Order Of Worship (Liturgy)
Scripture Reading: Genesis 37
Heidelberg Catechism: Lord’s Day 10
Beloved Congregation in the Lord Jesus Christ:
There are men who have gone down in history because of their unwavering insistence and belief in divine providence. In 1861 the U.S. Civil War began and during one of the first land battles, a young general named Thomas Jackson stood firm in the midst of a great enemy attack. It looked as if he would be overrun, but he and his men did not retreat. Just in time, more troops arrived to help the confederate general and they won the battle. This general would forever be called Stonewall Jackson. Stonewall Jackson was a southern Presbyterian and an ardent Calvinist. He believed that he would not die one minute before God ordained him to die and if it was his time, there is nothing he nor anyone else could do to deter that.
In the battle of Chancellorsville, General Jackson was wounded by his own men, thinking that he was the enemy. He was shot twice in the arm and once in the hand. His arm was amputated, but his men were able to carry him out. However, pneumonia set in. It was as his life was passing away that he showed his greatest resolve in the providence of God. As he lay in bed with his wounds he said, “I consider these wounds a blessing, they were given for some good and wise purpose, and I would not part with them if I could.” When it was clear that Jackson had only a few hours to live, his wife notified him that his end was near, he calmly and tenderly answered her, “Very good, very good; it is all right.”
What makes a man die in such a way? The providence of God. This afternoon we will see that our God governs this world by His providence.
I. What is Providence?
II. Truths which flow from Providence
III. The wonderful comfort of providence
I. What is providence?
Lord’s Day 10 is one of those Lord’s Days I would encourage you all to memorize. It is extremely personal and comforting and applies to all times and places. Our God is a God of providence. You have likely heard me say that before. But, what is providence? This is what is asked in Question 27? (read) The theological definition of providence contains three parts, God preserving, governing, and directing (co-operation). The answer in our catechism is a bit less theological and a bit more explanatory.
There are four main parts to answer 27. First, is the “almighty and ever-present power of God.” This is the introductory formula to the three parts of providence. God is the all-powerful. We speak about his omnipotence. He, as Creator, has the power to direct all things. There is none like God. Micah 7 asks, “who is a God like you?” Psalm 139 speaks of the power of God in large and small things. He is the potter and we and every other thing is the clay. It is shaped and molded by the potter, who is Almighty Jehovah. Since God is all power and present everywhere, he is able to uphold all things.
He upholds it, as with his hand. There is nothing outside of his control. If God failed to uphold anything at any moment, it would cease to exist. This world is not self-sustaining or self-sufficient. It is in the hands of almighty God. He is so high above us as the upholder of all things. It is like picking up a small pillbug you find crawling in your home. Its life and future are all of a sudden in your hands. How much more are all things in the hands of God. He upholds all things.
God also rules all things and he directs all things. He is the king over creation. “This is my Father’s world, O let me ne’er forget that though the wrong seems oft so strong, God is the ruler yet. This is my father’s world; why should my heart be sad? The Lord is king, let the heavens ring! God reign, let the earth be glad.” That is the providence of God. He rules and directs all things.
As you look down the list of events and circumstances found in answer 27 you see that often the two extremes are given. What we might consider good and bad. Rain and drought, fruitful and lean years, food and drink, health and sickness, properity and poverty.... A time of peace and a time of war. A beautiful sunny day and an earthquake which is followed by a tsunami.
Stonewall Jackson needn’t be afraid, because what was the point. Who, by worrying can add even an hour to their life? Look at the lilies of the field. Lord’s Day 9 teaches us that God is the creator, Lord’s Day 10 teaches us that God is the God of providence. Providence does not only mean that God will provide. The word actually means for God to see ahead (Dutch: voorzienigheid). Providence is the almighty power of God whereby he upholds all things, rules all things, and directs all that come happen in this universe. All are under the providence of God.
Secondly, let us look at the truths which flow from providence
II. Truths which flow from providence
The first truth which flows from the fact that God is a God of providence, is that there is no such thing as chance or luck. Answer 27 ends by saying, “all things, in fact, come to us, not by chance but from his fatherly hand.” We have all heard it said that someone was very lucky. When someone wins the lottery others says, “Do you know the chances of winning that thing? That man or woman is lucky.” No, they are not lucky. They also are not forturnate. Fortune means the same things as luck.
There is nothing that happens that is lucky. If you flip a coin 20 times and all 20 times you flip it ends up on heads, that is not lucky. Why? Because God has so directed the flipping of that coin.
Have you ever had one of those days where everything seems to go wrong. You sleep in, you get a flat tire on the way to work, you lose your wallet, etc. Were you just unlucky that day? No. There is no such thing as luck or chance. R.C. Sproul said, “If chance exists, the God doesn’t exist.”
The second truth, is that there is no such thing as mother nature. There is God. If mother nature exists, God does not exist. When thinking about the devastating earthquake in Japan an unbeliever might say, “mother nature roared her ugly face.” No she didn’t. There are no such things as independent forces of nature. God directs all things that come to pass.
Think of our scripture reading from Genesis 37. There Joseph walks toward his jealous brothers who scheme a plan to kill him and then to throw him into a pit and then to sell him to some Ishmaelites. Someone reading such a story might think, wow, talk about being in the wrong place at the wrong time. His brothers were extremely jealous then and they had the perfect alibi. Joseph went out looking for them. They could tell their dad, we never saw him, or we found him torn upon by a lion. Joseph was not in the wrong place at the wrong time. God ordained this to take place as it did. We will see in our next point how God used such an event for the glory of His name and the for the protection of His people, but at the time, it was not looking good for Joseph.
Thirdly, there is no such thing as karma. Karma is an Indian religious concept which understands deeds or actions to have corresponding consequences dependent upon the goodness or badness of an action. This is the fundamental belief of Hindus, Buddhists, Sikhs. Karmic effects of all deeds are viewed as actively shaping past, present, and future experiences.
You may have seen the bumper sticker; my karma ran over your dogma. This is a mockery of those who believe in divine providence. Dogma is official church teaching. We need not think that if something happens to us, whether we view it as good or bad, it is a direct result of a good or bad action we have done. This is why the wicked can prosper in this world. This is also why the righteous can be persecuted, put to death, live in poverty, etc. These things happen on account of the providence of God.
It could happen that the decisions we make and the actions we perform could have adverse results in our life. But even this is under the providence of God. Think of what happened to Joseph’s brothers having to go down to Egypt. Sin can result in negative consequences for individuals, but we must be careful not to equate frowning providences with sin.
The fourth truth is that there is no need for us to fear the future. I remember speaking with some elderly saints in the past and they were so worried about what would happen if Barack Obama became president. This was so central in their minds. We need not worry. We do not have to apathetic, but we need not worry. Tomorrow and the next day are in the Lord’s hands.
Some of us might think, oh, what kind of world will our children and our grandchildren be growing up in? Likely, one hostile to Christianity, to be sure, but that is okay. God will be there. God will still show his almighty and ever present power to uphold, rule and direct all things. Nothing will occur outside of his hand and leading.
Believing in the providence of God does not make us fatalists, but it does give us the sure confidence in our God that all that comes to pass is in his hands. From the dying of a flower, to the devastating power of a tsunami. Our God reigns.
Finally, let us look at the wonderful comfort of providence.
III. The wonderful comfort of providence
QA 28 of the catechism is one of the most pastoral and comforting. It is loved by the people of God because we can see ourselves so clearly in it. Read it.
There are essentially three responses to three situations: a situation where things go against us, a time when things go well, and our outlook on the future.
We need not think too hard to find times when things go against us. Look at the bulletin from week to week. Hear the congregational prayer. We suffer loss, sickness, cancer, and estrangement. We have deep valleys and sick beds and death beds and final resting beds. Notice that one of the scripture references below the answer is taken from Job 1:21-22. Yes, things went against him. It seemed like everything was going against him, including his own wife. What should he have done? Exactly what he did. He was patient and confessed “the Lord gives and the Lord takes away, blessed be the name of the Lord.”
The scripture is full of examples of faithful saints who endured dark nights of the soul only to wake up the next day to see the sunshine. If the next day arrived and still, no sunshine, they could be resolved in the providence of God. Trial and tribulation are the very blessings in disguise God brings us to teach us how to be patient.
We can be thankful when things go well. How wonderful and joyous it is, in the midst of wonderful days to close our eyes and thank God for His goodness. There are things in this life that make us look up and say with conviction, “Thank you, Lord.” On a wedding day, the birth of a child, a graduation, an encouraging phone call or sermon. Thank you God.
God led his servant Joseph through slavery into trouble in Potiphar’s house, but he led him all the way to become ruler in Egypt. One day, his own brothers who wanted to kill him, would unknowingly, bow in honour to their younger brother. The Lord’s way are wonderful.
And for the future, we can have good confidence in our Faithful God and Father that nothing will separate us from his love. Our lives are completely contained within providence of God. Stonewall Jackson could lay on his deathbed and say to his wife when she tells him he is about to die, “very good, very good, it is alright.” How? Because nothing could separate him from the love of God. Our lives are not our own, but belong to Jesus Christ. We are united to Christ in faith. The events of this life, when we are trusting in God cannot shake us. I am not speaking hear about living in your strength, but rather the opposite.
Give up! Give up our self-trust and trust in God. When we do so, we are as a steady ship traveling through unknown waters. The comfort is, is that Jesus Christ is our captain. The future trials, the times of difficulty, the unknown future is going to be okay. How do we know? Because of the providence of God. “All creatures are so completely in his hand that without his will they can neither move nor be moved.”
That is the providence of God. What is the benefit? “We can be patient when things go against us, thankful when things go well, and for the future we can have good confidence in our faithful God and Father that nothing will separate us from his love.” May it be our prayer that we can live all the days of our life, with a firm conviction in the providence of God. Amen.
* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Steven Swets, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service. Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2011, Rev. Steven Swets
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