Sunday, August 3, 2014

Sunday Sermon: God Speaks (Doctrines Series)

Below is the text of a sermon I preached in July. If you'd like to listen to it instead, click here for the sermon audio.




Text:




Good morning, Grace Church.

 Today I have some good news I want to share with you. I have a friend I want to introduce you to. He is amazing. He is a hero. He has changed my life.

[Hold up comic book]

It’s my well-worn copy because I study it so much.

His name is Tony Stark. He’s also called “Iron Man”. Now a lot of people have this ridiculous belief that he’s not real, but let me tell you something: THEY’RE WRONG. He is so real. I know it in my heart, and I can prove it to you.

Look right here. On page 20 of this book, Tony Stark is talking to an agent from the FBI.  And look here. On page 30, he says, “I am Iron Man!” He says he’s real RIGHT THERE. He is a brilliant thinker and a great person. You should model your life after him—he protects the innocent and saves those in danger and is an absolute role model for living.

He can absolutely change your life forever. He is greater than just a man. He is capable of saving you and others. He is the kind of person we want to be.

I have dedicated my life to following him and his teachings, and I hope you will do the same.


[pause]
 

If you’ve been a Christian for very long, and tried to evangelize someone, you’ve had a conversation like this. You’ve tried to convince them of the reality of Jesus but you realized partway through the discussion that they didn’t believe in the Bible. You’ve been using the Bible as your proof, but they don’t see it as any different than this comic book. They don’t see Jesus as any more real than Iron Man.

If you are visiting with us today, we are in a series on the Doctrines of Grace Church. And today we are studying how God Speaks. How does God reveal Himself to us? And why should someone who doesn’t believe the Bible listen to what the Bible has to say?

[SLIDE:  GENERAL AND SPECIAL REVELATION]

Today’s that’s what we’re going to talk about. You see, Christian theology teaches that God reveals Himself in two different ways. We call one of these, “General Revelation” and the other, “Special Revelation.”


General Revelation is how God reveals Himself through nature. In other words, what can we learn about God from everything we see around us?

Special Revelation is how God reveals Himself through Scripture. In other words, what do we believe about Scripture and what can we learn about God from it?
 

So today let’s talk about each of these two topics. We’ll talk about how God reveals Himself through nature, and then how God reveals Himself through Scripture.
 

[SLIDE:  GENERAL REVELATION SCRIPTURES]
 

In Romans 1:20, Paul makes an incredibly bold statement. Listen to this, really listen: “Since the creation of the world, God’s invisible qualities—His eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.”
 

Paul says God’s invisible qualities, including His power and divine nature, are CLEARLY seen. They are understood simply from WHAT HAS BEEN MADE—that is, by studying nature. And it’s SO clear that people are without excuse if they do not believe in God.
 

Whoa…that is bold. That is saying that anyone who seeks truth and studies nature will come to a conclusion that God is real and the basic theology about who He is. That really seems kind of crazy right?
 

But the rest of the Bible says that same. David says in Psalm 19 that the heavens declare God’s glory, and that the skies show everyone that God created things.
 

In Acts 14:16-17 Paul and Barnabas teach the crowds that God lets the nations choose their own way of life, but has shown through nature that He loves them and cares for them.


Remember in our Iron Man example, people didn’t really want to listen to what the comic had to say because they didn’t believe the comic had legitimacy. A lot of skeptics are this way as well. If you cannot demonstrate that the Bible has legitimacy independent of the Bible, then you will lose these people. They won’t hear what you are saying.
 

And that is, I think, one of the reasons that God has given us General Revelation. He reveals Himself through nature, so that—as Paul says—everyone is without excuse.
 

But this means that when a skeptic says, “If God is real, why doesn’t he reveal himself?”, you should be able to say, “He did! Look around you!” and be able to SHOW the skeptic how God exists just by looking at nature.
 

That’s a big task.
 

So let’s do it today, shall we? In the next few minutes, I am going to build the theology of God using nothing but General Revelation. In other words, using nothing but what we know about nature, I’m going to show why we are without excuse and why everyone should be able to tell that God does, in fact, exist. This should be fun. J

 
OK, so what have we learned by looking at nature around us?

 
[SLIDE] We know that the universe is expanding like a balloon, growing ever bigger over time. So if you ran time backwards, there was a moment where there was nothing—no time, no universe. There was nothing, and then—BANG—everything. So we know there was a BEGINNING.

But … we know more than that.

[SLIDE] In our entire history of scientific experiment, we have never seen anything created or begun without a cause. And a cause necessitates a “cause-er”. But that’s a problem for me, because “cause-er” is not a word. So I’m going to use the word CREATOR for ease of this conversation. For those who have more questions about that we can talk afterward.

Therefore if there was a beginning, there must have been a CREATOR.

But … we know more than that.

[SLIDE] We know that this creator must be a creator of order. Because if He had just made a universe at random it would have been chaotic but instead ours is orderly. It is predictable and accurate. We can tell you where your great great grandchildren need to stand if they want to be able to see Halley’s Comet because it is so predictable. So this creator must be a creator of order.

But … we know more than that.

[SLIDE] If we look inside ourselves at our DNA, we see an incredibly complex set of programming code. If you took a single gram of DNA—just one itty-bitty drop on your fingertip, you can store 700 TERAbytes of information on it. So if we got every iPAD in the ENTIRE WORLD, and then made 1,000 more iPads for every iPad we collected….all 1.5 BILLION Ipads could not store as much information as just the DNA of the people who are sitting here in this room today.

Your DNA is an engineering achievement far greater than anything we can ever hope to duplicate.

So we know this creator must be infinitely intelligent.

But … we know more than that.

[SLIDE] The universe is also immensely powerful. Our sun, for example, is a medium sized star but every second it explodes with an energy equal to six million millions of nuclear bombs. There are bends in the universe so extreme that not even light can escape them. A single photon of light can shoot across the universe at a speed of nearly 700 MILLION MILES every hour.

So we know that this creator must be infinitely powerful.

But … we know more than that.

The universe is hostile to us as humans. Every single place in the universe we have ever seen will kill us nearly instantly…except one. Our home in this solar system is surrounded by heavenly guardians.

[SLIDE] The moon rotates around us and its gravity sucks up countless meteors and asteroids to keep them away from Earth.  And further around are giant gas planets and moons which create an almost impenetrable obstacle course to protect us. For a comet to hit Earth, it must get past Neptune, Uranus, Saturn, and giant Jupiter and their dozens of moons, running a slalom that avoids all of their gravity. Then it must go through the asteroid belt without hitting anything. Then it must get past Mars and its moons. Then as it approaches it must get past our moon. Then it must enter our atmosphere at exactly the right angle and speed to land. 

So we know that this creator must want to protect us.

But … we know more than that.

[SLIDE] Our earth is full of beauty.
[SLIDE] A beauty so powerful that from the very beginning of time, people have tried to mimic it.
[SLIDE] Art and music are signs that the one who created us not only made a world of beauty but put in us a desire to love it as well.

So we know that this creator must love beauty and peace, and has put in the desire of all people throughout history to want it as well.

But … we know more than that.

Even though every culture in history has the same basic virtues of beauty, peace, kindness, and honesty…none of us lives up to it. I would be willing to bet that even today, you have already done something which you would say is not up to moral standards.

[SLIDE] The reality is that we have a desire in our hearts for peace, but we war. We have a desire for love, but instead we hate. We value sacrifice in others, and yet we are greedy and selfish and power-hungry.

We know that we had a beginning. We know there is no evidence of a beginning without a beginner. We know he prefers order to chaos. We know he is infinitely intelligent. We know he is infinitely powerful. We know he protects us from danger. And we know he loves beauty and peace. And yet we know that we have failed to seek out these things.
 
[Pause]

 
Notice that I haven’t quoted a single Scripture. Haven’t made a single philosophical argument. These are just facts of nature followed by conclusions of logic.

“Since the creation of the world, God’s invisible qualities—His eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.”

Yes, I think we can say that with certainty, don’t you?

THIS is General Revelation.

Just by looking at the world around us, we can build a basic theology of God.

[SLIDE] And if for some reason you think that I am manipulating you, let me point out another fact—this one from history. Think about how vastly different our cultures are. How different our languages are. But no matter the culture, no matter than language…every single culture in history has come to the same basic conclusion I just gave you. Whether you are talking about the Chinese or the Greeks or the Egyptians or the Mayans or whoever:  everyone comes to the conclusion that the universe is not natural, that it was made by a God or gods, that these beings are infinitely intelligent and powerful, that we should be seeking beauty and love and peace, and that men routinely fail that and need to seek forgiveness from these gods.


All these cultures developed different languages, different architecture, different philosophies of life….and yet remarkably similar religious philosophy and virtue systems. Not one ancient culture was full of atheists. Not one was full of materialists. Not one was full of humanists. Not one was agnostic. Not one valued rape or murder or stealing or lying as virtues.

You can’t explain that through randomness.

 
You see, Human Nature is a part of the General Revelation as well. From the nature outside of us and the nature within us, we can all understand these basic, invisible qualities of God.

 
That is the first step to becoming a believer. That is the step that you must get to with a lot of people because if you skip that and go straight to the next step then you might as well try and convince them that Iron Man is real. It is General Revelation which sets the foundation for belief.
 

But General Revelation isn’t enough, is it? That just shows us the PROBLEM…it doesn’t give us a solution. For that, we need Special Revelation.

 
[SLIDE:  SPECIAL REVELATION]


By Special Revelation, I mean of course our Scriptures. Just as God revealed His glory in the world around us, He also told us something specific in His Scripture.

But if you are going to understand Scripture, you need to understand what it is, why it was written.

The Bible is a first and foremost, a story. It is a story about a King whose people betrayed Him. But He loved them so much that He was willing to send His son, the prince, on a suicide mission to redeem His people. It is a Rescue Story.

First the Holy Spirit spoke to Moses, nearly 4,000 years ago and Moses used his own language and culture to record the inspiration. Then He spoke to Joshua. And later men like David and Isaiah and Jeremiah and Luke and Paul and Peter and John. Over the course of several thousand years, God inspired dozens of prophets with visions and revelations which they wrote down and passed along to us so that we could hear His Story.

We know this as the Bible. And it is not our story, it is the story of Jesus. It is the story of how God sees this broken world and His broken people and has compassion on them. And how He prepares the world over centuries to receive the King Himself in the flesh, and how this King died on a cross and rose again a conquering hero. And how one day He will make it all right.

Not your story. Not mine. His story. Thankfully, our salvations are one tiny piece of this puzzle, and we will teach about that a few weeks from now. But the Scripture is His story.

God revealed Himself through nature to all of us, but that only goes so far:  the Scriptures tell us WHY He did so, and what we should do about it.
 

But sometimes, people run into a problem. They see God revealed in nature. They begin to study His Special Revelation in Scripture…but they get confused. Because they think they see errors in it. And since we Christians believe that Scripture is without error, this causes doubt. It’s not just skeptics who struggle with this…Christians do, as well.

But in all my years of study, I haven’t seen a single contradiction that was actually true. Usually when people talk about contradictions, what they really are doing is misunderstanding inerrancy.

To talk about inerrancy and what it means, let me start by talking a little bit about a subject I know nothing about—music.

I always like to give encouragement to you guys when the music is good, but you probably shouldn’t pay much attention because I have no idea what I’m talking about. I’m so musically clueless that my wife has asked me to stop singing the boys to sleep because I am destroying their ability to actually hear notes properly.

But we do have a lot of very talented musicians at our church. Guitar players, singers, really impressive. Mary Smith, wave at everyone. Mary here plays the flute. She’s a flutist or floutist or flute-blower or whatever they’re called.

Now let’s pretend like Mary plays a note for you guys on her really high-end, flute. And it just sounds beautiful. And then later, Mary plays the exact same note—on this. [HOLD UP RECORDER]

My son’s toy recorder.

Now these two notes are going to sound very different. They’re the same note. Same octave. Same breath. Same musician.  …. Different sound. Why?

Because they were different instruments.

The same principle is true of Scripture.

God breathes every word of Scripture, we see that in the testimony of the early Christian leaders. 2 Timothy 3:16, Paul says that all Scripture is God-breathed and inspired to teach us. 2 Peter 1:21 tells us that “men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Spirit.”

So the breath and voice behind the Scripture is that of God…but the instruments are men.

Now God does not lie. And God does not make mistakes. So His word is inerrant. The Bible is inerrant, hear me clearly.

BUT there are some very practical things you need to understand. Because God used instruments to record his message, there are a couple of things you need to know.

[SLIDE] First, God’s word is inerrant but may sound different in different human voices. Just like a flute sounds different than a recorder even though it is the same breath, James is going to sound different than Paul. James an uneducated Jew, writing to Jewish Christians while Paul is a highly educated philosopher writing to Gentiles who wonder if they need to convert to Judaism in order to be Christians. Obviously they are going to sound different. 

The Old Testament is written by Jews to Jews who are bound by the law of Moses and looks forward to a Messiah; the New Testament is written by Christians to people of every race, looking backward at the Messiah. Obviously the same breath is going to sound different in these different instruments; it doesn’t mean that they contradict.

When James focuses on living out your faith to his Jewish readers, and Paul focuses on gaining faith to his readers, the two obviously are inspired to focus on different things. This doesn’t mean that they contradict:  it just means that they are different instruments sharing the same breath. Both are sharing God’s inerrant truth—but through one it sounds like a flute, and through the other it sounds like a recorder.

 
[SLIDE] Second, understand that God’s word is inerrant but must fit within the original language’s limitations. A recorder can only do so many octaves; a flute can only make certain sounds. In the same way, God inspired infinite truth through humans with a limited language. Moses uses the word “bird” for bats because his language didn’t have a word that distinguished flying mammals, so they had to use the word “bird” for anything that flew. The Japanese language uses the same word for “blue” and “green”—so if God were to inspire the phrase, “The sky is blue and the grass is green” to a Japanese prophet, this would be very limited if he tried to write it down!

We can’t in our human language capture all the mysteries of the universe, and sometimes our language and culture has to be taken into consideration as we understand a passage. God’s word for “bat” contains more information than all human languages together, so obviously we have to expect that our man-made languages are not going to be able to capture everything perfectly. This is why so many of the visions of heaven include phrases like, “Um…the streets are like gold and the pillars are like jasmine and um, the sea is like crystal kind of…and the angels are like wheels inside of wheels with extra eyes…” Our words aren’t sufficient to capture everything.
 
Think about this:  God's word for "bat" contains enough information to MAKE A BAT COME INTO EXISTENCE.  Obviously, our words will be inadequate!

 
[SLIDE] Third, God’s word is inerrant but this doesn’t mean every translator is inerrant. If Mary plays her note and the sound guys make a mistake recording Mary’s work, it may give a weird sound on the podcast. That doesn’t mean she played the note wrong! In the same way, translators can make mistakes, or copyists can make mistakes. That doesn’t mean that the Bible was flawed.
 

If the sound guys mix the audio differently, Mary’s note is still pure and perfect…but the focus of the recording is different. In the same way one translation like the ESV may be focused more on God’s sovereignty, while another translation like The Voice may be focused on showing the Bible as a Story. God’s word is still inerrant, but the personalities of the translators does come through as well and should be taken into account. When Thomas Jefferson took a razor blade and cut out the parts of the Bible he didn’t like and published it, that doesn’t mean that his work was inerrant. The original Bible was inerrant, but someone else can mess it up if they choose to do so.
 

[SLIDE] And finally, God’s word is inerrant when interpreted as it was intended to be. If people rip a Bible verse out of its context and read it like a fortune cookie, you can’t expect it to be inerrant in a situation that it wasn’t mean to apply to.

God chose to inspire Paul at a certain time to write to a certain people. We have to respect that and interpret the Bible for what it meant to its original audience. Here at Grace Church, we believe in interpreting the Scripture as intended. Your elders are very cautious against adding to what God actually said. Joshua, myself, and Jud—we all follow the same basic process when we preach:   we tell you what the passage meant to its listeners, and we very carefully and prayerfully tell you what we think the universal application of those passages are today.

 

I have a good example that is going to irritate many of you. J  You guys want to hear it?


Twenty years ago, Jeremiah 29:11 didn’t even crack the top 20 of most popular Bible verses. Today, it is the most quoted Scripture there is. You know the verse:  “For I know the plans I have for you, plans to prosper you and not to harm you.”  This is a popular thing to share with people when they graduate college, and “name it and claim it” preachers use it all the time. Any time something bad is happening, this will get quoted. And generally it is used to tell people, don’t worry how tough your life is, God will make you prosperous and give you a white picket fence house on the other side of the suffering.

But that’s not inerrant. Because that’s not what God’s word actually said.

This passage was written to the Jews who were put in captivity in Babylon. They had run from God and He was going to punish them. He let their nation fall, and their city burn. He let them be taken back to Babylon as slaves. And there, He told them that they would stay for decades. But He explains that even though they violated their covenant with Him, He was still going to honor it and help the nation of Israel prosper one day.
 

Want to know the application of Jeremiah 29:11?   It’s basically what I tell my kids before spanking them—I love you, I care about you. What you did was wrong, but I still am your daddy and I will be here forever. But this is going to hurt for a while.

 
You see, if you rip things out of their context and apply them wrongly, then remember that you are no longer basing your decisions on God’s holy, perfect, inerrant word. You have to interpret it as it was intended to be heard to the original audience.
 

 

[SLIDE:  THE BIG IDEAS]

So what are the Big Ideas that we can take from our study on how God Speaks to us?

First, we must begin by understanding that God speaks to us through nature. He speaks to all mankind and tells them what kind of God He is, so that they will later be open to receiving the knowledge of Him given in Scripture. It doesn’t do any good to start with Scripture if the person doesn’t first believe in the basics of God that are evident from nature around him.

Second, once someone gets to that point, God has given us Scripture. We believe that Scripture is HIS story, not ours. We believe that Scripture is without error in its original language and copies. And we believe that when we interpret His Scripture, we must give highest priority to interpreting it how it was understood by its original audience.


So now that we all understand what Christians believe about Revelation, how can we apply these doctrines to our lives to help us grow closer to God?
 

[SLIDE:  MATURE]

As we talk about how to mature, one thing has kept running through my mind as I wrote this sermon. And it was about the nature part of how God speaks to us.
 

I think one thing which is so difficult for Christians in our culture is the Science vs The Bible war. In the past two hundred years or so, skeptics have convinced society that General Revelation AGAINST Special Revelation, as though one contradicts the other.
 

Nothing could be further from the truth! The same Spirit who inspired the writers of Scripture was hovering over the waters of creation in Genesis 1. General Revelation cannot contradict Special Revelation.
 

BUT our interpretations of either could be wrong.

If you see a contradiction between science and the Bible, please have the maturity and humility to step back. Maybe the new scientific discovery is wrong—that’s okay. That has happened a lot of times. Or maybe we misunderstand the Bible—that’s okay. That has happened a lot of times. Be mature enough to know that the same Spirit is behind both, and that Spirit doesn’t lie to us.

You are wrong if you write off everything science says just because it doesn’t fit your interpretation of Scripture. Remember that SCRIPTURE is inerrant…not YOUR CURRENT INTERPRETATION of Scripture. When a Christian priest named Copernicus told us that the sun was the center of the solar system instead of the Earth, some Christians disagreed. The Scripture didn’t disagree, but THEIR INTERPRETATION of Scripture disagreed. When a Christian monk named Mendel discovered genetics, some Christians disagreed. Not the Scripture, but THEIR INTERPRETATION.

It is important that you don’t elevate YOUR INTERPRETATION to the level of inerrancy. There will be times, probably every generation, where some new finding of science in General Revelation helps us better understand the Special Revelation in Scripture. And that should not be scary to you. Because the Spirit doesn’t lie—what He says in nature and what He says in Scripture are the same word.

 

But some of you do the opposite mistake.

Because it is even more wrong if you just accept whatever the current theory of science is and throw away Scripture. Remember that science changes all the time. 100 years ago scientists thought the universe was eternal and had no beginning; until a Christian astronomer came up with the Big Bang theory, and now you’d be laughed at for thinking the universe had no beginning. 500 years ago scientists thought the earth was the center of the universe, which no one now believes.

Don’t sacrifice Scripture at the altar of nature. Because make no mistake about it: a good portion of modern scientific belief is wrong today. And never forget that the story of the Cross is a greater miracle, than the glory of the universe:  when God created the universe He created something which will one day end; but when He saves a sinner, He creates something immortal.

So don’t foolishly elevate science above Scripture…just be sure that it is ACTUALLY Scripture that you are choosing over science, and not your INTERPRETATION of it.


But in general, please remember that the Spirit doesn’t lie. He didn’t lie in General Revelation, and He doesn’t lie in Special Revelation. Maturity will come to you when you learn from BOTH—by understanding the world around you, and by pouring yourself into His Scripture.

 
[SLIDE:  INVITE]

 
But also remember that General Revelation isn’t enough. All that does is reveal God and His qualities. All that does is show us that we and the world are broken. General Revelation isn’t enough to save you from yourself.

For that, we must have Special Revelation—the Gospel. The Good News that God has a rescue plan for us, and it is available to everyone.
 

You see, guys, that is what mission work is all about. That’s what the Great commission is all about.

That is why Grace Church focuses on missions so much, why those flags are hanging above your head. Why we will talk about Romania here in a little while.

Everyone in the world can tell the reality of God and need for a savior just by examining themselves and the world around them…but unless they hear the Story, they can’t follow it and join it. Unless they hear about how God Himself died for us, they can’t sacrifice their will and let Him be their king. God has chosen us—YOU AND I, stupid, sinful vessels though we may be—to be the heralds of His Perfect Word.

And that is why we invite. That’s why we invite people at work and in our families to learn about Jesus. And that’s why we go halfway around the world to share the Gospel.

 
Because God has told everyone who He is through General Revelation. And He has given us the job to spread the Rescue Story throughout the world.

 

2 comments:

  1. You posted two very relevant questions:

    1. Why should someone who doesn’t believe the Bible listen to what the Bible has to say?
    2. If God is real, why doesn’t he reveal himself?

    The problem here is people doubt the Bible because they don't see how it is Divinely Inspired. The proof on how the Bible is inspired is missing to them. And on revelation, in addition to God revealing himself through nature and scripture, he continues to reveal himself in modern times through the Holy Spirit. I would recommend reading up on the writings of Emanuel Swedenborg - he was shown what the afterlife was like, and it was revealed to him how the Bible is Divinely Inspired. He addresses the problems Christians experience when trying to give out the message of the gospel.

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  2. Fantastic sermon, especially the bit about General Revelation - of course I've heard these concepts before, but rarely put so succinctly and accessibly. I will definitely make use of this in my own discussions with others about God!

    ReplyDelete