The Speaking of God: Hearing the Divine Voice

Dr. Brian Allison

~ 1 ~

The Creational Speaking of God

What do you think is the most prominent attribute of God, as revealed in the Scriptures? I suggest to you that the most prominent attribute is that of 'speaking'. Time and time again, God is presented and portrayed as the 'speaking God'. This is an amazing fact – the eternal, infinite God Who created the universe personally reveals Himself. The speaking of God assumes different forms, but He is always speaking. The issue is not whether God is speaking or not, but the issue is whether we are hearing this God Who is speaking. In this chapter, we shall consider the creational speaking of God (the fact that God speaks through nature). Psalm 19:1 reads, "The heavens are telling of the glory of God; and their expanse is declaring the work of His hands."

The skies proclaim God

The Psalmist uses the literary device of personification in penning these words; that is, he applies human characteristics to an inanimate object or reality. The heavens tell something, and the expanse declares something. But further, the Psalmist uses the Hebrew literary device of parallelism, that is, he pens parallel statements in which the second statement repeats the truth of the first; but in the repetition, a subtle nuance of difference emerges in order to more sharply, and didactically, convey his meaning. Thus, the activity performed by the expanse parallels, and supplements, the activity performed by the heavens.

The notion of the 'heavens' points to the whole of that which is above the earth. It includes the earth's atmosphere, as well as outer space. The heavens include the planets, the stars, the sun, the moon, the comets, the blackholes, etc. And so the Psalmist exclaims elsewhere, "When I consider Thy heavens, the work of Thy fingers, [more particularly] the moon and the stars, which Thou hast ordained; what is man that Thou dost take thought of him? And the son of man, that Thou dost care for him?" (Ps. 8:3,4). The notion of the 'expanse' or the 'firmament' is a specific understanding of the heavens – extended air and space, intrinsically void of water, perceptually speaking. This inclusive relationship between the expanse and the heavens is clearly brought out in Genesis 1, "Then God said, 'Let there be lights in the expanse of the heavens'" (v. 14); "And let them be for lights in the expanse of the heavens" (v. 15); "And God placed them in the expanse of the heavens to give light on the earth, and to govern the day and the night" (v. 17). Now, for all intents and purposes, the expanse, the firmament, is generally identified with the earthly heaven. And so, in Genesis 1:8, we read, "And God called the expanse heaven. And there was evening and there was morning, a second day." Hence, generally speaking, when we consider the expanse, the firmament, we have in view earth's atmosphere and the space beyond; or, if you like, we are simply considering the sky – the sky which assumes an azure colour by day, and blackness, dotted by countless illuminaries, by night. According to the Genesis account, the sun and the moon are placed 'in the firmament'. And, of course (as mentioned), the Biblical authors have adopted a perceptual perspective, rather than a scientific one – 'up there' in the sky is the sun, 'up there' in the sky is the moon, 'up there' in the sky are the stars; and they together are declaring the works of God's hands.

Now, the Psalmist, in poetic fashion, identifies these magnificent and immense realities of the heavens and the firmament as the heralders of God. The heavens and the firmament do not speak about God, but their very presence is the actual speaking forth of God. The heavens themselves are a presentation of the glory of God, the firmament itself is a demonstration of the works of His hands. They themselves are the very 'content' of the proclaiming of God, phenomenally speaking. In a very real sense, the heavens and the firmament are not simply the ordained messengers of God, but they are the very messages of God. The existence of the sky is the wordless speech of God, speaking forth God's person. When you look up into the sky, do you hear God speaking, not audibly, but intuitively? God has not left Himself without witness. When you leave your home to travel to some destination, and you gaze upon the sky, do you hear His voice? Do you intuitively acknowledge His creatorship? Do you hear (which, in this sense, is also to see) His glory? The sky is like a musical symphony, sounding forth and reverberating the divine glory.

The skies proclaim God's power

That term 'glory', in the original Hebrew language, simply means burden or weight, something 'heavy'. And so 'glory', when attributed to a person, is something that signifies 'heaviness' or 'weight' in reference to character, nature, or state. Thus, the term refers to or implies power and strength. Accordingly, in Psalm 3:3, the Psalmist affirms, "But Thou, O Lord, are a shield about me, my glory [my strength, my power], and the One who lifts my head [especially in times of weariness, and weakness]." Simply put then, 'glory' attributed to a person refers to one's distinguishing greatness, excellence, or superiority. For instance, Psalm 49:16,17 reads, "Do not be afraid when a man becomes rich, when the glory of his house is increased; for when he dies he will carry nothing away; his glory will not descend after him."

More specifically, when we think of a person's 'glory', we are considering one's distinguishing greatness, excellence, or superiority which invites or evokes recognition, esteem, praise, or even wonder. And so we give one glory – praise – in response to some admirable trait, feature, or accomplishment. Thus, another translation of the original word, from which we derive the term 'glory', is that of 'honour'. Accordingly, Psalm 4:2 reads, "O sons of men, how long will my honour [i.e., glory] become a reproach? How long will you love what is worthless and aim at deception?" The Psalmist refers to the same thought in Psalm 7:5, but there the term 'glory' stands in the translation, "Let the enemy pursue my soul and overtake it; and let him trample my life down to the ground, and lay my glory [or honour] in the dust." Accordingly, the phrase, "The heavens are telling of the glory of God" means that the heavens herald the greatness, the excellence, the superiority of God. The heavens themselves are the wordless speech, the patent expression, of God's personal power and strength. Is it any wonder then that the Psalmist pens, in doxological fashion, the words, "Lift up your heads, O gates, and be lifted up, O ancient doors, that the King of glory may come in! Who is the King of glory? The Lord strong and mighty, the Lord mighty in battle" (Psalm 24:7).

Do you hear the heavens telling of God's power? When you look up into the sky, do you 'hear', that is, do you intuitively recognize or perceive the power of God? A number of years ago, I was driving back from London, Ontario, at night, and I gazed up into the sky. It was a clear night; the sky was dotted with innumerable stars. I remember being awestruck at the sight. "How utterly amazing," I thought, "that God had created these stars." Do you know that there are billions and billions of stars in the universe, and that we only see a small percentage of the countless myriad? Our sun is only one star in the vast universe. The closest star to our sun is 4.3 light years away – Proxima Centauri. It is amazing to think that our sun, the closest star to us, is only average in size and in temperature in comparison with all the billions and billions of stars in the universe. And yet, astoundingly, our sun is 330,000 times bigger in mass than the earth. God created our sun and all the stars by His awesome power – "The heavens are [indeed] telling of the glory of God." Do you hear the voice of God in the sun? the stars? the clouds? the moon? His stamp of authorship is on His creation; and that stamp is God Himself.

The skies proclaim God's wisdom

The skies proclaim not only God's power, but also His wisdom – "And their expanse is declaring the work of His hands" (19:1b). The 'work of His hands' refers to God's creative wisdom. He is the divine Craftsman. The Psalmist captures this thought – that the creation is an expression of His handiwork – in Psalm 104, "Bless the LORD, O my soul! O LORD my God, Thou art very great; Thou art clothed with splendour and majesty, covering Thyself with light as with a cloak, stretching out heaven like a tent curtain. He lays the beam of His upper chambers in the waters; He makes the clouds His chariot; He walks upon the wings of the wind; He makes the winds His messengers, flaming fire His ministers" (vv. 1-4). And in summary fashion, the Psalmist further writes, "O LORD, how many are Thy works! In wisdom Thou hast made them all; the earth is full of Thy possessions" (v. 24). The sky announces the craftsmanship of God, pointed out here by the Psalmist as epitomizing divine wisdom.

Now, I know that the Psalmist was not thinking in scientific terms, but let me present to you a 'wise' fact about the sky, the earth's atmosphere, in order that you may appreciate the wisdom actually revealed. The earth's atmosphere consists of 5 ascending spheres: the troposphere, the stratosphere, the mesosphere, the thermosphere, and the exosphere. The stratosphere, ranging from about 15 kilometres to about 50 kilometres above the earth, contains oxygen. The sun emits ultraviolet radiation, which is destructive both for plant and animal life. When the ultraviolet radiation from the sun reaches the stratosphere, it dissociates the molecular oxygen, O2, into atomic oxygen, simply O; and that atomic oxygen, O, then combines with the molecular oxygen, O2, to form ozone, O3. Now, it is the ozone, the O3, which prevents the ultraviolet radiation from reaching the earth. Oh the wisdom of God! The ultraviolet radiation initiates a process, resulting in an envelope of safety surrounding the earth, which prevents the radiation itself from reaching the earth and destroying plant and animal life. Marvelous! Do you hear God's wisdom in the skies? Do you hear the wordless speech?

The skies reveal God

Psalm 19:1 is exquisite poetry. Do you know what this verse is literally saying? It is literally saying that the heavens and expanse are presenting and portraying God's nature; that the skies are revealing, on the one hand, God's power and strength; and, on the other hand, His wisdom and understanding. The sky conveys the knowledge of God. Every person, who is made in the image of God, when he or she looks up into the sky, receives the knowledge of God, without question and without dispute. When you gaze upon the sky, at that very time (whether you affirm it or not), you are receiving the knowledge of God. God is speaking to you. So, God Himself reveals Himself to you in sights and 'sounds'; in inarticulable language, in unutterable words. Thus, Psalm 19:3 reads, "There is no speech, nor are there words; their voice is not heard."

Again, you do not audibly hear the voice of God from the skies, but they are still speaking, God is still speaking, and He is speaking in a language which everybody understands. He does not speak from the skies in French, or in Italian, or in English, or in Polish, or in Russian; but He speaks in a universal language which the heart understands; and which the heart alone can understand. As His creatures, made to have fellowship with Him, we hear God intuitively, as our Creator, because our hearts have been so made to answer to, and understand, the 'voice' of God in creation, so that we are without religious and moral excuse. Moreover, the speaking of God is ceaseless; the creation never rests from the divine resonating voice – "Day to day pours forth speech, and night to night reveals knowledge" (Ps. 19:2). Every day and every moment of everyday, and every night and every moment of every night, divine speech is gushing forth. God is continually revealing Himself. But further, the speaking of God is universal. No one who is able to look heavenward is out of 'earshot' – "Their line has gone out through all the earth, and their utterances to the end of the world. In them [the heavens, the expanse] He has placed a tent for the sun" (Ps. 19:4). All nations, all tribes, all races have received the revelation of God; and, in this sense, all nations, tribes, and races know God. Romans 1:20 reads, "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."

The moral problem of the human race is that with this general revelation of God, with this creational knowledge of God, many of the peoples of the earth have not acknowledged the true God. The knowledge of God should lead to the acknowledging of God. The revelation of God should lead to the worship of God, to the recognition that God is God. Standing in awe of the creation (and in this case, awe of the heavens) should lead you to enter into the awe of worship. The consideration of the sky should lead you to the contemplation of God, and thus to the worship of His name. There is no other reason why God has put the stamp of His own person on the creation except that He calls, demands, and commands all His creatures to worship Him in the recognition that He is the Creator. The Psalmist puts it this way, "O LORD, our Lord, how majestic is Thy name in all the earth, who hast displayed Thy splendour above the heavens! From the mouth of infants and nursing babes Thou hast established strength, because of Thine adversaries, to make the enemy and the revengeful cease. When I consider Thy heavens, the work of Thy fingers, the moon and the stars which Thou hast ordained; [I am overwhelmed, I am filled with awe, I am humbled, and I exclaim] what is man, that Thou dost take thought of him? And the son of man, that Thou dost care for him? Yet Thou hast made him a little lower than God, and dost crown him with glory and majesty! Thou dost make him to rule over the works of Thy hands; Thou hast put all things under his feet, all sheep and oxen, and also the beasts of the field, the birds of the heavens, and the fish of the sea, whatever passes through the paths of the sea. [Lord, I am constrained to worship You]. O LORD, our Lord, how majestic is Thy name in all the earth!" (Ps. 8:1-9). God speaks through the creation. He says, in effect, to you and me: "I am the Creator; I made you. I have given to you life and breath, and all things. I sustain you and all things through My power and strength. This world came into being by My wisdom. Worship Me now and always. I am God, and besides Me there is no other." Do you hear the skies speaking forth God?<

~ 2 ~

The Providential Speaking of God

God's providence means His overall superintendence and control of every aspect and detail of the created universe. Henry Thiessen is correct when he states, providence "means that continuous activity of God whereby He makes all the events of the physical, mental, and moral phenomena work out His purposes" (Lectures in Systematic Theology, p. 177). Similarly, Millard Erickson writes, "[The providence of God means] God's activity in guiding and directing the course of events to fulfil the purposes which he has in mind" (Christian Theology, p. 388). The providence of God is all embracing – it involves God's pervasive preserving of the creation, as well as God's exhaustive governing of that creation. God is in absolute control. God's providential speaking is a special and personal aspect of God's overall providential activity. When we think of God's providential speaking, we have in mind the ordering by God of a person's life circumstances, by which God personally reveals His purposes for that person. Or, if you like, God's providential speaking is God's directing and guiding of the particular events in someone's life so that certain ordained ends are achieved. Or, again, God's providential speaking is His peculiar and personal leading, through which, in effect, He declares or speaks His will for that person.

Acts 16:6-10 is a specific example of what we mean when we talk about God's providential speaking: "And they passed through the Phrygian and Galatian region, having been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia; and when they had come to Mysia, they were trying to go into Bithynia, and the Spirit of Jesus did not permit them; and passing by Mysia, they came down to Troas. And a vision appeared to Paul in the night: a certain man of Macedonia was standing and appealing to him, and saying, 'Come over to Macedonia and help us.' And when he had seen the vision, immediately we sought to go into Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them." Recall the immediate context of these verses: the apostle Paul, Silas, and Timothy had launched out on a second missionary journey. They had just traveled through the provinces of Syria and Cilicia, endeavouring to revisit the churches to which Paul had ministered on his first missionary journey – Derbe, Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch. From here, they thought to extend their missionary efforts.

God works in and through natural circumstances

We can derive a number of helpful principles from this passage, as we think about this matter of the providential speaking of the Lord. The first principle is this: God's providential speaking (or leading) is indistinguishable from the natural flow of the circumstances of life. In Acts 15:36 (the backdrop of Acts 16:6-10), we read, "And after some days Paul said to Barnabas, 'Let us return and visit the brethren in every city in which we proclaimed the word of the Lord, and see how they are.'" Apparently, Paul and Barnabas were ministering in Antioch, rising each morning and attending unto the spiritual needs of the Christian community. Seemingly, at one point in the course of their local ministry, Paul thought that it would be a good idea to revisit the churches which he and Barnabas had pioneered. It was during the natural flow of the events of his life that the apostle was moved to return to the churches that he had established on his first missionary journey.

Thus, we come to Acts 16:6. Having ministered in the southern part of the province of Galatia, Paul and his company seemingly wanted to launch out into a new missionary undertaking. Perhaps they were sitting there one day; or perhaps they had just finished praying, and Paul may have said, "Silas, wouldn't it be a good idea to do further evangelism? What about doing some evangelistic work in Asia?" And as they were endeavouring to extend their missionary efforts and outreach, the Spirit revealed to them, in some way, that they were not to do any evangelism in Asia at that time. Accordingly, they traversed through Asia in a northwesterly direction toward the province of Mysia. Having traveled through Asia, and having surveyed the new situation, they apparently thought it would be a good idea to go into the province of Bithynia. Yet, in the course of events, the Spirit revealed to them that they were not to do evangelism in Bithynia. They again had to change their plans. They thus decided to travel in a southwesterly direction, heading toward Alexandrian Troas, and there they found opportunity to preach the Gospel. But it was in the natural unfolding of life's events that God revealed His directive will. They did not initially know that will or they would not have originally traveled in the directions which they did; rather, they would have traveled directly to the west coast of Asia. The point is this: As circumstances arise, and as decisions have to be made, God is pleased, in that natural flow of events, to reveal His directive will.

The daily happenings of life are designed to reveal and fulfil God's purposes. A clear Biblical illustration of this truth is found in Judges 14. We read, "Then Samson went down to Timnah and saw a woman in Timnah, one of the daughters of the Philistines [We are not told why Samson went down to Timnah; but, in the course of events, he spotted an attractive woman]. So he came back and told his father and mother, 'I saw a woman in Timnah, one of the daughters of the Philistines; now therefore, get her for me as a wife.' Then his father and his mother said to him, 'Is there no woman among the daughters of your relatives, or among all our people, that you go to take a wife from the uncircumcised Philistines?' But Samson said to his father, 'Get her for me, for she looks good to me'" (vv. 1-3). Samson had gone to Timnah, and his eyes had fallen upon a beautiful woman. Accordingly, his hormones were excited, and his feelings were aroused. Of course, a man's attraction to a woman is a very natural phenomenon. For Samson to be attracted to a woman on this particular day was neither unusual nor extraordinary. So, with Samson, we see here the occurrence of a normal event on this day. But notice what the following verse states, "However, his father and mother did not know that it was of the Lord, for He was seeking an occasion against the Philistines. Now at that time the Philistines were ruling over Israel" (v. 4). Yes, Samson's hormones had been excited, and his feelings had been aroused – a rather natural phenomenon; and yet we read that God was behind this phenomenon, and even behind the events of this day. God was moving. He was orchestrating. He was working out His purposes through the expressed passion of a man. Again, God's providential speaking is indistinguishable from the natural flow of circumstances; and that is why we need discernment.

Circumstances are the threads of God's tapestry

God orders the minutest details of our lives. We find some profound verses in the Wisdom literature. Proverbs 16:9 reads, "The mind of man plans his way, but the LORD directs his steps." We may say, "I think I will do this or that;" and yet God determines the actual path. Further, God not only determines what we will do, He also orders what we will say. So, Proverbs 16:1 reads, "The plans of the heart belong to man, but the answer of the tongue is from the LORD." God even superintends the actual verbal responses given as a result of our reflective thought. Each of these verses attributes the act of planning to the person, suggesting that such an act is an independent or autonomous one; or, that it is an unaffected or purely human contribution to the event. But notice Proverbs 19:21, "Many are the plans in a man's heart, but the counsel of the LORD, it will stand." God's plan overrides the plans of people. Even our personal planning has no ultimate, independent significance or efficacy. God's counsel has priority, and is determinative. God will have His way; He decides what will come to pass.

The very fabric of our lives is the tapestry of God. He weaves the design, though it appears to be frayed, and even tattered and thread bare, at points. God is pleased to work supernaturally through natural means. He rules sovereignly. But we are also faced with a mystery. The mystery is that even though God determines and superintends all things, the Scriptures teach the free agency of the individual – our wills are neither exercised nor coerced by God; we freely choose according to our nature. Canadian geese, for example, migrate south for the winter. They 'decide' to fly south (i.e., they are not externally forced to do so); and yet they must fly south (i.e., their instinctual mechanism compels them).

We are not passive puppets, nor are we pathetic pawns in a divine chess match. No, the mystery is that our free volitional expressions, our personal choices and decisions, help comprise the very threads of the tapestry of God. We observe this mystery even in the life of the Lord Jesus Christ. On the one hand, we read our Lord's words in Luke 22:42, "Father, if Thou art willing, remove this cup from Me; yet not My will, but Thine be done" – absolute submission of the will of the Son to the will of the Father. But, on the other hand, we read our Lord's words to the Jews, "No one has taken it [My life] away from Me, but I lay it down on My own initiative. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This commandment I received from My Father" (Jn. 10:18). Here the Son's will is clearly primary and determinative. Well, what is it – God's absolute control or the legitimacy of the free agency of the person? Well, it is both, and that is the mystery. We ought not to emphasize or minimize one truth over, or at the expense of, another truth. That is heresy. And, of course, if the Bible and the Christian faith did not have a mystery about them, then that would certainly prove that they were the creations of man and not of God. But when an infinite, eternal God 'breaks into' finite, temporal history, we can expect apparent contradictions and paradoxes.

So, in the natural flow of the events of your life, God is working out His purposes. In the natural flow of the happenings of your life, God is speaking His will. Your life is His tapestry; and He is weaving it together for His glory. He is the Designer; He is in charge, and He knows what He is doing. That ought to give you peace; that ought to give you a sense of confidence; that ought to inspire your faith. God is finely weaving your life together, fulfilling His eternal plan, even if your life, at times, appears utterly chaotic. Believing this truth should neither result in fatalistic thinking, nor in selfish idleness and complacent passivity. Rather, it ought to make you a person of initiative and courage, with the healthy assurance that all things will redound to God's glory. And although God sovereignly reigns and plans, you legitimately may still seek His directive will; and you should seek that will, in the full integrity of (the mystery) of human freedom.

God orders both opportunities and obstacles

The second principle concerning God's providential speaking is that God's speaking (or leading) is often identified with opportunities and obstacles or, if you like, 'open and closed doors'. Again, in this particular account in Acts, the Spirit forbade Paul and his company from evangelizing Asia. Hence, having been confronted with a 'closed door', they moved northward. It obviously was not God's will for them to minister in the Phrygian and Galatian region. Subsequently, they endeavoured to make inroads into the province of Bithynia, but they confronted another 'closed door'. Again, it was not the Lord's will. Accordingly, they headed southward to Troas. There they found an 'open door'; that was obviously the Lord's will for them. In Troas, they received the vision to go over to Macedonia, another 'open door'; and that too was the Lord's will.

Now, commentators are uncertain about the actual nature of the Spirit's forbidding of Paul, Silas, and Timothy to preach the Gospel in Asia. They are equally uncertain about the Spirit's disallowance of their preaching in Bithynia. In what sense did the Spirit forbid? In what sense did the Spirit disallow? Some believe that the forbidding and disallowance refer to a prophetic utterance – God seemingly revealed His will through a prophet to them. Others believe that these acts of the Spirit refer to strong internal impressions. Still others believe that these acts refer to external circumstances. I believe this last interpretation is perhaps the best one. There are a number of reasons why I believe this. When you consider the meaning and usage of the Greek terms 'forbid' and 'permit', they suggest action, rather than actual verbalization. When we have direct verbalization attributed to the Spirit, we find the language "said" or "spoke" used. For instance, we read in Acts 13:2, "And while they were ministering to the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, 'Set apart for Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.'" Even with the mediation of people or a prophet, we find similar language. So, for example, Acts 21:4 reads, "And after looking up the disciples, we stayed there seven days; and they kept telling Paul through the Spirit not to set foot in Jerusalem."

The word 'forbid' simply means 'to impede action or progress'. French Arrington, in his commentary, The Acts of the Apostles (p. 166), asserts, "It [forbid] signifies a forceful intervention, as though the Spirit flung a barrier across the road into Asia." We possibly could be looking at such deterrents as persecution or a political restraint or some legal restrictions. Interestingly, in 1 Thessalonians 2:15,16, we find the same Greek term used; but here it is attributed to the Jews; yet the two texts may refer to a common event. We read, "Who both killed the Lord Jesus and the prophets, and drove us out. They are not pleasing to God, but hostile to all men, hindering [same term] us from speaking to the Gentiles that they might be saved." In a very real sense, with people preventing Paul from preaching, God, at the same time, was preventing him from preaching. This double-natured truth is clearly evident with the account of Joseph. Recall that Joseph's brothers sold him to the Ishmaelites, and he went down into Egypt. And yet Joseph assured his brothers, "And now do not be grieved or angry with yourselves, because you sold me here; for God sent me before you to preserve life" (Gen. 45:5). Similarly, Joseph informed his brothers, "And as for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive" (Gen. 50:20). God works and performs His will through human instrumentality. Such appeared to be the case with the preventing or hindering of Paul and his company.

Another example of God hindering Paul's progress through human instrumentality is found in an account in Acts 20. We read, "And after the uproar had ceased, Paul sent for the disciples and when he had exhorted them and taken his leave of them, he departed to go to Macedonia. And when he had gone through those districts and had given them much exhortation, he came to Greece. And there he spent three months, and when a plot was formed against him by the Jews as he was about to set sail for Syria [his intended plans had to change], he determined to return through Macedonia." Do you think that it was God's will that Paul return through Macedonia? I think so. He thus had the opportunity to summon the Ephesian elders to Miletus and give them final instructions and exhortations. That was God's purpose; and we today, as others have in the past, benefit from this serious and poignant pastoral instruction. God was in charge, and yet He used human instrumentality.

God's opportunities may be unpleasant

The parallel phrase to the Spirit's forbidding – "And the Spirit of Jesus did not permit them" – also suggests the circumstantial, rather than the verbal or mystical. Paul and his company were endeavouring, through intent and effort, to go into Bithynia. The Spirit ordered adverse circumstances. Now, this is a critical point: 'open doors' can be either good or bad in character. Sometimes when we think of 'open doors', we often have some positive notion in mind. But an 'open door' can involve much adversity and many problems. God is pleased to 'open doors', in revealing His directive will, and we ought not to necessarily associate such with the good or the pleasant. For instance, on the one hand, according to the Acts account, Paul went from the borders of Bithynia, a 'closed door', down to Troas, an 'open door'. 2 Corinthians 2:12 confirms, "Now when I [Paul] came to Troas for the gospel of Christ and when a door was opened for me in the Lord, I had no rest for my spirit." So, apparently Paul could freely preach. But, he had other 'open doors' which involved tribulation. For instance, in 1 Corinthians 16:8,9, the apostle wrote, "But I shall remain in Ephesus until Pentecost; for a wide door for effective service has opened to me, and there are many adversaries" – an 'open door' with suffering and persecution.

Jonah had an 'open door'. God commanded him to go and preach to the Ninevites. Jonah replied with a flat 'no', and fled in the opposite direction. He sought to flee from the presence of God. He decided to go to Tarsus. He therefore made his way to the port of Joppa. He must have been delightfully surprised at his 'good fortune' when he found a ship departing to Tarsus; perhaps saying, "What do you know, a ship that I can board to go to Tarsus. What an opportunity; this is great. Maybe it is God's will that I do not go to preach to those pagan Ninevites." That 'open door' almost cost Jonah his life; but it was God's will. God had prepared trouble for Jonah in order to teach him and bring him to repentance. God was going to have His way; Jonah repented and preached to the Ninevites.

We may also consider the man Job. He experienced much pain and privation in his life, but it was all under the providence of God. God sovereignly allowed all his possessions to be confiscated, all his children to be killed, and his body to be racked with disease. When we think of the providence of God, remember that this providence is often a dark one; and for some of God's children, it may be a desperately dark providence. God may give you an 'open door', making His will known to you; and you will enter that 'door', but it will seem like your world is falling apart. You may then exclaim, "Maybe I made a mistake." Not necessarily. At those times, you need to continue to trust Him, even if He eventually is pleased to slay you (see Job 13:15).

Further, what you may think is good, or appears to be good, may not necessarily be God's will. Just as the 'open doors' are not always peaceful or prosperous 'doors'; even so, not everything that is good, or appears good, is God's will. King David momentarily viewed an illicit relationship with Bathsheba as good. But it was not God's will, and it cost David his peace for the rest of his life. Further, what may appear as an 'open door' may not be one. Not every opportunity ready at hand is God's will. Again, I refer to King David's tragedy. Thus, we require discernment; and thus we must continuously pray. Moreover, to know God's will requires that we are living for that will, and are seeking to honour and please Him, especially in fulfilling that will. His will is supreme. Our chief goal is to surrender to that will; and that endeavour should be our greatest delight.

God confirms His directive will

The third principle concerning God's providential speaking is that God's providential speaking (or leading) is often accompanied by some spiritual or inner confirmation. In the case of Paul, Silas, and Timothy, there was the apostle's vision – "And a vision appeared to Paul in the night: a certain man of Macedonia was standing and appealing to him, and saying, 'Come over to Macedonia and help us.' And when he had seen the vision, immediately we sought to go into Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them." This is a direct confirmation. It was indisputable what God's will was. But do not discount the place of rational reflection. That fact is implied in the term 'concluding'. These men apparently thought about the vision and its meaning, and came to a mutual understanding about it. They discerned the Lord's will.

Now, for us, though we should not normatively expect to receive visions, we should still expect spiritual or inner confirmation of the external circumstances which confront us. That confirmation may be a sense of peace when a decision has been made (even though it may involve difficulty and problems); or it may be a sense of confidence or assurance, as God bears witness with our spirits. For instance, the apostle Paul was resigned and at peace when the prophet Agabus prophesied that he would be bound in Jerusalem by the Jews and delivered to the Gentiles. To which his companions protested and begged him not to go to Jerusalem. And we read, "Then Paul answered, 'What are you doing, weeping and breaking my heart? For I am ready not only to be bound, but even to die at Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.' And since he would not be persuaded, we fell silent, remarking, 'The will of the Lord be done!'" (Acts 21:13, 14). So, we should expect inner confirmation of the outer circumstances. Yet, we are not to abandon reason or common sense. Yes, we are to walk in faith (which will bring this sense of peace or assurance, for faith does recognize and embrace God's will), but we are not to neuter our brains in order to walk in the Spirit. Again, Paul and his company, though recipients of revelation, 'concluded' that they were to pursue a specific course of action.

Now, we must be careful when we refer to the place and legitimacy of the subjective. We must not rely upon mere feelings, and trust them to interpret and confirm the circumstances. Feelings often deceive. To have a nice, warm, 'fuzzy feeling' running down your spine is no guarantee of the rightness of a decision or the certainty of God's will. Some have experienced deep trouble and pain because of acting on the basis of a nice, warm 'fuzzy feeling'. It must be a matter of faith; and that faith, through the Spirit, brings a peace, an assurance, a confidence. We are to think about the circumstances. We are to rationally reflect upon the unfolding of events, endeavouring to know God's mind; and hence conclude that a certain 'open door' is indeed God's will.

Of course, if that is to be the case, as mentioned, we must continually bathe ourselves and our circumstances in prayer; and I cannot overestimate that fact. I am positive, though it is not recorded, that Paul, Silas, and Timothy engaged in continual prayer on their travels. Paul's epistles constrain us to believe so. That is why, from the human side, I believe that they received clear direction. If you diligently, dependently, and constantly pray, God will also give you clear direction. However, keep in mind that the direction will not always be clear to you initially. Even Paul and his company did not know initially that they were to evangelize Macedonia, rather than Asia, at that time in history. It was only as they were 'in the way' that they came to realize God's leading. Similarly, as you seek to move forward, as you seek to 'knock on doors', if you are praying, and if you are wholly dependent upon God, having no confidence in self, endeavouring only to please Him in all things, then God will most definitely direct you, and you most assuredly will discern that directive will. You will 'hear' His providential speaking. Every day God is speaking. In accepting, yielding to, and embracing the daily circumstances of life, in faith, whatever they may be – good or bad – you will be accepting His blessed will, which ought to be our greatest joy and deepest delight.<

~ 3 ~

The Historical Speaking of God

The United States, at present (February 1998), is endeavouring to maneuver its military muscle, and orchestrate strategic international support for its political cause, as it poises itself to level a military assault against Iraq. In January of 1991, the Allied Forces, spearheaded by the U.S., engaged Iraq in the Gulf War, and devastated and defeated that country. Now, I ask you, "Was Iraq's defeat and disgrace the 'hand of God'? Was God 'speaking' in the historical events of seven years ago?" On February 15th, 1898, the United States sent the battleship Maine on a goodwill mission to the city of Havana. In entering the harbour, that battleship hit a Spanish mine and sank, killing 252 people. That particular incident ignited the Spanish-American War. Later on that year, December 10th, a peace treaty was signed between Spain and the U.S. As part of the settlement, Spain had to cede Cuba, Puerto Rico, Guam, and the Philippines to the States for a cost of $20,000,000.00. May those historical events be interpreted as the 'hand of God'? Was God 'speaking' at that time?

God reigns sovereignly over the nations

God speaks in different ways. We have considered God speaking creationally and providentially. God also speaks historically; that is, God speaks through the very events of history. History is the detailed script of the plan and purposes of God. For instance, Isaiah 46:9-11 reads, "Remember the former things long past, for I am God and there is no other; I am God, and there is no one like Me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things which have not been done, saying, 'My purpose will be established, and I will accomplish all My good pleasure; [for instance] calling a bird of prey from the east, the man of My purpose from a far country. Truly I have spoken; truly I will bring it to pass. I have planned it, surely I will do it.'" Thus, speaking metaphorically, yet speaking most certainly, the events of history comprise the speaking of God. For example, President Clinton authorized that U.S. carriers be sent to the Persian Gulf and that U.S. troops be deployed against Suddam Hussein recently. Metaphorically speaking, those carriers and troops 'speak loud and clear' to Suddam Hussein.

Isaiah 30:30,31 present us with a very clear and specific example of the truth of God speaking in the events of history. Isaiah 30:30,31 reads, "And the LORD will cause His voice of authority to be heard. And the descending of His arm to be seen in fierce anger, and in the flame of a consuming fire, in cloudburst, downpour, and hailstones. For at the voice of the LORD Assyria will be terrified, when He strikes with the rod." The prophet Isaiah herein predicts the imminent downfall of Assyria, a one-time great empire. And we do well to remind ourselves that the past great empires of the world appeared and disappeared, not by chance, nor by impersonal forces, but by a divine decree. Thus, we read in Acts 17:26, "And He [God] made from one, every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined their appointed times, and the boundaries of their habitation." It is God Who determines when nations will come into existence, and it is He Who determines when nations will cease to exist.

God Himself 'speaks' nations into being, and He 'speaks' nations out of being, by the fact that He orders the course or events of history. He is on the throne of the universe and He reigns sovereignly over the nations. Therefore, we need not worry. Are you concerned about how world affairs will unfold as you consider the various precarious developments in the world; as you, for instance, think about what is happening in the Middle East and other parts of the world? As you think about national tensions in Canada, both political and economic, are you worried? Remember, God is on the throne; He is reigning. He is ordering the events of history. God establishes governments, and God annihilates them. The Neros come and go; the Hitlers come and go; the despots come and go. The most formidable of political strongholds do crumble. Think, for instance, of the coup d'etat in the Soviet Union, executed on August 19th, 1991. That coup d'etat marked the beginning of the end of the Soviet Union as a political super power. The astonishing thing is that the Soviet Union seemingly was irreparably dissolved within a ten day period – within a time period less than it takes to complete the Winter Olympics. Incredible, isn't it? And God did it (and He did not even need ten days).

God sovereignly destroys nations

So, here in Isaiah 30, the prophet pronounces an ominous prediction concerning the demise of the Assyrian empire. Assyria became a dominant political power during the late 8th - early 7th century BC In 721 BC, Assyria took Israel, the Northern Kingdom, into captivity. Israel, as a political power, was irrecoverably destroyed. God was pleased to raise up the Assyrian nation to be an instrument of judgement in order to execute His anger against His people who had sinned and who had forsaken Him. It was clearly God Who purposed the demise, and the extinction, of the Northern Kingdom of Israel. God is free to do whatever He wills with His own. It was God who redeemed Israel; it was God who brought Israel out of Egypt, the land of bondage; it was God Who gave Israel His law and established them as His covenant people; and it was God Who utterly destroyed them. He is the Potter and we are the clay; and we ought never to forget that. He can raise us one day, and smash us down the next, because He is God; and He is neither answerable to you nor to me. We are not to question Him, nor are we to complain. If He is pleased to take absolutely everything from us, His holy name is still to be blessed. Remember, for instance, the tragic account of the prophet Ezekiel. God addressed Ezekiel one day with unexpected news. We read in Ezekiel 24:15-18, "And the word of the Lord came to me saying, 'Son of man, behold, I am about to take from you the desire of your eyes [i.e., your wife] with a blow; but you shall not mourn, and you shall not weep, and your tears shall not come. Groan silently; make no mourning for the dead. Bind on your turban, and put your shoes on your feet, and do not cover your mustache, and do not eat the bread of men'. So I spoke to the people in the morning, and in the evening my wife died. And in the morning I did as I was commanded." Similarly, our response should also be one of submission and compliance. Again, God can do whatever He wants with His own; and we cannot say to Him, "What are You doing?"

So, Assyria was the ordained means to fulfil the divine purpose of bringing judgement upon Israel. Isaiah 10:1-6 reads, "WOE to those [of Israel] who enact evil statutes, and to those who constantly record unjust decisions, so as to deprive the needy of justice, and rob the poor of My people of their rights, in order that widows may be their spoil, and that they may plunder the orphans. Now what will you do in the day of punishment, and in the devastation which will come from afar? To whom will you flee for help [once God has purposed to destroy]? And where will you leave your wealth? Nothing remains but to crouch among the captives or fall among the slain. In spite of all this His anger does not turn away [it will be satisfied], and His hand is still stretched out. Woe to Assyria, the rod of my anger [I will come and beat you, Israel, through the power of the nation of Assyria] and the staff in whose hands is my indignation, I send it against a godless nation and commission it against the people of My fury to capture booty and to seize plunder, and to trample them down like mud in the streets." And yet, after the Assyrians were to be used by the Lord as an instrument of judgement, God planned to judge Assyria. Isaiah 10:24-27 reads, "Therefore thus says the Lord GOD of hosts, 'O My people who dwell in Zion, do not fear the Assyrian who strikes you with the rod and lifts up his staff against you, the way Egypt did. For in a very little while my indignation against you will be spent, and My anger will be directed to their destruction. And the LORD of hosts will arouse a scourge against him like the slaughter of Midian at the rock of Oreb; and His staff will be over the sea, and He will lift it up the way He did in Egypt. So it will be in that day, that his burden will be removed from your shoulders and his yoke from your neck, and the yoke will be broken because of fatness.'" These particular verses are a commentary on the verses of Isaiah 30:30,31.

God speaks with undeniable authority

So, again, we read in Isaiah 30:30, "And the LORD will cause His voice of authority to be heard." Notice that this verse underscores the truth of divine initiative – 'God causes'. Further, the term 'voice of authority', in the original Hebrew language, literally means 'the majesty of His voice'. Here we are given the extraordinary character of the voice of God – it is a voice of sublime note; it is a voice of grand proportions; it is a voice of inestimable quality. This language again points to God's unrestricted sovereignty. 'Majesty' suggests superior excellence, supreme loftiness. God's voice is one that thunders and demands a response and capitulation. More particularly, God is pleased to thunder in judgement. That is the language of Psalm 18. We read, "Then the earth shook and quaked; and the foundations of the mountains were trembling and were shaken because He was angry...He bowed the heavens also, and came down with thick darkness under his feet...The LORD also thundered in the heavens, and the Most High uttered His voice, [namely,] hailstones and coals of fire [notice that this language is similar to that of Isaiah 30]...And He sent out His arrows, and scattered them, and lightning flashes in abundance, and routed them. Then the channels of water appeared, and the foundations of the world were laid bare at Thy rebuke, O LORD, at the blast of the breath of Thy nostrils" (vv. 7,9,13-15).

So, the Lord speaks with authority, and will cause that speaking to be heard – that is, He will make known His will and establish it. His ordained awesome purposes will be realized. And, of course, often those purposes involve judgement; and that is what our text is emphasizing. History is judgement history. That is the testimony of the Scriptures (see Revelation 6). The famines in the world, and throughout history, are the voice of God; the earthquakes in the world, and throughout history, are the voice of God; the pestilences that plague various countries in the world, and throughout history, are the voice of God. This truth may disturb some, but that is what the Scriptures teach. These are ways that God is pleased to speak to the nations, 'loud and clear'. And yet, for all that, the nations fail to hear. We must fear such a God Who speaks thus.

Further, notice the parallel thought to the truth of 'God speaking with the voice of authority' – "And the descending of His arm to be seen in fierce anger." Again, the image and idea conveyed here are that of judgement. The term 'arm', of course, points to the notion of power. For example, Isaiah 51:9 reads, "Awake, awake, put on strength, O arm of the LORD; awake as in the days of old, the generations of long ago. Was it not Thou who cut Rahab in pieces, who pierced the dragon?" Verse 5 of this same chapter reads, "My righteousness is near, my salvation has gone forth, and My arms will judge the peoples; the coastlands will wait for Me, and for My arm they will wait expectantly." The 'descending of God's arm in fierce anger' is a terrifying picture. A homely illustration is that of a table set nicely and neatly with delicate china on it; and a mighty arm, with clenched fist, that comes crashing down, smashing the table and sending the china settings flying in every direction, and causing them to break into a million little pieces. The judging of God in righteous anger is witnessed through powerfully crushing, devastatingly breaking, totally destroying, completely annihilating; and we could multiply the terms. God gets angry, and He gets angry often. Sometimes we do not like to talk that way about God, or even mention that kind of language in describing relationships. Some complain, "Don't talk to me about the wrath of God." God, by nature, is a wrathful God because He, by nature, is a holy God. He gets angry against sin, against rebellion, against unrighteousness, against ungodliness, against unholiness, and against disobedience. He becomes angry with His people, and He became angry with Israel; and, as a result, He destroyed it as an ancient nation. As the Scriptures teach, judgement begins at the household of God (see 1 Pe. 4:17). If we would think more about that truth, then we, no doubt, would live more circumspectly.

God speaks with terrible destruction

We read further in Isaiah 30:30, "And in the flame of a consuming fire, in cloudburst, downpour, and hailstones." What graphic language. God's wrath, as it were, is poured down like molten lava from heaven. He rains down judgement in torrential proportions. As you read the Biblical accounts, this literally happened on a number of occasions. For instance, consider the account of Sodom and Gomorrah – "Then the LORD rained on Sodom and Gomorrah brimstone and fire from the LORD out of heaven, and He overthrew those cities, and all the valley, and all the inhabitants of the cities, and what grew on the ground" (Gen. 19:24,25). Here we have a concrete example of God's holiness breaking out against the sin of human beings. Also, we read the account of Joshua warring against the five Amorite kings, "And it came about as they [the kings] fled from before Israel, while they were at the descent of Beth-horon, that the LORD threw large stones from heaven on them as far as Azekah, and they died; there were more who died from the hailstones than those whom the sons of Israel killed with the sword" (Josh. 10:11).

Metaphorically speaking, God is pleased to rain down hailstones, fire and brimstone, not only upon the nations, but sometimes upon our individual lives, because of our sin, rebellion, and disobedience; because we are covenant breakers. Indeed, the utterance of the voice of God is often the destruction of the nations, and of individuals. As Isaiah 30:31 confirms, "For at the voice of the LORD Assyria will be terrified, when He strikes with the rod." These two ideas – of God's speaking and God's rod [i.e., source of judgement] – coalesce in Isaiah 11:4. We read, "But with righteousness He will judge the poor, and decide with fairness for the afflicted of the earth; and He will strike the earth with the rod of His mouth, and with the breath of His lips He will slay the wicked." So, the very historical events of destruction are synonymous with the divine voice of uttering punishment. These two realities are virtually indistinguishable (consider also Joel 2:11; 3:16). Simply put, the (devastating) acting of God is the (terrible) speaking of God; and, in this sense, God is always speaking in the events of history. Do you 'hear' God speaking in the history of the human race? Do you see Him as the sovereign One, orchestrating the course of human events? History is not some haphazard, random collection and combination of events, like objects flying aimlessly off into space. No, the events of history are the acts of God; the events of history comprise the story of God. God Himself is writing the script, regardless of how senseless and chaotic it may seem, or how incredible and incomprehensible it may seem; or regardless of the dark character of those events, whether they be famines or pestilence or war. How does this presentation of God match with your view of God? Is the above presentation your view of God? Personally, I find great comfort in this view and understanding of God. God is in control, acting and moving in history. That gives me great peace as a child of this God.

Even the most stupendous and horrific event of history, namely, the crucifixion of the Lord Jesus was the speaking of God. In the event of Calvary, God spoke His anger against sin, against the rebellion of a lost humanity. At Calvary, God spoke His love for a dying humanity. At Calvary, God spoke the necessity of faith and repentance for salvation. At Calvary, God was speaking, for even the event of Calvary was an expression of the divine will and purpose of God. The apostle Peter proclaimed, in Acts 2:22,23, "Men of Israel, listen to these words [on the day of Pentecost]: Jesus the Nazarene, a man attested to you by God with miracles and wonders and signs which God performed through Him in your midst, just as you yourselves know – this Man, delivered up by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put Him to death."

~ 4 ~

The Declarative Speaking of God

What do you think the audible voice of God sounds like? When my grandmother was a young girl, a minister told her that every time that she heard thunder, that was the voice of God. As a result, she never feared the sound of thunder. God does have an audible voice. God has been pleased to speak audibly to certain individuals, as well as within different public settings, at various times throughout history. Now, in so far as God has uttered His voice publicly, He has declared His mind and will; and as such, we may rightly speak of the declarative speaking of God. For instance, God spoke declaratively on Mount Sinai. We read, "And the LORD said to Moses, 'Behold, I shall come to you in a thick cloud, in order that the people may hear when I speak with you, and may also believe in you forever'...Now Mount Sinai was all in smoke because the LORD descended upon it in fire; and its smoke ascended like the smoke of a furnace, and the whole mountain quaked violently. When the sound of the trumpet grew louder, Moses spoke and God answered him with thunder. And the LORD came down on Mount Sinai, to the top of the mountain...Then God spoke all these words...And all the people perceived the thunder and the lightning flashes and the sound of the trumpet and the mountain smoking; and when the people saw it, they trembled and stood at a distance. Then they said to Moses, 'Speak to us yourself and we will listen; but let not God speak to us, lest we die'...So the people stood at a distance, while Moses approached the thick cloud where God was" (Deut. 19:9,18-20; 20:1, 18,19,21).

When we come to the New Testament, we observe that God spoke declaratively at different times during the earthly ministry of the Lord Jesus Christ. Recall, for instance, God spoke publicly at our Lord's baptism. In Luke 3:22, we read, "And the Holy Spirit descended upon Him in bodily form like a dove, and a voice came out of heaven, 'Thou art My beloved Son, in Thee I am well-pleased.'" Again, as our Lord drew near to the end of His ministry, after the triumphal entry into Jerusalem, we read His words, "Now my soul has become troubled; and what shall I say, 'Father, save Me from this hour'? But for this purpose I came to this hour. 'Father, glorify Thy name.' There came therefore a voice out of heaven: 'I have both glorified it, and will glorify it again.' The multitude therefore, who stood by and heard it, were saying that it had thundered; others were saying, 'An angel has spoken to Him.' Jesus answered and said, 'This voice has not come for My sake but for your sakes'" (Jn. 12:27-30). So, at strategic points in the ministry of our Lord, God declaratively spoke, He thundered forth His voice in a public setting. The declarative speaking of God in history was a rather rare occurrence. God typically spoke through other means. (Often God spoke through visions, dreams, and internal impressions, revealing to prophets a message to proclaim). Certainly, the rarity of these declarative utterances argues for the critical importance and significance of their message. Perhaps one of the most stupendous occurrences of the declarative speaking of God is found in the account of the transfiguration of Christ; and it is this account in Luke 9:28-36 that we will now consider.

The transfiguration relates to Christ's death

Let us work progressively through Luke 9:28-36. Luke 9:28a reads, "And some eight days after these sayings..." The 'sayings' of Christ recorded immediately before the transfiguration account are vitally connected with this account. This transfiguration account is simply an extension – both a supplement and a confirmation – of the previously recorded didactic sayings of Christ. These sayings have as their main theme the death, the resurrection, and the glorification of Christ. Accordingly, in Luke 9:22, Jesus revealed, "The Son of Man must suffer many things, and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised up on the third day;" and verse 26, "For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words, of him will the Son of Man be ashamed when He comes in His glory, and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels."

Jesus takes along His special friends

Eight days after these profound sayings, the actual account unfolds – " came about that He took along Peter and John and James" (9:28b). These three men were the 'inner circle' of disciples, Jesus' closest comrades; if you like, His best friends. No doubt, our Lord took these three along with Him in order that they might be a source of comfort, encouragement, and support to Him. Furthermore, it seems that Jesus took these three men along with Him, and thus continued to give them special privilege and involvement (cf. Lu. 8:48-51), because they were presumably marked out to assume key positions of leadership after the death and resurrection of Jesus. It was these three disciples who were to be pillars in the newly founded Church. But moreover, Jesus took these three along with Him in fulfilment of Deuteronomy 17:6, which states that a matter should be established in the presence of two or three witnesses.

Jesus was, and is, pleased to show favour and preference to whomever He wills. Jesus personally chose three to be with Him as His special companions. On the one hand, Jesus is an impartial Judge; on the other hand, He is a partial Lord. We ought never to forget that. Thus, on the one hand, we read, "There will be tribulation and distress for every soul of man who does evil, of the Jew first and also of the Greek, but glory and honor and peace to every man who does good, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For there is no partiality with God" (Rm. 2:9-11). But, on the other hand, we read, "So then He has mercy on whom He desires, and He hardens whom He desires" (Rm. 9:18). Again, God is the sovereign Lord; and thus may be partial in the dispensing of His favour and goodness. So even here in the life of Jesus, our Lord was pleased to show favour, preferential treatment, to three undeserving souls. And we ought not to question Him on His dealings with us. But rather, we are to be thankful for any grace or privilege received, because He is neither bound nor obligated to show favour or mercy to anyone. If God has given you any grace or privilege, my friend, you ought to be thankful. And if God has been pleased to give a Christian brother or sister more grace or privilege than you, neither complain nor murmur, for He can do what He wants with His own.

Jesus withdraws to pray

Jesus took Peter, James, and John with Him for a specific purpose – "And [they] went up to the mountain to pray" (Lu. 9:28c). It goes without saying that prayer was the Lord's customary practice. He was a man of prayer. In fact, in this Gospel, Luke records a number of times that our Lord stole away to pray. For instance, Luke 6:12 reads, "And it was at this time that He went off to the mountain to pray, and He spent the whole night in prayer to God;" again, 11:1 reads, "And it came about that while He was praying in a certain place, after He had finished, one of His disciples said to Him, 'Lord, teach us to pray just as John also taught his disciples.'"

So, Jesus prayed; and He prayed often, regularly, and consistently. Now, if Jesus prayed, and had to pray, how much more do we? We are to be people of prayer, and we are to pray without ceasing, even as our Lord did. In fact, our Lord even instructed us to pray in that manner. Luke 18:1 reads, "Now He was telling them a parable to show that at all times they ought to pray and not to lose heart." We are to pray, rather than faint or become downcast. In many respects, prayer is the antidote and remedy for, as well as the Biblical alternative to, a discouraged heart. Indeed, we can become overwhelmed with various circumstances in our lives and become disheartened; but Jesus teaches us to resist and reject that kind of response. This response is the natural tendency of the flesh. Were there occasions this past week where you were tempted to lose heart, being overwhelmed with circumstances, and you cried out, "Lord, why is this happening?" Did you bemoan, complain, and murmur, and thus did you lose heart; not only becoming discouraged, but self-piteous? We are to follow the example of Christ. Jesus was a man of prayer.

Prayer radically changes matters – "And while He was praying the appearance of His face became different, and His clothing became white and gleaming" (9:29). It was while our Lord was praying that something extraordinary, epochal, and significant happened. While He was praying, God was pleased to manifest power, grace, and majesty. Similarly, it will be while we are praying, pouring out our hearts to God, that God will be pleased to do something extraordinary. It is in such a spiritual setting and environment that God is pleased to give light, power, and grace. If you, for instance, find yourself confused, wanting answers, I am suggesting that it will be while you are in prayer itself that God will often move and give understanding. Or, maybe you are presently overcome with some stress or anxiety. I am suggesting that it is when you are actually engaged in the 'mystery' of prayer that God will often reveal His power and glory to you. While our Lord was praying, God moved – our Lord was transfigured.

The transfiguration was designed to strengthen Jesus

It could be argued that Jesus was praying for this divine manifestation, but that claim may be challenged. In considering the wider context, one may cogently argue that this extraordinary event occurred not only for the sake of the disciples (for it was quite instructive for them), but also for the sake of Jesus. Remember that Christ was making His way to Jerusalem. Again, Luke 9:22 reads, "The Son of Man must suffer many things, and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised up on the third day." Jesus clearly knew the terrible events that lay ahead of Him. He knew that He was going to die, not simply physically, but spiritually.

Christ, no doubt, realized and anticipated the incomparable wrenching ordeal that await Him in Jerusalem; and most certainly our Lord, as a result, was personally struggling. His soul was in great agony – agony which culminated in the Garden of Gethsemane, with the cross looming. Hence, our Lord needed extraordinary comfort, as well as personal assurance, as He was making His way to Jerusalem. And God provided that comfort and assurance. In the Garden, God sent the ministering angels to strengthen Christ. In the account before us, God gave Christ a foretaste and preview of the glory into which He would immediately enter after the cruelty of the cross and with the wonder of the resurrection. The transfiguration was designed to strengthen Christ in order that He might be determined to face the cross boldly and courageously for the salvation of sinners. Recall the words in Hebrews 12:2, "...who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God." Jesus received a foretaste of the majestic joy; and with that joy of entering into His glory, He was determined to face and endure the cross. And so notice that after the experience of the transfiguration, we read, "And it came about, when the days were approaching for His ascension, that He resolutely set His face to go to Jerusalem" (Lu. 9:51). Now, if Christ needed comfort and assurance in His dark hour of testing and personal struggle, how much more do we? Many of us have various dark hours of testing and personal struggle; and so again, we must give ourselves to prayer, even as Christ did. Prayer, in a very real sense, is our salvation.

Moses and Elijah strengthen Jesus

It is while our Lord is praying, out of His struggle and agony, for the salvation of the world and the fulfilling of the Father's will, that His appearance changed. His face shone brightly as the sun. His raiment changed and radiated brilliance. Our Lord was glorified. What a sight that must have been, what a vision! Now, God comforted Christ and gave Him assurance not only through the transfiguration, but also by sending two heavenly visitors, Elijah and Moses – "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" (9:30,31). Moses, representing the Law, and Elijah, representing the Prophets, epitomized the Old Testament era, as well as symbolized its hopes. (Just as an aside, notice that personalities remain intact after death. It is interesting that Elijah was taken bodily into heaven; and that the angel Michael disputed with the devil over Moses' body, which may imply that his body was exhumed and take into heaven).

Moses and Elijah were speaking to Jesus about the death that He was going to undergo in Jerusalem. Again, the death and resurrection of Christ was the critical theme. With this momentous dual event, we witness the great redemptive focal point and the first major divine crescendo of history (the second one will be Christ's return). In conversation, Elijah and Moses, no doubt, were strengthening and encouraging Christ. The stakes were incredibly high – the salvation of the human race was resting squarely on the Son's shoulders. He was to accomplish the plan of redemption for the elect. Moses and the prophets spoke of Christ's day and prophesied of His salvation. With their appearance on this mountain with Christ, we witness the symbolism of the organic unity of God's saving truth, as well as the reality of Old Testament truth culminating and finding complete fulfilment in Christ. Remember, Christ was also to die for the Old Testament saints of faith. Accordingly, Christ's death was no accident or mistake. It was planned; it was predetermined by God (cf. Acts 2:23). If you know nothing of the benefits of the death of Christ, my unsaved friend, will you consider your rebellious ways, and will you repent of your sins? Will you come to God and humble yourself before Him, and accept Jesus Christ as your Saviour? He died for sinners. If you believe that Christ died for your sins, you will be saved.

The disciples awaken to glory

What about the disciples? What were they doing at this time? – "Now Peter and his companions had been overcome with sleep" (9:32a). This verse implies that the transfiguration most likely happened at night. Jesus often stole away to pray either in the early morning or late at night because the days were just too busy for Him. He was constantly ministering. If anyone knew what it was to go sleepless, Jesus did. Sometimes we ought to lose sleep in order to take up the work of prayer. Now, as mentioned, these three men went with Jesus to comfort and support Him; and the comfort and support which He needed was primarily spiritual in nature. Seemingly, Jesus wanted these three disciples to pray with Him. We read concerning another occasion, "And they came to a place named Gethsemane; and He said to His disciples, 'Sit here until I have prayed.' And He took with Him Peter and James and John, and began to be very distressed and troubled. And He said to them, 'My soul is deeply grieved to the point of death; remain here and keep watch'...And He came and found them sleeping, and said to Peter, 'Simon, are you asleep? Could you not keep watch for one hour? Keep watching and praying, that you may not come into temptation; the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak'" (Mk. 14:32-34,37,38). Isn't that unfortunate? Jesus could not depend on His best friends to stay awake an hour with Him while He prayed. But we ought not to be too hard on the disciples. I do not think that we would have done any better than they. We all let the Lord down. You let the Lord down; you disappoint Christ, and you know it. This past week some of you have disappointed Christ. You have heard His voice. You have felt the pull of His Spirit, and you did not respond. Was Christ calling you to prayer at some point during this past week, and you said, "Later, Lord;" and you never did get to it? Or did Christ nudge your spirit, calling you to help someone or call someone, and you said, "Later, Lord;" and you never did get to it?

Peter and his companions awoke to a sight of radiant glory – "but when they were fully awake, they saw His glory and the two men standing with Him." Probably the brilliance of that glory awoke them. As we read further, we realize that maybe it would have been better for Peter to have stayed asleep – "And it came about, as these were parting from Him, Peter said to Jesus, 'Master, it is good for us to be here; and let us make three tabernacles: one for You, and one for Moses, and one for Elijah' – not realizing what he was saying." His brain was in neutral; he spoke without thinking. No doubt, Peter was enjoying the heavenly interaction, the ecstatic experience; and he did not want it to end. Maybe God has given you a wonderful experience in the past, and your response was, "Lord, I do not want it to end;" and you have tried to live off that experience, rather than simply being instructed by it. Do not try to live off of a previous wonderful spiritual experience. These experiences are not intended to be a spiritual fuel supply to keep you spiritually 'pumped up' and going. Such wonderful experiences are rare; and are intended to make a momentary impact, or to give needed light, or to give timely instruction, in order that you might be encouraged or spiritually facilitated. They are special expressions of God's grace – exceptions and not the rule. Peter wanted to hold onto the experience, rather than be instructed by it. As the parallel passage (Mk. 9:6) states, he was terrified, and thus he burst out with this apparently stupid remark. Have you ever been in a situation where you were overwhelmed by the situation, or you felt very uncomfortable with the situation, and you blurted out something stupid; and then went away berating yourself? Such was the case with Peter. He did not think before speaking. In saying that it was good to be present with this heavenly august company, he demonstrated his presumption; and in suggesting to build three tabernacles, he demonstrated his ignorance, for heavenly visitors have no need for a dwelling place, nor a place of protection; and further, it was very clear that they were not staying.

God thunders His voice

The authoritative, earth-shattering speaking of God is contrasted with the foolish, senseless speaking of a man – "And while he was saying this, a cloud formed and began to overshadow them; and they were afraid as they entered the cloud. And a voice came out of the cloud, saying, 'This is My Son, My Chosen One; listen to Him!" (9:34,35). Here we have the declarative speaking of God. God spoke audibly; and, most likely, His voice thundered. We read in a parallel account (Mt. 17:6) that when God spoke, Peter and his companions fell on their faces because they were afraid, which suggests the utterance of an awesome voice.

Surely, we cannot help but recognize the parallelism of, yet also the stark contrast between, God speaking on this mountain and God speaking on Mount Sinai. The similarities are plain. On Mount Sinai, the Law was given, and thus the Old covenant era commenced. On the Mount of Transfiguration, God sanctioned the truth and authority of Christ's words, with the dawning of the New covenant era. The words of Christ constitute a new law, in contrast with the old; and so John 1:17 reads, "For the Law was given through Moses; grace and truth were realized through Jesus Christ." On Mount Sinai, there was a dark cloud, with smoke, fire, and gloom. On the Mount of Transfiguration, there appeared a bright cloud (Mt. 17:5). The cloud simply represented God's presence; it was symbolic of the Shekinah glory. The divine cloud overshadowed Mount Sinai itself; it also overshadowed the company on the Mount of Transfiguration. The idea of 'overshadowing' points to consecration. For instance, the divine cloud which descended on, and filled, the newly built (first) temple consecrated it for holy use; and when the Spirit of God overshadowed Mary at the conception of Jesus, she was consecrated for holy use.

When God's presence and glory appeared, and He spoke out of the cloud, the disciples were terrified. Generally speaking, when God makes His presence and voice known, the response is always fear and trembling. His presence evokes fear because of the reality of pure holiness and ineffable glory. When the apostle Peter rehearsed this extraordinary event some 35 years later, he wrote that the Voice came from heaven, rather than from a cloud – "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" (2 Pe. 2:17,18).

In speaking, God, first, acknowledged and authenticated the person of Jesus – "This is My Son, My Chosen One." God put His seal on the true identity of Jesus. God confessed that Jesus is the holy offspring, very God and very God. Further, God confessed that Jesus is the Messiah, the anointed deliverer, the one through whom salvation would come. God, in identifying the true identity of Jesus, confirmed Peter's immediately previous confession of Luke 9:20 (cf. Mt. 16:16). That which was internally revealed to Peter was now being externally revealed to him. Second, God approved Christ's calling and His ministry. God divinely sanctioned and endorsed the words and teachings of Christ as being authoritative and necessary. Christ's words and teachings are the foundation of the new spiritual society. In effect, with this divine utterance, with this declarative speaking by God, the Mosaic era – the Old Testament Law – came to an end. It was supplanted by the new law (i.e., teachings) of Christ. We anticipate this fact with the teachings in the Sermon on the Mount. For instance, Matthew 5:21a,22a reads, "You have heard that the ancients were told, 'YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT MURDER'...But I say to you ...;" again, Matthew 5:27,28a, "You have heard that it was said, 'You shall not commit adultery'; but I say to you..."

Christ's words and teaching (through His own mouth, and by His Spirit through the mouths of His apostles) are our 'Law', which alone is morally and spiritually binding upon us, and not the Old Testament teachings. There are some who say, "Well, I keep the ten commandments, and that makes me acceptable before God;" or, "The ten commandments and the Old Testament are still binding upon us and we should live by them." I do not think so. We can be encouraged, and even instructed and guided, by the contents of the Old Testament, but in terms of a 'Law' which is necessary for covenant community establishment, the Mosaic law has become obsolete (Hb. 8:13). If you, my friend, are living according to the Old Covenant, basing your salvation, in some sense, on keeping the ten commandments, you will perish. If you have set yourself to keep the Old Covenant, then you must keep it perfectly. If you falter, at one point, you are sunk (Jas. 2:10ff.). God thunders to you and to me, "This is My Son, My Chosen One; listen to Him!"

This utterance of God ended the disciples' mountain top experience – "And when the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. And they kept silent, and reported to no one in those days any of the things which they had seen" (9:36). The disciples kept the event secret until the resurrection and ascension of Christ, for only then would the report be accepted and fully appreciated. To report the event at this particular time would have created misunderstanding and reaction. Furthermore, Jesus typically deterred attracting attention to Himself because His 'time had not come' (see Jn. 7:6-8). But the point is this: God spoke for a moment in time, but the words resound throughout history. What God spoke on Mount Sinai has faded and disappeared. What God spoke on the Mount of Transfiguration continues to speak. In this connection, we read, "See to it that you do not refuse Him who is speaking; for if those did not escape when they refused Him who warned them on earth, much less shall we escape who turn away from Him who warns from heaven, and His voice shook the earth then [Mount Sinai], but now He has promised saying, 'YET ONCE MORE I WILL SHAKE NOT ONLY THE EARTH BUT ALSO THE HEAVEN'" (Hb. 12:25,26). That heavenly, earthshaking speaking began with the coming of Christ. Do you hear the declarative speaking of God? He says now to you, "This is My Son, My Chosen One; listen to Him!"

~ 5 ~

The Prophetic Speaking of God

Do you have any secrets? I am sure that you do. We all have secrets; and we try to guard many of them. We have personal secrets, family secrets, business secrets, etc. Having or keeping secrets is not necessarily bad. Some psychologists maintain that in keeping secrets, we create internal stress which may eventually result in detrimental physical health. I do not believe that this is always the case. Sometimes it is good to keep secrets, especially out of a sense of loyalty and love; and the power of such heart expressions can in themselves be quite medicinal and satisfying.

Even God has secrets, and He disclosed His secrets to chosen vessels. God was pleased to make His mind known to prophets, prophetesses, and apostles who, in turn, were to proclaim or declare to others what He had first spoken to them. When we think of God internally speaking to prophets, prophetesses, or apostles, we may rightly speak of the prophetic speaking of God. God often spoke first, before He acted. He was pleased to speak and reveal what He was about to do before He actually did it. Amos 3:7 reads, "Surely the LORD God does nothing unless He reveals His secret counsel to His servants the prophets." The internal speaking of God, at times, took the form of visions and dreams. For instance, Numbers 12:6 reads, "He [the Lord] said, 'Hear now My words: 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.'" These forms of prophetic speaking were not vague, nebulous, or cryptic in content, for God communicated through simple words or speech. God actually spoke His words into the hearts of His chosen instruments. 1 Samuel 3:19 reads, "Thus Samuel grew and the LORD was with him and let none of his words fail. And all Israel from Dan even to Beersheba knew that Samuel was confirmed as a prophet of the LORD. And the LORD appeared again at Shiloh, because the LORD revealed Himself to Samuel at Shiloh by the word of the LORD."

Again, when God was pleased to speak in words to the hearts of the prophets, they, in turn, were to proclaim the divinely given message in order that there would be possible moral and spiritual profit experienced by the people. This is the emphasis in Ezekiel 3:22,27, "And the hand of the LORD was on me there, and He said to me, 'Get up, go out to the plain, and there I will speak to you...But when I speak to you, I will open your mouth, and you will say to them, "Thus says the Lord GOD." He who hears, let him hear; and he who refuses, let him refuse; for they are a rebellious house.'" In this chapter, we will consider the prophetic speaking of God, concentrating our thoughts on Ephesians 3:3-6 which reads, "That by revelation there was made known to me the mystery, as I wrote before in brief. And by referring to this, when you read you can understand my insight into the mystery of Christ, which in other generations was not made known to the sons of men, as it has now been revealed to His holy apostles and prophets in the Spirit; to be specific, that the Gentiles are fellow heirs and fellow members of the body, and fellow partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel."

God reveals and speaks His own thoughts

Now, Ephesians 3:3-6 is not an exhaustive, nor comprehensive, reference to the prophetic speaking of God, but we can learn some salient aspects of this form of divine speaking from these verses. The first thing that we learn is that God is pleased to reveal His own thoughts – "That by revelation there was made known to me the mystery" (v. 3a). The technical term for God's prophetic speaking is revelation. God, in particular, was pleased to directly and clearly impart certain thoughts to the heart of the apostle Paul. We cannot know God's thoughts unless He is pleased to reveal them; and, of course, to reveal one's thoughts typically means to speak one's thoughts.

It is an incredible fact that God would be pleased to share His thoughts, and will, with people. In 1 Corinthians 2:11-13, we read an astounding statement; and in many respects, it is incomprehensible, "For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the spirit of the man, which is in him? Even so the thoughts of God no one knows except the Spirit of God. Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might know the things freely given to us by God [What things? – His thoughts]. Which things [that is, these thoughts] we also speak, not in words taught by human wisdom, but in those taught by the Spirit, combining spiritual thoughts with spiritual words." The Holy Spirit initially communicated God's thoughts to the apostles and prophets who proclaimed them; and the same Spirit enables believers to receive and understand those thoughts which have been recorded; and, in this sense, we really have 'the mind of Christ' (1 Cor. 2:16). I do not know how the Spirit accomplishes this activity. It defies human analysis and imagination; and if it were not recorded, I am sure that we would not believe it. But the Word of God teaches, in no uncertain terms, that our God, who is eternal and infinite, has imparted His thoughts to the hearts of human beings. Do you find that incredible? And do you see what this fact implies? It implies God's favourable evaluation of us. God must highly value us, His creatures, if He is willing to impart His thoughts to the hearts of human beings. This truth is a statement on the depth of His love for us, that He would be willing to condescend and make it possible for us to know His mind, and thus to think His thoughts. Usually anyone who shares, cares. God indeed is a God of love, and He wants you to know His mind through the revelation which He has graciously given.

God reveals and speaks His self-knowledge

Not only does God reveal and speak His own thoughts, He reveals and speaks His self-knowledge. That truth is implied in Ephesians 3:3a – "That by revelation there was made known to me..." The revelation of God is the form by which He is pleased to make Himself known. God discloses Himself and, of course, to reveal and speak one's personal thoughts is to impart knowledge of oneself (i.e., self-knowledge). This past week I met with a pastor associate. When he was one of my students, I did not really have a fancy for him. He did not seem to be the type of person with whom I could socially connect; there was not a relational chemistry. But over the past number of years, I have met with him for lunch and some fellowship. Even this past week, as he was sharing his thoughts, I came to know him even better. The simple fact is that as we share our thoughts, we really impart self-knowledge; we reveal who we are, and thus the recipient of that sharing acquires a greater understanding of who we are. So it is with God. With revealing and speaking His thoughts, God opened Himself up to us. He revealed His person and His way. God's revelation allowed for, and resulted in, the knowledge of God. There is no knowledge of God without the prior revelation of God. We can know absolutely nothing about Him – what He is pleased to do, what His character is like – unless He is first pleased to reveal Himself. Do you see what this implies? God must take the initiative; He must decide to make Himself known. As we read in Job 11:7, "Can you discover the depths of God? Can you discover the limits of the Almighty?" The implied answer is an emphatic, "No!" Unless God decides to make Himself known, we remain in the spiritual dark concerning Him and His ways.

God reveals and speaks His secret

What has God been pleased to make known? – "That by revelation there was made known to me the mystery" (v. 3a), or if you like, God's secret. It is obvious that the nature of a secret means that unless the possessor of a secret is willing to reveal its contents, it remains hidden. For centuries God was pleased to keep something a secret – "which in other generations was not made known to the sons of men" (v. 5a). God had concealed some truth for a time from humanity, truth unattainable by human effort or energy; and yet, in a point of history, God was pleased to make known this truth to human instruments who, in turn, were to share it with all – "as it has now been revealed to His holy apostles and [New Testament] prophets in the Spirit" (v. 5b).

Again, we must stand amazed that God would be pleased to do this. God has not only shared His thoughts, but He has let us in on His secrets. Doesn't that speak of intimacy? God says to us (and I speak reverently), "I want to share something with you, something about Me. I want to let you in on what I am thinking and what I have planned." I trust that this fact humbles you. What a great God! Again it underscores the special relationship that we sustain with Him, doesn't it? As believers, we (to use different language) are the friends of God, for one shares secrets with friends. Recall that Jesus said to His disciples, "You are my friends, if you do what I command you. No longer do I call you slaves, for the slave does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I have heard from My Father I have made known to you" (Jn. 15:14f.). We are the friends of God, for He has shared with us His secret. Does that stir and move your heart? Are you drawn out to worship this God, and praise Him? Surely, we must ask, "Lord, how is it that I, a rebellious sinner, have been elevated to the status of Your friend, even as Abraham (for he was called a friend of God)?" Have you ever viewed yourself in this way? As a believer, you are God's friend; and I trust that He is your best friend. If this truth does not stir your love for Him, I do not know what will. If this truth does not move you to worship Him, I do not know what will.

God reveals and speaks about His Son

Not only does God share His own thoughts, and not only does He share His self-knowledge, but He also shares and speaks about His Son. What is the secret spoken by God? It essentially concerns Christ – "And by referring to this, when you read you can understand my insight into the mystery of Christ" (v. 4). Christ is the essential content of the mystery, that is, the hidden wisdom of God. He is the essential message. The full truth of Jesus Christ as Saviour and Lord was concealed for centuries, and now it has been revealed. The Old Testament contained veiled prophetic references, various predictions, shadows and types of Jesus Christ; but now, through the apostles and prophets, God has made known His full and final Truth. Jesus Christ is the heart of God's saving plan and redemptive purposes.

The apostle Paul here stated, concerning the mystery, "as I wrote before in brief" (v. 3b). A better translation would be, "as I wrote above in brief." Paul had already made reference to this mystery, and so we read in verse 4, "And by referring to this [what I already wrote], when you read you can understand my insight into the mystery of Christ." Where did Paul refer to this mystery earlier in this epistle? Consider, for instance, Ephesians 1:8ff., "In all wisdom and insight He made known to us the mystery of His will, according to His kind intention which He purposed in Him with a view to an administration suitable to the fulness of the times, that is, the summing up of all things in Christ, things in the heavens and things upon the earth." The whole of creation will be 'gathered' or 'collected' together under one Head, even Christ; and thus Christ will have the pre-eminence. So, Colossians 1:18 reads, "He is also head of the body, the church; and He is the beginning, the first-born from the dead; so that He Himself might come to have first place in everything."

All created things now have their meaning and significance in reference to Jesus Christ. All created things will find their ultimate purpose, reason, and goal in Him. All created things will find their culmination and fulfilment in Him. Christ is the cosmic focal point. The purposes of God are being realized through Him. 'The summing up of all things in Christ, things in the heavens and things upon the earth' simply means that the whole of reality shall be shaped and defined in terms of Christ's existence and His Lordship. And as a result, Christ will receive all glory, and all praise, and all blessing. The worship of, and service to, Jesus Christ must be the purpose and justification for the existence of any human being. This is the heart of the mystery – the pre-eminence of Christ.

Now, this is what God planned and purposed. Is that true for you? Does Christ have the pre-eminence, first place, in your life? What should it mean for Christ to have first place? It means that He must have first claim to your time; He must have first claim to your energy; He must have first claim to your possessions and money; He must have first take on your commitment, your service, and your interests. He must come first. Has that been true for you? God has purposed that Christ should have first place in everything. Jesus must come before your friends, and relationships. He must come before your family, your children, your grandchildren, your wife, your husband. He must be the focal point of your life, even as He is the focal point of the cosmos. Are you more concerned about talking with Him in prayer than talking with your mate or friend? Are you more concerned about meeting with Him for fellowship than attending to your own affairs and business? Is it more important to you to find Him in His Word than to relax and wind down by watching a sitcom? If not, then you need to repent. You need to repent because God has purposed that in all things, and by all means, Christ will have the pre-eminence. And in so far as He has the pre-eminence in our lives, God is pleased with us, and we worship Him acceptably.

God reveals and speaks Christ's atonement

This 'summing up of all things in Christ' is realized and accomplished through Christ's atoning, saving work – His death for sin. The apostle Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 2:1,2, "And when I came to you, brethren, I did not come with superiority of speech or of wisdom, proclaiming to you the testimony [this word can be translated 'mystery'] of God. For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified." The mystery of Christ concerns His atoning work; and it is through that atoning work – that death for sin – that Christ is actually summing up all things, bringing all things together, that is, reconciling all things under God. With His atoning work, He brings reconciliation between God and people, and between person and person. He brings real peace. And so Paul refers to this in our passage of focus. We read, "To be specific, that the Gentiles are fellow heirs [with the Jews] and fellow members [with the Jews] of the body, and fellow partakers [with the Jews] of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel" (v. 6).

The Gentiles, along with the Jews, are heirs of the eternal inheritance – resurrection glory and eternal joy; and not only that, the Gentiles are bona fide heavenly citizens of the Church; and not only that, the Gentiles are fellow-sharers of the promise of the Holy Spirit and eternal life. That is the mystery. That is the grace of God. God has declared that in Jesus Christ, we shall be showered with eternal blessings. Obviously, that is good news, isn't it? And so the mystery or the secret of God is not only proclaimed and communicated as good news, but the benefits and the blessings entailed in the mystery are only realized through the preaching and receiving of the good news, that is, the Gospel of Christ. That is how we must understand the phrase at the end of verse 6, "To be specific, that the Gentiles are fellow heirs and fellow members of the body, and fellow partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel."

The Gospel is foundational and necessary for salvation, and for experiencing eternal life; and we ought never to forget that. If you do not hear the truth of the Gospel, and if you do not receive the Gospel message, then you will not know eternal life. You will not be a fellow-member, a fellow-sharer, a fellow-heir. Ephesians 1:13 reads, "In Him, you also, after listening to the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation – having also believed, you were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise." God's long – kept secret to save sinners through the death and resurrection of His Son has now been revealed, and this is the good news – God's sufficient answer for the appalling plight and condition of the human race.

An appeal

I give a final word to you who are still strangers to God's saving grace; to you who are still in your sins and transgressions; to you who are governed by your pride, self-sufficiency, and arrogance. May I say humbly, my friend, you need to repent and believe in the truth of the Gospel, the saving message of Jesus Christ. The grand secret of God has been revealed. That secret concerns His Son; the fact that His Son is Saviour and Lord, and that He died for sinners. This glorious mystery has been, and is being, proclaimed. God is calling everyone, everywhere, to repent, and to put his or her faith in Jesus Christ for the saving of the soul from future wrath and judgement.

Maybe you have made a profession of faith; but that is no guarantee that you are saved, my friend. The Word of God says that 'by their fruit, you shall know them' (Mt. 7:20). Those who are truly saved produce spiritual fruit (i.e., godly characteristics and virtues). Have you shown spiritual fruit in keeping with true repentance? Can you be habitually enraged, angry, and impatient, and yet truly have the Spirit of God? Can you consistently lie and utter falsehood, and yet justifiably believe that you have the Spirit of God? There are many professing Christians who are self-deceived, having walked the aisle to the altar as a young person. Is this true of you? Maybe you know deep down in your heart that you have not been living for Christ, that He has not had the pre-eminence in your life, that you have not given your all to Him; and yet you have professed His name. You know deep down inside that your profession of faith is merely 'fire insurance' to keep you out of hell, isn't it? You may glibly profess, "I want to go to heaven. Yes, I believe Christ died for me." Do you? The Scriptures teach, "Therefore if any man [any woman] is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things [have] passed away; behold, new things [have] come" (2 Cor. 5:17). How is your heart, my friend? "Behold, now is 'THE ACCEPTABLE TIME,' behold, now is 'THE DAY OF SALVATION'" (2 Cor. 6:2a). My unsaved friend, I plead with you to come to the cross, to humble yourself before God, and accept Christ as your Saviour and Lord. You will most definitely acknowledge Christ as Saviour and Lord one day. It will either be before the throne of grace now, or it will be before the throne of judgement later. The choice is yours. Won't you say 'yes' to Jesus Christ today?

~ 6 ~

The Scriptural Speaking of God

If I were to ask you, "What did God speak to you this past week," what would you say? Some would say, "Well, to be quite honest, God did not speak anything to me." Others would say, "Well..., I think God said such and such to me." And still others would say, "God definitely spoke such and such to me." If you opened and read your Bible this past week, then God spoke to you. Some will retort, "Well, I opened my Bible, and I read and meditated on it, but quite frankly, God did not speak to me. In fact, to be honest, it was dry. I was bored. I was not challenged. My heart was not stirred; and I was not changed." Nonetheless, if you opened your Bible this past week, regardless of what you felt, regardless of your subjective experience, God spoke to you. The problem may have been that you were not aware of it or that you were not listening. I make such a claim because the Bible itself consists of God's own words, and so God really spoke to you this past week, if you read your Bible. The reality of His speaking is not dependent upon, nor determined by, the nature of your subjective experience. This past week, I received a letter from a Christian leader; and quite frankly, it was a boring letter. I was uninspired while reading it. I was neither challenged, nor changed. But nonetheless, that Christian leader spoke to me, regardless of what I felt and what I experienced, because that letter which I read contained his personal words.

Maybe you affirm that the Bible is indeed God's Word, but do you appreciate that truth? Affirming and appreciating the Bible as consisting of God's own words really is a question of faith and attitude. When we talk about God speaking in the Bible to us, we are talking about the Scriptural speaking of God. The Scriptural speaking of God is the logical result of the prophetic speaking of God. The prophetic speaking of God is God speaking into the hearts of prophets and apostles who, in turn, declared that which God had first spoken to them (and such speaking has now disappeared). In this chapter, we will consider the Scriptural speaking of God. 2 Peter 1:19-21 is particularly relevant and helpful in this regard, "And so we have the prophetic word made more sure, 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. But know this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one's own interpretation, for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God."

'The prophetic word' (v. 19) is simply the word of divine revelation. It is the communication of God's thoughts. God was pleased to disclose objective truth. God directly spoke to the prophets, prophetesses, and apostles, and with this divine revelation being received, it was, in turn, made known publicly. It was made known by the spoken word, as well as by the written word. Now, the emphasis in our passage is on the written word of God, the recorded prophecies of Scripture (a point to which we will return). And so verse 20 reads, "But know this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one's own interpretation." Prophecies comprise the content of Scripture. When we think of prophecy, we must keep in mind that we are not only considering the matter of the foretelling of God, but we are also considering the matter of the forth-telling of God, with the latter usage of the meaning of prophecy being the predominant one in Scripture. When the prophet or apostle received divine revelation from God, they prophesied or pronounced God's Word. The prophecies which comprise the content of Scripture may be identified as the objective word of God.

The Scriptures are God's permanent words

The Scriptural speaking of God is a firm word – "And so we have the prophetic word made more sure." The alternative marginal reading of this statement reads, "And we have the even surer prophetic word," which is the literal rendering of the original Greek; and which I believe is the proper translation. It seems to me that with the former translation – "And so we have the prophetic word made more sure," we have an attempt by the translators to deal with the difficulty of having a word more sure than God's spoken word (with which this verse stands in comparison; and so the translators apparently want to emphasize, not the comparison with God's spoken word, but rather the history and validity of the prophetic word). With the rendering, "an even surer prophetic word," it admittedly is puzzling, and even contradictory, when this statement is compared with God's spoken word in the previous verses; and such a comparison, of course, is nonsense because the prophetic word is God's word. For instance, you can do a math problem in your head or with a calculator. You may arrive at the right answer in your head, and you may arrive at the right answer with a calculator; but one answer is not more right than the other, one is not more true than the other. Comparative language, such as 'more right' or 'more sure', would be inapplicable and nonsense. Yet, as we look at this passage, there does seem to be a comparison. Consider the wider context: "For when He [Jesus] 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'" (1:17). Again, we have here a statement of the declarative speaking of God – God identified and owned Jesus as His Son; He affirmed His approval of His Son. And we further read, "And we ourselves heard this utterance made from heaven when we were with Him on the holy mountain" (1:18). Peter attested that he was one of the witnesses when God thundered this affirmation of approval. And thus we come to verse 19, "And so we have the even surer prophetic word." Now, how are we to understand this comparative language? How can we have an 'even surer prophetic word' when the prophetic word itself is God's own word, similar in quality or status to His declarative word which He uttered on the Mount of Transfiguration?

This phrase, "We have the even surer prophetic word," implies (as already mentioned) the recorded or inscripturated word, and thus is a word that one may, in effect, personally possess or appropriate. On the one hand, God bore witness to His Son on the Mount of Transfiguration – God declared Jesus' divine identity, status, and standing; on the other hand, God also bore witness to His Son, and spoke the truth concerning Him, to the prophets and apostles who, in turn, recorded that word in readable form; and thus they cast God's revelation, His word, in permanent form. Hence, we now have an even more firm prophetic word, in that this word is objectively accessible and verifiable. Peter, of course, was writing from his own present perspective. What Peter heard on the Mount of Transfiguration, by his reference to it here in writing about it, has also become the 'prophetic word'; and has assumed permanent form. But Peter was not necessarily thinking in that way when he recorded his experience and made the comparison that he did. Peter is not contradicting himself. He is not necessarily anticipating that his writing would also become Holy Scripture. The comparison is thus a valid one. The prophetic word, the written revelation, to which Peter and others had access, because of its enduring nature, is more sure than the mere spoken revelation, to which only a select few had access.

In regard to the permanency and accessibility of the prophetic word, consider 1 Peter 1:10,11, "As to this salvation, the prophets who prophesied of the grace that would come to you made careful search and inquiry, seeking to know what person or time the Spirit of Christ within them was indicating as He predicted the sufferings of Christ and the glories to follow." Now, the question is this: How are we to understand that the prophets made careful search and inquiry – careful search and inquiry into what? Again, we are to understand this language in terms of the prophetic word [of the Scriptures]. Accordingly, in John 5:39, we have similar language as we find in 1 Peter 1:10,11. Jesus announced to the Jews, "You search the Scriptures [same idea], because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is these that bear witness of Me." As you study the Old Testament, you find occasions where the prophets actually made careful search and diligent inquiry into the prophetic word of Scripture (e.g. Daniel 9:2).

Now, you may say, "So what? What is the big deal that we have God's recorded 'prophetic word'?" There are some who say (and maybe you have said), "Well, if only I could hear God speak audibly, then I would be spiritually stabilized, grounded, in my faith." Have you ever said something like that? Or, there are some who say, "If only God would reveal Himself personally to me, then I would have greater spiritual confidence and fewer doubts." Have you ever said something like that? Peter personally heard God speak. On the Mount of Transfiguration, he heard the audible voice of God; and yet Peter writes, "And we have the even surer prophetic word [of the Scriptures]." The Bible is God's Word. It is His personal Word to us, just as if God Himself were to speak directly and personally to us; and it never changes. We do not need another communication; we do not need an appearance of God in order to be assured of the truth. No, we have God's own Word in permanent form; that is all we need. The Bible, the objective Word, is sufficient. When I was attending seminary in Toronto, my wife was living in London, Ontario. I would write her regularly. She received my written words in the mail. She did not need to talk to me on the phone, and hear my voice, nor did she need to see me in person, and hear my voice, in order to really know the true expressions of my heart. My words on paper were the true expressions of what I felt and thought, and they were sufficient. She would have received nothing more true in hearing my voice; and so it is with the Word of God. God's words, as recorded, should be enough for our faith. His Word is sure. Every time you read, every time you hear, the truth of Scripture, God Himself is speaking, regardless of how you feel.

The Scriptures are of divine origin

The natural question is: How can we be assured that we have God's own Word? Isn't it true that people actually wrote the Bible? Peter addressed this very point. Again, we read, "But know this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one's own interpretation, for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will" (1:20). The first thing that we can learn from this verse is this: the Scriptures are of divine origin. The emphasis is clear. The term 'interpretation' does not refer to the notion of explaining, but to the notion of producing. What Peter means is this: no prophecy is according to human intellectual creation and skill. Prophecy has not come as a result of intellectual reflection and creativity. But rather, the prophecies of Scripture are wholly divine in nature and character.

In this regard, we read in 2 Timothy 3:15-17, "And that from childhood you have known the sacred writings which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is inspired [i.e., God-breathed] by God and [as a result is] profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work." Paul affirms that every Scripture finds its source in God. Every Scripture has been spiritually spoken by God, and that is why it is spiritually profitable. If that is the case, you are not to personally judge or criticize anything that you find in the Scriptures (this is not to say that you cannot humbly and genuinely question in order to gain understanding; however, you are not to sit as an arbitrator). If every word of Scripture is God-breathed, which makes it wholly divine, then it is a serious offense to challenge and reject the integrity and truth of the Scripture. Rather, you should sit under the judgement and criticism of it.

Further, if every word of Scripture is God-breathed, and it is not a matter of human intellectual creation and skill, then you cannot pick and choose what you will accept and what you will not accept. When I taught at a Bible College, I had some students who contended with me concerning the nature and relevancy of the contents of the Scriptures. One of the criticisms which I received was that the apostle Paul was a male chauvinist. Apparently, the apostle's writings were an anachronism and an offense to feminism and women of the nineties. Have you ever said something like that? Have you reduced the Scriptures to a mere human creation or work? It is wrong for you to say, "Well, that was Paul's opinion." No, it is the Holy Spirit's idea, communicated through the apostle Paul. Every prophecy of Scripture is of divine interpretation; God gives the language meaning simply because God Himself spoke it. And if you should say that it was Paul's interpretation, that his views are now obsolete, that is nothing less than self-justification and spiritual rebellion. The Bible is God's Word. (Now, someone will retort, "But we do not have the original writings, but only translations." Correct. But we have thousands of manuscripts, different bodies of manuscripts, and through the science of textual criticism, we know exactly – with a minuscule margin of difference with respect to the different bodies of manuscripts – what the original writings said). Excuses for rejecting the Bible as God's Word reveal, at root, a spiritual problem, not an intellectual one. If you fail to accept and embrace what you read in the Bible, you are not rejecting the word of man, but the Word of God; and you will give an account for that.

Since the Scriptures are God's own Word, your only response should be one of absolute obedience and submission. Now, some may say (another excuse), "Well, you pointed to 2 Timothy 3:15-17 as support for accepting even the writings of Paul as Scripture, but it seems to me that we have here a reference to the Old Testament writings, and not Paul's writings." In response, the 'sacred writings' of verse 15 is a reference to the Old Testament Scripture, but the 'Scripture' of verse 16 is a reference, not only to Old Testament prophecies, but also to New Testament prophecies. Are the writings of Paul ever identified as Scripture? Absolutely. The apostle Peter writes in 2 Peter 3:15, "And regard the patience of our Lord to be salvation; just as also our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given him, wrote to you, as also in all his letters, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to understand, which the untaught and unstable distort, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures." The inclusion of Paul's letters in the Scriptures is undeniable, as understood by Peter. Peter clearly accredits Scriptural status authority to Paul's writings.

The Scriptures were produced by the Holy Spirit

How is it possible that the Scriptures are divine in origin, though written by men? Again, we read, "For no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God" (1:21). The Holy Spirit is the Agent of the Scriptures. Prophets and apostles were merely human instruments who were guided and superintended by the Holy Spirit. Their words were God's words. Admittedly, we are ultimately faced with a mystery, and the mystery is this: the mental faculties of these prophets and apostles were neither violated nor neglected. The process of how God produced the Scriptures through human instrumentality is ultimately inexplicable, but true nonetheless. In the writings of the prophets and apostles, we recognize the peculiar writing styles, the stamp of the individual personalities; and yet, what they wrote, God wanted to be written. They revealed God's mind. Because the Spirit guided and superintended men in a powerful, inexplicable way, therefore what they wrote is accurate. The Scripture is an infallible and inerrant record because it was really written by God the Spirit. There are those who turn to the Scriptures and impugn, "That is wrong, and this is wrong; here is a contradiction, and there is a problem." Such critics clearly evidence a low view of Scripture. Such talk is really making a statement about the integrity of God. Yet, God cannot lie. He cannot make a mistake; and if the Spirit actually carried along these human instruments so that they would indeed record the revelation of God, then, of necessity, what they recorded is accurate and infallible. That is the Christian's confidence. We have a sure foundation of faith in the Word of God.

Now, because the Word of God is infallible and inerrant, it is, of necessity, authoritative. Do you see the Word of God as your final and ultimate authority; that it is the last word on all issues of faith and practice? Does the Bible determine how you live, and how you behave, and what you do? Indeed, such a book demands a particular moral response. Again, we read, "And so we have the prophetic word [the permanent word, the firm word, the verifiable word, the prophecies of Scripture] 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" (1:19). We are exhorted to obey the holy Word that we possess, and to follow it diligently and completely. It is a Word that dispels darkness and brings light, that gives understanding and direction, that makes the path of life straight, clear, and plain; and we ought to give ourselves to this Word. If we give ourselves to God's Word, and obey it consistently and constantly, we will spiritually grow and develop, culminating in moral and spiritual perfection.

So, I end where I began. What did God speak to you this past week? I hope you opened your Bible this past week; and that you read and meditated on it. What you read was what God spoke to you, whether you felt anything or not; whether you were stirred up or not; whether you were challenged and changed or not. And what you read, you are responsible for. You will be held accountable for your response (as well as your lack of response) to what you read. To be sure, the same Spirit Who inspired the Word, must also give understanding of the Word; and that is what we must pray for when we read the Word. We are wholly dependent upon the Spirit's illumination. We are to pray, "Lord, open my eyes, that I may behold wonderful things from Your Law" (Ps. 119:18).

~ 7 ~

The Spiritual Speaking of God

I am a Christian mystic (in the tradition of Augustine, William Law, Andrew Murray, and A. W. Tozer). I am a Christian mystic in that I believe that we, as Christians, should have a vital, dynamic fellowship with the ever-present Christ. I believe that we are to experience and enjoy Christ as the Lover of our souls, and, in return, to love Him earnestly. I believe that we are to enter more deeply and more fully into the very heart of God. A Christian mystic is one who passionately pursues communion and intimacy with the living Christ, particularly through meditation, contemplation, prayer, holiness, and obedience. He or she diligently endeavours to be alive and awakened to the personal encounter and the direct communication of the resurrected Lord of glory.

Now, if Jesus is indeed the Lover of a believer's soul, then we ought to expect that He would be pleased to spiritually speak to the believer and make known His own heart. The essence of real Christian experience is not simply defined in terms of morality – endeavouring to keep God's commandments and thus perform His will (though this is good and necessary). Nor is the essence of real Christian experience defined in terms of religious activity – rendering service to God by being involved in some ministry in the Church or some mission in some distant place (though this is also good and necessary). But the essence of real Christianity is defined in terms of a relationship – a relationship with the living, ever-present Christ, a relationship that should be vital, dynamic, and alive.

I do believe that we must hold to the objective dimension of faith (i.e., the visible and verifiable, such as expository preaching, doing good works, etc.). Yet, I equally believe that we must hold to the subjective dimension of faith (i.e., the invisible and internal, such as spiritual illumination, spiritual conviction, etc.). We are not simply to receive, understand, and live out the truth, but we are also to sit and listen at the feet of the Truth and hear Him. It is this latter dimension of faith that we will consider in this chapter, concentrating particularly on the spiritual speaking of God. What is the spiritual speaking of God or Christ? The spiritual speaking of God is God communicating personally, directly, and internally so that we hear His 'voice'. Perhaps the most relevant Biblical passage on this subject is found in John 10 which concerns Jesus' teaching about the good Shepherd and the sheep. John 10 is an extended metaphor or, in some respects, an allegory, though not strictly so. We have here a beautiful picture of the true nature of the believer being in relationship with Jesus Christ. According to this passage, this spiritual relationship is one of deep personalness and spiritual intimacy. Christ here is portrayed as the good Shepherd; believers are portrayed as sheep. A shepherd is one who guides and leads the sheep. He feeds and waters the sheep. He protects and tends to the needs of the sheep. Very simply then, a shepherd is one who, general speaking, caringly loves the sheep; and so it is with Christ towards believers.

Jesus intimately knows believers

In John 14:10, Jesus says, "I am the good shepherd; and I know [i.e., am intimately acquainted with] My own [i.e., those who belong to Me], and My own know Me;" verse 15 reads, "I am the good shepherd; and I know My own, and My own know Me, even as the Father knows Me and I know the Father." What an amazing statement! Jesus teaches that the relationship that exists between Him and His people is similar to the relationship that exists between the Father and Him. This mutual knowing between Christ and His people is paralleled to the mutual knowing that exists between the Father and the Son. Do you believe this astounding fact? Do you heartily acknowledge it? Are you experiencing it? It is an incredible thought! You will know the reality of this truth in so far as you believe it. If you embrace this truth now by faith, it is yours. Such a relationship, characterized by personalness and intimacy, requires sharing. When I first met my wife, we spent hours on the phone talking. On one occasion, we spent about four or five hours on the phone talking, after which I went to see her! Now, we probably did not talk about very much. What can you talk about for four or five hours straight? – 'sweet nothings'. But you see, true intimacy involves that. If there is intimacy, then there will be sharing. There will be the speaking of one's heart to another.

Believers spiritually hear the voice of Jesus

Of course, with speaking there should be hearing. John 10:2 reads, "But he who enters by the door [he has a legitimate claim to the sheep] is a shepherd of the sheep. To him the doorkeeper opens, and the sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name, and leads them out." Do you see the picture? The shepherd comes and he speaks to the sheep. He utters his voice by calling his sheep by their personal name. That is intimacy! And the sheep follow the voice of the shepherd. So John 10:4 reads, "When he puts forth all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice." The sheep go after the shepherd, as the shepherd leads, because they can identify with the voice. They understand the voice; it is a familiar sound. Further, Jesus teaches, "And I have other sheep, which are not of this fold; I must bring them also [from every tribe, and tongue and nation], and they shall hear My voice; and they shall become one flock with one shepherd" (10:16); and verse 27 reads, "My sheep hear My voice, and I know them; and they follow Me." It is clear that we have in view here the spiritual, rather than the audible or historical, speaking of Christ because when Jesus refers to the 'other sheep' which He must bring to Himself, that, of course, is a reference to a time after His death, burial, resurrection, and ascension.

Are you spiritually hearing the voice of Jesus? If you are a sheep, then you are hearing it because the sheep do hear, and they follow. Some may respond, "Well, I am not sure if I am hearing the voice of Jesus. What does the voice of Jesus sound like? How do I know when He is speaking?" Well, first of all, we are not to confuse the voice of Jesus with our own inner voice; there is always that danger. There are many who use the following kind of language (and I understand it to a certain extent, but we need to be very careful), "Well, God told me this about you...;" or, "Jesus revealed to me that you should...;" etc. Often what one is hearing is his or her own thoughts; it is not the voice of Jesus. For instance, I think of a young lady who is in a very bad marriage now. When she saw the 'man of her dreams' a number of years ago, she said something like this, "God told me that this is the man. I know he is the one whom I am to marry." She does not believe that today; she and her husband are constantly fighting. Did she hear the voice of Jesus? I do not think so. The voice of Jesus does not lie, nor does not it deceive. Again, often what someone 'hears' is not the voice of Jesus, but his or her own inner thoughts. Jesus does not spiritually speak to us and tell us to invest in IBM stocks. He does not spiritually speak to us and tell us to move to Alaska by June. He does not spiritually speak to us and tell us to pursue a Ph.D. degree in economics. The spiritual speaking of Jesus does not concern life's mundane, practical, and earthly matters per se. Perhaps we could talk about the providential speaking of God when it comes to these matters, but not the spiritual speaking of Him.

What I am contending for is this: the spiritual speaking of Jesus always concerns one's relationship with Him or His Church – fellow believers – both with whom one sustains a spiritual union. The spiritual speaking of Jesus relates to our life and walk in the Spirit. It relates to growth and maturity in grace and Biblical knowledge. It concerns devotion and commitment to the living God. It concerns our place and role in the kingdom of God. Again, John 10:3 says that the sheep hear Jesus' voice, and He calls His own sheep by name, and He leads them out. The speaking of the voice of Jesus has a specific design. Jesus calls us into something. He speaks to us to go in a certain direction. This speaking is His leading; and He goes before us. John 10:4 reads, "When he puts forth all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him [as he leads] because they know his voice."

Jesus leads by His speaking

Where does the voice of Jesus lead us? He leads us into the fullness of divine life and spiritual experience. In this connection, the apostle John writes, "They [the redeemed] shall hunger no more, neither thirst any more; neither shall the sun beat down on them, nor any heat; for the Lamb in the centre of the throne shall be their shepherd, and shall guide them to springs of the water of life; and God shall wipe every tear from their eyes" (Rev. 7:16,17). Jesus guides us to the spiritual springs of living water of the Spirit, which is simply the fullness of fellowship with Almighty God; and we are to drink continually and deeply. The sheep follow the Shepherd's spiritual leading, and partake of the very life of God; however astounding that may sound. Believers are thus to pursue holiness, and godliness, and righteousness, and love. Revelation 14:4,5 similarly states, "These are the ones who have not been defiled with women, for they have kept themselves chaste [they pursued righteousness, holiness, etc.]. These are the ones who follow the Lamb wherever He goes. These have been purchased from among men as first fruits to God and to the Lamb. And no lie was found in their mouth; they are blameless."

Practically speaking then, to follow Jesus' leading means that you may have a fallout with a brother or sister, and while in prayer the following verses are impressed on your heart, "If therefore you are presenting your offering at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your offering [stop worshipping] there before the altar [God does not want it], and go your way; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering" (Mt. 5:23,24). Those verses that arise in your consciousness may be the spiritual speaking of Jesus. Or, maybe you are meditating on the Scriptures during your daily devotions, and your eyes fall upon 1 Thessalonians 5:17, "Pray without ceasing." Consequently, you are convicted about your prayerlessness, you are humbled, and you cry out to God for mercy, confessing and repenting of your sin, and committing yourself to pursue a life of prayer. That spiritual impact from the Word may be the speaking of Jesus. Or, maybe you are listening to a sermon and the preacher makes reference to James 4:8, "Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double minded." And it is like a sledgehammer coming down over your head and you are exposed and devastated, and you know that God is addressing your conscience and demanding a change in lifestyle. That spiritual confrontation may be the speaking of Jesus.

Jesus speaks within the confines of the Bible

Do you see what I am implying by making reference to the above practical examples? The spiritual speaking of Christ is never apart from, or independent of, His Word or objective truth. Only by this principle can we avoid the excesses of emotions and the pitfalls of subjectivism where our minds become the standard and guide. Many Christians have claimed fanciful revelations, "I feel that God is telling me to leave my wife;" or "I believe that Jesus is telling me that you should not pay your taxes;" or "Jesus came in a dream and spoke this commission to me;" etc. No, the spiritual speaking of Christ is never apart from, or independent of, His Word or objective truth. It should never be understood in terms of sheer subjectivism and feelings.

God spoke at a time in history to the apostles and prophets; and the apostles and prophets, in turn, proclaimed what they had received from God. Further, they recorded the direct revelation which they had received from Him. The Bible is the scriptural speaking of God, that is, the Bible is comprised of the very words of God, the objective speaking of God (the logos). The spiritual speaking of God, the subjective speaking of God (the rhema), is based on, rooted in, and even inspired by, the objective Word of God. It may be, for instance, that while you are meditating on the Word of God, receiving insight and edification, that you are inspired to write a poem, or you begin to develop a vision for ministry. It may legitimately be said that you wrote that poem or acquired that vision because Christ spiritually spoke to you. The point that I am making is that the Word of God must have a place, a connection, with respect to the speaking of Christ. Christ never speaks in a vacuum. It is always guided and informed by the objective Word of truth. For instance, you may be witnessing to someone, and you offer a mental prayer to the Lord for wisdom and help, and suddenly various Bible verses come streaming into your mind in logical, rapid succession; that is the spiritual speaking of Christ.

Often, this 'hearing' of the Shepherd's voice, in accordance with His Word, is a 'hearing' that takes place at a deeper level. It is not that we are simply reading the words on a page, and it is not that we are simply listening to a person's words, but we are seeing and listening with the heart, not simply with the physical senses. The spiritual speaking of Christ takes place in the heart. Accordingly, you can turn to God's Word and read it, and God speaks to you scripturally, but you may not hear the voice of Christ speak to you spiritually, confronting and gripping your heart, and demanding a response. This 'heart hearing' is analogous to the calling of the disciples. We read, for instance, "And as Jesus passed on from there, He saw a man, called Matthew, sitting in the tax office; and He said to him, 'Follow Me!'" (Mt. 9:9). Matthew heard the audible words of Jesus with the physical ears, but he also heard the words of Jesus with the heart; and that is why he arose and followed Him. If someone, about whom you were hearing some strange things, approached you and said, "Follow me," without any explanation, what would be your natural reaction? The only way you would follow is if you heard those words at a deeper level. That is what it is to hear the voice of Christ. You hear truth with the heart. It is like the young person, for instance, who in his or her devotions, reads Psalm 63:1, "O GOD, Thou art my God; I shall seek Thee earnestly [or early]; my soul thirsts for Thee, my flesh yearns for Thee, in a dry and weary land where there is no water." And that verse grips the heart and he or she thinks, "The psalmist was earnest in seeking God; he rose early to worship God. O God, I must rise early and seek you." That Word, though recorded hundreds of years ago, impacts the heart with relevancy and power. That young person is changed because he or she heard with the heart.

Do you see what is implied? Jesus speaks to people in different ways. He impacts us differently; He convicts us differently. In April of 1977, I sat in the sanctuary of Jarvis Street Baptist Church, at the end of my first year of seminary, waiting for the graduation speaker to bring the graduation address. The speaker seemed uneasy and a little nervous. When he stood to his feet and opened his mouth, I was confronted with boldness and authority. From the first word uttered, he spoke God's word into my heart. I was never the same. If there is one message that I have heard on cassette tape more often than any other, it is the word that this man preached that evening. It was that word that brought me into the ministry. Through that word I received the call of God for Christian service. Jesus spoke directly to me from, and through, 1 Corinthians 2:1-5.

Jesus speaks through illumination and conviction

The spiritual speaking of Christ is often that which brings a new or fresh understanding, illumination, and may I say, revelation of His Word (Eph. 1:17); and it is often accompanied by a conviction to carry it out or to apply it. What I am saying is this: when Jesus spiritually speaks to you, you have the experience of being confronted with the living God. You have this sense of inner obligation or constraint – the "Woe is me if I do not do it" experience, even as Paul experienced with respect to his call to ministry (1 Cor. 9:16). You experience an inner pressure. Admittedly, there are degrees of pressure or intensity experienced in hearing the voice of Jesus. Now keep in mind that it is possible that you may hear Jesus' voice only faintly because of backsliding, or because you have fallen into sin; but that does not necessarily mean that you are not saved. It is sin in our lives that makes us spiritually deaf to the voice of Jesus. Are you living in sin? If you are, do not expect to hear the voice of Christ very clearly.

Further, and this fact is disturbing, it is possible for believers to neglect at times, and not respond immediately, to Jesus' voice when they do hear it. Yet, it will only be for a time because the Word of God tells us that the true sheep, the true children of God, will respond to the voice of Jesus; they must. Again, John 10:4 states, "When he puts forth all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice;" again verse 27 reads, "My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me." If you are a sheep, you will follow the voice of Jesus. If you are not following, may I kindly say, you are self-deceived; you know nothing of what it is to be in a saving, living relationship with the resurrected Lord of glory. May I urge you to spare no pains in attending to your spiritual condition; and to attend to it quickly.

Spiritual hearing, and following, is a matter of faith

Hearing and following Jesus is a matter of faith. Responding to His voice is simply an act of faith. It is in faith that you are assured of hearing His voice; and you must follow (which entails obedience). Faith will not let you do otherwise. Hearing and following Jesus is proof that you are a true Christian because His sheep must follow Him. And the more you respond, the more sensitive and attuned to that voice you become. That is the abundant life! In hearing, you increase in hearing. Isn't that the way of the kingdom? To whomever has, more shall be given; and whoever hears, the better will become his hearing.

To change the language, to spiritually hear Christ is to live in the felt-presence of Christ. Do you know what it is to live in the felt-presence of Christ? In hearing Jesus, you will experience continual communion with Him and with the Father. This experience is God's desire for His people – to know intimate, personal communion with the living God, and to know Him in His fullness. This fact is a key emphasis in the Scriptures, though different language may be used. For instance, 2 Timothy 2:7 reads, "Consider what I say, for the Lord will give you understanding in everything." That is just another way of saying that you will hear the voice of Christ; the Lord gives that personal, direct insight. Ephesians 4:20-21 reads, "But you did not learn Christ in this way, if indeed you have heard Him and have been taught in Him, just as truth is in Jesus." You must hear Jesus, and only when you hear Him, and are being spiritually taught by Him, will you really learn. Philippians 3:15 says, "Let us therefore, as many as are perfect, have this attitude; and if in anything you have a different attitude, God will reveal that also to you." 1 John 2:27 states, "And as for you, the anointing [a reference to the Holy Spirit] which you received from Him abides in you, and you have no need for anyone to teach you; but as His anointing teaches you about all things, and is true and is not a lie, and just as it has taught you, you abide in Him." In spiritual union with Jesus Christ, there is spiritual communion with Him. You sit at the feet of Jesus and you listen to Him. The sheep are true believers, and they hear the voice of Jesus, and they know His spiritual speaking. Let me ask you, are you following the voice of Jesus? This is the heart of Christianity; this is what it is all about. He calls us into holiness; He calls us into righteousness; He calls us into faith; He calls us into godliness; He calls us into love. And into these very things, He is leading us. Where is your life headed?

Finally, I will address my non-Christian friend. In confronting the Jews who wondered about His true identity, Jesus answered them, "I told you, and you do not believe; the works that I do in My Father's name, these bear witness of Me. But you do not believe, because you are not of My sheep" (Jn. 10:25,26). You may wonder why there are some people who are not believing in, and responding to, the truth of the Gospel. Jesus made it perfectly clear. I do not know what God is going to do in your life, but I say this with a solemn heart, if you are trying to understand why you have not believed in, and responded to, the Gospel, the reason may be that you are not one of His sheep. If you are not one of His sheep, you will never believe in Jesus Christ as your Saviour and Lord. You may hear sermon after sermon; you may attend Church service week after week, and leave unmoved and unchanged, because you are not one of His sheep. You are first a sheep (or an elect), and then you are a believer in Christ. Hence, we read, "And when the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord; and as many as had been appointed to eternal life believed" (Acts 13:48). And if you have not been hearing and following, I plead with you to cry out to God for mercy.

~ 8 ~

The Personal Speaking of God

Visions are powerful. Recently, a missionary friend shared with me that a number of Muslims have apparently come to the Christian faith through seeing visions. He reported that a young Muslim man attended a Christian Church, and while he sat there, he had an unusual vision. As a result of that vision, he concluded that the Christian faith must be the true religion. Different ones have claimed experiences of visions, visions in which Christ personally spoke to them; and many of these experiences have been suspect or disputed. Yet, there was one man whose vision is indisputably authenticate, and of which history has proven its undeniable truthfulness. The elderly saint, John the Apostle, had an incomparable, breathtaking vision. He had a vision of the resurrected Lord of Glory. John beheld the regal majesty of Christ; and Christ, in that vision, personally spoke to him. The personal speaking of God consists of God, having assumed some visible form, directly and audibly addressing the hearer. Moses heard the personal speaking of God on Mount Sinai when he received the ten commandments (Ex. 19:3ff.). Joshua heard the personal speaking of God just prior to Israel's conquest of Jericho (Josh. 5:13-15).

This kind of speaking is rare, if not totally absent, today. God may so choose to speak in this way, but it is highly unlikely. Various cult leaders have claimed to have heard God speak in this way (and some schizophrenics as well!). To hear such speaking, of course, renders faith void and obsolete. We should not expect God to speak to us in this way; but in this chapter, we will consider this kind of speaking in order to complete our study on this topic. And we shall concentrate on the words of the apostle John which are found in Revelation 1:17,18, "And when I saw Him [Jesus Christ], I fell at His feet as a dead man. And He laid His right hand upon me, saying, 'Do not be afraid; I am the first and the last, and the living One; and I was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of death and of Hades.'"

The staggering vision of glory

Recall that John the Apostle was exiled on the island called Patmos, just off the southwest coast of Asia in the Aegean Sea, in the year 96 AD On the 'Lord's day' (that is, on Sunday), he was in the Spirit. He received an awe-inspiring, spirit-staggering vision which has been recorded. John writes, "And I turned to see the voice that was speaking with me. And having turned I saw seven golden lampstands; and in the middle of the lampstands one like a son of man, clothed in a robe reaching to the feet, and girded across His breast with a golden girdle. And His head and His hair were white like white wool, like snow; and His eyes were like a flame of fire; and His feet were like burnished bronze, when it has been caused to glow in a furnace, and His voice was like the sound of many waters. And in His right hand He held seven stars; and out of His mouth came a sharp two-edged sword; and His face was like the sun shining in its strength" (Rev. 1:12ff.). What a stupendous vision!

John was utterly overwhelmed. Again, he states, "And when I saw Him, I fell at His feet as a dead man" (1:17a). John did not fall to worship Christ. This collapse was not an act of obeisance. Rather, John beheld a display and disclosure of the glory of Christ; and it shattered him. Here we have a clear evidence and result of one who stands in the presence of the glory of Christ. Here is the inevitable human response when Christ reveals His ineffable beauty and majesty. Weakness overcomes the body and fear consumes the mind.

You cannot be indifferent when you truly behold Christ's glory. When you really see Him, you cannot be unmoved; you cannot remain cold, you cannot remain unchanged. Like the apostle John, you will be brought to your knees; you have no more life in you. When His glory has been manifested to you, then you are devastated, you are speechless, and you are filled with holy trembling. I recall a well known preacher rehearsing a time when he was confronted with the overwhelming glory of Christ. Apparently, it happened only once in his life. He was strolling down a street in London, England, and all of a sudden the glory broke forth, and he was compelled to move back within the cove of a store entrance way. The experience, though unexplainable, was unbearable. That is what a vision of Christ's glory does. The experience radically changes you. Have you seen His glory, even in your heart? That vision, by faith, strips you of all self-confidence, self-reliance, self-sufficiency, and pride.

A vision of the Shepherd

Do you notice that Jesus did not leave John in that pathetic state? Here we observe the wonder of Christ's character. When John fell at Jesus' feet as a dead man, Jesus laid His right hand upon him. That gesture is intensely personal. Jesus reached out and touched John. Such a touch is a gesture of warmth and comfort. Oh, the power of appropriate touch! Awhile ago, a friend of my wife and mine was overcome with distress and fear, and my wife gave her a hug, and our friend responded, "Oh, I needed that."

This gesture of comfort and warmth, no doubt, reveals the compassionate nature of Jesus. Jesus was pleased to lovingly respond to the pain and struggles of people. And He expressed sincere love with appropriate touch. The appropriate, and timely, touch does not only reveal the heart, but it is a sharing of self. Consider how Jesus ministered through the power of touch. Matthew 8:2 reads, "And behold a leper came to Him, and bowed down to Him, saying, 'Lord, if You are willing, You can make me clean.' And He stretched out His hand and touched him, saying, 'I am willing; be cleansed.' And immediately his leprosy was cleansed;" and Matthew 8:14, "And when Jesus had come to Peter's home, He saw his mother-in-law lying sick in bed with a fever. And He touched her hand, and the fever left her; and she arose, and waited on Him;" and Matthew 9:27 reads, "And as Jesus passed on from there, two blind men followed Him, crying out, and saying, 'Have mercy on us, Son of David!' And after He had come into the house, the blind men came up to Him, and Jesus said to them, 'Do you believe that I am able to do this?' They said to Him, 'Yes, Lord.' Then He touched their eyes, saying, 'Be it done to you according to your faith.'" Further, recall again that on the Mount of Transfiguration, the cloud appeared, and God revealed His Shekinah glory. God thundered out of the cloud and Peter, John, and James were devastated and they fell down in fear. Then we read, "And Jesus came to them and touched them and said, 'Arise, and do not be afraid'" (Mt. 17:7). Again, when Jesus descended toward Jerusalem for the last time, we read, "And behold, two blind men sitting by the road, hearing that Jesus was passing by, cried out, 'Lord, have mercy on us, Son of David!' And the multitude sternly told them to be quiet; but they cried out all the more, saying, 'Lord, have mercy on us, Son of David!' And Jesus stopped and called them, and said, 'What do you want Me to do for you?' They said to Him, 'Lord, we want our eyes to be opened.' And moved with compassion, Jesus touched their eyes; and immediately they regained their sight and followed Him" (Mt. 20:29-34). With the touch, Jesus clearly displayed His compassion. The power of touch can be so healing.

Do you need a touch from the Saviour? Maybe your life is in a shambles now. Maybe you received some bad news at work; maybe a family member turned against you; maybe your business went into bankruptcy; maybe a loved one passed away; and as a result, you are hurting. Do you need a touch from the Saviour? Jesus is pleased to touch the brokenhearted, the needy, and the downcast. That was His way, and that is still His way. Remember that well-known song:

Shackled by a heavy burden,

'Neath a load of guilt and shame.

Then the hand of Jesus touched me,

And now I am no longer the same.

He touched me, O He touched me,

And O the joy that floods my soul!

Something happened and now I know

He touched me and made me whole.

Since I met this blessed Saviour,

Since He cleansed and made me whole,

I will never cease to praise Him,

I'll shout it while eternity rolls.

He touched me, O He touched me,

And O the joy that floods my soul!

Something happened and now I know

He touched me and made me whole.

The touch of Jesus' compassion makes one whole. You are healed, and you are never the same. Do you need a touch from the Saviour? Then ask Him for it in prayer. Notice further that Jesus ministers not only the touch of comfort, but also the word of comfort. We read, "And He [Jesus] laid His right hand upon me, saying, 'Do not be afraid'" (1:17a). Isn't that like our Saviour? John is riddled with fear, and Jesus consoled him. Jesus sympathizes with our weaknesses. Jesus is awesome in appearance, but gentle in manner.

A vision of God

Jesus not only reveals His character, but He also reveals His identity. His character is one of love and compassion; His identity is one of divinity. Jesus proceeded to provide John (and us) with a self-disclosure. Having spoken a word of comfort to him, Jesus proceeded to personally speak a word of authority. He affirmed, "I am the first and the last" (1:17b). This is the language of deity. Jesus identifies Himself as very God. He is not simply the Son of God, He is God the Son. This phrase – "I am the first and the last" – signifies His eternal existence, and thus His divine existence. Recall God's self-disclosure in Isaiah 44:6, "Thus says the LORD, the King of Israel and his Redeemer, the LORD of hosts: 'I am the first and I am the last, and there is no God besides Me.'" Again, we read in Isaiah 48:12, "Listen to Me, O Jacob, even Israel whom I called; I am He, I am the first, I am also the last."

So, Jesus declared that He is God. How do you personally understand Jesus? How do you view Him? J. Gresham Machen, one of the prominent Reformed theologians in the first half of the 20th century, visited Marlburg, Germany, and sat under the teaching of Wilhelm Herrman. Machen attested that he had never witnessed such warm piety, heart passion, and confident trust, as he had witnessed in Herrman; and yet Herrman did not believe in the deity of Christ. To Herrman, Jesus was simply a man, a good, moral teacher. Now, you may profess that you have a relationship with Jesus, but how do you understand this Jesus? Do you see Him as a mere man? A moral teacher? Some enlightened philosopher? A Jewish revolutionary? Jesus affirmed, "I am the first and the last." Jesus averred, "I am God." And if you see Him in any lesser light than that, then you dishonour Him. He is not a mere man, He was not simply a good person, He is God Himself. He is the Architect, the Creator, the Sustainer, as well as the goal and the destiny, of this created world. Romans 11:33 reads, "For from Him and through Him and to Him, are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen."

Jesus is not only the eternal One, He is the ever-present One. Jesus further self-disclosed His identity to John, and personally said, "And [I am] the living One" (1:18a). This is another reference to His divine nature. Isaiah 49:18, for instance, reads, "'Lift up your eyes and look around; all of them gather together, they come to you. As I live,' declares the Lord [He is the living One, the ever-present One], 'You shall surely put on all of them as jewels, and bind them on as a bride.'" Jesus declared, "For just as the Father has life in Himself, even so He gave to the Son also to have life in Himself" (Jn. 5:26). Jesus has life in Himself, and as a result, He gives life to all. So, in Acts 17:28, Paul preached of God, "For in Him we live and move and exist." As the living God, Jesus is the ground, the source, and the reason of all life. Do you see what that means? You and I are wholly dependent upon Him for our existence, our being, our life. The very breath that you breathe is the result of His power and grace. You may not have been conscious of the fact that you are breathing now – that your lungs are inflating and deflating, that your chest cavity is moving out and in, that your diaphragm is moving up and down – but you are. Every breath that you take is because Jesus allows you to take it; and with one word, He can take that breath away from you. He is the ground and reason of life, and we are completely dependent upon Him. Further, as the living One, the eternal presence, Jesus sees everything, and He knows everything. He sees all that you do, and knows all that you think and say. And on that Day, you will be reminded of these.

A vision of the resurrected Lord

Now, the amazing truth is this: though Jesus Christ is the eternal and self-existent One, He became a human being. Jesus proceeded to further self-disclose His identity to John, "I was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore." Jesus identified Himself with lost humanity; He assumed human flesh, and He did so in order to save a dying, hell-bound world. He entered this world as the sinner's representative. He came in order to take the sinner's place before a holy God. Because everyone is born a sinner, because everyone commits sin, God's anger burns against everyone in his or her natural state. God is pleased to sentence and consign every sinner to hell. And yet, here is the wonderful news. In love, God sent His Son Who became a man. He lived a life of perfect obedience, and He substituted Himself for humanity before the judgement bar of God. He died on the cross, paying the penalty due to a sinful and damned world. As man, He could represent humanity; and as God, His death had infinite and eternal value. He atoned for sin in the offering up of Himself as a sacrifice on the cross to God. He willingly bore the sin of the world and, as a result, He bore and exhausted God's wrath. He died the sinner's death. And yet, because of His own perfect obedience, it was not right nor just that He should remain in a state of death. Because He perfectly obeyed the will of God, God raised Him from the dead.

God not only raised His Son from the dead, but He glorified Jesus and enthroned Him. God gave Jesus all power and authority in heaven and on earth. God made Jesus Lord of the universe and Head of the Church, the Sovereign King. Thus, Jesus further self-disclosed, revealing His identity to John, "And I have the keys of death and of Hades" (1:18b). 'Keys' are simply symbolic of authority, of control. Jesus now has authority over death and the grave. He conquered death; He defeated the grave; He triumphed over hell. Romans 6:9 reads, "Knowing that Christ, having been raised from the dead, is never to die again; death no longer is master over Him. For the death that He died, He died to sin, once for all; but the life that He lives, He lives to God."

Because He has the keys of death and Hades, He, as the Lord of life, can save you from death. These words will be the most important words that an unbeliever will ever read: Jesus is the Lord of life and He is prepared to give you eternal life, if you will have it. Let me be very simple. When you were born, you were destined to die. You were born with the seed of death in you which is slowly unfolding and blossoming in your body. You will die, my friend. All of us will die. That is our destiny. We were born to die; and that is the tragedy of the human condition. No one can prevent death; you cannot stop it. It will wrap its bony hands around your throat one day and drag you away. Drink all the herbal tea you like, eat all the nutritious food you like, do all the exercise you like, you will not thwart death's visit. Unfortunately, some will die prematurely, before reaching the flower of old age. Death is an ugly thing, isn't it? One day some of you will go home and the house will be empty and you will be alone; and you will feel the pain of that loneliness. Death is no respecter of persons, nor discriminator of age. Now, this is the good news: Christ died for sinners. Again, my unsaved friend, you need to believe that Christ represented you, that He died your death, that He received your punishment on the cross. In the death of Christ, we have the death of death. You need to believe that Christ died for you out of the fullness of divine love, feeling the weight, the pain, and the struggle of the sin of a lost and fallen humanity. If you believe that Jesus is the Son of God, and if you believe that He died for you, and that He rose again from the grave, you will be saved from death. You will receive eternal life. If you put your trust in the resurrected Lord of glory, He will share with you His life, having fully experienced your death. It is an act of faith.

Salvation is in a man. It is not in a church; it does not matter if you attend a church. Salvation is not in performing good works; there are many non-Christians who are more moral than Christians, but your good works will not save you. In fact, your good works will damn you. Salvation is not in a philosophy, however intricate and interesting it is. Salvation is not in tradition, it is not in religion, it is not in the sacraments or ordinances. Salvation is in a man. Salvation is through Jesus' death and resurrection. "And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men, by which we must be saved" (Acts 4:12). There is no other way, and I set forth that way to you now. You have a choice to make. You can choose the way of death or you can choose the way of life. A little while ago, I heard a preacher speaking about salvation. He said one thing that was very impacting and incredible. When he was a boy, he was troubled about his spiritual state. His mother suggested that he stay home from school and address his struggle. His mother uttered some sagacious and pungent words on that occasion, "Rudy, if you had been the only one who had sinned, Christ still would have had to come and die." My friend, if you had been the only one who had sinned, Christ still would have had to come to die, and He would have. Salvation is in a man, and I offer you salvation, if you will have it. "For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life" (Jn. 3:16). I invite you to put your faith in the Saviour, saying, "Lord Jesus, finally I come. I acknowledge that You died for my sins and saved me from the wrath of God, and that You give me eternal life. I put my trust in You and accept You as my Saviour and Lord." My friend, won't you believe in the Lord Jesus Christ today? One day you will hear the personal speaking of God when Christ returns; and He will speak one of two things, "Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world," or "Depart from Me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels" (Mt. 25:34,41). Which one will He speak to you?