WHEN DID YOU FIRST BECOME AWARE OF
THE FINGERPRINTS OF GOD?
SARA GROVES SINGS OF SUMMER NIGHTS AS A CHILD
LYING ON HER BACK IN THE BACKYARD
BENEATH STARRY SKIES
WONDERING IF THERE WAS A “GRAND DESIGN”
A STRING OF PEARLS IN NATURE
A careful observer of nature realizes, yes, there is a grand design. This universe could no more have come together than could have Webster’s dictionary come together by an explosion of letters. There is One behind it who “created the world…”and “who upholds the universe by the word of his power.” (Hebrews 1:2-3) That One is Jesus. In the above photograph, the Comet Holmes, which is also named “String of Pearls,” shows us the beauty, the repetition, and the order of our God.
Welcome to all our new women! And so glad to have our faithful women who have journeyed with us back for this study in Hebrews. Last week was preparatory, but now we truly take the plunge — to see a string of pearls in this beautiful book of Hebrews — which is all about Jesus. And yet, in truth, the whole Bible is about Jesus.
A STRING OF PEARLS IN SCRIPTURE
There is “a string of pearls” in Scripture, where, in every one of the sixty-six books you see the beauty of Christ, the repetition of the Gospel, and the order of our God.
How I remember the thrill in my heart when I first saw it as a young Christian forty years ago. I was leading an evangelistic Bible study for women who had husbands doing a residency in Akron, Ohio. No one was publishing Bible studyguides at that time and I simply had a need to give something to the women to help them dig into the Word and do homework. I was focused only on the needs of that little group, not considering that this would be published. They needed something that would help them mother their children, for their husbands were working all the time and many of their toddlers were out of control. (Those were the days of Dr. Spock who said to reward the good and ignore the bad — and it wasn’t working.) I knew how Proverbs had helped me, so I was drawn there. I was so excited to show these women how relevant Proverbs could be to their lives. But I also wanted the guide to be boldly evangelistic, for most of these women, though they may have been religious, did not have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. One day I was meditating on the opening of proverbs and came across the phrase “Let the discerning get guidance — for understanding proverbs and parables” (Proverbs 1:6) and I was quickened. That’s it. The same Wisdom of Proverbs is the Wisdom of Parables. The Gospel is “the pearl of great price,” Jesus is the heart of the Gospel, and both are to be found in the Old Testament book of Proverbs and the New Testament parables. Jesus Christ — the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow.
In the same way, we see a string of pearls repeatedly in the book of Hebrews. This week you will see it in chapter 1, as we see the author listing pearl upon pearl about Jesus. George Guthrie, (in a commentary edited by D. A. Carson entitled “Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament), talks about the use of “hadraz” or the “string of pearls method” as in chapter 11 (Hebrews Hall of Fame) and in this opening chapter in verses 5-11, which we will study this week.
There is probably no New Testament book that has as many quotes and references and allusions to the Old Testament, other than the book of Revelation, than the book of Hebrews. The “string of pearls” that began in the Old Testament keeps appearing and reappearing in Hebrews. Just as I am strengthened in my faith in the wisdom of God by observing repetition and beauty in nature (sunrises, stars, seasons) I am strengthened in my faith by observing repetition and beauty in Scripture, though written by many authors, over thousands of years, in various places. One Spirit, one string of pearls. If you have a cross-reference Bible, you will see how many references there are to the psalms and to other Old Testament books. Jesus the same — yesterday, today, and tomorrow.
A STRING OF PEARLS IN OUR LIVES
When you get into this week’s Bible study you’ll come across this fascinating verse about angels: “Are they not all ministering spirits sent out to serve for the sake of those who are to inherit salvation?” There is so much packed in this — not only about angels, but about the fact that God knew who would “inherit salvation,” meaning this was a plan for you from before the foundation of the world. God has had His hand on you for a long time, and angels may have been involved. I loved the way Lauren Winner put it in her memoir: girl meets GOD.
Surely any idiot should have been able to see
from the second chapter that it was Miss Scarlett
in the conservatory with the rope.
Lauren saw a string of pearls in her life, bringing her to Him. We’ll be looking at
the string of pearls in our lives later this week.
So often on this blog I see a string of pearls in one of your lives — His Spirit moving you, you responding, and then you begin to see His hand. Recently Susan responded to His Spirit by deciding to help her parents wash windows — that very day her dad opened up to her about his grief; and then, just last week, her dad ended up in ER. I see His hand on both of them, holding them, sustaining them in the difficult circumstances of life. He gave the surgeon wisdom, who had a feeling in his gut exactly where the problem was. And then, in the midst of it all, Susan’s pastor happened to be preaching on Hebrews. She wrote:
One thing that kept coming to my mind, especially at first, in the emergency room, was what my pastor had titled this series at church we are doing in Hebrews, “Jesus is Greater Than All” – He is greater than this crisis, than sickness and hospitals and surgeries. Psalm 18 was also of great comfort, how God parts the heavens and comes to rescue.
A string of pearls.
This week you will see not only how MIGHTY Christ is, but how PERSONAL He is, so that you can trust Him to be there when you run away from your idols.
A STRING OF PEARLS
IN OUR LIVES
1. What stood out to you from the above and why?
2. Give a specific example of how you have seen a string of pearls in:
3. Can you think of a way you have seen a string of pearls in your life recently?
Monday-Wednesday Bible Study
Continue Memorizing Hebrews 1:1-3. I saw insights coming from the hearts of those who were memorizing last week. Polish it or begin it!
The book of Hebrews is not a letter, but a sermon. And not just any sermon — a sermon from God! This fascinates me, for many reasons. It helps me spot a good sermon, and it gives me wisdom as a speaker. The preachers who have most changed my life are those exalt Christ — as Paige Benton Brown does, as R. C. Sproul does, as Joe Coffey (to whom I will introduce you this week) does, and as Tim Keller does. The sermons are not man-centered but God-centered. George Guthrie says that this is preaching, of the author using theological points and quotations from the Old Testament to lift up Christ and encourage a christocentric life. William Lane supports the genre of a sermon by saying:
- Hebrews does not possess the form of an ancient letter. The writer neither identifies himself nor addresses the group. Instead it begins with a majestic sentence celebrating Christ.
- He will often, as a good preacher does, make a statement (as in Hebrews 2:1) followed by a question (as in Hebrews 2:2-3) to drawn the congregation to reflect.
- The writer closes with “bear with this word of exhortation” (Hebrews 13:22) Exhorting is preaching.
- This opening, as you will see, almost feels like it could have been preached by Spurgeon, in his imminent style of exalting Christ lacing pearls together. (Spurgeon was no doubt inspired by the same Spirit who wrote Hebrews!)
SEEING THE STRING OF PEARLS…
3. Read Hebrews 1:1-4 and find all the ways God’s Son is supreme.
4. Find the same pearl that is in verses 2-3 also in Colossians 1:16-17.
5. In the past God spoke in many ways to the fathers and in pieces. What is different in this “final age?” Find all the contrasts you can.
6. Summarize each pearl in the string in Hebrews 1:5-13. How, in each case, is Christ superior to the angels?
For to which…( v. 5a)
Or again…(v. 5b)
And again…(vs. 6-7)
But of the Son…(v. 7)
And (vs. 10-12)
And to which (vs. 13)
7. Keller tells of walking as a young man under the sky after Elizabeth Elliot challenged a group at a camp to look up at the stars and consider the greatness of God and of Christ — and then to ask themselves if this is someone they should ask to be their errand boy. As you consider the heavens and God — what does this really mean in your life?
8. Contemplate Hebrews 1:14:
A. What are angels called?
B. What is their purpose?
C. To whom are they to minister?
When John Wesley was six, his home went up in a blaze at night — and all his family
except John escaped. Then his mother saw him appear in an upstairs window — and a
man climbed on another man’s shoulders to rescue him. Susannah felt he has been
rescued for a purpose. Were angels involved in waking this little boy and helping him
find the window? Perhaps. God has His hand on His own, and His angels are servants
sent to minister to those who are to inherit salvation.
9. How have you seen God’s hand on you — perhaps involving angels — perhaps involving circumstances or key people early in your life that helped you to see? Share a few God sightings from your own string of pearls.
10. Meditate on Hebrews 2:1-2. Galatians 3:19 tells us that angels were involved in giving Moses the law. What do you learn about this in verse 2?
11. This statement is following by a sobering question, as is characteristic of preaching. What is it?
12. The recipients of this sermon were drifting off, distracted. How like us. And remember that salvation is not just from the penalty of sin, but the power of sin. How can fixing your eyes on Jesus and focusing on the power of the Gospel help you right now in whatever circumstances you are facing on whatever the tasks of the day? Be still.
Listen to the first Tim Keller sermon in the series. The first is free, but please buy them all while they are on sale. Here is the link. (If you cannot afford the sermons but commit to actively participating with us through this year, we’ll find a way to help you. Just let Rebecca know at firstname.lastname@example.org)
13. What are your notes — or what stood out to you from the Keller sermon and why?
EXTRA RESOURCE: A pastor I’ve come to respect is Joe Coffey of Hudson Chapel in Ohio. He began a series on Hebrews this week — and the downloads are available each Tuesday. If you like, like I do, to listen to sermons while you are multi-tasking (a gift we women have!) I believe you’d be blessed as well by this series. Here is the link.
14. What is your take-a-way and why?
13. What are your notes – or what stood out to you from the Keller sermon and why?
Listened in the car so I didn’t take notes, but the whole message was good. The Elisabeth Elliot quote really stands out; God is not here to be a ‘personal assistant’. I am not even qualified to be His personal assistant. I liked his pointing out that you have to accept the finalities found in Scripture – you just can’t say well I don’t believe this in the Bible, then you make-up your own god and he can never contradict you. We need a God who can contradict us!
Also how God adapted Himself to us – that’s a lot right there. He didn’t have to, didn’t need to. The ending of the sermon was very moving, too, how Jesus suffered silence from His Father for us.
14. What is your take-away and why?
I think the “string of pearls”. When we studied Esther, we called it looking for God’s fingerprints all over the book of Esther. I’ve been amazed by everyone’s sharing about their own personal string of pearls, no two alike. How can anyone not believe in a PERSONAL God?
I want to believe that God has His fingerprints on the lives of my children, too, that He is forming a string of pearls for them, too. It hurts so much that the son we visited yesterday has turned away from the Lord. I see new ways to pray for my children through this study.
Greetings! I finished last week this morning…I am going to jot down some of my answers and then back track to see others’ perceptions.
7. The Lord is the creator and sustainer of ALL…I am HIS creation. May I never lose sight of my rightful place. The Lord is sovereign in all the universe. I am truly blessed to have a loving, merciful, and forgiving God.
9. I have seen God’s hand on me through the many twists and turns my life could have taken “there but for the grace of God.” I worked for nearly nine years for a Lutheran parish; this was a special time allowed for me to journey into a personal relationship with the Lord. Although blessed to be born and raised in a Christian family and with a foundation of faith, a new educational process began with my being hired by the parish. My hire served as a catalyst for beginning a “personal” journey with the Lord. Despite subsequently leaving parish employment a few years ago, the journey continues with the Lord continuing to give me new lessons and insights, and our relationship growing towards new stages of trust and surrender on my part. Participating in the study on Hebrews is one more pearl in the strand. 🙂
13. What stood out to me in Tim Keller’s first sermon:
*One doesn’t get home through sprints, but in a long-term sustained way.
*the word engages both the mind and the heart
*There can be no intimacy without accepting another’s finalitites…God adjusted to our (human) finality (sin) by Jesus’ earthly existence.
*Jesus is the ultimate glory of God represented in human form…a form humans can relate to and have a personal relationship with; a form that can come into one’s life and change one into Jesus’ likeness.
*the sheet of paper example…the incomprehensible omnipotentness of Jesus
*being “furiously obsessed” with the grace of God and the gospel or be prone to drift away
14. My take-away is…Jesus is more than my mind can comprehend. He is deserving of everything I am, have, and more… Jesus’ expectation for me to be loving, humble, devoted and committed to him is not too much to ask…it is for my own good; I can never possibly ever give Jesus all that He is due.
Love your thoughts and your take-away Nanci “Jesus is more than my mind can comprehend.”–yes, so true! And thank you for your encouraging words to me.
I also wanted to make sure you had the link for this week’s message: http://deebrestin.wpengine.com/2012/09/not-a-far-off-god-hebrews-2-for-our-children-ourselves
See you there! 🙂
Thanks Elizabeth…you’re a sweetheart. Thanks for making me feel so welcome!