”

That’s good news, for every Christian needs this equipment to win the spiritual battle which comprises life on this fallen planet. The warfare for which Joshua and his people would prepare in this week’s text was no less real than the spiritual war your class will face on Monday. While the Israelites faced armies which knew of their presence and wanted to destroy them, our enemy is just as real, and even more deadly than theirs.

Satan is still a roaring lion, seeking to devour us (1 Pt 5:8). If you knew an enemy were crouching, about to attack you as you read these words, would you want to be ready? What would you need to be prepared? The requirements God made of his people in Joshua 5 made no sense in military terms, but they were essential to spiritual victory. They still are.

Trust your body to his purpose (vs. 1-9)

Our text begins with good news: the Amorites and Canaanites in the Promised Land have heard about the miracle of the Jordan, and “their hearts melted and they no longer had the courage to face the Israelites” (v. 1). Now is the perfect time to attack. Any military commander would seize such an advantage. In warfare, it is always best to strike first and immobilize the enemy.

So the Lord gave Joshua and his people a command to do exactly the opposite. God knew that military strength and human resolve would never be enough to defeat the enemies of his people. They must stay yielded to him in body, soul, and spirit. He began their final preparations with the physical surrender represented by the ancient rite of circumcision (vs. 2-3).

Circumcision was practiced by a variety of nations across the world. In biblical times it was a custom in Moab, Ammon, and Edom as well as Israel. Egyptians performed the rite either at puberty or in preparation for marriage. Scholars suggest several reasons for the widespread practice: sanitation, a tribal mark, and a kind of blood sacrifice which sealed a religious covenant.

Even though the events of our text occurred during the Bronze Age, when bronze implements were common, the Lord directed his people to use flint knives. In so doing, they preserved ancient customs and employed a safer medical procedure (cf. NavPress p. 58). But such an action would immobilize the fighting men of the army and render them subject to attack from their enemies.

So why would the Lord require such strange obedience?

Circumcision began as a covenant between God and Abraham, and was required of all his male descendants (Genesis 17:10-14). The practice served as a symbol for spiritual purity, so that sinful lips were considered “uncircumcised” (Exodus 6:12), as were forbidden fruit (Leviticus 19:23) and disobedient ears (Jeremiah 6:10). Foreigners were “uncircumcised in heart and flesh” and would thus “desecrate” God’s temple (Ezekiel 44:7, 9).

The “hearts” of the people must be circumcised (Leviticus 26:41; Deuteronomy 10:16), an action God must initiate: “The Lord your God will circumcise your hearts and the hearts of your descendants, so that you may love him with all your heart and with all your soul, and live” (Deuteronomy 30.6). We must participate in this discipline as well: “Circumcise yourselves to the Lord, circumcise your hearts, you men of Judah and people of Jerusalem, or my wrath will break out and burn like fire because of the evil you have done—burn with no one to quench it” (Jeremiah 4.4).

This rite was never a guarantee of relationship with God. Rather, it indicated the faith upon which such a relationship is based (Romans 4:9-12). For Christians, baptism is our circumcision (Colossians 2:11-15), the sign that we have entered into God’s covenant community. Today circumcision is performed for medical or family reasons, not spiritual. For believers, “circumcision is circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the written code” (Romans 2.29). Paul summarized: “Circumcision is nothing and uncircumcision is nothing. Keeping God’s commands is what counts” (1 Corinthians 7.19; cf. Galatians 5.6).

Jewish males were to be circumcised when they were eight days old. However, none in Joshua’s army had been so initiated into the covenant community. God would not allow this ceremony while the disobedient generation wandered in the wilderness. They were no longer part of his covenant nation. But now their descendants had proven their faith in God at the Jordan, positioning themselves to receive God’s covenant of grace. Their circumcision sealed the nation’s renewed relationship with their Lord.

The men remained at camp until they were healed physically (v. 8). Then God made a strange statement: “Today I have rolled away the reproach of Egypt from you” (v. 9). Perhaps the circumcised Egyptians saw their previously uncircumcised former slaves as reproachable. God’s words may also be interpreted as indicating that the Jewish nation would have been destroyed by God if they had refused this act of sacrificial faith, leading to reproach by the Egyptians.

Or this statement by the Lord may be intended to recall the reproach which began in Egypt, as the people eventually forsook the Lord and were forced into the wilderness. The crossing of the Jordan now symbolized their death and rebirth, and their circumcision constituted them as the children of God.

In their circumcision, the Jewish people surrendered themselves physically to God. They chose to trust him for military protection, yielding themselves to an act which rendered them defenseless against their enemies. They accepted significant physical pain as a way of committing themselves to their God. In the same way, our Lord calls his people today to physical surrender as a means to spiritual victory. Our bodies must be yielded to God as “living sacrifices” before we can know his “good, pleasing and perfect will” (Romans 12:1, 2). Only when we belong fully to God can he use us fully.

Is your body yielded to the Father? Does he have control of that which you consume? The ways you use your physical resources? Your appearance and public witness? Such surrender always comes at a price. But Jim Elliott, the martyred missionary, was right: he is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.

Trust your future to his providence (v. 10)

From physical sacrifice, the Lord next called his people to spiritual sacrifice. For the first time in a generation, they would observe their most holy tradition: the Passover.

Israel crossed the Jordan on the 10th day of the month Abib, the first month in the Jewish calendar. On that very day, 40 years earlier, the people had selected their first Passover lambs (Ex 12:1-5; cf. NavPress 60). On the 11th of Abib the men were circumcised, and rested until the 14th. Then came the day of Passover, 14th Abib.

As you will recall, this was the climactic event which created the Jewish nation. God’s death angel “passed over” the Jewish households who had painted the blood of a sacrificial lamb over their doorposts. By this act, the Lord freed his people from Pharaoh and began their history as a people. The Passover feast would forever be observed for seven days, concluding with the Feast of Unleavened Bread (Leviticus 23.5-6).

But the disobedient generation failed to observe this celebration, or were refused by God. Now, for the first time since Egypt, God’s people would again remember his Passover grace. On twilight of the 14th day of Abib, the lamb was slaughtered and eaten in accordance with Passover regulations (Exodus 12.5-8). Their celebration marked the fact that they were once again the covenant people of God.

The circumcision ritual just performed made personal the people’s commitment to God; this Passover observance made the same commitment on a communal level. The entire nation could participate in Passover on a level only males could share in circumcision. In so doing, the nation remembered all God had done for them, and claimed his promises for all he would do in leading them to their Promised Land. They renewed their spiritual commitment to their Creator and Redeemer.

Jesus is now “our Passover lamb” sacrificed for us (1 Corinthians 5.7). He was “the Lamb that was slain from the creation of the world” (Revelation 13.8). The Lord’s Supper now represents Passover for the followers of Jesus, as we remember his death on our behalf. One day we will celebrate this Supper with the Lord Jesus himself (Revelation 19.9), taking bread and cup from crucified hands. In the meanwhile, we use the Supper as they used the Passover meal: to look back so we can look forward.

Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard was right: “We live life forward, but only understand it backward.” When we remember all God has done to prove his love for us, we are encouraged to trust him for the future we cannot see. And we prepare spiritually to trust him as he leads us into that future by faith.

Before we can walk fully in the will of God, we must believe this will to be for our best. God needs a “blank check” from us. He will not reveal his purpose as an option for our consideration, but a command for our obedience. Only when we yield ourselves spiritually to him can we follow him to victory. When you cannot see what lies ahead, trust the One who can. Has he failed you yet?

Trust your needs to his provision (vs. 11-12)

The people faced one last preparation before they could take the land promised them by their Lord. They have surrendered their bodies as living sacrifices; they have remembered God’s grace so they could trust his providence. Now they must learn to yield their needs to his provision. They would enter a land which would resist them at every turn. Only when they believed that God would meet their daily needs, could they step into this war with faithful confidence.

“Manna” was provided by God for his people during their wilderness wanderings (Exodus 16.13-36). This frost-like substance met their physical needs during those years when they had no means of material sustenance. The wilderness through which they traveled was and is a dry, arid environment which could never have supported the millions who comprised the nation.

Why did the manna stop now?

The day after their first Passover in a generation, they ate grain from the land rather than manna from heaven, and the manna stopped. The spiritual lesson of the manna was simple: “to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord” (Deuteronomy 8.3). Now they were in that position addressed by Moses before his death: “When you have eaten and are satisfied, praise the Lord your God for the good land he has given you” (Deuteronomy 8:10). Now they would learn to trust God to meet their needs from the land which was theirs.

Imagine living each day by sustenance provided miraculously from God for that day. You cannot store ahead for the future (Ex 16.20), except as the Lord directs (v. 23). You can own no guaranteed investments, have no promised salary and benefits, receive no assured monetary support. Your only provision is manna from heaven. Actually, this is your exact position today. Not one of us is promised tomorrow. No economy is immune from catastrophe, no job beyond crisis, no investments safe from loss. In a very real sense we all live on manna from the hand of God. Whether this provision comes from the earth below or the heavens above, all we have is the gift of our Father.

And our Father promises that he will continue to meet our needs according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:19). We can do all things through the One who sustains and strengths us (v. 13). We can be content in every circumstance, confident of his provision (vs. 11-12).

Sometimes God heals us medically, and sometimes miraculously. But both come from our Great Physician. Sometimes God provides for our financial needs through our work, and sometimes by the grace of others. But both are his gifts to us. Sometimes God guides us through our reason and study, and sometimes through providential events. But both are his hand in our lives. Sometimes we live on grain grown from the earth, and sometimes on manna fallen from the skies. But both are his grace.

To step into the spiritual battle which is before you this day, decide now that you will trust the provision of your General and Father. Know that he will meet your every need as you walk in his will. Because he will.


When did you last experience a true victory in your spiritual life? A lost soul won to faith in Christ, a discouraged believer brought back to trust in the Father, temptation defeated, God glorified? When last did the Holy Spirit use and empower you in a life-transforming way? It was because you made the preparations required of Joshua’s people in this study’s text. When we do not see such victory, it is because we have not made such preparations. God can only bestow his gifts to those in position to receive them.

This study requires sacrifice and consistent commitment of us. But the favor and power of God are worth all they cost us in preparation. C. S. Lewis was right: “We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”

We can have the slum or the sea. The choice is ours.

God On Trial

God on Trial

Isaiah 40:12-17, 21-26

Dr. Jim Denison

A schoolteacher injured his back and had to wear a plaster cast around the upper part of his body. It fit under his shirt and was not noticeable at all.

On the first day of the term, still with the cast under his shirt, he found himself assigned to the toughest students in the school. Walking confidently into the rowdy classroom, he opened the windows as wide as possible and then busied himself with deskwork. When a strong breeze made his tie flap, he took the desk stapler and stapled the tie to his chest.

He had no discipline problems with any of his students that year.

The philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche claimed that the “will to power” is the basic drive in human nature.

We want more money, more fame, more status, more success, not for what they are in themselves, but as a means to power. Every crime is an expression of power. Nearly every item in the news reduces to a quest for power. Who will be in charge in Iraq? Who will win in Israel? Who will be governor of California, or the Democratic nominee for president? Who will have the power?

Faith reduces to this question: will I trust God’s power, or seek my own? Will I make Jesus the King of my ambitions, my future, my money, my family and friends, my life? Or am I on the throne, using faith and worship as a means to my end?

Judah is captive in Babylon. Does this mean their God is powerless? That he cannot or will not help his people? He is on trial, in the minds and faith of his people. Our text is a defense attorney’s speech on behalf of his client. He tells them, and us, why we should trust the power of God. Why we should make him King of our lives, our problems, our resources, our present and future. Let’s join the jury and listen in.

He is Lord of creation (vs. 12-14)

First, the attorney claims that the God on trial creates and controls all that exists. That he is Lord of all the universe. Therefore, he is God, and they are not. What data does he enter into evidence?

One: he is Lord of the oceans (v. 12a). He has “measured” them, a word which means that he has them under his complete understanding and control. And we do not.

The world’s oceans average 12,230 feet in depth, with a total volume of 322,280,000 cubic miles. How heavy are they? Each cubic mile of seawater weighs 4.7 billion tons. That’s what this God measures in the “hollow of his hand.”

By contrast, the deepest anyone has gone into the ocean without assistance and lived to tell about it was 236 feet, the dive of one Umberto Pelizzari in 1992. That’s just slightly longer than one New York City block. Who is more powerful, God or us?

Two: he is Lord of the “heavens,” the air and the universe beyond it (v. 12b). The part we can see is 90 billion trillion miles across. All the visible stuff in our solar system fills less than a trillionth of the available space. There are approximately 200 billion stars in just our galaxy. If you were randomly inserted into the universe, the chances that you would be on or near a planet would be less than one in a billion trillion trillion. That’s how large this universe is. But God measures it with the palm of his hand. Who is more powerful, God or us?

Three: this God is Lord of the earth, that he holds the dust of our planet in a basket (v. 12c).

We’re dealing with entities like protons, so small that the dot on an “i” in your Bible can hold 500 billion of them.

They make up atoms, which are somewhat larger. Find a “dash” in your Bible. An atom is to that dash as the thickness of a sheet of paper is to the Empire State Building. God holds and controls all of that.

And that he weights the mounts and hills of our planet in his balance as well (v. 12d). We’re dealing with 5.97 billion trillion metric tons. Who is more powerful, God or us?

Now the attorney claims that this God designed all of that, in far greater complexity than we can possibly imagine (vs. 13-14).

One cubic centimeter of air, about the size of a sugar cube, contains 45 billion billion molecules. What’s more, every atom you possess has passed through several stars and been part of millions of organisms across the universe’s history, before becoming you. I learned this week that a billion of your atoms probably belonged to Shakespeare, and another billion to Buddha, and Genghis Khan, and Beethoven, and George Washington, and any other historical figure you care to name.

By contrast, I read recently that the average American rush-hour driver wastes 51 hours sitting in traffic each year. Now, who’s smarter, God or us?

You’d be pleased today if Warren Buffett were to volunteer to guide your investment strategy, or Tiger Woods agreed to give you golf instruction; if Pete Sampras were to be your tennis coach, Don Nelson agreed to coach your son or daughter in basketball, or Bill Parcells volunteered to help you turn around a business or a team. This almighty God of the universe is available and ready, right now, to guide your steps, direct your decisions, and give your life greater joy and purpose than you can imagine. But only if he is your King. Only if you agree.

He is Lord of the nations (vs. 15-17, 21-24)

Now the defense attorney claims that this God who creates and controls the universe is also Lord of our planet, of our nations, of our people. Of your life and mine.

He regards the nations and all their power as “dust on the scales,” as “fine dust” (v. 15). The world’s armies comprise some 22 million soldiers. The world’s economy produces some $18 trillion a year. All this is “nothing,” “worthless,” and “less than nothing” to this God (v. 17). When we learn that he measures the entire universe with the palm of his hand, we can see why.

Our people are “grasshoppers” to him (v. 22). He brings our rulers “to naught,” reducing them “to nothing” (v. 23); “he blows on them and they wither, and a whirlwind sweeps them away like chaff” (v. 24).

In the last century, at least 17 nations ceased to exist. One, the Soviet Union, became fifteen new countries, a phenomenon many of us never expected to see.

God controls the affairs of men on a level we seldom recognize at the time. For instance, on the morning of August 13, 1961, soldiers built a wall some 28 miles in length and 15 feet in height, on the border of East Berlin and West Berlin. Across the next 28 years, 80 would die at the Berlin Wall, and 119 would be wounded in their attempt to escape to the freedom of the West. But God was still Lord.

He proved it. In 1969, during the height of the Communist oppression, the authorities ordered a TV tower to be constructed in Alexanderplatz, East Berlin. It rose to a height of 1197 feet. When it was first unveiled, to the horror of the authorities, the sun’s reflection produced the clear image of the cross. The cross, suspended high over Communist East Berlin. Just one reminder that God is on his throne.

On November 9, 1989, the Berlin Wall fell. I have a piece of it in my study. This week’s news brought reports of interest in preserving part of the wall as an historic monument, before it is completely gone. But the cross over Alexanderplatz remains. Because God is Lord of the nations.

The defense attorney concludes his remarks: “‘To whom will you compare me? Or who is my equal?’ says the Holy One. Lift your eyes and look to the heavens: Who created all these? He who brings out the starry host one by one, and calls them each by name. Because of his great power and mighty strength, not one of them is missing” (vs. 25-26). “Great power and mighty strength,” indeed.


Now the defense rests. Who is more powerful—God or us? Who is better able to direct our lives, give us purpose and significance, use our time, money, and abilities—God or us? Who should be the King of our lives and our days—God or us?

We have learned this fall that the God we worship is holy, thus deserving of our veneration and praise; he is forgiving, so that he will cleanse us of every sin we confess and make us able to come into his presence; he is love, so that he will answer our every prayer and meet our needs according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:19).

Now we learn that he is powerful—the Lord of the universe, of our planet, of our nation, of our lives. We relate this fact today to worship at the point of our possessions.

The “offertory” has been part of worship since the beginning of time. Every ancient culture worshiped a god or gods, and always brought to their deities offerings, sacrifices, gifts. The Jews made offerings central to their worship, and the early church brought this tradition into our faith.

And so we receive an offering each week during worship. Not to pay the bills of the church, for there are other ways to receive money for such needs. We do this to bring our gifts to God. To return to him part of what he has given to us. To trust him with our money and our needs. To make him the King of our possessions and our lives.

Starting next Sunday, we will move our offertory time in the worship service to make it as meaningful as God intends for it to be. It will follow the sermon and the invitation, and give each of us opportunity to use this time to respond to what we’ve heard and done. Time to give our money, but also our hearts. Time to confess our sins, to intercede with God for our needs, to trust God with our lives. Time to do business with the God of the universe, and to make him our King again this week.

Through this time we will give God control of our money and our lives. We will return to him the tithes and offerings which his word asks of us, so that he can use them to advance his gospel and his Kingdom around the world. We will also yield to him that which we do not give, and make him King of our resources and our lives.

Such a decision is the most intelligent way we can respond to the Lord of the universe. To put him in charge of our lives is to live the very best lives we can know. How can we do less?

Bill Bright was one of the most influential Christians of the last 100 years. The Founder of Campus Crusade for Christ and developer of the “Four Spiritual Laws” tract, he also produced the Jesus film which has been seen by billions across the globe.

Dr. Bright died on July 19th of this year, from lung disease. Last year, speaking at the Southern Baptist Convention, he explained the secret to his life of service and effectiveness: “We’re crucified with Christ; we’re buried with Him; we’re raised with Him. Galatians 2:20 tells us, ‘I am crucified with Christ, nevertheless I live. Yet not I, but Christ lives in me. The life which I now live in the flesh, I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave Himself for me.’

“This must be the pattern for our lives as well. In 1951, God led my wife, Vonette, and me to sigh a contract to be slaves of Jesus. I’d never heard of that being done, but it made a lot of sense. I was in business, and I signed a lot of contracts. But this was to be the most important contract Vonette and I would ever be involved in.

“We wrote it out one Sunday afternoon. At the time, I was in business, going to seminary, and had great dreams of serving the Lord Jesus—even though I didn’t know for sure where or how.

“About 24 hours later—after we had signed the contract—God, in a special way which words can never describe, gave me a vision we call Campus Crusade for Christ. Had there been no contract, in my opinion, there never would have been a vision. The vision followed the total, absolute surrender of our lives to the Lordship of Christ.

“The number one problem you and I will ever have goes all the way back to Adam and Eve. It is ego—self. Every problem that you can think of in your personal life, with your family, at your church goes back to self. We demand our rights and desires. All of that must be crucified with Christ.

“Every time self rears its ugly head we start to ask, ‘Why don’t people respect me more?’ ‘Why don’t they take me more seriously?’ ‘Why is this person criticizing me?’ ‘Why am I going through these experiences?’ The only solution is to die to self. In death, we find Christ truly is victor over all. . . .

“I can tell you that the last year of my life has been the most fruitful, productive and most joyful year—even though I’m on oxygen 24-hours a day. Circumstances do not contribute to misery. It’s our lack of understanding of who God is and His wonderful Holy purpose for us that frustrates so many. And the flesh rears its ugly head—always reminding us that we have our rights.

“Yet, you and I have no rights. We are dead. Our lives are hidden with Christ in God. We’ve been purchased with a price, the precious blood of the Lord Jesus. To surrender yourself totally, irrevocably, without reservations to the living Christ is the greatest privilege man can know in this life.

“To live the self-centered life is to live in self-imposed spiritual poverty. I’m eighty-one years old, and even though I’ve preached for many years, I’m just now beginning to truly understand the importance of being dead to Bill Bright

“Bill Bright has no rights in my life. Christ has purchased me. I belong to him. Now every morning you and I must get on our knees and acknowledge we belong to Jesus Christ. Only then can true revival begin.”

Bill Bright signed a contract to be the “slave” of Jesus. To put his life completely in the powerful hands of the Lord of the universe. Did he make the right decision?

Will you?

Good News For Skeptics

Good News for Skeptics

Isaiah 55:8-11

Dr. Jim Denison

I read this week that no piece of paper can be folded more than seven times. Donkeys kill more people annually than plane crashes. Walt Disney, the inventor of Mickey Mouse, was afraid of mice. A duck’s quack doesn’t echo, and no one knows why. Women blink twice as much as men. Elephants are the only animals that can’t jump. And it is physically impossible to lick your elbow. But you’ll probably try when you get home.

Why? Because we are skeptics. You looked skeptical as I recited those facts. You want to know how they know. We live in a culture which distrusts authority.

During Vietnam, we saw flags and draft cards burned for the first time in our nation’s history.

During the Watergate scandal, we watched the first resignation of an American president.

During the sexual revolution we watched morals change dramatically. In 1969, 67% of young adults said premarital sex was wrong; today only 38% agree. Over a million people reported sexually transmitted diseases last year. And the AIDS epidemic continues.

As the world’s religions have come to our shores, Muslim mosque activities have increased 75% over the last five years. There are more Muslims in America than there are Episcopalians, Jews, or Presbyterians. The Internet lists 67 different Buddhist societies in Texas. We have become the most religiously diverse nation on earth. As a result, 60% of young adults believe that God is not limited to a single faith.

As Christendom has declined, two out of three adults believe that religion is losing its influence in American society. The number of Americans who said they had no religion doubled in the last ten years.

What does it all mean for the concept of authority?

The number of Americans who believe that absolute moral truth even exists dropped last year to 22%, an all-time low. 93% of Americans say that they alone determine what is and what isn’t moral in their lives.

As Chuck Colson summarizes: “The emerging consensus seems to be that vague, comforting spirituality is healthy, but that doctrinal, authoritative religions may even be dangerous.”

Now you come to church and hear a sermon with this thesis: the Bible is the objective, absolute authority of God. When we know what God’s word says, we must do it. And we ask, Why?

Why trust the Bible? (vs. 8-9)

Today we discover that ours is a revealing God. He reveals himself to us. He speaks to us. He gives his word to us.

If he is God, he must: “‘My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,’ declares the Lord” (v. 8). Mark Twain was right: if I could understand every part of the Bible, I wouldn’t believe God inspired it. God speaks. God reveals himself.

Why believe that this book contains such revelation? It says it does:

“All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16).

“Prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1.21).

“The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God stands forever” (Isaiah 40:8).

“Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away” (Matthew 24:35). When God is your King, his word must be your authority.

But the Koran says that it comes from Allah through Mohammad; the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints maintains that the Book of Mormon contains further revelation from God to mankind; Buddhists and Hindus consider their sacred writings to be “divine” revelation. Why trust the Bible?

Because it keeps its promises. For instance, the Old Testament contains 61 specific prophecies concerning the coming Messiah, each of which was fulfilled by the historical Jesus. The odds of his fulfilling just 48 of them is one in 10 followed by 157 zeroes. To count that high, you’d have to count 250 numbers per minute for 6,589,000,000 years.

Because you can trust its transmission. The Greek New Testament we possess is judged by scholars to be 99.2% accurate with regard to the original, with no questions remaining concerning any facts or elements of faith.

Why trust the Bible?

Because archaeological evidence continues to validate its claims. Here’s a recent example: skeptics claimed that no evidence for the existence of King David exists outside the Bible. But a group of archaeologists recently found an Assyrian stone tablet in Northern Israel dating from the ninth century B.C. The Aramaic inscription listed Assyria’s foes, including the “king of Israel” and “house of David.” The skeptics were wrong again.

And because the risen Christ said it is the word of God. Neither the Buddha, Muhammad, Joseph Smith, nor the Hindu masters died on the cross for our sins and rose from the grave. And Jesus called this book the “word of God.”

When we trust the Bible (vs. 10-11)

Now, here’s the most compelling reason of all to make this book your life authority: when we trust it, God uses it to change our lives. His word “will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it” (v. 11).

What is his purpose for his revelation?

It leads us to salvation: “I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes” (Romans 1:16).

It keeps us right with God: “The word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12).

It guides us daily: “How can a man keep his way pure? By living according to your word” (Psalm 119.9); “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path” (Psalm 119.105).

It brings us to Jesus: “These are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” (John 20.31).

It still works.

St. Augustine was the greatest theologian after Paul in Christian history. But he was a notoriously adulterous sinner when he picked up the Bible one day, read it, and gave his heart to the Lord Jesus. Martin Luther was converted by studying the Bible, and began the Protestant Reformation. He read through the Bible twice every year, for most of the rest of his life.

Bill Tolar was dean of the School of Theology at Southwestern Seminary when I studied and then taught there. A brilliant science student as a youth, from a family with no church commitment whatsoever, he was challenged by a friend to read the Bible. And he became a Christian.

Dr. Isaac Mwase is professor of philosophy of religion at Ouachita Baptist University, and a former student of mine. Reading the Bible brought him to faith in Christ. Dr. Abraham Sarkar of our own church family was a Muslim missionary before reading the Bible made him a missionary to Muslims.

The American Bible Society tells the story of a missionary standing on the streets of a small African city with a tiny New Testament in his hand. An African man asked if he could have the little book, explaining that “Its pages are the perfect size for rolling cigarettes.” The missionary replied, “I will give you this book if you will promise to read every word on each page before you roll a cigarette with it.” The African agreed. Fifteen years later that missionary went to a revival. The evangelist was that cigarette-rolling man who said, “I quit smoking the Word and started preaching it.”

But God’s revelation changes us only when we read it. Nine out of ten American households own at least one Bible. But only 17% read it daily. Do you spend more time with the newspaper or the word of God?

And only when we obey it.

Billy Graham asserts, “Ninety-five percent of the difficulties you will experience as a Christian can be traced to a lack of Bible study and reading.” That’s been true of my life.

When we obey the word of God, we submit to the will of the King of the universe. Such obedience positions us to experience the salvation and significance he can only give to those who will receive them. Obedience is our response to the revelation of God. And the key to the purpose and peace he alone can give.


Now let’s close by applying this call to obedience to one very specific area of our lives, the matter of financial commitment.

What does God’s word ask of us? “A tithe of everything from the land, whether grain from the soil or fruit from the trees, belongs to the Lord; it is holy to the Lord” (Leviticus 27:30).

How do we give this tithe? “You are to seek the place the Lord your God will choose…to put his Name there for his dwelling. To that place you must go: there bring your burnt offerings and sacrifices, your tithes and special gifts” (Deuteronomy 12:5-6); “Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house” (Malachi 3:10).

Is such a commitment outdated? Jesus commended tithing (Matthew 23:23); it was collected by the church (Hebrews 7:8); and tithing was required by the early Church.

We give in gratitude for the grace of God. Not so he will love us, but because he does. And to advance his Kingdom, for the sovereign Lord of the universe has chosen to fund his work on earth through the financial obedience of his people.

We would not have a Heritage Sunday to celebrate next week, except that those who founded this great church were obedient to the word of God with their financial commitments. This congregation was founded 64 years ago next Sunday, with no monetary support from any sponsoring church or organization whatever. It would live or die on the financial sacrifice of its first members.

And sacrifice they did. In their very first worship service they collected an offering to be used for missions. Their first budget was five times greater than the church’s size would suggest. Before they were two months old they called a full-time pastor and promised to pay his full support.

The next year they bought the house on Lovers Lane which was the church’s first permanent home. They added property and buildings, then purchased this land, on the northern edge of the city of Dallas. The church committed herself to a capital project of $575,000 in 1946, when their unified budget for the year was $25,000. By that ratio, our current capital project should cost $207 million, not $32 million.

In the last 25 years, our church has given $35,327,205 to missions, $2,302,920 just last year. Such has been the financial obedience and sacrifice of our people across our history.

Now we stand on the edge of the next chapter, ready to cross the Jordan into the next part of our Promised Land. But we will cross over only by the financial obedience of our people to the word of God. Our heritage will guide our future only if we are as faithful as those who have come before us. As faithful to give sacrificially and obediently to our God.

If our future depended on your obedience to the word of God, would that fact be cause for concern or hope today?



Joshua 5: 13-6:27

Dr. Jim Denison

Thesis: No obstacle is insurmountable with the power of God.

Goal: Seek God’s highest purpose for your life, trusting him to supply all that is needed to make that vision a reality.

Viktor Frankl, the Austrian psychologist who survived the death camps of the Holocaust, made a discovery which transcended the horrors he experienced. He studied those who survived the ordeal, and those who did not. After examining several factors, including health, vitality, family structure, intelligence, and survival skills, Dr. Frankl concluded that none of these were primarily responsible. The single most important factor in survival was a sense of future vision—an impelling conviction that they had a mission to perform, an important work left to do. Survivors of POW camps in Vietnam and elsewhere have reported the same fact: a compelling vision of the future is the primary force in survival and success.

Every human being needs a vision—a motivating, captivating, empowering purpose for life. Standing before the House of Commons in June of 1941, Winston Churchill said: “I have only one purpose, the destruction of Hitler, and my life is much simplified thereby.” Will Rogers advised, “If you want to be successful, know what you are doing, love what you are doing, and believe in what you are doing.” John Stuart Mill believed that “One person with a belief is equal to a force of 99 who have only interests.” Elton Trueblood was convinced that every successful person needs a philosophy, a program, and a passion. Paul could say, “This one thing I do” (Philippians 3:13).

What is your “one thing”? As the proverb has it, if you chase two hares, both will escape you. What is God’s highest purpose for your life?

Forgetting all limitations, costs, and problems, if you owned the proverbial “magic wand” and could make of your life its highest contribution to the Kingdom of God, what would you attempt to do? Frank Gaines was right: only the one who sees the invisible can do the impossible.

This week’s study will teach us to look for God’s invisible, highest, best purpose for our lives. Then it will challenge us to dedicate ourselves to this one purpose, trusting our Lord to supply our need and make effective our work. We each face a Jericho. We can each be a Joshua. Let’s learn how.

Join God at work (5:13-15)

Joshua was “near Jericho” (v. 13), perhaps to scout the city one last time. Here “he looked up”—the Hebrew tense conveys the element of surprise. He had not expected to find a warrior outside the city. But here was “a man standing in front of him with a drawn sword in his hand,” clearly ready for battle. We sense Joshua’s courage, as he was willing to face the man as a foe or join him as a friend.

Little did he know the identity of this “man.” A “theophany” is an appearance of God. As with Abraham (Genesis 18:1-33), Moses (Exodus 3:1-12) and Gideon (Judges 6:11-24), a man stood before the divine. Some believe this figure to be an angel; others see him as the preincarnate Christ. The “man” calls himself “commander of the army of the Lord,” probably a reference to an archangel such as Michael (cf. Daniel. 10:13, 20-21, 12:1; NavPress 68).

All this time of preparation, Joshua had assumed the battle was about him and his people. Bernard Bailey was right: “When they discover the center of the universe, a lot of people will be disappointed to learn they are not it.” It turns out this “commander” was not on Joshua’s side but the Lord’s. God has his own purpose, which we must join. When a lady told President Lincoln she was praying for God to be on their side, the president replied wisely, “Pray rather that we would be on his.” You and I are not the commanders of the spiritual army which is our church. The Lord alone is Lord.

How do we join him at work? First, we fall before him in reverence, on our face and with bare feet on holy ground (vs. 14-15). Next, we listen for his word: “What message does the Lord have….” Last, we surrender to his cause: “…for his servant?” Paul called himself the “servant” or “slave” of the Lord (cf. Philippians 1:1). We choose to obey his call so we can hear it, for his plan is always bigger than ours

The Japanese Carp or Koi is a favorite fish of collectors. These fish will grow proportionately to the size of their surroundings. In a fish bowl they grow to a length of only two or three inches. In a pond they can grow to three or four feet. The size of their vision determines their growth and significance.

So it is with God’s people. Surrender to God’s plan for your life, before you know it. Do not limit him to your vision. Rather, yield to his dream for your ministry. It will be greater than your greatest plans. And worth whatever it costs you.

Believe God first (6:1-2)

Now Joshua and his armies were ready to fight their first battle in their promised land. And against one of their most formidable foes: “Jericho was tightly shut up because of the Israelites. No one went out and no one came in” (v. 1). “Tightly shut up” means that the city was enclosed and fortified, the way we would board up the windows for an approaching hurricane.

Such fortifications were daunting in the extreme. Jericho was one of the most secure cities in the ancient world, built typically with double walls. In Joshua’s day, the walls were so thick that Rahab could live in an apartment built within them (2:15). These high walls had discouraged the first spies sent into the land, 40 years before (Numb 13:28). Now the city was filled with “fighting men” (v. 2), indicating grammatically that all were great warriors.

The strength of Jericho conveyed spiritual significance as well. The city’s name most likely meant “moon city,” as the community was the center of Canaanite moon worship. This battle would pit Israel’s God against the Canaanite pagan moon deity. Just as the crossing of the Jordan had “defeated” Baal, so this conflict would defeat a second god sacred to the Canaanites, further proving that Israel’s God was the one true Lord.

Despite all odds, “the Lord said to Joshua, ‘I have delivered Jericho into your hands, along with its king and its fighting men'” (v. 2). The battle was already over, though the fighting was yet to commence. Based on such assurance, Joshua would soon make the same claim to the people before their victory was apparent: “Shout! For the Lord has given you the city!” (v. 16). David echoed such confidence centuries later: “Give us aid against the enemy, for the help of man is worthless. With God we will gain the victory, and he will trample down our enemies” (Psalm 108:12-13). God’s statement to Joshua is in the past perfect tense, a completed action. For the One who transcends time, the victory was already certain.

Such assurance served to call the people to faith. They must believe in God’s power before they could see it. Just as the priests had to step into the Jordan before its flood waters could be stopped, so these people must advance on Jericho as though the battle is already theirs. Such faith does not merit God’s power, but receives it. There is much God cannot do in our lives until we wish it to be so. He respects our free will always.

To fight your “Jericho,” believe first that God has already granted you the victory. And advance on your vision in confidence. John Henry Newman’s admonition is worth repeating:

Fear not that thy life shall come to an end,

but rather fear that it shall never have a beginning.

Fear not that you may try and fail,

but rather that you may fail to try.

For only then can the purposes of God be defeated. Believe God for his power and victory, and they will be yours.

Do the next thing (vs. 2-14)

Now the army is ready to fight. But their “commander” will lead them into the most unusual strategy in military history.

Ancient armed forces assaulted a walled city in one of five ways: (1) climbing the walls with ladders or ramps; (2) digging a tunnel under a wall; (3) smashing a hole in the wall with battering rams or weapons; (4) laying siege to starve the city into submission; or (5) tricking the inhabitants, as with the wooden horse at Troy and the ambush later at Ai (Joshua 8:1-23). Joshua and his army attempted none of these strategies.

Instead, their “next thing” was marching around the city once a day for six days. The city itself covered only five or six acres of land. Even though the Jewish armies stayed far enough from the walls of Jericho to be safe from bow and arrow attack, their first ranks would still have ended the march before the rear ranks began it. This tactic thus encircled the city completely, bringing further terror to the enemy within the city walls.

But it brought them no closer to apparent victory. Their armies encamped at night lay exposed to enemies from other Canaanite cities, and from warriors within Jericho as well. And their strategy made no progress toward military conquest, or so it seemed. Why such a strange war plan? So the people could learn again that their victory would come not from human force but divine help. The later word of the prophet could headline the entire episode: “‘Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the Lord Almighty” (Zechariah 4:6).

As with the manna and the grain, the Jordan crossing, and even back to the first Passover and the parting of the Red Sea, the children of Israel were reminded again and again that their Lord would win their battles. He does not share his glory. They would learn to do the next thing, to be obedient to the next word from God, while waiting for him to bring them victory.

In spiritual conflict, we must always stay faithful to the last word we heard from God. His will is not a five-year plan, but a flashlight in the dark. It does not show the road in its entirety, but just the next step we must take. And then the next. Great visions from God are fulfilled through daily obedience. Annie Dillard was right: how we spend our days is how we spend our lives. Do the next thing God reveals to you. Be sure each step proceeds in the right direction. And in God’s timing, his plan will always succeed.

Stay obedient to God (vs. 15-27)

At last their victory was at hand, one of the most famous in all of literature. You know the story: on the seventh day, the armies were told to march around the city seven times, with seven trumpet blasts. Then the fortified, impregnable walls of ancient Jericho collapsed—completely, not just a breach here and there, but in total (v. 20). The obedience of the people led to one of the greatest victories in Jewish history.

But their obedience was not yet complete. Now they were required to exercise self-restraint and total faithfulness to God’s call to herem, the complete dedication of people and things to God, usually through total destruction. This ban was originated in the Levitical code (Lev 27:28-29), and later applied to the Canaanites (Deuteronomy 20:16-18). It meant that everything and everyone in this land belonged to the God of Israel, and must be returned to him as a sacred offering. And it served to judge the sin and wicked idolatry of these pagan peoples (see discussion in the first lesson of our series).

The people were tempted to keep some of the material possession, as we will see next week. But all save one was obedient to God’s call to faithfulness.

A third obedience was exercised next with Rahab, the prostitute who had sheltered the spies earlier. She had been promised shelter and protection for her assistance (2:14), a commitment which must now be kept. And so she lived “to this day” with the Jewish people, and served as an example of repentant faith (cf. Hebrews 11:31; James 2:25).

After the inhabitants were destroyed and their possessions placed in the treasury of God’s house, with Rahab and her family safely secured, one final obedience was required of Joshua and his people: cursing this ancient city. If rebuilt, it would serve again as a pagan shrine and obstacle to the Lord’s rule in the land. It would tempt later generations to self-sufficient rebellion, as indeed it did, with Joshua’s curse fulfilled during the time of King Ahab (cf. 1 Kings 16:34). Such disobedience would cost a father his sons, and a nation her leaders.

The God of the universe will always win the victory he intends for his people, but we must stay obedient to him. If Israel had attempted a convention strategy against Jericho, their foray into the Promised Land would likely have ended there. The story of God’s redemptive history through his chosen people would have been drastically different. Their obedience made possible the Lord’s glory and that of his servant Joshua (v. 27). Such faithfulness to God is the ultimate key to fulfilling his vision for our lives as well.


Henry David Thoreau’s sentiment transcends the romanticism with which it was expressed: “If one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours. If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them.”

What is your great life goal and purpose? Are you seeking to fulfill a vision which transcends your ability and resources? Good. You are joining God at work. Now believe him so you can see his mighty hand; do the next thing his will presents to you; and stay obedient to his will and word. The result will be worth all it costs you.

It is reported that a bishop from the East Coast many years ago visited a small, Midwestern religious college. He stayed at the home of the college president, who also taught physics and chemistry. After dinner, the bishop declared that the millennium could not be far away, since everything about nature had been discovered and all inventions completed.

The young college president politely disagreed and stated that there would be many more discoveries. When the bishop challenged him to name one such invention, he stated his assurance that within 50 years, men would be able to fly. “Nonsense,” sputtered the bishop. “Only angels are intended to fly.”

The bishop’s name was Wright. He had two boys at home who would prove to possess greater vision than their father. Their names: Orville and Wilbur.

Seek God’s dream for your life. Pray with Michelangelo, “Lord, grant that I may always desire more than I can accomplish.” Then trust your Creator and Lord to bring his purpose to pass in your life and ministry. Stay obedient to his call. And Jericho is yours.

Making The Past Into The Future

Making the Past into the Future

Isaiah 55:12-13

Dr. Jim Denison

In the United States, the standard distance between the rails of railroad tracks is 4 feet 8.5 inches, and has been since the first railroads were built in this country more than 170 years ago. Why such an odd distance?

These first tracks were made by railroad pioneers from England, and that’s the distance between their rails. Why? Because the people who made the first railway cars were carriage makers, and the wheels on their carriages were 4 ft. 8.5 inches apart, so their manufacturing equipment was set up to make railway cars that wide.

Why were their carriages that wide? Because the dirt roads in England at the time had ruts that were 4 ft. 8.5 in. wide. Why were their ruts this wide? The original roads in England were laid out by the Romans after they conquered the country in Julius Caesar’s day. The Roman war chariots were 4 ft. 8.5 inches wide, so two war horses could be hitched to them side-by-side.

Now the story gets even more involved. You’ll remember seeing the launch of a space shuttle, and the two large round rockets strapped to its side to help blast it into space. These are the Solid Rocket Boosters, or SRBs. They are made at a plant in Utah, then shipped by rail to Cape Canaveral, where they are strapped to the shuttle.

Their manufacturer would like to make the SRBs bigger than they are, but there’s a problem: a railroad tunnel along the only feasible route to Florida. The tunnel is just a little bigger than the width of the railroad rails, and the rails are the width of two war horses’ rear ends.

So the size of the major booster rockets on the world’s most advanced transportation system is the result of ruts made by Romans twenty centuries ago. And that’s how the past affects the present, and the present affects the future.

We all want our lives to matter. We want to know that what we do today will have a legacy tomorrow. But there’s only one way to be guaranteed that your legacy will matter. We’ll discover it today.

What can God do with a life?

Isaiah 55 calls us worship in response to the grace of God (v. 1), and to submit our lives to the revelation of God (v. 11). When we do, when God’s worship and word accomplish their life-transforming purpose in us, here are the results.

You will experience the presence and purpose of God (v. 12a).

“You will go out.” The people are enslaved in Babylon, but not forever. They are in captivity today, but not tomorrow. They will be set free. So will you, when you worship God in gratitude for his grace, and obey the revelation of his word. Whatever traps you in despair, in discouragement, in hopelessness, will be broken. You will mount up on wings like eagles, run and not be weary, walk and not faint, in the victory of God.

You will go out “in joy.” God’s joy is not that happiness which depends on happenings or happenstance, but a deep sense of well-being which transcends our circumstances. Whatever frustrates or hurts you today, you can “rejoice in the Lord always” (Philippians 4:4). When you worship God and obey his word, you have his joy.

You will be “led forth”—God will guide your steps and make straight your paths. Whatever decision you’re facing, or confusion you’re feeling, he will “lead you in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.”

And you will be led forth “in peace.” No matter what conflicts you may face in your family, friendships, or future, you can experience God’s inner serenity which nothing and no person can steal from your heart. When you walk in God’s worship and God’s word, you have his peace.

Do you know today the victory, joy, leadership, and peace of God?

Others will see a difference in your life.

“The mountains and hills will burst into song before you, and all the trees of the field will clap their hands” (v. 12b).

God’s presence and peace in your life will be so obvious that the mountains and hills and trees will see it. People will notice it, even more than you do. Moses’ face shone when he came down from the mountain with God, though he did not know it. When the Jewish Sanhedrin put the apostles on trial, they “took note that they had been with Jesus.” When last did someone say that about you?

Others will be changed by the God who works in you.

“Instead of the thornbush will grow the pine tree, and instead of briers the myrtle will grow” (v. 13a).

The thornbush and briers were worthless nuisance plants. They produced no edible food, and made cultivation difficult. The pine tree and myrtle, on the other hand, gave shade and beauty to this arid land.

God will remove the bad and grow the good. And as God changes us, he will change others through us. They will want what we have. They will see the Christ who lives in us. And that Christ will touch their hearts through ours.

With this result: “This will be for the Lord’s renown, for an everlasting sign which will not be destroyed” (v. 13b).

The Lord’s “renown” or glory will be advanced through us.

This legacy will be “an everlasting sign,” a permanent mark left on the history of humankind “which will not be destroyed.”

Here is how to leave a legacy, to make your life matter. Put it in God’s hands. Worship him each week and each day, in gratitude for his grace. Yield each day in obedience to his word and will. And he will use your life to change the world.

As you know, Dr. E. K. Bailey died this week. I know of no human being who more proves the promise of this text. His visionary leadership, prophetic preaching, scholarly mind, and humble heart were the result of a soul placed in the hands of its Father and King. God gave him his victory, joy, guidance and peace. Others were changed by the Christ we saw in him. When his cancer was first diagnosed, E. K. told his congregation, “You have heard me preach. Now you will watch me preach.” And we have.

How do we join the commission of God?

Now, who of us can be used like this? There are some conditions. First, we must believe that God can use us to change the world.

A popular fish these days is the Japanese Carp or Koi. These fish will grow proportionately to accommodate the size of their surroundings. In a fish bowl they grow to two or three inches. In a pond they grow to three or four feet. Have you limited God’s use of your life by the size of your faith in him? How small is your fishbowl?

The next time you think God cannot use you, remember that Abraham was too old; Jacob was a liar; Joseph was abused; Moses stuttered; Aaron was an idolater; Gideon was afraid; Rahab was a prostitute; David was a murdering adulterer; Elijah was depressed; Job went bankrupt; Jonah ran from God; John the Baptist ate locusts; the Samaritan woman was divorced, more than once; Zaccheus was too small; Peter denied Christ; the disciples fell asleep while praying; Timothy had an ulcer; and Lazarus was dead. Now, what’s your excuse?

God uses those who believe he can. Can he use you?

Second, live for a legacy.

More than 150 years ago, Alexis de Tocqueville said of Americans, “It is an arduous undertaking to excite the enthusiasm of a democratic nation for any theory which does not have a visible, direct, and immediate bearing on the occupations of their daily lives.”

Live for the line, not the dot. The Bible reminds us, “We must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad” (2 Corinthians 5:10). A baby knows only its mother’s womb until the day of its birth, when it emerges into a world it could not see or know.

One day you will step from time into eternity. On that day, only what you did for Christ will last. Only what you did for eternity will matter. And it will matter forever. God uses those who live for a legacy. Can he use you?

Third, declare your faith.

Lesslie Newbigin, bishop of the Church of South India, asserts: “When I say ‘I Believe,’ I am not merely describing an inward feeling or experience. I am affirming what I believe to be true, and therefore what is true for everyone. The test of my commitment to this belief will be that I am ready to publish it, to share it with others, and to invite their judgment and—if necessary—correction. If I refrain from this exercise, if I try to keep my belief as a private matter, it is not belief in the truth.”

Martin Luther changed the world when he told the persecuting authorities, “Here I stand. I can do no other. God help me.”

Jesus told his followers, “You are the salt of the earth; you are the light of the world” (Matthew 5:13, 14). Not “you will be” but “you are.” Your private faith is already public. Is your witness effective or damaging to God’s Kingdom? Do people see that you are proud of your God, or ashamed of him?

God uses those who will declare their faith. Can he use you?

And last, refuse to quit.

Col. Laird Gunnert was a POW in Vietnam, beaten and tortured mercilessly. Between “interrogations,” he was forced to kneel for hours at a time. One day, Gunnert’s Vietcong captors took him to an interrogation room he had not seen before. This time his beating was especially severe. He crumpled to the floor in a broken heap, and lay there in excruciating pain, too exhausted and battered to lift his face from the dirt floor.

Opening his eyes, Col. Gunnert saw something on the wall, about four inches from the floor, right in front of his face. As his eyes focused, he saw that someone had scrawled in the dirt and mud, “Keep the faith, baby!” Then the Colonel knew he was not alone, and that the faith was enough. And it was.

It’s always too soon to quit. Who or what is tempting you to give up today? You may fail, but you’re not a failure. 366 times the Lord tells his people “Fear not.”

The Bible promises you: “our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us” (Romans 8:18). God can use anyone who will not quit being used. Can he use you?


We worship a holy God who is also forgiving of our sins. He is powerful, but also loving and gracious. He reveals himself to us, and then invites us to share his revelation with his world. He is a commissioning God, calling us to share his mission, to join his cause, to serve his Kingdom.

And so each week we respond to worship with commitment and service. We make public our faith on Sunday through the invitation and offering, through our baptism and parental dedication, through our singing and our ministry to each other.

Then we measure Sunday by Monday. The measure of your authentic worship today is your authentic ministry tomorrow. A tree is measured by its fruit, a farm by its produce, a factory by its products.

Changed people must change the world. They must serve their King and his Kingdom. Worship must become work; salvation must become service. What will you do tomorrow, because you were here today? Where is the Lord commissioning you?

On May 29, 1939, a group of Baptists from the Park Cities met at the City Hall of University Park to discuss organizing a church in this area of the city. They left with this question burning in their hearts: “Are you willing to enter this open door of opportunity through which the Lord is leading? Go to your homes, think it over, pray it through, and with the courageous spirit of Caleb and Joshua say, ‘If the Lord delight in us, then He will bring us into this land and give it to us. Let us go up at once and possess it, for we are well able to overcome it.'”

They responded to the commission of God. That small group divided up the telephone directory and called every family in the Park Cities, an area which was home to 15,000 people. They worked through the summer. Then they came together on October 26, 1939, 64 years ago today, gathering in the City Hall of University Park. Without a pastor, without any founding churches or organizations, without any financial support except their own, they birthed Park Cities Baptist Church.

From the first, their new church would exist to serve the Savior and build his Kingdom. In their first worship service they received an offering for missions. In the last 25 years, our church has contributed more than $35 million to the cause of world missions; $2,302,920 was given just last year to advance the mission of our King around the world. And our people are found serving the Kingdom each day and each week across Dallas, and travel each year around the world with the good news of his love.

Why has God so blessed Park Cities Baptist Church? Because we have answered his commission. We have joined his mission. We have partnered with our King in his Kingdom. Now, will our past become our future?

The Real Painter of the Gospel

The Real Painter of the Gospel:

“The DaVinci Code” in the Light of History

Dr. Jim Denison

Shortly after its publication, I picked up Dan Brown’s The DaVinci Code on the new fiction table at a local bookstore. Its cover and title led me to believe it would be a work of art history. Given my interest in the general subject, and in Leonardo in particular, I began thumbing through the volume. It was quickly obvious that the writer intended something far different.

I read the book that night, and knew immediately that it would be controversial. I write a daily on-line devotional, and dedicated a series to the novel. Response far exceeded my expectations. Even then, I did not know the book would remain so popular.

Mr. Brown’s Angels and Demons enjoyed a predictable resurgence in interest as well, climbing to #1 on the paperback fiction bestseller list. The author’s earlier Digital Fortress, a novel with no spiritual overtones whatever, gained popularity as well. The DaVinci Code was then made into a movie by Ron Howard, starring Tom Hanks.

Why has this book been the subject of such controversy? Why would a Baptist minister and former seminary professor take an interest in its claims from the perspective of historical facts? Why should you care if the book is accurate or fictional?

Blurring the lines

Part of The DaVinci Code’s popularity is surely its fascinating plot. To summarize: Christ was deified by Constantine the Great in A.D. 325 at the Council of Nicaea. The “Priory of Sion” (supposedly founded in 1099) knows the “truth”: Jesus was a man, married to Mary of Magdalene. The couple had a daughter they named Sarah, who was raised in France; her bloodline can be traced to this day. Her tomb and story are the “Holy Grail,” the “cup” containing the “blood” of Christ.

Leonardo daVinci was Grand Master of the Priory of Sion from 1510-19. In this capacity, he used artistic means to tell the “truth.” His The Last Supper pictures Mary Magdalene at Jesus’ right hand. His Mona Lisa was named for Amon (the Egyptian male god) and Isis (their female god), intended to show the union of man and woman.

However, the Roman Catholic Church’s most militant sect, Opus Dei, has attacked the Priory of Sion before it can release its “truth” to the world. As a result, the current Grand Master of the Priory, Jacques Sauniere (curator of the Louvre), must pass the key to the location of the Holy Grail to his granddaughter, Sophia Nevea. Robert Langdon, a Harvard professor of religious symbology, helps her find the key and the path to the Grail, with the assistance of renowned English historian Leigh Teabing.

It’s a fascinating plot. Each character is of course fictional. And so many dismiss concerns over the book’s claims, citing the fact that the work is a novel. However, Mr. Brown claims that his plot is built on historical truth. The first page of his book is titled “Fact.” It ends with this claim: “All descriptions of artwork, architecture, documents, and secret rituals in this novel are accurate” (p. 1). By “documents” he means the descriptions of the Bible and its origins, the Gnostic gospels, and other documents we’ll discuss momentarily.

In interviews, the author has made clear that he believes what his novel claims: that Jesus was a man deified by Constantine; the Church covered up the real records; and orthodox Christian theology is founded on this deception. His book makes the case with authority, placing these assertions in the mouths of the Harvard professor and his expert friend.

When Tom Clancy describes Jack Ryan on a submarine, we know Ryan to be a fictional character but we assume his description of the submarine to be accurate. It is the same with Mr. Brown’s depiction of the historical “facts” behind the Christian gospel. It is impossible to tell in the novel where historical fact and fiction separate.

Clearly, many readers have not made the distinction. Celebrities have been quoted with gratitude for Mr. Brown’s exposing of the truth behind the Christian movement. I have spoken with a large number of people in recent months who assume the novel’s portrait of Christian origins to be accurate. Even many who claim a strong personal commitment to Christ are confused. They don’t believe what the novel claims, but don’t know how to respond to its falsehoods or explain the truth to others.

Getting some facts straight

So, is the novel an accurate depiction of the history it claims to record? Remember that the book opens with the assertion that its depictions of artwork, architecture, documents, and secret rituals are accurate. Before we move to the main subjects of the book, let’s consider a few test cases.

First, let’s deal with the title of the book. Mr. Brown’s characters frequently refer to the artist as DaVinci. But his name was Leonardo. He was born outside Vinci, a village near Florence in central Italy. “DaVinci” simply means “from Vinci.” And so art historians all call him “Leonardo,” not “DaVinci.” No Harvard symbologist and art historian, real or fictional, would call him “DaVinci.” This would be like calling Jesus of Nazareth, “of Nazareth.”

Later Mr. Brown states, “Originally, Tarot had been devised as a secret means to pass along ideologies banned by the Church. Now, Tarot’s mystical qualities were passed on by modern fortune-tellers” (p. 92). The historical fact is that Tarot cards were invented for innocent gaming purposes in the 15th century. They did not acquire occult associations until the late 18th century. The cards’ suits carry no Grail symbolism whatever.

In a dramatic plot twist, one of the characters encounters “Job 38:11.” Mr. Brown writes, “It was only seven words. Confused, he read it again, sensing something had gone terribly wrong. The verse simply read: Hitherto shalt thou come, but no further” (p. 129). The scene is indeed moving. But the verse is not “only seven words.” Here is the entire Scripture: “when I said, ‘This far you may come and no farther; here is where your proud waves halt’?”

Still later, the book describes Noah this way: “Noah of the Ark. An albino. Like you, he had skin white like an angel” (p. 167). Nowhere does the Bible describe Noah as an albino. Apparently Mr. Brown took his idea from the non-canonical 1 Enoch 106:2.

And note that Leigh Teabing, the renowned historian, describes Joseph of Arimathea as “Jesus’ trusted uncle” (p. 255). But nothing in the Bible or early historical tradition suggests this connection.

Of course, none of these issues is central to the book’s plot or to Christian belief. But such factual inaccuracies do call into question the book’s claims to historical accuracy.

Can we trust the Bible?

Now we move to the first subject of central significance: the trustworthiness of the Bible. Remember again that Mr. Brown claims his depictions of documents to be accurate. We’ll investigate this issue in three parts: the creation of the biblical canon (the list of books to be included), the trustworthiness of the Bible we possess today, and the significance of the Dead Sea Scrolls and Gnostic gospels.

The creation of the canon

Historian Teabing calls the creation of the Bible “The fundamental irony of Christianity!” and asserts, “The Bible, as we know it today, was collated by the pagan Roman emperor Constantine the Great” (p. 231). If this is true, the Bible we have today was produced by a process which occurred around AD 325. Let’s look at the actual facts.

The Old Testament canon was finalized by two councils held at the city of Jamnia, one in AD 90 and the other in AD 118. The actual books which compose our Old Testament were in wide use for centuries before, and in fact had been translated into Greek 200 years before these councils met. They in no sense “created” the Old Testament. And they completed their work two centuries before Constantine.

Perhaps Teabing means the canonical process of the New Testament. Here the facts are just as damaging to his case.

The early Christians quickly developed four criteria for accepting a book as Scripture. First, it must have been written by an apostle or based on his eyewitness testimony. Second, the book must possess merit and authority in its use. For instance, The First Gospel of the Infancy of Jesus Christ tells of a man who is changed into a mule by a bewitching spell but converted back to manhood when the infant Christ is put on his back for a ride (7:5-27). In the same book, the boy Jesus causes clay birds and animals to come to life (ch. 15), stretches a throne his father had made too small (ch. 16), and takes the lives of boys who oppose him (19.19-24). It was easy to dismiss such fiction.

Third, a book must come to be accepted by the entire church, not just a single congregation or area. And last, a book must be approved by the decision of the larger church, not just a few advocates.

Here is how this process unfolded. In the first century, a number of books were soon produced in response to the ministry of Jesus. As an example, Peter told his readers, “[Paul] writes the same way in all his letters, speaking in them of these matters. His letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do to the other Scriptures, to their own destruction” (2 Peter 3:16). Thus Peter considered Paul’s writings to be “Scripture.”

Other less reputable books began to appear as well. Among them was the Protoevangelion, purporting to supply details of the birth of Christ; two books on the infancy of Christ, one claiming to be written by Thomas; and the Gospel of Nicodemus, sometimes called the Acts of Pontius Pilate. However, by the mid-second century only Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John were accepted universally by the church. The other “gospels” simply did not meet the four criteria for acceptance set out above.

Note that this process was completed two centuries before Contantine. For example, in AD 115 Ignatius referred to the four gospels of our New Testament as “the gospel”; in AD 170, Tatian made a “harmony of the gospels” using only these four; around AD 180, Irenaeus referred to the four gospels as firmly established in the church.

The Muratorian Canon was established around AD 200, representing the usage of the church at Rome at that time. The list omitted James, 1 and 2 Peter, 3 John, and Hebrews (all due to authorship questions), though these were soon included in later canons. It excluded all gospels but the four in our Bible today. And it did so more than a century before Constantine.

The New Testament list we use today was set forth by Athanasius in A.D. 367. His list was approved by church councils meeting at Hippo Regius in 393 and Carthage in 397. Again, these decisions did not create the New Testament. They simply recognized what the Church had viewed as Scripture for generations. And Constantine had nothing to do with these decisions. I checked several histories on the Council of Nicaea, where Teabing says the emperor created the Bible, and could find no connection whatever.

F. F. Bruce was one of the world’s foremost authorities on the creation of the Bible canon. His opinion should be considered: “One thing must be emphatically stated. The New Testament books did not become authoritative for the Church because they were formally included in a canonical list; on the contrary, the Church included them in her canon because she already regarded them as divinely inspired, recognizing their innate worth and generally apostolic authority, direct or indirect…what these councils did was not to impose something new upon the Christian communities but to codify what was already the general practice of those communities.”

The trustworthiness of the Bible

Next we turn to the trustworthiness and authenticity of the Bible as we have it today. “Historian” Teabing claims, “Because Constantine upgraded Jesus’ status almost four centuries after Jesus’ death, thousands of documents already existed chronicling His life as a mortal man. To rewrite the history books, Constantine knew he would need a bold stroke. From this sprang the most profound moment in Christian history…Constantine commissioned and financed a new Bible, which omitted those gospels that spoke of Christ’s human traits and embellished those gospels that made Him godlike. The earlier gospels were outlawed, gathered up, and burned” (p. 234, emphasis his). Remember what we have already noted—that Constantine had nothing to do with a “new Bible.”

Teabing’s assertions grow even more damaging to orthodox Christianity: “The Bible is a product of man, my dear. Not of God. The Bible did not fall magically from the clouds. Man created it as a historical record of tumultuous times, and it has evolved through countless translations, additions, and revisions. History has never had a definitive version of the book” (p. 231, emphasis his). Later he adds with a chuckle that scholars cannot confirm the authenticity of the Bible (p. 256).

What are the facts behind his assertions?

Note what the Bible claims about itself. Jesus said, “the Scripture cannot be broken” (John 10.35). The author of Hebrews adds, “The word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart” (Heb 4:12). And Paul concludes, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16).

But we might expect the Bible to claim to be the trustworthy word of God. Is there objective historical evidence for or against this assertion?

Consider first the manuscript evidence (known as the “bibliographic” test by scholars). No original manuscripts exist for any ancient book. Writing materials were too fragile to stand the passage of centuries. This is the case for Aristotle, Plato, Julius Caesar, the writings of Buddha and the Koran just as much as it is for the Old and New Testaments.

However, we possess today some 5,000 ancient Greek copies of the New Testament, and 10,000 copies in other ancient languages. Latin and Coptic copies go back to the second century; fragments of papyrus documents go back to AD 130. Quotations in the writings of early church fathers date to A.D. 100. Complete versions of the Gospels, Acts, Paul’s letters and Hebrews date to the early part of the third century; Revelation to the latter half. Complete volumes of the New Testament date to the 4th century. Note that each predates Constantine.

Now compare these manuscripts with other ancient documents. Of Caesar’s Gallic Wars, we have today only nine or ten good manuscripts, none copied earlier than 900 years after Caesar. For the Histories of Tacitus, we have only 4½ of his 14 original books, none copied earlier than the 10th century A.D. For Aristotle’s works, we possess only five manuscripts of any one volume, none copied earlier than A.D. 1100 (14 centuries after the original).

Manuscript evidence for the New Testament is remarkable, far surpassing that which exists for any other ancient book. And those who work with these ancient copies (called “textual critics”) are convinced that they have been able to recover a Greek New Testament which is virtually identical to the original. Quoting F.F. Bruce again, “The variant readings about which any doubt remains among textual critics of the New Testament affect no material question of historic fact or of Christian faith and practice.”

This evidence does not prove that the Bible is the word of God. But it does demonstrate conclusively that the Bible you have is the same which was first written by its authors. When Teabing asserts, “History has never had a definitive version of the book” and claims that scholars cannot confirm the authenticity of the Bible, he’s simply wrong.

Let’s look next at the evidence of archaeology. Such findings continue to confirm the geographical and historical veracity of the biblical texts. For instance, the pool of Bethesda (John 5:2ff) was once dismissed as historical fiction. Now archaeologists locate it in the northeast quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem. I’ve seen it.

Researchers have identified the remains of Caiaphas, the high priest of Jesus’ trial and crucifixion. They have discovered the skeleton of Yohanan, a crucifixion victim from AD 70, and note that these remains confirm the details of Jesus’ crucifixion as it is described in the gospels. Archaeological evidence strongly supports the trustworthiness of the biblical narratives.

Last, consider the evidence of fulfilled prophecy. At least 48 major Messianic prophecies can be identified in the Old Testament. Jesus of Nazareth fulfilled each one. Endeavoring to determine the odds of such a phenomenon, mathematician Peter Stoner isolated eight of these 48 prophecies. He then calculated the odds that any one person might have fulfilled them all.

Stoner determined those odds to be one in 10 to the 17th power (one followed by 17 zeroes). Visualize the number this way: take this number in silver dollars and lay them across the state of Texas. They will cover the entire state, two feet deep. Now mark one of those silver dollars. Blindfold a man and tell him he can travel as far as he likes, but he must pick up one silver dollar. What are the chances he will pick the one you marked? the same The same odds that the prophets would have had of writing those eight prophecies and having them all fulfilled in one person.

Of course, billions of people across 20 centuries can attest to the fact that the teachings of the Bible have been proven true and authoritative in their personal lives. But even such overwhelming subjective evidence to the side, there is still outstanding evidential reason to believe that the Bible is the trustworthy word of God.

The Dead Sea Scrolls and the Gnostic gospels

Let’s consider one last area within the subject of biblical transmission and authority. Listen again to Mr. Teabing: “Fortunately for historians…some of the gospels that Constantine attempted to eradicate managed to survive. The Dead Sea Scrolls were found in the 1950s hidden in a cave near Qumran in the Judean desert. And, of course, the Coptic Scrolls in 1945 at Nag Hammadi. In addition to telling the true Grail story, these documents speak of Christ’s ministry in very human terms…The scrolls highlight glaring historical discrepancies and fabrications, clearly confirming that the modern Bible was compiled and edited by men who possessed a political agenda—to promote the divinity of the man Jesus Christ and use His influence to solidify their own power base” (p. 234). Teabing later calls the Nag Hammadi and Dead Sea scrolls “the earliest Christian records” (p. 245).

The Dead Sea Scrolls were actually found in 1947-56, and contain only the Old Testament. There is absolutely no New Testament document among them. They have nothing to do with any agenda to “promote the divinity of the man Jesus Christ.” No one can figure out why Mr. Brown included them in “the earliest Christian records.”

The Coptic Scrolls at Nag Hammadi are not “the earliest Christian records,” either. We possess quotations and biblical copies which are much older than them. And these are decidedly not “Christian” records.

Gnostic philosophy in brief centered in gnosis (“knowledge”) is the means of salvation, particularly a kind of esoteric knowledge which was thought to purify the soul. According to this worldview, the physical is evil but the spiritual is good. The man Jesus took on the divine Christ principle at his baptism, and lost it at his crucifixion. This mystery knowledge is the basis for salvation.

Paul wrote Colossians to combat a very early version of this heresy. The documents which describe its beliefs do not give us the “earliest Christian records,” but records of heretical philosophy. Mr. Brown uses these “Christian” records to promote his thesis that Jesus was a man, and that he and Mary Magdalene were married. We’ll discuss these assertions when we come to the section dealing with this topic.

In conclusion

The DaVinci Code claims its depictions of documents to be accurate. However, its assertions regarding the creation of the biblical canon, the trustworthiness of the Bible, and early “Christian” records cannot stand the scrutiny of historical investigation. By contrast, theologian J. I. Packer calls the Bible, “God preaching.” Augustine described it as “love letters from home.” The more we know about the facts behind the biblical text, the more we see that the Bible is what it claims to be: the written word of God.

The divinity of Jesus Christ

The second major issue raised by The DaVinci Code regards the nature of Jesus of Nazareth. Mr. Brown’s “historians” reserve their most blistering attacks on orthodox Christianity for their assessments of his divinity.

“Historical” rejections of his divinity

Teabing begins with kind, albeit historically inaccurate, praise: “Jesus Christ was a historical figure of staggering influence, perhaps the most enigmatic and inspirational leader the world has ever seen. As the prophesied Messiah, Jesus toppled kings, inspired millions, and founded new philosophies. As a descendant of the lines of King Solomon and King David, Jesus possessed a rightful claim to the throne of the King of the Jews” (p. 231).

Which kings did he topple? Pilate was no king. Herod Antipas (Luke 23:7-12) was tetrarch of Galilee and Perea, not a king. And his “rule” survived Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. As regards his “rightful claim to the throne of the King of the Jews,” Jesus was one of thousands who could claim similar lineage to David and Solomon. And he never tried a single time to seize such an earthly throne. In fact, he testified before Pilate, “My kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:36).

While Teabing is complimentary toward the human Jesus, he is convinced that’s all he was: “until that moment in history [at the Council of Nicaea, AD 325], Jesus was viewed by His followers as a mortal prophet…a great and powerful man, but a man nonetheless. A mortal” (p. 233, emphasis his). Remember the claim that his followers saw him only as a man—we’ll return to it momentarily.

It was Constantine who made Jesus a divine figure, according to Teabing: “By officially endorsing Jesus as the Son of God, Constantine turned Jesus into a deity who existed beyond the scope of the human world, an entity whose power was unchallengeable” (p. 233). Making Christ divine “not only precluded further pagan challenges to Christianity, but now the followers of Christ were able to redeem themselves only via the established sacred channel—the Roman Catholic Church” (p. 233, emphasis his).

In conclusion, “It was all about power…Christ as Messiah was critical to the functioning of Church and state. Many scholars claim that the early Church literally stole Jesus from His original followers, hijacking His human message, shrouding it in an impenetrable cloak of divinity, and using it to expand their own power” (p. 233, emphasis his).

This position should not surprise us, according to Teabing. Sophie asks, “And I assume devout Christians send you hate mail on a daily basis?” Teabing replies, “Why would they?…The vast majority of educated Christians know the history of their faith. Jesus was indeed a great and powerful man. Constantine’s underhanded political maneuvers don’t diminish the majesty of Christ’s life. Nobody is saying that Christ was a fraud, or denying that He walked the earth and inspired millions to better lives. All we are saying is that Constantine took advantage of Christ’s substantial influence and importance. And in doing so, he shaped the face of Christianity as we know it today” (p. 234).

Here’s the summary: “Almost everything our fathers taught us about Christ is false” (p. 235, emphasis his). I have never read a more devastating indictment of Christianity’s central affirmation that Jesus is Lord. Made in the guise of a supposedly reputable historian, claiming that “the vast majority of educated Christians” agree with him, it is easy to see why so many readers have been confused and misled.

Is there objective evidence for orthodox Christian affirmation of the divinity of Jesus Christ? Absolutely.

Non-Christian evidence for Jesus

You would expect the Bible to claim that Jesus is Lord, as it does consistently. For instance, Jesus makes a claim before his ascension which is found nowhere else in recorded literature. No Nero, Alexander the Great, Napoleon, or Hitler ever thought to speak these words: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me” (Matthew 28:18). If we believe the Bible, we must believe that Jesus is Lord and God.

Teabing would claim that the biblical records were doctored centuries later to promote this thesis, of course. The previous section gives the lie to such supposition and makes clear that the Bible we have is the Bible they wrote. But another critic might easily claim that Jesus’ followers were mistaken. We have what they wrote, but what they wrote was wrong, or even deceptive. Is there evidence for the life and divinity of Christ outside the biblical materials?

We’ll look at the record as it was produced chronologically, beginning with Thallus the Samaritan. In A.D. 52 he wrote a work tracing the history of Greece from the Trojan War to his own day. In it he describes the darkness of the crucifixion as an eclipse of the sun, attempting to refute its supernatural origin. This is the earliest pagan reference to Jesus’ existence and death, made by no friend of the faith.

Mara bar Serapion (writing after A.D. 70) adds, “What advantage did the Jews gain from executing their wise King? It was just after that their kingdom was abolished.” He makes clear that Jesus was seen by his followers as a “wise King,” not just a religious teacher. Such a claim would lead to the conflict with Rome which Suetonius documents next.

Suetonius (AD 65-135) records, “Punishments were also inflicted on the Christians, a sect professing a new and mischievous religious belief” (Nero 16.2). The Empire would not punish people who followed a religious teacher, only one who made him Lord in place of Caesar. Clearly they did not see him as simply a human teacher or religious leader.

Now we turn to Tacitus (AD 55-120), the greatest ancient Roman historian, who writes (ca. AD 115): “Christus . . . suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilatus, and a most mischievous superstition broke out” (Annals XV.44). “Superstition” makes clear the fact that Tacitus considered the followers of Christus to believe something miraculous, not simply that he was a great human teacher. The historian documents clearly his life and death, and the fact that his disciples considered him in some sense to be supernatural.

Pliny the Younger was a Roman administrator and governor of Bithynia in Asia Minor; 2 volumes of his letters are extant today. The tenth of his correspondence books (written around AD 112) contains the earliest non-biblical description of Christian worship: “They were in the habit of meeting on a certain fixed day before it was light, when they sang in alternate verses a hymn to Christ as to a god.” Note that they worshiped Christ as God, not merely a religious teacher or leader. And they did so in AD 112, not AD 325 after Constantine.

Finally we consider Flavius Josephus (AD 37/38—97), the great Jewish historian: “Ananias called a Sanhedrin together, brought before it James, the brother of Jesus who was called the Christ, and certain others . . . and he caused them to be stoned” (Antiquities 20.9.1). Thus the Christians called Jesus the Christ, the Messiah.

The so-called Testimonium Flavianum (Antiquities 18.3.3) is perhaps the most famous ancient non-biblical description of Jesus: “Now, there was about this time, Jesus, a wise man, if it be lawful to call him a man, for he was a doer of wonderful works,–a teacher of such men as receive the truth with pleasure. He drew over to him both many of the Jews, and many of the Gentiles. He was Christ; and when Pilate, at the suggestion of the principal men amongst us, had condemned him to the cross, those that loved him at the first did not forsake him, for he appeared to them alive again the third day, as the divine prophets had foretold these and ten thousand other wonderful things concerning him; and the tribe of Christians, so named from him, are not extinct at this day” (Whiston’s translation).

While most historians do not believe that this paragraph represents Josephus’s own faith commitment, it does document the beliefs of the Christians regarding Jesus. And note that it was written before the end of the first century.

So what do we learn from non-biblical ancient records? That Jesus existed, that he was crucified under Pontius Pilate, that the first Christians believed him to be the risen Lord, and that they worshiped him as God. Everything orthodox Christianity claims for Jesus, the ancient records document as the belief of Christians from the beginning. I am not claiming that these records prove that Jesus is Lord and God, just that they prove that the first Christians considered him to be Lord and God.

Teabing claims that “Jesus was viewed by His followers as a mortal prophet” until “that moment in history” when Constantine and the Nicean Council declared him divine. But Teabing is simply wrong on the merits. The historical record conclusively proves otherwise. The “vast majority of educated Christians” know this to be the true story of our faith.

Early Christian evidence for Jesus

Mr. Brown’s thesis that Jesus was seen by his followers as human and not divine is disproven by non-biblical records made by non-Christian historians. And when we turn to the ancient writings of Christians, we find even more clearly their consistent belief that Jesus was and is the divine Son of God, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. Here is a brief sampling from hundreds of letters and documents written by the first followers of Jesus Christ.

The Didache (meaning “teaching”) records the beliefs of the apostles. In its current form it was compiled in the fourth century, but is based on documents and statements which go back to the first century of Christian faith. It repeatedly calls Jesus “the Lord,” and ends, “The Lord shall come and all his saints with him. Then shall the world ‘see the Lord coming on the clouds of Heaven'” (16.7-8).

Clement of Rome (AD 95) repeatedly refers to the “Lord Jesus Christ.” He also promises a “future resurrection” on the basis of his “raising the Lord Jesus Christ from the dead” (24.1). Ignatius (AD 110-15) refers to “Jesus Christ our God” (intro. to Ephesians). To the Smyrnaeans he writes, “I give glory to Jesus Christ, the God who has thus given you wisdom” (1.1).

And Justin the Martyr (AD 150) repeatedly refers to Jesus as the Son of God (cf. Apol. 22). He also describes the fact that God raised him from the dead and brought him to heaven (Apol. 45).

We could go on and on. Evidence that the first Christians believed Jesus to be divine is simply overwhelming. Mr. Brown’s claim that they saw Jesus as only a man is impossible to maintain on the basis of the historical record. The early Christians were absolutely united in their common affirmation, Jesus is Lord. They may have been right or wrong, but that is what they believed.

Why did Christians believe Jesus to be Lord?

We know Jesus existed, and was crucified at the hands of Pontius Pilate. We know that the first Christians believed him to be raised from the dead (cf. the letter of Pliny the Younger, the descriptions of Josephus). But believing doesn’t make it so. Is there objective evidence for their faith in a risen Savior?

David Hume was an 18th-century Scottish philosopher, known today as the “Father of Skepticism.” He made it his life’s work to debunk assumptions which he considered to be unprovable, among them the veracity of miracles. He argued for six criteria by which we should judge any person who claims to have witnessed a miracle: they should be numerous, intelligent, educated, of unquestioned integrity, willing to undergo severe loss if proven wrong, and their claims should be capable of easy validation. Each is appropriate for determining the truthfulness of a witness. How do the eyewitnesses to the risen Christ fare by such standards?

They were numerous: over 500 saw the resurrected Lord (1 Corinthians 15:6). They were intelligent and well-educated, as the literature they produced makes clear (the Acts 4:13 claim that they were “unschooled, ordinary men” meant only that they had not attended rabbinic schools). Paul was in fact trained by Gamaliel, the finest scholar in Judaism (Acts 22:3). They were men and women of unquestioned integrity, clearly willing to undergo severe loss, as proven by their martyrdoms. And their claims were easily validated, as witnessed by the empty tomb (cf. Acts 26:26, “this thing was not done in a corner”).

So the witnesses were credible. What of the objective evidence for their claims? It is a fact of history that Jesus of Nazareth was crucified and buried, and that on the third day his tomb was found empty. Skeptics have struggled to explain the empty tomb ever since.

Three strategies center on theft. The first was to claim that while the guards slept, the disciples stole the body (Matthew 28:11-15). How would sleeping guards know the identity of such thieves? How could the disciples convince 500 people that the corpse was alive? And why would these disciples then die for what they knew to be a lie? A second approach claims that the women stole the body. How would they overpower the guards? How would they make a corpse look alive? Why would they suffer and die for such fabrication? A third explanation is that the authorities stole the body. When the misguided disciples found an empty tomb, they announced a risen Lord. But why would the authorities steal the body they had positioned guards to watch? And when the Christians began preaching the resurrection, wouldn’t they quickly produce the corpse?

A fourth approach is the wrong tomb theory—the grief-stricken women and apostles went to the wrong tomb, found it empty, and began announcing Easter. But the women saw where he was buried (Mt 27:61); Joseph of Arimathea would have corrected the error (Mt 27:57-61); and the authorities would have gone to the correct tomb and produced the corpse.

A fifth strategy is the “swoon theory”—Jesus did not actually die on the cross. He or his followers bribed the medical examiner to pronounce him dead, then he revived in the tomb and appeared to be resurrected. But how could he survive burial clothes which cut off all air? How could he shove aside the stone and overpower the guards? How could he appear through walls (John 20:19, 26) and ascend to heaven (Acts 1:9)?

There is only one reasonable explanation for the empty tomb, the changed lives of the disciples, and the overnight explosion of the Christian movement upon the world stage: Jesus Christ rose from the dead. He is therefore who he claimed to be: our Lord and God.

Worship on Sunday

Before we leave the question of Jesus’ divinity, let’s consider one other related assertion. Robert Langdon, the Harvard “historian,” states that “Originally, Christianity honored the Jewish Sabbath of Saturday, but Constantine shifted it to coincide with the pagan’s veneration day of the sun…To this day, most churchgoers attend services on Sunday morning with no idea that they are there on account of the pagan sun god’s weekly tribute—Sunday” (pp. 232-3, emphasis his). Is this true? Again, let’s check the historical record.

The Didache (written from documents which go back to the first century) references the fact that Christians worshiped on Sunday, and called this “the Lords’ Day of the Lord.” This was centuries before Constantine.

Justin (writing in AD 150) further documents: “On the day called Sunday, all who live in cities or in the country gather together to one place, and the memoirs of the apostles or the writings of the prophets are read….” (First Apology 67). He describes their worship: “Sunday is the day on which we hold our common assembly, because it is the first day on which God, having wrought a change in the darkness and matter, made the world; and Jesus Christ our Savior on the same day rose from the dead. For He was crucified on the day before that of Saturn (Saturday); and on the day after that of Saturn, which is the day of the Sun, having appeared to His apostles and disciples, He taught them these things which we have submitted to you also for your consideration” (ibid).

I have no idea why Mr. Brown would have his Harvard “historian” claim that Sunday was chosen by Constantine as the day of Christian worship. Documents from two centuries earlier prove otherwise. The “Lord’s Day” to which John refers on Patmos (Revelation 1:10) was always the day when Christians worshiped their risen Lord.

In conclusion

Evidence from non-biblical records made both by non-Christians and by followers of Jesus Christ is clear: his disciples have always claimed that he is Lord and God. Why else would the Empire have persecuted Christians? They were moral citizens, as even their enemies admitted. But they were unwilling to call Caesar their Lord, insisting instead on no Lord but Jesus. And they died for their faith by the thousands.

What else explains the radical faith and courage of the first apostles except that they met the risen Lord and made him their God? How else do we account for the rapid spread of the Christian movement? How do we explain the changed lives of billions of people, mine included?

If you would like to learn for yourself whether or not Jesus is Lord, there’s one more step you can take. You can meet him for yourself.

Mary Magdalene

Now we move to topics raised by The DaVinci Code which are less central to orthodox Christianity, though equally confusing and controversial. We begin with Mary Magdalene, the supposed wife of Jesus and mother of his child.

Her character

Teabing stated indignantly, “Magdalene was no such thing [a prostitute]. That unfortunate misconception is the legacy of a smear campaign launched by the early Church. The Church needed to defame Mary Magdalene in order to cover up her dangerous secret—her role as the Holy Grail” (p. 244).

Later he adds, “The Church, in order to defend itself against the Magdalene’s power, perpetuated her image as a whore and buried evidence of Christ’s marriage to her, thereby defusing any potential claims that Christ had a surviving bloodline and was a mortal prophet” (p. 254). When Sophie turns to Langdon he nods: “Sophie, the historical evidence supporting this is substantial” (p. 254).

What is the actual “historical evidence” on the subject?

The only mention in Scripture of Mary Magdalene prior to the crucifixion is in Luke 8: “Jesus traveled about from one town and village to another, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of God. The Twelve were with him, and also some women who had been cured of evil spirits and diseases: Mary (called Magdalene) from whom seven demons had come out . . .” (vs. 1-2). Later she is the first person to whom Jesus appears on Easter Sunday (John 20:13-16). She is the first he commissions to tell his disciples about his resurrection (vs. 17-18).

Teabing is right about one fact: she was not a prostitute. Mary Magdalene was categorically not the “sinful woman” who anointed Jesus’ feet (Luke 7:36-39). Mary of Bethany performed a similar act of worship a week before Jesus’ death (Jn 12:3). Perhaps the similarity of her name (there are seven Marys in the Bible) led to the unfortunate mistake by Gregory the Great in A.D. 591, confusing Mary Magdalene and the “sinful woman” of Luke 7. But note that he made this mistake nearly three centuries after Constantine and the supposed “creation” of the Bible we possess today.

If the Church wished to defame Mary Magdalene, why did it portray her as the first human to whom Jesus spoke at Easter, and his first evangelist and missionary (Jn 20:13-18)? She is mentioned by name 14 times in the New Testament. In eight of these references, she heads the list. In a ninth, it follows the name of Mary the mother of Jesus and the “other Mary.” In five it appears alone. Several times she is found at the side of Jesus’ mother. It seems clear that the church did anything but defame or cover up Mary Magdalene in the gospels.

Her relationship with Jesus

Teabing is confident that “Jesus was the original feminist. He intended for the future of His Church to be in the hands of Mary Magdalene” (p. 248).

How did he assure this intention? According to the British “historian,” Jesus’ marriage to Mary Magdalene is “a matter of historical record . . . and Da Vinci was certainly aware of that fact. The Last Supper practically shouts at the viewer that Jesus and Magdalene were a pair” (p. 244; we’ll discuss the painting later).

Teabing later mentions “countless references to Jesus and Magdalene’s union. That has been explored ad nauseum by modern historians” (p. 247). He then quotes from the Gospel of Mary Magdalene to support his assertion (p. 247).

What is the “historian” quoting? Why would he make these claims?

The Gnostics (see the section on their gospels above) made Mary Magdalene their source among Jesus’ disciples. Their Gospel of Mary depicts her as favored with insights and visions which far surpass those of Peter and the other apostles. Their Dialogue of the Savior calls her the “woman who knew the All.” Many Gnostics claimed to have received their revelations from Jesus through Mary’s transmission.

To bolster their claim, they posited a close and romantic relationship between Jesus and Mary. Their Gospel of Philip goes so far as to claim that Christ loved Mary “more than [all] the disciples and used to kiss her [often] on her [mouth; note that the text is missing here, and may not be her mouth or lips at all]. The rest of [the disciples were offended by it . . .]. They said to him, ‘Why do you love her more than all of us?’ The Savior answered and said to them, ‘Why do I not love you as [I love] her?'”

This is the “historical record” of Jesus’ and Mary’s “marriage.” The Gnostic text nowhere claims that they were actually married, or had a daughter. But it does continue its description of her life and legacy, in a way which is most damaging to Mr. Brown’s thesis.

According to the Gnostics, Mary Magdalene rejected the “works of femaleness” (Dialogue of the Savior), sexual activity and procreation. The Gospel of Thomas states that she transcended her human nature and “became male.” In The Gospel of Mary, Mary urged the other disciples to “praise his greatness, for he has prepared us, and made us into men.” Clearly she could not have carried the “blood” of Jesus through his offspring—in fact, she eschewed all sexual relationships. Such is the record of the Gnostic gospels used by Mr. Brown to document his claim that Mary and Jesus were married and produced a child.

The orthodox Church Fathers knew nothing of these legends. None quotes Mary Magdalene or seeks to build a case against her. If she posed a threat to the biblical tradition that Jesus had no sexual relationships or heirs, they would have responded to that threat. Instead, we have only silence.

Jesus’ sexuality

Let’s consider one other assertion with regard to Jesus’ relationship with Mary Magdalene: his sexuality. Langdon is confident that “Jesus was a Jew . . . and the social decorum during that time virtually forbid a Jewish man to be unmarried. According to Jewish custom, celibacy was condemned, and the obligation for a Jewish father was to find a suitable wife for his son.

If Jesus were not married, at least one of the Bible’s gospels would have mentioned it and offered some explanation for His unnatural state of bachelorhood” (p. 245).

Here is the biblical record. Peter, the other apostles, and the brothers of the Lord all had wives (1 Corinthians 9.5). Thus the Church was not embarrassed by their status as married men. If Jesus had been married, Paul would have said so here.

Note that Jesus had no official position within Judaism (Mark 11.28). He was not technically a rabbi, nor did he portray himself as one. And so any conventional expectation that religious leaders would be married would not have applied to him. And note that members of the Essenes, a famous spiritual sect within Judaism, were known for their emphasis on celibacy (cf. Josephus, Antiquities

There is no basis in the biblical or historical record for claiming that Jesus and Mary had any kind of relationship outside the one described in Scripture: he cast seven demons from her, made her one of his followers, appeared to her at Easter, and commissioned her to tell his other disciples of his resurrection. No marriage, no child, no Holy Grail.

Women and the Bible

Mr. Brown’s argument that Mary Magdalene was maligned by the Church extends through his book to a more general charge of chauvinism. Langdon cites the supposed belief of the Priory of Sion that “Constantine and his male successors successfully converted the world from matriarchal paganism to patriarchal Christianity by waging a campaign of propaganda that demonized the sacred feminine, obliterating the goddess from modern religion forever” (p. 124).

The persecution which resulted from this campaign was supposedly fierce: “Midwives also were killed for their heretical practice of using medical knowledge to ease the pain of childbirth—a suffering, the Church claimed, that was God’s rightful punishment for Eve’s partaking of the Apple of Knowledge, thus giving birth to the idea of Original Sin. During three hundred years of witch hunts, the Church burned at the stake an astounding five million women” (p. 125, emphasis his).

This vendetta had a supposed theological motivation as well: “The power of the female and her ability to produce life was once very sacred, but it posed a threat to the rise of the predominantly male Church, and so the sacred feminine was demonized and called unclean. It was man, not God, who created the concept of ‘original sin,’ whereby Eve tasted of the apple and caused the downfall of the human race. Woman, once the sacred giver of life, was now the enemy” (p. 238, emphasis his).

What are the actual facts of history and biblical record?

First, let’s remember that Genesis does not describe the nature of the “fruit of the knowledge of good and evil” (Gen 2:17). We certainly do not know that it was the “Apple of Knowledge.” And let’s note that the European witch craze claimed between 30,000 and 50,000 victims. Not all were executed by the Church, not all were women, and not all were burned. Horrendous, to be sure, but not the “five million women” Langdon claims were “burned at the stake” by the Church.

Now let’s see how the Bible actually relates to women. First, the example of Jesus. Our Lord spoke to a Samaritan woman when no one else would (John 4). He befriended an immoral woman no one else would welcome (Luke 7:36-50, decidedly not Mary Magdalene). He commended a widow’s offering at the Temple (Luke 21:1-4). He cast seven demons out of Mary Magdalene (Luke 8:2), and called her and others to be his disciples.

What was the general status of women in the Scriptures? Miriam was a prophetess (a preacher; Exodus 15:20), as were Deborah (Judges 4:4) and Huldah (2 Kings 22:14). The New Testament cites Anna (Luke 2:36) and Philip’s “four unmarried daughters who prophesied” (Acts 21:9). Paul cautioned a woman to cover her head when she “prophesied” in the church (1 Corinthians 11:5). The apostle recognized Priscilla as the leader of the church in Rome with her husband Aquila (Romans 16:3-5). He commended Euodia and Syntyche as his “fellow workers” (Philippians 4:2-3). And he listed Junias as “among the apostles,” the highest level of leadership in the early church (Romans 16:7).

Remember that the resurrected Christ chose to appear first to Mary Magdalene, and to send her to the disciples with the news of Easter as the first evangelist in Christian history (John 20:17). Remember that Paul’s first convert in Europe was Lydia, one of the leading citizens of Philippi; she soon established the church which met in her home (Acts 16:14-15, 40).

It is hard to see how these descriptions fit with Mr. Brown’s claim that the Church and its Bible waged a “campaign of propaganda” against women. Scripture is clear: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed and heirs according to the promise” (Galatians 3:28-29). Women and men alike.

Leonardo, Opus Dei, and the Priory of Sion

We’ll close with a brief examination of The DaVinci Code’s assertions regarding these three figures of pivotal significance to its plot. We begin with perhaps the most famous painter in art history.

Leonardo and his art

Remember that art historians all call him “Leonardo,” not “Da Vinci.” Two of his paintings figure especially in the book’s narrative.

First is the Mona Lisa. Mr. Brown claims that “The painting’s well-documented collage of double entendres and playful allusions had been revealed in most art history tomes, and yet, incredibly, the public at large still considered her smile a great mystery” (p. 119). He has Mr. Langdon, the Harvard art historian, explain the “truth.” Her name comes from Amon (the Egyptian god of masculine fertility) and L’isa (the Egyptian goddess of fertility) (p. 120-1). The painting actually intends to portray the sacred union of male and female. With this result: “And that, my friends, is Da Vinci’s little secret, and the reason for Mona Lisa’s knowing smile” (p. 121).

Actually, the portrait most likely portrays a real woman, Madonna (or Monna) Lisa, wife of Francesco di Bartolomeo del Giocondo. Thus the name, Mona Lisa. There are other theories behind the painting’s origin as well, all described in art history books. But in consulting several, I could find no reference to Brown’s theory. This despite the fact that it has “been revealed in most art history tomes.”

Second, we must mention briefly The Last Supper. According to Mr. Brown, the figure painted by Leonardo at Jesus’ right hand is none other than his “wife,” Mary Magdalene. The figure is in fact more feminine in portrait than the others at the table. But nearly all art historians believe this to be John, Jesus’ beloved disciple. John was typically rendered as beardless and youthful. And if this is not John, where is he in the painting? We would expect Jesus’ closest friend to be at his Last Supper.

Opus Dei

This organization, named “the word of God” in Latin, figures prominently in Mr. Brown’s plot. He mentions the “1934 publication of Josemaria Escriva’s spiritual book The Way—999 points of meditation for doing God’s Work in one’s own life” (p. 29). The novel states that the pope has placed the founder of Opus Dei on the “fast track” to sainthood (p. 41). In fact, Josemaria Escriva de Balaguer, who died in 1975, was beatified amidst substantial controversy in 1992 and canonized on October 6, 2002 in Rome, Italy.

According to the organization’s web site, its stated purpose is to “spread throughout society a profound awareness of the universal call to holiness and apostolate through one’s professional work carried out with freedom and personal responsibility.” The movement claims 80,000 members all over the world.

As the novel makes clear, there is also a watchdog organization called “Opus Dei Awareness Network.” I consulted their web site ( in preparing this essay.

Opus Dei members are understandably upset with Mr. Brown’s characterization of their supposed chauvinism: “Female numeraries were forced to clean the men’s residence halls for no pay while the men were at mass; women slept on hardwood floors, while the men had straw mats; and women were forced to endure additional requirements of corporal mortification . . . all as added penance for original sin. It seemed Eve’s bite from the apple of knowledge was a debt women were doomed to pay for eternity” (p. 41; there’s the “apple” again).

However, I could find nothing to document this description even on ODAN’s web site. And I could find no record that Opus Dei has ever had any kind of relationship with the Priory of Sion or the issues raised by Mr. Brown’s novel. The organization of course denies any such activity as well.

The Priory of Sion

We close with this organization, so central to the novel. Langdon calls its members “one of the oldest surviving secret societies on earth (p. 113). He states as a fact, “The Priory’s membership has included some of history’s most cultured individuals: men like Botticelli, Sir Isaac Newton, Victor Hugo . . . and, Leonardo da Vinci” (p. 113).

Langdon explains, “The Priory of Sion . . . was founded in Jerusalem in 1099 by a French king named Godefroi de Bouillon, immediately after he had conquered the city” (p. 157). The Knights Templar were created by the Priory of Sion to find and then preserve the documents leading to the Holy Grail (pp. 158-9).

They were persecuted beginning on Friday, October 13, 1307, making “Friday the 13th” an unlucky day (pp. 159-60). The Dossiers Secrets is an historical document which “had been authenticated by many specialists and incontrovertibly confirmed what historians had suspected for a long time: Priory Masters included Leonardo da Vinci, Botticelli, Sir Isaac Newton, Victor Hugo, and, more recently, Jean Cocteau, the famous Parisian artist” (p. 206). Happily for Mr. Brown’s thesis, “The Priory of Sion, to this day, still worships Mary Magdalene as the Goddess, the Holy Grail, the rose, and the Divine Mother” (p. 255).

Let’s deal with two simple problems first. “Friday the 13th” is considered by many to be unlucky, but not because it has anything to do with the Knights Templar. Rather, an early tradition exists that Jesus was crucified on a Friday the 13th. Some Christians considered 13 to be unlucky since there were 13 present at the Last Supper. But the superstition actually goes back to Norse mythology, in which there were 13 present at a banquet in Valhalla when Balder (son of Odin) was slain; this tragedy led to the downfall of the gods. Around 1000 B.C., Hesiod wrote in Works and Days that the thirteenth day is unlucky for sowing, but favorable for planting.

Next let’s note that the Priory of Sion “worships Mary Magdalene as the Goddess.” Given its belief that Jesus was only a mortal, a religious leader and no more, such worship of his “wife” seems odd at best.

Now let’s turn to the Priory itself. There is an actual organization called the Priory of Sion which registered officially with the French government in 1956. It claimed to have originated after World War II.

Then, in the late 1960s, a set of documents were discovered deep in the French National Library. These documents made numerous references to this supposed society. They offered a family tree going back to the Merovingian Kings, monarchs who ruled in the south of France from the 6th to the 8th century. But historians who have examined these documents do not consider them credible. With the exception of filmmaker and artist Jean Cocteau (1889-1963), its illustrious list of Grand Masters is not credible historically.

According to Henry Lincoln, co-author of Holy Blood, Holy Grail, these legends say the first king’s mother was impregnated by a sea creature. Since one of the earliest symbols for Jesus and Christianity was a fish, it is alleged that the order can be traced back to Jesus. This is apparently the only evidence for such a connection.

The Knights Templar were in fact an order that existed in the 12th century, founded in 1118 to protect pilgrims in the Holy Land. They were rendered redundant after the last Crusader stronghold fell in 1291. The movement existed for 200 years until its members were accused of heresy by King Philip the Fair of France. They were arrested in 1307; 120 were burned by Inquisition courts for not confessing or retracting a confession. Sodomy was the principal charge against the order.

In an ABCNews interview, Mr. Brown himself admitted, “Realistically, I doubt we will ever have absolute proof one way or another regarding the Priory’s existence.”


Why did Mr. Brown write his novel? According to his web site, “I chose this topic for personal reasons—primarily as an exploration of my own faith and my own ideas about religion. I believe that one of the reasons the book has become controversial is that religion is a very hard thing to discuss in quantitative terms. If you ask three people what it means to be a Christian, you will get three different answers. Some feel being baptized is sufficient. Others feel you must accept the Bible as immutable historical fact. Still others require a belief that all those who do not accept Christ as their personal savior are doomed to hell. Faith is a continuum, and we each fall on that line where we may. . . . I consider myself a student of many religions. The more I learn, the more questions I have. For me, the spiritual quest will be a lifelong work in progress. Deciding to write about this topic was simply part of my own personal quest for understanding.”

In this “personal quest for understanding,” however, the author makes very clear his assessment of traditional, orthodox Christianity: “The Church’s version of the Christ story is inaccurate, and . . . the greatest story ever told is, in fact, the greatest story ever sold” (pp. 266-7, emphasis his).

Now you and I must decide between Mr. Brown’s version of Jesus’ life and significance, and the one held sacred by Christians. On the basis of objective historical evidence we have seen that the Bible we have today is trustworthy, reflecting with extreme accuracy the records left by first-century eyewitnesses to Jesus. From the first, his followers believed him to be the risen Lord and worshiped him as God.

Now we are each offered a personal invitation to meet him for ourselves. If we will acknowledge him as God, admit to him our mistakes and failures, ask his forgiveness, and invite him to be our Lord and Master, he will answer our prayer. He will make us the children of God. And we will spend eternity with him in his Father’s house.

Of course, no discussion of historical evidence can compel us to make this decision. Faith is a relationship, and all relationships require a commitment which transcends the evidence. If you are waiting to be married until you can prove that you should, you’ll never walk to the altar. If you’re waiting to have children until you can prove that you will be good parents, you’ll never paint a nursery. Every relationship in your life requires a level of faith commitment.

Such faith then becomes self-validating. If you are married, you now know more about the marriage experience that you could possibly have understood beforehand. No parent can explain fully to others what it is like to hold a newborn baby.

But let us not leave our subject with the possibility that Jesus Christ was a good man and nothing more. That option does not really exist. C. S. Lewis, himself a converted atheist, makes the point better than I can:

“I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: ‘I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept His claim to be God.’ That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic—on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg—or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God; or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronising nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.”

The New Testament writers are the real painter of the gospel. If you’ll examine the historical evidence for their truth claims, I believe you’ll find a compelling case for trusting Christ as your personal Savior and Lord. The rest is up to you.

The Sin of Envy

The Sin of Envy

Dr. Jim Denison

Webster defines “envy” as “(1) a feeling of discontent and ill will because of another’s advantages, possessions, etc; resentful dislike of another who has something that one desires (2) desire for some advantage, quality, etc. that another has.” Envy is the byproduct of greed. It is wanting what someone has enough to resent them for having it.

Why does our culture value envy? Because envy promotes materialistic greed. If I envy what you own, I’ll try to buy it. And we live in a world which measures success by possessions. And because envy promotes self-reliant achievement. If I envy what you have done, I’ll try to do it. And we live in a world which measures success by performance.

Envy is one of the devil’s most effective weapons. No matter who we are. Years ago I came across this painfully relevant story: Once there was a monk who lived in a cave in the wilderness. He had a great reputation for holiness. His reputation reached Hell itself, whereupon the devil took three of his key demons with him to tempt the monk out of his sanctity. When they reached the wilderness, they found the monk sitting at the mouth of the cave with a serene look on his face. The first demon walked up to the monk and planted in his mind the temptation of great power, with visions of kingdoms and their glory. But the face of the monk remained serene.

The second demon walked up to the monk and planted in his mind the temptation of great wealth, with visions of silver and gold and all that money can buy. But the face of the monk remained serene. The third demon walked up to the monk and planted in his mind the temptation of sensuous pleasure, with visions of dancing girls. But the face of the monk remained serene.

Annoyed, the devil barked, “Step aside, and I will show you what has never failed.” The devil strolled up beside the monk, leaned over and whispered, “Have you heard the news? Your classmate Makarios has just been named bishop of Alexandria.” And the face of the monk scowled.”

What makes you envious this morning? Someone else’s possession? Position? Status? Family? Happiness? Health? Where is the enemy using this deadly sin against you?

What is wrong with envy?

Scripture answers our question in five ways.

Envy is forbidden by God

•”Do not fret because of evil men or be envious of those who do wrong” (Psalm 37:1)

•”Do not envy a violent man or choose any of his ways” (Proverbs 3:31)

•”Do not let your heart envy sinners, but always be zealous for the fear of the Lord” (Proverbs 23:17).

•”Do not envy wicked men, do not desire their company; for their hearts plot violence, and their lips talk about making trouble” (Proverbs 24:1).

•”Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy” (Romans 13:13).

•”Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud” (1 Corinthians 13:4).

•”Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying one another” (James 3:14).

Envy destroys souls

•”A heart at peace gives life to the body, but envy rots the bones” (Proverbs 14:30). When we envy what others have, we will never have enough. We are never done. And the cancer grows until it consumes us.

•Remember Cain and Abel: “The Lord looked with favor on Abel and his offering, but on Cain and his offering he did not look with favor. So Cain was very angry, and his face was downcast” (Genesis 4:4-5).

•”Surely God is good to Israel, to those who are pure in heart. But as for me, my feet had almost slipped; I had nearly lost my foothold. For I envied the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked” (Psalm 73.1-2).

Envy keeps us from God

“On the next Sabbath almost the whole city [of Pisidian Antioch] gathered to hear the word of the Lord. When the Jews saw the crowds, they were filled with jealousy and talked abusively against what Paul was saying. Then Paul and Barnabas answered them boldly: ‘We had to speak the word of God to you first. Since you reject it and do not consider yourselves worthy of eternal life, we now turn to the Gentiles'” (Acts 13:44-46).

Envy destroys relationships

Isaac “had so many flocks and herds and servants that the Philistines envied him. So all the wells that his father’s servants had dug in the time of his father Abraham, the Philistines stopped up, filling them with earth” (Genesis 26:14-15). Joseph’s “brothers were jealous of him, but his father kept the matter in mind” (Genesis 37:11).

Envy destroys lives

It harms the envious, as Haman proved “I’m the only person Queen Esther invited to accompany the king to the banquet she gave. And she has invited me along with the king tomorrow. But all this gives me no satisfaction as long as I see that Jew Mordecai sitting at the king’s table. His wife Zeresh and all his friends said to him, ‘Have a gallows built, seventy-five feet high, and ask the king in the morning to have Mordecai hanged on it. Then go with the king to the dinner and be happy.’ This suggestion delighted Haman, and he had the gallows built” (Esther 5:12-14).

It harms the innocent, as Daniel demonstrates: “The administrators and the satraps tried to find grounds for charges against Daniel in his conduct of government affairs, but they were unable to do so. They could find no corruption in him, because he was trustworthy and neither corrupt nor negligent. Finally these men said, ‘We will never find any basis for charges against this man Daniel unless it has something to do with the law of his God'” (Daniel 6:4-5).

And it crucified Jesus: “When the crowd had gathered, Pilate asked them, ‘Which one do you want me to release to you: Barabbas, or Jesus who is called Christ?’ For he knew that it was out of envy that they had handed Jesus over to him” (Matthew 27:17-18).

The cure for envy

Remember what happens to the wicked we envy.

Choose to serve. T. S. Eliot: “most of the trouble in the world is caused by people who want to be important.” Chuck Colson adds: “The lure of power can separate the most resolute of Christians from the true nature of Christian leadership, which is service to others. It is difficult to stand on a pedestal and wash the feet of those below.”

Said Lao Tzu:

Fail to honor people,

They fail to honor you.

But of a good leader, who talks little,

When his work is done, his aim fulfilled,

They will all say, ‘We did this ourselves.’

When you envy what a person has or is, pray for that person. Seek a way to serve their success. And your envy will change into love, and glorify your Father in heaven.

Want what you have. Paul told his Philippian friends, “I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength” (Philippians 4.11-13).

Consider these lines from The Pilgrim’s Progress:

He that is down, needs fear no Fall;

He that is low, no Pride;

He that is humble, ever shall

Have God to be his Guide.

I am content with what I have,

Little be it or much:

And, Lord, Contentment still I crave,

Because thou savest such.

Fulness to such, a Burden is,

That go on Pilgrimage;

Here little, and hereafter Bliss,

Is best from Age to Age.

Do you agree?

Stay focused on God’s call on your life. Peter Marshall at age 47, three weeks before his death, prayed on the floor of the U.S. Senate, “Our Father in heaven, give us the long view of our work and our world. Help us to see that it is better to fail in a cause that will ultimately succeed than to succeed in a cause that will ultimately fail.”

Remember the source of your personal worth. Francis of Assisi: “Blessed is the servant who does not esteem himself as better when he is praised and promoted by men than when they look on him as vile, stupid and contemptible; for whatever a man is in the sight of God, that he is, and no more.”

Corrie ten Boom was asked if it was difficult for her to remain humble. Her simple reply: “When Jesus rode into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday on the back of a donkey, and everyone was waving palm branches and throwing garments on the road, singing praises, do you think that for one moment it ever entered the head of that donkey that any of that was for him? If I can be that donkey on which Jesus Christ rides in his glory, I give Him all the praise and honor.”


Jim Elliot, the martyred missionary, wrote in his journal: “I walked out on the hill just now. It is exalting, delicious, to stand embraced by the shadows of a friendly tree with the wind tugging at your coattail and the heavens hailing your heart, to gaze and glory and give oneself again to God—what more could a man ask? Oh, the fullness, pleasure, sheer excitement of knowing God on earth! I care not if I never raise my voice again for Him, if only I may love Him, please Him . . . If only I may see Him, touch His garments, and smile into His eyes.”

Michelangelo used to keep a candle stuck on his forehead in a pasteboard cap, so as to prevent casting his own shadow upon his work while he was carving out his statues.

Whose shadow do you cast?

Trouble Valley

Trouble Valley

Joshua 7: 1-26

Dr. Jim Denison

Thesis: sin prevents the power of God in our lives.

Goal: Confess specific sins that you might know the power and purpose of God for your lives and ministries.

On April 10, 1912, the ship Titanic left Southampton for New York. She was four city blocks long and featured a French sidewalk café and luxurious suites, but possessed only 20 lifeboats for the 2200 passengers on board. After five days at sea, she struck an iceberg and sank in two hours and forty minutes. 1523 people lost their lives; only 705 survivors were rescued from her half-filled lifeboats. The greatest shipwreck of modern history was especially tragic in that it was so avoidable.

Throughout the day of April 14, wireless operators on board received at least six messages which described field ice and icebergs on her course directly ahead. One message was not posted until more than five hours after it was received. Another was not shown to the captain, since to do so would have interrupted his dinner. Yet another was never taken to the bridge, as the wireless operator was working alone and could not leave his equipment. A final, crucial message was interrupted and never completed when Titanic’s operator cut it off to continue his own commercial traffic.

There was even a visual warning at 10:30 p.m. from the Rappahannock, whose Morse lamp message about heavy ice directly ahead was briefly acknowledged from Titanic’s bridge. The message went unheeded, and was not even given to Captain Smith, now dozing in his quarters.

One of the reasons God hates sin is that he knows the shipwreck it will bring to our lives. He sends us warning after warning, but so often we sail ahead to destruction. We do not break his laws, but ourselves on them. The consequences of our abused freedom are not his fault but ours. Sin always takes us further than we wanted to go, keeps us longer than we wanted to stay, and costs us more than we wanted to pay. Always.

Last week we explored ways to find and fulfill God’s miraculous purpose for our lives. No Jericho can stand before his people when they walk in his power. This week we will learn the converse truth: God’s people cannot stand before any obstacle or opponent when they live in rebellion against their Lord. Little Ai defeated an army which had just participated in the destruction of mighty Jericho. Sin always blocks the power of God.

Let’s learn why, and discover ways to prevent such titanic catastrophe in our lives and service.

Know that God knows your sin (vs. 1-5)

I read recently of a pesticide warehouse in Hawaii which collapsed. Apparently, its roof was termite-infested. Knowing the problem is only helpful when we do what we know to do.

Rahab did. This infamous Jericho prostitute repented of her idolatry and sin, and received part of God’s promised land. By contrast, an Israelite named Achan, from the famous tribe of Judah, would deliberately violate what he knew to be the word and will of God, and lose his share in the nation’s inheritance. We can be Rahab or Achan—the choice is ours.

God had made extremely clear the fact that his people were to keep none of the plunder from Jericho for themselves (6:18-19). Achan’s theft had no pretense to ignorance. Neither Joshua nor the other leaders of the nation saw his sin. But he did not know that their Leader watched it all.

Now the army was ready for its next battle. Ai, a town 15 miles to the west of Jericho, was perched at the top of a ravine overlooking the surrounding valleys. This was a significant place for military control, but a citadel of no compare to Jericho. Joshua’s scouts reported that “only a few men are there” (v. 3).

So Joshua sent a small force to attack the small city. He did not consult the Lord first. He marched ahead of him, despite all the ways God had proven that the people could win victory only in his will and power. Their Lord would have shown them the tragedy which was about to transpire, if only they had asked. Years ago a friend gave me some memorable advice: don’t get ahead of God, for he may not follow. I’ve learned that God would rather lead us than fix us.

Here he must do the latter. The Israeli army was routed by the smaller forces from Ai; 36 were killed, and the rest forced into retreat. The result was horrific: “At this the hearts of the people melted and became like water” (v. 5).

One man sinned by commission, in deliberate rebellion against God’s prohibition regarding material possessions. But another sinned by omission, failing to consult the Lord before he went into battle in his name. Had Joshua sought the Lord to ensure that his people were ready for the next step, seeking confession and repentance wherever it might be necessary, victory would have been theirs. Such a step is always wise, for all have sinned and come short of the glory of God (Ro 3:23). Job’s practice should be ours: “Early in the morning he would sacrifice a burnt offering for each of them, thinking, ‘Perhaps my children have sinned and cursed God in their hearts.’ This was Job’s regular custom” (Job 1:5).

Know that God knows your sin and mine. We should give him regular opportunity to tell us what he knows, for we are more inclined to sin than we want to admit. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the creator of Sherlock Holmes, once sent identical anonymous telegrams to twelve of his friends: “All has been discovered. Flee at once.” Within 24 hours, all twelve had fled the country. Who wouldn’t?

It is fallen human nature to ignore the reality of sin in our lives, and to excuse that which cannot escape our notice. Thomas Fuller (1608-61) admitted for us all: “Lord, often have I thought to myself, I will sin but this one sin more, and then I will repent of it, and of all the rest of my sins together. So foolish was I, and ignorant. As if I should be able to pay my debts when I owe more; or as if I should say, I will wound my friend once again, and then I will lovingly shake hands with him.” How deceived we are. Billy Sunday was right: one reason sin flourishes is that we treat it like a cream puff instead of a rattlesnake.

Mahatma Gandhi appealed for a holistic approach to life: “One man cannot do right in one department of life while he is occupied in doing wrong in any other department. Life is one indivisible whole.” Achan’s failure would affect the entire nation. So would Joshua’s. So will yours and mine. Know that God knows your sins. Ask him what he knows, every day.

Seek him in repentance (vs. 6-12)

When we are aware that we have failed, we must go hard after God in repentance. Their military failure suggested immediately to Joshua that spiritual causes were at work. And so he tore his clothes, a typical Jewish action of repentance (Genesis 37:29, 34; 44:13; Judges 11:35). He fell facedown, as a servant before his master. The other leaders of the nation joined him. They were right to do so.

Someone asked, How can you fall off a thirty-foot ladder and not get hurt? The answer: make sure you fall off the first rung. Go to God as soon as you know you have sinned. Seek him in repentance, and he will be found.

Joshua’s prayer is a model for us. He began with the proper address: “Sovereign Lord” (v. 7). He acknowledged that God is the Great I Am, and he is the I Am Not. Next, he gave God the specific problem: the Amorites have defeated them in battle, and now the other Canaanite armies will mass against them and they will not be able to escape across the flooded Jordan river. Their national destiny was at stake.

Then he closed with the most significant issue: the glory and reputation of the Lord. “What then will you do for your own great name?” (v. 9) is the “bottom line” in all spiritual conflict. Ultimately we exist to honor the Lord and extend his Kingdom. Our sin will adversely affect his glory. We must repent for our sake, but for his as well.

When we have sought God in genuine and humble repentance, we can next listen for his specific response. He will speak directly and personally to us (v. 10). He will tell us who has sinned, and how. He will tell us what to do about this sin (vs. 10-12). He wants us to know his will more than we want to know it. And such knowledge will make our repentance and restoration possible.

My friend and colleague in Atlanta, Dan Hayes, offers pertinent advice: “Here is an exercise that has worked for thousands…Take a sheet of paper, a pencil, and your Bible. Ask the Holy Spirit to show you any areas that are displeasing Him. Take 30 minutes to an hour and make a list of those sins.

“Then tell the Lord you acknowledge them as sin and accept by faith His forgiveness (1 John 1:9). Determine by His power to turn from them and expect the Holy Spirit to fill you with His power. Make restitution or public confession where necessary. (It may be tough, but it will be worth it.) If you were sincere when you did this, you will be a cleansed vessel ready to become a glowing spark of revival and awakening.”

It will never be easier to confess our sins and repent of them than it is right now.

Lead others to consecration (vs. 13-26)

Now we are ready to lead others back to God. Joshua called the nation to consecration and the removal of their sin (v. 13). They would do this through personal and then corporate confession.

There may be times when those guilty of sin will not admit their failure. Even when Joshua addressed the entire nation, Achan would not confess that sin which had paralyzed the nation and brought the people into judgment and peril. So as the nation assembled before Joshua, the Lord isolated the tribe of Judah from the rest. Then the clan of the Zerahites within Judah. Then the family of Zimri within the Zerahites. Then Achan “was taken” (v. 18).

We don’t know the specific way these identifications were made. It is likely that lots were cast, a typical way of discerning God’s will in that day and culture. It is probably that the high priest used the Urim and Thummim for this purpose (Exodus 28:30; 1 Samuel 2:28). These may have been two flat stones with two identical colors on them, one on each side. If the two stones fell with the lighter color up, God’s answer was affirmative; if the colors were darker, his answer was negative; if the stones disagreed, they were cast again.

Only when Joshua faced Achan personally did the sinner confess. His leader began: “My son, give glory to the Lord, the God of Israel, and give him the praise” (v. 19). This was a solemn charge to tell the truth, something like the question in our courtrooms which begins, “Do you solemnly swear to tell the truth . . .”

Finally Achan admitted his guilt. He had taken a robe imported from Babylon, a very valuable garment; and also five pounds of silver and 1.25 pounds of gold. He hid them inside his tent, an indication that he knew his action was sinful. The rest of his family could not fail to know of his duplicity, making them liable for his sin as well. These possessions were unnecessary for this wealthy family, for they owned “cattle, donkeys and sheep” (v. 24). This was covetous lust and idolatry defined.

Now their sin must be purged from the nation. The people stoned Achan and his duplicitous family, the capital punishment appropriate to their violation of the covenant (Exodus 19:13; Leviticus 24:23). Then they burned their bodies in a symbolic act of purging the land. They named the place the Valley of Achor (Trouble), a play on Achan’s name (cf. 1 Chronicles 2:7, where he is called Achar). Over the place they “heaped up a large pile of rocks, which remains to this day” (v. 26) as a sign to the nation that sin must be confessed or punished. Their first monument in Canaan was to God’s grace and power in crossing the Jordan (4:20). Their second was to his justice and power in convicting their sin and protecting his glory. We need both reminders still.

If Achan and his family had initiated the confession of their sin, God’s grace would have prevailed. He deals with us as gently as he can or as harshly as he must. I read recently of a time when the Viceroy of Naples was visiting in Spain. He came to the harbor, where he saw a galley ship with convicts pulling the oars. The Viceroy went aboard and asked the men why they were there. One said that the judge was bribed to convict him. Another claimed that his enemies paid people to bear false witness against him. A third said that his best friend had lied to protect himself. Finally one convict said, “I’m here because I deserve to be. I wanted money and I stole a purse.” The Viceroy said to the captain, “Here are all these innocent men and only one wicked man in their midst. Let us release this man lest he infect the others.” The man was set free and pardoned.

So can we be.


The Valley of Trouble teaches three lessons today. First, it shows us that sin can block the power of the Holy Spirit. A small town like Ai can defeat the army of God if that army rebels against its General. There is no sin you and I cannot commit. And no enemy who cannot defeat us if we are disobedient to our God.

Second, this Valley also demonstrates that no sinner is an island. No sin is individual. Every rejection of the word and will of God affects us all. Pornography employs women in degrading ways; drug dealers prey on children and assault innocents; malpractice fraud raises medical rates for everyone. All sin is corporate.

Third, the experience of Israel in this Valley proves that we must initiate confession and repentance while there is still time. God will hold us accountable on the Day of Judgment for every unconfessed sin (cf. Ecclesiastes 12:14; Luke. 12:2-3; 1 Peter 4:5). And such sins will only bring us pain and sorrow. The most miserable person on earth is the Christian living outside the will of God, for the Holy Spirit lives inside him, convicting him of his disobedience, moving him to repentance.

Peter Marshall’s prayer on the Senate floor, dated Thursday, June 26, 1947, is worth repeating at the close of a study of sin and confession:

Our Father, we are beginning to understand at last that the things that are wrong with our world are the sum total of all the things that are wrong with us as individuals. Thou has made us after Thine image, and our hearts can find no rest until they rest in Thee.

We are too Christian really to enjoy sinning and too fond of sinning really to enjoy Christianity. Most of us know perfectly well what we ought to do; our trouble is that we do not want to do it. Thy help is our only hope. Make us want to do what is right, and give us the ability to do it.

In the name of Christ our Lord. Amen.

Wrestling With Grace

Wrestling with Grace

Isaiah 55:1-7

Dr. Jim Denison

The best picture of grace I have discovered outside Scripture was made powerfully real to me nearly ten years ago, when I attended a Broadway theater production of Les Miserables. I will never forget the emotions of that night.

You remember the central scene from Victor Hugo’s novel, one of the most famous in all of literature. Jean Valjean, the convicted thief, has stolen silver from the bishop who took him in, but he was caught with the pieces in his possession. The gendarmes brought him to the bishop so he might press charges. Instead, the bishop told the soldiers that he had given Jean the pieces. Then he gave him his two silver candlesticks as well, his most valued possessions.

The soldiers freed him. Then the bishop said to him in a low voice, “Jean Valjean, my brother, you no longer belong to what is evil but to what is good. I have bought your soul to save it from black thoughts and the spirit of perdition, and I give it to God.”

And so it was. Jean Valjean would be a changed man, and he would help to change the world. Changed by the power of grace.

How long has it been since God’s grace changed your life? Since you experienced his grace in a new, empowering, transforming way? Is your Christianity routine and comfortable? Is your God predictable? Then you need to wrestle with grace.

I’ve been in such a match with God all week. Sometimes the sermon flows from the text, but not this time. In this sermon God has been wrestling with my mind and heart all week long. But I now believe I have a message from him for us. A message about the transforming truth of grace.

Admit your need of grace

God’s word for us begins with the invitation of grace: “Come.” The Hebrew word shows that the one calling is concerned for the needs of those he addresses. Think of a doctor calling the next patient into the room, or a benevolence worker calling the next client into the food pantry or the overnight shelter.

Can you “come” to his grace?

Only if you are “thirsty”—the Hebrew word means to be desperate for water. Are you thirsty for living water, for the Spirit of God? The psalmist said, “As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go and meet with God?” (Psalm 46:1-2). How long since you felt this way about your relationship with God?

Only if you “have no money”—the words mean to be so impoverished that you don’t know where your next meal is coming from. Do you know that you are this spiritually poor before God? That your money is no good with him, that you have no merit to earn his favor? Or do you think you deserve his grace?

The Bible says, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble” (1 Peter 5:5). Are you proud before God? In your own eyes?

Jesus said, “Blessed are those who know their need of God, for the kingdom of heaven is theirs” (Matthew 5:3). Do you know your need of God? How long since you knelt before the holy God of the universe in broken humility and admitted your need of his grace?

His “wine and milk” are “without money and without cost.” That which we can buy with the currency of our works and merit is “not bread,” and it “does not satisfy.”

But we are self-sufficient and self-reliant. We are willing to work for God, but we want to be in charge. We’ll donate some of our time to the church, some of our money to pay its bills, some of our energies to spiritual activities like worship, Bible study and prayer. We are willing to help God. We don’t like admitting that he doesn’t need our help, that in fact we need his. Desperately.

Think of recent box office successes: Diane Lane takes matters into her own hands and finds meaning in her life in “Under the Tuscan Sun;” the Rock saves the day and defeats each and every one of the bad guys in “The Rundown;” and on it goes.

The classics are the same theme. “Star Wars” made famous the phrase, “Use the force, Luke.” This “force” is impersonal, something for us to use, in our own decision and initiative. Indiana Jones continually saves the day through courage and pluck. Scarlett O’Hara makes a new life for herself after the Civil War destroys her beloved South and Rhett leaves for good. Remember her defiant vow, fist in the air: “I’ll never go hungry again!” And so on.

In wrestling with this text, God has shown me how much of his grace I have missed by my works. By trying to become a person of significance and value through my efforts and sacrifice. God can give only to those with open hands. The first step to a life of grace is admitting how much we need such grace.

Receive what only grace can give (vs. 2b-5)

What does God want to give to those who will receive? To those of us who will humble ourselves before him and admit that we need his help? What can we have only by grace?

First, grace gives salvation of our souls. When we listen to him and eat what he offers, “your soul will delight in the richest of fare.” Then “your soul may live” (v. 3a). We enter “an everlasting covenant,” a relationship which God will never break. And once we become his children we will be his children forever.

But only when we accept the grace of God. If you’re trying to save your own soul, you are lost. No church attendance can remove your sins. No religious acts or traditions can make you right with God. No success or status in the world can purchase a relationship with God. Do you remember the day you received this grace? Or are you still trying to earn it?

And second, grace gives significance to our lives (vs. 4-5).

We will be his “witness to the peoples.” Nations and people we do not know will be affected by our faith and faithfulness. People will want what we have, when our lives are transformed by the grace of God.

He will “endow you with splendor,” with his joy and peace, the fruit of his Spirit, the power of his might in your life.

But only when you are humbled before him, submitted to his will as your King. When you try to achieve eternal purpose and spiritual significance through your own work and self-reliant initiative, you cannot be used by God to fulfill his eternal purpose through your life. We cannot earn what he can only give.

An apprentice carpenter does not know how to build a mansion. If he will not listen to the architect and his supervisor, his efforts will more likely ruin the house than construct it.

A beginning chemistry student does not know how to perform advanced laboratory experiments. If he will not listen to his professor, he will more than likely blow up the lab than advance science.

I do not know how to speak words which will change your soul and accomplish eternal good. If I will not listen to God, yielded to the grace gift of a message from his word and Spirit, but rely on my own study and education and ability, I will fail. I cannot earn what he can only give.

You do not know how to use your work, your relationships, your church ministry to accomplish eternal or spiritual significance. If you will not listen to God, yielding to the grace gift of his leading and empowering, but rely on your own abilities and resources, you will fail. You cannot earn what he can only give.

So what do we do?

Seek the Lord—go to him by faith; “call on him.”

Do it now, “while he may be found, while he is near.” We have only this moment to receive his grace.

Forsake your “wicked” ways; the Hebrew refers to sins of character. Refuse “evil” thoughts which result from wicked character.

Instead, turn to the Lord, and he will have mercy on you. Your God will “freely” pardon you; the Hebrew means to give in abundance, over and beyond all we might expect. He will “pardon” you—the word means to refuse to punish. Biblical forgiveness does not pretend we did not sin, or excuse our behavior, but chooses not to punish it. This is the gracious act and love of our Lord.

Such a life of broken humility and yielded obedience positions us to be used by God for significant purpose, to be empowered by his Spirit, to accomplish that which eternal. Salvation and significance come only when we yield to his grace.


We respond to such grace in worship by praise and adoration. Not to receive his favor, but because we already have. Not to earn his love, but because he already loves us. Not to be people of worth, but because we already are. Out of gratitude for his grace.

And we respond to such grace through the week by staying submitted to him as our King. By admitting that we must have his guidance, direction, and power for our every word and step.

I have learned this week that preaching is more about listening than it is speaking. More about seeking his word and obeying his prompting than it is about my study and preparation.

A young pastor’s sermons began to glow with a kind of fire and power which became the talk of the community. Someone asked him where he got his messages. He pointed to a worn-out patch of carpet beside his desk and said, “There.”

When we remember the grace of God in our salvation, we will respond with adoration and worship, trusting him for our salvation and significance. How can we do otherwise?

Father Maximilian Kolbe was a Polish priest sent by the Nazis to Auschwitz. In July of 1941, a man escaped from his Barracks 14. As punishment, ten prisoners were chosen to die in the starvation bunker. They would receive no food or water. Their throats would turn to paper, their brains to fire, until finally their suffering ended in a horrible death.

One of the ten began grieving loudly for his wife and children. Suddenly there was a commotion in the ranks. A prisoner had broken out of line, calling for the commandant—cause for execution.

The prisoners gasped. It was their beloved Father Kolbe, the priest who shared his last crust of bread, who comforted the dying, who heard their confessions and fed their souls. The frail priest spoke softly and calmly to Nazi Camp Commandant Fritsch: “I would like to die in place of one of the men you condemned.” He pointed to the weeping prisoner grieving for his wife and children.

Fritsch compared the two; this priest indeed looked weaker than the man he had condemned to death. He looked at his assistant and nodded. Father Kolbe’s place on the death ledger was set. The men were made to remove their clothes, then herded into a dark, windowless cell. “You will dry up like tulips,” sneered one of their jailers. Then he swung the heavy door shut.

As the hours and days passed, the camp became aware of something extraordinary happening in the death cell. Past prisoners had spent their dying days screaming, attacking each other, clawing at the walls. But now, coming from the death box, they heard the faint sounds of singing.

On August 14, 1941, there were four prisoners still alive in the bunker, and it was needed for new occupants. In the light of their flashlight, the Nazi soldiers saw Father Maximilian Kolbe, a living skeleton, propped against one wall. His head was inclined a bit to the left. He had a smile on his lips, his eyes wide open, fixed on some faraway vision. He did not move. The Nazi doctor gave lethal injections to the first three prisoners, then to Father Kolbe. In a moment, he was dead.

Today visitors to the starvation bunker at Auschwitz find on its floor, next to a large spray of fresh flowers, a steady flame. It is burning today. It will burn forever.

If you were that man for whom one died, how would you respond to his grace?