Who is God?

Who is God

Story is told of the time in ancient Rome where Caesar wanted to kick the Christians out of the city of Rome. And so he called the elders together and told them, “Hey guys, I’m going to kick you out of Rome.” And the elders were taken aback and they appealed to Caesar saying, “Is there any way we can stay here? After all, we’re contributing to the community and economy.”

Caesar looked and them and said, “Well, why don’t we do this? Let’s have a debate. You send your best debater and debate me. If he wins, you can stay on in Rome.” And so the elders went back to discuss amongst the Christians and they were worried. Because after all, who could debate the great mind of Caesar? As they were arguing, suddenly in their midst, a hand rose up in their midst and a voice said, “I volunteer to debate Caesar!”

And when they looked at who had raised up his hand, they all laughed. They laughed so hard that they had tears running down their cheeks. Because the person who raised his hand was Simon. Simon was a simple road sweeper. They said to him, “How can you debate Caesar? None of us dare debate Caesar and you volunteer?”

But at the end of the day, because no one dared volunteer, Simon was sent to debate Caesar. On the day of the debate, Caesar was seated on the throne. And there surrounded by his senators, the Christian contingent came led by, none other than Simon himself. As he approached Caesar, Caesar looked with contempt upon this man, this simpleton… and raised one finger to Simon. Simon raised three fingers back to Caesar.

Caesar was surprised. He regained his composure and swept his hand across the forum. Simon looked at Caesar and pointed to the ground. Caesar’s face turned pale. He took out an apple. Simon looked at Caesar and took out a piece of bread and waved it at Caesar. And Caesar sat down and gasped and these were the words he said, “The Christians have won the debate. They are allowed to stay in Rome.” There was a tremendous uproar!

The Christians were overjoyed and they lifted Simon and carried him off shouting, “We’ve won! We’ve won!” And as they were moving out, the senators were totally perplexed. They surrounded Caesar and said, “Err, Caesar, can you tell us what happened?” And Caesar said, “These Christians are tremendous thinkers and great theologians. They should be allowed to stay.” And the people said, “What was all the gesticulation about? We don’t understand, please explain to us!”

And Caesar said, “When he was coming to me, I said ‘there’s only one God, it’s I, Caesar!’ And this great theologian says, ‘But remember the Scriptures say that God is Trinity.’ Ah. I was stunned and so I said, ‘I created all of Rome, look all around you, I created all of this.’ And then he reminded me, ‘Ah, but God created man from the dust of the earth.’”

“What about the apple?” the people asked. Caesar said, “I was stuck. I played my trump card. I took out the apple to remind him of the forbidden fruit, that man have sinned. Man have sinned. And then he took out the bread to remind me that man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God. These are tremendous theologians. They have won this debate, they should be allowed to stay in this city.”

Meanwhile at the Christian camp, as the celebrations were on-going, “we’ve won, we’ve won”… Simon says, “Let me down, I want to debate Caesar, I want to debate Caesar!” They let him down and said, “What do you mean you want to debate Caesar, the debate is over, you’ve already won!” He says, “I haven’t even started debating!” “Then what’s with all this gesticulating? What did it mean?” they asked.
Simon said, “I don’t know! When I came to Caesar, he told me to get out. I told him I need at least three days to pack. Then he says, get out now. But I told him I want to stay.” “Then, what is this business about the apple and the bread?” Simon replied, “That’s the strangest part: he took out his lunch, so I took out mine!”

Sometimes, communication can go like that “whoosh”. Totally miss what’s being communicated. Who is God? When we approach the subject and Person as vast, as complex, as God… I feel like the danger is we think we know Him, but we actually don’t. So today, I’m going to attempt by God’s grace to reveal Him as He is revealed in Scripture. Have you ever asked yourself this question, “Does God exist?” Or “If God exists, what’s He like?” And “Even if God exists, why does it matter and what difference does He make in my life?” Today, we’re going to explore these questions. Before we begin, shall we go to God in prayer and ask that He would reveal Himself to us so that we may know Him.

[PRAY] John 1:1-14

John 1:1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
John 1:2 He was in the beginning with God.
John 1:3 All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.
John 1:4 In him was life, and the life was the light of men.
John 1:5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
John 1:6 There was a man sent from God, whose name was John.
John 1:7 He came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him.
John 1:8 He was not the light, but came to bear witness about the light.
John 1:9 The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world.
John 1:10 He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him.
John 1:11 He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him.
John 1:12 But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God,
John 1:13 who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.
John 1:14 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.

The first thing to note is the expression ‘the Word’. It’s a very rich term. I could spend an entire sermon just unpacking it, but at the very least, it conveys the notion of divine self-expression or speech. It’s God’s revelation to us. This is fundamental and foundational because, think about it… how can we know God? If God does exist, how can we puny, finite creatures know the Almighty, the infinite God… unless God chooses to reveal Himself to us. We can know God because He wants us to know Him. We can know God through His written Word, the Bible. This is a primary means God communicates with us. Through His Word.

Next, the gospel of John begins in exactly the same way as another book in the Bible. Which is it? The book of Genesis. The first book in the Bible. Genesis 1 is the account of creation “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” Compare this to John 1:1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
John 1:2 He was in the beginning with God.
John 1:3 All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.

The first way God reveals Himself is as our Creator. Now, it’s not the purpose of this sermon to convince you of the existence of God. In fact, the Bible doesn’t even try to do that. It simply states as fact, “In the beginning, God.” But between believing that the universe and all life came into existence by chance versus believing that there was an intelligent Creator who designed this universe and humanity and gave life meaning and purpose, I’d gladly choose the latter. So God is our Creator.

 

1. God is Creator
This has tremendous implications for us and, at first glance, not very pleasant implications. You see, in modern society, there’s something we value perhaps above all things. Anyone want to guess what it is? Freedom. Rights. Free to do what I want. Free to be whom I choose to be. Free to live the way I want. No one has the right to tell me otherwise. And God as Creator comes smack against this belief. God as Creator implies He has the sovereign right to define what’s right and what’s wrong, not us. God as Creator implies He has the right to define meaning and purpose, not us.

This doesn’t sound like good news. But it is. Two reasons. First, God is not only Creator, the One who gave us life; He’s also Sustainer, the One who gives us breath. John 1:4 In Him was life, and the life was the Light of men. The Bible in various places, expands on this… it says, all our days are known to God. It says, in Him, we live and move and have our being. In other words, and in summary, we owe our very existence to God. Whether we realize it or not, the very next breath you breathe is because God gave that to you. We don’t often paused to think about it, we take it for granted. But we should make it a habit when we go to sleep at night and rise the next morning, to give thanks to God for life.

We Singaporeans in general are complainers. Right? We complain about the weather. We complain about the traffic (packed MRTs, buses). We complain about school work, teachers. We complain about our parents. We complain about our government. We complain. And we fail to appreciate life, this life that God has given to us as a gift.

Years ago (I may have told this story during chapel, please excuse me for those who have heard.), I was out on a school excursion. When it was time to go back to school, we were heading to the bus. In the excitement, I almost dashed across the road without checking for oncoming vehicles. Thankfully, the car which was approaching was not going fast and managed to stop in time. Looking back, I always have felt that God was watching over my life. And this is a comforting truth, that our lives and all our days are in God’s hands.

The second thing about God as Creator is that He is not capricious. His laws and commands are not arbitrary. Use a slang, He doesn’t ‘suka-suka’ make up rules. Every single one of God’s boundaries are meant for the prospering and the joy of His creation. It is when we violate His laws and commands that we find that life breaks down. Let me illustrate.

My children love to get out of the house, going to the mall, going to church, going for a holiday etc. But when they do, often they are so excited that they run around, they dance around, they do silly movements… and that’s generally ok, except when they approach the road. Sometimes I have to raise my voice or even physically restrain them (in particular, my son). And from his point of view, he may think I’m denying him fun. But what’s the purpose of my action? To protect him from being run over by vehicles. Similarly, God as our Creator gave us life to enjoy, but in His way. His Word, His book, is a book of life, abundant life. His statutes, laws and commandments are meant to lead us to life.

 

2. God is Holy
Before I talk about the next attribute of God, I want to do a quick survey. The question is this: If there was one attribute/characteristic of God that is more fundamental to the nature of God, which would you guess it to be?

Louis Berkhof, a famous Christian theologian, wrote this, “It does not seem proper to speak of one attribute of God as being more central and fundamental than another; but if this were permissible, the Scriptural emphasis on the holiness of God would seem to justify its selection.”

Why holiness? A couple of quick points. First, there are many attributes of God. God is love. God is just. God is compassionate, merciful. But the Hebrew superlative used to describe only one attribute of God. “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts” Isaiah 6:3… “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty.” Revelation 4:8 This threefold repetition is called a superlative, and it is for emphasis. So for example, when Jesus says, “Truly, truly I say to you…”, He’s saying, “What I’m saying is absolutely, positively true…” And when the Bible says, “Holy, holy, holy”, it’s saying God is holy TTM (to the max!). And this is the angels’ song as they worship Him. They could have sung, “Love, love, love is the Lord God Almighty”, or “Grace, grace, grace is the Lord God Almighty” and it would have been true, but they sing, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty.”

Second, in Isaiah 57:15 “For thus says the One who is high and lifted up, who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy…” Of all the names God could have chosen to name Himself, He chose Holy. God is holy.This is central to the character of God.

But what does it mean for God to be holy? We read in John 1:5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. This verse hints at a couple of things.

There is a certain moral purity to God. Light, purity. Darkness, corruption, evil. God can do no wrong, God can do no evil. He is absolutely, perfectly pure. There is a beauty to His holiness.
Not only is there a moral purity to God, but there’s a certain distinction about God. He is totally different from us (as light is to darkness). He is in a class of His own. Separate. The Bible says God dwells in unapproachable light.

And the challenge is that the world and the culture we live in is so profane, so vulgar, that holiness, by and large, is a very foreign concept to us. Don’t believe me? How many of you have twitter accounts? Just go scroll through your feeds. Your own tweets, the tweets of the people whom you follow. WTF. OMG. Cuss words. Taking God’s name in vain. Some of you may go like, “Pastor, why so serious. Is it really that bad?” Well, yes.

Just now, I referenced Isaiah 6:3. The context was Isaiah the prophet, God’s mouthpiece having a vision of God. In the chapters before Isaiah 6, Isaiah was rebuking the nations, pronouncing judgments on them. In chapter 6, when Isaiah glimpsed a vision of God, he says, “Woe is me, for I am ruined! Because I am man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, The Lord of hosts.” This prophet, this mouthpiece of God, pronounces judgement upon himself because he recognizes his uncleanness, his unholiness in the light of God’s holiness.

How about another example in culture? Now, I don’t want to judge her, but you trace the development of Miley Cyrus from sweet Hanna Montana to full-blown sex goddess at this years MTV awards. That performance was crass. Now I don’t feel so much disgust rather than sadness because I just think she’s being influenced by the world we live in. Holiness is so foreign to us. Unholiness is the norm. But God is holy. And this is a big problem. How can a holy God have fellowship with unholy people? Which leads me to the 3rd attribute of God.

 

3. God is Love
Story was told of a prince who was out in the woods riding one day and he chanced upon a young maiden washing clothes at the edge of the river. She spotted the prince and immediately bowed low to acknowledge his presence, the prince, the heir to the throne of the land. The prince was immediately struck by her beauty and grace. But he also spotted her ragged clothes which pointed to her family poverty. The first thought he had was, “I can’t have her love. Not really. Of course, I could summon her into the courts. And she wouldn’t resist. I am the prince, the heir to the throne. I could easily make her my wife. But I would never really know if she loved me with her heart.”
And as he rode away, he wrestled with this dilemma. What would he do? Day and night, the prince thought about the maiden. He couldn’t forget her. And he didn’t know how to pursue her. One day, he made up his mind. And that day, a scruffy, young man appeared in the village where the young maiden lived. He said he had come from a far off country and was seeking to eke out a living there. He sought out the farm where the maiden lived and appealed to work there. And that was what he did.

This young man, if you haven’t already guessed, was the prince. He had exchanged his royal robes for garments of poverty. He did so out of love for the maiden. He pursued her on her terms. And eventually he won her heart. This fairy tale ends on a happy note as the prince reveals his true identity to the maiden and consummates their love in a royal wedding.

This story is an illustration of God’s love for us and what God did for us. We read in John 1:14 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. We call this the Incarnation. God taking on human flesh in the form of His Son, Jesus Christ. Today’s sermon seeks to answer the question, “Who is God?” And the Bible’s answer to that is Jesus. Jesus is the fullest expression of God, the greatest revelation of God. We see God when we see Jesus, the Christ of the Bible. You want to see God? Look at Jesus.

Further, this is the way a holy God reached out to an unholy people. Jesus came as one of us, but never sinned. When Jesus was crucified on the cross of Calvary some 2,000 years ago, this Holy God bore on Himself all the unholiness of all humanity of all time. Your sin and mine. Every cuss word we have ever used or will ever use. Every unkind thought we have had or will ever have. Every sinful deed we have committed or will ever commit. God’s holiness demands that sin must be punished. God’s love meant He took upon Himself our punishment. Why did God do that for us? In order to make it possible for us to be children of God. This leads us to the 4th attribute of God for today.

 

4. God is Father
John 1:12 But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God,
John 1:13 who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.
The phrase “the right to become children of God” reveals to us the heart of God as Father. And sometimes, this phrase “we are children of God” is used so often, we barely think of its implications. So this afternoon, let’s slow down and ask, what does it mean? Have you ever thought about this, that the God of the universe is your Father? You are a child of the God of heaven and earth. Does it amaze you? It should.

We live in Singapore and I suppose the highest authority in the land would be our Prime Minister. Imagine being the son or daughter of the Prime Minister. Pretty awesome right? But that doesn’t compare with being children of a king in ancient times. Sure, the Prime Minister of Singapore is wealthy, but definitely not the richest man in Singapore. Yes, he has tremendous power to rule in Singapore, but definitely not sovereign power. But o, in the days of old, the king was sovereign over his land and he would also be the wealthiest person in the land. Can you imagine what it’s like to be children of the king, heirs to the throne? Young people, we are children of the King of heaven and earth, the God of the universe. That is an awesome privilege. That is your true identity.

We must recapture this. Too many of us base our value and our worth upon our achievements or upon the opinions of other people. Isn’t this true? So if we are not attaining the success of others, we feel lousy, we feel like we’re a failure. If we are not popular, not part of the ‘cool’ gang, the ‘in’ crown, we feel rejected. But we forget that our true identity is nothing less than the personally valued, deeply loved children of God; regardless of how others see us or even how we see ourselves. If we know that God is our Father, than we would live for His approval rather than the applause or adulation of man. We would be rested in our identity, secure, contended.

 

Response
Having revealed Himself to us, God demands our response. There are two kinds of responses. John 1:11 He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. John 1:12 But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God…
We can either reject God or we can believe in Him and receive Him. Now the word ‘believe’ is very important in the gospel of John. It comes up over and over again. But it’s very interesting that it’s used to describe two groups of people. There are those who were described as believing in Jesus at one moment, and being offended and rejecting Him at the next. And then there are those who would believe upon Jesus and followed Him. Same word ‘believe’. Different meaning.

Young people, when God invites us to receive Him, believe in Him, it’s not merely intellectual knowledge. Just knowing about God. Rather, Jesus wants us to actually know Him. Personally. Deeply. I’m going to use a light-hearted illustration; I thought of Justin Bieber. Some of you like him. Some of you dislike him. I have no strong opinion of him. But what are his fans called? Be-liebers (obviously a play on the word believer). And you know there are similarities between them and us. They follow JB (Justin Bieber); we follow JC (Jesus Christ).

But what can we learn about be-liebers about being believers? They adore him. They buy his music. They follow him on twitter. They read up on all his latest news. They save up for his concert tickets. And when it comes down to the concerts, they’ll be there, screaming their hearts out for him. Sounds very much like worship doesn’t it? We even have a name for that don’t we? Idol. But God says do not worship idols. Worship the true and living God. Being a believer in Jesus entails following Jesus. We love Him. We adore Him. We worship Him. Our attention is on Him. He is the reason for our existence. Bieber is not a worthy god. But Jesus is.

Young people, those who would consider yourselves Christians, God invites you to receive Him in the ways He’s revealed Himself today. He is Creator. Live your lives in submission to Him. Follow him! obey Him.

God is holy. We should not make it a habit to ‘suka suka’ come into the presence of God. Ok, use proper English. We should not enter into the presence of God flippantly. How do we do that? Simple application: come early for church for example. Don’t come late and then rush in with your heart unprepared. Rather, come early, gather a few friends, pray together to prepare your hearts to meet with God.

But beyond Saturday or Sunday in church, seek to live out God’s commandment, “be holy as I (the Lord) am holy.” Learn to be sensitive to the Holy Spirit’s prompting, that our words, thoughts and actions may be filtered through Him. That we may live lives that glorify God. And why should we do all this? Because God is our loving Heavenly Father, that’s why. So let’s get to know our God. Not know about Him. But know Him. Let’s pray.

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