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Author:Dr. Wes Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Launceston, Tasmania
 Tasmania, Australia
Title:Our Father upholds and governs all things
Text:LD 10 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:God's Providence

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Psalm 92:1-2

Psalm 103:1,2

Hymn 78

Hymn 1

Psalm 92:6-7

Scripture readings: Genesis 37:12-36, Genesis 50:15-21, Acts 2:14-28

Catechism lesson: Lord's Day 10

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

Beloved congregation of the Lord Jesus,

In his book Is God to Blame?, Gregory Boyd tells the story of a woman named Melanie.  After preaching a sermon on living with passion, he was approached by this distraught middle-aged woman.  She used to be on fire for God, but a tragedy in her life deadened her spiritually and sent her into a pit of deep depression.  She said, “I used to love to read the Bible and pray, but now I find it both laborious and aggravating.  I just feel dead!”  

She hadn’t gotten married until she was in her mid-thirties.  After three years, she and her husband had still not been able to conceive a child.  Doctors told her it was unlikely she ever would because of a medical condition.  But then suddenly, it happened.  She was pregnant.  It seemed to be a miracle.  The pregnancy went fine, but as the baby was being delivered, something terrible happened and the baby died.  Their miracle had turned into a nightmare.  Melanie and her husband were left with a question that tortured them:  “Why would God miraculously give them a child, only to take the baby away while coming into the world?  Why did this happen to them?  Even more tormenting, why was God preventing them from conceiving again?”  Those are tough questions and the answers they received from other Christians didn’t satisfy them. 

Greg Boyd’s answer in his book is that God didn’t have anything to do with it.  God didn’t bring this tragedy into Melanie’s life.  Instead, God sees what happened to her and he wants to free her from her pain and help her get beyond it.  Boyd says, “...we have no reason to assume God put Melanie and her husband through this tragic ordeal.  Rather, we have every reason to assume God was and is at work to deliver Melanie and her husband from their ordeal.”

That sounds like a nice answer.  It’s an answer that appeals to many people today.  It’s an answer that comes out of a trend in theology known as open theism.  Open theists like Gregory Boyd don’t believe God is sovereignly in control of all that happens.  Instead, they believe God has given up control and allows the universe to take its course.  Events that happen are just as surprising to God as they are to us.  Open theists speak about God taking risks and chances and respecting and allowing for human freedom to the fullest extent.  Open theism is the logical endpoint of the Arminian view of God and his sovereignty – Boyd and others like him admit as much.   And as you can see from the story about Melanie, this is not some pie-in-the-sky ivory tower academic discussion.  How you view God and his sovereignty and his providence impacts how you reflect on what happens in your life, both the pleasant and the not-so-pleasant, even the ugly and heart-breaking.  This is a doctrine with enormous practical implications.

Loved ones, that’s why it’s so important that we be absolutely sure that our view of God and his providence lines up exactly with what the Bible teaches.  To be sure, men like Greg Boyd appeal to the Bible.  Boyd thinks his view is biblical.  The problem is that he doesn’t wrestle with the fullness of God’s revelation in both the Old and the New Testament.  We need to do that.  As we do that, we’ll come to see that our Father upholds and governs all things, even the tragic and difficult things.  That’s our theme this afternoon as we learn about the biblical truth of God’s providence.  We’ll learn about the providential work of our Father:

  1. In the life of Joseph
  2. In the death of Christ
  3. In our daily existence

The story of Joseph and his brothers is well-known.  Joseph was the favourite son of Jacob and it drove his brothers crazy.  Jacob gave Joseph a beautiful robe and this made his brothers hate him with a rabid intensity.  When Joseph had a dream in which he ruled his brothers and when he foolishly told it to his brothers, that only made them angrier and more jealous of him.  The stage was set for what happened in chapter 37 – this horrible dark, event in the history of Jacob’s family. 

It started with Jacob sending out Joseph to go check on his brothers out in the fields.  Joseph goes and when he finally finds them, they see his beautiful robe coming from a distance and hatch an evil plan.  At first they plan to kill him, but then they realize there’s a better way to get rid of him and make a profit at the same time.  So, they decided to sell him to some traders passing through.  Rather than kill their own flesh and blood, they simply decided to sell him to human traffickers.  Joseph would finally be gone, he would spend his life as a slave somewhere.  All for twenty pieces of silver.

There’s tragedy in what happens to Joseph.  He’s on top of the world, his dad’s favourite son, on an errand to please his dad, and then all of a sudden his brothers thrown him in a cistern and then send him packing with some strangers.  He ends up in Egypt, far away from home, in a land where people speak a foreign language and have a totally different culture.  He becomes a slave for Potiphar.  Potiphar’s wife falsely accuses him and he ends up in prison.  Those were dark days for Joseph.

But there’s also tragedy in what happens to Jacob.  You can criticize him for playing favourites with his kids, but you still have to feel for him when his sons come back with the bad news that Joseph, that his favourite son has been mauled by wild animals and killed.  Jacob was heart-broken for a long time.  Jacob might even have been wondering why God would give him this special son and then take him away at such a young age.  All this grief because of an awful lie.  Jacob’s sons lie to him and we shouldn’t look past the fact that this too is tragic and evil.

Don’t forget the tragedy among the brothers themselves.  They made this horrible choice to sell their brother into slavery and then lied to their father about it.  This evil would have eaten away at their consciences and they would have to live for many years with the guilt of what they’d done.  You make an impulsive decision and you pay for it for the rest of your life. 

The story is filled with dark moments.  Things only begin to get better after Joseph has been in Egypt for a few years.  Joseph spent at least two full years in prison before becoming Pharaoh’s second-in-command.  And remember:  ancient Egyptian prisons were harsh places.  Even while Joseph was given more responsibilities and privileges than the average prisoner, it would’ve been a hard existence. 

But eventually Joseph comes out of it and rises to the top.  When the famine hits hard, Joseph’s in control and he’s successfully managing the food resources of the land.  You know what happens next.  You know about how his brothers show up looking for food and they don’t recognize him.  Eventually, Joseph reveals himself to them.  When he does that in Genesis 45, he reassures his brothers that he’s not angry with them.  But he says more.  He says in verse 5, “And now do not be distressed or angry with yourselves because you sold me here, for God sent me before you to preserve life.”  And in verses 7 and 8, “And God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant on earth, and to keep alive for you many survivors.  So it was not you who sent me here, but God.”

The brothers of Joseph had done a great evil and compounded it with their lie to Jacob their father.  Yet Joseph tells them this was all God’s doing.  God was the one who had sent him to Egypt.  He says exactly the same thing in Genesis 50 after Jacob is dead.  His brothers were worried that it was payback time.  They even appeared to concoct another story to save their hides, a story about Jacob asking Joseph to forgive his brothers.  In his commentary, John Calvin called that story a “frivolous invention” and I’m inclined to agree.  But no matter, because Joseph wasn’t interested in payback.  He didn’t care whether or not Jacob really said it.  He just wanted to reassure his brothers again.  Verse 20 says it all, “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.”

God was in control of the situation.  In his providence, God upheld and governed all things in this story.  Nothing happened by chance.  Nothing surprised God.  The rain and drought, the fruitful years and the barren years, all came by his fatherly hand.  Even the intentions and actions of wicked men were turned for good by the fatherly hand of God.  God used the sons of Jacob to save his people, so that his plans for the ultimate redemption would come to fruition. 

Now the story of Joseph and his brothers points ahead to the redemption obtained for us by Christ.  There too we see wicked men with evil intentions.  At the beginning of Mark 3, the sons of Jacob are back at it.  The Pharisees joined forces with the Herodians to plan the death of Jesus.  The sons of Jacob are conspiring with the sons of Esau (Herod was a descendant of Esau) to kill the Messiah God has sent into the world.  God’s beloved Son becomes the object of an assassination conspiracy.  When the beloved Son of God tells them in John 8, “...before Abraham was, I am!” they understand that he is claiming to be God and so they picked up stones to stone him.  Jesus narrowly escaped their impulsive attempt to do away with him.  It happens all over again in John 10.  And in Luke 4:30, when Jesus was in Nazareth, the crowd became so angry with him that they brought him to a cliff where they were going to toss him off.  The sons of Jacob never get tired of attempting to do away with the beloved Son. 

Eventually, through deceit and a little bit of greed, they succeed in having him put to death.  They persuade Judas Iscariot with thirty pieces of silver – notice how the price has gone up from twenty to thirty pieces.  Judas betrays him with a kiss – like a brother would.  The sons of Jacob take Jesus away to be tried, tortured and crucified like a criminal.  Jacob’s sons merely sold Joseph into slavery, these sons go all the way -- their hatred compels them to put this “favourite Son” to death.  Joseph’s beautiful robe gets returned to Jacob, he’s sold into slavery almost naked.  Jesus’ clothes are split and gambled away, he hangs on the cross entirely naked.  Joseph bears the ridicule and shame of being a slave and later an alleged rapist.  Jesus bears the shame of being an alleged heretic and blasphemer and not only that, but bears the wrath of God against sin though he himself was completely innocent.  He descends into hell on the cross.  Between Joseph and Christ, who do you think suffered the more deeply and intensely?  Against whom was the greater evil perpetrated?  We all know the answer to that question, don’t we?

Loved ones, the greatest evil ever committed was when the innocent Son of God was nailed to the cross.  That was the greatest tragedy ever in the history of humanity.  He deserved nothing of this.  He was the perfectly obedient Son, but yet he received the most horrible punishment imaginable.  Rejected by humanity and rejected by God.  Looking to the cross, we see people doing something so wicked that words begin to fail when we want to describe it and do it justice.

Now, did the cross fall outside the sovereign will and plan of God?  Was our Father upholding and governing all things when his Son bled and died on Golgotha?  Not long after it happened, the apostle Peter answered those very questions.  It was the day of Pentecost and Peter was preaching to the Jewish crowds.  Good Friday had only been some fifty days earlier.  It was fresh in the minds of everyone.  Peter said in Acts 2:23, “…this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men.”  The Jewish people put him on the cross and they’re responsible for that.  But yet this was all part of God’s plan.  God worked through this great evil to bring about the redemption promised long ago. 

The cross is where open theism stumbles.  If open theism is true, the cross was a terrible tragedy that fell outside the will and determination of God.  God was saddened and surprised to see the Jews put his Son on the cross and he wanted to somehow rescue him.  We’re just lucky he couldn’t, we’re lucky Jesus died, doing so somehow for our sins.  But that’s not what Scripture teaches.  The Bible tells us God was on his throne when his Son was on the cross.  The worst crime ever has brought about the greatest blessing ever, the forgiveness of our sins and a right relationship with God.

Loved ones, the cross is where we see God’s providence in HDTV and surround sound.  That clear picture and beautiful sound gives us the right perspective for our daily existence.  Listen carefully:  if God could bring the greatest good out of the greatest evil, can’t we trust him here and now in our daily lives?   Can’t we trust his providence?  Can’t we believe that a God who is good enough and powerful enough to bring good from the death of his Son is good enough and powerful enough to bring good from the Fall into sin and the effects of the fall in our daily lives? 

Brothers and sisters, Scripture promises us this is true.  If we look ahead to the last book of the Bible, we see a picture of God’s people no more grieving over evil.  No more tears, no more sadness.  In Revelation 15, we see a picture of all God’s people joining in a song of praise, confessing God’s justice and truth – rejoicing in him! 

There’s a benefit to knowing and believing that God has created all things and still upholds them and governs them by his providence.  It’s all about peace of mind and confidence.  Sometimes God sends us adversity – hard times.  Sometimes things can be so difficult and it seems like there are no answers that will satisfy you.  I’ve been there and many of you have too.  At times like that, you need to fall back on what you know for certain.  What you know for certain is that no creature can separate you from the love of your Father.  What you know for certain is that all things are in his hand.  What you know for certain is that all things work together for the good of those who love God and who are called according to his purpose. 

Sometimes we’re like little children and we have no idea why our Father is doing what he’s doing.  It reminds me of when I was three or four years old.  I had a baby sister who kept my mom quite busy.  One time my mom was busy with my sister in the bedroom and I was in the kitchen by myself.  I spotted a bottle of what looked like juice to me.  I reached for it and began drinking it down.  It was pretty sweet, so I went ahead and finished the whole thing.  When my mom came in and saw me with the empty bottle, she freaked.  I had just drunk a whole big bottle of cough syrup.  I was starting to feel pretty good, but my mom was not.  My dad was at work and we only had one car, so my mom rushed over to the neighbours and they drove us to the hospital.  There I had one of the most painful experiences of my childhood:  having a tube shoved up my nose and getting my stomach pumped out.  I can remember yelling and screaming and wondering why my mom was allowing me to be tortured me like this.  But it was to save my life and I didn’t understand that.  I was just a little kid and I didn’t understand that this torture was necessary to save me and my mom did it because she loved me. 

We want to think we’re all grown up and we get everything and understand everything and maybe we throw a tantrum if we don’t or can’t.  Loved ones, the more we see ourselves as little children in our Father’s house, the more we will trust him and his promises.  The more we’ll humble ourselves and fall back on what is true and what is certain and be comfortable leaving the rest to him.  Sometimes he reveals why he does certain things, many other times he doesn’t.  Maybe some day you’ll understand why he did this or sent that in your life.  Maybe you won’t.  But whatever the case may be, it is of the essence of faith to trust him and to rest in him.  To believe that our Father loves us and nothing can stand in the way of that.  That’s not always easy to do, but yet our Father gives us his Word and Spirit to strengthen us and point us in that direction.  And again, when we look at the cross of Christ, all of this comes into perspective.  We need to keep looking to Christ and the cross, if we want to begin to come terms with the suffering in our lives.  If you ever start to doubt your Father’s love and his providence, look to the cross.  Keep looking to the cross.  On the cross, you see the best proof that your Father loves you and can bring the greatest good from the worst evil.                                            

Our Father upholds and governs all things – this is part and parcel of everything promised us in the gospel.  The doctrine of providence is not a cruel slave-driver demanding unflinching belief.  The doctrine of providence is not a bitter pill you’re obliged to swallow.  Rather, it’s part of the gospel, part of the good news of what our merciful God gives us in Jesus Christ his Son.  He promises us that he loves us, that he’s in control, and his control is exercised in love for his children.  Always and forever.  AMEN. 

PRAYER:  Our Father in heaven,

Your Word is a perfect light for our path, a guide for our lives.  Father, we sometimes struggle with understanding what’s going on in this world and in our lives.  Help us whenever we struggle so that we trust your perfect Word and your certain promises.  Help us always to look to the cross for the proof of your love and power.  Help us with your Spirit so that we never doubt for a minute that your love is unbreachable.  Father, please give us more grace so that we would always be patient in adversity and thankful in prosperity.  Please teach us more and more to have firm confidence in you, our faithful God and Father. 


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

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