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“How Can God Communicate with Me?”

Jan.27/13 Psalm 19(1-14)


In the great game of life, we appreciate knowing what the score is, where the boundaries are, that certain standards and rules are upheld. But the truth can be a rather slippery and scarce commodity at times. Radio host Phil Main posted this past Tuesday, “An expert from Harvard University says lying like Lance Armstrong did is actually quite common.He says some people tell lies all day long.For example...I just told a whopper about a fake expert from Harvard University.”
    But it’s not funny when right standards aren’t followed in real life and someone suffers as a result. For example, at a tournament when the refs consistently make bad calls, giving the hometown team an advantage. Or at a soccer game an observer might see a coach yelling at a 6-year-old player, then tell the coach, “You shouldn’t do that.” The observer has just made a value judgment that accords with Biblical truth, even though they may not know it’s Biblical or be able to explain how they know it’s wrong for a coach to be yelling at a 6-year-old player. The Lord has gifted humans with a faculty called “conscience”, an ability to innately know some things are wrong. The Creator has also left clues in the world around us that there IS some source of ultimate authority greater than ourselves; and He has communicated to us more specifically so we can know absolutely His view on truth. Psalm 19 points out both these ways God communicates to us.


The first 6 verses of Psalm 19 focus on what’s called “General Revelation” - God getting our attention through the magnificence of the universe He’s made. V1 “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.” The stars in the night sky and the Milky Way (viewing our galaxy edgeways-on) declare God’s glory, give Him credit / honour / beauty / renown. The skies (including the atmosphere, the weather, our environment, complete with water and oxygen and CO2 cycles) proclaim His “handiwork”: these wonderfully balanced systems are not accidents, not the result of random chance. Even the characteristics of water (molecular bonding, specific heat capacity) are quite wonderful - sort of an anomaly - given its chemical makeup. We wouldn’t be skating on ponds or the Rideau Canal if water became more dense when it froze! And aren’t you glad all that frozen water comes down from the sky as snowflakes rather than chunks of hail? Better for the flowerbeds, too!
    The heavens point to God as their Maker, the sun moon and stars are His handiwork - not gods in themselves as many ancient pagan cultures supposed. “The sun god Shamash was a chief deity of justice in Mesopotamian hymns. The sun god is extolled in Egyptian hymns as well.” (Illumina Comprehensive Commentary) The heavenly bodies move under God’s control, they have no power to ordain our human circumstances – so if you believe Psalm 19, you won’t be consulting the horoscope! Don’t endanger yourself or your family by taking part in occult activities such as horoscopes - you’re inviting evil spirits to have a foothold in your life.
    When you gaze up at the stars at night, do you realize they’re talking? Can you hear them? The heavens “declare”, the skies “proclaim”; vv2-4 they pour forth speech, “There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard.Their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world.” God’s trying to get people’s attention by what they’re saying: “We’re not here by chance! Consider such immense power, such harmonious forces keeping us in orbit, such predictable laws that allow you to land people on the moon and send space probes from one planet to another years away and hit it bang on! This didn’t all just ‘happen’ - Somebody designed this.”
    The fact that the observable universe “pours forth speech” renders all people everywhere accountable to God, whether they’ve been reached by missionaries or not - whatever their culture, even if they’ve never heard of Jesus or the Bible. In Romans 1:18-21 Paul notes that people are “without excuse” because what may be known about God “is plain to them”: since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities - His eternal power and divine nature - have been clearly seen (how?) “being understood from what has been made.” To look at nature - to admire the stars, a beautiful sunset, the moon hanging in space - all that suggests God, implies the existence of a divine being. The stars “declare the glory of God”: but what’s the human response? Paul says, “For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God [unlike the stars!] nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened.” We exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images - idols - and worshipped what our hands had made instead.
    Vv4b-6 focus on the SUN specifically. “Nothing is hidden from its heat”: even this past week when the temperature outside was 16 below, I could go over to the living room window when the sky was clear and bask in the bright glare reflecting from the snow and feel the warmth of the sun’s rays in mid-January. Because the sun’s doing its job, we can look forward to spring. The psalmist compares it to a bridegroom emerging from his pavilion (with a big smile on his face?), a man rejoicing in the energy and prime of his youth, or a champion rejoicing to run his course.[PHOTO] The Kuperus’ son Josh was featured in a photo of their school’s cross-country running team in Hawaii being state champions – he looked very happy, two thumbs up! So the picture here is the sun rejoicing to “do its thing”, fulfill the job for which it was designed and made. Olympic runner Eric Liddell used to say, “God made me fast, and when I run, I feel His pleasure.” Here’s a 5-minute excerpt from the excellent documentary God of Wonders expanding upon the sun’s role and how the power of the stars is so awesome...[VIDEO]
    So the first section of Psalm 19 emphasizes how God’s eternal power and divine nature are clearly evident - ought to be obvious - in what He has made. One look up at the sky should grab our attention and cause mortals to wonder and be in awe at the “Higher Power” with supreme intelligence that put that there.


Then comes an abrupt change at v7: the focus is no longer on nature but the super-natural. Even the language changes, from the more generic term for God “El” to the relational specific name by which He revealed Himself to Moses and the Israelites, YHWH, God of being, “I am that I am”. Verses 7-11 are about the “law” revealed to Israel through Moses and other prophets. God’s got our attention through what we see in the heavens and atmosphere: now He’s getting down to specifics, communicating to us more precisely.
    There are 6 various noun terms used here, 5 of which are similar, accompanied by an adjective describing them, and an effect they have on people. First in v7, “The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul.” Noun - law; adjective - perfect; effect - reviving the soul. The noun here translated “law” is torah in Hebrew and shouldn’t be thought of negatively (perhaps as we think of the speed limit or tax regulations – something to take away our fun or hold us back); torah has more the meaning of direction, helpful instruction. One Sunday I went to turn on Rick’s iPod and was looking for an off/on switch. I couldn’t find one! I was at a loss to even begin without his instruction. Or, think of Driver Training: you don’t just hop in a car and start driving down the road – the streets would be a lot more dangerous if that were the case! Instruction helps us, it’s a positive thing, assisting us towards the goal.
    The psalmist says the Lord’s torah has the effect of “reviving the soul”; a bit like Psalm 23:3, as Shepherd He “restores my soul; He guides me in paths of righteousness for His name’s sake.” In the paths of life, He helps us steer down the right-hand lane instead of the left-hand one where oncoming traffic would soon smash us.
    God’s law or teaching or instruction is a good thing. In the New Testament, Jesus upheld the torah; in Mt 5(19) He said He didn’t come to abolish the Law and the Prophets; in fact, “Anyone who breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.” Do you want to be a “great” Christian? Get to know and be familiar with the Old Testament as well as the New.
    Psalm 19 continues by referring to the “statutes of the Lord”, or decrees; then His precepts and commands in v8; finishing in v9 with His ordinances, Hebrew mishpat or judgment. Are there varying degrees of weight or seriousness here? All the terms convey a sense of importance, they are “must do’s” - the Ten Commandments are not “the Ten Suggestions”.
    Note the adjectives describing the Lord’s instruction: trustworthy v7 / sure v9; they’re reliable, you can count on them, they provide a solid foundation for life. Meaningful existence cries out for a sense of right-and-wrong. V8 the Lord’s precepts are “right”, radiant or clear (NRSV); v9 “altogether righteous”. V10 More precious than gold, sweeter than honey.
    What effect can the Lord’s teaching have on our lives? V7 it makes the simple wise; v9 it gives joy to the heart and light to the eyes; v11 it provides warning to those who would serve Him, and “great reward” to those who keep His ways.
    The New Testament echoes the importance of God’s teaching. Romans 12:2 suggests its being perfect: by the renewing of your mind (probably involving Scripture), Paul says, “you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is— his good, pleasing and perfect will.” The Lord’s instruction “makes wise”: Colossians 3:16, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom...” 2Timothy 3:15 “...you have known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.” Note that it’s through faith in Jesus! He is Lord of the Sabbath and Lord of the Scripture.
    “There is great reward” the Psalm says in keeping the Lord’s commands. In the Sermon on the Mount, repeatedly Jesus said our Heavenly Father who sees what we do in secret, will reward us (Mt 6:4,6,18). Hebrew 11(6) says those who come to God must believe that He exists and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him. And James writes of the saving and blessing effect of receiving God’s word and obeying it: “get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you...The man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this...he will be blessed in what he does.” (Jas 1:21,25)


So, now you’re equipped and motivated to go out and be very find legalists, memorizing Old Testament laws, and monitoring your behaviour lest you break any of God’s commandments. And in fact some of you know people in groups who emphasize very much the keeping of the Hebraic laws, keep the Sabbath on Saturday, trying to be more Jewish than Gentile. Here’s the danger: were we to stop here, we’d risk becoming exactly like the legalistic Pharisees whom Jesus criticized harshly during His ministry. For example, Luke 11:42: “Woe to you Pharisees, because you give God a tenth of your mint, rue and all other kinds of garden herbs, but you neglect justice and the love of God.You should have practiced the latter without leaving the former undone.” Our fallenness can latch onto legalism and find pride in keeping the details of the law while missing out on the more important aspects - God’s love and righteousness or justice.
    Psalm 19 in its closing verses (12-14) hints at the limited scope of the Law. V13b states their desire to “be blameless, innocent of great transgression.” But there are two roadblocks: (A) v12 hard-to-discern errors and “hidden faults”. We might call these “sins of omission” - things you don’t realize you’re doing wrong. The Jews of antiquity categorized the Old Testament laws into 613 separate commands - 365 negative and 248 positive. Try keeping a list like that and you’re bound to have “hidden faults”!
    Second roadblock - (B) v13 “willful sins” that might “rule over me”. These are sins done knowingly, willfully, deliberately, perhaps with an attitude of arrogance or rebellion. “Sins of commission” they’ve sometimes been called – sins we KNOW we shouldn’t do but plunge ahead and do them anyway. The Psalmist pleads, “May they not rule over me”: we know we need what v14 calls a “Redeemer”, Someone stronger able to rescue, with resources to buy us out of sin’s grip.
    Fast forward about a thousand years to the time of respected Jewish rabbi Gamaliel in the first century AD. Gamaliel has a star student named Saul, who is so keen on Judaism he is basically faultless when it comes to keeping the law (Php 3:6). But even this top-of-the-class star student is plagued by an inner sense of guilt and dissatisfaction. He was torn inside between what he knew to be righteous and what he actually did. It was as if he was his own worst enemy; he sensed a different “law” or regime at work in his nature that prompted his body members to sin even when he knew with his mind what would have been right. Romans 7(11,23) describes this brilliant boy’s inner battle: “For sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, deceived me, and through the commandment put me to death...I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members.” Hear the angst and desperation as Mr.Legal-Beagle cries out, “What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?”
    Saul affirmed the excellence of God’s torah, but he found he was powerless to live up to it perfectly. His own fallen human nature sabotaged his best intentions. But Saul met Jesus and became Paul; he found deliverance through the Crucified One who was totally innocent and who fulfilled the law’s requirements completely. Paul explains in Romans 8:3, “For what the law was powerless to do in that it was weakened by the sinful nature, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering.” Now Paul finds he can live not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit; he feels freed from the regime “of sin and death”.(Rom 8:2,4)
    The church at Galatia was in danger of being hoodwinked by hyper-Jewish “circumcisers” into the trap of legalism. To them Paul explained the role of law as being “put in charge” for a time, to supervise us, but with the goal of leading people to freedom in Christ. The law had no more power than an instruction book or peg-board for a game of cribbage: it set out how to play and kept track of the score (what sins had been committed) but offered no help or live coaching to play the game any better. Galatians 3:23-25 “Before this faith came, we were held prisoners by the law, locked up until faith should be revealed.So the law was put in charge [the Greek word Paul uses here is sort of like a baby-sitter] to lead us to Christ that we might be justified by faith.Now that faith has come, we are no longer under the supervision of the law.” Prisoners - locked up - put in charge - supervision: the law confined our disobedience, hedging in our behaviour, providing damage control. Law can’t impart LIFE: 3:21 “...if a law had been given that could impart life, then righteousness would certainly have come by the law.”
    The Psalmist looked to God to be their Redeemer (v14). Galatians 4:4f “God sent His Son...to REDEEM those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons.Because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, ‘Abba, Father.’” Jesus redeems those who trust in Him, washing away our law-breaking transgressions; His blood purifies us from all sin; with His blood He purchased people for God, redeeming us (1Jn 1:7; Rev 5:9). Because of what He did, fulfilling the requirements of the law, our hidden faults can be forgiven, along with our willful sins when we confess and repent.
    More than the law, which is powerless hobbled by our sinful nature, the Holy Spirit empowers us to offer the parts of our body as slaves to righteousness (Rom 6:19). Paul summarizes the upshot of this in Romans 6:22, “But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves to God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life.” When we’re truly led by God’s Spirit (which inspired the whole Bible), the supervision or baby-sitting of the law becomes superfluous, because the Spirit won’t lead us anywhere outside of God’s will anyway.


Still, it’s good discipline as we mature in Christ to meditate on God’s law, to seek to come to understand His nature and attributes reflected therein, and monitor our own behaviour for wayward tendencies or habits by which the old nature might try to re-assert itself.
    One closing illustration from Our Daily Bread. “In the Scottish highlands is an old bridge that spans a wild cataract. Its structure is so massive, and it rises so high above the gorge that it is known as “The High Bridge.” But something happened that made it necessary for officials to condemn it. A tiny birch seed, caught by a gust of wind, dropped into a small crevice above the keystone. It lodged unnoticed in the lime, and before long it germinated. Soon it was a young sapling, but still nobody saw it. As it grew into a tree, its roots went deep into the mortar. Eventually it began to loosen and crack the masonry so that the arch was severely damaged. The bridge that had defied violent storms and supported the weight of marching armies finally had to be closed to traffic. It had succumbed to a small seed.
    “So too in the Christian life, one little hidden sin can weaken the foundation of a person’s character and be the cause of his downfall...David must have sensed this when he cried out, [Ps 19:12] “Cleanse Thou me from secret faults.” Such a prayer does not open the door to morbid introspection. Rather, it expresses a desire that the soul-searching work of God’s convicting power will reveal to us our spiritual defects. To ask for less is to run the risk of allowing some evil, though it be ever so small, to take root in our hearts. Soon the seed becomes a sapling; and the sapling becomes a full-grown tree, dislodging the spiritual masonry of our lives.” Let us pray.