The Book of Death

When I was midway through crafting last Sunday’s sermon, I became increasingly convinced it had the makings of being a very thought provoking and inspiring one. I knew without a doubt the Lord wanted me to share it with you folks on Sunday and I could hardly wait to do so. However, when I thought about the number of folks I knew for certain wouldn’t be here and folks I had reason to believe may not feel up to attending, and then factored in the predicted treacherous snow storm; there was a real possibility we would have to cancel the service.  Nevertheless, the persistent thoughts that I must preach it and then post it on my web site last Sunday became increasingly intense. So much so, that I shared my concern with some folks I was in touch with and asked them to please make it a matter of prayer. I asked each of them to plead with the Lord, and ask Him to incline and then enable at least two people to show up. He graciously honored their prayer requests, and three of you folks were able to be here. After the service ended, I was pleased to learn that all three of those people benefited from my sermon and I praise God through whom all my blessings flow!

The Lord encouraged me again last week with all the sermon feedback which was posted in my web-site Guest Book by some folks who had read it. I can’t remind you enough how much I welcome and appreciate your feedback on my sermons. After all, if I’m convinced the Lord persuaded me to preach it, which is certainly true of each one of my sermons; it’s very important for me to know whether or not I have communicated His Word to you folks. Whenever I really need feedback for a follow up sermon and I don’t receive any, I turn to an old friend of yours because I know I can always count on Charlie. Now I certainly don’t expect everyone to agree with all my conclusions except for the essential ones such as the truthfulness of the Bible, the Virgin Birth, the divinity of Christ, His death and resurrection and the absolute necessity for human beings to accept Christ’s loving forgiveness for their sins to enjoy eternal happiness by being in His presence and escaping eternal damnation.

After expressing her appreciation for last week’s sermon, one woman closed her Guest Book entry by saying: “Those were the two parts of your sermon that I really enjoyed. I’ll send you an email explaining the two points that gave me some confusion. I won’t say “discomfort” because I usually am able to realize that if I am feeling discomfort in my Christian walk, it is because of a frailty or failure on my part.” True to her promise the woman sent an email which said in part: “First thing I need to clarify is a point that I have long wondered about and never really understood. This sermon caused me to think about it again, so hopefully you can explain it to me. In the first paragraph of page 5, you make mention of “… those who were ordained and become followers of Jesus.” “I am assuming that select group of people are those of us whose names are recorded in the Book of Life. My question is this: Is everyone who has accepted Jesus as Lord and Savior recorded in His awesome “book?” That is what I have always believed, but when we consider the predestination issue, it makes me wonder. There are all kinds of weird scenarios that I ponder, many of which you have addressed in sermons throughout the years, such as people with very sordid “life resumes” that accept Jesus near the end of their lives, or Christians who “fall off the wagon” and revert back to sinful ways. My heart feeling is that accepting Jesus and really having him in our lives and hearts will hopefully guide our actions and help us to be decent examples in the world, thus maybe helping others to see that our way is really “the only way.” Having said that, I know that the ultimate duty for this falls to the Holy Spirit, but I am hoping that our lives can be somewhat of a testament to the lives we are meant to live. Following that same train of thought has given me another niggling idea that was presented to me some years ago by a friend of mine. Here is what she said, essentially… “If it is all predestined, what does it matter??? If you are not in the Book of Life, nothing you do will matter anyway because your fate is already sealed. On the other side of it, if you are in the Book of Life, you can misbehave all you want and still be enjoying the benefits of heaven and closeness with God in the end.

“Now, here is how I answer that to my way of thinking: I am assuming (and hoping) that we are “predestined” or chosen by God according to how we use His powerful gift of free will. God knew, before time began, every second of our lives and how we would act and react. He chose us according to our future choices. Otherwise, it makes no sense at all; a person could accept the Savior and live as godly a life as possible and still be doomed”.

“I may be way off base on this, but that is the closest I can come to reconciling that particular aspect of the Christian faith. You must admit, it is a valid point for questioning, this predestination issue. Of course, I have absolutely no doubt that my name is in the Book of Life. Beyond that, I can have no idea about anyone else, even you, although I do have my opinions about most of you, the other people in my life. That last sentence wasn’t meant to sound pompous or obnoxious, just to make the point that we really can only know about our own relationship with Him. Sometimes I feel so close and connected that I would wish to leave this earth and be with Him, and other times I can feel as far away as Pluto! But when there is a distance between us, I realize that God hasn’t gone anywhere and I am the one who has moved. He patiently waits for me to come back to where I am supposed to be, sometimes by giving me a gentle (or not so gentle) jolt into reality by sad or painful life lessons. I hope you are able to make some sense out of this paragraph; I realize I rambled plenty. Hopefully I made my points in such a way that you could understand them.”

I think we can sum up her quote like this. “I am assuming (and hoping) that we are “predestined” or chosen by God according to how we use His powerful gift of free will. God knew, before time began every second of our lives and how we would act and react. He chose us according to our future choices.” Is the woman’s assumption correct? Before creating the world did God chose those whom He knew, would of their own free will, eventually accept forgiveness offered through Christ and enter the names of those folks in the book of life? What is the bottom line with such an assumption? Well, with this line of reasoning, the sinner becomes saved by their  actions, something he or she does in the course of time. That makes the sinner the author of their own salvation. His or her salvation depends on what he or she decides. If that’s true, then it is the sinner’s choice of Christ and not God’s choice of the sinner which is the ultimate cause of salvation. Salvation becomes the sinner’s gift to God and is not God’s gift to the sinner. Of course, no Bible believing Christian, including the woman who sent that email to me or any of you folks who are here this morning really believe such nonsense and will adamantly insist that salvation is all of grace, that it’s a gift of God, but the opposite is where that that erroneous line of reasoning leads.

I’m of the opinion that folks are sometimes confused because of a mistaken idea of the meaning of predestination. A great example is that of the friend of the woman who sent the email of the somewhat confused Christian woman who posed the following hypothetical question to her a number of years ago. “If it is all predestined, what does it matter??? If you are not in the Book of Life, nothing you do will matter anyway because your fate is already sealed. On the other side of it, if you are in the Book of Life, you can misbehave all you want and still be enjoying the benefits of heaven and closeness with God in the end. Allow me to attempt to answer by asking another hypothetical question using the friends line of reasoning. Although the Bible nowhere mentions one, let’s suppose God had a Book of Death before He created the world. In it are recorded the names of those folks, who of their own free will, God knew would never accept the love of Jesus. Possessing that foreknowledge, God speaks the world into existence. In doing so He has ordained and predestined everything which will happen in the course of time. Everything must therefore happen because God predestined it to occur. If you are in the Book of Death, nothing you do will matter anyway because your fate is already sealed. For instance, if you are in the book of death, you can lead the godliest Christ-like life and still be doomed and spend eternity in Hell because your name is recorded in the book of death. In other words, because your name was recorded in the Book of Death you were ordained and predestined to perish eternally. Using such a line of reasoning, where does the responsibility lay, with God or with man? It has been my prayerful hope that the following will be helpful. Speaking to His disciples about His rapidly approaching departure from this earth, and what triggered the horrible event that made it possible, we read that,

“….the devil had already put it into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, to betray him,” John 13:2 (ESV)

Speaking of the awful injustice which had taken place, the Apostle Peter addressed a group of Jewish men and said,“…Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know— 23 this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. 24 God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it,” Acts 2:22-24 (ESV).

“Peter combines a clear affirmation of God’s sovereignty over the world and human responsibility for evil deeds. Although Jesus was delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, showing that God had both foreknown and foreordained that Jesus would be crucified, that still did not absolve of responsibility those who contributed to his death, for Peter goes on to say, “you crucified and killed him. Though one may not understand fully how God’s sovereign ordination of events can be compatible for evil, both are clearly affirmed here and in many other passages of Scripture (cf. notes on 3:13-16; 3:17; 4:27-28), by the hands of lawless men. Peter also places responsibility on the Gentile officials and soldiers who actually crucified Jesus.” (A)

We read that later, Peter and John, “When they were released, they went to their friends and reported what the chief priests and the elders had said to them. 24 And when they heard it, they lifted their voices together to God and said, “Sovereign Lord, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and everything in them, 25 who through the mouth of our father David, your servant, said by the Holy Spirit, “ ‘Why did the Gentiles rage, and the peoples plot in vain? 26 The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers were gathered together, against the Lord and against his Anointed’— 27 for truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, 28 to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place,” Acts 4:23-28 (ESV)

“In their prayer, reported with approval by Luke, the believers affirm both God’s sovereignty and human responsibility. Whatever includes all of the evil rejection, false accusation, miscarriage of justice, wrongful beatings, mockery, and crucifixion that both Jews and Gentiles poured out against Jesus. These things were predestined by God, yet the human beings who did them were morally “lawless” (see 2:23, 36); they were responsible for their human deeds (see 3:13-15); and they needed to “repent” (see 2:38; 3:19). This prayer reflects both a deep acknowledgment of human responsibility and a deep trust in God’s wisdom in his sovereign direction of the detailed events of history. (B)

At the end of the sermon footnotes you will find the definition of what is known as an ANTIMONY. I encourage you to read it and please let me know if any of you folks are still confused. Now let’s return to the rest of the woman’s quote. “The other point I want to address that gave me some “confusion” was the reference to the feelings of guilt and the burden of the sin and iniquity around us. I feel plenty of guilt about my own life; it seems the older I get the more I realize the mistakes I have made and ways I have disappointed God. There are plenty of times when I really feel unworthy of such love as He has bestowed on me, and the ultimate blessings just overwhelm me. I don’t necessarily feel that such feelings are bad; they help me to feel grounded and thankful in my faith. But I am wondering if I am less of a Christian than I should be because I don’t feel “constant agonizing feelings of guilt” (from page 6 of sermon). I tend to be more of the mindset of “a feeling of intense gratitude for God’s indescribable love for human beings” (from page 1 of sermon). Maybe I should be somewhere between those two sentiments, realizing that the unique combination that He put together to be “me” is exactly what I am supposed to be. Bye for now, God bless you and yours, today and all of your tomorrows. Doris

Here’s my quote from that sermon which seems to be causing Doris some confusion. “I’ve also asked God to use your conscience and cause it to plague every one of you who calls him or herself a Christian with constant agonizing feelings of guilt, until each of us become convinced of the absolute necessity of truly WALKING WITH JESUS! From everything Doris has said about her feelings of guilt and wondering if she is LESS of a Christian for having them, is evidence of the fact that she is MORE of a Christian who struggles to walk with Jesus just as is my son Mike who wrote: “I HAVE THAT GUILTY FEELING! The sermon was great and it just makes me more thankful to be one of God’s chosen. When I think about what God has done and is still doing for me in my life I have a guilty feeling. I don’t deserve anything good in this life. So often I get sidetracked with the things of this world. There are things that I say, think or do that are so displeasing to God. But when I get that guilty feeling I know it is God speaking to me. He is reminding me to stay on course and to stay focused on Him. Although I will never reach perfection on earth, I need to remind myself I must try harder. One of the many things I am thankful for is the fact that I get the Guilty feeling. To be without it would be to not have Jesus in my heart. I love you dad. Mike.” I encourage you to read the Guest Book entry from my friend Ed.

Now here’s the final entry I would like to share today. “Good morning Mike, I read your sermon “Walking With Jesus”……I don’t think I like it. I know what you are saying is true, however, it would be nice to have a nice up lifting, positive sermon. Not everything that has “slime balls”. There is a lot of good in the world too. In one of the statements, “If a Christian were to cast his or her eyes upon the darkness of the night sky and really took the time to mediate upon everything he or she was able to observe and have learned from astronomy and science about our vast universe….and so on.” Why not write something opposite, like, “If a Christian were to cast his or her eyes upon the beauty of God’s creation what a better world this could be”.  I just feel most of the messages have grim and glum. I still love you anyway, Beeb.” I called and thanked Beeb for her excellent feedback and said I hoped to address her legitimate concerns today. However, when I received the feedback from Doris, I thought it would be better for all of us if I addressed hers first.

I going to close now by repeating what I said last week BUT extend the final sentence. Here it is: “I’ve also asked God to use your conscience and cause it to plague every one of you who calls him or herself a Christian with constant agonizing feelings of guilt, until each of us become convinced of the absolute necessity of truly WALKING WITH JESUS and that none of our names are recorded in the Book of Death!

Lord willing, next week ….

(A) The ESV Study Bible, English Standard Version (ESV), Copyright © 2008 by Crossway Books, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers, all rights reserved, pg. 2084.

(B)  Ibid, pg. 2089.

J. I. Packer asks: “What is an ANTIMONY and then quotes The Shorter Oxford Dictionary which defines it as ‘a contradiction between conclusions which seen equally logical, reasonable or necessary.’ Packer adds, “For our purposes, however, this definition is not quite so accurate; the opening words should read ‘an appearance of contradiction’. For the whole point of a antimony-in theology, at any rate-is that it is not a real contradiction, though it looks like one. It is an apparent incompatibility between two apparent truths. An antimony exists when a pair of principles stand side by side, seemingly irreconcilable, yet both undeniable. There are cogent reasons for believing each of them; each rests on clear and solid evidence; but it is a mystery to you how they can be squared with each other. You see that each must be true on their own, but you do not see how they can both be true together. Let me give you an example. Modern physics faces a antimony, in this sense, in its study of light. There is cogent evidence to show that light consists of waves, and equally cogent evidence to show that it consists of particles. It is not apparent how light can be both waves and particles, but the evidence is there, and so neither view can be ruled out in favor of the other. Neither, however, can it be reduced to the other or explained in terms of the other; the two seemingly incompatible positions must be held together, and both must be treated as true. Such a necessity scandalizes our tidy minds, no doubt, but there is no help for it if we are to be loyal to the facts.”

Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God, J. I. Packer. ©1961 by Inter- Varsity Fellowship, England, p. 18-19.

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January 16, 2011 Posted by Categories: Uncategorized 2 comments

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