PULPIT TODAY SERMONS
Robert D. Pace
Many people, whether they are Christians, unbelievers, seekers, or skeptics wonder if God is actively involved in the affairs of the world. While they would like to believe He is eminently involved with life, they are unsure. But one fact comes through loudly and clearly for any serious student of the Bible. That is, God prevails upon creation! If God, in His omnipotence and wisdom, created the universe He certainly guides and controls it. How does God do this? He interacts with man through His Son Jesus Christ. Jesus said, “My father works, and I work.” Whatever Jesus did 2000 years ago perfectly reflected His Father’s intentions for us today.
In high school literature I studied eighteenth century pantheism. Pantheism is the ill-conceived notion that God and nature are homogenous. God is a tree, a fish, the ocean, the sun, and so on. It teaches that everything is divine and God can’t be separated from the cosmos. When you parse this intellectual misnomer you discover three ways it denies God:
First, pantheism denies God’s personality. It eradicates God love, mercy, emotion, goodness, and charm.
Second, it denies God’s transcendence. Transcendence asserts that God is infinitely superior to creation and beyond man’s ability to comprehend. Although we are “made in His image,” God is “wholly other” from man.
And thirdly, when pantheism makes God a composite of creation it denies His ability to contravene or impose His will over nature’s course.
But as I stated in our opening remarks, if God, with omnipotence and wisdom, could create the universe, He can guide and control the universe. And that’s what I want to emphasize today. God is real! He is loving and dynamically operative with men! Jesus said, “My father works, and I work.” And that means whatever Jesus did 2000 years ago, reflected His Father’s intentions for us. And when you read the Gospels you discover what Jesus did:
Matthew records Him circumventing the laws of nature by calming storms, feeding the multitudes, and x-raying the ocean to help His disciples haul in loads of fish.
In Mark’s Gospel he records Christ’s unrelenting work of “signs and wonders” to heal the sick and deliver the demonized.
Luke pictures Him defending the weak and stemming the tide of oppression. He was there for sinners (15:1), lepers (17:12), beggars (16:20), those indebted to the IRS, and in his final hour the thief on the cross (23:43).
And John says Jesus came to manifest His Father’s glory to the world. And we see Him revealing His Father to John the Baptist, Nicodemus, the woman at the Well, Lazarus, Mary, Martha, and a host of others.
(Transition) God through Christ shows He’s involved with creation. He’s involved at every level and in every dimension and doesn’t leave anything untouched. Since that’s so, the first point of today’s message notes that God’s work is sovereign.
I. God’s Work is Sovereign
Let’s restate it this way: God’s work is autonomous, dominating, and universal. He rules creation without consulting tribunals, parliaments, or committees and acts without restriction. That’s the claim of Jesus, the Apostles, and the Prophets. And it’s the only reasonable conclusion from logic: God wouldn’t be God if He were subject to any outside force.
(Example) There’s an infinite difference between a king’s sovereignty and God’s sovereignty. For example, a king’s power is never truly sovereign although it’s said to be. An earthly king is bound by many limitations: The scope of his kingdom is limited by borders; his resources are limited; his intelligence is limited; His ability to recruit others and rally the forces is limited. But these restrictions never apply to God. The scope of His rule is boundless. He has infinite resources. He’s complete in wisdom. He never grows weary. And there’s none in the ranks of men or angels He can’t conscript for service. He proceeds unabated at every turn:
Psalm 135:6 says: “The LORD does whatever pleases him, in the heavens and on the earth, in the seas and all their depths.”
Isaiah 46:10 says: “My purpose will stand, and I will do all that I please. (11) . . . What I have said, that will I bring about; what I have planned, that will I do.”
Daniel said: “His kingdom is an eternal kingdom; his dominion endures from generation to generation.”
But the question arises, If God rules the world why all the rebellion and suffering? That is a legitimate question because sometimes evil and mayhem appear to unfold unchecked:
We have miracle drugs yet the scourge of disease plagues nations.
The Government legislates crime bills and fills the streets with police, but that doesn’t stop crime.
And in recent years natural disasters have been nearly apocalyptic. Killer storms, floods, and earthquakes have crisscrossed the world.
But let me reiterate: God is in control! And nothing affects this planet without first gaining divine permission. Everything that happens, good or evil, works for God’s glory and “the good of those that love Him.” Our problem often involves getting caught up “in the moment” and not being able to envision the whole picture. Thus, we distrust God and impugn His sovereignty.
For example, consider the book of Revelation. The four horsemen are loosed, the vials poured out, the seals pealed away, and the world reels with vengeance. When you read Revelation you see worldwide anarchy, unbridled disease and disaster, global darkness, and nuclear devastation erasing two-thirds of humanity. But it’s all part of God’s final chapter in exposing Satan, expunging sin, and renewing the earth. Satan appears to hold sway but in the end you realize God was always in control. And that’s the way it’s always been:
Genesis 6 reveals God’s sovereignty when the Flood submerged all but one divinely chosen family.
Exodus 14 expresses God’s sovereignty when Pharaoh assumes he has Israel permanently trapped. But in one night the death angel met with Egypt’s firstborn and the entire country was made a mortuary. And within hours Pharaoh watched God open the Red Sea for Israel’s deliverance.
Daniel 4 Nebuchadnezzar lifted himself with pride and disavowed God. And according to Daniel’s prophecy he was struck with a dementia known as lycanthrope, prowling around like a wild animal. Sovereignty manifested again seven years later when God restored Nebuchadnezzar to his kingship.
God is in control . . . always! And you can be assured of three facts when you recognize God’s sovereignty:
One, you don’t have to retaliate against your enemies, God will order their due.
Two, as Philippians 4:19 promises you can be assured God will supply “all your needs according to His riches in glory.”
And three, you can be assured of attaining your destiny because ‘promotion comes neither from the east or west, promotion comes from the Lord.’ God is always in control!
(Transition) God is at work, and it’s a sovereign, incontestable work. But His work is not only sovereign, secondly, God’s work is providential.
II. God’s Work is Providential
The fact that God rules without restraint is wonderful. But tantamount to that is His providence. Providence is when God’s gathers His attributes, the complete essence of His being, and manages creation. In other words, His goodness, power, love, foreknowledge, wisdom, and mercy all coordinate to execute His purposes. That’s why Proverbs 16:9 says: “In his heart a man plans his course, but the LORD determines his steps.” And it’s why Solomon noted: “Many are the plans in a man’s heart, but it is the LORD’S purpose that prevails.” In some mysterious fashion, God orders and maintains our life even in the most chaotic and perplexing circumstances. There’s an encapsulating bubble of grace that always surrounds Christians.
(Bible Example) Let’s illustrate this through Joseph. Can anyone identify with this Bible character—used, abused, accused, and confused? As a teenager God revealed that Joseph would be a means of deliverance for his family. But his brothers ridiculed him and sold him into Egyptian slavery. In Egypt he suffered false accusation, was imprisoned, and forgotten. As Joseph’s life unfolded it looked like everything happened in the precise manner Joseph would have designed it himself, doesn’t it? Of course not! But the good news about God’s work of providence for Joseph is this: Nothing could undermine it! Not Joseph’s betraying brothers; not forgetful friends; not foes; not false accusations; not expatriation; nothing! Philippians 1:6 says: “being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”
The longer you live and serve God, the more you understand His providence. Parts of life that were once distorted and misunderstood are clarified by the providential work of God. And Joseph understood this principle of providence too. He had witness providence work for his good first-hand.
Do you remember how Joseph reacted to his brothers that had cruelly sold him into slavery? Here was Joseph, the Prime minister of Egypt, with more political power than anyone but Pharaoh. Jacob, their father, died and Joseph’s brothers instantly imagined the worst scenario unfolding. They thought Joseph would retaliate with vengeance for their treacherous actions. So they bowed before him and begged for mercy. But listen to Joseph’s reaction in Genesis 50:19-21. He says, “Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God? (20) You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives. (21) So then, don’t be afraid. I will provide for you and your children.” And he reassured them and spoke kindly to them.”
Joseph finally understood that God had been in control all along. He knew that providence had governed him through every hardship. And do you see the fruit of righteousness that manifested through Joseph? He didn’t throw his guilty brother in jail. Joseph, filled with understanding God’s Providence had mercy. You see, when you can recognize God constantly directs the course of your life it brings deep settled peace. Isaiah 32:17 says: “The fruit of righteousness will be peace; the effect of righteousness will be quietness and confidence forever.”
Let me do some “liberating” preaching for a moment: Some of you need to be freed from thinking you are primarily responsible for changing the climate around you. But I want you to realize something: You can’t always change the climate! At times, the best you can do endure the heat or adjust to the chill. Climate control is up to God. Always remember this: God is in control over every circumstance.
Think about it: You wouldn’t willingly jump in the fiery furnace unless God let your enemies arrest you, shackle you, and shove you into the flames! And once you’re in the fire there’s nothing you can do about the temperature. But God controls everything! The Lord controlled Daniel’s adversaries when they threw him into the lion’s den. And the Lord never lost control once Daniel stood among the lions. And when Daniel totally trusted God’s Providence the Lion of the Tribe of Judah guarded him throughout the night.
(Example) For years I didn’t know what it meant to rest in God’s providence concerning His plan for my life. I thought God was handcuffed to work through me if I wasn’t praying with fiery intensity, and fasting until my stomach twisted with knots. Whatever successes occurred were accompanied by a sense of, “Whoa, I had to work for that one!” And on many occasions I felt the achievements were minimal. I assumed I should have worked harder, prayed more, or fasted longer. And I was going beyond the call of duty! I didn’t comprehend Psalm 47:4 that says: “He has chosen our inheritance for us.”
Please hear this next statement correctly: you are not singlehandedly responsible for seizing victory from the jaws of defeat. The almighty God who created you and loves you with infinite love takes responsibility for you. God never requires anybody to carry the full load. He works in partnership with men! God wants us to exercise faith, prayer, and obedience—but God is ultimately responsible for working the miracle; not us.
Joseph couldn’t single-handedly achieve his dreams and we can’t either. It takes God. You are asking for serious emotional and spiritual trouble if you shoulder the bulk of the burden to accomplish God’s purposes. You’re inviting one of two dreadful evils: pride or condemnation. Pride infects us when we assume we are the reason for our successes. It’s the attitude that says: ‘I made it work. I worked the miracle. I landed the job.’ That’s pride and God sets Himself against the prideful. The fact is, God gave us our health, He instilled us with soundness of mind, and He created us with our intellect, talents, and personality to find favor with men. On the other hand, condemnation overwhelms us when we assume plans floundered because of our incompetence—even though we know we fully followed God. I’m not suggesting that you become complacent and abdicate your responsibility. I’ve already said that God wants us exercising faith, prayer, and obedience. I’m saying our victories in life are primarily due to God’s grace and the power of the Holy Spirit that works in our behalf. Once you realize this you are spiritually and emotionally free to accept whatever providence produces.
(Insight) Relying on providence is this: It’s doing your best while understanding that God is responsible for the outcome. We work but our works never bring the victory. Turn to 1 Corinthians 3:5 and let’s read:
1 Corinthians 3:5 says: “What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe—as the Lord has assigned to each his task. (6) I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow. (7) So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. (8) The man who plants and the man who waters have one purpose, and each will be rewarded according to his own labor.”
Moses could shake his staff over Egypt but only God could activate its power.
Joshua could march around Jericho but only God could flatten the walls.
The Apostles could preach and lay hands on the sick but only God could regenerate hearts and cure the afflicted. Man works, but God empowers the work.
(Transition) Third, God’s work is not only sovereign and providential, but, God’s work is personal.
III. God’s Work is Personal
Have you noticed how the Gospel of Mark describes Jesus? He was: moved with compassion (1:41), stunned with wonder (6:6), filled with affection (10:21), and wearied (4:38) and bitterly disappointed (3:5). Matthew shows Christ angered (21:12-13) and lonely (27:46). John shows Him pained (11:35, 38). Jesus experienced a wide range of human emotions. That’s because our Almighty Creator became “bone of our bone, and flesh of our flesh” so He could relate to us on personal level.
(Illustration) In 1993 about 600 would-be lawyers convened for the California Bar Exam. During the testing a fifty-one year-old man suffered a seizure. Of the 600 people taking the exam only two stopped working to offer help. For thirty minutes those two people administered CPR until paramedics arrived. The others continued working with hardly a glance in their direction. Ironically, ethics was one focus of the exam! (Adapted from a sermon by Richard J. Fairchild, copyright, 1997.)
Christ isn’t like that. His work is sovereign and providential but it’s also personal.
He was thronged at Jerusalem but He was caring enough to look past the swarm and call down one man perched in a tree.
The crowds crushed Him at Galilee but He was sensitive enough to notice a woman’s gentle tug on His robe for healing.
He was swarmed at Jericho but He deviated from His trip to restore a blind man’s sight.
And at Nain He cared enough to stop a funeral procession and resurrect a grieving mother’s son.
Nobody is obscured from Christ’s view. His work is massive but it’s also personal. He always takes time to invest in individuals. And He’s actively at work in everybody. Turn to Jeremiah 18.
It’s comforting to know we aren’t aimlessly wandering through life without purpose or destination. The Divine Architect leaves nothing to chance. He has a blueprint for everyone.
As I mentioned, life occasionally spin out of control. The fog rolls in and our compass loses its directing magnetism. It’s times like these when people wonder if life has meaning or order. Let me assure you that God, who configured the constellations in the farthest galaxy, has intricately ordered a plan for those He created “in His image.” Never forget that this is a firmly established fact of the Scriptures!
Psalm 47:4 says: “He chose our inheritance for us, the pride of Jacob, whom he loved.”
And Ephesians 1:11 says: “In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will.”
Just as there can be no astronomy without stars or botany without flowers or geology without rocks there can be no theology without God’s personal attention upon us. He intervenes at every level and I hope you see that our great God is indeed at work for your welfare!