This sermon is offered by the CRCNA as part of our Reading Sermons series.
Scripture: Luke 23:44-49
Lord’s Day 10
Sermon by Rev. Ken Benjamins, Jarvis, Ont.
Dear Congregation held in the hands of God,
This sermon is about God's providence. That is the subject matter of Lord's Day 10 and so that is what I would like to talk about today.
Now maybe you are wondering: If today's sermon is about providence - why is our text from Luke 23: 46? Why do we consider Jesus' words which he spoke from the cross, "Father, into your hands I commit my Spirit?" What do these last few words, which Jesus said right before he died, have to do with the overall concept of God's providence? I will answer that question when we get a little closer to the end of my sermon. Today's sermon is about providence and our text from Luke 23 will tie into this as well.
Brothers and sisters, if you look at Lord's Day 10 you will notice that the Catechism speaks of God's providence in two questions and answers. Q.A. 27 deals with what is providence and Q.A. 28 talks about how providence and the knowledge of God's creation help us. My plan is to consider these two questions and answers consecutively.
So now we address the first question of the Catechism. In short, what actually is providence anyway? What is it? We look at the Catechism's answer: " Providence is the almighty and ever present power of God..." I'll stop right there first. What is providence? Providence is the almighty and ever present power of God. Notice that it is an almighty power. Remember the first line of the Apostles' Creed? "I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth." Providence is completely tied into this. Providence is the almighty power of God!
It is the almighty power of God; more, it is the ever-present power of God. That is important to know too. Providence is not something that comes and goes. It is not something that is here today and disappears tomorrow! No, it is always around! It is an ever- present power!
Now, the question is: What is the point behind this almighty, ever-present power of God? What does it do? What is the point behind it all? Well, it is through providence that God does two things. Number one, he upholds the creation. That's right. It is through providence that God holds all the pieces of the world in place. He upholds heaven above. He upholds the earth below. He upholds all the little creatures that dwell in and on our planet. He upholds everything! That is providence!
Providence is that power by which God upholds everything. Number two, providence is that power by which God also rules everything. Hear me out. Things do not happen just by themselves in this world. Things do not happen just by chance or by luck - as so many people say. No, all things happen for God's glory and for our ultimate good. Our great God orders all things. He controls and rules everything!
That is what providence is all about! Providence is that almighty and ever present power of God by which he upholds and rules the cosmos!
Now congregation, I think it would be helpful if we understand God's providence especially in context of our fallen world. Not that God's providence wasn't necessary before the fall. Of course it was! Even before death came into the world, even before sin and evil came, God still had to uphold and rule the world, "as with his hand." It is just that after the fall into sin God's providence takes on a greater sense of urgency.
Maybe it would be helpful if we picture it this way: Imagine in the very beginning God making a real beautiful car. He makes a Mercedes Benz or something. It is fully loaded. It is a nice car. He puts Adam and Eve into the driver's seat and he says, "This car is for your enjoyment. Take care of it. Drive it safely. Please abide by the rules of the road. Don't drive in the ditch and don't drive it off the cliff over there...." Well, can you guess what Adam and Eve do?! As soon as they jump into the driver's seat they start to drive this beautiful car all over the road! They totally neglect God's word to them and they disobey the traffic laws! They drive the car through the ditch, smash the thing up and it's right on the edge -it's ready to fall off the cliff! Providence is the almighty and ever present power of God by which God prevents the car from falling over the cliff into oblivion! Providence is when God says, "Hold it!" And he upholds the car; he prevents it from sliding even further. Like I said, providence is two things: It is that power by which God upholds the car (prevents if from sliding further); and it is that power by which he still rules the car - in spite of all the damage that has happened to it. He rules it so that he might work out a great plan of restoration; his great plan to take the car and put it into the shop so that someday he might fully restore it, fix it all up - for man's enjoyment again (believe it or not)! All for God's glory and praise!
Brothers and sisters, you appreciate that this Christian doctrine of God's providence does not have much in common with deism. You know what deism is. Deism is that philosophy - or should I say that religion that says that there is a god who made everything, but once he was done he left it alone. What this god did in the very beginning was he made creation and then wound it up like a great big clock, and set it there on the shelf to tick all by itself. According to deism God doesn't really do anything in the world anymore. He leaves it alone. Like a clock, it ticks by itself.
You understand that Providence is not like that at all! According to the Bible God not only made the world - he continues to be actively involved in it! He holds it together as with his very hands and he rules it with an almighty and ever present power! See that? Ever present! God is always involved in things. The snow always falls at God's command. Always do the clouds appear at God's bidding! Our health, it comes at God's decree, and so does our illness. Nothing happens by chance! Nothing happens just because we are cogs in the wheel! Everything is because of his interaction, because of his ever present and almighty power!
Now congregation, you can appreciate that the Christian doctrine of God's providence affects how we perceive our world and how we live our lives. Of course it does! Providence helps us. It is for our instruction and our comfort. And with that I think we are ready now in the second place to consider Q.A. 28. In Q.A. 27 we talked about what providence is; in Q.A. 28 we talk about how providence and the knowledge of God's creation help us.
The catechism mentions three practical ways in which providence shapes our lives. What I want to do is look at those three things. I won't look at them in the order the catechism gives them to us. I will look at them in my own order.
How does the knowledge of God's providence help us? First, it helps us to be thankful when things go well. We need to think about that. We have to be thankful when things go well. Actually, you know what? I'm not sure people in our world today are always thankful. A lot of good things happen in our lives; we go to school, we learn, we have dinner, we have a good steak on the barbecue, we get a pay cheque, we raise healthy children, we graduate from school; and all of this we see as all rather normal. As if that's the way it's supposed to be. Almost as if we deserve these blessings...How unfortunate! All of these blessings are God's providence!
Maybe we take God's blessings too much for granted. Think of it, our lives are going great; we are healthy, life is good, and then all of a sudden tragedy strikes; we develop a life threatening disease or something, and all of a sudden we say, "What did I do to deserve this?" What did I do to deserve this? Think of it. Everyday we have that inclination to drive the car a little further off the cliff. That natural desire to sin is always there; to run from God; to do things our own way. The question should not be, "What did I do to deserve this horrible thing?" No, the question is: what did I do to deserve any grace at all? That we receive grace at all, that we receive strength and life and joy at all; that is completely his doing! His merciful doing! It is his providence. Providence means we should be thankful when things go well.
We should be thankful when things go well, secondly, the knowledge of God's providence teaches us to be patient when things go against us. Because we live in a broken world, because we have a car that is smashed up sitting over the cliff edge - you will appreciate that we will experience brokenness in our world. Yes, pain and suffering is somewhat par for the course in our broken world, but providence teaches us that God is upholding the world and ruling the world so that in the end everything will serve our good. We might not always see how all the bad things in our lives will serve our good, but that is because we are not God. Through it all, however, God is building up character; he is testing our faith; he is disciplining us, making us fit for service for when his Kingdom comes. Sometimes things do not go well in our lives, but what we have to do is be patient. Everything is in God's control. Someday he will make it right.
Providence teaches us to be thankful. It teaches us to be patient. Lastly, providence encourages us to have good confidence in our faithful God and Father. Because God upholds, because God rules by his almighty and ever present power we can walk around in the good times, and even in the bad times, fully confident that nothing, not anything will separate us from his love. By God's grace through faith we are in his hands. Nothing can separate us from his hands.
You know that gets me thinking. I'm thinking of those hands of my God and Father. Congregation, did you notice the number of times Lord's Day 10 makes mention of the Father's hands? It does so three times. The catechism says, " Providence is the almighty and every present power of God by which he upholds us with his hand..." Later on it says, "...all things, in fact, come to us not by chance but from his fatherly hand..." The catechism makes mention of it again near the end of Lord's Day 10, "All creatures are so completely in his hand that without his will they can neither move nor be moved...."
I know why the Catechism makes mention of God's hands like that. It is because God's hands are something that the Bible mentions often. Yes it does. I think of Psalm19:1, "The heaven's declare the glory of God, the skies proclaim the work of his hands..." In Psalm 104:27-28 the Psalmist says to the Lord, "...all look to you to give them food at the proper time. When you give it to them, they gather it up, when you open your hand, they are satisfied with good things..."
Actually I like that imagery. Isn't that what providence is all about? It's about God's hands! "He's got the whole world in his hands!"
You know, I think of the hands of a good father. A good father's hands are always loving. Not that he will not use his hands to punish or to discipline. Sometimes those hands hurt. But overall we all know that those loving hands are never used to bring harm. No, they are always used to show love. That is one thing children can rely on when they have a good father; the safety of their father's hands. How much more the hands of our heavenly father!
Which brings me to my Scripture reading from Luke chapter 23. What is going on in this passage? Sure, Jesus is on the cross. He's suffering there. He's really suffering there. You know what's going on: God, the Father is laying a heavy hand on him. His hands are hurling his wrath on Jesus so that Jesus might pay for the sins of the world. God's hands are heavy! They are painful! They are terrible!
But how does Jesus respond to his Father? Does he complain to his God? Is he bitter about his God? Does he rebuke God? Is he mad at him? No, Jesus trusts his God. Jesus pays for the sin of the world, and is about to die, and what does he say? He says, "Father, into your hands I commit my Spirit!"
That's unsettling. Shouldn't he rail against God? Shouldn't he say, what did I do to deserve this? Yet, Jesus finds his comfort in God's hands. Jesus finds his comfort in God's providence. God will make all things right in the end. And all of this is for our instruction, for our help, and for our comfort. Jesus led the way to teach us about providence even while suffering to pay for our sins. May we follow the Saviour's leading! May we be truly thankful when things go well, patient when things go against us, may we be truly comforted that our lives are always in our Father's good, caring, all-powerful, ever present hands!
Proposed Order of Service
Call to Worship: Psalm 117
Silent Prayer concluded with 420:1 Breathe on Me, Breath of God
Salutation: "Our help is in the name of the Lord who has made the heavens and the earth."
Prayer for God's Greeting: "May grace, mercy and peace he granted unto us from God the Father, the Lord Jesus Christ, through the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen"
Hymn: 95 Now With Joyful Exultation
Service of Reconciliation
God's Law: Exodus 20:1-17
Hymn: 427 Dwell in Me, 0 Blessed Spirit Congregational Prayer
Children's Hymn: 457 He's Got The Whole World
We Hear the Word Proclaimed
Hymn: 436 This is My Father's World
Scripture Reading: Luke 23:44-49
Text: Luke 23:46 & Lord's Day 10 of the Heidelberg Catechism
Sermon: My Father's Hands
Prayer of Application
We Respond to Serve
Hymn 556 Great Is Thy Faithfulness
Prayer for God's Blessing: "May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God the Father, in the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with us all." Amen" Doxology: 560 Like A River Glorious