Sermon transcript, 26 April 2015
How God makes Himself known by Fr. Dana
God is speaking about the church rising up. In our days it seems that the words from Psalm 2:1-2 quoted in the first reading are certainly true (Acts 4:25-26). Even nations that were historically Christian are becoming increasingly anti-Christian – not just post-Christian (“we used to be”) but anti- ; perhaps God is bringing things to a head. And the question is: How do we respond to that? Because we are called to rise up: the Church is called an army [Ezekiel 37:10]; Jesus is called the Captain of the Host [Joshua 5:14, Revelation 19:11ff].
How are we called to fight?
So we are to fight; the question is: How do we fight? [II Corinthians 10:3] Do we make signs and march down the street and beat people over the head who don’t want to listen to what we have to say? Do we go on national television and get into a shouting match with them? They can speak pretty loudly, and they have a lot of financial backing from various places in the world. How do we fight?
What did we see when Peter and John were let go? “They went to their own companions and reported all that the chief priests and elders had said to them” (Acts 4:23) – They had threatened them if they didn’t stop preaching and ministering in the name of Christ. First their companions quoted the Psalm that I read to you, because it looked to them as if the world was matching what the Psalm said. Certainly Pontius Pilate, the Gentiles – everybody – gathered together to bring about Jesus’ death (Acts 4:27-28). But they didn’t protest; they said, “Thanks be to God!” “And when they had prayed, the place where they were assembled together was shaken; and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and they spoke the word of God with boldness.” (Acts 4:31) This is not Pentecost – that was two chapters earlier.
How did Jesus fight?
What was Jesus like? If we’re supposed to fight, and we’re supposed to be conformed to the image of Jesus, one might suspect that we’re supposed to fight the way Jesus fought. What did Jesus do when He was confronted with sin? What did He do with the woman caught in adultery? I believe what He did conformed to what Isaiah said He would be like. Jesus had just healed a man’s hand on the Sabbath, and it made the Pharisees upset: read Matthew 12:15-21 [quoting Isaiah 42:1-4]. Jesus was looking for bruised reeds; He was looking for flames that were about to go out. He wasn’t confronting the people who thought they knew it all – although He did confront the people (the Pharisees and the Sadducees) who thought they knew it all and claimed to be speaking for God. He didn’t like people lying in God’s name. The people who were sinning, like the adulterous, He had mercy on. He knew her flame was about to go out, and so He didn’t snuff it out. He also didn’t condone it – He said, “I don’t condemn you. Go and sin no more.” [John 8:2-11] What do you think that woman did, having had that experience: do you think she went back to her old life? I’ll bet not. When the Lord of the universe stands in front of you and says, “I don’t condemn you; but go and sin no more”, you can bet she was changed. She found the God who loved her, and so she loved in return.
That’s how we’re called to fight – not to match word for word, blow for blow, sign for sign, march for march… I’m not saying there aren’t times when marching is appropriate, perhaps; but that’s not going to change hearts. You’re not going to change hearts by changing minds – the heart has to come first.
And so the way we rise up… the first step is the way Jesus did it. He prayed – not only once a day, but often, because He said He only did what He saw the Father doing [John 5:19]; and so He had to take time to find out what the Father was doing. Remember, He left His godly prerogatives in heaven when He became a man, so He didn’t automatically know everything that was going on: He voluntarily limited Himself; and so He had to get in touch with the Father: “What are You doing today? Whom will I come across? Whom do I need to minister to?” He did that because… Remember when He went to His hometown: He stood up in the synagogue and read from Isaiah: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me… to proclaim freedom for the captives…” and they said “Oh yes! Wow! Awesome!” And then He said, “There were a lot of lepers in Israel, but the only one who was healed was Naaman the Syrian.” [Luke 4:16-30] He must have prayed about that situation, because He could have been really popular there; but instead He challenged them.
He was looking for people whose reed was bruised, and He wasn’t about to break them; but He did want them to know that they were bruised and they needed something. He didn’t say, “It’s OK: you’re all right. God loves you anyway.” He loved them by telling them the truth, in a quiet way – not by shouting in the streets: not by confronting, not by arguing. That’s hard. He knew that He had all the answers: I would have been tempted to say, “Look, stupid! How can I be more clear?” He didn’t do that – that’s what we have to do. And so when the Lord says “Rise up”, He’s not talking about “Let’s go and organise a political party; let’s take over the government!” Let’s take over the government by changing the hearts of the people, because if the people’s hearts are changed they’ll vote the right way. We’re in the business of making disciples.
How does God reveal Himself?
And God has made Himself known. He’s made Himself known in a couple of ways, and those are revealed in the Catechism. Last week we talked about what a catechism is: that it’s instruction in the Christians faith; that it was taught to all Christians; and that it’s important because it records the truth and communicates it faithfully.
We had this discussion with someone this week: “Can’t you just know God by reading the Bible? You don’t need to go to church; just me and the Bible, you can figure it out.” If we were open only to the Holy Spirit we could do that; but even Satan appears as an angel of light [II Corinthians 11:14], and so you can’t just trust your own opinion. And you should know that just by looking at all the people in the world and what their opinions are on the same passage: you can justify almost anything you want to do by picking out a Scripture. And so the Catechism from early on in the Church was, “Here are the important things, and here is how they’re worked out: this is what they mean, this is what they do.”
Today I’d like to talk a little about God’s self-revelation: God reveals Himself.
General and special revelation
“How does God reveal Himself to all who would receive Him? God reveals Himself by general revelation through His wonderful creation and by special revelation through Holy Scripture. The definitive revelation of God is Jesus Christ.” (ICCEC Catechism, Question 3) Let’s look at a few Scriptures to prove the point.
Let’s start at the beginning: read Genesis 1:1. If I’m a person who has never read the Bible before, and I’m born and I grow up and I look at the world, I wouldn’t necessarily automatically say that there’s a God who created heaven and earth. So this is a special revelation, that God made the earth: Scripture is telling us where it came from. But what it’s describing – in very general terms – is God’s general revelation; because if you look at the world, it’s too amazing to think that it probably came by itself.
Read Genesis 2:4. We’re laying out the history: this is what happened when the earth was created. That’s definitely special revelation, because we wouldn’t know anything about that without Scripture.
Read John 1:1-3: this refers to the same beginning as Genesis. To find out what “the Word” is, we need to look at the rest of Scripture; and who is the Word? Jesus is the Word made flesh. In the beginning was the Word Jesus – not the word “Jesus” but the Person who was and is the Word. Jesus was with the Father; and there was no time when God the Father was, that Jesus wasn’t. Jesus wasn’t born later: He was born as a man later, but He was not created; He was in the beginning with God. This is definitely special revelation, because there is no way we could just look at Creation and learn that: look at the design of a tree, how water freezes, the weather patterns… we couldn’t figure that out.
Read Romans 1:19-20. Here we have a little more description of how this works, and of the difference between general and special revelation. Man, before he had science, looked at the stars, and the sunrise and sunset, and Creation, and the birth of a baby, and said, “Wow! Miraculous! There must be something or someone behind this.” They wouldn’t know who or what He was like, but, “Wow! This is amazing. I don’t understand, and I can’t re-create it with my hands.”
Science supports our faith
It’s interesting that today in our culture there is a prevalent view that science is a danger to faith: “The more we know about science, the easier it is to prove the Christians are wrong.” However in the last hundred years the opposite has been the case. We used to think that Sodom and Gomorrah, Babylon, and a lot of these things, were stories and myths; but then we started discovering that these places really existed. They found artefacts from Solomon’s reign and David’s reign. The more we know, the more the Bible is proved right.
I’m not worried about people who have theories about what we know now, and these theories are at odds with Christianity, because they are only a theory. When I was a young child, we thought that the atom was a billiard ball – you couldn’t get any smaller than that; by the time I got to college we knew that it is protons, neutrons and electrons; and now I couldn’t even tell you all the particles: quarks and anti-spin and…
The more we learn, the more we see that this couldn’t come about on its own. The Theory of Intelligent Design basically says that some things can come about through evolution: a bird can get a thicker or longer beak based on environmental conditions; a rabbit’s fur pattern can change over time. However there are certain things that can’t happen through evolution: there is a motor in your cells that has several parts; and for it to function all the parts are required. You can’t evolve a motor by a process such as: first the driver appears and then later the carburettor appears, and then the fuel appears… if the motor is critical for life. It can’t happen gradually if you can’t have life without the whole thing – the whole thing had to happen at once, pretty much instantaneously. That’s only one example. Look at genetics and DNA: they think they can trace the DNA of mankind back to the area of the Euphrates in the Middle East, where Genesis said the Garden was [Genesis 2:8,10,14]. The more we learn, the more we know that what the Bible says is true. The more we learn about archaeology, the more we discover that these places really existed.
You’ll also have people claiming, as they have recently, things such as “We’ve found Jesus’ tomb with his wife Mary and their child.” Don’t worry about it – that too will pass. Every time they think they have a theory that says, “Aha! You’re wrong. I know it. I’ve proved it”, the theory turns out to be wrong; and it’s not because they’re incompetent – it’s because God is real.
Creation and “the unknown God”
Read Psalm 19:1-4. Everyone can understand a sunset and the stars in the sky. This is all general revelation. God has done this, and if you look at it objectively you’ll say, “I don’t think this can be random.” But then He gives special revelation. Read Acts 17:23. Paul was speaking to the people of Athens, and he had gone through their pantheon. Why did they have a monument to an unknown God? They had all these gods: the god of fire, the god of this and that, and Diana which was a meteorite that fell down from heaven… But they had to have one for the unknown God, because all these other gods – idols, statues, meteorites, whatever – didn’t explain the world. “This can’t be all of it, because there are things in the world that none of these can explain.” So Paul proclaimed to them: read Acts 17:24-26. DNA proves that it’s true: that all the nations of the world come from one blood – in fact, one couple. Read Acts 17:26-30. “Until now, if you didn’t know the Scriptures, all you’ve had was general revelation. Now I’m proclaiming to you not just the Old Testament Scriptures, but a Person who is the ultimate special revelation of God, and His name is Jesus Christ.” They’d already accepted that “There must be some God we don’t know about”; and Paul is saying, “Here He is: He became a man” – not like a Greek or Roman god who put on a disguise and came down and propagated the species; but He came down and was Man and was God and showed all the attributes of God: God’s truth, God’s way, God’s life, God’s love: all of it are embodied in Him.
Who does God reveal Himself to be?
So we have general revelation, special revelation; and the question is: “Who does God reveal Himself to be?” Now that we’ve accepted that there is revelation, that we can know God and we can know some things about Him, who does He reveal Himself to be? “God reveals Himself as having one single Nature, but in a Holy Community of three Persons; named the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. This truth is revealed to us…” (ICCEC Catechism, Question 4) It’s not general revelation: you’re not going to go outside, look at a forest and say “There must be a Trinity” – although it turns out that if you look at all of Creation you’ll find some amazing things. Matter exists in three states: solid, liquid and gas. There are a number of other places where the number three is important. But that doesn’t prove God; it’s just there. What does prove to us?
Read Deuteronomy 6:4: that’s the beginning of what the Jews call the “Shema’ Y’Israel”, and what Jesus called the First Great Commandment: it’s followed by “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength.” There is one God.
How about those three Persons? When a man came to Him and said, “Good Teacher, what must I do to be saved?” Jesus’ first response is, “Why do call Me good? There is only one who is good, and that is God.” (Mark 10:17-18) He didn’t say, “Don’t call me good, because there is only one who is good and that’s God” – He said, “Why do you call me good?” They didn’t record any answer, but Jesus asked the question. Then after Jesus rose from the dead and appeared to the women who had come to the tomb, “they came and held Him by the feet and worshiped Him.” (Matthew 28:9) Jesus said there was only one God; He told Satan in the desert, “You shall worship the Lord your God, and Him only you shall serve.” (Matthew 4:10, quoting Deuteronomy 6:13) If the women worship Him and He is not God, what will He say? The same thing the angel said to John: “Get up! I’m a created being like you.” (Revelation 19:10) He didn’t say that – He accepted their worship. He didn’t say the three words, “I am God”, but He said a lot of things that say “I am God”.
At the Last Supper He says, “The Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all things that I said to you.” (John 14:26) There’s the Trinity in one Scripture: the Helper, the Holy Spirit – that’s God; the Father – that’s God; in My name – He’s God. Later He says, “But when the Helper comes, whom I shall send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father, He will testify of Me.” (John 15:26) – One God, three Persons. He’s still saying God is one, as the Shema’ says; but there are Three Persons. Paul says in Ephesians 4:4-6, “There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called in one hope of your calling; 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism; 6 one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all.” – God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit.
Again and again: there are three Persons: one God but three Persons, with three roles, three functions. And they’re not jealous of each other. In fact there’s a theological term called perichoresis. It’s a dance: the three Persons of the Trinity are in an eternal dance with each other. Each one has His part, each one fulfils His part, each one moves perfectly in time with the other two, no one trying to rise above the other: perfect community. We are created for that: that’s the kind of relationship we are created for, because we are made like Him.
Keep to the foundation
The point is, these are truths that have been in existence since the beginning. And if we only take the Bible and choose verses to support our particular sins, habits, likes, dislikes… and ignore the basics, the foundation, we can build a structure that doesn’t look anything like God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. And if we do, at best Scriptures tells us in the end what we build will be burned up in the fire but we’ll make it through by the skin of our teeth; at worst, if we build something that is totally against God, we might not be saved. And so it’s important for us to keep focused on the truth, on the foundation. Whatever our special revelation is, we must keep to what He established from the beginning.