10/10/13: Eternal Life Ministries is offering this series on DVD for free – no telling how long this offer will be available.
Greg Nichols is a pastor at Grace Immanuel Reformed Baptist Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and an instructor at Reformed Baptist Seminary. Audio and video from the series are available below. The videos are in WMV format and will need to be downloaded to your computer first before viewing. (From Sovereign Grace Audio Treasures)
12) God's Simplicity
14) God's Aseity
34) God's Justice
28 I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. 29 My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand.
Eisegesis: the practice of reading meaning into a text, rather than exegesis, which is ‘drawing out’ or ‘extracting the meaning’ from a text.
In a prior post we addressed a parallel passage to this – where Paul says nothing can separate he and his Roman brethren from the love of God. Here the Apostle that Jesus loved – John – nears the end of his account of the Good Shepherd discourse. The verses above are not an island unto themselves – the entire discourse leads up to this and affirms the point made here. To examine this passage we must first bring in the bigger context of chapter ten.
In John 10, Jesus continues his encounter with some Pharisees from chapter nine. In chapter nine, Jesus had healed a man on the Sabbath (v. 14), incurring the wrath of the Pharisees once they found out the man had been healed on the Sabbath (v. 16). Not only did they get upset with Jesus, they also didn’t believe the man had been born blind, at least until they contacted the man’s parents and confirmed his prior blindness (v. 18). The man’s parents were afraid of these Jewish leaders – they feared being put out of the synagogue (v. 22).
The Pharisees then talked to the man again and the man says he has already told them what happened (v. 27). The Pharisees then revile the man (v. 28), calling upon their being disciples of Moses as opposed this man who is a disciple of Jesus. The man responds by telling them never has a man been born blind and subsequently had his eyes opened, and that if this man – Jesus – were not from God, he could do nothing (vv. 30-33). They respond by saying this man was born in utter sin and they cast him out (v. 34). In the midst of this is a hint of divine presence – the Old Testament says in Isaiah 35:5 and 42:7 that God will open the eyes that are blind, which is exactly what the Christ did with this man.
Jesus hears about this, encounters the man and while he is talking with the man some Pharisees get involved (v. 40), which leads us into chapter ten.
Chapter nine is setting up a contrast with chapter ten – a contrast of the bad shepherds (the Pharisees) vs. the Good Shepherd (Christ).
In chapter ten, verses 1-6, Jesus says concerning the Good Shepherd:
- He is the one who enters by the door
- The sheep hear his voice
- He calls the sheep by name
- He leads the sheep
- The sheep follow him
Then, in verse seven, he identifies himself as the door which he mentioned in verse two. He goes on to say that all who came before him were thieves and robbers and the sheep didn’t listen to these thieves and robbers (v. 8).
He repeats the statement that he himself is “the door” in verse nine. He then says if anyone enters by him, he will be saved. Not that he will be saved, then unsaved, then saved again depending upon his own “free will.” He will be saved. As a result of this having been saved, the one saved will have pasture, a clear reference to Old Testament passages such as Psalm 23:1-6, Psalm 95:7, Psalm 100:3, Isaiah 40:11, Isaiah 49:9-10 and Ezekiel 34:12-16.
We have already commented on verse 10 and will not do so again here, but the comment is relevant and would be worthy of perusal. Suffice it to say here that verse 10 addresses the contrast between bad shepherds and the Good Shepherd rather starkly. The bad shepherds kill, steal and destroy – the Good Shepherd came to give abundant life.
In verse 11, Jesus identifies himself as this Good Shepherd, stating that the Good Shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. Not for the sheep and the goats, but for the sheep, which he repeats in verse fifteen. We see further contrasts in verses 12-14.
Jesus makes a startling comparison in verses fourteen and fifteen as he compares his knowledge of the sheep with the knowledge that he and the Father have for each other. The “knowledge” is not a mere cognitive awareness, but a special, intimate relationship. The relationship between the Father and the Good Shepherd is an eternal one and cannot be broken; this is why the comparison is so startling – the relationship between these sheep and the Shepherd is comparable in degree and in duration.
In verse sixteen, Jesus says he has other sheep not yet in the fold – but that he must bring them also. Not that he may bring them, but that he must. This is an absolute – something that necessarily happens. Not only will he bring them, the sheep will hear – they will listen to his voice. Again, this is an absolute. It is not that the sheep could possibly hear his voice, but that they will hear. Why? So there will be one flock. There will not be scattered flocks of sheep in varied locations, some under the oversight of other shepherds or even no shepherd at all. The sheep will hear, being brought into the one flock under the One Shepherd.
In verse seventeen we see the love of the Shepherd for the sheep once again expressed by the intent of his sacrificial death on behalf of the sheep and this is reflected by the Father’s love for the Shepherd, who says in verse eighteen that no one forces him to lay down his life, but he does it willingly. In John 6 we read of Jesus stating that he came to do the Father’s will – and that will was what? To lose none of those given to him by the Father. He said that he did not come to do his own will but the will of the father who sent him. He had given a precursor to this in John 4 where he said that his ‘food’ was to “do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work.” (v. 34) John 6 gives us detail on what this will entailed and John 10 gives yet more. This was the charge received from the Shepherd from the father as verse eighteen closes the discourse.
That sets up the confrontation we see beginning in verse 21 and running through verse 39. Jesus’ opponents ask for an answer to the issue of whether or not he is the Messiah and Jesus responds by telling them they already have the answer (vv. 25-26). But why do they not believe? Why do they not understand? Verse 26 states that their unbelief is not because they don’t have enough information, but it is because they are not among his sheep. What difference does that make? Verse 27 gives us the answer: the sheep hear. Hear what? The voice of the Shepherd. Resulting in what action on the part of the sheep? They follow the Shepherd. It is not merely that the sheep can hear, it is that they will hear. Once hearing, they will follow.
Upon “hearing,” the Good Shepherd gives them eternal life. Jesus makes a threefold statement, using parallelism to say the same thing from three different perspectives: 1) the duration of the life, 2) the ability to lose the life, and 3) the means by which the life is assured. Repeatedly in John, John writes that eternal life is a gift (3:16; 3:36; 6:27; 6:40; 17:2) – a gift that cannot be revoked, if it is indeed eternal. Life which may cease is not eternal. Paul writes that the gifts and calling of God are irrevocable in Romans 11:29. Paul had written in Romans 8:29 that those who are called according to his purpose have been foreknown, then predestined to be conformed to the image of the Son. Then those who are predestined are called, then those who are called are justified, then those who are justified are glorified – all in an unbroken chain. The gift of eternal life – given to the sheep who hear – and all the sheep will hear, because the Shepherd will chase after the one from the hundred which is lost (Luke 15:4-6) is irrevocable and eternal indeed.
Verses 28 and 29 are nothing more than the summation of what has been presented in verses 1-27. The Shepherd gives the sheep eternal life, which by definition being eternal, cannot cease. It cannot cease because the Shepherd is the Good Shepherd and he will guard the sheep to the point of dying in their place to assure they will not perish. This Shepherd has all authority in his hands and it is into these hands that the sheep are placed. In these hands the sheep are secure. In these hands the sheep are safe. The oneness of the Father and the Shepherd is displayed in the statements of verses 29 and 30. The sheep are safe – eternally safe, in the hands of the Father and the hands of the Shepherd. In Isaiah 49, we see another statement concerning the people of God and their being in the hands of the Lord. Isaiah 49:16 says that the people of God are not just in his hands, but on his hands:
Behold, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands; your walls are continually before me.
This statement concerning Israel relates to verses 28-29 – the people of God are not just written, but engraved on the hands of the Lord. Engravings last. So does the life given to the sheep as a gift – after all, it is eternal.
What makes this Shepherd so Good? None of his sheep will perish. They will follow him. They will hear his voice. They will have pasture. Once in the fold, they are kept there by the might of the Shepherd and the might of the Father (cf. 1 Peter 1:5).
The eisegesis of our title? The common objection to this passage’s statement concerning the security of the sheep is that, “Well, you can take yourself out of the hands.” To say that is the case is to do violence to the entirety of the passage and its point being made that this Shepherd is not like the shepherds of chapter nine. This Shepherd will not lose any of his sheep. The work done by the Shepherd will be completed (Phil. 1:6). The work done by the Spirit will enable, but even more so, cause the sheep to hear, follow and remain (John 3:8; Ezek. 36:26-27; Phil. 2:13).
Another objection heard recently was voiced by a pastor in an online conversation I witnessed. His statement? Verses 28-29 only concern “those sheep in the fold who could be stolen by the thief. It has nothing to do with sheep who decide to not hear.” He also said that Satan is the thief of 10:10, which was addressed in our prior essay referenced above. Again, this does violence to the fullness of the passage. It is not as if there are sheep who decide to not hear – all the sheep will hear. They will follow. They will find pasture. These sheep are the ones given by the father to the Shepherd in John 6. In John 6, the Shepherd says he will lose nothing of that which was given to him – but why? It was the will of the Father for him to save them and if we wish to say in any way that the Shepherd did not fulfill the will of the Father – in whole or in part – we have a huge biblical problem.
John 10:28-29 gives great, great comfort to those who have bowed the knee to the Good Shepherd. If this passage does not do so, one will have to look long and hard to find passages that will give such comfort. Let us rejoice that the hands of the father and the hands of the Shepherd are mighty to save!
Just Asking, November 8, 2012 Edition: Situational Sovereignty? God’s Sovereignty In Presidential Elections vs. God’s Sovereignty In Salvation
Salvation belongs to the Lord (Ps. 3:8; Jonah 2:9; Rev. 7:10)
Reading what many people are writing – Christian people, to be specific – concerning yesterday’s Presidential election is quite interesting. Many, many Christians, especially those who did not vote for President Obama, have been declaring the sovereignty of God in this election. We read much about how this is part of God’s eternal plan and about how God sovereignly orchestrated the events of yesterday in order to fulfill that plan. Let’s examine the statements a little closer.
How could God sovereignly orchestrate the electoral results? Didn’t people walk into polling places, complete their ballots, choosing based upon their own preferences and desires – and didn’t they do so willingly, volitionally – “freely?” If their decisions were willing, volitional ones based on their own conscience – how could God sovereignly orchestrate the events of yesterday? As of this moment, the results show 59,631,249 people voted for President Obama. That means that many people made decisions of their own will do vote for him. Now, is this the way God sovereignly oversees His Creation – where He allows events to happen and then “responds” and makes it part of His eternal plan? (which is what many people really mean by stating God’s sovereignty concerning the election) No, the Bible says God has determined the end from the beginning and no one can frustrate His plan (e.g. Isaiah 46:9-10, Daniel 4:34-35). Therefore, if the election yesterday was God’s plan – how did it happen? Over 59 million people made decisions – choices – yesterday. How does that fit into this plan? If this were God’s eternal plan, how did over 59 million people become participants?
Because God is sovereign.
That may seem basic, but one must think about the implications – how and why did 59 million people choose President Obama instead of one of the other candidates? Was God just gnashing his proverbial teeth, hoping that 59,00,000 people would do what he desired them to do? No. One must think carefully – and biblically – about this issue? How did all those people – 59 million of them – make willing, volitional, “free” decisions that would fulfill God’s eternal plan? The biblical answer is because God decreed those decisions in eternity and caused them to occur in time and space. This is how God providentially governs His Creation – the God of the Bible is not the God of the Deists (think Thomas Jefferson), a God who created all things, set Creation in motion and has stepped back and just watches.
We must go back further. Why was President Obama up for re-election in the first place? Over 69 million people voted for Mr. Obama. If they had not done that, he would not have been on the ballot yesterday and his re-election would not have been part of God’s eternal, sovereign plan.
We must go back even further. How did he get on the ballot in 2008? Through the means of the willing choices made by voters in the primary process.
We must go back further. How did he get involved in the primary process? Because he was a Senator from Illinois, voted into office by the people of Illinois through all their willing choices.
We must go back further. How did Mr. Obama become known on a national level? Through his speech at the 2004 Democratic National Convention. Why was he chosen to give that speech? Why not someone else? That speech catapulted Mr. Obama to national visibility. Willing, volitional choices had to be made by certain powers-that-be in order for Mr. Obama to have given that speech.
We could engage in nearly infinite regress here but hopefully the point has been made. An untold number of “free” choices had to be made for the events of yesterday to come to pass. They could only have come to pass – a number of decisions which we cannot imagine – in order for the voters of the United States to have re-elected Mr. Obama yesterday. Those decisions, however, were not outside the will of God – and God did not merely “permit” or “allow” these decisions. All the decisions through history that people have made were pointing to the events of yesterday. God is not just a deity who throws all the events and choices of history into a cosmic vat, stirring them with the ultimate spoon, hoping they mix together to accomplish His will. God actually decrees and controls man’s decisions. Yes, He does.
One need not object, saying that man is thus not held responsible as a moral agent (a “robot,” or a “puppet,” to use common objections) if God decrees his choices. One need only read one Old Testament passage (Isaiah 10:5-19) and one New Testament passage (Romans 9:6-24) as a primer, because there are many more concerning the issue of God’s control of man’s decisions and man’s moral responsibility for those decisions.
To sum up our first point- yes, God was sovereign yesterday and His sovereignty could only have been manifest because He had ordained not only the outcome of the election, but the means to that outcome – a nearly infinite number of choices made by people over many years and many different circumstances.
It is not uncommon to see such statements made by Christians, especially in light of events that occur which are what people consider less than favorable. Events such as Presidential elections (whether or not one objects to or affirms yesterday’s results), natural disasters, illness, unexpected death and so on are taken under the heading of the sovereignty of God in order for those affected to receive some degree of comfort – and biblically, they should.
It is quite interesting to see Christians proclaiming God’s sovereign authority and His ordination of events occurring in history – events that include “free” choices made by men – with regard to all arenas of life and society except one, which is the most important one of all: the salvation of sinners.
What is the most important “choice’ a person will make in his or her life? The decision as to trust or not trust Christ. To follow or not follow Christ. To believe or not believe. To come to Christ or leave one’s back turned to Him. Those are all entailed in the same choice, by the way. Many, many who are now affirming God’s exhaustive sovereignty over history – said history necessarily including man’s willing, volitional choices – will affirm it in all areas of history except (except!) the salvation of sinners.
We are told by these people that God has opened the door to salvation for all but that whether or not a man walks through that door is completely up to him – up to his own “free will.” We are told God woos, entices, beckons but does not – indeed cannot, because man’s “free will” has to be preserved at all costs – do anything to actually effect or ensure anyone – no one, not even one person – comes to Christ. We are told that God cannot intervene in a person’s life and change their nature so that instead of hating God, they would love Him. We are told that God cannot intervene and give a person sufficient faith in order that they not only believe, they willingly believe. We are told that God cannot intervene in a person’s life and create sufficient faith and repentance such that a person cannot do anything other than come to Christ. We are told that no matter how much God may desire to save a person, He will not, cannot, indeed must not intervene in the life of an unwilling person to save him from the horrors of Hell. We are told that God has sovereignly decided to not be absolutely sovereign in the saving of sinners. Why? Because that would interfere with man’s “free will.” “Free will” must be preserved at all costs – even at the cost of “God’s unconditional love” for every single human being such that He expresses that love by not intervening to prevent a person’s condemnation -is that the biblical teaching?
Is the inconsistency clear here? If one is willing to ascribe God’s superintending of “free” human choices and actions, such as those of the men who wrote down revelation from God that we know as “the Bible,” if one is willing to affirm God’s exhaustive sovereignty over yesterday’s Presidential election and all the events and decisions in human history that brought us to this point, why are people not willing to say the same about God’s exhaustive sovereignty in the salvation of sinners? If every other decision or choice a person makes in his life falls under the sovereign decree of God – where is the biblical exemption with regard to a person’s choice to follow Christ?
The Bible states that every person is conceived in sin and is a rebel against God. The Bible states that every person by nature is a child of wrath, is a hater of God, has a heart that is wicked beyond comprehension and does not obey God because he cannot obey God. The Bible says that faith that saves is a gift from God. The Bible says repentance is granted by God. The Bible says God brings people from death to life as an act of His sovereign grace. The Bible says these people who are brought from death to life truly, truly believe because that belief is their own belief, given to them as a gift and they believe because they want to believe and are not compelled against their will to believe. The Bible says that this saving work begin in a sinner’s life as a gift from God will be carried through to completion.
It is wonderful, to be sure, seeing all the proclamations of the absolute sovereignty of God popping up all over cyberspace last night and today. In the big picture, though, the Presidential Election and God’s sovereignty over it are not the most important issues we must address. The most important issue is a man’s salvation or damnation. God is absolutely sovereign over that area, as well. Let us all be consistent in applying the clear biblical teaching with regard to salvation belonging to our Lord. Praise God He is sovereign in the salvation of sinners.
If any one, then, chooses to make use of this term without attaching any bad meaning to it, he shall not be troubled by me on that account; but as it cannot be retained without very great danger, I think the abolition of it would be of great advantage to the Church. I am unwilling to use it myself; and others if they will take my advice, will do well to abstain from it.
Institutes of The Christian Religion, Book 2, Chapter 2, Section 8.
From The Bondage of the Will – Section 26.
Over and over in his diatribe against Erasmus, Luther makes the point that for man’s will to be truly “free,” as Erasmus (and many today) wish to define it, then by necessity the only way it could be such is to fall into a Pelagian definition of “free will,” which has been denounced as heretical going back to the times of Augustine.
You describe the power of free-will as small, and wholly ineffective apart from the grace of God.
Agreed? Now then, I ask you: If God’s grace is wanting, if it is taken away from that small power, what can it do? It is ineffective, you say, and can do nothing good. So it will not do what God or His grace wills. Why? Because we have now taken God’s grace away from it, and what the grace of God does not do is not good. Hence it follows that free-will without God’s grace is not free at all, but is the permanent prisoner and bondslave of evil, since it cannot turn itself to good. This being so, I give you full permission to enlarge the power of free-will as much as you like; make it angelic, make it divine, if you can! – but when you add this doleful postscript, that it is ineffective apart from God’s grace, straightway you rob it of all its power. What is ineffective power but (in plain language) no power? So to say that free-will exists and has power, albeit ineffective power, is, in the Sophists’ phrase, a contradiction in terms. It is like saying ‘free-will’ is something which is not free - as if you said that fire is cold and earth hot. Fire certainly has power to heat; but if hell-fire (even) was cold and chilling instead of burning and scorching, I would not call it fire, let alone hot (unless you meant to refer to an imaginary fire, or a painted one). Note, however, that if we meant by the power of free-will the power which makes human beings fit subjects to be caught up by the Spirit and touched by God’s grace, as creatures made for eternal life or eternal death, we should have a proper definition. And I certainly acknowledge the existence of this power, this fitness, or dispositional quality and passive aptitude (as the Sophists call it), which, as everyone knows, is not given to plants or animals. As the proverb says, God did not make heaven for geese!
It is a settled truth, then, even on the basis of your own testimony, that we do everything of necessity, and nothing by free-will; for the power of free-will is nil, and it does no good, nor can do, without grace. It follows, therefore, that free-will is obviously a term applicable only to Divine Majesty; for only He can do, and does (as the Psalmist sings) whatever he wills in heaven and earth [Psalms 135:6]. If free-will is ascribed to men, it is ascribed with no more propriety than divinity itself would be – and no blasphemy could exceed that! So it befits theologians to refrain from using the term when they want to speak of human ability, and to leave it to be applied to God only. They would do well also to take the term out of men’s mouths and speech, and to claim it for their God, as if it were His own holy and awful Name. If they must at all hazards assign some power to men, let them teach that it be denoted by some other term than free-will; especially since we know from our own observation that the mass of men are sadly deceived and misled by this phrase. The meaning which it conveys to their minds is far removed from anything that theologians believe and discuss. The term free-will is too grandiose and comprehensive and fulsome. People think it means what the natural force of the phrase would require, namely, a power of freely turning in any direction, yielding to none and subject to none. If they knew that this was not so, and that the term signifies only a tiny spark of power, and that utterly ineffective in itself, since it is the devil’s prisoner and slave, it would be a wonder if they did not stone us as mockers and deceivers, who say one thing and mean another – indeed, who have not yet decided what we do mean!
Since, therefore, we have lost the meaning and the real reference of this glorious term, or, rather, have never grasped them (as was claimed by the Pelagians, who themselves mistook the phrase) why do we cling so tenaciously to an empty word, and endanger and delude faithful people in consequence? There is no more wisdom in so doing then there is in the modern foible of kings and potentates, who retain, or lay claim to, empty titles of kingdoms and countries, and flaunt them, while all the time they are really paupers, and anything but the possessors of those kingdoms and countries. We can tolerate their antics, for they fool nobody, but just feed themselves up – unprofitably enough – on their own vainglory. But this false idea of free-will is a real threat to salvation, and a delusion fraught with the most perilous consequences.
If we do not want to drop this term altogether – which would really be the safest and most Christian thing to do – we may still in good faith teach people to use it to credit man with free-will in respect, not of what is above him, but of what is below him. That is to say, man should realize that in regard to his money and possessions he has a right to use them, to do or to leave undone, according to his own free-will – though that very free-will is overruled by the free-will of God alone, according to His own pleasure. However, with regard to God, and in all that bears on salvation or damnation, he has no free-will, but is a captive, prisoner and bondslave, either to the will of God, or to the will of Satan.
Isaiah 10:5–19 (ESV)
Judgment on Arrogant Assyria
5 Ah, Assyria, the rod of my anger;
the staff in their hands is my fury!
6 Against a godless nation I send him,
and against the people of my wrath I command him,
to take spoil and seize plunder,
and to tread them down like the mire of the streets.
7 But he does not so intend,
and his heart does not so think;
but it is in his heart to destroy,
and to cut off nations not a few;
8 for he says:
“Are not my commanders all kings?
9 Is not Calno like Carchemish?
Is not Hamath like Arpad?
Is not Samaria like Damascus?
10 As my hand has reached to the kingdoms of the idols,
whose carved images were greater than those of Jerusalem and Samaria,
11 shall I not do to Jerusalem and her idols
as I have done to Samaria and her images?”
12 When the Lord has finished all his work on Mount Zion and on Jerusalem, he will punish the speech of the arrogant heart of the king of Assyria and the boastful look in his eyes. 13 For he says:
“By the strength of my hand I have done it,
and by my wisdom, for I have understanding;
I remove the boundaries of peoples,
and plunder their treasures;
like a bull I bring down those who sit on thrones.
14 My hand has found like a nest
the wealth of the peoples;
and as one gathers eggs that have been forsaken,
so I have gathered all the earth;
and there was none that moved a wing
or opened the mouth or chirped.”
15 Shall the axe boast over him who hews with it,
or the saw magnify itself against him who wields it?
As if a rod should wield him who lifts it,
or as if a staff should lift him who is not wood!
16 Therefore the Lord God of hosts
will send wasting sickness among his stout warriors,
and under his glory a burning will be kindled,
like the burning of fire.
17 The light of Israel will become a fire,
and his Holy One a flame,
and it will burn and devour
his thorns and briers in one day.
18 The glory of his forest and of his fruitful land
the Lord will destroy, both soul and body,
and it will be as when a sick man wastes away.
19 The remnant of the trees of his forest will be so few
that a child can write them down.
Ten Years Ago, Part 14: A Wiccan High Priest, Your Son’s Death, A Forgiveness Service, Providence And A Surprise The Next Day
For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry. Because thou hast rejected the word of the LORD, he hath also rejected thee from being king. (1 Samuel 15:23, KJV)
During one of the Keryx ministry weekends at Chippewa Correctional Facility, leadership had assigned me the Saturday night forgiveness service, a service I had done many times prior. While preparing for this service the day before the weekend began, which was a Wednesday, I inserted a brief discourse about rebellion and how we are commanded to forgive – and if we as believers fail to forgive, we are rebelling against God and thus sinning. For the first time, I also planned to use the above Scripture reference – little did I know how God’s providence would once again blow our socks off.
At that prison, 24 prisoners are permitted to attend the weekend. Every prisoner in the prison is eligible to attend, as long as he is not under sanctions restricting his movement within the prison. Prisoners need not be Christian to attend and thus we have prisoners from many belief (and non-belief) systems appear. This was made manifest when early on in the weekend we discovered that three of the 24 were Wiccans. They were all relatively young men, most likely in their 20′s and one was clearly more of a leader than the others. We also found out (from these men themselves) that the one prisoner was the local High Priest. What exactly is entailed in Wicca can be rather vague, but Wicca.com will give some answers. Suffice it to say for our purposes here this it is a form of witchcraft.
Saturday night rolled around and it was time for the forgiveness service – and these three men were still Wiccans and everyone knew it. As mentioned in earlier posts, this service at this prison is conducted in a rather small classroom. Quarters become rather tight when 60-70 volunteers and prisoners are wedged in there. When you stand in front of the prisoners conducting the service, you literally have to watch yourself to keep from stepping on the toes of the men in the front row.
Once all were assembled and it came my time to speak, I stood in front of them and who is in the middle of the front row – the one guy with whom I have to be most careful to not step on his feet? The Wiccan High Priest. He was a very pleasant, congenial young man who paid close attention as I spoke on forgiveness after Jon’s death. There came the time when I cited 1 Samuel 15:23 and stated that “rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft.” I can’t tell you if I made an effort to look down at the High Priest as I said it. What I can tell you is what happened afterward.
After the service, those prisoners attending the weekend returned to their housing units for the night. We volunteers and our prisoner helpers adjourned to a classroom for a brief meeting. At the meeting, someone raised their hand and said they had heard that the High Priest was “upset by what was said during the service.” Much concern was then expressed by some that what had been said offended the High Priest and that we should be careful not to offend when speaking. This went on for a few minutes and I remember sitting in the corner, listening, thinking to myself that we have bigger things to worry about than offending a Wiccan by merely quoting Scripture. Then one volunteer raised his hand and I still remember it as clear as day. What did he say? He said he didn’t know why everyone was upset because “I believe ___________ (High priest) needed to hear that. He needed to hear Jeff say that.” Praise God for a man who was willing to stand up for the Word of the Lord.
Concern had already been expressed that perhaps the High Priest was so offended that he may not return in the morning. In our closing prayer, someone did indeed pray that he would return – did he?
Yes, he did.
The next morning as we were waiting to begin the day with another service, a tap came upon my shoulder. I turn around. It’s the High Priest. What does he say? “Can I talk to you for a minute?” “Sure,” I responded, and out in the hallway we went.
At this point a book becomes relevant – what is known as the “Book of Shadows.” This is the book a Wiccan uses which contains his/her spells, rituals, etc. The High Priest had mentioned his Book of Shadows to volunteers in more than one conversation over the course of the weekend to this point.
We go to the hallway. I said, “Yes, sir.”
He responds, “I hear that you heard that I was upset about what you said last night in the chapel.”
“Yeah, I heard that.”
“Well, I want you to know something and I wanted to tell you first.”
“What you said last night didn’t bother me. Actually, when I went back to the unit last night I threw my Book of Shadows and all my Wiccan literature in the garbage can.”
We talked briefly and then were called in for the service to begin.
Subsequent to the weekend, this young man attended all the Christian services and even was a prisoner helper on the weekend six months later. Where is he today – physically and spiritually? I don’t know.
Herein lies the power of the Word of God. Augustine was converted by reading Romans 13:13 – a passage that cut directly to his conscience as it related to his licentious lifestyle:
Let us walk properly as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in quarreling and jealousy.
Philip explained Isaiah 53 to the Ethiopian eunuch in Acts 8 and the eunuch was converted. Great is the power of the Word of God.
There is another issue to address here: confronting people with the Word of God in evangelism as it directly relates to their own sin. Popular opinion within the Christian community today seems to say that we cannot directly address the sin(s) of a pagan because “it’ll turn them off” or “they won’t listen to us if we do that.” The Apostles knew no such strategy. In Acts 2″22-23, Peter directly addresses the sin of the Jews who desired the crucifixion of Christ when he said,
“Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know—this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men.
Peter says “you crucified and killed” “this Jesus.” In another example in Acts, Paul directly addresses the sin of Felix in chapter 24.
Felix had enticed Druscilla away from her first husband and Druscilla appeared to have not divorced her first husband so they were living in sexual sin. In Paul’s discourse, what does he say? The Scripture says Paul reasoned about “righteousness and self-control and the coming judgment (v. 25).” The word behind “self-control” has special connotations addressing controlling one’s sexual desires. Thayer says the word (“egkrateia”) has the meaning of “the virtue of one who masters his desires and passions, esp. his sensual appetites.” Paul directly addressed sexual sin with a man – and a woman – who were committing sexual sin. Paul was cutting straight to their consciences and we see that at least Felix was affected – Felix became “alarmed” (“trembled,” KJV).
Praise God for the power in His Word.
As part of participation in the Keryx ministry, I was assigned to counsel prisoners. Occurring during the three-day weekend, these are usually one-time sessions, where you’d have 15-30 minutes to address a prisoner’s issue. In essence, it was battlefield counseling where you most likely would never have the opportunity to talk to the prisoner alone again.
At Chippewa Correctional Facility in October of 2002, I had been assigned this role. In addition, leadership had given me a talk where we were to present several topics which included death. In my presentation, I discussed Jon’s death and its circumstances. I have to bring forth the details of Jon’s death and they are germane here, so now is the time.
No one is able to tell us what all the details of that night were. Here is what we are able to piece together. Jon and his friend, after leaving our home, went and purchased alcohol somewhere locally (both being underage). They went riding in Jon’s car and at some point the vehicle became stuck in the dry creek bed mentioned in an earlier post. They walked a mile and a half back to the house of his best friend, where they went to get a truck with which to extract Jon’s car. Evidently Jon’s best friend punched the gas and vehicle went across the road to where Jon was standing and ran him over. Jon’s best friend, in his inebriated state, was somehow unaware this had happened and then drove around looking for Jon and drove over to our house, where he managed to drive off the road and get the truck stuck in the ditch across from our home. He raced the engine trying to get out but only succeeded in burying the passenger side tires further in the muck. This was why my wife had awakened that night – she had heard the engine racing. She thought about going out to see what was happening, but decided against it. It was 3:00am and she went back to bed, having said a prayer for Jon’s soul and his safety (in vain, as we found out in a few hours, Jon being already dead on the road in front of his friend’s house).
Much of what I said in prior posts is what I say in presenting death during this particular talk. But prior to the talk, I received notice that a particular prisoner had requested counseling – not from a particular counselor, but from whomever was available. I was asked if I was available and I said I would be after I gave this talk, which lasts for 70 minutes. Yes, 70 minutes. We cover a lot of ground.
Chippewa Correctional Facility at that time was primarily a Level III prison – Michigan prisons range from Level I to Level V, with Level I being minimum security and Level V being maximum. (Unofficially, there was a Level VI at the time in one prison, but I do not know if it still exists). Chippewa, or “URF,” to use its acronym, was known as a disciplinary prison. Prisoners who were behavior problems were sent there in order to try and get their “points” lowered (a prisoner accumulates “points” similar to one’s driving record. It’s like golf – a high score is not a good score.) In those days, prisoners stayed there for relatively short periods – 3-6 months – and then were transferred, “ridden out,” to use the local jargon, to lower security prisons. Thus, the prisoners we encountered there were not known for good behavior – in fact, they were in that prison typically for the opposite – bad behavior elsewhere.
The talk finished and shortly thereafter I was asked if I was ready and I said I was. I was led to the room where we counsel – a small classroom. At that prison, you never knew what kind of prisoner you would encounter. Several years later, another volunteer and I were approached for counseling by a prisoner. The counseling was arranged, with the caveat issued to the prisoner that our discussion was not covered under the rules of privileged communication since my colleague was not sufficiently certified in order to have confidentiality in counseling. The prisoner agreed to those terms. What did he want to talk about? He went into detail about his crime and we stopped him, saying we weren’t there for that reason – we were there to address his spiritual concerns, not his legal ones. He then proceeded to ask us if we would help him obtain assistance in typing his legal briefs and if we would assist in smuggling documents outside the prison. We stopped that right there and said we would not do so and the session ended. When I returned home the next night I told my wife what had happened (remember, there was no “seal of the confessional” here because he knew going in there wasn’t any) without saying the prisoner’s name and I told her what he had said about his crime. You never know if you are being told the truth in the first place – you hope you are, but you never know. In this case, we had been told the truth. How do we know? My wife said, “I think I watched a show about him last night.” We get on the Internet, do a little searching on that cable channel’s web site and sure enough, she did watch a show about that prisoner the night before. It turns out his case had enough notoriety for a cable channel to have made an hour-long edition with his case as the only story. Over the years, let’s just say we have encountered some “interesting people” at that prison.
They took me to that classroom, followed by the prisoner. He sits down. He’s in his early 20′s. He hasn’t been in prison that long. He’s similar in build to Jon with a similar haircut and similar facial hair. What does he want to talk about? Keep in mind he asked for counseling before I talked – and he did not request me – I “just happened” to be the one whom the leadership had inquired as to availability. I didn’t even know his name until I asked him. I explained the ground rules for our session and he said, “OK.” What did he want to talk about?
He wanted to talk about what had put him in prison. What had put him there? He had become drunk one night and killed someone while driving his vehicle. What had I just spoken on minutes before, unbeknownst to him, an hour after he had made his request for counseling? My son being killed by a drunk driver (yes, while being drunk himself). I can’t tell much of what he said, but what I can tell you is that he looked me in the eye as we started and said, “I did the same thing someone else that happened to your son.” Coincidence? No, sir. Providence? Yes, sir.
Proverbs 19:21 Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the Lord that will stand.
Think about it. The Keryx ministry, at that time, was active in six prisons in Michigan. Michigan had approximately 50 men’s prisons then, with approximately 40,000 male prisoners. Why did this prisoner get sent to that prison at that time and end up being open of the 24 chosen from a list of over 50 desiring to attend? Why did the leadership approach me first concerning this prisoner, not knowing why he wanted to talk and with me not having discussed Jon’s death up to that point? Providence. The doctrine of God’s providence. How many decisions involving “free will” were involved in getting that prisoner to that place at that time to hear me talk about that topic which mirrored his life? Why did the chaplain, using his “free will,” choose this prisoner for participation? Why did someone, back in the mid-1990′s decide using their “free will,” to hire that chaplain who would make that choice years later? Who made the decision, using their “free will,” to send that prisoner to that prison in the first place? Who made a decision using their “free will,” to hire the person who made that decision to send the prisoner to URF? Do you see the infinite regress possible here? All these things just “happened?” No, they did not just happen as a random conclusion of a myriad of a nearly infinite number of unrelated choices made using people’s independent “free wills.” God orchestrated the entire sequence as part of His eternal plan of the governance of His Creation.
Why didn’t the vehicle that hit Jon go two feet to the east? If so, he never would have died that night. Why did they choose to go down the road which led to the dry creek bed in which his vehicle became stuck? Because they wanted to, which is correct. Were those decisions outside the eternal plan of God for that prisoner to be talking to me about his having killed a person while driving drunk, right after I had talked about my son dying at the hands of another driving drunk? No, they weren’t.
Prov 16:9 “The heart of man plans his way, but the LORD establishes his steps.”
This ended up not being the only time a prisoner in this situation would approach me for counseling. After I would tell the story of Jon’s death, prisoners who had killed someone while driving drunk would approach me – why? Curiously, they did it because, almost without fail, they would say that they could relate to me – even though I was not a fellow drunk driver, but I was a member of a victim’s family who knew the pain he had caused. They would say, “You can identify with what I did.” They would also talk about forgiveness, which I also address given the opportunity – and have yet to do in this series of posts. Forgiveness will be addressed in a future post.