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Author:Rev. Reuben Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Mt. Nasura
 Mt. Nasura, Western Australia
 frca.org.au/mountnasura/
 
Title:Resting in God's Eternal Counsel
Text:LD 9 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:God's Amazing Purpose
 
Preached:2016
Added:2016-09-11
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Ps 65:1,3                                                                                

Hy 1

Reading – Psalm 33; Matthew 10:27-31

Ps 33:3,4,6

Sermon – Lord’s Day 9

Hy 82:1,2

Hy 78:1,2,3,4,5

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Beloved in Christ, do you have any plans for the week? Maybe you’ve got an agenda or diary in your purse, or a schedule on your phone. If you look there, you might see what amounts to a plan. There’s probably some appointments jotted down, a list of things to do, notes to ring a few people—all besides the regular hours of working, being in school, or being retired. Plans like this are good: they give us something to go on.

God has a plan, too. In his mind He has a direction for this universe. It includes all kinds of important world events, and also arrangements for the lives of his little children, you and me. We realize that our own plans for tomorrow can quickly change, for all kinds of reasons: we get in an accident with the car, we wake up with the flu, maybe there’s a family crisis. Life surprises us, but God’s plan already includes all of it.

We see that in Lord’s Day 9. It’s describing the power and authority of God the Father Almighty. And our confession says that He “upholds and governs” all things “by his eternal counsel and providence.” Everything in this world and in our lives is directed by his counsel.

Today we want to zoom in on something, that word “counsel” in Lord's Day 9. In English the word carries the meaning of “advice,” wise words that are meant to shape a person’s actions; we talk about "seeking counsel" from other people. Our God needs no input, of course. He’s doing everything according to his own direction. We read in Ephesians 1:11 that God “works all things according to the counsel of his will.” God’s counsel is his own plan for governing all things, foreordained and perfect.

We can’t see God’s plan. We’re not allowed to peek at his schedule of events. We have no idea what’ll happen to us tomorrow or next year, or even why it’ll happen. His counsel is beyond us, yet we can rest in it, because it’s the counsel of the God who has become our Father in Jesus Christ. This is our theme from Lord’s Day 9,

I can rest in the perfect counsel of God my Father:

  1. his counsel is eternal
  2. his counsel is total
  3. his counsel is personal

 

1. his counsel is eternal: Whenever we talk about our God, we realize how limited is our understanding. His greatness is all-surpassing; his glory is beyond comprehension. The Scriptures reveal enough about the true God for us to know and believe, yet the language used always falls short. It’s inadequate.

It’s like describing a sunset for a person who’s never been able to see. What would you say? How can you capture in words the blazing glory of that red and orange disc as it slips past the horizon of a shimmering ocean, casting those radiant colours and beams everywhere? Words fail to convey the full picture, even more so if the person you’re speaking to is blind. How can they imagine a sunset? How will they know, if they’ve never had the experience?

This afternoon we’re the blind ones, as Scripture describes a little of God’s glory. His ways are beyond our finding out, his wisdom is unsearchable—also when we think about God’s counsel. For Psalm 33:11 says, “The counsel of the LORD stands forever, the plans of his heart to all generations.” It’s similar to what Paul writes in Ephesians 3:11, that God saved us “according to [his] eternal purpose.”

Forever. Eternal. For us those are really hard words. Because we’re creatures, we always think in terms of limited and measurable time: we picture hands on a clock, a calendar on the wall… So even eternity we divide into past, and future. Eternity “past” is that time before creation, when there was just God, and nothing else. And eternity “future,” we say, is that everlasting time beyond Christ’s second coming, when we dwell with God for years without end.

But eternity is actually more than that; it’s deeper than past and future. Eternity is being without time. Eternity is a constant, unceasing present—when there’s not history on the one hand, and posterity on the other, but everything is “now.” To the eternal God, it’s all simultaneous. He is the First and He is the Last, and everywhere in between.

This is one reason that our God is immutable, or unchangeable. For us, change happens with the constant passing of moments. For us, many moments fill each day, each year, and so we get older, and we make progress on one project, and we decline in something else. But if no moments ever elapse for a person, there’s no change. That’s the LORD: because He is outside of time, nothing can happen that makes his thinking on an issue evolve or change. There’s not ever a need for God to alter his plans, revise his counsel, or have a Plan B.

So when the eternal God looks at time, Scripture says, there’s no difference between a day and a thousand years—they’re the same to him. To us, of course, there’s a huge difference between living now, and living a thousand years ago, in the Middle Ages: imagine a world without electricity and computers and cars and penicillin and the Reformation. But to God, it’s nothing. It’s all now. It’s the constant present.

I realize that this is like the blind, trying to describe a sunset to the blind. So let’s try make it more real with reference to Lord’s Day 9. God is eternal, and his counsel is eternal. This means that the LORD has always known what is taking place. He knows about it, whether we’re talking about yesterday, today, or tomorrow.

He knows it, and more than that, God actively governs it. For his counsel is his vision for this world. His counsel is what God wills to accomplish in this universe, and among his holy people. Just like us, you could say, it’s the course of events that God has set for each day.

And God holds that counsel with full understanding, a perfect wisdom. When you have a big decision to make, maybe you get out a sheet of scrap paper and you start jotting down thoughts. You’re thinking about what university to attend, or what car to buy, or what person to hire for your business—and you break it down into columns of pros and cons, and you muddle your way through until you think you have a decision, which may or may not be the right one.

God doesn’t do that—He doesn’t need to. He’s the only wise God. He’s the one who sees every outcome of every event. He knows every development and obstacle along the way, and He comprehends at once the very best path to reach the desired goal. Says Isaiah of God’s wisdom, “The LORD of hosts… is wonderful in counsel and excellent in guidance” (28:29).

And if God has made his plans in this perfect wisdom, there’s of course no need for him to delay or second-guess in carrying it out. He decides, and He acts. He wills, and He does. This is God, never failing, never faltering. The prophet Isaiah says again, “Your counsels of old are faithfulness and truth” (25:1).

By way of contrast, think of our own plans. Like Proverbs 19:21 puts it, “There are many plans in a man’s heart, nevertheless the LORD’s counsel—that will stand.” Isn’t that an accurate observation? “There are many plans in a man’s heart…” Even today you might be mulling over plans for your career, your business and education. You’ve got plans for your home. You have social plans for tonight, and plans the school holidays.

What should we think about all this planning? Part of it’s being responsible. The Lord has given you a time here on earth. And He’s given all manner of blessings, opportunities and a calling to live for him. We plan, because God has given us the ability to plan. He’s given us his guiding Spirit, so we can chart a course. Keep doing that. Without sounding too grandiose about it, it’s good to have a vision for your life, a clear sense of your office and calling. If you’ll run the race, then you need to know where you’re going!

But when it comes to planning, Lord’s Day 9 also teaches us humility. It reminds me of the saying: “Man proposes, but God disposes.” You and I might propose a course of action, have everything planned out neatly. But in an instant, God can reorder it all: “Man proposes, but God disposes.” It says in Proverbs 16:9, “A man’s heart plans his way, but the LORD directs his steps.” Things can change quickly.

So often, our plans fail for lack of prayer. So often, our plans falter for lack of ability: we just don’t have what it takes to get it done. Or we lose interest and move on. Think of how our own sin gets in the way too: a path that once seemed good can be ruined by our failings.

What a great assurance to know that God’s counsel stands! Because what do children need, but stability? What do we need, but something to count on? God knows many things are uncertain for us. So God gives us an anchor. He tells us that his plans endure! He assures us that He, the perfectly wise God, is in charge of every event and outcome. Trust in him, for all his counsels are faithfulness and truth.

And this gives a blessed stability for more than just our own life. We look around at this world, and we get anxious. What’s going to happen with ISIS? Who will get elected as the next American president? What’s going to happen in our government? We think about the future of the church in a world that is so opposed to Christ. Lots to worry about.

And then in our fear, we read Psalm 33 again. “The LORD brings the counsel of the nations to nothing; He makes the plans of the peoples of no effect. The counsel of the LORD stands forever, the plans of his heart to all generations” (vv 10-11). That tells us not to fear for tomorrow, or next year. Instead, rest in the perfect will of your Father! Eternal is his counsel, and unchanging is his purpose. He knows the end of something long before we’ve come to its beginning. From before the world’s foundation, God has been working out his good plan. So whatever happens, we’re not beyond his reach. We’re never outside his counsel.

 

2. his counsel is total: One of the things that government does every year is release its new budget, what they plan to spend. We think of the budget in vague terms, like a really big pie, cut into pieces: the government will spend so much on defense, so much on health care, and so on. But the budget document is very specific on what’s going to be spent. Not quite down to the last paperclip, but pretty close. That’s why the federal budget is usually several inches thick, or even a few volumes.

That’s a good picture for God’s counsel. God’s plan is not general, but comprehensive—it’s total in its sweep. The Lord says in Isaiah 46:10, “My counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure.” He’s not restricted in anything He does. Or as Proverbs 16:4 puts it: “The LORD has made all for himself; yes, even the wicked for the day of doom.” There are no loose ends in God’s world. Let’s link that again to the Father’s character. God’s counsel is eternal, because He is eternal. And God’s counsel is total, because He is completely sovereign. His decree is always the final word. We quoted earlier from Ephesians 1, that God “works all things according to the counsel of his will.” All things!

We also read from Matthew 10, where Jesus is talking about persecution, and the possibility of being called to witness for the faith. And He encourages us with a picture of God’s sovereignty: “Are not two sparrows sold for a copper coin? And not one of them falls to the ground apart from your Father’s will” (v 29).

A sparrow was perhaps the most unimportant creature that a person would bother to think of. At the market you might buy a couple of sparrows for a light snack: plucking their feathers and cooking them was just enough effort for such a small tidbit of food. And those two sparrows would cost you just a fraction of an hour’s wage: a copper coin. Sparrows were barely worth mentioning. But did God overlook them? Were they too small to care about? Did these sparrows move according to their own flight-plan?

No, says Jesus, God knows the sparrows. He also knows the wildflowers and the raindrops. He knows all the stuff in your diary, and He knows everything that’s not in there. His counsel is total. It includes all things—like the next Lord’s Day will describe: “leaf and blade, rain and drought, fruitful and barren years, food and drink, health and sickness, riches and poverty” (Q&A 27). He works all things according to his counsel.

Believe it or not, people object to this teaching. Some say that God’s counsel only relates to his plan of salvation. That’s what He’s concerned about, after all—redeeming sinners. They say we shouldn’t picture God as a micro-manager, concerned about everything in this world, even the miniscule. Compare it to the finance minister and his big budget. He doesn’t really care about those paper clips in the government office up north—he has better things to do! So why should Almighty God care about the hairs on my head? Is that really worth his attention?

And what about the bad things? That’s another hard question people ask. God hates sin, so how can He will that it happens? God is the God of life, so how can He make planes crash into the ocean, and earthquakes destroy whole villages?

In answer to these kinds of questions, Acts 17:28 tells us the truth, “In God we live and move and have our being.” That’s saying that our entire existence is wrapped up in the care of God: our every breath, our every motion, our every second. He works all things according to his counsel. Even the appalling things, the horrific, the painful, are part of God’s plan.

Think of the worst miscarriage of justice there ever was, the most shocking murder: the trial and crucifixion of God’s perfect Son. The Bible tells us that this happened in full agreement with God’s purpose. Peter prays about this in Acts 4, speaking about what Herod and Pilate, the Gentiles and the Israelites did just weeks prior: In “conspiring against your holy servant Jesus… They did what your power and will had decided beforehand should happen” (vv 27-28). It was the greatest tragedy, a sin committed in the worst unbelief, ending with the death of the Son of God—yet it was all according to the LORD’s plan. He willed it! The church father Augustine once said, “God’s work is so great that in a wonderful and unspeakable manner even what happens against his will does not occur without his will.”

Maybe we accept that for what happened to Christ. Or we say that when we see the carnage from natural disasters, when we hear of bloody wars, or even when godlessness gains momentum: “Yep, it’s part of God’s will. Everything’s going to plan.” But what about the things that happen to us? In hardship, isn’t it far more difficult to trust in this total counsel? Isn’t that confession a lot tougher? Don’t we start to wonder about his fatherly hands? Does God see this? Does God want this?

We can think of many examples, ones that have touched us or those we know. A pregnancy that ends in the child’s death. Cancer, striking down a young father or mother. Dementia, taking away a fertile mind. Depression, robbing a person of all joy. Financial strain that just gets worse. Animosity that wrenches a family apart. Loved ones who become enslaved by their sin.

Besides all that, perhaps there are things in our life that we’d never have chosen for ourselves. You might be taking a very different path today than you had planned—and it’s far harder. It involves heartache. Frustrating jobs, broken dreams, fizzled-out plans, many regrets. And we wonder: Is this what God wanted for me? Was this his good plan? Did He in his power and will decide even this beforehand?

It is his counsel. In God alone do we live, and move, and have our being. But we shouldn’t turn divine providence into a “whatever happens” theology. When you say, “It is what it is. Might as well forget all my planning and praying. I’m just going to sit here, and let life happen to me.” No, there’s a great difference here. There’s a difference between believing in blind fate, and believing that this God who is directing everything is infinitely wise, infinitely powerful, and infinitely good and gracious. It’s our Father in Christ who has a perfect counsel. It’s our Father who governs all things.

 

3. his counsel is personal: So does God care about your struggles? Does He know your concerns? Is He really prepared to give you courage after a failure, or comfort after a loss? Will He guide you in the decision you have to make?

The words of our Saviour could not be more clear. “Are not two sparrows sold for a copper coin? And not one of them falls to the ground apart from your Father’s will… Do not fear; you are of more value than many sparrows” (vv 29-31). We’re of more value—of untold value. In God’s eternal and total counsel, we’re not unseen. We’re not minor blips on the radar. His care is personal.

Think of this: God so loves us that He sent his one and only Son into this world, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. It’s the God of Christ who has a purpose for us! And that tells us at once that his counsel is always good. He wants what is beneficial for his people. He does only those things that’ll make our salvation even more sure. In Christ our Saviour, everything holds together.

The text is familiar, yet so true, in Romans 8, “We know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to his purpose” (v 28). He works for our good: that’s his prevailing counsel! The Father desires that absolutely everything in our lives would serve that one goal: that we might be his children, and walk humbly with him.

We say with the Catechism, “In him I trust so completely as to have no doubt that He will provide me with all things necessary for body and soul, and will also turn to my good whatever adversity He sends me in this life of sorrow” (Q&A 26). We are confident that even out of the most rotten situations, out of all the mess made through our sin, the LORD can somehow bring blessing and deliverance. Such is the power of God, to change evil into good, and to redeem us from any trouble!

I realize that we can say all this too easily. Especially when we’re talking to the hurting, to the grieving, to the suffering, we might quickly offer a cliché, “In this, God has a purpose. God will work all for good.” And He will. Only we don’t always see it. We shouldn’t expect to. We may not see it at the moment, and sometimes we won’t see it.

Just think of how God’s counsel is eternal—He’s been accomplishing things before the foundation of the world, all according to a perfect wisdom. And his counsel is also total, meaning that one event might be linked to another event in ways that we can’t begin to fathom. God is working on a schedule that is far bigger than our weekly diary, or our 80-year life. To him, it’s all present—to him, it’s all clay, to be shaped just how He wants!

So in this life should we always expect to see the final product? Dare we predict how God will work out this tragedy or this disappointment? Can we say with confidence why this good happened, or this evil? Sometimes we will see it, and that can be a beautiful thing. How an illness brings a person closer to God. How a failed plan leads to a new opportunity. How even a shameful sin can be the beginning of something better.

Sometimes we see the purpose, but let’s be humble when we think about God’s counsel. We’re just little children, after all, and He’s the only wise Father. But here’s the thing: we can trust him. We can rest in his will. Even if we can barely find our way forward, we can still hold his hand. He’s told us that He has good plans for us, that He’ll give us a future and a hope. Believe it! In Jesus Christ, we’re of more value than many sparrows. And He will not let us fall.  Amen.




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2016, Rev. Reuben Bredenhof

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