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The Ways of Providence

Luke 13:1-9


One of the greatest ships ever built was the famed Titanic. Although advertised worldwide as unsinkable, it hit an iceberg on its maiden voyage in April 1912 and sank, taking hundreds of passengers to the bottom of the sea.

G. Campbell Morgan, the great English preacher, lamented the loss of a personal friend who went down with the ocean liner. Preaching at Wesminster Chapel in London on “The Loss of the Titanic,” he made an observation that every thinking man ought to consider:

“There is a Providence watching over the affairs of men, controlling even the choices that are made in human freedom, not to immediate results, but to ultimate and final issues. I say there are quantities of facts and qualities, of which we are ignorant, all of which must be taken into account if we are to have an accurate interpretation of providential dealings.”

Morgan was addressing himself to the question that must have stirred many hearts that April day: Where does the providence of God enter into such a catastrophe as this?

Was it “providential” that some who bought tickets for this voyage never boarded ship

And did God withhold His providence from the others who sailed and perished?

How are we to understand God’s providence?

I. Providence:

A. Definition:

1. We do not find the term itself applied to God in the Scriptures.

2. But the definition of “Providence”, that God is continually at work preserving and  governing the world, is clearly a Biblical truth.

3. “The Lord hath prepared his throne in the heavens; and his kingdom ruleth over all” (Ps. 103:19).

4. God is Master of His universe, “upholding all things by the word of his power” (Heb. 1:3).

5. But often we may misunderstand how God’s providence affects us in our daily lives.

B. In the Gospels.

1. Throughout the Gospels we find that Jesus’ doctrine of providence was total, presenting a negative as well as a positive aspect.

2. The Lord taught that our Heavenly Father cares for all; that the very hairs of our head are numbered.

3. But He also on occasion ascribed some unhappy circumstances to God’s account.

a. The blind man, we are told in John 9:3, was handicapped that “the power of God might be manifest in him”.

b. Pilate’s authority to harm Jesus was given him “from above” (John 19:11).

4. Our thinking on God’s providence is not always clear.

a. We usually think of all the times He has protected us from evil and harm.

b. Perhaps He has done so in an exceptional manner, and we call these the providences of God.

c. But we forget that an accident, an illness, or any other grief is also within God’s providence, no matter undesirable the experience may be.

d. At other times we mistakenly assume that an act of providence is God’s protection for good people like us, but that is wrong thinking!

e. That line of thought would say that all who suffer must be evil, since God has not delivered them!

f. We often see the “good” suffer and the “wicked” escape.

5. Pilate’s massacre in the Temple and the debris failing at Siloam may very well have destroyed both saints and scoundrels.

a. We must reject the notion that the sufferer has always incurred God’s displeasure, while those who prosper are the objects of God’s special providential blessings.

b. We need to remember what Jesus said to His disciples in John 16:33:

c. “…In the world ye shall have tribulation.”

d. Note: He had just told them that in Him they would have peace.

e. But the peace of God residing in their hearts would not guarantee freedom from tribulation in the world.

II. “Acts of God”

A. Legal terminology.

1. Lawyers and journalists frequently use the term “Act of God” when discussing certain events.

2. The term has been defined as “a result of natural forces, unexpected and not preventable by human foresight.”

3. The collapse of the tower at Siloam might today have been put in that category, since it was an unfore- seeable accident.

4. A judgment by the courts that an accident was an Act of God frees one from liability for any resulting damage.

5. In other words, it’s not your fault, it’s God’s!

B. Jesus’ View on “Acts of God”.

1. He reminds us in Mt. 5:45: [6]

2. “That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.”

3. We need to be careful in the labeling of calamities as special acts of God.

C. Questionable logic.

1. This is sorry logic when carried into our daily lives.

2. How can we ascribe to God circumstances we would prevent if we could, and dismiss the unearned benefits that accrue to us daily-the bounty we could never secure by any amount of foresight?

3. Are these not equally Acts of God?

4. We want to single out the misfortunes we cannot explain and call them the “acts of God”, but we forget all of the mysteries that sustain and bless our lives.

a. The balances of nature.

b. The regularity of the seasons.

c. The wonder of birth and growth.

d. All these are the Acts of God, as is every human life and every death.

The Jews reporting bad news from the Temple to Jesus clearly believed that, while Pilate perpetrated the crime, he was simply the messenger of God’s judgment. Jesus did not say anything to contradict this view.

If all events whatever are in God’s sovereign disposal, and if not so much as a sparrow or a human hair perishes without His knowledge and permission, we can be certain that the our lives are more particularly under His providential care.

In this sense God is the Author and Disposer of all events, operative in all that comes to pass in the world, directing all things toward an appointed end. This is the meaning of God’s providence. God’s hand in the glove of History.

We may not, and cannot, always under-stand His ends. But, learning from the Lord Jesus, we can trust God in the hour of crucifixion, when the crowd of friends has thinned out and darkness overwhelms us. Because in the resurrection light all will be made clear. There is a life of fuller freedom beyond this present one, when the paths we trod will be seen with better eyes.

“Farther along we’ll know all about it…Farther along we’ll understand why.”

“For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.” (1 Cor 13:12)


Preached: 25 August 2013

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