He Is Not Silent - Part 2

Tom Pennington • Selected Scriptures

  • 2003-11-23 PM
  • Systematic Theology
  • Sermons


. . . that's in our own government, is now what it's called. What they had found was a rapidly rotating neutron star, what we now refer to as a pulsar, broadcasting without any artificial aid. That briefly summarizes how the first pulsar ever discovered was named LGM 1. That gave just enough of a hint of the possibility that there might be someone desiring to communicate with us from outer space, that today (I hate to tell you this but) millions of our tax dollars over the last fifteen years have been spent trying to listen for a message from outer space. A search, (spent by NASA by the way) a search for intelligent life in outer space.

On October 12, 1992 is when the search really began in earnest. That was the 500th anniversary of Christopher Columbus' historic landing. NASA Magazine wrote, the fall before that, "on this date a new group of explorers will venture forth in a vastly larger sea. These new world children, some 25 generations removed from Isabella's reign will begin listening to distant stars for signs that humans are not alone in the universe." This undertaking was called The Microwave Observing Project, and it was managed by NASA's Search For Extraterrestrial Intelligence, or SETI Program office.

If you get on the internet today, you can link your computer (I'm not recommending this, by the way) you can link your computer so that you can be one to perhaps discover, through SETI's investigation, a regular signal coming from outer space. I tried it myself this week. This project was part of NASA's exobiology program, "to understand the origin, evolution, and distribution of life in the universe", your tax dollars at work. The truth is, hundreds of the world's space scientists are spending vast sums of money listening for meaningful contact with imagined rational creatures living somewhere deep in space.

As Christians, interestingly enough, we believe that we have already received a message from outer space, or more accurately, from beyond space. A message from the eternal infinite God. Francis Schaeffer, who (where the title of my message this evening comes from) He's Not Silent, writes this.

There has always been communication. Before the creation of all else, in the Trinity. God has made man in His own image, and part of making man in His own image is that man is a verbalizer. Would it be unlikely that this personal God Who is there, and made man in His own image as a verbalizer in such a way that He can communicate horizontally to other men on the basis of propositions and language, is it unthinkable, or even surprising that this personal God could or would communicate to man on the basis of propositions? The answer is no. I've never met an atheist who thought that this would be regarded as surprising within the Christian structure or frame of reference. If a personal God has made us to be language communicators, and that is obviously what man is, why then should it be surprising to think of Him speaking to Paul in Hebrew on the Damascus Road? Do we think God doesn't know Hebrew?

God communicates. God has revealed Himself to us. He has spoken. Or, as Schaeffer said, He is not silent.

Well, as we saw last time, we're talking about revelation. And the word revelation comes from the word "apokalupsis" which simply means "an unveiling", an unveiling. Or God's self-disclosure. When we speak of God's revelation, we mean God's drawing back the veil to show us Himself and His will, or as I said, we could say that revelation is simply God's self-disclosure. Now the Scripture explains that God's self-disclosure takes two forms, general revelation, and special revelation.

By general revelation we mean that the scope of the message is universal. And the content of the message is also more general than special revelation as well. In other words, general revelation paints with broad brush-strokes the truth about God. In general revelation, we saw last time, primarily there are three messengers. Three avenues through which God reveals Himself in general revelation. The first is creation. You look at the world around you, and you can see certain things that are true about God, which we'll see in a moment.

The second avenue or messenger of general revelation is providence. Through how He orders the world, God communicates something about Himself. And then finally, as we saw last time, the conscience. The conscience has upon it the substance of the law. The basic requirements of the moral requirements of God, the moral law of God are found on the conscience of man.

Now, what is the message that these three messengers constantly give us--constantly relate to us. As you can see, and we looked at this last time in detail, we learn about God's existence, His glory, His greatness, the fact that He is, that there is a supreme being. And then through providence we learned that that supreme being is good, and that he's good to all of His creatures. And then through conscience we learned that that good powerful divine being is also a moral lawgiver, because our conscience accuses us or excuses us, and we see His righteousness, His holiness. And then finally, we see through conscience God's coming wrath. You remember Romans 1:32 where Paul says that man not only knows God's requirements, and he knows the just punishments for those requirements, but nevertheless he chooses to do it. We saw all of these things last time.

Now what are the effects of God's general revelation? Where does it leave us? Well, essentially, it leaves us with these three things: personal guilt, moral decline, and God's wrath--God's coming wrath. That's where it leaves us. So, we learned at the end last time that general revelation is not sufficient because we are fallen, and because we live in a world where it too has been affected by the fall. If you remember, we talked about how creation itself is now (the message) is clouded by the fall and by the effects of the fall. Therefore, general revelation is not enough for us to come to a saving knowledge of God.

So, in addition to God's unveiling Himself in general revelation through these means, creation, providence, and conscience, God has spoken specifically or specially, through what we call special revelation, special revelation. General revelation is natural. That is, God speaks through the visible creation with its ordinary laws and events. But special revelation is supernatural. It's called special when God speaks to man either directly or through supernaturally chosen and empowered messengers. The record of Scripture is a record of God speaking to man either directly or through messengers whom He has chosen.

What I want us to do for the bulk of our time tonight is, I want to do something a little unusual with you. I want you to see the flow of God's special revelation, how God revealed Himself to man. So, we're going to start, believe it or not, in Genesis 1, and we're going to end in Revelation. But I want you to see (how God, not through general revelation now, we've moved to special revelation, God supernaturally speaking to man either directly or through His messengers) how God has done that.

So, let's begin by looking at the flow of revelation in the Old Testament. Now, let's start with before the fall. Turn to Genesis 1, and I just want to remind you of this. We won't spend a lot of time here, but in Genesis 1, before the fall, verse 28, God blessed this male and female that He created, and God said to them (God's just speaking directly to Adam and Eve)

… Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it; and rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over every living thing that moves on the earth. Then God said, [and so forth.]

God goes on and speaks to Adam and Eve directly in the garden regarding their place and their responsibility in the creation. Then if you go to 2:16 and 17, you see the Lord God commanded the man saying,

"… you can eat from … [every] tree of the garden … freely; but … [of] the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat for the day that you eat from it you … [shall] surely die."

Now, in what context did this revelation of God to Adam and Eve take place? Well, if you turn to 3:8 you see that essentially God assumed, apparently, the form of man much as He did in Christ in the incarnation, but not taking on the form of man, (just not becoming man, but taking on merely the form of man) and He walks in the garden with Adam and Eve. See 3:8, "They heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day. And the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden."

Every indication is given in 3:8 that this was a regular occurrence. That, in the cool of the day, God came and directly interacted with Adam and Eve. God was revealing Himself to them. We don't have the entire record of all that God said to them, obviously. We don't know how long it was from the creation of man to the fall, but it apparently wasn't very long. Nevertheless, however long it was, God came and directly interacted and revealed Himself to Adam and Eve.

So, before the fall, God was speaking to man, but when sin entered the world in chapter 3, the need for special revelation (God speaking directly) becomes even more acute, because now, God has to speak about issues that He hasn't addressed before with Adam and Eve. He has to speak about sin, about guilt, about depravity, about atonement, about forgiveness, about sacrifice, substitution. All of those are issues that He's not previously had to address with Adam and Eve. When you come after the fall, God is still speaking audibly . You'll notice in 4:6 and following, He speaks audibly to Cain. He and Cain carry on a conversation, even after Cain's sin. And then, in chapter 6 He does the same thing to Noah. God shows up and speaks to Noah.

But then when we come to the time of the patriarchs, things begin to change a little bit. Beginning with Abraham, God began again as He had with Adam to reveal Himself in theophanies. By the way, don't be scared of the word theophanies. It's simply a word made of two Greek words "theos" and "phanea" which simply means God to appear, an appearance of God, a visible manifestation of God in some way. That's a theophany. And you see God appear in the time of the patriarchs, visibly. Now, I believe, that every visible manifestation of God in the Old Testament (let me say this again) every visible manifestation of God in the Old Testament is the Second Person of the Trinity.

And I'll tell you why I believe that. Because John 1:18 says this. "No one has seen God [what] at any time; [but] the only begotten God who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained Him." He has revealed Him. So, in other words, it's saying that nobody has ever seen God the Father. But the Son, the second member of the Trinity, the only begotten God who is in the bosom of the Father (there's a perfect description of the second person of the Trinity) He has explained God the Father. He has revealed God the Father. You see God, you see the second person of the trinity.

Now, in the Old Testament, and particularly in the period of the patriarchs, the most common visible manifestation of God was what? the angel of the LORD. Fascinating, fascinating encounters that these people had with this person who's called the angel of the LORD. Turn to Genesis 16. This is the first. I want you to see this manifestation of God (this theophany, or probably Christophany) that is an appearance of Christ before His incarnation. You remember that after the foiled attempt to have a child through Hagar, Sarai says, look, I want you to leave, and as a result of that, Hagar leaves. But in verse 6,

"… [Abraham] said to Sarai, 'Behold, your maid is in your power; do to her as is good in your sight.' So, Sarai treated her harshly, and she fled from her presence." Verse 7, "Now the angel of the LORD found her by a spring of water, in the wilderness…." Notice that expression, the angel of "Jahweh" "the angel of the LORD."

By the way, when you see the word LORD in all caps in your New American Standard, that is always a translation of God's personal name. Jahweh is probably the best we can do to pronounce it. When God spoke it Himself, it was I AM. "Jahweh" means "He Is." So, this is the angel of "He Is," very special figure. Notice the interchange that happens between Hagar and the angel of the LORD. Verse 8,

He said, "Hagar, Sarai's maid, where have you come from, and where are you going?" … she said, "I'm fleeing from ... my mistress Sarai." Then the angel of the LORD said to her, "Return to your mistress, and submit yourself to her authority." Moreover, the angel of the LORD said to her, [notice the first person pronoun] "I will greatly multiply your descendants so that they will be too many to count."

But then notice her response in verse 13. After this conversation with the angel of the LORD … she called the name of the LORD [the name of (there it is again) Jahweh] who spoke to her "You are a God who sees", for she said, "Have I even remained alive ... after seeing Him?" So obviously, this angel of the LORD is a visible manifestation of God. It is "He Is", Jahweh. In this case, the second person of the Trinity.

You see other visible manifestations of God in the patriarchal period. You remember the man who wrestled with Jacob? That was God Himself, and if you doubt that, you can go to Hosea 12:3 and 4 where Hosea comments back on Genesis 32 and says that it was God that he wrestled with. So, there were these other encounters, but in addition, during the period of the patriarchs, God spoke for the first time through visions and dreams. You can see a vision for example in Genesis 15:1. "After these things the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision, saying".

And God also spoke in dreams. In Genesis 20:3 and 6 you see a dream. There are two kinds of dreams in the Old Testament, two kinds of dreams through which God reveals Himself. The first is one in which God actually speaks to the individual. God appears in this dream and speaks. You see that in 20:3. I'm breaking in a new Bible, the pages stick. Alright. "But God came to Abimelech in a dream of the night, and said to him…." So here's God actually speaking to Abimelech in a dream, warning him about taking Sarah for his own wife.

The other kind of dream that you have in the Scripture is a dream that is symbolic and needs interpreting. In other words, God doesn't show up, God isn't speaking, but there is some sort of symbolism that needs to be interpreted. You see this in Genesis 37. Genesis 37:5, Joseph's dreams that his brothers loved. Verse 5,

"… Joseph had a dream, and when he told it to his brothers, they hated him even more". [And] he said, [no, no, listen,] "… listen to the dream which I've had; for behold, we were binding sheaves in the field, and lo, my sheaf rose up and also stood erect; and behold, your sheaves gathered around and bowed down to my sheaf."

What do you think of that guys? Well, they weren't real happy. But notice that in this dream, as well as the one in verse 9, where I still had another dream, he said "behold, the sun and the moon and eleven stars were bowing down to me." In both of these, God isn't speaking. Instead, there's this symbolism that has to be interpreted as to what the significance of it is. God spoke through both of these forms in the Old Testament.

By the way, if you want to know the difference between a vision and a dream, sometimes I think they're actually used almost synonymously, but there does seem to be a distinction. In a vision the emphasis seems to be on what is heard, while in a dream the emphasis seems to be on what is seen. Also, the person receiving a vision seems to be more active in it than a person in a dream.

But after this period of the patriarchs (and that's the way God spoke, that's the way God revealed Himself during that period), there were 400 silent years. Those silent years are between Exodus 1:8, notice Exodus 1:8. "Now a new king rose over Egypt, who did not know Joseph." From that time, approximately 1800 BC down to the time of Moses, approximately 1400 BC there was no revelation. God wasn't revealing Himself specially in any way. Still there was general revelation, but God wasn't using dreams or visions or any of the things we've discovered so far. No theophanies, nothing happened for 400 silent years, until you get to Exodus 3:2.

Moses is pasturing this flock of Jethro, his father-in-law, and he's on the mountain of God, and what do you know, verse 2, the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a blazing fire from amidst the bush. So, the theophany resumes. That brings us to the period of Moses. And in the period of Moses, God is going to reveal Himself through theophanies, visible manifestations. The burning bush, the angel of the Lord, the pillar of cloud and fire, but during the period of Moses God's primary way of revealing Himself was through Moses the man. We'll learn in a couple of weeks why that's important, when we get to the canon of Scripture. Why it is that the Bible as we have it is to be accepted as God's Word.

God spoke to Moses in a very special way. Turn to Numbers 12:6. Let's start at the beginning. you remember the story here. Miriam and Aaron are upset because they are not getting the shared power, and they come up, as disgruntled people always do, they come up with some ruse for their concern. In this case it's, "listen, he's married a Cushite woman." But here's the real issue, verse 2, …

"Has the LORD indeed spoken only through Moses? Has He not spoken through us as well? [And this is a chilling statement] And the LORD heard it. (Now the man Moses was very humble, more than any man who was on the face of the earth.) Suddenly the LORD said to Moses and Aaron and to Miriam, You three … [over here.]

That's paraphrased. If you ever have children, you know what this means. This is not good. You three, over here.

[And] When they had come forward" verse 6 says, He said [to them] "Hear now My words: [I think by now I'm listening.] If there is a prophet among you, I, the LORD, shall make Myself known to him in a vision, I shall speak with him in a dream, [there's what we've just discussed] Not so, with My servant Moses, He is faithful in all My household; [watch verse 8] With him I speak mouth to mouth, Even openly, and not in dark sayings, And he beholds the form of the LORD. Why then were you not afraid To speak against My servant, against Moses?"

Wow. You see, in this period God is authenticating Moses as His messenger. And we'll, as I said, learn why that's important in a couple of weeks.

You'll notice the same point is made in Deuteronomy 34, at the very end of Moses' life. Verse 10, Deuteronomy 34:10, "Since that time no prophet has risen in Israel like Moses, whom the LORD knew face to face," Moses had a very unique relationship with God. And God revealed Himself primarily through Moses. However, this is very important. With Moses, something unique begins to happen. God's revelation begins to be written down. The first occurrence we have is in Exodus 17:14. "Then the LORD said to Moses," Exodus 17:14. "The LORD said to Moses, 'Write this in a book as a memorial and recite it to Joshua, that I will utterly blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven.'" There is the first recorded writing of the words of God in Scripture.

But the next one is even more profound. It comes to us in Exodus 19. Exodus 19:1, the children of Israel have been out of Egypt for three months. And three months, depending on how you figure, to the day, they arrive at the foot of Mount Sinai. The first two days at Sinai they spend preparing spiritually and physically for what's going to happen. But as the third day begins, there is an awe-inspiring display that takes place. You see it beginning 19:16. "So, it came about on the third day, when it was morning, that there were thunder and lightning flashes and a thick cloud upon the mountain and a very loud trumpet sound, so that all the people who were in the camp trembled."

It becomes obvious that something very unusual is happening. On the third day, a thick cloud rests on the mountain, and there's thunder and there's lightning, and there's this increasing sound of a trumpet blowing. And as all that's happening, smoke rose from the mountain as if from a huge furnace, as if a volcano were inside the mountain. And an earthquake shakes the mountain.

As a result of all of this, Moses partially ascends up the mountain, and God sends him back down to warn the people not to cross the boundary that Moses has already set. And suddenly, with all of this confusion, with this loud blowing trumpet, with an earthquake, with smoke going off of the mountain ascending toward heaven, suddenly the trumpet stops blowing, and there's silence. And all the people hear the voice of God. Notice Exodus 20:1. "Then God spoke all these words, saying," The voice speaks, one by one, what we call the Ten Commandments. In Hebrew the Ten Words. And when the voice stops, I want you to see the people's response in verse 19, 20:19. "Then they said to Moses, Speak to us yourself and we will listen; but let not God speak to us or we will die."

God revealed Himself in an incredible display, and the people said, we can't handle this. Moses, you be our intermediary. So, Moses draws near the thick darkness where God's presence was manifested. You see that in verse 21. Then God gives Moses what's called the Book of the Covenant, 24:7. God gives Moses this book. It's what's recorded in Exodus 20:22 - Exodus 24:4, the Book of the Covenant.

Moses returns to the people (we're still in the same day now) Moses returns to the people, and he relays all of this orally to them, and still on that third day, Moses recorded everything God had spoken in writing. You see that in Exodus 24:3 and 4. When Moses went to bed that night, he had a very, very long day for an eighty-year-old man. But what an incredible experience. Obviously, the Ten Commandments were very important, and the Book of the Covenant was very important. It was in essence the constitution of the nation. God had audibly spoken these words, and then He had written them Himself on two stone tablets. You see how God is beginning to give the message that He is going to reveal Himself; and the most unique and special way that He's going to reveal Himself isn't through dreams and visions, but it's through writing, through writing. When He finished, there was absolutely no doubt in the minds of two million Israelites that God had spoken.

During the period of Moses, God also provided another way for Him to speak to His people and give them direction, and that was something that I'm sure all of you have spent hours studying, the Urim and the Thummim. These were stones that were somehow carried in the ephod of the High Priest. There's a lot of discussion about what this looked like and whether the stones were on the outside or the inside of the breastplate. The bottom line is, we don't know how they worked; and all we know is that they were an oracle which the leader of the people and the High Priest could consult in times of national crisis and emergency; and God would use them to reveal His will to the nation. You see it first mentioned in Exodus 28:30, but there are a number of times in Israel's history, Numbers 27:21, 1 Samuel 14:41, 1 Samuel 28:6, and so forth. There are a number of times when the Urim and the Thummim, this oracle that could be consulted was used.

Moses also wrote additional words. In addition to this Book of the Covenant, in addition to the Ten Commandments, Moses wrote additional words to be deposited in the Ark. You see that in Deuteronomy 31:24 and following. That seems to refer to the book of Deuteronomy. But there are other places where it becomes obvious that Moses also wrote the first four books as well. In addition, Moses, during this period of time, we know wrote Psalm 90 because it shows up in our Psalter, the one psalm from Moses. All of his writings were apparently deposited in the Ark of the Covenant before God.

Now, that brings us, then, to Moses death and the period of Joshua. After Moses, Joshua adds to what Moses had written. Notice Joshua 24:26. I know what you're thinking. How is he going to make it through the rest of the Old Testament and the New Testament? Stay with me. Joshua 24:26. "And Joshua wrote these words in the book of the law of God; and he took a large stone and set it there under the oak that was by the sanctuary of the Lord." You know what Joshua was doing? He was taking the scroll out of the Ark of God that Moses had written, the first five books, or series of scrolls, we're not sure. And he is adding to it. Now, that's a pretty serious thing in light of the fact that Deuteronomy has a warning in 4:2, that no man is to add to this. So, Joshua obviously understands that God has authorized this adding to the scroll. God also speaks to Joshua by a visible manifestation, by the angel in chapter 1 of Joshua, verses 1 and 5.

In the period of the Judges, God reveals Himself again as the angel of the LORD. You see that in Judges 6:12, and through dreams. You see one of those in Judges 7:13 and following. But that brings us to the period of Israel's history, the time of the prophets.

With Samuel we enter the period of the prophets, and really from Samuel to Malachi, now you see how I'm going to do it, from Samuel to Malachi, God reveals Himself through the prophets. God does occasionally speak audibly. For example, He does to Samuel in 1 Samuel 3. And Samuel does, by the way, write things down. You see this in 1 Samuel 10:25. And he writes down something, and he deposits it before the Lord.

But really, for the rest of Old Testament history, God speaks through His prophets. He spoke audibly to David, and audibly to Solomon, and He spoke through dreams to Nebuchadnezzar and to Daniel. But during this time, He reveals Himself through the prophets. You see this starting in 2 Samuel 7 with Nathan, and then Ahijah, Shimei, Elijah, Micaiah, Elisha, and so forth.

And then from the ninth century BC, that's about the 800s, to the fifth century BC, or about the 400s, God spoke in visions to all of those who were called "writing prophets". And when we say writing prophets, we're talking about Daniel plus all of those we call the major and minor prophets, basically, the second half of your Old Testament. God spoke in visions to those men, and used them to communicate His truth, to reveal His truth.

After them, you have--after Malachi, you have 400 silent years, 400 silent years, until the angel Gabriel's announcement to Zachariah that John is going to be born. And that begins the flow of God's revelation of Himself in the New Testament. It starts before Christ with the angle Gabriel, after 400 years of silence. God hasn't spoken. He has not revealed Himself in any way but general revelation. God speaks. He shows up through His angel Gabriel and announces to Zacharias the birth of John the Baptist in Luke 1:13 and following.

Gabriel's visit was followed by five supernatural dreams given to Joseph and the wise men. We're coming up on the time that we'll study those. You see them in Matthew 1 and 2, these five different dreams that these people have from God, where He reveals Himself and communicates to them. Then you skip ahead, after that. You skip ahead 30 years to the ministry of John the Baptist. So, there's another 30-year-gap when God isn't revealing anything new. He isn't speaking in any way, and John the Baptist comes on the scene.

And in Luke 3:2 there's a very interesting choice of words by Luke. He says, "the word of the Lord came to John…." What does that sound like? It sounds exactly like what God did through the Old Testament prophets. The word of the Lord came to…. There's a sense in which John can be called the last Old Testament prophet, because he is predicting the coming of the Messiah, who then comes on the scene, and he begins to decrease, and Christ begins to increase.

But by far the clearest and most profound revelation God provides in the New Testament is personally and directly through His Son. Turn to John 1. John 1:1, "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God." Verse 14, "And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth." And that brings us to the verse I mentioned before, verse 18. "No one has seen God at any time; the only begotten God [there's a reference to Jesus' deity] who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained Him." Literally, the word explained is exegeted. Jesus exegeted God. He showed us everything that was true about God the Father. He revealed God the Father. John the apostle shows us how. Turn to chapter 17.

How did Jesus reveal the Father to us? Notice John 17:4. I glorified You [this is of course the high priestly prayer of Christ on the night before His crucifixion, and He says in verse 4, "I glorified You on the earth, having accomplished the work which you have given Me to do." He showed us what God was like because Christ's work was God's work. Verse 6. His person manifested God's name and nature. I have manifested Your name to men. In other words, I have shown Your character whom You've given me out of the world. And notice verse 8. The "words which You gave Me I have given to them; and they received them and ... understood …" You see how Christ exegeted God? He said, look at My works, these are God's works. Look at My person and you see the character of God. I've revealed, I've manifested Your name to them.

And then He said, look at My words. They're the words of God that I've given to you. Christ revealed God in every way. That's why in John 14:9 He said, anyone who has seen Me has what?--seen the Father. He revealed God in a way that no one else or nothing else ever has. The writer of Hebrews puts it profoundly in 1:1. "God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son…" The ultimate revelation of God was in the person of Jesus Christ.

Now, what about after Jesus' ascension? Well, you remember in Acts 7 He appears to Stephen as Stephen's about to be stoned. And then in Acts 9 He appeared and spoke audibly to Paul on the Damascus Road. In Acts 10 He spoke to Peter in a vision, or a trance-like state, you remember, while he was, while he was awaiting Cornelius's messengers, unbeknownst to him. And then, the last time we have Him appearing, is to the apostle John on the Isle of Patmos, and giving him the book of Revelation. So, in Revelation 1, with that appearance, and with the writing of Revelation, special revelation ceased in all its forms, and God has no longer revealed Himself in any of those unique and special ways.

So, with that in mind, with that flow of Old and New Testament history, let me give you a summary. These are the avenues of special revelation. First of all, personal address. That is, God speaks from heaven, or there's a "theophany", or there's a "Christophany", a visible manifestation of God or a visible manifestation of Christ. Also, He spoke through "mechanical" means, through the lot, which I didn't touch on because of time, and through the Urim and the Thummim, those special stones in the high priest's breastplate. He spoke through "miracles", which, again in the interests of time I didn't touch on, but He revealed something about Himself in all the miracles that were done. He spoke through visions and dreams, and He spoke through appointed "messengers", specifically angels and prophets. I almost added Balaam's donkey, but I decided not to do that.

And He spoke especially and profoundly through the "incarnate Son", and then all through the flow from Exodus 17:4 to the very end, He speaks through "written revelation", through written revelation. Now, I want you to notice something in all of this, very important. This is where I've been coming. God's "non-written revelation" was limited to a few hundred years and a few people. Have you ever thought about that? God's non-written (everything else besides written) revelation, was limited to a few years, a few hundred years, and a few people in human history.

Sheila and I were talking about this last night, and she gave a great analogy. She said, you know, when we watch a movie or we read a novel, whose role do we take in our minds? We take the hero's. We never imagine ourselves being the doorman in the movie or the book. We never imagine ourselves being, you know, somebody who doesn't even make it on the screen during that period of time. No, we imagine ourselves as the hero, and so the same thing happens when we read Scripture. We tend to imagine ourselves as Moses. I mean, we get to go on the mountain and speak with God. Or we imagine ourselves as Hagar, seeing the angel of the Lord.

But millions of people in the history of the world, including ourselves, have had no revelation except what we have, and that is written revelation. That's what they've had. Most of the people in the history of the world have had only what we have, written revelation. Now, let's be honest, okay. Let me just give you a little test. Be honest with yourself. If you had to choose between an experience of seeing God in all of His glory and actually hearing Him speak, or reading a book, which would you choose? I think for most of us we would prefer the experience. Some of that reflects the sort of experiential and visual age in which we live. But that is not the best way for you to hear from God. Let me say that again.

The ways that we've looked at other than non-written revelation are not the best ways for you to hear from God. You say, how do you know that? Well, the fact that God is all-wise means that God always uses the best means to accomplish His purpose. Guess what God has chosen as the means to accomplish His purpose with us today? It's written revelation. That means that as opposed to speaking with us each day from heaven, God has determined that the best way for Him to communicate with us is in a book.

But there's another argument I would make as to why all these other forms besides written revelation are not the best way for us to receive communication from God. And that's because there is a man in the history of the church who experienced both. Turn to Luke 9, because he's going to tell us. He's going to tell us what we really should prefer. Luke 9:28,

Some eight days after these sayings, [Jesus] took along Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray, And while He was praying, the appearance of His face became different, and his clothing became white and gleaming, And behold, two men were talking with Him; and they were Moses and Elijah, who, appearing in glory, were speaking of His departure which He was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. Now Peter and his companions had been overcome with sleep; but when they were fully awake, they saw His glory and the two men standing with Him, And as these were leaving Him, Peter said to Jesus, Master, it is good for us to be here; let us make three tabernacles; one for You, and one for Moses, and one for Elijah--not realizing what he was saying.

Typically Peter. The other synoptic says because Peter didn't know what to say, he said that. What an amazing experience. Verse 34,

While he was saying this, a cloud formed and began to overshadow them; and they were afraid as they entered the cloud. [and then verse 35] … a voice came out of the cloud, saying, "This is My Son, My Chosen One; listen to Him!" And when the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone….

What an incredible experience. Wouldn't you have given anything to be there? Peter says, don't do it. Turn to 2 Peter 1:16. Listen to what Peter says about that experience. He says,

For we did not follow cleverly devised tales when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of His majesty." [He says, listen, I saw it. You will not believe what I saw.] Verse 17, For when He received honor and glory from God the Father, such an utterance as this was made to Him by the Majestic Glory, "This is My beloved Son with whom I am well-pleased"--and we ourselves heard this utterance made from heaven when we were with Him on the holy mountain.

[Peter recounts that amazing experience. Notice what he says next.] "… we have the prophetic word … more sure." [He says, listen, it was a great experience. It's an experience I'll never forget. But we have something that's more sure. It's more certain. It's more stable. Listen to what he says.] to which you do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star arises in your hearts.

Why is it so reliable? Because it was not a matter of one's own origination, for "no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God." We have a book. And that is more sure than any experience that you and I could ever have. It's more sure than the transfiguration. Peter says, listen, don't trade the book for anything, not even an experience like that.

Martin Luther wrote "Let the man who would hear God speak, read Holy Scripture." In 1539 he was commenting on Psalm 119. He wrote "God wants to give you His Spirit through the external word." That's a very interesting phrase, the external word. Why did he say that? Why did he refer to Scripture as the external word? Because he wanted to emphasize that it is objective, that it is fixed, that it is outside of us, and therefore it's unchanging. It's a book.

I love what Piper says about it. He says, "neither ecclesiastical hierarchy nor fanatical ecstasy can replace it or shape it. It is external like God. You can take it or leave it, but you can't make it other than what it is." It is a book with fixed letters, words and sentences, and you and I can take it up and read it. And we don't have to wonder what God is saying. We don't have to wonder if the experience was real. God has spoken. Listen, you and I should be so overwhelmed with the magnitude of this simple truth that we take so much for granted. The eternal God has chosen the best means to communicate with all of us. We have the opportunity of seeing His mind. "He is there, and He is not silent."

Let's pray together.

Father, what an amazing gift You have given us in Your written revelation. Lord, help us to treasure it.

Forgive us for treating it so lightly. Forgive us for spending our time reading magazines and newspapers, watching television, and a countless number of other things that are temporal and, at the best, trivial.

Lord, help us to devote ourselves to becoming people of the book. People of Your external word--this objective revelation that can't be changed--that doesn't have to be interpreted through an experience. Lord, I pray that You would help us, with the Psalmist, to say that we will find our delight in the law of the Lord, and in it we will meditate day and night.

We pray in Jesus' name. Amen

Systematic Theology