Heaven

Matthew 6:9 “In this manner, therefore, pray: Our Father in heaven…” NKJV

Not only does God live in heaven, He has a place there for us as well: 1 Peter 1:3-4: “All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is by his great mercy that we have been born again, because God raised Jesus Christ from the dead. Now we live with great expectation, and we have a priceless inheritance – an inheritance that is kept in heaven for you, pure and undefiled, beyond the reach of change and decay.” NLT

Heaven is a place we can go to like a country, a city, or a house. However, heaven is not just a place – it is a better place than this! And it was designed for us:

Matthew 25:34 – “Then the King will say to those on His right hand, ‘Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world…” NKJV

John 14:1-3: “Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also.” NKJV

A question that is often asked is: “What will heaven be like?” In Revelation 21-22, God stretches language to the breaking point when He gives John the vision of heaven He wants us to have – a vision that that is almost beyond human imagination a breathtaking view of heaven. His description is designed to comfort us and give us hope!

He is not just describing a “place,” but a condition – of being redeemed from sin, of freedom from toil and persecution, of being in the eternal presence of God.

“If we could gaze on the glory of heaven and see the fellowship we will experience there, for just a moment, we would be so excited about going there that we would spend every waking moment dreaming about it, working toward it, and planning for it.”

 “Heaven will surely be worth it all!

1)  Heaven is new

Revelation 21:1-2: “Now I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away. Also there was no more sea. Then I, John, saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.” NKJV

The “first heaven and earth” refers to where mankind currently dwells. But this world is destined for destruction.

2 Peter 3:10 – “But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night, in which the heavens will pass away with a great noise, and the elements will melt with fervent heat; both the earth and the works that are in it will be burned up.” NKJV

This present earth is going to be destroyed, but we will still need a suitable environment for our spiritual bodies to live and function in. The Holy Spirit calls that prepared place “a new heaven and a new earth.” 

2 Peter 3:13 – “Nevertheless we, according to His promise, look for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.” NKJV

The “new heaven and new earth” is the replacement of the first – “heaven.”  Heaven is our future home, a special place, a place where we will be safe, a place where we will be accepted, a place of rest, a place where the problems we experience in this life now will not exist.  Heaven, according to Jesus, is the “Home of the Soul!”

The “new heaven and new earth” will not just be an updated version of the old – it will be an entirely new realm of existence different from life as we know it here. Earthly rules will not apply in heaven. For example:

Revelation 21:3 – “And I heard a loud voice from heaven saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them and be their God.” NKJV

Though we enjoy a special relationship with God now, and we are aware of His nearness and His love, in heaven we will live in His very presence, and see His face!

Revelation 21:4 – “And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.”  NKJV

In heaven, God will not simply dry our tears; He will remove the things that cause our tears – death, sorrow, pain – forever!

In heaven we will know only happiness, because those physical aspects of this life that have been a curse to us will no longer exist.

“As a younger man I had difficulty understanding how elderly people could frequently long for heaven. But the longer I live, the more I understand! We all grow tired of seeing in others and experiencing ourselves the ravages of sickness, pain, old age, and death – in heaven this will all be gone – forever!”

In heaven, we will finally be able to rest from the toils of this life: Hebrews 4:9 – “…there is a special rest still waiting for the people of God.” NLT

Are you living with a broken heart, are you discouraged, depressed, worn out, defeated, tired, or frustrated? Maybe you are struggling with the pains of a divorce, a job loss, or maybe you have lost a loved one, especially a child or a grandchild, which has to be the most devastating thing that could ever happen to anyone? No one should ever have to outlive their own children.

“When a spouse passes, you are called a widow/widower. When someone loses a parent you become an orphan. When a parent loses a child there is no word for it, in any language, because the words to capture that much pain do not exist!”

How many times have you, like David, cried yourself to sleep? Psalm 6:6 – “I am worn out from sobbing. All night I flood my bed with weeping, drenching it with my tears.” NLT 

Then you need to know that when you go to your eternal home, the same hands that stretched the heavens will touch your cheeks, caress your face, and wipe away your tears forever. My friends, there really will beNo tears in heaven!”

For now – “We can only imagine!”

We’ve all seen people suffer and hurt and endure pain in their body we can only imagine.  But Paul says that in heaven we will have a new “body”1 Corinthians 15:51-53: “But let me reveal to you a wonderful secret. We will not all die, but we will all be transformed! It will happen in a moment, in the blink of an eye, when the last trumpet is blown. For when the trumpet sounds, those who have died will be raised to live forever. And we who are living will also be transformed. For our dying bodies must be transformed into bodies that will never die; our mortal bodies must be transformed into immortal bodies.”  NLT

That means in heaven there will be no suffering of any kind, which means no heart attacks, cancer, arthritis, diabetes, nor any physical handicaps of any kind.

In heaven, our bodies will never hurt again, because God will remove all pain and all sickness for all eternity!

In heaven, no one will get hurt, there will be no abortion clinics, no jails, no missing children, no killings, no wars, no unemployment, no taxes, no bills, no hospitals, no pollution, nobody will ever go hungry, and absolutely nothing will ever grow old.

No termites will eat at the foundation of heaven because it rests on the rock of ages.  Fire cannot destroy it.  Floods cannot wash it away.  In heaven, we will finally be able to rest:

Revelation 14:13 – “…Blessed are those who die in the Lord from now on. Yes, says the Spirit, they are blessed indeed, for they will rest from their hard work; for their good deeds follow them!”  NLT

John says that in heaven there will be no more death.  That means heaven is a city that has no cemetery, no tombstones, and no funeral homes.  No hearse will ever drive on the golden streets of heaven, in heaven there will never be a funeral procession.  In heaven the word “goodbye” will never be spoken.

Many are anxious to know if they will recognize their friends and loved ones in heaven. Paul, in speaking about the church in Thessalonica, said – 1 Thessalonians 2:19-20: “After all, what gives us hope and joy, and what will be our proud reward and crown as we stand before our Lord Jesus when he returns? It is you! Yes, you are our pride and joy.” NLT

How could they be his reason for rejoicing if he could not recognize them and know that they were among the saved?

Jesus said in Matthew 8:11 – “And I say to you that many will come from east and west, and sit down with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven.” NKJV

Here we find that Abraham, Isaac and Jacob have not lost their identities; Moses and Elijah did not lose their identities on the Mount of Transfiguration.

The Bible says our names are written in heaven (Luke 10:20), and that when we die we are gathered to our people – Genesis 35:29 – “Then he breathed his last and died at a ripe old age, joining his ancestors in death…” NLT

Lazarus was still Lazarus in Hades (Luke 16); Samuel was still Samuel though already dead (1 Samuel 28:14).  Jesus called Lazarus by name when He raised him from the dead (John 11). 

In heaven we will make new relationships with the saints of all the ages, and continue old relationships as well!  In heaven, we will know each other – you will see your children and grandchildren; you will know your spouse but not be married to them (Matthew 22:29-33); how about your mom and your dad?  How about your grandparents?  Don’t you want to see them again?

Imagine eternity with those who will be in heaven.

“God the Father” – to be in His presence will be the best part of heaven, to be removed from His sight will be the worst part of hell. “Jesus” – at last, we will be able to say, “Thank You” to Him face-to-face. The “Holy Spirit” who has been our constant companion in this life, will be in heaven.

The angels will be there. The saved people from all nations will be there – all whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life!

Abraham, Noah, Enoch, Moses, Elijah, David, Peter, Paul, Stephen, and the other great prophets, preachers, and women of the Bible will be gathered there.

Our loved ones who are Christians will be in heaven. Infants and small children will be there: Revelation 7:9-10: “After this I saw a vast crowd, too great to count, from every nation and tribe and people and language, standing in front of the throne and before the Lamb. They were clothed in white robes and held palm branches in their hands. And they were shouting with a great roar, “Salvation comes from our God who sits on the throne and from the Lamb!”  NLT

2)  Heaven is beautiful

Revelation 21:9-11: “Then one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls filled with the seven last plagues came to me and talked with me, saying, “Come, I will show you the bride, the Lamb’s wife.” And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great and high mountain, and showed me the great city, the holy Jerusalem, descending out of heaven from God, having the glory of God. Her light was like a most precious stone, like a jasper stone, clear as crystal.” NKJV

Heaven is beautiful beyond imagination with streets of gold, precious stones, many mansions, the river of the water of life, the tree of life, a place of light! John described the holy city as “having the glory of God.” He said, “Her light was like a most precious stone, like a jasper stone, clear as crystal” (v. 11).

Heaven’s foundation is adorned with precious jewels and its streets are made of pure gold, “like transparent glass.”

Each of its twelve gates is made from a single gigantic pearl. Pearls were the most sought after jewel in the ancient world.  A 20 grain pearl, about the size of the end of your little finger, was worth a fortune.  We can only imagine…

Revelation 21:18-21: “The construction of its wall was of jasper; and the city was pure gold, like clear glass. The foundations of the wall of the city were adorned with all kinds of precious stones: the first foundation was jasper, the second sapphire, the third chalcedony, the fourth emerald, the fifth sardonyx, the sixth sardius, the seventh chrysolite, the eighth beryl, the ninth topaz, the tenth chrysoprase, the eleventh jacinth, and the twelfth amethyst. The twelve gates were twelve pearls: each individual gate was of one pearl. And the street of the city was pure gold, like transparent glass.” NKJV

We can picture beautiful scenes of nature here on this earth, but they are nothing compared to what we will see in heaven. The real beauty of heaven, though, lies in Who is there, not in what is there. In heaven we will bask in “the glory of God.” This is something that believers have longed for over many centuries.

Psalm 27:4 – “One thing I have asked from the Lord, that I shall seek; that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord, and to meditate in His temple.” NKJV

Since “God is spirit…” (John 4:24), we can only imagine what “the beauty of the Lord” must be like, but it is a marvelous promise of God’s Word that we shall “…see Him as He is” (1 John 3:2). His presence will make heaven an extraordinarily beautiful place.

When that day comes and we finally get to see the glory of heaven with our own eyes, I believe our reaction will be similar to the reaction of the Queen of Sheba when she met Solomon:

1 Kings 10:7 – “…I did not believe the words until I came and saw with my own eyes; and indeed the half was not told me….” NKJV

These images are meant to stagger us – to make us gasp, shake our heads, and say “If heaven is even more wonderful than this, how beautiful heaven must be!”

3)  Heaven is big

Revelation 21:14-17: “Now the wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them were the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb. And he who talked with me had a gold reed to measure the city, its gates, and its wall. The city is laid out as a square; its length is as great as its breadth. And he measured the city with the reed: twelve thousand furlongs. Its length, breadth, and height are equal. Then he measured its wall: one hundred and forty-four cubits, according to the measure of a man, that is, of an angel.” NKJV

An angel measured the city in order to impress John with its dimensions. It is “12,000 stadia” (furlongs) in height, width, and length.

A stadion (Roman measurement) is approximately an eighth of a mile (185 meters).  Eight stadia would be about one mile.

So 12,000 stadia (furlongs) means the city was 1500 cubical miles in size.

This is equal to the distance between New York and Houston.  1500 by 1500 is an area 8.4 times larger than the entire state of Texas, bigger than Australia or Europe.  It is an understatement to say that this city is unlike any ever seen on earth.

These distances and sizes have highly symbolic meanings that say heaven is not just big – it is enormous! It is staggering in size! It is big enough for everyone who wants to go, and plenty of people will be there. The only question is: “Will you be among them?”

“Its length and width and height are equal,” means it is a “cube.” There is a specific purpose for this shape. In the temple and the tabernacle, the Holy of Holies (or the Most Holy Place) where the Ark of the Covenant was kept, was in the shape of a cube: 1 Kings 6:20 – “This inner sanctuary was 30 feet long, 30 feet wide, and 30 feet high.” NLT

The “Holy of Holies” was regarded as the dwelling place of God. The shape of a perfect cube, therefore, became an effective symbol for the dwelling place of God – heaven!

4)  Heaven is secure

Every ancient city depended on a high wall as its first line of defense against an invasion from outsiders. In times of danger, those who lived in the countryside and in villages would run inside the city walls; then the gates would be closed.

Security is still a major concern today with threats of terrorism and of biological or nuclear disaster. People are deeply concerned about the security of airports, about protecting themselves and their property against crime, and about the security of their jobs. We take careful measures – and some make large investments – to get it; yet we never really achieve absolute safety.

Heaven has a security system unlike that of any other city ever known before.

Revelation 21:12 – “Also she had a great and high wall with twelve gates, and twelve angels at the gates, and names written on them, which are the names of the twelve tribes of the children of Israel…” NKJV

Revelation 21:17 – “Then he measured its wall: one hundred and forty-four cubits…” NKJV

Since a cubit was about 18 inches – the wall was 72 yards tall.  This means heaven enjoys “perfect protection!”

Revelation 21:22-26: “But I saw no temple in it, for the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. The city had no need of the sun or of the moon to shine in it, for the glory of God illuminated it. The Lamb is its light. And the nations of those who are saved shall walk in its light, and the kings of the earth bring their glory and honor into it. Its gates shall not be shut at all by day (there shall be no night there). And they shall bring the glory and the honor of the nations into it.” NKJV

Normally, the gates of a city would be left open during the day to accommodate traffic in and out. At night, the gates would be shut and guards would be posted in order to provide security against invasion. In heaven the gates are never shut.

Why? Because of the glory of God, there isn’t any night there – and nothing can harm us in His presence anyway! The security of heaven is absolute!

5)  Heaven is complete

Revelation 22:1-5: “And he showed me a pure river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding from the throne of God and of the Lamb. In the middle of its street, and on either side of the river, was the tree of life, which bore twelve fruits, each tree yielding its fruit every month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. And there shall be no more curse, but the throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in it, and His servants shall serve Him. They shall see His face, and His name shall be on their foreheads. There shall be no night there: They need no lamp nor light of the sun, for the Lord God gives them light. And they shall reign forever and ever.” NKJV

Here the imagery of a city is blended with that of a garden – but not just any garden. This garden has “a river of the water of life” and “the tree of life” for the healing of the nations. In heaven, there will no longer be any curse; and God will be in it, and His servants will serve Him and they will reign forever and ever. Does this sound familiar?

In the Garden of Eden man lost his intimate relationship with God, his security, and his access to the tree of life. “Curses” were pronounced upon the serpent, the man, the woman, and even the ground itself – “Paradise Lost!”

In Revelation 22:1-5, we read of “Paradise Regained.” Heaven will accomplish the complete reversal of man’s fall into sin; in heaven we will enjoy complete, unbroken face-to-face fellowship with God, the forgiveness of our sins, and total healing. God will bring everything back to where it belongs – to Himself. That includes us! And it will never end, “And they shall reign forever and ever” (Revelation 22:5).

6)  Heaven is pure

Much of the glory of heaven lies in what is not there: Revelation 21:5-8: “Then He who sat on the throne said, “Behold, I make all things new.” And He said to me, “Write, for these words are true and faithful.” “And He said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. I will give of the fountain of the water of life freely to him who thirsts.” “He who overcomes shall inherit all things, and I will be his God and he shall be My son.” “But the cowardly, unbelieving, abominable, murderers, sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars shall have their part in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death.”  NKJV

God says that those who give themselves to the ways of the world will not live in heaven:

Revelation 21:27 – “But there shall by no means enter it anything that defiles, or causes an abomination or a lie, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s Book of Life.”  NKJV

Revelation 22:14-15: “Blessed are those who do His commandments, that they may have the right to the tree of life, and may enter through the gates into the city. But outside are dogs and sorcerers and sexually immoral and murderers and idolaters, and whoever loves and practices a lie.”  NKJV

The sin and impurity of this world have to be put out of our lives through the power of Christ, or we cannot enter God’s holy city.

This is both a promise and a warning – a promise that heaven will be free of ungodly influences and a warning that if we want to live in heaven, we have to abandon the ways of the world! “We cannot hold dual citizenship!”

7)  Conclusion

“It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known.” Charles Dickens – ‘A Tale of Two Cities’

Revelation 7:16-17: “They shall neither hunger anymore nor thirst anymore; the sun shall not strike them, nor any heat; for the Lamb who is in the midst of the throne will shepherd them and lead them to living fountains of waters. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.” NKJV

The belief that we can go to heaven has comforted souls throughout the ages – martyrs dying for their faith, slaves longing for freedom, and those laying on their death beds.  It can also comfort you!

“There are far, far better things ahead, than any we leave behind!”  C.S. Lewis

1 Corinthians 2:9 – “…No eye has seen, no ear has heard, and no mind has imagined what God has prepared for those who love him.” NLT

 “Whatever you do, don’t miss heaven!”

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Turn or burn

Revelations 20:15 – “And anyone not found written in the Book of Life was cast into the lake of fire.” NKJV

Close your eyes and picture this in your mind? Coming from every direction are the sounds of a massive, roaring, blazing fire, but you can’t see anything because it’s completely dark. All around you are the sounds of anguish, sounds of untold billions of people screaming and crying out in pain, and wailing and gnashing their teeth – these people seem to be in the process of being cut up into thousands of pieces. Where are they?  The place the Bible calls hell, the burning lake of fire, where people will be tormented day and night forever and ever.  Hell is not a nightmare, a bad dream, or fiction. Hell is just as real as heaven – heaven is good because God is there – hell is everything heaven is not because God is not there!

Hell is where you will go if you are not prepared to meet God. The Bible describes hell as a place of great suffering, intense agony and torment.  It is a terrible place of horror, pain, grief, punishment and tears.  It is an awful place of choking, stinking sulfuric fumes; a burning, churning sea of fire where all you can hear are people screaming and crying, because their bodies are rolling in flames of liquid fire.  Hell is a place where the soul will be violently tormented, continually, ceaselessly, eternally! There is no laughter in hell – no peace, no hope, no rest, no sleep, no pleasure, no comfort.  Only horrible agony, pain, thirst, torment, suffering and misery for all of eternity.

The greatest tragedy of our time is that most of the people who are alive right now will go to hell.

Matthew 7:13 – “Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it.” NKJV

Yet, hell is probably the least discussed of all Bible subjects, mainly because people don’t want to hear about it.

Jesus warned people over and over again what would happen to them if they were not ready on Judgment Day:

Matthew 25:31-33: “When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the holy angels with Him, then He will sit on the throne of His glory. All the nations will be gathered before Him, and He will separate them one from another, as a shepherd divides his sheep from the goats. And He will set the sheep on His right hand, but the goats on the left.” NKJV

At this time Jesus will have one of two things to say to us:

Matthew 25:34 – “Come, you blessed of my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.” NKJV

Matthew 25:41 – “Depart from me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels.”  NKJV

If you were to stand before Him right now, which of these would Jesus say to you?

Can you imagine for one second what it would feel like to have Jesus point His finger at you and say, “Depart from me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire.” 

1 Peter 4:7 – “But the end of all things is at hand; therefore be serious and watchful in your prayers.” NKJV 

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Can tragedy come to good people?

Some people say: Bad things just don’t happen to good people!  But is that true?

Luke 13:1-5: “About this time Jesus was informed that Pilate had murdered some people from Galilee as they were offering sacrifices at the Temple. “Do you think those Galileans were worse sinners than all the other people from Galilee?” Jesus asked. “Is that why they suffered? Not at all! And you will perish, too, unless you repent of your sins and turn to God. And what about the eighteen people who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them? Were they the worst sinners in Jerusalem? No, and I tell you again that unless you repent, you will perish, too.” NLT

The question in the minds of Jesus’ audience was, “Why did those people suffer and die from Pilate’s cruelty or from the tower falling?”  The assumption was they must have been bad people to suffer like that. There is a tendency for us to look at someone when they are suffering and to think, “Maybe they are just getting what they deserve.”

“Can tragedy come to good people?”  Yes, it can.  Can it come to those trying with all their hearts to serve the Lord?  Yes, it can and yes it does.

But why? Why are there disasters such as tornados, earthquakes, or accidents in which people are hurt or die? Why is there cancer, infection, and disease? Why would God let a Christian get sick and even die?  It’s because we live in a fallen, messed up world.

When Adam and Eve sinned, they opened up a world of troubles for themselves and for their descendants. Have you ever heard the world’s shortest poem?

It’s called “Troubles” and here’s the poem: “Troubles – Adam had’em!” He had plenty of troubles – and so do we.

Trouble is inevitable:  Job 14:1 – “How frail is humanity! How short is life, how full of trouble!” NLT

Paul said in Acts 14:22 – “…we must suffer many hardships to enter the Kingdom of God.”   NLT

Sometimes that includes good/innocent Christians suffering from tragedies! These troubles can include tragic death (Job’s children).

Christians suffer like anybody else, they get sick, they get hurt, they can be persecuted, and they eventually die, just like anyone else.  Some children are being raised by an evil parent(s).

Some people are married to an evil person, some people suffer at the hands of evil people, and it happens every day.  Sometimes these bad things happen to good Christian people.

Christian women and young girls have been abused to include sexual abuse by evil men for 2000 years.  Children of Christian parents have been abused by close family members or others.  Christians have been persecuted and killed for 2000 years.

Terrible things have happened to the bodies of good Christian people, but God has promised that regardless of what happens to our bodies, our souls will live forever:

Psalm 34:17-19:The Lord hears his people when they call to him for help. He rescues them from all their troubles. The Lord is close to the brokenhearted; he rescues those whose spirits are crushed. The righteous person faces many troubles, but the Lord comes to the rescue each time.” NLT

Matthew 10:28 – “And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.” NKJV

Philippians 1:29 – “For to you it has been granted on behalf of Christ, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake…” NKJV

1 Peter 5:10 – “But may the God of all grace, who called us to His eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after you have suffered a while, perfect, establish, strengthen, and settle you.” NKJV

1.  Tribulation and distress

The Bible teaches us that trials and persecution are natural, expected parts of living for God, and though they can be very difficult to deal with, God uses these problems, trials, and tribulations to build character: James 1:2-3: “Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow.” NLT

Romans 5:3-4: “We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation.” NLT

Romans 8:35-37: “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written: “For Your sake we are killed all day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.” Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.” NKJV

The first two words on this list: “Tribulation” and “Distress” are general words for trouble, but each has a slightly different emphasis.

“Tribulation” is from the Greek word that primarily means: a pressing, pressure, to compress or press! It was the word used for extracting the juice from grapes by trampling on them, or grinding wheat or barley into fine meal. Have you experienced the pressure of trouble?  Have you been battered by life?  Then you understand what this word means.

“Distress” is translated from a compound Greek word that refers to a narrow or restricted place.  Have you ever felt as if you were being squeezed in a vise, as if you had no room to breathe?  Then you understand what this word means.

When you combine the two, they refer respectively to outward affliction and inward distress.  The two terms encompass every kind of problem and trouble that might be imagined.

“Persecution” refers to being pursued like a hunter pursues an animal.  The church was born in occupied territory and under ruthless dictators who hunted and persecuted Christians.

2 Corinthians 12:10 – “That’s why I take pleasure in my weaknesses, and in the insults, hardships, persecutions, and troubles that I suffer for Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” NLT

2 Timothy 3:12 – “…everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution.” NLT 

“Famine” (lack of food) and “nakedness” (lack of clothing) could refer to the financial consequences of following Christ.

“Peril” is a general word for danger, while “sword” has a number of sinister meanings, including violent death and execution for being a Christian. However, even if we die, God does not lose us in the dust of death.  For the faithful child of God, death is not a wall, but a door into the presence of God:

Psalm 116:15 – “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints.” NKJV

Paul was speaking from personal experience when he wrote Romans 8:35-37.

2 Corinthians 6:3-5: “We live in such a way that no one will stumble because of us, and no one will find fault with our ministry.  In everything we do, we show that we are true ministers of God. We patiently endure troubles and hardships and calamities of every kind. We have been beaten, been put in prison, faced angry mobs, worked to exhaustion, endured sleepless nights, and gone without food.”  NLT

 2 Corinthians 11:22-27: “Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they descendants of Abraham? So am I. Are they servants of Christ? I know I sound like a madman, but I have served him far more! I have worked harder, been put in prison more often, been whipped times without number, and faced death again and again. Five different times the Jewish leaders gave me thirty-nine lashes. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked. Once I spent a whole night and a day adrift at sea. I have traveled on many long journeys. I have faced danger from rivers and from robbers. I have faced danger from my own people, the Jews, as well as from the Gentiles. I have faced danger in the cities, in the deserts, and on the seas. And I have faced danger from men who claim to be believers but are not. I have worked hard and long, enduring many sleepless nights. I have been hungry and thirsty and have often gone without food. I have shivered in the cold, without enough clothing to keep me warm.”  NLT

Hebrews 11:32-38: “How much more do I need to say? It would take too long to recount the stories of the faith of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel, and all the prophets. By faith these people overthrew kingdoms, ruled with justice, and received what God had promised them. They shut the mouths of lions, quenched the flames of fire, and escaped death by the edge of the sword. Their weakness was turned to strength. They became strong in battle and put whole armies to flight. Women received their loved ones back again from death. But others were tortured, refusing to turn from God in order to be set free. They placed their hope in a better life after the resurrection. Some were jeered at, and their backs were cut open with whips. Others were chained in prisons. Some died by stoning, some were sawed in half, and others were killed with the sword. Some went about wearing skins of sheep and goats, destitute and oppressed and mistreated. They were too good for this world, wandering over deserts and mountains, hiding in caves and holes in the ground.”  NLT

We think bad people should be the ones to suffer and good people shouldn’t. But that’s not the way it works. Many of God’s children in the Bible suffered – greatly!  That includes the Apostle Paul, and that includes Jesus Himself!

Some of you may be suffering right now. If you are, I want you to understand that you aren’t suffering because you are a worse sinner than the rest of us. And some of you are doing great right now, no complaints. That doesn’t mean you are better than the person sitting next to you who is hurting.

Pain and suffering and tragedy comes to us all – when it does, don’t ask “Why me?” The better question to ask is “Why not me?”

Maybe you’ve asked this question yourself, “Why do bad things happen to good people?” Have you ever stopped to wonder, “Why do good things happen to bad people – like me?”

Whatever it is that you are facing, just remember that it’s temporary, it will come to an end!

1 Peter 1:6-7: “So be truly glad. There is wonderful joy ahead, even though you have to endure many trials for a little while. These trials will show that your faith is genuine. It is being tested as fire tests and purifies gold—though your faith is far more precious than mere gold. So when your faith remains strong through many trials, it will bring you much praise and glory and honor on the day when Jesus Christ is revealed to the whole world.” NLT

2.  The Most important question

It has been said that the real pain of suffering is not the actual hurt and pain that we go through – martyrs have proven that physical suffering can be endured.   The real pain is that it seems that God is not listening and seeing what is going on.  So often when tragedies strike or hard times come, we ask, Where is God when we hurt and it won’t stop hurting?

God does not always prevent evil things from happening to us.  Jesus said in Matthew 10:29 – “Are not two sparrows sold for a copper coin? And not one of them falls to the ground apart from your Father’s will.”  NKJV

Though God provides for the sparrows, sometimes bad things happen to them to include being hunted and killed.  Although God watches over every one of us, and protects our souls from evil, this does not mean that our physical lives will be free from pain and suffering and tragedy!

As Christians, we are “more than conquerors” over the trials and tribulations and tragedies that come our way!  We do not just survive our problems – we triumph over them.  We do not merely cope with the challenges of life, but with God’s help we use those challenges to become better people.  Above all, we are more than conquerors because God’s grace enables us to win the battle against great odds.  In the end we will be ushered into His presence and receive a reward far greater than anything we can ever imagine.

The Bible assures Christians that trials and persecution are natural, expected parts of living for God.  But no matter what happens, nothing can take you away from God’s love!

Romans 8:38-39: “And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.” NLT

2 Corinthians 4:16-18: “That is why we never give up. Though our bodies are dying, our spirits are being renewed every day. For our present troubles are small and won’t last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever! So we don’t look at the troubles we can see now; rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen. For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever.” NLT

One day, everything will be fixed and redeemed: Revelation 21:4 – “And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.” NKJV

But for the time being, we have to live in an imperfect world where there are storms, accidents, disease, and evil people.

“Why do good people suffer?” None are good in the first place! Romans 3:10 – “There is none righteous, no not one…” NKJV

“Can bad things happen to good people?”  That only happened once, and He volunteered for it!

Romans 5:8 – “But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners.” NLT

The most important question you’ll ever ask is not “Why do good people suffer?” The most important question is “Am I ready to meet God?” Or “Where will I spend eternity?”

 

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The Via Dolorosa

After His arrest in the middle of the night, Jesus was bound and led away to Annas where He was falsely accused (Matthew 26:47-66).  During the course of this trial He was spit on, blindfolded, beat, struck with the palm of hands, and ordered to prophecy about who struck Him (Matthew 26:67-68; Luke 22:64).  Then Jesus was led to Caiphas where He was falsely accused by the Jews (Matthew 26:57).  A soldier struck Jesus across the face for remaining silent when questioned by Caiphas.

In the early morning, Jesus, battered and bruised, dehydrated, and exhausted from a sleepless night, was taken across Jerusalem to the Praetorium of the Fortress Antonia, the seat of government of the Procurator of Judea, Pontius Pilate, where He was falsely accused (Matthew 27:2). 

Pilate sent Jesus to Herod where He was vehemently accused. Herod’s soldiers mocked Him, treated Him with contempt, arrayed Him in a gorgeous robe and sent Him back to Pilate (Luke 23:5-12).  In response to the cries of the mob, Pilate ordered Barabbus released in Jesus’ place and condemned Jesus to scourging (flogging or whipping) and crucifixion.

Matthew 27:26 – “Then he released Barabbas to them; and when he had scourged Jesus, he delivered Him to be crucified.” NKJV

That brings us to the end of the record of the historic trials of Jesus. Pilate gave his final verdict concerning Jesus; but his judgment had no integrity to it. Under personal and political pressure, he yielded to the will of the Jewish council.

Jesus had already been scourged as was customary before crucifixion. All that remained to be done for the execution was to gather the cross and other necessary equipment and to organize a procession to take the prisoner to the place of execution.

Two other prisoners were crucified with Jesus. A detail of Roman soldiers – four soldiers under the leadership of a centurion could handle several executions as easily as one, so these two men were added to the procession: Luke 23:32 – “There were also two others, criminals, led with Him to be put to death.” NKJV

The parade of prisoners and Roman soldiers wound through the streets of Jerusalem and finally exited one of the gates in the wall of the city, ending at a location not far outside the wall: Hebrews 13:12 – “So also Jesus suffered and died outside the city gates to make his people holy by means of his own blood.” NLT

The spot was known as “the Place of a Skull,” or “Golgotha” in Hebrew or Aramaic (John 19:17). It is also called “Calvary” (Luke 23:33; KJV), from a Latin word (calvaria) which means “skull.”

The journey from the fortress Antonia (where Pilate lived) to Golgotha was about 650 yards and has been called “The Via Dolorosa – Way of Suffering/Sorrows.”  This is the road that Jesus walked when He was carrying His cross.

They say that when a person is dying, His life flashes before His eyes.  I wonder what Jesus was thinking about.  No doubt He was thinking about where He had been (heaven), His life on earth where He had been tempted, why He was being mistreated when the only thing He was guilty of was loving people, which is not a crime nor a sin, and how He was being killed for someone else’s mistakes – which was a huge injustice.

How do you suppose He felt about the lies that were told about Him, the beating that He took, the sarcasm from the people, being mocked by His own creation, the cruel death He would soon suffer, the public shame of it all?

At every step of the way, Satan would have been there at Jesus’ side – tempting Him to quit, reasoning with Him to give up, and seducing Him to surrender, telling Him – “they are not worth dying for.”

At the end of this road (the Place of the Skull or Golgotha) was death.  Jesus was an innocent suffering for the guilty.  What do you suppose was going through His mind as He was nailed to the cross, as He watched the people, as He went through the separation from His Father for us?

In harmony with Roman procedure, the condemned were forced to carry the cross beams on their shoulders to the place of their crucifixion: John 19:16-17: “Then Pilate turned Jesus over to them to be crucified. So they took Jesus away. Carrying the cross by himself, he went to the place called Place of the Skull (in Hebrew, Golgotha).” NLT

Weakened from the scourging and the exhausting night that He had endured, Jesus likely struggled to carry the heavy beam. The Gospel writers did not say that He fell to the ground under the weight of the cross, although that is a reasonable assumption. As the procession made its way along, it became clear to the Roman soldiers who were conducting the execution that help would be needed for Jesus: Luke 23:26-27: “As they led Jesus away, a man named Simon, who was from Cyrene, happened to be coming in from the countryside. The soldiers seized him and put the cross on him and made him carry it behind Jesus. A large crowd trailed behind, including many grief-stricken women.” NLT

The Roman soldiers, when necessary, could order any bystander to assist them with whatever was needed.

A soldier must have pointed at Simon and said, “You, come over here and carry this man’s cross.”

Since this was the time of the Passover, the street was no doubt lined with people from Jerusalem and from faraway places.

Some had participated in the trials by crying out for Jesus to be crucified, while others were merely curious and had gathered to see what was taking place.

At one point along the route to Calvary, Jesus turned and spoke to a group of women who were following along behind Him wailing and lamenting for Him. We do not know much about these women. They may have been professional weepers who took it upon themselves to join the procession, walk along behind Him, and publicly lament for Him. Hearing them, Jesus stopped, turned, and addressed them:

Luke 23:28–31: “But Jesus turned and said to them, “Daughters of Jerusalem, don’t weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children. For the days are coming when they will say, ‘Fortunate indeed are the women who are childless, the wombs that have not borne a child and the breasts that have never nursed.’ People will beg the mountains, ‘Fall on us,’ and plead with the hills, ‘Bury us.’ For if these things are done when the tree is green, what will happen when it is dry?” NLT

Shortly after Jesus made these remarks, the procession arrived at the place of execution. The journey to Calvary was not a long one; it may not have been more than half of a mile. However, for Jesus, who had been scourged and had gone without sleep, food, and drink for 24 hours, each step was torturous, requiring every bit of energy that His body could muster.

Every part of our Lord’s death has significance and meaning for us and teaches us lessons that should never be forgotten. The journey to the cross is no exception. What does it say to us?

Simon, the man forced to carry Jesus’ cross, illustrates the fact that a life-changing event can happen at a most unexpected time! That morning, Simon went into Jerusalem as an unknown man from another country. He saw a procession moving down the street and went over to see what was happening. Then a Roman soldier pointed at him and required him to carry Jesus’ cross. At that moment, Simon moved from obscurity to a place in the Scriptures. Wherever the gospel is preached, he will be mentioned.

The wailing women remind us of an age-old truth – things aren’t always what they appear to be!  Jesus stumbled along as a criminal among criminals, going to a horrible death.

Some who followed the prisoners thought that Jesus was receiving what He deserved. Beyond the ugliness of it all was the truth: Jesus, as the Savior of the world, was making His way to a place where He would offer Himself as the sacrifice for our sins.

All previous time had looked toward this event, and all subsequent time would look back to it. He would endure the cross and despise the shame. Then, following His resurrection, He would sit down at the right hand of the throne of God (Hebrews 12:2).

The presence of the two thieves reminds us that no matter how desperate the situation appears to be, almost every circumstance brings opportunities to offer salvation to a lost soul.

Luke 23:42-43: “Then he said to Jesus, “Lord, remember me when You come into Your kingdom.” “And Jesus said to him, “Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise.” NKJV 

No place, no situation – regardless of how much agony it contains – is void of opportunities to show the light of God’s love. Who would have thought that one of these thieves would be won to Jesus before he died?

Jesus also had to deal with the people who were at the cross while He was on the cross – John 19:23-24:  “Then the soldiers, when they had crucified Jesus, took His garments and made four parts, to each soldier a part, and also the tunic. Now the tunic was without seam, woven from the top in one piece. They said therefore among themselves, “Let us not tear it, but cast lots for it, whose it shall be,” that the Scripture might be fulfilled which says: “They divided My garments among them, and for My clothing they cast lots.”  Therefore the soldiers did these things.” NKJV

This has often been called the one thing of value that Jesus owned.  Having divided the spoils, the soldiers sat down and began to keep watch over Him.

Matthew 27:35-36: “After they had nailed him to the cross, the soldiers gambled for his clothes by throwing dice. Then they sat around and kept guard as he hung there.” NLT

The soldiers were responsible for guarding Jesus, not to protect Him, but to keep friends from removing Him from the cross before He was dead.  Since death on the cross normally took a long time, they would have expected a lengthy wait: Matthew 27:35 – “After they had nailed him to the cross, the soldiers gambled for his clothes by throwing dice.” NLT 

I wonder what that scene must have looked like to Jesus! When Jesus looked at those soldiers He was looking at us too, because we do the same things they did – we also play games at the foot of the cross – we sin and we like it, we judge/won’t forgive/hate/gossip about people – we bicker/fuss/fight – act like babies and throw temper tantrums when we don’t get our way – we lie, cheat, steal – all the while we look around to see if anyone is looking – look up, someone is.  I wonder sometimes if the one who looks down at us wonders if we were worth it.

There was also a crowd standing by, watching: Luke 23:35 – “The crowd watched and the leaders scoffed. “He saved others,” they said, “let him save himself if he is really God’s Messiah, the Chosen One.” NLT

There was also a constant stream of passersby, probably pilgrims on their way into the city for the day’s festivities: Mark 15:27-32: “With Him they also crucified two robbers, one on His right and the other on His left. So the Scripture was fulfilled which says, “And He was numbered with the transgressors.”  And those who passed by blasphemed Him, wagging their heads and saying, “Aha! You who destroy the temple and build it in three days, save Yourself, and come down from the cross!”  Likewise the chief priests also, mocking among themselves with the scribes, said, “He saved others; Himself He cannot save. Let the Christ, the King of Israel, descend now from the cross, that we may see and believe.” Even those who were crucified with Him reviled Him.” NKJV

The soldiers also jumped in: Luke 23:36-37: “The soldiers also mocked Him, coming and offering Him sour wine, and saying, “If You are the King of the Jews, save Yourself.” NKJV 

The two thieves joined in: Matthew 27:44 – “Even the robbers who were crucified with Him reviled Him with the same thing.” NKJV 

Mark 15:32 – “…Even those who were crucified with Him reviled Him.” NKJV

These people did not understand that if Jesus saved Himself and came down from the cross (which He could have done), then we would have all been lost. They did not understand that He stayed on the cross because He was the Son of God dying for the sins of the world.

1 Peter 2:24 – “He personally carried our sins in his body on the cross so that we can be dead to sin and live for what is right. By his wounds you are healed.” NLT

1 Peter 1:18-19: “For you know that God paid a ransom to save you from the empty life you inherited from your ancestors. And the ransom he paid was not mere gold or silver. It was the precious blood of Christ, the sinless, spotless Lamb of God.” NLT

1 Corinthians 15:55-57: “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” For sin is the sting that results in death, and the law gives sin its power. But thank God! He gives us victory over sin and death through our Lord Jesus Christ.” NLT

Closing thoughts

On a human level, the Bible says there were a number of people involved in sentencing Jesus to die on the cross  (Judas – greed; priests – envy; Pilate – fear and cowardice).  However, our sins, disobedience and rebellion sent Jesus to the cross as well.

The death Jesus died was the death that you and I deserved. Our sins, disobedience and rebellion sent Jesus to the cross. We are no less guilty than Judas, the high priest, or Pilate:

Romans 4:25 – “He was handed over to die because of our sins, and he was raised to life to make us right with God.” NLT

Judas had betrayed Him with a kiss; Peter had denied Him three times; all the disciples had left Him and fled.  And in the darkest hour of the history of the world, God the Father struck His own Son with our punishment:

Isaiah 53:4-6: “Yet it was our weaknesses he carried; it was our sorrows that weighed him down. And we thought his troubles were a punishment from God, a punishment for his own sins! But he was pierced for our rebellion, crushed for our sins. He was beaten so we could be whole. He was whipped so we could be healed. All of us, like sheep, have strayed away. We have left God’s paths to follow our own. Yet the Lord laid on him the sins of us all!” NLT

The Romans put Jesus on that cross, the Jews put Jesus on that cross, you put Jesus on that cross, I put Jesus on that cross. Who crucified Jesus – we did!  Judas’ greed was ours; the priest’s envy was ours; Pilate’s fear and cowardice was ours.

Were you there when they crucified my Lord?”

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Following Jesus

Comedian Flip Wilson was once asked what faith he was. He replied, “I’m a Jehovah’s Bystander. They wanted me as a witness, but I didn’t want to get involved!” We all know that feeling, don’t we? The problem is that there is no such thing as an “innocent bystander!”

We have all sinned and made wrong choices, but God is a God of second chances Who wants to save us, so in His great mercy He gives us the opportunity (usually many) to make the right choice!

Joshua 24:15 – “And if it seems evil to you to serve the Lord, choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” NKJV

Adam and Eve, Abraham and Isaac, Moses and Joshua, Shadrach, Meshach, Abednego, Daniel, David, Peter, Paul – all had to make the choice between the gods of this world and the God of heaven – between life and death, heaven or hell, eternal life or eternal damnation – we must make the same choice they did!  Every person must make their own choice:

Peter, Andrew, James, and John had to choose between being “fishermen” or “fishers of men” (Matthew 4:19).

The rich young ruler had to choose between his “great possessions” or “treasures in heaven” (Matthew 19:16-30).

From His first sermon to His last revelation, Jesus places this same choice before us which will determine the eternal destiny of our souls – “Do we believe that Jesus is the Son of God, and if we do, are we going to do as He commands?”

Luke 9:18-20:And it happened, as He was alone praying, that His disciples joined Him, and He asked them, saying, “Who do the crowds say that I am?” So they answered and said, “John the Baptist, but some say Elijah; and others say that one of the old prophets has risen again.” He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered and said, “The Christ of God.” NKJV

Luke 9:23 – “Then He said to them all, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me.” NKJV

Jesus was saying, “Now that you believe in Who I am and where I am going, let me share with you what will be necessary on your part if you continue to follow Me.”

Jesus is confronting each one of us right now with this same choice to believe in Him and to follow Him, or to turn away and be “lost!”

I.  The cost of discipleship

At times, large crowds would follow Jesus. Many were merely going along with Him, attracted by one thing or another – food, miracles, because it was popular, etc. However, Jesus made it crystal clear that if you want to follow Him, there is a price to be paid!

You see, it’s easy for us to say, “Oh, me too; sign me up, Lord; Lord, I want to be where you are; absolutely God, put my name down!” But Jesus says you better check your spiritual wallet because there is a cost in coming where He is.

Luke 9:57-62: “Now it happened as they journeyed on the road, that someone said to Him, “Lord, I will follow You wherever You go.” And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.” Then He said to another, “Follow Me.” But he said, “Lord, let me first go and bury my father.” Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and preach the kingdom of God.” And another also said, “Lord, I will follow You, but let me first go and bid them farewell who are at my house.” But Jesus said to him, “No one, having put his hand to the plow, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.” NKJV

Luke 14:25-33: “Now great multitudes went with Him. And He turned and said to them, “If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple. And whoever does not bear his cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple. For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not sit down first and count the cost, whether he has enough to finish it – lest, after he has laid the foundation, and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish’? Or what king, going to make war against another king, does not sit down first and consider whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? Or else, while the other is still a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks conditions of peace. So likewise, whoever of you does not forsake all that he has cannot be My disciple.” NKJV

Jesus doesn’t want anybody to miss the point.  He says, “Don’t you dare come to Me and say ‘I want to come to you Jesus, but I want to do it on my own terms. And don’t you dare use your family or anything else as an excuse to put off following Me.   And anybody who jumps out and then says ‘Well I think so’ and keeps looking back at what he left behind is not fit so just go ahead and stay where you are!’”

II.  Is Jesus enough

In John 6, Jesus addresses a crowd that has likely grown to more than 5000.  At this point, He has never been more popular. Word has spread about His miraculous healings and His inspirational teaching – thousands have come to cheer him on.

After a full day of teaching, Jesus feeds them. After dinner the crowd decides to camp out for the night so they can be with Jesus the next day. The next morning when they wake up and are hungry again, they look around for Jesus, their meal ticket, but He’s nowhere to be found: John 6:24-25: “…when the people therefore saw that Jesus was not there, nor His disciples, they also got into boats and came to Capernaum, seeking Jesus. And when they found Him on the other side of the sea, they said to Him, “Rabbi, when did You come here?” NKJV

By the time they catch up to Him they are starving. They’ve missed their chance to order breakfast, so now they are ready to find out what’s on the lunch menu.  But Jesus has decided to shut down the “all you can eat” buffet. He’s not handing out any more free samples.

John 6:26 – “Jesus answered them and said, “Most assuredly, I say to you, you seek Me, not because you saw the signs, but because you ate of the loaves and were filled.” NKJV

Jesus knows these people are not really following Him – they just want “free food!”  He knew they didn’t really want Him – they were only interested in what He could do for them or give to them! So Jesus offers Himself, but the question is, “Would that be enough?”

John 6:35 – “And Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life. He who comes to Me shall never hunger, and he who believes in Me shall never thirst.” NKJV

Suddenly Jesus is the only thing on the menu.  The crowd has to decide if Jesus is enough?

John 6:47-69:Most assuredly, I say to you, he who believes in Me has everlasting life. I am the bread of life. Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and are dead. This is the bread which comes down from heaven, that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread which came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread that I shall give is My flesh, which I shall give for the life of the world.” The Jews therefore quarreled among themselves, saying, “How can this Man give us His flesh to eat?” Then Jesus said to them, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For My flesh is food indeed, and My blood is drink indeed. He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him. As the living Father sent Me, and I live because of the Father, so he who feeds on Me will live because of Me. This is the bread which came down from heaven—not as your fathers ate the manna, and are dead. He who eats this bread will live forever.” These things He said in the synagogue as He taught in Capernaum.  Therefore many of His disciples, when they heard this, said, “This is a hard saying; who can understand it?” When Jesus knew in Himself that His disciples complained about this, He said to them, “Does this offend you? What then if you should see the Son of Man ascend where He was before? It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing. The words that I speak to you are spirit, and they are life. But there are some of you who do not believe.” For Jesus knew from the beginning who they were who did not believe, and who would betray Him. And He said, “Therefore I have said to you that no one can come to Me unless it has been granted to him by My Father.” From that time many of His disciples went back and walked with Him no more. Then Jesus said to the twelve, “Do you also want to go away?” But Simon Peter answered Him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. Also we have come to believe and know that You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” NKJV

Many of Jesus’ disciples were shocked, and as a result, quit following Him – they went home!  Jesus didn’t chase after them! He doesn’t send the disciples chasing after them! He doesn’t soften His message to make it more appealing.  He seems okay with the fact that His popularity has plummeted.

It’s clear – “It wasn’t the size of the crowd following Jesus that He cared about – it was their level of commitment.”

Luke 9:24 – “For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will save it.” NKJV

Following Jesus is easy as long as you are talking about blessings in this life and glory in heaven in the next. But one day we must face the “cross!” Luke 14:27 – “And whoever does not bear his cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple.” NKJV

When challenges arise and our faith is tested, will we be true to Him as disciples, even if it means our death, or will we turn back when we realize this is not all grace and glory?

Following Jesus can cost you your life/job/friends/family! Remember Stephen (Acts 7:60), James (Acts 12:2), and Paul (2 Timothy 4:6).

But the idea here is even more fundamental – taking up our cross every day and following Jesus means “dying to ourselves” – the death of the “old man,” the “body of sin” (Romans 6:6), the “carnal mind” (Romans 8:7), the self-centered, sin-shackled, Satan-serving personality which Paul describes as “…wretched…” (Romans 7:24).

Following Jesus requires a radical rejection of our former value system and lifestyle – i.e. “true repentance!”  Augustine modeled this transformation when, after his conversion to Christianity, he walked past a former lover on the street one day.

Shocked at his apparent failure to recognize her, she called to him, “Augustine, it’s me!” He turned and answered, “But it is not me.”

The “old man” was dead: Romans 6:3-7: “Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been united together in the likeness of His death, certainly we also shall be in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin. For he who has died has been freed from sin.” NKJV

For the true disciple, this death is more than an event; it is a way of life! “…I die daily” (1 Corinthians 15:31). That’s true repentance!

III.  Conclusion

One of the most sobering passages of Scripture tells of a day when many who consider themselves to be followers of Jesus will be stunned to find out that He doesn’t even recognize them:

Matthew 7:21-23: “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’” NKJV

They, and maybe you, have never really listened to the unedited version of what Jesus taught about “following Him.”

 

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Be a people builder

In all of our relationships, we should always strive to be a “people builder.”  What does that mean?  When you talk to other people or about other people, don’t say harmful things.  Say what people need, words that will help them become stronger.

Don’t be bitter and angry or mad.  Never shout angrily or say things to hurt others.  Be kind and loving to each other.  Forgive each other as God forgave you in Christ. There are times when we all need someone to come along and give us an encouraging word.  In the same way we should always be looking around us to see who we may inspire with our words. You never know how someone’s entire life can change through a simple – “You can do it. I believe in you.”

For many of us, we would not be where we are today if someone had not cheered us on and believed in us. Their simple encouragement impacted our lives forever.  Remember, you may be the only person someone else hears an encouraging word from, so never fail to give one.  Work to “build people up!”

Ephesians 4:29-32: “Don’t use foul or abusive language. Let everything you say be good and helpful, so that your words will be an encouragement to those who hear them. And do not bring sorrow to God’s Holy Spirit by the way you live. Remember, he has identified you as his own, guaranteeing that you will be saved on the day of redemption. Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of evil behavior. Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you.”  NLT

 

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God wants you back

Who was the first missionary Jesus ever sent?  It had to be someone well trained, right? Maybe a devoted follower, a close disciple, someone with a lot of Bible knowledge?  Let me give you a hint.  To find him don’t go to the list of the apostles, or the 72 disciples Jesus sent out, or even Paul. You may not believe this, but Jesus found him in a cemetery.  He was also a lunatic – a madman turned missionary!

Mark 5:1-5: “Then they came to the other side of the sea, to the country of the Gadarenes. And when He had come out of the boat, immediately there met Him out of the tombs a man with an unclean spirit, who had his dwelling among the tombs; and no one could bind him, not even with chains, because he had often been bound with shackles and chains. And the chains had been pulled apart by him, and the shackles broken in pieces; neither could anyone tame him. And always, night and day, he was in the mountains and in the tombs, crying out and cutting himself with stones.” NKJV

This is the type of man your mom told you to avoid – the fellow the police routinely lock up – the deranged man who stalks neighborhoods and murders families – the face you see on the evening news. Some of them look like and act like they are possessed by demons.

The Jews didn’t know what to do with him.  They restrained him, but he broke the chains.  He ripped off his clothes, lived in caves, cut himself with rocks.  He was like a rabid animal, a real menace to society.  He was absolutely no good to anyone.  No one had a place for him – except Jesus!

In our society the best that modern medicine could offer would be medication and extensive treatment, and with a lot of time, expense, and professional help, he might be able to stop his destructive behavior. But it would take years – with Jesus it only took seconds.

This passage tells us that Jesus and His disciples land near a graveyard and a herd of pigs. Both are ritually and culturally unclean for Jews.  As Jesus steps out, this crazy man storms out of a cavern.  He had wild hair, bloody wrists, scratched skin, his arms were swinging and he was screaming.

The apostles probably took one look and put one foot back into the boat.  They were horrified, but Jesus wasn’t.  Then, for a few minutes, we are provided a rare privilege – we get to see a little bit of the unseen warfare that goes on between God and Satan.

Mark 5:6-9: “When he saw Jesus from afar, he ran and worshiped Him. And he cried out with a loud voice and said, “What have I to do with You, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I implore You by God that You do not torment me.” For He said to him, “Come out of the man, unclean spirit!” Then He asked him, “What is your name?” And he answered, saying, “My name is Legion; for we are many.” NKJV

What does Jesus want – He wants the man back, and the demons get panicky.  They aren’t about to challenge or threaten Jesus – they’ve heard this voice before:

James 2:19 – “You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe – and tremble.” NKJV

Look around us today, what do you see?  At best this is a wicked society choking on its own pride, shot through and through with false religion.  This is a nation that is guilty of what may be the most heinous crime in the history of the world – the legal shedding of innocent blood in a process called abortion.  This is a society that went through a cultural and sexual revolution, which fostered the idea that sexual immorality was not sinful and drug use was cool.  Now sexual immorality and drug abuse problems are destroying families and lives every day, to include many young people growing up in our churches.

This is no longer a Judeao-Christian society, it is not even a post Judeao-Christian society.  It is an anti-Christian society, a dark world full of cold, hungry hearts, who, though they may not be possessed like this man was, are just as trapped in the devil’s lies as he was.  In spite of all that, God wants them back. When God wants something, the demons get panicky.  When God demands them to do something, there is only one thing they can do.  Look at how much control He has over the forces of evil – total.

Mark 5:10 – “Also he begged Him earnestly that He would not send them out of the country.” NKJV

Jesus’ mere appearance humbles the demons. They may have abused this man, but they cower down before God.  They may have scared everyone in the region, but they beg for mercy from Jesus. His very words reduce them to sniveling, groveling weaklings.

The power that Jesus exercised over evil spirits is proof of a power beyond that of a human being. Jesus’ very presence was disturbing to the demons.

In the synagogue at Capernaum, one cried out, saying: Mark 1:24 – “…Let us alone! What have we to do with You, Jesus of Nazareth? Did You come to destroy us? I know who You are – the Holy One of God!” NKJV

Mark 3:11 – “And the unclean spirits, whenever they saw Him, fell down before Him and cried out, saying, “You are the Son of God.” NKJV

Evil spirits recognized in Jesus the One Who would judge and destroy them: Matthew 8:29 – “And suddenly they cried out, saying, “What have we to do with You, Jesus, You Son of God? Have You come here to torment us before the time?” NKJV

Demons would rather be anywhere than in the presence of God, so they ask to be sent into a herd of pigs. Jesus consents and 2000 possessed pigs actually go jump in the lake.

Mark 5:11-13: “Now a large herd of swine was feeding there near the mountains. So all the demons begged Him, saying, “Send us to the swine, that we may enter them.” And at once Jesus gave them permission. Then the unclean spirits went out and entered the swine (there were about two thousand); and the herd ran violently down the steep place into the sea, and drowned in the sea.” NKJV

All this time the disciples had not done anything.  While Jesus fought, they stared.  They don’t know anything else to do.  Can you relate?  Are you watching a world out of control and don’t know where to go or what to do?  If so, then do what the disciples did – when the fighting is fierce, stand back and let the Father fight.  That’s what God wants us to do.  He wants us to focus our eyes on Him.  It doesn’t do any good to focus on the storm or on Satan.  We won’t defeat him.  Only God will.

The disciples can’t destroy Satan – only God can:

1 John 3:8 – “But when people keep on sinning, it shows that they belong to the devil, who has been sinning since the beginning. But the Son of God came to destroy the works of the devil.” NLT

Revelation 20:10 – “The devil, who deceived them, was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone where the beast and the false prophet are. And they will be tormented day and night forever and ever.” NKJV

But if you think the reaction of the demons is bizarre, wait until you see the response of the people:

Mark 5:14-17: “So those who fed the swine fled, and they told it in the city and in the country. And they went out to see what it was that had happened. Then they came to Jesus, and saw the one who had been demon-possessed and had the legion, sitting and clothed and in his right mind. And they were afraid. And those who saw it told them how it happened to him who had been demon-possessed, and about the swine. Then they began to plead with Him to depart from their region.” NKJV

They actually asked Jesus to leave – what would cause people to do something like that?  What would cause people to prefer pigs and a demon-possessed man over the presence of God?

Let’s put it in modern language – what would cause an alcoholic/drug addict to prefer being drunk/high over being sober?  What would cause a church to prefer sleep over revival?  What would cause the Israelite nation to prefer slavery over freedom?  What would cause people to prefer hell over heaven?

The answer – fear of change!  Change is hard work.  It’s easier to follow the same old path than to move out into uncharted territory.

Too often the church is guilty of that – looking forward to the past, of living in the past.  “Do” the old things again, just do them harder!  Back out of the slump.  Don’t go forward, you’ve never been there.  Replay the memory, it’s always better.  “That old-time religion was good enough for our fathers and mothers and it’s good enough for me.”

We forget that the first century church was the way it was because of the presence of God, and that the same God they worshipped wants to be just as much a part of our lives as He was theirs. We sometimes forget what they so readily understood, that the highest calling in life is to know God and Jesus, the Son of God. We do need to change, not our doctrines but our attitudes towards God and each other (Great Commandment).

Matthew 23:23 – “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices – mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law – justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former.” NIV

We must not become guilty of leaving our first love.  We must not be guilty of the same sin the Pharisees were – forgetting the weightier matters of the law. We must make the highest priority in our lives the pursuit of God, to seek His face.

We need to learn to confess our sins like David/Nehemiah with a broken heart, to worship with our eyes on Jesus and not on the clock.  We must not be guilty of following the law of God to the letter but completely missing the Spirit of the law: 2 Corinthians 3:5-7: “Not that we are competent in ourselves to claim anything for ourselves, but our competence comes from God. He has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant—not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.” NIV

You don’t have to live in the first century to have the same attitude the Pharisees had.  There are too many people today who have been practicing the forms of that old time religion so long that they, just like the Pharisees, have no idea what it means to have a deep, abiding, loving, ongoing relationship with God.

These are people who are guilty of honoring God with their lips but their hearts are far from Him, people who are more concerned with what others aren’t doing right than they are their own relationship with God.  Like these people in Mark 5 and the Pharisees, many are so accustomed to what they have always done they are afraid of Jesus…

So the people asked Jesus to leave, and since He never goes where he isn’t invited, He gets back into the boat.  Now watch what happens next.

Mark 5:18-19: “And when He got into the boat, he who had been demon-possessed begged Him that he might be with Him. However, Jesus did not permit him…” NKJV

Strange way to treat a new believer, don’t you think.  Why wouldn’t Jesus take him along?  Simple!   He had greater plans for him: Mark 5:19-20: “However, Jesus did not permit him, but said to him, “Go home to your friends, and tell them what great things the Lord has done for you, and how He has had compassion on you.” And he departed and began to proclaim in Decapolis all that Jesus had done for him; and all marveled.” NKJV

So there we have the commissioning of the first missionary.  One minute he was insane; the next minute he was in Christ.  No training, no teaching.  The only thing he knew was that the Lord was stronger than the devil and apparently that was enough.

But even more surprising than the man who was sent is the fact that anyone was sent.  We probably wouldn’t have sent a missionary to people who had just given us the left foot/hand of fellowship.  But Christ did – He still does.  He still sends the message to unworthy people, and He still uses unworthy people as messengers.  After all, look who’s preaching this sermon – and look who’s listening to it. “God uses people who fail – cause there aren’t any other kind around!”

We’ve all sinned, but understand this.  No one at any point in his life is useless to God.  Not a little child, elderly person, man, woman, prisoner, clumsy, tired, discouraged, etc.  You have value simply because you exist.  You belong to God’s eternal dream, and nothing can separate you from His powerful love.  And no matter what you do, no matter how far you fall, no matter how ugly your sin, God has a relentless, undying, unquenchable love for you, and He wants you back!  His grace is deeper than your sins; He loves you more than He hates your sin.

Ezekiel 18:19-32: “’What?’ you ask. ‘Doesn’t the child pay for the parent’s sins?’ No! For if the child does what is just and right and keeps my decrees, that child will surely live. The person who sins is the one who will die. The child will not be punished for the parent’s sins, and the parent will not be punished for the child’s sins. Righteous people will be rewarded for their own righteous behavior, and wicked people will be punished for their own wickedness. But if wicked people turn away from all their sins and begin to obey my decrees and do what is just and right, they will surely live and not die. All their past sins will be forgotten, and they will live because of the righteous things they have done. “Do you think that I like to see wicked people die? says the Sovereign Lord. Of course not! I want them to turn from their wicked ways and live. However, if righteous people turn from their righteous behavior and start doing sinful things and act like other sinners, should they be allowed to live? No, of course not! All their righteous acts will be forgotten, and they will die for their sins. “Yet you say, ‘The Lord isn’t doing what’s right!’ Listen to me, O people of Israel. Am I the one not doing what’s right, or is it you? When righteous people turn from their righteous behavior and start doing sinful things, they will die for it. Yes, they will die because of their sinful deeds. And if wicked people turn from their wickedness, obey the law, and do what is just and right, they will save their lives. They will live because they thought it over and decided to turn from their sins. Such people will not die. And yet the people of Israel keep saying, ‘The Lord isn’t doing what’s right!’ O people of Israel, it is you who are not doing what’s right, not I. “Therefore, I will judge each of you, O people of Israel, according to your actions, says the Sovereign Lord. Repent, and turn from your sins. Don’t let them destroy you! Put all your rebellion behind you, and find yourselves a new heart and a new spirit. For why should you die, O people of Israel? I don’t want you to die, says the Sovereign Lord. Turn back and live!” NLT

Ezekiel 33:11 – “As surely as I live, says the Sovereign Lord, I take no pleasure in the death of wicked people. I only want them to turn from their wicked ways so they can live. Turn! Turn from your wickedness, O people of Israel! Why should you die?” NLT

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Message From Death Row!

by Ricky Don Blackmon

I hope I may have a moment of your time. I am writing to you from prison, yes prison….I hope to reach out in the way that Paul did while he was in prison….to help you live according to the gospel of Jesus Christ.

First, stop and think what it is that may or may not cause one of us to end up in prison. It is the same thing that can cause us to end up in HELL. What is that? SIN !!!

And one of the sins I want to speak about here today is: “REBELLION”

Rebellion is what most of us don’t think about very much. Like not listening to our parents when they tell us something. Like not listening to God when He tells us something. Like not listening to Governing authorities. And one of the greatest and easiest things that cause this rebellion is your friends. Yes, your friends will try to get you to do something, and if you say “no,” often they will say; “come on, are you scared?” or they’ll call you “chicken.” Then most people will jump right in and do whatever it is, for most people don’t like to be looked at like that by their friends….I know what I am talking about, for all I have said so far, landed me on death row….

Wild women, drugs, and fast living, was the road I took and look where it got me. Don’t think it cannot happen to you, for if you find yourself on any of these roads, you will sooner or later run into a situation that may hurt not only you, but your loved ones as well. And when you say, “Oh, I know what I am doing,” believe me, I said the very same thing, and see where I am.

I obeyed the gospel many years ago and fell away, and now I have come home to the Lord again….When I obeyed the gospel I was told through God’s word what to do, and I fell away….But, PLEASE HEAR ME, clean up your life if you are in the wrong way of life. In the back of your mind you know who you are and the life you live. And if you say to yourself, like I said many times; “I know what I am doing,” the TEXAS DEPARTMENT OF CRIMINAL JUSTICE…has a number for you. Mine is 000893. I am only one of 340…people on death row here in Texas. And if you run with the wrong people YOU could get the death penalty.

For example; say you are riding around with a friend, and you pull into a gas station. Your friend goes in to pay for the gas, and robs and kills the gas station attendant. You are only sitting in the car, but under Texas Law, a District Attorney can get a jury to give YOU a death sentence as well as the guy that did the killing…..Texas will execute people like that as if they were the one who did the crime….

It is my prayer that you will stop and think about your life…for we are all under…God’s law. If we obey the Lord, then we can have eternal life, even if life on earth throws us a curve, like it did me. But I was able to repent of my sins, but I also could have been dead before I had a chance to repent, and I know without a doubt, had I done so I would be bound for Hell. But I did repent, and have the chance to meet you in Heaven come Judgement Day. So please, let’s work for the goal together, OK?

Your brother in Christ Jesus, Ricky Don Blackmon

(After eleven years on death row, brother Blackmon was executed August 4, 1999, in Huntsville, TX.)

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We are forgiven

Ephesians 1:3 – “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ…” NKJV

The greatest spiritual blessing of all is God’s forgiveness:  Ephesians 1:7 – “In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace…” NKJV 

All of us need God’s forgiveness because all of us have sinned, and God is keeping a record of our lives, noting every sin or mistake.  However, when He forgives us, our sins are removed and will never be a part of our record again.  Our sin is no longer counted against us. He does not forgive half of our sins and leave the other half.  He covers them where they do not exist and will never exist again.

Hebrews 8:12 – “And I will forgive their wickedness, and I will never again remember their sins.” NLT

For our own peace of mind, we need forgiveness – for peace with others, we need forgiveness – for peace with God, we need His forgiveness.

  1. The Blessed Man

Psalm 32:1-2: “Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. Blessed is the man to whom the Lord does not impute iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit.” NKJV

“Transgression” is an act of rebellion or disloyalty, “sin” is the act of missing the mark, and “iniquity” is a crooked or wrong act.  These three words overlap to show that the totality of David’s sin had been dealt with by the Lord.

God had forgiven his transgression, covered his sin, and had not imputed his iniquity.  His sins, whether against God or man, intentional or inadvertent, sins of omission or sins of commission, had been taken away.

The word for covered means more than just draping a curtain over sins and hiding them from view.  It means to remove them totally, to completely rub them out.

God’s washing the soul clean from all guilt is one of the most beautiful and meaningful blessings a person can receive. Without this blessing there is none right with God, not one:

Psalm 14:2-3: “The Lord looks down from heaven on the entire human race; he looks to see if anyone is truly wise, if anyone seeks God. But no, all have turned away; all have become corrupt. No one does good, not a single one!” NLT

2. The silent man

Psalm 32:3-4: “When I refused to confess my sin, my body wasted away, and I groaned all day long. Day and night your hand of discipline was heavy on me. My strength evaporated like water in the summer heat.”  NLT

When David tried to hide his sin, he was miserable.  His guilt was hurting him – his conscience was tearing him apart.  He suffered mental and bodily agony day and night – beaten down by his sin! His whole body was wasting away or falling apart from the heavy strain of the load of his guilt.  He was burdened with grief, his vitality/energy dried up like water does in a drought. His body had deteriorated, and his spirit had been immersed in torment and sorrow.

When God’s hand is heavy on a person, He is disciplining“rebuking, chastening, scourging.”

God chastened David – hard: Psalm 6:1-7: “O Lord, don’t rebuke me in your anger or discipline me in your rage. Have compassion on me, Lord, for I am weak. Heal me, Lord, for my bones are in agony. I am sick at heart. How long, O Lord, until you restore me? Return, O Lord, and rescue me. Save me because of your unfailing love. For the dead do not remember you. Who can praise you from the grave? I am worn out from sobbing. All night I flood my bed with weeping, drenching it with my tears. My vision is blurred by grief; my eyes are worn out because of all my enemies.” NLT

Psalm 38:1-8: “O Lord, don’t rebuke me in your anger or discipline me in your rage! Your arrows have struck deep, and your blows are crushing me. Because of your anger, my whole body is sick; my health is broken because of my sins. My guilt overwhelms me—it is a burden too heavy to bear. My wounds fester and stink because of my foolish sins. I am bent over and racked with pain. All day long I walk around filled with grief. A raging fever burns within me, and my health is broken. I am exhausted and completely crushed. My groans come from an anguished heart.”  NLT

Sin has a terrible effect that will spread through your whole personality.  It has a mental effect because the mind is stressed with guilt.  It also has a physical effect; the state of the mind affects the state of the body.  It is as if the body is worn out, exhausted like working in the summer heat.

It also has a social effect – the state of our minds and bodies makes us unfit friends, unwelcome company to others.  The main effect of sin is the destruction it brings to our relationship with God.  Sin separates us from God, erecting a barrier between God and us that only the blood of Jesus can break down.  That’s what David’s sin did to him, and that’s what it will do to you and me!

God used David’s pain to turn his mind toward godly sorrow.  Remorse, a hurting conscience, and the inability to sleep were built-in rebukes from God.  They seemed to point divine fingers at him and say “you have sinned, you need to repent.”

God uses these terrible effects to bring us to repentance.

3.  The confessing man

All of us are sinners.  Deep within, we know that we have sinned.  What can we do with our sin?  We can deny it.  We can tell ourselves that we are not sinners.  But denial never erases the fact of sin; it only complicates its existence.

We can ignore it, look the other way and pretend it didn’t happen, we can act like our sin is unimportant.  We can stay busy, thinking that our sin problem will go away.

We can try and hide it, we can blame it on somebody else, we can try to sweep it under the rug and remove it from our view:

Proverbs 28:13 – “You will never succeed in life if you try to hide your sins. Confess them and give them up, then God will show mercy to you.” GNB

Psalm 66:18 – “If I had not confessed the sin in my heart, the Lord would not have listened.” NLT

Or we can confess it, acknowledge it to God and let Him cover it with His grace, like David did!

Psalm 32:5 – “Finally, I confessed all my sins to you and stopped trying to hide my guilt. I said to myself, “I will confess my rebellion to the Lord.” And you forgave me! All my guilt is gone.” NLT

David finally said “enough is enough” – he made up his mind to confess his sin to God.  He acknowledged his sin – this is the first step we must take – we must admit we have done wrong; we must give up pride in self, and quit trying to hide our sin.

It is a natural consequence of shame that we try to hide the deeds that we know are sinful, but it is a waste of time to try and hide anything from God.

Hebrews 4:13“Nothing in all creation is hidden from God. Everything is naked and exposed before his eyes, and he is the one to whom we are accountable.” NLT

“Confession” is the act of speaking out – we have to make the decision to speak:

2 Samuel 12:13 – “Then David confessed to Nathan, “I have sinned against the Lord.” Nathan replied, “Yes, but the Lord has forgiven you, and you won’t die for this sin.” NLT

1 John 1:9-10: “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.  If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us.” NKJV

David’s example teaches us that if we want God’s forgiveness, we must have a spirit that is free from deceit.  This means being honest, open and sincere with God.  It means we are not trying to hide anything from Him (which we can’t do anyway).

It means we freely acknowledge our wrong to Him. Our confession must be thorough, we can’t leave anything out.  Anything else is not confession!

Joel 2:12-13: That is why the Lord says, “Turn to me now, while there is time. Give me your hearts. Come with fasting, weeping, and mourning. Don’t tear your clothing in your grief, but tear your hearts instead.” Return to the Lord your God, for he is merciful and compassionate, slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love. He is eager to relent and not punish.” NLT

Confession is the only real approach to our sin.  We must decide what we are going to do with our sin.  If we deny it, ignore it, or hide it, we will be miserable.  If we confess it and make it right with God, we will find the peace we are seeking.

God, in keeping with His character, sent David’s horrible guilt away.  His prayer was heard, and God forgave him.  In order for God to forgive us, we need to acknowledge that we need forgiveness from God.  This is a hard decision to make unless we are ready to completely condemn and stop the sinful practice.

4.  While God may be found

Psalm 32:6-7: “Therefore, let all the godly pray to you while there is still time, that they may not drown in the floodwaters of judgment. For you are my hiding place; you protect me from trouble. You surround me with songs of victory.” NLT

Those with genuine hearts can pray to God for the same forgiveness David received.  God is always present for those who sincerely seek after Him (Jeremiah 29:13-14). Those who are right with God can ask Him to be their constant companion and find the shelter they need! But those who seek Him only when they are desperate, only when they can find the time in their busy schedules, those who are not sincere and humble, may find out that God has become unavailable.

God may also be unavailable if we go so deep into sin and are so confused and deceived that we have forgotten how to be acceptable to Him. If we approach God with pride in our hearts with the idea that He owes us something, forget about it.  If we go too long without repentance and confession we might not be able to repent. Hebrews 3:12 – “See to it, brothers, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God.” NIV

If you drag your feet and put it off, the time will come when it will be too late.  Our time for finding God is a restricted time, it will not last forever!

5.  The horse or mule

Psalm 32:8-9: “The Lord says, “I will guide you along the best pathway for your life. I will advise you and watch over you. Do not be like a senseless horse or mule that needs a bit and bridle to keep it under control.” NLT

God is warning us to not be like the stubborn horse or mule.  They don’t understand so they have to be reminded (painfully) by having a bit put in their mouth to force them into the way their master would have them go. We will also experience pain if we stubbornly resist God’s will:

Acts 9:3-5: “As he journeyed he came near Damascus, and suddenly a light shone around him from heaven. Then he fell to the ground, and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?” And he said, “Who are You, Lord?” Then the Lord said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. It is hard for you to kick against the goads (pricks/prods).” NKJV

A “goad” was a long, extremely sharp stick that was used to get an ox going the way you wanted him to when you were plowing.

You would jab the hind legs of the ox with the goad until the ox cooperated.  Essentially, Saul is the ox; Jesus is the farmer; Saul is dumb and stubborn – yet valuable, and potentially extremely useful to the Master’s service.  Jesus is goading Saul into the right direction, and the goading causes Saul pain, but instead of submitting to Jesus, Saul is “kicking against the goad,” which only increases his pain.

We should not have to be poked and prodded and beat and made to follow God.

Psalm 32:10-11: “Many sorrows come to the wicked, but unfailing love surrounds those who trust the Lord. So rejoice in the Lord and be glad, all you who obey him! Shout for joy, all you whose hearts are pure!” NLT

It’s much smarter to be righteous than wicked, because sorrows follow the wicked as morning follows the night.  The two are inseparable.  But God’s lovingkindness, His gracious providential care, will surround the righteous.  If you trust in God, you will know His mercy.

Those who struggle with the thought of forgiveness often find themselves wondering how God can forgive sin over and over again, but He does.

This does not mean our sin is without consequence.  Sin carries a great burden and the end result is never pleasant.  But God does forgive – the righteous have every reason to rejoice because we are forgiven!

Psalm 86:5 – “O Lord, you are so good, so ready to forgive, so full of unfailing love for all who ask for your help.” NLT

When you receive the forgiveness of God, when you forgive others, you must also forgive yourself!  To forgive yourself does not mean that you should forget what you did or said that might have injured another or caused yourself distress.

To forgive yourself doesn’t mean you aren’t responsible for what you did or said. To forgive yourself means you are finally willing to let go of the mistake you’ve been holding over your own head. To not forgive yourself means you continue to hold onto pain and guilt! “When God forgives, He never remembers your sins again – so why should you?”

When David repented, he received a new life, a life recreated by God’s grace.  God received him back and began to shower him with His mercies.  When you think about what is to be gained by repentance, why would anyone try to hide his sins?

Philippians 3:13-14: “No, dear brothers and sisters, I have not achieved it, but I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us.” NLT

6.  Conclusion

Today, we have the same options that David had!  We can tell ourselves that we are not sinners.  We can deny our sin.  We can ignore it, look the other way, we can try and pretend it didn’t happen, we can act like our sin is unimportant.  We can stay busy, thinking that our sin problem will go away.

We can try and hide it, we can try to sweep it under the rug and remove it from our view, we can blame it on somebody else, we can make all sorts of excuses for our sin, but the one thing God will not accept as a response to sin is an excuse! A confession, yes!  But not an excuse!

Friends, don’t be stubborn, open your heart to God with honesty, no deceit, sham or make-believe.  Repent of your sin, turn from the evil of your life.

If you do not forsake your sin, you cannot and will not be forgiven. Acknowledge your sin, confess it before God, see it as God sees it.

Bring it out in the open before Him, and renounce it. Then accept God’s forgiveness.  God will freely forgive, but you must accept His gift.

Today, will you try to cover your sins, or will you allow Jesus to cover them for all time and eternity through His blood?

Psalm 130:1-5: “From the depths of despair, O Lord, I call for your help. Hear my cry, O Lord. Pay attention to my prayer. Lord, if you kept a record of our sins, who, O Lord, could ever survive? But you offer forgiveness, that we might learn to fear you. I am counting on the Lord; yes, I am counting on him. I have put my hope in his word.” NLT

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Willful sin

Hebrews 10:23-31: “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful. And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching. For if we sin willfully after we have received the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a certain fearful expectation of judgment, and fiery indignation which will devour the adversaries. Anyone who has rejected Moses’ law dies without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. Of how much worse punishment, do you suppose, will he be thought worthy who has trampled the Son of God underfoot, counted the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified a common thing, and insulted the Spirit of grace? For we know Him who said, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord. And again, “The Lord will judge His people.” It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” NKJV

The Catholic Church puts sin in two categories: “mortal” and “venial,” with the mortal sins being the more serious of the two types. We generally emphasize that sin is sin – that there are no “big sins” or “little sins,” and that any sin, if not repented of, can condemn our souls.

At the same time, however, we need to recognize the difference between “willful sin” and “inadvertent sin” or “sins of weakness!”

What is “willful sin?” God isn’t talking about mere human weakness when He warns against “willful sinning.” He is talking about the “sin of presumption,” or sinning with a “high hand!” In other words, “deliberate sin!”

According to Hebrews 10, willful sin is committed by one who has received “the knowledge of the truth” (v. 26b).

“Willful sin” is committed by someone who knows what the Bible teaches about sin and its consequences, but chooses to ignore that teaching and sin anyway.

The English word “willful” originally meant “full of will” – that is, full of one’s own will, intent on having one’s own way. Regarding sin, it means to be full of one’s own will rather than the will of God. Instead of saying, “Not My will, but Yours, be done” (Luke 22:42), the willful sinner says, “Not Your will, but mine be done!”

“Willful sin” as described here is not a one-time offense, it is persistent sin! The Greek verb in the opening phrase is in the present tense, indicating that it refers to “continuous action.”

NASB“For if we go on sinning willfully.”

NIV“If we deliberately keep on sinning.”

“Willful sin” isn’t about a specific sin or an act of sin or an act of weakness, it is a state of sinful rebellion against the will of God – “if we go on sinning, if we continue to sin, if we persist in sin.” 

It is “intentional disobedience” to God, the kind of sin called “presumptuous” in the Old Testament:

Numbers 15:30-31: “But those who brazenly (presumptuously) violate the Lord’s will, whether native-born Israelites or foreigners, have blasphemed the Lord, and they must be cut off from the community.  Since they have treated the Lord’s word with contempt and deliberately disobeyed his command, they must be completely cut off and suffer the punishment for their guilt.” NLT

Psalm 19:13 – “Keep your servant from deliberate (presumptuous) sins! Don’t let them control me. Then I will be free of guilt and innocent of great sin.” NLT

“Presumptuous sin” is deliberate sinning, it is willful sinning, it is open rebellion against God; it is the sin of apostasy; it is sin for which no sacrifice is available, it is sin for which there is no forgiveness (unless there is repentance)!

The “sin of presumption” means we deliberately “do what we want” without fear of the consequences! It is a deliberate rejection of the truth, a conscious choice to live in the kingdom of darkness.

When someone forsakes the assembling of the church (falls away), and when someone goes on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth (you know better but you do it anyway), then that person has trampled on the Son of God like He was road kill or something, and he will receive a “worse punishment” than those who died lost under the Law of Moses.

1 John 5:16-17: “If anyone sees his brother sinning a sin which does not lead to death, he will ask, and He will give him life for those who commit sin not leading to death. There is sin leading to death. I do not say that he should pray about that. All unrighteousness is sin, and there is sin not leading to death.” NKJV

“Willful sin” is the “sin leading to death” – it is a lifestyle of deliberate, persistent sinning:

Galatians 5:21 – “…of which I tell you beforehand, just as I also told you in time past, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.” NKJV

What makes a sin “willful” is not what is done, but why it is done. Willful sin is a reflection of a rebellious heart!

Why should we be concerned about sinning willfully? Hebrews 10 gives several dangers of willful sin!

God Is Insulted: Hebrews 10:29 – “Of how much worse punishment, do you suppose, will he be thought worthy who has trampled the Son of God underfoot, counted the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified a common thing, and insulted the Spirit of grace?” NKJV

Christ’s Sacrifice Is Rejected: Hebrews 10:26-27: “For if we sin willfully after we have received the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a certain fearful expectation of judgment, and fiery indignation which will devour the adversaries.” NKJV

Salvation Is Forfeited: Hebrews 10:26-27: “For if we sin willfully after we have received the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a certain fearful expectation of judgment, and fiery indignation which will devour the adversaries.” NKJV

  • Conclusion

Willful sin is spiritually fatal! How does one reach the point of sinning willfully? By not taking sin, any sin, seriously! Inadvertent sin, not dealt with honestly, will produce the kind of heart (hard) that can and will commit willful sin. How does one deal honestly with willful sin? “Repentance!”

True repentance is “a change of mind or attitude about sin that results in a change of life – stop the willful, deliberate, sinning.”

The best word that sums up repentance is “total surrender” – not just in the way we think, but also in the way we live.

Isaiah 1:16-17a: “Wash yourselves and be clean! Get your sins out of my sight. Give up your evil ways. Learn to do good…” NLT

In other words, repentance means to stop doing wrong – start doing right!

To truly repent means that we give our hearts completely to God and get rid of all the filth and evil in our lives.  James 1:21 – “So get rid of all the filth and evil in your lives, and humbly accept the word God has planted in your hearts, for it has the power to save your souls.” NLT

 This literally means to “put off” our old man of sin like “taking off” filthy clothes:

Ephesians 4:22 – “…throw off your old sinful nature and your former way of life, which is corrupted by lust and deception.”  NLT

1 Peter 2:1 – “So get rid of all evil behavior…” NLT

There comes a time when we must humble ourselves under the mighty hand of God and say “this is wrong and I want to stop.”

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