Hebrews 1:1 - 3
Get to know someone completely different
Let me read to you the sign, on an exhibit from the Bronx Zoo in New York, as recorded by the New York Times on Monday September 10, 1906.
Age: 23 years.
Height, 4 feet 11 inches, what’s that? 150 centimetres.
Weight: 103 pounds, 47 kilograms.
Brought from the Kasai River, Congo Free State, South Central Africa, by Dr. Samuel P. Verner.
Brass plaque, on a zoo exhibit.
Nothing out of the ordinary about that!
Except this exhibit housed, a human. A man named Ota Benga, who had been brought from Africa by slave traders, and was exhibited in the zoo, with an Orang Utan for a companion.
These “human zoos”, were massively popular, and not just in the US. Before the outbreak of World War 2 there were over 400 exhibits of humans, from Africa, the Pacific Islands, Lapland, the Philippines, and crowds flocked to see them.
The idea of getting to know someone from outside your own experience,
Someone who wasn’t like you at all,
Someone different in almost every way,
Well, in the 19th and early 20th Centuries, that desire to get to know someone was, as one newspaper recorded “worth the five cents” that Ota Benga charged, to show you his sharp, filed teeth.
It was horrific, and I’m sure you’ll be pleased to know that it was Christian pastors who led the outrage against Ota Benga’s imprisonment. That New York Times article I quoted from, was written because the Times thought the opposition of the church leaders newsworthy. The editorial position of the paper itself was that the exhibition was entirely justified!
But it’s not surprising, is it? That people would flock to see someone from a part of the world that seemed entirely removed from their own.
It seemed like not just a different part of the world, but a different world entirely.
It sickens us, but we can understand that desire, can’t we?
To get to know someone completely different.
Well, Psalm 19, is not about getting to know a person who’s completely different to us,
But about getting to know a God, who’s completely different to us.
And pleasingly, it has none of the unpleasantness, of all of that which we’ve just been talking about.
But that innate desire, to meet, to get to know, to understand, which I think drove a lot of the popularity of that stuff, it’s answered in this Psalm.
You can’t read more than just a line or two, without coming to the realisation that the God who’s spoken about here, is not like us.
He is completely different to us!
He doesn’t just come from a different part of the world to us, he stands entirely outside our world.
God is revealed as glorious creator (v 1 – 6)
And of course, since that’s what God is like, entirely other.
Then the only hope we have for getting to know him, is for him to make himself known to us.
For God to reveal himself for us.
The goldfish that I used to have in my office, they were around me for hours and hours every day, but they didn’t know me, did they?
I’m pretty sure I exist on a whole other plane to them, so they couldn’t understand me or know me.
But if I could somehow come down to their level, communicate in a way accessible to tiny goldfish minds, and reveal myself as the one who drops in the fish flakes every day and cleans the tank, well, only with that kind of self-revelation would they have any hope of knowing me.
Psalm 19 is, as the title tells us, a Psalm of David. Remember in the Psalms, those little titles are actually part of the Bible text. They’re not just made up paragraph headings like in other places.
And so as well as being the king of the nation, David was also one of the leading songwriters! Out of the 150 Psalms, 75 were written by David.
So imagine if our queen, as well as, you know, being Queen, also had written half the songs on the Top 40 charts. That would be quite something, wouldn’t it?!
Well, that’s David!
And David wants us to know that the created order reveals God as a glorious creator.
1 The heavens declare the glory of God;
the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
2 Day after day they pour forth speech;
night after night they reveal knowledge.
3 They have no speech, they use no words;
And it goes on in exactly the same vein, doesn’t it?
The created order declares the glory of the God who made it.
I don’t know whether that’s what you think when you look at the heavens, when you look at the skies.
David looks out of his palace window every morning, and thinks “wow, God is glorious,
Apparently our universe is 156 billion light years across, that is, it would take a photon of light, 156 billion years, to race across is.
David doesn’t know that detail, but he just says look at it!
More accurately though, he says “listen to it”, doesn’t he?
David’s not interested in us just marvelling at the wonder and immenseness of the universe. He wants us to listen to what it tells us.
The heavens declare the glory of the God who made them.
And it’s non-stop, isn’t it?
2 Day after day, they pour forth speech;
night after night, they reveal knowledge.
their voice goes out into all the earth,
their words to the ends of the world.
What knowledge, to use that language from verse 2, can we gain from nature?
Well, it’s God’s glory, isn’t it? That’s what David says there in verse 1. Elsewhere in the Bible the idea of the glory of God speaks of very personal attributes of God;,
Here the idea seems to be less personal attributes of God. Like David’s saying the heavens declare the existence and the power of God.
This is what’s sometimes called “General Revelation.” It’s what God has made known of himself, to everyone.
In the first chapter of his letter to the Romans, the Apostle Paul picks up this same idea, and, speaking about humanity, he says, and these words are on your outline. He says, what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. 20 For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.
Romans 1:19 - 20
God is revealed, in what he has created.
Something about God can be seen in the heavens,
Not everything about God can be seen in nature.
Let’s be very clear on that.
Certainly some people today like to think that; “Everything I need to
know about God I can learn from looking at the stars,
Or a sunset,
Or a spider web.
But if that were true, the Psalm would finish at verse 6!
But it’s not even what the first part of the Psalm says, is it? David hasn’t said that everything about God is communicated by the natural order, but that God reveals his glory, his power and existence, through the work of his hands.
The fact that there is a universe, as vast as it is,
Both predictable, the sun rises every day,
And intricate, there’s plenty of it that we still don’t have answers for,
There is in this universe, a display of God’s existence and power, that should grab our attention, and cause us to call out to him.
How not to use the Bible
It’s worth me saying, I think, that might encounter people every now and then who claim that this Psalm proves that the Bible teaches a warped and unscientific cosmology.
“The sun doesn’t come out of a tent every morning,” they say?
And it doesn’t travel across the sky, the earth rotates around the sun, blah, blah, blah.
But there’s no way David actually thought the sun lived in a tent!
And he certainly didn’t think that that an ancient bridegroom, had to get out of bed every morning and march to his bride’s parents house, and do the same the next morning, and the next morning.
That’s the picture, isn’t it?
The poor bridegroom’s thinking, “When do I actually get to marry her? I’m getting tired of walking to her parents’ house every morning?”
The Bible is not trying to explain the physics, of planetary movement.
The Bible is trying to get us to see, the sun which God has made, which is pretty amazing, and vast, and hot, gives life to all of the earth.
Now, I’m all for asking scientific questions, I have a bachelor of health sciences, and I worked for the University of Adelaide. That basically means I spent 3 years doing not much at all, except asking scientific questions.
There’s a danger, though in coming to the Bible, only wanting answers to 21st Century scientific questions, because if the Bible is silent on them, if that’s all we’re listening for, we’ll miss what the Bible says about issues it considers more important.
What’s David trying to say here?
Not that the sun lives in a tent, and that it orbits the earth. He even tells us he’s using a simile, It is, like, a bridegroom.
He’s trying to get us to look at the sun, as one example of the work of God’s hands, and to see in its precise order, and its utter vastness, the work of a strong and powerful God, who gives good things to his world.
When David wrote this, there were plenty of people who worshipped the glorious bodies in the heavens, as gods in their own right.
Don’t worship them, David says, but see the glory of the God they reveal.
These days we don’t need so much to be prodded to think about the heavens and the natural realm as, “they’re just a creation.” We tend to need the reminder, they are a creation.
We’re not likely to look into the skies and see gods,
But me might look into the skies and fail to see God!
And see this is the great tragedy of someone like a David Attenborough. One of our kids got David Attenborough Blu-Rays for Christmas. And we love them. He tells us so much interesting stuff about the wonder of the created order.
He seems to understand so much detail, he has a sense of the wonder of the created order, and yet, doesn’t hear the message that it carries. I’ve never heard any suggestion that he hears nature’s words, that go to the ends of the world
I was reading the other day about the Gettysburg Address, Abraham Lincoln’s most famous speech in 1863.
And imagine someone was there in Gettysburg, at the cemetery that day, and we had some way of time travel, we’ve borrowed the Tardis from the new lady Doctor Who, or we’ve got a Delorean, and we bring that person here today, and we say, “You were there,
Tell us all about it
Tell us what it was like, to hear Lincoln deliver, one of the most famous speeches of all time.”
And our time-travelling friend, yes, you need to use your imagination! our time travelling friend says, “Well, yes I was there. It was a bit overcast,
Lincoln looked a little off colour,
He seemed quite haggard,
He was wearing his trade-mark black suit, stove-pipe hat.
He voice was a little strained, but loud enough for the crowds gathered for the dedication of the cemetery to hear.”
Meanwhile we’re standing there thinking, the speech! Tell us what he said!
And our friend responds somewhat surprised, “What he said?
I didn’t really hear him say anything!
I was just paying attention to the details.”
We’d pack him back into the time machine and try and get someone less useless next time!
It would be utter foolishness, wouldn’t it?
To become an expert in the detail,
Or to enjoy the magnificence of the heavens, and not hear what they say to us about God whose handiwork they are, verse 1.
No, we can’t plead ignorance of God, because God has made himself known.
God is revealed in his Word as good and just law-giver (v 7 – 10)
But as we saw, the created world doesn’t communicate everything there is to know about God.
David’s scope of inquiry changes in verse 7. No longer looking at the vast universe, now he turns his attention to God’s Word.
The law of the Lord is perfect,
refreshing the soul.
The statutes of the Lord are trustworthy,
making wise the simple.
We often pray these words before we look at the Bible here on Sundays, because these verses teach us, that just as the heavens reveal the God who made them,
The Scriptures reveal the God who speaks through them.
There have been a few people over the years who have tried to insist that Psalm 19 is made up of 2 different Psalms stuck together;
Verses 1 to 6, and then verses 7 to 14.
2 Psalms, about 2 different subjects, written by different people, just glued together and with David’s name stuck on the top”
But even we can see the mistake in that approach, can’t we?
David’s focus changes abruptly in verse 7, but his theme is the same;, the God who reveals himself.
And in reality, when we read the Psalm, we see the transition is not as abrupt as we might at first imagine.
The first section is about looking at the created order, and seeing not the majestic creation itself, but the God who made it.
And the second section, from verse 7 to 10, yes, it has a gloriously high view of the Scriptures, doesn’t it, but David looks at his Bible, in a very similar way to how he looks at the heavens; In order to see the God who stands behind them,
In order to learn something about the God who reveals himself in them.
Do you see that in what David says?
7 The law of the Lord is perfect,
The precepts of the Lord are right,
giving joy to the heart.
The commands of the Lord are radiant,
What’s David more excited about? The law? Or the Lord who is made known in the Law?
It’s the Lord, isn’t it?
It’s why he keeps calling it The law, of the Lord,
The law, of the Lord
David loves his Bible, because in it, he comes to know his God.
That first section reaches its climax in verse 6, speaking of the sun;, nothing is deprived of its warmth
And so it’s probably another deliberate link in David’s mind, to shift from thinking about the sun that covers all of the earth, and penetrates to all corners of it, to thinking about something else that penetrates and covers all of life.
That’s what God’s Word, the Bible, is like, isn’t it?
It’s like the sun. There’s nothing that the Bible’s light doesn’t touch,
No part of our existence or experience that it doesn’t reach into.
The sun, for David, is a convenient step into what he wants to say to us about the Bible, because he sees the similarity in how they work.
David speaks of God’s Word refreshing the soul.,
It makes wise the simple.,
It gives joy to the heart.,
light to the eyes.
There’s not really any part of David’s person or experience that the Word of God doesn’t speak into.
Is that our conviction, about the Scriptures?
That our soul,
That our mind, perhaps, where wisdom dwells,
All these metaphors for our human experience, God’s Word brings light, and life, and joy to each part.
Could we say, with David, that there is no part of our human experience, that the Scriptures are not good for.
And remember David’s great love is not for the Scriptures in isolation.
His Bible is good for him, in every way, every day, he is convinced, because he encounters God in the Bible.
Remember I said a moment ago that that first category of revelation, general revelation, it’s generally not personal.
What David’s talking about now, is often called “special revelation.” God speaks in the Scriptures, and this is personal.
The law of the Lord is perfect, by necessity implying, the God who gives this law, is himself perfect.
If God’s not perfect, then he can’t breathe out a perfect law. So to say that God’s law is like this, it necessarily follows that God is like this.
The law is a way of referring to the first 5 books of the Bible. They include what we might call the Law of Moses, but to speak of the law was a way of referring to all of the Bible.
We might talk about “Canberra making a law”, when we don’t really mean Canberra made a law, but the Parliament of Australia that sits in Canberra, made a law that applies to our whole country.
It’s the same thing here. David doesn’t mean just the bits that say “thou shalt” and “thou shalt not”! He’s talking about everything that God has made known of himself in the Bible.
And the much deeper and more personal revelation we receive from God in the Scriptures in contrast to the created order is reflected in the language David uses for God himself.
See, notice in verse 1, and in verse 4, David uses just the generic word for God, who’s revealed by the work of his hands.
But when he’s reflecting on the God who speaks in the Bible, he uses God’s personal name, Yahweh, and our NIV translation shows us that by printing the word Lord all in capital letters.
This was the name by which God had revealed himself to Israel. This is the name for God that you learned, if you were in relationship with him.
Various people in our church call me, a variety of different things!
But 3 people in our church, call me by a particular name.
They call me “Dad.” And they use that name, to express the relationship they have with me, a relationship that none of the rest of you, as lovely as you are, have with me.
When David turns his attention to the Bible, the thing that grabs him most, is that it’s in the Bible, that he learns how to relate to God?
And because of the relationship he has with God as a member of the covenant people of Israel, he can approach God with that personal name.
Why do we need the Bible, when God speaks through the works of his hands?
Well, because there’s lots that the heavens don’t tell us.
Yes, we know something of God from looking at the created order,
But we need the Bible if we’re to understand God in relationship,
We need the Bible if we’re to know how God draws people to himself,
We need the Bible if we’re to understand our need for God.
We need the Bible if we’re going to learn why Jesus came,
We need God to speak to us in the Bible, to learn that we’re sinful, to realise that we’ve all ignored and rejected God, tried to live life independent of God.
God is revealed as saviour (v 11 – 14)
Which is why, although David goes on to speak of God being revealed as his saviour in the third section of the Psalm, he’s still talking about the Bible, isn’t he?
He hasn’t moved on to some third category of revelation. It’s God’s precepts and statutes that reveal to him his sinfulness, verse 13,
By them, by God’s decrees, your servant is warned;
Or look at the last few lines in the stanza,
But who can discern their own errors?
Forgive my hidden faults.
13 Keep your servant also from willful sins;
In the Scriptures, God is revealed as saviour.
David is convinced that God can keep him from sin,
That God can forgive him.
How is David, how is God’s person today kept from sinning? Well, we today, if we’re God’s person, we have the great benefit of the Holy Spirit dwelling within us.
And how does the Bible say the Spirit chiefly works within us? With the Word of God. In fact the New Testament calls the word of God “the sword of the Spirit.”
The Scriptures reveal us we really are (v 12 – 13)
Verse 12, this is the work of the Scripture in David’s life.
But who can discern their own errors?
Forgive my hidden faults.
I don’t think David’s point is that some of his sin is so insignificant that it can’t be seen.
Someone here was saying they saw Santa’s sleigh flying through the night sky on Christmas Eve, and someone else pointed out that it was probably just the International Space Station which was visible from here at 9:53 PM Christmas Eve!
But often that’s what it’s like, isn’t it? We look up at the stars, and there are so many millions of them, that we need someone to tell us what we’re looking at.
We need someone else’s perspective, in order to see and understand things clearly.
David’s saying the Bible is like a mirror that he holds up to himself, in order to see himself more clearly, with his faults, and his errors, and his sin.
Although looking at yourself from someone else’s perspective is more like looking at yourself video.
We all know how awful that is. You see yourself as you really are, don’t you?
They say the camera adds 10 kilos and ages you 10 years, and you see yourself on the screen and you wonder, “how many cameras are there?”
David wants the Scriptures to give him the perspective on himself that he can’t see otherwise.
See if I’m looking at myself,
And especially myself compared to others, then it’s pretty easy for me to arrive at a fairly positive assessment of myself, and therefore to conclude “God must be pleased with me,
God’s pretty lucky to have me, in fact.
I’m way better than those other people!
This is the 3rd time I’ve been at church in 8 days!” All of those kinds of things.
But then I open the Bible, and all of a sudden there’s 10 cameras on me and I realise what I really look like.
When I see the law of the Lord that is perfect, reflecting God’s perfection, I realise that while I might be tempted to compare myself favourably to some people, it’s God’s standard that matters, and against God’s standard of perfection I fall miserably short.
It’s those commands of the Lord that are radiant, which show me the depths of my disobedience when I decide for myself what’s right and wrong. I read God’s commands, learn of the God who gives those commands, and realise that in making my own choices, I’m a rebel against God.
See, in verse 12, David is praying that his Bible will have an effect on him.
David prays to God, and asks that God’s word, will do it’s saving work in his life;,
That he will find reward from obedience, that’s verse 11, the many blessings that come from walking according to God’s pattern for life,
And that he will be kept from sin, because God’s word allows him to see himself as he really is.
Little wonder then that David calls the precepts and decrees of the Lord more precious than gold, verse 10.
Is that how we think of the Scriptures?
The specific instructions?
The “thou shalts” and the “thou shalt nots”. He includes all of it, doesn’t he? He doesn’t just mean the nice bits that say “God is love.”
Some of these precepts, and commands that David loves so much because of the God who speaks them, he broke them, deliberately and in spectacular ways!
The “do not murder” and “do not commit adultery” ones spring to mind particularly for David.
He knows the pain and consequence of disobeying, and yet he says The decrees of the Lord are firm,
and all of them are righteous.
10 They are more precious than gold,
Friends do we love God’s Word?
Do we love God’s word like this, because it reveals to us, the God who stands behind it?
Is spending time in God’s Word the very last thing that gets squeezed out of our diary when we get busy?
It should be.
Are the pages of Scripture the first place we turn when we want an encounter with the living God?
They should be.
Do we find God’s word refreshing?, verse 7
Do we long to read it, and know God, and become wise?
Do we think, verse 8, that the precepts of the Lord are always right? Or do we think that there are some bits where God got it wrong, and we’re in a better position to decide?
Does doing what’s right, come grudgingly to us, ever mindful of what we think we’re missing out on,
Or do the precepts of the Lord, give joy to the heart?
Sometimes it’s hard, isn’t it?
Sometimes it doesn’t seem that God knows best,
Or that his pattern is good for me.
Sometimes reading his word is just hard going!
My pattern is to read some of the Bible every morning. And at the moment, I’m reading Proverbs.
Some people love the book of Proverbs. This will probably be the only time I say this, “I don’t!”
I would have been quite happy if God had left proverbs out of the Bible, and used the space he saved to put in an appendix, explaining some of the other tricky bits!
Getting up in the morning and reading a couple of chapters of Proverbs is hard work. I just don’t want to do.
But Psalm 19 encourages me to, doesn’t it?
It reminds me of what I don’t always see.
And it speaks to me of the God who is revealed in the Bible.
Could it be that perhaps we haven’t allowed the sword of the Spirit do its work in us?
We don’t see ourselves as we really are?
We don’t think we need God in the way David knew that he did?
We don’t see those hidden faults,
We don’t see our sin,
We don’t see our need to be declared innocent.
And because we don’t see ourselves as we really are, perhaps we don’t value what we’re given as much as we could.
God is revealed
There is a bit of a PS to this Psalm, though, isn’t there?
David speaks about God revealed in the created order,
He speaks God revealed in his Word,
He speaks about one particular revelation of God in his Word, that God saves us from sin.
But a thousand years after David, God broke into the world that he’d made, with a whole new kind of revelation.
We read about it in the opening of the letter to the Hebrews.
In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, 2 but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe. 3 The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being,
This revelation of God surpasses every other means by which God has spoken.
This revelation comes in a person.
Remember, The heavens declare the glory of God?
Jesus is the very radiance of the glory of God. He shares the same essence and nature as his Father, and so the glory is his own.
In Jesus, God reveals himself, by turning up amongst us
And of course, only in Jesus, can David’s prayer in verses 11 and 12 be fully answered.
How can hidden faults be forgiven?
How is it possible to receive the great reward for obedience when we know we’re not obedient?
How can we be blameless, innocent of great transgression?
Well, what did Hebrews say about Jesus? After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven.
Jesus, is God revealed as saviour.
There was plenty to be appalled at, in the human zoos of the early 20th century.
But even the concept of coming along to watch,
To pay your 5 cents,
All in the hope of getting to know someone different to you, even that concept is utterly flawed, isn’t it?
How does a middle-class, English-speaking New Yorker, get to know a young Congolese man, simply by staring at him?
It doesn’t work does it?
You don’t get to know someone just by looking at them?
You might get to learn about their life.
You might be able to predict various things that they’ll do.
But you don’t know the person, do you?
Not one among those crowds of thousands knew Ota Benga.
If we want to really know someone,
We need them to come to us, and to say "this is who I am,
This is what I'm like,
This is what I think of you,
This is what I'd like you to know,
This is what I'm able to offer you.
Let my life interpret and make sense of your life.
Well, then we’d really be able to know them, wouldn’t we?
No crowds simply staring,
No goldfish swimming in ignorance.
Friends, Psalm 19, teaches us, of the God who reveals himself.
And Jesus, the radiant son, is the final piece of the puzzle.
Let me pray.
May these words of my mouth and this meditation of my heart
be pleasing in your sight,
Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer.