I remember where I was. I had just begun my Ph.D. studies at Southern Seminary in Louisville, KY, and my wife and I were still visiting churches in thearea. That Sunday, we attended Clifton Baptist Church. Dr. Tom Schreiner, my doctoral supervisor and the pastor at Clifton, delivered a message from Luke 13 and reminded us of the sobering warning from Jesus: “Unless you repent, you will all likewise perish” (Luke 13:3).
I heard a word from the Lord that Sunday morning, but I wonder if other Americans heard the voice of God in the sermons they listened to on that day. People turned out in droves for church on September 16, 2001. So much so, that some evangelicals predicted 9-11 to be the catalyst to jar a godless nation into repentance and revival.
I think it’s safe to say now, however, that the spiritual awakening that many anticipated did not happen. Nevertheless, the preached word that I heard on that day is what has left an indelible and lasting mark on me.
The two most memorable September 16th sermons that I heard were preached by two men ministering in very different parts of the country. The first was from John Piper (audio, transcript), pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and the second from Tommy Nelson (audio), pastor of Denton Bible Church in Denton, Texas.
In some ways, these sermons were very similar. They both built on the theological foundation of the sovereignty of God over all things, which includes His sovereignty over calamities like the 9-11 terrorist attacks. Both sermons also expressed the grief appropriate for the occasion.
Yet in many other ways, the sermons were very different. On the one hand, Tommy Nelson exuded patriotism, nationalism, and a sense that America would rise up in its righteous might to settle accounts with its terrorist enemies. Nelson offered the assurance that America would prevail in the coming military conflict because God supports nations that support Israel.
On the other hand, John Piper called his listeners to turn away from their implicit trust in American military might and national prosperity. Americans by and large had taken for granted their own security in the world. Piper said 9-11 proves what the Bible already teaches—that such security is an illusory fiction. Our hope is not in the military and its ability to protect from all danger. Our hope is in Christ, and nothing can separate us from the love of Christ (Romans 8:35-39).
As I remembered the tragedy of 9-11 this past week, I also remembered these messages. I am thankful for the reminder that I serve a God who is sovereign over all things, that I serve a Christ who once looked into the cold eyes of at a heartless Roman govenor and said, “You would have no authority over Me, unless it had been given you from above.” I am thankful that while we have no basis for confidence in military might (Psalm 20:7), we have every reason to be confident in King Jesus who has promised to come again and to make all things new (Revelation 21:5). I am thankful for a Christ who loves sinners and who will one day banish evil from the new heavens and the new earth.
Calamaties will come, and calamities will go. But God’s word will never pass away. These sermons are a study in contrasts, but I encourage you to take some time to listen to both of them and to set your hope completely on Christ.