If God Speaks

One Voice That Changes Everything

Eden Baptist Church | Minneapolis

I want to begin by giving you a peek at where we’re headed this morning. At the end, I hope to talk practically and concretely about what kind of habits we might cultivate in our lives to know and enjoy God, and feed our souls on his word. I have in mind a matrix of four categories: direct and indirect, and alone and together, as you’ll see.

I often summarize God’s appointed means of grace for our Christian lives as (1) hear his voice (in his word), (2) have his hear (in prayer), and (3) belong to his body (in the covenant fellowship of the local church). Our focus in this message is the first — hearing God’s voice in his word, which is God’s primary, or first and foremost, means of grace (his “chief” means, as Jonathan Edwards called it, or the “soul” of the means).

Both prayer and fellowship (which we’ll focus on in later sessions) are secondary, in a sense, to God’s word. First comes his word. First he speaks. Then our prayers come in response to his word. And his word creates the body of fellow believers called the church. The church does not create itself, and the church does not create Scripture, but the church is a “creature of the word.”

To focus in this message on God’s word as his chief means of grace, we turn to the book of Hebrews, where I’d like to linger over two central truths about God’s word, and then finish with some ideas on the kinds of habits we might cultivate in our lives to position ourselves to go on receiving, and enjoying, God’s word, and through his word to know and enjoy Jesus. So then, let’s turn to the first truth about God’s word from the book of Hebrews, from its first two verses.

1. God has spoken.

Do you realize how massive, how significant, this seemingly simple, basic truth is for the very nature of reality and our world and our lives? God did not have to speak to humanity. He could have just created the world — embedded his truth and justice, as it were, in the world through the principles and laws of nature. He might have chosen to reveal himself only through creation, rather than human words.

But wonder upon wonder, God has spoken. Our Father, in all his majesty, has stooped to speak to us in human words. The God who made everything, including you, has spoken — and that changes everything.

Look at the first four verses of Hebrews, and we’ll focus for now on just the first two:

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.

So, in the past, God spoke (verse 1). And in these last days, God has spoken (verse 2). This is the kind of God he is. He is a speaking God, a communicative God. We might say God is talkative. In verses 1–2, God’s speaking is cast into two eras: “long ago” and “in these last days” — a past era, an old era, and then a later era, a new era.

Related to these two eras, then, two sets of recipients are mentioned. In the past there were “our fathers” — for Jews, their biological ancestors, and for Christians, our spiritual ancestors. Then, in the new era, there’s “us.” That’s an amazing phrase in verse 2: “to us.” Hebrews doesn’t say God spoke “to them,” meaning the apostles, or the first generation of Christians, but he says “to us,” to his readers in the first century, which includes us in this same church age, in these same last days, some twenty centuries later.

Hebrews also mentions two agents of God’s speaking: In the past they had the prophets. In these last days we have his Son. (And with the mention of the Son, then follows a cascade of sevenfold glory, which we’ll come back to.)

In Many Ways

Focus with me on the past era, when God spoke “at many times and in many ways” (literally, “in many parts and many manners”). The speaking God not only spoke once, or a few times, but many times, in many parts, in many ways, and through multiple (plural) prophets. The God who is is a talker.

First, he spoke to create the world. Again and again in Genesis 1, some twelve times, we hear, “And God said . . . and God called” (verses 3, 5–6, 8–11, 14, 20, 24, 26, 28; interestingly, God speaks to create on all six days, but he calls or names only on days 1–3 and leaves the naming of the plants, stars, and animals to man).

And our speaking God not only spoke to create, but he continues to speak in creation. Psalm 19:1–4 tells us,

The heavens declare the glory of God,
     and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.
Day to day pours out speech,
     and night to night reveals knowledge.
There is no speech, nor are there words,
     whose voice is not heard.
Their voice goes out through all the earth,
     and their words to the end of the world.

So, God spoke to create, and he keeps speaking through creation. Then, as we’ve seen, God spoke in human words through his prophets. Psalm 19:7–8 (and all of Psalm 119!) says,

The law of the Lord is perfect,
     reviving the soul;
the testimony of the Lord is sure,
     making wise the simple;
the precepts of the Lord are right,
     rejoicing the heart;
the commandment of the Lord is pure,
     enlightening the eyes.

So, not only has he spoken, say, on an occasion or two, but he is a speaking God; he’s prone to speak; he likes to speak. He’s a talker, in the highest and most holy of senses, as he speaks many times, in many parts and manners, through many prophets.

In the Word

Coming back to Hebrews 1, what’s the implied pairing with “many” for the new era? In the old era, to the fathers, through the prophets, he spoke in many parts and ways. Now, in the new era, to us, in his Son — how does he speak? One part, one way, one manner. God has spoken so fully and so richly and so decisively in one particular person — not just through him but in him — that we call him “the Word,” with a capital W.

And so, the Gospel of John begins,

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. (John 1:1–3)

And then John 1:14–18 says,

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. . . . For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known.

God has most fully made himself known in his Word.

Manifold Speech

Consider then the nature of God’s word, from the idea of God speaking to its various expressions:

  • First is God’s word as concept. God speaks. He reveals himself. He’s communicative and talkative, speaking to create, through creation, and particularly through his prophets.
  • Second, then, his word, spoken through prophets, is written down to preserve it, called Scripture.
  • Third is his Word incarnate, his Word personal, in the person of his Son. Jesus is the Word of God. If God had one word, one message, so to speak, to reveal, to say to us, it’s Jesus. It’s “my Son” — hear him, see him, consider him, and believe in him.
  • Finally, we might also talk about the word preached, or spoken — the gospel word about Jesus. This is the most common referent of the word word in the New Testament — the message about Jesus through which Jesus himself comes to us, through faith and by his Spirit.

So, God has spoken. He’s spoken through his prophets. He’s spoken climactically in his Son, the Word. He’s spoken through the gospel, the word about his Son. And God has seen to it that his words have been written down — that is, Scripture.

God Gave Us a Book

How often do you pause to ponder how stunning it is that we have this Book? A record of God’s words through the prophets before the coming of his Son. And the inspired record of the life and sacrifice and triumph of his Son in the four Gospels. And the inspired story of the early church and God-breathed letters from his apostles to the church.

Brothers and sisters, we actually have the words of God. This is almost too good to be true. And yet how often are we so accustomed to this reality — one of the greatest wonders in all the universe — that it barely moves us to handle the Bible with care (and awe), or at least to access his words with the frequency and wonder they deserve?

One of the greatest facts in all of history is that God gave us a Book. He gave us his words! He has spoken. Think of the lengths God went to, and with what patience, to make himself known to us here in the twenty-first century.

For centuries, God’s word was copied by hand and preserved with the utmost diligence and care. Then, for the last five hundred years of the printing press, God’s word has gone far and wide like never before. Some men gave their lives, upsetting the apple carts of man-made religion, to translate the words of God into the heart-language of their people. And now, in the digital age, access to God’s own words has exploded exponentially again, and yet — and yet — in such abundance, do we marvel at what we have? And do we, as individuals and as churches, make the most of what infinite riches we have in such access to the Scriptures?

It’s wonder enough that God has spoken. But as we continue reading Hebrews, it gets even better. Not only did our speaking God speak in the past through the prophets, and not only did he speak to us in the Son, but he continues to speak.

2. God is speaking.

God’s speech is a central emphasis in the book of Hebrews. In Hebrews, God speaks, says, testifies, proclaims, calls, promises, vows, warns, reproves, and declares. Again and again, Hebrews refers to God’s word, his promise, his oath, his spoken word, and his voice.

Something that’s amazing to track in Hebrews is who speaks to whom. First, Father speaks to Son in chapter 1, and Son speaks to Father in chapter 2 (and 10). But then, the Son also speaks to us. And the Spirit speaks to us. And the Father speaks to us.

  • The Spirit speaks to us through Psalm 95 in chapters 3–4.
  • God speaks Proverbs 3:11–12 to us, as his children, in chapter 12.
  • God speaks to us, corporately and individually, in the words of Joshua 1:5 in chapter 13.

Hebrews’s burden is to show that Scripture is not just a collection of ancient texts from the past, but Scripture is the voice of the living God, speaking right now. It’s implicit throughout, but Hebrews makes it explicit, as we’ve seen already in chapter 1, and now will see elsewhere, across its chapters.

Living Words

First, consider Hebrews 3:7–8:

As the Holy Spirit says [quoting Psalm 95], “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion.”

Psalm 95 is not only what the Spirit said in the past, but what the Spirit continues to speak when we read or hear the words of Psalm 95. Then added to this is the emphasis on “today” in the quote from Psalm 95. That “today” was first for hearers in David’s day. Now, that “today” is for hearers in Hebrews’s day, because the Spirit not only said Scripture, but says Scripture. This is what it means for Scripture to be “living and active.” That’s the famous passage in Hebrews 4:12–13:

The word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account.

Psalm 95, as the Spirit’s ongoing speech to believers, in the past as well as the present, is the immediate referent of Hebrews 4:12. When Hebrews says “the word of God is living and active,” he’s talking first about Psalm 95, but it’s not as though Psalm 95 is unique in this respect. This is applicable to all of Scripture as God’s speaking. When God speaks in Scripture, he does not speak only in the moment and move on, but he continues to speak to his people through his word by his Spirit.

Which might then lead us to reflect on the closeness of God and his word. Think about this with me: there is no separation between God himself and the word he breathes out. Humans may err in their speech; they may misspeak and later try to “distance themselves” from what they said. God never misspeaks, and he never miscalculates the reception of his words. And God never changes. He never says, “Well, I said that a long time ago, but I don’t say it anymore.” There is no disconnect between God and his words. To encounter the words of the living God is to encounter God himself — his sight and his eyes, as Hebrews 4:13 says.

Active Warnings

Let’s go to Hebrews 12:25, the final warning of Hebrews:

See that you do not refuse him who is speaking. For if they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, much less will we escape if we reject him who warns from heaven.

So, through his letter, Hebrews has spoken the written words of Scripture to the church as living words from God by the Spirit. And now, in this final warning, he speaks of God as “him who warns from heaven” and as “him who is speaking.” Our God not only has warned, but he warns. He not only has spoken, but he is speaking. And how does he do that? By the Spirit and the word. Word and Spirit. The Holy Spirit works by and with the word to speak in the present to the people of God.

And lest we think this is unique to Hebrews — that all of Scripture should be applied to, spoken to, new-covenant Christians as the very present-moment speaking of God — the apostle Paul speaks similarly at least three times:

  • “Whatever was written in former days [in the past, to the fathers] was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope” (Romans 15:4).
  • “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16). Not “was breathed out,” but “is.” Not “was . . . profitable,” but “is.” Is, not was.
  • “Now these things took place as examples for us, that we might not desire evil as they did. . . . Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come” (1 Corinthians 10:6, 11).

Not only has God spoken in this Book we call “the Bible,” but he is speaking.

And so, to conclude, we ask one question.

3. Will you listen — and how?

Unavoidably, a very personal and practical question confronts us in this moment, having rehearsed how much God has spoken, and that he still speaks, and that we have no excuse not to hear him. Do you listen to him? How? In what ways? And how often?

Let me end with some encouragements about “habits of grace” as they relate to saturating our lives in the word of God.

First, note I say habits plural, not habit. We need multiple habits in our lives for accessing God’s ongoing speaking in the Bible. Think of this like an hourglass, going back to Hebrews 1 and then forward into our habits of life: in Jesus, the many (prophets) become one (Son); in our lives, the one (Son) becomes many (habits).

Then, in thinking of habits plural, we might think in the matrix of four categories I mentioned at the beginning: direct and indirect, and alone and together. Direct engagement alone would be our own reading, listening, studying, and meditating on Scripture. God’s word, as the chief and soul of the means of grace, is worth your direct engagement. Here are some recommendations for your consideration.

For direct engagement, alone:

  • Read daily, in some form or manner.
  • Read first thing in the morning if possible.
  • Slow down; perhaps even read a paper Bible.
  • Don’t try to do too much, but instead “gather a day’s portion.”
  • Consider various gears or modes: read, study, and meditate.
  • “Begin with Bible, move to meditation, and polish with prayer,” as I like to say.

One way we might sum it up would be this: Treat God’s word differently from all others — when you access it, the priority you give it, the way you hear it. Make his word the standard by which you judge all other words. And don’t only read; consider hearing his word. Use a smartphone app to sit attentively under the reading of the Bible.

For indirect engagement, alone:

  • Read Christian books, devotionals, and substantive articles.
  • Listen to audiobooks, sermons and other monologues, and faithful podcasts.

For direct engagement, together:

  • Gather under preaching in corporate worship, which is the re-revealing of God’s word in the gathering of God’s people.
  • Engage in family devotions.
  • Participate in Bible studies.

For indirect engagement, together:

  • Seek Christian conversation and interaction; heed Christian counsel.
  • Speak truth into each other’s lives.

Consider Christ

Finally, contemplate and enjoy the person of Jesus through Scripture. He is God’s Word embodied, the Word personalized, the Word made flesh — and divine words lead to an encounter with God himself in Christ.

So, let’s close with Christ’s sevenfold greatness in Hebrews 1:1–4. Jesus is the end of the means — of prayer, of fellowship, of Scripture. He is Grace incarnate (Titus 2:11), his person, his work, his exaltation:

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.

The God of all grace has spoken, and he is speaking. And what one word, if it were only one word, is he saying? Jesus.

Oh, find your many times, your life-giving habits, for knowing and enjoying and getting this one Word into your soul.