THE CASE FOR GODíS EXISTENCE
Week of September 12, 2010
Bible Verses:† Psalm 19:1-6; Acts 17:22-29; Hebrews 1:1-3.
Lesson Focus:† This lesson presents a case for the existence of God by showing the different ways He has made Himself known to us.
Nature Points to God: Psalm 19:1-6.
† The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork. † Day to day pours out speech, and night to night reveals knowledge. † There is no speech, nor are there words, whose voice is not heard. † Their voice goes out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world. In them he has set a tent for the sun, † which comes out like a bridegroom leaving his chamber, and, like a strong man, runs its course with joy. † Its rising is from the end of the heavens, and its circuit to the end of them, and there is nothing hidden from its heat.† [ESV]
This psalm contains a profound statement of the doctrine of divine revelation. And like the bibleís teaching elsewhere on this subject, it divides this revelation into two main categories: general revelation, which refers to the revelation of God in nature [1-6], and special revelation, in this case the revelation of God in Scripture [7-11]. General revelation is the term theologians most often use to refer to the revelation of God in nature, which is where Psalm 19 begins. In verse 1, the psalmist is thinking of the stars, which are visible by night, and the sun, which he will introduce specifically in verses 4b-6. His teaching is that the heavens, which contain these created objects, witness to the existence of their Creator. But more than that, they also witness to His glory. The stars and the sun are so glorious that the one who made them must be more glorious still. Clearly, this is a limited revelation. That is, it does not testify to Godís moral qualities Ė attributes like justice, mercy, love, wrath, goodness, grace, compassion. But the creation certainly testifies to Godís existence and power [see Rom. 1:20]. This is the meaning of glory in Psalm 19; a revelation of Godís existence and power so great that it should lead every human being on the face of the earth to seek God out, to thank Him for bringing him or her into existence, and to worship Him. But that is what we do not do. What Paul says in Romans is that, apart from Godís special intervention in our lives to save us, all human beings actually suppress the truth of Godís general revelation, either denying His existence altogether or else erecting a lesser god, an idol, in the true Godís place. As a result of this, the wrath of God has been revealed against us and our truth-suppressing cultures. In addition to the mere truth of general revelation in Psalm 19, we also have some profound statements about its nature and extent. Verses 2 and 3 say three things about it. First, they are not an intermittent revelation, as if God were to send a prophet one year and then let many silent years go by before sending another. The skies reveal the glory of God every single day (day to day), year after year since their creation. There has never been a moment in the history of the human race when the heavens were not testifying to us about God. Second, the heavens pours out speech. In the Hebrew language, the image is of a gushing spring that abundantly pours forth the sweet, refreshing waters of revelation. This is true in two ways. First, every individual part of nature testifies to its Creator, so that whatever part you happen to be looking at will pour forth knowledge. Second, the more one looks and studies, the more the heavens gush forth knowledge about their Creator. The third thing that this Psalm says about general revelation is that it is universal: their voice goes out through all the earth. This is the basis for the universal ascription of guilt to humanity by Paul in Romans 1. For although everyone in every land and of every human language has heard this general revelation, none have of themselves followed up on it in order to seek the true God out and worship Him. Instead they suppress the knowledge of the true God and make idols of a lesser god more to their liking. In verses 4b-6, the psalmist describes the sun as a particular example of the universal witness to God by the heavens. A tent for the sun is probably to be understood as the darkness into which the sun retreats each night and from which it emerges boldly each new day. David compares the sun to a vigorous young man in two aspects: like a bridegroom leaving his chamber and, like a strong man. In each case, the image conveys the ideas of youthful strength, energy, and physical joy.
The Word Reveals God:† Hebrews 1:1-3.
† Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets,
† but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. † He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high.† [ESV]
Right at the beginning we are confronted with the reality of God and the fact that He has been active. The first divine activity commented on is that God has spoken in a variety of ways. He spoke to Moses in the burning bush; to Elijah in a still, small voice; to Isaiah in a vision in the temple; to Hosea in his family circumstances; and to Amos in a basket of summer fruit. God might convey His message through visions and dreams, through angels, through Urim and Thummim, through symbols, natural events, ecstasy, a pillar of fire, smoke, or other means. He could appear in Ur of the Chaldees, in Haran, in Canaan, in Egypt, in Babylon. There is no lack of variety, for revelation is not a monotonous activity that must always take place in the same way. God used variety. The revelation the writer is speaking of is no novelty but has its roots long ago. He is not referring here to what God does continually but to what He did in days of old, in the time of our fathers. This term normally refers to the patriarchs, but here the contrast to us in verse 2 shows that the term fathers is a shorthand way of referring to Old Testament believers in general. In these last days means that in Jesus the new age, the Messianic Age, has appeared. Jesus is more than simply the last in a long line of prophets. He has inaugurated a new age altogether. In Jesus there is continuity and there is discontinuity. The continuity comes out when we are told that God has spoken to us by his Son. The verb spoken is the same one used in verse 1 of the prophets: God spoke Ö by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son. The earlier revelation is not irrelevant to the later one but is continuous with it. The same God has spoken in both. The old prepares the way for the new, a truth that will be brought out again and again in this epistle as the author backs up his arguments with quotations from Scripture. The discontinuity is seen when we come to the reference to the Son. The consummation of the revelatory process, the definitive revelation, took place when He who was not one of the prophets but the very Son of God came. Throughout the epistle we shall often meet such thoughts. The writer is concerned to show that in Jesus Christ we have such a divine person and such divine activity that there can be no going back from Him.
This emphasis on the Son leads to a series of seven propositions about Him in verses 2-3. In the first we find that God appointed him heir of all things. The verb appointed stresses the activity of the divine will in this process. In the term heir there is no thought of entering into possession through the death of a testator. In the New Testament the word and its cognates are often used in a sense much like ďget possession ofĒ without reference to any specific way of acquiring the property in question. In other words, the term points to lawful possession but without indicating in what way that possession is secured. Heir of all things, then, is a title of dignity and shows that Christ has the supreme place in all the mighty universe. His exaltation to the highest place in heaven after His work on earth was done did not mark some new dignity but His reentry to His rightful place. The second truth about the Son is that it is through Him that God created the world. Verse 3 contains five statements concerning the Son. He is described first as the radiance of the glory of God. This can mean that† Jesus is either the outshining of the brightness of Godís glory or the reflection of that glory. In either case we see the glory of God in Jesus, and we see it as it really is. Next, Jesus is described as the exact imprint of Godís nature. Here the writer is saying that the Son is an exact representation of God. The Son is such a revelation of the Father that when we see Jesus, we see what Godís real being is. Next Jesus upholds the universe by the word of his power. The thought here is of carrying the world along, of bearing it toward a goal. The concept is dynamic, not static. The author pictures the Son as in the first instance active in creation and then as continuing His interest in the world He loves and bearing it onward towards the fulfillment of the divine plan. And all this He does by His powerful word. The word is thought of as active and powerful. The word is not empty. It has force, it does things. With the statement about the Sonís having effected purification of sins, the author comes to what is for him the heart of the matter. His whole epistle shows that the thing that had gripped him was that the very Son of God had come to deal with the problem of manís sin. He sees Him as a priest and the essence of His priestly work as the offering of the sacrifice that really put sin away. The author has an unusual number of ways of referring to what Christ has done for man: the Savior made a propitiation for sins [2:17]. He put sins away so that God remembers them no more [8:12; 10:17]. He bore sin [9:28], He offered a sacrifice for sins [10:12], He made an offering for sin [10:18], and brought about remission of sin [10:18]. He annulled sin by His sacrifice [9:26]. He brought about redemption from transgressions [9:15]. In other passages the author speaks of a variety of things the former covenant could not do with respect to sin, the implication in each case being that Christ has now done it [10:2,4,6,11]. It is clear from all this that the author sees Jesus as having accomplished a many-sided salvation. Whatever had to be done about sin He has done. The word purification is most often used in the New Testament of ritual cleansing, but here it refers to the removal of sin. It also points to the defiling aspect of sin. Sin stains. But Christ has effected a complete cleansing. The purification is complete in that it was accomplished at Calvary. In Christ and Him alone are sins really dealt with. The final statement about the Son is that when His work of purification was ended, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high. Sitting is the posture of rest, and the right-hand position is the place of honor. Sitting at Godís right hand, then, is a way of saying that Christís saving work is done and that He is now in the place of highest honor.
My Spirit Craves God:† Acts 17:22-29.
† So Paul, standing in the midst of the Areopagus, said: "Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious. † For as I passed along and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription, 'To the unknown god.' What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. † The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, † nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything. † And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, † that they should seek God, in the hope that they might feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us, † for "'In him we live and move and have our being'; as even some of your own poets have said, "'For we are indeed his offspring.' † Being then God's offspring, we ought not to think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of man.† [ESV]
[22-25]† Paul begins his speech while standing in the middle of the council. He begins with a seeming compliment, although the term used has the potential for a double meaning. So that a pure compliment may not be present. The term religious can have a positive or negative sense, referring to either a sincere pursuit of the divine transcendent being or an embracing of superstition. Jews often spoke of Greek spirituality this way. Since this is an introduction where Paul is trying to gain his audience, the dominant idea is probably this positive sense. Later, he will tell them that their religiosity is wrongheaded. Even in their use of idols, Paul recognizes an attempt to grope after God. He hopes to help the Athenians by what he says. Their idol to the unknown god allows Paul to open the door for discussing the one true God of creation. Paul is not equating the god worshiped here by the Greeks and the God he will preach, but he uses the altar as a point of contact for discussing the one true God. What they cannot name and seek to worship he will explain to them. Paulís speech is confrontational, but in a gentle manner. Turning ignorance about spirituality and God into knowledge is Paulís goal. Paul begins with the God of creation, who cannot be contained in handmade shrines. The reference to being made with hands is a way to belittle something. The term describes something man does in contrast to what God does. Verse 25 continues the theme by noting that human hands do not serve God with things the Deity needs because God is the source of all life, suggesting that God needs nothing from anyone else. Thus God is defined in a twofold way. The first is as Creator of all. The second idea is that God is not contained in a temple and, by implication, is not reflected by an idol. This second remark recalls Stephenís view and the basic view of Judaism. Paulís emphasis is on God as Sustainer and Creator, along with the idea that God does not need humans for anything. Human hands do not serve God, since God needs nothing from humanity and gives to humanity life, breath, and all the things needed for life. Godís grace in creation on behalf of all people is the point.
[26-29]† God is seen as the Creator of the nations from one man (Adam) and as setting the times and limits of the earth which points to Godís sovereignty. The reference to Adam is intended to show that all people have their roots in the Creator God. Indeed, humanity is to seek God. If they seek God, they just might find him. The two verbs for seeking (feel their way, find) express a possibility of finding God. The word translated feel refers to a spiritual groping after God, to looking for something in an uncertain way. The term is used in nonbiblical Greek to describe a blind person or a person walking in the dark. Paul describes the Greeks as humans seeking God in their own imperfect way in the hope that they may grasp God. In effect, Paul is saying that the Greeksí effort proceeds with uncertainty until they understand what God has revealed. Paul appeals to the appreciation of God through the creation as a bridge to the idea of looking for the expression of Godís will and plan, an idea Paul will now develop. God will not be discovered through nature alone, even though nature does at least show us that God is not like humanity. One must come to grips with Godís revelation, as Paul will emphasize in verses 30-31. Creation reveals God in His glory, power, care, and attributes but does not speak to Godís plan to deliver humanity [Rom. 1:18-32]. Godís action in Jesus has now brought fresh revelation to all and the covenant near to those who had not had access to it [Eph. 2:11-22]. Paul will turn to understanding the plan now revealed to all as the way to come to an understanding of what God asks of those He creates. God is near to all those He has created, and has acted on their behalf. Without an appreciation of Godís plan and action, God will not be found, according to Paul in this speech. Paul works with ideas in the Greek world that are familiar to the Athenians and only alludes to Scripture in his speech instead of quoting it directly. The first quotation recognizes the shared relationship all people have to God. It also makes a more subtle point when the remark about being Godís children is repeated in verse 29: we are Godís creation; we do not create Him by making images of the gods. Verse 29 reminds us that the image theology of Genesis 1:26-27 allows us to say what God is not. If we are personal beings, able to relate to one another with love and trust, God our creator cannot be anything less. How can the impersonal give birth to the personal? It is absurd and totally dishonoring to God to represent Him in any form conceived and constructed by human beings. Paulís argument is a challenge to all forms of religion which seek to make a god to suit the needs of the worshippers. Moreover, idolatry can take many forms, both intellectually (with false ideas about God) and practically (with the worship of created things rather than the Creator).
Questions for Discussion:
1.†††††††† What is general or natural revelation? What can we learn about God from nature? How is this a limited revelation? Why do we need special revelation (Godís Word)?
2.†††††††† Why is Jesus Godís highest and clearest form of revelation? What seven things does Hebrews 1:2-3 tell us about Jesus? These seven truths teach us that we are to look to Christ alone for our understanding of Godís redemptive plan. Each day of the coming week take a different one of these seven truths and think about what it means for your personal relationship with God. †
3.†††††††† Paulís speech to the Athenians is the classical example of using the point of contact method in our witnessing to unbelievers about the true God. Paul uses the inscription on the altar as the means for discussing who is the true God and what He is like. Paul also uses concepts that are familiar to his audience before bringing into the discussion biblical concepts that provide answers to the concerns of his listeners. Think about how you can use this methodology in witnessing to your neighbor, co-worker, etc. Start with where they are, with what interests or concerns them. How does biblical truth speak to their interests, concerns, hopes, fears, etc.?
Psalms, Volume 1, James Boice, Baker.
Acts, Darrell Bock, Baker.
The Acts of the Apostles, David Peterson, Eerdmans.
Hebrews, Leon Morris, EBC, Zondervan.
The Letter to the Hebrews, Peter OíBrien, Eerdmans.