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Author:Pastor Keith Davis
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Congregation:Bethel United Reformed Church
 Calgary, Alberta
Title:The Attributes of God:
Text:Psalms 139:1-17; Belgic Confession A (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Pastor Keith Davis, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Beloved congregation of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we talk about the attributes of God we are referring to the virtues of God, the various qualities and characteristics of God that God Himself has revealed to us, about Himself, in His Holy Word, the Bible (such as are listed in Belgic Confession Article 1).


That’s not an exhaustive list, nor is it meant to be, but the point I want to emphasize here is simply this: when it comes to knowing God, God doesn’t leave it to us to figure out who He is. God doesn’t leave it to us to define God, or to try to imagine who He is, or to draw our conclusions based on our own experiences, or based on our own expectations of who or what God is, or what God should do or be. If that were the case, then our God would be no different than any other earthly idol or false god.


No. The Lord God is the One True God of heaven and earth, and the only way that we (or anyone else) can ever know God, and know His attributes, is if God Himself reveals that knowledge to us. And all glory and thanks and honor be to God, through His Word and Spirit, through His Son Jesus Christ and the Gospel of grace, our God has done exactly that. God, in His grace, has condescended to us; He has stopped down to reveal Himself to us in order that we may know Him.


In his volume on Reformed Systematic Theology, Dr. Joel Beeke wrote: our knowledge of God is grounded upon God’s will to be known. Simply put our God wants to be known. He has willed it.


Beeke wrote: Christian theology arises not from (below) man’s pursuit of God, but from (above) God’s pursuit of man. And that, beloved, makes all the difference in how we approach the subject of theology. We’re are not scientists studying matter and molecules in creation, but we’re fallen sinners seeking to know and love our Creator God – who is infinitely high and exalted beyond us; God is infinite, eternal, all-wise, all-knowing, all-seeing, all-powerful, every present.


And so it is good to be reminded that as sinners, we are standing on hallowed ground. We are contemplating the very Person of God – and we must know then that all Christian theology, all true knowledge of God is rooted in the Good News of the Gospel.


That Good News proclaims to us that our almighty, infinite, eternal, holy God has invited us, He has called us, He has willed us to know Him – and to put our faith in His Son Jesus Christ for our salvation!  


As Christ Himself prayed in John 17: 3, Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.


I say all this in anticipation of this sermon on God’s Incomprehensibility. That might sound a bit ironic, even contradictory – we just said that God has given us to know about Him from His Word, so how can we turn around now and say that God is incomprehensible? Doesn’t that mean that God is unknowable? That he is beyond human comprehension?   


What this means (as we’re about to see) is that while God has indeed revealed all that we need to

know about Him for our own salvation, and to lead a Godly life, to know Him and love Him as our Triune God that knowledge is a very limited knowledge. God’s Being, and His Mind, and His Thoughts and His Ways (as Isaiah 55:8 reminds us) are not our ways. God is God, and the finite cannot comprehend the infinite, any more than a tiny baby can comprehend the world around him.


Today, we are going to look at Psalm 139 to help us understand what it means when we confess that God is Incomprehensible. Notice with me:     

1. The Psalmist’s Humble Observations about God 

2. The Psalmist’s Worshipful Response to God 


1. The Psalmist’s Humble Observations about God 

We’re going to start by observing a few (not all) of the Psalmists Humble observations about God. The reason I am starting with this is to show you the impact that these observations have on the Psalmist. As he meditates on God, as He contemplates Who God is and how intimately God knows him, how clearly He sees him, how comprehensively God cares for him, etc. it elicits, it prompts and provokes a response from the Psalmist which we will consider in the second point.


Psalm 139 should be quite familiar to us. In our church we often read or sing this Psalm in preparation for the Lord’s Supper. David, the Psalmist, calls for the Lord God to examine him, to test him, to make a thorough search of his heart, his mind, his soul, his motives – to see if there is any offensive or unrighteous way within him and to lead him in the way everlasting.


Then we apply that to ourselves. We make this our prayer as we examine ourselves. We say, “Lord, search us! Search out our hearts, our souls, our minds, in your sacred Light! Expose the darkness of our sin and iniquity. Expose what lies hidden in the darkness; sins that we either cannot see, or that we have intentionally, willfully denied or hidden – in order that we might confess them, repent, and ask God to forgive us for the sake of the precious blood of Jesus Christ, His Son.” 


Besides self-examination, we are also familiar with this Psalm because of the deeply personal and intimate way that the Psalmist describes God’s knowledge of him, as well as God’s supervision and superintendence over every aspect and moment and activity of his life.


Verse 1: “O Lord, you have searched me and you know me.” He’s saying: Lord, you know everything about me. You know me better than anyone else – better than my parents know me; better than my close friends know me – or even my own spouse. Lord, you know me better than I know myself.


You know what is bothering me even when I can’t quite put my finger on it. You know all my doubts and fears and worries. You know all my secrets, my temptations, my desires. You know how I struggle with feelings of anxiety, sadness, despair and disappointment -- hide them as I might from others -- you know them full well.


Lord, you know my potential, my strengths and my capabilities. But you also know my limitations, my weaknesses and my breaking point. Only you know exactly what I can endure.


Just think of the life of David and consider how the Lord made him endure hardship, injustice and persecution from king Saul. Yet, the Lord knew exactly what He was doing. The Lord was testing David, preparing David; readying His servant for the day when he would serve as king.


And in the same way, the Lord was also using David’s sufferings and trials and isolation and feelings of forsakenness to foreshadow the sufferings of God’s own Son, Jesus Christ. Remember the voice of the Psalmist is also the voice of our Lord Himself – and in his earthly ministry and especially in his sufferings on the cross, Jesus took the Psalms upon his lips.


Verses 2-3, David speaks of God’s knowledge over his every action and every thought -- whether sitting down or walking; whether asleep or awake: “You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways.”


Then in verse 3, the Psalmist says Lord, you know me so well, you even know what I am going to say before I say it. Before a word is on my tongue, you know it completely, O Lord. That’s quite remarkable when you think about it, because sometimes we start speaking before we even know what we’re going to say. And sometimes words come out that should never have been spoken, and we grieve God’s Holy Spirit. So, this should give us pause to carefully consider what we say.


Going on, vs 5, God also protects us from harm and danger – He hems us in behind and before. The Hebrew word used here is often used in the context of an enemy laying siege to a city, they surround it and let nothing in or out in the hope of forcing it to surrender or destroying it.


But here, this word is used in a positive sense in that the Lord surrounds and besieges his people in his love, for their safety, so that nothing may befall them. Think of the way God hemmed in His people Israel and kept them safe on every side – so that not even Pharoah with all his chariots and army could touch them! Such is God’s love and care and protection -- nothing can get to us. Nothing can harm us or happen to us outside of God’s divine will, power, and protection.


David also confesses that God is present with him wherever he goes. He identifies God’s presence in the person of the Holy Spirit – the third person of the Trinity. With all confidence and certainty, David confesses that God will be with him no matter where he goes on earth, whether high in heavens or in the deepest depths of the earth. Even if he makes his bed in the depth, God is there.


This sounds a lot like David is confessing what we do in Lord’s Day 1: “I am not my own but belong, body and soul, in life and in death, in waking or sleeping, in my coming in and going out, to my faithful Savior Jesus Christ!”


And finally, looking at vv. 13-16 – what precious and powerful verses, testifying that God is the God over life and death. In his sovereign power and good pleasure God gives life and in his divine wisdom and according to his perfect plan, God takes life away.


David makes that incredible testimony that God knew him from the time he was conceived in his mother’s womb. Long before David knew God, God knew David – and the same is true of us all. And how does David know all this? Where did he get such knowledge of God?  How did he come to make these observations and draw these conclusions?


The Lord Himself made these things known to David. How precious to me are your thoughts, O God! As we said earlier – theology does not come from below, but from above. God, by His Spirit imparts knowledge, and wisdom and insight and understanding. But only those who have the mind and the Spirit of Christ can discern such things. We’re going to stop here and go on to the consider the second point:


2. The Psalmist’s Worshipful Response to God 

To start this second point, I want to ask a question. What do we call these observations which the Psalmist has made about God? What is the correct technical or term for what he is doing here? David is doing theology.


David has studied, he has observed, he has reflected upon, he has meditated upon who God is, how God works, how God has made himself known in his life and in the world around him (as we said even in the womb); he has reflected upon how God operates, how God manifests his presence and power and purposes – and we call that reverent reflection and meditation, theology.


Psalm 139 is a veritable treasure trove of theology when it comes to identifying various attributes of God. Some of the more technical theological terms we use to describe this: God’s Omni-presence, Omni-Potence, Omniscience, and God is All-Seeing.   


It’s great if we know those theological terms, but for us Christians, the most important thing is not knowing the correct theological terminology. No. The most important thing is knowing God!


See theology, properly done, and theology properly applied leads not to pride of knowledge – rather, it leads to humility of spirit. Also, all true theology leads to true worship! It leads us to see the glory and the beauty and majesty of our Creator and Redeemer and Sustainer – and as a result, we fall down at the feet of our Lord and we worship! We stand in holy reverence and awe at who God is.


And that is exactly what David’s response is to all of this! Look at verse 7: Such knowledge, he says – the knowledge which God has revealed about Himself, of how the God who created the heavens and the earth and everything in them – that God is intimately concerned and involved and connected to his everyday affairs – even knowing his thoughts, his words, his coming in and going out – and knowing that this is true not just for him, but for each and every person who has ever been conceived and born, such knowledge is too wonderful for me; too lofty for me to attain!


In other words -- this blows his mind. It is unthinkable. It is unbelievable. See, David is confessing that God is incomprehensible. God’s Being, God’s wisdom, His power, sovereignty, knowledge, foresight, and presence etc. etc. – God is infinitely and immeasurably above and beyond David’s ability and our ability to comprehend. 


God glory and greatness and majesty and power is so great that we cannot take it all in. We might as well try to stare at the sun in an attempt to take in all of its light – but we cannot. It will blind us!!

And now, what I want us to see in all of this, where I want to take this is directly to the cross. Of all that God has done, far greater than His act of creating and sustaining the universe and all things – it is God’s act of redeeming sinners, it is God’s work of salvation that is the most incomprehensible and unfathomable of all.


To show you this, I want us to consider that great hymn “How Great Thou Art.”


The first two stanzas are all about God’s power and majesty and wisdom that is seen from what God has made with his hands -- the beauty and glory of God in creation:  O Lord my God, When I in awesome wonder, consider all the worlds Thy Hands have made; I see the stars, I hear the rolling thunder, Thy power throughout the universe displayed.


That’s theology! The hymn writer reflects on the wonders of God’s creative wisdom and majesty and glory – and Then sings my soul, My Saviour God, to Thee, How great Thou art, How great Thou art… Theology leads to Doxology!! We see the same pattern repeat itself in the next stanza:


When through the woods, and forest glades I wander, And hear the birds sing sweetly in the trees.

When I look down, from lofty mountain grandeur And see the brook, and feel the gentle breeze.    

He’s describing something we’ve all seen and done and experienced – we see the Father’s Hand and marvel at His glory in all that He has made – and that theology leads to doxology: Then sings my soul, My Saviour God, to Thee, How great Thou art, How great Thou art…


But what is it that moves the heart of the hymn writer – the heart of the child of God -- more than anything else? It is the mind-blowing thought that this same almighty, eternal, incomprehensible, all-knowing, all-seeing, everywhere present God has stooped to save a wretch like me.


“And when I think that God, His Son not sparing; sent Him to die, I scarce can take it in; that on the Cross, my burden gladly bearing, He bled and died to take away my sin.”


To think that God Himself came down from heaven to earth in the flesh, to take on our human nature, and more than that, to take on our sin and guilt, and to be made sin, to be made to suffer and die on the cross for our sake – all so that we, unworthy sinners, nothing more than dust and ashes – that we could be saved and be called children of God – that, beloved, is the greatest theology, the great mystery, and the most incomprehensible thing of all!    


Theology leads to Doxology: Then sings my soul, My Saviour God, to Thee, How great Thou art, How great Thou art.


David is expressing the same truth when he writes: Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; too lofty for me to attain! And yet, God, in Christ, has done the unthinkable – He has done the incomprehensible!


God has called you and me and all sinners to repent of our sin, and come to Christ, to believe in Him, and to be saved. And while God will always be God, God will always be incomprehensible, in Jesus Christ God’s Son, God humbled Himself.


God made Himself know to us. And all throughout his earthly ministry, Jesus testified to this: that he has come to make the Father known. The Son has come to reveal the Incomprehensible God to us, so that we might be saved.


At the outset of the sermon, I gave you that quote by Dr. Beeke: Christin theology arises not from man’s pursuit of God, but from God’s pursuit of man. And nowhere is that pursuit more clearly seen, and more personally experienced than in Christ’s pursuit of you and me as fallen sinners –


What should our response be? Very quickly, these four things: 

  1. Our response should be one of astonishment and awe: The child of God should never cease to be amazed at who our God is – we will ever and always be overwhelmed by the wonder of who God is and what He has done.  
  2. Our response should be one of Praise and Worship: all true theology leads to doxology. Our sincere and Biblical thought, reflection and meditation upon God should lead us to prayer and song. It should compel us to worship God in our personal and family worship at home, and it should compel us to come to church on Sunday, where we, both morning and evening, seek to know God more and more and worship him in the splendor of His holiness.
  3. Our response should be one of Humility: Who are we that God would make himself known to us? Who are we that Christ would die for us? We are no-one, and we deserve nothing.  And so, our entire life should be lived in selfless service and humble obedience to Christ our Lord, seeking to love and to treat others as God, in Christ, has loved and treated us.
  4. Our response should be one of Hope: (Awe, worship, humility and hope). Since we know that this is the God we serve, that He is beyond all things, and nothing is beyond Him, then we can know and trust without a doubt that all of God’s promises are true. What better way to summarize this hope than with these words, “When Christ shall come, with shout of acclamation, and take me home, what joy shall fill my heart. Then I shall bow, in humble adoration, and then proclaim: "My God, how great Thou art!" Amen.    


Closing Prayer: "Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! O Lord, how unsearchable are your judgments, and your paths beyond tracing out! For, “Who has known your mind, O Lord? Or who has been your counselor?” And “Who has ever given to you, O God, that you should repay them?” For from You and through You and to You are all things. To You be the glory forever and ever! Amen."

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Pastor Keith Davis, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
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