April 3, 1994
When the apostle Paul spoke of Christ’s death and resurrection, people gathered near—some to laugh, some to believe, and some simply to hear his “strange ideas.” Many today are doing the same. Alistair Begg presents a section of Scripture that addresses skeptical attitudes, as well as the facts about the events celebrated at Easter. God mercifully has provided us with evidence; we need to consider it and believe.
Sermon Transcript: Print
If you would like to follow our Scripture reading this morning, you can find it in Acts chapter 17. And we’re going to read partway through the proclamation which Paul gave to the people gathered in the city of Athens in the Areopagus. And our reading begins at the twenty-fourth verse. Acts 17:24:
“‘The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by hands. And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything, because he himself gives all men life and breath and everything else. From one man he made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live. God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us. ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’ As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’
“‘Therefore since we are God’s offspring, we should not think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone—an image made by man’s design and skill. In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent. For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to all men by raising him from the dead.’
“When they heard about the resurrection of the dead, some of them sneered, but others said, ‘We want to hear you again on this subject.’ At that, Paul left the Council. A few men became followers of Paul and believed. Among them was Dionysius, a member of the Areopagus, also a woman named Damaris, and a number of others.”
Thanks be to God for his Word.
Our God and our gracious Father, we come to these precious minutes when we expect that you will speak to us through your Word. We have not gathered merely to wait upon the voice of a man; there would be no reason for us to be so concerned with that. But we have come to seek you and to ask that as the Scriptures are opened, you will speak to us. To this end we cry out to you in Jesus’ name. Amen.
To declare with confidence that the tomb was empty because Jesus had arisen from the grave, that he then in turn appeared to his followers and to many at one time, and then to suggest that somehow or another, mysteriously, he vanished from the earth is to be met with a mixed kind of reaction. Certainly true today, and it was no less true as Paul made this tremendous statement to the people that had gathered around him in this great metropolis of Athens. Indeed, Luke records for us that as a result of his mentioning the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, people were immediately divided in their response. Some of them began to scoff. He says that they actually “sneered” at him. Others said, “Maybe we’d like to hear from you about this again—perhaps a little later.” And there were a few, Luke records, who began to follow him and actually became believers.
Now, the fact is that while his sermon ended with a sort of divergence of response, it began not exactly in a tremendous fashion. He didn’t really get off to a flying start. And if your Bible is open, you will see this: that having reasoned with the Jews in the synagogue and the God-fearing Greeks, he then engaged people in the marketplace, and he gathered around him this group of combination philosophical-idolaters and idolatrous philosophers, and they began to dispute with him. And some of them asked, “What is this babbler trying to say?” Not exactly what you would call a complimentary introduction to what he was about to suggest. Indeed, the word is a graphic word in Greek. It is descriptive of a bird that was not fed on a daily basis but rather picked up scraps from the gutter. And so the word was descriptive of an individual who had picked up simply little bits and pieces of knowledge, scraps of learning and understanding, and then would be dispersing them as they had opportunity. And that’s what they’re suggesting Paul was doing—that he was somehow or another a guy who had gathered a little bit of this and that, and he took great delight in sharing it with others. Indeed, it went further than that, because the word came to mean also a kind of worthless individual—the kind of person who would roam around picking up cigarette butts and smoking them. Not exactly what you would call the cream of society. And so that’s the way they view him: “What does this bird-brained individual, babbling as he is, have to say to us?”
Now, I want you to know that when I stand up here Sunday by Sunday, I don’t assume that everyone is sitting out there going, “Oh, very interesting! Yes, I just can’t wait to hear what you say.” I don’t assume that for a moment. That would be really unwise. Nor do I assume for a moment your total indifference, because that would equally be unwise. There’s a healthy balance. But I’m sure that regularly, there are a few who are sitting out there, and some probably this morning, who are saying… [Sound of baby crying.] Not exactly that—but who are saying, “What does this babbler have to say?”
Now, they didn’t really grasp what he was on about, because he basically was preaching one message, and it was Jesus and the resurrection. He kept saying, “I want to tell you about Jesus and the resurrection.” The word “resurrection” had no definite article. The word is anástasis. And so the people thought that he was talking about a couple of new divinities. And they got this idea in their minds that he had a thing going about Jesus, and that Jesus had a female consort called Anastasis, and that what he was trying to get across to them was that there were these two divinities about which he had something to say. And that is why Luke records for us that they began to say to one another, “He seems to be advocating [some] foreign gods.” So, first of all, they started to say, “What does the babbler have to say?” Somebody says, “Well, I think he’s got a thing about foreign gods that he’s trying to propound.”
Now, the interesting thing is that they were sufficiently enough intrigued by this individual and by what he’d had to say that they decided they would like to hear more. Indeed, they spent all of their time with “the latest ideas”—not the latest gadgets but “the latest ideas.” That is what wound their clock, rang their bell, floated their boat: sitting around hearing new stuff. And so, since he seemed to have “some strange ideas”: “Perfect! The stranger the better. Bring him in. We’d like to hear them.”
Now, what we’re going to do this morning is not examine the sermon that he preached. He preaches a sermon whereby he makes them itchy, and then he scratches where they’ve become itchy. Now, I would imagine that some of you have gathered this morning, and you’re itchy in a number of places. Some of you have itchy throats, as do I, and that’s why we have this amazing coughing syndrome that is quite incredible. And it’s just the time of year; it just so happens Easter’s early and so on. But you understand. You’re itchy there, and if you could solve that, you would. Some of us are itchy intellectually. We’ve got questions—deep, disturbing doubts about religion and the future—and we don’t really know what to make of it. But if I were simply to try and find out where you all are itchy and try and scratch there, it really would be a dreadful endeavor, because I couldn’t be sure that I was on the right track. However, if in bringing the Scriptures to bear upon our lives, the Scriptures themselves make us itchy, then we will allow the Scriptures to scratch at the point of itch.
Now, if that analogy means anything to you, stick with it. If it doesn’t, then just cast it from your mind. But he scratches them in three particular areas. He scratches them on the issue of evidence, scratches them on the issue of judgment, and scratches them on the issue of repentance. So these three points are where we spend the remainder of our time. If you turn your bulletin open, you will see that they were there. They don’t appear in this order in the text, although I want to take them in this order for the purpose of our study this morning.
Paul, having spoken in this way, applies what he has just said in verse 29 by using the word “therefore” to launch into it. “Therefore,” he says, “in light of all that I’ve been telling you, you shouldn’t think that you created God and you rule him. You need to realize that God created you, and he rules you. He’s not an image made by man’s design and skill. In the past, God overlooked that kind of ignorance, but now he has determined that things will be changed. And at the heart of this all he has provided proof.” You’ll find this at the end of verse 31.
A few months ago now, a friend and I were eating in a restaurant in Michigan, and in the course of conversation, we began to talk with the waitress, who came from Yorkshire in England. We talked with her, first of all, because we recognized her accent. And as we began to engage her in dialogue, she was inquiring about what was going on and why we were there, etc., and the conversation turned around to biblical things and to spiritual things. And the girl was honest enough to say, “You know, Jesus really has no place in my reckoning at all. Basically, I have dispensed with him. I have no interest in Jesus. He’s really not for me.” Not an uncommon statement as you move around from day to day and talk to people. They have a knowledge of Jesus—the fact that he may have existed, that he was perhaps significant, that he may have been a great teacher. He was perhaps a moral force for good. But by and large, they have determined, “He was not for me.”
She was also honest enough to acknowledge that she’d reached that conclusion without ever having considered any evidence. ’Cause when we pressed her gently and a little bit to say, “Well, have you thought of this, or have you thought of that?” it was clear that she hadn’t thought of any of it. She had simply come to the determination that Jesus and the Bible was going to have no place in her sphere of thinking, in her points of reference, and she had never given a thought to the evidence—never given a thought to the possibility that the resurrection, or Christ’s death and resurrection, were the pivotal events of human history and that that needed to be settled in the mind of a thoughtful individual if we were going to make sense of the world in which we lived at all.
Now, I mention this girl because she’s not alone. She really is representative of so many—many who have rejected the claims of Jesus Christ without ever a consideration of the evidence. Now, it’s hardly surprising, because so much that purports to be evidence is nothing better than nonsense. And always at this time of year—indeed, I predicted it last Sunday, and the prophecy came true within days. I mentioned that we should be prepared for the fact that the magazines and newspapers would be replete with statements that would call in question the veracity of the Bible and the possibility of the resurrection. And I hope you weren’t disappointed.
And those of you who took Newsweek magazine will have seen the story there on the resurrection. I’m not going to go through it all, although it makes very interesting reading. One of the pieces that is highlighted concerns a group of seventy-seven New Testament scholars who get together on a regular basis to sit down and decide which parts of the Bible they don’t believe in. It seems like an interesting exercise. And they come up with this portrait of Jesus that none of us have ever met in a Sunday school class at all. For example, and I quote,
These experts believe that the Biblical Jesus was a myth created by church-building Christians decades after the Crucifixion. The real Jesus, [they] say, was no more the child of God than anyone else. He was a Jewish peasant—possibly not the firstborn in his family and probably illiterate. He was a spellbinding itinerant preacher, a social revolutionary who presented a peaceful but brazen challenge to both the Roman rule and the Jewish elite.
… The authorities executed him, almost casually, after he caused a disturbance in Jerusalem during [the] Passover. Jesus [they say] lived on in the hearts of followers old and new, but he did not physically rise from the dead. Taken down from the cross, his body was probably buried in a shallow grave—and may have been eaten by dogs.
These are professors of theology from universities all across America.
They also have an interesting little exercise that I thought helpful to share with you whereby they sit around and read the New Testament and try and decide which words Jesus really said and which words he didn’t. (How, you may ask, would they arrive at these conclusions? Check with them.) And they use a little scheme whereby they give beads out to one another, and it goes like this: They throw a red bead in the pot—the seventy-seven of them put the red bead in the pot—“if the scholar thinks ‘Jesus undoubtedly said this or something very like it.’” Pink goes in the pail if a statement is “close to what Jesus probably said. Gray is for something he didn’t say, though [his] ideas were close to [this], while black is for something he neither said nor thought.” You beginning to wonder who these people are? “Last December, the group published a new version of the Gospels, with Jesus’ sayings … colored [in] type—little of” the type, as you would imagine, “being in red.” For example, “in the Lord’s Prayer, the only words Jesus said for sure were ‘Our Father.’”
So, here you have people on the streets of Cleveland. Easter comes around. Newsweek magazine in the airport and in the mall stands to attention with a picture of a bloodied Christ. “Let’s read this,” they say. “Oh, so this is what these people really believe about the resurrection!”—namely, they believe nothing. “Oh,” says the individual, “that’s a relief, because that’s what I believe too: nothing! And since I wasn’t planning on going on Sunday, I’ll just phone the person who invited me and let them know there’s really no point, because after all, Jesus only lives in your hearts; he doesn’t physically live, he’s not alive from the dead, the resurrection is a mythology, Christ is dead and buried, the Bible is full of nonsense, and basically, you poor souls are involved in the greatest con trick that the world has ever seen.”
But none of that for the apostle Paul. “No,” says Paul, “he has given proof. He has given evidence.” And when a lawyer talks evidence, you should listen, for they deal with evidence, and they deal with proof. And Paul, you will remember, was Saul of Tarsus, who had no interest in a risen Christ save to damp out the mythology of it all in his day—no interest in this Jesus of Nazareth except to make sure that his followers were vanquished once and for all. And yet, as he later in his life tells Agrippa when he’s before him and able to offer up an explanation of the change in his life, he tells Agrippa, he says, “You know, it was going like that. That was the way my life was going until one day on the Damascus Road. At noon, O king, as I was on the road, I saw a light from heaven brighter than the sun blazing around me and my companions, and we all fell to the ground. And I heard a voice saying to me in Aramaic, ‘Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads.’ And I asked the question, ‘Who are you, Lord?’ And he said, ‘I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.’”
And you see, that was the only explanation that he was held in captivity under the king Agrippa. That was the only reason that he was brought before Festus. That was the only reason that he got a hammering everywhere he went. That was the only reason that he’d been beaten with rods and shipwrecked and in prison. That was why he was going to end his life in Rome in imprisonment and he was finally going to have his head chopped off: because he knew with a certainty that Jesus was alive. He had met him, he had been changed by him, and his life was now given to proclaiming him. Whenever you meet an individual who has had such an encounter, then you meet with someone to whom you ought to listen.
Indeed, in that same statement made before Agrippa, Paul asks the rhetorical question, “Why does it seem incredible … that God should raise the dead?” That’s where I started my study. That was going to be the title of the sermon, then I thought it was too long. But ask yourself the question: “Why does it seem incredible … that God should raise the dead?”
Now, I can tell you why it seems incredible to people, and perhaps to you: because many people have started from the position—and they regard this as scientific—that nothing can happen which our present knowledge of the world can’t explain. Okay? “There is nothing that can happen outwith the parameters of natural law. I know everything that can happen, and this cannot happen, since it is not happening in this box.” So they start with the argument “Resurrection of a dead man is impossible, ’cause it’s outside the box; therefore, it did not happen.” That’s what those of you who go to college and university know as an a priori argument. It starts with a presupposition and reads everything back: “Resurrection is impossible; therefore, Jesus is dead.” It’s tidy, it’s neat, it’s conclusive, and it is challenged radically by the proof provided in the pages of the New Testament. For such an individual is left with the unscientific course of rejecting the conclusion to which the evidence so clearly points, and they are then “without hope … in the world.”
Those of you who have observed the films recently The Remains of the Day or Shadowlands, in which Sir Anthony Hopkins portrays C. S. Lewis, will have been intrigued by the immensity of his acting ability. In February’s Premiere magazine, he gave an interview, and in the course of the interview, being asked about the various roles that he’s played and being asked about the nature of life, Hopkins said, “I love life, because what more is there? Nothing lasts, really. There’s going to be darkness, and it’s all over.” Who says? You see, that is a faith statement. That is a faith statement. The individual who makes that statement is placing their faith and trust in the notion that they know everything within their box and that anything outside of their box is impossible, therefore cannot or did not happen. So it is not that the Christian lives in the realm of faith, and the non-Christian or the unbeliever lives in the realm of scientific rationalism. Both live in the realm of faith. It is a faith statement by Hopkins to say, “At the end, there is darkness and nothing more.” You want to put your faith in that? Go ahead. I’m suggesting to you this morning that there is far more ground, far more validity, far more substantiated evidence for placing our faith in what Paul here proclaims as living proof that Jesus is alive from the dead.
When the detective comes on the scene of the crime, he always asks of the people who are always there before him… I guess they’re there before him so that he can ask the question. Otherwise, he’d have to talk to himself. But he always comes on the scene, and he goes, “So, whatta we got?” Something like that. Don’t they say that, you know? “So whatta we got?” It’s a good question: What have we got? And then the people who’ve done the preliminary search say, “Well, we’ve got this, and we’ve got that, and we spoke with this person and with that person.” So you come on the scene of the resurrection and ask yourself the question: What have we got? Now, I don’t have time to go through it all this morning, but let me tell you this: we’ve got two key evidential pieces.
Number one, we have an empty tomb. We have an empty tomb. That is not in question. Nobody questions that—neither Jewish scholars nor any scholars. Whatever the explanation people give, whether it is orthodox or liberal or crazy, they’re all trying to describe a fact, the fact being that the tomb was empty. Was the tale of the empty tomb a carefully crafted tale? In other words, are these people right? Did the people thirty years after the death of Jesus sit down and say, “You know, why don’t we think up a deal, and we’ll have a resurrected Jesus? Don’t you think that would be good?” You know, this is thirty or forty years after it’s gone by. That’s what they’re asking us to believe. They’re asking us to believe, then, that they all sat down, and they crafted this story that Jesus was risen from the dead—although he never rose from the dead; they know that, you see. So they sit down; they say, “Well, what do you think we ought to do?” They say, “Well, let’s have somebody coming from the tomb, saying, ‘Hey, Jesus is alive! He’s not in the tomb.’” “Great idea.”
So who do they have coming from the tomb in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John? Who comes from the tomb? Ladies come from the tomb. That’s not a smart move if you’re making it up. And I’ll tell you why: because in Jewish law, the testimony of a woman was inadmissible as evidence. Therefore, if you were making up a story about the resurrection, you’d have to be dafter than a brush to begin with the notion that four women brought the news of the resurrection! You’re not going to make that kind of crazy mistake. If you’re making it up, you’re going to start with men, because they won’t listen to the testimony of a woman to begin with.
If the body was still in the tomb, why did they invent a story saying the disciples stole it? Why do you have to invent a story saying the disciples stole the body if the body’s in the tomb? Clearly, the body wasn’t in the tomb. It’s hard to imagine that the disciples, who had just hours before run away to save their lives, were now preaching the resurrection on the basis of the beaten, bloodied body of Jesus which they had dragged somewhere behind a hedge and hidden it. Now, you’ve got to credit these men with a little more than this. You’ve got to credit their fear as being more realistic than this. I mean, they were scared! They weren’t hanging around. Leave it to the ladies to hang around; those guys were history! Zonk! Gone! Vamoosed! Vanished! Behind closed doors. Now they’re out; they hit the streets: “Jesus is alive! (Nah. No, really we’ve got him hidden behind a hedge, but…) Jesus is alive!” I love John [Blanchard]’s statement. He said, “You know, men may be prepared to die for a conviction. They’re not going to die for a concoction.”
So, you’ve got point one: you’ve got the empty tomb. And secondly, you’ve got his appearances. Can’t spend long on this either. But Acts chapter 1, 1 Corinthians 15, chronicles for us the occasions when Jesus appeared after his resurrection. He appeared to them, giving “many convincing proofs that he was alive”—Acts 1:3. “He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God. On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this command.” This wasn’t some kind of extraterrestrial, floating nonsense. This was real. This was looking in the eyes. This was touching, handling, tasting, eating, walking, caring, answering, making-breakfast, hanging-out, doing-stuff-together kind of encounters. This wasn’t weeping statues, you know: “Oh, well, the statue was weeping, you know. Oh, I think Jesus was here.” That’s the way people want to describe it for us. “Oh, these crazy Christians! They’ve got this idea that Jesus, he came back or something. He was…” No, that’s not what’s being said. First of all, this is a doctor who wrote this—Dr. Luke—usually with an ideal for detail, usually with a scientific mind. And he says, “Listen, he appeared!” Now, if he hadn’t appeared, people could have stood up and said, “Don’t write that stuff down. You know that’s a bunch of rubbish.” He stated it unchallenged.
Now, the skeptic—and maybe some this morning. I hope there are some skeptics here this morning. You might as well be here as somewhere else. But the skeptic says, “Well, okay, there’s an empty tomb, and there’s a bunch people claiming they saw him. I think they all hallucinated. I think they all kind of were smoking something or doing something simultaneously, that they all saw this event.” That won’t wash. The idea of hallucination demands far more than credibility can sustain in terms of the actual event. But beyond that, the fatal flaw in that idea is that a bodily resurrection, far from being top of the list of these people, was even the last thing on their minds.
Now, if you doubt that, you’ll need to go back and read the evidence. For example, when the women bring the report of the empty tomb, the disciples—remember, these big, tough guys; you know, the real ones, following Jesus, believing everything—the disciples, in Luke chapter 24, tell the women, essentially, “You’re off your rocker.” Luke 24:11: “They did not believe the women, because their words seemed to them like nonsense.” So in other words, they weren’t preprogrammed to expect a resurrection. Indeed, when the people came and said, “You know what? We figure there’s been a resurrection,” the people said, “No, you’ve got to be absolutely wrong.” So they’re not perfect for hallucinations. Nor was Thomas, little skeptic that he was: “Hey, Thomas, guess what happened? You went out; Jesus came!” Thomas goes, “Get out of here. He didn’t come.” They said, “Yeah, he came.” He said, “I’ll tell you straight up: unless I can put my fingers in the holes in his hands and put my hand in his side, I flat-out refuse to believe that Jesus showed up.” So the idea that the disciples were all sitting around waiting to have some kind of hallucinatory trip in order to invent the resurrection simply doesn’t work.
Let me put it to you this morning: the only possible plausible explanation is that the facts of the New Testament documents are true and that the reason men and women do not want to believe the facts, as we’re about to see, is because to accept the fact of a risen Christ means I need to deal with him—means that he may deal with me. Therefore, deciding that I would rather not have that encounter, I would rather far more believe anything which helps me to the conclusion that Christ is dead and gone and that what is happening at best is that he’s living on in the hearts or, if you like, in the minds of his followers.
R. T. France, the New Testament scholar from Oxford, in England, says, “It is not that the evidence is inadequate: it could hardly be better. It is simply that for some people no evidence could ever be enough to justify the radical rethink of their whole world-view which Jesus demands.” That’s it. That’s it. Be honest, Mr. Agnostic, and admit it. Be honest and admit it. That’s it! It is not inadequate evidence; it is unpalatable evidence. It is evidence that challenges my whole view of the world. It is evidence which challenges my business dealings. It is evidence which challenges my ambitions. It is evidence which challenges my relationships. It is going to make me completely rethink my world, and I am unprepared to rethink my world. And Paul says to them, “He has established proof.”
Now, I’ve taken far longer on that than I will on the other two, and deliberately so.
The proof he has given; then notice the day he has set. Verse 31: “He has set a day when he will judge the world with justice.”
We ought not to be surprised by this. The necessity of judgment and accountability is written into the framework of life. Every schoolboy and schoolgirl that ever takes a test knows that. Every examination that we undergo understands that. Every time that a musician sits for a chair in an orchestra, they understand that they sit under some form of scrutiny and judgment. Every time you roll a putt towards that tiny, ever-diminishing hole in the middle of the green, you understand accountability. Every time a basketball is launched towards that hoop, there is accountability. It’s either in or it’s not in, but it’s not half in. It’s either sunk or it’s on the green; it’s not half-sunk. And that is exactly what Paul says is going to happen here: just in the same way as we take our final examinations in high school, so there is an examination day which God has set.
Why is it so strange that a created being should have to give an account of his life to his Creator? It’s not very difficult to understand at all. If God made the heaven and the earth, and he made you and me, he’s got a right to pull us up one day and say, “Hey, guy, how’s it going? I want to talk to you about a few things. I made you; I made the world. I made enough evidence in my world for you to know that I exist. I made the Continental Divide so the rivers flow the right way into the oceans. I established everything perfectly. There is a cohesion and an order to it all. I allowed you to take a tiny child and hold it in your hands and marvel at the immensity of my creation. There is enough there for me to make myself plain to you as a moral being, but you turned your back on me. And then I sent my Son to you, and I sent my prophets to you, and I sent my preachers to you. And I had them tell you, ‘Listen, Jesus is the answer to life. Jesus is the provision for sin. Jesus is the way of the future.’ And you turned your back on them. Now sit here for a moment, because I want to go over your report card with you.”
And when I got an F on math, I got an F on math. The teacher gave me it, but I got it. Oh, how successfully did I get it! It was all my contribution, there in black and white for all to see: flunked. Now, when she wrote, “Out of it,” I can’t blame her. She simply acknowledged what I did. And if one day I stand before God and he says, “I gave you the opportunity Easter Sunday morning to understand the truth of the Bible and commit your life to my Son, and you walked out the door, and you said, ‘You can keep it; you can have it; I don’t want my life rearranged,’” then on that day you will have nothing to say, I will have nothing to say. I will be struck dumb in his presence.
And that day is definite. God has set the day. It’s not an if, a but, or a maybe. It’s absolutely certain. He has set the day. He has not disclosed when the day is, but he has named the Judge, and the Judge will be Jesus. It is a definite day. It is a universal day; it will cover the whole world. There will be nobody missing from this examination. It is a fair day, for “he will judge the world,” we’re told, “with justice.” There will be no possibility of a miscarriage of justice when Jesus Christ presides at the bench. The nature of God’s judgment will be to underline the decision we have made about him. It is a definite day, it is a universal day, it is a fair day, and it is a final day. “It is appointed unto [man] once to die, [and] after this [comes] judgment,” and there are no resets; there are no retakes; there are no postponements. Now, how could anybody say this with such conviction? That’s what Paul says! He has given us proof of the fact that there is a day. He wants us to face this day.
I spoke at the end of the first service with a lady who was formerly a member of our congregation. She moved away to Indiana. She came back this weekend. It could have been such a joyful occasion, but she came back in the dreadful sadness of having had her daughter-in-law pass away in her sleep two nights ago, age thirty-seven. And for those of us who sit here having had our recent examination at the doctor, and all our tests are fine, and our bank balance is fine, and our job is fine, and our kids are fine, and everything’s fine, listen! Dear friend, listen clearly: in a moment, you or I may be in eternity. In a millisecond, in the time that it takes to hit a ball with a 3-wood, gone! Eternity! And as we go flying into eternity, we’re going to remember, “That guy said there was a day.”
Finally, because he has given proof, and because he has set a day, he has issued a command. A command, would you. Not a suggestion. A veritable command. After all, he is Lord and King. Kings are able to make commands. And his command is that men and women should repent. Should repent.
That means to do an about-turn. “Why would I do an about turn?” Because the Bible says you’re going the wrong direction. Because the Bible says there’s a broad way that has “Heaven” at the end of it that’s full of people, but it’s going to hell actually. And there’s a narrow road that leads to life, and there’s only a few people go on it. And unless we repent, we continue on the wrong road.
“Well,” you say, “I don’t think I’ve anything to repent of. I really haven’t done very much wrong. I’m a fairly good chap, and, you know, there’s… You know, I’ve done a few things, but, you know, not much—you know, maybe one sin a week or something.” Well, that’s fifty-two. I mean, how many sins do you think you have to commit to go to hell? And how old are you, forty? What’s forty times fifty-two? You know I don’t know the answer to that question. What’s that, 2,080? So that’s 2,080 sins—you know, one a week at the age of forty. Well, let’s try one a day. Now we’re moving into calculator realm. You’ve got the picture.
You say, “But you know what? I haven’t been as bad as somebody else. I mean, really and truly, I’m halfway up the mountainside. You could say that when it comes to goodness, man, I’m on Mount Everest—not like some of the people in my office. I mean, some of the people in my office, they’re the bottom of the Grand Canyon compared to me.” So that makes you feel good? “Yeah.” But guess what the standard is: you have to be able to touch the stars. Can you touch the stars from the top of Mount Everest? No. You’re not a skip closer than the guy who’s at the bottom of the Grand Canyon. See, what the Bible says is that “all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.” And as unpalatable a message as it is for a well-heeled, starch-cuffed, clean-fingernailed congregation on the East Side of Cleveland this morning, the prostitute on skid row last night in Cleveland is in no more of a predicament than you are today as long as you remain in your unbelief. Takes the same grace to save us.
See, ’cause we missed the mark. God gave us a dartboard, and he gave us darts. We started throwing the darts; we couldn’t even hit the board, never mind the bullseye. We’re dropping them on the floor. We’re going down to the archery center near our youth center, and we’re firing up the arrows, and they’re going all over the place. They don’t hit the board. That’s what sin is. God has established a standard; we try for it; we miss it. So Jesus is saying, “You got to repent.”
Well, let me wrap it up by saying this: repentance means being more than simply sorry for sin. Because you can be sorry for sin for a number of reasons—sometimes because your pride is offended, or just simply because you were found out, out of a sense of self-pity. To repent—and this is the command that is issued. Ask yourself, “Have I ever done this?” To repent is to get alone with God and say, “Number one, I’ve broken your laws. Number two, I’ve actually rebelled against you. Number three, it’s clear to me that I’ve hurt you and I’ve displeased you. I never fully understood that, but I understand it today, and I want you to know, Lord Jesus, that I am willing to turn my back on all of that and to turn and trust in you.”
Now, you need to understand that Jesus is not interested in compromise. He’s not interested in one hand on Jesus and one hand on sin. It’s both hands on Jesus. Jesus is not like the kind of dentist—you go to the dentist, and you’ve got a sore tooth, and you’re squealing about it, so he deals with the sore tooth; he also notices in your mouth that there are four other teeth that are really bad, but he just lets them go, because all you wanted was fixed up for the one little problem. No decent dentist will do that. No enterprising dentist will do that. No dentist will do that, because it would be compromise! “You’ve got a bigger problem here, sir, than you realize. I cannot simply take care of this. I must take care of all of this.” And some people have tried to come to Jesus Christ on the basis of this. “I’d like Jesus to take care of this for me. I’d like Jesus to be an insurance policy for me. I’d like to know that I’m going to heaven. But I still want to live with my girlfriend. I still want to cheat. I still want to do my thing. I still want to do that. But I just want to have him over here.” No chance, no way, nohow!
To trust in Jesus Christ means to admit that he is the Savior of the sin that I admitted and that he is to be Lord and Master over all that I do, every part of my life coming under his control—all my plans, all my ambitions, all my hopes, all by business life, social life, my study, my sport, my home, my family, my boyfriend, my girlfriend, my husband, my wife. You may trust him as Lord of all these things because he knows what is best. He cares about your well-being more than anyone ever could. He is the one who died for your sin and was raised so that we may face that day not in terror of judgment but anticipation of hearing him say, “Well done, good and faithful servant!”
You got it? The proof he has given, which underpins the day he has set, which provides the basis for the command he has issued.
Let’s bow in prayer.
It may be this morning that as a result of a whole bunch of links and chains, you would like to find a way to simply cry out to God from where you’re seated. You’re not sure just how to form your thoughts or your words. And so I want to pray a prayer, and if you would like to make it yours, please do. You don’t need to pray this prayer out loud. You can make it your own just as you are seated there, and just pray it in your heart:
“Lord Jesus Christ, I know that I’m a sinner and I need your forgiveness. Thank you for dying on the cross for me to take away my sin. I’m willing to turn from all that is wrong in my life. I’m willing for you to be first in my life. Now I come to you and give my life to you, my Lord and Savior. Please give your life to me by your Spirit, and come to live with me forever. Thank you, Lord Jesus. Amen.”
 Acts 17:18 (NIV 1984).
 Acts 17:18 (NIV 1984).
 Acts 17:20 (NIV 1984).
 Russel Watson, “A Lesser Child of God,” Newsweek, April 3, 1994, https://www.newsweek.com/lesser-child-god-186848.
 Acts 26:9–15 (paraphrased).
 Acts 26:8 (Phillips).
 Ephesians 2:12 (NIV 1984).
 Anthony Hopkins, quoted in Elizabeth Kaye, “Anthony Hopkins: For Your Approval,” Premiere, February 1994, 79.
 See 1 Corinthians 15:5–8.
 John 20:24–25 (paraphrased).
 R. T. France, The Man They Crucified: A Portrait of Jesus (London: Inter-Varsity, 1975), 170.
 Hebrews 9:27 (KJV).
 See Matthew 7:13–14.
 Romans 3:23 (KJV).
 Matthew 25:21, 23 (NIV 1984).
Copyright © 2023, Alistair Begg. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations for sermons preached on or after November 6, 2011 are taken from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
For sermons preached before November 6, 2011, unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® (NIV®), copyright © 1973 1978 1984 by Biblica, Inc.TM Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.