December 26, 2004
finished January 2, 2005
Given by: Pastor Rich Bersett
The Word Inscrutable
A married couple had a quarrel and ended up giving each other the silent treatment. A week into their mute argument, the man realized he needed his wife's help. In order to catch a flight to Chicago for a business meeting, he had to get up at 5 a.m.
Not wanting to be the first to break the silence, he wrote on a piece of paper, "Please wake me at 5 a.m."
The next morning the man woke up only to discover his wife was already out of bed, it was 9 a.m., and his flight had long since departed. He was about to find his wife and demand an answer for her failings when he noticed a piece of paper by the bed.
He read, "It's 5 a.m. Wake up."
There are many ways to communicate-some not quite as effective as others. Our New Testament teaches us that God used a variety of ways of communicating to us human beings during the history of the old covenant. And many of the things He said through were not understood until years later when they were fulfilled.
God spoke with a wide breadth of venues, using miraculous events of epic proportions, apparitions of dead people, signs in the heavens, the wind, thunder and mountaintop whispers; He even spoke through a stubborn donkey (to this very day, we preachers have been following in this fine tradition). But here the Word says that God spoke in a variety of ways, and at different times through prophets.
What hammers us is that God wanted to communicate to us humans at all. He spoke particularly to His chosen people, and He had something important to say. Not only did He communicate His Law and something of His holy character, but He also gave predictive insights concerning what He would be doing in the future as He would work out His glorious plan of redemption on the stage of history.
He spoke of His plans concerning the Messiah and the coming salvation. Remarkably, those who spoke the prophecies had virtually no idea what God was talking about. They simply said what He led them to say, even though it made no sense to them, nor to those who were listening. But they faithfully spoke the message and recorded it, so that you and I would see the faithfulness of God.
In the middle of a prophecy to one of Israel's kings about an upcoming military battle, Isaiah starts talking about a "sign" which would be a baby son born to a virgin who would name the child Immanuel (Isaiah 7:14). No one understood what that meant.
Later, the prophet Micah was prophesying about another battle when he inserts another odd comment-something about Bethlehem being a small town, but that out of her would come a ruler over Israel whose origins were from ancient days. (Micah 5:2)
The prophets spoke of a suffering servant, sent by God to die in horrible suffering at the hands of tormenters-and this One would nevertheless be a servant who would rise from death, having paid for people's sins, and become the King.
Even David, writing his inspired psalms, wrote of Someone who one day would be persecuted and beaten by evil men who would divide his garments among them and pierce His hands and feet. (Psalm 22) Clueless as to the meaning and import of what he wrote, David nevertheless recorded what the Spirit gave him. The message was impressed on him but inscrutable to him.
Jeremiah wrote in chapter31, verse 31: "The time is coming," declares the Lord, "when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah. It will not be like the covenant I made with their forefathers, when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they broke my covenant, though I was a husband to them," declares the Lord.
"This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after that time," declares the Lord. "I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people."
Though his audience 2,600 years ago had little idea what this was all about, God knew, and He was revealing just enough of His plan that when you and I read it in retrospect, we see clearly that the coming of Christ was no coincidental thing-it was the plan of God being played out before Israel and all the world.
1 Peter 1:10-12 over in the New Testament explains that the once inscrutable Word of God has come to light and can be fully understood in the light of Christ. "Concerning this salvation, the prophets, who spoke of the grace that was to come to you, searched intently and with the greatest care, trying to find out the time and circumstances to which the Spirit of Christ in them was pointing when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the glories that would follow. It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves but you, when they spoke of the things that have now been told you by those who have preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven. Even angels long to look into these things."
Sometimes I'm afraid we do not fully appreciate the privilege that is ours-we who live in the fullness of time, who have the glorious honor of looking back on the death and resurrection of Christ in fulfillment of all these hitherto inscrutable, mysterious prophecies. We are a blessed people. We can understand what angels and prophets only wished they understood. We scrutinize the inscrutable!
The Word Incarnate
So into the world God sends His "perfect" communication, clarifying whatever was not yet understood about His person and His plan. The language inHebrews 1 is plainly emphasizing that the coming of Christ was God's new and perfect way of communicating. Notice, in times past He spoke in a variety of ways through His prophets… Now, verse two: "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…"
The mysterious plan, spoken of in veiled language in the Old Testament, is coming into clear focus now, because God has visited the planet in His Son! Now we can know Him in personal terms. Now humanity can understand what God is like, because, as Jesus told Philip, "Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father." (John 14:9) Jane Yarmolinsky, in her book, Angels Without Wings, wrote, The concept of God taking human shape had never made much sense to me. That was because, I realized one wonderful day, it was so simple. For people with bodies, important things like love have to be embodied. That's all. God had to be embodied, or else people with bodies would never in a trillion years understand about love.
In the prologue to his book, Leadership Jazz, Max DePree writes:
Esther, my wife, and I have a granddaughter named Zoe, the Greek word for life. She was born prematurely and weighed one pound, seven ounces, so small that my wedding ring could slide up her arm to her shoulder. The neonatologist who first examined her told us that she had a 5 to 10 percent chance of living three days. When Esther and I scrubbed up for our first visit and saw Zoe in her isolette in the neonatal intensive care unit, she had two IVs in her navel, one in her foot, a monitor on each side of her chest, and a respirator tube and a feeding tube in her mouth.
To complicate matters, Zoe's biological father had jumped ship the month before Zoe was born. Realizing this, a wise and caring nurse named Ruth gave me my instructions.
"For the next several months, at least, you're the surrogate father. I want you to come to the hospital every day to visit Zoe, and when you come, I want you to rub her body and her legs and arms with the tip of your finger. While you're caressing her, you should tell her over and over how much you love her, because she has to be able to connect your voice to your touch."
God knew that we also needed both his voice and his touch. So he gave us . . . his Son. God's voice and touch say, "I love you."
So the Word of God was incarnated in Jesus - Man's perfect God, and God's perfect Man! This is the theme we find in John chapter one: "The true light that gives light to every man was coming into the world. . . to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God-children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband's will, but born of God. The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. . . For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God, but God the One and Only, who is at the Father's side, has made him known." (John 1:9, 12-14 17-18)
There it is-the perfect communication-God came to be among us, to be one of us, in order to relate to us what He is really like. Man's perfect God; God's perfect Man. I love the way that Malcolm Muggeridge put it: As Man alone, Jesus could not have saved us; as God alone he would not. Incarnate, he could and did.
The Word Indwelling
Indwelling is the word that we often use concerning the Holy Spirit's relationship to believers. Allow me to expand your understanding of that idea. In John 14:18, Jesus promises His disciples," I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you." This is Jesus promising what He promises elsewhere, I will be with you, even to the end of the age. A couple verses later, in John 14:23, He says this: "If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him." Now we have the promise expanded-the Lord Jesus and God the Father are living in the believer. And, of course, the Holy Spirit is likewise promised to come and be with the disciples, living in them: "the Spirit of truth…you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you." (John 14:17). This may be nothing more than evidence for the Trinity-three persons in one. Or it may be Christ's emphasis that God is indwelling His children.
John 1:14 told us that "The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us", but the beauty of that incarnation was to have an even deeper meaning. It was as Jesus was preparing His disciples to face His imminent death, resurrection and ascension that He promised them something most remarkable. He said that after He was gone (returned to heaven), the Holy Spirit would come and live within them-His own divine presence with them, living in them. This gives the phrase, "dwelling among them" a much more profound sense, doesn't it?
Jesus said After I go…" I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever-the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you." (John 14:16-17) Did you catch that? He'll bein you. Interestingly, this is the fulfillment of another of those obscure Old Testament prophecies. Ezekiel has just told the people of God's plan to regather them after He disciplines the nation. He said he would bring them back to their promised land and forgive them. Then, "I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws." (Ezekiel 36:26-27)
The Incarnate Word who came in the 1st century "made his dwelling among us" (John 1:14), had an even more profound plan-He was going to dwell not only among humans, but within them. In fact, according to Ezekiel, that was His plan all along!
But it wasn't just Ezekiel. Remember the prophecy of Jeremiah that we looked at earlier? In Jeremiah 31:33, the Lord promised, "I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people." Now catch this concept: Jesus, the pre-eminent Word of God, promises to place His Spirit in His followers to be His presence with them always. And this idea of the "Word" of God entering into the human heart and mind, coming into the believer's life, is married to the idea of the "Word of God" in the Christian's life.
I'd like us to consider one more verse related to this subject. As we consider the Spirit of Christ dwelling within the believer, and the Word of Christ dwelling within the believer, let's be mindful of the very close connection the Word and the Spirit have. Ephesians 6:17 teaches us that the Word of God (believed and spoken) is the "sword (or weapon) of the Spirit.
Hebrews 4:12 says, "the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart." The Word and the Spirit work together in the life of the Christian carrying out the perfect plan of God-changing us into the image of Christ!
2 Corinthians 3:18 says that "we are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit." This maturity in Christ's image occurs as we receive and obey the teaching of the written Word. The Spirit energizes the believer in the living out of the truth of God's Word.
Now, to that verse I mentioned, Colossians 3:16. Here is a clear and concise exhortation from the apostle Paul. He tells the followers of Christ, "Let the Word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God." Here we have a picture of the Word (teaching) of Christ so filling a person's life that every corner of his personality and character and behavior is permeated with that truth.
Here is what Paul is saying to the church that wants to be square in the middle of God's perfect will-your people need to be in the Word, so the Word will be in them, full and alive, believed and obeyed. The command part of Colossians 3:16 is "Let the Word of Christ dwell in you richly …"
But there is something else about that verse. Did you catch it? The giving and receiving of the instruction of the Word is in a community context-Christians interacting meaningfully with one another in a setting of worship, fellowship and mutual sharing of the Word of Christ. (as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom and as you sing…with gratitude in your hearts to God).
Do you know what that sounds like to me? It sounds like a Life Group. Our central focus of ministry is small groups precisely because of Colossians 3:16, and the fact that the entire New Testament pattern of discipleship is set in a context of "one-anothering." I want to encourage every one of you to get yourself postured to receive the teaching of God's Word in a community setting. Sign up this week or sometime in the next two weeks for a Life Group where you can meet with a few others in meaningful encounter over the Word of God.
The final perspective on the Word this morning comes from the idea that God never intended for the Word to get into you and just sit there. It is to be obeyed, for sure, but also shared with others. Go back a couple of chapters in the book of Colossians and look at 1:27.
The Word Infiltrating
In verse 25 Paul reminds the Colossians of his personal ministry, "to present to you the word of God in its fullness" to them and to other Gentiles. Then, inverse 26, he acknowledges what we talked about earlier, that the gospel message (or the Word) had been a "mystery that has been kept hidden for ages and generations, but is now disclosed to the saints." And we finally arrive at verse 27: "To them god has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory." God is glorified as the Word reaches people!
Paul tells them that the whole plan of God is to get the truth of the gospel, the Word of salvation, out all people, and into all people. And you Gentiles are his beloved target. The hope (or goal) of God's glory is to have as many people as will trust Him come into the faith, and have the Spirit and the Word of God come to indwell them. Christ in you the hope of glory!
The power for getting this message out effectively comes through the marriage of the Word and the Spirit. As the Spirit-inhabited, Spirit-filled people of the church reach out to others, sharing the Word with them, they, too are drawn to faith in Christ. How does it happen? John 16:8 says about the promised Holy Spirit, "When he comes, he will convict the world of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment…" Notice, God, the Spirit does the convincing.
Something strikes the student of the book of Acts about the growth of the church-the infiltration of the gospel into more and more people's lives. Acts 6:7 - "So the Word of God spread. The number of disciples in Jerusalem increased rapidly, and a large number of priests became obedient to the faith." Acts 12:24 - "But the Word of God continued to increase and spread." Acts 19:20 - "In this way the word of the Lord spread widely and grew in power."
What's going on in the book of Acts? The Word of God is being preached and taught in the power/anointing of the Holy Spirit to people who are hearing it and believing it for the first time. When that happens through faithful Christians, the Word, to other people, moves from being the Word inscrutable (not understood) to being the Word incarnate and real to them. As they trust Christ, the Word indwells them, along with the Spirit, and they instantly become new transmitters of that Word to others-the Word infiltrating.
It must become important to each of us Christians that we be fully cooperative with this plan. We must not ever be satisfied with being indwelt by the Word. It is our obligation to share the saving message of the Word with others. This is another reason to become actively engaged in a Life Group-one that you can comfortably invite someone else to be part of. As well, it can be for you a group of encouragers who pray for one another as each takes on the sometimes daunting ministry of sharing the Word with others who are not yet believers.
Here's how Paul put it in Philippians 2 - "Do everything without complaining or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe as you hold out the word of life . . ."