The Speaking God

Introduction As you settle, do please make sure that you have sight of one of the Bibles that are spread around. We will be focusing our attention on the opening verses of Hebrews. You can find them on p1201. We are beginning a new series with the overall title 'Knowing God'. My purpose this evening is for us to ask ourselves three questions. You find them on the back of the service sheet. They are, first, Do we want to know God? Secondly, How can we know God? And thirdly, Are we going to know God? These are difficult questions. The best way to complete a particularly difficult jigsaw puzzle is to make sure that you have a picture of the completed puzzle in front of you before you even begin. You may still have trouble with some details, but at least you know what the thing should look like. The heart of our puzzle tonight is that question: How can we know God? Thankfully, in Hebrews 1 we have been given the lid of the box with the picture on it. Just the first five words immediately show us what the completed puzzle looks like:

In the past God spoke

Do you want to know God? Then you need to know how. How can we know God? We can know him because God has spoken. Hence my title: The Speaking God. Are you going to know God? You will if you pay attention to what he has said. So chapter 2 begins with these words:

We must pay more careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard

The trouble is, we havn't actually answered that first question, so we must go back to that. This, then, is my first heading: First, DO WE WANT TO KNOW GOD? If you cannot imagine anything more boring than spending hours piecing together hundreds of bits of a jigsaw puzzle, then you will not be very excited at the prospect of being given the picture to work from. If someone gives you the picture you will say "So what?" and toss it aside. It will be irrelevant to you. And the fact is, until our minds are changed, that is what we think about knowing God. "God has spoken, so that we can know him", we are told. "How nice for you", we reply, "but that's irrelevant to me." We see people with Bibles by their beds. We hear about them getting together in little groups to read the Bible together and learn from it. We may find them sufficiently curious-making that we go along to church every now and again to keep an eye on what they are up to. We may even get to the point of leafing through the Bible ourselves when no one is watching, as we try and figure out what they see in it. Because to us, it just seems so irrelevant. Doing jigsaws of eggs in a white bowl on a cream cloth maybe some people's idea of fun. We don't mind them doing it except you can't see the carpet for pieces of jigsaw. But it is clearly a massive irrelevance. It would be a total waste of our time. We have better things to do. Like counting the sections of the Sunday papers. And doing the crossword. Some people are religious. We cannot quite see why, but they obviously like it, so let them get on with it. "God has spoken", they say. "So what?", we say. The trouble is, taking time to know God is not like doing jigsaws or crosswords for a hobby. It is a matter of life and death. When a dying man is told of a new treatment that will cure him, he listens - unless he refuses to accept the reality of his condition. If he doesn't think he is ill, talk of cures seems irrelevant to him. A teenager set on a course of self-destructive drug use will refuse to listen to his father telling him the truth of his situation. A husband relishing the illicit excitement of an adulterous affair will shut his ears to his wife as she tries to speak to him about how she feels. We are very expert at being deaf when we want to be. And that, says the Bible, is how we are when God speaks to us. We are wilfully deaf. And we have been holding our hands over our ears when God speaks to us for so long that we have convinced ourselves that we really cannot hear him. Look at the description of our condition in 3:12-13. Just turn over the page to find that.

See to it, brothers, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin's deceitfulness.

Do you see the nature of what the Bible calls sin? It is a deliberate turning away from the living God, who made us, who wants us to thrive, who knows what is best for us, and who tells us. Sin is refusing to listen. It is regarding God's voice as irrelevant. And do you see what happens when we choose a course of sin? We get "hardened by sin's deceitfulness". It gets harder and harder to stop. All the other voices we start listening to instead of the living God become more and more seductive. And we end up conning ourselves, because it is the nature of sin to be deceitful. So we end up believing that we cannot hear God. And maybe we decide he is a bully anyway, so it is just as well we cannot hear him. Or we decide that he isn't even there, so no wonder we cannot hear him. And all the while our hands are over our ears. The truth is that the world around us speaks plainly of God's glory, and our consciences tell us of his holiness and how he wants us to live, if we just had ears to hear. But, as Romans 1:18 puts it, men "suppress the truth by their wickedness" . So do we want to know God? We don't. We would rather turn our backs on him, and shut our ears to him - unless God in his mercy breaks into our lives and changes us. That is our only hope. You see, the reality is that God is neither absent nor powerless. He wants us to start listening to him again. And he alone is able to pull our fingers from our ears. He alone is able to cure the self-inflicted disease of selective deafness that accepts any foolish nonsense and filters out the voice of God. So it may be that you find that the idea of knowing God no longer does seem as irrelevant to you as it once did. Maybe you have been taken by surprise by a longing within you to hear the voice of the living God speaking to you. If God has begun to unblock your ears, then you will be ready to stop running, and to sit down, and to listen to what he has to say, whether you like it or not. After all, listening to God is not a comfortable process. One of the problems with facing up to God after long years of running, is that we also have to face up to the truth about ourselves. Do you want to know God? If you do, then come with me again to the beginning of Hebrews. There, as we have already seen, we are given the answer to my second question, which is this: Secondly, HOW CAN WE KNOW GOD? Let me read again verses 1-3:

In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe. The Son is the radiance of God's glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the majesty in heaven.

The only way that we can get to know God is by God revealing himself to us. There are various reasons for that. For one thing, he is hidden from our view. "No one has ever seen God" says John 1:18. And 1 Timothy 6:15-16 stresses the same thing. God is:

the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone is immortal and who lives in unapproachable light, who no-one has seen or can see.

So not only is he hidden from our sight, he is hidden from our minds as well. For us even to think that we can work him out, that we can understand him with our own puny unaided brains just goes to show how absurdly overinflated our egos are. As 1 Corinthians 2:11 has it:

no-one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God.

All the intellectualising and all the centuries of religious speculation and all the contemplation of all the most revered mystics do not amount to a can of beans when it comes to hard facts about what God is like, unless he reveals himself to us. And even if we could come up with some reliable information, which we can't, information about someone is a very different thing from actually engaging with them. Knowing about someone is very different from knowing them personally. Come to that, how do we even know that God is personal? How do we know that he is there at all? Or why couldn't he (or rather, it) be some kind of Star Wars force? Or what about two gods squabbling over the territory which is the universe we inhabit? Or why shouldn't there be a whole squad of gods, all battling it out for places in the first team? How are we to know? We can't - unless God tells us the truth about himself. And the good news is, that is exactly what he has done. And that's how we know that he is personal. Because persons communicate by speaking, and that is what he does. When you meet someone new, even seeing them tells you very little about them. It is only as the other person begins to open up, and tells you about what is going on inside their minds, that you really begin to know them. Isn't that why women often find men so frustrating? In general, men are not very adept at talking about the things that matter most to them. A silent man is hard to get to know. What is he thinking? Fortunately for men, the obvious conclusion is not always drawn - which is that there is nothing going on in his brain at all. When I was getting to know Vivienne, who is now my wife, it was the hours of talking that forged our friendship. We can know God because of all the talking that he has done. So how has he spoken to us? In three main ways. First, through the prophets. Hebrews 1:1 again:

In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways

What is a prophet? A prophet is someone singled out by God first to receive revelation from him, and then to proclaim that revelation. Jeremiah is typical. We heard his account of his call earlier. So he remembered:

The word of the Lord came to me, saying, "Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations."

And he goes on to recall the searing experience of being given God's words to speak:

Then the Lord reached out his hand and touched my mouth and said to me, "Now, I have put my words in your mouth. See, today I appoint you over nations and kingdoms to uproot and tear down, to destroy and overthrow, to build and to plant".

And Jeremiah discovered what we were talking about earlier: people do not want to listen to God.

The word of the Lord has brought me insult and reproach all day long

he complains. But God persisted. In all kinds of ways he used human voices to speak his words, and God made sure they were written down and not lost. And that is what we have in the Old Testament. But that was not the end of it. The second way that God has spoken to us is there in Hebrews 1:2:

but in these last days, he has spoken to us by his Son

Jesus was a prophet. He too spoke what God the Father told him to speak. So he says in John 7:16:

My teaching is not my own. It comes from him who sent me.

But he was so much more than a prophet. He revealed God not only through what he said, but through who he was and what he did. As he replied when Philip asked him to show them the Father:

Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father

And to return to Hebrews (this is v2-3):

The Son is the radiance of God's glory and the exact representation of his being.

Not a Madame Tussaud's waxwork representation. An exact, living, human and divine, representation. So now, if we want to get to know God, the way we do it has been made clear by God himself: we have to get to know Jesus. He is and was and will be the divine King of kings and Lord of lords. He was the agent of creation: verse 2 describes him as God's Son "through whom he made the universe". It was he who opened the way for us to know God personally by taking the devestating consequences of our rebellion and refusal to listen to God's word. That is, verse 3, he "provided purification for sins". He is the one who is in control of everything for ever - so, verse 3 again, "he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven", which is to say he was enthroned beside the Father. And how does he control everything? By speaking. Verse 3: he is "sustaining all things by his powerful word". And he is the one who will inherit God's kingdom when he returns to wrap up history, bring everyone to account, destroy evil, and gather God's people around him in a new heaven and a new earth. He has been appointed "heir of all things" as verse 2 has it. So God's revelation of himself in Jesus is comprehensive and it is final. Until the day comes when we do see him face to face, that's it. But do we have a reliable, God given account of who Jesus was, what he did, and what he said? If Jesus was a once for all revelation of God, that's a crunch question. One thing to be said about that is that the prophets themselves tell us a great deal about Jesus, in God-inspired anticipation of his coming. So when Jesus wanted to explain his own significance to the confused disciples after the resurrection, what did he do? He took them on a whistle-stop tour of the Old Testament. Luke 24:27:

beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.

And Luke also records how he later said when he appeared to all the apostles:

"Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms." Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures

And very significantly he added:

"You are witnesses of these things"

That is the third way by which God speaks to us. First, through the prophets. Secondly, and supremely, in Jesus. And thirdly, through the inspired witness and teaching of the apostles. They tell us what happened, and what it meant, with God's authority. So Hebrews 2:3 says:

This salvation, which was first announced by the Lord, was confirmed to us by those who heard him.

And what we have in the New Testament is the record of the teaching of the apostles. God's revelation of himself in Jesus is comprehensive and final, and God's account of it is contained between the covers of this book. God has no more to say to us than he has said here. What more could we want? God has spoken to us in his Son. But that does not mean that he has stopped speaking to us. He has nothing more to say, but he doesn't stop saying it! This is not a dead word. Hebrews 4:12:

The word of God is living and active.

So, for instance, right here in Hebrews, at 3:7, a Psalm is quoted - Psalm 95. Look at how it is introduced: So, as the Holy Spirit says: "Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts" The message of the Bible is the living word of God which the God the Holy Spirit speaks today to all who have ears to hear. This is God's great love letter to mankind. Will we listen? That brings us to our third and final question: Thirdly, ARE WE GOING TO KNOW GOD? What are we going to do with the message of the Bible - God's word? Hebrews 2:1 again:

We must pay more careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard

And 2:3:

how shall we escape if we ignore such a great salvation?

Who are the people that we don't listen to? They are those we don't care about; those who might tell us to do something that we don't want to do; those from whom we can gain no benefit; or those who have no power or influence over our lives. If we reckon God falls into any of those categories, we are going to have a rude awakening when God's patience finally runs out. Who do we listen to? It's those who we know do have power over us; those who can help us; those we do love; and those we want to serve. Do we want to know God, or not? We have seen how God in his mercy breaks into our lives and heals our self-inflicted deafness. He plants afresh in our hearts the desire to know him which we had stifled and suppressed. So we have ears to hear. And God is not silent. He has spoken and he speaks, loudly and clearly. But it is still down to us to use our newly working ears. We must make it our lifetime priority to pay the closest possible attention to God's word in the Bible. Those Bibles by the bedside must not gather dust. Those small group discussions must not degenerate into gossip. And as we gather together Sunday by Sunday, as we are this evening, we must not come just for the music, and the company, and the coffee. We must pay more careful attention to what we have heard.

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