We’re writing this to you so you’ll know you have life forever. This is for those of you who believe the name of God’s son. We can be confident when we talk to God — if we make a request that aligns with his will, he listens to us. We know he listens whenever we ask, and that he’ll give us what we ask for.
If one of you sees a Christian family member sin (not the kind that causes death), ask God to give them life, and he will. This only applies to the kind of sin that doesn’t cause death. There is a kind of sin that leads to death, and I’m not saying you should pray for someone who commits that kind of sin. Every morally wrong act is sin, but there are sins that don’t lead all the way to death.
We know that no one in God’s family continues to sin. God’s son personally protects us, and evil can’t affect him at all. We know that we belong to God, but evil controls the whole world. We know that when God’s son came to earth, he gave us the ability to understand the true one. We live in truth through his son, Jesus Christ. He is the truth, and he is life forever. Children, keep each other away from idols.
It’s a safe assumption that even the unchurched have heard the 23rd Psalm, given its connection to funerals or memorial services. It is a most comforting psalm, but we note the implications for the deceased are only found in the final verse, in which David confidently asserts that the righteous dead will dwell in the Lord’s House forever. Otherwise, the psalm depicts what the Good Shepherd does for His living sheep. In the New Testament, Jesus identifies Himself as the Good Shepherd (John 10.11,14).
In contrast to the 23rd Psalm, Jesus is the One walking not only in the shadow of the valley of death but into the grave itself, laying down His life for the sheep. However, this difference does not suggest that Jesus, as the Good Shepherd, does not still provide the same blessings to God’s sheep living under the New Covenant. Indeed, John 10.10 tells us He gives us abundant life. So, the first Shepherd, the One with Whom we are most familiar, is the Shepherd Whose voice we must hear (John 10.3-5, 14-16).
But what of the other shepherd? For illustrative purposes, we will call him “Mammon.” In Psalm 49, the psalmist, presumably one of Korah’s sons, presents a didactic poem. Essentially, by calling it didactic, we are acknowledging that it is a poem that teaches an important lesson (or lessons). The instruction found in Psalm 49 is a warning against trusting in one’s riches. In Psalm 49.14, the psalmist says:
“They are like sheep and are destined to die; death will be their shepherd (but the upright will prevail over them in the morning). Their forms will decay in the grave, far from their princely mansions” (NASB1995).
Despite sounding like a 1980s hair metal band, the 49th Psalm teaches about the “Death Shepherd.” The “they” in the first part of verse 14 are those trusting in material wealth. The latter part of the verse reveals that death will separate them from their wealth. Note that the son of Korah provides a parenthetical contrast. The upright will prevail over them in the morning. Commentators acknowledge this is an understanding of a coming resurrection day, even if not explicitly stated. You can come away with no other interpretation, especially as you read the next verse.
“But God will redeem me from the realm of the dead; he will surely take me to himself” (Psalm 49.15 NASB1995).
On the other hand, Mammon will prevent you from being able to serve God (Matthew 6.24). He fills one with anxiety and makes them forget the Providence of God (Matthew 6.25-34). The Death Shepherd is an enticing distraction, not unlike the storied Pied Piper of Hamelin, who led away the innocents with his magical piping. The Death Shepherd entrances the susceptible sheep with wealth but pastures them in destruction from which the sheep cannot escape. Both this son of Korah and Jesus, through His Parable of the Rich Fool, remind us that one’s riches end up the property of another after death (Psalm 49.10; Luke 12.16-21). Thus, one forfeits his or her immortal spirit for nothing worthwhile compared to the price he or she pays (Matthew 16.26).
Two voices are calling to the sheep today. One is the voice of the Good Shepherd. The other voice is the Death Shepherd. Endeavor to make sure you heed the correct One so that you end up in the correct sheepfold!
We cannot call what happens in Acts five the church’s first problem. Having your members hauled before community leaders and threatened would be stressful and concerning. Having members in financial need would be considered a tough issue. But, neither of those things were “unforced errors.” In an organization filled with people, there will be internal problems because we have struggles and sins. What we do about them and after them spells the difference in ultimate success and failure.
THE REBELLION (1-10). We are introduced to a couple named Ananias and Sapphira, members of the Jerusalem congregation. In the spirit of sacrificial generosity, Barnabas, who owned a tract of land, “sold it and brought the money and laid it at the apostles’ feet” (4:37). This couple also sold a piece of property, an admirable and generous thing to do to prevent needs among the Christians (4:34). But, what they did after the sell was anything but righteous. They kept back part of the proceeds from the sale. What was the sin in that? Apparent there was an intent to deceive, to suggest that they were giving all the money while keeping part of it for themselves. The word translated “keep back” is the word for pilfer or embezzle, suggesting they had pledged the full price of the sale but kept back some for their own security. This would also suggest covetousness or greed, hearts influenced by worldliness. It also certainly implies pride, wanting to be seen as generous as Barnabas while not suffering the full sacrifice of surrendering all the money for the needs of the saints. This husband and wife were united, but in the worst possible way. Do we struggle with materialism, pride, greed, dishonesty, and selfishness? It is good for us to appreciate how seriously God takes the willful sin in the lives of His children (Heb. 10:26ff). God preserved this in Scripture for us to contemplate how harmful “sin in the camp” is to the spiritual health and well-being of His sacred community (the church).
THE RESPONSE (3-10). Peter calls out Ananias (3-4), then Sapphira (8-9) three hours later. He specifies what they had done and why it was so wrong. God’s response was to strike each of them dead! Looking back on this, especially if we struggle to see the “big deal” of their sin, we might think the reaction was overly harsh or unreasonable. No doubt this event gets our attention and sharpens our focus on how seriously God views premeditated sin and sin that threatens to harm the entire spiritual community. Conceiving transgression in the heart and attempting to lie to God is such a basic betrayal of our Lord. While we should be grateful that God does not choose to respond with such immediacy today, we should also reflect deeply upon how grave it is to engage in unrighteousness. It’s not “no big deal,” something to be rationalized away. Even if church leadership does not address it in this life does not mean God will not address it at the judgment. This text encourages us to keep our heart soft to His will and to the reality of our willfulness.
THE RESULT (11-16). We might think that people would have left that church in droves! After all, if they had a marquee in front of their “building,” it might say, “Come inside and try us. The Holy Spirit strikes down our liars.” Yet, what happens next? As we might suspect, “great fear came upon them all” (11). But, the judgment on the couple did not drive people away or even send the cause in a backward direction. The apostles demonstrate God’s power (12), the church spent more time together (12), the broader community held them in high esteem (13) and benefited from their benevolence (15-16), and, maybe most startling, “all the more believers in the Lord, multitudes of men and women, were constantly added to their number” (14). How could this be the result of the ultimate example of “church discipline”? Simply, this is God’s wisdom. Paul will later say, “the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men” (1 Cor. 1:25). Just because we don’t understand God’s ways does not make them inappropriate and improper (Isa. 55:8-9). The Potter has a right over the clay (Rom. 9:20-21). We must resist the temptation to protest the teaching and conclusions God’s Word makes because we find it too hard and narrow. If we trust God’s wisdom and pattern, we’ll find it works in any culture, time, and place.
Ann Turner Cook passed away at her St. Petersburg, Florida, home on Friday, June 3, 2022. She was 95 years old, was an educator, a novelist, a wife, and a mother. Her father was a well-known cartoonist. But you almost certainly know her for a charcoal drawing that was made of her by an artist neighbor, Dorothy Hope Smith. It was submitted for the label of a baby food company and chosen in 1928, then trademarked in 1931. Ann was the original Gerber baby (news report here)! You’ve seen that iconic picture. If you realized she was a real person, you never thought about the fact that this baby grew up and eventually grew old. Or that she would now be dead.
I know nothing about Mrs. Cook’s religious life or spiritual preparation. But I do know that she is part of a universal truth concerning life, and that is that death comes relatively soon for us all. How soon?
Like water spilled on the ground (2 Sam. 14:14).
Like a weaver’s shuttle (Job 7:6; Isa. 38:12).
Like a breath (Job 7:7).
Like a shadow (Job 8:9; 1 Chr. 29:15; Ec. 6:12).
Like a flower (Job 14:2).
Swift as a runner (Job 9:25).
Like a handbreadths (Ps. 39:5).
Like a wind that passes (Ps. 78:39).
Like a sigh (Ps. 90:9).
Like smoke (Ps. 102:3).
Like a lengthened shadow and grass (Ps. 102:11; 109:23).
Like a passing shadow (Ps. 144:4).
Like a fading flower or withering grass (Isa. 40:7-8; Js. 1:10; 1 Pet. 1:23-25).
Like a vapor (Js. 4:14).
With that in mind, shouldn’t we pray with David, “LORD, make me to know my end and what is the extent of my days; Let me know how transient I am” (Ps. 39:4).
Yes, we can look at the Gerber Baby and see that. Or we can look through our own family albums. The baby, childhood, and young adult photos of our grandparents, parents, or ourselves. The weathering winds of time do sure and quick work, reminding us of the many ways the Bible depicts it for us. Time is short and it passes quickly.
Rather than a depressing inevitability, this should be a respected teacher. We should pray with Moses, “So teach us to number our days, that we may present to You a heart of wisdom” (Ps. 90:9). We should take Paul’s inspired advice and “be careful how you walk, not as unwise men but as wise, making the most of your time, because the days are evil” (Eph. 5:15-16). Don’t leave undone what needs to be done. Don’t put off what must be done before this life is over. It will be over before you know it. As the writer of Hebrews tells us, “It is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment” (9:27).
About a month ago I was sitting at a funeral, my dad was doing the ceremony, and he said something that stuck with me. A guy named Ron Tranmer wrote a poem, and said to sum it up: “When we go to a gravestone we often look at the dates on the stone, but we should look at the dash. The dash serves as an emblem of our time here on earth, although it is small, the dash has touched so many on this earth between our years.” I had never heard this before my dad quoted it, and I think there is a bigger message in this poem.
I want you to take a moment to think about your dash….. Most likely you thought of a big moment in your life, or even a sad time or a time you wish you could redo. As I was thinking of my dash I got caught up thinking about all of my accomplishments and accolades that I forgot about how much I’ve affected others with my dash. I think about Jesus and how he affected and helped so many people. One of the moments that came to mind was when Jesus feeds the 5000 (Mat. 14:13-21). Jesus went out of his way to do something for others.
One thing that comes to mind when reading this passage was the tornado. I can remember coming here to BG (Bowling Green) after the tornado hit. I had no idea the destruction that was done, because I was in my house when it hit. But when our group was driving around the community and giving some water, food, clothes, or anything to someone that needed it, they were so thankful and relieved that they were getting food. I imagine the 5000 people were grateful when Jesus brought them food.
Our dash also is going to have some times where we wish we can go back and redo a bad decision. Just recently I had a Blue Stars Camp for DCI in March, and one of the teachers said this statement that I will always remember. “Every single time you do a rep of something you make a green marble and a red marble from how that rep was. Whenever it comes to showtime and you are about to do a show, you have the bag of all of these marbles, and for that show your run will be based on either the green or red marble that you chose.”
If we think about our life and how many decisions we make daily, that would add up to be a lot of marbles. Other people are going to remember you from those decisions, green and red. When you pass away and someone looks at your gravestone and looks at your dash, what do you want them to remember? Is it going to be a green or red marble?
For practitioners of Japan’s True Pure Land Buddhism, one desires to enter the pure land upon death. In so doing, he could bypass our corrupt world and enter the western paradise where he could quickly achieve nirvana. Conversely, True Pure Land Buddhism has a hellish alternative in which souls are tortured by oni (i.e., demons) until they are purged of their sins and can enter the Pure Land. No one desires torture. So, the Japanese would recite the nembutsu: “I call on the Amida Buddha.” In medieval Japan, practitioners of True Pure Land Buddhism would lay on their deathbeds holding on to a string as an added measure. That string led to a painting of Amida and his cohorts. As they looked longingly towards the picture, they hoped that their escaped soul would travel the line and enter the western paradise.
It may be that upon reading the previous paragraph, you thought of the apostle Paul in ancient Athens. He told the men of Athens that he perceived them as superstitious, literally δεισιδαιμονεστέρους—“very fearful of gods” (Acts 17.22). As Japan is often called the home of eight million gods, with the Buddhas incorporated into the mix, it is easy to label the Japanese as superstitious. Yet, I note something different when I hear about this True Pure Land Buddhism. It would almost seem that True Pure Land Buddhism rubbed elbows with Christianity somewhere. It is conceivable since Pure Land Buddhism arose in India during the second century A.D. before making its way to east Asia. However, note two intriguing features of True Pure Land Buddhism reminding one of Christianity. 1) Calling on Amida’s name and 2) Looking to Amida for hope.
Joel prophesied that those calling up the name of the Lord would be saved (Joel 2.32). Peter and Paul quote this verse from Joel’s prophecy regarding salvation within the New Covenant (Acts 2.21; Romans 10.13). So, there is most assuredly power in the name of Jesus Christ. Peter says there is “no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4.12, all ref. NASB1995 unless otherwise indicated). But calling on Jesus’ name is not like reciting a nembutsu. Paul shows us that we call upon the name of Jesus when our faith moves us to action. After seeing Jesus on the road to Damascus, Paul has been fasting and praying for several days. The prophet Ananias finds Paul in his misery and says, “ Now why do you delay? Get up and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on His name” (Acts 22.16 NASB1995). See then how Paul called on Jesus’ name. Paul submitted himself to baptism for the washing away of his sins. In so doing, Paul called on the name of Jesus.
Do we not also look to Jesus to give hope? Well, we do not stare at an artist’s rendering of the Christ upon our deathbed. But we do look to Him in life as our hope. After citing many examples of those from whom we could find a worthy model of faithfulness, the Hebrews’ writer adds: “Fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart” (Hebrews 12.2-3). The KJV says we look to Jesus. Either way, our eyes are drawn to and become fixated upon Him. This hope we have in Jesus is an anchor for the soul (Hebrews 6.19).
It remains a challenge to preach the Gospel in those parts of the world where Buddhism has taken root. I’ve heard missionaries remark of the antagonism against Christianity within the Buddhist world. Yet, it seems strange that within at least one branch of Buddhism, there is a central figure who is something of a Messiah. Considering that so much of Buddhism asks you to find salvation from within yourself, there are at least some within that belief system who recognize the nature of the human condition is such that we must rely on the grace of someone greater. Therefore, even in hostile environments, may we endeavor to preach that the One willing and able to save is the Lord Jesus Christ. Let us tell the world to call upon and look to Jesus.
Stephen Coss, author of The Fever of 1721: The Epidemic That Revolutionized Medicine and American Politics, relates the fascinating story of the first widespread inoculation effort in the fight against the deadly plague of smallpox. At a time when medical practice was steeped in vast misunderstanding and wrongheaded medical treatments (more than half a century later, George Washington’s doctors would facilitate his death by treating his cold and fever through bloodletting!), two unlikely men were able to withstand the withering criticism of the local medical community and superstitious Boston residents who adamantly vilified them both. One was a physician, Zabdiel Boylston, ostracized, threatened, and condemned by his peers and the town’s council. The other was Cotton Mather, forever infamous for his superstitious influence in the Salem witch hunt and trials that led to the execution of over 20 innocent people a quarter-century earlier. Both believed that by infecting a person with a small amount of smallpox, they could prevent death and even a serious, scarring case of the frightening disease. No less than young Benjamin Franklin piled on with criticism and satire against the two men’s campaign, but both were ultimately vindicated as the inoculations proved far superior in saving lives in Boston’s deadliest smallpox outbreak. It took a lot of courage and conviction for these men to persist in the face of resistance from the highest places of their society.
What if there was a disease that threatened one hundred percent of the global population, one that proved one hundred percent fatal if untreated? What if there was a remedy available that was proven to save every patient from otherwise certain death? What if you knew it worked? Would you have the courage and conviction to offer it to the infected, even in the face of intimidation and threat?
Over 600 years before Christ, a prophet wrote, “Is there no balm in Gilead? Is there no physician there? Why then has the health of the daughter of my people not been restored?” (Jer. 8:22). The balm of Gilead, who was also the Great Physician, came to be the remedy and administer it to the willing (Mat. 9:12; Mk. 2:17; Lk. 4:23; 5:31). He left us in charge of offering this remedy and trying to prevent spiritual death (Jn. 8:21,24) in as many people as possible. Most will reject or at least ignore the offer, unaware of the gravity of their condition. That cannot deter us! Jesus is counting on us to apply His blood to rescue the perishing and care for the dying. A day is coming when there will be no more remedy (cf. 2 Chron. 36:16), but we must be out sharing it until that moment! There are people out there searching for a cure (Mat. 7:7-8). Whatever it costs us, let’s not stop until we’ve helped as many people as we can!
The definition of homesick is “experiencing a longing for one’s home during a period of absence from it.” It’s the feeling a college student experiences in their first few months away from home. It’s a desire to get back to the people you love and to be back in a familiar place. Whether it’s a business trip that takes you away for extended periods of time or even a vacation, that feeling of opening the door and being back home is amazing.
We sometimes sing a song in worship that speaks of this longing. “I’m kind of homesick for a country. To which I’ve never been before..” How can we long for a place we’ve never been? This is a homesickness like no other. It’s unique in that the desire to be there is based on the descriptions of heaven we read in scripture.
We are to long for heaven more than our earthly home. How can we do this? “No sad goodbyes, will there be spoken. For time won’t matter anymore.” Aren’t you homesick for a place without goodbyes? A time when we will never have to stand over the coffin of a loved one again. A place where cancer and sickness can’t take our loved ones away. Heaven is a home where we will never have to experience the pain and grief that comes from death.
Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 15:53-55, “For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory.” “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?”” For too long death has won. For too long people have felt the pain that death brings. But one day, death will be swallowed up. No longer will death be able to torment us. Our eternal home will be a place free of death. There won’t be any funeral homes, graveyards, or hospitals because heaven is a place where no one will ever die again. I’m homesick for a place I’ve never been because in that wonderful home we will never say goodbye.
Someone once said, “There are two reasons I know the devil exists. Number one, the Bible tells me so. Number two, I’ve done business with him.” There is no denying that the world is filled with sin. Romans 3:23 tells us that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” The penalty for sin is condemnation. The wages of sin is death. Every time we sin, death is the payment.
Under the old law, people would watch as an innocent animal was slaughtered on their behalf. They would watch as these animals bled to death knowing that it was THEIR sin that caused it. In the New Testament we learn that our sins brought about the the death of Jesus. A pure and holy sacrifice, sent once and for all mankind (Romans 5:8).
But the death of God’s Son brings hope to mankind. This sacrifice means that our sins are not unforgivable. We can come before the throne of God and have them taken away. The Bible tells us of God’s love for us, and how badly He wants us to live with Him for all eternity. John 3:16 says, “for God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life.”
This message is a life-changer. But it will only change our life if we listen and obey it. Each and every person can be saved because God “shows no partiality…” (Acts 10:34). Salvation can be found, but only if we are willing to change and live according to God’s will.
“The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent…” (Acts 17:30).
Thanks to MrBallen, popular millennial YouTuber, I reacquainted myself with the incredible story of Roy Benavidez through his video, “This man died 37 times.” His story, from childhood to death, is incredible. But it was his heroic acts on May 2, 1968, serving in Vietnam as an Army Special Forces Airborne team that he survived his most incredible, heroic feats. He was shot, hit with grenade shrapnel, bayoneted, and clubbed with numerous injuries so serious that at one point he was mistakenly put into a body bag, presumed dead. He charged with a helicopter rescue team so suddenly that he left his machine gun behind, armed with only a Bowie knife. He ran repeatedly into enemy fire at point blank range and continued bouncing back until he successfully rescued eight soldiers who undoubtedly would have been killed without him. When Ronald Reagan gave him the Medal of Honor 13 years later, he told White House Reporters, “You are going to hear something you will not believe if it were a script.” The Mexican-American orphan, raised in poverty and determined to serve his country, stared death in the face armed with little more than a devout faith and a devotion to his fellow soldiers. This after stepping on a land Mine in 1965 on his first tour of duty, after which doctors proclaimed he would never walk again. To the utter disbelief of medical personnel, he walked out of the hospital less than a year later and had qualified for special forces less than two years after that (additional information via psywarrior.com).
Schools, parks, and even a Navy ship have been named in his honor. He was often referred to as the man who could not be killed. He is a military legend. But, ultimately, in 1998, diabetes did what an array of enemy fighters trying their hardest could not do. It took his life.
No one would want people to know this divine fact more than Mr. Benavidez would: “…it is appointed for men to die once…” (Heb. 9:27). Solomon adds, “For the living know they will die” (Ecc. 9:5). The sons of Korah echo, ” For he sees that even wise men die; The stupid and the senseless alike perish..” (Psa. 49:10a). The message is clear. One may evade death repeatedly, but not ultimately. Only the second coming of Christ will avert the unpreventable appointment with death (cf. Gen. 3:19).
What can and must be prevented is what the book of Revelation four times refers to as “the second death” (2:11; 20:6,14; 21:8). It is powerful, painful, and punishing. But it’s avoidable. Christ died to defeat the power of physical death and the justice of spiritual death (Heb. 2:14-15). Jesus is the greatest hero of time and eternity, who faced death and overcame it to live forevermore and offer eternal life to those who follow Him (Mat. 16:24-27). He faced the worst that the most powerful enemy of all could throw against Him, and He utterly defeated him andit. We needed rescue, and Jesus delivered us. Surely no one who understands that would choose to remain where he or she will eternally die. Physical death is sure. Spiritual death is not. God still pleads, “Choose life in order that you may live” (Deut. 30:19).