************ Sermon on Belgic Confession Article 13 ************
By: Rev. Robert Godfrey
This sermon was preached on September 27, 2009
Belgic Confession Article 13
"God is in Control"
This evening we'll be discussing the issue of Providence. When we look at this word…this concept, it ultimately answers one question, who is in control? This is quite an important question. Certainly it is a question that has been asked time and time again throughout history, and it certainly it is still a very prominent question in our day and age. Most people in our day like the idea that they control their own "fate" their own destiny. They do not like to hear that they might not be in control. But tonight as we view the doctrine of Providence, we will see what a truly amazing thing it is to know that we are not in control.
Few things are of greater comfort from moment to moment, from day to day than to know the unfathomable truth that God is in control! That is what we find this evening in both the book of Matthew and our Christian confession of faith. We find the simple yet incomprehensible belief that All things are under God's control. In light of this amazing statement, how then should we view him? As a:
I. Caring Creator
II. Incomprehensible Sustainer
III. Comforting Father
I. Caring Creator
This should remind us of some of the things that we looked at last week. This providence of God, the care he shows over us as a creator stands in the face of Evolution. That he created all things, out of nothing, and he created them good.
Therefore it would make sense that God would care for his creation. And as a caring creator we see what he does, and what he doesn't do.
A. What he doesn't do…Abandon
We take comfort in the fact that ours is the creator who does not create and walk away. He did not create the heavens, the earth, the sea, and all that is in them merely to leave it, to forget it, or to let it take care of itself. No, our God is the one who would never abandon what he has set up. He has not left it. He watches over it. He is an omnipresent that is to say, he is in all places. There is nothing outside his sight, his grasp, or his care. It is impossible for anything in his creation to be forgotten about.
Therefore we can view…
B. What he does…Governs & Rules
In Hebrews 1:3 we're told that God "upholds the universe by the word of his power." This verse and the concept of God's care has served to stand up against so much heresy over the course of Christian history.
Once such heresy to consider is that of the ‘Epicureans'. They were followers of the Greek philosopher Epicurus (341-270 B.C.) He taught that the universe was eternal and infinite. He stated that matter was made up of atoms which were neither made nor ever destroyed. He maintained that gods were things that were far off that were totally unconcerned with our world. This led to a philosophy that did not believe in God's care. It was only concerned with the here and the now. Paul summarized this philosophy in I Corinthians 15:32 with the well known phrase "Let us eat and drink for tomorrow we die."
A proper understanding of God's governance and rule stands against such foolishness. It gives us confidence that God is the creator that he continues to care for his creation.
Another heresy that became popular many years later was a philosophical movement known as ‘Deism.' It was made popular during the 17th and 18th centuries in the midst of what was known as the enlightenment. This viewpoint has had a great influence on the movements known as Unitarians and Universalits. Its view could basically be summed up by saying that it made God nothing more than a great clockmaker. It credited and almighty God with the creation of all, but treated him as a clockmaker who after winding up the clock, sort of backed up and just let it run on its own.
These views ultimately would say that God is not in control, that he cannot govern and rule, that his hand is not in all things. When we look throughout scripture we know that cannot be the case.
Remember that Palm 95:6 our call to worship from this evening calls the "Lord our God our Maker." Isaiah 64:8 says "Yet, O Lord, you are our Father. We are the clay, you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand." and Psalm 139:13 tells us that "You Created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother's womb."
The picture of maker, potter, and knitter, point us to care far beyond any clockmaker or distant creator. God cares for his creation!!! But I ask you all this evening beloved, do you believe this? When we look back on history at Mount Vesuvius, when we remember the tragic deaths of so many on the sunken Titanic, when we think of the mass deaths in the Holocaust, the massive casualties in the blink of an eye in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the tragedy of 9/11 still emblazoned in our minds, the natural disasters of hurricane Katrina, and ravaging Tsunamis, Do we really Believe this?!?!? Do we believe that God is in control? Well there is yet another heretical movement that seeks to give us answers to these questions. A movement that goes in a different direction than the Deists or the Epicureans, but a false movement nonetheless.
Open Theism is a very attractive movement in the Christian church today. There are many prominent leaders of this movement who are seeking to give Christians answers to the questions we've just been asking. They can look at these tragic events I've just mentioned. And they can say that God is loving, God is caring, God is mighty…but God is NOT almighty. The comforting words that flow from this theology would say that, "God wanted to stop these tragic events…but he can't be everywhere at once. God is weeping right alongside you."
Certainly theology such as this can sound attractive as an answer to our sorrow. It gives us a belief that God would have stopped a horrible event if he could have, but he was not able to. However when we take this view and stack it up against Matthew 10 and Article 13 of the Belgic, we see that this view is pure and utter garbage. There is nothing outside the Lord's control, nothing outside his governing. Not a single sparrow, not a single hair, nothing!!! So when tragedy happens, though there will be a time of lamentation, and though we may never understand why a tragic event happens, we will know that our God is a caring creator, who is in control. This is a far greater comfort than a belief in a god who is not in control; A caring creator, who is also an Incomprehensible Sustainer
II. Incomprehensible Sustainer
A. In the Midst of Evil
As I just said many of the things we find in this world are evil and tragic. What are we to make of them if God is in control? What can we say of them? Well, we are told two things clearly in scripture and summarized here in our confession. 1. God is not the author of evil. 2. God cannot be charged with evil.
However, our immediate logical question must be, how can that be? If God is in control of all, and sin exists, how then is God not the author of sin??? How do we not charge God with sin??? Well beloved, hear the words of James 1:13 for some help in this dilemma:
James 1:13 "Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘I am being tempted by God,' For God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one."
and Acts 2:3 we're told Jesus was, "delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men."
God permits temptation, but he cannot be the tempter. It was God who ordained the ends and even the means to Christ's crucifixion and death, but it was done by the hands of lawless men. God's providence never works evil, rather it works in the midst of evil. And we must trust this wholeheartedly beloved for our comfort in times of evil and distress, because ultimately God's providence also works in a way that is…
B. In a Way that is Incomprehensible
We always want to understand everything, beloved. We want to completely understand God's sovereignty over the power of Sin and Satan. We want to understand why he allows tragedy to happen the way it does. We want to understand why justice and mercy ebb and flow so differently at different times, in different times in different places. Why blessings and curses come so differently to different people at different times. It can all be so frutstrating!!!
But it really all comes down to this "undue curiosity" that we find in article 13, and it is really based on two key errors. It stems from either: 1. Our desire to be like God (that is, seeking to know the incomprehensible), or 2. Trying to make God like man (that is, making him comprehensible) This is our constant desire beloved, but whenever we are tempted to give in to this, we must remember the words of Deuteronomy 29:29, "The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may follow all the words of this law."
When we follow this verse we find comfort and truth in the statement that ignorance is bliss. As article 13 goes on to say, "Adore the just judgments of God, which are hidden from us, being content to be Christ's disciples…in his word." This can be a very hard charge at times when we look to all the death, despair, and disappointment that surrounds us in the world and even in our daily lives. But I urge you and encourage you to understand this statement. It is amazing. It tells us to know that God is in control and by knowing this it is so much easier to simply live as disciples of Christ and not be hindered by the worries of this world.
For when we know of salvation, when our sins are washed away by his precious blood, all else becomes rather minor. All else can be left to the Incomprehensible Sustainer. For we know he is a Caring Creator. But we who have been brought from death to life by the sacrifice of Jesus Christ upon Calvary God is so much more. His providence is also over us as a Comforting Father. And that is our third and final point.
III. Comforting Father
Some would tell us that this concept of God as our mighty Father should give us know comfort at all. The Epicureans and Deists think our viewpoint makes us slaves to God. The Open Theists would say that our view point gives us an unloving Father who is hateful bringing us calamity and no answers. But as the article in the confession says, "This doctrine gives us unspeakable comfort."
A. Nothing is By Chance
Now, I've already mentioned this when speaking of God's care as a creator, but here we find the confession brining the same thing back. However, this time it does so viewing God as a loving Father. He cares for us not simply in the terms of creator sustaining all that he has created, but he cares for you and for me, beloved, we who are in Christ as a loving Father.
Remember this, during the joys of life: the blessings of family, wonderful children, great friendships, a healthy life, the benefit of work, food, a place to rest your head at night. Remember this, during the sadness of life: hard times, despair that comes from it, disappointments, sickness, sadness, abandonment, death of a loved one, unemployment, poverty. As our Catechism states so well in Q & A 27: "Leaf and Blade, Rain and Drought, Fruitful and Lean years, Food and Drink, Health and Sickness, Prosperity and Poverty."
In all of these times, nothing happens by chance. Our Father has a purpose for it all, and what's more all of it is under his fatherly care.
B. All is Under His Fatherly Care
This points us once again to our text this evening. That now a sparrow can die, not a hair can fall without his knowledge or care. Beloved, I leave you with this thought, that Jesus stressed, that our confession stresses: If our Father knows and cares for a Sparrow and the hairs on your head, How much more will he care for his children!
Take comfort in this. Take comfort in your Creator. Take comfort in your Sustainer. Take comfort in your Father. Take comfort…for God is in Control! Amen.
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