God's Words and His Works
(Part 2) Responding When God Speaks by Andrew Fountain
Then Jesus, again groaning in Himself, came to the tomb. It was
a cave, and a stone lay against it. Jesus said, "Take away the
stone." Martha, the sister of him who was dead, said to Him, "Lord, by
this time there is a stench, for he has been dead four days."
Jesus said to her, "Did I not say to you that if you would believe you
would see the glory of God?" Then they took away the stone from
the place where the dead man was lying. And Jesus lifted up His eyes and
said, "Father, I thank You that You have heard Me. "And I know
that You always hear Me, but because of the people who are standing by I
said this, that they may believe that You sent Me." Now when He
had said these things, He cried with a loud voice, "Lazarus, come forth!
" And he who had died came out bound hand and foot with graveclothes, and his face was wrapped with a cloth. Jesus said to them,
"Loose him, and let him go."
Then many of the Jews who had come to Mary, and had seen the things Jesus did, believed in Him. But some of them went away to the Pharisees and told them the things Jesus did. Then the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered a council and said, "What shall we do? For this Man works many signs.
In part 1 of this series we saw that God reveals Himself
through His Words (the Bible) and His Works (Creation and the events of
life). God's Words are clearly understood, but His Works are sometimes
hard to fathom. The only way of understanding them is by God's own
explanation, His Words.
We saw that the hardest times in the Christian life are when the events that we are experiencing do not seem to match God's Words. Only faith can bridge this gap, and in such hardships and difficulty our faith is tested. We saw the Lord Jesus Christ as the one whose faith was tested and who showed the triumph of faith, even there on the cross as He still firmly clung to the promises of God.
The ultimate challenge to us as human beings is always to accept God's explanation for the events of life. In other words,
The main picture of salvation in the Old Testament is the
Exodus. The Israelites, who were in captivity for four hundred years in
Egypt, were brought out through God's power. They were brought out of
slavery, through the wilderness, into the Promised Land. That is a
picture of salvation: God saving His people, saving unbelievers, making
them into Christians, and bringing them into freedom and salvation in Jesus
God chose Moses at that time to be the leader of His people and through Moses many miracles were done. God called these miracles "signs". A sign is a miracle that has a meaning, which points to something.
The seven signs selected by John were: turning
the water into wine; healing the nobleman's son; healing the man lying by
the pool; feeding the five thousand; walking on the water; giving sight to
a blind man; and raising Lazarus from the dead.
We see a strong similarity in four other signs.
Jesus explains His seventh sign in John 11:21-26 as pointing to the resurrection, something entirely new with no parallel in Moses. All the signs draw attention to the superiority of Christ to Moses, yet showing the same human responses of belief and unbelief.
In Exodus 10:1-2, we read "Now the Lord said to Moses, `Go into
Pharaoh; for I have hardened his heart and the hearts of his servants, that
I may show these signs of mine before him, and that you may tell in
the hearing of your son and your son's son, the mighty things I have done
in Egypt, and my signs which I have done among them, that you may
know that I am the Lord." So the purpose of these signs, these strange
miraculous events, was that the people would believe. Now the Lord said to Moses, `Go into
Pharaoh; for I have hardened his heart and the hearts of his servants, that
I may show these signs of mine before him, and that you may tell in
the hearing of your son and your son's son, the mighty things I have done
in Egypt, and my signs which I have done among them, that you may
know that I am the Lord.
There were ten signs:
the water of the Nile was turned to blood
a plague of frogs
a plague of lice
a plague of flies
a disease that killed the livestock
a plague of boils
a plague of hailstones and fire
a plague of locusts
a miraculous darkness so thick it blinded everyone
the death of firstborn sons
The remarkable thing about these signs was Pharaoh's reaction:
Each time Moses would come to Pharaoh and tell him that God was going to do a particular sign, for example the plague of frogs.
When the sign occurred, Pharaoh would say, "This is terrible! Take these frogs away and your people can go."
Moses would pray and the plague would go.
Pharaoh would change his mind and refuse to let them go.
The next sign would come along and the cycle would repeat.
The incredible thing was that Pharaoh seemed to have a memory
about five minutes long because as soon as the sign had gone, he would
change his mind and disbelieve. The Bible says, "His heart was
hardened." All these events happened and yet he failed to understand
that it was God who was behind them.
When you have an apparent miracle done right in front of you, you have to have some kind of an explanation for it. If I were to appear to levitate a book up in the air in front of you, you would probably say, "He has wires up to the ceiling, or there is a jet of air keeping it up". As humans we have to try and have some sort of an explanation in our minds whenever we see a strange or unusual event.
Pharaoh had two possible explanations for the signs that he saw. He could have said to himself, "Whenever Moses says a plague is coming, it always happens, so God is working." But Satan always tries to give us another explanation for what God is doing. Maybe Pharaoh thought, "This is a coincidence: it just happens, that whenever Moses says there are going to be flies, there are flies, when he says there will be frogs, there are frogs." At one point Moses came to Pharaoh and said, "I'll give you the privilege of telling me when these frogs are going to disappear. You name the time!" Pharaoh said, "Tomorrow." The next day the frogs went, but still he didn't believe. You would think he would accept that this wasn't a coincidence.
Another alternative explanation from Satan was that Moses was doing some sort of magic. That is what Pharaoh's magicians told him to start with, but after a while, even they were forced to admit this was not an explanation and told Pharaoh, "This is the finger of God" (Ex 8:19). Yet Pharaoh still hung on to his unbelief. It's incredible how determined Pharaoh was to believe that God was not working.
As mentioned earlier, the Exodus was a picture of the mighty
salvation that Jesus accomplished, bringing His people out of slavery, and
the apostle John draws particular attention to the parallel between Jesus
and Moses. John pictures Jesus as the new Moses, saving His people in
the new Exodus of the gospel age. Moses did signs and John in his Gospel
singles out seven signs that Jesus performed. Jesus says in John 14:11
"Believe Me that I am in the Father and the Father in Me, or else
believe Me for the sake of the works themselves." Just as in the case
of Pharaoh, some people believed the signs and some didn't. Some people
saw the water turned into wine and believed, but some had another
explanation. In the passage above from John 11, some watched Lazarus raised
from the dead and believed, but some had another explanation and
actually wanted to put Lazarus to death. Some people even said that Jesus
was doing miracles by the power of Satan.
John tells us in John 20:30-31 "And truly Jesus did many other signs in the presence of His disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name." John is putting us, the readers, in the same position as Pharaoh and the Jewish leaders. These people had all the signs done in front of them but didn't believe. We have these signs recorded and are challenged: are we going to believe, or are we going to disbelieve with Pharaoh?
The box to the left shows how the first six signs relate to
Moses, but the seventh sign, the resurrection of Lazarus, is explained by
Jesus as something entirely new. In John 11:25, He said to Martha, "I
am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die,
he shall live." The sign pointed to His resurrection that was about to
happen. This new miracle went far beyond any miracle that Moses had done.
Jesus continues, "And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never
die. Do you believe this?" He was speaking to Martha, but it is a
question that we all must face. Do you believe these words of Jesus?
It was a terrible thing for Pharaoh not to believe in the signs. His heart was hardened, and no matter how great a miracle was done in front of him, he refused to believe; no matter how clearly the events of life pointed to God, he refused to accept God's explanation of the events. When Jesus did the sign-miracles, some of the people refused to believe, even when they saw Lazarus raised from the dead.
How do you respond to Jesus? What is your explanation of the life and death of Jesus Christ? You may say, "He was a great teacher, a good man. " Maybe you say, "He had some good things to say, but He was misled." But Jesus claims to be God and you have to have an explanation and respond to these claims. God's interpretation of the events is that Jesus is the divine Son of God. Satan wants you to believe He was a fraud. Whose explanation will you chose?
Satan always has another explanation of God's Works and the events of life. In the Garden of Eden, God gave Adam and Eve everything that their hearts could desire. They were placed in paradise as a demonstration of God's love and care. Satan came up and whispered another explanation. He said, "These things were done so that God can hide from you the knowledge that you really need to have. He wants to keep you from being like Himself." Satan put a nasty, wicked, evil explanation into their hearts. Satan will always try to do that with us. He will try to put a wicked alternative explanation in our hearts.
Satan will always try to put a
wicked alternative explanation in our hearts.
King Ahab worshipped Ba'al, the depraved god of the Caananites, and the prophet Elijah planned a clear decisive demonstration of which god was real. He gathered the king and all the people of Israel to Mount Carmel to watch. After a whole day of prayer, the prophets of Ba'al could not make fire come on their sacrifice but when Elijah prayed fire came down from heaven and consumed the sacrifice. You would think that this demonstration would be so obvious and clear that the people around would believe, but they didn't change their gods. Ahab still refused to believe. No matter how clearly God works in events, if we are determined not to believe, we won't, unless God works in our hearts by His Spirit.
Think even of Judas the disciple. He was with Jesus Christ for his entire ministry. He just didn't see just seven signs, he saw hundreds of signs, but he ultimately refused to believe, and betrayed Jesus.
We see another example when Paul preached the gospel in Lystra
and used the arguments of creation and providence. In Acts 14:8
Paul does a miracle, healing a crippled man. How is this miracle to be
explained? The Lystrans immediately say that Paul is a god who has come
down from heaven! Paul is very distressed about this and tells them that
the miracle is not explained by useless idols, but by the power of
"the living God, Who made the heavens, the earth, the sea, and all the
things that are in them... He did not leave Himself without witness, in
that he did good, gave us rain from heaven, and fruitful seasons, filling
our hearts with food and gladness."
What Paul is doing is very interesting: he is drawing their attention to events in their life that they can see. He is saying, "Now look at the creation that is around you." In part 1 of this series, we saw how creation and providence are signs of God's presence and activity. Paul points first to God's creation that surrounds them, and then to God's providence that orders the events of their lives. In the only other NT account of the gospel being preached to pagans (Acts 17) it is significant that Paul uses exactly the same two arguments.
If you are not a Christian, you are still surrounded by God's
works. You see the wonder of creation. It's awesome! Look at your own
body: God has made us with biochemical systems in our own body that defy
the most brilliant chemists and biologists. The wonder and beauty we see
around us in creation, of the animals, the birds, the mountains, the trees,
is just breathtaking. Could that have come about by chance? Satan whispers
to us, "It's just chance. It's just evolution that is responsible.
God hasn't made it!" But in our hearts we know that there must be a
What about the things that have happened to you in your life? God has given you many things. He has given you health, He has given you good things, for some reason He has caused you to read this article. I don't know the things that have happened to you, but you know that God is active in your life.
Are you going to be like Pharaoh and turn away from Him with another explanation such as, "The world is the product of blind chance, and my life has no purpose or meaning"? Or are you going to understand that it is God who is working and it is a fearful thing to turn against Him.
The Jewish leaders turned against Jesus, even though they saw a man raised from the dead in front of their very eyes. I beg you, don't harden your heart, but understand that God is speaking to you, by the events in your life, by creation, and by His providential dealings with you.
You may know Christians and can see something different about their lives. This last week I met a Christian who had once been living on the street, drinking alcohol, taking drugs, sleeping on the street. Life was a ruin and a mess until God came in and changed this person's life drastically and completely, utterly changed them and saved them. You may know Christians whose lives have been changed by God: a miracle has happened. We have to explain this miracle. Is it merely some kind of psychological change, or is it God acting in mighty power.
I beg you, don't harden your heart,
but understand that God is speaking to you
Maybe you are saying, "I need more evidence," like the Jews who wanted more and more signs, but still did not believe, even when Lazarus was raised. More evidence will not make you believe--you have more than enough already.
In John 11:40 we read, "Jesus said to her, `Did I not
say to you that if you would believe you would see the glory of God?'
Then they took away the stone from the place where the dead man was lying.
And Jesus lifted up His eyes and said, `Father, I thank You that You have
heard Me. `And I know that You always hear Me, but because of the people
who are standing by I said this, that they may believe that You sent
Me.'" Jesus did this miracle partly for the sake of the faith of the
people who were standing around, and God works things in our life, for the
sake of our faith, to encourage us. Can you imagine what a boost it would
be to your faith if you had seen Jesus come and perform a miracle in
front of your very eyes. If you had seen one of your friends who had died
come staggering out of a tomb in front of you, alive, could you ever forget
You might say, "Nothing like that ever happens in my life. God isn't really active today. Sure, we get occasional answers to prayer, but life is pretty ordinary." Is that what you say? Are you involved moment by moment with Jesus Christ in your life? Do you live your life as if you are the child of the King, as if you could ask for anything and God hears your prayers? You may say, "To be quite honest God often seems very distant to me. Most of the events of my life seem to have very little to do with God. He doesn't often seem to be present in my life." Are you sensitive to God's presence? I want to consider whether Jesus speaks to us directly and personally.
How do we experience the love of God in our lives in addition to knowledge that comes through His Word? Does God speak to us in any other ways? Some people seem to have a very intellectual approach to the Christian life and they act as if Jesus said to us once we are converted, "Here's the Bible, I will see you in heaven." Is that really what God is saying to us? We need to know Jesus Christ through the Bible, but we also need to know Him through the events of our life. We will look at five ways in which we can experience God in a personal, deep and intimate way.
How do we experience
the love of God in our lives?
Jesus said, "By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another." We can experience the love of Jesus through other Christians. This was covered in Part 1.
Isabel Kuhn writes her conversion testimony in the book By Searching. She describes how, as an unbeliever, at one point she was in distress in her life and was on the point of suicide. She couldn't sleep, she didn't know what to do, and as she lay in her bed tossing and turning she prayed, "Oh God, if there is a God, give me peace." Immediately a deep sleep came on her, and she woke up in the morning amazed. She started praying, and as she prayed God answered her prayer. These answers led to her conversion and as she went on in her Christian life she often experienced God's answers to prayer.
C. H. Spurgeon tells us: "Some two years ago, a poor woman,
accompanied by her neighbours came to my vestry in deep distress. Her
husband had fled the country and in sorrow, she went to the house of God.
She told me her story, and a very sad one it was. I said there is
nothing we can do but kneel down and cry to the Lord for the immediate
conversion of your husband. We knelt down and I prayed that the Lord would
touch the heart of this deserter, convert his soul and bring him back to
his home. When we rose from our knees I said to the poor woman, "Don
't fret about the matter. I'm sure that your husband will come home and
that he'll yet again become connected with our church." She went away
and I forgot all about it. Some months after, she reappeared with her
neighbours and a man whom she introduced to me as her husband. He had
indeed come back and he returned a converted man. On making inquiry and
comparing notes we found that the very day on which we prayed for his
conversion he, being at that time on board a ship far away in the sea,
stumbled most unexpectedly upon a stray copy of one of my sermons. He read
it, the truth went to his heart, he repented and sought the Lord and as
soon as possible returned to his wife and to his daily calling. He was
admitted a member and last Monday his wife, who up to that time had not
been a member was received among us."
Isn't that an amazing story! God answered a prayer in a personal, immediate and direct way! Do you have answers to prayer that you can look back on? Sometimes our answers to prayer can be really striking at the time, but as time goes on Satan can say to us, "That was a long time ago. God hasn't done anything recently for you. Maybe it was a coincidence that it happened and it wasn't really an answer to prayer." This is something I sometimes struggle with, because God has given me some really clear answers to prayer. When my faith is weak I struggle to keep hold of these, and believe that God is working.
Satan can say to us...
"Maybe it was a coincidence that it happened
and it wasn't really an answer to prayer"
While I was preparing this article I was conscious of how
difficult the subject was and was tempted to water-down the emphasis on the
subjective. I took a break and was exploring the Internet when I came
across some articles by a pastor. One caught my attention and I was
amazed to find that this man was grappling with exactly the same issues
that I am here. Within minutes my convictions about the need for this
article were confirmed and strengthened. What is more, God had provided me
with another example of His providence in my life, by leading me to that
article at a critical time.
However, God's providence in our lives is often very hard to interpret. For example, suppose that after much prayer you decided to launch into a new ministry in your life. Everything was set up and planned, but then you met obstacle after obstacle. What are you to say? Is God saying you are wrong to go ahead? Or is He testing your faith and resolve? It's sometimes extremely difficult to say, and we can get ourselves very confused if we try and attach meaning to everything that happens in our lives. There is a purpose in everything, but we may never know it in this life, and some Christians get into bondage trying to attribute a meaning to every little event. It's very hard to use providence as a source of guidance (except when God firmly closes doors).
Often, however, we can look back on our lives and see God's hand. Isobel Kuhn later became a missionary in China. One time she had a miscarriage and she and her husband were very distressed. As they sought God they felt there must be some reason for this to happen. They had been waiting for ten years to have an opportunity to get into a very dark part of China, which they felt a deep burden to reach. Within hours of the miscarriage, news came that there was an opening to go into this part of China. If Isobel had still been carrying the baby this venture would have been out of the question, and the rest of the course of their lives would have been changed. So in retrospect they could see that even in that dark and horrible event, God was working His perfect providence.
In retrospect they could see
that even in that dark and horrible event,
God was working His perfect providence
Sometimes as we look back on our lives, we can say, "God did
that in preparation for what He wanted to use me for." We can sometimes
see He was keeping us from harm. God's providences are wonderful. We look
at God's creation and see it's spectacular beauty. Should we be
surprised to see the same awesome majesty in God's providences, the same
planning, the same intricate care, as He works out details of our lives.
We must be sensitive to God working in our lives. We must be constantly evaluating what He is doing by His Word. If God brings into your life a Christian who is in distress, what does His Word say you should do? Jesus says, "I was hungry and you fed me. I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me..." We have guidance from God's Word as to how we should respond to that providence. We should apply God's Word to have an understanding of the things that happen in our lives. If something goes wrong in our lives, we should say, "Is God telling me that I'm doing something wrong? Do I need to learn something?" We must be careful because neither of these may be true, it might be that, like Job, we've done nothing wrong. But we need to examine ourselves very carefully by God's Word.
Maybe a new opportunity is presented to us. We need to examine it by God's Word, and say, " Is there something that God is saying to me through this?" A good example from Scripture is the story of Esther. Her people, the Jews, were about to be destroyed and Esther, by providence, was brought into this position where she could save Israel. It would have been wrong for her not to have taken up this opportunity, given by God, to save her people.
Usually our providences are not as clear as that, but sometimes, by an understanding of God's Word, we can interpret what the providence is about. There is a striking statement by Jesus in John 15:15 where He says, "No longer do I call you servants, for a servant does not know what his master is doing, but I have called you friends, for all things that I have heard from my Father, I have made known to you." We have a special place as God's children to be given understanding of things that God is doing which unbelievers are not able to understand. We should earnestly pray to God to give us a better understanding.
We can get ourselves into bondage by trying
to read a meaning into every little thing
However, there is a danger of being over-imaginative. Maybe you run for the bus in the morning and just miss it and say, "What is God trying to tell me?" Maybe He is just telling you that you should get up earlier! We can get ourselves into bondage by trying to read a meaning into every little thing, for example, "I bumped into Fred today. Now what is God saying by that?" God is in control, but trying to get some special message from Him out of every event is a road to chaos.
Of all the ways of looking for God to speak to us, feelings are
the most dangerous. But without feelings, we have no spiritual life. If we
cut off our feelings, we will have spiritual dryness and barrenness. Paul
wrote to Timothy, "The Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit." (2
Tim 4:22). Jesus Christ dwells in us through the Spirit and comforts,
encourages and prompts us.
The Spirit can give us a burden to pray for something. There was an example in Part 1 of a couple who were snowed in during the winter and God put a burden on the heart of a deacon ten miles away to come and bring them food. God can put burdens on our hearts, we have to be sensitive to it. He can take away our peace when we are doing something wrong. We must be sensitive to that. Are you sensitive to the Spirit of Christ living in you?
Are you sensitive to the Spirit of Christ living in you?
At the same time we have to be very cautious about
self-deception. The way to keep fellowship with Christ in our spirit is
first to be constantly praying to Him about everything, to be in communion
with Him, not just relying on our feelings. Secondly, we should be
immersed in His Word. So we judge everything by His Word.
Nevertheless, it is vital that we do have that heart communion with God, or else our lives will be spiritually barren and dry. I hope to deal further with this topic in a future article.
Sometimes when we read the Bible, God may use a particular
thought or passage to speak to us in a special way. I do not mean by
taking passages out of context, but when the proper meaning fits our
situation in a remarkable way. For example, when the Ethiopian eunuch was
in his chariot reading the Bible, God guided his choice of reading, so that
when Philip came up he was reading the passage in Isaiah that prophesied
of Jesus Christ.
When I read the Bible, I read consecutively, continuing where I left off, but sometimes the passage I read that day is particularly appropriate to me. During the day, sometimes a text of Scripture will come to my mind very forcibly and it will apply to my situation. The first time I ever preached I was quite nervous and fearful, and the Lord impressed upon my heart this verse in Joshua 1:9, "Have I not commanded you, be strong and of good courage and do not be afraid, nor be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go." What an encouragement that was!
God speaking in this way can be a great blessing, but there are several dangers that I want us to be aware of. If, when we read the Bible, we are always looking for some magic verse to jump out at us, it can spoil our Bible reading because we can fail to be reading for understanding. We should read the Bible to learn more about God and if God speaks to us in a special way then that is a bonus.
Another danger is that we can get over-imaginative in what God is saying to us and twist the meaning of the passage to fit our case. A third danger is that we might hear only what we want to hear and not listen to the unpleasant things that God says. We have to be very careful to take the good with the bad and to be honest with God's Word when it speaks to us.
If we are going to walk closely with Jesus Christ in our lives, we can expect opposition from Satan. He will try to make us doubt the reality of God's activity in our lives, explaining it away and trying to make us believe that God is not interested. Satan is going to try and drive us to extremes. If he can't keep us away from experiencing God, he will try and push us too far so that we become fanciful or over-imaginative, distracted from the real issues of the Christian life.
We need to expect Jesus to be active in the events of our life, dealing with us moment by moment while we depend on Him moment by moment
God treats everyone differently. Don't expect you are going to have the same experience as other Christians, or demand that God treat you in the same way as others. Above all, we need a humble faith that looks trustingly to Jesus. We need to expect Jesus to be active in the events of our life, dealing with us moment by moment while we depend on Him moment by moment.
This is Part 2 of a series by Dr. Andrew Fountain, Principal of Toronto Baptist Seminary and Bible College, on God's Works and His Words.
Go to Part 3