Monday, June 15, 2015

"Come Out, Come Out, Wherever You Are"

I’ll confess to you this evening that I was a nerdy kid. I was obsessed with video games and spent every dollar I had on new video games, controllers and strategy guides. I was such a nerd that my mother had to force me to wear blue jeans instead of sweat pants to school. I vividly remember her telling me one morning before school that I had to wear blue jeans that day – she put her foot down – and I was devastated. I’m pretty sure I cried. BUT…my childhood wasn’t all about video games and sweatpants. Our family went camping and hiking a lot during the summer. I threw crab apples at my sister and her friends. I made mazes in our neighbor’s corn field with our golf cart. I caught bullfrogs using a piece of paper or kernel of corn on the end of a fishing line. I rode my bike all over the neighborhood and built tree forts miles away from home. And I played games as a kid that I’m sure all of you played as well…games such as hide and seek.

Hide and seek is always a fun game to play…especially when you’re a kid and can hide under beds and in small, tight places. But every once and a while, there’s that kid who finds an incredible hiding spot and you end up looking for him/her for what feels like forever. And then you give up and you finally tell that kid to come out…and he/she still won’t come out. It’s almost as if that kid wants to rub it in. Then, when they finally emerge from their hiding spot, they have that smug, self-satisfied look on their face.

Sometimes, it feels like God is playing hide and seek with us, doesn’t it? And he’s that kid who has found the ultimate hiding spot…and He just won’t come out. So we’re left looking and looking and looking...behind every door, under every bed, in every closet…and we just can’t find Him. We finally yell, “Come out, God! We give up!” But He just won’t come out.

I can’t tell you how many times people have asked me why God doesn’t show Himself to us – why He doesn’t appear to us or speak to us or at least give us signs. This is something that atheists and Christians alike fail to understand. I, myself, have struggled with this question at times. Why doesn’t God just reveal Himself to me?

In high school, I remember lying in my bed one night praying that God would speak to me. There were other believers who claimed that God had spoken to them or appeared to them in a dream or vision and called them to some great task, and I wanted the same thing to happen to me. I wanted to feel special. So I prayed desperately for God to speak to me like He had spoken to them. I begged and pleaded to hear God’s voice. I even made myself cry, thinking that God would be more apt to listen to me if I was emotionally invested. I imagined myself in heaven at God’s throne. I tried to conjure up images of God. I did everything I could do to spark such a divine revelation, but nothing happened.

Since then, there have been times when I felt as if my prayers weren’t getting past the drywall over my head, or that the only one listening to my prayers was me. I’ve wondered at times if there was even anyone on the other end of the line. And I know that many of you have felt the same way…because you’ve told me.
Atheists see this as a powerful reason NOT to believe in God. If we cannot see God or hear God, how can we affirm that He exists? Because the existence of God cannot be proven using what they call “the scientific method” – because there is no empirical evidence – they see it as foolish to believe in a higher power of ANY kind. Until there is such evidence, they insist that they will only affirm that which they know exists, and that’s the natural world.

We as Christians respond by saying that God is a spiritual being and therefore cannot be proven by physical means. John 4:24 says that “God is a spirit,” and in Hebrews 11:27, God is said to be “invisible.” This is where faith comes in, right? Hebrews 11:1 says that “faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” In other words, we don’t affirm God’s existence on the basis of physical evidence, but on the basis of faith.

But if we’re all honest, we’ll admit that faith isn’t always very easy. In fact, there are times when faith just doesn’t seem to cut it anymore. We get tired of being expected to “just believe.” As visual creatures in a physical world, it almost seems unfair at times that we’re expected to believe in a God that we cannot see or hear. When things are going well for us, it’s easy to believe that God is there. When we pray for something and it happens, it’s easy for us to thank God for answering our prayers. But when trials come and doubts arise, we almost can’t help but question whether our prayers make it beyond the drywall, or the roof of the car, or even the dome of our skull. We get frustrated. We become bitter. And if we’re not careful, these feelings can lead us away from God.

When I went through my “crisis of faith,” I prayed constantly. But don’t think that I did so with any degree of confidence. I think I prayed because (1) I thought it would be better to pray and hope that God was listening, would see my resolve, and send some help my way, and (2) I found prayer therapeutic, if nothing else. I had been praying for well over a decade, so why stop now? I was going to pray until I was absolutely sure that my Christian faith was a sham.

Maybe you’ve been there…wondering if your prayers are getting through, wondering why God won’t speak to you or reveal Himself to you. And maybe for you, this is an issue that has threatened or is presently threatening your faith in God.

So this evening, I’d like to address this issue both biblically and logically. By the end of our study tonight, I hope that you’ll not only understand why God doesn’t appear to us physically or speak to us audibly, but that you’ll see the incredible wisdom in it.

Hebrews 1:1 says that “God…at various times and in various ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets.” In other words, God did reveal Himself to the saints of the Old Testament…and He did so in a variety of very personal ways. Men such as Adam, Cain, Abraham and Moses heard God’s voice. Exodus 33:11 actually says that “the Lord spoke to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to a friend.” Joshua had an encounter with the “Commander of the army of the Lord” in Joshua 5:13-15. God appeared to Solomon in a dream in 1 Kings 3. Elijah heard God’s “still small voice” in 1 Kings 19:12.
Not only did many of the Old Testament saints actually hear the voice of God, they witnessed miracles that could only be attributed to God. Can you imagine seeing the rivers and water in Egypt turn to blood? God’s miracles in Egypt were so powerful and so obviously His that even the Pharaoh’s magicians – pagan men – said to Pharaoh in Exodus 8:19, “This is the finger of God.” Can you imagine seeing the parting of the Red Sea or God’s presence on Mount Sinai? Joshua commanded the sun to stand still in Joshua 10. Elijah called down fire from heaven in 1 Kings 18 to prove to the nation of Israel that the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob was real and that Baal was not.

The Old Testament is replete with miracles, signs and wonders like these. Angels appeared to Abraham and Lot, to Gideon, to the parents of Samson, and many others. Then there was the flood of Noah’s day, the Tower of Babel incident in Genesis 11, and the list goes on and on and on. And let’s not forget about Jesus’ ministry. He healed the lepers, made the lame to walk, the deaf to hear and the mute to speak, cast out demons, walked on water and fed the 5,000 with a few loaves and fish.

Now, I don’t want to leave the impression that all of God’s people heard the voice of God or saw His miracles. There were periods in Israel’s history when no one had encounters with the divine – there were no prophets, dreams, visions or miracles. In fact, with a few exceptions, many of these miracles and divine encounters were limited to a handful of people. It’s not like everyone heard God’s voice back then. That’s not what I’m saying.

But it is clear that God spoke to those people and dealt with those people back then more directly than He does with us today. In many ways, they had what we today crave so desperately. We say things like, “If only I had seen the parting of the Red Sea, I would believe,” or, “If only God would speak to me like He spoke to Moses and Solomon, I would never doubt again.”

Are you sure about that?

Did those people in the Old Testament – the ones who witnessed the miracles of God and heard His voice – have a solid, unshakable faith as a result of their experiences? The way people talk today, it must be safe to assume that the Israelites who came out of Egypt as well as the Jews of Jesus’ day were so reaffirmed in their faith that they remained singularly devoted to God for the remainder of their days. They must have had such conviction that they became bold spokesmen on God’s behalf to a world sick with paganism and disbelief!

Those who know the Scriptures know that this is not actually what we find.

After the Lord revealed Himself directly to Cain, we’re told in Genesis 4:8 that “Cain rose up against Abel his brother and killed him.”

After witnessing all of God’s wonders in Egypt, Pharaoh’s army overtook them at the shores of the Red Sea. In Exodus 14:11, “they said to Moses, ‘Because there were no graves in Egypt, have you taken us away to die in the wilderness? What have you so dealt with us, to bring us up out of Egypt?’” Think about it. They had prayed to God for deliverance from Egypt…and God had answered their prayers by sending Moses and through a series of miracles that accomplished their freedom. This was a sign of God’s love for them. And yet when Pharaoh’s army appeared, they fell immediately into a state of disbelief and distrust.

But God parted the Red Sea and led them to safety. After wrecking the land of Egypt, He destroyed Pharaoh’s army. In the wilderness, God provided them with water from the rocks. Then, at Mount Sinai, Deuteronomy 4:12 says that they heard God’s voice and saw the mountain “completely in smoke.” God’s presence on Sinai was so convincing that “all the people in the camp trembled.” And yet after just forty days, the people said to Moses’ brother, Aaron, “Come, make us gods that shall go before us.” Then, after he did so, he told the people in Exodus 32:4, “This is your god, O Israel, that brought you out of the land of Egypt.”

I don’t have the time to get into all the Old Testament examples, but suffice it to say, this pattern repeated itself throughout Israel’s history.

And then there are the miracles of Jesus. In Matthew 12, some of the Pharisees, after seeing Jesus cast a demon out of a man who was also blind and mute, said, “This fellow does not cast out demons except by Beelzebub, the ruler of the demons.” In John 6, many of Jesus’ disciples – men who had seen His miracles – “went back and walked with Him no more” on the sole basis that they didn’t understand His teachings. One of Jesus’ own apostles betrayed Him for thirty pieces of silver, and Peter himself denied Jesus three times in the space of one evening.

So much for the idea that hearing God’s voice or seeing His miracles guarantees faith and devotion to God. These MANY examples teach us, in fact, that the mightiest of miracles do not even begin to guarantee faith.

And what’s even more interesting is that God has preserved these stories for us. I mean, if you’re in charge of marketing a business and creating advertisements, I doubt you’re going to cite bad customer reviews; I doubt you’re going to write a script for a commercial where the closing line is, “Come shop where the employees will ignore you and the products are overpriced!” That wouldn’t make the company look too good. But God’s word is very honest – and this is something that has always amazed me. If the Bible was written by mere humans trying to ‘sell’ religion, they didn’t do a very good job at it. These stories bring to light the failings of God’s people.

This raises two questions in my mind: (1) why did God preserve these embarrassing stories for us? And (2) why did the people not develop an unshakable faith in God after hearing His voice and/or seeing His mighty miracles? To answer these questions, I’d like to first of all turn to Scripture. Then I’ll flesh out my answer with some illustrations and analogies that will hopefully make this all very clear.
Open your Bible to 1 Corinthians 13. This chapter is best known for its dissertation on the qualities of love and is therefore read quite often at weddings. I’m sure you’re familiar with these words: “Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up” and so on. As I’ve pointed out in past lessons, the apostle Paul here isn’t writing about love as it relates to marriage; rather, he is explaining the nature of love to a church that was failing miserably at showing love. They were more concerned about how best to use their miraculous gifts – tongue, prophecy, etc. – to show off and bring honor to themselves, than they were about loving their brethren. Read with me, beginning in vs. 8:

“Love never fails. But whether there are prophecies, they will fail; whether there are tongues, they will cease; whether there is knowledge, it will vanish away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part. But when that which is perfect has come, then that which is in part will be done away.”

Paul here is speaking about the cessation of miraculous gifts – not miracles, per se, but miraculous gifts. You see, these miraculous gifts were given to the apostles and Christians of the first century by the Holy Spirit for the purpose of confirming the word. Mark 16:20 says that “they went out and preached everywhere, the Lord working with them and confirming the word through the accompanying signs.” Hebrews 2:4 adds that God was “bearing witness both with signs and wonders, with various miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit, according to His will.” Because the gospel was brand new to the world, people weren’t just going to believe it. I mean, can you imagine the apostle Peter showing up in a pagan city and telling them that a Jewish carpenter was the Son of God, that He died to save them from their sins, and was resurrected on the third day? Would they have believed that? Of course not! The Christian message contradicted conventional wisdom in the Jewish and pagan communities. So these miraculous gifts confirmed the word in that they helped convince the people that this brand new and rather strange message was actually from God.

This relates to Paul’s point in 1 Corinthians 13. These miraculous gifts – prophecies, tongues and miraculous knowledge – were only temporary; in fact, Paul identifies them as “parts” of the whole in verse nine. And they would fade out of the picture when “that which is perfect [or complete] has come.” Because miracles were intended to confirm the apostolic message, the miracles would come to an end when the apostolic message was completely revealed and established…and that happened by the end of the first century. Jude 3 tells us that “the faith…was once for all delivered to the saints.” The miracles, signs and wonders were temporary constructs – like scaffolding – that were taken down when the project was completed. And that project was the New Testament revelation.

Now notice with me what Paul goes on to say in 1 Corinthians 13:11, and this is really the main point that I’m getting at here in this text. Let’s actually begin in verse ten:

“But when that which is perfect [complete] has come, then that which is in part will be done away. When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things.”
Now here’s the point, and this is very important, so pay close attention: the miraculous gifts – the signs and wonders and miracles that we so desperately want to experience – are considered by the apostle Paul to be “childish.” And the idea is that we have matured beyond childish things to manhood, or adulthood.

Think about it. Do you give a child Tolstoy’s War and Peace or Dickens’ Tale of Two Cities? Of course you don’t. Not only do they not have the intellectual capabilities to process such advanced writing, they are not mature enough to follow so much consecutive text. What do you give a child? You give them picture books…because not only are they easier to understand and more relatable, they are visually stimulating. There’s a reason children like video games and flashy, colorful cartoon shows. There’s a reason that our children’s classes use songs and coloring pages and activities to teach the children Bible stories and biblical morals and principles. Children need to be constantly stimulated because they have short attention spans and weak minds. And there’s a reason that as we grow, we typically set aside the picture books and the coloring books and the video games and turn our attention to more advanced material and activities.

Let’s bring this back to 1 Corinthians 13 and miraculous gifts. Those miracles, signs and wonders were only intended for the infancy of the church. They needed those pictures and visuals to fully embrace the truth of Christianity. And because the gospel hadn’t yet been fully articulated – and therefore, their intellect could not be fully engaged – the “wow factor” associated with the miraculous gifts gave them constant reaffirmation.

And it’s very important to understand that these miraculous gifts gave them the constant – key, word ‘constant’ – reaffirmation they needed. Like with a child, it’s not good enough to have a picture book that only has a picture on the first page. They need pictures throughout the book to stay engaged in the story, don’t they? That’s because, at that point, you’re not engaging and developing the intellect or establishing deep intellectual and emotional roots; what you’re doing is offering a flashy visual to keep one’s interest. For a child, this is a necessary approach…even though it’s shallow. Because even though the picture or activity is exciting in the moment, the visual quickly fades from their mind’s eye and the feeling is replaced by the next feeling that comes along.

Now…doesn’t this help us to better understand WHY all of the interactions with God and the miracles of the Bible failed to instill a permanent, unshakable faith in the hearts and minds of God’s people? Their faith was predicated on “childish things,” and Paul’s brief comments in 1 Corinthians 13, when understood, help flesh this out for us.

You see, even though the miracles and wonders were necessary to get the attention of the people, there was (and is) the danger of becoming dependent on such visual displays to maintain the attention of the people. This is the challenge that God faced and is the same challenge that we face with our own children; they are children and thus childish – there are certain things that they need – but we do have to help them transition away from the shallow, temporal constructs of childhood toward the deeper, more permanent (and better) constructs of adulthood. The difference between God and modern-day parents is that we are dealing with physical children who are designed to mature and progress intellectually as they develop physically. God, on the other hand, was dealing with people who were physical adults but spiritual children. That’s a much bigger challenge because they have already developed bad habits and deeply-entrenched worldviews.

Cain was a weak man. When he heard God’s voice, he responded in the moment. But as soon as God’s voice faded from the shallow soil of his mind, all it took was the emotions of the next moment to carry him off into sin. Emotions are powerful, aren’t they? The envy and hatred he felt toward his brother, Abel, were strong enough to block out his previous experience with God…and as a result, he murdered Abel.

The Israelites who came out of Egypt did not have a deep, firmly established relationship with God. They didn’t yet love the Lord their God with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength. Again, they were spiritual infants. So while the miracles and wonders in Egypt and the parting of the Red Sea wowed them and caused them to praise God (in Exodus 15), those visuals – like the pictures in a picture book – were soon overpowered and replaced by the emotions and physical needs that came upon them in the wilderness. When the miracles and wonders stopped for forty days while Moses was on the mountain, they, in their childishness, demanded something that was visually-stimulating to keep their attention. So they said to Aaron in Exodus 32:1, “Come, make us gods that shall go before us; for as for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.” And when Aaron made them the golden calf, “they rose early on the next day, offered burnt offerings, and brought peace offerings; and the people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to play.” They were like immature children. Sure, Daddy’s strong and impressive, but when he leaves the room for a few minutes, it doesn’t take long for them to get back into mischief.

This applies to all the aforementioned ‘experiences’ and miracles recorded in the Bible – when the people heard God’s voice, interacted with angels, had dreams and visions, and saw God’s miracles – even Jesus’ miracles. Jesus said to His apostles in John 16:12, “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.” They were grown men, but on a spiritual level, they were children.

So throughout the Old Testament, and even during the infancy of the church in the first century, God spoke to the people and gave them miracles and signs. These were times of incompleteness, imperfection and infancy. But the following passage reveals that God had a plan for completeness, perfection and maturity to come through Christ:

The prophet Jeremiah prophesied a new and better covenant and his words are very relevant to our current discussion. He says in Jeremiah 31:31, “Behold, the days are coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah – not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, though I was a husband to them, says the Lord.” Now notice what Jeremiah says about the nature of the new covenant, beginning in verse 33: “But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put My law in their minds, and write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. No more shall every man teach his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they all shall know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them, says the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.”

As we’ve studied, “God…at various times and in various ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets.” The Old Testament is replete with examples of dreams, visions, prophets, encounters with angels, and most of all, miracles. God “took them by the hand” and was very, directly involved in what was happening. Like a father with his infant child, God was very patient and went above and beyond to keep their attention. In Galatians 3:23, Paul says that the people of the Old Testament were like children under a “tutor.” It was a temporary system that was only ever intended to bring them along to a point of maturity.

But the old covenant – the Old Testament system – was to be replaced by a “new covenant,” and Jeremiah is clear that this new covenant has a very different structure and purpose. Whereas the old covenant was temporary, physical and shallow, the new covenant focuses on developing the intellect and advancing spiritual maturity. God said, “I will put My law in their minds, and write it on their hearts.” Sure, the Old Testament made an appeal to the mind and heart, but that was the ideal…and it was rarely realized. But those who embrace the new covenant have this as their foundation. The Jews of old were born into it, but we today choose to make the intellectual and spiritual commitment.

And unlike the Christians of the first century (especially those earlier on) – we have the completed revelation neatly compiled as the 27 books of the New Testament. The “faith once delivered” is right there in front of us. Most of us have half a dozen copies of the very collection of books that thousands, if not millions of believers throughout history died to preserve for us. What an incredible thought!

This brings us back to 1 Corinthians 13…

After explaining that the miracles of old are actually inferior to the completed word of God – a point that we’ll come back to in just a moment – and after explaining that the miracles and spiritual experiences that we so often covet are actually associated with spiritual infancy and immaturity, Paul says the following in verses 12-13:

“For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known. And now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love.”

The apostle here uses a second illustration to make his point. In his first illustration, as we’ve already discussed, he contrasted the expectations of childhood and those of manhood, or adulthood. Now, he uses the illustration of a mirror to make a point about clarity. In the era of miracles and infancy in the church, they could only see “dimly” the outline of the Christian message. As the word was revealed, they began to see the bigger picture more and more, but even then, the picture was imperfect.

If you give a child a picture-book about George Washington, is that child going to have a solid grasp of George Washington? No. It will be a “dim” picture of him – a picture that is incomplete and elementary. Likewise, the miracles and personal encounters that we read about in the Bible were impressive but offered a shallow presentation of God.

Think of it in terms of the contrast between dating and marriage. When two people are dating, their relationship is often based on newness, on physical attraction, on weekly dates to the movies, perhaps a little hand-holding and smooching. But in marriage, that’s when a permanent commitment has been made that allows the roots of that relationship to go much, much deeper. By gaining a deeper intimacy with your partner, seeing their true character, their flaws and bad habits…and by sharing in times of joy as well as hardship, the relationship flourishes and a mutual love blossoms that encompasses the physical, emotional, mental and even spiritual dimensions of man. While dating, the two people see each other “dimly,” but then in marriage, “face to face.”

The miracles and personal encounters that we read about in the Bible impressed the people and gave them a spiritual high much like a date is exciting to a young couple or a picture book to a child, but they allowed the people to see God but “dimly.” A relationship that depends on moments of exhilaration is destined to be shallow. But as Jeremiah explained in Jeremiah 31, and as Paul explained in 1 Corinthians 13, a relationship that is based on an intellectual and spiritual commitment to the word of God and by the word of God is one that will lead to the deepest possible relationship with God. And this is confirmed elsewhere in the New Testament:

Romans 10:17 says that “faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.”

Paul, in praying for the Ephesians, said in Ephesians 1:17-18, “that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give to you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him, the eyes of your understanding being enlightened; that you may know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, and what is the exceeding greatness of His power toward us who believe…”

Paul likewise prayed for the Philippians in Philippians 1:9-11, “And this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in knowledge and all discernment, that you may approve the things that are excellent, that you may be sincere and without offense till the day of Christ, being filled with the fruits of righteousness, which are by Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.”

Finally, Paul prayed for the brethren in Colosse in Colossians 1:9-10, “For this reason we also, since the day we heard it, do not cease to pray for you, and to ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding; that you may walk worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing Him, being fruitful in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God.”

These are only a few of the many passages that tie spiritual maturity to the intellectual and spiritual commitment that we have made to the word of God. By studying and gaining knowledge about God and His will, we are putting ourselves in a position to deepen our faith in God, our love for God, and our hope to one day be united with Him in glory.

So while we want God to give us signs to strengthen our faith, and while we have convinced ourselves that hearing God’s voice would solidify our faith for sure, the Bible teaches us that (1) these things do NOT guarantee an unshakeable faith, and (2) the most effective driver of faith and conviction is the engaging of the intellect and a regular study of the Scriptures…the word of God. A faith that is predicated on inward acceptance, total surrender and that demands the total investment of the mind and spirit is more likely to be sincere and lasting.

Before I bring this lesson to a close, I’d like to address a few potential objections…

Someone might say, “It would really help if God only appeared to me once…just once.” If that’s your thought, then I’m afraid you’ve missed the point of the lesson. Because here’s what would happen: you’d be really uplifted and excited at first, and yes, that feeling would probably stick around for a while…until you went through some kind of hardship or trial. Then you’d pray to God and ask Him for a new sign; you’d pray to hear His voice just one more time. And if God didn’t grant your request, you’d begin to wonder if that first experience was authentic or imagined. And if God did grant your request a second time, and a third time, and so on, you’d be right back where the Israelites of old were – stuck in the rut of a shallow relationship.

You may recall the story of the rich man and Lazarus in Luke 16. While suffering in torments, the rich man begged Abraham to send Lazarus to warn his family about the consequences of their lifestyle. In Luke 16:30, Abraham told him, “If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rise from the dead.” We manage to find ways to forget the power of such signs, or to explain them away…but again, that intellectual commitment to the word of God is what allows for a truer, deeper faith…which is the point that we’ve been making.

Or perhaps you’re thinking, “If only God would take up a permanent, visual role in this world, everyone would believe and faith wouldn’t be an issue.” You might even use the example of your spouse, your parents, or your children. “I see them all the time and love them very much…so why can’t I have that same relationship with God.”
This is actually a great point, and one that I completely understand. I see my wife and children every day and love them deeply. A long distance relationship, or a relationship based on just memoirs, pictures and notes, would be admittedly harder. If this is true of earthly relationships, it should be true of our relationship with God, too, right? Sure, the people fell back into sin, idolatry and faithlessness after seeing God’s miracles and hearing His voice…but if He had stuck around more permanently, they probably wouldn’t have done so. Right?

Here’s the problem with that.

The problem is sin.

You see, Genesis 3:8 implies that God did walk with Adam and Eve in the Garden. Granted, this was most likely an early manifestation of Christ, not the Father Himself, but the point is still the same: Adam and Eve had daily, direct access to God. But they sinned, and because sin is such an egregious violation of God’s holiness, He had to separate Himself from it. Isaiah 59:1-2 says that our sins have separated us from God. So when sin came into the world, God withdrew from the world. And from that point forward, God’s redemptive plan was set into motion…a plan that unfolded throughout the Old Testament and culminated in the sacrifice of God’s own Son on the cross.

Paul, in Romans 8:18-21 says, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us. For the earnest expectation of the creation eagerly waits for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it in hope; because the creation itself also will be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God.” In other words, we live in a fallen world…a world that is not what it was intended to be. And our sin is to blame. But that will change one day; there is hope of deliverance and glorious liberty.

One day, the Lord will return and put an end to this fallen system. There will be a “new heavens and a new earth.” God will wipe away our tears, and we will be in the very presence of God once again. Revelation 22:4 says that then we’ll see His face. And Revelation 22:14 says, “Blessed are those who do His commandments, that they may have the right to the tree of life, and may enter through the gates into the city.” We lost access to the tree of life and to God’s presence when we sinned, and we’ve been living in a fallen world ever since…but one day, we’ll be restored to the tree of life and to God…at least those who have put their faith and trust in Him. Again, “those who do His commandments” are the ones who will be ushered into God’s presence in the end.

Listen, I would really like to hear God’s voice, see His voice or at least see a sign or miracle of some kind. That would be really neat. In fact, when I went through my “crisis of faith” a few months ago, I began wondering why God spoke to Abraham, Moses, David, Paul and all the others…but wouldn’t speak to me. And I’m like the rest of you in that there are times when I feel like my prayers don’t make it past the drywall…or even the dome of my thick skull. Sometimes, I just want to cry out to God, “Hey God…come out, come out, wherever you are!” I’m done playing hide and seek.

But there are good reasons that things are the way they are. In a fallen world where God, in His infinite, perfect holiness, cannot exist, faith based on the word of God – a deep intellectual and spiritual commitment – is so much more effective than a relationship with God based on ‘light shows’ and booming voices from the sky. History has proven it.

And I know – I KNOW – from my own personal life, that the word of God and a personal commitment to Christ have changed my life. And there are millions of Christians now and millions of Christians in history who would agree…Christians all over the world who have sacrificed everything for Christ…and not to gain virgins in paradise…but to simply gain access to the presence of the Savior we love so dearly.

I want to close with John 20:24-31:

“Now Thomas, called the Twin, one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. The other disciples therefore said to him, ‘We have seen the Lord.’ So he said to them, ‘Unless I see in His hands the print of the nails, and put my fingers into the print of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe.’ And after eight days His disciples were again inside, and Thomas with them. Jesus came, the doors being shut, and stood in the midst, and said, ‘Peace to you!’ Then He said to Thomas, ‘Reach your finger here, and look at My hands; and reach your hand here, and put it into My side. Do not be unbelieving, but believing.’ And Thomas answered and said to Him, ‘My Lord and my Go!’ Jesus said to him, ‘Thomas, because you have seen Me, you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.’ 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.”

“Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” This is faith. And faith is “the evidence of things not seen.” In a follow-up lesson, I want to talk more about faith, but I hope that my lesson tonight has helped in some way to better explain why things are the way they are, how real faith is developed, and what faith really is.

Do you believe? If not, are you willing to believe? Faith is the first step. And if you’d like to take that first step this evening – if we can help you to find the Lord – please let us know while together we stand and sing.

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