The Lord's Day MorningJanuary 27, 2008
“Did We Hear God Speak and Survive?”
Dr. R. Albert Mohler, Jr.
Let us pray together.
Our Father, as we come to Your word, we confess that we are a blind people. Give us sight. Father, as we prepare to hear Your word, we admit that we are a deaf people. Open our ears. Father, we pray that You will give us eyes to see and ears to hear, and hearts to obey Your word.
Father, it will be to Your glory. We confess that there is no health in us to hear or to see, but by Your grace and mercy we pray that Your Holy Spirit will open our eyes and open our ears, as we open Your word. Father, conform us to the image of Christ as we are confronted by Your word. We pray in the name of Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.
I greet you in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. What an honor it is to be here in the First Presbyterian Church of Jackson, Mississippi. What a great honor it is to be here in this pulpit. The honor is magnified because I know how faithful and excellent is the ministry that comes from this pulpit week by week. I rejoice in what God does among you, and I am so thankful for you as a congregation. I pray for you, as I know you pray for me.
And I want to thank you, not only for myself and not only for the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, and for those who love the word all over this world; I thank you on behalf of the church of the Lord Jesus Christ, insofar as I may, for the gift of you pastor, Dr. Ligon Duncan. To me, first of all, he is a dear friend; and to the gospel, he is a dear friend; and to the church, he is a dear friend; and I want to thank you for sharing him with so many others as you do, for he extends the ministry of this church all around the world to the glory of Christ.
I am honored to be here, and I was reminded, as I was thinking about being here, of how the Pope responded to Martin Luther, the Reformer. When he set forth his bull excommunicating Luther, it became known famously for the first two words: Exurge Domine…Exurge Domine–“Rise up, O God!” And the next few words were, “Rise up, O God; a wild boar has invaded Your vineyard.” And I want to thank you for allowing a Baptist into your pulpit! It is an honor to be here because we stand together in the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ, and we rejoice this morning in the unity that brings us together.
And I want to tell you (as a Baptist who really is a Baptist), it is a great blessing to be among Presbyterians who really are Presbyterians! You know, those who have abandoned their heritage — and no longer make a claim to truth and have revised all their doctrines — have nothing decent over which to have a disagreement. We need to be thankful that we love each other enough to speak to each other the truth, and to stand together in the truth, and to stand together in the gospel, as we are together for the gospel.
In that light, I would like to invite you to turn with me this morning to Deuteronomy 4. The fourth chapter of the book of Deuteronomy, and even though we will make reference to this entire chapter, I want us to read together especially verses 32-40.
The Lord God is speaking through His prophet, Moses, to His people as they are preparing to enter the land of promise. Verse 32:
“‘Indeed, ask now concerning the former days which were before you, since the day that God created man on the earth, and inquire from one end of the heavens to the other. Has anything ever been done like this great thing, or has anything been heard like it? Has any people heard the voice of God speaking from the midst of the fire, as you have heard it, and survived? Or has a god tried to take for himself a nation from within another nation by trials, by signs and wonders and by war and by a mighty hand and by an outstretched arm and by great terrors, as the Lord your God did for you in Egypt before your eyes? To you it was shown that you might know that the Lord, He is God; there is no other besides Him. Out of the heavens He let you hear His voice to discipline you; and on earth He let you see His great fire, and you heard His words from the midst of the fire. Because He loved your fathers, therefore He chose their descendants after them. And He personally brought you from Egypt by His great power, driving out from before you nations greater and mightier than you, to bring you in and to give you their land for an inheritance, as it is today. Know therefore today, and take it to your heart, that the Lord, He is God in heaven above and on the earth below; there is no other. So you shall keep His statutes and His commandments which I am giving you today, that it may go well with you and with your children after you, and that you may live long on the land which the Lord your God is giving you for all time.’”
This is the word of the Lord, as the Lord spoke through His prophet, Moses, to the children of Israel. This is the word of the Lord which is given to us as the gift of Scripture. This is the word of the Lord, God's inerrant and infallible word, and it is the word which we now hear together by the grace and mercy of God.
This is an incredible question found in Deuteronomy 4:33: “Has any people heard the voice of God speaking from the mist of the fire, as you have heard it, and survived?” We are familiar with so many questions in Scripture, but this is one of those questions that is often neglected by the people of God — a question that is crucial to the identity of Israel.
Israel is now preparing to enter the land of promise. The generation of rebellion and unbelief has died in the wanderings in the wilderness. Their children, who are to be the inheritors of the promise, are now preparing to enter the land. And even as they do so, the book of Deuteronomy is this last great book of the Pentateuch in which God, through Moses, is preparing His children for the challenges and the promise of the conquest that is to come. The great danger is that they would forget who they are. The great danger is that they would forget how they had now arrived at the threshold of this promise. The great danger is that they would forget what it means to be God's covenant people, and to keep that covenant; that they would forget what it means to hear and to obey the word of God. And in the book of Deuteronomy we have several massive messages preached by Moses to the children of Israel.
Moses will not enter the land with them. You can imagine the poignancy and the power of the prophet who knows that he will not be taking the children of Israel into the Promised Land; he will take them to the land of promise. He will not go with them, and thus you have the poignancy and the deep intensity of a message that a man is preaching here, as God preached through him, in order to prepare these children, the children of the Exodus, for the promise that lies before them.
In Deuteronomy 4:33, we encounter this question. It's a question central to the identity of Israel as God's covenant people, but it's also a question central to the identity of the church. The question comes to us as well:
Have we heard the voice of God, and survived?
This points to the miracle of revelation. As we gather together in this place for the worship of the one true and living God, it finds its consummation in the preaching of God's word. We are here in humility to admit that we are here only because God has spoken to us, and we have heard. We have heard, and we have survived. This is central to identifying Israel with God's covenant people. There were many other peoples, there were so many other nations; they did not hear what Israel heard. They did not see the promises Israel received. Israel, as God's covenant people, was set apart from the other nations in this very special way: they heard the voice of God speaking from the midst of the fire, and survived.
These days, as we are now in the twenty-first century, we live at a time of permanent epistemological crisis. Some of you didn't know you were in a permanent epistemological crisis; this is a warning to you today that, know it or not, you’re in such a crisis! This crisis is most acute in the academy, in the world of the college and the university. It is the question of how we know anything. And after the Enlightenment and after successive generations of skepticism, this is one of the major questions that arises. And in this Postmodern age, it arises with a new confusion, a new complexity; and, furthermore, a new energy. How can we know anything, if we can't know anything? And most especially if we can't know who God is and what He would have us to do, and how He would have us to worship Him, and what we must do in order to hear and to heed His word, and what the gospel would be whereby we might be saved? If we have not heard from God, the diagnosis of our problem (which is sin)…if we have not heard a word from the one true and living God, then we are lost in the cosmos.
You see, in the background of this question when Moses asks the children of Israel, ‘Has any other people heard the voice of God speaking from the midst of the fire, and survived?’ is the haunting question of what it would mean for God to be silent.
What if we had not heard? What if we did not know? The only way to resolve this crisis of how we know anything is for us to confess together that whatever we know about anything that's important — that which we know about the most important questions of life, all that we claim to know about God and His ways and the gospel in Christ — is because God has spoken to us, and we survived. It's not because we are smart enough. It's not that we were intelligent enough. It's not that we had some means of exploring or devising a way to come and find God out. As Paul wrote to the church at Rome, God is past our finding out. He reveals himself to us, in order that we might hear Him and we might know.
In my own personal pilgrimage, one of the books that was most important to me is a book by a man by the name of Francis Schaeffer. Some of you will remember that name. He wrote many books, but the one that had the greatest impact on me when I was a teenager — a high school student and a college student — was a book with the simple title, He Is There, and He Is Not Silent. Now frankly, if you hear the title, you've heard the book. He is there. It makes all the difference in the world, that there is a God. But He is not silent. For if there were a God who was silent, if the one true and living God did not speak, we would be as lost as if He did not exist. He is there, and He is not silent.
Our confession today is that everything we know about everything that matters is because God has spoken; thus, we are a people of God's word; thus, we are a people of God's grace and mercy, because it is only by His grace and mercy that we hear and survive. We are the people of God's word in Scripture. We are a scriptural people, a people of the book, precisely because God has spoken. And we have survived, and now we live by this word.
As you look at the book of Deuteronomy, you recognize that this book is also the setting down of a treaty. It's a treaty between God and His covenant people. But it's not a treaty that God negotiates with His people, it's in the form of a treaty well known in the ancient Near Eastern world called a suzerain treaty. It's a treaty whereby the conqueror sets down the terms for the conquered. And God, Jehovah, sets down the terms for His covenant people. He says this is who you are, and this is what you now must do. You must hear, and you must obey. You must listen, and you must take My word to heart.
You have to read Deuteronomy 4 in the context of the entirety of the book. Coming very quickly just after this chapter is the second giving of the Law, when Moses will speak to the children of Israel and he will again give the Law. Deuteronomus means second law, and that's the Ten Commandments. These Ten Words will be repeated for the children in order that they would know them as they prepare to enter the land of promise.
We encounter here in salvation history the great plan and purpose of God. God rescued His people in the Exodus out of captivity to Pharaoh in Egypt. He brought them out in order that He might bring them into the land of promise. They are the singular people that He has redeemed out of captivity to pharaoh, but the singularity of the fact that they are God's covenant people is precisely the fact that they have heard the word of God from the midst of the fire, and yet survived. This comes in a narrative form, and as you read not only what we encounter here in Deuteronomy…you go back to the entirety of the experience of Israel, and you’ll understand the narrative about a mountain that shakes, about thunder and lightning, a mountain of holiness that was so holy that even if a human or an animal should touch it, it should die. And out of this fire spoke the one true and living God.
There is drama in this, but far more than drama there is doctrine in this; and even more than doctrine, there is salvation in this. This passage looks backward and also looks ahead. It is one of those transitional points in the book of Deuteronomy, and as Moses asked this [question] to the children of Israel, ‘Has any people heard the voice of God speaking from the midst of the fire and survived?’ it is the question we must hear as well, as the church of the Lord Jesus Christ.
What then does all of this mean? What does it mean that we heard the voice of God speaking from the midst of the fire and survived? You need to know that this is in the backdrop and in the background of all the paganisms that surrounded Israel…all the idolatries. Note the distinction between the idols and the one true and living God: the idols are seen, but they never speak; God is not seen, but His voice is heard. His voice is heard by His covenant people. His voice is heard, and it makes all the difference.
You will remember the battle of the gods in I Kings 18. There is Elijah, the singular prophet of God there at Mount Carmel, and then there are the hundreds of the pagan priests of the idols. You’ll recall the contest with the two altars, and you’ll recall the prayer that the fire would fall; and you’ll recall how Elijah taunted the hundreds of priests of the Baals. They were jumping and dancing around their altar. They were imploring Baal to speak. (Baal was understood to speak in thunder, as he was the masculine pagan idol of the Canaanites who was understood to give rain in order to provide fertility and life with the gift of water.) They even lacerated their bodies so that the blood ran down their bodies into the ground. And Elijah, the prophet of the one true and living God (who was absolutely confident that God would show himself to be God) — he taunts them, saying, ‘Well, maybe your god is occupied. Maybe Baal's busy.’ But at the end of the day, the verdict from Baal was no one heard, no one paid attention.
And then the fire did fall upon the altar of Yahweh and consumed not only the altar, but the water and the rocks, and all that was contained therein.
Think about the Scripture. Think about the imperatives in Scripture and how often these imperatives come down to the imperative to fear and to obey. We can only hear and we can only obey because, first of all, God has spoken, and we have survived. We have to understand that God speaks. It makes all the difference in the world. If God did not speak, we will be lost in darkness, we will be lost in silence, and there will be nothing for us to but to devise our own way, and it will be a way that would lead unto death. But God has spoken. God has spoken, and thus everything has changed. God has spoken and thus we are saved. God has spoken, and thus Israel was preserved. God has spoken, and thus…well, everything is different. As one biblical scholar says, when you look back as Moses called the children of Israel to look back to Mount Horeb and the giving of the Law, when these things happened, when they heard the voice of God speaking from the fire and survived…he said you have to recognize that this was for Israel an audio-visual experience, but it was the audio that mattered. And so it is for us as we hear the word of God.
I. I would hope you would see with me first that if God has spoken, we do know.
You know, one of the great head-scratching responses that you hear in this day is the simple scratch of the head and the answer, “I don't know.” That's considered a mark of humility.
Well, it's an appropriate mark of humility if you really don't know. But as Moses was speaking to the children of Israel, he was reminding them “We do know.” Who is the one true and living God? We do know. Who is His covenant people? We do know. Is Baal god, or is Jehovah God? We do know. You see, in the church today there is an artificial and pernicious humility. It is a false humility in which far too many people say “I don't know”, in which from too many pulpits comes the message “we can't know” when the reality is that because God has spoken we do know. And thus we are responsible and accountable for this knowledge. It is the highest and the greatest knowledge that any human ear can ever hear. We do know! We know all things necessary for our salvation. We know how to distinguish the true God from the idols. We know because God has spoken; not because we are smart enough to figure this out; not because we are ingenious enough to discern the right from the wrong, the true from the false; but because the one true and living God has spoken to us.
All that we need to know, we know. And it is a false humility; it is a sinful false humility to say that we do not know.
I mentioned Martin Luther earlier. I have to admit that I find some real commonality with Luther on many points and some encouragement from him as well…in all of his humility and all his boldness and all his faithfulness, and in the fact that he was a seminary president. And that meant that Martin Luther, too, had to deal with theology students. (I love them, and Luther loved them.) In his Table Talk there is recorded a conversation he had with a theology student. Several of them were having dinner at his home, as he was often wont to invite them to his home, and one theology student said, “Father Martin, what was God doing before He created the heavens and the earth?” Well, brothers and sisters, that is not answered in scripture, but Martin Luther nonetheless answered. He said, “He was creating hell for impetuous theology students.” It is a form of theological misbehavior to ponder the things unanswered by Scripture. It is a mark of theological immaturity to be fascinated by the things unanswered by Scripture. But what the Scripture contains is everything needful for our salvation. And because God has spoken, we do know. And because God has spoken, it would be disobedience to claim that we do not know.
2. Secondly, if God has spoken, then we know only by mercy.
You see, this is the true humility. The false humility is to say ‘I don't know’ where God has spoken and we must know. The false humility is to say ‘Well, you know everybody has a different angle on the truth, and who am I to say that I know who God is and what God would expect?’ Well, the reality is that no one should trust you or should trust me. The issue is whether they trust God, who has spoken in His word. The true humility is to say it's not about us, it's about God. The true humility is to say it is only by grace and mercy that we have heard and have survived. The true humility is to say it isn't about us, it's about the fact that God has spoken. He has spoken to us. And just as God spoke to His covenant people of old in Israel, so He speaks to His covenant people in the church through His word in order that we might hear. Our response is the humble response of the one who hears and receives and obeys the word of God. This is the proper humility. This is why we understand that salvation is by grace alone, through faith alone; and this is why Scripture alone matters so much. It's a statement of humility: we know only by mercy.
Carl Henry, one of my mentors, now gone to be with the Lord, defined revelation in such a sweet way when he said that we must remember that divine revelation, especially the revelation of God in Scripture, is God disclosing himself to His creatures; out of His love willingly forfeiting His own personal privacy. In other words, God could have retained His own personal privacy. He could have forbidden His creatures to know Him. He could have been unmolested by His creatures in the glory of what He is, who He is in himself. And Henry put it this way:
“If divine revelation in terms of speech means anything, it implies among other things that God need not have thus disclosed himself. God might indeed have remained silent and incommunicative in relation to His creatures. His revelational speech to mankind is not an inescapable or inevitable reality. It is instead a demonstration of His own character.”
Jesus loves me, this I know; for the Bible tells me so.
3. Third, if God has spoken, then we too must speak.
You see, the Bible is very clear about this, and that's why the imperatives about hearing and speaking are so close together. Those who have heard the word of God have the responsibility to speak the word of God, to teach the word of God, to preach the word of God, to take the word of God.
If you fast-forward from Deuteronomy 4 just two chapters to Deuteronomy 6, you will recall that great and classic passage whereby the parents of Israel are instructed about their responsibility to teach their children: what they have heard and received, they are to teach. To receive the grace and mercy of God by hearing God speak is not merely to let the process end there, with our hearing. It is to be then our responsibility to speak that word; and this is true, of course, of those who have been called to the teaching office of the church. That's why the imperative is so clear: Preach the word…; preach the word in season and out of season; retain the pattern of sound words; guard the treasure that has been invested and entrusted to you. The responsibility to speak the word of God is actually incumbent upon everyone who has heard it; upon every parent, who should teach the child; upon every Christian who has the urgency of the word to witness. As we are told we are to be ready at all times to give an answer for the hope that is in us.
You know there are some quotations that just get picked up, and they sound so good until you think about them. And we live in a day in which an awful lot of theology is done as if it's sent down by Hallmark™…some little pithy saying that you open up an envelope, there's a card, and you go, ‘Wow, that's really sweet.’ Time and time again you hear people quote St. Francis of Assisi to say, ‘Wherever you go, preach Jesus; and if necessary, use words.’ Brothers and sisters, it is necessary! No one is going to intuit Jesus from you; they’re going to have to hear about Jesus from you. We always have to use words.
Now those words have to be backed up with demonstration. Those words have to be backed up with integrity and authenticity. But without words, there is no salvation. If God has spoken, we too must speak.
4. Fourthly, if God has spoken, then it's all about God, and it's all for our good.
This is why we understand that every single word of Scripture is inspired by God and is profitable for all things. Every single word. The words that at first seem sweet, and the words that at first seem so hard; the words that we know with such familiarity, and the words which sound to us so strange. Every single word is inspired of God. Every single word is all about God. Every single word is for our good. We are to receive every single word of Scripture for our good. This is one of the reasons why we must, in the church, if we are to see recovery and reform in this generation, have a recovery of expositional preaching that preaches all the word, not just highlights from the Scripture as if we somehow have the ability to decide what the highlights are. But all of it! All of it is the priceless, inestimable, sweet word of God.
5. Fifth, if God has spoken, it is for our redemption.
“Has any other people heard the word of God speaking from the fire, and survived?”
It's important to remember that Israel was not allowed to survive just in order that they could spend a few more years in the wilderness. They heard for their preservation. They heard in order that God would preserve them for the fulfillment of His covenant promises.
Look back to Deuteronomy 4 with me, and understand what is going on here. He takes the children of Israel back to the giving of the Law, he takes them back to Mount Horeb. And you’ll notice the importance and centrality of the word of God here. In verse 2 there comes a warning:
“You shall not add to the word which I am commanding you, not take away from it, that you may keep the commandments of the Lord your God which I command you.”
In verse 6, he says:
“So keep and do them, for that is your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the peoples who will hear all these statutes and say ‘Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.’ For what great nation is there that has a god so near to it as the Lord our God whenever we call on Him? Or what great nation is there that has statutes and judgments as righteous as this whole law which I am setting before you today?
“Only give heed to yourself and keep your soul diligently, so that you do not forget the things which your eyes have seen, and they do not depart from your heart all the days of your life; but make them known to your sons and your grandsons.”
[Look carefully at verse 10.]
“Remember the day you stood before the Lord your God at Horeb, when the Lord said to me, ‘Assemble the people to Me, that I may let them hear My words so they may learn to fear Me all the days they live on the earth, and that they may teach their children.’ You came near and stood at the foot of the mountain, and the mountain burned with fire to the very heart of the heavens: darkness, cloud and thick gloom. Then the Lord spoke to you from the midst of the fire; you heard the sound of words, but you saw no form–only a voice. So He declared to you his covenant which He commanded you to perform, that is, the ten commandments; and wrote them on two tablets of stone. The Lord commanded me at that time to teach you statutes and judgments, that you might perform them in the land where you are going over to possess it.
“So watch yourselves carefully, since you did not see any form on the day the Lord spoke to you at Horeb from the midst of the fire, so that you do not act corruptly and make a graven image for yourselves in the form of any figure, the likeness of male or female.”
[In verse 24 comes the consummate word of warning.]
“For the Lord your God is a consuming fire, a jealous God.”
You see, when we hear the question asked in verse 33, “Has any people heard the voice of god speaking from the midst of the fire…and survived?” the first response is surely to think about the miracle by which God spoke to His people; the grace and mercy of God whereby He revealed himself. But let's also remember that the last words are of utmost importance: Israel heard the word of God and survived.
Breathers and sisters, soberly and seriously we must remember this morning that there have been those — and as the Scripture makes very clear, there will be those — who will hear the word of God and not survive. This is God's grace and His mercy for our redemption. When we think of the word of God, the work of God in our salvation, we focus of course on the culmination and fulfillment of God's saving work in the accomplished work of Christ on the cross. But to read the Scripture is to remember that God has been a redeeming, saving God from the very beginning. And here He redeems His people in order to preserve them. God's word has spoken, and it is for our redemption.
6. Sixth, because God has spoken, we must obey.
The formula is very simple: trust and obey; hear and heed; receive and obey; take them to your hearts; do not reject this, do not resist this, but receive this. Predicate your lives upon this word. This is the imperative that comes repeatedly and most consummately in Deuteronomy. It comes at the very end of the book, where we look together at Deuteronomy 30, where, speaking of the law, when God spoke to His people, Moses [beginning in verse 11] says this:
“For this commandment which I command you today is not too difficult for you, nor is it out of reach.”
You remember back in Deuteronomy 4, where God spoke to Moses to say to the people that other peoples of the earth will be amazed that Israel's God is so near? Well, how is Israel's God near? In His word. And here the nearness of the word is so very, very important.
“It is not in heaven, that you should say, ‘Who will go up to heaven to get it for us and make us hear it, that we may observe it? Nor is it beyond the sea, that you should say ‘Who will cross the sea for us to get it for us and make us hear it, that we may observe it?’ But the word is very near you, in your mouth and in your heart, that you may observe it.”
Here comes the issue. Since God has spoken, we must obey. Look at verses 15 and following. The Lord spoke through Moses to say,
“See, I have set before you today life and prosperity, and death and adversity; in that I command you today to love the Lord your God, to walk in His ways and to keep His commandments and His statutes and His judgments, that you may live and multiply, and that the Lord your God may bless you in the land where you are entering to possess it. But if your heart turns away and you will not obey, but are drawn away and worship other gods and serve them, I declare to you today that you shall surely perish. You will not prolong your days in the land where you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess it. I call heaven and earth to witness against you today that I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. So choose life in order that you may live, you and your descendants, by loving the Lord you God, by obeying His voice, and by holding fast to Him….”
You see, the true test of hearing is obedience. As Jesus makes very clear in Matthew 13, it's not about the physicality of the operation of the eye; it is about the heart and seeing the word of God. It's not about the operation of the auditory capacity of the ear; it's about the heart to receive the word of God. It is about obedience.
7. Seventh, if God has spoken, we must trust His word.
You see, the affirmation of the Christian church of Scripture is not that Scripture is merely adequate, it is that Scripture is perfect. You see, our trust is that a perfect God — a God who is indeed infinite in all of His perfections — would speak to us in a word that is perfect. And thus we can trust every single word. We can trust every single part. We dare not mistrust, fail to invest whole trust in any part of the word of God. “Trust and obey, for there is no other way to be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey.” It really is a matter of trust. We do understand that trust is one of the most essential issues of our response to Scripture. Even before we may feel like we adequately understand the word, we trust the word. We trust the word because we know that it is God who has spoken. We trust the word because we trust the speaker of the word, the revealer of the word. To insult that trust is not merely to insult the Scripture, but to insult God who has spoken His word.
It's very clear that we understand the basis of our faith, the foundation for our knowledge, is the fact that the Scripture is perfect: infallible; inerrant; authoritative; inspired by God to the slightest detail. And we trust it.
8. Eighth, if God has spoken, we must witness.
Not merely must we speak in order that there may be the intellectual understanding of others to hear and obey the word, but it comes with the redemptive purpose whereby our challenge, our charge, our commission, is to take the word. This is made nowhere more fully clear than in Romans 10, where the Apostle Paul makes it very clear that “faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ.” And there comes the outlaying of the missionary purpose of the church, where the Apostle Paul makes very clear that we are to send and we are to go precisely because if they do not hear, they will not believe; if they do not believe, they will not be saved. And thus the great commission: evangelism, missions, witnesses — all involved in what it means to understand that we really have heard the word of God, and in obeying the word of God we go, we take, we share, we witness.
Israel had this responsibility. It goes all the way back to the covenant that God made with Abraham when He said through you [speaking to Abraham] and through your seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed. And you know that that has come true in the mission invested to the redeemed people of God and the church of the Lord Jesus Christ, for we bear the responsibility now to see the nations rejoice in the knowledge of the one true and living God, and Jesus Christ, His Son.
9. Ninth, if God has spoken, we understand that He speaks to us consummately in Christ.
We need to juxtapose these two verses: “For has any people heard the voice of God from the fire and survived?” and then think of this verse from the prologue to John's Gospel, verse 14:
“And the word became flesh and dwelt among us. We beheld His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.”
You see, we are here, brothers and sisters, not merely because God spoke to Israel, but because God spoke to us not merely in the old covenant, but in the new covenant. But He speaks to us most consummately in Jesus Christ. In the book of Hebrews, chapter one, we encounter this in its quintessential form when that book begins with these words:
“God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world. And He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power.”
“In the beginning,” John writes, “was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” See, this is where salvation history comes — the fulfillment in all things in Jesus Christ and His cross, in the resurrection. This is where we have come to understand that God has spoken to us not only in the word that was heard, but in a Word that became our substitutionary Savior. Indeed, we come to understand that all of this finds its consummation in Christ, the incarnate Word.
In chapter 12 of the book of Hebrews, after the book of Hebrews has instructed us on the fact that Jesus Christ is the mediator of a new covenant — a new and better covenant, a covenant in His blood, a covenant for our salvation —we come to read these words, beginning in verse 18 of chapter 12. You’ll notice this looks back. Even as Deuteronomy 4 looks back to Mount Horeb, so also the writer of the book of Hebrews takes the church back to the same place, but with a contrast:
“For you have not come to a mountain that can be touched and to a blazing fire, and to darkness and gloom and whirlwind, and to the blast of a trumpet and the sound of words which sound was such that those who heard begged that no further word be spoken to them. For they could not bear the command, ‘If even a beast touches the mountain, it will be stoned.’ And so terrible was the sight, that Moses said, ‘I am full of fear and trembling.’ But you…”
[writing to the church, the blood-bought church of the Lord Jesus Christ…]
“…but you have come to Mount Zion, and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to myriads of angels, to the general assembly and the church of the first-born who are enrolled in heaven, and to God the Judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant and to the sprinkled blood, which speaks better than the blood of Abel.”
Has any people heard the voice of God speaking in the midst of the fire and survived? Listen as Hebrews continues (chapter 12, verse 25):
“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 will we escape who turn away from Him who warns from heaven. And His voice shook the earth then, but now He has promised, saying, ‘Yet once more I will shake not only the earth, but also the heaven.’ And this expression, ‘Yet once more,’ denotes the removing of those things which can be shaken, as of created things, so that those things which cannot be shaken may remain. Therefore, since we receive a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us show gratitude, whereby we may offer to God an acceptable service with reverence and awe.”
And what did Moses say to the children of Israel in Deuteronomy 4? What we find in the book of Hebrews in chapter 12: “For our God is a consuming fire.”
Did any people hear the voice of God speaking from the midst of the fire, and survive? Israel did. That's what revealed Israel as God's chosen people, as covenant people, for they alone heard the voice of God speaking from the midst of the fire, and survived.
Now look to the church of the Lord Jesus Christ. Who are we? We are the people saved by the blood of the Lord Jesus Christ, the incarnate Word, the consummate revelation of God, the Word through whom the worlds were made, the Word who was the mediator of the new covenant. And what is the exhortation to and through the church? “See that you do not neglect so great a salvation.” Hear, obey, receive, believe, trust, and come.
Our Father, we rejoice in the salvation which You have accomplished through the Lord Jesus Christ. We declare the gospel that begins with the knowledge that we are sinners and that our sin infinitely separates us from You and Your holiness.
Father, we declare Your grace and mercy to us in the Lord Jesus Christ. We declare the glorious gospel, whereby You redeem sinners through the blood of the Lord Jesus Christ who died on Calvary's cross as our substitute. Father, He is our Prophet, and Priest, and King. Father, He is not only the incarnate Word, but we've come to understand He is also our substitutionary Savior.
Father, we rejoice in the fact that even as He died in perfect obedience on the cross, shedding His blood as the mediator of a new covenant, shedding His blood for our sin, You raised Him from the dead.
And, Father, we declare that there is salvation in no other name, but that all who come to trust in the Lord Jesus Christ, who confess with their lips that Jesus Christ is Lord and believe in their hearts that God has raised Him from the dead, shall be saved.
Father, we declare the good news of Your salvation. We declare it with words, and we pray that even as Your gospel is declared, Your church will rejoice in it, and be more faithful ever in it. Father, we pray that sinners will hear it.
And Father, we pray that even as sinners come to You through Jesus Christ our Lord, You be glorified, and Your people will rejoice.
Father, we pray this as we pray all things, in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
We invite you to stand and sing our closing hymn, a wonderful new hymn which speaks precisely to that which has been our hope and substance from the message of God's word today, the hymn which you will find as Speak, O Lord, printed in your bulletin of worship this morning. Let us stand together and sing.
© First Presbyterian Church.
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