Lord, our hearts are inclined toward you. We pause even after singing such great songs, expressions of praise. We just take a quiet moment to tell you that we love you and that we need you and that we want you to reveal yourself to us. We pray Lord that today would be like the rest of the year where we hear your voice speaking into our lives, dealing with our situations, because the more we're exposed to your truth, the more we'll be conformed to it. We pray that would be the net result. In Jesus' name we ask. Amen.
There were two brothers, one was eight years of age and one was ten years old. They were always in trouble. In fact, in their town, if something went wrong, the town just sort of figured that those two kids were somehow involved. Well because of their reputation, their parents decided they've got to do something and they heard about a preacher who had a way with kids, that was his reputation, so the mother asked if the pastor would come over and speak to her two boys. He agreed to. And he said, "I first want to meet with the eighty-year-old, the youngest, in the morning first, and then after that I'll meet with the ten-year-old." So the preacher came to their house, he was his a big man, deep booming voice, very intimidating, that was the whole idea he though. So he got the eight-year-old in the living room and he stood over the top of him and he kind of wanted the kids to realize that God sees everything they're doing and is everywhere when they're doing it. And so the preacher in a deep booming voice said to the eight-year-old, "where's God?" Well the little boy was so intimidate by this, he dropped his jaw, eyes got as wide as saucers, didn't say a word, followed up by a second question. The preacher asked, same question, "Where's God?" No answer. The third time the old preacher stuck his finger in the boy's face, "Where's God?" With that the little boy jumped up, ran out of the room, ran into his bedroom, into his closet, slammed the door. His older brother quickly followed him and said, "What's up?" And the eight-year-old turned to his older brother and said, "We're really in trouble this time dude. God's missing and they think we done it."
Where's God? Good question. Actually a great question. A question everybody asks. It's a question that we want to consider this morning. Now the name of my message, the title that you saw is not really a word. I just tuck all of these letters together but this could spell one of two things depending on who you are. This could spell as in the next case Godisnowhere, the atheist would be predisposed to taking those letters and spelling that, or the same letters could be configured to spell that: God is now here. God is nowhere or God is now here. It all depends on how you're predisposed with those letters.
We want to talk about this morning God's presence. And Psalm 139 is our starting point. And it's because this psalm is so filled with great deep teaching of the characteristics of God, four to be exact, that David discovers this one as well. Now last time we were together we looked at what God knows, that's verses 1 through 6, verses 7 through 12 talks about where God is. And you probably already discovered that this psalm is set up with four stanzas of six verses apiece. And each one of those stanzas takes a whole new facet of God's character and explores it in poetic language.
And so we want to discover this second one, where God is. David has a very simple question that he begins with in verse 7, where? "Where can I go from your spirit, where can I flee from your presence?" Essentially, where is God? It's a great question. As I said it's a question certainly every child asks. It's funny how when we're kids we ask very honest questions and the older we get somehow we learn to put those questions at bay or it's not appropriate to ask that, we get uncomfortable. The kids have no problem with it. A little boy looked up at the full moon and said, "Mommy, is God up on the moon?" And she said, "Well honey, God is everywhere." And so he said, "Well is God in my tummy?" And she just didn't know what to do with that one, "Well sort of." You know she was wondering, "Where is this leading?" Well it was leading somewhere because the next thing is, "Mommy, I think God wants a Happy Meal." So Davis's question is simple, Where? Where? And David's answer to the question is equally as simple, "There. And there. And there." And three times that's what he says. "And where is God?" "He's there, there and there." "If I go to heaven you're there, if I make my bed in hell, you're there. If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea," even there, three times he says it.
So this second stanza of the song so to speak is divided up with a rhetorical questions, "Where is God?" Followed by a conclusion of where God is. A rhetorical question followed by a rational conclusion. So let's look at verse 7, here's the question, "Where can I go from your Spirit? Or, where can I flee from your presence?" Now just something about the question itself, this is a rhetorical question. And a rhetorical question is different than a typical question. A typical question is asked to get information. Not a rhetorical question. When a rhetorical question is simply a statement in question form. It's to make a statement. It's to lead you to a conclusion. And there's only one answer to it. So it's a rhetorical question. It's not like David is saying, "You know I'm really trying hard to get away from God. Can anybody tell me a place where I can run away and hide?" That's not the issue. It's a rhetorical question, "Where can I go? Where can I flee?" And my question is: Why would anyone want to run away from God? Answer: Well it depends on how you're living. If you're an obedient person, you're in conformity with God, you're doing what he wants like David was at this particular point in his life, he knew you can't get away from try and why would I even want to try? But, if on the other hand, you're not obedient, you're living not right with God, you're being disobedient, then those kind of people will do everything they can to try some way to hide from the presence of God.
Adam and Eve tried this, they disobeyed God. The Bible says Adam and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord amongst the trees of the garden." How stupid is that? I mean think about it, "Honey, quick, we've got to hide from God. Get behind this bush." Okay, here's God, the Creator, made both of them and the bush and the trees and they're trying to hide from God, who was there every day. That's how irrational people become in trying to hide from God. Jonah was the same way. Jonah was a prophet and he must have believed that God doesn't like to hang out West because he tried to go West instead of east. God called him to Nineveh, he decides, "I'm going to go the opposite direction, two thousand miles to Tarshish," that's Gibraltar, the area of Spain. Listen to what the scripture says, "Jonah went down to Joppa and found a ship going to Tarshish, so he paid the fare and he went down into it to go with them to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord. Now what does that mean? Because if anybody would know better, it would be Jonah, you can't escape God. What does it mean ‘he's fleeing from the presence of the Lord'? Simply he's quitting, he's going to flee from standing before God as an obedient prophet. He's handing in his resignation. You might say, he wants to be a non-profit organization (sorry about that, I couldn't resist). He's hanging up a sign, "I'd rather go fishing." In his case whale fishing, but God called him in one direction, he escapes he thinks to the other direction out west. I had a dog like this, I told you about him in the past, Springer Spaniel, cute as all get out, either dumb or stubborn, I'll take the second. Because every time I would call him and say, "Come," he would turn directly on his heels and go in the opposite direction. We should have renamed him Jonah.
So let's answer the rhetorical question, "Where can I go from God's presence? Where can I flee from God's spirit?" Answer: Nowhere. So put it into the positive. Where is God? God is everywhere. That's the right answer. Like the mother said to the son, God is everywhere. We call this the omnipresence of God. And correctly stated it is that God is everywhere present in the totality or the wholeness of his being at all times. God is everywhere present with his whole being at all times.
Now that is either a great comfort to you or a great concern, again depending on how you're living. If you're not living right then you can run but you can't hide. You can decide, "I'm not going to go to church," or "I'm going to walk out on this sermon in the middle of it," Or, "When my friends come over and talk about God I'll change the subject," Or, "I used to have a Bible but now I'm going to hide it." You can do all of those things but God is inescapable, God is omnipresent. That's the truth that emerges from this paragraph of Psalm 139. But there is a text, I'm going to call it the primary text on the presence of God, found in the book of Job. In the book of Job this is God speaking to Job and his friends, it's chapter 23 of Job, verses 23 and 24. The Lord says, "Am I a God near at hand?" says the Lord, "And not afar off?" (In other words, I'm in all places.) "Can anyone hide in secret places so that I shall not see him?" says the Lord?" Again, those are rhetorical questions. "'Do I not fill the heaven and the earth?" says the Lord." That's the teaching of the omnipresence of God. But be careful: Don't confuse this biblical truth of God being everywhere with a false teaching known as pantheism. Some of you have hard of pantheism. It's different than omnipresence. The biblical teaching of the omnipresence of God says that God is present in his creation though he's separate from it. But pantheism says God is his creation, they're one and the same, there's no distinction between them, God isn't just active in the world, God is the world. So as an example, the Bible would affirm that right now where you're sitting with your Bible open listening God is with you. Pantheism would say, "The chair you're sitting in is God, the earth that holds it up is God, when you go outside and see the trees and the bushes and the grass, all of that is God, it's all one and the same. No separation and no distinction. That's an ancient belief system known as pantheism. And I believe it's still around, in a different form. I believe there is something, I'm going to call it neopantheism. And I think it shows up in earth worship, in hyper environmentalism, where people so focus on the environment and the earth and there's days of worship for it and it's all about environment because that is the only thing they know and that has become essentially their God. There are slogans like, ‘Love your mother,' or ‘The environment is everything.' There's a French teacher who even asked her nephew, "Well isn't God just Mother Nature." Answer: No. God is eternal and separate. God has no beginning and no end. This world, this universe had a beginning, all scientists will tell you that. And will have an end, it's winding down. So God is outside of it but created it and is present in his creation but is not his creation. That's the omnipresence of God.
Now for us in the New Testament it gets even better. Because it's not just like, "Yeah there's kind of like God is everywhere and he's big and he's out there." For us, it's more personal. Because Jesus is Immanuel, God with us. And Jesus came to the earth and for thirty-three and a half years lived here. And I know some of you are thinking, "Yeah but he left." But he, before he left, told his disciples, "It's good for you that I go, because if I don't go I won't be able to send the counselor, the comforter who will be with you." And then Jesus said, "I will not leave you as orphans, I will come to you." And he was referring to the presence of the Holy Spirit of God dwelling inside of the believer. So that is the rhetorical question. Where is God? Everywhere. Where can you get away from God? Nowhere.
Let's follow it in the next few verses by three rational conclusions. The rhetorical question is followed by the rational conclusion. And David says three things about the omnipresence of God. First, death itself can't hide a person from God. Verse 8, "If I ascend into heaven, you're there." Now we would take that first part of the verse and go, "Duh. I mean that's God's unique dwelling place." Though God is everywhere present, heaven is his unique dwelling place. Even Jesus taught us to pray, "Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name." We understand that that's HQ for God, that's Headquarters, that's the base of operations.
But notice the next part of the verse, "If I make my bed in hell, behold you are there." Do you see the word hell? It's an ancient Hebrew word she-ol, sixty-five times it appears in the Old Testament. It is typically a word that means the grave, the place of the dead, it's a place where people get buried, it's a general term to refer to the abode of those who have died. Now in ancient thinking a person in the grave, a person in Sheol, was cut off from God. You die, you go down into the earth and you hang up the sign, "God is nowhere." That's the ancients thought. Not David. David would say, "Unh-uh, God is now here. He's present on this side of the grave on earth, and when you die God will be present on that side of the grave. Because death is a transition. Right? It's a threshold. For the believer, well when a Christian dies you really can't say he died. You have to say, "He moved." To be absent from the body, Paul said, is to be present with the Lord. That's where a person experiences the presence of God in a very special way. Unlike here where we apprehend it by faith, it will be face-to-face in glory. To be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord.
But flip the coin, go to the other side, what about the unbeliever, who his whole life or her whole life has tried to get away from God for not believe in God or discount God. Surely death ends it all. Nope. Even there, even in the grave, believer or unbeliever, you can't get rid of God even at death. Because the Bible puts it this way, "It is appointed unto every man once to die and after this the judgment." Not after this you float around. Not after this, you're eternally unconscious. But after this comes the judgment. Imagine the fate of a man like, let's take Adolph Hitler. Hated Jews, killed millions of them. Killed Christians who protected him, and he dies. And who does he see? Jesus Christ, a Jew, who is his judge for eternity. He cannot escape Christ, he cannot escape this Jewish Messiah, he cannot escape the judgment and the faith that beholds him. Death can't separate him from God.
There's a verse of scripture I was looking at early this morning, I want to share it with you. It is a frightening verse, it goes along with this, for the unbeliever. This is Revelation 14 verse 10, "He himself shall also drink of the wine of the wrath of God which is poured out full strength into the cup of his indignation which is poured out on all the earth. And he shall be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb." That's a frightening piece of truth.
I have a book in my library, I pull it out from time to time. It's simply called The Last Words of Saints and Sinners and what Herbert Lock here, the author, has done is to find people throughout history, believer and nonbelievers, and give us the last words before they died. It's a great book of comfort, it's a great book of terror. Here's a couple of unbelievers, one was Altamonte who lived in the 1800s, he was an agnostic writer, wrote a lot of words, not believing in God, discounting it, being very confident about it. But at his death, he said, "As for deity, nothing less than an Almighty could inflict what I feel now. Remorse for the past throws my thoughts onto the future. Oh thou blasphemed and indulgent God, hell is a refuge if it hides me from thy frown." Can you imagine breathing those words as your last words after living that way? Tragic.
Then there was Voltaire, the French atheist, who was very vocal against Christ. In fact while he was alive he said of Jesus Christ, "Curse the wretch." And when he died among his last words were, "I'll give you half of what I'm worth for six months of life and then I shall go to hell and you shall go with me, O Christ, O Jesus Christ." Tragic again and powerful. No, death can't hide any person, believer or unbeliever from God. And David states that in this poetic language.
The second conclusion David comes to is that because God is everywhere, distance can't hide us from God. Look at the next two verses, 9 and 10 of Psalm 139, "If I take the wings of the morning and I dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, your right hand shall hold me." Now this is Hebrew poetry, it's a description of distance, especially going West over the Mediterranean. The sun rises in the east and instantly it's rays permeate everything, even out toward the Mediterranean. Picture where David is writing this. And it travels instantly, so if I were to rephrase this, David is saying, "If I could travel the speed of light (186,000 miles per second) and shoot across the universe to any place, God is there. You're there, even there.
Back in 1968, I don't know how many of you were around back then, usually there's more people first service that were around back then than second and third service. But, 1968 on Christmas Eve, if you were around you remember, Apollo 8 was orbiting and Christmas Eve they gave a great gift to the United States, the whole world, the three astronauts aboard Apollo 8 read Genesis 1:1-10. I remember, I was a little kid, I remember hearing it. "In the beginning (you know in that crackly voice that comes from space) In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth." And they all three took turns reading the Genesis account from space for the earth. And what a lot of you may not realize as soon as they got back Madelyn Murray O'Hare the atheist sued NASA because they said that. They were saying, "God is now here, we feel it, this is so unique and God is awesome. We get it." And she would say, "God is nowhere." What you may not know is that in the Apollo 11 mission Buzz Aldrin on the lunar surface brought the elements of communion with him and broke bread and fellowshipped with God and he was also declaring God is now here. Now not everybody would agree, there were a group of cosmonauts that went up from Russia and one of them came back and proudly said to an audience, "I've been up in space and I did not see God." And someone in the audience turned to his buddy and said, "If he'd have stepped out of his spacesuit, he would have seen God." I've always loved that.
Okay, but what does all this mean to us? Applicationally, personally? If death can't hide us from God and if distance can't hide us from God, this is what it means: I don't have to go to any special place to meet with him. I don't have to go on a pilgrimage to a special holy place where a shrine, crawl on my knees and get them bloody and say something, you know, profound. God is everywhere, thus in my apartment, in my house, at my job, I can open the Bible and I can pray and I can instantly make contact with heaven and have God's blessings at my disposal. We do make a mistake as human beings thinking that God is near or far in terms of place or space. Back in the Old Testament worship was very geocentric, they went to a temple, that's where you bring the animal, that's where you meet with God. You come from your tribe to Jerusalem, that's where God lived. And even to this day, you can see it in Jerusalem, if you go there the tour guides will sometimes say tongue in cheek but there's an air of seriousness about it, they say, "Look you can pray to God anywhere on earth but here it's a local call." It was a special place that God will meet with you. But that's not really true is it? Even Solomon who built the temple, didn't he even say to God, "Look even heaven and the heaven of heavens can't contain you much less this temple that I have built." Paul would agree, in Acts 17 he addressed the Athenians and he said point blank, "God does not dwell in temples made with hands." You're the temple, you're the temple, all of you who know Christ, you're the temple of the Holy Spirit.
I remember as a kid, I would run through our church building after service. We were four boys and I was the youngest and I would take the cues of my older brother, so we were kids, we'd run around. And I remember hearing my parents I think every Sunday as well as the clergymen, "Don't run in the house of God." Or my parents, "Don't run in God's house." Then I read the Bible and I discovered, "Hey, I am God's house. I amt he temple of the Holy Spirit, he dwells in me very uniquely as one committed to him. So death can't hide you from God, distance can't hide you from God and here's a third conclusion David draws: darkness doesn't hide us from God. Verse 11 and 12, "If I say, ‘Surely the darkness shall fall on me even the night shall be light about me. Indeed the darkness shall not hide from you but the night shines as the day and the darkness as the light and both alike to you." I always found it interesting that bars and nightclubs aren't well-lit, they're dark. And I remember (not that I frequent them a lot but I have noticed, the ones I've noticed, it's not like the lights is turned up bright. It's very dim, and that's for a purpose, because darkness obscures detail, it hides people, people feel better when they're hidden when doing certain things. Most crimes are committed under the cover of darkness. Saul in the Old Testament went to meet with the witch of Endor and he knew it was wrong to do it. The Bible says, "Saul disguised himself and he went at night." When Judas betrayed Jesus Christ in the New Testament, the writer wants us to know the same details, "He then went out immediately and it was night." Jesus used this darkness metaphorically when he said, "Men loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil." Well that's really not the issue here, David isn't trying to cover up anything, but I want you to notice something, this is I think the meaning of it, verse 11 is a very important word, don't miss this, "If I say surely the darkness shall fall on me." See the word fall? It's a very singular Hebrew word found only here that literally means to bruise, the darkness would bruise me. Or, crush me; or oppress me. I don't know your experience with the dark but when it's completely dark your mind does different things, thoughts come out like at no other time. And you deal with things mentally, almost oppressively as at no other time. First of all when it's dark I am the, I can know my own house but I will stumble into walls every night because I have no control, I have no frame of reference that's provided by my eyes in the light. Well the idea here is a period of darkness that is oppressive. Now all of us have gone through dark times and I'm speaking spiritually, emotionally. You might talk to a friend and say something like, "this season of my life is really dark." In fact, if you were honest, you might have even asked, "Where is God? Where is he? Where was he?" Now that's really a whole nother study we want to look at God in times of suffering. But I don't want to sound simplistic, you know the answer. Jesus said, "Lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the age." That's a promise for you and for me. "Lo, I am with you always."
There was a minister on an airplane, he was sitting next to a lady who was obviously nervous to fly, they were still taxiing on the runway, the reverend was there, the lady next to him, an older lady, had her Bible open, head down, she was praying fervently. He could tell she was nervous, the plane started speeding up, she got more nervous, filled with anxiety, prayed more fervently. As the plane began to lift off, she grabbed the sides of the seat, sweat pouring down her face and the preacher finally turned to the lady, put his hand on her shoulder, "You don't have to worry, Jesus said, ‘I am with you always.'" She looked back and snapped at him, "He didn't say that! He said, ‘Lo, I am with you always.' And right now we're getting up pretty high." The poor lady needed a newer translation of her Bible, didn't she? Now this is a great truth, is it not? The omnipresence of God. It really is, because it's a great comfort as well as great concern depending on who you are and how you live. Think of what a comfort it was for instance to Moses, who didn't want to lead the children out of bondage, thought he couldn't do it, thought he couldn't speak very well. And all God told him was, "I'm with you. That's enough, I'll go with you. My presence will go with you." What a comfort it was later on to Joshua who was going to take over for Moses. And God said, "As I was with Moses so I will be with you." That's enough. Go." What a comfort this was to Gideon when he faced the army of Midianites and he was outnumbered, and the Lord said, "You will defeat the Midianites as one man for behold I am with you." Same promise, it's all he needed. And what a great comfort to Paul the apostle, and you know there were times in Paul's life where he must have said, "Hey, where's God? This is not the way it's supposed to work out." He was going from Athens to Corinth and things didn't pan out very well in Corinth, he must have been very discouraged for the Bible says, "the Lord spoke to him at night and said, "Do not be afraid but speak and do not keep silent for I am with you."
And what about us? What about us in this failing economy, towards God? What about us hearing about the Middle East crisis that could explode and get a lot bigger than it is, where's God? The promise to us repeated in the book Hebrews spoken by Jesus, I'll read you the Hebrews passage, Hebrews 13, "Let your conduct be without covetousness (very good wisdom for those facing financial downfall) let your life be without covetousness, be content with the things that you have for he himself has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you.'" And in Greek it's very emphatic, "I will never leave you, no ever, no ever leave you, nor forsake you." God's presence. Where's God? God's everywhere but uniquely dwelling inside the child of God to give you whatever you need this year and if I could just say at the beginning of this year, if there's ever to be a truth that you will filter all of the activities, all of the decisions of your year through, let it be this one. God is there, in the quiet silent places, dark moments, times you make your plans. Filter everything through this great truth: God is now here.
But I will also say if you're not walking with him, if you're not a believer, you shouldn't be comforted, you should b we concerned. Or as the oldest saying goes, "Be afraid, be very afraid." In the old Roman Empire there used to be a saying, "The whole world," the used to say, "The whole world is one great prison to the malefactor, to the criminal." In other words, you might hide under a bush or in another place but the whole world is controlled by Rome, we're going to find you and we'll bring you to justice. So no matter how you live apart from God, one day you will cross the threshold and you will face God as your judge. So, let me just implore you in closing: If you have not surrendered your life to Jesus Christ, I would ask, ‘Why not?' What in the world is keeping you back from that important choice?
Now after this service in this prayer room right over here to your left up front or the pastors, just go and say, "I don't want to live another day like this, I need to surrender to Christ.
Our heavenly Father, as we conclude our time together, as we leave the presence of one another, we're not leaving your presence, you don't live uniquely in this building that is called by some, church. You are everywhere. Moreover, you uniquely dwell not only in heaven but in the life of every believer who's enthroned you as king. Jesus promised that he would come to those who love him, that the Father would dwell with them, the Son would dwell. And He said the Holy Spirit would occupy us. Lord I pray that this wonderful great truth would be something that would come to our minds more and more this year as we live in the light of your presence. So much so that in the times where we would say, "I don't feel God," we would say, "Ah but I know better. I know better." Comfort us Lord, strengthen us and compel those who don't know you to commit themselves to you. We pray that in Jesus' name. Amen.