Last Sunday afternoon was a beautiful sunny day, so I took my two children to Raphael’s park for a bit of exercise, a spot of kite-flying and even an ice-cream! While we were there we bumped into one of my son’s friends from school and his dad. While the kids played in the park we chatted, and he asked me about my work as a Christian minister. After I’d answered, he said “I could never do your job, because I don’t believe in God”. When I asked him why, he said “How can I believe in someone I’ve never seen?”
It’s a fair question, isn’t it? How can we know anything about an invisible God? Last Sunday I did my best to give an intelligent answer, and I hope we have the chance to chat again. But I wish I had had my Bible with me, because our Psalm today gives us a great answer. It says that God can be seen and heard. It says God’s glory can be seen in the skies above, and his voice can be heard in the words of Scripture.
As we look at Psalm 19 this morning, it wants to persuade us that in his world and in his word God really does speak volumes. God may be unseen, but Psalm 19 says he still speaks to us visually and verbally. It says God speaks so that we might know him and love him. So we might know him as our Rock and our Redeemer. So let’s look at its claims more closely…
God’s glory in the skies
Millions of people have been looking at the heavens over the last few days, haven’t they? After a ten year journey the Rosetta spacecraft has arrived at comet 67/P Churyumov-Gerasimenko. Many of us have watched with amazement as Rosetta detached its Philae probe and we saw it descend onto the comet’s surface. An astonishing achievement when you realise the comet is millions of miles away, and travelling at thousands of miles an hour!
Our Psalm this morning, however, says we should look to the skies to see an even more amazing sight. Verse 1 tells us that “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands”. The following verse goes on to tell us that the testimony of the sky is constant – “Day after day they pour forth speech, night after night they display knowledge”. What is more, this constant cacophony is heard all around the world. As verse 4 says, “their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world.”
But how do the heavens speak? In what way does the sky pour forth speech? Obviously not through human words. No one has ever heard the stars utter a sentence, or listened to the sun speak real words! What the psalmist means is that the appearance of the heavens speaks volumes. The skies put on a visual display that no one can ignore. The sun is such a spectacular sight each day that it inevitably attracts our attention (v.5-6).
Our psalm also tells us what the skies are saying. Our Psalm clarifies the conclusion we should draw from the wonders of the night sky. It tells us we should see the “glory of God” in the heavens. We should spot the work of God’s hand in what he has made. Looking at the skies above, we should all recognise them as the work of God, as evidence of his existence and as clues about his character. In the New Testament book of Romans, the apostle Paul makes the same point. He writes “since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities – his eternal power and divine nature – have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made”. The Bible never attempts to prove God’s existence. It simply says it should be obvious from the size, scale, beauty and complexity of the world he has made. Chaos and chance could never have produced something so glorious.
In Raphael’s Park last Sunday, I really should have pointed that Dad to the beautiful sky above, and I should have highlighted the natural wonders all around us. I should have told him that there was where God’s reality could be seen. In fact, as Paul goes on to say in Romans, we all have no excuse not to acknowledge our Creator. We really have no excuse not to worship our Maker for his evident power, wisdom, artistry and intelligence. It is only our sin – our selfish desire for autonomy – that blinds our eyes to the evidence of the heavens and closes our ears to the speech of the skies.
Scholars call the evidence of God in creation his “general revelation”. God has revealed much about himself in what he has made, especially in the heavens above. It is a revelation that is universal and ongoing. But general revelation has its limits. The sky and stars can only say so much. They can show us God is there, and tell us only something about his character and qualities. But they can give us no detailed guidance on right belief and behaviour. They can’t introduce us to God personally. The stars cannot show us how humanity’s relationship with God can be made right.
So we need a second type of speech from God. As well as general revelation we need what scholars call a “special revelation”, a superior revelation. And that’s why God has spoken to us in Scripture as well as in the skies.
God’s word in Scripture
At her coronation in June 1953, Her Majesty the Queen was given all sorts of special gifts. A precious crown, a ceremonial sword, a golden orb. But these were not the most precious things given to Elizabeth the Second that day. At the height of the ceremony our new monarch was given a copy of the Bible, and these words were said to her: “We present you with this Book, the most valuable thing that this world affords. Here is Wisdom; This is the royal Law; These are the lively oracles of God.”
There is no doubt that the author of Psalm 19 would have wholeheartedly agreed. Because in verses 7 to 11 of our Psalm today, the priceless quality and character of the Bible is laid before us.
The first thing the psalmist wants us to know is that the Bible – Scripture – is God-given. Six times the Psalm says Scripture is “of the LORD”. Of course the Bible was written by human authors over hundreds of years, but they were all guided by God. They all wrote what God wanted them to say. Their writing was helped by God’s Holy Spirit. That’s why the Bible itself says that “All Scripture is God-breathed” (2 Tim 3:16). That’s why even Jesus himself considered Scripture to be God’s Word written (e.g. Matt 19:5). So what Scripture says, God says. If we want to know what God thinks on the religious and ethical debates of our day, we have his written Word as our authority.
Because the Bible is God-given, it is no surprise that our Psalm calls it “perfect” (v.7). Scripture is just as perfect, precious, trustworthy and righteous as its heavenly Author is (v.7-9).
Psalm 19 also gives Scripture a variety of names. It calls it God’s “law”, God’s “statutes”, God’s “precepts, commands and decrees”. These names remind us that the Bible has a contains a wonderfully diverse range of writing. From history to prophecy. From prose to poetry. The range of types of literature in the Bible reflect the fact that it has a range of purposes. For example, verse 7 and 8 of our Psalm tell us that Scripture can “refresh the soul” and make “wise the simple”. It can “give joy to the heart” and “light to the eyes”. Above all, Scripture can enable us to know personally. Did you notice that in the first half of the Psalm God is only mentioned once, and just called “God”? (v.1). The skies above can only introduce us to God as a nameless Creator, as an impersonal deity. But Scripture can give us God’s name. Six times our Psalm states that Scripture can introduce us to “the LORD”. It gives us the name of God so that we might begin to know him personally as our “Rock” and our “Redeemer” (v.14).
These attributes of the Bible are all summed up for us rather neatly in the New Testament. Because in Paul’s second letter to Timothy he says the following: “The Scriptures are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus, … and are useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”
So last Sunday in the park, as well as pointing him to the skies above, I should have sent my friend home to read his Bible. I should have said to him that if he prayerfully and carefully reads what is written there, he will hear God speak to him. He will encounter the Lord personally. He will discover what life is really all about. (The two of us really must have another chat!)
Conclusion: The right response to God’s voice
If you are here this morning, and not currently a Christian, can I encourage you to follow the advice I should have given to that father last weekend. Look to the skies for evidence of your Creator. And look to the Scriptures to hear his voice. Why not start by reading a Gospel, one of the biographies of Jesus at the start of the New Testament? I would love to lend you a copy if you don’t have one, and we have short Bible reading guides in our church library that you are welcome to take away with you too.
But what if we have been Christians for many years? What message does our Psalm have for us today? Well here’s two brief answers:
Firstly, we should be willing to worship our glorious God. If the heavens above have been made to give glory to God, so have we. As we learnt last month in Genesis, we have been made in God’s image to imitate him and honour him. Our whole lives should be an act of worship to our incredible Creator, our glorious God. And worship doesn’t just mean what we do here in church on Sundays. The word worship means “service”, so we can worship God wherever we serve him. So we can worship God when we diligently do our work, whether that be at home or in an office. We can worship God when we act kindly to our friends and neighbours. We are worshipping God when we share the Gospel with a non-Christian colleague or family member.
Secondly, we should be eager and willing to read God’s Word. We don’t discard our Bibles once we’ve become Christians – quite the opposite! We should continue to read it regularly on our own, and come to Church on Sunday with a desire to hear it read and explained. If we keep reading the Bible it will guide our decision-making, expose our errors, drive us to repentance and reassure us of God’s forgiveness. Above all, it will remind us of the Gospel, the good news that Jesus died and rose again to put us right with his Father for eternity.
Like the author of our Psalm today, if we read the Bible regularly we will have ever-increasing confidence and certainty that the Lord is our Rock and our Redeemer.