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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:Living from the Father’s Hand
Text:LD 10 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:The Glory of the Father
 
Preached:2018
Added:2018-04-29
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Ps 93:1,4                                                                                          

Hy 1

Reading – Psalm 139; Hebrews 12:1-11

Ps 139:1,5,7,8,9

Sermon – Lord’s Day 10

Hy 56:1,2,3,4

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, in the United States there’s a place called Tornado Alley, where there can be more than 1000 tornadoes per year. There’s a standard for rating their intensity, called the Fujita scale, based primarily on the damage that a tornado causes. The most severe is a Category 5, which can disintegrate wooden houses, cause vehicles to fly more than 100 meters through the air, and even topple concrete buildings. Such a terrifying tornado is sometimes referred to as the “finger of God.” It’s called that because in the aftermath of a Category 5, people say that it looks as if Almighty God has moved his hand across the earth, flattening homes and tossing cars.

And they’re right, for that’s what a tornado is: the hand of God. For it was sent by him. In a tornado—and in the cyclones, the earthquakes, diseases and bushfires that devastate this earth every year—God is moving his strong hand, and He’s showing the world a little of who He is.

The Lord God wants recognition, not just when terrible disasters strike, but always, for He deserves unceasing honour as Lord of all. Yet we can forget how powerful and how close is the hand of God. We’ll easily connect his providence to those major, significant, obvious things. But his hand is moving in my little, ordinary, quiet life. His hand is everywhere, at all times, with great power and perfect wisdom.

The Catechism emphasizes this in Lord’s Day 10, using the image of God’s hand no less than three times. “God’s providence is His almighty and ever present power, whereby, as with his hand, He still upholds heaven and earth and all creatures…” (Q&A 27). Still in Q&A 27, “All things come to us not by chance but by his fatherly hand.” And again, “All creatures are so completely in his hand that without his will they cannot so much as move” (Q&A 28). That’s our challenging and comforting confession in Lord’s Day 10,

I believe in the Father’s almighty and ever present hand:

  1. it’s a hand that provides
  2. it’s a hand that disciplines
  3. it’s a hand that saves

 

1) God’s hand is a hand that provides: As we talk about the hand of God, we first need to be clear on something. It’s this: God doesn’t have hands! Whenever the Bible describes the hand of God, we shouldn’t picture him having two hands, attached to the end of two arms, attached to his torso, and so on. We shouldn’t think of God like this, for God is spirit, and He doesn’t have a body, like you and I do.

He doesn’t have hands, which must also be said for all those other physical features that the Bible attributes to God. In the Scriptures, God speaks about the incense of worship rising up to his nose. God speaks of trampling down his enemies with his feet. The LORD speaks of watching over the world with his eyes. He speaks of blowing on the earth with his mouth. And every time we hear the blessing of Numbers 6, there’s that picture of God turning his face toward his people. Vivid as these pictures are, they’re only metaphors, or comparisons.

For God wants to help us understand who He is and what He can do. The Lord is all-surpassing in ability and strength, incomprehensible in power—so much so that God is beyond us. But like a patient schoolteacher with his young students, God teaches us profound things, doing so with concepts and images that we can grasp and remember.

So, about those hands… There’s not one part of the body that’s more important than another. As Paul says in one of his letters, all the members have their individual role and place, even those to whom we give less honour. Still, we can reasonably say that our hands will always be among the “MVPs” of our body. Hands simply do so much. We use them for practically every single activity we undertake.

That’s how the Bible speaks about hands, too. The Bible portrays them as a direct extension of the heart, or of the mind. That’s because our hands can so effectively express our will. If I want to wish someone well, I reach out my hand for a shake or a fist bump. If I want to enter a room, I use my hand to grab the doorknob. If I want to write something, it’s my hands that get to work on the keyboard. I could go on: our plans, our emotions and desires—all these internal, unseen things—come into “real life” once our hands start moving.

The same is true for God. We see in Lord’s Day 9 that every event in our lives is directed by God the Creator. He made all, therefore He manages all. And God brings about his perfect plan in our lives not from a comfortable distance, but He brings his will about in us, as if doing it with hands. The Father has hands that are close, and caring, and capable.

For whether on a massive scale, or on a tiny scale, all the things of this world are made and sustained by the LORD. Consider what God says in Isaiah 48:13, “My own hand laid the foundation of the earth, and my right hand spread out the heavens.” Genesis, of course, tells us that God created with the word of his mouth. But here Isaiah says that God’s hands put it all together. There’s no contradiction—this verse reveals just how closely involved God is with his world that we see around us.

In creating the whole universe, it was as if God bent down, and formed it all with his hands: laying the foundation, spreading out the heavens, filling it with is creatures. Compare it to a child who kneels on the beach and forms a castle out of sand. With care, with concern, with attention to detail, the LORD is so intimately engaged with what He’s made.

That’s the creation at large—what about us? Our lives too, are “hand-crafted.” Think of Psalm 139, “You formed my inward parts; you covered me in my mother’s womb” (v 13). Each one of us God has put together with his hands. We’re even like a richly embroidered quilt, designed and sewn together into a beautiful unity.

It’s true, sometimes we look at our bodies, and we wonder if we’ve been put together so well. Maybe we don’t like what we look like: our body shape is all wrong, and our features certainly aren’t flawless. More than that, there can seem no end to a body’s headaches, its back pains, and assorted afflictions. God’s beautiful tapestry has been stained and shredded. Instead of being like finely-woven fabrics, Paul compares our bodies to rough tents that are slowly wearing out. One day, they’ll even collapse to the ground in a broken heap.

Yet don’t think that God’s intimate concern has at all diminished. The LORD maintains what He’s made, for as long as He decides is best. While we live, God’s providing hand doesn’t fail. Listen to how the Psalmist sings of God’s provision and gifts in Psalm 145, “The LORD opens his hand and He satisfies the desires of all things living” (v 16).

He opens his hand… Maybe you’ve tried to feed some birds this way. You took a handful of birdseed, and then you held it up and opened it, so the boldest of the birds could land and enjoy a quick meal. In his generosity and care, “The LORD opens his hand, and He satisfies our desires.” That’s a picture of his goodness and kindness. For us, God’s hand is always full. All that He has to do is open his hand, and we’ll have enough—everything needful.

Which is why there’s no need to be worried. Easy to say, right? There’s always a new worry on our mind—no sooner has one worry disappeared (as they usually do), than another one has taken its place: worries about our health, finances, home, employment, church, children, schoolwork. We should pray about all these things—and pray about them every day—and pray with confidence! Because we ask the God who has every resource available. We pray to the God who simply has to open his hand, and He satisfies our needs. For whatever the need, He’ll provide daily grace. So ask him, and ask in faith!

Also when we’re healthy and strong, and we have more-than-enough material goods, we need to return to this confession: “It’s from his hand.” Making that confession daily is important, so that we don’t start relying on ourselves. Consider the warning God gave to Israel in Deuteronomy 8:17. God knows that once they settle in the Promised Land, there will come days of prosperity and plenty. And God also knows that then they’re likely to look around and say: “My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me.’”

That’s our habit and inclination, right? To look to our own scrawny hands, instead of God Almighty’s. We claim that it’s our talent and intelligence and hard work that’s brought us every good thing. But be humble: it’s from the LORD. The Holy Spirit asks in 1 Corinthians, “What do you have, that you did not receive?” Nothing—it’s all been given!

And what’s supposed to be the result of that? As those who have received much, we need to give much. If God has generously opened his hand toward us, we’re called to open our hands too. Think of when King David collected gifts from Israel for building the LORD’s temple. There was a huge mountain of gold that Israel contributed, but David acknowledged that they were only returning what God had first given. He prayed, “Who are we, that we should be able to give as generously as this? Everything comes from you, and we have given you only what comes from your hand” (1 Chron 29:14). That’s the true humility of a grateful spirit!

So the Catechism says, in speaking of God’s providence, that we ought to be “thankful in prosperity” (Q&A 28). Beloved, if you are prospering, then be thankful. Indeed, if you’ve been granted anything, even a little like a bit of pay from your Saturday job, then honour God with your thanksgiving. Honour God with your generous gifts for the needy, and to support the ministry of the gospel. Honour God with your contributions in time and money and energy for the kingdom. Scriptures exhorts us to be open-handed toward one another and toward God. That brings glory to the Giver!

 

2) God’s hand is a hand that disciplines: A hand does more than give, though. The same fatherly and motherly hands that cut up cake and distribute birthday gifts sometimes need to do difficult things—even to the same people, like when parents discipline their kids. The LORD’s hand too, can at times feel very heavy. God has both the power and the authority to do what He wants, and sometimes He wants to bring us low. With illness or danger, with anxiety or frustration, with trials and storms, God can lay his hand upon us.

David sings about this in Psalm 32. He tells about how he’d been in a situation of sin from which he hadn’t repented, and he says of that time: “My bones wasted away, through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy upon me” (vv 3-4). Perhaps you can relate. Instead of feeling like the Father is most compassionate and deeply engaged in your life, it can feel like He doesn’t care. Why isn’t He hearing your prayers? Instead of receiving blessings from an open hand, it seems God has shut it against you. And what about when a disaster strikes the earth? Has God’s hand wavered in its goodness? Is his hand cruel?

Our God is righteous in all He does. As sinful humans, we misuse our hands in many ways—according to the Bible, we don’t have “clean hands.” For we steal or squander, or we do other things that are forbidden. With our hands we can express very plainly to someone that we don’t like them, with our gestures, with what we write online. But here, God’s hands aren’t like ours. Don’t picture weak and wicked hands: God’s hands are always steady, always clean.

So if his hand feels heavy upon us, we can be sure that it’s for a good purpose. God is using his hands to shape us, to mold us, to keep conforming us to the perfect image of his Son. In times like this, God is applying his discipline.

The children here probably know about discipline. They know how the hands of grown-ups can hurt, when you’re little and perhaps the only thing you’re going to understand is a tap on the bottom. But even when you’re older, and spankings aren’t handed out anymore, you know that Mom and Dad have authority. They might use it to restrict your privileges, or discipline you in other ways. By these things they’re aiming to teach you. They want you to “unlearn” the wrong things, and to learn what’s pleasing to God.

In a similar way, God uses his “hands” to discipline us, his children in Christ. We’re going through a hard time, and his hand can sting. When we suffer a loss. When we become sick. When there’s a conflict, or a painful situation in the midst of our family.

And when you’re in it, it’s not easy to see the blessing of his discipline! Hebrews 12 speaks about this. God will chasten his children, and let’s be honest: “No chastening seems to be joyful for the present, but painful” (v 11). Even so, we have to see God’s hand in it. The Spirit explains, “If you endure chastening, God deals with you as with sons” (v 7). God is treating us as his own. He is showing that we’re a people whom He’s deeply invested in. Far better than we realize, God knows where we need to be corrected, need to be taught, need to be shaped.

Remember this: God chastens his people for our profit, “that we may be partakers of His holiness” (v 10). Notice the purpose in it, that this is what God wants for us: to share in holiness, to be more like him. God wants us to unlearn the wrong, and to learn the things that are pleasing to him. Beloved, it’s essential that we look at God’s discipline in the right way. Because we still want to put an “equals sign” between discipline and punishment. Like at home, or in our society: you do something wrong, you pay the price in the form of hardship.

So a believer might look at her suffering and difficulty, and might conclude that maybe God’s still holding transgression against her. It’s like God hasn’t forgotten, wants to bring it up again. I remember a Christian man who was dealing with a deep disappointment in his life, and telling me that God must still be angry with how wild he’d been, twenty years ago, as a teenager. In his mind, God was still getting him back for his failures!

That’s not what God is doing—that’s not how God operates. As bad as trouble can get, as lonely as it can feel, the Father’s not punishing you for your guilt! He’s not seeking to satisfy his wrath. For who could ever endure God’s just punishment on our guilt? It’s been carried, dealt with by our Lord and Saviour on the cross! No, by the Father’s discipline, Hebrews says, we may come to share in his holiness (12:10).

Sometimes God hands us a physical affliction—a weakness, a handicap—to  teach us patience, that life doesn’t go by our schedule. Sometimes God hands us financial strain in our business or in our home, to teach us trust, to help us see how his hand is always open. Sometimes God sends a time of mental anguish, to make us aware of how other people suffer too, and how later on we can help them. Don’t we need lessons like this?

The Father’s discipline of his children will always have a benefit, a good result. But it has to be received in humility—received, without prying into God’s ways. We usually like to connect our suffering with specific causes: this happened, because of this, or for this result. Just like children will connect their parents’ loving discipline with a specific offense: “I’m in the corner right now, because I threw the oven mitt at my sister. I’m grounded for a week, because I broke my curfew.”

With the Lord’s discipline, we can’t be so clear on causes and reasons. For sometimes we like to say after a couple months, “OK God, Lesson learned! I’ve learned to give up my pride. I’ve learned to pray better, or learned that I’m not in control. I’ve learned, so it’s probably time for this painful discipline to end!” For his hand might stay heavy upon you. There can be burdens that never go away—troubles that we don’t foresee ending before our time here comes to an end.

Then we must struggle to keep trusting, to keep submitting ourselves to our heavenly Father. The LORD will do right! His loving hand applies just the right amount of pressure, not to crush us, but to bend us toward himself! The Catechism says that as we trust in God’s almighty and ever-present hand, “We can be patient in adversity” (Q&A 28). Be patient, because we know his timing is better than ours. Be patient, because our being sanctified, our being made holy, is a life-long project. It doesn’t end, not until glory.

And until then, we have the promise of Psalm 37, “Though the righteous man stumble, he will not fall, for the LORD upholds him with his hand” (v 24). There’s that hand of God again: firm and unfailing. Rest in it. Be sure of it!

 

3) God’s hand is a hand that saves: Whenever we read the law in Deuteronomy 5, we hear a familiar phrase. There, in the fourth commandment, it says: “Remember you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the LORD your God brought you out from there by a mighty hand and by an outstretched arm.” A mighty hand!

For God created us, He provides for us, He disciplines us—and it’s all for the goal that He’s had in mind before the foundation of the world. We find that goal in Scripture and the Catechism, “[That] no creature separate us from his love” (Q&A 28). The LORD delights in the fellowship that He has with those He has redeemed.

So the Good Shepherd never leaves his place of duty. There are many dangers for the sheep, and the sheep themselves are weak and vulnerable. But the Good Shepherd preserves us. Christ says, “I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand” (John 10:28). That adds to the image, doesn’t it? We’re in the Father’s hand. We’re also in Christ the Saviour’s hand. For the Good Shepherd laid down his life for us—after doing that, why would He now let us be snatched away?

All of us are safe in the hands of the LORD. Think again of what we read in Psalm 139, “Where can I go from your Spirit? Or where can I flee from your presence? If I go ascend into heaven, you are there; if I make my bed in hell, behold, you are there. If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there your hand shall guide me, and your right hand shall hold me” (vv 7-10). There’s the hand of God: ever-present and caring.

Every day, there’s an unseen presence with us. Every day, there’s an invisible hand in our life. With this knowledge, we can, the Catechism says, face the future with “a firm confidence” (Q&A 28). Because the Father knows best. Because the Father won’t ever forget us.

Indeed, He cannot forget. Listen to what the LORD says to his chosen people in Isaiah 49, “I will not forget you! See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands” (vv 15-16). Engraved on the palms of God’s hands: we’re there for good, marked, inscribed and sealed. You might compare that to if you’ve ever written something on your hand, because you don’t want to forget it. Hours later, you see it on your hand and you remember: you’ve got to go the bank, or call your Mom, or pick up a package.

In the Father’s view, we’re impossible to forget. He won’t carry us around for a while then drop us. No, we’re right where God can see us: today, tomorrow, and forever! We’re in his hands. We’re on his hands. For more than through any other ways or means, God wants his glory to be seen in us, his holy people in Christ. So his Fatherly hand is always upon us, always guiding, always giving, always shaping, always protecting.

With this knowledge, move ahead: Be thankful in your prosperity. Be patient in your adversity. And be confident facing your future.  Amen.




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
The source for this sermon was: http://frcmn.org/sermons/

(c) Copyright 2018, Rev. Reuben Bredenhof

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