This Western culture we inhabit is increasingly referred to as post-modern and post-Christian. We are becoming a people of doubt, like Pilate questioning “What is truth?” We are wondering out loud, “Does God exist and if He does, where is He and how can we find Him?” According to the Word of God, not only does God exist, but God has made Himself known and has come down to meet us, again and again. We live in an open universe and we live on a visited planet. Heaven and earth have met here. In the OT there are many glimpses of God, when God came down from heaven to earth, when human beings experienced the invisible becoming visible. These glimpses of glory anticipate a day when a fuller revelation would come. Scholars have given a fancy name to describe these visible appearances of God in the OT. They are called theophanies. It is a word made from two Greek words. You recognize theo or theos as the Greek word for God. Phaino is the Greek word for appearing, so theophany is an appearance of God. This word is used sometimes broadly for any kind of divine human encounter like in a cloud, or for the more clear instances of God taking on the appearance of human form and flesh sometimes referred to as the angel of the Lord. They are not always angels, but sometimes Christ. Jesus is not absent from the OT. He is not sitting on the bench waiting to come in in the fourth quarter to save the game and get the victory. He is the very much present player-coach-manager directing everything that’s happening on the field. He is leading all things toward His incarnation which is the ultimate theophany when Christ becomes a permanent theophany of God, taking on our nature, our flesh. All the OT appearances are temporary theophanies, pointing to the ultimate theophany. The theme for our advent series this year is, “When Heaven and Earth Meet, The Theophanies of God/Jesus in the OT.”
Love. What is love? A team of professionals posed this question to a group of 4 to 10 year-olds and got back some wonderful answers: "I think you're supposed to get shot with an arrow or something, but the rest of it isn't supposed to be so painful." – Manuel, age 8. "Love is when a girl puts on perfume and a boy puts on shaving cologne and they go out and smell each other." – Karl, age 5. "Love is when you tell a guy you like his shirt, then he wears it every day." – Noelle, age 7. "Love is foolish...but I still might try it sometime." – Floyd, age 9. "I know my older sister loves me because she gives me all her old clothes and has to go out and buy new ones." – Lauren, age 4. "I let my big sister pick on me because my Mom says she only picks on me because she loves me. So I pick on my baby sister because I love her." – Bethany, age 4. "When my grandmother got arthritis, she couldn't bend over and paint her toenails anymore. So my grandfather does it for her all the time, even when his hands got arthritis too. That's love."- Rebecca, age 8. "Love is like a little old woman and a little old man who are still friends even after they know each other so well." – Tommy, age 6. "Love is what's in the room with you at Christmas if you stop opening presents and listen."- Bobby, age 5. "There are two kinds of love. Our love. God's love. But God makes both kinds of them."- Jenny, age 4. Out of the mouths of babes. God is love. How would you answer the question, what is love? The answer is, God is love. That is at once a simple truth we all know and also a staggering truth we cannot comprehend. It’s one of the most profound and wonderful utterances in all the Bible. Before there was a creation, before there were creatures, before there where human beings, God is love.
Last week we considered the creation of man and how God created man in His own image and made man just a little lower than the angels. Man was bestowed with great dignity and honor, created to glorify God and to enjoy God forever. God made a covenant with Adam, a covenant that had one positive commandment, fill and take dominion; and one negative commandment, don’t eat. If he obeyed he would lead all humanity into an even higher and greater state of existence, an everlasting communion with God confirmed in perfect righteousness. But Adam failed to understand the honor or recognize his excellence and plunged the human race into darkness, sin and death. Only when we understand this great height will be begin to fathom the great depth of the abyss into which we fell. Last week we saw that Genesis 1 through 3 stands the test of historical narrative. There’s no break or shift in the narrative from myth to history. It’s not fictional poetry. Adam and Eve are treated in the entire Bible as just as real as Abraham, Moses, David and Jesus. All their genealogies are traced back to Adam. The Fall also is treated as historical narrative in all Scripture and is the reason for there being sin and death in our world. Romans 5 states clearly that “sin came into the world through one man” (Romans 5:12). Genesis 3 is God’s revelation to us to explain how sin and death came into our world. This evening we will consider the Fall and the consequences of the Fall.
Years ago when I was pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Cedar Grove, WI I was invited to speak at the local high school baccalaureate service. After preaching a clear Gospel message about finding the meaning of life by living our lives for God, a trio of students got up and sang the old classic rock and roll song “All We Are Is Dust in the Wind.” Really! Is that true, is that all we are is just dust in the wind? From dust we come and to dust we shall return. Psalm 103 says we are dust: Psalm 103:14-16 For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust. 15 As for man, his days are like grass; he flourishes like a flower of the field; 16 for the wind passes over it, and it is gone, and its place knows it no more.
Here is a little thought experiment for you (with thanks to Pastor Dan Phillips). What’s the most offensive verse in the Bible? Lots of possible answers come to mind. The verses about homosexuality clearly offend some. The verses about wives submitting to husbands offend others. The verses in the OT about wiping out enemies, even women and children are hard to swallow. Or what about Jesus saying that the only way to the Father is through Him? Non-Christians love to poke at Christians with whatever verse of the day they find offensive or silly or totally out of touch with modern reality. Would you like to know a good way to answer back? Why not fight fire with fire. Tell them they are missing the biggest and best verse of all. Tell them if they really are looking for the most offensive verse just start with the very first verse in the Bible. “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” Now that’s offensive! An absolutely sovereign God freely and independently of anything else created everything in the universe. Think about it. That means it’s all God’s and it’s all God’s doing. He’s the potter and we are the clay. He’s the creator and we’re the creature. God is God and we are not. There are two options, submit or rebel, obey or disobey. As another pastor put it (S. Lewis Johnstone), if you believe the first verse in the Bible, everything after that is completely believable. But if you reject the first verse in the Bible you start having trouble with the rest.
How many of you grew up saying the Holy Ghost? Did you ever wonder why Christians believed in a Ghost or worshipped a Ghost? Ghost comes from an Old English word, gast, which simply means spirit. Ghost was the word used by the King James Bible hence its common use in the church until the 20th century. The Holy Spirit is sometimes called the forgotten member of the Trinity or the silent member of the Trinity. We certainly don’t know as much as we should about Him. He doesn’t get anywhere near the same attention that we give to the Father and the Son. Despite the efforts of some Pentecostals and charismatics there is still much confusion.