The Eternality Of GodErwin W. Lutzer | May 17, 2015
Selected highlights from this sermon
Psalm 90, written by Moses, discusses life itself, and while doing so, the nature of God is illuminated. God is eternal. He exists from eternity past and sits outside of the created realm of time.
Through this psalm, we learn about God and ourselves. We also learn the meaning and purpose of life—which God gives to us.
What do we expect from this series of messages? First of all, that we will be better worshipers, that we will be so overcome by God’s greatness and beauty that we’ll lay down the weapons of a rebel and say, “If that’s who God is I submit, because there’s no use giving Him opposition. He is God and I am not.” There’s a second thing that we hope to accomplish, and that is that we have greater faith.
Have you ever noticed that God does not make it easy to believe? For example, I’m sure you may have heard on the news how a tornado came, and a couple (a mother and father) protected their little 18-month girl (a little toddler) and shielded her, but the house fell on the parents. They died. The toddler lived.
God can wipe out eight thousand people in Nepal, or nearly a quarter of a million with a tsunami. It’s not easy to believe in His goodness. We’re going to have to probe those mysteries, and I can tell you in advance it’s not that I expect that I’m going to give you an answer that is entirely satisfying, but at least we have to grapple with those kinds of questions. So, you see, what we want to do is to ultimately increase our faith. And I’ll also share with you what to do when the mysteries become too great. Where do we flee? That’ll be in a future message I am sure.
Also, what we want to do is transform lives. We want more volunteers and more helpers at The Moody Church. My staff was a little concerned. They thought that this would be so philosophical, so theological, as if it wouldn’t touch human life. I expect, as a result of this, a great surge of people involved in the ministry here. Some of those reasons will even become clear today.
The passage of Scripture is Psalm 90, and you really do need to see it. Now I know that you brought your iPhones, and that’s better than if you didn’t, that is to say if you use it to find Psalm 90. But you know, there is also a Bible in the seat in front of you, and it might be around page 496. That’s what it is in my Bible. You have to see the text. Moses wrote this, which means that it is centuries older than the time of David. Normally we think, “Well David wrote all of the Psalms.” Well not all of them. Moses wrote this one. And furthermore he wrote it at a time probably when Israel was condemned in the desert to wander for 40 years. It’s a plaintive Psalm. In it he mourns a lot. In it he is overcome by the futility of life, but it’s also a Psalm that gives hope. But the question is, what is life all about? Why should I live and not die? Some of you might be asking that question. You’re going to find an answer today. Aren’t you glad you came? Aren’t you glad you are listening?
So Moses writes it, and I have to confess that for the first 10 or 15 minutes of this message we’re going to jump into the deep end of the swimming pool. But I’m absolutely convinced that you can follow if you ask God to grant you the ability to concentrate, because I want you to be grasped by God.
The first fact is simply this - that God exists from all eternity. Your Bibles are open to Psalm 90: “Lord, you have been our dwelling place in all generations. Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever you had formed the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God.” The first fact about God is that God never had a beginning. God is indeed eternal.
You know, sometimes atheists like to ask questions like this. I think Dawkins did. “Who made God?” they ask the Christians. “And if you don’t have an answer to that, I don’t have to believe on Him.” Well, let’s just take a deep breath. Okay? Can we all agree that out of nothing, nothing comes? I mean if there were just absolutely nothing in the world, or in the whole universe, there wouldn’t be a universe. There would be nothing because out of nothing, nothing comes. Well think about it. In light of the fact that something exists, that must mean that something has existed forever.
Now the atheists say, “Well, it’s the cosmos. It’s the universe. It existed forever.” Carl Sagan, in his book Cosmos begins it with the words, “The cosmos is all that there is and all that there ever will ever be.” That’s the opening line, but I mean it’s unscientific to say that, because the universe does not contain within itself an answer to its own existence. For example, scientists say that it’s actually running down because of entropy, and therefore somebody wound it up. Somebody very intelligent and very powerful at least got it going.
So the answer to the question of God’s eternality, we as Christians believe that God is the uncaused God who created all things. He is the uncaused God who caused everything that exists. And He always existed. Now think about that. “From everlasting to everlasting You are God.”
Now let me give you this. If you begin with a premise that God exists, as He is revealed in the Bible, you finally have an explanation for all kinds of things – reality as we know it. If you don’t, I can assure you, and I don’t have time to show it, that you will come to a dead end very quickly.
Now here’s what I want you to do. I want you to think of the fact that God is uncaused. Here He is, this being that permeates the universe, and He didn’t have a cause. What I want you to do this week is to take out an hour for God. Is that too much to ask? Why don’t you unplug your computer? Turn off the television set. Give your iPad to somebody, and ask him or her to hide it in a place where you can’t find it. And then leave your iPhone in the car. And take the kids and drop them off at Grandma’s, and say, “God, this hour is for you, and I’m going to spend the first 20 minutes contemplating the fact that You did not have a beginning.” You and I owe that to God at the least. Can you get your mind around that? No beginning? “From everlasting to everlasting, You are God.”
The second fact I want you to notice is that God created all that is. He created all that is. “Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever you had formed the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God.”
Colossians 1:16, speaking about Jesus, says: “For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities — all things were created through him and for him.” It’s a crucial phrase – “by him and for him.” And to think that God did that out of nothing!
Now I told you that out of nothing, nothing can arise, but since God existed, He could take nothing and create something. In fact, when He spoke He created so many billions of stars, they say that there are as many of those as sands on the seashores of the world. And he did it – the Latin is – ex nihilo. That is to say out of nothing. He just spoke and suddenly they were all there in all their brilliance and beauty, and the sun and the moon. I mean – imagine God doing that.
There is a story about a scientist who said to God, “God, I can do the same things that you do. I can take a handful of dirt and I can create life.” God said, “Really? Show me!” So the guy reaches down and he takes a handful of dirt, and God says, “Uh-uh! Get your own dirt.” (laughter)
If you want to prove that you are as good as God, go into a laboratory and spend an afternoon taking nothing and creating something, and see how it goes. You might need the next day. I’m smiling because there’s no way for us to know. Now that would take another 20 minutes of your hour.
And then there’s a third fact about God. Remember these points now. First of all, He is uncaused, He is eternal and He has always existed. Secondly, He created all things. And third, notice that He exists outside of time. Now He comes into time but He exists outside of time. How do we know that God exists outside of time? It is because time is the record of change. So what that means is that as long as God existed before creation (“I am the Lord and I change not.”), there was no change, and therefore there was just an eternal now.
You say, “Well what was God doing before He created the worlds?” I think it was the great theologian, Calvin, who said, “He’s preparing a hell for people who ask those kinds of questions.” (laughter) We have no idea what He was doing. We do know that He was in existence and making choices, but those choices were eternal, as we’re going to notice. We’re going to study the fact that He never learns anything because He knows it all. A joke comes to mind but I’m going to just let that go. (laughter) I was going to say that he’s like a teenage son. But the fact is that God is the one then who exists outside of time.
Now let’s think about this for a moment. You are able to remember the past. How are you doing remembering the future? Is that okay? Can you remember the future? Oh you say, “I can’t remember the future because it hasn’t happened.” To God the future has already happened. It’s already a done deal. And we’re going to have to study in this study at some point why it is that we pray when He already knows all things.
But the point to be made, namely, is let’s look at it this way. Okay? You have a map and you know, you’re following this map, and you are taking this trail, and you go from one town to another, and you are creating memories. Right? And you are creating these memories, and you will remember them. Well think of God having the map spread in front of Him in its entirety so that He sees all things simultaneously. What happened four thousand years ago is just as present to Him as what happened this morning because all things are seen and known simultaneously.
You say, “Well, where is that in the text?” Well, I actually skipped the reading here, but that’s implied here. Verse 4: “For a thousand years in your sight are but as yesterday when it is past, or as a watch in the night.” Peter says, “With You one day is like a thousand years and a thousand years like one day.” Why? Time is irrelevant to God. He sees it in one present. Now, He does step out of eternity into time as we’ll eventually learn, but the fact is that He sees it all simultaneously. For Him time does not exist because change does not exist.
There’s another story about a man who said to the Lord, “Lord, how long is a million years to You?” And God said, “Oh, hmm, about a minute.” He said, “God, how much is a million dollars to you?” God said, “Oh, about a penny.” He said, “Lord, could I just have a penny?” (laughter) And the Lord said, “Sure! Just a minute!” (laughter)
You’ll notice that a thousand years are like a day, and a day like a thousand years. For God time does not exist. Now you can use the next 20 minutes of your hour contemplating that.
Now I tried this last night, and I discovered it’s very difficult to concentrate on these things because pretty soon you think the same thoughts again and again, so take these verses. Read other Psalms because what I want you to do is to lie on the floor if you still can on your own power, (chuckles) put a pillow under your stomach, face down, and I want you to spent an hour contemplating God, His greatness, His power, and who He is through the Word. And what you’ll discover after that period of time is you’ll say, “Wow! If that’s who He is, here I am for whatever He wants.”
Now last night as I was working on this I also went outside because I wanted to see the stars. I am impressed with the immensity of God. As a boy, I would run out in the fields, oftentimes at night, just seeing the stars there in Canada, and they seemed so close, as if you could just take one of them home with you. But last night it was too cloudy to see the stars, but I have a good idea that they were actually there. Become impressed with who God is.
Now you say, “Well, you said that this Psalm was sort of a plaintive Psalm and is supposed to discuss the meaning of life.” And the answer is yes. Moses, in fact, seems to be in a rather discouraging mood, and so what he does in the next couple of verses is he contrasts us with God. And you should not be surprised at the fact that we come off rather badly actually in contrast to God. For example, he says in verse 3: “You return man to dust and say, ‘Return oh children of man.’” There are several things that he says about us. First of all, he says that life is fleeting. We return to dust. He says in verse 5 that our life is but a dream. “You sweep them away as with a flood; they are like a dream, like grass that is renewed in the morning: in the morning it flourishes and is renewed; in the evening it fades and withers.”
And later on he says, “Life is like a sigh.” That’s what it is. It’s a vapor. And then he says, “We fly away.” I suppose that’s the basis of the song, “I’ll fly away, oh glory.” I won’t sing it for you, but it’s all just here and there. It’s gone. I mean, doesn’t it say here somewhere that we have a number of different days, and if by reason of strength, we actually have 80? I’m not seeing it right here but I read it last night. I know that it’s here in the text where it speaks about the fact that… oh yes, verse 10: “The years of our life are seventy (Thank God that not everybody dies at seventy.) or even by reason of strength eighty.” And then sometimes you have people like my father who died at 106 and my mother at 103. We were kind of thinking they were going to blow this idea that everybody dies, but they did (die).
My sister-in-law died in Canada last week. She was 75. So maybe we’ll live to 80, but then it’s gone. So he talks about the fact that our life is fleeting. Our life is sinful. This is verse 8: “You have set our iniquities before you, our secret sins in the light of your presence.”
Oh you say, “I’ve got all these secrets.” And who of us has not sinned secretly? We all have, and to God we are sinning in broad daylight. Our secret sins are set in the light of His countenance, in the light of His knowledge. And some people think that they are kind of hiding from God. Are you kidding me? Our life is sinful, and we need an answer to that sin, and thank God, God supplies it, so that’s why it’s so important to hear this message from beginning to end.
And then he says life is full of trouble. I’m now looking at verse 10. “The years of our life are seventy, or even by reason of strength eighty, they are soon gone away, yet there is but toil and trouble.” And isn’t there?
Moses is saying, “It’s all futile.” I mean you live 80 years maybe, and maybe a little bit beyond that. Most people live around that. Many people live less, and to what end? You know, you’ve got financial problems. You’ve got relational problems. You’ve got health issues. You try one thing and the door is closed. And you try another thing and you can’t make any advances toward the place that you are going. And you just sort of say, “What is the use of life anyway?”
And then you begin a project and you can’t finish it. Raphael, the great painter of the Renaissance, was working on a beautiful painting that can be seen today called The Transfiguration. But while he was working on it he unexpectedly died at the age of 37, and when his coffin was taken through the streets of Rome, they took that picture along with it, and then put it next to the coffin. The unfinished picture was to remind people that oftentimes we leave life and our task seems to be unfinished.
I mean, think of the futility of life. I mean he dies at the age of 37. There are criminals who live to be the age of 80 or 90 maybe. I mean there are young people who die, aimlessly sometimes, sometimes because of their own sin, but what is the purpose of life anyway? Well, this Psalm is going to provide the answer. You just need to stick here with me for a moment.
Camus, the great French existentialist philosopher, began one of his books by saying, “There is only one serious philosophical question, and that is suicide.” What Camus was saying, with which we would all agree, is, “If you cannot find meaning in life, if it’s all like a vapor, if it’s all just being turned back into dust, if it’s leaving life with unfinished tasks at the most inappropriate times, if that’s all that it is, why live?”
Let’s look at this Psalm again and maybe we can find an answer to why live, maybe an answer that some of you really need to hear today. First of all, it’s very clear that God gives unity to history. There is sense to it. I’m back in verse 1 where it says, “Lord, you have been our dwelling place from generation to generation.” God unifies history. It is not true, like Henry Ford said, that history is one “blank” thing after another, and he filled in the blank. God brings unity to what is happening in the world from one generation to another. Kingdoms come and kingdoms go, but God is there. Ministries are birthed and sometimes they die, and God is there. One generation leaves, like grass, and then another crop of grass grows and then there’s another generation.
You’ve heard me say (and I was inspired to say this by a previous pastor of Moody Church) that it gives me so much joy to know that the same God who converted the Apostle Paul on the way to Damascus is the same God who converted D. L. Moody and Billy Graham. He’s the same God who came to me on a farm in Canada and converted me when I was a boy, and the same God who has converted you and the future generations that are yet unborn. God is already planning to choose those generations, and people from those generations to continue His work.
From everlasting to everlasting, you are God. That’s the bedrock of it all. But we look at the text and we find also that God gives purpose to life, and I want you to see this in the following verses by just underlining some of the words that he uses as he ends this Psalm that give him encouragement. For example verse 14 says, “Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love.” Well, that begins the process of meaning if God loves me and if I find God satisfying. And certainly in this series of messages I hope that we will find God to be eminently satisfying. I think that it was C. S. Lewis who said that God is the all-satisfying object. And you remember the words of Augustine on the first page of his confessions: “Oh God, Thou has made us for Thyself, and our hearts are restless until they find their all in Thee.”
You see, what has happened is God puts eternity into our heart, and yet we can’t experience eternity in this life, so life oftentimes seems futile. But God comes along to satisfy us. He says, “Satisfy us with your steadfast love.” Gladness and joy! Verse 15: “Make us glad for as many days as you have afflicted us and for as many years as we have seen evil.” Again probably he’s talking about the Israelites wandering in the desert. The days were 40 years.
Make us glad! Gladness in the midst of evil, gladness in the midst of failure, gladness in the midst of unbelief! Yes, God is that kind of a God. But Moses said, “Make us glad. We’ve blown it, but come along and give us hope.” And God does that.
And not only that, he says in verse 17: “Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us.” Can God look with favor upon a generation that rejected Him in the desert? Yes, He can because while they were there in the desert, He was clothing them, He was feeding them and He was winning victories for them. God does not abandon you, even when you may be tempted to abandon God. He is still there with you.
But now we come to the end of the Psalm all too quickly I might say, and he says, “Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us, and establish the work of our hands upon us;
yes, establish the work of our hands!”
So what is the purpose of life when you live and people forget you? If you want to know how long you’ll be remembered after you die, an experiment that you might want to do is to put your hand into a pail of water, pull it up, and see how long it takes for the water to cover the hole that your hand left. That’s a slight exaggeration but I’ve known stories about like that. And even if we are remembered, we’ll be forgotten in a future generation. I mean, it’s all temporary.
Where do we find the permanence? Where do we find that futility can be changed into meaning and so forth? We find it because God establishes our works. Now what we have to do is to go back to the beginning of the sermon. I told you that God exists in this eternal now. I don’t know a single teacher – even the name of a single Sunday school teacher who taught Sunday school in this church a hundred years ago. And this church, as you know, has existed for 150 years, but I don’t know. Are there people who remember them? Did they write something? Probably not! They were dealing with kids just like we deal with them, and they did their best teaching them God’s Word, but they passed away. But God has established their works, and those works are as present to God as what we did for God this morning. They are all there. He doesn’t have to recall them because He instantly knows them, and He sees everything that they have done so that Jesus can say, “Even a cup of cold water given in My name, which you probably have forgotten about (and I added that phrase), you’ll not lose your reward because I’ve established your works.”
You are faithful as a Sunday school teacher, you are faithful in obscurity in your job, in your vocation, you are living for Christ in the midst of an environment that is hostile, and you are representing Jesus well, God takes note. And He establishes those works, and they will meet you after you die. (applause)
You see, that’s why it makes a difference as to whether or not you serve the Lord. I fear that there may be some listening to me who think that Christianity is “go to church, listen to sermons, listen to music, and then go home and that’s the end of the deal.” God has raised up here at The Moody Church a marvelous ministry, as you know, but we are constantly short of people who commit as volunteers. You want to have works established! And of course that isn’t the only work that is established. Everything that we do for Jesus is established. But if you want to have works that are established, that will meet you on the other side, run (don’t walk). Run (unless you are going to trip over somebody) to the kiosks where you can become acquainted with our children’s ministry, which always stands in need of many people to serve. And God will establish that work. I think it is one of the most challenging, but one of the most beautiful ministries, and a whole host of other things.
And it’s not just the ministries of the church! I want you to know that. You serve God also in your vocation. You serve God because you are delighted to be generous. And Jesus said, “If you give, your reward is going to be in heaven where moth and rust does not corrupt, where thieves do not break through and steal.” Because you are generous it meets you on the other side. And your works are established. God gives permanence to our fleeting, oftentimes frustrating lives that appear to be futile. God gives them permanence. He is the one who establishes them.
Now there’s a very important verse and that is verse 12: “So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom.” Now you and I do not number our days. If I ask you how old you are, you aren’t going to say, “Well, I’m 6,348 days old.” You’re going to give me years, and I hope you tell the truth. We give it in years. He says, “Number your days.”
Do you realize that today you are younger than you will ever be again? Did you realize that? You’re never going to be as young as you are today. And as I look over this fine congregation I’m convinced of that. (laughter) No, I mean we should number our days because we don’t know how many days we have. So what he’s saying is that each day is an opportunity to serve the Lord, to find satisfaction in Him, and to do works that are established over in heaven.
Let me ask you a question. Do you know the God that I was talking about this morning? Do you know Him? I don’t mean know about Him because you’ve listened to this sermon, or read the Bible. Do you actually know Him?
Now I don’t want to be misheard. I don’t know! We have a whole bunch of new words cropping up. People misremember things, and they mishear things. And I can imagine a thief saying, “I mistook something.” (laughter) But I don’t want you to mishear this. It is not through these works that you get to know God. Your introduction to God comes from another source, and I’ll tell you exactly where it comes from.
In John 17 when Jesus is praying to the Father He says these words: “And this is life eternal that they might know Thee, the only true God and Jesus Christ whom Thou has sent.” It all comes through Jesus because you and I have that big problem called sin. And because we have a sin problem we cannot solve that problem on our own. God’s solution is to send a Savior whom we must trust personally, acknowledging our sinfulness, coming to Him and believing that He’s the only one who can clean us up and bring us safely to the Father. He is the one that we love. He is the one that we serve. He is the one that establishes our works.
Get this! Jesus stepped out of eternity into time so that He could redeem us, so that He could take us back to Himself, so that we could enjoy eternity. “This is eternal life that they might know Thee, the only true God and Jesus Christ whom Thou has sent.” That is eternal life. And our quest for permanence, our quest for meaning and our quest to make sense out of life finally are answered.
Oh in this life we don’t get to do all the things we want. We live with disappointment. We live with heartache. But a day is coming when we not only enjoy the eternal life here which Jesus gives us right now, but we enjoy it over there where no good work done in the name of Jesus is ever lost. We serve a sovereign, great, immense, generous God, and it is to Him that we come to dedicate ourselves.
Take out time this week and contemplate God. Give Him an hour at least. Become so acquainted with Him that you begin to realize that really nothing else matters. That’s why I try every morning before I roll out of bed to say, “God, today glorify yourself in my life at my expense,” because at the end of the day it doesn’t matter about me. It’s all about God, and I long that something that I’ve done would be established eternally. And you have the same longing and the same privilege.
Father, we ask in Jesus’ name that you’ll help all who have listened, and particularly those who do not know this great and sovereign God. I pray for those who don’t know what to do with their sin, what to do with their sense of conviction. Help them to know that Jesus is a Redeemer who forgives us and introduces us to the Father. We pray that wherever they are they may believe on You right now. May they say, “I accept this Jesus as mine.”
Grant us that, oh God, we pray, and we shall give You thanks. In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.