Monday, September 23, 2019

“He’s got the whole wide world in His hands”

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God and man, what are they really like?
Henk van Pagee

 
 
Good morning brothers and sisters,
 
Who is God? That’s something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately.
And also  ………… who is man? Two subjects that are inextricably bound together.
 
I expect that a lot of what I am going to say will not be new to you, but it certainly won’t hurt to hear it again.
 
The first question is: Who is God?
As a philosopher you won’t find an answer. To know what a person is like you have to get to know him well. And even if you study theology you still don’t get to know God, because it’s all theory, dogma’s and complicated topics. You may learn all about God. Your knowledge of God will increase, but that doesn’t automatically mean you also get to know Him.
 
I think you get to know God first and foremost through contact with Him. Just in the same way that you get to know your own father, by being with him and doing things together. You can’t just say, “I read a book about him once, so I know who he is”. No, you get to know someone by spending time together.
 
You can get to know God in the same way. By spending time with Him. By going down on your knees to pray, or simply by talking to Him while you are out for a walk. That’s one of the most important things about getting to know God: it has to be first-hand experience. You get to know God and what He’s really like through a personal relationship with Him.
So it’s not difficult. You don’t need a secret code, or formula or ritual, or any other special conditions to contact God. It’s simply through your own personal fellowship with Him.
 
However, to help you to get to know God there is also a book available which tells us all about Him. It’s an absolute must if you want to know more about God: it’s called ‘the Bible’! And if you want to get to know God, then you should read this book a lot. Not just a little bit every now and again, but a lot, because it’s through Tthis book, God’s Word, that God manifests Himself to us. If someone says: “I have found God, I know Him well, but the bible?, no, that doesn’t mean much to me at all”, well, then I doubt very much if this person really does know God.
 
You can also get to know what God is like through your brothers and sisters in the church and elsewhere. Through what they believe, how they live, and what God does in their lives. You come to recognise the work of God in their testimonies, in their work, in their encouragement or their prayers.
 
These are all things that help ME to see more clearly who God is.
 
As I’ve already said: “You can get to know God by reading the Bible”. But it is also a fact that MILLIONS of people READ the Bible, sometimes very faithfully, EVERY morning and EVERY evening, but STILL do not know God.
 
Why not?
Well, there is something else that is very important to know when you are wrestling with the question, how can I get to know God better. Something that I haven’t told you yet. And for that piece of information I want to read one verse with you from the gospel of John. John chapter one, verse 18. It’s a well-known verse and very profound. Because here John tells us the secret of how to get to know God. I will read it to you.
 
“NO one has ever SEEN God; but God’s only SON, HE who is in the bosom of the Father, HE has made him known”.
 
Now don’t misunderstand what John is trying to say here. When he says no one has SEEN God he doesn’t mean ‘see’ with our NATURAL eyes just as we see the things all around us. He means that there had NEVER been ANYONE who really properly knew what God is like. And John lets us into a big secret here. He says ”NO one, in ALL the centuries before Christ, NO one had really SEEN or understood just WHO God is. But JESUS CHRIST, His only born son, HE has made him known. So if we want to get to know GOD, then we have to go to JESUS. Because HE shows us what God is like and WHAT He shows us of God, is NEW. He tells us MORE, and his knowledge and experience of God reaches FURTHER than anything we have EVER heard about God before.
 
Now I expect you’re thinking: “What about the Old Testament then? There’s a LOT about God THERE, isn’t there? Isn’t THAT enough?
I can understand too why the scribes and the pharisees had difficulty in accepting what John said. THEY already had the Old Testament, the TORAH, the books of the Law, AND the prophets. And they were ANNOYED by John the evangelist saying that nobody had ever seen God. That it was JESUS who had made Him known.
“What are you TALKING about?” they said. “We have the TORAH, we have the revelation of God. What MORE do you need? WE know what God is like, because it is written HERE in our scriptures.”
 
Well, just think about what John said for a moment.
“Nobody has ever seen God, but Jesus has made him known”
Take time consider what Well, it WAS.
It was VERY good and Jesus confirms that. But it DIDN’T convey the SPIRitual aspect, the perFECTion. It didn’t reveal what JESUS revealed.
 
The way of thinking in the Old Testament nearly always put the emphasis on the NATURAL, PHYSical life.
The Israelites thought that if they SERVED God then he would BLESS them and that this blessing would be manifest in their NATURAL life. Then everything would go well in their life. And for them that’s ALL it was. And many of the psalms are ABOUT that. For example Psalm 144 verse 12:
This psalm talks of people’s desires, and the rewards that you get if you serve God: it’s put so beautifully:
 
“May our sons in their youth be like plants full grown,
our daughters like corner pillars cut for the structure of a palace;
may our garners be full providing all manner of store;
may our sheep bring forth thousands and ten thousands in our fields;
may our cattle be heavy with young, suffering no mischance or failure in earing;
may there be no cry of distress in our streets!
Happy the people to whom such blessings fall!
Happy the people whose God is the Lord!”
 
 
Do you see? THAT’S what the people of Israel believed. As long as the material and natural things in life go well, that’s proof of God’s blessing. And that’s why they found it so difficult to understand when things went well, or sometimes even better, for the heathens too. Can you imagine how they felt? 
They thought, “WE serve God, so everything goes well for us”.
The heathens DON’T serve God, so things WON’T go well for them”. WE should have sheds stored full with grain, but the HEATHENS shouldn’t really have ANYthing. Our prosperity is the proof that we serve the right God!”
 
But often the natural circumstances of Israel DIDN’T go well, but they DID go well for the Philistines, or the Canaanites or any of the other nations of that time. They were often MORE prosperous than Israel.
Do you know the psalm Asaph wrote? Asaph was a sincere Israelite who served God with his whole heart. He was a human being like you and me, and he was annoyed by the prosperity of the heathens. He didn’t understand it.
Psalm 73 is an example of this. It’s an illustration of how people used to think.
 
Shall we read it? Psalm 73. Above the psalm is the following title: The riddle of the prosperity of the heathens (meaning those without God).
 
In verse 3 Asaph begins his complaint:
-           For I was envious of the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked
-           For they have no pangs; their bodies are sound and sleek.
-           They are not in trouble as other men are; they are not stricken like other men.
And so it goes on. In verse 12 he even says: Behold, these are the wicked; always at ease, they increase in riches.
Asaph resents their prosperity, and he doesn’t understand it either. His whole attitude was of irritation and annoyance.
 
Do you think GOD is like that?
 
And then Jesus comes, and holds his sermon on the mount. And listen carefully to what He says, because Jesus tells them something NEW, something that had never been heard before. He tells them something NEW about GOD. Let’s read that too, in Matthew chapter 5 verse 43, and listen very carefully because he says something that is directly connected to what Asaph says in Psalm 73.
 
Jesus says in Matthew 5 verse 43; “You have heard that it was said. “You shall LOVE your neighbour and HATE your enemy”. Okay. That’s quite clear. They HAD heard that. That’s the situation as it was then, in Old Testament times.
 
But then JESUS says in verse 39: “I say to you, do not resist one who is evil. But if any one strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also, and, in verse 40, if any one would SUE you and take your COAT, let him have your CLOAK as well, and, verse 41, if any one forces you to go ONE mile, go with him TWO miles. Verse 42: GIVE to him who begs from you, and do not refuse him who would BORROW from you. Verse 43: You have heard that it was said “You shall love your neighbour and hate your enemy’. But I say unto you, verse 44, LOVE your enemies and PRAY for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the EVIL and on the GOOD, and sends rain on the JUST AND on the UNjust. For, verse 46, if you love those who love YOU, what reward have you? Do not even the TAX collectors do the same? And if you salute only your BRETHREN, what MORE are you doing than OTHERS? Do not even the GENtiles do the SAME? YOU, therefore, must be PERFECT, as your heavenly Father is perfect."
 
 
 
THIS attitude, THIS way of thinking is what Jesus wants for ALL his followers. Not to reSENT the gentiles because of their prosperity, but to PRAY for them, and BLESS them. Jesus finishes by saying: “You must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” and he adds “so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven”. Jesus is saying to us: “The attitude and way of thinking that I have just described to you, THAT’s  the way GOD thinks about ALL people.
He LOVES people even if they ARE hostile, he doesn’t reject ANYone, He never asks for anything in return. He greets everyone, and He is pleased for them when things go well. God is good! A totally different way of thinking to that of the people of Israel, who lived according to the law of Moses.
 
Jesus’ ideas about illness and bondage were ALSO different to what is found in the Old Testament. There, illness was thought to be something that God brought upon you. It came from God and you just had to accept it. “Why should we receive good and not bad?” People believe that God can give you BAD things, as well as good.
 
Take another look at the Psalms. Read Psalm 88 when you get home. David wrote this psalm when he was critically ill. He suffers all sorts of afflictions and then He asks God: “why do you do all this to me?” He blames GOD for it all. Why? Because He didn’t know what God is really like, nobody did. Not even David.
 
I am not criticising David. He served God according to the insight and knowledge he had of God. I think it’s wonderful, how David always turns to God for strength. He was called the beloved of God. But the full truth about God had not yet been revealed. For this purpose Christ had to come, because, as we read at the beginning:  “NO one has EVER seen God; but God’s only SON, HE who is in the bosom of the Father, HE has made him known”.
So when Jesus comes he has a completely different attitude to illness, and afflictions and suffering. Take the healing of the person who had been born blind in John chapter 9 verse 1. His disciples ask Jesus: “Lord, how did that happen?” Whose fault is it, HIS or his parents’?”
You see, that’s how they thought in the Old Testament. But Jesus didn’t conFIRM their way of thinking. HE said, It was NO one’s fault. The works of God were to be manifested and this was an example of that.
 
A wonderful verse in this context is Acts chapter 10 verse 38.
(This sermon is a bit like a Bible Study but I love going through the Bible because it shows us so much of what God has in store for us).
 
In Acts chapter 10 verse 38 we read:
“God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power, and he went about doing good and healing all that were oppressed of the devil; for God was with Him.” Hallelujah!
 
Do you understand? Do you see the difference? When Jesus was confronted with ILLNESS, all HE did was pray for healing. And HOW did He do this? NOT by fighting against the judgements of GOD!  He did not pray for deliverance from oppression from GOD. What did it say in verse 38? He came to deliver people from oppression from SATAN. Praise the Lord!
 
All of a sudden we are given insight into WHO God really is and what He is like. Jesus has shown us very clearly WHO it is who causes all this evil. WHO is at the root of all the illnesses and terrible viruses that are now to be found in God’s creation, and WHO causes all the chaos in God’s creation, all the hate and violence and corruption. Why IS the world as it is now? THAT’s not how God CREATED it. That’s not how HE wanted it to be!
Jesus pointed to one single cause: he said the people were oppressed by the devil, by Satan. HE is the cause of all illnesses, sin and bondage.
 
So how DID He want it to be? What is God really like?
And that’s the wonderful thing about the NEW Testament. It makes it more and more clear what God is like. For example 1 John 1 verse 5. I’ll read it to you.
“This is then the message which we have heard of Him, and declare unto you, that God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all”.
 
I’ll read it again. God is light and in Him is no darkness at all”.
 
That’s a wonderful truth. It’s marvellous to know that. If I get to know God, then I get to know someone who is not divided, who is only light. I can depend on Him, there is no darkness in Him.
 
OUR thoughts and concepts of what God is like should ALSO be different to the way the rest of the world thinks about God. Different even to the way much of the religious world thinks of God. Paul says in Romans chapter 12 verse 2: “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind”. And in the next verse Paul tells us what this renewal involves. “so that you may discover what the will of God is: all that is good and acceptable and perfect.”
 
You can see who the Giver is, and what He’s like, from the gifts you receive.
And when I think about that, then I realise how rich we are with such an intensely good Father.
 
 
 
And then I come to the second part of my sermon. And that is: Who is MAN? Human beings like you and me. Who are WE and what are WE like?
Ah yes, human beings… Well,… SOME people say you shouldn’t pay TOO much attention to THEM. For ONE thing that’s being self-centred, and for ANOTHER, it was the human beings, don’t forget, who messed everything up to start with.
 
Well, SOME people may think like that. But not GOD. Human beings are SPECIAL and exceedingly important to God! The Bible says in Deuteronomy chapter 32 verse 10 that they are the apple of his eye. And that’s why SATAN is always trying to make these human beings SIN and feel guilty, because he KNOWS that they are the apple of God’s eye.
These human beings, you could even say, are God’s crowning glory, created in the image of God and according to his likeness. God looks at these human beings and says: “These are my Creation, My children, my crowning glory”.
And WE look to God and say: “This is our God, our Father. It is all to HIS glory. We live to glorify Him”.
It would be wrong to say: Look at us humans, see how GOOD we are, as if it were all OUR doing. We were created to glorify GOD, not ourselves. Glorification or idolisation of PEOPLE is of the devil. WE want to glorify GOD.
 
So what IS it, that makes EVERY one of these human beings so special? What does mankind have that is not to be found anywhere else in all of God’s creation, or in the whole spiritual kingdom, with all the millions of angels? What IS that something special, that no other creature has?
 
 
 
 
Well, it is the fact that we are created in God’s image, after God’s likeness. That is something SO beautiful and SO special. It’s something I’ve known for a long, long time and yet so easily forget. And then, every now and again, the realisation of this fact hits me, and just fills me with awe, and I realise: “God, WE are your crowning glory. That’s why you keep coming back to us, again and again. That’s why you love us so much.”
 
And that’s ANOTHER reason why Satan DISLIKES us so much. Why?
Because he keeps on seeing the image of God in us. Every time Satan meets a human being he is confronted with God’s image. So satan sees every human being alive as his ENEMY, who has to be destroyed, because he hates EVERYTHING that bears the image of God.
 
Psalm 8 says that mankind is the crowning glory of God’s creation. David actually says that of ALL of creation, and of ALL the beautiful things in creation, (and creation IS beautiful, just think of the wonderful sunsets) of ALL these, the human being, people like you and me, was originally even more wonderful, because he is the crowning glory of God’s creation. And satan, of course, claims the opposite.  HE says: “there is nothing in the whole of creation so ROTTEN as mankind. Look around you.”
 
Is Satan right? When you look around you, at what the world is like today, at all the misery and hunger and fighting, you might tend to agree. I mean look at what has happened in the world during the last few years. You’d be inclined to agree that there IS nothing as rotten as human beings. They are so destructive. Sometimes people do things that even ANIMALS wouldn’t do. Animals kill each other too, but that is to get food when they are hungry or to defend their territory. But they don’t go and MASSACRE each other.
 
There is only ONE sort that massacres each other. ONE sort that torments and tortures and lets others starve. And that is the human sort. And so satan says triumphantly: You see, I’m right, there IS none so rotten as the human being.” And WHY does he keep on saying that?  To get at God. Because by saying this he hurts God.  He stabs God right in the heart. Satan is rebelling against God. And the item he is rebelling about is this human being.
 
But God doesn’t change his mind. He still believes in his original plan for mankind. This plan is so tremendously strong because it doesn’t change: his plan is always the same: to create man in His image according to His likeness.
 
What do you base YOUR opinion on, when you think about the human race?
Or, to put it more personally, when you think about yourSELF. We are so good at complaining about ourselves, or feeling guilty about things we do or how we feel, sometimes to the point of desperation. So what do YOU think about yourself? Do you agree with the way GOD sees you, as HIS image, as being like HIM? Because, you ARE, you know. YOU are a human being, and so you ARE His image, His likeness! Just by being you.
So WHO are you going to believe? God or satan?
When you look at people do you see them in their SINFUL state, as SATAN does, or do you see them as God INTENDED they should be, as God created them?
 
The inner man of the human being is the image of God. He has the same potential as God. God’s potential is of course unending and of a dimension and quality that we cannot fathom. But there are many talents and qualities that God has that He has also given to his human creation.
 
So, you know, you’re much more like God that you realise. God has the power of  THOUGHT. We talk about God’s THOUGHTS only too often. God is able to think, and so can WE. That’s something that ANIMALS CAN’T do. WE can reflect on things and be creative with our thoughts.
 
God also SPEAKS. That’s how we get to know God in the FIRST place. One of the FIRST things we learn about God, is that He SPEAKS. In Genesis chapter 1 we read: ‘and God SAID, ‘Let there be light’. God spoke THEN, and still does today. And WE are able to speak too. That’s something really special.
 
My wife and I have a foster daughter who is mentally handicapped. She can’t talk, and we are confronted with this fact every day. That’s something you would REALLY miss, being able to express your thoughts in words. That is really special, and irreplaceable, however hard you try to explain with your hands and arms! God has given us this talent too, this ability to speak.
 
God is also a God with a WILL. And we too are beings that have been created with our own will, so that we can make choices, and decide what we WANT, and what we DON’T. This is the most challenging thing that God did, to give people a will of their own. That’s something I’ve also given a lot of thought to, and I ask myself: Why IS it, that the world is like it IS? WHY is there so much injustice in the world? And my conclusion IS: the reason there are so many problems in the world, is because people have a will of their own. They can CHOOSE for good things, they can CHOOSE for God, but they can ALSO choose EVIL, and for SATAN.
 
 
Another of God’s qualities, one of the most wonderful qualities of God, is that He is LOVING. That’s amazing, isn’t it? God is loving. That is one of his strongest qualities. God has an unending love. His love reaches SO far. Even to people who don’t want to know anything about Him. Even when we were sinners, He gave His Son for us. And that quality of love, we have that too. We may, and can, love others. And our love can reach above all sorts of obstacles and barriers. Even when people despise us or curse us or treat us unfairly, we can STILL love them, because we have received this power to love from God.
 
God also has desires. Desire is also a typical characteristic of God. In James chapter 4 verse 5 we read that He desires our spirit with jealousy. So we ALSO may have desires. That’s not wrong. We may desire all the good things of God and of life.
We may desire a deeper knowledge and more intense fellowship with the Father. We may LONG to be who we REALLY are: People like God, in His image, made possible by Jesus Christ. Without desires and longings people become indifferent, and run the risk of becoming luke-warm christians.
 
And lastly, God BELIEVES. One of the most special qualities of God is that He believes. He believes in His creation. He thinks and speaks with conviction: “What I have created in these human beings WILL be manifested”. Even after the Fall of Adam and Eve He STILL maintains this. He does not waver in his faith in mankind, and proclaims to satan that mankind WILL eventually be conqueror. “I shall put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed, and so her heel will be bruised but YOUR HEAD will be crushed”. What wonderful words of faith for Eve. “The serpent will hurt your heel, but you will crush his head.
 
And so now we come to a very important point, and that is the question: “can these human beings accomplish all this on their own? If we said, “Of course we can, because we are so good”, then we’d be on the wrong track. If you rely only what the human being is capable of, then you’d be giving all the glory to PEOPLE. And that’s all wrong. Paul says in Romans chapter 6 : “Before you knew Jesus Christ you were all slaves to sin and had no say in what you did”. THEN you lived without Christ. What were the fruits of your life THEN? Things you are NOW ashamed of, and which lead to death.” That is the reality of life without Christ.
 
“But NOW” Paul says, and by that he means in the NEW situation. FIRST he described what it was like in the FORMER situation, and THEN the NEW situation. “But NOW you have been made free from sin and have become servants of righteousness, of God”.
THAT is our new status.
 
Do you understand what that word STATUS means in this context? People who are familiar with computers will know. If you have a problem with your computer someone from the help desk will come and help you. The first thing he will want to know is the STATUS of the computer. He will want to know everything that is in the computer. How much memory the computer has and how fast it is, what programmes it has, and so on. THEN he can determine the status of the computer.
 
So what is our status, if we are born again and have accepted Christ into our lives? I’ll tell you. Our status is: made FREE from sin, and SERVANTS of God. That is the gospel in a nutshell. What made it possible for us to be able to say that WE have this status? Who do we have to thank for that?
For the answer you will have to turn to Revelation chapter 5 verse 9: we read here:
 
“And they sang a new song saying: ‘worthy art Thou to take the scroll and open its seals, for thou wast slain and by thy blood did ransom men for God from every tribe and tongue and people and nation, and hast made them a kingdom and priest to our God, and they shall reign on earth”.
 
THAT is the core of the gospel. What it is all about. Why aren’t we the most rotten part of all creation as satan tries to tell us? How is it that can we be free, as we have just read? Revelation says because Jesus paid the ransom for us, bought us for God. That’s the first point. And secondly, “He has made us for God”. Two aspects. Bought for God. That’s quite clear isn’t it? He paid for us with His blood on the cross and thus enabled us to step into a new situation. A situation where people become as God had always MEANT them to be. And often people think that’s ALL. They think that’s good enough.
But He has not only BOUGHT us for God. He also wants to MAKE something of us. Pay good attention now. He wants to make us 1.  a kingdom 2. priests 3. kings.
 
Priests and kings belong together. And OUR great High priest and King is Jesus himself. You could say of our former status: slave to sin. That’s what Paul calls it: slavery. People who are not allowed to make their own decisions live in slavery, and slaves have to do what their master, the slave driver says, whether they want to or not. They have no rights. Slavery determines their status.
But then Jesus comes along and He gives us a NEW status: FREED from sin through the Lamb that was slain, in order to serve God.
 
It says that Jesus bought us. And I like that expression. He paid for our sins, he paid the debt caused by our sins, he ransomed us from the claim of satan. He bought us for God.
BUY is a good word in this context. If we BUY something then it costs us money, and the object of the sale then goes to the new owner, the one who paid the money. That’s a very important point. If you buy a coat in a shop or at the market then BEFORE you pay the money the coat belongs to the salesman. But AFTER you have paid the money then it no longer belongs to the salesman, it belongs to the person who paid for it. And that is what happened to us, to our status. We no longer belong to SATAN, but to GOD. Our status is: Paid in full by Jesus Christ, and the new owner is God.
 
Why did he buy us? He bought us to be priest and kings. That’s more than: He bought us to save us. And now I KNOW this, I am going to start reading the Bible in a different light. Because NOW I am looking not only for passages about being SAVED, but I’m also looking for passages about being a PRIEST and a KING.
I am going to live in the kingdom of God, and look for all this, and work it out in my life. Because that’s why he bought me!
It’s written : HE made us….. Jesus BUYS us and MAKES something of us. And THAT knowledge gives me peace and rest.
So often we think that WE have to do it all. But we DON’T, JESUS does it for us, IN us, by filling us with his Spirit.
All I have to do it to open myself completely for Him and search for the plan that God has for my personal life, in complete submission.
 
It does us good to talk about God’s great plan. It gives me encouragement, again and again. But it’s also important to think about God’s plan for us personally, for each of you individually. And to think big!
Think big: God has a plan with my life!
Think big: God wants me to be a king.
Think big: God wants me to be a priest.
And remember, in the kingdom of God, being a king and a priest are both about serving!!
And this is the essence of what God wants for every human being.
 
Amen.
 
 
Shall we pray?
 
Lord Jesus, thank you for who you are. You ransomed us. You paid in full and gave us our new status.
Lord Jesus, thank you that through YOU we can get to know the Father.
Thank you that this is a process. Lord, we have READ your word, we have HEARD your voice, and we KNOW that you will continue to help us to get to know the Father.
Lord, I pray that you will continue to lead and guide us so that it will become more and more clear to us what your will is for our life.
Thank you Lord, for thinking BIG about us, while WE, Lord, WE often feel so small and weak. But we will not let that hold us back.
Lord, all the things that you have spoken to us will give us insight and victory.
 
Hallelujah, amen.