I want you to turn with me to the book of Job, chapter 42 please - and this is a message from the Lord. I know it's a bit redundant to say that, because everything that comes from the pulpit ought to be - but sadly, I fear that in these days in which we live, that you can have good sermons and good outlines and good Bible exposition, but not a word from the Lord. I believe that what I have here today is a word from the Lord. It may be a word to you personally, it may be a word to this church - I don't know, you judge that - but it certainly was a word to me. I find that the most effective words at times are the ones that really pierce the preacher's heart, and he just delivers it to the people and lets God do whatever He wants to do.
There's only two verses that I want to read - verses 5 and 6, Job 42 verses 5 and 6, I'm reading from the New King James Version: "I have heard of You", Job is speaking to God, "I have heard of You by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees You. Therefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes".
Let us pray. We're going to pray together, and I want to ask you to do something just now. I want to ask you to pray for yourself, that God might speak to you. I don't know why you've come to church this morning. Sometimes we just come because it's the thing to do on a Sunday morning - we're Christians, and you go to church - but I wonder have you come to hear the voice of God? I wonder have you come to hear from Heaven, to have an encounter with the Lord Himself? Well, if you haven't come in that disposition, why not tune your heart now and open yourself up to God, and say: 'Lord, please speak to me now'. Let's do that as we pray for one another, but specifically I would ask you, please, to pray for yourself.
Abba Father, we come to You in the name of our Lord Jesus, the name that is above every name - Jesus, the name high over all in hell, or earth, or sky; angels and men before it fall, and devils fear and fly. Lord, we thank You that You have given Him a place that is above all, far above all, and You have put beneath His feet all principality and power. We thank You that, through His cross, He spoiled principalities and powers, and made a show of them openly, triumphing over them in His cross. Lord, we thank You for the victory of the blood, we thank You for the victory of the Resurrection, we thank You for the ascension and glorification of our Lord Jesus, and the subsequent pouring out of the Holy Spirit because He is glorified. So Lord, because our Saviour, Jesus Christ, is at Your right hand, we ask now O God for that same Spirit to come and minister to our hearts. Lord, we need You. We don't want to hear about You, we want to see You face-to-face. Lord, please come, please come and meet with me, and meet with everyone gathered here. We pray in Jesus' name, Amen.
I've entitled my message today: 'Second-Hand Knowledge or First-Hand Experience?', based on these two verses in Job. Now, I want to read them to you in another translation which I was reading at the time God gave me this message. Just listen: 'In the past', Job says, 'I knew only what others had told me, but now I have seen You with my own eyes; so I am ashamed of all that I have said, and repent in dust and ashes'. Now let me repeat that please: 'In the past I knew only what others had told me, but now I have seen You with my own eyes; so I am ashamed of all that I have said, and repent in dust and ashes'. Now that immediately spoke to me about my own journey as a Christian. So much of it has been second-hand knowledge about what other people have told me about the Bible and about God, but there has to come those times in our lives as Christians where we get beyond that, and we enter into first-hand experience - where we can say with Job: 'We have heard about You, but we have encountered You'. Moving from your second-hand knowledge to a personal, first-hand encounter with the living God.
Now that was Job's story - I haven't got time to go into the whole book of Job, we've just thrown ourselves in at the end, the conclusion. You might be aware of the story, that Job came under grevious testing. He lost his wealth, he lost his family, he lost his friends, he even lost the confidence of his wife, and eventually he lost his health. He goes through so many tumultuous experiences of questioning God, questioning his own life before God. He has three friends who come along and give their wisdom to him, and it doesn't better the situation - in fact, it makes it worse. The wonderful fact of the story of Job is that he comes out the other end, and God super-abundantly blesses him more than all that was taken off him. But Job went through this journey of knowing God through second-hand knowledge, what other people had told him about God, what he had learned about God, to actually encountering God himself.
Actually in this chapter, chapter 42, God reprimands Job's comforters, his friends, in verse 7 - particularly Eliphaz. It says: 'And so it was, after the LORD had spoken these words to Job, that the LORD said to Eliphaz the Temanite, 'My wrath is aroused against you and your two friends'', listen, watch this, ''for you have not spoken of Me what is right, as My servant Job has''. Eliphaz and his friends had misrepresented God. Now, I don't know if you've read the book of Job much, but it's a very perplexing book. One of the reasons for this is the fact that a lot of the advice that Job's friends give him appears to be truth - that's right! You can't find much fault with a great deal of what they say, but the problem is: it's misapplied truth, according to Job's situation. It was not the truth according to his circumstances of what God was doing in his life. Second-hand knowledge does that - now, please, I want you to grasp this: second-hand knowledge of God, if that is all that you have, leads to a misrepresentation of God, and ultimately to a misapplication of God's truth.
That's very profound, but the result of misrepresenting God and misapplying God's truth is: people get hurt. Job's three friends sat with him for a week saying nothing, and they would have been better sitting on saying nothing, because after the week they started to misapply truth - and did it help Job? No! It served only to perpetuate the hurt, and make his trial more difficult. You know, Job's problem was, I suppose, the same as his friends, because he had a certain amount of second-hand knowledge of God, and for that reason Job had to be taken into the wilderness. This is often the avenue that God uses in order for us to move from second-hand experience to first-hand encounters of Him. He takes us apart to put us back together the right way - a bit like, as Jeremiah put it, the potter with the clay breaks it up, as it's not meant to be, he pummels it down, and he puts it back together the correct way. That's what God needs to do with all of us, that we might redress our misconceptions of Him. I believe that two of the greatest gifts that God can ever give a man or a woman are: first of all, to see themselves as they really are; and secondly, to see God as He really is. There are no greater things than those! He does that, usually, through a wilderness experience, or a whirlwind experience like he did with Job.
So I want to ask you here this morning, right at the outset of my message: do you know God? Do you really know God? Or do you have second-hand knowledge - what the translation I read to you this morning says: you know what people have told you about God - or do you have first-hand experience? Now when you ask people: 'Do you know God?', Christians often interpret that as meaning 'Do you know what you believe?' - that's not what I'm asking. In a sense, I don't care what you believe just now, I'm asking you: do you know God? People interpret it: 'You're asking me do I know the Bible, or the God of the Bible?'. No. People think you're asking them, 'Do you know how to behave as a Christian?'. No. Other people conclude that you're asking, 'Do you know how to perform religious functions?'. No. I'm asking you: do you know God? Do you have a true knowledge of God, experientially?
Part of the problem here is that the word 'knowledge' has changed in our modern-day English language from what it actually meant in the original biblical context. When we talk about 'knowledge', we think of an intellectual accumulation of information - that's not what it meant in Bible days. 'Knowledge' meant an intimate relationship, so much so that in Genesis 4 and verse 1 it says: 'And Adam knew Eve his wife, and she conceived and bore Cain'. A lot of people think that that word 'know' there means the sexual act - it doesn't. It means a knowledge, an intimacy, a oneness that came in that sexual act, but it was something deeper: it was spiritual. I would go as far as to say that actually, on a one-to-one basis, just every day, we know people in our spirits. It's a very spiritual thing to really know someone, family, close friends. You're not just acquainted with them, but you know their real identity - there is a connection there in the spiritual. That's why sexual promiscuity is so damaging, because people are going around just thinking they can sleep around, and don't realise the spiritual damage in the wake that's left behind them, they're spiritually knowing people. Now we're not going into that. What I want you to understand is that 'knowledge' in a Bible sense is based on relationship, and great, deep spiritual intimacy - and it's in that sense that I'm asking you: do you know God?
Moses was up the mount with God, and almost in a height of ecstatic praying he happened to really put his neck out and ask God for something incredible. In Exodus 33:13 he says: 'Now therefore, I pray, if I have found grace in Your sight, show me now Your way, that I may know You and that I may find grace in Your sight'. Moses wanted to know God. It's the same word as Genesis 4:1, 'Adam knew his wife Eve', it's the Hebrew word 'yada' and it speaks of this deep, intimate knowledge. It means 'I see you', 'I want to see you', 'I want to see into the depths of your hidden identity, who you really are'. Do you know God like that? Do you have a second-hand knowledge of what other people have told you, or first-hand experience?
Let's talk about those two things, first of all I want to look at second-hand knowledge. There are three things I want to share with you about second-hand knowledge. The first is this: second-hand knowledge has not been proven. It is a knowledge of God on a purely objective level - in other words, it's like what we think of knowledge today being an intellectual accumulation of information. Many Christians are satisfied with that level of knowledge of God: a doctrinal truth that is cherished by their denomination, or has been handed down generations in Christian history - that's enough for them. They have confounded that as being 'knowing God'. It's like the bus conductor who has shouted out the destinations so many times, he thinks he's visited the places. We as Christians can talk about many of these spiritual experiences of the Bible, and because they are in the Bible we think that we have them. Listen: because something is in the Bible doesn't mean it's in you! Because Christ dies, doesn't mean you're saved or all in the world are saved, does it? Because the Holy Spirit came at Pentecost doesn't mean that you are filled with the Holy Spirit. Because Paul fought a good fight, doesn't mean that you are exonerated from your own personal experience of getting in there as a Christian in the power of God, and doing your part.
Now, Job had to learn to truly know God. He testifies in our text that all that he had known of God up to this point was second-hand, passed down information - but in order for him to have a divine encounter, a first-hand experience, he had to be tried, for first-hand experience has to be proven. Remember Job 23, you could turn to there, verse 10, Job says, speaking of God: 'But He knows', again it's that word 'yada', God really knows us intimately, 'He knows the way that I take; when He has tested me', tried me, 'I shall come forth as gold'. You see, this knowledge of experiential dealings and encounters with God has to be tried, tested.
Second-hand knowledge has not been proven. Here's something else about second-hand knowledge: it's not been paid for. Job paid the price to get to know God. After the storm that had robbed him of his livestock, of his sons and daughters, the storm that had robbed him of everything, materially and relationally, that he had known in his life - Job paid for his knowledge of the revelation of God that he had. Now we know great storms blow the cobwebs off - that's an understatement - in this life of ours. You might be here this morning, and you find yourself in a tornado, one of those twisters that is a dark and violent tunnel of destruction. I have a Christian friend who said to me recently: 'I feel that I'm going into a dark tunnel, and I can't see any light at the end of it' - have you ever been there? The disciples, they experienced the squall on Lake Galilee, you know that sudden storm. They thought they were going to drown, and they were rowing against it, striving in their strength against what God had done and allowed. Now, of course, the Lord walked on water towards them, and it was through that storm that they had a revelation of Jesus Christ. But I want you to see this: their experience of seeing the Lord in a miraculous way in the area of the impossible, it was tested and proven and paid for through the storm.
Are you with me? Job was told when he was tested, that he would come forth as gold. Are you in a sudden storm this morning, a sudden test and you're wondering why? It's because God wants you to come forth as gold. I was reading recently of a Christian goldsmith, who said about the purifying of gold that it's not some great all-embracing blast furnace that is applied to big bullions of gold. In Bible days the purifying of gold was a very small individual operation. He speaks of his own experience, he says: 'In my own workshop, where I work alone, the procedure is very personal, much as it would have been in the days of Job. It's actually', listen to this, 'an encounter between the gold and me. With myself in control, the torch is handheld so that the heat can be directed accurately and delicately, and yet there is a sheer intensity of that direct, sudden heat'. He goes on to say: 'The secret is to heat the gold to melting point as quickly as possible, to waste no time in getting it to its desired condition. The only fitting word I can think of to describe the process is 'aggressive'. The molten gold is poured into a mould, and it takes on the shape according to the wish of the goldsmith'.
Can you see what God is doing in your life? Do you understand that He is holding the torch? There has been a sudden blast of fire, a fiery trial has come upon you, you know not from where. Can you see that that torch is in the hand of Almighty God. It's being delicately directed in order - even though it might be aggressive, it's a very personal act - that you may come forth as gold, that you might come to melting point. He will not take you one degree above it, but that you might melt so that you might be poured into His mould and made the way He wants you to be. That's what Peter said: 'You greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials, that the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ, whom having not seen you love. Though now you do not see Him, yet believing, you rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory'. He says you're being tested like gold that is purified, and the end result is that you will see the Lord who, at the moment, you cannot see. Are you getting this? It's in order that you may have a first-hand encounter of the Lord!
Let me show you this from another passage of Scripture, you don't need to turn to it. Hebrews 12:14, you read there: 'Pursue peace with all people, and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord'. Now there is much discussion on what that verse means, but all I know is that in chapter 12 of Hebrews where it is found, it's all got to do with discipline and how God as our Father disciplines us as sons and daughters. The purpose of that discipline is read in verses 10 and 11: 'That we may be partakers of His holiness. Now no chastening seems to be joyful for the present, but painful; nevertheless, afterward it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it'. Do you see what is being spoken of here? Hebrews 12 is all about holiness that is inwrought in our hearts by the disciplining afflictions of God, and unless we have that holiness no one will see the Lord! It's saying that we need to go through the furnace, we need to have our faith proven and tried, it needs to be paid for if we're going to have a first-hand encounter of God rather than just second-hand knowledge. If we want to see the Lord we have to go through the whirlwind.
Now what we have today in a great deal of modern Christendom is a costless, crossless Christianity. It hasn't been proven, and it hasn't been paid for, and it has contributed to a misunderstanding of God and a misapplication of truth. Paul the apostle said in Philippians 3 verse 10: 'That I might know Him', Christ, 'and the power of His resurrection', and we all want that, we all want to be able to do miracles, but he didn't finish there, 'the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being made conformable to His death'. In the context of Philippians chapter 3, Paul knew the cost, he paid for the prize of winning Christ. He lost his reputation as a Pharisaical Jew, he burned his bridges, he lost everything in order to gain Christ.
Do you want a first-hand experience of God in your life? It will have to be proven, it will have to be paid for, otherwise - with mere second-hand knowledge - you will have a misunderstanding of God, a God formed in your own mind or in the understanding of others, but not from the harsh realities of experience.
Let's talk for a moment of first-hand experience. There are four things I want to share with you about first-hand experience. The first is: it is indisputable. Now don't misunderstand what I'm saying: every experience must be tested. First John chapter 4 verse 1 says to test the spirits to see whether things are of God or not. All experience, whatever is claimed, must be tested. First Thessalonians 5:19 gives us the guidelines: 'Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophecies. Test all things; hold fast what is good. Abstain from every form of evil'. Every experience that is claimed must be compared to the plumb line of Scripture. However, we are meant to have first-hand experience of God. Listen: God is a person, and we are meant to relate to Him, and that means we must, as Christians, experience God!
When you experience God you will never be the same again. Someone has said: 'A man with an experience is never at the mercy of a man with an argument', it's true. If you have ever met anyone who has really, truly encountered God, as we all can, you will find that such people have nothing to prove. They don't want to argue about their experiences with you, they have nothing to prove. They know what they have experienced, and they're not trying to convince you. It's like the blind man, I often think - you remember there was a great theological argument going on about who healed him, and how he was healed, and all the rest. He just shut them all up by saying: 'Look, I don't know! All I know is that once I was blind, but now I see'. He didn't need to argue about it. A few moments ago he was blind, but now he could see the light of day - that's all that mattered to him!
Some people say you shouldn't argue from experience, and I agree with that if the experience does not correspond with Scripture. We should never be arguing from experience on its own, but usually the people who say you shouldn't argue from experience, they themselves are arguing from experience - the lack thereof. 'I have never seen it! I have never known it! I have never witnessed it!', and they don't believe it because they have never experienced it. You see, first-hand experience is indisputable. If you have had a first-hand experience of God, you are supremely content knowing that it's real.
The second thing about first-hand experience is: it's irreplaceable. It's essential to know God first-hand. I don't want you to go away with some conception that I'm talking about experiences that great pioneers of faith have in Christian biography and history - you know, the William Booths, and the Hudson Taylors, and these great giants of the faith, that this is only for God's generals, if you like. Far from it! This is irreplaceable, it is essential for us to know Him. This is the gold, I believe, that God is speaking of to Job: 'When you are proven and tried, you will come forth as gold'. In fact, Jesus Himself said in John 17 verse 3 - I mean, if I was to ask you this morning, 'What is eternal life?', you might say, 'Well, it's getting your sins forgiven and it's going to heaven when you die'. Jesus said: 'This is eternal life, to know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent'. Eternal life is to know God, to have a deep, intimate relationship with Him, where you can see Him and know Him! It's irreplaceable, it's not an option.
If you are going through the process of a whirlwind, like Job; or a storm, like the disciples; or like the clay in the Potter's hand in Jeremiah, you're being broken up and you're being pummelled - the good news is: the more God's hand crushes you, the more the clay will cling to His hand. But it's irreplaceable, if you really want to get to know God, you have to go through the furnace.
First-hand experience is indisputable, it's irreplaceable, and the third thing is: it's irresistible. Look at verse 6: 'Therefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes'. The translation I read to you earlier: 'So I am ashamed of all that I have said', in misrepresenting and misapplying Your truth, 'and I repent in dust and ashes'. Can I tell you - I'll be a bit personal here this morning - when I think of the things I have said as a preacher, misrepresenting God and misapplying His truth, I cringe. In Job 38, God said to Job after all of his pontificating: 'Who is this who darkens counsel by words without knowledge?'. I have spoken many words about God and about His truth, without true knowledge and experience of God-encounters, and I repent of that. I often think of James chapter 3 and verse 1: 'My brethren, let not many of you become teachers, knowing that we shall receive a stricter judgment'. I take great comfort from verse 2 of James 3: 'If anyone does not stumble in word, he is a perfect man'. Well, I'm not perfect, and so I have stumbled in words; yet I'm grieved at the thought of how we can misrepresent God and misapply His truth just for a lack of first-hand knowledge of Him, a real encounter and experience of God.
Anyone who did truly experience God, do you know what they did? They have this irresistible repentance immediately. They didn't need their arm put up their back to pray the sinner's prayer and get right with God, 'There's things that are just out of sync with God in your life' - no! Take Isaiah, who, by the way, is called the William Shakespeare of the Bible. His original Hebrew poems in the book of Isaiah are second to none - and yet what happens when he has an encounter with God in Isaiah chapter 6? He says: 'Woe is me, for I am undone! I am a man of unclean lips'. He was the most proficient and poetic of the prophets, and yet when he encountered God he felt nothing.
When Peter saw the holiness and miraculous power of the Lord Jesus Christ on the Lake again, you remember what he said: 'Depart from me, for I am a sinful man'. You see, God-encounters are irresistible. I don't mean that you can't walk away from a God-encounter, of course you can, but what I mean is: if you truly see the Lord like Job was brought to see Him, not hearing about Him from other people or their experiences, but when you truly encounter the Living God and His Christ, you will melt before Him, you will repent! You know, there's a lot of movements in Christianity, and a lot of strange and weird and wonderful manifestations going on all over the place - and we are even hearing what's going to be happening in our own province, perhaps, in the next month or two. If you ever want to test a move of God in a person's life or in the church, it will always lead to repentance and an enshrining of the Lordship of Jesus Christ. Have you ever had an encounter with God that, as one old saint of God has said, has left you eating the carpet? Not flat on your back, but flat on your face!
First-hand experiences of God are indisputable, irreplaceable, irresistible, and finally: they are inevitable if you seek Him. Isn't that good news? God does not make Himself hard to get at - you do know that? We have made Him thus, we have complicated the matter in so many ways, and created so many ingredients to how to get to know God, and so many formula of how you experience God in a first-hand way. Now listen carefully to what I'm saying, because this is vital: it's only inevitable if you seek Him, not if you seek an experience, not if you seek a blessing, but a first-hand experience of God is inevitable if you seek not experience, but God, God Himself and Jesus Christ His Son. Frederick Brook put it well in his hymn:
'My goal is God Himself, not joy, nor peace,
Nor even blessing, but Himself, my God;
'Tis His to lead me there - not mine, but His -
At any cost, dear Lord, by any road'.
This is not splitting hairs, this is where reality hits: are you just seeking some kind of experience? You know, this might sound cruel, but there are some people - just like a drug addict seeks a heroine hit in his arm, or like a storm chaser wants to hunt down a tornado and get in the middle of it all, like an adrenaline junkie seeks the next buzz and the next thrill, there are some people who just want to seek another supernatural experience. Listen, I believe in the supernatural big-time - but seek first the kingdom, Jesus is the kingdom. Do you see if you seek Him? It will be inevitable that you will be found of Him. Is that not what Jeremiah said: 'You shall seek Me and find Me, when you shall search for Me with all your heart, and I will be found of you, saith the LORD'.
Well, what have you got? Sitting here right now in this church, what have you got? Second-hand knowledge that has not been proven, hasn't been paid for, that has led to a misconception of God and the misapplication of His truth? It might have hurt your own family, it might have hurt your friends. Or have you got an indisputable, irreplaceable, irresistible, inevitable first-hand experience and encounter of the Living God in your life?
Paul Raider was a man who wrote several hymns, one of which is 'Fear Not Little Flock, Whatever Your Lot', and some other famous ones that you would know if I quoted them to you. He was also a brilliant preacher. On one occasion he preached a powerful sermon on that text in John where Jesus said: 'Out of a man's innermost being shall flow rivers of living water'. I love this story: later on, after the meeting, two men who had heard the sermon asked Mr Raider to meet them for a meal and for a little discussion. One man began by saying: 'Mr Raider, you preached a good sermon, but you're all wrong dispensationally' - if you don't know what that means, it doesn't really matter. The other said: 'Mr Raider, you're a good preacher and a good brother, the problem is: you have the wrong interpretation'. Mr Raider did not answer, they bowed their heads to pray before eating their meal, and when Mr Raider finally looked across the table at the first brother he saw that something had happened. Tears were streaming down the man's face, and his shoulders shook with emotion. Finally he was able to say: 'Brother Raider, we have the interpretation, but you have the rivers of blessing'. We have the interpretation, but you have the rivers of blessing.
Listen to Job again: 'In the past I knew only what others had told me, but now I have seen You with my own eyes; so I am ashamed of all that I have said, and repent in dust and ashes'. Let us pray.
If you don't mind, I would like to dispense with the closing hymn. I don't know what God is saying to you as an individual, nor where you are at in your journey. I don't know what furnace you might find yourself in, what storm or whirlwind may have enveloped you. I want you to know this: God knows you, 'yada', He knows the way you take intimately, He sees you where you are, what you're going through. His desire is that you might see yourself, like Job saw himself and repented, and that you might see Him, know Him, intimacy with Him - that's what God desires that you should have through your experience. Is there something you need to repent of, is it even seeking after some kind of ecstatic experience rather than seeking Him as a Person? What is it? You know. What is God saying to the church here? I don't know, I'm only pleased to serve you today - but I don't know what God is saying, is God saying something to you? Have you, here, had a second-hand knowledge of God? Are you living off history? God doesn't want you living off history, He wants you to have a first-hand experience of Him today, for He's the same yesterday, today, and forever. He is the 'I AM', ever-present. Is there anyone here, and God has really spoken to you this morning, and you want to express to the Lord: 'Lord, I'm fed up with second-hand goods, I want to know You, I want to experience You'. Is there anyone here who would stand and say: 'Lord, I want You'? Are there any? Not one?
There are those standing, God bless you - don't you be looking! Look to yourself. Is there anyone who would like, just in the presence of God, to acknowledge that they want to know God?
Father, I thank You for this message. I thank You that it's Your message for this meeting. Lord, I thank You for this one dear lady who has expressed a desire to know You. There may be others, Lord, for You don't search the standing of people in the meeting, but You search their hearts. Lord, I pray that You will draw them out to seek You in a way that they have not done hitherto. You have promised there is no doubt that You will find them, and they will find You - but, Lord, may they do what is necessary to pay the price, to prove their faith, to come forth as gold, and to see You face-to-face. Bless us now we pray, in Jesus' name. Amen.
Preach The Word.
This sermon was delivered at Abbots Cross Congregational Church in Newtownabbey, Northern Ireland, by David Legge. It was transcribed from the recording titled "Second Hand Knowledge or First Hand Experience?" - Transcribed by Andrew Watkins, Preach The Word.
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