Olaudah Equiano grew up in Africa in the 1700’s and was sold into slavery. He eventually was able to buy his own freedom, became educated, and even published a book. But as a young man he was a servant to a British naval officer, and he saw his master reading books. One day when no one else was present, Equiano said he picked up a book, asked it a question, and then held it up to his ear to see if it would speak to him — it seemed to speak to his master; maybe it would speak to him? He learned later that’s not how it works, of course. You read it, and let it “speak” to you through its written words.
The same thing is true with the word of God. You can’t just pick up a Bible and hold it up to your ear and expect to “hear anything.” But if you will read the words in it, and desire to hear from God, He WILL speak to you through His word.
This morning we’re going to see what God says to us in Psalm 19 — one of the favorite Psalms to many. It breaks up naturally into 3 sections, each of which “speaks to us,” and gives us an important revelation from God:
I. The General Revelation of His Creation (:1-6)
Psalm 19 begins with those famous words: “The heavens are telling of the glory of God.” And the first 6 verses expand on that. They each talk about the General Revelation of God in His creation:
— :1 says “The heavens declare the glory of God” — when you look up at the sky: the sun, the moon, and stars, you get a glimpse of the glory of the God who made them.
— :2 says “day to day pours forth speech”: every day, “volumes” of facts about God are made known to us through what we see in His creation.
— :3 says: “There is no ‘speech,’ nor are there ‘words,” in other words, we don’t literally “hear a voice” saying anything …
— But :4 says “But their voice has gone out through all the earth; their words to the ends of the world.” No, creation isn’t using “words,” but its “message” is clear to anyone who is really watching, all over the world. Anyone who is really “listening” can hear it.
— Then :4-6 gives the specific example of the sun and its glory and power.
But that’s just one example: “the heavens”: sun, moon, stars, creation, is declaring to anyone who looks at it, the glory of the God who created it.
Romans 1:20 teaches the same thing. It says: “For since the creation of the world, His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse.” Through God’s creation, we can see first of all that He exists, and we can also learn a lot about Him through what He has designed.
This is what theologians call the “General Revelation” of God. Without any “specific,” “special” revelation of God’s word, or religion, or anything else, ANYONE can see just from the “General Revelation” that exists all through creation, that there IS a God, and they can also learn much about Him:
— that He is a God of order
— that He is a God of intelligence
— that He is a God of glory, and so on.
You don’t need a degree in theology to be able to just look around at creation and discern that there is a God! Anyone can see that. It is there for the “general public” to see and understand. That is what General Revelation means. The “general public” can tell there is a Creator, from what they see in the creation around them.
Even scientists today marvel at the intelligence and complexity and glory in what they are discovering about creation, all of which points to the glory of the God who made it:
— I’ve shared a couple of times in recent weeks about Anthony Flew, who used to debate on the side of atheism, but who was converted to belief in a God by what he saw in creation. Flew wrote:
“Imagine entering a hotel room on your next vacation. The CD player on the bedside table is softly playing a track from your favorite recording. The framed print over the bed is identical to the image that hangs over the fireplace at home. The room is scented with your favorite fragrance. You shake your head in amazement … You step over to the minibar, open the door, and stare in wonder at the contents. Your favorite beverages. Your favorite cookies and candy. Even the brand of bottled water you prefer.
You turn from the minibar, then, and gaze around the room. You notice the book on the desk: it’s the latest volume by your favorite author. You glance into the bathroom, where personal care and grooming products are lined up on the counter, each one as if it was chosen specifically for you. You switch on the television; it is tuned to your favorite channel. Chances are, with each new discovery about your hospitable new environment, you would be less inclined to think it was all a mere coincidence, right? You might wonder how the hotel managers acquired such detailed information about you. You might marvel at their meticulous preparation. You might even double-check what all this is going to cost you. But you would certainly be inclined to believe that someone knew you were coming.”
Flew said that is what scientists call the “fine-tuning” argument for God. That there are certain very specific conditions which must be present for life to exist here on earth, and they must all be “fine tuned” just exactly right: we must be just the right distance from the sun; we must get just the right amount of sunshine; we need just the right amount of oxygen; just the right amount of water — and on and on. In many cases, if things were off by just 1% or one degree one way or another, life could not exist. But it is all just perfectly suited, “fine tuned,” for life. As Flew said, “SOMEONE knew we were coming” — and made this earth inhabitable for human life. And that “Someone” is God.
More and more, even scientists, many of whom are not inclined to be “religious,” are saying there MUST be “some of kind of ‘Divine Mind,’ or ‘Higher Intelligence,’ or whatever they want to call it, behind the universe. What has been created is just too detailed; too complex; too governed by order, to have come into being by accident. Many of them will even say, maybe it was aliens — because they are SO opposed to saying it might be God — but they have to admit the details of life on earth point to a higher intelligence.
“When the famous atheist Christopher Hitchens was once asked what was the strongest argument against atheistic belief, he responded:
‘I think every one of us picks the ‘fine-tuning’ one as the most intriguing … it is not a trivial argument. We (atheists) all say that.’”
(Richard E. Simmons III, Reflections on the Existence of God, p. 176)
Even atheists recognize the legitimacy of the argument that the intricate design of this universe points to a higher intelligence, to God. The glory of God in creation is clearly seen by anyone who is looking: “the heavens declare the glory of God” — that’s the General Revelation of God in His creation.
II. The Special Revelation of His Word (:7-10)
As much of God as we can learn from His general revelation, we can’t learn “enough” just from His creation, can we? We can see from creation that there IS a God, or where did all this come from; who programmed the complex code in DNA? And we can deduce that God is intelligent, orderly, complex, creative, massive, glorious, just from looking at His creation … but there is also much that we CAN’T learn merely from His creation.
A couple of weeks ago I talked about how Anthony Flew (who we just talked about) came to believe that “There Is A God” from the complexities in DNA and so on — but if you remember I said he “wasn’t home yet,” because to our knowledge he hadn’t taken the step of accepting Jesus as his Lord & Savior. How does a person get to that point? How do you find out specifically the details about salvation?
— How do you learn that God created us specifically to know and worship Him?
— How do you find out that your sin separates you from knowing God?
— How do discover that Jesus died on the cross to pay for our sins so that we might be reconciled with God?
— How you get instructions to repent of your sin and put your faith in Jesus as your own personal Lord & Savior?
You’re not going to get that from looking at creation, are you?
— You could sit outside with a telescope and gaze at the stars, and wonder at their immensity, and order and glory, all your life — and still never learn the gospel message.
— You could study life that is invisible to the human eye under the microscope, worlds and worlds of tiny creatures unseen, for countless hours — and still never comprehend how to be saved.
There are so many things that you CAN learn from observing creation.
But there are also some things that you CAN’T.
You have to have what theologians call “Special Revelation” for those things — “Special Revelation” is a specific, intelligent revelation from God to man in our own language that teaches us the specifics of His truth that we can’t just observe from creation. And that “special revelation” is found in God’s word, the Bible.
And this is what we find in the second part of Psalm 19:7-10, the “Special Revelation” that God has given us in His word. The first section was all about Creation; this 2nd section is all about His word. Notice how many times it refers to the word of God in this section, and how many different names he gives it — and yet they all refer to the scripture:
— :7 “the Law of the LORD”
— :7b “the testimony of the LORD”
— :8 “the precepts of the LORD”
— :8b “the commandment of the LORD”
— :9 “the fear of the LORD”
— :9b “the judgments of the LORD”
Six times in these three verses it refers to the word of God, although it calls it by a different synonym each time: “Law, testimony, precepts,” etc.
But this whole section is talking about the word of God, His “special revelation” to us. It is in the Bible that we get the “specific” revelation from God that “fills in the gaps” of our knowledge of God that we can’t glean just from looking at Creation:
— It tells us how God made us to walk in fellowship with Him as Adam and Eve walked with Him in the Garden;
— that from the beginning mankind sinned against God, and that is why we are estranged from Him today.
— that Jesus came to earth 2000 years ago, and died on the cross and paid for our sins — but that He didn’t stay dead; He rose again on the 3rd day to be the Living Savior and Lord of whoever would call upon Him.
— And that salvation is available to whoever will repent of their sins and trust Jesus as their Lord & Savior.
The specifics of all this and much more are found in the “Special Revelation” of God in His word.
— That’s why :7 says it “restores” or “converts” the soul: God’s special revelation shows us specifically how our souls can be “converted”: “repentance and faith” as Paul says in Acts 20.
— it says it will “make wise the simple” — this word will give us wisdom to live our lives: how to have better relationships; a better marriage; a better family; better work ethic, and so on. It gives us the specifics of how to do that.
— :8 says it will “rejoice your heart” — the Bible shows you how to find your joy in God by worshiping Him every day, and looking forward to being with Him in glory in heaven forever.
All of this comes from God’s Special Revelation in the Bible. This is WHY we are doing our “In The Word 2022” emphasis; taking a whole year to focus on the importance of reading the Bible and finding what God has for us there. Because God has truth for you in His word, that you will not find any other way, or in any other place. You will only get it as you open the Bible, and let the Holy Spirit of God illumine your heart, and open your eyes, and change your life. God’s Spirit will use His word to change you!
Just a few years ago, Nabeel Qureshi was a young man who was torn between Islam, his family’s traditional faith, and the Christianity that some of his friends had shared with him. At one point, he was literally in tears, and he said, “At this moment, there were two books that I particularly sought, hoping for God’s comfort… I went straight to the bookcase and retrieved my old Quran, and my study Bible. I sat down on the couch and opened the Quran first. I flipped through the pages, looking for verses of comfort … anything that would comfort me. There was nothing there for me. … It did not speak to … the broken man in need of God’s love. It was a book of laws, written for the seventh century.
Looking for a living word, I put the Quran down and picked up the Bible.
I had never read the Bible for personal guidance before. I did not even know where to start. I figured the New Testament would be a good place, so I opened to the beginning of Matthew. Within minutes, I found these words: ‘Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.’
The words were like a current sent through my dead heart, electrifying it … This was what I was looking for. It was as if God has written these words in the Bible two thousand years prior specifically with me in mind. … Tears flowed from my eyes once more, but now they were tears of joy. I knew that what I held in my hands was life itself. This was truly God’s word, and it was as if I was meeting Him for the first time … I could not put the Bible down. I literally could not. It felt as if my heart would stop beating, perhaps implode, if I put it down. … The Bible was my lifeline.”
(Nabeel Qureshi, Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus, pp. 275-276)
THAT is what the Bible is to us: it is our “lifeline” as he called it, from God. That’s why we need to grab ahold of this “lifeline” every day! And whatever you do, don’t “just” read it like you would any other book. Sit down before it, and listen for GOD to speak to you through His word; for that “electric shock” that Qureshi talked about, when God shows you something that just speaks to you so clearly, that it’s as though He were sitting right beside you, talking to you about your own life — because HE IS! God will speak to YOU through His word. It is His Special Revelation.
III. The Inward Revelation of Our Sin (:11-14)
But there is another kind of revelation that Psalm 19 points us to, a less pleasant revelation — and that is the revelation of our own SIN. One of the specific things the Bible shows us — from the Garden of Eden and the first chapters of Genesis on — is depth of our sin against God.
We all sin in many ways. And :12-14 of Psalm 19 reveal to us several of those ways:
— :12 talks about our “errors.” The Hebrew word for “errors” here is an Old Testament word which refers to sins we commit “unintentionally.” We all have “blind spots;” ways in which we sin without perhaps even realizing it. Proverbs 14:10 says, “There is a way which seems right to a man, but the end of that way is death.” We may think that something is right; we may be convinced of it in our own mind – but the truth is that many times when we think we are doing something right, we are still wrong; it was instead a transgression against God, or man, or both. So David says here, show me my “errors;” my unintentional sins.
— :12b says “acquit me of hidden faults.” “Hidden faults” are those sins which we DO know about, and which we seek to hide from others – and perhaps even from the Lord. The truth is, there is no such thing as a “hidden sin” – for there is no sin that is hidden from God. But there are sins that we try to hide from others. These are our “hidden faults.”
— :13 speaks of “presumptuous sins.” The Hebrew scholars Keil & Delitzsch tell us this means to sin “willfully, deliberately, or insolently.” Unlike the “errors” or “sins of ignorance” we talked about a few minutes ago, this sin is very much committed on purpose. Now, there was a special reason why David prayed that God would keep him back from presumptuous sins. In the Old Testament — and this is important — there WAS NO atonement for presumptuous sins! Numbers 15:28-30 says: “The priest shall make atonement before the Lord for the person who goes astray when he sins unintentionally … But the person who does anything defiantly, whether he is native or an alien, that one is blaspheming the Lord; and that person shall be cut off from among his people.” In other words, there WAS NO forgiveness for purposeful, intentional sin in the Old Testament! If you purposefully and intentionally violated the Law of God, your punishment was death, because you purposefully disobeyed God. It was (and still IS!) a very serious thing to commit a presumptuous sin against God.
— :13b mentions “transgression.” This word means “revolt, rebellion.” When we sin against God, it is rebellion against Him. We are saying, in effect, “God, I don’t want to obey You, the King of the Universe. I want to do my own will instead.” So often we think that our sin is not that big of a deal. But we need to realize that our sin is treason against our King. It’s very serious; and it calls for exile from the presence of the King forever!
— :14 “the words of my mouth.” Some of the most common sins we commit are those related to our words. James 3:6 says: “The tongue is a fire, the very world of iniquity; the tongue is set among our members as that which defiles the entire body, and sets on fire the course of our life, and is set on fire by hell.” And it goes on to say: “No one can tame the tongue; it is a restless evil, and full of deadly poison.” The tongue is indeed FULL of deadly poison; there are SO many different ways we can sin with our words: lying, boasting, gossiping, cursing, swearing, flattering — and on and on!
— :14b “the meditation of my heart.” Jesus said “the mouth speaks from that which fills the heart,” and the truth is, there is much more evil in our hearts than our mouths ever speak! We spoke of “hidden faults” a few minutes ago — this is where many of our “hidden faults” are – they are “hidden” away in our hearts and minds. And the thing is, God says THAT is exactly what I am looking at in you: He says in Jeremiah 17:10 “I the Lord search the heart; I test the mind”! God’s not mainly concerned with how you look on the outside; with which outfit you chose to wear this morning; He’s looking at the secrets of your heart! What are you thinking about? What are your secret desires? What is your hidden attitude? THAT’s what He’s searching for — and that is what He sees!
All of these things — and more — are sins against God. And how do we learn about them? God’s word reveals them to us. First, in His word He SHOWS us our “errors,” our “hidden faults,” our presumptuous sins, our transgressions, our sinful words and the thoughts of our hearts — and then, as He shows them to us, then we can ask Him to forgive us for them, and to change us from them. But we’ve got to “take up this word” and let it do its work of searching our hearts and changing our lives.
Augustine of Hippo Regis, commonly known as “St. Augustine,” was a Christian minister, writer, and theologian who lived about 300 years after the time of Christ. As I’ve mentioned before, Augustine wasn’t always “Saint” Augustine; he was a very rebellious young man; he famously prayed, “God give me chastity — but not yet!” He strayed from the ways of his godly parents, and engulfed himself in drunkenness and immorality, and dabbled in other philosophies which justified his behavior. But he was miserable. One day he was sitting under a tree, miserable and weeping. Suddenly he heard the voice of a young girl chanting, “Tolle lege; tolle lege …” — Latin for “take up and read, take up and read …”. Tolle lege. Augustine knew just what he had to do: he went back home and “took up” his Bible, and he “read” Romans 13:14-15, “Let us behave properly as in the day, not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual promiscuity and sensuality, not in strife and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh in regard to its lusts.” And God used His word to save him, and change his life.
God is saying the same thing to you and to me today that He did to Augustine that day: “Tolle Lege!” “Pick it up and read it!” Let Me speak to you through My word! Give Me a chance to shine My light into the dark corners of your soul. Let me change your life! “Tolle lege” — “take it up and read” the “Special Revelation” of God which will turn you from sin and change your life!
This should challenge those of us who are reading our Bibles every day: if you are really reading God’s word attentively, listening His Spirit as you read, then one of the things you will be confronted with every day is your own sinfulness. You can’t read God’s word every day with a sensitive spirit, and not be convicted about sin in your life. Is this happening? Are you letting God speak to you through His word about your sin? You should ask yourself at the end of each day’s reading: “What sin did God speak to me about today?” If you don’t have anything, you’d better go back and read it again! Because if you are really paying attention, and are reading your Bible under the influence of the Holy Spirit of God, you WILL be convicted about your sin.
Now, someone might say, “Well, Bro. Shawn, that doesn’t sound very fun; getting convicted about my sin every day!” But the fact is, we NEED that: because our sin hurts our relationships with other people; it hurts us — and it hinders our relationship with God as well. So we NEED God’s Spirit to point our sins out to us, so we can get them right. And the place where He does that, is in His word.
And the thing is, God doesn’t just “leave” us wallowing in guilt over our sins. Look at the very last phrase of Psalm 19. David calls God there, “My Rock and my Redeemer”. What a great last word in Psalm 19: “Redeemer.” When we look at that list of sins in :12-14, if we’re honest, we know we’re just drowning in them — and those aren’t even all the sins! We all fall so far short of the glory of God in so many ways. Left to our own devices, none of us would ever see God’s glory — EXCEPT for this last word: that God is our “REDEEMER”! “Redeemer” means He “bought us back.” Jesus died on the cross and paid for our sins, so that as I John 1:9 says, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” God gave us the “special revelation” of His word to reveal to us our sin — but more importantly, to reveal to us the ANSWER to our sin: the cross of Jesus. Thank God for revealing to us that last word, that He is our “Redeemer”!
— So many of our church members are “taking up” God’s word and reading it, just like Augustine did. But what “everyone else” is doing, isn’t going to help YOU. Are YOU doing it? If not, God’s message to you today is “tolle lege”: “take up and read.” Take up My Word every day, and let it change your life.
— Maybe you started it, but got sidetracked. Don’t let that keep you from it; ask God to help you get started back today.
— Or maybe you never got started. Get a DBR book and “take it up and read it” today.
— OR maybe you’d say you HAVE been reading it — but you’re just “going through the motions” like a religious ritual, and you aren’t really listening for the voice of God, to speak to you.
— Maybe you’d say you haven’t been listening for sins to confess, and asking God to help you change.
Talk to Him right now about how you need to respond to His word …