We’ll get back to our study of 1 John at some point, but right now my goal is to try to be an encouragement to the body of Christ. We are going through uncharted waters right now in this country. People are scared and confused, and they don’t know what to think. I want to continually remind you that Yahweh is still on the throne.
In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Isaiah 6:1 ESV
Israel's king Uzziah had died. He was a great military man who had defeated Israel’s enemies and brought peace. Uzziah was a good king who reigned for 52 years. Five years before Uzziah's death, Tiglath-Pileser, the Assyrian general, was on their northern border. He was cause for concern, but Uzziah was there and the people had confidence in him. But when Uzziah died, his death caused great fear. Now what? Well, Isaiah went into the temple and saw Yahweh. In effect, he was saying, "In the day the human king died, I saw the King of Kings." He saw God on the throne, and He was still in control. No matter how bad things looked, God was still on the throne. We often act as if God had been dethroned.
The LORD has established his throne in the heavens, and his kingdom rules over all. Psalms 103:19 ESV
“His kingdom rules over ALL.” Don't let circumstances discourage you; God is in control. If you look at life from the human viewpoint, you will have nothing but sorrow and discouragement. But if you look at life from the divine viewpoint, you can rest in God's sovereign care.
About twenty years ago the country singer JoDee Messina put out a song called, “That's the Way.” The lyrics were instructive. Here are some of the lyrics:
Everybody wants an easy ride
On the merry-go-round that we call life
Take your drive on cruise control
Then you wait to find out it's a winding road
I had my dreams in view
When the money ran out and the engine blew
Well, oh, that's the way it is
You gotta roll with the punches
That's the way it goes
You gotta bend when the wind blows
You live you learn
You crash and burn
It's hit or miss
And that's the way it is
I would have to say that most people, Christians included, would like to have the easy ride through life. But let's face it, life is not easy; and at times, it is extremely difficult. In the midst of the difficult times in life there are two things that bring us great comfort—our trust in the providence of God and the love and care of our friends.
1. Our Trust in the Providence of God.
What is Providence? The term "providence" is not found in the Scriptures, but the doctrine of providence is very scriptural. The theological term "providence" means nothing short of "the universal sovereign rule of God." Providence is the preserving and governing of all his creatures and all their actions.
Charles Hodge said that "the external world, rational and irrational creatures, things great and small, ordinary and extraordinary, are equally and always under the control of God."
To me, the doctrine of God's providence is a most comforting doctrine. God, and God alone, determines what happens in His universe. In the book of Ephesians, Paul states it this way:
In him we have also received an inheritance, because we were predestined according to the plan of the one who works out everything in agreement with the purpose of his will, Ephesians 1:11 CSB
“Who works out everything in agreement with the purpose of his will.” Did you get that? In eternity past Yahweh had a plan, and in time He is working His plan. Yahweh works "all things" according to the counsel of His own will.
Objectors try to argue that "all things" couldn't possibly mean "all things,” because if it did, it would rob us of our "free will" and it would make God the author of evil. Some say that catastrophes such as earthquakes, hurricanes, and pandemics are outside of the "all things" of Ephesians 1:11. They can't square these events with a loving God.
The Scriptures clearly teach that God's sovereign will involves everything that takes place in life. All events in time proceed from His plan, and absolutely nothing takes place by chance. It is of the utmost importance that we understand this if we are to find comfort in difficult times. No one can harm you in anyway apart from the decree of your loving, heavenly Father. What an encouragement to the child of God!
There are two ways in which God works in the world: providence (God's governing of the natural) and miracles. A distinction is usually made between ordinary providence and extraordinary providence. In ordinary providence, God works through second causes in strict accordance with the laws of nature. But in extraordinary providence, He works immediately or without the mediation of second causes in their ordinary operation. The distinctive thing in the miraculous deed is that it results from the exercise of the supernatural power of God. A miracle has no natural explanation—God works without secondary causes.
Soon afterward he went to a town called Nain, and his disciples and a great crowd went with him. As he drew near to the gate of the town, behold, a man who had died was being carried out, the only son of his mother, and she was a widow, and a considerable crowd from the town was with her. Luke 7:11-12 ESV
I love the details here. He was the only son of his mother and she was a widow. What does that tell you? She had no one to care for her. "Orphans and widows" represented the two most needy classes in ancient society. They had lost their protector and provider and were subject to much affliction. God's care for widows is a recurring theme in Scripture. The nation Israel had sought to care for widows because they understood the heart of God. Jewish law laid down that at the time of his marriage, a man ought to make provision for his wife should she become a widow. Men, have you made provision for your wife should she become a widow? The heart of God is that widows are cared for. We see this in Yeshua’s compassion for this widow:
And when the Lord saw her, he had compassion on her and said to her, “Do not weep.” Luke 7:13 ESV
Caring for widows was an important ministry in the early church.
Now in these days when the disciples were increasing in number, a complaint by the Hellenists arose against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution. Acts 6:1 ESV
The first ministry that the early church developed was to care for the widows. They didn't start a building program or a Christian school; they cared for the widows. Ignatius lays it down, "Let not widows be neglected after the Lord be thou their guardian."
Notice how Yeshua takes care of this widow. It’s supernatural:
Then he came up and touched the bier, and the bearers stood still. And he said, “Young man, I say to you, arise.” And the dead man sat up and began to speak, and Yeshua gave him to his mother. Luke 7:14-15 ESV
How would you have liked to have been at that funeral? Think about it! Yeshua walks up to the coffin and tells the dead man to arise. About that time many in the crowd were probably laughing to themselves and saying, "This guy must be nuts." But their laughter is suddenly turned to astonishment when the dead guy sits up and starts talking. I wonder what he said? "Thanks for coming out to my funeral," or "What are you all crying about?" Had you been at that funeral, what is the first thing you would have done upon leaving? Tell someone else what happened of course. "Guess what happened at Joe's funeral?" This is not natural, but supernatural. And so were the Virgin birth and the parting of the Red Sea.
Providence is when God takes all of the diverse elements of the natural and orchestrates them to accomplish his purpose. Thinking from a human perspective (nothing is difficult for our omnipotent God), which seems more difficult to you? God’s having providence or His working of miracles? To me, providence seems much more difficult than a miracle. In providence, God takes a million different circumstances and arranges them to accomplish His will.
When you come to understand that a sovereign God is not only sovereign by supernatural intervention, but He is also sovereign by natural orchestration, you'll have confidence and contentment in the circumstances of life.
God usually works out His sovereign plan through ordinary circumstances. God uses means to accomplish His ends. In the book of Esther, we can see God’s working out of his sovereign plan through the ordinary events of life.
As you read Esther you see the hand of God in every circumstance. God was as sovereignly at work through ordinary circumstances in the time of Esther as He was through the miracles in the time of Moses.
The book of Esther is set during the era when the Persians ruled over Judah in the reign of King Xerxes (Hebrew “Ahasuerus”). The Jews became subjects of the Persian Empire when Cyrus the Great, king of Media and Persia, conquered Babylon in 539 BC. (Babylon had taken over Judah in 605 BC, and many Jews were deported to Babylon as captives and remained there from 605 to 586 BC.)
The NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible states:
Not only is Esther the only Biblical book that contains no reference to God; it also contains no prayers, sacrifices or any other religious observances. To say that this absence is unusual would be an understatement: almost all ancient Near Eastern literature is permeated with religious language. The lack of religious references in the book of Esther is highly remarkable—and almost certainly intentional. Perhaps there is some deliberate irony intended, for God seems to lurk everywhere in the background of this book, in the unlikely coincidences and remarkable deliverances that make the story so entertaining.”
Let's look at the book of Esther and see how God sovereignly moves to protect His people. Esther is the story of an orphaned Jewish girl who became queen of Persia and delivered her people with the help of her faithful uncle. The narrative itself teaches the story without mentioning God or giving prophetic explanations.
Now in the days of Ahasuerus, the Ahasuerus who reigned from India to Ethiopia over 127 provinces, Esther 1:1 ESV
"Ahasuerus", who is better known by his Greek name Xerxes I, ruled the Persian Empire for 21 years from 485 to 465 BC. He is mentioned elsewhere in the Bible (only in Ezra 4:6 and Daniel 9:1). Judah was one of the provinces over which the king ruled (cf. Neh. 1:2).
The King was having a six-month party with his friends and he sent his chamberlains
to bring Queen Vashti before the king with her royal crown, in order to show the peoples and the princes her beauty, for she was lovely to look at. But Queen Vashti refused to come at the king's command delivered by the eunuchs. At this the king became enraged, and his anger burned within him. Esther 1:11-12 ESV
Her action was a breach of etiquette. The king was used to getting whatever he desired whenever he desired it. Why did she refuse to come to the King? Jewish tradition holds that Vashti had been ordered to appear naked before the king, but the tradition has no historical support. The text doesn't tell us why she refuses to come, but as we read, we see that God was removing her so that Esther could take her place.
The king has Vashti put away from him and decides to look for a new queen. Out of all the women brought before him, he chooses Esther.
The king loved Esther more than all the women, and she won grace and favor in his sight more than all the virgins, so that he set the royal crown on her head and made her queen instead of Vashti. Esther 2:17 ESV
Esther was an orphan who was raised by Mordecai. They were both Jews, but Mordecai asked Esther not to let her kindred be known.
Mordecai overheard a plot to kill the king and he told Esther, who reported it to the king.
When the affair was investigated and found to be so, the men were both hanged on the gallows. And it was recorded in the book of the chronicles in the presence of the king. Esther 2:23 ESV
What Mordecai had done was written in the chronicles.
The king promoted a man named Haman to the number two spot in the kingdom, and Haman came to hate Mordecai, Esther's uncle.
And all the king's servants who were at the king's gate bowed down and paid homage to Haman, for the king had so commanded concerning him. But Mordecai did not bow down or pay homage. Esther 3:2 ESV
Why wouldn’t Mordecai bow to Haman? The NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible states that “Ancient Near Eastern peoples often knelt before one another as a sign of respect. Israelites generally had no qualms with such demonstrations (e.g., Ge 33:3; 42:6; 1Sa 20:41; 24:8). Given that prostration was such a common sign of respect, Mordecai’s refusal to kneel down or pay Haman honor (v. 3) is a mystery.”
All the text tells us is that Mordecai would not bow because he was a Jew (3:4).
And when Haman saw that Mordecai did not bow down or pay homage to him, Haman was filled with fury. But he disdained to lay hands on Mordecai alone. So, as they had made known to him the people of Mordecai, Haman sought to destroy all the Jews, the people of Mordecai, throughout the whole kingdom of Ahasuerus. Esther 3:5-6 ESV
Haman wanted his revenge but did not want to make it look like a personal matter between him and Mordecai. So he began to plot a scheme to whip up anti-Semitic feelings.
Haman went to the king with a plan to destroy all the Jews in the kingdom with the pretext that they didn’t obey the king's laws. The king agrees to the plan, and letters were sent throughout the kingdom.
Letters were sent by couriers to all the king's provinces with instruction to destroy, to kill, and to annihilate all Jews, young and old, women and children, in one day, the thirteenth day of the twelfth month, which is the month of Adar, and to plunder their goods. Esther 3:13 ESV
Could God have supernaturally stopped this murderess plot? Sure, He could have, but He didn't. What God did do was work through natural means to save his people.
Mordecai heard of the plan and told Esther, asking her to go to the king and intercede on behalf of the Jews. In the meantime, Haman builds a gallows on which to hang Mordecai.
Esther, chapter 6, reveals in a remarkable way how God sovereignly uses the most ordinary circumstances to accomplish His purpose.
On that night the king could not sleep. And he gave orders to bring the book of memorable deeds, the chronicles, and they were read before the king. And it was found written how Mordecai had told about Bigthana and Teresh, two of the king's eunuchs, who guarded the threshold, and who had sought to lay hands on King Ahasuerus. And the king said, “What honor or distinction has been bestowed on Mordecai for this?” The king's young men who attended him said, “Nothing has been done for him.” Esther 6:1-3 ESV
Was it just a coincidence that the king couldn't sleep on this particular night? Why would he ask to have read to him a register of facts? Why didn't he ask them to play some soft soothing music? Was it just an accident that the reader happened to read from the particular section of the book where Mordecai's actions were recorded? Was it just a coincidence that this happened on the very night that Mordecai was to be hanged on the gallows? Why had not Mordecai been rewarded before now? Why didn't the king reward Mordecai at the time when he saved his life? Let’s read on:
And the king said, “Who is in the court?” Now Haman had just entered the outer court of the king's palace to speak to the king about having Mordecai hanged on the gallows that he had prepared for him. And the king's young men told him, “Haman is there, standing in the court.” And the king said, “Let him come in.” So Haman came in, and the king said to him, “What should be done to the man whom the king delights to honor?”
And Haman said to himself, “Whom would the king delight to honor more than me?” And Haman said to the king, “For the man whom the king delights to honor, let royal robes be brought, which the king has worn, and the horse that the king has ridden, and on whose head a royal crown is set. And let the robes and the horse be handed over to one of the king's most noble officials. Let them dress the man whom the king delights to honor, and let them lead him on the horse through the square of the city, proclaiming before him:
‘Thus shall it be done to the man whom the king delights to honor.’” Then the king said to Haman, “Hurry; take the robes and the horse, as you have said, and do so to Mordecai the Jew, who sits at the king's gate. Leave out nothing that you have mentioned.” So Haman took the robes and the horse, and he dressed Mordecai and led him through the square of the city, proclaiming before him, “Thus shall it be done to the man whom the king delights to honor.” Esther 6:4-11 ESV
Why did Haman show up at that moment to ask the king's permission to hang Mordecai? The answer to all these questions was that God was sovereignly orchestrating the events of that night to save His people.
Esther went to the king and told him that she was a Jew and informed him of Haman's wicked plot to destroy all the Jews. So, Haman was hanged on his own gallows, Mordecai was promoted to the number two spot in the kingdom, and the king sent out an order stopping the slaughter of all the Jews.
The Jews had light and gladness and joy and honor. And in every province and in every city, wherever the king's command and his edict reached, there was gladness and joy among the Jews, a feast and a holiday. And many from the peoples of the country declared themselves Jews, for fear of the Jews had fallen on them. Esther 8:16-17 ESV
Because we see that God was sovereignly working out the events in Esther for the good of His people, are we justified in concluding that God always orchestrates the events of our lives to fulfill His purpose? According to Romans 8:28, I believe we can.
And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. Romans 8:28 ESV
The sovereign God is in control of all events that happen in our lives. It gives us tremendous comfort when we understand the very powerful truth that God loves us.
But you, O Lord, are a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness. Psalms 86:15 ESV
Most of us are tempted in times of adversity to question God's love. Because we are hurting so bad, our emotions cause us to feel like God has forsaken us. But the Scriptures teach that God's love is just as real in times of adversity as it is in times of blessings. God's love to us is unchangeable.
If you want to be able to deal with the temptation to doubt God's love in times of adversity, look to Calvary. The most convincing objective evidence of God's love for us is His Giving His Son to die for our sins.
In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. 1 John 4:9-10 ESV
“God sent his only Son into the world”—this is a perfect active indicative; the incarnation and its results remain! This shows us what love is and what it means. Love is not only defined by the sacrifice of Yeshua; it is also defined by the giving of the Father. It was a sacrifice for the Father to send the Second Person of the Trinity and to pour out the judgment we deserved upon Yahweh the Son.
God showed His love by meeting our greatest need—a need to be redeemed from an eternal separation from Him. No matter how much difficulty, pain, heartache, or calamity we go through in this life, it cannot compare with the catastrophe of eternal separation from God.
When life's circumstances are slamming your face into the dirt, pain is pouring out of every pore in your body causing you to feel alone and forsaken by God, and in your anguish you begin to question God's love, remember Calvary. God's love for you was clearly written in blood on the cross of Yeshua.
So, we know that the sovereign God who loves us is controlling every event in time. Every circumstance is under His control. We might not like the circumstances, but we can find great comfort in the fact that God is controlling them for our good.
There is another thing that gives us comfort in adversity.
2. The Love and Care of our Friends.
People need more than just a podcast of some sermon when the bottom drops out. They need more than the hearing of theological truths. They need a place to cry, a person who cares, someone to bind up their wounds, someone to listen, and the security of a few close, intimate friends who will go beyond simply saying, "I'll pray for you." People who are hurting need a refuge.
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Yeshua the Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. 2 Corinthians 1:3-4 ESV
These verses teach us that God comforts us in our adversity so we can be a comfort to others who are hurting. How does God comfort us in adversity? Many times he uses others! God uses others to comfort us so that we in turn can be used to comfort others.
Have you ever been in the pit of despair and overcome by your circumstances? I have. And in those times, God uses His word to strengthen me. As I review my theology, I am encouraged and strengthened. But He also uses "my friends." When I think of times of trial, I remember the comfort that I received from my friends--friends who gave me words of encouragement, support, and comfort. My friends reminded me of the Scriptures I knew concerning God's faithfulness. My friends ministered grace to me. They were used of God as a means of grace. Ministering to one another in time of need is an important means by which the Lord mediates His grace to us.
Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. Ephesians 4:29 ESV
"That it may give grace to those who hear"—what is the means of grace here? It is our words to other believers. Yahweh uses our speech to give grace. Are you aware that you can be a means of grace in another believer's life? That is a very sobering thought. I can impart grace to a fellow believer!
In our study of 1 John, we have been talking a lot about the subject of "love.” John teaches that anyone who does not love does not know Yahweh. Yeshua said that love was the greatest commandment:
“Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” Matthew 22:36-40 ESV
In the gospel of Luke, a lawyer asks Yeshua for further clarification on this command by asking, "Who is my neighbor?" That's a good question. If we must love our neighbor, it is good to know who it is. Yeshua answers him with a parable:
Yeshua replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. Luke 10:30-32 ESV
Culturally, this is hysterical! We think of a four-lane road with the priest walking way around him. This road was mostly a single lane path on the side of a mountain; it would be hard to avoid this man.
The priest and Levite were full-time servants of God on their way home from serving in the temple. This priest was of the party of the Sadducees. Here is a religious Jew who goes out of his way to walk by this dying man. Why?
As a priest, he could not touch a dead body. It would make him unclean. He didn't know whether this man was dead, but he was unwilling to risk incurring corpse impurity simply on the chance that he may be able to help. This Levite was also of the party of the Sadducees. He avoids this man also because the Torah says he is not to defile himself. He is obeying Torah.
But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. Luke 10:33 ESV
Then a Samaritan comes by. Samaritans were hated by the Jews, they were religious outcasts. But this Samaritan responds to the man and cares for his needs.
There was no rabbinic school that interpreted the term “neighbor” so liberally that it could possibly have included those as hated and detested as the Samaritans. The scribes and Pharisees considered the Samaritans as the most hated people on earth. Our text tells us that this Samaritan felt compassion for this hurt man.
He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him. And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.’ Luke 10:34-35 ESV
The Samaritan acted on his compassion and helped this man in need. Yeshua then asks the "expert in the Torah":
Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” Luke 10:36 ESV
Yeshua asked: Who is the neighbor? Most commentators and Bible teachers say that your neighbor is anyone with a need. Is that right? According to the text, who is the neighbor?
He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” And Yeshua said to him, “You go, and do likewise.” Luke 10:37 ESV
Who is the neighbor? He is the one who showed mercy. Who was that? Was it the guy who was beaten up? No! It was the Samaritan! So what is the answer to the man's original question: Who is my neighbor? The Samaritan! Who is it that you have to love? The Samaritans! Jesus was forcing this man to say: Even my enemy is my neighbor. Yeshua says to the man: You go, love your enemy!
Yeshua tells us all to: "You go, and do likewise." All right, now we know who our neighbor is and how we are supposed to treat him. What does this parable of the Good Samaritan say to us 21st-century American Christians? I don't know any Samaritans, so how does it apply to me? Who are our Samaritans? I think it's different for each of us. Yeshua is saying: I want you to love the person that you think is the most disgusting—the person you despise the most and that person whom you don't even view as human. Love him.
Believers, we cannot fulfill any of these commands to love and comfort others if we are only concerned about ourselves and our own interests.
Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Philippians 2:3-4 ESV
If we are so wrapped up in ourselves that we don't know what others need, then how can we care for them? WE CAN'T!
WE must realize that individually we are each personally responsible for the welfare of one another? We are to look to the needs, problems, struggles, and temptations of each other. The lack of concern that we see for each other today is nothing new. The early church had the same problems.
For I have no one like him, who will be genuinely concerned for your welfare. For they all seek their own interests, not those of Yeshua the Christ. Philippians 2:20-21 ESV
This is a sad verse. "They all seek their own interests." What he is saying is that everybody is selfish. Paul is literally saying that apart from Timothy, there was no other Christian at Rome upon whom he could count at that time to care about the Philippians.
Paul speaks here in the present tense—"They are all continually seeking their own interest." This is strong! Paul is contrasting Timothy's concern for the Philippians with the lack of concern by others for Christ. He doesn't say that others care for themselves and not for you but that others care for themselves and not for Christ. To be concerned for other Christians is to be concerned for Christ. To love Christ is to love his people. May God help us all to have the attitude of Timothy and care for each other.
It is my prayer that no one in this fellowship will feel like David did when he prayed:
Look to the right and see: there is none who takes notice of me; no refuge remains to me; no one cares for my soul. Psalms 142:4 ESV
How sad to think that no one cares for your soul. Believers, we need each other. Let's not let this be true at BBC. My prayer is that people of BBC would be loving and caring people who are concerned for the welfare of others.
I close with the statement that I started with. In the midst of the difficult times, there are two things that carry us through. Our Trust in the Providence of God and the Love and Care of our Friends.
Our responsibility before God, as His children, is to comfort others who are hurting, seeking to help them to trust in the providence of God.