© 2018, Charles A. Clough
Our Relationship with God in 2018: Estranged or Intimate?
A Study of the Character of God as He has Revealed Himself
vs. the Substitute Idols of our Neo-Pagan Culture
God Alone is ETERNAL
2018 North Stonington Bible Church Labor Day Conference
Charles Clough Lesson #06
September 3, 2018
[Note: The slide numbers referenced throughout refer to the
number in the lower right corner of the slides]
Right near Baltimore of course is the Baltimore Harbor and at Baltimore Harbor is Fort McHenry, the location that the national anthem was written. We’ve gone there several times, and three or four years ago there was an older gentleman there who was a historian of the national anthem and he pointed out something that didn’t click with me. All the times we’ve been singing this where it says, “The bombs bursting in air,” the bombs were not supposed to burst in air, they were supposed to burst at Fort McHenry, on the ground. He pointed out that Francis Scott Key was watching this: the British were not properly fusing their artillery and so part of the national anthem is rejoicing that the bombs were “bursting in air”, because it meant that they never reached Fort McHenry and detonated on the fort.
Of course many of them did. There were a lot of men who lost their lives there because the Commander of Fort McHenry [George Armistead] decided that the flag was going to fly and then would hold that flag up after it had been hit. The previous guys who were holding it were dead, and so they were shifting men to hold that flag during the during the night. Then in the morning the Commander decided, “I want to be sure that the Brits know we still occupy this fort.” So he said, “I want to get the big flag out”—during the night it was a smaller flag. The women at Baltimore [Mary Young Pickersgill]—I don’t know how they ever built this gigantic flag, it’s at the Smithsonian Institution and was recently repaired, but that flag is enormous.
Carol and I went to the Smithsonian Museum and you get into this room where the people working on the flag are prone and they’re reaching down and fixing this flag and it’s pretty amazing. That flag, comparing it to this auditorium, the flag looked at least as wide as one of these rows here and it goes back.
So the Commander of the fort decided that he wanted a flag so big that it would be very obvious that the Brits had not conquered Fort McHenry, so it’s that defiance of the flag. But I thought it was an interesting historical point that the bombs bursting in air were a pleasing sight for him because for every bomb that burst in midair meant that the bomb did not burst on the fort.
Today we’re going to look at the last attribute [in this series] of God which is: He is eternal. I saved it for the last because when we think about our lives, we have been created to spend eternity with God, and we want to just look at this and think a little bit about the implications.
We see verses like this in the Scriptures: “ ‘I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End,’ says the Lord God, who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.” (Revelation 1:8) This of course is John’s vision on the island of Patmos, and you see that he’s very conscious of the fact that God is eternal.
We have other verses in the Bible like Jesus’s strange remark that almost got Him stoned to death because the people that heard Him make that remark knew very well who He was claiming to be: God. They were picking up rocks after this statement. But just think about what He is saying here: “Jesus said unto them, Most assuredly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.” (John 8:58) That’s the Old Testament name for God: I AM. It was given at Mount Sinai to Moses (Exodus 3:14).
It was obvious that God was there in the sacred space on top of Mount Sinai; so Moses said, “Well, You’re asking me to go back into Egypt and lead these people out, what God should I say is doing this?” And God gave this name, “I AM,” from which we get the word “Yahweh” because that comes from the Hebrew word for “to be.” It’s interesting because on that mount when Moses was there, he saw a burning bush, but the burning bush had an odd characteristic to it.
Moses wasn’t an idiot, he was out there in the desert. He knew the desert. He was a shepherd working at the time. He undoubtedly saw grass fires before, so it wasn’t like this was some new thing. But it was strange because something caught his eye about this particular fire. When he got up there, he noticed that the bush was not consumed. Commentators have pointed out that it’s really a story not of the “burning” bush, but of the “un-burning” bush. There are a lot of nuances and meaning to that incident.
It was a theophany—an appearance of God—but what God was apparently showing Moses was several things. One, of course, was that Egypt was the source of a fire of affliction against the Jewish people. So you could say, well the bush represents Israel, and because of God’s providential leading Israel is not consumed by this segregationist, very oppressive, totalitarian regime. But there’s more to that and that is because God manifested in the fire, God was saying by the un-burning bush that: “I am not dependent on something outside of Myself; My fire doesn’t depend on fuel.” The bush was not consumed—it was the fire around the bush. And in that theophany, that God appearance, God was also showing His Self and independency. God is not dependent on anything outside of Himself. So that was the “I AM.”
Another passage of Scripture out of Isaiah. Remember when you get into Isaiah 40, 41, and 42—those chapters in the 40s—you’re looking at a prophet trying to train and prepare a people who are going to suffer. These people are going to see the collapse of their beloved nation, and many of them are going to be prisoners of war. They’re going to have to walk a thousand miles over to Babylon.
So he’s preparing these people. Plus the fact that they’re going to have to live and survive in a very strange culture that is hostile to them. Here in Isaiah 41 Isaiah is hearing God speak these words because Isaiah wants to inform the people how to think in a pagan land and having to deal with pagan deities.
Here’s God’s argument, the God of the Hebrews, arguing against the idols. He says: “Present your case.” I showed you this verse Saturday, too. “Present your case”—this is the legal term here—“says the Lord, show us what will happen.” (Isaiah 41:21–23) So if you’re God, you need to be able to look into the future. “Can you? If you can, show us what will happen. Show the former things, what they were, that we may consider them.” You should know not only the future but you should know the past; that’s a requirement. God says that if you want to claim to be God you have to fulfill these challenges; “And know the latter end of them; or show us things to come.”
This is a typical kind of address you see in the chapter 40s of Isaiah where he’s preparing the people to ask these questions of their idolatrous culture. We can ask the same questions because we’re going to get into the pagan unbelief of this. Then, of course, we have the verse in 2 Peter 3:8: “With the Lord one day is as a thousand years and a thousand years is as one day.” The idea there is that the flow of time is different from God’s perspective than it is from ours.
We are creatures of time. Time comes to us out of the future, we experience it in the present, and then it goes into the past, and when I go through the Bible Framework at [Chafer] Seminary, I point out that time is actually a tri-unity that God has kept inside the Creation.
People say the Trinity has no analogues. Well, yes it does. Think of time for a moment. Every moment can be in future, present, and past, because as time flows every moment has been either past, present, or future. But time also has a strange characteristic. The future, if you think of time as a flow toward you, you don’t know the future, I don’t know the future; it’s the unknown, but it’s the source of time that comes into our life in the present.
It’s very parallel to the fact that “no man” as John says, “has seen God the Father.” (John 1:18) We see God in God the Son and in His pre-incarnate appearance as the Angel of the Lord in the Old Testament. So in the Trinity it’s God the Son Who is experienced, Who manifests God. Then just as time flows from the present into the past, as we experience that flow we use memory of the past to better help us deal with the present. That’s how you learn from history. So it is that as the Holy Spirit, in the analogy here, the Holy Spirit takes what Jesus has revealed and puts it into us so we can experience the present. So anyhow that’s just one of the many tri-unities in the creation.
Now what are our finite limited creature analogues, and I think it’s easy to point to? We know of the past by memory, so that’s the sphere in which we operate—memories of the past. We experience choices in the present and we have predictions of the future. So that’s how we interact with time.
But we’re made to have an eternity with God. So there is an experience coming of agelessness. Now maybe some of you, if you’re more than 50 or 60 years old, have had this experience. You get together for, say, a reunion of kids that you all went to school with, have you had the experience of sitting in the room talking to people that you haven’t seen in 30 years, but you went to school with, and it’s like you sit across the table and carry on a conversation that almost continues with how it was 30 years ago?
That’s a really strange thing, and when you’re in that situation you realize you’re looking at each other, both of you have aged, but yet you connect across time and I think that experience of being able to connect with someone that you’ve known years and years ago and it’s like you can reconnect with them and talk about your past. I think that experience gives us a hint of the fact that our body’s age, but our spirits don’t. And that’s because our spirits were made for eternity and there’s something age-less about the human spirit. So anyway that’s an experience that we have as creatures.
Now what are the perversions? If I am an unbeliever, I don’t like the idea that I have to face eternity and I’m either going to be excluded from God forever and ever or I’m going to be with Him if I become a believer; but I still face eternity. So what do I do to push that away from me so I’m not bothered by this God-thing?
While historically paganism has always thought of history as ageless. [Sir Charles] Lyell, the geologist in the 1830s, basically put forward what we talked about before; that we explain the present by looking at present level, present rate processes—uniformitarianism, but it’s also something that is called “deep time.”
Deep time is the theory that we have an almost an infinite past. This serves as a fig leaf, and the service of deep time is pushing creation further and further and further back out of our consciousness. Deep time is serving as a fig leaf function because it somehow relieves us of a recent creation.
Another way that we have of suppressing God’s working in time, we see it an awful lot in our present society, is multiple distractions. Keep everybody busy, keep people jumping and hopping around, because when we’re busy, when we’re distracted, one thing after another, the rapid rate of stuff, we don’t have time to think, we don’t have time to remember, we don’t have time to seriously ponder our lives and where they’re going.
That’s what’s so nice about getting together for a weekend. At least we have fewer distractions in this kind of environment and we can pause long enough to get rid of the distractions and just focus a little bit more on God Himself. So that’s another thing that is surrounding us, and God is not a God who distracts, so we have multiple distractions.
But what do we do about the future? How can we get rid of God in the future, get rid of prophecy? Well you’ve seen the predictions of the rabid environmentalist. Remember the quote we showed you [from Andrew Cohen]? Basically he said, we’ve got to get rid of twoism and go to one and we’re going to talk about an environmental utopia brought in by the works of man.
That’s a motif; that’s a view. It’s a recapitulation of Babel. I call it Babel-esque eschatology because it just simply repeats the Babel theme: “We are going to do this.” So we suppress creation with deep time, we keep distracted in the present so we don’t have to worry about the gospel, and then in the future we don’t see the return of the Lord Jesus or prophecy. Rather, we see the works of man creating a kingdom of men. So it’s a clever way of getting rid of this eternity idea.
Now what are some of the benefits of eternity for us? I think at least two, and probably more. But one of the things is it provides an eternal perspective on our temporal life. As we’ve grown, as we’ve aged, you and I both can think back to events that happened in our past, in our childhood. They were traumatic maybe in our childhood, but as time has gone on and we’re further and further away and removed from that event in our past, and what happens to that event? We can remember how critical it was when it happened but it’s not a life-destroying kind of fear, is it? Because as time has marched on, that’s just part of our past now. It doesn’t seem so critical as it did when we were there and it happened to us.
So as time goes on the seriousness of many of these events that seemed overwhelming when they happened to us gradually diminish. I think that God is telling us that the way we’re designed, that in eternity 20,000 years from now, dwelling with God, we will have a memory of what happened, but it won’t be a critical thing anymore because we’ve had 20,000 years to be with the Lord. In other words, that experience of eternity makes time very small. It makes these events small, even though they are crises when they happen, real crises when they happen.
Another way of thinking about eternity and how it’s a blessing to us is if you think of sudden events—think of a devastating automobile wreck, or think of a devastating fall—something that happens. One of the things I’ve learned as I’ve gotten older is when you fall, it happens suddenly. You don’t think about it, but when it happens it happens, and it happens very fast, and that’s how people get hurt. So, you learn to put your feet in a place where it is firm. You look where you’re stepping, or you’ll have a problem.
Rapid events like that overwhelm our sense in a moment because it happens so fast we can’t do anything about it. It just happens, boom, like that. Now think of eternity. God says that one year is with Him as a day, one day is as thousand years. (2 Peter 3:8) Think of it this way: that event that happened in one half a second to you, God has looked at for thousands of years. In other words, the plan—that instantaneous thing that happened is not an accident from His perspective.
Let me give you an example; a friend of mine was in the Special Forces in the U.S. Army [Green Berets] and I’ve known him for years. He and his wife have three or four boys I guess, and the oldest boy was in Special Forces—following his dad. He was in the Philippines. The Philippines are dealing with Muslim guerrillas that are trying to take over the southern part of the land there.
Anyway, he was in an armored Humvee and he had a Christian buddy, close buddy, that he knew very well driving the Humvee. He was in the turret, and that they hit an IED and the thing blew up and it jarred him but it caused lethal injury to the driver. So he went down to help his buddy who was bleeding to death basically, and he bled to death in his arms. This left him with a case of posttraumatic syndrome in the sense that: this was a beloved buddy of his and he just felt so, almost guilty, because he couldn’t deal and save the boy’s life and he just died in his arms. It was a struggle with him, and his father, the man I knew.
He had to talk to his son about things, and army guys have neat ways of talking about things. Sometimes we don’t want to hear what they say, but his dad looked at his son; his son’s name is Isaac, and he said, “Isaac, the thing you want to understand is God wasn’t on a smoke break when that IED exploded.” That was just his army lingo saying that God was in control.
The thing of it is when they deal apparently with posttraumatic syndrome, one of the therapies is to get rid of the memory or suppress the memory. Well Mike didn’t like that therapy as a Christian. He said, “What we have to do Isaac is we have to think of the purpose of that explosion and your experience of having your buddy die your arms and you need to envelop that with what God is doing with your life.” You’ve got to connect that, and it takes you years sometimes to connect after a disaster like this, but Isaac has gradually worked through this so he at least understands that in that fraction of a second when that IED exploded it wasn’t an accident from God’s perspective. It’s been comforting to him as he copes with this mental reaction to this kind of disaster.
One of the things that meant a lot to him was thinking of God’s eternality, that God is eternal, that one day with the Lord is as a thousand years, and a thousand years is as one day. God obviously was looking at this. Think of something that happened fast but think of it in slow motion. Imagine the whole event in very slow motion and God’s watching this thing. It just kind of helps to see that as traumatic as these kinds of experiences are, we know our God is eternal, and He’s had an eternal perspective on that fraction of a second. So these are some mental things to work with as we go through life with these kinds of things.
Now what I want to do as we come to the end of the conference, I wanted to show this slide that we’ve shown, but this time we’ll have two slides talking about the deep inner needs we have as creatures made in God’s image. Again we’ll go through the attributes and then we’ll look at some Scripture because I’d like to conclude with just going through some Scripture and letting you think and speak about what attribute of God you see, just to train us in when we read the Bible to ask, “What are we learning about God Himself in these passages?” I want to also open it up at the end for questions. So, if you have questions about anything in the conference, we’re going to end this session a little early and I’ll be up here and we can talk about it because I know this probably provoked some questions and I’m not going to have all the answers, but I can try.
Again, review: how does the image of God work in our hearts?
Open your Bible to Ephesians 1 for just a moment and let’s look at this passage. This is the one I referred to earlier, but it’s in the first chapter of Ephesians. Paul has just gone into all kinds of detail in this first chapter. He’s gone on a mind-boggling doctrine here about the will of God from all eternity—He’s chosen us from before the foundation of the world, and so forth and so on.
But now in verse 15, he turns to the people who lived at Ephesus. One of the things to think about is this: why didn’t Paul just write one epistle and have scribes copy it and send it to all the churches? Why did he write an individual epistle to different churches? Why is that? It’s because the individual churches were in individual situations and he’s going to address each one of those churches and their unique situation. Those churches aren’t all the same; they’re different people in different situations.
So here in Ephesus he’s addressing a specific group of people, and in Ephesians 1:15 he’s going to deal with living the Christian life, but against the backdrop of who God is. “For this cause I also, having heard of the faith in the Lord Jesus which is among you, and the love which ye show toward all the saints, cease not to give thanks for you, making mention of you in my prayers.”
Notice when he says: “Cease not to give thanks,” he is saying, “I am thankful for other believers.” Apparently these people came to know Christ without him personally getting involved, so he’s thankful for the work of God. “Making mention of you in my prayers; that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, …” Now look what he says; he wants this for believers; he wants this for every one of those believers in Ephesus, and by application for us.
He says, “I’m praying, ‘that the God of our Lord Jesus, the Father of glory, may give unto you a spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him.’ ” Well right away if you see the “spirit of wisdom” and the “spirit of revelation in the knowledge of Him” it shows you there is a spiritual transaction going on here. That’s not academic theology. There has to be a spiritual work in our heart.
So that’s why in Ephesians 1:18, he addresses the heart. He says, “The eyes of your heart,” literally, “being enlightened, that you may know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints.” Verse 18 is clearly saying that this is stuff that comes about because of our relationship with the Lord. He has to open our eyes to this; we can’t force it on our hearts. He’s just got to reveal it to our hearts.
We talked about God’s omnipotence. So in Ephesians 1:19, 20, and 21 I want you to see how he visualizes the omnipotence of God to help us down here in space-time. “… What is the exceeding greatness of His power toward us who believe …” Now he’s addressing omnipotence as it pertains to believers. You can’t get any stronger statement than verse 19: “The exceeding greatness of His power toward us who believe.”
Then he says, “According to …” So now he’s going to give historic revelation that shows this kind of omnipotence that he’s thinking about. “According to the working of His mighty power, which”—Ephesians 1:20—here it comes, here are manifestations of the omnipotence he has on his mind for us: “the mighty power, which He wrought in Christ when He raised him from the dead.”
Let’s just pause right there. He’s talking about the Resurrection. If you get a chance, some of you I know drive to Pennsylvania and you see Sight and Sound Theaters®. They take about two or three years to make these productions and they’ll outdo anything you’ve seen in Hollywood. They’ve done one on Jesus and it’s a very powerful presentation.
I don’t know how, well, I don’t know because they keep to themselves, but there’s a team of engineers that build these sets and they’re talking about the life of Jesus. One of the scenes that just blows you away is Jesus walking on the water. You have the actor playing Jesus and there’s the water and he’s walking across it. Well, clearly he’s walking on something, but yet in the same thing, it’s a cutaway, like you’re seeing an aquarium. When Jesus says to Peter, “Throw your net down there;” you see the net go down there and you see all the fish coming into the net. Now how they pull that one off, it’s probably a film of some sort, but it’s very effective.
Long story short, you get to the Resurrection and they’ve got this wonderful set of His burial and the circular door and the Roman guard. And by the way, they have real animals that go right down the aisle, and so here’s the captain of the Roman guard that is supposed to guard the grave and he comes riding on his horse after he addresses the guys at the site and he comes right down to the audience and goes right out down aisle on horse in full uniform.
Then you see it’s dark, so it’s night, and then it goes through the three days and then they are able to, it must be a back-light projection, to show a silhouette of Jesus lying prone on the grave and you see Him get up and take off the linen. We’ve gone to several of these productions and I’ve never seen 2,000+ people that are watching this simultaneously get up and clap to see the Resurrection.
Then they show the Ascension where the actor actually goes right up through the ceiling of the production. It’s really fascinating to watch, but there they try to be as clear as they can be, and as loyal as they can be to the texts.
So here Paul says: “the power that He has in mind He wrought in Christ, when He raised Him from the dead.” What happened to Jesus’ body at the Resurrection? It’s amazing to think. Think, for example, Miriam. She comes to that and she sees Jesus but she doesn’t recognize Him. She’s not prepared to see Jesus alive, after all, she’s just seen Him on the Cross, butchered and naked, and then buried.
Then she sees this guy outside the grave and she thinks he’s the gardener or something, but all He has to say to her is her name, Miriam. Instantly she knows Who it is! (John 20:16) What does that tell you about the voice of Jesus in His resurrection body compared to His voice in His natural body? They must’ve been the same, right?
There’re ways; you know how people that know you who are close, the way they say your name, it’s unique. Everybody has a little sound difference in how they speak your name and so Miriam picks up on that. Think of the fact that the physics of His body—we don’t even know what kind of physics is operating in that body that goes through a wall—that can appear and disappear. (John 20:19) And yet, as He says to Thomas, “Come here, you think I’m a spirit? Reach into My side. Touch Me.” Spirits don’t have flesh and bones. So the resurrection body has flesh and bones. (John 20:27)
Then He eats. He prepares a meal for His disciples and then He sits there and He eats. (John 21:12) So what’s with the resurrection body? We don’t know. We only have one case, but at least we have one case, don’t we?
Do you know what the resurrection of Jesus assures you and me of? That the end of history is secure. The Marxists can never show you the glorious Marxist future of the universality of the proletariat. They haven’t got one to point to. All they’ve got is Russia that failed and Venezuela that’s now failing. That’s what Marxism does. We ought to tell that young lady from New York who wants to be a socialist, “Why don’t you go live in Venezuela?”
That’s what happens because people don’t know the future. But we, as Christians, we have a chunk of the eternal future already existing, and that is the resurrected Lord Jesus Christ. That’s why it was so powerful to the early Christians. The early Christians were oppressed, poor, mostly illiterate people under the crunch of the Roman Empire. They latched onto the Resurrection because they knew they would join that.
The Resurrection is a strange thing but it’s an assuring thing and it is unique. No other religion—Buddha did not rise from the dead—no Hindu god incarnated and rose from the dead—only Jesus did. The same kind of power, the mighty power which He worked in Christ when He raised Him from the dead, power we don’t even know about.
Then the second thing in Ephesians 1:20 is what this power did is it set Him at His own right hand in the heavenlies [The Session of Christ], and then look at Ephesians 1:21. It goes through all these descriptions to say how Jesus when He ascended into Heaven He went through “heavens.”
If you look at all the passages in the Bible that talk about the Ascension; we have a lot of hymns that talk about the Crucifixion but in our hymn books we have very few hymns that deal with the Ascension and Session of Jesus Christ and it’s a mysterious thing. When you think of what happened 1/2 mile east of the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, the disciples are on the Mount of Ascension. It’s really not a mountain, it’s a hill. It’s a ridgeline. And they’re talking to Jesus and all of a sudden there’s a cloud and He’s ascending into the cloud. Once Jesus ascended into that cloud they couldn’t see Him.
So how did the New Testament authors know about the Ascension and Session since they did not see it empirically? They had to see it through the passages in the Old Testament: Daniel 9, Daniel 7. These are the passages. They worked this out. They make the assertion that when Jesus ascended, He ascended through multiple “heavens;” it’s plural. (Ephesians 4:10) We don’t know what that means. We know that obviously He ascended physically into our atmosphere, but from there He went into this strange world of the invisible world and He ascended all the way to the Father’s right hand.
That’s what the end of verse 20 says, “… made Him to sit at His right hand in the heavenly places, far …” And then to make it clear, in Ephesians 1:21: “far above all rule, and authority, and power, and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this world, but also in that which is to come.”
You can’t ask for more powerful language than what verse 21 is saying. Jesus Christ rules the helm of the universe. What’s so significant about this is when you go to see Star Wars and you have all of the other creatures in the galaxy … But it’s interesting. Here you have a human being from planet Earth ruling at the highest level of the universe and He is our Savior. Now that’s reassuring. Not only does He rule Earth, He rules the entire universe at the Father’s right hand.
And Ephesians 1:22: God the Father “put all things in subjection under His feet, and gave Him to be head over all things to the church.” So this is the powerful vision. Paul and most of the apostles died horribly. They were martyred. John was about the only guy that survived and they stuck him on Patmos hoping that he would just keep his mouth shut and not bother the Roman society anymore.
But think about it: Matthew goes to India and he gets massacred. Peter gets crucified upside down. Paul is killed. All these guys lose their lives. So the question is, if Christianity is just some sort of phony Jewish fable, how come these guys were going out and dying for it? It doesn’t make sense.
So we have this passage that exalts God in His omnipotence here and we want to be thankful for that. Enjoy that God is greater than the greatest natural forces. The omnipresence—the sense that He is here with us locally, that we’re not involved in something and He’s off at the Father’s right hand. His humanity is there, but His deity isn’t [just there]. His deity is here. So don’t think of Jesus as remote. As God, the Son, He is wholly omnipresent.
So those are the events; that is how God has designed us. He has designed us for Himself; for a relationship for eternity.
I want to conclude now because I know some people may have questions and I’d like to talk and so I invite you after we break up, because I know some of you have trips and you will need to get going, but I’ll be up here and I’d be willing to engage in any Q&A.
“Father, we thank You for our time this weekend. We thank You that You gave us this wonderful ministry at North Stonington Bible Church—all the people that worked behind the scenes to pull this off. We’re very conscious of the fact that a conference of this magnitude doesn’t happen by itself. It happens because individual believers serve You by serving others and we thank You for their ministry.
“We thank You for the entire ministry of this local church that has so, over the years, honored the Word of God year after year after year and been so faithful, when we know other churches have drifted. Yet this church has remained solid. And we know it’s because You have worked here with willing hearts. We thank You now in our Savior’s name, Amen.”