The Story of the Word
This past week, we spent some time canoeing and camping at laurel lake. As we laid in our hammock stretched out between the trees, and listened to the endless calls of the birds and the forest, I was amazed by the number of different calls made by one humble bird: the crow. I never realized how many different calls that one bird could make. Some are low, soft notes, as though they are casually talking to one another. Others are loud, raucous warning calls. When an osprey disturbed their nesting site, you should have heard the cacophony of noise coming from the flock of angry crows!
Many animals can talk to one another—some in amazing ways! Some scientists believe that prairie dogs might have the most complex language in the animal kingdom. For example, prairie dogs have different barks for every different kind of predator that might attack them. They have a bark for “coyote,” another one for “hawk” and another bark for a “badger.” They can even communicate exactly which direction a predator is approaching from!
Speech. Language. Words. It’s a fascinating thing. By a highly complex series of vocalizations, or intricate markings on paper, we can communicate important, complex, and many times highly abstract ideas and information. More than any animal of the creation, we human beings rely on speech and language to understand and interact with the world around us. It is among the first and most important skills passed from one generation to the next—perhaps the first non-genetic trait to be passed from a mother to her child.
Spoken Through His Prophets
The book of Genesis tells of a creator God—a God who spoke the world into existence by His very Word. Not an abstract, un-intelligent force, but a real, living, intelligent being, who comprehends all things and who filled the emptiness, not just with matter but with meaning. Not with bloat, but with beauty and understanding—intelligible, articulate life. It tells of a God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, three co-eternal beings so tightly knit together that they work together as one. And as this loving God speaks among Himself, He says, “Let us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness.”
So, God stoops down, and forms man from the dust. He imbues him with His own atributes—in His own likeness. And from his first waking breath, Man hears, ringing in his ears, the Word of God. That Word, of creative power, commanding him to “Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue itl have dominion over … every living thing.”
From the beginning of time—from the earliest days of Creation, the Bible records that God speaks to man. Adam and eve grew accustomed to the hearing the sound of their creator, as He would come walking in the garden, in the cool of the day. But, on that fateful day, when they disobeyed God, for the first time, they ran from God’s voice.
God called out to Adam, “Where are you?” From that day forward, man became separated from the face of God. After that conversation, mankind was expelled from the Garden, and never since has he beheld the unveiled face of his Creator. Yet in God’s mercy, though veiled from His face, mankind has not been entirely cut off from the voice of God. Though man had rebelled from Him, God still loved him, and in every age He has made provision for man, even still, to hear His voice.
In an age of great wickedness, God spoke to a man by the name of Noah, who heard and obeyed the voice of God. By building a great ark, he and his immediate family, and all the animals, were saved from the great world-wide flood.
Once again, in the years following the flood, after the descendents of Noah had again rebelled against heaven, God called a man by the name of Abram. To Abraham was given the promise (Gen 12:1-3): “I will make you a great nation; … and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”
In those days, we don’t have record that God spoke directly to every person in every generation. Because of sin, the communication between earth and heaven was restricted, as it is today. But the Word of God—His commands and promises and blessings, and the story of the creation, the flood, and of His dealings with men, were passed down from generation to generation. We don’t have any writings today that date back to the time of the creation, or the flood, but I can imagine that people’s minds were a lot stronger back then, too. Memories didn’t get fuzzy so quickly, and people didn’t have near the excuse that we might have today – “I plum forgot.”
The descendents of Abraham clung to the promise—one day God would make them a great nation. The promise was repeated to Isaac, and again to Jacob. But by the time Jacob’s descendants had spent hundreds of years in Egypt, they and well neigh forgotten their identity—they had forgotten God and His promises. So God raised up Moses, who not only led them out of Egypt, but led them back to the God of their fathers.
As Moses tended sheep in the wilderness, he saw a strange sight—a burning bush. When he approached the bush, though He didn’t see anyone, He heard a voice. The Word—the “I Am,” the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, spoke to Him from the burning bush, and commanded Him to lead Israel out of Egypt. (Exodus 3:6)
Nor was that the last time that Moses spoke to God—for the next 40 years, Moses had direct communion with the God of Heaven. Though he never beheld God’s face (Exodus 33:20), He spoke to God in a way that no other prophet has since that time. (Deuteronomy 34:10)
Through Moses, God gave an unprecedented gift to his wayward, forgetful people. Moses, in addition to leading the children of Israel, wrote the very first books of the Bible. These first 5 books of the Bible became the basis of instruction for God’s people—a continual presence of the Word of God, now in written form–unchanged and unforgotten in the passing of time. In its first book, Genesis, the stories of the creation, of the flood, and of the patriarchs are immortalized. Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy recount the early history of the nation of Israel, as they were led out of Egypt. The account is written of that moment in time, when God Himself proclaimed His eternal law with His own voice to the assembled multitude of Israel. The very words He spoke—the 10 commandments—were written down, and are preserved with us to this very day.
The story of the Word. This is the beginning. It originates with God in Creation, and continues through successive ages. In every age, God reveals Himself to man, and that generation preserves the record of God’s dealings for the instruction of future generations. A continuing history—a continuing revelation. Since the time of Moses, many more books were added to the Old Testament of scriptures. We looked at these during our last message—the books of History, the books of poetry, Psalms, and Proverbs, the major and minor prophets.
Understood By His Spirit
Since the beginning, God’s word has been spoken to us by His prophets. Secondly, God’s word is inspired and understood by His spirit.
In the days of the prophet Elijah, at a time in Elijah’s life when he was particularly discouraged, he fled into the wilderness to seek God on the mountain of Sinai. Wicked queen Jezebel had issued his death warrant, and he felt that he needed nothing but to hear God’s voice speaking to Him, and to know that He was assured of God’s favor. And God did come to him.
1 Kings 19:11-12: “Then He said, ‘Go out, and stand on the mountain before the Lord.’ And behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind tore into the mountains and broke the rocks in pieces before the Lord, but theLord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lordwas not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but theLord was not in the fire; and after the fire a still small voice.”
There’s an important principle here, in how God communicates to men, and by extension, how we have received the Word of God in written form, in the Bible. Peter says (2 Peter 1:21) that “prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit.” There are two principles we can learn from this verse: first, that the prophecies and teachings of the Bible are here, not because human beings wanted them to be, but because God willed for them to be written. So many people look at the Bible no differently than some ancient work of literature. But by it’s own testimony, it is so much more than that. On the other hand, there are many people who have the mistaken idea that the Bible is a magical book, written down by the hand of God Himself. Some think that, although the Bible writers’ names may be attached to the books, it was the hand of God who moved the pen, so to speak—dictating from heaven every word that must be written.
“All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness.” 2 Timothy 3:16
Now, the idea that God himself wrote down every word of the Bible—this doesn’t sound like such a bad idea! After all, we believe the Bible came from God, so shouldn’t we take it literally? I’m not necessarily saying we shouldn’t take the Bible literally, but I think there’s a key principle we need to understand in this verse. Read it again: “holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit.” So, who did the speaking? Who did the moving?
What this means is very important. As we read the Bible, we can clearly see the personality and style of the individual Bible writers. Peter the fisherman doesn’t write the same way as Paul, the philosopher. Luke, the historian, and John, the theologian, take a dramatically different approach in their coverage of the same stories and events. Often we will find these differences in approach or interpretation, more rarely but sometimes, even an apparent contradiction. This shouldn’t cause us to stumble, but rather it should increase our faith in the authenticity of the accounts that were recorded by so many different and diverse writers.
Lived By His Son
God’s word was spoken through His prophets. God’s word is inspired and understood through His spirit. But God gave a manifestation of His word to this world that surpasses all these, and makes even the angels of heaven stand in awe. You see, despite all the books written—even after the prophets lived their lives, preached their hearts out, and in many cases sealed their testimony with their blood—even after all this, God’s people still didn’t understand who God is. After Israel returned from captivity, they understood the importance of keeping God’s law—but they made their keeping of it an idol in itself. They worshiped their own aspirations for national sovereignty. They prided themselves in their holiness, while they forgot the object of their worship.
So, once again, God sent His Word into the world. But this time, not through prophets and messengers, but by sending Himself—His own Son—the very one who had spoken to Moses from the burning bush. “The Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we behold His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14)
“God, who at various times and in various ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets, 2 has in these last days spoken to us by HisSon, whom He has appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the worlds; 3 who being the brightness of His glory and the express image of His person, and upholding all things by the word of His power, when He had by Himself purged our sins, sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high” (Hebrews 1:1-3)
“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16)
“Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross. Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Philippians 2:5-11)
Just as the light of the Sun surpasses the light of the moon, so the brilliance of the picture of God in Christ Jesus surpasses all the types and symbols of the Old Testament services. After Jesus ascended to Heaven, His disciples and followers wrote down their first-hand accounts of their experiences with Him—the God-Man, Jesus Christ. The Gospels, the history of the early Christian church as recorded in Acts; the epistles of Paul and the other apostles, and finally the Revelation of Jesus Christ, as given to the Apostle John over half a century later—these make up the New Testament of Scripture. Like the Old Testament, these books are a record of man’s encounter with God. They are not just a record of the messages, laws, and promises of God to prophets and kings. They are a record of the daily life and teachings of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, and His message to His followers as given through the Holy Spirit.
Friends, how can we even begin to comprehend the magnitude of this gift—that the God of heaven sent His only Son, the Word of Life, for you and for me? Does it seem sometimes that the Word of God is hard to understand? Friend, look to Jesus. Does it seem that it’s grown old, or stale, or dusty? Friend, look to Jesus. Does it seem that God is far from your life—that the word of the prophets has failed and voice of the spirit has grown faint? Friend, look to Jesus. Jesus knows, and Jesus cares. He’s been through it, too—and he’s right there beside you.
Yes, perhaps, it may seem to be an old, old story to you—but I want to encourage you—read it again. Let it speak to your heart, and you will find that old, old story of Jesus and His love, come to life again.