God Deals With Us As Gently As He Can

God Deals With Us As Gently As He Can—

Or As Harshly As He Must

The life and legacy of Moses

Dr. Jim Denison

Exodus 7-10

A group of missionaries was forced to travel through a dangerous part of their region, an area where bandits had been active for weeks. When they camped for the night, some slept while others prayed, then they took turns. The next day they arrived safely at the missionary compound.

A few months later, the leader of the local band of bandits was apprehended and brought to trial. One of the missionaries asked him if he had been active in the area where their group had camped. The criminal said that he and his band had seen the group, and planned to rob them of their belongings and kill them. However, 21 men in armor had stood guard around their camp all night, so that the bandits could not attack.

The next year, that missionary returned to the States on furlough, and told his home church of their group’s divine deliverance. A lady stood and asked the exact date when this miracle had occurred. She then told the missionary that she had become burdened that night for their ministry, and called a prayer meeting at the church. 20 people joined her for prayer.

It has been said that coincidence is when God prefers to remain anonymous. But there are times when he cannot stay behind the scenes if he is to protect and prosper his children. On occasion he must reveal his miraculous power in a way which is seen by all.

In this study, we’ll watch God show his power to the mightiest nation on earth. As we study the first nine plagues, we will marvel at the Creator’s miraculous ability to intervene in the affairs and circumstances of his creation.

Here’s the question we might ponder throughout the study:

Are we Pharaoh or Moses?

Are you walking in obedience to God’s will or disobedience to his word?

Are you in position to receive his benevolent grace, or to experience his disciplinary power?

God deals with us as gently as he can or as harshly as he must. The choice is ours.

What did God do?

First we’ll explore the plagues and their circumstances, so that we might have in mind the actual events as they occurred. Then we’ll ask why the Lord brought these judgments against Pharaoh and his people, and what such events say to our lives and churches.

Water into blood

The first plague turned water into “blood.” Some interpreters suggest that this occurrence was natural in origin and circumstance. We know that red sediment typically washes down from Ethiopia in the annual flooding of the Nile, occurring annually in late summer and early fall. A type of algae known as flagellates comes from the Sudan swamps into the Egyptian rivers as well. And a particular type of red plankton is sometimes seen off the Egyptian coast, and could float into the Nile and other rivers.

The text indicates that the Egyptians “dug along the Nile to get drinking water, because they could not drink the water of the river” (Exodus 7:24). If they were using Nile water filtered by the sands along the shore, we can know that the river was not changed into actual blood, since blood cannot be filtered out of water. And we note that the Egyptian magicians were able to duplicate the plague, at least in appearance (v. 22). And so some believe that the “blood” was the writer’s description of the water’s appearance more than its chemical composition.

On the other hand, the first plague affected not just the Nile but streams and canals, ponds and reservoirs, and even wooden buckets and stone jars (v. 19). The latter had likely been filled before the plague occurred, so that a naturalistic explanation for their transformation seems unlikely.

If the first plague turned the water into the appearance of blood, the miracle was that this transformation occurred at the word of Moses through Aaron. It seems more likely to me that the miracle was an actual turning of the water throughout the nation into blood, and that the people “dug along the Nile” to seek water sources other than the river itself. Either way, the first plague was clear proof that God is sovereign over nature.

To the Egyptians, this power was especially significant. One of their two most important deities was Hopi, the god of the Nile. The vessels containing water were probably used for the worship of this god. For the Hebrew God to control the waters of the nation meant that he controlled the god of those waters. The Lord who turned water into wine (John 2) could turn it into blood as well. He is clearly the Lord of the universe.

Frogs

The second plague brought frogs from the Nile into the nation (Exodus 8:1-4). They covered Pharaoh’s palace and the homes of his people. We know that frogs usually arrived en masse in Egypt during the month of September, and that they also fled the Nile when it became contaminated. And so it is not unusual that a large number of frogs would flee the waters as they were contaminated by the first plague.

The miracle of this event was that the frogs came in direct response to the word of God through Moses and Aaron, and that they died in direct response to Moses’ prayer (vs. 12-13). To the Egyptians, this plague would be significant spiritually as well. They identified frogs and toads with the god Hapi and also the goddess Heqt, the deity who helped women in childbirth. The frog was thus a symbol of fertility. The second plague showed the Egyptians that the Hebrew God could touch not only their water, but also their homes and families as well.

Gnats

The third plague used insects called kinnim in the Hebrew (the word occurs only in connection with this plague). These could have been lice, mosquitoes, or ticks. They perhaps bred in fields which were flooded annually by the Nile. This was the first plague which the Egyptian magicians could not appear to repeat (Exodus 8:18).


God Knows Who Are- Wherever You Are

God Knows Who You Are—Wherever you Are

The life and legacy of Moses

Dr. Jim Denison

Exodus 1-2

The Book of Exodus stands in stark rejection of such spirituality. In Exodus, it’s all about God. He is the sovereign ruler of the world, not Pharaoh. His people are the chosen race, not the Egyptians. He is to be worshiped, not the pantheon of Egyptian deities.

Here’s the surprising paradox Exodus makes clear: the more we exalt God, the more we position ourselves to receive his help. The more we honor him, the more we are able to gain his blessing. To live for God is to experience his provident protection. If our religion serves God, we gain. If it serves us, we lose.

The book’s name comes from the Greek translation of the Old Testament, and is a fitting description of the narrative’s central event. The exodus from Egypt was the defining moment of Jewish history, and indeed, created the Jewish nation. Without the exodus, the Bible would end in Egyptian slavery. What the atonement is to Christians, the exodus is to Jews.

It is an astounding story: after 200 years of life in Egypt and another 230 years of enslavement there, the Jewish people are led out of their land of bondage. They defeat the mightiest army the world has ever known. They benefit from the greatest miracles the world has ever seen. Through the exodus the world learns that God is indeed on the throne of the universe.

The two themes of Exodus, and indeed of all that will follow in Scripture, are set in the book’s first two chapters. One: God’s people can expect oppression and suffering. Two: God will act according to his sovereign purpose to preserve his purpose and people.

As we open Exodus, we must open ourselves to its message. Where are you in Egypt today? What chains have bound your class members to lives of frustration and discouragement? Where do you need liberation from sin and freedom to experience the abundant life of Jesus?

Let’s learn that it’s about God. And that those who live for God receive all that God gives his obedient children.

Expect oppression (Exodus 1)

Exodus opens with the children of Israel in Egypt (Exodus 1:1-5). God had used this foreign nation to preserve his people during a time of severe famine, as Joseph led them to live under his protection and provision (Genesis 45-47).

So the Jewish people “went to Egypt with Jacob” (v. 1), listed here in order of seniority; the sons of Rachel and Leah are named before the sons of their handmaids Bilhah (Dan and Naphtali) and Zilpah (Gad and Asher).

Now “Joseph and all his brothers and all that generation died” (v. 6), and 200 years have passed. But God’s plan to prosper his people continued, as the nation “multiplied greatly and became exceedingly numerous” (v. 7a).

The people grew to 600,000 men (Exodus 12:37) with their families, thus a total population of around two million. And so “the land was filled with them” (v. 7)—not the entire nation, as no evidence exists that the Jews lived outside the land of Goshen, but their particular region of Egypt.

Now a new king has come to the throne (v. 8). On this event, the narrative of Exodus and all of Scripture turns. Historians date Exodus in two primary ways. 1 Kings 6:1 describes the exodus as occurring 480 years before “the fourth year of Solomon’s reign over Israel”; since that year was 966 B.C., the traditional approach places the exodus at 1446 B.C. By this approach, Thutmose III was pharaoh of the oppression, and Amunhotep II the pharaoh of the exodus.

However, the presence of the city Rameses in Exodus 1:11 has caused others to date the exodus with the 19th dynasty, making Seti I and Rameses II the pharaohs of the oppression and exodus, respectively. By this scheme, the exodus is dated at 1290 B.C.

The traditional approach is more credible in my view, given its biblical foundation (cf. 1 Kings 6:1); the city called “Rameses” by Exodus could have been given that name by a later editor who used the title as existed was in his day.

Whatever the new king’s identity, his role in Exodus was crucial. The phrase “a new king” is not found elsewhere in the Bible. Its syntax seems to imply that he did not ascend to the throne in the normal order of succession or inheritance.

The phrase “came to power in Egypt” can also be translated, “arose to power over Egypt.” And so many scholars believe that this pharaoh conquered the land and its throne.

The fact that he “did not know about Joseph” does not mean merely that he had no personal knowledge of Joseph (note that 200 years have passed since Joseph’s life and work), but that he separated himself from earlier Egyptian traditions.

His title was “pharaoh,” meaning “great house.” The description refers to an office rather than a proper name. As the new occupant of that office, his fear for his throne and kingdom was clear and understandable (vs. 9-10).

Why were the Hebrews such a threat to him? “Hebrew” is derived from “Eber,” the descendant of Shem (Genesis 10:21, 24), first used for Abram (Abraham, Genesis 14:13).

Josephus explains the pharaoh’s action against these people thus: an Egyptian scribe predicted that “there would be a child born to the Israelites who, if he were reared, would bring the Egyptian dominion low, and would raise the Israelites; that he would excel all men in virtue, and obtain a glory that would be remembered through all ages” (Antiquities 2.9.2).

During this period of her history, Egypt found herself in constant warfare with nations from western Asia. It may be that the Hebrews resembled these enemies in language, customs, and appearance. If they were to ally themselves with the invaders, the Egyptians would be destroyed. Given that they now numbered some two million, this was a very real threat.


God Knows Your Name- be Sure You Know His

God Knows Your Name—Be Sure You Know His

The life and legacy of Moses

Dr. Jim Denison

Exodus 3-4

There is a story about the Methodists in Indiana holding their Annual Conference in 1870. At one point in the proceedings, the president of the college where they were meeting said, “I think we are living in a very exciting age.” The presiding bishop asked him, “What do you see for the future?”

The college president responded, “I believe we are coming into a time of great inventions. I believe, for example, that men will fly through the air like birds.” The bishop said, “That’s heresy! The Bible says that flight is reserved for the angels. We’ll have no more such talk here.” When the Annual Conference was over, Bishop Wright went home to his two small sons, Wilbur and Orville.

God’s plan for our lives is greater than any we can imagine for ourselves. But we must choose to obey his will before we can know it fully. In Moses’ struggles with finding and following God’s purpose, we see our own. God intends to call you by name. How you respond to his invitation will determine the significance of your life and service.

Where do you need to know his will for a decision or problem in your life? At that very place, a bush may well be aflame with the presence of your holy Lord. Will you pass by the voice of God, or will you stop to listen?

Honor God (3:1-6)

One of the most pivotal events in human history occurred in one of the most mundane settings imaginable. The region was known as “Horeb,” a semitic word meaning “desolation” or “desert.” The area was located in the southeast region of the Sinai peninsula. Some identify this mountain with Sinai, though others see them as two separate places. The tradition site is called Gebel Musa, “Moses’ mountain,” an elevation of 7,467 feet.

Note that Abram’s call came on foreign soil, as did Paul’s experience on the road to Damascus. So it was with Moses’ first encounter with the living God. He was “tending” the flock of his father-in-law; the Hebrew indicates that this was his habitual occupation, not a unique event in his life. Then he heard the voice of the Lord.

The “bush” in the story was a kind of thorny acacia common in the region. But what happened to it was anything but ordinary. The bush was on fire, not unusual in that arid climate, but it was not being consumed by the flames. The veteran shepherd had not seen such a phenomenon. So he drew closer. And then God drew close to him.

The Lord was in the flame (cf. Exodus 19:18, where he descends to Sinai in fire, and Exodus 13:21, where he led his people through a “pillar of fire”). Fire is emblematic both of divine power and purifying holiness.

And from within the flames, God called Moses by name (v. 4). It is an astounding thing to realize that the Lord of the universe knows your name and mine. He is watching as you read these words. He knows your thoughts and heart. And he loves and accepts you anyway.

He called Moses to venerate his holiness by removing his sandals. Slaves were typically barefoot; here Moses humbled himself to the lowest level of social importance. And he bowed before this holy God in the reverence which is his due.

Relationship precedes service. God has a purpose and plan for your life and work, but that purpose begins with your personal commitment to his Lordship. The King of creation will not share his glory. Only when we exalt him as our Master can we know his will as his servants.

Too many of us wish to know God’s plan for our lives, so we can consider it. But Almighty God will not trifle with us. He does not intend his divine purpose to be an option for our contemplation, but an obligation for our commitment.

Where do you need to hear his voice and know his purpose? Begin by honoring him as your Lord and surrendering to his will, whatever it is. Only when he has our obedience can he give us his direction.

Trust God (3:7-14)

The next paragraphs revealed the character of God in greater detail than any human had yet known them. This Lord knows our problems and pain (v. 7). He is no Zeus atop an apathetic Mt. Olympus, or deistic clock maker who now watches his universe run down. He knows our names and our needs.

What’s more, he intends to do something about them (v. 8). He intervenes in human affairs according to his sovereign plan and purpose. We could not reach him, so he has come down into our fallen condition. Religion is our attempt to climb up to God; the Bible reveals a God who climbs down to us.

Typically the Lord uses humans to accomplish his will in human history. So it was with the call of Moses (v. 10). God knows, he cares, and he calls. For every problem there is a person whom God intends to send as his presence in the world.

Now Moses’ excuses began. First he protested: “Who am I, that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?” (v. 11). What abilities or credentials did he possess to stand before the mightiest man on earth? If you were to sense the Lord sending you to the American president in response to some need in our nation, your response would likely be no less incredulous than Moses’ here.

It is noteworthy that God’s answer did not validate the messenger but his Master: “I will be with you” (v. 12). Moses’ identity did not matter, only his obedience. It is the same with us. God needs nothing from us but our availability, our willingness to go where he sends us. He is looking for surrendered spirits through whom he can do his eternal work.


How Can I Know That I Am A Christian?

How Can I Know That I Am A Christian?

Dr. Jim Denison

The most common question I have been asked in 20 years of pastoral ministry is, “How can I know that I am a Christian?” I struggled with assurance of salvation for more than a year after my own conversion. How can you know that you know? How can you help those who have doubts? As we focus this fall on the most urgent and significant question in life, let’s consider two biblical principles.

Don’t trust in religion

First, don’t trust in religion. Such advice sounds strange, coming from a pastor. But it’s exactly the warning Jesus gives us, in the most somber sentence in the Bible: “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 7:21). These are the right words. “Jesus is Lord” is the first and central affirmation of the Christian faith. We find it written in Greek on catacomb walls in ancient Rome. Those who are baptized in our church say first, “Jesus is my Lord.”

We can say the right words and do the right works, and still hear the most terrible statement in all of eternity: “I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!” (v. 23). “Knew” means personal, intimate knowledge, a personal relationship, not just a performed religion.

Trust in relationship

How can you be absolutely assured that you will “enter the kingdom of heaven?” Only in one way: “only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 7:21). So it is imperative that we ask, What is this will?

“My Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day” (John 6:40).

“The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent” (John 6:29).

“This is his command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us” (1 John 3:23).

Then our words and works will reflect our personal relationship with Jesus Christ. We will bear the “fruit of the Spirit” as a natural result of branches connected with the vine (John 15:1-17). We will walk on the road to abundant life (John 10:10), and our words and actions will witness to that life. We will serve Jesus with sacrificial commitment, repentant hearts, and transformed souls. And one day, instead of hearing “I never knew you,” we will hear, “Well done, good and faithful servant!” (Matthew 25:21), the most blessed words in all of eternity.

Knowing Jesus intimately

So let us be sure that we know Jesus in this intimate, personal way. For many years I wasn’t sure. I thought God had a scale, with the good at one end and the bad at the other. I hoped I was good enough for the scale to tip in my favor. Millions of Americans still think the same way: I’m good and believe in God, so hopefully that will be enough.

So what are we to do? Nothing. Our salvation depends not on what we can do, but on what God has done. His perfect Son came to earth and died in our place. His death did not pay off the debt of his own sin, for he was sinless. Rather, it paid off the debt you owed this perfect God. Now when you ask God to forgive your sins, he can. He can place you at the “totally good” end of the line. You can be in his perfect paradise. When you ask Jesus to forgive your failures, repent of them, and ask him to be your Lord, he answers your prayer. And he “knows” you, personally and eternally.

You can be absolutely sure

When he “knows” you, he will never forget you. You can be absolutely certain of your salvation. Not because of your words or works, but because of his. You have his word on it:

“Whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). From the moment you “believed in him,” you received eternal life.

“Whoever lives and believes in me will never die” (John 11:26). You have eternal life, right now. You will never perish. When you breathe your last here, you breathe your first in heaven.

“My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand” (John 10:27-28). You are not holding onto him—he’s holding onto you.

“If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” (2 Corinthians 5:17). You are a new creation, the child of God. It is not possible for you to return to where you were before you met Christ.

You are his child, and will always be his child, just as my sons will always be my sons. No matter how they feel, or what they say or do, they cannot go back and not be my sons, because they were born as my sons. You were “born again” as the child of God, and will be his child forever.

Believe your beliefs and doubt your doubts: common doubts

Asking Jesus into our lives as Savior and Lord is the essential step to eternal salvation. But many people have questions about this fact, and about their experience with faith.I don’t feel close to God:

The most common doubt I’ve heard is this: I don’t feel like I’m a Christian. I don’t feel like going to worship, or reading the Bible, or praying. I don’t feel what I used to feel about the Lord. Or, when I prayed a salvation prayer I didn’t feel anything. And so I’m not sure my experience was real. (This is what happened to me.)

The Bible replies: nowhere does God’s word say how it feels to be a Christian. Our feelings depend on the pizza we had for dinner last night, or any of a thousand other circumstances. When I became a Christian but had no emotional reaction, I immediately began wondering what was wrong with me. I heard wonderful stories about burdens lifted, great joy flooding hearts, but none of that happened for me. It was a great relief to discover that it didn’t have to. Feelings are the caboose, at the end of faith—not its engine.What about free will?


The Cure For A Lost Soul

The Cure for a Lost Soul

John 14:1-9

Dr. Jim Denison

Two weeks ago a dear friend told me this deeply spiritual story. It seems a lady phoned a Baptist pastor to say that she’d been visiting and wanted to join. “That’s wonderful,” he replied. “Yes, but first I’d like to ask you something. My dog just died, and I’d like to bury him at the church.” The pastor was shocked: “Ma’am, we don’t do such things in the Baptist church. Maybe the Methodist church down the street would do that for you.” “I’m so sorry,” she replied. “I was thinking of giving half a million dollars to the church.” The pastor immediately answered, “Oh, you didn’t tell me it was a Baptist dog.”

Being Baptist or Methodist has never mattered less than it does today. A new study reports that for the first time in American history, Protestants will soon comprise less than 50 percent of the total population. The proportion of Roman Catholics in the general population will remain stable at 25 percent. But the group growing the most quickly is those who declare no religious affiliation at all.

The watchword in our culture today is “tolerance.” After 9-11, for three years we heard from every side that adherents to Islam and Christianity worship the same God, that we must learn to respect and affirm each other’s faiths. To claim that Jesus is the only way to God is to persist in the kind of intolerance which led to 9-11.

Most Americans believe that. Many Christians believe that. Perhaps some of you believe that this morning. But should we? And what difference does the answer make?

The claim to Christian uniqueness

Let’s begin with a quick review of four facts Jesus claims in our text today. I’m not assuming we all agree with these facts, but at least I want us to understand what Jesus actually claimed for himself.

First: he is God (v. 1). “Believe in God; believe also in me” he says. In v. 9: “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father.” Earlier the authorities tried to stone him to death “because you…claim to be God” (John 10:33). Other religious leaders claim to reveal God; Jesus claims to be God.

Second: he is preparing heaven for us (v. 2). “Prepare” means to go before and make ready for the arrival of others. Other religious leaders told their followers how to get to heaven; Jesus is preparing heaven for us.

Three: he will take us there himself (v. 3). “Take you to be with me” means “to walk alongside of.” Other religious leaders pointed the way to heaven; Jesus will take us there personally.

Four: he is the only way to God (v. 6). His Greek was emphatic: “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” Later he was even more emphatic: “All authority has been given to me in heaven and on earth” (Matthew 28:18). No one in all of human history ever made this claim. Other religious leaders said, “I know the way, truth, life;” Jesus claimed to be the way, truth, and life.

Are we clear on these claims to uniqueness?

I am God; I am preparing your place in heaven; I will take you there; I alone can take you there.

Acts 4:12 says, “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.” The Bible clearly claims that Jesus Christ is the only way to the Father, the only way to heaven.

The case for religious relativism

Now, this claim to absolute truth flies in the face of contemporary culture. These statements are politically incorrect, to say the least.

93 percent of Americans say that they alone determine what is moral and what isn’t in their lives.

Only 13 percent of us believe in all ten of the Ten Commandments.

Only 2 percent of Americans are afraid of going to hell.

62 percent of us say it doesn’t matter what we believe about God, so long as we’re sincere.

Here’s the result: I can claim that Jesus is my way to God, and find little or no resistance in the public square. But the moment I tell this culture that Jesus is their only way to God, I am immediately branded a radical, hypocritical, judgmental, narrow-minded, intolerant fundamentalist. People think that for three reasons. Those who believe John 14:6 is true have three opponents in the debate.

The first is called “relativism:” truth is subjective and personal. No “objective” absolutes exist. Everyone “knows” that’s so.

We don’t know reality, only our perception and experience of it. Words do not describe reality, but only our version of it. There can be no objective truth claims, only subjective experiences.

And so it doesn’t matter what you believe so long as you’re sincere, and tolerant of the beliefs of others. I heard recently about an Ivy League school whose promotional video shows a student saying, “The greatest gift this university has given me is the ability to be an intellectually-fulfilled atheist.”

Richard Dawkins of Oxford even claims that “religion is a virus which has entered the human software and somehow must be expunged.”

Most people we know wouldn’t go that far. But neither do we necessarily believe in our hearts that every person who has not accepted Christ as Savior and Lord is destined for an eternity in hell, because all truth is relative.

Our second opponent is “universalism,” the idea that we’ll all end up in heaven. A loving Father could not condemn one of his children to hell. Could you send one of your children there? The idea is abhorrent. We’ll all be in heaven, no matter what we believe, because God loves us all.

Our third opponent is “pluralism,” the notion that all religions lead to the same destination anyway. 64 percent of us say that all religions pray to the same God. And 56 percent say that you can work your way to heaven by being good, no matter what religion you claim.


The Cure For The Grieving Soul

The Cure for a Grieving Soul

John 11:21-26

Dr. Jim Denison

Men’s Bible Study begins this Thursday morning, as we consider this semester “Lessons learned the hard way: the life and legacy of Moses.” Dr. Ron Scates, senior minister of Highland Park Presbyterian Church and my very dear friend, will be the speaker as we begin. Then I’ll teach the rest of the semester.

But I often say that the real reason I teach Men’s Bible Study is to tell stories I can’t tell on Sunday. Here’s an example of one which is just on the edge.

“A man and his wife were having some problems at home and were giving each other the silent treatment. Suddenly the man realized that the next day he would need his wife to wake him at 5 a.m. for an early morning business flight. Not wanting to be the first to break the silence (and lose!), he wrote on a piece of paper, ‘Please wake me at 5 a.m..’ He left it where he knew she would find it.

“The next morning the man woke up, only to discover it was 9 a.m. and he had missed his flight. Furious, he was about to go and see why his wife hadn’t awakened him when he noticed a piece of paper by the bed. The paper said, ‘It is 5 a.m.. Wake up.’

“Men are not equipped for these kinds of contests.

These days, we’re dealing with life’s hardest questions, issues with which we are not equipped without God’s help. We’ve sought the cure for a lonely soul, a hungry soul, an injured soul, a joyless soul. Today we’ll seek the cure for a grieving soul.

When Mark Twain buried his beloved daughter Olivia’s body he placed over her grave this epitaph: “Warm summer sun, shine kindly here; Warm southern wind, blow softly here; Green sod, lie light, good night, dear heart.” He was sure that she was in the grave, that death is all there is. Was he right?

What happens when we die? When death comes to someone we care about? And, what happens to children when they die? We can consider no more relevant or emotional questions than these.

Why do we die?

W.C. Fields on his deathbed was seen thumbing through a Bible. Someone asked why. His answer: “Looking for loopholes.” But he didn’t find any. The death rate is still 100%. If Lazarus, Jesus’ best friend, was not kept from dying, neither will we.

In fact, you and I are one day closer to death and eternity than we have ever been before.

God’s word warns us: “It is appointed unto all men once to die, and then the judgment” (Hebrews 9:27). Death comes for us all.

Neither wisdom nor wealth can prevent it: “All can see that wise men die; the foolish and the senseless alike perish and leave their wealth to others” (Psalm 49:10).

We all face the same end, unless Jesus returns first: “Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes” (James 4:14).

On a tombstone in Sevenoaks, Kent, England is found these words:

“Grim death took me without any warning

I was well at night, and dead in the morning.”

It can happen that way for any of us.

But why? Why does death exist? If God were all-loving, he’d want to destroy death, we assume. If he were all powerful, he could. But he doesn’t. Why did he allow the tragic deaths of 9-11, an anniversary just one week away? Why did he allow the deaths in the recent Russian school siege? Why did he allow the one you love to die? Why? Here’s the simple answer: because of sin.

The Bible teaches, “Sin entered the world through man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all have sinned” (Romans 5:12).

The thief on the cross said, “We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve” (Luke 23:41).

This wasn’t God’s intention. He created a perfect world for his children. But when sin entered, death stayed. Death exists, not because God doesn’t love us or isn’t powerful, but because of sin.

Sometimes we die because of our own sin, as did the thief at Jesus’ side. Sometimes we die because of the sins of others, as when a drunk driver kills a child, or a terrorist flies an airplane into a skyscraper, or terrorists take over a school. Sometimes we die because of the sin of humanity, as a result of the diseases and disasters which plague this fallen planet. But we all die, because of the existence of sin.

But Jesus died so our sins could be forgiven. Why, then, do we still die?

God’s word is clear: “Flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable” (1 Corinthians. 15:50). Physical death frees us to live forever in glorified bodies with God in his heaven.

Then one day, death will be destroyed forever: “Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of five” (Revelation 20:14). His word promises: “There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away” (Revelation 21:4).

What happens when we die?

So, what happens in the moment when you die? First, you are with Christ, if Jesus is your Lord. Jesus told the thief at his side, “Today you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43). Jesus taught us that the moment we die, the angels carry us to God’s side (Luke 16:22). When you close our eyes here you open them there. You will never die (John 11:26; Philippians 1:23). You are forever and always with Jesus.

Second, you’re home. Paul said, “We would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord” (2 Corinthians 5:8). Most of us have had surgery of some kind. You are in one room, then you fall asleep; when you awake, you’re done. It’s that way for us all.


The Cute For The Fruitless Soul

The Cure for a Fruitless Soul

John 15:1-17

Dr. Jim Denison

A man was unknowingly caught in an automated speed trap which measured his speed using radar and photographed his car. He soon received in the mail a ticket for $40 and a photo of his car. He sent the police department a photograph of $40. He received a letter from the police containing a picture of handcuffs. He mailed in his $40.

One day you and I will receive a summons to appear before the highest court in the universe. Our Judge won’t need radar and cameras to render his verdict. What proof will he find that you and I were his followers? Not just Christians, or church attenders, but true disciples? What kind of evidence will he be looking for?

I’m teaching systematic theology at DBU on Tuesday nights this semester, and have discovered that students haven’t changed since I left the faculty of Southwestern Seminary years ago. They still want to know: will this be on the test? They want to know what to study for the exam.

Let me give you a study guide, and tell you why it matters so much today.

How do we become part of the vine?

Here’s the “I Am” for the week: “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener” (v. 1). These words were spoken while Jesus and his disciples were walking to Gethsemane from the house where they ate the Last Supper.

Probably they’ve turned off the road and into one of the temple courts for a while. And here they’ve come face to face with one of the most beautiful and powerful symbols in all Israel: the vine of grapes. A large vine of pure gold, fixed to the gate of the Temple itself.

The “vine” was Israel’s image of herself. She put it on her coins, and used it constantly. As America’s image is the eagle, and Russia’s is the bear, so Israel’s was the vine. Over and over again in the Old Testament, this symbol was used for their nation.

However, the Old Testament also makes clear that Israel’s vine had degenerated. Her vineyard has run wild; her grapes are sour and bitter.

The psalmist complained: “Your vine is cut down, it is burned with fire” (Psalm 80:16). Jeremiah quotes the Lord: “How did you turn against me into a corrupt, wild vine” (Jeremiah 2:21; cf. Isaiah 5:7).

On the other hand, Jesus is the “true,” authentic and correct vine. Israel is the false and corrupted vine; Jesus is the true and right vine. Being “attached” to their temple or our church is not enough. Being an adherent of their religion or ours is not enough. We must be connected to the “true” vine, the only One who is the way, the truth, and the life (John 14:6). No other vine will do.

When we trust in Christ as Savior and Lord, we become his. We “shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16); we are “a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come” (2 Corinthians 5:17); we “shall never perish,” for no one can take us out of Jesus’ hand (John 10:28). All this happens when we make Jesus our Lord. To what vine are you attached today?

But it’s not enough to be in the vine—we are also supposed to bear fruit: “I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit—fruit that will last” (v. 16). This is the proof that we are really the disciples of Jesus: “This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples” (v. 8). If we bear “fruit,” we are his true disciples. If we do not, we are not.

So, what is this spiritual fruit? How do we bear it? What happens to us if we don’t?

What is spiritual fruit?

The vines of Israel, then and now, grow two types of branches. One bears fruit—the other does not. Those which do not bear fruit are immediately cut off, so they won’t burden those which do. Those which do bear fruit are pruned—cut back, disciplined as it were—so they will bear more fruit. This occurs each year in December and January.

Jesus’ point is clear: some branches bear fruit, while others do not. How do we know which we are? Here are the “fruit” God inspects.

One: our lives glorify God. “This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit” (v. 8a). Jesus told us to “let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:16). When last did someone praise God because of you?

Two: we have the joy of Jesus: “I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete” (v. 11). A recent Gallup poll showed that those who attend worship regularly and give $2,000 or more annually to their faith community are more likely to be “satisfied with their lives” than those who do not.

When we are properly related to the vine, we bear the “fruit of the Spirit,” including “joy” (Galatians 5:22). We have joy which no circumstances can give or steal. How much joy is in your heart today?

Three: we reproduce spiritually, bearing “fruit that will last” (v. 16). A tree reproduces by bearing fruit—so does a disciple. We are to “make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19). We are to tell what we know, to give what we have. God measures the faith we possess by the degree to which we share it.

How do we bear spiritual fruit?

So, what do we do to bear such fruit? How can we be attached to the vine so that our lives glorify God, bring us joy, and bring others to him? Let’s learn Jesus’ imperatives, as they build one on the other.

First, admit that we need the vine: “apart from me you can do nothing” (v. 5). Not something, but “nothing.” No matter our stock portfolio or educational achievements, or title or status.