God who Speaks

Hebrews 1:1-2

15 July 2007

Woodley Baptist Church

Morning service


The Bible leaves us in no doubt that we have a God who speaks.

The first thing God did was speak. Oh, all right, the first thing he did was to create the universe, but how did he do it? By Speaking! Genesis 1, verse 3 And God saidref; verse 6 And God saidref; verse 9 And God saidref; verse 11 Then God saidref; verse 14 And God saidref; verse 20 And God saidref; verse 24 And God saidref; verse 26 Then God saidref; and so on.

I heard last week that a typical galaxy contains 100 billion stars, and in the visible universe there are thought to be 100 billion galaxies. That's quite some voice God's got to speak all that into existence.

He starts by speaking, and as we read on in the Old Testament we find that God goes on and on speaking.

We're told that he speaks to Adam, to Cain, to Noah, and to Abraham, both directly and in a vision. He speaks to Lot though angels, to Rebekah, to Isaac, to Jacob in a dream and then to Jacob in person. He speaks to Joseph in dreams. He speaks to Moses from the burning bush, and later face-to-face on a regular basis. He speaks the ten commandments to all the people from the top of Mount Sinai. He speaks to Balaam through a donkey and an angel, and he speaks through Balaam to Balak - and we've only reached the fourth book of the Bible!

We have a God who speaks; a God who speaks abundantly.

So, my starter question for you this morning is, doesn't all this make our Christian experience seem a bit second rate?

If God speaks so abundantly, then where are the burning bushes? Where are the angelic messengers? Where are the voices from the heavens?

Doesn't our experience of the voice of God seem pretty poor, or even non-existent, in comparison? You've come to hear the voice of God himself, but all you get is a talking donkey [me!]

Let's have a look at what the Bible has to say. Please have a look at the book of Hebrews chapter 1 with me.

God spoke through the prophets

Hebrews chapter 1 verse 1 In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various waysref. Well, that's what I've just been saying: God used to speak in all sorts of ways.

But look at how he did it: it was through the prophets that he spoke to the people. Despite the impression we get from the first few books of the Bible, God almost never spoke directly to all the people.

Actually, in Exodus 20 we find that when he did speak to them, the people begged him not to. The Lord has just announced the ten commandments from the top of Mount Sinai.

When the people saw the thunder and lightning and heard the trumpet and saw the mountain in smoke, they trembled with fear. They stayed at a distance and said to Moses, Speak to us yourself and we will listen. But do not have God speak to us or we will die.ref

So throughout the Old Testament we find that God speaks to prophets and the prophets in turn speak to the people: the vast majority of people never had a direct encounter with God at all.

Finally, there came a time when God stopped speaking altogether. This is what the prophet Amos announced,

The days are coming, declares the Sovereign Lord, when I will send a famine through the land — not a famine of food or a thirst for water, but a famine of hearing the words of the Lord. Men will stagger from sea to sea and wander from north to east, searching for the word of the Lord, but they will not find it.ref

And that's just what happened: for about four hundred years nobody heard from God. This was a genuine famine for the people who were supposed to not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lordref. The people and God had suffered a complete communication breakdown.

In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various waysref, but by the end of the Old Testament he's stopped speaking altogether. Something needed to change.

God has spoken by his Son

Thankfully, that's not how Hebrews continues! Our passage in Hebrews goes on, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Sonref.

I've laid it out so that you can see the clear parallel with the first part of the sentence. In these last Days is Bible-speak for the time between Jesus' coming and his coming again: that is, now.

Suddenly God has started speaking again!

Jesus speaks God's word

What we find now is Jesus speaking God's words. But, unlike the prophets who merely relayed God's word, Jesus spoke God's word on his own authority. Where the prophets said Thus saith the Lord, Jesus can say I say to you.

Jesus speaks God's words with all the authority of God.

Jesus is God's word

But there is something more going on here. The NIV tries to help us here: it says that in the past God spoke through the prophets, but now he has spoken by his Son. That distinction is not in the Greek of this verse, but it is very Biblical.

The point is that, when God speaks to us by Jesus, his Son, he's speaking in a completely different way. Jesus is not just another way God speaks to add to the various ways God spoke in the past. The verse doesn't say "and in these last days he has spoken to us through his Son", it says "but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son". The coming of Jesus marks a clear change in the way God speaks to his people.

That's because Jesus doesn't just bring God's message, he is God's message. He doesn't just speak God's word, he is God's word.

The very well-known beginning to John's gospel says exactly the same thing.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God....ref The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.ref

The entirety of what God wants to say to us put on flesh and came and lived among us. Jesus is God's message personified. He doesn't only tell us God's message; he is God's message.

Jesus is God's last word

The third observation to make is that Jesus is God's last word. Notice that there is no parallel in these verses for the phrase at many times and in various waysref. When God spoke in Jesus he only spoke once, because in Jesus he gave us the whole message.

The text in Hebrews goes on to say in verse 3 that The Son is the radiance of God's glory and the exact representation of his beingref. When we see Jesus we see God, in as much of his godness as we can handle. There is nothing more to say.

The prospective children's worker was keen to make a good impression. "I'm going to think of something and you have to guess what it is," he said to the children. "It's small, grey and furry." . Silence. "It lives in trees, and eats nuts." No response. "It has a big fluffy tail." Nothing. Finally he says lamely, "It makes a chattering noise. Can't anyone guess what it is?" At last, one little boy put his hand up. "I know the answer's Jesus, but it really sounds like a squirrel."

It's a funny story, but it shows exactly the right instinct, doesn't it? Whenever we think about what God says, the answer is always Jesus. He is God's full and final revelation of himself to us in this life. He is everything God wants to say to us.

God speaks to us in the Bible

Now, the alert among you will have noticed a problem. God might have spoken his final word in the incarnate Jesus, but Jesus isn't here!

He was only around for thirty years or so, and that was 2000 ago. What good is that to us today? We could have seen God, but we weren't around at the time. What are we supposed to do now?

Well, although God has spoken his last word in Jesus, he still speaks that same word in the Bible today.

Now, there's no way I can do a complete theology of scripture this morning, but I just want to refer back to the passages that Richard read for us earlier to show how it all works. There are dozens of places we could go, but I've more or less arbitrarily chosen these two.

In our first reading we saw that God the Father has written Jesus into the Old Testament. In Luke chapter 24, on the road to Emmaus, Jesus, beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himselfref. When the prophets of the Old Testament spoke, it was Jesus they were speaking about. With the key that is Jesus, the Old Testament makes sense.

The second reading shows that God has also written Jesus in to the New Testament. First John 1 verse 3 says We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christref. John expects that as we read what he and the other apostles wrote about Jesus, we will not only learn interesting facts about him, but we will find that the words have power. They are able to bring us into fellowship with with him.

How does that work?

The reason Bible study isn't just learning facts about God, like studying a school textbook, is that the Holy Spirit brings God's Word alive. As the book of Hebrews says a little further on the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.ref When Christians read the Bible the Spirit uses the word like a scalpel to do heart surgery on us: carving us into the likeness of Christ.

This is our experience of hearing the God who Speaks.

Are you listening?

I think it's time for a quick recap of where we've been. First, we have seen that God spoke to his people through the prophets. This was Jesus longed for: longing for an answer to their failure before God.

Next we've seen that God has spoken by his Son: Jesus is God's last word. He reveals God the Father to us as fully as we are able to bear.

Third we've seen that God speaks to us today in the Bible: Jesus is made known to us by the Holy Spirit as we read the word of God.

Does God speak to us by other means than through written words on a Bible's page? I have no doubt he does. As God's Spirit works to make us Christlike he will apply the Bible's words in our lives in all sorts of ways: sometimes with a clear direction, more often in impressions, hunches, dreams and circumstances. Some of us a are quick to call these things God speaking, sometimes too quick; some of us are slower, sometimes too slow — but nonetheless he's at work making us Christlike.

However, God never says anything beyond what scripture has to say — there is nothing else to say — he simply guides us to apply the Bible in our lives. To make us Christlike.

Nevertheless, I have to admit to being a little surprised a couple of weeks ago when Rebekah, who is three, announced at Sunday lunch "God talks to me." After picking myself up off the floor I asked her "How does he talk to you?" "He talks inside my head" , she said. I asked the natural question, "What does he say?" "Don't be naughty" , she replied.

Unfortunately, I missed the obvious follow-up question, "Why don't you listen to him?"

Brothers and sisters, I'm not going to make that mistake twice. If God is so keen to speak to us through the Bible, if it is the only way for us to know Jesus his Word, then I have to ask: Are you listening?

I'm sorry to say that according to the statistics, you probably aren't. A fairly recent survey amongst churches that are considered "sound" and "keen" (like us) found that fewer than one in three members were reading the Bible at all from week to week, and fewer than one in ten were reading it daily. Are we listening?

Last summer we visited Geneva where I enjoyed some time in the Reformation Museum. One of the most striking things I came away with is deep gratitude for the shocking number of people who gave their lives so that I could hold the Bible in my hands and read it for myself. They were prepared to do this because they knew that there there is no other way for us to know Jesus.

If there were any other way, then all our friends working for Wycliffe Bible Translators are just wasting their lives, aren't they? And we simply don't believe that.

If we really are a church whose heart is to know Jesus emdash; and I believe we are — then we've got to get to know him in his word. Only his word gives us fellowship with him.

But my question is not aimed at the church as a whole. This is "you" singular. Are you listening to God by reading his word?

I guess many of us use Bible reading notes. These are OK up to a point, but it's just too easy to find that we never actually read the Bible for ourselves: we end up only reading the notes. That puts us straight back into the Old Testament, where people got their word from God second hand through the prophets. God wants you to know him first hand; we've got to read his word for ourselves.

The same applies if your only Bible input is the weekly sermon in church. Although those who preach here try to point you to the Bible, and explain it as best we can, you mustn't rely on us. To really know God for yourself you've got to cut out the middleman.

Are you listening?


Enough bashing. I don't want to lay a guilt trip on anyone, unless you deserve it, of course.

My passion is to get people reading the Bible for themselves, and I believe that any of us can do it. But sometimes we need a little help working out where to start. So one thing I want to do today is to recommend a couple of books that can help us and equip us as we seek to hear the God who Speaks in his word. You may have struggled before to read the Bible and not got anything from it, or it may be entirely new to you. Or you may just feel that your Bible reading needs some refreshing. Wherever you are at, I think either of these books will help.

Book recommendations

Imagine you've decided to tackle a major DIY job at home. What you are going to need is a good set of tools and a DIY manual with step-by-step instructions.

The first book is the tool kit. It's called Dig Deeper - Tools to help you unearth the Bible Treasure It presents a great set of tools to help you root out what the God is saying in his word: the context tool, the linking words tool, the "copy cat" tool, the "so what" tool and so on. It's very readable, and there are loads of examples and lots of helpful insights. Rather than opening the Bible and finding a baffling blob of text, these tools will help to really dig out what God is saying to you.

The DIY manual, or instruction book, is this one by Rick Warren: Rick Warren's Bible Study Methods. Now, I'm no great fan of the "Purpose Driven Movement" and all that, but I have to say, this book is superb. What Rick Warren does is to take various methods of Bible Study and break them down into manageable steps that anyone can follow. He has a massive emphasis on applying God's word to our lives, and he writes with a real passion. In my opinion, the Appendix on "How to Have a Meaningful Quiet Time" is worth the cover price on its own. If you don't know where to start then this book will make Bible Study seem doable.

Either of these books will make you want to read the Bible for yourself and equip you to do it. Now, I'm so keen to get these into your hands that for today only I will subsidise the price of each by one pound (that's one pound off the price you see there). If you buy both together I'll give you three pounds off total. You can order from Carol after the service, and she's got copies you can look at, and you can look at mine as well.