Morning service from Immanuel Baptist Church in Shawnee, OK from June 26th, 2011.
Last week, while in Phoenix for the Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting, my family took a trip to the Grand Canyon. None of us had ever seen this natural wonder and greatly looked forward to our time there. We were not disappointed. We arrived mid-afternoon at the Grand Canyon visitor center and surveyed much of the “build up” in the buildings and the path leading up to Mather Point. As the canyon came in to view, my jaw dropped a little. The view was truly breathtaking and difficult to describe. The changing colors in the canyon based on the sun setting and moving through clouds, the steep drop from the rim, and sheer size of it all made it one of the most spectacular things I have ever seen.
I must confess that it took me about ten minutes of gazing to realize that this was indeed a canyon. At first, it looked like a beautiful mountain scene when one stands at the top of a high peak, such as Pike’s Peak, and looks at the smaller, surrounding mountains. Then I noticed the other rim on the north side. That’s when it hit me- this is in fact a giant hole in the ground! What an amazing manifestation of the handiwork of God.
However, as we began to walk the rim trail and read the signage along the way, I quickly observed that not everyone saw the Grand Canyon as the work of the Creator, but as the random process of billions of years of evolution. I am always amazed (and find it nearly as breathtaking as the canyon itself) at the blind acceptance of evolutionary theory as established fact- especially given the epistemology of those who deny that the natural world is the product of a supernatural Being.
As I strolled along the path enjoying the different views of Grand Canyon, I couldn’t help but have a different perspective about its formation. Nature affirms to all people that God exists. Paul told the Romans that no one can deny the existence of God, because the evidence is seen in the natural order. Rom. 1:19-20- “For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.”
Standing on the rim of the canyon, I was reminded of Maltbie Babcock’s famous hymn “This Is My Father’s World.” The first verse reads:
This is my Father’s world,and to my listening ears
all nature sings, and round me rings
the music of the spheres.
This is my Father’s world:
I rest me in the thought
of rocks and trees, of skies and seas;
his hand the wonders wrought.
I hope that when you observe the grandeur of nature, from something as majestic as the Grand Canyon to something as familiar as the trees in your yard, you will see them not as the product of random chance, but rather the remarkable handiwork of our Creator.
Below are some of our pictures of the Grand Canyon.
Every so often as a pastor I am asked by someone about the eternal destiny of a child who has died. Do they go to heaven? What about the age of accountability? What about a miscarriages or abortion- is that a child who goes to heaven? I am always perplexed when people share with me some of the inane comments they hear from others on this subject. Some tell me they have heard that children who have not been baptized will go to hell. Others have told me that if the child’s parents are not believers then there is no faith to “cover” the child and the child must pay for the sins of the parents resulting in an eternity in hell. Such ridiculous comments stem from skewed interpretation of Scripture or errant church tradition or both. In addition, it is equally troubling to me when I hear people say, “I don’t know,” in response to the death of a child and their eternal state.
Shortly after Sept. 11, 2001, Larry King had a panel on his show to talk about the issues related to the tragedy. King asked John MacArthur, a well-known pastor and author of many books, “What about a two year-old baby crushed at the bottom of the World Trade Center?” MacArthur’s response- “Instant heaven.” King replied, “The baby wasn’t a sinner?” MacArthur again answered, “Instant heaven.” The pastor is right. It is within our sense of decency and fairness that we want to believe all children who die go to heaven. The good news is that we can go beyond our feelings on this issue. The Scripture clearly teaches that all children who die will go to heaven. So, what does the Scripture say?
To begin, the Scripture affirms that life begins at conception. Psalm 139:13-16 states, “For you formed my inward parts; You knitted me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well. My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there were none of them.” The plain sense of this biblical text coupled with the fact that an omniscient, omnipotent God is the personal Creator of all life clearly mandates that life begins at conception. What does this mean for the issue of children and heaven? It means that a human life that is ended because of abortion will be in heaven. The parents who suffer a miscarriage will, if they are followers of Christ, meet their child who they never saw one day in heaven.
In 2 Sam. 12 we read the story of the death of David and Bathsheba’s child. David fasts and mourns while the child is still alive and on the brink of death. He is so distraught, his servants fear he will do something to harm himself. However, when the child dies, David cleans up, worships God, and asks for something to eat. This is strange, as even greater mourning would be expected upon the news of the child’s death. When David is questioned about his behavior, he responds by saying, “While the child was still alive, I fasted and wept, for I said, ‘Who knows whether the Lord will be gracious to me, that the child may live?’ But now he is dead. Why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I shall go to him, but he will not return to me” (1 Sam. 12:22-23). The phrase “I shall go to him” is a telling part of David’s seemingly odd behavior and an important aspect of the issue of a child’s eternity. By saying this, David clearly believes that his child is in heaven. He is in a place of conscious existence and furthermore a place where he will one day be reunited with his son. Some have said David’s expression is a reference to lying in an adjacent grave to his child. But clearly David is not talking about the cemetery- he is talking about heaven. Why does David break his fast and worship after hearing of his son’s death? The grave would not cause that kind of hope. Only heaven would! David breaks his fast because of his confident assurance that his child is in the care of God and that one day he will see him again. The same is true of Abraham when it is said of him in Gen. 25:8 that he breathed his last and was “gathered to his people.” That phrase isn’t talking about the family burial plots. It’s talking about a conscious existence and reunion in the afterlife.
The story of David and Bathsheba’s son dying gives cause to reflect on an errant perspective some have about the death of a child. I have heard it said that, because he was conceived in adultery, David and Bathsheba’s child went to hell. The same is said of children today whose parents are not Christians or have not been baptized. The Scripture they state is usually Exod. 34:6-7, “The Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.” A common misperception of this text is that God holds children guilty for the sins of their parents. However, consider the words of Deut. 24:16, “Fathers shall not be put to death because of their children, nor shall children be put to death because of their fathers. Each one shall be put to death for his own sin.” This text clearly states that each person will be liable for their own sin and will not be held guilty of their parent’s sin. So, do these two texts contradict each other? No. A child will never bear the guilt of their parents (Deut 24), but the children of a sinful generation are powerfully affected and influenced by the consequences of their parent’s sin (Exod 34).
So, the reason a child who dies will go to heaven is because they will not be held liable to sin. They are innocent. Consider the account of Jonah called to preach repentance to the Ninevites. Jonah hated the people and wanted God to destroy all of them. He certainly didn’t want the Ninevites to have the opportunity to be saved. However, God responded to Jonah’s displeasure by saying, “And should not I pity Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also much cattle?” (Jonah 4:11). The people who do not know their right hand from their left are clearly children and those who are mentally disabled. They are incapable of making the choice to repent. It is clear that such are the objects of God’s mercy, not judgment.
The whole issue of innocence in terms of children and God’s judgment brings up what is commonly called “the age of accountability.” At what age does a person know they are a sinner, have offended the perfect standard of God’s righteousness, and thus are liable for judgment? The key thing we need to realize is not the age of a person but the condition of a person. There is no age at which every person suddenly becomes aware of and accountable for their sin. The Bible is silent on there being a set age. The reason for this is that each child has their own unique development in understanding truth. The key is not age, but rather reaching a condition of moral culpability. Any child who dies before reaching this condition will go to heaven. We must also include here those people who are mentally disabled. God will not hold them accountable for what they did not understand.
Finally, we need to consider the regard that Jesus had for children. In Matt. 18:3-5 Jesus says, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me.” Jesus saw in children a tremendous example of dependency, trust, and humility- all characteristics we should embody in our relationship with the Lord. A child was Jesus’ best illustration of a redeemed believer. Someone might say that Jesus is only using the children here as an analogy of how adults can be saved. But remember that analogies only work if they are grounded in truth. If children are not readily accepted into heaven, then Jesus’ analogy is a bad one. Becoming a follower of Christ was in many ways like becoming a child. Certainly Jesus’ regard for and teaching about children fits the biblical pattern of their innocence before God.
Mark 10:14-15- “Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.” I love what the 19th century Presbyterian preacher Charles Hodge said of this verse- “He tells us, ‘Of such is the kingdom of heaven,’ as though heaven was in great measure composed of the souls of redeemed infants.” Scripture clearly affirms that innocent children will be welcomed and embraced by the heavenly Father.
Morning service from Immanuel Baptist Church in Shawnee, OK from June 12th, 2011.
From time to time I am asked about what is commonly known as the “Unpardonable Sin.” Last Sunday night, I preached from Mark 3:20-30 which contains Jesus’ teaching about the Unpardonable Sin. I was surprised at the response afterward. Numerous people thanked me for speaking about the subject. Some had never heard any teaching on the issue and others recounted a great deal of errant sermons and lessons. Therefore, I thought it might be helpful for some if I put a few comments about the Unpardonable Sin on the blog.
The Unpardonable Sin is mentioned in Matt 12 and Mark 3. Mark’s account reads, “Truly, I say to you, all sins will be forgiven the children of man, and whatever blasphemies they utter, but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin” (3:28-29). Jesus clearly indicates that a person can commit a sin that is unforgiveable. But what exactly is this sin?
It may be best to begin with what the Unpardonable Sin is not. I have heard numerous people claim this sin is a variety of possible things: cursing the Holy Spirit, using the Lord’s name in vain, adultery, sexual perversion, murder, and genocide. However, none of these meet the biblical description of the Unpardonable Sin. It seems clear that an accurate definition of the sin based on the biblical text is that it is an ongoing, continual rejection of the witness of the Holy Spirit that Jesus is the Son of God who has come to save the world from its sins.
The Unpardonable Sin is the blatant, ongoing refusal of a person to acknowledge and embrace the identity and saving work of Jesus. Consider the context of the passage in Mark. The scribes accuse Jesus of performing exorcisms under the power of Beelzebul and by the prince of demons (3:22). In essence, the scribes were saying, “This man claims to be the Son of God. In reality, he is the son of the devil.” The scribes had a blatant disregard for Jesus and the gospel. They were calling light darkness and darkness light. According to the scribes, the work of Jesus was actually the work of Satan.
Notice in this passage that Jesus warns them. They are on the brink of crossing a line where their hearts are so hard there is no going back. The scribes have already exhibited an unusual level of hardness of heart in their prior encounter with Jesus in regard to the observance of the Sabbath (3:1-6). This grieves and angers Jesus. Their perpetual attitude of rejecting God’s truth is in peril of becoming a permanent blight.
A key question is: Have people committed this sin? The answer is yes. From the most vile sinner to even “good” people, those who continuously reject the claims of Christ can commit this sin. Kent Hughes recounts the story of pastor Ben Haden visiting a friend in the hospital who was dying. The pastor asked about the friend’s relationship with God. The man replied, “I’ve always believed in God. I know everything with Him is shipshape.” The pastor then asked, “What do you believe about Jesus?” The man replied, “I’ve known God all my life. I’ve tried to observe godly standards, work hard, and be honest.” However, the pastor was persistent. “But what about you and Jesus?” The friend responded, “I’ve never made a place in my life for Jesus. I don’t believe in Jesus. If I did, it would upset the control I have over my life. I would have to rethink everything about me.” The pastor said, “By God’s grace, you have time now. Rethink it!” “No, I will die without Jesus.” “Why do you think Jesus died?” said the pastor. “For sins” was the friend’s response. “Your sins,” said the pastor. “Perhaps, but it’s too late for me to rethink the place of Jesus in my life.” And with those words the man died.
On the other hand, there are people who have rejected Jesus’ claim most of their lives and embraced Jesus toward the end. I have known multiple people of whom this was true. The problem is that we don’t know how long a person has to continually reject Jesus until their attitude of disbelief becomes permanent. Thus, we are never qualified to determine whether or not someone has committed the Unpardonable Sin. Our duty is to extend the love of Christ and share His gospel with all people.
That said, I think we can determine a few characteristics associated with the Unpardonable Sin.
First, as mentioned earlier, the Unpardonable Sin is characterized by the blatant reversal of Gods truth, i.e. calling light darkness and darkness light.
Second, the presence of knowledge is apparent. Notice in the passage in Mark that the scribes, those learned in religious thought, are the ones in danger of committing the Unpardonable Sin. The person completely ignorant of the gospel is not necessarily the one in danger of committing this sin, it is the person in church, the one who has much exposure to the Word, who has searched the depths of theology and still calls it all darkness.
Third, is the absence of any kind of concern. The person in danger of committing this sin could care less about their stance of calling the work of God darkness. In my ministry, I have had a number of people come to me concerned whether or not they have committed the Unpardonable Sin. I always share with them that the very fact they are concerned about possibly grieving the Holy Spirit is most likely evidence they have not committed the sin yet.
There has been much misunderstanding about the Unpardonable Sin. Sadly, it has been used by some to mislead, browbeat, and intimidate people through guilt. We need to rightly understand the words of Jesus about this issue. Our goal is to personally be vigilant to accept the claims of Christ. If He is indeed the Son of God and Lord of all, which He is, then it means He is the Lord of us. We must live our daily lives in light of this revelation. In regard to those we know who have yet to respond to Jesus and His lordship, we must not judge them as “lost causes,” but be hopeful and prayerful in loving them and sharing with them the truth of who Jesus is and what He did to secure salvation for all who will believe.
Evening service from Immanuel Baptist Church in Shawnee, OK from June 5th, 2011.
Morning service from Immanuel Baptist Church in Shawnee, OK from June 5th, 2011.