Robert Ingersoll was the son of a preacher. His dad, John Ingersoll, served for a time with Charles Finney at Chatham Street Chapel in New York. John’s son, Robert, grew up listening to the teaching of the Bible, but eventually he rejected everything he ever heard while he was young and became known as the “The Great Agnostic.”
Robert was a brilliant young man who was largely self-taught. He passed the Bar without ever having gone to Law School. He was a Civil War veteran who became a political leader. He was a champion for Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution. He was a passionate communicator who packed out auditoriums for his lectures. He became friends with people like Mark Twain, Walt Whitman, Andrew Carnegie, and Thomas Edison. He was a man of great influence in what Mark Twain called “The Gilded Age” of America.
Robert was schooled in the Bible and he used the knowledge he had gained as a child to mock those who would cling to their archaic beliefs in an age of science. He wrote books and articles like “Some Mistakes of Moses,” “The Great Infidels,” “What’s God Got To Do With It?” and “About the Holy Bible: A Lecture.” He should have titled that last book, “A Lecture on the Unholy Bible,” because it is a scathing rebuke of everything we as the followers of Jesus believe about the Bible.
In an article called, “Which Way?” Robert Ingersoll laid out the two ways that people can choose to live their lives. He said you can either live your life for God, but that is fruitless. It has been shown in the past, throughout history, to be fruitless. There is another way, another option, and that is to live your life for humanity. He wrote,
There are two ways. One is to live for God. That has been tried, and the result has always been the same. It was tried in Palestine many years ago and the people who tried it were not protected by their God. They were conquered, overwhelmed and exiled. They lost their country and were scattered over the earth. For many centuries they expected assistance from their God. They believed that they would be gathered together again, that their cities and temples and altars would be rebuilt, that they would again be the favorites of Jehovah, that with his help they would overcome their enemies and rule the world. Century by century the hope has grown weaker and weaker, until now it is regarded by the intelligent as a foolish dream.
There is another way, let us live for man, for this world. Let us develop the brain and civilize the heart. Let us ascertain the conditions of happiness and live in accordance with them. Let us do what we can for the destruction of ignorance, poverty and crime. Let us do our best to supply the wants of the body, to satisfy the hunger of the mind, to ascertain the secrets of nature, to the end that we may make the invisible forces the tireless servants of the human race, and fill the world with happy homes. Let the gods take care of themselves. Let us live for man. (Ingersoll, Robert. Which Way? 1884)
Robert Ingersoll said that God’s people living in Palestine looked for help, but no help came. Any thought that living for God could possibly be a sensible choice was utter foolishness to Ingersoll. When he died in 1899 the Jews were still a people with no nation. When the Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed by the Romans in 70 A.D. it meant the end of Israel…so everyone believed. Year after year, decade after decade, and century after century the cynics and critics like Robert Ingersoll snickered and mocked. Then, less than 50 years after Robert Ingersoll’s death, help came and the nation of Israel was reborn in 1948. Robert Ingersoll told the world that the Jews trusted in God, lived for God, but no help came. Today, Robert Ingersoll is dead and the nation of Israel is alive and well!
Robert Ingersoll said there are two ways to live. In our Scripture for today we can learn that there are two ways to die. Let’s read together from John 8:21-30.
21 Once more Jesus said to them, “I am going away, and you will look for me, and you will die in your sin. Where I go, you cannot come.” 22This made the Jews ask, “Will he kill himself? Is that why he says, ‘Where I go, you cannot come’?” 23 But he continued, “You are from below; I am from above. You are of this world; I am not of this world. 24 I told you that you would die in your sins; if you do not believe that I am he, you will indeed die in your sins.” 25 “Who are you?” they asked. “Just what I have been telling you from the beginning,” Jesus replied. 26 “I have much to say in judgment of you. But he who sent me is trustworthy, and what I have heard from him I tell the world.” 27 They did not understand that he was telling them about his Father. 28 So Jesus said, “When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am he and that I do nothing on my own but speak just what the Father has taught me. 29 The one who sent me is with me; he has not left me alone, for I always do what pleases him.” 30 Even as he spoke, many believed in him. (John 8:21-30 NIV)
As we’ve been studying the Gospel of John we’ve witnessed a growing tension between Jesus and the religious leaders of His day. Let me give you an example. In the last chapter of John, Jesus told the Pharisees that He was going away, they would look for Him, but wouldn’t find Him. Let’s read John 7:33-35.
33 Jesus said, “I am with you for only a short time, and then I am going to the one who sent me. 34 You will look for me, but you will not find me; and where I am, you cannot come.” 35 The Jews said to one another, “Where does this man intend to go that we cannot find him? Will he go where our people live scattered among the Greeks, and teach the Greeks? 36 What did he mean when he said, ‘You will look for me, but you will not find me,’ and ‘Where I am, you cannot come’?” (John 7:33-36 NIV)
They were puzzled. They wondered if Jesus was going to leave Jerusalem and minister to the Greeks. They had no idea what He meant, but they were asking questions. In John 8, the whole tone of their response to Jesus changed. In John 8:21, Jesus said something very similar to what He said in John 7. Listen to this.
21 Once more Jesus said to them, “I am going away, and you will look for me, and you will die in your sin. Where I go, you cannot come.” (John 8:21 NIV)
The religious leaders responded to Jesus with questions, like they did in John 7, but in John 8 their questions were nothing more than mocking insults of Jesus. In verse 22, they asked if Jesus was planning on killing Himself, committing suicide. No more ridiculous statement could have been made since all Jews believed that suicide was the worst offense against God that a person could commit. Jesus didn’t respond to their comment. Instead, He said, “You are from below; I am from above. You are of this world; I am not of this world.” After hearing what Jesus had to say, the Pharisees said, “Who are you?” You can read those three words and understand them in a couple of different ways. “Who are you?” as in, “Help us understand who you are. We want to know more about you.” There’s another way to understand, “Who are you?” and that is more of a statement than a question—“Who are you? You are a nobody! Don’t you know who we are?!” That’s exactly what they meant.
They knew full well who Jesus was claiming to be. They knew it before He ever made the statements in our Scripture for today, but Jesus drove His claim home in today’s Scripture. I want you to notice something. There are two statements, in verse 24 and in verse 28, that we must understand because the Pharisees certainly understood them. The phrase that appears in both verses in English is, “I am he.” “He” isn’t present in the Greek text of these verses. The statement simply reads, “I am.” “I am” is the English translation of the Greek phrase, “??? ????” (ego eimi). The reason why the religious leaders understood what Jesus was saying and why we can easily miss it from reading this Scripture is because they knew their Bible inside and out. Let me show you what I’m talking about.
In Exodus 3, Moses was minding his own business tending to his father-in-law’s flocks when God appeared to him in a burning bush. God revealed to Moses that He had seen the suffering of His people in Egypt and was going to deliver them. God said, “I’m sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt.” (Exodus 3:10) Moses wasn’t nearly as confident as God that he was the man for the job. Moses said, “What if they ask me what my God’s name is. What should I tell them?” In Exodus 3:14, God said to Moses,
14 God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I AM has sent me to you.'” (Exodus 3:14 NIV)
What’s really interesting is that in the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible, the same Greek phrase that Jesus uttered in John 8 is used to translate God’s answer to Moses—Jesus is the “I AM,” He is YHWH who has come down to rescue His people, not from Pharaoh, but from their sin. This claim of Jesus, to be one with the Father, came to a head just a few verses later in John 8:58-59. Listen to this.
58 “Very truly I tell you,” Jesus answered, “before Abraham was born, I am!” 59 At this, they picked up stones to stone him, but Jesus hid himself, slipping away from the temple grounds. (John 8:58-59 NIV)
It is the exact same Greek phrase, “??? ????” which is used over and over again in the Septuagint of YHWH. Exodus 3 isn’t the only place where this phrase appears. Turn with me to Isaiah 43:25 and let me show you another occurrence of this Greek phrase.
25 “I, even I, am he who blots out your transgressions, for my own sake, and remembers your sins no more. (Isaiah 43:25 NIV)
In John 8:24, Jesus told the Pharisees that if they did not believe that He is who He claimed to be that they would die in their sins. They didn’t believe. The Pharisees wouldn’t believe. They had their minds fixed on what they believed to be the truth and they weren’t about to consider any other possibility. I think there are many of us today who are of the same mindset.
Maybe you have come here today and you are a skeptic. You’ve come to church to appease your mom or dad, your husband or wife, but the truth is that you no more believe that you need Jesus than the Pharisees did. You’re strong, you’re tough, you’ve figured out the tight places you’ve found yourself in in the past and you’ll figure out whatever tough spots lie ahead. My friend, you might figure out situations and circumstances that you will be confronted with in life, but what will you do with your sin?
I was in Bible study this past Wednesday night when Jim Cymbala said, “I doubt that if the Apostles were alive in our day that they would recognize our modern-day Christianity.” I’ve thought about that statement over and over again since Wednesday night. I think Pastor Cymbala is right. So much of the teaching of modern-day Christianity has to do with how we can do better, how we can improve, how we can reach our potential. But what about our sin? What will we do with our sin? We can pretend that it isn’t there, that we’re not sinners, but I know very few people who are so arrogant. We can mistakenly conclude that if we will just try harder then we can alleviate the sin that plagues us. The fallacy and futility of that approach is that our primary problem is not that we sin, but that we are sinners. Fish swim, dogs bark, birds fly, and sinners sin.
As important as it is to learn how to be a man or woman of character and integrity, it is even more important for a sinner to find forgiveness. As important as it is for a husband and father to learn how to treat and honor his wife and kids, it is even more important for a sinner to learn that he can be redeemed. As important as it is for a woman to learn how to improve the way she loves her children and husband, it is even more important for a sinner to learn that she can be saved. They key to unlock who you can be as a man, woman, husband, wife, father, mother, employee, employer, athlete, student, and friend is not found in a book on a shelf at Barnes and Noble, but it’s found in a relationship with Jesus Christ. Paul wrote,
17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! (2 Corinthians 5:17 NIV)
If we believe Jesus, if we believe that He is God’s provision for our greatest problem, the problem of our sin, then He will make us a new creation. He will make us new, He will begin to bring about changes in us that no New Year’s resolution can ever begin to accomplish. The first and most important change that Jesus will make in your life and mine is to deliver us from the shackles of sin. By His death and resurrection He has made it possible for sinners to become the righteousness of God.
21 God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Corinthians 5:21 NIV)
We can be like Robert Ingersoll and know the truth and yet walk away from the truth. He thought that because he rejected Jesus that He was done with Jesus, but nothing could be further from the truth. The Pharisees thought that if they could only get rid of Jesus that they would be done with Him, but nothing could be further from the truth. There are many in our day who have convinced themselves of the same misguided belief that to reject Jesus is to be done with Him. There is no being done with Jesus my friends.
There is no doubt that Matthew and Luke were right when they reported that Jesus is a friend of sinners. The woman caught in adultery knew that she never had a friend like the friend she had in Jesus. The woman at the well, because of her past, was going to draw water when no one else was around. It was at the well that she drank from the Living Water and found out that Jesus is a friend to the friendless. In Jesus’ day lepers were ostracized, marginalized, kept outside of the city limits, but when the man with leprosy cried out to Jesus, “Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.” (Matthew 8:2 NIV) Jesus reached out and did the unthinkable…He touched him and made him clean! For the man that nobody would dare touch, Jesus touched him. Oh, what a friend sinners have in Jesus when they will but call out His name, trust in His mercy and grace, and confess that He alone is the long awaited Messiah.
Jesus is a friend of sinners, but make no mistake about my friend, He is also the Judge who will render the final verdict and no person who has ever lived will escape their appointment before His throne. When Peter was speaking at Cornelius’ house, he said of Jesus,
42 He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one whom God appointed as judge of the living and the dead. (Acts 10:42 NIV)
He is the Judge of all of those who have ever or will ever live. You can deny His existence, but that won’t make Him go away, that will not excuse you from the appointment that has already been set for you to come before His throne. You can shake your fist at the heavens and curse His name because of the troubles and trials of your life, but one day you will bow your knee and confess that He is Lord. Paul said as much when he wrote to the people of Philippi. Listen to this.
9 Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, 10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:9-11 NIV)
Every knee will bow. Every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. I don’t think I need to take you to the Greek for you to understand what “every” means. That means the most hardened atheist will bow their knee just like the most tender-hearted believer.
There may be many ways to live, but there are only two ways to die. We will either die in our sins, just as Jesus told the Pharisees, or we will die in Christ. In Reveleation 14:13, we learn that those who die “in the Lord” are blessed. Read along with me.
13 Then I heard a voice from heaven say, “Write this: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on…” (Revelation 14:13 NIV)
In our day there is far too much thought and energy being put into how we will live and far too little thought and energy spent on how we will die. The great preacher Martyn Lloyd-Jones, after serving at Westminster Chapel in London for thirty years and teaching God’s Word for more than fifty years, was nearing the end of his life. Ian Murray had been an assistant to Dr. Jones and was a prolific author. He wanted to write an autobiography of Dr. Jones’ life, but Martyn decided against it because he wanted to use what time he had left to prepare for his death. Ian Murray wrote about the conversation he had with Dr. Jones and what determined Dr. Jones’ decision. He wrote,
It had to do with his final assessment of the right use of such time as remained to him…it came home to him with much conviction that time to prepare for death was very important; he needed such time and believed that its right use was now his chief work as a Christian. What was uppermost in his thoughts did not lie in the past at all. The big thing before him was that all Christians need a pause from the activities of life in order to prepare for heaven. (Ian Murray.)
This past week I listened to a sermon Dr. Jones preached on the very Scripture we’ve been studying this morning. It is called, “The Death of Christ.” It is such a powerful study that everyone should listen and learn from. In that sermon Dr. Jones said,
And my dear friend I want to leave you with this thought this evening. You are going to see the Son of God. You can do nothing about avoiding it. Every eye shall see Him and one glimpse will be enough to tell you that He is the Son of God and the Son of Man. You’ll see His glory, His majesty, you’ll see Him riding on the clouds, you’ll see the holy angels, you’ll see the glimpse of His Kingdom, you’ll know there will be no argument, no disputation, and if you didn’t believe in Him when He were in this world, it will be the most terrible sight you’ve ever seen because then you’ll see that you were guilty of the terrible and tragic blunder that a man can ever be guilty of you’ve rejected your Savior, you rejected the Messiah, you’ve excluded yourself from the everlasting Kingdom…Every one of us is going to see the Lord Jesus Christ and that sight will be the most awful, terrifying, alarming sight that we’ve ever had, the wrath of the Lamb. Or else, it will be the most glorious experience that we’ve ever known. We shall see Him as He is. The One on whom we believe. And we shall immediately be changed in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye. At the sound of the trumpet we shall be transfigured and transformed, glorified even in body, we shall be like Him. And we shall spend our eternity in His glorious presence. (Martyn Lloyd-Jones. John 8:28: The Death of Christ.)
How about you? Have you ever given any thought to how you will die? I’m not referring to whether you will be killed in a car wreck, suffer from some incurable disease, or die in your old age. What I’m encouraging us to give thought to this morning is this: Will you die in Christ or will you die in your sins? You and I have no idea when we will die or how we will die, but this very morning we can settle the issue as to whether we will die in our sins or die in Christ. Won’t you make the decision this morning to trust Jesus as your Savior? Won’t you cry out to Him like Thomas and say, “My Lord and my God!”
Britton Christian Church
922 NW 91st
OKC, OK. 73114
January 11, 2014