Global Warming and the Power of God

Global Warming and the Power of God

Revelation 1:12-20

Dr. Jim Denison

In a month, the world will see The Da Vinci Code on screen, starring Tom Hanks and directed by Ron Howard. Forty million books have been sold worldwide. This is a global phenomenon, and a global opportunity for us to tell the world the truth about Jesus Christ. Across the coming weeks, we’ll do just that. His Revelation to John will be our guide.

Why do we need the real Jesus today, more than ever? Why do you?

Why we need the real Jesus

The week’s news was not inspiring:

On Tuesday, thousands in San Francisco turned out for the centennial of the greatest disaster their city has ever known. It was April 18, 1906 at 5:12 a.m. when the San Francisco earthquake struck. A three-day fire engulfed much of the city. Newsweek estimates that the same earthquake today would kill 4,000 and leave 690,000 homeless. When will the “big one” hit again?

Wednesday’s local news reported that a truck driver was asleep in his rig at I-20 and Lancaster when a knock came on his sleeper compartment door. Two armed men were there. They forced him to drive his truck a few blocks, where they stole 100 gallons of diesel fuel. With oil over $70 a barrel, it may be a “sign of the times,” as the reporter said.

On the moral front, The New York Times reports: “a federal judge ruled Tuesday that Kansas law did not require health care workers to report to the authorities sexual activity by people under age 16” (NYT April 19, A16). And we learn that “two Duke lacrosse players were arrested after being indicted on charges of raping a woman who performed as a dancer at a team party last month” (NYT April 19, A1).

Meanwhile, Addwaitya, the giant tortoise thought to be the world’s oldest living creature, died recently at a Calcutta zoo at around 250 years of age. Robert Grimm, the man who helped popularize baby carrots as a health snack, died the same week of a heart attack. He was 54.

And we learned the grim news that 30 million bags were lost by airlines globally in 2005, of which 240,000 were never returned to their owners.

But that’s not what everyone was talking about in Dallas. Record heat hit us this week, with highs over 100 on Monday and Tuesday. So what? Global warming, that’s what. It certainly seems to be so. 2005 was the hottest year in a century. Nineteen of the 20 hottest years on record have occurred since 1980.

Time magazine recently profiled the issue in stark terms. The article begins: “No one can say exactly what it looks like when a planet takes ill, but it probably looks a lot like Earth. Never mind what you’ve heard about global warming as a slow-motion emergency that would take decades to play out. Suddenly and unexpectedly, the crisis is upon us.”

One scientist says, “Things are happening a lot faster than anyone predicted. The last 12 months have been alarming.” The journal Science recently predicted a rise in sea levels by as much as 20 feet by the end of the century.

What causes the problem? As we burn fuel for energy we dump carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, where it traps the heat that flows in from the sun, raising global temperatures. Ice sheets at the poles, which normally reflect 90 percent of the sun’s heat back into the atmosphere, melt. Then they become sea water, which traps 90 percent of the heat it receives and heats the earth. Meanwhile, mountain snows which usually melt in spring and provide water during the summer are melting sooner, so that the water is gone when it is needed most. The droughts which result devastate forests which remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Frozen lands thaw, releasing trapped carbon into the air. And so the cycle continues.

As a result, the amount of the earth’s surface afflicted by drought has more than doubled since the 1970s. Polar bears are drowning as warmer waters melt their ice floes. And what is happening to us?

Cyclone Larry exploding through Australia at the beginning of the month; wildfires from Texas to Indonesia; Hurricane Katrina and now her descendants due to arrive in less than two months. The number of severe hurricanes worldwide has doubled in the last 35 years, while the wind speed and duration of all hurricanes has jumped 50 percent. Global warming is leading to increased risk of heatstroke, asthma, allergies and infectious disease.

These are frightening days. What difference does faith make in the face of such fear? Last week we celebrated the resurrection of Jesus Christ. This week we learn why.

How to find the real Jesus

John “was on the island of Patmos because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus” (v. 9). The year is AD 95, and John is an elderly man. He’s been preaching and pastoring for 60 years, and is the last living apostle of Jesus.

The Romans must silence his voice, but they’ve learned that martyring Christians only spreads their faith. So they’ve banished this man to the one place where there’s no congregation and no city and nothing he can do for Jesus.

He’s on Patmos, a crescent-shaped island 37 miles off the western coast of Asia Minor (Turkey today). Its 25 square miles consist mainly of volcanic hills and rocky terrain. John is there in “suffering”–the word means “oppressive affliction” and pictures the grinding of wheat and crushing of grapes. This elderly man is working the mines of this barren island, digging out its soil and carting it to the quarry. It’s backbreaking work, living in chains, sleeping on the bare ground of a cliffside cave. If ever there was a place to fear the future, it was on this Alcatraz of the ancient world.

But the Christ of Easter is also the Christ of Patmos.

The Da Vinci Code Jesus

The Da Vinci Code Jesus

Revelation 5

Dr. Jim Denison

The Da Vinci Code is the most controversial book of this generation. Never before in American history has a bestselling book so defamed biblical Christianity. The movie version will only fan the flames.

It is crucial that you know the truth behind the fiction, for the sake of your own soul and spiritual health. And for the sake of those you know. The book and movie give us an unprecedented opportunity to talk to friends and neighbors about the controversy and the One at the heart of it all. But we have to know the truth before we can give it to those we care about.

We’ll start today with the central issue of the book and the controversy: the divinity of Jesus Christ.

The Da Vinci Code Jesus

Dan Brown centers his plot in two so-called experts: a Harvard professor of religious symbols named Robert Langdon and an English historian named Leigh Teabing. Mr. Teabing makes especially astounding claims against Jesus:

“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).

It was Emperor 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. A character named 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 biblical Christianity and its affirmation of the divinity of Jesus Christ? Absolutely.

The historical Jesus

We can start with Scripture itself. God’s word contains the most astounding claim to divine authority ever uttered, when the resurrected Christ states: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me” (Matthew 28:18). “All” authority–so that we have none. In “heaven” and on “earth,” the entire universe. He possesses all the divine authority there is.

But you’d expect the Bible to make that claim. The Koran claims that the Muslim Allah is the one God; the Book of Mormon presents the central truth claims of that religion. Is there evidence outside of Scripture that early Christians did not see Jesus as a “mortal prophet” but worshiped him as God? Is there non-biblical evidence that Mr. Brown is wrong and the Bible is right?

Consider Tacitus (AD 55-120), the greatest ancient Roman historian. In his Annals he 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 the followers of Christus believed something miraculous, not simply that he was a great human teacher.

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.

And what of early non-biblical Christian records?

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. The early Christians were absolutely united in their common affirmation, Jesus is Lord.

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.

What’s So Amazing About Grace?

What’s So Amazing About Grace?

John 20:24-29

Dr. Jim Denison

More people than ever before are asking to be buried or cremated with their mobile phones. The trend began in South Africa, and has spread from there. In Cape Town, people who believe in witchcraft fear they could fall under a spell, be put to sleep, and be buried alive. So they want cell phones in their coffins in case they woke up. One funeral service in South Africa will even include several cell phone batteries in your coffin, in case yours runs out.

The rest of us smile at such absurdity. We don’t fear death like that. In fact, no society in history has feared death less than we do.

There was a time when people were afraid of what might happen when they died–afraid of going to hell, or at least Purgatory. Afraid of meeting God.

But today our culture is convinced that so long as we’re good people who believe in God, all is well. If we’re not Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim or Jewish, we must be Christians. Coming to church at Christmas and Easter, trying to live good lives, and believing in God meets the requirements. Only two percent of us are afraid of going to hell. Eighty-seven percent are sure we’ll be in heaven. No cell phones needed.

Are you afraid of going to hell? You know that Jesus died on the cross and rose from the grave. You know that he paid for your sins and that God forgives all that you confess. What more is there to believe?

Here’s the sermon in a sentence: unless our lives are changed every day by the living Lord Jesus, we are missing the life he died to give. We are missing genuine Christianity. To show you why that’s so, I get to tell you my favorite Easter story today. Then we’ll see if it’s yours.

Meet my friend Thomas

“Thomas” is Hebrew for “twin.” Scholars wonder who his twin brother was. I have news for them–it’s me.

Like “Doubting Thomas,” I have always wanted things to make sense. When I first became a Christian at the age of 15, I had all kinds of questions which people didn’t seem to want to hear. How do we know that the Bible is the word of God? How do we know that Jesus is the only way to God? What about science and faith? Evil and suffering? People didn’t seem to want to talk about my questions. In fact, I doubted for a long time whether or not I was even a Christian, since I had so many doubts.

So “Doubting Thomas” became my patron saint.

Jesus has just assured his disciples, “You know the way to the place where I am going.” And Thomas speaks his first recorded words in Scripture: “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?” (John 14:4, 5). His faith starts with a question.

Then comes his most famous appearance, the statement which has forever labeled him “Doubting Thomas.” The disciples have seen the risen Christ on Easter Sunday, but Thomas missed church. We don’t know why. Some say he was afraid of the authorities. Others that he was grieving Jesus’ death and didn’t want to come. Maybe he had the flu. For whatever reason, he missed Easter.

So the disciples brought him the incredible news, “We have seen the Lord!” But their experience is not good enough for Thomas. No second-hand faith for him: “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe it” (v. 25). Four personal pronouns–if Thomas doesn’t have first-hand, empirical, hard and fast evidence for himself, he won’t believe it.

Good for him. Jesus doesn’t want second-hand faith from us. He doesn’t want us to believe simply because our parents believe, or our Sunday school teacher told us to, or we live in the buckle of the Bible belt and it’s rude not to. In Isaiah 1:18 the Lord says, “Come, let us argue it out.” Jesus cried from the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46). You don’t want a second-hand marriage, or second-hand friendships. Don’t settle for a second-hand faith.

It may be that you’re here for Easter Sunday, but you have questions about the whole enterprise. How do we know Jesus really existed? How do we know he rose from the grave? What difference does it make if he did?

I had all those questions, through high school and college. Finally, as I got close to graduation and a future in vocational ministry, I decided I needed some answers. I needed to know for myself if it was all true. So I began my first study of “apologetics,” that area of theology which examines questions about the faith.

Let me give you a semester’s worth in five minutes.

How do we know the Bible is true? The DaVinci Code says that we have never had a definitive version of it. The Gospel of Judas presents a very different picture of Jesus and his betrayer than you’ve heard. How do we know this book is God’s word?

Because the manuscripts evidence is conclusive proof that we have what the authors wrote; because archaeological evidence is convincing; because internal consistency within the Bible is outstanding; and because it keeps its promises, such as the more than 50 Old Testament predictions regarding the Messiah which were fulfilled by Jesus. The odds of one man fulfilling them all is one in ten to the 157th power; that number is greater than all the atoms in the universe.

How do we know Jesus existed? Because Tacitus, the greatest Roman historian, told us he did. Because Thallus the Samaritan described his crucifixion, Suetonius, Mara bar Serapion, and Josephus described him in detail.

How do we know the early Christians worshiped him as Lord? The DaVinci Code says that they knew he was a mortal, and that the Church deified him three centuries later. But Clement of Rome wrote a long letter in AD 95 describing his Lordship, as did numerous other early Christians. And in AD 112, the Roman administrator Pliny the Younger reported that Christians worshiped Christ “as a god.”