Text: John 2:1-11 Theme: Mary noticed a need she was helpless to meet; so she turned to Jesus to help.
The Apostle John begins this account with: On the third day a wedding took place. On the third day. Now, it’s easy for us to breeze past that detail. It seems unimportant. But that phrase should set bells ringing. You see, on the third day is biblical code.
We discover that code all through the Bible. Genesis 22: on the third day Abraham looked up and saw the mountain in the distance. On that third day he took his knife to slay his son. But the angel of the Lord stopped him. Do not lay a hand on the boy! Instead the Lord provided another sacrifice.
Exodus 19: on the third day God descended on Mt. Sinai with thunder and lightning. Then the LORD gave his law, the ten commandments, which are more precious than gold.
Esther 5: On the third day Esther risks entering the king’s presence to make an appeal. The king grants her request and God’s people are saved from Haman’s vile plot!
Jonah 1: After three days the Lord delivered Jonah out of the belly of the great fish. He went on to preach repentance to Ninevah and the whole city was saved. You get the picture: On the third day has became biblical code- that God will do something special to reveal himself and do great things for his people. The supreme example: on the third day God raised Jesus from the dead.
Now John writes: On the third day a wedding took place at Cana in Galilee. So bells should go off. Be on the alert for God to do something special at that wedding.
John gives us some details about the wedding: Jesus’ mother was there… Aha! Mary has already been at the center of some pretty special things. An angel appeared to her and announced she would give birth to the Son of God. Then, while still a virgin, Mary conceived by the Holy Spirit and gave birth to a son. And then shepherds appeared, reporting that angels announced this child was the Savior.
Vs 2: And Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. By now we should be on the edge of our seats. What’s going to happen?
At first it all seems rather ordinary. They are just attending a wedding in Cana. Scholars say that wedding feasts then didn’t just last for a day or an evening. They could last days- even a week! Wedding feasts featured good meat and fine wine. But then a problem arose. They ran out of wine! Apparently they had no professional wedding planner to estimate their needs. A celebration was unthinkable without wine to gladden hearts. It was embarrassing!
And Mary noticed. She noticed the wine had run out. And notice: she didn’t ignore it. She didn’t say: well, it’s not my problem. No; she wanted to be helpful.
But she herself was helpless. She certainly didn’t have the money to buy wine. So, she could have thrown up her hands and shrugged: What can I do?
Instead, Mary turned to Jesus. She turned to Jesus. That’s the pivot of this story. Mary alerted Jesus to the need: They have no more wine.
Interesting: Mary doesn’t know what to do. But she does know that Jesus could help.
What a lesson for us! Life is complicated. We may run into all kinds of problems. Marriage problems. Parenting problems. Job problems. Health problems. Some problems may be so difficult that we have no idea what to do. No solutions. But, like Mary, we can turn to Jesus. We can tell him the situation and trust him to help.
Now, from Jesus’ initial reaction, it might seem he was unwilling. Dear woman, why do you involve me? My hour has not yet come.
What hour is Jesus is referring to? The time when his full identity would be revealed. God’s people expected the Messiah to be a conquering king, not a suffering Savior. Jesus didn’t want people to paint him with their pre-conceived notions. So, he sought to keep his identity as the Messiah quiet for awhile.
But despite Jesus’ caution, Mary persists. She persists in the hope that Jesus will help. She said to the servants: Do whatever he tells you. Here’s another great lesson: we should be persistent in seeking Jesus’ help. Like Mary, we should keep on looking for his help. We should keep on praying for help.
It is a deep sadness to me that neither of my sons is actively following Jesus right now. They aren’t committed to a church. In certain ways they’re choosing their will over God’s. I’ve been praying for the Spirit’s transforming work in them for years. No change yet. It would be easy to give up. But Mary reminds me to persist: in seeking Jesus’ help.
Now Jesus takes action. Nearby stood six stone water jars, each holding 20-30 gallons. Jesus said to the servants: Fill the jars with water. So they did. Then Jesus said: Now draw some out and take it to the master of the banquet. So they did. And somewhere along the way the water turned into wine!
Now, the master of the banquet didn’t realize where the wine had come from. But he did recognize fine wine when he tasted it. He was amazed! Everyone brings out the choice wine first, but you’ve saved the best till now.
Here’s another lesson: in his grace God’s gifts to us aren’t cheap and inferior. He provided choice wine for the feast. God’s gifts are choice: like fine wine. Think of the gifts of nature: mountains and seas; woods and rivers; sunrises and sunsets. Then think of the gift of salvation, the Holy Spirit, eternal life! God’s gifts are the best.
Jesus turned water into wine for an ordinary wedding in the ordinary town of Cana. Here we see Jesus is there in the ordinary events of life: work, play, weddings, meals. Most of us are ordinary people. We lead pretty ordinary lives. Remember: Jesus is there for us in the ordinary events of life. We just need eyes to see it.
Now, you can imagine Mary observing all this with enormous satisfaction. You can imagine her thinking: That’s my boy! Jesus really came through. I’m sure Mary pondered this latest wonder in her heart.
In pondering this encounter, in thinking on this miracle, what did Mary learn about Jesus? First, like Mary, Jesus wants to help. Jesus doesn’t ignore our needs. He isn’t self-absorbed. He isn’t hard-hearted. Jesus stands ready to help us.
Second, unlike Mary, Jesus is able to help. Mary herself was unable to meet the need. But Jesus had the power to help. In fact, he shows himself to be lord over creation. He has divine power- transformative power- to turn water into wine.
Third, Mary learned about the scope of Jesus’ help. His help wasn’t stingy. His help was generous- in quantity and quality. He didn’t just provide a few glasses of wine. He provided gallons! He didn’t provide cheap wine; he provided choice wine. Jesus is generous.
Psalm 121 says: I lift up my eyes to the hills. Where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth. Jesus is the fulfillment of Psalm 121. By faith may our first reflex be to turn to Jesus.
Brothers and sisters in Christ, there are times in life when we run out. Like Mary, there are situations where we are helpless. What are we to do? Turn to Jesus. Ask him to help.
I think about marriage. I think about a marriage that is under serious stress. There can be so many cutting words, so many slights, so much hurt, so much distance. You’ve tried this or that, but nothing seems to work. You feel helpless to fix things. What to do? Like Mary, turn to Jesus. He is willing to help. He is able to help. He turned water into wine. He has the divine power to transform a marriage.
I think of a conversation with a mother whose son was caught in the grip of alcohol. He had received treatment. He had gone through detoxification. But he kept drinking. He just couldn’t break the demonic power of his addiction. He was utterly helpless. What to do? Turn to Jesus. He is willing to help. He is able to help- generously.
I think of cancer patients. Sometimes there comes a point where the doctor says: I’m sorry; we’ve tried everything; nothing more we can do. That’s a helpless feeling. What then? Like Mary, turn to Jesus. Ask him to help. He may not do a miracle. But he can give comfort + a peace that transcends understanding.
Right now do you face some problem? Is there some need in your life- some shortage? Like Mary, do you feel helpless to handle it? Whatever it may be: turn to Jesus. Jesus wants to help you. Jesus is able to help you. Jesus is generous with his help.
One final thing: ultimately our greatest problem is not a shortage of wine at a wedding. Our greatest need is not more food or better health or a nicer house or a big bank account. Our greatest problem is sin. Our greatest need is to have our sins against God removed.
But there’s nothing we can do to erase our wrongs. We’re helpless to pay the debt of our sins. It’s like using a credit card but never making payments: our debt only increases every day.
What are we to do? Turn to Jesus. Tell him the problem. Confess your sins. Then ask him to pay for your debt- by his death on the cross. Like those large stone water jars, there is plenty of grace- to wash away all of our sins.
On the third day at the wedding Jesus’ transforming power and glory was revealed. John adds: turning water into wine was the first of Jesus’ miraculous signs. The first sign. The supreme sign is that Jesus rose on the third day to conquer sin and give us new life. No matter what your situation- body or soul- will you turn to Jesus? Then see the great things he can do!
Text: John 1:43-51 Theme: When Nathanael comes to see Jesus he finds that Jesus sees him, notices him, and knows him; in turn Jesus opens heaven for Nathanael to see.
Nathanael was a typical Israelite: from the Galilee district, west of the Sea of Galilee. From John 21 we know his home town was Cana, in pleasant, fertile, hill country. Cana lay about ten miles north of the town of Nazareth. It was in Cana that Jesus would turn water into wine at a wedding.
Nathanael was spiritually alert. He had faithfully studied the Old Testament scriptures. He was familiar with the writings of Moses and the prophets about a Messiah to come.
Nathanael was also good friends with Philip, another God-fearing man. Philip hailed from Bethsaida, the same home town as the fishermen, Peter and Andrew. In fact, Philip, Peter + Andrew all traveled to the Jordan River to hear John the Baptist.
When Philip returned and found him, Nathanael must have been very curious. What was John like? What did Philip hear from this rough hewn prophet?
But it turns out the big news wasn’t about John at all. It was about someone else. Philip claims: We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law, and about whom the prophets also wrote- Jesus of Nazareth. This is major news!
What is Nathanael’s reaction to this surprising claim? He is dubious. He is skeptical. He knows Nazareth; it’s a little backwater place. \His first reaction: Nazareth. Can anything good come from there?
Talk about a dash of cold water on his friend’s excitement about finding the Messiah! You can imagine Philip might be put off by Nathanael’s skepticism. But he’s unfazed. Notice: he didn’t try to argue with Nathanael. He simply said: Come and see.
Philip invited Nathanael to come and see Jesus. In composing their accounts the gospel writers invite readers to come and see Jesus. Still today, the role of every preacher is to help people to come and see Jesus. The heart of witnessing is simply encouraging friends + neighbors to come and see Jesus.
You know, historically Reformed churches have been very strong on doctrine. The Reformation centered on restoring the doctrine of salvation by God’s grace thru faith. The Heidelberg Catechism is a winsome summary of doctrine- the great Christian truths. But it’s one thing to know a doctrine; it’s another thing to know a person. It’s one thing to come and study catechism; it’s another thing to come and see Jesus. It’s one thing to hold a biblical world view; it’s another thing to hold a Savior’s hand. For believers and skeptics alike, what we first need is to come and see Jesus.
Come and see. Despite his skepticism, Nathanael goes along with Philip. Now verse 47: When Jesus saw Nathanael approaching he said of him: Here is a true Israelite, in whom there is nothing false.
Nathanael is taken aback. He asks Jesus: How do you know me? Jesus replies: I saw you while you were still under the fig tree before Philip called you. Instantly Nathanael’s skepticism evaporates. On the spot he makes a profession of faith: Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the King of Israel.
What cut through his skepticism? What persuaded Nathanael that Jesus was the Messiah? Notice: it wasn’t that Jesus performed a miracle. It wasn’t that he healed Nathanael. It wasn’t that Jesus taught something profound. It was that Jesus saw Nathanael.
I saw you while you were still under the fig tree before Philip called you. Catch the twist? Nathanael came to see Jesus. But it turns out Jesus has already seen him.
Now notice: Jesus didn’t just see Nathanael as another face in the crowd- to be ignored. Jesus noticed Nathanael. He took note of him under the fig tree. Nathanael was on his radar.
In Jesus we find a God who sees us and notices us. Being noticed is a big deal. It makes me think of an eye-catching TV commercial from a few years back.
It starts with a high school football game where a runner tries to hurdle a tackler. The tackler hits his legs and sends him flying through the air, but he lands on his feet. And he keeps running!! It’s amazing! In the background you can hear a fan say: Hello!
This play is caught on a cell phone camera. Immediately it is sent to family and friends. When they see it, they are amazed: hello! Suddenly this high school kid is being noticed. The commercial ends with the kid heading home after another game. Up comes a big-time college coach who says: hello. It’s cool for that kid to be noticed.
None of us wants to go through life unnoticed: looked past, ignored, deemed unimportant. If you really like a guy in your class, you hope he will notice you. If you are trying out for a football team, you hope the coach will notice your abilities. If you’re applying for a job at a hospital, you hope the HR person will notice your resume. And usually the more important the person, the harder it is to be noticed by them. After all, important people are busy. They have lots of people clamoring for their attention.
Perhaps some of you watched Downton Abbey, the British series on Masterpiece Theater. It’s about an aristocratic family in a huge mansion, complete with a large staff of servants. Servants wait on this family hand + foot, but they must never draw attention to themselves. Servants must notice what their lords and ladies need. But the great lords and ladies are never expected to notice them.
Imagine then, how impressed Nathanael must have been! He comes to see a great rabbi. And he finds this teacher has already seen him. More: Jesus noticed him.
It is estimated that the world population now exceeds seven billion people. The population of the United States is now over 330 million people. The Nashville metro area has grown to nearly two million people. It would be easy to feel insignificant, just a face in the crowd. But we have a God who sees you and me, who notices you and me.
Think about that a moment. Maybe you are a teenager doing the high school thing. Maybe you are middle-ager, busy with work and family. Maybe you are retired, being a golden-ager. No matter who you are: Jesus notices you.
He notices if you are happy or sad. He notices if you are at content or uptight. He notices if you are tired or restless. Jesus notices you. You are on his radar. You matter.
And what a difference that makes when we come to him in prayer! We don’t have to explain everything. He already knows; he’s already noticed what we need.
Something more: Jesus doesn’t just notice Nathanael and where he is sitting. He knew his heart: here is a true Israelite in whom there is nothing false. Nathanael discovers that Jesus sees him and notices him and knows him through & through.
Here we get a glimpse of the sovereignty of God. As David writes in Psalm 139: You have searched me, Lord; and you know me. You know when I sit down and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. That’s why his encounter with Jesus was a game changer for Nathanael.
In turn we get a glimpse Jesus’ teaching in John 10: I am the good shepherd. Jesus is the shepherd who knows his sheep and calls his own sheep by name. Jesus, the Good Shepherd, knows all about us and cares for us. One of the great challenges of our generation is sharing the gospel with Muslims. Let’s be honest: rampant sexual immorality in so-called Christian nations is a turn-off. Military invasions into their holy land has been a turn-off. Muslims have their guard up.
But if Muslims would only come and see Jesus! Muslims often see Allah as far removed and remote and stern. If they could only see that God sees them + notices them + knows them + cares for them. If people would only come + see Jesus, it might cut thru their skepticism, like Nathanael.
One more key point from our text: Jesus sees Nathanael. But seeing goes both ways. Jesus also wants us to see; he wants us to see him. And in seeing Jesus we see God.
Jesus says: You shall see greater things than that. I tell you the truth, you shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.
Here Jesus harks back to Genesis 28 and Jacob’s dream of a stairway reaching to heaven. That stairway was a connection between heaven and earth; between God and Jacob. Now Jesus claims to be the fulfillment of that ladder. Jesus claims to be the stairway to heaven: who reveals all the glories of God’s grace. Do you want to know what God is really like? Then come and see Jesus.
A closing word of application: unlike Nathanael, we can’t come and see Jesus in the flesh. But, by God’s Word and God’s Spirit, you and I can still come and encounter Jesus.
So friends: come. Come and see Jesus: by studying the gospel accounts about him. Come and see Jesus: by faithfully gathering for worship and hearing preaching about him. Come see Jesus: by being active in the church- which is the body of Christ in the world. Come and see Jesus: by serving the least and lowest person and thus serving Him.
Philip said: Come and see Jesus. It was the best invitation Nathanael ever received. When you come to Jesus, you’ll find the same. Will you come?
Text: Genesis 17:1-14, Acts 2:36-41 Theme: There is a triple biblical basis for infant baptism: God's leading role in our salvation, the scope of God's covenant, and the precedent of circumcision.
In the mid-1800’s Charles Haddon Spurgeon was considered the prince of preachers. He was a gifted evangelist, like Billy Graham, only the crowds came to him. His Metropolitan Temple in London was really the first mega-church. His sermons were printed and sent around the world. During the California gold rush, prospectors read his stuff around the campfire.
One sermon began: The outward ordinances of the Christian religion are but two-baptism and the Lord’s Supper- yet neither of them has escaped human alteration; and much of precious teaching has been sacrificed by these miserable perversions. For instance, ...men… exchange immersion for sprinkling, and the intelligent believer for an unconscious child, and so the ordinance is slain.
Today we baptize Avery Chao. She will be sprinkled with water, not immersed. She is still a baby- entirely unaware of the significance of this sacrament. I this a miserable perversion? A slaughter of the sacrament? What do we make of Spurgeon’s scathing critique?
For starters, it’s not surprising that there are differing views on infant baptism. Nowhere does the Bible specifically command or forbid infant baptism. No single Bible text settles the matter one way or the other. Rather, the practice arises from broader biblical themes and principles.
Of course, this involves interpretation. It’s not a matter of being sincere in our faith. It’s not a matter of being intelligent. It’s not a matter of who believes the Bible as God’s inspired Word. It’s a matter of believers simply coming to differing conclusions. So this doctrine should not separate God’s people- in their fellowship or ministry.
Having said that, the historic Christian church has long baptized newborn babies. Why? What is the biblical basis for infant baptism? We’ll consider three main points. First, in the drama of salvation God is the leading actor- God is the star.
Some years ago a mine in Chili suffered a massive cave-in. Thirty-three miners were trapped deep underground. They were three miles from the mine entrance + nearly a half mile beneath the surface. The ground along the shafts was so unstable any rescue that way was impossible. The only hope was to drill a new shaft all the way down from the surface above.
But that involved all kinds of technical challenges. It required pinpoint placement. It required a powerful bit that could drill through solid rock. It required avoiding moisture and seeping water that would blunt the drill. To meet the challenge, the planet’s most powerful machines and drills were flown in.
Then the drilling began. Day after day. Foot after foot. Deeper and deeper. Finally, after 69 days, the breakthrough: the shaft reached the pocket of the miners. Every last one of the 33 miners was lifted out and rescued. Multitudes around the world watched it on live television. Imagine the rejoicing!
That rescue provides a good picture of our salvation. Sin causes our lives to cave in. We get trapped: stuck in bad attitudes and harmful habits and cut off God. In our sin, we’re helpless. Left to ourselves we would face a slow death.
But then God sends Jesus to rescue us. By his life and death + resurrection Jesus cuts through all the layers of sin that trap us. Jesus opens a way out. Jesus reaches down + pulls us out. Multitudes in heaven rejoice!
Now let me ask this: who was responsible for the miners’ rescue? The miners themselves? No. They were helpless. Left to themselves they would have perished. Yes; they eagerly squeezed into the steel capsule when it came time to be lifted out. They certainly cooperated. But their only role was to receive the rescue.
So, who was responsible for the rescue? The team that designed the rescue operation. The team that calculated where to drill down. The team that guided the actual drilling. The team that lifted the miners out.
Who is responsible for our rescue from sin? Us? Hardly. We can’t cut through the layers of our sin. We can’t blast a way out. We can’t lift ourselves up. In our sin we’re as helpless as miners trapped underground.
Who is responsible for our rescue? God: the team of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The Father initiates our rescue. Jesus provides the rescue- by laying down his life. The Spirit moves us to receive God’s rescue from sin and death. Now think of baptism. Is the washing with water a sign of something we do? Certainly not. We are washed clean by God. Baptism is a sign of God's saving work. The sign of baptism doesn’t first reflect our faith or awareness or intelligence . It’s a sign of God’s saving grace which we simply receive. That’s the first main point.
A second biblical theme that supports infant baptism: children of believing parents are part of God’s family and covenant from the start. You see, in God’s plan we are not just saved from something. We are also brought into something. We are saved from sin and brought into God’s family.
The word covenant isn't that common anymore. Most familiar is the covenant of marriage. On their wedding day, a man and woman make solemn promises to each other. They enter into a marriage covenant. A wedding ring is the symbol. So too God pledges himself to us; he hitches himself to us. Leviticus 26:12: I will walk among you and be your God, and you will be my people.
And God’s Word teaches that there are two ways to enter God's covenant family. The first way is to come in through faith in Christ. The second way is to be born to a believing parent. In Genesis 17:7 God says: I will establish my covenant as an everlasting covenant between me and you and your descendants after you.
It’s like American citizenship: there are two ways to be an American citizen. You become one thru classes that lead to a pledge of allegiance or you’re born one. My Grampa Ribbens was born in the Netherlands. He became an American citizen. But I’m an American, because I was born to American parents. So too we maintain God intended believers and their children to be part of his covenant.
Now we move to a third main ground for infant baptism: circumcision. Of course, some Christians disagree on the prior point. They say God’s covenant promises apply to Abraham’s descendants, but not from birth. They say God's promises were meant for his son Isaac, if he comes to trust and obey God. Then, by faith, Isaac and would become a part of God’s covenant family.
But this interpretation is not backed by Genesis 17. Right after his promise to Abraham, God establishes a sign that seals the covenant. What was the sign? Circumcision. Who was to be circumcised? Abraham and the men of his household. And every male who is eight days old. So, little tykes are included in the deal.
That was the Old Testament, the old covenant arrangement. Today, God still welcomes people into his new covenant family- by the blood of Jesus. And his church is still made up of believers and their children. And so at Pentecost the Apostle Peter declares: The promise is for you + your children.
The new covenant in Christ comes with a new sign: baptism. Baptism, like circumcision, is a sign/seal of initiation into the people of God by God’s grace. Paul makes this connection in Colossians 2; he says: baptism is a circumcision in Christ.
I’ll add this theological point: in Christ the reach of the gospel expands- to all nations. The gospel goes out to all people: not just to Jews, but also to Gentiles. The scope of the sign expands too: now male and female are baptized in Christ. All this expansion in Christ! So why would the new sign of the covenant in Christ contract- no longer including infants?
Three great biblical themes: baptism points to what God has done- to rescue us; God’s covenant includes believers and their children; and the precedent of circumcision. That’s why we baptize babies. Baptism is God's way of saying: Welcome to the family!
I will establish my covenant as an everlasting covenant between me and you and your descendants after you. In closing I’ll highlight three implications of this teaching. First, if you wonder whether to have your child baptized, here is good reason. There is ample biblical support for infant baptism.
Second, there is the comfort of God's covenant. Citizenship offers many benefits. So too, being in God’s covenant family and kingdom has all kinds of benefits. From earliest age you get to hear about Jesus; you are taught God’s promises; you experience his love through his people; you observe the faith of sturdy saints. Being in the covenant has its benefits.
Third, God’s promise to us in baptism comes with responsibility. We are saved by faith alone in Christ alone. Baptism doesn’t guarantee salvation. Rather we have every hope of covenant children remaining in Christ, because of God’s grace and because they are nourished in the community of Christ.
So parents, you are responsible to stay fully connected to the church, the body of Christ. Parents, you’re responsible for conveying the love and goodness and promises of Jesus! In turn young people, you are responsible to embrace your baptism + look to Christ. You are responsible to trust Jesus as your Savior and obey him as Lord.
Text: Romans 8:28-30 Theme: Those who love God know that in all things God works for their good.
Christopher Columbus set sail on August 3, 1492. No one knew what lay ahead. From time immemorial the vast Atlantic Ocean had stretched endlessly west. No one had dared venture too far from the security of land.
To undertake this voyage Columbus and his men had to be brave and adventurous. But fear of the unknown was always lurking on the edge of their minds. What if the ocean stretched out so far, they ran out of food and water? What if they came to the edge of the world and fell off, as the ancients had feared? They simply didn’t know what lay ahead.
When weeks passed without sign of land, Columbus actually resorted to deception. He entered fewer miles in the ship’s log than they had actually traveled. Why? So his crew wouldn’t be as afraid about the distance back to Spain.
The unknown. There are many things we don’t know. When will our government shut-down end? How far will the Nashville Predators go in the NHL playoffs this year? When will Faith Church receive a new pastor? We don’t know.
But by God’s grace there are things we do know. Romans 8:28 offers a prime example: And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.
And we know. This is not a possibility: God might work for good. This is not a probability: God likely works for good. This is rock-solid certainty: we know.
In this grand declaration we find five great convictions. Five things to know. First, God works. Most of you are familiar with those big statues of Buddha. Buddha is pictured with his arms folded- massive and unmoving.
But our God is no Buddha. He is never idle; never passive. As Psalm 121 says, God neither slumbers nor sleeps. Jesus rules over all things + holds all things together: 24 hours/day; seven days/week. The Spirit is always at work within us to energize us and purify us and guide us. The three divine persons are tirelessly at work in the world. A second conviction. God works for the good. You know, elected officials are supposed to work for our good. But sometimes they don't. Sometimes what they think is for the good turns out to be rather bad. Sometimes out of ambition they work for their own good, not ours. In contrast God always works for nothing but the good.
As a pastor I often find my heart burdened with life’s misery: job pressures, the fallout of sexual immorality, broken relationships, health problems, death. In a world with so much gone bad, it’s a great comfort to know God is at work for good.
God works for the good. This is a time of significant transition for our church. Setting some visionary goals. Considering the Grace Village proposal. Calling a pastor. It’s important that we all lean into these challenges and work together. But best of all: so will God. God will be working for our good.
And here’s the greatest good: God sent Jesus to die on the cross to save us from our sins. Rather than suffer the penalty for our sins, Jesus pays the penalty in our place. That’s good. Rather than wallow in guilt and misery; we can be freed, purified. That’s good. Rather than face life alone, we can receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. That’s good. If you have never received these good gifts of God by faith, I urge you to do so today!!
A third great conviction: in all things God works for the good. Notice, Paul doesn't say in some things, in most things, or in nice things. In all things God works for the good. In poverty or prosperity. In sickness and in health. In trouble or tranquility. This conviction is comprehensive.
Now, let’s be honest. Sometimes that’s hard to believe! Right? It doesn't seem to fit our experience! We don't always see God working for good.
The past few months Ruth and I have visited various Civil War battlefields in our area. Recent studies conclude that 750,000 soldiers were killed during the Civil War. Some died in combat, some due to disease, some due to malnutrition and accidents. Many times that number suffered injury, some requiring limbs to be amputated. Vast tracts of land were stripped bare; homes, barns and crops destroyed.
The suffering was mind-boggling! Think of all the wives who lost their husbands. Think of the all the parents who lost their sons. Think of lives devastated. Think of the animosity between north and south that lingered for generations. Where was God in all this? How does Romans 8:28 fit there?
This is an important question. Let me respond to it in two ways. First, God’s Word doesn't say everything is good. This is a crucial distinction. Some older translations read all things work together for good. This gives the impression that somehow everything ends up being good. If we just knew God’s big plan, we’d see that these bad things really are good for us.
But that is misleading. Not everything is good. Some things will never be good. Some things are just plain bad. Like Adam and Eve eating the forbidden fruit. Like cancer taking millions of lives. Like racism that demeans image bearers of God. Like horrible war that spawns fear and hatred and poverty and injury and death.
God’s Word doesn’t state that everything somehow ends up being good. The promise is in all things- even in bad things- God still works for the good. God is like a friend, who helps you even when things are awful. That’s one point.
But you may say: But I'm still troubled by bad situations where God seems absent. There are times I just don’t see him at work for the good. Thoughtful Christians have always struggled with God's seeming absence or inaction. Where was the God of love and peace during the Civil War?
Here we must recognize God's work can be subtle and carried out behind the scenes. Perhaps it was God’s hand that the horrors of war drove many to seek peace in the Savior. Perhaps it was God’s hand that slavery was finally abolished during the Civil War. Perhaps it was God’s hand that brought judgment on the horrible sin of slavery. Perhaps it was God’s hand that the United States have stuck together ever since.
God’s work can be subtle. And perhaps we may discern it only far down the road. You may not understand until years later how God was working for good- when you got in an accident, when you broke up with a boyfriend, when you got fired. You may never discern God's good work until the next life! We live by faith.
Joseph is a great example. His brothers were treacherous; they sold him into slavery. Imagine his fear and misery. But years later Joseph could say to his brothers: You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good. In all things God works for the good.
A fourth conviction: in all things God works for the goodof those who love him. Here we come to a condition. The promise of Romans 8:28 is not for everyone. This grand conviction is not for those who dismiss God. It’s for those who love him. So let me ask you this all important question: do you love God? Not do you acknowledge his existence. Do you love him- with all your mind + heart? A fifth and final conviction: we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. Here we learn that the sovereign Lord has called us for a purpose. We have a purpose.
God’s purpose is for us to be saved from sin. But his purpose for us is bigger than that. God doesn’t work for our good just so we can sit back + selfishly bask in our blessings. God works for our good, so we can work for good in the world. We have a dynamic identity: agents of God’s good purposes in the world.
What particular purposes has God called you to carry out? Boys and girls: your purpose right now may be to grow healthy and strong and to learn about God’s world and to develop skills to serve him all your life. Teens: your purpose may be to offer an appealing example of loyalty to Jesus + friends.
Mothers: your purpose may be a deep love and nurture of your kids- that makes it easy for them to relate to the deep love of God. Men, your purpose may be to model a life of obedience to Jesus and selfless service. At some point our purpose may be to look after an aging parent or a dying spouse. God works for the good of those who have been called according to his purpose.
As we enter a new year- 2019- there are many things we don’t know. We don’t know what job Jehvon Walker may get after his recent graduation. We don’t know if Nashville traffic can possibly get worse than it already is. We don’t know what new country music star will emerge. We don’t know what new pastor and people God will bring to our church fellowship.
But by the grace of God, we have this rock solid certainty: And we know thatin all things God works for the good of those who love him, who are called according to his purpose. For this we say: thanks be to God!!