committed to historic Baptist & Reformed beliefs

 

behold your god: sustaining principles amid dark providences
Message Preached September 25, 1988 
Isaiah 40:1-2, 9-23, 27-31

 

"Comfort you, comfort you my people, says your God. Speak you comfortably to Jerusalem [or to the heart of Jerusalem]; and cry unto her, that her warfare is accomplished, that her iniquity is pardoned, that she has received of the Lord's hand double for all her sins. . . . O thou that tellest good tidings to Zion, get you up on a high mountain. O you that tell good tidings to Jerusalem, lift up your voice with strength; lift it up, be not afraid; say unto the cities of Judah, Behold, your God. Behold, the Lord Jehovah will come as a mighty one, and his arm will rule for him: Behold, his reward is with him, and his recompense before him. He will feed his flock like a shepherd, he will gather the lambs in his arm, and carry them in his bosom, and will gently lead those that have their young. Who has measured the waters in the hollow of his hand, and meted out heaven with the span, and comprehended the dust of the earth in a measure, and weighed the mountains in scales, and the hills in a balance? Who has directed the Spirit of the Lord, or being his counselor has taught him? With whom took he counsel, and who instructed him, and taught him in the path of justice, and taught him knowledge, and showed to him the way of understanding? Behold, the nations are as a drop of a bucket, and are accounted as a small dust of the balance: behold he takes up the isles as a very little thing. And Lebanon is not sufficient to burn, nor the beasts thereof sufficient for a burnt-offering. All the nations are as nothing before him; they are accounted by him as less than nothing and vanity. To whom then will you liken God? or what likeness will you compare unto him? The image, a workman has cast it, and the goldsmith overlays it with gold, and casts for it silver chains. He that is too impoverished for such an oblation chooses a tree that will not rot; he seeks unto him a skilful workman to set up a graven image, that shall not be moved. Have you not known? have you not heard? has it not been told you from the beginning? have you not understood from the foundations of the earth? It is he that sits above the circle of the earth, and the inhabitants thereof are as grasshoppers; that stretches out the heavens as a curtain, and spreads them out as a tent to dwell in; that brings princes to nothing; that makes the judges of the earth as vanity. . . . Why say you, O Jacob, and speak, O Israel, My way is hid from the Lord, and the justice due to me is passed away from my God? Have you not known? have you not heard? The everlasting God, Jehovah, the creator of the ends of the earth, faints not, neither is weary; there is no searching of his understanding. He gives power to the faint; and to him that has no might he increases strength. Even the youths shall faint and be weary, and the young men shall utterly fall: but they that wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk, and not faint."

Please join me as we pray together. Our Father, so direct our words and our countenance and our spirit that those who wait upon you would not be disappointed but encouraged and blessed by us, and that those who have not learned to wait upon you may be taught to. O God, now help us in our feeble effort that we may be the instruments in your hand of great blessing in Zion and that we may see today gospel promises applied to us in this place. Give me liberty. Give me the unction of your Spirit. Give me boldness, with love, for your people and for poor sinners. But, above all, hide me and make them to see yourself that you may get glory, that you may prove again today in practice that you alone are God, worthy to be feared, worthy to be praised, worthy to be trusted. Give us grace, O Lord, our Salvation. In the name of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, Amen.

My purpose for preaching to you from Isaiah 40 this morning comes upon the occasion of Mary Wessinger's death. One whom we've known for many years, for whom we have prayed, has died this weekend of cancer. My pastoral thought is that it would be best for me to deal with this in sermon now to help God's people clarify in their minds the issues that are critical. I have three essential purposes this morning. I want to comfort those who grieve at the loss of one they loved. I want to confirm the faint because there may be among us some who question God's wisdom and judgment — some who have not seen a flagrant answer to the prayers of this church over the years and have thought in the deepest part of their hearts, "Why not?" There may be, as I know the Devil's wiles, some who have questions they would not ask, but they have them nonetheless, and they need to have the Word of God ministered to their hearts all the more. But in the third place — and it would be far short of my duty under Christ if I didn't — I want to confront the unrepentant and use the occasion of the taking of another life by Jehovah to stir you up to consider your own state and your own condition before the God who made you and before whom you will soon give account.

So I want to center your attention on one theme seen in verse 9 of Isaiah 40. The centerpiece of all we are and preach is the Lord Himself. He's the hub of it; He's not one of the spokes. We're not preaching various moralistic duties and then adding the Lord's name somewhere along the way. We haven't standardized behavior for a church and then added God to it to get support for our standards. He is our meat and drink. He is the first and the last. He is the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end, our life and breath, our very salvation. He is the centerpiece of all that we are, and so with the prophet, I undertake my duty to draw the attention of everyone to behold your God.

The only cure for the troubled heart is to gaze upon the Lord. There are short-term reliefs to discomforts, but none last unless they are from the Lord. The true comfort of Zion is who their God is. They get encouragements from different things that come from His hands, but they do not have their hearts healed, their faith strengthened, their lives saved, except from a look to the Lord. "Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed [not on the trouble, not on men, but] on Thee." It is my desire in a very feeble way to attempt to help you fix your gaze upon the Lord and set it there and keep it there. And the way I want to do it is to draw your attention simply to some principles of objective truth from the Bible regarding our God that, if rightly received, will produce comfort, joy, worship, and repentance.

So I pray God will give you grace to rightly receive His Word. If you are given to sentimentalism, if you are given to expect that comfort is better given in tones that are not dealing with real truth, then I'll disappoint you. But I do not come to you without a heart that is tender. I simply come with a duty of using words when it might be easy not to speak at all. And I come for your soul's sake, much more so than just your perceived affections and emotions. Rightly receive the Word of God.

God Has a Right to Do Anything He Wills

The first principle is this: God has a right to do anything He wills. And the corollary of that is He always does everything He wills. That's foundational to our faith. It is a rock upon which this church has taken its stand. It is a rock that is hated by this world. It is a rock that is not appreciated by many who profess to love Christ and believe upon Him, and it has produced in the halls of theology and churches throughout the centuries, much debate, argument, and division. It is, nonetheless, truth, and without it there is no sound foundation for any of us.

Look at Isaiah 46 with me. In verses 8-10 the Lord, addressing sinners, says this: "Remember this, and show yourselves men; bring it again to mind, O ye transgressors. Remember the former things of old: for I am God, and there is none else; I am God, and there is none like me." The Lord then begins to describe what makes Him unique (verse 10): "declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times things that are not yet done; saying, My counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure." And then in the second part of verse 11: " . . . yea, I have spoken, I will also bring it to pass; I have purposed, I will also do it." He's addressing the stouthearted who are far from righteousness by drawing their attention to His attribute or His essence as sovereign God. He knows everything that will ever come to pass, and He knows it simply because He's going to see that it does come to pass. If He purposes it, it shall be. If He says it's going to be, it's going to be. Everything God wills happens. If we may say it in a colloquial way, God's will is what is. What God decides to do, God does it. He has all His will. As the Psalms say, "All His thoughts come to pass."

But a part of that doctrine that everything that God wills comes to pass is what we stated at the outset, He has a right to do as He sees fit.

If you're an enemy of Christ, this doctrine will catch you. You won't be able to squirm out of this one. This will make you angry. This will make you rise up and shake your fist in the face of God. This will show you that it's not the God of the Bible you've been worshiping if, indeed, you're opposed to these things. Romans chapter 9 is perhaps the standard biblical text for the doctrine of God's right to do as He pleases. The early part of this chapter discusses how God has chosen and saved a people, not on account of their earthly lineage, their generation from Abraham, but purely because of grace. He has elected them by grace, and they're not just Jews He has elected to save — they are Jews and Gentiles. It's not because they were born of Abraham or Isaac or Jacob that makes them acceptable. It has nothing to do with their race, nothing to do with their color, nothing to do with their religious background. It has everything to do with the grace of God who chooses to save whom He will and how He will. "It is not of Him that wills [not man's decision and man's will], nor of him that runs [not man's effort and man's exertion], but is of God that shows mercy" (verse 16). If a man is saved and is a child of God who worships God and follows Christ, it's because Christ has shown mercy. It's not because that man made something happen inside himself. It's because God did.

After citing Pharaoh as an example, the apostle Paul writes in verses 18 and 19, "So then he has mercy on whom he will, and whom he will he hardens. You will say then to me, Why does he still find fault? For who withstands His will?" You see, the sinner, who finally has come to admit that perhaps God does do everything, and that everything that has happened is ultimately to be traced to the will of God, then defends himself by saying, "If that's true, then my sinfulness is God's fault. Why would God find fault with me if I'm doing nothing other but what He willed that I do? I mean, if everything is God's will, then God has no right to judge me because I'm just doing God's will when I sin. So my sin must be God's will." That's the perverted response that a sinful mind would make to such a proposition.

What answer does the Bible give to that perverted response? The apostle makes no effort to call upon Aristotle and his deductive logic. He makes no citations of human history. He quotes no poets. He makes no effort to make it make sense to anybody. He interrupts the question in verse 20: "No but, O man, who are you that replies against God? Shall the thing formed [passive] say to him that formed it [active], Why did you make me this way? Or has not the potter the right over the clay, from the same lump to make one part a vessel unto honor, and another unto dishonor?"

God has a right to do as He will because of His relationship to His creatures. God's the potter; we're the clay. He has created us. Now which of us had any part in how He made us? God is the Creator and the honest question is, Does He not have a right — just as a potter has a right — to take a big lump of clay (humanity), separate it out and make this lump to honor and make this lump to dishonor? Does He not have the right? Would any chunk of clay rise up in a ceramic shop and say to the potter, How dare you!

You might answer, "Well Pastor, I'm no lump of clay; I'm a man." Oh? What have you read about your origins? And what have you observed about your destiny? From dust you came and to dust you shall return. Why? Because dust is what you are, a piece of clay. The world hates it because it implies that there aren't any big shots. That's why we hated it at one time in our sin. We wanted to be God. That's why the halls of learning in this nation and the greatest cheers at the political conventions are given to principles that man has it within himself to solve his problems. We'll trust in man — his education, his money, his technological advances, his ability to discern and diplomatically work peace. We'll look to man. We can't stand the thought that we depend on God.

But the only way we are ever going to be able to deal with death right and righteously, honestly and helpfully is to face the fact that we're looking on something that's dependent on God. Part of the pain of death is the helplessness that we behold when we see it. It forces us to look into the face of dependence, and we don't want to be dependent. And I tell you, I don't offer to anybody in this world a life of independence, a life of self-reliance. I offer just the opposite. You want to be happy? Live in constant, conscious knowledge that you are dependent on the Lord for your next breath. God has a right to do as He will because of His relationship to His creatures. He's the potter; they're the clay. Who are you, O man, to reply against God? He formed you. You didn't form Him.

The conduct or the character of His creatures give God the right
to do anything He wants. Romans 9 continues, "What if God, willing to show His wrath [That means He plans to show it, intends to show it, has every right to show it, and ought to show it.], and to make His power known, endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath fitted to destruction" (verse 22). What if God who intends to take out His wrath against sinners — who've rebelled against Him, who don't believe He is God, who don't want Him to be God absolutely — has not done what He had a right to do and destroyed them, but has endured them with much longsuffering? Does He have a right to do that? You might argue against God when He lets sinners get by with it. You might fight against that God, but does He not have that right? Willing to show His wrath and to make His power known, yet to withhold it? And with much longsuffering endure the vessels of wrath who are fitted to destruction?

But also, "That he might make known the riches of his glory upon vessels of mercy, which he afore prepared to glory, even us, whom he also called, not from the Jews only, but also from the Gentiles?" (verses 23-24). God is doing two things here. He's being very longsuffering to the wicked who deserve immediate wrath, and He's being extremely merciful to us also who deserve His wrath. In both cases, it's mercy. In both cases, it's not deserved. But God is the one who has divided them up and chosen that in some cases ultimately His wrath will fall, and in some cases ultimately His wrath will not. God has decided not to show His power in wrath against some, but to show His glory in mercy to some. God has decided to save some who deserve His wrath. And God has decided to harden others and leave them as sons of wrath. Is that OK with you? It better be. Because it's the way it is. I'm asserting to you the biblical doctrine that God has a right to do anything He wants. And He always does everything He wants.

Now is there any comfort in that? Only to the believer. Only to him who has repented of his arrogance and his rebellion and bowed to God as God. Is there any comfort that God has a right to do what God wants to do? I say to you that once you get this settled, there is untold comfort in it.

 

Everything God Does is Right

"Whate'er my God ordains is right." That's part of the first principle, isn't it? If He has a right to do it, it must be right when He does it. Remember when Abraham was greatly concerned about God's intention to destroy Sodom? Remember how Abraham pleaded with the Lord to spare Sodom if there were fifty, or forty, or thirty . . . or even ten righteous people there? "Oh Lord, be it far from you to destroy the righteous with the wicked" (Gen. 18:25). And remember Abraham's question? "Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?" Why did Abraham ask that? Because he had known God, and he knew as a matter of eternal principle that God can do nothing but what is right. And he knew that if God were going to go wipe out Sodom while Lot was living there, while some righteous people were living there, that somehow that might call into question what he knew to be true of God. So with intercession based on his knowledge of God, he cried to God to remember His name is righteous and to do what's righteous because it's unthinkable to the servant of God that God would ever do otherwise. Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?

It's by the nature of things that God does all things right. How can personified righteousness err? Whatever God does is right by definition. We don't have any right to establish some standard of conduct and then to decide if God meets up to it. That's precisely what our generation has done. We've developed an eclectic standard of behavior. We've picked some Bible verses for some of it. In our country, we've taken Bible verses on compassion, love, and mercy, (and they are rightfully taken to be so) and included them in our tapestry of morality, and then we've held up the standard and stood God along beside it and said in this case He measures up short. We go to verses in the Old Testament where He commanded the people to slay the men, women, and children, donkeys and everything else and say, no, that's not the God we're worshiping. That's a monster; we don't worship that God. We go to the Bible where God says there's an eternal hell waiting to burn forever those who do not repent and believe the gospel of Christ, and we put it alongside our standard of utter and universal acceptance and tolerance, and we say that's not the God we believe in; that can't be. So we form our little religion. We stand God up next to our standard; and wherever He doesn't match up, we reject that God until finally we get a god that meets our standard.

But we have no right to establish a standard and judge God by it. God is the standard by definition. So by definition, whatever God does is right. What if God kills everybody? That's right. You say, "Why that can't be right. Everybody knows it's wrong to kill." But how did you know that? Where did you learn that? Where did you get that standard? You see, God understands the whole picture; we don't. We have no right to look up to God and say, "I'm sorry, you can't do this or that without being condemned." We're not the judge of all the earth. He is. And He doeth all things right.

According to His promise, God does all things right. Everything He does is right, partly because He has promised that it would be so. "Thus says the Lord that created the heavens, the God that formed the earth and made it, that established it and created it not in vain, that formed it to be inhabited: I am the Lord; and there is none else. I have not spoken in secret, in a place of the land of darkness; I said not unto the seed of Jacob, Seek me in vain: I the Lord speak righteousness, I declare things that are right" (Isaiah 45:18-19). One way of defining righteousness is simply right. God is right. That's why God can't say anything but what is right. He cannot declare anything but what is righteousness because He can't be anything but what is righteousness. And, of course, if what God says is, then what God does is righteous.

The truth doesn't change. And the same truths that were needed to comfort the saints of old are needed for us. I come to people with this principle over and over. When people are bitter against providence, I remind them of this principle: The Judge of all the earth does right. When people are confused at why God did something that they prayed that He wouldn't do, "He does all things right." I tell it to my children from the time they're old enough to understand words. And I have occasion after occasion to tell that to my children because things are always happening in my children's life that they don't like. And if they know that Daddy's God is the one that's doing it all, and we teach them that, then we need also to teach them that Daddy's God does it right. And you know what happens? These kids accept that. And it settles it for them. And they can endure all kinds of things with that confidence. "I don't understand it, but it must be right because God did it." And they can move on with their lives.

God Acts Beyond Our Comprehension

It's important to remember in a culture in which we think we're supposed to know everything that God acts beyond our comprehension. Some people even want to know everything God is thinking. The Bible says in Isaiah 55:8-9: "My thoughts are not your thoughts. Your ways aren't my ways. As high as the heaven is above the earth, so high are my thoughts above your thoughts." This is designed to show us the great mercy of God which would never occur to us when God forgives sinners and pardons iniquity. But the principle is the same. God's thoughts are beyond our ability to understand, comprehend, or think. He's God after all. But then in verses 27 and 28 of Isaiah 40, we're taught it's one of the reasons that the children of Israel should not be saying, "My way is hid from the Lord, and the justice due me is passed away." What happened in Israel was that they had been so punished, so exiled, so beaten down that now they were beginning to wonder if God had any mercy on them at all. They were despairing and forgetting God's promise. It didn't look like God heard their prayers. It didn't look like God was answering prayer. It didn't look like God was gracious.

But God doesn't act within the realm of our comprehension. It goes on to say in verse 28, "Have you not known? have you not heard, the everlasting God, the Lord, the Creator of the ends of the earth, faints not neither is weary." Do you think God has gone to sleep, gotten tired? He hasn't lost His vigilance over you. Then it says, "There is no searching of His understanding." Don't try. You'll frustrate yourself if you try. We're dependent upon God to reveal to us what He's thinking. If He doesn't reveal it, we not only have no right to know it, there's no way we're going to know it. And it's very foolish and presumptuous for us to attempt to know it.

You're familiar with the passage in Deuteronomy 29? The hidden things belong to the Lord. The revealed things are our responsibility. God is not bound to reveal everything to us — and He hasn't. God has some thoughts and some plans He hasn't let us in on. One of the most precious things about John Calvin's writings, one of the most encouraging things, is the man continually disciplines himself by saying, "We can't go beyond Scripture. Where the Scriptures are silent, we must be silent." He didn't mean that a man is not committed to give his opinion. He didn't mean that we're not permitted to discuss issues. He just meant we are not required or permitted to preach things that God hasn't chosen to tell us. And it's very unwise to start speculating on hypotheticals: what if, or how did, or when did, or especially, why. If you can't find it in your Bible, don't spend a lot of time trying to figure it out. God acts beyond our comprehension. What should you do then? Well, you trust God knows what He's doing. And you leave it with Him. You don't try to be God in omniscience. You let God be God.

What a relief. What a relief not to have to be responsible for all the things God knows. Everything God tells you, the revealed things, are your responsibility. The hidden things belong to the Lord. It's important to remember that when we say, "Why?", "What if. . .?" Now make sure you understand something: God understands our questions. He is not insensitive to us and our weakness of flesh. He knows we have the whys rolling in our hearts. He knows we have the curious questions, and He knows we're weak. He also knows we're prone to the Devil coming in and going, and leading us beyond the weakness of the question and giving us to being prone to pursuing the question and refusing to accept God's grace until we get an answer. You see, that's where it becomes sin. It's one thing to have the question come into your mind, "Lord, I don't understand what you've done." That's perfectly legitimate because it's true. It's another thing to so demand of God that He tell us why He did what He did that we won't let the thing lie there. That becomes sin. It's not our responsibility. We have no right. God acts beyond our comprehension. One mark of maturity is the ability to move on with life with unanswered questions sitting on your shelf, and not spending all day staring at the shelf and refusing your duties because God hasn't gotten around to meeting your agenda for answers. Christians must grow and say, "Lord, nevertheless, not my will but Thine be done. Oh Lord, there is no searching of your understanding. Your thoughts are too wonderful for me. I cannot attain to them. So search me and know me and try my heart and see if there be any wicked way in me and lead me in the way everlasting."

Our Lord God Acts from A Gracious Heart

It's important for us to understand that when our God does something He acts from a gracious heart. When His creatures die, God gives and God takes away, so their death is due to His doing. Yet, God takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked. It refers to eternal death, but God does not smile when a man's body and soul are severed and that man goes out into eternity to face everlasting judgment. That is not pleasing to God. He doesn't gloat over that. It grieves His heart. Do you know what it means to have a heart grieve in the act of punishment? If you're a good father, you know what it means. A good mother knows what it means. While you're inflicting pain for wrongs done, you grieve. I certainly don't understand how God does it. But He does. He takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked. My Lord Jesus, when He is pronouncing the most scathing denouncements upon Jerusalem, stops, and looks out and says, "Oh Jerusalem, Jerusalem." Knowing that those for whom He is praying and weeping are going to plunge into the pit of hell, He grieves. He is going to be the one that kicks them into the pit of hell. And He grieves. Now once again, bring your judgment to the bar of God's Word. Do not impose your judgment on it and force it to conform. It may seem illogical. It may be a paradox, but it's biblical truth. Our Lord exhibited it. Don't rebel against it.

When a saint dies, the Scriptures say, "Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints." How did the Lord Jesus react when Lazarus died and when He approached his tomb? He broke down and wept. Who is Jesus if He's not the presence of God in our midst? If He's not the fullness of the Godhead bodily? Does God weep? Does He have a heart when things go bad? When He himself calls for the death of a saint or a wicked man, does God do it with coldness? No! If we may say it, God feels it deeper than any of us and all of us put together will ever feel it. Go look at the cross. See, God is working with a gracious heart because when He takes life from this world, He does a work of grace at the same time. I won't go into all the benefits of taking the unrighteous before they become worse and sparing them from a worse judgment. But my Bible says that God makes all things work together for good to those who love Him, who are the called according to His purpose. When God kills a saint, when God kills an unrighteous person, God does it for good. He's doing a sanctifying work.

What happens when God does something that hurts you so bad you can hardly lift your eyes? You can hardly function? When the grief is so deep you can't even express it? And you're convinced nobody knows. When God produces that kind of grief in His people, He wants it to flow into worship. If your grief does not flow into worship, it is not righteous grief. The mark of the saint of God is that even though his soul is cast down he hopes in God. The very casting down stirs him to hope more in God. And at his darkest hour he loves the light all the more. And when he fails, even in his grief he looks to God.

And here's one of the tricks of the Devil. You get sad and depressed and down, and you lose your faith. And you see how unbelieving you are, and it makes you want to give up. And the Devil says, "See. You can't even handle problems." But you know what it ought to do, and what it can do as you grow? It'll make you say, "You're right, I can't." It's all the more reason to admire Him who does not grow weary. My flesh and my heart do perennially fail and will continue to, but God. . . That's why when we're told as prophets of God to comfort the people, we're told to address their minds to behold their God. Look at the God who gives grief in order to get His people to enter into the delights of worship. I don't believe anybody knows the depths of worship who hasn't had pain and suffering. And I think it's proportionate. The enjoyment of God is connected with suffering.

Grief tenderizes the heart. It better. You are obstinate if you don't let grief tenderize you. It reveals the truth of our own condition. Sometimes God can speak to us when we're hurting in a way that we could never hear Him at any other time. How good God is to hurt us. "O Lord, it is good that I have been afflicted. I've learned your law in a way I never would have known it if I hadn't been afflicted."

And God sometimes breaks our heart in order to break our wills and our pride. God has a way of shutting us up. God has a way of stopping our flippancy. God has a way of making us realize we don't have control of anything. And if death can't do that, what could? If looking into the face of death can't make us know what we aren't, I don't know what could. For that we give thanks to God for death. Otherwise we'd be proud sinners who had no idea that God was in control and we weren't. Oh, what a mistake, what a wretched thing it would be if Adam and Eve still lived in the garden in their sin. Thanks be to God for those flaming swords that keep us out of paradise in our sin.

Grief brings us closer to God's heart. Old Job knew a lot about God. He was righteous and a man of integrity. But at the end of the book of Job he says, "I had heard of you with the hearing of the ear, but now my eye has seen you." It's one thing to believe the truth. You can be a saint and go to heaven and believe the truth. But when God does certain kinds of things to you, there's another gear into which your motor goes. There's another depth into which your heart sinks. You wouldn't have chosen this means. But after you've gone through it you look back on it and say, "I know the Lord better." Because He's acquainted with grief.

People can't lecture you into knowing God. People can't say a word that makes you know God. God knows how to help you know God. He's so gracious in knowing how to bring us into hard times so that we understand just a teeny bit more of His own heart. Who will ever have any personal appreciation from the heart of what was going on at the cross who himself has never been rejected? Who himself has never known what it meant to be without? Who has never been dependent and powerless and helpless? Who's never had anything at his disposal except to cry, "Not my will but Thine be done"? May God be thanked for bringing our way those things that prepare us better to know Him and to sense Him and to appreciate Him. You don't have to go look for these things. God brings them. He does a sanctifying work because He has a gracious heart. He has a plan to save your soul. And He does things to your life for the intention of making you to worship Him, to swallow your pride, and to be tender toward Him and to motivate yourself to get up and move on. It's all for your good that God does it. For your saving good, that He is committed to bring about, He orchestrates this kind of thing. I would not purposely bring grief on anybody. The only times I ever do it in this world today is because it's my duty in certain cases. If it were justify up to us, we wouldn't know the picture. We wouldn't see the end from the beginning, and we would never make anybody feel bad about anything at any time. God knows better, and I thank Him for it.

God has a right to do as He will. He does everything right. He acts beyond our comprehension. And He always acts from a gracious heart, not just when we see it, but it's gracious whether we see it or not. What is our response to be then? When we behold God, how do we respond?

Do not resist grief. We have a mechanism in us that tends to recoil when we see grief coming around the corner. We hide. We build up our defenses. Some people use anger to keep grief away.

They get mad and start blaming someone just so they don't have to hurt. Some people start trying to get busy about all kinds of stuff so they don't have to stop and think and be quiet. They fill the radio up, fill the TV up, fill their life up. They don't want to feel anything. Some people whistle in the dark. That's not the reason God sent the grief. Don't resist it. Give yourself to this means of grace. Face reality. Don't use euphemisms all the time. Say death. Don't be afraid of looking at what's happened. Death is real and death hurts. And death grieves. Death doesn't make sense. Death is a part of a wretched world of sin. Let's call it what it is. Until you do that you'll never know what anything means when you talk about resurrection. Resurrection from what? Victory over what? Don't resist grief. You say, I'm afraid if I give myself to this I'll never recover. The Lord knows. Let Him have a full work in your heart, and you'll come through it. You'll be better for it. God wouldn't send it if He didn't have your good in mind.

We are under duty, New Testament duty, to weep with those that weep. Now that's tough. I don't think God is binding our consciences to a certain equanimity of physical expression. I don't think in our constitutions we're all the same. You may not be a crier. Some people cry at the drop of a hat, and it doesn't necessarily mean they're grieving. Some people's tear ducts are just more closely connected to their brain and their eyes than others. Other people don't cry naturally. But what it means is from the heart a sincere entering into the grief of another person and sharing it. And that implies something that we're not good at in our culture. It requires the regulation of your emotions by your will. It means that when it's not natural for you to care, you make yourself care because you've been commanded to care. It means when you don't feel excited or any grief or any kind of pain or anything else, and you say, "I can't do that," you do it anyway. It means you discipline your mind so that you think and enter into that person's grief and understand why that person is grieving.

In the body of Christ, it's sin when you refuse to get close to someone who is hurting because you don't want to hurt. God understands our motive and our nature. We want to resist grief. In ourselves. And when we see it in others. But your duty is to enter it. Compassion (passion with). Now that doesn't just flow. You have to regulate that and discipline it and make it develop in you. Enter into others' grief. That doesn't discount our different personalities, different gifts, different degrees of relationships. Some are going to enter naturally, more deeply than others, but there's the duty for us to care about each other as well as to rejoice with those that rejoice. When you're grieving, don't you despise God's blessing on someone else. You're under the same obligation to regulate your emotions to their experience as they are to do so with yours. Did you hear that? Weep with those that weep. Rejoice with those that rejoice is the biblical command. What if you're rejoicing and someone else has had a problem develop? You don't want to lose out on your fun, so you stay away. That's sin. It's selfishness. What if you've got a problem and someone else is doing well? But you don't want to get into that because you resent the fact they're doing well, and you demand that they notice your problem. That's sin. That's selfish sin. Regulate your emotions by your will from Scripture and from love for the brethren. God will bless that kind of self-sacrifice. And He'll unify the church.

Avoid questioning the wisdom and the grace of God. On the contrary, rejoice in it. The wisdom and the grace of God are to be admired and praised and rejoiced in, not to be questioned. God has the last word, doesn't He? He has the last word in judgment. When He decides you're going to die, you're going to die. But He also has the last word in mercy. The last verse in Isaiah 40 tells us after everybody faints and utterly falls, even the youth, "They that wait on the Lord will renew their strength; they will mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk, and not faint." The day will come when God will vindicate those who wait upon Him. He will have the last word in blessing and mercy. You shall rejoice. You shall shine forth as the lights of the firmament if you wait on the Lord. Don't question His wisdom. Praise it. Don't question His grace. Bow to God's wisdom and grace. And I don't mean resignation to it: "Oh well, nothing I can do about it anyway." I mean rejoice in it. It's not Christian just to be resigned to what you couldn't change. It's Christian to be glad it is the way it is because you know your God does it right. It's not faith just to say, "OK I'll admit God is sovereign." That's hard not to admit. You'd have to be worse than the devils not to admit that, because even they know that. But Christian faith, and you need grace for this, is to look in the face of God's inflicted pain on you and say, "Lord thank you. I don't understand it, but I know you do. I wait on you. I trust in you. I look to you. I'm beaten down. I have no strength. I can hardly lift my voice to pray, but, O God, you have said not only do you have the last word in judgment, but you have the last word in mercy. I shall behold your face when I awake. Why art thou cast down O my soul? Hope thou in God." Lecture your soul from Bible passages. And make it obey you. Raise your soul up to look at God, and admire Him and glorify Him.

Humble yourself under the mighty hand of God. That's a Bible directive — a commandment, not a suggestion. You don't like what God has done? Your duty is to humble yourself. His mighty hand has done what you wouldn't do. If you had it to do yourself today, you wouldn't do it. God did it. Humble yourself there. Don't be in the position of being Big Shot Man who says, "Who art Thou?" Be in the position of a piece of clay to say, "Thou art God. What am I?" Stir up your knowledge and appreciation for the sovereignty of God. After all, brethren, a small god can't deliver you when you die. If He's not the one that brought death, and He can't tell when somebody's going to die, and He can't make it happen or keep it from happening, how are you going to be saved? You better have a God that's in control of all of it. Once you do, you can call on that God, and He can do anything. God help you to believe that. Humble yourself under the mighty, gracious hand of God.

But in the last place, and fulfilling my desire to warn you who are unrepentant, prepare to meet God. Stir up in your minds every time somebody dies that you're going to die. We're a walking group of sick people whose bodies have been appointed to the grave. It's going to happen in different ways and different times among us unless the Lord comes first. Our children, our parents, our spouses, our close friends have been appointed to the grave. It's been appointed to men once to die. You're going to have to meet God. What should you do in the face of that? Well don't sit around stewing because God's done something that bothers you. Get ready to meet God.

There's a much worse death awaiting those who don't prepare for their first one. Not only get your affairs in this world straight. Not only get your bills paid. Not only get your insurance paid up. Not only get your will set. Prepare yourself for the meeting with God in which your soul will be judged. Avoid the second death. How do you do it? How do you prepare to meet God? Run to the cross. Leave everything else and get to the cross. Stay there. Look at it. Think on it. Observe what God is doing there in His dear Son for sinners like you who have stuck your fist in His face all your life and acted as though you had a right to do as you pleased and He had no business interfering. You have sinned against a gracious Creator. He has poured His wrath out on His Son — the Son — so He could save sinners like you. Look at that: Righteousness purified. Grace personified. God's wrath poured out on His Son so His people could go free from their sins. The second person of the Godhead dying at the hands of His creatures, breathing His last at the hands of those to whom He gave breath, suffering at the hands of those whom He had delivered from suffering. Look at that. And understand you're guilty. You're a sinner. Unless that atonement be yours, unless God's mercy flows to you through Christ, unless that blood covers your sins, unless Christ delivers you, you are going to meet God and see wrath upon your head. And it will be unrelenting, eternal wrath, whereby you will never get out by crying, "My God, my God why hast Thou forsaken me?" That'll be the cry of eternity coming out of you with weeping, wailing, and gnashing of teeth. When God takes a life and snuffs out the breath and takes a body and leaves it and turns it back to dust, does that not scare you and make you know that of all things in this life you must be prepared to meet God? And if you'll stand before God draped in the righteousness of His Son, freely given, you shall not need to fear death or hell or the grave or anything else.

Get to the cross. Crawl up under the Rock that is provided for your protection. Depend on Christ. They that call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved. May God help you. May God give you grace to let the weight of death cause you to do what's right. Recognize gladly the righteousness of all that God does, the power of God to do all He pleases, and the fact that God does it in such a way that often we can't comprehend it. But He always does it out of a gracious heart. Humble yourself before God. And submit yourself to His righteousness provided in His Son. May God, by the truths of who He is and how He works, comfort the grieving, save the unrepentant sinner, and strengthen the faith of the fainthearted among us who may question and wonder if it's all true and worth continuing to pray. The same God rules today and waits to hear our prayers. Do not grow weary. You shall run and not be weary. You shall walk and not faint. Look to the Rock from which you've been hewn. Don't be offended in Him. Trust in Him. And move on in His Name.

Let's pray. Our Father, we have spoken concerning urgent realities. We would not wound or hinder any from coming to you and seeing your face and understanding who you are and loving you. We would help them. O Lord, have mercy upon us. Give us a heart glad to be content with all your holy Word and not desiring more. Give us a heart humbled under your mighty hand. Grant to us repentance and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. O Lord our God, who has in your hands our very life, look upon us with mercy through Christ. Prepare us to meet you. And help us, Lord, see you today and to be content with you, to love and to worship you, and to take this providence that's dark and use it as a spring for praise and worship and service to you and love for your people. Lord, only you know how to take things like this and turn them into good things. We know you are able. We cry out to you to touch our hearts. Deal with us unto everlasting peace for the sake of your Son whom you slew for our sins, Jesus, in whose name we pray. Amen.

 
 
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