Wednesday I said that when we are trying to evangelize, we should do our best to avoid superfluous questions. There IS an answer to the question, “Where did Cain get his wife?” but it doesn’t need to distract from our friend’s spiritual condition and his need of salvation. The man who asks, “Can God create a rock so big he can’t lift it,” or “How many angels can sit on the head of a pin,” is trying really hard to keep from hearing that he is a sinner who is in need of a Saviour. Table those questions about the rapture and Millennial Kingdom. Avoid all the questions you possibly can. But sometimes that man has legitimate doubts and problems which simply must be answered.
The scripture we just read is extremely important, because in it God mentions a man – a foreign king – who had, at that time, not yet been born. It is another point of evidence, proving the divine nature of the Bible. Isaiah 45 was recorded about the year 712 BC, and its subject, Cyrus, is reintroduced to us in II Chronicles and Ezra 1 about 175 years LATER. This prophecy is not referring to any other man, but a future king of the Medes and Persians. But that is not really my subject for this morning.
Cyrus was raised an idolater – most likely a polytheist – worshiping more than one imitation God. To that man God says, “I am the LORD – Jehovah – and there is no one else, there is no God beside me.” And Cyrus is told that Jehovah would open doors to new kingdoms and great treasurers. Which He did. And why? “That they may KNOW from the rising of the sun and from the west, that there is NONE beside me. I am the Lord and there is none else.” God declares to Cyrus that He – Jehovah – is the Creator and the Saviour. And to that He adds, “Woe unto him that striveth (quarrels) with his Maker” – “denying who I am and what I do with my creation.” When Cyrus becomes king, God will command him to release the Jews from their Babylonian captivity. “Don’t rebel against me, Cyrus. Carry out the commission I will give you.” Then the Lord says, “Ask me of things to come concerning my sons, and concerning the work of my hands.” “Cyrus, if you are interested – really interested in the answers – ask those questions which are pertinent to the real issues.” I have no doubt that Cyrus did ask, and with the Holy Spirit’s answers, I believe, the man became another child of God.
What could be some of the really important questions Cyrus might ask? What might a Muslim ask a Christian who has taken the time to earn the man’s friendship? What might an honest agnostic or atheist ask?
The atheist might ask: “How can I know that God exists?”
For me, I know that God exists in much the same way I know that Cyrus was once the king of Persia. First, I know, because the Bible tells me so. In fact, for each of the questions I’ll pose this morning, this could be, and should be, the first answer. I know that it isn’t sufficient for that person who, at the moment, rejects the Bible, but it is the truth. As you have heard many times, the Bible doesn’t try to prove God’s existence, it simply assumes you realize it. The existence of God is one of the most logical ideas a mind may hold.
But let’s move forward about 2,500 years – How can I be sure there is a person called Michelle Obama? I have never met the woman; we have never spoken on the phone; we have never exchanged letters. But I am reasonably sure that Barack Obama has a wife named Michelle. I have seen pictures of her – often with her husband. I have seen her image on book jackets with her name imprinted on it as the author or subject. I have heard her voice when she called herself Michelle Obama in various advertisements. We have never met, and she has never shaken my hand, but I’m sure she exists. In much the same way, I know that the God known as “Jehovah” exists, because, by faith, I have seen His image imprinted on His book – and also on so many other things.
How can you know for sure that the person named “Kenneth David Oldfield” exists? I can tell you that I do, and I can let you touch my face or hand to make sure. I can show you a book bearing my name on the front cover and my picture on the back. You can ask my wife and some of my friends whether or not I exist. I assume that you’ll believe me and those testimonies, but more importantly, I think you should believe your own eyes and ears.
Similarly Jehovah is not only God, as He says, but He is also the Creator of everything around us, including you yourself. I’m not sure if it comes with age and experience, but the older I get the more I see God in myself. Please don’t misunderstand me here. What I mean is – My body, my ability to observe and understand things, my personal history, show to me that God exists. My recent eye surgery forced me to look at the miracle of sight, reminding me that there is no explanation for that gift except for the Creator’s omnipotence and grace. A zillion years of evolution cannot explain the ability of man, and so many animals, to see. Other physical events in my life over the twelve months have made me look at other aspects of my body. Over and over again, in looking at myself, I see the hand of God the Creator.
But in some ways which are more important, you should be able to see God in yourself as well. Your ability to think a rational, complicated thought, when the animals of this world can’t, should tell you something. Ask your pet fish, or cat, rottweiler or chimpanzee, to explain God’s prophecy of Cyrus. Even if they could speak, which obviously they can’t, they’d have to say that they don’t understand. But whether or not you believe that prophesy to be true, you understand what I said about this chapter coming 175 years before the birth of that future king. From where did your ability to think come? From where did you get the power to believe or not believe? I’ll tell you, if you don’t know. God gave you that ability.
I can also see the hand of God, generally and at specific times, throughout my life. I can now see that it was God who took me from Canada to Nebraska and then to Colorado. How did I get from the Episcopal church into a Baptist auditorium where I could hear the gospel? Someone might say that it was chance or fate, but, looking back, I know that it was God. And more importantly, how was I prepared to receive the message that day, when probably not a single friend of mine at the time would have cared? It was the Lord God.
What KIND of GOD is this who has been so kind to me?
The Bible says that Jehovah is omnipotent, and the existence of the universe confirms that testimony. God tells Cyrus, “I have made the earth, and created man upon it: I, even my hands, have stretched out the heavens, and all their host have I commanded.” The atheistic scientist knows that water is an essential element to physical life. This is what compels him to look for evidence of water on Mars and other planets – a search for other life. God has created a cycle of water in this world which is astounding. Bringing it out of the oceans by way of clouds and depositing it on our hills in rain and snow. From there it runs back into the sea, but in the mean time, the animals and ourselves draw it up and use it for our own purposes. Only a few other component of the world have the same constantly renewing cycle. And by the way, that cycle proves that the world is less than 10,000 years old – not billions of years. Then there is the presence of that water in each of our bodies. From 50% to 60% of the human adult body is water. Our brains and hearts are composed of 73% water, and the lungs are about 83% water. The skin contains 64% water, muscles and kidneys are 79%, and even the bones are watery at 31%. How can our bones be made up of water and still be strong as bone? It is at the command of God.
All of this and ten thousand other things operate at God’s command. The Bible says that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, “is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of every creature: And by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible… for him: And he is before all things, and by him all things consist.” God is all powerful and sovereign in His use of that power. “Woe unto him that striveth with his Maker! Let the potsherd strive with the potsherds of the earth. Shall the clay say to him that fashioneth it, What makest thou? or thy work, He hath no hands?”
God is all powerful and also absolutely holy. He has said, “Be ye holy, for I am holy.” “Sanctify yourselves therefore, and be ye holy: for I am the LORD your God.” Some who knew the Lord well testified, “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord of hosts, the whole earth is fully of his glory.” And notice how that verse from Isaiah 6 draws together God’s holiness and His creation – “the whole earth is fully of his glory.”
Moses put to music the words, “Who is like unto thee, O LORD, among the gods? who is like thee, glorious in holiness, fearful in praises, doing wonders? Thou stretchedst out thy right hand, the earth swallowed them. Thou in thy MERCY hast led forth the people which thou hast REDEEMED: thou hast guided them in thy strength unto thy holy habitation.” Not only is God holy, and demanding holiness in us, but He is gracious and merciful as well. I will come back to that in a few minutes.
But here is a secondary question to what kind of God is Jehovah? If He really is sovereign and omnipotent, why is there so much evil in the world? Let me put my answer this way: what is the difference between the best picture a 6 year-old might draw and the drawing or portrait of the professional artist? Isn’t one answer – the picture of the child is one dimensional – flat – a line drawing. As that child grows, learns and observes the world, she begins to see the importance of perspective and shading – depth, contrast and shadow.
It may offend the unbeliever, but the truth is – God created all things, and does all things for His own glory. He didn’t create the universe so that you and I might have some place to live. He didn’t give us voices so that we could curse and tell dirty stories and jokes. He didn’t create the miracle of hands so that we could draw and paint beautiful pictures to please ourselves. He did these things that we might use them for our Creator’s praise and glory. And the best portraits have perspective, depth and shadow.
God has permitted sin and evil in His creation to make His righteousness and salvation that much more brilliant and glorious. God is glorified in the punishment of the wicked. But He is more glorified in His forgiveness of the wicked and the transformation of that sinner into a saint of the Lord.
And that leads to the question: WHY does God rescue and redeem evil people – sinners?
It doesn’t make sense to say that God is infinitely holy and yet to add that He forgave and blessed the woman taken in adultery and the wicked demon-possessed man. If God is so “holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners, and made higher than the heavens” then why did He invite the murderer Saul of Tarsus to come to Him? Why did He say to the wicked, social misfit on the cross next to Him they would be in Paradise together? How could God’s Holy Spirit lead Paul to write to the former evil souls in Colosse that he was … “Giving thanks unto (God) the Father, which hath made us (both them and himself) meet (or acceptable) to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light: Who hath delivered us from the power of darkness, and hath translated us into the kingdom of his dear Son: In whom we have redemption through his blood, even the forgiveness of sins.” How can God who hates sin enough to let His Son die for the wickedness of others – give to some of those sinners forgiveness and redemption? Why should He love ME so? One answer is – God is glorified in His pardon of sinners, and in raising to spiritual life whose who were dead in trespasses and sins.
In addition to His holiness, the God of the Christian is gracious and merciful, loving and good. He said to Moses in Exodus 33:19 – “I will make all my GOODNESS pass before thee, and I will proclaim the name of the LORD before thee; and will be GRACIOUS to whom I will be gracious, and will shew MERCY on whom I will shew mercy.” Notice, while He is gracious and merciful, He still maintains His sovereignty in its use – “I will be gracious, and will shew mercy ON WHOM I WILL shew mercy.” A chapter later in Exodus 34:6 – “The LORD passed by before (Moses), and proclaimed, The LORD, The LORD God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abundant in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin…” Our God is gracious to those who need His blessing, and He is merciful towards many who deserve His wrath. “The LORD (Jehovah) is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and plenteous in mercy.” He said in Hebrews 8:12 – “I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their iniquities will I remember no more.”
These scriptures are fine, and we might be able to see how they apply to some good people. But the question remains, “Why should the holy God receive a SINNER like ME?” I can assure you that it is not because of who you are or what you have done in the past. By asking that question it appears that you do not think of yourself more highly than you should. You are like the traitorous Jewish tax-collector in the temple standing next to the super-righteous Pharisee, beating on your chest and saying, “God be merciful to me a sinner.” God bestows His mercy and also His grace based upon His choice – not yours. It is not because of anything that the sinner has or has not done.
Ephesians 2 explains both what God does for the sinner and why He does it. “God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us…. That in the ages to come he might shew the exceeding riches of his grace in his kindness toward us through Christ Jesus. Even when we were dead in sins – walking according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience… Hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus.”
This is fine and wonderful, but there is another major question –
How can God be both just and holy and still be merciful toward the sinner?
He can be both through the sacrifice of His blessed Son – the Lord Jesus Christ. This is definitely an offensive doctrine, but it is one of our cardinal Christian doctrines. The Muslim rejects the idea of such sacrifices on doctrinal grounds, but the rest of humanity rejects it as well simply because it is detestable. Of course, the Old Testament is filled with blood sacrifices, and venerable Abraham was even willing to make his own son such a sacrifice. But God stopped Abraham – not for the purpose of condemning blood offerings – but in order to supply a substitute. All the lambs, bullocks, rams and other sacrifices of the Old Testament pointed bloody fingers toward the perfect substitute – the death of God’s Son on the Cross.
John 3:16 – “For God so loved the world, that he gave (he gave up) his only begotten Son (to the death of the cross), that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” And just as Abraham’s son, Isaac, was willing to be his father’s sacrifice, Christ Jesus willingly gave himself to His Father’s will. He “gave himself for our sins, that he might deliver us from this present evil world, according to the will of God and our Father” – Galatians 1:4. He “hath loved us, and given himself for us for an offering and a sacrifice to God” – Ephesians 5:2. He “gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity…” – Titus 2:14. “Jesus Christ… loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood” – Revelation 1:5.
How can God be merciful toward sinners like us? Through the substitutionary death of the Son of God on the believer’s behalf. “Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many” – Hebrew 9:28. “Who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree, that we being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness; by whose stripes ye were healed” – I Peter. 2:24. “Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit” – I Peter 3:18. Can the blood sacrifice of Christ make a complete atonement for my all my sins? Yes, it can, but at the same time something else is needed and supplied.
Let me borrow a passage from the Old Testament book of Ezekiel to shed light on this doctrine. In speaking of Israel at a future day – a day of grace, a day much like the one in which we live, God says, “Then will I sprinkle clean water upon you, and ye shall be clean: from all your filthiness, and from all your idols, will I cleanse you. A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh. And I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and ye shall keep my judgments, and do them.”
The problem which the Jews had and still have, the problem of the Muslim, the Catholic and the Protestant… The problem of all humanity by nature is that we are spiritually dead before God. Call it a dead spirit, which is the truth, or call it a stony and dead heart, and it is still true. Not only do we need the application of the blood of Christ to cover our sins and the record against us. But we also need a resurrection for that dead heart and spirit.
When God spoke of “sprinkling clean water,” He was not referring to Catholic sacrament of “baptism.” He was speaking metaphorically of the blood of the Redeemer. What can wash away my sin? Nothing but the blood of Jesus Christ.
That is fine and wonderful. It is marvelous and worthy of praise for all eternity. But what about that additional problem of the dead heart? If salvation stopped at the atonement, we would quickly return to the position in which we began. If God had taken the children of Israel in Ezekiel’s day back to Israel, they would have eventually returned to their sins and idolatry. But that is not God’s way of salvation.
Jehovah is thorough in His grace. So he doesn’t leave it with one step – forgiveness and temporary reconciliation. He also deals with what is at the root of our problem. “A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh. And I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and ye shall keep my judgments, and do them.”
\This takes us to the subject of “regeneration.” As the Lord Jesus told Nicodemus, “Ye must be born again” to have that necessary new heart. Ye must be “born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God” – John 1:13.
Is the blood of Christ Jesus able to cover your sin? Yes it is. Because while that is taking place, so are some other important aspects of salvation. The death of Christ, is the means of bringing the sinner into the presence of the holy God – reconciliation. Because Christ died and rose again, there is the gift of eternal life and regeneration given to those whom God saves. And in the books of God, beside that believer’s account is the word “justified” – he is declared righteous.
All that is required of the sinner, whether he was raised a Baptist, Muslim, Mormon or Hindu, is to believe on Christ, trusting the Saviour to apply His grace to your spiritual need. Coupled to a broken heart for your sin, you must accept by faith – that the Son of God died specifically for you. “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved.” Christ Himself has said, “He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life: and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him” – John 3:36.
Ask yourself – Is your faith in Christ Jesus this morning?