Baptism On Monday

Baptism on Monday

Matthew 28:18-20

Dr. Jim Denison

A couple of weeks ago, the Dallas Morning News carried one of the strangest stories I’ve seen in a while. It seems that Beverly Mitchell of Douglasville, Georgia came home from 2½ weeks in Greece to find a stranger living in her house. Beverly Valentine broke in with a shovel, ripped up the carpet, took down the owner’s pictures and replaced them with her own. She had the electricity switched over to her name, and moved in a washer, a dryer, and a dog. She was even found wearing some of Ms. Mitchell’s clothes when she was apprehended. Just because someone is living in a house doesn’t make it theirs.

Just because you and I are in church today doesn’t mean we’re in Christ. We can be faithful attenders; we can serve on committees and sing in the choir; we can give through our various missions offerings, teach Bible studies and preach sermons, but still be lost spiritually. And we can be baptized and just get wet.

The most misleading and misunderstood symbol of salvation in a Baptist church is baptism. Many people think that baptism makes them a Christian. Many of our guests don’t understand why we baptize the way we do. Many of our members don’t really know what baptism means, either. And many of us can miss the present-tense relevance of an act we experienced years ago.

So let’s discuss baptism today: who, why, and so what? What does the subject have to do with the unified missions emphasis we have just concluded? With our church and her ministries? And with your life and faith today?

What does the Bible teach?

Here are some important biblical passages on our subject:

The risen Christ said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:18-20).

Peter exhorted the Pentecost crowd, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38). With this result: “Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day” (v. 41).

When the Ethiopian met Philip, “The eunuch asked Philip, ‘Tell me, please, who is the prophet talking about, himself or someone else?’ Then Philip began with that very passage of Scripture and told him the good news about Jesus. As they traveled along the road, they came to some water and the eunuch said, ‘Look, here is water. Why shouldn’t I be baptized?’ And he gave orders to stop the chariot. Then both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water and Philip baptized him” (Acts 8:34-38).

When Peter met the Gentile Cornelius and his family, “Then Peter said, ‘Can anyone keep these people from being baptized with water? They have received the Holy Spirit just as we have.’ So he ordered that they be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ” (Acts 10:46-48).

When Lydia became the first European convert, “The Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul’s message. When she and the members of her household were baptized, she invited us to her home” (Acts 16:14-15).

After God sent an earthquake to free Paul and Silas from their Philippian jail, “The jailer called for lights, rushed in and fell trembling before Paul and Silas. He brought them out and asked, ‘Sirs, what must I do to be saved?’ They replied, ‘Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved—you and your household.’ Then they spoke the word of God to him and to all the others in his house. At that hour of the night the jailer took them and washed their wounds, then immediately he and all his family were baptized. The jailer brought them into his house and set a meal before them; he was filled with joy because he had come to believe in God—he and his whole family” (Acts 16:29-34).

In Corinth, “Crispus, the synagogue ruler, and his entire household believed in the Lord; and many of the Corinthians who heard him believed and were baptized” (Acts 18:8).

Paul wrote to the Romans, “Don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life” (Romans 6:3-4).

He instructed the Colossians, “In Christ you were also circumcised, in the putting off of the sinful nature, not with a circumcision done by the hands of men but with the circumcision done by Christ, having been buried with him in baptism and raised with him through your faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead” (Colossians 2:11-12).

What does the biblical data tell us?

Fact one: baptism follows faith.

In the Great Commission, “make disciples” precedes “baptizing them.”

At Pentecost, “those who accepted his message were baptized.”

The Ethiopian heard the gospel before he was baptized by Philip.

Cornelius received the Spirit before he was baptized; Lydia responded to the gospel before she was baptized; the Philippian jailer responded to the gospel before he was baptized.

We do not find a single person in the Bible who was baptized before he or she came to personal faith in Jesus Christ.

Fact two: baptism is for anyone who comes to Christ.

Children can be baptized, if they have trusted in Christ. With the Philippian jailer, after Paul and Silas “spoke the word of God to him and to all the others in his house,” they baptized them (Acts 16:32). Crispus “and his entire household believed in the Lord” before they were baptized (Acts 18:8).


Honor People- Or Dishonor God

Honor People—Or Dishonor God

The life and legacy of Moses

Dr. Jim Denison

Exodus 20:12-14

Do you remember the game show Family Feud? 100 people were surveyed on a subject. Then two families, five members each, tried to guess the most popular answers on these surveys. Richard Dawson’s “Survey says…” was the “Is that your final answer?” of the day. The game show aired from 1976 to 1985, was revived again in 1988 for one season, and aired again briefly several years ago. But the title describes our culture even more fully today than it did 25 years ago.

Our relationships need help. Fortunately, God cares. That’s why he gave us the last six commandments. Today we’ll survey more material than one lesson can use, as you select those relational truths which your class most needs to hear.

Honor your parents (Exodus 20:12)

“Honor,” the commandment begins. The word means to respect or venerate. “Your father and mother,” God continues. In a world which relegated women to inferior status, this inclusion is significant. And note that Leviticus 19:3 restates it this way: “Each of you must respect his mother and father.” Here the mother is even listed first.

So that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you,” the commandment concludes. The first meaning of this promise is that the nation of Israel would be secure in her society and land if she kept this commandment. But there are other meanings as well, as we will see in a moment.

Why honor our parents? Note that God’s word makes the fifth commandment binding for all time. Leviticus 19:3 says, “Each of you must respect his mother and father.” None of us are excluded, no matter the circumstances of our situation. We’ll say more about this in a moment. The book of Proverbs adds, “If a man curses his father or mother, his lamp will be snuffed out in pitch darkness” (20:20); and also this gruesome hyperbole, “The eye that mocks a father, that scorns obedience to a mother, will be pecked out by the ravens of the valley, will be eaten by the vultures” (31:17).

The New Testament is clear as well. Jesus renewed this commandment when he told the Rich Young Ruler, “honor your father and mother” (Matthew 19:19), and he severely criticized the religious leaders of his day for not honoring and supporting their parents (Mark 7:9-13). The epistles are clear: “Children, obey your parents in the Lord. Honor your father and mother” (Ephesians 6:1-2); “Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord” (Colossians 3:20).

We need to keep this commandment for the sake of our souls, our families, and our future. This is indeed how to “live long” on the earth. Perhaps this brief tale from the Brothers Grimm will make the point. Once upon a time there was a little old man. His eyes blinked and his hands trembled; when he ate he clattered the silverware, missed his mouth with the spoon as often as not, and dribbled a bit of his food on the tablecloth. He lived with his married son, and this son and his wife soon decided that they could not have such a distraction at their table.

So they led the little old man gently but firmly by the arm to the corner of the kitchen. There they set him on a stool and gave him his food in a bowl. But one day his hands trembled even more than usual, and the bowl fell and broke. His son and daughter-in-law, in anger and distress, then made a little wooden trough and fed him out of that. It was terrible to see him eating as would an animal, but that’s the way things were.

One day the couple’s four-year-old son was playing intently with some bits of wood, so they asked him what he was doing. “I’m making a trough,” he said, smiling at them for approval, “to feed you and Mamma out of when I get big.”

The man and his wife looked at each other for a while, then they cried a little, then they took the little old man by the arm and led him back to the table. They sat him in a comfortable chair and gave him his food on a plate, and from then on nobody ever scolded when he clattered or spilled or broke things.

We need the fifth commandment, for our lives, our families, and our future.

What about dishonorable parents? But before we find practical ways to honor our parents, we need briefly to ask a hard question: what if our parents are not honorable? What if they try to keep us from following Christ or otherwise doing what is right? What then?

Sometimes we must choose which commandment to break. When Corrie ten Boom’s family was harboring Jews, one day the Nazis banged on their door and asked if they had Jews in their house. Which commandment will they break—the sixth commandment, not to murder, or the ninth commandment, not to lie?

Jesus made it clear that following him would sometimes cause conflict with our family. His own family misunderstood him early in his ministry. And he specifically told his followers, “Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me” (Mt 10:37).

This tragedy happened often to early Christians who had to refuse their father’s order to reject Christ, even to the point of death. In Jewish society as well, when a son turned from his father’s faith he became dead unto him. I had a student at Southwestern Seminary whose Orthodox Jewish family held a burial service for him when he came to Christ. There is a tombstone in New York with his name on it today.

Ephesians 6:1 is clear: “Obey your parents in the Lord.” Martin Luther had to refuse his father’s wishes that he become a lawyer, to become a minister. Thomas Aquinas’s family locked him in the family castle for a year in their attempt to prevent his entering the ministry. Francis Schaeffer’s father forbade his starting L’Abri.


The Gift You’ll Never Return

The Gift You’ll Never Return

Revelation 21:1-5

Dr. Jim Denison

Once again, we flooded the stores on the day after Thanksgiving, a shopping day only to be rivaled by the day after Christmas (when we bring it all back and exchange it for other stuff). You could give the items listed in “The Twelve Days of Christmas,” but this year they will cost a total of $65,264.28 (up 18 percent from last year). Or you could sit it all out. I found a website which sells “Bah Humbug!” t-shirts, and another titled “xmasresistance.org,” whose home page blares, “Christmas Resistance: No Shopping, No Presents, No Guilt.” Somehow I think they’ve missed the reason for the season.

Today I want us to consider the best of all Christmas gifts: how we can receive ours, and give it to everyone on our shopping list. There is literally no subject we can discuss of greater significance, for today and for eternity.

What is heaven like?

Jesus’ birth, death, and resurrection were intended for this central purpose: to make it possible for us to be in heaven with our Father. He was born so we could be born again. He came to earth so we could go to heaven. He died so we could live. He was raised so we will be raised. He exchanged a crown for a cross, angels for shepherds, his throne for our thorns. He was born in a stable, so we could be born again in glory.

Now let’s learn some facts about the heaven which Christmas offers us. First, it is a real place: “I saw a new heaven and a new earth” (v. 1).

John “saw” it. He didn’t feel it, or dream of it, or hear about it. He saw it, and we only see things which are. Heaven is a place.

Jesus said, “In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you” (John 14.2; emphasis mine).

Second, heaven is the place where God dwells (v. 3).

John reveals, “Now the dwelling of God is with men.” When we get to heaven, we get to God.

Jesus taught us to pray, “Our Father, who art in heaven” (Matthew 6:9). Heaven is a real place, where God is. It’s being with God.

Third, heaven is a blessed place (v. 4). Because God is there, all that is perfect is there as well.

There will be no death in heaven, thus no mourning or crying or pain. Our greatest enemy will trouble us no more as we spend eternity in paradise.

It’s a place of incredible joy: “You will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand” (Psalm 16:11).

Heaven is a celebration, a party: “Blessed is the man who will eat at the feast in the kingdom of God” (Luke 14:15).

We reign in heaven: “To him who overcomes, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I overcame and sat down with my Father on his throne” (Revelation 3.21). In heaven, we’re royalty!

We’ll have perfect understanding there: “Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known” (1 Corinthians 13:12).

No wonder Jesus called heaven “paradise” (Luke 23:43). It is that, a place of blessing beyond all description: “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what the Lord has prepared for those who love him” (1 Corinthians 2:9; cf. Isaiah 64:4).

Who goes there?

I read about a man who died and went to heaven. Walking around, he was shocked at some of the people he saw there—people he never expected to find in heaven. Then he noticed the look on their faces—they were shocked to see him as well.

A woman woke up after surgery and looked around. She asked, “Is this heaven?” Then she saw her pastor standing beside her bed and said, “Oh, no, it can’t be—there’s Dr. Smith.”

Who goes to heaven?

We discovered the answer last week: “If anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire” (Revelation 20:15). But if your name is written there, you are with the Father forever: “He who overcomes will, like them, be dressed in white. I will never blot out his name from the book of life, but will acknowledge his name before my Father and his angels” (Revelation 3:5).

God keeps this promise, no matter what you’ve done or haven’t done.

The rich young ruler kept all the commandments, he thought. And yet he left Jesus sad. The Pharisees and priests were the religious Marine Corp of their day, zealous for the law in every detail. Yet they rejected the Messiah of God.

Conversely, David committed adultery with Bathsheba and arranged for the murder of her husband Uriah. And yet he knew that he would “dwell in the house of the Lord forever” (Psalm 23:6), despite his sin. And he was right.

We can all go to heaven, but only if we have asked Jesus to take us there: “I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am” (John 14:3).

He is driving the only car allowed through the front gate, and he’s stopped to pick you up. But he won’t kidnap you—you must choose to get in. He doesn’t care what you have done or haven’t, how religious you are or are not. He cares only that you trust him enough to get in his car and let him drive. Are you in the vehicle, or trying to walk there on your own?

Is heaven fair? (1 Corinthians 3)

After the worship service last week, a man asked me a very good question. A Christian breaks into someone’s home, and kills the man living there. Police then shoot and kill him before he has time to confess and repent of his sin. What happens to him?


Thirty Minutes In Hell

Thirty Minutes in Hell

Revelation 20:11-15

Dr. Jim Denison

I love church bulletin bloopers. Here are some recent additions to the file: “The sermon this morning: Jesus Walks on Water. The sermon tonight: Searching for Jesus”; “Ladies, don’t forget the rummage sale. It’s a chance to get rid of those things not worth keeping around the house. Don’t forget your husbands;” “Barbara remains in the hospital and is having trouble sleeping—she requests tapes of Pastor Joe’s sermons;” and, “The Rector will preach his farewell message, after which the choir will sing Break Forth into Joy.” But to get back at them, “Eight new choir robes are currently needed, due to the addition of several new members and to the deterioration of some older ones; “and, “At the evening service tonight, the sermon topic will be What is Hell? Come early and listen to our choir practice.”

This fall we’re seeking to know that we know him. Now we close our series by asking what happens to those who do not know him, and those who do. This week we get the bad news. Then next week, on Thanksgiving weekend, we get the good news. For today, let’s talk about the eternal destiny of those who do not know Jesus Christ as their Savior and Lord—and why the issue matters to every one of us, whether we know him or not.

Avoid the “lake of fire”

John sees a “great white throne and him who was seated on it” (v. 11). “Great” (mega in the Greek) shows his power—the higher the throne, the greater the one who sat on it.

“White” points to his purity and holiness, his right to be judge. He is so holy that “earth and sky fled from his presence.” He is the Holy One of the universe.

One day, we will all stand before him: “I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne” (v. 12a). One day we will all stand before God like this: “Man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment” (Hebrews 9:27).

What happens here? “Books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books” (vs. 12-13). First, God will open the book of works, recording all we have done and every sin we’ve not confessed to God.

Nothing escapes his notice: “My eyes are on all their ways; they are not hidden from me, nor is their sin concealed from my eyes” (Jeremiah 16:17); “God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil” (Ecclesiastes 12:14; cf. Luke 12:2-3; 1 Corinthians 4:5).

“You, O Lord, are loving. Surely you will reward each person according to his conduct, according to what his deeds have done” (Psalm 62:12).

“I the Lord search the heart and examine the mind, to reward a man according to his conduct, according to what his deeds deserve” (Jeremiah 17:10).

“For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father’s glory, withy his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what he has done” (Matthew 16:27).

“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).

“No one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man’s work. If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward. If it is burned up, he will suffer loss; he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames” (1 Corinthians 3:12-15).

Upon this basis none of us can be admitted to God’s perfect paradise, for “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23), and “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). Then God opens the “Lamb’s book of life.”

Jesus told his disciples, “Do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven” (Luke 10:20).

Paul wrote, “Help these women who have contended at my side in the cause of the gospel, along with Clement and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life” (Philippians 4:3).

The book of Hebrews describes “the church of the first-born, whose names are written in heaven” (Hebrews 12:23).

God promises, “He who overcomes will, like them, be dressed in white. I will never blot out his name from the book of life, but will acknowledge his name before my Father and his angels” (Revelation 3:5).

This is the only way to get into heaven: “Nothing impure will ever enter it, nor will anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life” (Revelation 21:27).

How can we be sure our names will be in this book? “Jesus answered, ‘I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me'” (John 14:6). The Bible is clear: “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).

What happens if our name is not found in this book of life? We will hear Jesus say, “Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels” (Matthew 25:41).

“The cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars—their place will be in the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death” (Revelation 21:8).


Use Things And Love People

Use Things and Love People—Not the Reverse

The life and legacy of Moses

Dr. Jim Denison

Exodus 20:15-17

In America, apparently no price is too high for the things we want. Who would have dreamed we’d spend $5 for a cup of coffee, or $3 billion on bottled water? But we’re drinking it. The price of gasoline hasn’t been this high in years, but we’re still buying it.

Our culture measures us by what we wear, drive, or own. Against all this materialism, we find the eighth commandment. Two words in Hebrew, four in English: “You shall not steal.” Let’s look at what the commandment means, and how to keep it today.

What is stealing?

We steal when we take the possessions of others. My family’s home in Houston was vandalized; a thief broke the window of our van in Atlanta and stole what was inside; our church has lost technical equipment to thieves in recent years. A few months ago my car wouldn’t start, so I had it towed to a local repair shop. They wanted $2,000 to replace the head gaskets; I took it to the dealership, who fixed the problem for a fraction of that cost and never had to touch the head gaskets. Stealing is taking the possessions of others.

We steal when we take advantage of others. Forth eight percent of American workers admit to taking unethical or illegal advantage of their employers in the past year. This includes cheating on an expense account, paying or accepting kickbacks, secretly forging signatures, and breaking legal statutes and codes. American industry loses $3 billion per year because of employee’s time spent in personal internet use while at work.

We steal when we take advantage of the government by cheating on our taxes, money which honest citizens must make up. In short, we steal whenever we take financial advantage of others.

We steal when we take the ideas of others. When I taught at Southwestern Seminary I heard the motto from students: if you steal from one source, it’s plagiarism; from two sources, it’s research. No, it’s not. My brother in law once worked as a custodian at a church while going to seminary. He cleaned the pastor’s office, and always knew what sermon they’d hear that Sunday from the open book of sermons on his desk on Friday.

We steal when we take the reputation of others. Remember a few years ago when someone accused Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger of sexual abuse? This godly man was completely vindicated, all charged were dropped, and the person making the allegation apologized, but the damage was done to his reputation. That man stole his good name.

Shakespeare said it well: “Who steals my purse steals trash; ’tis something, nothing; ‘Twas mine, ’tis his, and has been slave to thousands. But he that filches from me my good name Robs me of that which not enriches him And makes me poor indeed.” Before you say anything negative about any person, ask yourself first, Is it true? Is it fair? Is it necessary? To take the reputation of others is to steal.

How to keep the eighth commandment

So, how do we keep the eighth commandment?

First, we see things as God does. Material success is not the highest value in life—a relationship with God is. Jesus warned his disciples: “What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul?” (Matthew 16.26).

As God sees things, material success is a means to an end, given for the purpose of serving God with that which he has entrusted to us. If I value God more than possessions, I’ll not offend him by stealing from you.

Second, we acquire things as God directs. Scripture gives us three ways we are to acquire possessions, a kind of philosophy of economics. We are to work hard: “He who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with his own hands, that he may have something to share with those in need” (Ephesians 4.28).

We are to invest wisely. In Jesus’ parable of the talents (measures of money), he commends the men who doubled their investments, while criticizing the man who did not (Matthew 25.14-30). And we are to pray dependently. When our need is greater than our supply, we are to pray and ask God’s help. The early Christians gave to the common good of the believing community, and their resources were “distributed to anyone as he had need” (Ac 4.35). As we work hard, invest wisely, and trust God, we acquire things as he direct. Then we will have no need to break the eighth commandment.

Third, we use things as God leads. God has blessed us with material possessions, so that we might use them to help others in his name. He gave the Samaritan a donkey and some money, to give to the man in need. We are to do the same with the donkey and the money he has given to us.

The old song says, “Loving things and using people only leads to misery; using things and loving people, that’s the way it ought to be.” If I value you more than your possessions, I’ll not steal what is yours. In fact, I’ll give to you from what is mine.

It is imperative that we see things, acquire things, and use things as God directs, that we keep the eighth commandment. For our own sakes.

What is a “lie”?

When I worked as a graphic artist during seminary, I had a customer who kept a “lie book” in his pocket. Whenever he told someone a lie he would write it down, so he could remember it the next time he saw that person.

The commentaries claim that this is the commandment of the ten we break the most often. Do you agree? Raise your hand if you’ve never lied. Be careful—don’t lie.