************ Cartechism Sermon on Lord's Day 10 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on June 25, 2017
Lord's Day 10
"Our Faith in the Father's Hands"
Every week I keep telling you about sound doctrine. Let me remind you that sound doctrine is doctrine based upon the Bible. It is true, reliable, trustworthy. And, because the Catechism is based upon the Bible, what we have in front of us this morning is sound doctrine.
Using the first line of the Apostles' Creed, sound doctrine proclaims that God is the Father almighty, the creator of heaven and earth.
It is not enough to know this. We must also believe this. Faith, true faith, saving faith, says, "I believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth."
Today we continue our study of this first line of the Creed. We discover that sound doctrine proclaims and saving faith believes in the providence of God.
I The Hands of God
A We need to make sure we understand providence in the right way. The word "providence" itself is not found in the Bible. As popularly understood, providence means to see what is ahead and then to make provision for that which is coming. For instance, two Winters ago lots of rain was predicted; in preparation for this free-stalls were built or repaired so cows would stay dry; that's providence. Many California homeowners and businesses see escalating electrical costs; so they install solar panels; that's providence. Many Americans see retirement coming; so they put money in IRAs and annuities and retirement plans; that's providence.
This understanding of providence puts limits on God. God does not see things coming. Rather, He causes them to come. God never needs to prepare for the future. Rather, He supplies whatever we need from moment to moment.
Scripture -- and the Catechism based upon Scripture -- uses the figure of a hand to express the idea of God's providence. Perhaps you noticed that three times Lord's Day 10 speaks of the hand of the Father:
-God ... upholds, as with his hand, heaven and earth and all creatures
-all things, in fact, come to us not by chance but from his fatherly hand
-all creatures are so completely in his hand that without his will they can neither move nor be moved
B When I was growing up my parents introduced me to the books of Dutch author Anne De Vries. She wrote about the adventures of Bartje. In the first of these books Bartje stands at the deathbed of his father who worked for a farmer. A horse had crushed his skull so Bartje's father is dead. As the boy looks at his dad there on the bed he cannot take his eyes off his father's hands. To Bartje, his father's whole being was in those hands. There wasn't much to his father apart from those hands: he didn't have a lot of money, he held no public office, he never was in consistory or the school board, he was a quiet man who didn't speak often. His hands were a different story. Those hands used to spank Bartje, but they also carried him. Those hands once saved him from drowning in the canal. Those hands worked. Those hands held a shovel, a spade, a fork, a plow. But those hands are now at rest.
Like Bartje, God's people have always been fascinated by the hands of their heavenly Father. The psalmist, for instance, looks at the Father's hands in creation:
(Ps 19:1) The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.The psalmist looks at God's provision of food:
(Ps 104:28) When you give it to them, they gather it up; when you open your hand, they are satisfied with good things.The psalmist looks at the victory brought by God's hands:
(Ps 118:15-16) Shouts of joy and victory resound in the tents of the righteous: "The Lord's right hand has done mighty things! (16) The Lord's right hand is lifted high; the Lord's right hand has done mighty things!"
We, as God's children, sing about the hands of our Father in heaven. Take note, for instance, of the following lines of verse:
"all I have needed thy hand hath provided.
Great is thy faithfulness, Lord, unto me!"
"I am weak, but you are mighty;
hold me with your powerful hand."
"He leadeth me, he leadeth me;
by his own hand he leadeth me:
his faithful follower I would be,
for by his hand he leadeth me."
When they die, many of the heavenly Father's children say what was said by Jesus: "Father, into your hands I commit my spirit" (Lk 23:46).
To confess God's providence is to contemplate the hands of our almighty Father in heaven.
C Our heavenly Father's hands uphold heaven and earth and all creatures. Our Bible reading says "in him we live and move and have our being." Life depends on the hands of the Father. Existence depends on the hands of the Father. The universe depends on the hands of the Father. Heaven and earth and all creatures depend on the hands of the Father. People, animals, plants, fish, birds, stars, and planets all depend on the hands of the Father.
Think of what this means. It means we can never escape His presence. Our Bible reading says God is not far from each one of us. I love how the psalmist puts this:
(Ps 139:7-8) Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? (8) If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.No matter where we go, no matter where we look, God is there. "For in him we live and move and have our being." He upholds, as with His hand, heaven and earth and all creatures.
How is this even possible? Because God is infinite. Because God is omnipresent. Which means God's whole being is everywhere. Do not think part of God is here and another part of God is somewhere else. God's whole being is everywhere. God's whole being is in this church, not just part of Him. He is everywhere with His whole being.
Practically speaking, what does this mean? We have an expression in the English language: have eyes on the back of your head. This expression means you know what is going on around you. Parents of young children need to have eyes on the back of their heads. So do teachers and policemen. To use the same expression, God has eyes on the back of His head. He sees all things. He knows all things. He upholds all things. He is everywhere present.
D Our Father's hands uphold heaven and earth and all creatures. In Him we live and move and have our being.
When I make something, I can leave it and it will still be there. The house that we built, for instance, is still there whether or not we are present. Same with this church building; whether or not any of us are present, the building is still here. Can God remove Himself from heaven and earth and all creatures? And if He does what happens? Is it possible for God to withdraw Himself?
Go back to the omnipresence of God. If God is present everywhere, where can He put the universe so it is outside of Himself? If God is present everywhere, where can He put heaven and earth and all creatures? When God created the universe, where could He have put it other than in His own hands? Therefore, God cannot leave His universe. God cannot remove Himself from heaven and earth and all creatures.
Our Father's hands uphold heaven and earth and all creatures. In Him we live and move and have our being. There is no universe without God. It is not possible for the universe to remain in existence if God is not present. What would happen if God removed Himself? Obliteration. Destruction. Disintegration.
E Our Father's hands uphold heaven and earth and all creatures. In Him we live and move and have our being.
God controls and guides movement. God controls and guides every movement of and in the universe. He moves it. The world is not an unmoving thing. Everything moves, even the things which seem to us as if they do not move. There are fixed movements, like the rising of the sun, the moon, and the stars. There are arbitrary movements, like the movement of the clouds. There is the movement of a drop of water from the sky, to the ground, into the well or river or stream, to the ocean. There is the movement of a grain of sand and the small invisible germ we breathe into our lungs. There is the movement of men and angels and cows and horses and lions and coyotes and wild pigs. There is all the movement in our body: the blood circulating, the pumping of the heart, the breathing of the lungs, the impulses traveling down the nerves, the billion things going on at once in our brains. We are moving creatures. God's hand governs every one of these movements.
God moves. God moves the planets in their orbits; that is why the sun rises and the sun sets; that is why we have the changing seasons. He moves the clouds when and where He wants. All movements are nothing but a revelation of the upholding hand of God.
God moves. God controls movements. From His hand comes leaf and blade, rain and drought, fruitful and lean years, food and drink, health and sickness, prosperity and poverty.
God moves. God controls movements. Which means God also controls the movement of time. God moves history towards its end, its goal: to glorify Himself in His Son, to establish the heavenly kingdom of glory, to build a new heaven and a new earth.
II God's Hands and Sin and Evil
A Our Father's hands uphold heaven and earth and all creatures. In Him we live and move and have our being.
If God is God, His hands control everything. If His hands do not control everything, He can't be God. Therefore there is nothing, absolutely nothing, that takes place outside of His upholding hands. Both Augustine and Calvin said that if there is anything at all that can happen outside of God's providence, "the whole world revolves at random." They were right. If there is anything at all that can happen outside of God's hands then we can't be sure of anything.
B So many bad things can happen to us in this world: a loved one dies from cancer, a child has an accident and is crippled for life, a precious son ends up in jail, a couple you know dissolves their marriage by divorce, a covenant child strays from the faith, a friend goes bankrupt, or ... I'm sure you can fill in your example.
What do we say in such situations about the hands of the Father?
We have to admit that these terrible things happen in a world that is governed by the almighty God Who is our Father because of Christ. But we should never say that these things are God's will -- for evil is never God's will and God is not its author. Perhaps we should say that God permits these things to happen; in fact, if He didn't permit them they wouldn't happen.
In a world controlled by the hands of God we know that sin and evil are never independent of God's hands. None of it is ever out of His control.
God's hands are in control! Not even sin and evil can call His control into question.
III The Comfort of God's Hands
A Our Father's hands uphold heaven and earth and all creatures. In Him we live and move and have our being.
Therefore, "we can be patient when things go against us." There is no need for us to be angry and bitter about events. Yes, we may have to suffer; yes, there may be tragedy in our life. But God never promised us "flowery beds of ease." Take Job as an example. It seemed that everything went against him: he lost his oxen and donkeys, his camels, his servants, his sons and daughters. Yet he displayed an incredible patience. He refused his wife's advice to "curse God and die!" (Job 2:9). God permits trials in our life to make us better, not bitter. So be patient.
B Our Father's hands uphold heaven and earth and all creatures. In Him we live and move and have our being.
Therefore, we are to be "thankful when things go well." The Bible goes so far as to say that suffering is what the Christian can expect in a sin-filled world (cf 1 Pt 1:7; 3:8-17; 4:12-19). If God, in His providence, keeps us from suffering for being a Christian, if God blesses us with prosperity, if God blesses us with health and strength and a long life, if God blesses us with healthy children, then we had better be thankful -- because most believers today as well as throughout the ages have not had life as good as we do.
C Our Father's hands uphold heaven and earth and all creatures. In Him we live and move and have our being.
Therefore, "we can have good confidence in our faithful God and Father that nothing will separate us from his love." In His providence, God may permit some terrible things in our life. Nowhere does He make the promise that He will always keep tragedy away. What God has promised us is that when we suffer we will never have to suffer alone -- for our almighty Father will always be with us. We have this confidence and this promise: "nothing will separate us from his love." Bad things may happen in our lives or in the lives of loved ones, but God is with us and will never leave us or forsake us.
Our Father's hands uphold heaven and earth and all creatures. In Him we live and move and have our being.
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