Knowing God

About 40 years ago, Dan DeHaan was chaplain for the Atlanta Falcons, and he also taught a youth group of about 1000 students at his church.  One night, after delivering one of his messages, Dan was in his office and there were 7 or 8 people lined up outside his office to ask him questions.  After all of them had gone, there was a 17-year-old boy who came into Dan’s office, he buried his face in his hands and he started crying.

            He said, “Dan, do you ever get tired of hearing people ask you the same old questions that they could just as well get answers for from someone else?”  And Dan said, “Sometimes I do.”

            And then this teenager said, “I’m here because I want to know God. I’ve been listening to you week after week, and God has made me desperately hungry to know him as you do. Does anyone ever come to you with this desire?”

            Dan was stunned.  He realized just how rare this request was.  He said, “I had counseled fifty people before him who were not interested in knowing God more.”

            Jesus said in a prayer to his Father, “This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent” (John 17:3).

            One of the key thoughts in all the Bible is this idea of knowing God.  God said through the prophet Jeremiah, “Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me.” (Jeremiah 9:23-24). 

            So often, we try to make ourselves look better in other people’s eyes.  We may boast about what university we went to or what degree we got.  We may boast about how athletic we are and how many awards and trophies we have accumulated.  We may boast about how big our house is or how nice our car is.

            But God says, “If you’re going to brag about anything, take pride in the fact that you know me.  And if you can’t talk about that, then you don’t have much to brag about anyhow.”  God says the one thing we can take pride in is the fact that we know him.

            But I would suggest that it’s possible for a person to know a great deal about God without ever really knowing God.  And I think far too often we have confused those two things.

            For example, you may know that I was born in Washington, D.C., that I graduated from high school in Jacksonville, Florida, that I graduated a few years after that from Freed-Hardeman College, that I was married to Sueanne Sword in 1977 and that I have three children and seven grandchildren.  But knowing all that doesn’t mean that you know me; it just means that you know something about me.

            And knowing about God is not the same thing as knowing God.  To know God is not just to have an intellectual knowledge about God; it’s to have an intimate personal relationship with God.  

            And so, it’s possible for a Christian to listen to sermons, read the scriptures, maybe even teach Bible class, but fail to enjoy a close relationship with God.  And, if we’re not careful, we can live our entire lives without ever really coming to know God.

            It can even happen to preachers.  We can prepare our sermons, study our notes, make our outlines, and have all of our information correct…but never truly know God.

            In fact, in the New Testament, we read about a group of religious leaders who were like that.  We know them as the Pharisees.  The Pharisees knew a lot about God.  If someone wanted to play a game of “Bible Trivial Pursuit”, the Pharisees would have won every time.  They knew all about God, but what we find in the gospels is that they really didn’t know him.

            Jesus put it this way in Matthew 15.  He said of the Pharisees, “These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.” (Matthew 15:8, NLT)

            And, sadly, that describes some Christians as well. Christians who have committed themselves to studying about God, but they have never surrendered their hearts to God.  It’s the difference between knowledge and intimacy.

            And perhaps those of us who are leaders in the church are partly responsible for that, because we’ve set up ways of learning in the church that result in knowledge, but not necessarily intimacy.

            Think about it: We love having Bible studies, which may include some sort of a workbook. Sermons are often accompanied by an outline where people can take notes and fill in the blanks.  

            We go through a curriculum in our Bible classes where we study the Bible chapter by chapter.  We encourage our children to memorize Bible verses.  When you were growing up, perhaps you even competed in Bible Bowl competitions, all of which are won or lost depending on how much biblical knowledge you’ve accumulated. 

            We’ve all experienced to some extent what Paul was talking about in I Corinthians 8:1 when he said that knowledge puffs us up, it makes us proud.

            Now don’t get me wrong, studying and learning from God’s Word is extremely valuable. Jesus quoted often from the Old Testament.  Paul repeatedly talked about the value of coming to “a knowledge of the truth”.  The problem isn’t with knowledge. The problem comes when we are content with knowledge and that’s where we stop.  Because you can have knowledge without having intimacy.   

            Now, the truth is, those two things are connected.  Part of the proof that I have an intimate relationship with Sueanne is how much I know about her.  I know what kind of shampoo she uses. I know what she orders at a Thai restaurant.  I know what makes her laugh and what makes her cry.  So, knowledge is a part of intimacy, but just because there is knowledge doesn’t mean there is necessarily intimacy. 

            But, when the Bible talks about knowing someone, it refers to an intimate relationship.  In the Old Testament, the Hebrew word for “know” is “yada”.  Someone has said the best way to define that word is “to know someone completely and to be completely known.” 

            The Bible first uses that word in Genesis 4:1, where we read that “Adam knew Eve his wife.”  Several other translations translate that word a bit differently.  For example, the New Living Translation says, “Now Adam had sexual relations with his wife, Eve.”

            In the garden, there was this “yada” relationship between a husband and a wife, an intimate connection on every level.  To fully know and to be fully known.  And it’s a beautiful picture that helps us to understand what it really means to know God.

            Because it lets us know that when God uses this Hebrew word “yada”, it means much more than knowing about someone.  Adam didn’t say, “Oh, I know Eve.  That’s my wife.  She’s the one with the long brown hair.  It’s easy to pick her out because she’s the only other person in the garden.” 

            No, when Adam knew Eve, it was the most intimate of relationships. One Hebrew scholar defines the word this way: it was “a mingling of the souls.”  That’s more than just knowledge, it’s intimacy.

            So, this Hebrew word “yada” is used to describe a man and a woman being intimate with one another.  So, with that thought in mind, I want us to consider what it means that God wants to know us and he wants us to know him.  And it may seem strange that, over and over, it is this word “yada” that is used to describe our relationship with God.  “Yada” is the word that’s used to describe how God wants you to know him.  

            But before you can come to know God, you need to understand that God already knows you. In Psalm 139, David used this word repeatedly to say that before we come to know God, even before we make the effort to know God, God knows us inside and out.  Which can either be a bit frightening or it can be comforting, depending on your perspective.

God Knows Us

            Consider for a moment what it would be like for somebody to know you so well that they know everything about you.  Every now and then, you’ll hear somebody complain, “Nobody really knows me, nobody understands me.”   And it’s true that there is a shallowness to many of our relationships.  We tell people we’re fine when we really aren’t, because we feel like nobody cares.

            We would all like to have someone who fully understands us, who knows what we’re going through, who knows what we’re feeling.  But do we really want that?  Can you imagine having someone who really does know you?  Someone who has access to every thought, every action, and every mistake in your life.  Imagine nothing in your life being secret!

            We’ve got this screen over here.  Suppose we set up a movie projector, and we play a film with a five-minute insight into your life.  Now we’d probably edit out all of the good parts.  We don’t have time for that; we’re really more interested in the juicy stuff.  And so we have a five-minute collection here of all the biggest mistakes you’ve ever made in your life. 

            All those words that slipped out, all those things you did in private thinking nobody would ever see, even those thoughts that passed through your mind for just a moment.  We’ve got it all here, a five-minute presentation and everybody here is going to know everything about you.  Would you enjoy that?  I know I would — as long as it’s one of you who is the star of the movie.  But when you get to my film clip, I’m out of here.

            You see, I don’t really want you to know that.  I don’t want to open all that up.  It would be frightening to have someone know everything about me, and yet when you come to Psalm 139, that’s exactly the picture you get of God.  God knows more about us than we would like for him to know.  He sees every nook and cranny of our lives. 

            I remember, when I was a teen-ager, we used to sing a song.  Anybody remember this one?  “There’s an all-seeing eye watching you.”  And I used to hate that song.  Because all I could picture was this big eyeball in the sky that looks down on you and it sees everything.  You don’t get away with anything.  “There’s an all-seeing eye watching you.”

            In Psalm 139, David wrote, “O Lord, you have searched me and known me!  You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from afar.  You search out my path and my lying down and are acquainted with all my ways.  Even before a word is on my tongue, behold, O Lord, you know it altogether.” (Psalm 139:1-5)

            As much as we might say that we would like for someone to truly know us, this is a rather uncomfortable psalm.  And I think one of the reasons is because it’s hard to find much comfort in it.  I mean, here is this God who sees everything there is to know about us.

            He’s aware of everything about you, everything you do, everything you say, and everything you think.  He knows what goes on in private as well as what you do in public.  He knows more about you than you want him to know.  In fact, I would say that God knows you better than you know yourself.

            And verse 6, loosely translated, says, “That blows me away!”  “Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high, I cannot attain it.”  To realize that God knows us that well.  It blows our mind when we try to comprehend it.

            In verses 7-18, David says, “Even if I try to get away from God, I can’t do it.  I can’t get away by going up or down, going east, going west.  I can’t hide in the dark.  No matter where I go, you’re still there, you’re still watching me.

            Let’s be honest.  Is there anything about this that makes you just a little bit uncomfortable?  To know that when you stand before God on the day of judgment, there are going to be no secrets, you can’t hope that God didn’t pay much attention to what was going on in your life.  He knows.  Trust me, he knows.

            But for a child of God, that should not be a frightening thought.  Rather, it should be comforting.  And I think that comes out at the very end of this psalm.  In verses 23-24, David says, “Search me, O God, and know my heart; Try me, and know my anxieties; And see if there is any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” 

            David says to God, “You know everything there is to know about me, but search me even more.”  Which raises a question — Why would David invite God to continue searching?  That’s like being audited by the IRS and you say, “Oh by the way, I’d like for you to pull out my returns for the past seven years and take a look at them while you’re at it.  Go ahead and search a little more thoroughly.  Dig down and see what you can find”?

            You would never invite anybody to do that if you didn’t know they were going to come at you with an attitude of love.  You see, that eyeball that I saw for so many years was looking for faults and ready to condemn.  But you wouldn’t invite that eyeball to peer down on you even more.  But David said, “Search me, O God, and know my heart.”

            There is one relationship in my life that has helped me to understand why David might welcome God’s continuing search.  Because there is one person who knows more about my shortcomings and my sins than anyone else, and yet, at the same time, it is the one relationship where I am loved the most.  I think that’s one of the great insights of marriage. 

            You see, you may think you know a good many of my faults, but after almost 50 years of marriage, let me tell you Sueanne could write a book about them.  I hope she doesn’t, but she could.  And yet she still loves me, more than anybody else on the face of this earth. 

            And that’s where we see grace come in.  You’ve got this whole psalm where you say, “God, I can’t get away from you.  You’re searching, looking, digging.”  And then at the end you beg God to search a little more, to see if there’s anything not pleasing to him.  You say, “God, find those thoughts that carry me away from you.  Show them to me so that I can understand how they affect my relationship with you.”  I just don’t think you’d say that to somebody unless you were certain that they loved you. 

            It has been said that “A friend is someone who knows all about you and loves you just the same.”  And that describes God, doesn’t it?

            “Search me and know my heart” could only be spoken by someone who feels completely loved and accepted.  Those words could only be spoken to someone who loves us unconditionally.  God sees every square inch of my life — and yet he still loves me.  He knows my successes and he knows my failures; he sees my strengths and my weaknesses; he understands just how holy and unholy I can be.  And even though God wants me to bring my life closer to what he would like for me to be, he never withholds his love from me.

            So, God is an all-seeing eye, but it’s not quite the eye I envisioned as a teenager.  Psalm 139 describes not the eye of a critic that is searching for an opportunity to condemn, but rather the loving eye of a true friend.

Knowing God

            So, let me come back to my point at the beginning of this lesson that we need to strive not just to know more about God, but to have this kind of intimate relationship with him where we truly know him.

            Because, as I said, it’s possible for us to study about God, and never surrender our hearts.  We can have plenty of knowledge about God, but never really come to know God.

            In Luke 7, Jesus was invited over for dinner by one of the Pharisees. His name was Simon. Having the visiting rabbi over for a meal would have been considered a great honor, but it quickly became apparent that Simon didn’t have a lot of respect for Jesus.

            In that culture, there were certain rules of etiquette at a dinner like this.  For example, the customary greeting for a guest would have been a kiss — a kiss on the cheek or a kiss on the hand.  To neglect doing that was an expression of rudeness.  It would be like having someone come into your home and you don’t say hello, you don’t shake their hand, you just ignore them.

            Another part of first-century etiquette involved the washing of feet. This was mandatory before meals.  If you truly wanted to honor your guest, then you would do it yourself.  Or you might have your servant wash the feet of your guest.  At the very least, you would give water to your guest so that they could wash their own feet. 

            For an especially distinguished guest, you might also give them some olive oil for anointing their head. But when Jesus came into Simon’s house, there was no kiss of greeting. There was no washing of feet. There was no oil for his head.  And these were not accidental oversights. This was quite deliberate.  Jesus was being ignored and insulted.

            Keep in mind, Simon was a Pharisee. He had spent his entire life studying the Scriptures. As a child, he no doubt had the books of the Bible memorized. By the time he was 15, he had probably memorized the entire Old Testament.  He had committed to memory more than 300 prophecies about the coming Messiah.  And yet he failed to realize that this was the Messiah who now sat at his table with a hand that hadn’t been kissed, feet that hadn’t been washed, and a head that hadn’t been anointed.  He knew all about the Messiah, but he didn’t know the Messiah.

            Luke tells us that while Jesus was eating, there was a woman who came in. They were probably eating in a courtyard area where people in the community could watch and even listen in on the conversation.  But things got a bit awkward when this woman came up to the table.  Because she wasn’t just any woman.  Verse 37 tells us that she was a “sinner.”  More specifically, she was probably a known prostitute in the village.

            Apparently, she had heard Jesus teaching, maybe earlier in the day, and something stirred in her heart.  Perhaps he had talked about forgiveness.  Perhaps as she listened to Jesus, her eyes welled up with tears as she realized that God loved her and wanted to forgive her.  Maybe as Jesus spoke, she realized that God was willing and able to put the broken pieces of her life back together.

            But maybe it wasn’t just what Jesus taught.  Maybe it was the way he looked at her.  His eyes communicating her value and worth.  She wasn’t just a “sinner” to him; she was a child of God.  And perhaps when Jesus finished teaching, she realized how much God loved her and how he hadn’t given up on her, even if everyone else had.  

            She was desperate to see Jesus again, and she found out that he was having dinner at the home of Simon the Pharisee.  A dinner she would never be invited to attend, not in a thousand years. In fact, normally she would have had no interest in attending.  She had felt the condemning glares of the Pharisees enough to stay as far away as possible from places like Simon’s house. But she had to see Jesus.

            It’s hard to imagine what it took for her to walk into that courtyard.  But she was so focused on Jesus that she forgot about herself.  She was desperate to express the love and affection she felt for him. What she did next was reckless, it was impulsive, it was inappropriate, and it showed exactly what kind of follower Jesus wants.

            Picture the scene. Jesus is reclining at the table. Instead of using chairs they would lay on the floor, leaning on an elbow that was propped up by a cushion. Their feet would be turned away from the table. This woman approaches Jesus. The table grows silent.  Everybody is watching.  Everybody knows who she is. What is she doing here?

            She looks around the room and feels that familiar glare of condemnation.  Others keep their eyes down, embarrassed by her presence and the awkwardness of the moment.  But when she looks at Jesus, he seems to know what’s in her heart.  He gives her a warm smile.  He seems delighted that she has come, and he looks at her with the eyes of a loving father watching his beautiful daughter as she enters the room.  She’s never had anyone look at her that way before.

            She is so overwhelmed by this that the tears start to come, just a few at first, and then more. She falls to the ground and begins to kiss Jesus’ feet.  Soon, the tears are pouring down her face. They begin to drip onto the dirty feet of Jesus. As she looks at the muddy streaks, she realizes that his feet haven’t been washed.  She can’t ask for a towel, so she lets down her hair and begins washing the feet of Jesus with her tears and drying them with her hair.

            Then Luke says she had an alabaster jar of ointment. Most likely this was a flask that was worn around her neck as a kind of perfume for women. As you might guess, because of her profession, this flask was quite important. She had used it a drop at a time many, many times, for many different men.  But now she empties it on the feet of Jesus.  She empties the whole thing out because she knows that she’s not going to need it anymore.  She pours this perfume on Jesus’ feet, and she kisses them over and over.  And then, Jesus says to Simon:

            “Do you see this woman?  I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair.  You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not ceased to kiss my feet.  You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment.”  (Luke 7:44-46)

            And in the end, this religious leader has all the knowledge, but it is the prostitute who intimately expresses her love for Jesus.  And I think the question that you and I need to ask ourselves is this — Who am I most like in this story?

            When’s the last time you had a moment with Jesus like this woman had?  When’s the last time you poured your heart to him?  When’s the last time the tears streamed down your face as you expressed your love for him?  When’s the last time you demonstrated your love for Jesus with reckless abandonment?

            Because, this morning,I’m not asking if you know about Jesus.  I’m asking if you know him.  Adrian Rogers once said, “You cannot know God by hearing sermons about knowing God; you can’t know anybody that you don’t spend time with.”

            So, I encourage you to spend more time with God this week.  Walk with him, talk with him.  Open up your heart to him and come to really know him.  Because, as Paul said in Philippians 3, “everything else is worthless when compared with the infinite value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.” (Philippians 3:8, NLT)

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