Scripture Reference: 1 Kings 8:27, Psalms 90:2, John 5:23, John 17:3
When God Was AloneDr. Erwin W. Lutzer | October 21, 1990
Selected highlights from this sermon
God has always been, and He will always be. When He was alone, He created. This world and its many inhabitants were formulated in His mind and spoken into existence for His purposes. We must honor Him by honoring His Son. There is no other way.
Now at the beginning of this series of messages I would like to ask you to bow with me in prayer.
Father, anything that we say about You is inadequate, and yet, Lord, we pray that Your blessed Holy Spirit would do a miracle. Take human words with all of their limitations, and a servant of God who is unworthy, and transform this hour into a confrontation with the living and the true God. In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.
I want you to know that the most important thing about you is what you think of God. That’s the most important thing about you. As you know, I’ve just returned from Japan, and I visited a Shinto shrine. I didn’t go inside of it, but as I stood outside, I saw people lining up, coming to clap their hands, to ring a bell, to awaken the gods, and then to give some money. The people that I was with said that in Japan there are 8 million gods, but because there are so many, there is not one god who really commands the allegiance of anyone, or who is worthy of the allegiance of anyone.
And so we live in a day and age when paganism is alive and well in different parts of the world. Of course, as Christians we believe that there is only one God, and that He has revealed Himself through the Bible. And the evidence that God has indeed revealed Himself through this book is overwhelming. We see through a glass darkly but thankfully we do see, and we get glimmers of what God is like, and what His purposes are in this world.
Of course, the fact that God has revealed Himself to us in the Bible does not mean thereby that we have all the answers. We are deeply perplexed over problems such as the difficulty of evil. When you stop to think of it, you realize that when God chose to create, He already knew ahead of time that that creation would include within it the fact that young children would be abused by their parents, that there would be wars, that there would be problems, and earthquakes, and alienation, and divorce, and distress, and ill health. And the list could go on and on.
In the 18th century there was a huge earthquake in Lisbon. And when that earthquake took place, the people ran into a church for sanctuary and for refuge, and then the church collapsed. That was the beginning in that area of a tremendous amount of skepticism and anger and hostility toward God. What is it that God is up to in the world? Why is it that God, the creator of the sun and the moon and the stars, chose to create man and angels, and angels that eventually became demons? Why is all of this human suffering worth it? What is His hidden agenda in the universe?
Now there was a time, of course, when God was alone. The Bible says that in the beginning God created, but before He created He existed as God, and God alone. We don’t know how long that period of time was, but we do know, of course, that there was a period in which God existed, and nothing else existed beside Him because He is the creator, and before He created there was only God.
What I’d like to do today is to give you five attributes of God, and some verses of Scripture to go with them. And because our time is limited, we will not necessarily turn to all these verses, but you can write them down so that you can read them later.
What is God like? First of all, I wish to say a word about the eternality of God, the fact that He is indeed eternal. It says in Psalm 90:2 that before the mountains were formed, or the earth was brought forth (Catch this expression now) from everlasting to everlasting Thou art God. Now we are eternal also. Having been created we are going to live forever. Stop and think that one through. Visualize a bird coming to this earth every million years and taking one grain of sand. And then in a million years’ time he comes and takes another grain of sand. Do you realize that by the time all the mountain ranges, and all of the sand of the earth, all of the molecules that make up this existence that we call Planet Earth have been moved to another planet, eternity has not yet begun, because it is incorrect to speak of the beginning of an infinite series, because beginning implies an end. Think of how awesome eternity is, and you are going to be around that long. The Bible says, “From everlasting to everlasting God is the Lord.” That is to say that God is not only eternal in the sense that He has an eternal future, but also He has an eternal past. He existed from all time. He never had a beginning. God always was. Now that leads us, of course, to the boundaries of our imagination because it’s not possible for us to grasp it, but how wonderful it is to contemplate it.
You realize, of course, that if God did not exist from all eternity, nothing now would be in existence. If there were ever a time when there was absolutely nothing, nothing would have ever come to be because from nothing, nothing can arise. And that’s why there had to be something that existed from all eternity that did not have a beginning so that all of the creation could be explained. God is eternal. “From everlasting to everlasting You are God.”
This, by the way, is one of the reasons why atheistic evolution is so absolutely foolish, because there are even scientists who believe that at one time there was nothing, and then suddenly from nothing all of the galaxies of the heavens came to be. And so an evolutionist believes that nothing x nobody = everything. That’s difficult to believe. The eternality of God!
Secondly, the immensity of God! How big is this being we call God? After Solomon dedicated the Temple he said in 1 Kings 8:27 during the dedicatory prayer, “Behold, heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain you; how much less this house that I have built!” Solomon was saying, “You can dwell in this house, but certainly not all of You can dwell in this house. Not all there is to God can dwell there because even the heavens of the heavens cannot contain Thee.” God is bigger than the heavens.
It is unthinkable that God would have created a universe that was bigger than He is, so how big is the universe? Now I need to remind you, of course, that light travels at 186,000 miles a second. That means it goes around the world approximately six times in just one second. That’s how fast light travels. Light from the sun, which has to come 93,000,000 miles, takes eight minutes to get here. And so the light that you see from the sun has been traveling for eight minutes to make it here over that expanse of 93,000,000 miles.
But I want you to be reminded that there is a star near Orion that has light that travels to the earth and it takes 525 years for that light to get here. Remember back in 1517 when Martin Luther on the 31st of October nailed those theses on the door of the church in Wittenberg? Now when I say remember that, it’s not that I think that you were there when it happened, but I’m just simply reminding you of that historical fact that you have read about. Do you realize that light from that star that began on that day that Luther tacked those theses to the door of the church in Wittenberg has not yet arrived? It’s on its way. It is hustling at 186,000 miles a second, but it’s not here yet. Give it another 25 or 50 years and then it will arrive.
Now here’s what I want you to understand. That star’s diameter is twice the diameter of the earth’s orbit around the sun. I just read this past week that that star has a diameter between 300 and 400 million miles, and it is constantly expanding and shrinking, so sometimes it’s only 300 million miles, and sometimes it’s 400 million miles, but what an awesome star it is. And you realize, of course, that that star is only one among thousands of trillions of stars.
The Chicago Tribune carried an article last year that said astronomers have discovered more than a dozen evenly distributed clumps of galaxies. A galaxy has hundreds of millions of stars. And there are clumps of galaxies stretching across vast expanses of the heavens, suggesting a structure to the universe that is so regular and immense that it defies current theories of cosmic creation and evolution. It says that this dwarfs the existence of long sheets of galaxies that were dubbed “The Great Wall.” I need to read only one more paragraph: “Scientists were surprised to see so many large clumps rather than a more uniform distribution of matter, but they were astonished to find the clumps so evenly spaced, each either 400 million or 800 million light years apart, depending on assumptions of how rapidly the universe is expanding. ‘The regularity is mind-boggling,’ said David Koo, one of the astronomers at the University of California in Santa Cruz.” Mind-boggling! We’re talking about hundreds of millions of light years and thousands of trillions of stars. Do you remember that space ship that we sent up? I say we! I had no personal involvement except that some of my tax money was used. There was a time, you know, when a trip to outer space taxed only the imagination. Now it has other implications.
But that thing is traveling at 25,000 miles an hour. Actually I’m wrong on that. I’m sorry. 65,000 miles an hour! Now that’s going rather slow in relationship to the speed of light. I mean, that’s just hobbling along at 65,000 miles an hour.
You know, of course, it took 12 years to get to Triton, and now it is headed for the stellar universe, and it will have to travel 600 years before it comes to the closest star, and after that it can go on into infinity, and it will never come to the end, and God is beyond that infinite end. “The heaven of heavens cannot contain Thee. How much less this house that I have built?”
Now think of the power of God. We’re still speaking of the immensity of God. Think of the power of God. You know, a carpenter may take some wood that came from a tree, and he may make a pulpit or he may make some furniture, but he always uses pre-existing materials. Scientists always use pre-existing materials. Have you ever realized that science sometimes brag about its ability to replace God? When you meet a scientist like that, why don’t you tell him, “You know, some afternoon when you have nothing to do, go into a laboratory and take nothing and make a molecule out of it?” Just take nothing and make a molecule – one measly molecule. Science has never been able to take nothing and make something out of it.
Now you imagine God. When He was alone, there was no matter in the universe, but it says in Psalm 33:6, “By the word of the Lord the heavens were made, and by the breath of his mouth all their host.” He spoke and He made stars that are hundreds of thousands and millions of times bigger than the earth. And it says in the first chapter of Genesis that God created the sun and the moon, and then it says, “And He made the stars also,” as if to say, “Oh yeah, by the way, just in case we forget, He just happened to make the stars also – thousands of trillions of them.” God is immense – absolutely immense.
Thirdly, the intelligence of God! Theologians call it the omniscience of God – the fact that He knows everything. Do you realize that He knows the longitude and the latitude of every single one of the atoms, the molecules that He has created? He knows their position in the universe, which is constantly changing. You have stars that are pulsating, expanding and then shrinking, and He knows all of that. Do you realize that when a star falls from the heavens, God does not have to calculate to see how fast it is falling? He never has to re-measure the number of drops of ocean in the Pacific after a rainstorm because water has been rearranged and he’s got to check the total. He already knows the total.
When the Bible says that the number of hairs on your head is numbered, that’s rather small potatoes, particularly for some of you as I look out here. I mean, that’s nothing to God. He knows the number of cells that you have in your body. He knows the number of grains of sand that were on your shoes when you came into church today. God knows all these things, and He never learns anything. He never has to study a textbook. He never has some new thought that has never crossed His mind before. Has it ever dawned on you that nothing has ever dawned on God? Nothing!
And you realize, of course, that when we speak of His intelligence, we are speaking about His wisdom. It says in Psalm 104:24, “In wisdom have you made them all.” Psalm 147:5 says that His understanding is infinite. Do you know that you have billions of cells – I think something like 4 billion cells - in your brain, and that each of these cells has as much activity in it as a city the size of Chicago or Tokyo. And all of that has to work with horrifying accuracy so that you are able to think and you are able to function, and most of the functions that our brain does are unconscious. We’re not thinking of it.
You know I had to study the balance system because of some dizziness. I say “study it.” The doctors told me about it. Do you realize that your brain is constantly receiving all kinds of information to keep you balanced when you walk? You are receiving information from your shoulders, from your legs and from your muscles. All of this is constantly being programmed and re-evaluated and you are not even aware of it. God is a God of incredible intelligence and wisdom.
Number four, the personality of God! There is so much that could be said about this. When we speak of personality, we mean intelligence. Obviously we mean intelligence, emotion, and will, and God has all of that. We’ve spoken of His intelligence. What about His emotion? Is He some being up there that is just absolutely impervious as to what is going on, on earth because He is cold and indifferent, and He has no feeling to Him? Well, I’m glad that God isn’t like that. You read the Old Testament and you find that God is a God of deep emotion. He becomes angry with His people. The Bible says that God became very angry, and even Jesus Christ became livid, the New Testament says. The anger of God!
You find that God is also well pleased. We find that things can please Him. God can be grieved. It says that the Holy Spirit of God is grieved in our hearts because of sin. God has emotion. God has will. It says in 1 John 4:8 that God is love. He is a personal God. You realize the implications, don’t you? The implications for companionship! The fact that the Lord is with us! “I will never leave thee nor forsake thee.” And that isn’t a computer that’s talking. That’s the omnipotent, omniscient, great mighty personal God who is speaking.
And to a woman who had had a series of bad marriages – five, to be exact – and was now living with a sixth man without the benefit of marriage, Jesus could say to her, “Those that worship the Father worship in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such to worship Him.” A personal God!
Number five, we have the consistency of God. What do I mean by consistency – His unchangeableness? Malachi 3:6 says, “I am the Lord. I do not change.” It says in Hebrews 1 that the Lord created the earth and the sun and the stars, and someday they will all be folded up like a garment and they will be tucked away, but God remains the same and is unchanged.
Do you realize that there is no attribute that God has that needs development? There’s nothing that God is working on to improve Himself. You realize, of course, that there is no attribute that God has that He never always had. God has not changed His mind about a single thing. I know you read the Bible and in some places it says that the Lord changed His mind regarding what He was going to do to somebody. That is a human way of saying that somebody prayed and repented and God acted differently than He would have acted otherwise, but that doesn’t mean that God didn’t know that that person was going to change His mind, or that God was caught off guard and had to rethink a decision. God has never had to do that, not even once.
Do you realize He has not changed His mind regarding homosexuality and adultery and all the other sins listed in the Old Testament? Sometimes we read the Old Testament and scholars tell us that the God of the Old Testament is so angry against sin. He’s killing 3,000 people, and He’s sending judgment, and there are plagues that kill 25,000 at a time. But oh the God of the New Testament is so loving and so kind and so gracious. He wouldn’t hurt a flea. Oh wow! (chuckles) You have missed it by a mile – maybe by a couple of light years.
I want you to know that God doesn’t change. He has not changed His opinion. He is not more lenient. He has not grown mellow with age. Of course God has changed only in the sense that during this era of grace He is deferring judgment for a little time. But in the end God will judge with horrifying accuracy and clarity, because God knows every thought that you have ever had, and there is nothing that is hid from Him.
One of the most sobering thoughts I think that has ever crossed my mind is this - the reminder that God did not choose the attributes that He has. He didn’t choose them. He always had them. Do you realize how sobering that is? If God had been a being who was a sadist, who liked nothing but creating people and watching them suffer, there’s nothing that we could have done about it. We couldn’t have said, “We don’t like that kind of a God. Let’s get us a new one that is more compatible with the way in which we feel and the way in which we think God should be,” because the attributes that God had from the beginning are the attributes that He had – period. He never chose them. He didn’t decide to BE loving. He just IS loving – thankfully. He didn’t choose to BE compassionate. He IS compassionate. And all of those attributes were a part of Him from the beginning of time, and they consistently are with Him today. I’m glad that in addition to justice, God is also compassionate and loving and kind and thoughtful, and I just read in my devotions today that throughout all of eternity He wants to display His loving kindness and grace to His people. Boy, am I thankful for that! That’s wonderful.
Now this brief description of God, which is altogether too unworthy of Him, reminds us that He made many decisions. But so far as we know, the most important decision that God made was the decision to create heaven and earth and beings that also would have personality. Once the Bible says, “In the beginning God created,” that signals something brand new. Can you imagine that God decided to create even though everything that has happened in His universe was perfectly and accurately foreknown by Him, and He chose to create anyway?
He chose to create, knowing that He was setting in motion a series of events that would cause children to be abused. He would set in motion a series of events that would eventually lead to wars and famines with 50,000 people dying sometimes in a single day because of starvation. There would be a whole chain of events that would take place, and yet evidently God thought all that human suffering worth it for some ends that He wanted to accomplish, some of the ends that we hope to discuss in this special series of messages. What an awesome thought!
Do you realize that of all of the galaxies that we have talked about, hundreds of millions of galaxies and tens of trillions of stars, God decided to take a speck in His universe, namely the Earth, and to use it as a stage? And on this earth would be played out justice and mercy, and evil and good, and morality and immorality, and obedience and disobedience. And on this particular planet Earth, which is one of the smallest of the planets, God said, “This is the place where it is all going to happen.” And so He created Lucifer who fell. He created man who eventually chose in favor of Lucifer, and you have the whole history of the human race. And guess what! You and I are playing a part in that drama. And we weren’t asked whether or not we wanted to participate. This was not a thing where God said, “You know, I’m enacting something on earth to display certain truths, and I’m looking for some volunteers, anybody who is willing to participate.”
Nobody asked me whether or not I wanted to be born. Nobody asked you whether you wanted to be born. That was not a choice that was made by you. There were prior choices made by your parents and your grandparents that eventually determined the fact that you would show up on Planet Earth, but here we are, and we participate in the drama.
You say, “Well, wait a minute now. I’m an atheist and I don’t believe in Jesus and I don’t even believe in God.” Well, that’s an interesting fact about you that has some rather eternal consequences, but I must also very quickly tell you that you also are a part of God’s drama, and the drama that God wanted to enact because it is not simply a matter of being a believer to participate. In one way or another - in a destructive way - you will also participate in God’s eternal plan.
My friend, today, God is so immense, and He is so wise, that there is not the slightest detail in your life and mine, or in the universe at large that somehow is not contributing to His ultimate purposes. It’s awesome. It’s true.
How quickly I run out of time. But I must ask you something. Do you now understand why it is that the greatest sin that you and I can commit is to ignore God? Do you understand that? I mean, here He is. The heaven of the heavens cannot contain Him. He’s created the earth, the sun, the moon, the stars and the galaxies, and then He has put us on this little speck that we call Planet Earth, and He has a plan for the whole shebang, as well as for you and me. And we go our separate ways, thinking that the end of man is to have a little bit of pleasure and to get all that you can out of life before you go to wherever. What an awful thought! How disrespectful of the living and the true God!
Jesus said that the greatest commandment is that thou shall love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, with all thy soul and with all thy mind. There is no other purpose to live – period. How dare we settle for earning a living – even a good living, even a wealthy living? How dare we have that as a goal when there’s a God who created us, who is immense, who is great, who is personal, who became a man (of all things) to redeem us? And we’re wondering about how we’re going to earn a living, as if to say that is the predominant reason why we showed up on Planet Earth. God went to all this expense to create a canopy, to create a great big theater on which this little stage has been put, and we think that the purpose of life is to see how much pleasure we can get out of it before we die.
My friend, today, do you also see something that is very absurd? Have you ever thought of how absurd it is that you and I close God out of part of our lives, and say, “God, I’m not going to submit to you in this area? I’ll submit here, and I’ll submit this and I’ll submit that, but this area of disobedience that I know is sinful I am going to keep to myself because I enjoy it, and I think that ultimately I know better than you as to what is best for me, because I’m only going around life once, and what I need to do is to do what really pleases me, and so whether this is right or wrong, I’m going to do it anyway.”
Can you imagine the ultimate supreme lawgiver in the universe, the creator of the sun, the moon and the stars, your creator and mine, knowing less about what is best for you than you and I do? So we say, “God, I’m closing You out of this area of my life, because if I surrender it to You, You’re going to make this demand, and it’s more than I’m able to commit to, and so I’m just going to do my own thing.”
My dear friend today, I want you to know that that is an insult to the living and the true God. And God, incidentally, feels the hurt of our insults. I mean, He could wipe us off the map just like that, but He doesn’t. He puts up with rebellion. He allows evil to triumph temporarily. He is willing to endure the affliction of the people of God. The Holy Spirit is grieved because of sin, and He continues to be grieved and minister to us. And all the while, we are saying, “I know what’s best for me and I’m going to do my own thing.”
In my short life I have never met anybody who has closed God out of a part of his life, or her life, who is contented and satisfied as a person. There’s always that mixture of delight and disdain, always that mixture of pleasure and pain, always that unsettled feeling, because in those areas where you and I defy the Almighty, the Almighty is obligated to make sure that we cannot be ultimately fulfilled.
You say, “Well, where do I begin to honor God (which is the purpose for which we were created)? The creed has it correct. The chief end of man is to know God, and to enjoy Him forever. What is the purpose of man? Jesus said in John 17:3, “And this is life eternal, that they might know Thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom Thou has sent.”
You know what it says in Daniel 11:32. “The people that know their God will be strong and do exploits.” The people who know God! The people who have got their priorities straightened out!
You say, “Well, where do I begin in this business of honoring God?” I want to ask you to turn to just one verse of Scripture – John 5:23. It’s a good place to begin. Some of you need to begin at an early stage of honoring the Almighty, and listen to the words of Jesus in John 5:23. I’ll begin with verse 22. “The Father judges no one, but has given all judgment to the Son, that all may honor the Son, just as they honor the Father.” Now get this: “He who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent Him.” Let that sink into your mind.
You say, “Well, are you telling me that all those people who were lining up in Japan to honor all of these 8 million gods are not honoring the true and living God?” My friend, it’s not me who is telling you that. It’s Jesus who knows a whole lot more than I do. He says that those who do not honor the Son do not honor the Father. And if you want to begin by honoring the Father, you honor the Son. You begin to fall in love with Jesus in Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, and you become a worshiper of Christ, and you say with the Apostle Paul, “For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” All that I desire is knowledge of Christ. And you begin to honor the Father, because Jesus said, “You honor Me, you honor Him. You dishonor Me, you dishonor Him,” because Christ is God.
One day a man was going to church and a skeptic friend of his said, “Well, where are you going?” He said, “To church.” He said, “What are you going to do in church?” The man said, “I’m going to worship God.” And the skeptic said, “Well, a big God or a small God?” The Christian said, “Both - the God that is so big that the heavens of heavens cannot contain Him, and yet a God that is so small that He can live within my heart.”
It says in 2 Corinthians that God says, “I will dwell with them, and I will walk in them, and I shall be their God, and they shall be my people.” Awesome! The heaven of heavens cannot contain Thee, and yet, You dwell in a human heart.
Let me ask you something today. Is there a part of your life that you are unwilling to yield to the Almighty? What part is it that is so precious to you that you think it means more to you than God should? What part is it? Don’t you think it’s time to give up your petty desires, and your wrong priorities and to say, “God, today, by Your grace You have all of me without a single hesitation, with nothing held back, no closet door of my heart closed, but I open them all. I fling them open to You and I say, “God, take everything. You are worthy of all the honor, all the worship that I could possibly give You.” Are you willing to say that today? If it’s true of you, join me in prayer.
Father, we’ve spoken so inadequately. We have not done justice to You, but I have done the best that I could do. Father, do something special at Moody Church this morning, we pray. May the hearts of many people be broken, seeing perhaps for the first time the utter foolishness of holding something from God who is almighty and worthy of every single bit of us. We pray, Father, that you might pry open those parts of our lives that we are unwilling to give to You. And we ask that we will rush to You, seeking You wholeheartedly, asking for Your blessing, and desiring the fullness of God. Father, meet us today we pray at the point of our deepest need. In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.