And a great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, withthe moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars. 2 She was pregnant and was crying out in birth pains and the agony of giving birth. 3 And another sign appeared in heaven: behold, a great red dragon, with seven heads and ten horns, and on his heads seven diadems. 4 His tail swept down a third of the stars of heaven and cast them to the earth. And the dragon stood before the woman who was about to give birth, so that when she bore her child he might devour it. 5 She gave birth to a male child, oone who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron, but her child was caught up to God and to his throne, 6 and the woman fled into the wilderness, where she has a place prepared by God, in which she is to be nourished for 1,260 days. (Revelation 12:1-6, ESV)
How clear was that? Can anyone tell me exactly what God was showing John in that vision?
[ These are quick sermon notes…not cleaned-up…and missing the "extras" that come out in the audio (which is available here). All quotes are from the English Standard Version unless otherwise noted. ]
How about this instead?:
In just a little while, the wicked will be no more;
though you look carefully at his place, he will not be there.
11 But the meek shall inherit the land
and delight themselves in abundant peace.
12 The wicked plots against the righteous
and gnashes his teeth at him,
13 but the Lord laughs at the wicked,
for he sees that his day is coming.
14 The wicked draw the sword and bend their bows
to bring down the poor and needy,
to slay those whose way is upright;
15 their sword shall enter their own heart,
and their bows shall be broken.
16 Better is the little that the righteous has
than the abundance of many wicked.
17 For the arms of the wicked shall be broken,
but the Lord upholds the righteous. (Psalm 37:10-19)
That’s a bit easier to understand…but can you readily divide the hyperbole from the message? Will the arms of the wicked be broken? Does the Lord truly laugh at the wicked because “he sees his day coming”?
What about the history recorded by the Bible? What does God want us to learn from:
- The master who offered his concubine to be raped in Gibeah and then, after his forcing her to go out to be abused “all night until the morning” cut her up into 12 pieces and “sent her throughout all the territory of Israel”? (Judges 19:22-30)
- The Lord commanding that a man who gathered sticks on the Sabbath “…be put to death; all the congregation shall stone him with stones outside the camp”? (Numbers 15:32-36)
- God’s command that “…in the cities of these peoples that the Lord your God is giving you for an inheritance, you shall save alive nothing that breathes, 17 but you shall devote them to complete destruction, the Hittites and the Amorites, the Canaanites and the Perizzites, the Hivites and the Jebusites…” (Deuteronomy 20:16-17)
- How when Korah, Dathan, and Abiram rebelled the Lord opened up the earth and also killed “their wives, their sons, and their little ones.” (Numbers 16)
The stories seem pretty straightforward, but how clear are the messages to you? If you had a short time to teach people about God, would you use those to give a clear picture of Him?
When God (finally) speaks clearly…
Let’s turn together to a Scripture I read recently as I continued going through the entire Bible in one year: Ezekiel 18:1-23. [ Read to verse 22 and then… ]
Perhaps a bit difficult to read, but this all seems pretty clear, correct? Contrary to the Israelis’ perception, a child will not pay for his father’s sin and visa-versa…if people turn from their wickedness they will live…if the righteous switch to doing wrong they will die.
But it is the next verse that jumped out at me as very, very clear:
“Have I any pleasure in the death of the wicked, declares the Lord God, and not rather that he should turn from his way and live?” (Ezekiel 18:23)
Any question what God is saying there? How about 9 verses later when God says?:
“For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Lord God; so turn, and live” (Ezekiel 18:32).
For me both of those have complete clarity–I may scratch my head at God laughing at the fate of the wicked, ordering someone to be stoned for picking up sticks on the Sabbath, or killing “the little ones” because their dads rebelled–but here I can see no matter how I have read the Bible…no matter what men have told me about God…He does not have pleasure in anyone dying and would prefer everyone “turn from his way and live”!
Have you also found places where…BOOM!…suddenly God has spoken in a manner that you understand completely?
Before we discuss a couple other very clear areas…
Have you ever wondered why so much of the Bible is confusing? Why doesn’t God just always state things as plainly as He did in Ezekiel 18:23 and 32?
Jesus actually once spoke to this…
10 And when he was alone, those around him with the twelve asked him about the parables. 11 And he said to them, “To you has been given the secret of the kingdom of God, but for those outside everything is in parables, 12 so that
“they may indeed see but not perceive,
and may indeed hear but not understand,
lest they should turn and be forgiven” (Mark 4:10-12)
That may seem harsh…but consider this…God is a god of choice…free will…He will not force anyone to believe…if someone’s heart is wicked and they don’t want to…He will give them what they want…reason not to believe…not to mention if we turn to James 2:19:
“You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe–and shudder!”
Demons don’t “believe” in God for a lack of clarity…
[ Include this if the sermon is moving fast enough… ]
And we have evidence that sometimes being perfectly clear doesn’t work out so well with us humans either…
31 And he began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, andafter three days rise again. 32 And he said this plainly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. 33 But turning and seeing his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you bare not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man” (Mark 8:31-33).
It’s a bit of a tight-rope balancing act for our Lord, but we also know that ultimately, everyone has been given plenty of evidence…
19 For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. 20 For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. 21 For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they obecame futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Claiming to be wise, they became fools, 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things (Romans 1:10-22).
Now back to our regularly schedule program…
When did God speak most clearly?
25 “I have said these things to you in figures of speech. The hour is coming when I will no longer speak to you in figures of speech but will tell you plainly about the Father. 26 In that day you will ask in my name, and I do not say to you that I will ask the Father on your behalf; 27 for the Father himself loves you, because you have loved me and have believed that I came from God. 28 I came from the Father and have come into the world, and now I am leaving the world and going to the Father.”
29 His disciples said, “Ah, now you are speaking plainly and not using figurative speech! 30 Now we know that you know all things and do not need anyone to question you; this is why we believe that you came from God.” 31 Jesus answered them, “Do you now believe?” (John 16:16-31)
Very interesting…the disciples say, “Ah, now you are speaking plainly and not using figurative speech!”…and Jesus had just said He would “tell [them] plainly about the Father.”
What did He say right after that and before the disciples said, “Now you are speaking plainly!”?
“…I do not say to you that I will ask the Father on your behalf; for the Father himself loves you…”
I would argue that perhaps one of the clearest areas of the Bible is John’s record of his conversation with the disciples in the upper room–starting in chapter 13…and includes one of the spots that made God clearer to me:
“No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you” (John 15:15).
Although I could continue to bring up scriptures where God speaks very, very clearly…doing that will miss the “most clear” communication from God:
Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, 2 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. 3 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 kat the right hand of the Majesty on high (Hebrews 1:1-3).
8 Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.” 9 Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? (John 14:8-9).
Although I would encourage everyone to focus on parts of the Bible like Ezekiel 18:23 and 32 where God speaks very clearly…Jesus is the ultimate “clear” message from God…and if there is anything we should focus on, it is His life and words. Jesus is the “exact imprint” of the Father’s nature and if we have seen him we’ve seen the Father.
Now, that doesn’t mean He can’t be misunderstood–otherwise we wouldn’t have myriad denominations…but if you want people to clearly understand God, there are no words that can show what He is like as clearly as Jesus does.
One final time the Bible is clear…
And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them min the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:18-20).
That’s a clear command…let’s…as a church family…follow it together…let’s tell them about the God we worship…the God that Jesus is the “exact imprint” of!