************ Sermon on Heidelberg Catechism Q & A 27-28 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on October 10, 2010
Q & A 27-28
"The Providence of God"
"I believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth." Last time, we said this first line of the Apostles' Creed means we confess God is our Father because of Christ.
This evening, we discover it also means belief in the providence of God. In looking at providence, we continue our study of the Apostles' Creed, the summary of the Gospel, and the content of true faith.
I Who is in Control?
A Let's start by listening to the story of Andy. Andy started Christian Missionary Technical Services (CMTS) to fix up old cars for missionaries.
There was the time Andy was at an auction, and it was getting late in the day, and he was tired. "There was a 2-year-old Nissan came through. And it said on the window, 'bad brakes.' The guy was asking $750 for it, and I'm thinking, 'Man, brake jobs are not that expensive.' So I bid on the thing, and here I got it. And they took it outside, and I went out a little while later to move it out of the auction. And here I looked at the other side, and the whole other side was just wiped out. And I'm like, 'Oh no, what did I do?'"Was Andy just plain lucky or was something else at work?
"But at the same time that I was buying that car somebody was dropping off a Nissan that was the same exact body style, that was hit on the other side and had 240,000 miles on it. So what we did was we took the side off the one and put it on the other one, and had a 2-year-old Nissan for a thousand bucks by the time we were done ...
Listen to this story from the Rev. Samuel Harris of Boston, Massachusetts:
On December 5, 1871 he was sitting in his hotel room writing a lecture while a big storm was raging outside. He couldn't think of the word he wanted to use so he put his hands on the top of his head and tilted back his chair to think. Not even a second later the storm blew over the chimney of the hotel and big pile of bricks and mortar crashed through the roof and ceiling and crushed the table on which he had been writing.Was Rev. Harris lucky or was something else at work?
I remember a video from the first Gulf War. The Pentagon spokesman introduced the video by stating, "Here is the luckiest man in Iraq." The video showed a truck crossing a bridge. A millisecond after he was across, the bridge was hit by a stealth bomber and totally disintegrated. Was the truck driver lucky or was something else at work?
In April of this year, Gilbert Cisneros was laid off from his job in the LA area. Two weeks later he was in downtown LA on jury duty. His wife asked him to pick up some takeout food on the way home. His first thought was to pick up Mexican food downtown, but he couldn't find a cheap place to park. "The parking there was like $8," he said. "I wasn't going to pay $8 to park." So he stopped at a BBQ place on the way home instead. While he was there, he invested ten bucks in randomly picked Mega Millions lottery tickets. One of those ten tickets won him $266 million. According to the newspaper, his choice of restaurant was sheer luck.
A couple of weeks ago I was walking in the downtown area to have lunch with someone. A ladder was leaning against a building. I watched with amusement as half of the group I was with walked around rather than under the ladder. I made a joke about it but it became clear to me that some there thought it was bad luck to walk under a ladder.
Though we live in the 21st century, there sure are a lot of people who still believe in luck, chance, and coincidence.
B A couple of weeks ago we had some visitors at our home. One of them asked me, "Can I look at the funnies in the newspaper?" That is his favorite section of the newspaper. On Saturdays, I make sure I always read the comics and the Best Buy advertisements. There are others, however, who make sure they never miss their horoscope. Over fifty million people daily consult their horoscope in the U.S.
Have you heard about the Human Genome Project? One of the Project goals was to identify all the 20,000-25,000 genes in human DNA. The more optimistic researchers were confident that this would unlock the secret to curing cancer, arresting Alzheimer's, preventing heart-attack and a host of other diseases. These modern prophets explain to us very solemnly that everything is controlled by the genes.
Let's not forget the social sciences. They theorize that everything is determined by one's environment. Why does someone become a delinquent, or an alcoholic, or a successful businessman, or a contributor to society? His or her environment is responsible.
Do you see the issue in all of these things I have just presented? The issue is this: Who or what is in charge? Is it blind luck? Is it the stars? Is it genetics? Is it the environment? Is it Satan and the forces of evil? Or, is it something or someone else?
II God is in Control!
A Human nature wants something or someone to be in charge. For all our brave talk about human independence, we humans want the comfort of knowing there really is a plan and that it is in the hands of a master. Man is not entirely comfortable with the idea that he is in control and in charge of his own destiny. Perhaps, deep down, we want someone or something to blame when things go wrong.
The very notion that our planet is a spaceship without a driver, that it is a small piece of the universe aimlessly wandering around, is an idea very few want to accept. To the Christian, this idea is revolting and abhorent because we believe our Father is at the wheel, directing and controlling things. With the church of all ages we say, "I believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth."
B Based upon Scripture, the Catechism tells us to believe this means to believe that God controls everything by means of His providence.
Now, what is providence? In one of its better-known answers, the Catechism tells us "Providence is the ... power of God ..." There are two things we are told about this power of God.
First, God's power is almighty. This means no one and no thing is stronger than our Father. God is in complete and absolute control. There is nothing He cannot do.
Second, God's power is ever present. It was present throughout all of time. It was present in the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth. It was present at the cross and the grave of Christ. It was present at the time of the Reformation. It is present today. And, it will be present when God makes the new heaven and new earth. God's power is also present outside of time. God's power is present before the creation of the existing heavens and earth and after the creation of the new heaven and earth. God's power is present from eternity to eternity.
And, there never is a place where God's power is not at work. It is at work in Communist North Korea. It is at work in Afghanistan. It is at work in Haiti. It is at work in that collapsed mine in Chile. It is at work in the U.S. and in Visalia and in Trinity URC. "I believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth."
C Now that we know what God's providence is, let's ask what it does. Again, based upon Scripture, the Catechism mentions two things.
First, with His almighty and ever present power God upholds His creation. He is not the God of the Deists – a God Who is uninvolved with what He has made. That would be like building a car, starting it up, putting it in gear, and then let it run with no one behind the steering wheel. No. God is still at the wheel. He upholds His creation.
What does it mean to uphold creation? It is God Who keeps the force of gravity at work so that we don't suddenly start floating off into space some day. It is God Who sees to it there is constancy in creation: houses don't change their shape overnight; trees don't get up and walk; cows don't become pigs. It is God's providence that keeps the moon going around the earth, the earth going around the sun, our solar system going through the galaxy, and our galaxy traveling through the universe without planets and moons and galaxies running into each other. It is God's providence that makes sure season follows season and that each day is 24 hours in length.
Second, with His almighty and ever present power God also rules creation. He so rules there is no doubt He is in control. Look at how God was in control of Joseph's life. His brothers wanted to kill him, but instead God saved Joseph by having him sold as a slave. In Egypt, Joseph was thrown into prison according to God's plan so he would meet the butler and the baker and thus come to the attention of Pharaoh. Under God's control, Joseph became the second most powerful person in Egypt so he could save his family. Joseph formed a definite link in God's plan to raise for Himself a people and from them a Messiah. Says the Catechism, "All creatures are so completely in His hand that without His will they can neither move nor be moved."
But notice, God so ruled Joseph's life that Joseph did not get only blessings from God. God did not only save and bless Joseph, but God also had Joseph sold as a slave, thrown into prison, and separated from family and friends.
In the same way, God so rules our lives that we not only get jobs, health, families, warm homes, food, and drink; but He also gives us sickness, unemployment, hunger, drought, fire, famine, and death.
In saying this, we cannot say God is the author of sin and evil. Yes, nothing happens in this world without God's permission; yet, God is not the author of sins committed by us or the devil. Says James,
(James 1:13-14) When tempted, no one should say, "God is tempting me." For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; (14) but each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed.So, God is not responsible when a sexual pervert abducts an eight year old girl in Fresno this past week and sexually assaults her. God does not do this wicked deed. The sexual pervert does. When an African tribe murders members of another tribe, God does not cause the massacre. When there is gang warfare and drive-by shootings in Visalia, God is not responsible. Yet, these sorts of things are not independent of God's providence either.
D This is the hard part to understand, isn't it! How can the God Who is love, kind, just, gracious, and merciful give us both rain and drought, fruitful and lean years, health and sickness, prosperity and poverty? Many Christians have problems believing this. But believe it we must. For without this belief we are saying there is some power or force other than God that controls events.
At the same time, we are able to put a fence around providence so that this doctrine is better able to comfort and strengthen us. The first fence: remember that God works for the good of those who love Him (Rom 8:28). He averts all evil or turns it to our profit. He is our Father in Jesus. He loves us. Whatever He sends our way He sends for our ultimate good. Think of Joseph and his suffering or, better yet, Jesus and His suffering.
The second fence: God permits evil to happen – He has to, or else it won't happen. Yet, as I already said, this does not mean God causes, authors, or originates such evils. God causes, authors, and originates only good.
The third fence: God allows evil to go only so far. In the book of Job we read of demonic sins that cause human suffering. Satan hurts Job and his family. But Satan does not have unlimited reign over Job. He is allowed to go only so far. He is on a chain. He is never out of control. God's providence reins him in, cuts him off, and restrains the devil and all our enemies so that without His will and permission they cannot hurt us.
III Response to Providence
A As you know, Joseph's brothers did a very wicked thing to Joseph. Because of them, Joseph was separated from family and friends, sold into slavery, thrown into prison, and suffered hardship. When their father Jacob died, Joseph's brothers were rightly scared that Joseph would take revenge on them. They assumed that Joseph would act the exact same way they would. So they came to Joseph begging for forgiveness. Notice Joseph's reaction. Did he refuse their apology? Did he throw his brothers in jail? Did he torture them? Did he sell them into slavery? Did he take their wives and children? Did he publicly humiliate them? Did he bury his head in the sand and pretend none of this happened? NO! Instead, Joseph reassured his brothers and spoke kindly to them:
(Gen 50:21) "So then, don't be afraid. I will provide for you and your children."When someone has hurt us and harmed us, would we react this way? I doubt if I could!
Why? Why did Joseph react this way? Why didn't he exact revenge? Because Joseph was aware of and believed in God's providence. He said to his brothers:
(Gen 50:20) "You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives."Joseph knew and believed that God was behind and in control of the events in his life. He knew that whatever happened, his Father in heaven was firmly in control. So, Joseph wasn't bitter. Nor was he unforgiving. He knew, in the words of Romans 8, that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him.
We will be reciting the Apostles' Creed tonight. We will be saying, "I believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth." If Joseph was here tonight to hear this, he would bellow out this line. He would yell "Amen."
B Congregation, this same God in Whom Joseph trusted to work everything for good is also our Father because of Christ. Like Joseph we can rest secure in Him and not feel bitter and angry about events. God our Father cares for those who believe in Jesus. And, in Him we can have every confidence.
This does not mean that we will never suffer or never suffer disappointment. It means, and this is God's promise, that we will never have to suffer alone. For our Father will always be with us. He is in control of our lives and is also in control of the world around us. Therefore, says the Catechism, "We can have good confidence in our faithful God and Father that nothing will separate us from His love."
C How else should we respond to God's providence? Says the Catechism, "We can be patient when things go against us ..." Job displayed this patience. He lost his oxen and donkeys, his camels and servants, his sons and daughters. Yet, he refused to curse God and die. Instead, he displayed patience, incredible patience, knowing that all things were in the hands of God.
One final reaction: be "thankful when things go well." The Bible never tells us that we can expect things to go well. Instead, we are told that in this sin-filled world we can expect suffering and pain. So, when God allows things to go well, we need to respond with thanksgiving.
Listen to these words:
When peace like a river attendeth my way,
when sorrows like sea billows roll;
whatever my lot, thou hast taught me to say,
"It is well, it is well with my soul."
Yes, congregation, because of the almighty and ever present power of God, it is always well with our soul.
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