In Part 1 we noted that in biblical times God spoke a lot—as Hebrews 1.1 puts it, in different times, in different ways, to different people. But the same passage also says that with the incarnation there’s come a change; now things are different, and radically different. Part 2 lays out my reasons for saying that.
Some people find that sad. How great would it be to hear Isaiah preach, or David sing, or Moses thunder! And how much greater would it be to hear the Son himself teach, and see him heal, and watch him work! And wouldn’t it be great if God spoke to us, directly, in our heads? Isn’t it sad that we can’t do any of these things today? Don’t we feel a little bit … well, deprived?
No, we’re not deprived, regardless of how we feel. How do I know that? Because it isn’t in God’s character to deprive his people. He sometimes chastens us (Heb 12.6), but he doesn’t hold back from us anything we need (Php 4.19), or anything good (Ps 84.11). Jesus told his disciples that it was better for them that he go away (Jn 16.7). The same book that tells us about this change in the way God speaks also has as its primary point the great superiority of the New Way over the Old.
We may not feel like it’s better not to have prophets among us, but it is.
What’s better about it?
Let’s begin by making the obvious point. God still speaks to us today, but he does so in very specific ways. He speaks through his created works (Ps 19.1; Rom 1.20), but that medium is tainted by sin (Rom 8.22) and therefore unreliable as revelation. He spoke fully and perfectly by revealing himself in the person of his Son, as Hebrews 1.2 says. And as the Son told his disciples, after he left them he would send the Spirit, who would do certain things in and through them—most specifically, he would “bring all things to [their] remembrance” (Jn 14.26) and “guide [them] into all truth” (Jn 16.13). When did he do that? When they wrote the New Testament, completing the Scriptures.
So how does he speak authoritatively today? In the written Word, which is the Spirit-given record of the living Word, the incarnation, “the express image of [God’s] person” (Heb 1.3), “the image of the invisible God” (Col 1.15), the one “in whom dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily” (Col 2.9). And that’s much better than the old way.
Let me suggest three ways; I’m confident there are more.
- The Word is objective. It’s written down, for all the world to see. The words are on the page; there’s a permanent record. It’s not a fleeting impression in your mind. There’s no question of whether it’s from God or just the product of your own imagination. It’s there.
- The Word is firsthand. The Spirit of God directly guided the biblical authors so that they wrote what he intended (2P 1.21), down to the letter (Mt 5.18). We don’t have to depend on somebody else’s account of a dream he had once.
- The Word can’t be faked. About that guy and his dream—how do you know if God really told him that? How do you know he’s not a crook? These days we have a pretty lousy record of discerning the spirits of preachers. Elmer Gantry is not entirely fiction, is he? We’re really good at being duped, because our flesh wants us to be. Jesus calls us sheep for a reason, no?
Back in the late 1970s I went to a healing service in Greenville featuring Ernest Angley. I decided to see what would happen if I asked to be healed. I got there about 10 minutes before show time and headed for the front row on the left side, from where I knew he called up the people he was going to heal. About 10 rows from the front an usher stopped me and asked if he could help. I told him I wanted to be healed. He told me that if God told Brother Angley to heal me, he’d call me out of the crowd regardless of where I was sitting. And he told me to go sit further back.
Which I did, about the middle of the house. And over the next 10 minutes I saw people trickle out, one by one, from behind the curtain and take their seats in the front row on the left. Those were the people he healed.
I don’t really need to tell you what was going on there, do I?
The written Word, my friends. The New Covenant. It’s better. It’s all we need.