Notes from an old sermon/lecture about 2 Mountains and 2 Gardens in the Bible where God speaks…
I’ll try to keep my opening remarks brief and get to the heart of the message quickly – as this one is a lengthy one… After all, it’s said that most speakers need no introduction… What they need is a conclusion.
Has God spoken to us? And if so, what has He said? What is He saying? And how does it affect us today?
I want is to show you the amazing parallels of how incredibly interconnected His Word is, that when God speaks – His voice echoes throughout millennia, from Genesis to Revelation. From past, present and to the future – His Word stands firm, unperishable – and it speaks to us today.
GENESIS – The First Garden – Opening the conversation:
To see where God has spoken to us, let me take you back to the very beginning… in Genesis. Creation’s story in chapters 1 and 2.
In Genesis 1, we see that God speaks creation into being… He says, “Let there be… and there was.” He calls forth from nothing – things into their very existence. Let there be light and galaxies and stars innumerable as the sands of many shores burst into being, some stars so big they would baffle our minds to perceive – dwarfing our own Sun to a mere spec by comparison. Galaxies so far across, we had to come up with new forms of distance measurement, no longer in miles or kilometres, but in light years – which is the distance light travelling at approximately 299,792,458 m/s would traverse in an hour – approximately 1 billion km. These galaxies span many thousands of light years wide, and are many millions of light years apart. The vastness of space and the heavenly bodies is staggering for us to contemplate! All this created when God utters those first words… this is the magnitude of the Word which we deal with, and is not something to be taken lightly if at His word supernovas, blackholes and galaxies explode into being…
Throughout the first 5 days of creation, God speaks and things pop into being. He says let there be light, space between the waters, separate dry land, lights in the sky, fish, birds, every sort of living creature – and they are all separated and come into existence at his beck and call.
Then on the 6th day, He says something different…
“Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness…” (Gen 1:26a)
Whereas in all other creation, God simply commands things into existence – in creating man, God opens off with a conversation; “Let US make man…”
Later on in Genesis 2:7 we see, “then the LORD God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature.”
God’s creation of man is distinct to all other creation. His starting point is in conversation, in relationship. Then in creating Him, God takes active part in forming the man from the dust and then breathing into him… whereas in all other creation, God simply spoke and it came to be, God takes special care to fashion man.
I’m a sculptor by profession – the language used reminds me of a skilled sculptor, artistically and skilfully crafting his creation – intimately involved and conscious of every detail he puts. In this act of creation of man, to be a being in relation with God, God gets His hands dirty. He gets His hands dirty, creating us to enjoy relation with Him – to share with Him in His glory, created in His image to reflect Him. This is an important point of distinction for us to remember. Man is set apart from all other creation as the object of God’s special affection.
This begins God’s conversation with man… unfortunately, the conversation would not continue so beautifully for long before sin slithers in.
Sin – A distortion of the conversation:
When Satan comes and tempts Eve, notice he questions what God had said? And this has ever since been the heart of rebellion against God – to question what He has said in His Word. When we put it in the perspective that this is the very same Word by which all creation came to be, how insulting a blasphemy for the created to question the Creator’s integrity of His Word!
“He said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?” (Gen 3:1b)
There is a second distortion of God’s word that happens though which we may have missed. It happens in Eve’s reply to the serpent;
“The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, 3but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.’” (Gen 3:2&3)
Did you notice that? Eve added something… “and you must not touch it”. God never said that, He had only said if you ate of it… of course touching may be implied, however Eve was adding an additional restriction of even touching the fruit to what God had commanded. It is interesting because later on as God gives His laws to His people, the Jews, He gives them some commandments, then they do exactly this again… they add a plethora of additional hedge laws to what God had given them to try to better guard against breaking the Law. In all they had 613 laws and hedge laws!
Even here though, God had in mind His redemption to restore the lost relationship. He even foreshadows it in how He deals with man after the fall and curse. In Genesis 3:21 – God makes clothing from animal skins for them. He kills an innocent animal to make a covering for their shame, and since then hundreds of years of animal sacrifice ensued as a sign of the perfect sacrifice which was yet to come for the covering of sin.
THE TEN COMMANDMENTS – The First Mountaintop – Mt. Sinai:
We jump forward to Exodus 20, where God again comes down to speak with man… however the scene has changed quite a bit. God is no longer conversing with man in the cool of the lush garden… instead the Israelites are in the dry arid Sinai desert. It covers about 62,000 sq km (Compare: Trinidad is about 5,128 km², The Greater Toronto Area is 5,904 km²) and is part of the Sahara and Arabian deserts… it barely gets 5cm of rain in an entire year! At first in the garden before the fall, there was no fear – man was able to come close to God and walk and talk with Him… at Sinai, there is great fear and terror when the Word of God comes.
“And the Lord said to Moses, “Behold, I am coming to you in a thick cloud, that the people may hear when I speak with you, and may also believe you forever.”
When Moses told the words of the people to the Lord, the Lord said to Moses, “Go to the people and consecrate them today and tomorrow, and let them wash their garments and be ready for the third day. For on the third day the Lord will come down on Mount Sinai in the sight of all the people. And you shall set limits for the people all around, saying, ‘Take care not to go up into the mountain or touch the edge of it. Whoever touches the mountain shall be put to death.”
Mount Sinai was no small hill, it was a 7,500ft tall mass of solid dry rocky boulders that towered up from the hard desert land. (Compare: Tallest mountain in Trinidad is 3083ft, Blue Mountain, in Collingwood, ON is 1483 ft) It was massive. It’s shadow would have provided shade from the sun for the Israelites encamped at it’s base. It was here that God descends to speak…
Try to imagine the scene at Exodus 19:16-20:
“On the morning of the third day there were thunders and lightning and a thick cloud on the mountain and a very loud trumpet blast, so that all the people in the camp trembled. Then Moses brought the people out of the camp to meet God, and they took their stand at the foot of the mountain. Now Mount Sinai was wrapped in smoke because the Lord had descended on it in fire. The smoke of it went up like the smoke of a kiln, and the whole mountain trembled greatly. And as the sound of the trumpet grew louder and louder, Moses spoke, and God answered him in thunder. The Lord came down on Mount Sinai, to the top of the mountain. And the Lord called Moses to the top of the mountain, and Moses went up”
God descends on this massive rock of a mountain, and His presence shakes the entire mount. And no small vibration, this was a great quaking of the earth in response to immense presence of God. Clouds of thick smoke billow, wind blows, lightning, and fire – this is the stuff not even Hollywood could match. Imagine you in the Israelite camp, looking 7,500ft up and seeing this sort of thing happening… feeling the ground beneath you violently shake, and a voice that thunders out of an inferno at the top. What would be your reaction? What would that tell you about the God giving you the commandments? Do you understand now why Old Testament writers referred to God as a consuming fire?
EXTRA INSIGHT: THE TALMUD
The Jewish Talmud can give us some extra insight to fully understand what was happening. The Talmud is the central text of Rabbinic Judaism. It has two parts, the Mishnah and the Gemara. It contains the teachings and writings of various rabbis of antiquity expounding on the Torah (first 5 books of the OT). Basically, the Mishnah contains the doctrines, and the Gemara expand on those and interprets the Mishnah. It is important to state here that these are not considered scripture or equal to the authority of scripture… they are simply used here for added insight from a Jewish cultural understanding…
Fear: A reasonable response
So God begins reciting the Ten Commandments to Moses so that the Israelites can hear, and the people become terrified and start begging Moses to be their mediator. According to Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon (aka the Rambam… lol – no seriously, that’s his nickname!), says that after God had spoken the second commandment, the people began to fall back in fear.
We see this confirmed in Exodus 20:18-21:
“Now when all the people saw the thunder and the flashes of lightning and the sound of the trumpet and the mountain smoking, the people were afraid and trembled, and they stood far off and said to Moses, “You speak to us, and we will listen; but do not let God speak to us, lest we die.” Moses said to the people, “Do not fear, for God has come to test you, that the fear of him may be before you, that you may not sin.” The people stood far off, while Moses drew near to the thick darkness where God was.”
Could you blame them? This is often the response we see whenever someone comes in direct contact with God’s presence or voice. Moses, Isaiah, John, everyone who God speaks to in such a way is floored and falls as dead men realizing their utter demise in the presence of a immensely Holy God. I’m always reminded of this when I hear people complain of why doesn’t God speak audibly to us… I don’t know if we know what we’re asking for!
This is not all however…
Voices and Fires
The way they received the commandments was unique too, it wasn’t just that Moses spoke it to them… In English, our translations read, “all the people saw the thunder and lightning” (Ex 20:18) but the Hebrew literally says, “and all the people saw the voices and torches”. Most English translations smooth it out by translating voices as thunders and torches as lightnings, which agrees with the thunder and lightning described previously at Mt Sinai when God descends. However, what does it mean that the people saw the voices? How do you see sound? And what are these torches?
In Deuteronomy, Moses’ last sermon before his death, he is retelling the story of hearing God’s voice at Sinai and in ten different passages he reminds the people that they heard God’s voice speak “from out of the fire”. In the Talmud, in Shabbat 88b, one ancient Jewish legend says that as God spoke, it split into a multitude of sparks or flaming tongues going forth… His voice came to them as a fire. So the torches in Exodus 20:18 are the fiery words of God coming to each person individually.
Also in the Talmud, in Shemot Rabbah 5:9, it also says that they heard the voice of the Lord in every language – this is why voices is plural in Exodus 20:18 – because God’s voice spoke in many different languages. It is believed that He spoke from Mt Sinai simultaneously in all the languages of the world. His voice is also accompanied by the sound of the trumpet or Shophar.
There’s another Rabbi – Moshe Weissman, who says that on the giving of the Torah, the children of Israel not only heard the Lord’s voice but actually saw the sound waves as they thundered from God’s mouth. They visualized them as a fiery substance. Each commandment that left the Lord’s mouth travelled around the entire camp and came to every Jew individually. This was not the first time God used heavenly torches to make a covenant; when Abraham made a covenant with God, He appeared to him as a fiery torch in Genesis 15:17.
As the commandments came to the people, they each responded, “kol asher-dibber Adonai na’aseh v’nishmah” – “all the words which the Lord has said we will do” (Ex 24:3)
The Sin of the Golden Calf & Idolatry
So even in spite of all this, while Moses is up on the mountain top – the people talk Aaron into making a molten calf from their gold and jewellery. They had just seen the terror of the Lord, and heard and agreed to His commandment not to make a graven image… however I think the manner in which it was done shows something to us of their idolatry. They made the calf from their gold and precious things – materialism & money often time can easily become our Golden Calf also.
Look also at how ridiculous it is! When Moses asks Aaron what happens, he says – I don’t know, we took the gold and threw it into the fire and out came a calf!! Surely this has to be some sort of biblical humour.
Isaiah 44 talks about the foolishness of idolatry; a wood carver who takes a piece of wood and with one part, carves an idol then uses another part to make a fire and warms himself and bakes his bread.
“Half of it he burns in the fire. Over the half he eats meat; he roasts it and is satisfied. Also he warms himself and says, “Aha, I am warm, I have seen the fire!” And the rest of it he makes into a god, his idol, and falls down to it and worships it. He prays to it and says, “Deliver me, for you are my god!”…
… The poor, deluded fool feeds on ashes. He trusts something that can’t help him at all. Yet he cannot bring himself to ask, “Is this idol that I’m holding in my hand a lie?”
This clearly illustrates the folly of idolatry as when we mistake the sustenance, as the source.
“Idolatry is not simply worshiping a stone image; idolatry is any concept of God that reduces Him to less than who He really is.” – Ron Carlson and Ed Decker, Fast Facts on False Teachings, p. 196.
“Lots of people today would never consider themselves guilty of idolatry as far as it is spelled out in the Ten Commandments, but by reducing God to some benevolent “man upstairs” whose only attributes are love and tolerance, and who could not care less about sin, they truly have transgressed God’s commandment. They have created a god in their mind who does not actually exist and will on the day of judgment, not be able to offer them any help.” –Charlie Campbell
Idolatry extends far beyond graven images; anything in our life that can take the place of God as our ultimate source of security, comfort, pleasure, guidance, treasure – anything/anyone that you ‘can’t live without’, anything at all that diminishes your affections to God or His place as not just first but your everything becomes an idol. If we notice the commandments, the first is that there is one God, and the second is like it – that you should have no other gods. The rest of the commandments can be summed up as a violation of these two first commandments – for to break them, you’d have to break these first two and either not acknowledge God for Who He is, or elevate something else above Him. The bible speaks against idolatry in many forms many times throughout its pages.
Because of their idolatry, Moses commanded the Levites to take swords and go through the people and slay those who were participants of the idolatry. 3,000 were slain that day.
The Tablets of Stone
The Talmud has some insight for us on the tablets also. In the Midrash, the first tablets were made of blue sapphire as a symbol of the heavens and God’s throne and the commandments were written by the finger of God. They were miraculous and apparently the letters were bored fully through the stones so that some of the Hebrew letters floated in place, and both sides appeared normally. Also another Midrash says that the tablets carried their own weight, enabling Moses to carry them down the mountain. But when Moses saw the idolatry of the people on his way down, the tablets became heavy – and he smashed them to the ground at the base of the mountain. The second tablets were carved from red sapphire by Moses himself instead of by God as an atonement for Israel’s sin. The red obviously an illusion to the blood required for atonement.
By this time I’d bet Moses was pretty tired of the Israelites, I know I would have been… He was about 80 years old, by now he had fasted for 40 days – and climbed the mountain at least 3 times!! The first time when he received the commandments, then another 40 when he went up to plead for mercy for the people, and a third time 40 days when he received the commandments a second time. The dates also line up with certain Jewish festivals; the first was the festival of Shavu’ot (Pentecost) – commemorating the giving of the Torah. Then the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur) is when God restored His goodwill to the Jews and gave the second tablets. These will be important as I will explain later on…
Sacrifices and Prophets
For the sake of time I won’t delve deeply into these as I had originally planned to. God continues to speak to His people throughout the years after Sinai… in the sacrifices, it was a visual testimony of foreshadowing what was to come. To tell the people that the wages of sin was death, and only by the shedding of innocent blood could that be paid off. The Old Testament sacrifices were an imperfect representation of the perfect sacrifice God would one day send and I’d challenge you to do your own study on them and see the depth of parallelisms there.
Through the Prophets of the Old Testament, God speaks again to His people. Isaiah, one of my favourite old testament prophets speaks a lot of Jesus – God’s coming salvation.
“Out of the stump of David’s family will grow a shoot… And the Spirit of the Lord will rest on him…
He will delight in obeying the Lord. He will not judge by appearance nor make a decision based on hearsay. He will give justice to the poor and make fair decisions for the exploited.
The earth will shake at the force of his word, and one breath from his mouth will destroy the wicked.”
– Isaiah 11:1-4 (excerpts)
“Behold, my servant shall act wisely;
he shall be high and lifted up, and shall be exalted.
As many were astonished at you— his appearance was so marred, beyond human semblance, and his form beyond that of the children of mankind— so shall he sprinkle many nations…
…he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him.
He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.
Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed.
All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.
…But it was the Lord’s good plan to crush him and cause him grief. Yet when his life is made an offering for sin, he will have many descendants… When he sees all that is accomplished by his anguish, he will be satisfied. And because of his experience, my righteous servant will make it possible for many to be counted righteous, for he will bear all their sins.”
– Isaiah 52:13-53: 11 (excerpts)
Through Isaiah (and other OT prophets), God announces His coming redemption to fulfill the law from mountain in Exodus and make right what went wrong at the garden of Eden. He is preparing the world for the coming of His Son.
Hebrews 1:1-4 says,
“Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs.”
Our bibles separate the verses – however the original Greek is one long sentence from 1-4. And in English – it puts a contrast between v 1 and 2 – God spoke by the prophets… but he has spoken by His Son… however this is not how the Greek reads. A better translation would be “having spoken… God spoke.” This is important because it shows us that the OT was both foundation and preparation for God’s ultimate revelation through Jesus. The OT starts a conversation with us, the New Testament is a continuation of this conversation.
THE WORD BECOMES FLESH:
John’s gospel was written with a specific goal in mind, “so that you may continue to believe that Jesus is the Messiah” – he wants to prove to his readers Jesus’ right to the title of Christ. Writing about Jesus, John introduces him with these words in his gospel:
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men.”
And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. And from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.
God came down in Eden and spoke with Adam, God came down at Sinai in great terror and spoke the law with Moses, now through Jesus – the fulfilment of OT prophesies – God again comes down, but now the Word becomes flesh – the same Word which called the universe into existence, the same word which blazed at Sinai… No longer is God’s voice something intangible, immaterial, or ethereal – the incarnation shows us God in the flesh, dwelling amongst us.
– John’s introduction of Jesus as the Word links him to the Old Testament events which were foreshadows of what was to come.
The Greek word John uses for word is “logos” – where we derive our word, logic or reason. So, in the beginning was the logos, or reason – the reason for life, the reason for everything. And this reason was with God – because this reason was God! God is the reason for life. This reason, God, came close – Philippians 2 says he humbled himself and took on the form of a servant. The very same God who had called galaxies into existence, who calls the stars by name, who thunders his law, Who is seated on His throne of majesty in Heaven, at whose voice the earth trembles – who we had seen in all his awesome and terrible might – humbles himself, takes up a cross and dies in our place. This is the marvel of the gospel.
GETHSEMENE – THE SECOND GARDEN:
I’m going to flash forward through Jesus’ life of ministry – as he heals the sick, opens blinded eyes, and casts out demons – who speak also, to testify of Who He is! Fast forward to the Galilean sea His voice, God speaking to the elements… and they – recognizing the voice of Him who called them into existence – obey Him! – wind and waves calm, and in the midst of life’s storms He says peace, be still. Continue onward and we end up at another garden, Gethsemene, to find the Word speaking again…
At the first garden, God spoke out of hurt – calling out for Adam, where are you, what have you done? In this second garden, as night falls and darkness covers the cool Jerusalem sky, on the eve of His Passion, we find the Word asking questions of hurt again… sorrowful knowing the suffering and shame He must go through, sweat and blood flow mingled down His brow as from quivering lips He pleads, “If there is any other way, nevertheless, not my will but Yours be done.”
– In the first garden, first Adam acts in rebellion to God’s will… in the second garden, second Adam acts in total submission to God’s will. He works to break the chains of rebellion and religion which had enslaved us from since the first garden.
In studying the passages about Jesus’ time in Gethsemene – something stuck out to me that had never before – and usually this is a sign to me to dig a little deeper. A lot of us are pretty familiar with the story and probably just gloss over it, however I chose to dwell on it a bit. In 3 of the 4 gospels, it was there – olive trees. Seems pretty normal – but for some reason I figured there might be some significance. Was God saying something even in this detail of the Olive trees?
Olives were a very essential part of the life of the Jews at that time and are common all over Israel. Olive trees are unique in their resilience, they can grow in almost any condition – and there in the desert lands even, in dry, rocky soil, with little water and nutrients needed to flourish. Even if they are cut down or burned, new shoots will emerge from the root. It was a branch from an Olive tree that the dove Noah sent out brought back – probably because it was one of the trees which withstood the flood. Also, they take a while before they start to bear fruits – it takes at least 15 years before the first good yield of fruits, and they really don’t become profitable until they are about 40-50 years old. So someone who was planting an Olive grove, wasn’t planting for themselves – but for the next generation to benefit. Their fruits aside from being eaten are used in the production of oils for lamps and cooking, medicine and perfumes. It is from olive oil that anointing oil was made with various spices by the Jews which represented the presence of the Holy Spirit.
It’s it interesting that it was in the midst of an Olive grove, the Anointed One, to pray? That in the midst of His intense persecutions, He could stand resilient like the Olive trees? That just like the Olive branch the dove brought back, He would stand for hope of new life? That just as Olive trees planted were done looking forward to a future blessing of generations – that He would die, and His body planted in the ground and bear fruit of blessings for future generations? That through His sufferings, as olives through the olive press to make anointing oil, the Holy Spirit would be poured out on His people?
In Psalm 52:8 it says,
“But I am like a green olive tree in the house of God; I trust in the mercies of God forever and ever.”
Was Jesus perhaps thinking of the Olive tree as He prayed and pleaded with the Father – Is there any other way?… but I will trust in the mercies of God…
In Hosea 14:4-6, speaking of the restoration of God’s people, “The Lord says, “Then I will heal you of your faithlessness; my love will know no bounds, for my anger will be gone forever… [Israel’s] branches shall spread, and his honor shall be as the olive-tree…” and here in Gethsemene, God’s restoration of Israel knelt in the midst of Olives.
Not only that – in Romans 11 – Paul talks about God’s salvation to the gentiles too – as branches of wild olives being grafted into God’s special olive tree – being nourished from the same root. Such amazing parallels found in even the littlest details of scripture!
Whereas in the first garden, relationship with God was ruined by Adam’s inability to keep the law of God… Jesus, the second Adam, comes and perfectly fulfils the law – so that through Him our relationship to God could be restored. However, the life perfectly lived only earned him the righteousness of completing the law… there was something more that needed to be done to crush the head of the serpent who lured man from the beginning, the Son of Man would have to bruise His heel.
GOLGATHA – THE SECOND MOUNTAINTOP:
We skip forward a few more days, from Gethsemene to Golgatha. Here outside the city walls, three figures hang on crosses – we’re familiar with the story. Whereas on the first mountaintop, God came down in terror and delivered the law… here on this second mountaintop He is found in the form of a servant, obedient even to the point of death on a cross.
Passover (Leviticus 23:5) – Pointed to the Messiah as our Passover lamb (1 Corinthians 5:7) whose blood would be shed for our sins. Jesus was crucified on the day of preparation for the Passover at the same hour that the lambs were being slaughtered for the Passover meal that evening.
On Sinai, the commandments of the law struck fear into the hearts of men – realizing they could not fulfil the perfect standards of a powerful and holy God – the law condemned them and demanded the wages of sin. On Calvary, the God-man having fulfilled the law perfectly dies in place of the people He created to love, paying their debt in full. On Sinai, God speaks out of the fire and thunder – at Calvary our Lord again speaks…
It is said that a person’s dying words are what is most important to them – so let’s take a look at what His last words are:
My God – why have you forsaken me? (Matthew 27:46, Mark 15:34)
Jesus having taken on the sins of the world experiences separation from God so that we would not have to. This is a mystery to scholars as to what exactly is the nature of this separation – for the Godhead cannot cease to exist as a Trinity… however, at the point when Christ takes on the sins to become the sacrificial Lamb of God – the sin offering – there is a profound heartfelt feeling of distance from the Father by the Son – that the Father turns His face away and for a moment, amazingly – the Godhead which for eternity had enjoyed perfect fellowship and communion is in someway disrupted! For our sake… so painful is this disturbance that Jesus cries out in the agony of the moment – My God, why have you forsaken me?!
We know this isn’t a permanent or critical severance of the Godhead, for soon after Jesus is again praying to the father… but it is profound to show us the lengths to which this infinite God goes to win back His beloved.
Father, forgive them… (Luke 23:34)
Jesus prays for our forgiveness, that as He is paying the price of our sins on the cross, our debt is charged to His account. In every other religion, it claims that God is merciful and forgiving… however, God’s mercy and forgiveness of sin comes at the expense of his justice and judgement. If there was a judge who is ruling over a case where the criminal has been shown guilty, but he doesn’t punish his crime – that judge is no longer just. Every other religion, God’s forgiveness must come at the expense of His justice – He must turn a blind eye to sin and in doing so, He is no longer a good God.
However, in Christianity – God’s forgiveness and mercy aren’t in spite of His justice and judgement. God’s forgiveness and mercy come THROUGH his justice and judgement. That at Calvary, the full wrath of God against sin is poured out on Christ, he is our propitiation for our sins – and so He can offer forgiveness while remaining just.
It is finished. (John 19:30)
The debt is paid in full. Christ’s bodily sacrifice at the Cross is the fulfilment of total payment – our debt is paid in full! This isn’t a layaway plain, it wasn’t a deposit… He didn’t go to Hell after, there’s nothing else we need to add to His sacrifice to atone for sin. Jonathan Edwards said, “You contribute NOTHING to your salvation but the sin that made it necessary.”
Jesus said, “It is finished.” We cannot earn grace, it is freely given. The sacrifice was made knowing fully just how sinful you are, every fault and failure, God looked at you knowing full well what He was getting into – there’s nothing that we can do to surprise Him, to earn favour or lose grace. Those three words echo throughout time from 2 millennia ago to our hearts today as sure foundation for this grace in which we stand.
Into Your hands I entrust my spirit. (Luke 23:46)
Throughout the whole ordeal, Jesus is in control – He is still God. He was not the victim in this story – He’s the hero. Jesus himself said in John 10:17 & 18, “For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father.”
Calvary’s story is not one of defeat but triumph – if there is a victim on that Hill, it was Sin.
The over-arching narrative of the God who speaks
The story is told of Watchman Nee in China, he was bathing at a river and noticed a man drowning – he himself could not swim strongly – but there was a man with him who was an excellent swimmer. But he just stood there and watched the drowning man. Nee was frustrated as to why the swimmer would not go after the man, however he was calm and collected and just keenly watched the struggling man. Then, as the drowning man went under for what seemed to be the last time – the swimmer leaped into action and in a moment had pulled the man to shore.
After the incident, Mr. Nee chewed the many out and accused him of loving his life too much and being selfish – however the swimmer explained: If he had gone too soon, the drowning man would have put a death grip on him and they both would have drowned. He said, the drowning man cannot be saved until he is utterly exhausted and ceases to make the slightest effort to save himself. Such is the case with salvation – we cannot save ourselves – we have to yield to God – to accept His hand of salvation outstretched on the cross to save us.
From the very beginning this is what God has been speaking to us: even through the names listed in Genesis 5 & Luke 3:36-38 of the first generations of people… Adam means man, Seth – Appointed, Enosh – mortal, Kenan -sorrow, Mahalaleel – the blessed God, Jared -shall come down, Enoch – teaching, Methusaleh – His death shall bring, Lamech – the despairing, Noah – rest.
In the first 10 names of the godly line from Adam to Noah the root meaning of the Hebrew words gives the whole story of the Bible:
“Man is appointed mortal sorrow. The blessed God shall come down teaching His death shall bring the despairing rest. From the dawn of time God knew that he shall come down to give the despairing rest.” (C. Missler)
You see, the whole story of the bible is not about us, we have the tendency to read it as it if were… But the whole story of the bible points to Jesus. He is the focus. He should be our focus.
God speaking in the fire
“For you have not come to a mountain that can be touched and to a blazing fire, and to darkness and gloom and whirlwind, and to the blast of a trumpet and the sound of words which sound was such that those who heard begged that no further word be spoken to them. For they could not bear the command, “IF EVEN A BEAST TOUCHES THE MOUNTAIN, IT WILL BE STONED.” And so terrible was the sight, that Moses said, “I AM FULL OF FEAR and trembling.” But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to myriads of angels, to the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the Judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood, which speaks better than the blood of Abel.”
At the first instance on Sinai on the feast of Pentecost- a mighty rushing wind, tongues of fire, God’s law is spoken in every language and 3,000 lost their lives. In Acts 2, during the feast of Pentecost – the church is established – from the upper room, God again speaks… but this time, as the wind and tongues of fire come – 3,000 hear not God’s law which brought fear and death – but God’s gospel of grace in every language – which brings life.
What is God saying to us now?
We have seen that God has spoken, in the garden in Genesis when God in love creates Adam – he gets His hands dirty forming out of the dust but then is betrayed by the ones He created to love Him… then at Mount Sinai – His hand again touches earth inscribing His law on tablets of stone… At the garden of Gethsemene where He prays about to be yet again betrayed by His creation… then at Golgatha, to redeem man to Himself – He again gets His hands dirty – and they’re pierced for us, though this time – His hand doesn’t write His law on tablets of stone – but on the hearts of men. It would seem that God is showing to us that true love is not of mere sentiment or word, but gets its hands dirty.
Charles Stanley said that, “His voice leads us not into timid discipleship but into bold witness.” He speaks to us through His Word… so have you heard His voice? I hope if anything this would lead you into more deep study and love of His precious word that has been preserved for us now to enjoy… let us not take it for granted. Read it. Study it. Live it. Share it.
For one day there will be another mountain and garden to come… The Lord shall return again on the mount, and we will hear His voice once more as the dead in Christ are raised to new life incorruptible… and there will be a second garden too – as Eden’s perfection is restored in the new creation and there we shall be together with Him forever. Amen.