By James Boice
Theme: Knowing the True God
In this week’s lessons, God is displayed as the righteous Judge who demonstrates his wrath toward sinners, but mercy toward his chosen people.
Scripture: Psalm 76:1-12
The opening stanza of this psalm (vv. 1-3) sounds to most people today like the narrowest possible provincialism: that God is known only in Israel. However, those who believe the Bible will know, first, that it is true—that is where God was known—and second, that this is merely the same kind of exclusiveness we also demonstrate when we declare that God has revealed himself uniquely in Jesus Christ.
1. In Judah God is known. Until relatively recent times, when atheistic nations such as those of the former Communist bloc declared that there is no God, all people everywhere acknowledged God’s existence. Of course, they did not all acknowledge the true God. They had different ideas about what he was like, and they worshiped him by a variety of names. So the questions were, Which of these various ideas of God is the right one, if any? And how can we be sure?
Clearly there is no way to answer those questions by mere human means. Human beings do not have a perspective from which they can observe God and describe what he is like. We are doomed to ignorance—unless God chooses to reveal himself. But that is exactly what he has done, according to Judaism and Christianity. God has revealed himself to Israel; that is what the Old Testament is about. And God has revealed himself in Jesus Christ. So at the time of the writing of this psalm, that is, before Jesus was born, it was not only strictly true but also necessary to say that God was known “in Judah” exclusively. This means that in those days, if you wanted to know who God is and what he is like, you had to turn to the Jews and to the Old Testament. The true God was the One who had revealed himself to Abraham and the other patriarchs, in a special and much fuller way at Mount Sinai, and through the prophets.
Jesus was expressing these same sober truths when he told the Samaritan woman, “You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews” (John 4:22).
2. In Jesus God is known. But God has also revealed himself in Jesus Christ in a way that now fulfills the Old Testament revelation and amplifies upon it. There is no one else who does this. No one but Jesus can say, “I and the Father are one” (John 10:30), and, “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:9).
So we preach Jesus! When the Apostle Paul was waiting for Silas and Timothy to join him in Athens he was struck by the city’s idolatry and began to reason with the wise men of the city about the gospel. A group of Epicureans and Stoics heard him and brought him to a formal meeting of the Areopagus where he had a chance to speak to the many assembled philosophers. Paul said, “Men of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: TO AN UNKNOWN GOD. Now what you are worshiping as something unknown I am going to proclaim to you” (Acts 17:22, 23). Paul then began to tell them about the Bible’s God, who had created all things, including themselves, and he ended with God’s revelation of himself in Jesus Christ.
It is the same today. We see people with their many diverse ideas of who God is, and we say to them, “What you are worshiping in ignorance we proclaim to you.” We point them to Jesus Christ. This God is the starting point of all wisdom, for “the fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding” (Prov. 9:10).
- How has God revealed himself?
- How was God known before Jesus’ birth? After?
- In our day, there is a great deal of spirituality. How do people’s views of spirituality and religion differ from biblical revelation?
Reflection: We think of “narrow” as a pejorative term, but why must we think of God’s revelation as being narrow?
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