Behold the Lamb | Thoughts on General Revelation

Behold the Lamb | Thoughts on General Revelation

Liturgy Lessons: May 27, 2018
Call to Worship: John 1:1-5; Psalm 8
Prayer of Invocation
Hymn of Adoration: Creation Sings (Getty)
Call to Confession: Romans 1:18-25
Agnus Dei – “Jesus, Lamb of God”
Assurance of Pardon: based on 1 Peter 1:18-21, 2:9
Hymn of Assurance: He Will Hold Me Fast
Catechism/Congregational Prayers
Reading of the Word: Psalm 19:1-11
Doxology: #733
Sermon: Rev. Eric Irwin
Tithes and Offerings
The Lord’s Supper: Behold the Lamb (Communion Hymn); Be Unto Your Name
Closing Hymn: This is My Father’s World (#111)

I have tried, since that moment to make every pleasure into a channel of adoration. I don’t mean by simply giving thanks for it. One must of course give thanks, but I mean something different. How shall I put it? We can’t—or I can’t—hear the song of a bird simply as a sound. Its meaning or message (“That’s a bird”) comes with it inevitably…This heavenly fruit is instantly redolent of the orchard where it grew. This sweet air whispers of the country from whence it blows. It is a message. We know we are being touched by a finger of that right hand at which there are pleasures for evermore. There need be no question of thanks or praise as a separate event, something done afterwards. To experience the tiny theophany is itself to adore. Gratitude exclaims, very properly, “How good of God to give me this.” Adoration says, “What must be the quality of that Being whose far-off and momentary coruscations are like this!” One’s mind runs back up the sunbeam to the sun…
– C.S. Lewis in Letters to Malcolm, Chiefly on Prayer

This week’s lesson has nothing to do with liturgy and very little content regarding our hymns (there is a brief blurb and two recording links for “Behold the Lamb” at the very end). I have chosen, instead, to focus on the topic of this week’s sermon: general revelation. I like to refer to it as “the doctrine of the undeniable.” It refers to the obvious testimonies of God’s truth, goodness, and beauty that are written in the book of nature and on the pages of each human heart. God’s general revelation (a.k.a. “natural revelation”) is to all men through that which he has made, wherein he communicates His existence, His power, His character, and His glory, such that men are left without excuse (Rom. 1:20). The Psalms speak of how the signature of God’s handiwork is proclaimed in the natural world.

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

– Ps. 19:1-4

In other words, nature is a megaphone for its maker. Everything, from mountains to marigolds, shouts his splendor and sings of the superabundant riches of his love. It is this astounding opening to Psalm 19 that is the text for this week’s sermon. Pastor Irwin, who went up a mountain on Monday and had a Moses moment, will be waxing eloquent about the wondrous and winsome ways that the Creator God speaks through his handiwork.

Part of the purpose of these lessons is to turn heart and mind toward the content of our liturgy in advance of Sunday morning, so that you, the worshipper, may be more engaged at each point during the service. So, I offer these thoughts and subsequent poems (listed below), in hopes that they hold resonance with themes that the great composer is writing onto our pastor’s heart and into our collective lives as a church body. General revelation is a monumental topic that has occupied whole volumes and theological treatises. The Belgic confession, written in 1561, is a clear and comprehensive statement of the Reformed doctrines. Article 2 of that confession (on the means by which we know God) says this: “We know by the creation, preservation, and government of the universe; which is before our eyes as a most elegant book, wherein all creatures, great and small, are as so many characters leading us to see clearly the invisible things of God.”

I am only an armchair theologian (and a poor one at that), so will not attempt to lecture on this topic. After all, when faced with such virtuosity and variety in creation, mere yakkity-yak and blah-blah falls embarrassingly short. However, I do wish to share some favorite quotes and poems that I think speak to this in a far superior way, primarily because they strive to say so much more than words. Like music and art, poetry reveals itself in the craft, not just the content. The medium is the message. This makes these art forms especially fitting media for communicating truths about general revelation, and they help us get inside the mind of the Maker. After all, God put a rainbow in the sky for Noah, he didn’t just place black and white letters on the clouds, “N-O-M-O-R-E-F-L-O-O-D-S.” In the garden of Eden he gave Adam every plant that was not just useful for eating, but also pleasing to the eye. He made the world prismatic and symphonic. He paints a new sunset every night and calls forth a trillion melodies from birds the next morning. He speckles the wings of the butterfly and choreographs the stars in their orbit. And that’s just the beginning. There is enough evidence in one ultrasound to silence the most staunch atheist. I could go on and on.

Poets through the ages have bent all their powers in proper acclaim and rightful reverence to God’s artistry in nature. Below are a few samples that I hope will stir your heart toward astonishment and adoration. Brothers and Sisters, the ONLY right response for us as creatures is to pour out gratitude and praise to Christ, through whom ALL things were made. He crafted the cosmos and sustains it all, and He is the rightful recipient of our worship, for he is more astounding and marvelous than the entire opus. Jonathan Edwards said that all created things were but “diffused rays” of that true Sun. C.S. Lewis would encourage us not to look to these things, or even at these things, but rather to look along them. “One’s mind should run up the sunbeam to the sun.”

“The Pulley”
By George Herbert

When God at first made man,
Having a glass of blessings standing by,
“Let us,” said he, “pour on him all we can.
Let the world’s riches, which dispersèd lie,
Contract into a span.”

So strength first made a way;
Then beauty flowed, then wisdom, honour, pleasure.
When almost all was out, God made a stay,
Perceiving that, alone of all his treasure,
Rest in the bottom lay.

“For if I should,” said he,
“Bestow this jewel also on my creature,
He would adore my gifts instead of me,
And rest in Nature, not the God of Nature;
So both should losers be.

“Yet let him keep the rest,
But keep them with repining restlessness;
Let him be rich and weary, that at least,
If goodness lead him not, yet weariness
May toss him to my breast.”

“Poem 420”
By Emily Dickinson

You’ll know it — as you know ’tis Noon —
By Glory —
As you do the Sun —
By Glory —
As you will in Heaven— —
Know God the Father — and the Son.

By intuition, Mightiest Things
Assert themselves — and not by terms —
“I’m Midnight” — need the Midnight say —
“I’m Sunrise” — Need the Majesty?

Omnipotence — had not a Tongue —
His lisp — is Lightning — and the Sun —
His Conversation — with the Sea —
“How shall you know”?
Consult your Eye!

“The World Is Too Much With Us”
By William Wordsworth

The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers;—
Little we see in Nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!
This Sea that bares her bosom to the moon;
The winds that will be howling at all hours,
And are up—gathered now like sleeping flowers;
For this, for everything, we are out of tune;
It moves us not. Great God! I’d rather be
A Pagan suckled in a creed outworn;
So might I, standing on this pleasant lea,
Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn;
Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea;
Or hear old Triton blow his wreathèd horn.

Behold the Lamb (Communion Hymn)
Words and Music by Keith and Kristyn Getty, and Stuart Townend (2006)

This week we introduce a relatively new hymn written by the Gettys and Stuart Townend. Many of you who know their discography or have attended concert tours may already be familiar with this one. I am grateful for that, because we will need your help and confident leadership on Sunday. The melody is mostly intuitive, but it does take a few unexpected turns, and may not yield easily on the first try. The text comes in four verses, each a distinctive invitation to celebrate the realities of Christ as represented in bread and wine. The final verse is a call to go forth in love and obedience. Each verse closes with a reference to gathering “around the table of the King.” For some this may bring to mind the powerful image in C.S. Lewis’ Voyage of the Dawn Treader from the Chronicles of Narnia, specifically Aslan’s Table in the Island of the Star.

Studio recording
Congregational recording