Knowing God

You may be familiar with a little book entitled Children’s Letters to God.  It’s a delightful book because it gives us a glimpse into what children think God is like.  Here are a few samples:


“Dear God, In Sunday School they told us what You do. Who does it when You are on vacation?”


“Dear God, Are you really invisible or is that a trick?”


“Dear God, did you mean for the giraffe to look like that or was it an accident?


“Dear God, I bet it is very hard for You to love all of everybody in the whole world. There are only 4 people in our family and I can never do it.”


Dear God, I went to this wedding and they kissed right in church.  Is that okay?”


Dear God, Please send me a pony. I never asked for anything before, You can look it up.”


And I love this one:  “Dear God, I do not think anybody could be a better God.  Well, I just want You to know that.  I am not just saying that because You are God already.”


It’s humorous to watch children struggle with the concept of coming to know God.


One of the key thoughts in all the Bible is this idea of knowing God.  God said through 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).  God says the one thing we can take pride in is the fact that we know him.


But I would suggest to you 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 in 1977 and that I have three children and six grandchildren.  But knowing all that doesn’t mean that you know me; it only means that you know something about me.


And knowing about God is not the same thing as knowing God.  If I were to ask you this morning, “Do you know God personally?” some of you would have to admit that having a personal and intimate relationship with God isn’t something that you’ve ever really thought about.


But Jesus said, “And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” (John 17:3).  Knowing God and knowing Jesus Christ are at the very heart of eternal life.  But to know God is not just to have an intellectual knowledge about God; it’s to have an intimate personal relationship with God.


Because 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.


In the New Testament, we read about a group of religious leaders known as the Pharisees. And the Pharisees knew a lot about God.  When someone wanted to play a game of “Bible Trivial Pursuit”, the Pharisees would win every time. They knew all about God, but what we find in the gospels is they really didn’t know him.


In Matthew 15:8 Jesus described the Pharisees this way: “This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me.”


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


And I think maybe the church is partly responsible for our misunderstanding, because we have established ways of learning in the church that result in knowledge, but not necessarily intimacy.


Think about it: We love having Bible studies, which often include some kind of workbook. We go through a curriculum in our Bible classes where we study the Bible chapter by chapter.  Sermons are often accompanied by an outline where people can take notes and fill in the blanks.  When you were growing up, you probably went to Vacation Bible school to hear the different Bible stories.


Maybe you even competed in Bible Bowl competitions, all of which are won or lost depending on how much biblical knowledge you’ve accumulated and how fast you can raise your hand or hit a button.  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 many passages from the Old Testament.  Paul repeatedly talked about the value of coming to “a knowledge of the truth”.  The problem isn’t knowledge. The problem comes when we are content with knowledge.  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 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 the word “yada”.  Someone has said the best way to define that word is “to know someone completely and to be completely known.”


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


There was this “yada” moment between a husband and a wife.  It’s this intimate connection on every level.  To fully know and to be fully known.  And it’s a beautiful picture that helps us understand what it really means to know Christ.


Because it lets us know that when the Bible 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: “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 in mind, consider what it means that God wants to know us and he wants to be known by us.  And it may seem a bit strange that time and again, it’s this same word “yada” that’s used to describe our relationship with God. Time and again, “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 uses this word repeatedly to let us know that before we come to know God, even before we make the effort to know God, God knows us inside and out.  Which is a thought that can 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 understands us fully, 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 have this screen over here.  Suppose we set up a movie projector, and on this movie film we have 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 sins in your life or at least from the past few years.


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’s 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; Watching you, watching you, Every day mind the course you pursue.”  And actually, it’s a wonderful song if you understand what it’s saying, but I used to hate it.  Because all I can picture is this big eyeball in the sky that looks down on you and 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 really know us, this is a rather disturbing psalm.  And I think one of the reasons it’s so disturbing 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, even what we’re thinking.


He’s aware of everything about you, everything you do 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.  And I think it’s accurate to say he know 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, or east or west.  I can’t hide in the dark.  No matter where I go, you’re still there, still watching me.


Doesn’t that make you feel 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 your life was all about.  He knows.  Trust me, he knows.



Search Me


But for a child of God, that thought should bot be frightening.  In fact, it should be comforting.  And I think that comes out at the very end of the 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?  Isn’t that like being audited by the IRS for last year’s tax return and you say to them, “Oh by the way, why don’t you go ahead and pull out my returns for the past seven years and 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.  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 40 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 perhaps that’s where the word of grace comes.  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 him to search a little more, to see if there’s anything not pleasing.  You say, “God, find those thoughts that carry me away from fellowship with you.  Show them to me so that I can understand how they affect my walk with you.”  I just don’t think you’d say that to somebody unless you were sure that they loved you.


It has been said, “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.  These words could only be spoken to someone who loves unconditionally.  God sees every square inch of my life — and yet he still loves me.  He knows my successes and my failures; he sees my strengths and my weaknesses; he understands how holy and unholy I can be.  And even though he expects me to bring my life closer and closer to what he would like for me to be, he never withholds his love.


So, God is an all-seeing eye, but 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.  Rather it is 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 God, but to have this kind of intimate relationship with him where we seek to know him as fully as we are known by him.


Because, as I said, it is 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.  Jesus should have been considered the guest of honor for this meal, but it quickly becomes apparent that Simon was not spending time with Jesus out of respect for him.


There were certain rules of etiquette at a dinner like this.  For example, the customary greeting for a guest would have been a kiss.  If the guest was a person of equal social rank, then the host would greet the guest with a kiss on the cheek.  If it was a person of especially high honor, the host would greet the guest with a kiss on the hand.  To neglect that kiss of greeting was the equivalent of openly ignoring somebody.  It would be like having a person come into your home and you refusing to acknowledge their presence. Not saying hello, not shaking their hand, nothing.


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 honored guest.  At the very least you would give water to your guest to wash his or her own feet.


For an especially distinguished guest, you might also give them some olive oil for anointing their head. That kind of oil wasn’t expensive, but it was still considered a gesture of hospitality.
But when Jesus came to the house of Simon, 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 ignored and insulted.


Keep in mind, Simon was a Pharisee. That meant that he had spent his 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 the 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 Jesus, but he didn’t know Jesus.


Luke tells us that while Jesus was eating, a woman came on the scene. They were likely eating in a courtyard area where people could watch and even listen in on the conversation.  But things started to get a bit awkward when this woman came uninvited up to the table where they were eating.  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 happened in her heart.  Perhaps he had talked about forgiveness.  Perhaps as she sat and listened to Jesus, her eyes welled up with tears as she realized that God loved her and wanted to forgive her.  Maybe it was a message of redemption.  Maybe as Jesus spoke, she realized that God could put back together the broken pieces of her life.


But maybe it wasn’t what Jesus taught at all.  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 knew God loved her and he hadn’t given up on her, even if everyone else had. And she must have thought to herself, “Maybe it’s not too late for me. Maybe even someone like me can follow him.”


She was desperate to see Jesus again, and she overheard someone saying 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. Of course, normally she would have 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 would take 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 does next is reckless, it’s impulsive, it’s inappropriate, and it shows exactly the kind of follower that Jesus wants.


Picture the scene. Jesus is reclining at the table. Instead of using chairs they would lean on an elbow that was propped up by a cushion. Their feet would be 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 table. She 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 going on 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 a man look at her that way before.


She is so undone by this that the tears come, just a few at first, and then more. She falls to the ground and begins to kiss his 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, something that was extremely inappropriate in that day. She 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 the 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 men. But now she empties it. She empties the whole thing out. She will not need it anymore. She pours this flask, her life, 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, the religious leader has all the knowledge, but it is the prostitute who intimately expressed her love for Jesus.  And I think the question that you and I have 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.


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