He Is Not Silent - Part 1

Tom Pennington • Selected Scriptures

  • 2003-11-16 PM
  • Systematic Theology
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The glory of God. The word "glory" is "kabowd". It speaks of weight, God's weightiness. That which makes God heavy, if you will. That which makes God impressive. The heavens are constantly preaching that which makes God impressive. And their expanse is declaring the work of His hands. The creation is a messenger. In this case, the heavens are a messenger about God. Notice verse 2. Verse 1 is the proposition. Verses 2 - 4 sort of expound that proposition. Verse 2 says their message is constant. It never stops. Day to day pours forth speech. The Hebrew word translated "pours forth" is a word that means to bubble up. It's as if there's this boundless energy in the heavens, trying to get across its message.

Sometimes I get a little excited when I'm teaching you God's Word. It's like that. It's like the heavens just can't hold back, and they're doing their best to communicate about what makes God impressive. They're bubbling forth speech, and night to night reveals knowledge. Notice one day picks up preaching where the last day left off. One night picks up speaking where the previous night left off. And they just keep declaring the message: God is impressive. Look at God.

But it's interesting, when you get to verse 3, their message doesn't come in speech or words or even a voice. Verse 3 is a difficult verse in Hebrew, but I think the New American Standard has it right. There is no speech nor are there words, and their voice isn't heard. So, they're constantly preaching, but they're not using words, and they're not speaking, and you can't hear their voice. But they're getting their message across. Notice verse 4. Their sound is heard everywhere. They may not have a voice and they may not use words, and they may not use speech, but you can't escape their message. Their line has gone out, or their sound has gone out through all the earth, and their utterances to the end of the world. There's nowhere on God's earth that you can go and not have the heavens and their expanse, and all of creation constantly preaching what makes God impressive. David couldn't make it more clear. Creation is a channel. It's a messenger through which God is revealing Himself.

Paul makes this same point very profoundly in Romans 1, Romans 1. Although no one naturally knows God, Romans 1 says it's not God fault. Notice verse 18. "For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse." You see, God has revealed Himself in nature, or in creation. What has He made known about Himself? Notice verse 20, "His invisible attributes". What do you mean, Paul? Well, specifically two of His invisible attributes: His eternal power and His divine nature. Look at creation, and you will see there, God revealed in those two ways.

Now, what do those expressions mean? The phrase "eternal power" speaks of God's absolute supreme control, God's absolute supreme control. And "divine nature" speaks of deity. So, you could paraphrase Paul to say this, that in creation, God has revealed Himself to be the supreme being. Basically, in creation, God has revealed Himself to be the supreme being. There is, in the creation, sufficient evidence of a supreme being. And when men refuse to acknowledge God and worship Him, it's not from lack of evidence, but from their irrational and resolute determination not to know Him.

You say, well, wait a minute, though. I mean, do people really have the capacity to get this message about God from just walking outside and seeing the creation? Paul says so. Notice verse 19, "God made it evident to them." Verse 20, "clearly seen, being understood". In other words, each person has been given the capacity by God for receiving this general revelation, this constant message about God. I have to tell you that moving to Southlake and Colleyville area from LA, I've had a little bit of adjustment in your traffic laws. Specifically, in your speed limit. I won't tell you how fast traffic moves in LA, but let's just say that on the freeways, when they're clear, you move at a much faster rate than the speed limit here in the back communities in which my wife and I live. And so, I've had some adjustments to make as we go along.

And, let's suppose for a moment, that I was driving to the church, and I came through a school zone, and it had a posted speed limit sign of 20, school zone 20, and it was the appropriate time. Suppose for a moment you did that. You're driving through an area, and you come to this school zone sign. Now, you could choose to ignore that sign and drive through that school zone doing 55 miles an hour. But if you do that, a policeman is going to pull you over. Now, if he pulls you over, and he starts to give you a ticket, you start thinking about how to get away from this ticket, how to get around this ticket. You could claim that you didn't see the sign. But if you're driving the car, you're responsible to look at the road signs and to obey them. He's not going to buy it. And if you saw the sign, and you just chose to ignore it, and you hit and kill a child, then you're responsible for that child's death.

What's my point? God has put up a sign. If people don't see it, or if they see it and choose to ignore it, the fault is theirs, not God's. So, when you look at general revelation, technically there are two parts.

God has revealed Himself. He's put up the sign. But He's also done something else. He's given us, each of us, the capacity to understand that revelation. He's made it evident to us. So, God has put up the sign, and He's given us the ability to see it and understand it.

But there's a problem. Man has chosen, just like the guy driving through the school zone, he's chosen to ignore the sign. He's chosen to reject God's general revelation. Notice verse 18 of Romans 1. "the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men [watch what they do] who suppress the truth in unrighteousness." They suppress the truth. Why?

Why would men ignore God's sign, purposefully choose to ignore general revelation, and go on their merry way? Well, Paul explains it in two words in verse 18. "ungodliness" and "unrighteousness". "Ungodliness" describes "a state of opposition to God". It's not talking so much about behavior (that their behavior is ungodly) as much as it is a disposition, an attitude toward God. It's an absolute rebellion against God. It's a refusal to recognize God's rightful claims.

And he says unrighteousness. Not only ungodliness but unrighteousness. Unrighteousness simply says people love their sin, and they hate righteousness. So, they don't want to acknowledge a God that makes moral claims upon them. So, because of their state of opposition to God, they want to be king. And because of their wanting to do what they want to do and not live under the moral claims of God, they reject God's general revelation.

In other words, the refusal to know God is based not so much on intellectual causes as moral ones. I had a seminary professor who was a brilliant mind, and he was talking with this man who was an atheist. And the atheist said, you know, look, if you could prove to me that there was a god, if it made sense logically for me to accept your faith and accept your God, then I would do it. And my instructor used an ancient argument with him.

He said, well, he said, let me tell you this. He said, if you're right, and I'm wrong, then what does it really cost me in the end? And the man said, well, you know, you haven't had as much fun in life as I'm having, but I guess I'd have to say that's about it. And he said, well, if I'm right, and you're wrong, what does it cost you? The man said my entire life in eternity. And he said, well, logically then, you should accept Christ. The man said, no, I'm not interested. Because his problem wasn't an intellectual one. His problem was a moral one. Men reject God's general revelation because of moral issues.

The truth is, the creation screams about God. Screams about His power and His wisdom. I love just delving a little bit into the reality of God's creation. Consider the vastness of our universe. If you could put 1.2 million earths inside the sun, you would still have room left for 4.3 million moons. The sun is 93 million miles away, and it's 865,000 miles in diameter. Let that sink in a moment, 865,000 miles in diameter. The next nearest star, Alpha Centauri is five times larger than our sun. Now the moon is only, it's practically next door in terms of the solar system, it's only 211,000 miles away approximately. You could walk there in 27 years, if you choose to do that.

A ray of light travels at 186,000 miles a second. So that means a beam of light would travel from the earth to the moon in one and a half seconds. At that speed, 186,000 miles a second, a beam of light from earth to the moon in one and a half seconds. If we could travel that speed, it would take us two minutes and 18 seconds to reach Venus, four and a half minutes to reach Mercury. And if you went all the way out to Pluto, 2.7 billion miles away, it would take nearly four hours traveling 186,000 miles a second. And having gotten that far you'd still be well within our own solar system.

The North Star is four hundred billion miles away, but it's still nearby in terms of known space. The star Betelgeuse is 880 quadrillion miles away. That's 880 followed by 15 zeros. And it has a diameter, listen to this. Betelgeuse has a diameter of two hundred and fifty million miles, which is greater than the earth's orbit in diameter. The universe absolutely screams about the power and majesty of God.

If you look inside, don't look at the universe, but look inside the human body. I watched a fascinating DVD a few months ago on the human cell. The human cell, they're discovering, is filled with tiny machines. There's a machine that actually functions as an assembly line inside every human cell. The information contained in a single cell is greater than that of the computer you have at home. In fact, in most of the world's computers. That complexity and order speak to the character of the One who made it. As the song said, there's not a plant or flower below but makes Thy glories known. It goes on to say, Lord, how Thy wonders are displayed where'ere I turn my eye. If I survey the ground I tread, or gaze upon the sky. God has revealed Himself in creation.

Secondly, God has given us general revelation through providence. Another one of His messengers has been providence. Notice chapter 5 of Matthew. Every time it rains, my mind comes to this verse. Matthew 5:44, or let's start at verse 43. Christ says as part of the Sermon on the Mount, He's preaching primarily to His disciples, but others are listening. He says,

"You have heard that it was said, 'YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR[s] and hate your enemy,' But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.[A novel concept to these folks] so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; [watch this] for … [God, your Father in heaven] causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and [He] sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous."

You see, in nature, God communicates--excuse me, in providence, in His goodness in bringing rain and bringing the sun up every morning, and doing good to all, God displays His character.

In case you doubt that point, Paul makes it profoundly in Acts 14 and that's where I want us to turn, Acts 14. In verse 8 of chapter 14, Paul arrives at Lystra. Lystra was Timothy's home town. And there was a man there who was lame from birth, and he listens to Paul's message, and he's converted and he's healed. As a result, the people conclude that Paul and Barnabas are gods. So, when you get to verse 13 of Acts 14, the priest of Zeus prepares to sacrifice to them. In verse 14, somehow Paul and Barnabas begin to put it together. I don't know if someone told them or if they saw the animals and began to realize it, they inquire, they're shocked to discover what's going on. They tear their outer garments, which was a common ancient expression for shock and horror.

And in verses 15 - 17 we have one of two classic examples of Paul preaching to a pagan audience. The other of course is Acts 17 in Athens. Usually, when Paul arrived in a city, he started in the synagogue by preaching the gospel to Jewish people and to Gentile proselytes. And since both of those groups, both the Jewish people and the Gentile proselytes, believed that there was only one true and living God, Paul typically started by arguing that Jesus was the Messiah. That's where he went.

But in this case, he's not dealing with a Jewish or a Gentile proselyte audience, but with a pagan audience, so he starts with a different approach. Notice verse 15. He says, "Men, why are you doing these things? We are also men of the same nature as you, and preach the gospel to you that you should turn from these vain things to a living God," He starts by making the point that there is one true and living god. There's only one God. And notice how he describes this God. "who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and all that is in them." You see, the starting point for the proclamation of the gospel to a pagan is creation. It's creation. Look around you. Obviously, somebody has made these things, and He is the true God.

That's, by the way, why evolution is so dangerous, because it attacks the foundation of evangelism. And by the way, and we'll probably get there at some point, evolution doesn't solve the question of origins. It only postpones it. Because you still have to deal with "where did the stuff that exploded come from". So, you can't solve it that way. And, by the way, I should also mention, this is a little pet peeve of mine, time does not make the impossible possible.

I had a professor in seminary who would illustrate this by taking off his watch. And he would hold it up, and he would say, now if I were to take this watch apart into all of its components, and I were to put it in a washing machine and turn on the washing machine, how many of you think in 5 minutes that watch can come together and become a functioning watch? And of course, everybody that was there rolled their eyes. He said alright, now let's increase the time a little bit, and he keeps increasing the time until he gets out to a million years. In a million years, do you think it's possible that those watch parts could come together and form a watch.

You know, unsuspecting first year seminary students are yelling yeah, yeah, it could happen. And in his sort of whiney voice, he said, no. And it's true. Time does not make the impossible possible. Those parts start wearing down over time, and they no longer fit together. So, enough of that.

So, Paul's second approach with his pagan audience, notice is God's providential goodness, His common grace. Verse 16, not only did He create, but "In the generations gone by He permitted all the nations to go their own ways; and yet [watch this] He did not leave Himself without witness, [God was still speaking--how Paul?] in that He did good and gave you rains from heaven and fruitful seasons, satisfying your hearts with food and gladness." You see what Paul is saying? He's saying that God, in His common grace to you in giving you rain and giving you seasons and satisfying your heart with all of life's good things, continued to witness about Himself. He continued to reveal Himself. Unbelievers instinctively realize this. That's why a person who never has darkened the church door, narrowly escapes death, and what does he say? Thank God! He recognizes God's common grace, His goodness.

Next Thursday, many unbelievers will list the blessings they enjoy. They'll recite them. As I mentioned this morning, often taking more than their share, or its--their own share of credit for it, but nevertheless they will list those blessings, recognizing that they've received some things from God. So, in God's providence, in His bringing good things into our lives, in His bringing rain and fruitful seasons, He proclaims Himself. He witnesses to His goodness.

A third channel through which we receive this message is conscience. Notice, back in Romans for a moment, Romans 1 again. Verse 32, Paul says something very interesting. Talking about all of these people who practice all of these horrific sins, listen to verse 28 and following. He says, they know the ordinance of God, that those who practice such things are worthy of death, and they not only do the same, but they give hearty approval to those who practice them. They know the ordinance of God. That is, they know the regulations or the requirements of God.

My question is, how do they know? How does the law speak to billions who have never read the Bible, who have never heard it taught? Paul answers that question masterfully in 2:14. How do they know the ordinance of God? Verse 14, for when the Gentiles who have never seen the law of God do the things written in the law, and acknowledge them thereby to be right, they show or exhibit or give proof of the work of the law written in their hearts. That phrase, "the work of the law" is used only here in the New Testament. It means the substance of the law or the requirement of the law. And it's written on the heart of every man.

It's this universal awareness of the law of God that C.S. Lewis used as the basis of his argument in Mere Christianity. You see, every person is born with the substance or the basic requirements of the law indelibly imprinted on his heart, and his conscience uses that basic knowledge of the law to either accuse him or defend him, depending on his behavior. So, God is speaking. God is speaking about Himself, and He's doing it through creation. He's doing it through providence. And He's doing it through conscience. And this is available, this revelation of God is available to every man everywhere.

Now, let's look quickly at its message. We've noticed its messengers. What's the message? What does general revelation actually reveal about the person of God? Let me just give these to you briefly. First of all, nature or creation reveals, according to Psalm 19, God's existence, His glory or His greatness as we say, "glory" meaning "that which is impressive about God" that which makes Him impressive. And so, creation reveals God's existence, and His glory or greatness. According to Romans 1:18 it shows us that there is in fact a supreme being. There is someone who has this eternal power and this divine nature. Providence shows us, according to Matthew 5, God's goodness. And again, in Acts 14, we see God's goodness and His power. Conscience shows us, according to Romans 2 that God is righteous and that He's holy, and that He's a lawgiver.

Because the conscience constantly reminds us that there's this code of conduct. And it punishes us, doesn't it, when we violate it. That shows us something about the character of God. And Romans 1:32 speaks of God's wrath and His judgment. Notice again verse 32 of Romans 1. These pagan Gentiles, they know the ordinance of God. It's written on their hearts. And they know that those who practice such things are worthy of death. They have this sense of God's impending judgment, God's wrath. That's the message of general revelation. Without ever seeing a page of Scripture, every person in the world gets that message about God.

Now, what are the effects of general revelation? What results does general revelation produce? First of all, it produces personal guilt. Personal guilt. Now, we're not talking about a feeling of guilt, although that comes too if your conscience afflicts you. I'm talking here about real, personal guilt. That is, you're living under a guilty verdict. It's as if you have already been condemned, and you're merely awaiting the execution of the sentence. Notice Romans 1 again, verse 20. Because God has made this general revelation, because He's revealed this about Himself, because it's clearly seen, because He's allowed men to have the capacity to "get it", notice the end of the verse. They are without excuse.

By the way, that forever answers the question that constantly comes to pastors and constantly comes through so many different channels. Well what about the guy living in some remote jungle in, you know, Bongo Bongo who's never heard the word of God? As tragic, and as sad, as it is that that person may never hear the gospel, he's heard the message that we just saw in general revelation. And that message has rendered Him, according to Romans 1, without excuse, without excuse.

It also has this effect, and that is a moral decline. Notice chapter 1 of Romans, verse 24. If you read verse 24 and following. We're not going to take time to do that. You'll, notice that three times, Paul says God gave people up because they refused to acknowledge God; because they wanted to live in their own unrighteousness, in their own ungodliness; because they ignored general revelation; because they didn't acknowledge God; because they weren't thankful. God gave them up or gave them over. Notice verse 24. "God gave them over in the lusts of their hearts to impurity" Verse 26, "For this reason God gave them over to degrading passions;" --homosexuality. Verse 28, "just as they did not see fit to acknowledge God any longer, God gave them over to a depraved mind, to do those things which are not proper,"

One form of God's judgment is removing the restraint against sin and allowing sinners to pursue their depravity. But notice what happens when men refuse to embrace God's general revelation. There is a moral decline that takes place, and you see it laid out on the pages of Romans 1. Man doesn't improve when he ignores the God who created him. Instead, there is a moral slide.

The third effect of God's general revelation is God's wrath, God's impending wrath. Verse 18 says "the wrath of God is revealed from heaven" Because of all that I'm going to lay out, God's wrath has been revealed. Verse 32 of Romans 1, he makes the same point. He says, "… although they know the ordinance of God, those who do such things are worthy of death, they not only do them, but they give hearty approval to those who practice them." Verse 1 of chapter 2. "Therefore you have no excuse, everyone of you" Verse 2. "we know that the judgment of God rightly falls upon those who practice such things." And he's talking here to the religious person who thinks everything's fine, who's excused himself. The bottom line is, judgment is coming. And God's general revelation brings a sense of that. J.I. Packer describes it well, I think. He writes this.

"Human beings cannot entirely suppress their sense of God, and His present and future judgment. God Himself will not let them do that. Some sense of right and wrong as well as of being accountable to a holy divine judge always remains. In our fallen world, all those whose minds are not in some way impaired have a conscience that at some points directs them, and from time to time condemns them, telling them that they ought to suffer for wrongs they have done, and when conscience speaks in those terms, it is in truth, the voice of God."

God has given us an objective valid revelation of Himself in nature, and in providence, and in conscience. Whether anyone sees it, understands it, or believes it doesn't change the reality that it's there, that it exists. And man is left with no excuse.

But it's also true that man's ability to see it and to understand it was terribly marred at the fall. General revelation has weaknesses. And I don't have a slide for this, so you're not missing anything. It has weaknesses. You see, let me illustrate it for you this way. Many of you have a cell phone. And when you're getting into an area where there's not a strong signal, you can't hear. You hear intermittently, or perhaps it drops out altogether. It's not that the person on the other end has stopped talking. It's that you're not getting the signal. The same thing is true with God's general revelation. God is still talking, but sinners, because their ability to understand and hear has been impaired because of the fall (because of their own sinfulness), they can't hear it. They're not getting the signal. But it's not God's fault. He's talking. He's made the signal strong. It's my ability to receive it that's bad.

People do not clearly perceive God's message in general revelation. Why is that? Why is it that people don't get the message? Well, it's because the created order is now under a curse. Creation is under a curse, so there are thorns, and there are terribly destructive storms, and there are earthquakes. And so, the effects of the curse jumbled the message of general revelation. But the more serious effect of the fall is not on the world around us. The more serious effect of the fall is on us. Because man's sinfulness causes him to misinterpret God's general revelation. Think about it. The theory of evolution came from people looking at God's general revelation. They missed it altogether. Why? Is God's signal not clear? No. They're not getting it, because their receptors have been destroyed or terribly marred.

So, general revelation (listen, this is very important): general revelation, like we just examined, cannot lead to saving faith in Jesus Christ. That's why Paul says in Romans 10. In fact, turn to Romans 10. This seals this argument forever. Can a person be saved by looking at general revelation, at what God has said in creation and in providence and in conscience? Paul says in Romans 10:14, "How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher?" Listen, the only way anybody ever gets the gospel is through some sort of a messenger, whether it's the written word of God or whether it's someone proclaiming the word of God to them. Paul says, look, it's not going to happen from the creation. It's not going to happen through providence. It's not going to happen from conscience. Those are valid means of communication. God is speaking, but the cell phone is all messed up and we're not getting the signal.

By the way, compare that, what Paul says in Romans 10 with James Kennedy's unfortunate book The Gospel in the Stars. I have a lot of respect for James Kennedy in a lot of ways, but that's a most unfortunate book, if any of you've seen it. Basically, he argues that the gospel is written in the stars, and he even says that it's written in some ways clearer in the stars than it's written on the pages of Scripture. That's what's called natural theology. Natural theology teaches that it's possible, without relying on the Bible, to come to a genuine understanding, a genuine knowledge of God simply on the basis of observation and reason. By the way, the most notable theologian in history, who was committed to natural theology, was a man by the name of Thomas Aquinas. The proofs for the existence of God grow out of kind of natural theology. The fact that I can argue somebody into believing that God actually exists.

God has spoken through general revelation, through creation, providence, and conscience, but it's been rendered ineffective. General revelation is a kind of billboard, a divine billboard that can't be ignored. It's true, it speaks. As Boice says, there is enough evidence of God in a flower to lead a child as well as a scientist to worship God. There is sufficient evidence in a tree, a pebble, a grain of sand, a fingerprint to make us glorify God and thank Him. But it doesn't happen. Why? Well, I like John Calvin's illustration of the weakness of general revelation. He likened man's ability to comprehend general revelation to someone who has to wear eyeglasses.

If you have to wear eyeglasses, and you really have to have them to see, then, when you take them off, the whole world has that kind of fuzzy romantic look about it. You see the world, but it's distorted. And then you put on your glasses and everything comes into focus. Calvin argued that for us to clearly see God's general revelation and understand it, we have to put on what he called the spectacles of faith. The eyeglasses of faith. What did he mean? He was saying that the chief benefit of general revelation comes not to the unbeliever but to the believer who has already come to faith. It's when we come to understand God.

It's when God removes the blindness from our eyes, as Paul says. That then we look at God's general revelation and we have one of those "aha" experiences. I get it! I see it. Now, I have on the spectacles of faith and it all becomes clear. I see the divine billboard, whereas before it was just a blur. But nevertheless, God has revealed Himself in general revelation through creation, providence and conscience. As Schaeffer said, "God is there, and He's not silent".

Let's pray together.

Father, thank You for this time of study around Your Word tonight. Lord, we rejoice in Your goodness to us, that You have made it clear to us who You are, that You have revealed to all mankind Your great power, and Your goodness, and Your deity, and Your wrath, and Your coming judgment, that You are the moral Lawgiver whom we all must obey. Lord, thank You that You have made all of those things clear.

Lord, forgive us for our lack of sensitivity to the billboard that You have constructed. Lord, I pray that You would help us who know You, who love You, to have our eyes opened to these messages from another world, that You are speaking, You are revealing Yourself through these things. Lord, help us as believers as we look around us; as we see the rain fall; as we see the seasons change, and we hear our consciences speak, that we would be moved to worship and to praise You, our great God, who is not silent.

In Jesus' name we pray. Amen.

Systematic Theology