This is a transcript of a message given September 18, 2010, following the ninth anniversary of the attack on both the World Trade Center in New York City and the Pentagon in Washington D.C. It also coincided with the fifth anniversary of the Katrina hurricane that devastated Louisiana and other Gulf states.
We’ve been hearing a lot of stories in the news lately about the anniversary of the 9-11 attack on America. Although that day was a painful and bloody experience, I thought it might be instructive to stop today and spend a little time in this context analyzing some of the lessons we have learned. We can look at how things have changed, in the world and in our own lives.
There was an interesting story over the past few weeks about a fellow who pastors a little, tiny independent church in Florida. He apparently got his congregation all worked up to the point that they were going to burn books—specifically, copies of the Quran. (By the way, that’s one of the ways we have changed: We used to talk about the “Koran,” but now we call it, more correctly, the “Quran.”)
First of all, if you look at history, and the history of book burning, you’ll find that it was the constituted government that would confiscate forbidden books—just steal the books from their owners—and then pile up the books in the street and set fire to them. This event in Florida was not the same thing at all. This was going to be one little church that was doing this, not only without government sanction, but against everyone’s advice.
Secondly, someone would have to pay for the books. That little church was not the government, so they couldn’t just confiscate the books from every mosque in town. I imagine they had to buy the books they were going to burn. Now, if I was a book maker, or, at least, a book manufacturer, I’d say, “You paid for these books, you can do anything you want with them. Burn ‘em, for all I care!” So I have this question for which I have heard no answer: Who bought all those books they were planning on burning? The members of that congregation? If that’s the way it happened, and they had to buy a sizable number of books to make a decent book-burning, those people were probably making the Moslem book publisher rich!
And then thirdly, would it have done any good to burn a bunch of copies of the Quran? No. On the other hand, would it have done any harm? I think there were enough people who could see a bigger picture, people who were finally able to get through to these zealous but misguided folks in Florida, who may have avoided a lot of unnecessary bloodshed and violence. That was one remembrance of the 9-11 attacks we did not need.
Looking at the 9-11 Attack
There are lessons to be learned in all of the great historical events and catastrophes. One thing we might learn from the great disasters of history is that we don’t want to go through them again. Part of that is learning how we can deal with these problems better if we find that we do have to go through it again.
For government, we might expect the wheels to turn a little sooner, to be more responsive in the early hours after an emergency situation arises. For citizens at large, around the country, being better prepared might mean planning for a lengthy period without all the niceties and amenities of life. For the Christian, it might mean getting closer to God before the catastrophe starts, rather than trying to get close to God while the walls are falling down around us, hoping we can buy God’s favor or beg for forgiveness as we’re getting buried in the rubble.
There used to be a question, a long time ago, that many of us may remember asking and answering, simply because we’re old enough to remember it. The question was, “Where were you when you heard that President Kennedy was shot?”. A picture flashes into my mind of where I was. We had already gone through the Cuban Missile Crisis, narrowly avoiding going into nuclear World War III. And now this: the President had been assassinated.
More recently the question became, “Where were you when you heard that President Reagan was shot?”. A different picture comes to mind of where I was.
Nowadays we might ask the current version of the question: “Where were you on 9-11 when you heard that the country was under attack?” Another picture pops into my mind. Of course, at my age, I’m having trouble answering the question, “Where were you last weekend?”.
Do you remember where you were on 9-11? I remember being roused from sleep by a phone call from a friend telling us to turn on the television, because New York City was being attacked. We turned on our television set and watched the live video feed of one of the Twin Towers with tremendous amounts of smoke billowing out the side. This was unthinkable!
Then the unthinkable happened again: A second plane slammed into the second tower. Then the unthinkable happened again: The buildings started to collapse.
Other reports came in. The Pentagon had been hit. Live video showed smoke pouring out of a giant hole in the side of the Pentagon building.
There was a curious event on a farm in Pennsylvania. Another passenger airliner had nosed into the ground there. As time went on, reports came out that this plane had also been hijacked and was being redirected toward Washington D.C., perhaps to smash into the White House, or the Capitol Building. But apparently the passengers on this plane had taken control of the plane away from the hijackers and had sacrificed their own lives to keep the plane from hitting its intended target.
And then, it was over. We sat in stunned silence, watching the carnage. But no further attacks came.
I was expecting military targets in California to be attacked next. I expected to hear that the NORAD facilities, buried deep in a mountain in Colorado, were knocked out. I expected to hear of troops landing on our shores, ultimatums from foreign governments, something, anything.
But there was nothing. That was it. It was over, except for the aftermath. The aftermath, of course, continues to this day.
The Picture Changes
But then the newscasters started talking about terrorists. This was not, after all, an all-out assault on the United States. This wasn’t an enemy nation getting ready to take us over and beat us down in defeat. This was a terrorist attack. It wasn’t meant to kill us, just hurt us. Just send out shock waves that would unsettle everyone.
The name of Osama bin Laden came up very, very quickly. It was surprising how quickly the name of a terrorist ringleader was supplied, so we could quickly focus our shock and outrage against him.
I saw some remarkable things following the attack. I saw members of Congress gathered on the Capitol steps singing “God Bless America”—members of Congress who had already earned the enmity of the religious among us because of their decidedly unconverted nature and actions in the Congress.
I heard of members of Congress calling for a national day of prayer—members of Congress whom I doubt spent very much time in prayer before that day, and probably not very much since.
I heard newscasters calling out to God as the horrific spectacle unfolded before our eyes. I heard reporters and anchors encouraging people to cry out to God, to pray. As the towers collapsed, Judy Woodruff of CNN called on viewers to pray for the salvation of the souls of those in the towers. Britt Hume of Fox was boldly quoting scriptures during his broadcasts. Dan Rather cried.
National newspaper columnists, usually critical of public religious expressions of faith, were opening their columns with Bible verses. Rudy Giuliani, mayor of New York City at the time, talked more about God during the disaster than many ministers did. I saw federal representatives, state officials, and local municipalities encourage people, without shame, to turn to God and ask Him for His help.
And the ACLU did not bring any lawsuits to protest the so-called unconstitutionality of it all.
When the President declared a National Day of Prayer and Remembrance, hundreds of public schools across the country halted their usual school activities to participate in the prayer time.
Keep in mind that this was only nine years ago. The Supreme Court had already twisted our heads around for a generation before that by saying that the First Amendment somehow says that it is a violation of the Constitution for any government or public school to allow Christianity to be practiced on its grounds. It is a violation of the Constitution, according to this legal theory, for a school official to lead students in prayer. So these schools were all in violation of their students’ supposed Constitutional right to be protected from the evils of Christianity.
Here are some of the Supreme Court cases that have altered our nation forever:
Engel v. Vitale, 370 U.S. 421 (1962), was a landmark United States Supreme Court case that determined that it is unconstitutional for state officials to compose an official school prayer and require its recitation in public schools. In an opinion delivered by Justice Hugo Black, the Court ruled that government-written prayers could not be required to be recited in public schools and was an unconstitutional violation of the Establishment Clause. This was in 1962. Engel became the basis for several subsequent decisions limiting government-directed prayer in school.
In Wallace v. Jaffree (1985), the Supreme Court ruled that a state law in Alabama permitting one minute at the beginning of the school day for undirected prayer or meditation was also, somehow, unconstitutional.
In Lee v. Weisman (1992), the court prohibited clergy-led prayer at high school graduation ceremonies. Lee v. Weisman, in turn, was a basis for Santa Fe ISD v. Doe (2000), in which the Court extended the ban to school sanctioning of student-led prayer at high school football games.
In my opinion, it’s one thing to say that a school may not lead students in prayer. I can almost see that, especially with Justice Black’s hideous misunderstanding of the “separation of church and state” idea.
But I strongly disagree with the idea of extending that to forbid schools to even give their students a minute of silence at the beginning of the day, a minute which the students could use for prayer, or meditation, or homework, or just to take a quick nap!
This legal theory is not consistent with anything, not even with the misunderstanding about the “separation of church and state.” I guess the court was concerned that, given an opportunity, some students might actually pray!
Some schools have, as a result, gone to the opposite extreme, and do whatever they can to prevent students from praying, or wearing Christian-based clothing, or carrying a backpack with a Christian slogan or a scripture. What has become of freedom of speech?
The theory seems to be that the First Amendment says that Congress shall not pass any law regarding the establishment of a religion, but the courts can do it all they like!
I graduated high school long before most of these Supreme Court decisions were enacted. But even in my day, I could see which way the wind was blowing. Christianity was already being subjugated in the schools, even back then. But I was a rebellious teenager—well, at times. This was one of those times.
I used to wear a sport jacket to school. And inside the inner pocket I kept a small Bible. In those days I could actually read tiny, little type. I’m not able to do that anymore. And at break times, if I wasn’t playing handball or watching the clouds roll by, I could be found sitting on a bench in the quad, reading my Bible, daring anyone to stop me. Nobody did.
Today, if one of our kids tried that in a public high school, they would likely be sent home for committing a hate crime, or something foolish like that.
That’s one of the reasons my wife and I join Dr. James Dobson in advocating that all concerned parents remove their children from the public schools and teach them at home. But that’s another subject, for another day.
Following the 9-11 attack, I thought it was strange that the people who would ordinarily attack religion—the ones you could count on to loudly decry the unconstitutionality of prayer in schools, and then bring dozens of lawsuits—these people were strangely silent.
I think they realized that it would not have been politically correct for them to attack religious expression at a time like that. But as things settled down, and we all got back to business as usual, the lawsuits started coming again. As the fearful and timid saw that it wasn’t the end of the world, or the end of life as we know it, things started to return to normal. Politicians resumed their normal lifestyles, the ACLU started their lawsuit machine rolling again, and school districts began to teach about the harmless and friendly religion of Islam. They couldn’t teach about Christianity in the schools, but they could sure teach about Islam!
And yet, many things are different now in our country than they were before. I saw patriotism resurface and become part of the national norm. We’re more likely to say “thank you” to our men and women in the armed forces than we were prior to 9-11.
After the attack, people began reciting the Pledge of Allegiance again. Our young people began flocking into the military to go fight our battles, willingly, eagerly. Our nation gained more of a sense of national purpose than it had before. Some of that has died down again. Some of it has not. But there’s no question about it: America has grown up a little after the attack.
Oh, sure, we were instrumental in winning two world wars, and we’ve been an important player in keeping the world from being blown to bits any number of times. But somehow, this was different. They came and got us, on our own soil, using our own airplanes, our own flight schools, our own rules and regulations, our own stupidity and naivety.
So, like a kid who has been in his first schoolyard fight and lost, our nation had to lose some of its adolescent immaturity and learn how and when to fight, and how and when to refrain from fighting, and have the wisdom to know the difference.
The Heart is Deceitful
There are a number of scriptures that we could look at, and I’m sure you’ve already thought of a few. Here’s one I like:
Jeremiah 17:9 (NIV): “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?”
Today’s English Version: “Who can understand the human heart? There is nothing else so deceitful; it is too sick to be healed.”
The Bible in Basic English: “The heart is a twisted thing, not to be searched out by man: who is able to have knowledge of it?”
Interestingly, God answers His own question in the next verse.
Jeremiah 17:10 (NIV): “I the Lord search the heart and examine the mind, to reward a man according to his conduct, according to what his deeds deserve.”
What’s the context of this passage? Remember, a text without its context, might be a pretext! As it turns out, this passage comes right after God criticizes Judah for its misbehaviors. God is saying that He has had enough of Judah’s constant sinning. Then He gives this passage about the heart being so incredibly wicked.
The implication is clear: “If you, Judah, wish to remain as a nation before Me, you need to stop sinning. You need to return to Me. You need to get down off your high horse and get down on your knees.”
And then God makes this observation about the depravity of the human heart, and warns that He searches men’s hearts, and He gives them what they deserve!
It’s a chilling warning, and we want to say to ancient Judah, “Hey guys! Wake up! Listen to what God has been telling you for generations!”
And then, we remember what Paul wrote, in 1 Corinthians chapter 10: What we read in the Bible is for our own education.
1 Corinthians 10:6-12 (NKJV):
6 Now these things became our examples, to the intent that we should not lust after evil things as they also lusted.
7 And do not become idolaters as were some of them. As it is written, “The people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to play.”
8 Nor let us commit sexual immorality, as some of them did, and in one day twenty-three thousand fell;
9 nor let us tempt Christ, as some of them also tempted [God], and were destroyed by serpents;
10 nor complain, as some of them also complained, and were destroyed by the destroyer.
11 Now all these things happened to them as examples, and they were written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the ages have come.
12 Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall.
A lot of the stories in the Bible serve as excellent examples of how not to behave. At least those ancient people have been able to serve as a good example of a bad example.
So if Judah’s heart was incredibly wicked, we should learn the lesson and try not to be that way.
Is God Removing His Protection?
Back in 2001, after the attack, there were a couple of Christian men—one a college president, the other a political commentator and sometimes Presidential candidate—who took some flack because they were discussing, on a well-known religious television program, how God had lifted His hand of protection from this country because of the sins of this country. Naturally, the sinners in this country objected to that.
Here is a quote from that conversation. The college president (we’ll just call him J.F.) said: “And I agree totally with you that the Lord has protected us so wonderfully these 225 years. And since 1812, this is the first time that we’ve been attacked on our soil and by far the worst results. And I fear, as Donald Rumsfeld, the Secretary of Defense, said yesterday, that this is only the beginning. And with biological warfare available to these monsters—the Husseins, the Bin Ladens, the Arafats—what we saw on Tuesday, as terrible as it is, could be miniscule if, in fact—if, in fact—God continues to lift the curtain and allow the enemies of America to give us probably what we deserve.”
That rings amazingly close to what we just saw in Jeremiah.
In a New York Times article a few days later, the news writer said about J.F.: “He said he did not believe God ‘had anything to do with the tragedy,’ but that God had permitted it. ‘He lifted the curtain of protection,’ Mr. [F.] said, ‘and I believe that if America does not repent and return to a genuine faith and dependence on him, we may expect more tragedies, unfortunately.’”
Here was a Christian, and a minister, who took some heat for standing up for God, and the Bible, and the role of God and the Bible in our country. Now, am I saying that I agree with him? Am I making the same bold statement, that God looks on the heart and rewards His people for their behavior, and gives them what they deserve? Is that what I’m saying?
Yes. That’s what I’m saying.
The 9:11 Scriptures
Let’s get into the Bible. I have a chain of scriptures I’d like to read to you. They may seem like they’re totally unrelated to each other. They may in fact be totally unrelated to each other.
The way I came about putting this list of scriptures together is really bizarre. When I tell you what I did, you’re going to think old Jack has been out in the California sun too long. But you might hear these scriptures, and see how they might actually fit into the context of what I’m talking about today.
Here’s what I did. This sermon is based on the 9-11 attack. It’s a retrospective to remind us of things that happened on 9-11, after 9-11, and down through time to today.
So I did a little mental exercise with the Bible. I wondered what would happen if I went through the Bible and pulled out every scripture that was in the ninth chapter, and the eleventh verse. What does it say in Genesis 9:11? Exodus 9:11? Leviticus 9:11? Clear through the whole Bible.
I think you might agree with me that this is one of the most bizarre Bible study schemes you’ve ever heard of. But let’s see what happened. Many of the 9:11 verses were pretty random, but I have assembled a number of them that I found interesting. Let’s see if you agree.
Perhaps the most striking 9:11 verse that I saw was in Revelation. So let’s start by looking at Revelation chapter 9. Maybe God saves the best for last.
Revelation 9:1-12 (NLT):
1 Then the fifth angel blew his trumpet, and I saw a star that had fallen to earth from the sky, and he was given the key to the shaft of the bottomless pit.
2 When he opened it, smoke poured out as though from a huge furnace, and the sunlight and air turned dark from the smoke.
Now, I am not trying to liken this to the smoke pouring out of the Twin Towers. That’s not my purpose. I’m just reading what’s here so you can get some context for verse 11.
3 Then locusts came from the smoke and descended on the earth, and they were given power to sting like scorpions.
4 They were told not to harm the grass or plants or trees, but only the people who did not have the seal of God on their foreheads.
5 They were told not to kill them but to torture them for five months with pain like the pain of a scorpion sting.
6 In those days people will seek death but will not find it. They will long to die, but death will flee from them!
7 The locusts looked like horses prepared for battle. They had what looked like gold crowns on their heads, and their faces looked like human faces.
8 They had hair like women’s hair and teeth like the teeth of a lion.
9 They wore armor made of iron, and their wings roared like an army of chariots rushing into battle.
10 They had tails that stung like scorpions, and for five months they had the power to torment people.
11 Their king is the angel from the bottomless pit; his name in Hebrew is Abaddon [destruction], and in Greek, Apollyon—the Destroyer.
12 The first terror is past, but look, two more terrors are coming!
This is a pretty stark picture. You have to sit up and take notice when this passage is read. I’ve seen a number of guesses over the years at what this might be referring to, so I won’t try to tell you that I know exactly what’s going on here. But notice how this vision seems to fit the topic under discussion today. I thought that was kind of interesting.
The next 9:11 passage I’d like to look at is in Jeremiah. We saw a little earlier how God was talking in Jeremiah 17 about Judah, and He said that the human heart is evil above all things, and that God searches the hearts to give to men what they deserve.
With that in mind, look at Jeremiah 9:11: “I will make Jerusalem a heap of ruins, a haunt of jackals; and I will lay waste the towns of Judah so no one can live there.”
Has this happened in the past? Yes, it has. More than once. Can this happen again, if a nuclear attack on Jerusalem takes place? If God removes His hand of protection, if He lifts the curtain of His protection from Jerusalem and the nation of Israel, yes, it can. I’m willing to say that it’s inevitable, or at least highly probable. Jeremiah 9:11 says that God will do this.
Why is all this happening? Why all the doom and gloom in scripture about Judah? Moses tells us why in Deuteronomy, where he is recounting to Israel the history of the Exodus in his farewell speech.
Deuteronomy 9:11: “At the end of the forty days and forty nights, the Lord gave me the two stone tablets, the tablets of the covenant.”
Israel agreed with God’s proposed covenant. Moses went up into the mount to be with God to hammer out the details. As it turns out, he was gone for 40 days. But at the end of that time, God wrote, with His own supernatural finger, the Ten Commandments, in a couple of stone slabs. People in those days were able to write on clay tablets, making the impressions of the letters in wet clay. God was able to write directly onto stone tablets. That’s definitely something I can’t do. I find that impressive. So I think those Ten Commandments are pretty important.
Unfortunately, Israel back then didn’t hold the commandments in the same high regard. Neither does humankind today. And that has led to all these problems.
The Israelites forgot so much, so quickly, so often. That’s the history of Israel. They always had a problem obeying God and living by the rules of happiness God set down for them. God let them play out their own destructive tendencies for a few generations, then finally had them taken captive—just for awhile, in Judah’s case—so they could learn a lesson.
In Daniel chapter 9, we can read how Daniel came to see that Judah would return home and rebuild her former glory.
Daniel 9:1-4 (NLT):
1 It was the first year of the reign of Darius the Mede, the son of Ahasuerus, who became king of the Babylonians.
2 During the first year of his reign, I, Daniel, learned from reading the word of the Lord, as revealed to Jeremiah the prophet, that Jerusalem must lie desolate for seventy years.
3 So I turned to the Lord God and pleaded with him in prayer and fasting. I also wore rough burlap and sprinkled myself with ashes.
4 I prayed to the Lord my God and confessed: …
And then we read Daniel’s lengthy prayer to God. Let’s skip down to verse 11 to see part of what he prayed:
Daniel 9:11: “All Israel has disobeyed your instruction and turned away, refusing to listen to your voice. So now the solemn curses and judgments written in the Law of Moses, the servant of God, have been poured down on us because of our sin.”
We refer to those chapters back in Deuteronomy as the blessings and cursings. If Israel behaved, they would be blessed. Otherwise, otherwise.
Then later, in the book of Nehemiah, we can follow this thread into the next generation. Jerusalem was being rebuilt after one of those times when the cities of Judah went uninhabited.
In Nehemiah chapter 9, the Levites are encouraging the people, and they begin to pray. Here is part of what the Levites prayed:
Nehemiah 9:9-12 (NLT):
9 “You saw the misery of our ancestors in Egypt, and you heard their cries from beside the Red Sea.
10 You displayed miraculous signs and wonders against Pharaoh, his officials, and all his people, for you knew how arrogantly they were treating our ancestors. You have a glorious reputation that has never been forgotten.
11 You divided the sea for your people so they could walk through on dry land! And then you hurled their enemies into the depths of the sea. They sank like stones beneath the mighty waters.
12 You led our ancestors by a pillar of cloud during the day and a pillar of fire at night so that they could find their way.
And it goes on from there.
So here we see, during a period of rebuilding and starting over for Judah, a history lesson to remind them of what their ancestors had been through to be a part of the nation of Israel, living under the mighty hand of God, to encourage the present generation to toe the line and behave.
Yet, we’re pretty sure that modern-day Judah, today’s nation of Israel, may have to suffer the same fate because of the same sinfulness that brought about the downfall of ancient Israel and Judah. The worldwide terror epidemic seems to be a part of that lesson.
But God offers hope throughout the scriptures, referring often to a coming Day of the Lord, a day when God will intervene directly in the affairs of men and bring about a lasting peace, through a king we know as Messiah.
In Amos chapter 9, God is really angry with Israel, and pronounces all sorts of terrible things. But as the chapter progresses, God ends the prophecy with the blessed hope. He paints us a picture of the beauty and peace of the world during the Day of the Lord.
Amos 9:8-15 (NLT):
8 “I, the Sovereign Lord, am watching this sinful nation of Israel. I will destroy it from the face of the earth. But I will never completely destroy the family of Israel,” says the Lord.
9 “For I will give the command and will shake Israel along with the other nations as grain is shaken in a sieve, yet not one true kernel will be lost.
10 But all the sinners will die by the sword—all those who say, ‘Nothing bad will happen to us.’
11 “In that day I will restore the fallen house of David. I will repair its damaged walls. From the ruins I will rebuild it and restore its former glory.
12 And Israel will possess what is left of Edom and all the nations I have called to be mine.” The Lord has spoken, and he will do these things.
13 “The time will come,” says the Lord, “when the grain and grapes will grow faster than they can be harvested. Then the terraced vineyards on the hills of Israel will drip with sweet wine!
14 I will bring my exiled people of Israel back from distant lands, and they will rebuild their ruined cities and live in them again. They will plant vineyards and gardens; they will eat their crops and drink their wine.
15 I will firmly plant them there in their own land. They will never again be uprooted from the land I have given them,” says the Lord your God.
So, we can see the good news of the Kingdom of God, and the joys of the Messianic age, in some of these 9:11 scriptures.
Let’s also look in Zechariah chapter 9.
Zechariah 9:9-12 (NLT):
9 Rejoice, O people of Zion! Shout in triumph, O people of Jerusalem! Look, your king is coming to you. He is righteous and victorious, yet he is humble, riding on a donkey—riding on a donkey’s colt.
Does anyone remember when this prophecy was fulfilled? In the Catholic churches, they honor this event on what they call Palm Sunday, which occurs on the church calendar immediately before what they call Good Friday. This verse was fulfilled in the triumphal entry into Jerusalem by Jesus, the man of God, the prophet, the miracle worker, the esteemed Messiah to come, when he rode into Jerusalem humbly, meekly, on a donkey.
When a king rode in on a donkey, rather than on a horse, you knew he was there for a peaceful mission, rather than conquest. The horse was a military weapon. By the way, the next time Messiah comes to Jerusalem, he’ll be on a horse.
10 I will remove the battle chariots from Israel and the warhorses from Jerusalem. I will destroy all the weapons used in battle, and your king will bring peace to the nations. His realm will stretch from sea to sea and from the Euphrates River to the ends of the earth.
11 Because of the covenant I made with you, sealed with blood, I will free your prisoners from death in a waterless dungeon.
12 Come back to the place of safety, all you prisoners who still have hope! I promise this very day that I will repay two blessings for each of your troubles.
What a wonderful future our God predicts. A thousand years of peace and prosperity, with Satan chained, with Messiah on the throne, with an expected life span of 100 years. What a glorious time it will be! And we will be there, as resurrected children of God, serving alongside our older brother, the King.
We haven’t looked at Psalm 9:11. This would be a good time to read that verse, in this context.
Psalm 9:11 (NLT): “Sing praises to the Lord who reigns in Jerusalem. Tell the world about his unforgettable deeds.”
Also important in this context is Proverbs 9:11.
Proverbs 9:10-11 (NLT):
10 Fear of the Lord is the foundation of wisdom. Knowledge of the Holy One results in good judgment.
11 Wisdom will multiply your days and add years to your life.
But as we know from our own experience, life as a Christian is not all a bed of roses. Sometimes it’s a bed of thorns. In Ecclesiastes chapter 9, Solomon addresses the concept that we’re not always successful when we try really hard. We don’t always come out on top. Sometimes that just doesn’t happen.
Ecclesiastes 9:11-12 (NLT):
11 I have observed something else under the sun. The fastest runner doesn’t always win the race, and the strongest warrior doesn’t always win the battle. The wise sometimes go hungry, and the skillful are not necessarily wealthy. And those who are educated don’t always lead successful lives. It is all decided by chance, by being in the right place at the right time.
12 People can never predict when hard times might come. Like fish in a net or birds in a trap, people are caught by sudden tragedy.
And that is one of the important lessons of the 9-11 attacks. You don’t know when you will meet with catastrophe. The lesson to be learned is to always be ready. I don’t mean to always be ready with a big storehouse of food and guns. I mean be ready to meet your Maker.
Some people in the Twin Towers were able to phone home before they died and leave a message that they love their spouse their family. A lot of people don’t even get that opportunity.
We recently met a young lady in this area, who fellowships with us when she can, whose husband simply went out for a bike ride one day. In a moment of time, she became a young widow, and their small children became fatherless.
We simply don’t know when it’s going to happen. We’d better be telling our families that we love them now, while we can. We might not be able to tell them later. That would be a horrible secret to take to the grave with you, the fact that you love your spouse and children. Tell them now. Tell them a lot.
Let’s not leave the New Testament out of this 9:11 search. Let’s go to Matthew chapter 9.
Matthew 9:9-13 (NLT):
9 As Jesus was walking along, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at his tax collector’s booth. “Follow me and be my disciple,” Jesus said to him. So Matthew got up and followed him.
10 Later, Matthew invited Jesus and his disciples to his home as dinner guests, along with many tax collectors and other disreputable sinners.
11 But when the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with such scum?”
12 When Jesus heard this, he said, “Healthy people don’t need a doctor—sick people do.”
13 Then he added, “Now go and learn the meaning of this Scripture: ‘I want you to show mercy, not offer sacrifices.’ For I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners.”
This 9:11 verse warns us against thinking more highly than we ought to think about ourselves, looking down our noses at other people, and pretending we’re great authorities on who the scum around here really is.
I frequently think of the old Proverb that says, “Pride goes before a fall.” That’s actually a shortcut version of Proverbs 16:18 (NLT): “Pride goes before destruction, and haughtiness before a fall.” And since I don’t want to fall, I’d better not have a lot of pride.
What about Mark 9:11? Here it is:
Mark 9:11 (Holman): "Then they began to question Him, 'Why do the scribes say that Elijah must come first?'”
That’s it. That’s Mark 9:11. Could you answer this question?
They had just seen the transfiguration, the vision where Moses and Elijah stood on the ground with the glorified Jesus. So now they’re curious. Why do the scribes say that Elijah must come first? How would you answer that? Jesus said this:
Mark 9:12-13 (Holman):
12 “Elijah does come first and restores everything,” He replied. “How then is it written about the Son of Man that He must suffer many things and be treated with contempt?
13 But I tell you that Elijah really has come, and they did to him whatever they wanted, just as it is written about him.”
What is he referring to here? One messiah, with two comings. Once meekly, riding a donkey, and another time, as a mighty conquering King, riding a majestic white horse, with the hosts of heaven behind him.
And each time, Elijah comes first. He must come before the Second Coming, so we’re still waiting for that figure. But Elijah came before the first coming of Messiah, in the person of John the Baptizer. Was that really Elijah? No, it was someone fulfilling the role of an Elijah-like personality. I guess that’s what we’re still looking for in our future, before Messiah comes and stops the world war and the annihilation of humankind.
There are so many other 9:11 scriptures that we don’t have time to go through all of them.
Luke 9:11 shows Jesus welcoming the crowds that followed him, and that he preached the kingdom of God to them and healed the sick.
John 9:11 is part of a long and humorous story about Jesus healing the blind man. In verse 11 the blind man is saying, “The man they call Jesus made some mud and put it on my eyes. He told me to go to Siloam and wash. So I went and washed, and then I could see.” Sometimes simple obedience is all you need.
In Acts 9:11, God is sending Ananias to go anoint Saul of Tarsus so he could regain his sight and become the mighty Apostle Paul.
In Romans 9:11, Paul is explaining that God selected Jacob over Esau before the twins were even born, and that we should realize that God is sovereign, and that He’s going to work His plan even if we don’t understand certain choices He has made to bring His plan about.
Talking about the concept of God selecting Jacob over Esau can be politically incorrect in today’s climate. I believe there are places in the Islamic world where the story is told that God selected Esau over Jacob, and Ishmael over Isaac. So is this passage pertinent to a retrospective on 9-11? Probably.
Both 1 Corinthians 9:11 and 2 Corinthians 9:11 talk about ministers reaping a material harvest through the spiritual harvest they have worked for, and that God will prosper the people so they can be generous. So with that in mind, we’re going to take up another offering, right now. Are the ushers ready back there? No, I’m just kidding.
Hebrews 9:11 talks about Christ as the high priest, going through the greater and more perfect tabernacle that is not man-made. From there it shows how his blood does so much more than the blood of bulls and goats could ever do.
So you see, even a bizarre and unusual Bible study plan can yield some really good Bible study. That’s why I’ve started to call the Bible “Facebook.” This is the book you need to keep your face in.
What kind of lessons do you think we might have learned from this 9-11 terrorist attack?
We learned that there were some fatal weaknesses in our national defenses.
We learned that the FBI and the CIA were not sharing information with each other. We learned that when push comes to shove, our sleeping giant of a nation is perfectly capable of taking terror to the terrorists, and terrifying them.
We found out that a lot of the extremists who wanted to attack our country were expecting to be rewarded by their imaginary deity with eternal life in Paradise with 70 young ladies, so we decided to help them achieve their goal by ending their miserable lives before they could end any more of ours.
We found out that, when people get scared, they cry out to God—that is, until the terror is passed. Then they go back about their business as usual.
We found that, when people thought the nation was under attack, a lot of them started going to church; then, when they found out we weren’t at war, church attendance dropped off again.
We discovered that we, the people, still have a lot of latent patriotism that had been driven underground by sarcastic and cynical people around us, but now we’re not afraid to say things like, “God Bless America.”
We found that a lot of our young people ran down to the enlistment offices to go about the work of defending us at home by taking terror to the terrorists, Shock & Awe to the Shiites and Sunnis, and fundamental radical mayhem to the fundamentalist radical Muslim extremists.
Among a lot of other things we learned, we also found out that the terrorists actually are successful in disrupting society when they strike. Whether it’s bombs in the subways, or in backpacks, or in cars; whether it’s kidnappings and executions, short-range missiles fired from neighboring countries, suicide drivers, airline hijackers, or armed terrorists blowing away tourists or worshippers, the world is simply not a safe place.
There was one individual who got on a passenger airliner with a bomb in his shoe. He tried to get his shoe to explode. Fortunately, he was not successful. I started to make jokes about terrorists hiding a bomb in their shorts. I thought it was funny. Guess what! Along comes the underwear bomber!
Times Square, New York City, May 1st (“Mayday,” appropriately enough). Another one of these individuals rigged a car with high explosives and parked it in Times Square, one of the busiest places imaginable, set the car to explode, and left. For some unknown reason, the car failed to detonate, which spared the lives of hundreds of people. I’d like to think that these failed explosions are evidence that God is still protecting us, to one extent or another.
We Americans who thought we were safe because we’re on a continent far away from the attacks in other parts of the world now have to rethink our belief that we are safe. We Americans who have been thinking that we are safe because God is protecting us as a nation, might well begin to look at the history of the ancient biblical nation of Judah, and how that nation drifted farther away from God, all the while thinking they were under God’s protection. God gave them a lot of space, a lot of time to hear the prophets and repent, but they wouldn’t repent. Then one day, it was all over.
I think one of the big things we’ve learned is that we are not immune from terror, just because there’s a great big ocean separating us from other lands where things are more unsettled than they are here.
It should motivate us to stay close to God, not necessarily so He’ll protect us, although He does, but so that we are living a life that is pleasing to Him, so that when we face death, we won’t have to say, “Wait, I need to repent of a few things first.”
You may know the old saying: When is Christ coming? Well, if you step in front of a truck, he’s coming today! So we should live our lives in such a way that we have plans, we have goals, we are striving to make ourselves better Christians, better husbands and fathers, better wives and mothers, better kids, better singles, better widows, but we are also ready, at a moment’s notice, to respond to that long, loud trumpet blast.
Because one day we’re going to wake up in our graves, and we might say, “How did I get here?” But then we’ll be floating up into the air to meet our returning Lord and Master who comes down from heaven on a great white horse, with a shout, with the host of heaven behind him, to pull you back from the grave to be with him forever!
How did you get there, in the grave? Was it a bomb? A bullet? A traffic accident? A gas pipeline that ran underneath what used to be your house?
It doesn’t matter any more. You’re there. You’re with Jesus. And you’re about to embark on a great adventure, helping to overthrow the forces of evil, and helping to bring about a peaceful, wonderful age on the earth, where there is no terror, no fear, no crying.
Let’s turn to that picture, in Revelation chapter 21.
Revelation 21:1-5 (NLT):
1 Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the old heaven and the old earth had disappeared. And the sea was also gone.
2 And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven like a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.
3 I heard a loud shout from the throne, saying, “Look, God’s home is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them.
4 He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.”
5 And the one sitting on the throne said, “Look, I am making everything new!” …
What a wonderful future you and I have. If you and I get blown to bits by a terrorist bomb, or crash in a fiery inferno as an airplane goes down, we get to go straight to the resurrection! We get to bypass the Tribulation and take a short-cut to spending eternity with our Father and Brother.
And picture a time in the future, when all the dead, small and great, stand before the Great White Throne. And all these deluded zealots of a false religion come up and face the real God. And He says to them, “Guess who! I’m not who you expected to see. I am your worst nightmare!”
Well, that may not be exactly how it happens, but it’s a comforting thought. And I can’t help reflecting on something like that as I contemplate lessons learned from this retrospective on 9-11.
Wallbuilders; Aledo, TX: “Wallbuilder Report, Special Edition, September 11, 2001: The Day The Nation Prayed”; undated
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Engel_v._Vitale; Accessed 9/10/2010.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wallace_v._Jaffree; Accessed 9/10/2010.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Faisal_Shahzad; Accessed 9/10/2010.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Islamic_terrorism; Accessed 9/10/2010.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Terrorism_in_the_United_States; Accessed 9/10/2010.
Ball, Larry E., “Attack on America”; Kingsport, TN, 9/16/2001; http://www.sermonaudio.com/sermoninfo.asp?SID=15081650240; Accessed 9/10/2010.
“Reverend Falwell Blames for Terrorist Attacks”; http://www.actupny.org/YELL/falwell.html; Accessed 9/10/2010.