Monday, August 27, 2007


Recently I was reading an article by J. C. Ryle (1816-1900). It was called "Simplicity in Preaching". I have considered having the entire article reprinted in tract form, because it is one perhaps every preacher should read. It seems that in our day too many have gotten away from preaching the plain, simple gospel of Christ. Instead, preachers are endeavoring to change and reform society. Even if society could be reformed men would still be unregenerate, and there would still be problems. Changing society will only be done as Christ first changes individual hearts. Man was given dominion over the fowl of the air, the fish of the sea and all the earth originally. (See Gen 1:26-28; 9:1-2) Now after the fall, man, and the earth itself, is under the curse, so man’s dominion is limited. The earth can never be restored byman’s dominion, even by Christian man, but only by Christ the last Adam

(I Cor 15:45); the second Man (I Cor 15:47). Christ’s dominion is an everlasting dominion, and is over all, including man (Dan 4:34, 35). In other words man is only a steward under God. Christ will restore all things at His second coming. “And he shall send Jesus Christ, which before was preached unto you: Whom the heaven must receive until the times of restitution of all things, which God hath spoken by the mouth of all his holy prophets since the world began” (Acts 3: 20, 21).

The power of the plain, simple gospel of Jesus Christ is not thought to be enough in these wicked days. There have been new ways invented to fight the enemy. I will grant that we must speak out on issues in our day. Abortion, for instance, must be opposed by all God-fearing Christians, as well as so called “gay marriage”. The persecution of Christians here and throughout the world should be exposed and opposed. But lest we lose our perspective let us remember that the Apostle Paul said, "For our rejoicing is this, the testimony of our conscience, that in simplicity and godly sincerity, not with fleshly widsom, but by the grace of God, we have had our conversation (behavior) in the world and more abundantly toward you "(II Cor. 1:12). We must always remember "we wrestle not against flesh and blood" (Eph. 6:12)—of course, some do not “wrestle” at all, but this is another problem.

Reading Ryle's article struck me with the reality that in our day there is a scarcity of preachers and writers who are simple, and yet profound. We are often criticized for quoting the old writers and yet what modern writers can compare with the Puritans such as Sibbes, Watson and Brooks? What writer has the depth of Matthew Henry, along with his simplicity? The relatively recent preachers Spurgeon and Ryle are other good examples of men with the gift of simplicity. We have many fine books available now, thank God, but men like A. W. Pink and A. W. Tozer, and now even Martyn Lloyd-Jones are gone from our midst. We have few that write in their style and manner today.

That is not to say that there are no good preachers or writers today, for indeed there are. But, the majority of the modern writers and preachers have a one-sided approach. On the intellectual side, much knowledge with no simplicity, so that the average man cannot grasp these great truths. Then on the other side are those who are so simple they have nothing to say! How there needs to be balance today in so many things! Brethren, pray that God will give us knowledge and the wisdom to use that knowledge properly.

“If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him” (James 1:5).

"For one thing, I ask all my readers to remember that to attain simplicity in preaching is of the utmost importance to every minister who wishes to be useful to souls. Unless you are simple in your sermons you will never be understood, and unless you are understood you cannot do good to those who hear you" (J. C. Ryle, The Upper Room; Banner of Truth, Edinburgh; 1977 edition, p. 36).

Thursday, August 16, 2007


The accounts of Christ’s crucifixion in the four gospels solve a number of theological problems if we will take care to study these narratives. All of the seven sayings of Christ on the cross are pregnant with teaching for us. For example, the saying of Christ “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani? that is to say, My God, my God, Why has thou forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46) immediately shows us three things.

1.Christ was the substitute for God-forsaken sinners. Remember God hates sin, and Jesus had become the bearer of our sins, so God turned his back on Him.

2. Christ as man could be separated from His Father. This was the cup He dreaded at Gethsemane.

3. Unless a sinner’s eyes are opened, he will not really see Christ as the saviour. Because He spoke in Aramaic, they thought He was calling for Elias (Elijah), and mocked and said, “Let us see whether Elijah will come and save Him” (Matthew 27:49).

There is much more in this saying, and all seven, but I want to focus on the fact that there were three crosses there. This is not unusual, for this was Rome’s most common way of execution. Literally thousands were crucified by them during the height of the Roman Empire. What was different here?

Jesus had been convicted in a mock trial. Pontus Pilate, who was good at mockery himself when meting out judgment, wrote a superscription in Hebrew, Greek, and Latin, saying THIS IS JESUS OF NAZARETH, THE KING OF THE JEWS (1), and set it over Jesus’ head. This same Pilate was the one who had mingled some Galileans’ blood with their sacrifices (see Luke 13:1-3). Jesus had been whipped, accused falsely, interrogated, mocked, beaten with fists, forced to bear his cross most of the way on the Via Dolorosa, stripped of His garments, and nailed to the cross at Golgotha. All, more or less common with Roman capital punishment.

But, this man was different. He was crucified between two thieves. These two were very likely co-conspirators with Barabbas, the insurrectionist, murderer, and thief who was set free while Jesus was crucified. At first both these thieves were evidently mocking Him. After all, He was in the same state they were; about to die. He did not seem any different than other men, in spite of what they had heard. So when the chief priests and scribes mocked Him, they joined in. If mere preaching and teaching could save, all of them; thieves, priests and scribes, should have been converted. After all, they verified in there own words what they had seen and heard about Him. First- He saved others.

Second- He said He was a King.

Third-He trusted in God.

Fourth- He said I am the Son of God.

All He had to do was come down from the cross and they would believe Him, they declared. Mere preaching was not going to save them, they had to have a personal miracle. Well, God saves people His way, not theirs. Jesus could really win some souls here, all He had to do was step down to prove who He was. He didn’t, and they would not have believed anyway. Lost, blind, dead, corrupt sinners won’t suddenly change solely on what they hear and see. There must be an inner transformation(See Ephesians 2:1).

At first, “the thieves also, which were crucified with Him, cast the same in His teeth” (Matthew27:44). “And they that were crucified with Him reviled Him” (Mark 15:33b). But there was a change in one of them. Only Luke tells us: “And one of the malefactors which were hanged railed on Him, saying, if thou be the Christ save thyself and us. But the other answering rebuked him, saying, Dost thou not fear God, seeing thou art in the same condemnation? And we indeed justly: for we receive the due reward of our deeds; but this man hath done nothing amiss. And he said unto Jesus, Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom. And Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, To day thou shalt be with me in paradise” ( Luke 23:39-43). Both originally reviled, one repented. (2) Why? Why only one? Why not both? Did the one have a spark of goodness in himself? Was it free will exercised by one, and not the other? Both their wills had evidently only brought them sin and now, execution. Free will was not going to get them down from the cross. One asked in unbelief ‘save thyself and us’. The other admitted he was a sinner, repented, and looked to Christ in faith. Did faith save him? A few minutes before he also was an unbeliever.

Now he exhibited faith in Christ. We are told “Faith cometh by hearing and hearing by the word of God. Here the Living Word, the Speech (3) that God had spoken to the world was right beside the repentant thief on the next cross. This thief, whose name we know not, was given repentance and faith. The gift of God. This was a sovereign choice of God first. Grace and faith are God’s gifts. The man did have to exercise faith, but he had none until graciously given it by Christ. The man had to repent, but he could not until he was by the grace of God led to repentance (see Romans 2:4).

Of himself this man was totally unable to do anything to save himself. He was condemned for his crimes, for all practical purposes, already dead, not capable of any action, but helplessly hanging there. He was made to see his utter destitute and hopeless state. In other words he was awakened (brought to spiritual life), so he could see his real need. Christ did this for him, and Christ was who he needed! No other could do this for him. A dying saviour saving a dying sinner! Christ must do this for each and every sinner who is saved, else they are forever lost! He took the place of this sinner, as he must take your place if you are saved. Has he done this for you, dear reader? Has He shown you, really revealed this to you, that He, Christ, is the only saviour of sinners? We are all sinners just as much in need, in just as desperate a situation as those two thieves. Which one will you be like?

What happened here that day knocks in the head several false teachings. Because the repentant thief’s time was at an end, he was saved, but there were several things he could not do.

First- he could not join a local church.

Second -he could not be baptized.

Third- he could not do good works.

Fourth- he could not witness or point others to Christ.

Normally, in time, each of these things are important, and would be done by a new convert. Christ’s New Testament church was ready to be established fully after his death, burial and resurrection. After Pentecost, the NT church would be shaped into one body, and as it expanded, into many local assemblies in diverse places. But this man could not join one; OT or NT. No matter, the Lord of the church was going to take him to be with Him. It was going to be today! No waiting for a thousand years. No waiting for resurrection day- but today!

He could not be baptized. Normally, to follow Christ, after being saved, is believer’s baptism, one of the two ordinances of Christ’s church, the other being the Lord’s Supper. These are very important, but proving here that baptism is not necessary for salvation, Christ took him to Paradise.

I remember seeing a TV program some years ago that featured a debate by some Baptist preachers, and some Campbellite preachers, often called Church of Christ. The Campbellites believe that baptism is absolutely necessary, and completes your salvation. In other words, to most of them, you cannot be saved without water baptism.

In the debate the Baptists pointed out the repentant thief to prove their case. One of the Church of Christ men stated that the thief was really the last to die under the old covenant, so that was why he did not need baptism. The Baptists who also held a distinction between old covenant and new (and there are some real distinctions admittedly), seemed to be defeated. The Campbellites were smiling, and just about to claim total victory for their erroneous baptismal regeneration doctrine, when something amazing happened. One of the Baptists, an Australian, I seem to recall, said the following. “ A covenant must be sealed with blood, and Hebrews says there must be the death of the testator. Correct?” (4) All agreed. He then quoted the following: “When Jesus therefore had received the vinegar, He said, It is finished,: and He bowed His head, and gave up the ghost. Then the Jews therefore, because it was the preparation, that the bodies should not remain on the cross on the Sabbath day (for that Sabbath day was a high day),besought Pilate that their legs might be broken, and that they might be taken away. Then came the soldiers, and brake the legs of the first, and of the other which were crucified with him. But when they came to Jesus, and saw that He was dead already, they brake not His legs” ( John 19:30-33).

“Jesus died first, beginning the new covenant” said the Baptist preacher. “They did not have to break his legs to kill Him, He was already dead.” Of course, that closed the debate. Scripture was fulfilled here, and some “water ducks” were not quacking so loud!

Good works? The thief could do nothing. He was dying.
Witness? Well he did that. As William Cowper’s Hymn says so well:

“The dying thief rejoiced to see that fountain in his day.
And there may I though vile as he, wash all my sins away”

The witness of this man by the reading and preaching of the gospel will continue forever. He was blessed to be with Jesus on the cross, and in paradise. Yes, if you are an unbeliever, he was, and is blessed, but you are cursed! If he was here right now, he would beckon you to believe on the now risen Christ. Have you? Do you? I pray that you will.


(1) This compilation is a blend of all four gospels from The Life of Christ in Stereo, Four Inspired Voices Testify As One by Johnston M. Cheney, Edited by Stanley A Ellisen, Western Baptist Seminary Press, Portland, OR, A.D.1969, page 199, sec 155. }.“ Slight differences in the accounts {originally} are due to the different languages of the inscription, one account based on one, the other on another.”

(2) Ibid, p. 200

(3) In the beginning was the Speech, and the Speech was with God, and the Speech was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made by Him, and without Him was not anything made that was made. (John 1:1-3- Calvin’s NT). As to the Evangelist calling the Son of God the speech, the simple reason appears to me to be, first, because He is the eternal Wisdom and Will of God; and, secondly, because He is the lively image of His purpose; for, as Speech is said to be among men the image of the mind,, so it is not inappropriate to apply this to God, and to say that He reveals Himself to us by His Speech.” Commentary on the Holy Gospel of Jesus Christ according to John by John Calvin. Originally written in A.D.1553, translated from Latin in A.D.1847 by William Pringle, this edition by Associated Publishers and Authors Edition, A.D.1970, Wilmington , DE

(4) “For this cause He is the mediator of the new testament, that by means of death, for the redemption of the transgressions that were under the first testament, they which are called might receive the promise of eternal inheritance. For where a testament is, there must also of necessity be the death of the testator.” (Hebrews 9:15-16).

(5) William Cowper , A.D. 1772 ,see web page for his story.

There is one case of death-bed repentance recorded, that of the penitent thief, that none should despair; and only one, that none should presume. --Augustine ( A.D.354-430)

Probably 80 years ago, In “Seven Sayings of the Saviour on the Cross”
Arthur W. Pink said the following:
Salvation by grace - sovereign, irresistible, free grace - is illustrated in the New Testament by example as well as precept. Perhaps the two most striking cases of all are those of Saul of Tarsus and the Dying Robber. And the case of the latter is even more noteworthy than the former. In the case of Saul, who afterwards became Paul the apostle to the Gentiles, there was an exemplary moral character to begin with. Writing years afterwards of his condition before his conversion, the apostle declared that as touching the righteousness of the law he was "blameless" (Phil. 3:6). He was a "Pharisee of the Pharisees": punctilious in his habits, correct in his deportment. Morally, his character was flawless. After his conversion his life was one of gospel-righteousness. Constrained by the love of Christ he spent himself in preaching the gospel to sinners and in labouring to buildup the saints. Doubtless our readers will agree with us when we say that probably Paul came nearest to attaining the ideals of the Christian life, and that he followed after his Master more closely than any other saint has since.

But with the saved thief it was far otherwise. He had no moral life before his conversion and no life of active service after it. Before his conversion he respected neither the law of God nor the law of man. After his conversion he died without having opportunity to engage in the service of Christ. I would emphasize this, because these are the two things which are regarded by so many as contributing factors to our salvation. It is supposed that we must first fit ourselves by developing a noble character before God will receive us as his sons; and that after he has received us, tentatively, we are merely placed on probation, and that unless we now bring forth a certain quality and quantity of good works we shall "fall from grace and be lost". But the dying thief had no good works either before or after conversion. Hence we are shut up to the conclusion that if saved at all he was certainly saved by sovereign grace.

The salvation of the dying thief also disposes of another prop which the legality of the carnal mind interposes to rob God of the glory due unto his grace. Instead of attributing the salvation of lost sinners to the matchless grace of God, many professing Christians seek to account for them by human influences, instrumentalities and circumstances. Either the preacher or providential and propitious circumstances or the prayers of believers, are looked to as the main cause. Let us not be misunderstood here. It is true that often God is pleased to use means in the conversion of sinners; that frequently he condescends to bless our prayers and efforts to point sinners to Christ; that many times he causes his providences to awaken and arouse the ungodly to a realization of their state. But God is not shut up to these things. He is not limited to human instrumentalities. His grace is all powerful, and when he pleases, that grace is able to save in spite of the lack of human instrumentalities, and in the face of unfavorable circumstances. So it was in the case of the saved thief. ( To read the entire chapter at Providence Baptist Ministries, click the site link in the list on the top right of this page and search "Pink Archives".)

Friday, August 10, 2007



Occasionally I have enjoyed reading a mystery novel. I have read most of the Sherlock Holmes stories by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and greatly enjoyed the late Jeremy Brett in the role when PBS aired most of them in a TV series a number of years ago. I now have them all on tape so I can view them whenever I like. I also liked some of the Alfred Hitchcock movies, especially the ones with James Stewart. My wife still likes Diagnosis Murder and Murder She Wrote. There is something about a mystery.

The Bible has much to say regarding mysteries. The word “mystery” is strictly a New Testament word, and is found 22 times in the KJV, and “mysteries” is found 5 times. It is from the Greek word mustēriŏn of which Strong says “to shut the mouth; a secret or mystery.” Young’s Concordance says “What is known only to the initiated.” Vine’s Dictionary says “primarily that which is known to the initiated (Greek= mustēs ).” The word “secret” is used a number of times in the OT, with several Hebrew words and shades of meaning. Most notably for this study is “The secret (Heb. sathar), things belong unto the Lord our God, but those things which are revealed (Heb.galah) belong unto us and to our children for ever, that we may do all the words of this law” (Deuteronomy 29:29). Here secret means hidden, or concealed. But “revealed” here means exposed, denuded, disclosed or discovered. Many things were disclosed to God’s children in the OT to encourage them to follow the Lord and obey His law. But many things were not yet revealed in that OT dispensation. In the NT the mysteries are revealed, or will be, to the true Christians.

In the NT there are many different mysteries that are discussed. I have tried to categorize some of the most obvious verses as follows:
1.The kingdom mysteries mentioned by Jesus Christ (Matthew 13:11; Mark 4:11; and Luke 8:10; Matthew and Mark say kingdom of heaven, Luke says kingdom of God).
2. The parousia, or second coming mystery (I Corinthians 15:51).
3. The charisma or spiritual gifts mystery (I Corinthians 14:2).
4. The God’s will mystery (I Corinthians 2:7; Ephesians 1 :9).
5. The body of Christ mystery (Ephesians 3:1-9; 6:19).
6. The Christ and church mystery (Ephesians 5: 32).
7. The Christ is God mystery (Colossians 2:2; 4:3; I Timothy 3:16; Romans 16:25).
8. The Christian faith mystery (I Timothy 3:9).
9. The mystery of iniquity (II Thessalonians 2:7).
10.The apocalypse mysteries: the mystery of the seven stars (Revelation 1:20); the mystery of God (10:7); the mystery of Babylon (17:5 ); the mystery of the woman(17:7 ).

W.E. Vine tells us in his Expository Dictionary of NT Words the following information:
“The word "mystery" in the New Testament does not denote that which is mysterious (as with the English word), but it denotes that which, being outside the range of unassisted natural apprehension, can be made known only by divine revelation, and is made known in a manner and at a time appointed by God, and to those only who are illumined by His Spirit. In the ordinary sense a mystery implies knowledge withheld; its scriptural significance is truth revealed” .

In other words these mysteries are mysteries to the uninitiated, i.e., those who have not had the supernatural, divine revelation. In today’s modern churches, so often everything is by program, by rote, and by repetition. Nothing unusual ever happens. There is no expectation for God to do anything. The service could well go on without God. Yet the Bible warns us that true salvation must come by supernatural revelation by the Holy Spirit. “Knowing brethren beloved, your election of God. For our gospel came not unto you by word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Ghost, and in much assurance…” I Thessalonians 1:4,5). This is the sinner’s “initiation” into the mysteries of God. It requires the new birth, which only God can give (see John 3:3).

The way of salvation, yes, all the ways of God are a mystery to those who are outside, to those who have not been supernaturally called. There are some mysteries that remain for the redeemed child of God because God reveals many things by progressive revelation, not all at once. For instance, we that have been saved for many years do not know all the mysteries of the Return of Christ. There is much in scripture (especially Daniel and Revelation), that remains locked. Remember Daniel was told “Shut up the words, and seal the book even to the time of the end; many shall run to and fro, and knowledge shall be increased”(Daniel 12:4). John the Apostle was told “Come up hither, and I will shew thee things which must be hereafter” (Revelation 4:1b), but it wasn’t all totally clear in the book he wrote. It still has many symbols, types and shadows of which we don’t have all the keys yet, though some say they have it “all figured out.” We are told “Blessed is he that readeth, and they that hear the words of this prophecy” (Revelation 1:3), so we do need to study this challenging book, as difficult as it can be.

In future issues of Word of Truth, I hope to look into some of the individual mysteries listed here, beginning with the mystery of the NT church which indeed was “hidden” until Christ shed His blood at Calvary. There was, of course, the Old Testament assembly, or congregation; even called the “church in the wilderness” by Stephen in Acts 7:38. But in that form it was a figure, a type which could not be completed without the sacrifice of Christ. He implied this when He said “Upon this rock (Greek= petra), I will build my church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” ( Matthew 16:18). The rock was not Peter (petros;a piece of stone), but the petra, i.e., the huge foundation stone; Christ Himself, which was the revelation of the mystery that Peter supernaturally received “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God” If this revelation is not first received, I do not care how many professions you have made, how many times you have been baptized, how many times you have received communion, if you saw an angel, a ball of fire, or a premonition of death. It doesn’t matter how elect you think you are, how much you do or do not believe in predestination, or any other doctrine, if you have not had Christ revealed to you supernaturally -- you are lost!

Friday, August 03, 2007


"The Spirit of the LORD spake by me, and his word was in my tongue" (2 Samuel 23:2).
"For the mouth of the LORD hath spoken it" (Isaiah 1:20).
"The grass withereth, the flower fadeth: but the word of our GOD shall stand forever" (Isaiah 40:8).
One of the amazing things about reading the Bible is that it never changes. From the first time I started reading the sacred Scriptures until now, it still says the same thing. Our Creator is unchanging (Malachi 3:6), and He gave us an unchanging written revelation of Himself.
Men change, and their views change, but Scripture and truth changes not. I am bewildered by all the publishers wanting to get out "new Bibles." Not that we do not constantly need to study and understand Scripture, for we do (Nehemiah 8:8), but why the continual stream of "better" translations, unless it is mercenary-induced?
But I want to be positive here, not negative. Let us look at the glory and wonder of God's Holy Word. How God first communicated to Adam and Noah and Abraham we are not told. What language did He speak? We do not know. But we do know that later God revealed Himself to Moses, and gave Moses an inerrant knowledge of the past, present, and future (Exodus 17:14; 34:27; Deuteronomy 31:19).
And all through the Old Testament, God gave His word and will to various prophets to write down in words (Jeremiah 30:2; Habakkuk 2:2). Exactly how this was done, and what all was involved in doing so, is not clear. The main thing is that there is a written revelation of who God is, and what He says about man: God the absolute sovereign, and man the totally depraved sinner.
Ours is a day of awful unbelief in the trustworthiness of Scripture. No better illustration could be given than the recent debate over The Da Vinci Code, and all the fallout from such blatant denial of Holy Writ. God's Word warns us: "Ye shall not add unto the word which I command you, neither shall ye diminish from it" (Deuteronomy 4:2). But, additions to Scripture, and subtractions from Scripture, are commonplace in our day. (Look at The Book of Mormon, for example, supposedly "Another Testament of Jesus Christ.") We do not need to add teachings and doctrines to the Bible, nor do we need to subtract teachings from Scripture! But we do need to "rightly divide the word of truth" (2 Timothy 2:15).
However, even to "rightly divide" has been misinterpreted, for the Greek word orthotomounta here actually means "cutting straight" or "properly handling," not divide into various "dispensations." We are not "rightly dividing" God's Word unless we reverently and humbly acknowledge that this Book is not a newspaper or novel, but the inspired, inerrant, infallible Word of the true and living God. Grass and flowers come and go, so do sinners and their sinning, coupled with their hatred for God's truth. Like Voltaire, many vow to destroy the Bible and its teachings, but all to no avail. The Word of God is like a mighty anvil, which has broken many a hammer beating upon it.
We can trust the Scriptures to be true in its history, its prophecies, and in its doctrines. Archaeology has actually proven the Bible to be true, not untrue. But this is not where we are to find its authenticity. If we have experienced the grace and mercy of Yahweh God, through the Lord Jesus Christ, taking our place as unworthy sinners before Him, we positively know the Bible is true. Those who are truly regenerate (immediate through the Sovereign Spirit) say with the Psalmist: "Forever, O LORD, thy word is settled in heaven" (Psalm 119:89). We also say, "Thy testimonies have I taken as an heritage forever: for they are the rejoicing of my heart" (v. 111). And, "My heart standeth in awe of thy word" (v. 161).
The New Testament builds upon the Old, and never contradicts it. Listen: "The scripture cannot be broken" (John 10:35). The casting of lots at Christ's crucifixion, and the parting of His garments, was all done "that the scripture might be fulfilled" (John 19:24). Christ's substitutionary death was all in fulfillment of prophecy: "Him, being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, ye have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain" (Acts 2:23). "Who by the mouth of thy servant David hast said, Why did the heathen rage, and the people imagine vain things. The kings of the earth stood up, and the rulers were gathered together against the Lord, and against his Christ" (Acts 4:25-26).
Let men cavil (even so-called Bible teachers) against the sovereignty of God, predestination, unconditional election and salvation, and the Lord Jesus Christ the real and actual Savior of the elect. Truth lives because God lives, and truth lives in our inspired Bible: "For the mouth of the LORD hath spoken it." And we had better remember the closing warning in the last chapter of Revelation (22:18-19), and stop "adding to" and "taking away from" the written, unchanging "things" of God's Book. I have a motto I try to always remember: "If it's new, it's not true." Anything after the apostles is new!

Thursday, August 02, 2007

From John Piper in Minneapolis

Putting My Daughter to Bed Two Hours After the Bridge Collapsed

What Do Tragedies Like This Mean for Us?

By John Piper August 1, 2007

At about 6 PM tonight the bridge of Interstate 35W over the Mississippi River in Minneapolis collapsed. I am writing this about three hours after the bridge fell. The bridge is located within sight of Bethlehem Baptist Church. Most of us who minister at the church cross this bridge several times a week. At this point I don’t know if any staff was on the bridge. Desiring God offices are about a mile from the bridge.

There are no firm facts at this point about the total number of injuries and fatalities. When we crossed the bridge Tuesday on our way out of town, there was extensive repair work happening on the surface of the bridge with single lane traffic. One speculates about the unusual stresses on the bridge with jackhammers and other surface replacement equipment. This was the fortieth anniversary of the bridge.

Tonight for our family devotions our appointed reading was Luke 13:1-9. It was not my choice. This is surely no coincidence. O that all of the Twin Cities, in shock at this major calamity, would hear what Jesus has to say about it from Luke 13:1-5. People came to Jesus with heart-wrenching news about the slaughter of worshipers by Pilate. Here is what he said.

There were some present at that very time who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And he answered them, "Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish."

Jesus implies that those who brought him this news thought he would say that those who died, deserved to die, and that those who didn’t die did not deserve to die. That is not what he said. He said, everyone deserves to die. And if you and I don’t repent, we too will perish. This is a stunning response. It only makes sense from a view of reality that is radically oriented on God.

All of us have sinned against God, not just against man. This is an outrage ten thousand times worse than the collapse of the 35W bridge. That any human is breathing at this minute on this planet is sheer mercy from God. God makes the sun rise and the rain fall on those who do not treasure him above all else. He causes the heart to beat and the lungs to work for millions of people who deserve his wrath. This is a view of reality that desperately needs to be taught in our churches, so that we are prepared for the calamities of the world.

The meaning of the collapse of this bridge is that John Piper is a sinner and should repent or forfeit his life forever. That means I should turn from the silly preoccupations of my life and focus my mind’s attention and my heart’s affection on God and embrace Jesus Christ as my only hope for the forgiveness of my sins and for the hope of eternal life. That is God’s message in the collapse of this bridge. That is his most merciful message: there is still time to turn from sin and unbelief and destruction for those of us who live. If we could see the eternal calamity from which he is offering escape we would hear this as the most precious message in the world.

We prayed during our family devotions. Talitha (11 years old) and Noel and I prayed earnestly for the families affected by the calamity and for the others in our city. Talitha prayed “Please don’t let anyone blame God for this but give thanks that they were saved.” When I sat on her bed and tucked her in and blessed her and sang over her a few minutes ago, I said, “You know, Talitha, that was a good prayer, because when people ‘blame’ God for something, they are angry with him, and they are saying that he has done something wrong. That’s what “blame” means: accuse somebody of wrongdoing. But you and I know that God did not do anything wrong. God always does what is wise. And you and I know that God could have held up that bridge with one hand.” Talitha said, “With his pinky.” “Yes,” I said, “with his pinky. Which means that God had a purpose for not holding up that bridge, knowing all that would happen, and he is infinitely wise in all that he wills.”

Talitha said, “Maybe he let it fall because he wanted all the people of Minneapolis to fear him.” “Yes, Talitha,” I said, “I am sure that is one of the reasons God let the bridge fall.”

I sang to her the song I always sing,

Come rest your head and nestle gently
And do not fear the dark of night.
Almighty God keeps watch intently,
And guards your life with all his might.
Doubt not his love, nor power to keep,
He never fails, nor does he sleep.

I said, “You know, Talitha, that is true whether you die in a bridge collapse, or in a car accident, or from cancer, or terrorism, or old age. God always keeps you, even when you die. So you don’t need to be afraid, do you.” “No,” she shook her head. I leaned down and kissed her. “Good night. I love you.”

Tonight across the Twin Cities families are wondering if they will ever kiss a loved one good night again. Some will not. I am praying that they will find Jesus Christ to be their Rock and Refuge in these agonizing hours of uncertainty and even loss.

The word “bridge” does not occur in the Bible. There may be two reasons. One is that God doesn’t build bridges, he divides seas. The other is that usually his people must pass through the deadly currents of suffering and death, not simply ride over them. “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you” (Isaiah 43:2). They may drown you. But I will be with you in life and death.

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, "For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered." No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life . . . will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:35-38)

Killed all day long. But not separated from Christ. We go through the river. Not over it. He went before us, crucified. He came out on the other side. He knows the way through. With him we will make it. That is the message we have for the precious sinners in the Twin Cities. He died for your sins. He rose again. He saves all who trust him. We die, but because of him, we do not die.

Jesus said, "I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.” (John 11:25)

Talitha is sleeping now. But one day she will die. I teach her this. I will not always be there to bless her. But Jesus is alive and is the same yesterday today and forever. He will be with her because she trusts him. And she will make it through the river.

Weeping with those who weep, and those who should,

Pastor John

Psalm 71:20 You who have made me see many troubles and calamities will revive me again.

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