By David Prairie
(Note: This is a lightly edited transcript of the message that I gave on “Senior Night” for our youth ministry on May 23, 2018.)
One phrase has summarized what has been the aim of this youth ministry for nearly the past decade. The phrase is “know God and make him known.” That theme has been emphasized continually, not only as we have studied Scripture and seen the Bible’s emphasis on that subject, but also as we have tried to live it out beyond these walls.
Tonight, as we wrap up another school year, and send off another group of graduates, I want us to notice from Scripture that to know God is to be known by God. When one truly knows God, God truly knows that person as well. In many respects, Christians are not only those who know God, but those who God knows.
This is the theme that I want to trace through Scripture with you tonight. Daniel 11 describes the work of those who “take action against the holy covenant” and “profane the temple and fortress, and shall take away the regular burnt offering” (v. 31). Those who oppose God will be seduced by these works (v. 32). But there is one category of people who will not be deceived by these evildoers. Daniel says, “the people who know their God shall stand firm and take action” (v. 32). I hope to show you tonight, that the people who know their God are the people who are known by their God.
Paul makes a similar point from 2 Timothy 2. We read about some who speak “irreverent babble” that “lead[s] people into more and more ungodliness” (v. 16) and “spread[s] like gangrene” (v. 17). These people “have swerved from the truth” and “are upsetting the faith of some” (v. 18). Yet Paul makes clear that “God’s firm foundation stands, bearing this seal: ‘The Lord knows those who are his’” (v. 19). That is to say, the Lord makes a distinction between those who really belong to him and those who are only imposters.
In the statement that “The Lord knows those who are his,” Paul is quoting from Numbers 16. So let’s look at that as we begin. A man named Korah assembled 250 well known scoundrels from Israel and “rose up . . . against Moses and against Aaron” (vv. 2-3) who had been appointed by God to lead his people. They accused Moses and Aaron of exalting themselves, when really they had been ordained by God. So to oppose them was to oppose God, and to follow them was to follow God. So Moses’ response to Korah is this: “In the morning the LORD will show who is his, and who is holy, and will bring him near to him. Those one whom he chooses he will bring near to him” (v. 5).
What does this verse teach us about God’s relationship with those who are truly his in Israel?
• God demonstrates who is his because he knows those who are his.
• Those who are the Lord’s are holy.
• Those who are holy are brought near to the Lord.
• Those who are near to the Lord are chosen by him.
These statements are similar to others in the Bible that describe salvation. Believers are holy and near the Lord and chosen by him and brought near to him. And the reason why the Lord marked his people in this way was so that they would not be consumed in the judgment that would come upon Korah and his fellow rebels. Again, throughout the Bible, the Lord identifies his people in those ways so that they will be kept from the judgment that he will pour out on those who remain rebellious to him.
It is often the case that your connections to someone can keep you out of trouble with certain authorities. In May 2005, I was invited to attend a mini-camp for the Indianapolis Colts. I was not invited to participate as a player, but my Uncle Joel was a videographer, and he was invited to film the practice and to film an interview with Coach Tony Dungy, who later that summer was going to conduct a football camp in Jackson, MI, where my Uncle lived. So Uncle Joel asked me if I wanted to be the interviewer. So I drove up to Indianapolis and met Uncle Joel, and we drove to the Indianapolis Colts training facility. And once we arrived at the facility we were given credentials which gave us access to the building and the practice field. So we had nametags, and underneath our names was the title “Guest of Coach Dungy.” For that day, I was authorized to roam meeting rooms and sidelines because I was associated with Tony Dungy. For that day, I knew Coach Dungy, and he knew me. If I had tried to access those places without that nametag, I would have been punished. But on that day, if someone had questioned my belonging, I could have summoned Coach Dungy, and he would have said, “He’s with me.”
You and I don’t have access to God or to the holiness and nearness that he offers unless God himself says of us, “They’re with me.” When God separated his true followers who lined up with Moses and Aaron from the phonies who lined up with Korah, God was demonstrating, “I know them, but I don’t know them. They’re with me, but they’re not.” And those with him would be spared. But those not with him were swallowed up into hell. It is eternally important for us to be known by God.
Before we get too much further into this, we should define what we mean by “knowing.” In one sense, we could say that because God is “all-knowing” that he knows everyone. Yes, the Bible makes clear that God is all-knowing. But the words for “knowing” in Scripture have a wide range of meaning, and we can make sense of this even in English. For example, I know sports statistics and I know that I will be in Heaven one day. Both are things that I know, but there’s a great deal of difference in the two types of knowledge. My ability to quote football scores is based on something in the past that I wasn’t a part of that’s quite insignificant. My knowledge about Heaven is based on my faith in the trustworthiness of the Bible for what will come about in the future that matters infinitely. Both are types of “knowing” but there is a great difference. A better example might be with people. I know Ben Franklin, Donald Trump, Tony Dungy, Jonathan Bergen, and my wife, but all in different ways. I know about Ben Franklin from history books; I’ve missed my chance to know him any better. I know about Donald Trump because of the media and his twitter account. I know Tony Dungy—even have met him—but he wouldn’t recognize me today. I know Jonathan Bergen. He and I are great friends. I know some of his likes and dislikes. He and I can have friendly and intelligent conversations. I know him well. But I also know my wife. With her, I have a connection and a knowledge that I don’t have with anyone else, not even my closest friends, and especially not with someone I only know from a distance.
God’s knowledge is far more vast than ours. He knows everything and everyone from all time. But even God’s knowledge can be something that he knows about more than something he knows intimately. God knows all people and all things, but God knows his people in a much more personal way. God’s knowledge of his people is more like my knowledge of my wife, only perfect. God’s knowledge of other things is perfect and complete—that’s what makes him God—but it’s not intimate. God’s knowledge of other people is great, but it is wrathful, not loving.
So as we survey Scripture to show what we mean when we say that God knows his people, keep in mind that we mean to show that God has a deeper and more loving knowledge of his people than he has of those who are not his people. I think the passages we examine will make that clear.
Let’s start with Exodus 33, the context and content of which can be summarized like this:
• Chaps 25-40: Giving of the Law and instructions for the tabernacle
• Chaps 32-34 The Golden Calf incident
• “You will go into the land but I won’t go with you” (33:1-3).
• This was a disastrous word; his presence would consume them (33:4-6).
• Yahweh spoke to Moses face to face as a man speaks with his friend (33:7-11).
o Moses: “You have not let me know who you will send with me” (12-13).
o Yahweh: “My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest” (14).
o Moses: “How shall I know that I have found favor in your sight?” (15-16)
o Yahweh: “I know you by name” (17).
Starting with Exodus 33 and tracing this theme throughout Scripture, here are eight conclusions showing the significance of God’s knowledge of his people.
1. God’s knowledge of us assures us of his presence with us, which is better than his provisions for us.
From Numbers 16:1-5 (examined earlier)
2. God’s knowledge of us sets us apart from those who receive his wrath and counts us as righteous before him.
3. God’s knowledge of us guarantees that he is aware of and concerned with the affairs of our lives.
Psalm 1:6 “Yahweh knows the way of the righteous”
Psalm 31:7-8 “You have known the distress of my soul”
Psalm 37:18 “Yahweh knows the days of the blameless”
Psalm 144:3 “What is man that you know him?”
4. God’s knowledge of us is based on his grace and kindness toward us, not on our efforts to impress him.
Jeremiah 1:4-5 “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.”
Nahum 1:6-11 [In the midst of a pronouncement of judgment is v. 7] “The LORD is good, a stronghold in the day of trouble; he knows those who take refuge in him.”
These passages raise questions about what the Bible calls the foreknowledge of God. What does it mean that God has foreknowledge, and that he foreknew certain people and events? Let’s examine the NT to answer these questions.
Acts 2:23 “Jesus [was] delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God.”
Romans 8:29 “For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.”
Romans 11:2 “God has not rejected his people whom he foreknew.”
Galatians 1:15-16 “He . . . set me apart before I was born, and . . . called me by his grace [and] was pleased to reveal his Son to me, in order that I might preach him among the Gentiles.”
1 Peter 1:1-2 “To those who are elect exiles . . . according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in the sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and for sprinkling with his blood.”
1 Peter 1:20-21 “He was foreknown before the foundation of the world but was made manifest in the last times for the sake of you who through him are believers in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God.”
So here’s my definition of foreknowledge: God’s intimate knowledge of the objects of his salvation (his people) and the means of his salvation (the death and resurrection of his Son) that existed before creation and endures so that those who are known by God will glorify him by knowing him and making him known.
5. God’s knowledge of us must not be assumed, but will either be affirmed or denied by Jesus at the last day.
Matthew 7:23 “I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.”
Matthew 25:12 “Truly I say to you, I do not know you.”
Luke 12:8-9 “And I tell you, everyone who acknowledges me before men, the Son of Man also will acknowledge before the angels of God, but the one who denies me before men will be denied before the angels of God.”
Luke 13:25, 27 “I do not know where you come from.”
6. God’s knowledge of us is evident if we hear the voice of Jesus and follow him.
John 10:14 “I know my own and my own know me.”
John 10:27 “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.”
7. God’s knowledge of us causes us to love God more than the world from which he saves us.
1 Corinthians 8:3 “If anyone loves God, he is known by God”
Galatians 4:8-9 “Formerly, when you did not know God, you were enslaved to those that by nature are not gods. But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how can you turn back again to the weak and worthless elementary principles of the world, whose slaves you want to be once more?”
8. God’s knowledge of us urges us to pursue purity in this life in anticipation of eternity with Christ.
Revelation 2:2, 9, 13, 19; 3:1, 8, 15 all mention Jesus’ knowledge of his churches. To Sardis (3:1-6), there is this statement that is like Jesus’ statements in the gospels. “Yet you still have a few names in Sardis, people who have not soiled their garments, and they will walk with me in white, for they are worthy. The one who conquers will be clothed thus in white garments, and I will never blot his name out of the book of life. I will confess his name before my Father and before his angels” (3:4-5).
And when Christ comes, the distinction between those he knows and those he doesn’t is clear and irreversible (Rev 11:15-18).
Two concluding questions:
First, what if I don’t want God to know me? We tend to think that there are parts of our lives that we can keep secret from God. We hide from God, or at least we think we do. But God’s omniscience means that he will know us in one way or another. He will either know that we do not belong to him or he will know us and welcome us into his presence. He is both Savior and Judge, and he will be one or the other for all people. We need for God to know us so that the salvation of God can rescue us from the wrath of God for the glory of God. To think we can escape God’s knowledge of us is to run from him as Jonah tried to do. God found Jonah, and he will find you. Confess what you are hiding from him. He knows about it anyway, and he’s not ashamed of you.
Second, why does any of this matter for senior night? You have probably heard that to get ahead in life it’s not as much what you know, but who you know. Humanly speaking, your connections matter for your advancement in careers and education and opportunities. You will spend the rest of your lives seeking connections with people, trying to become known by those who will help you to find success. My prayer is that you will not ignore the fact that the most supreme being in the universe wants to know you, and his knowledge of you matters for so much more than our personal advancement in this life. Don’t lose your Christianity for the sake of material flourishing. God knows whether Jesus is truly your Lord or simply a label that you have worn and will discard when it becomes inconvenient. Know God. He has made himself known to you.