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Providence (Part 2 of 2)

Truth for Life / Alistair Begg
The Truth Network Radio
February 23, 2023 3:00 am

Providence (Part 2 of 2)

Truth for Life / Alistair Begg

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February 23, 2023 3:00 am

Watching the news can make the world seem overwhelmingly wicked. In the battle of good versus evil, it’s difficult to determine who’s really winning. How can we be sure God is still in control? Hear the answer on Truth For Life with Alistair Begg.



When we read or watch the news these days, it can feel like we live in an overwhelmingly wicked world. In the battle of good versus evil, which one is really winning? How can we be sure that God is still in control? We'll hear the answers to those questions today on Truth for Life. Alistair Begg is teaching from the book of Esther.

We're in chapter two. I want to say three things concerning the underlying doctrine here in this book. It is the doctrine of providence. I want to give you three words in relationship to it. Now, the first word is clarity, the second word is mystery, and the third word is security.

All right? So let us be clear that this is clear. That's our first word, clarity. In other words, there's nothing sketchy or vague about this in the Bible. And it is the very fact that it isn't sketchy or vague that causes men and women to react to it so strongly.

So when we go out to our friends and we say, you know, we were studying the book of Esther, it's a very Jewish book, it's about a lady, and some of our friends may say, I know about that. And we say, well, what the real thing about this book is that God, the Creator, sustains everything by his power. There's clarity in it. But secondly and quickly, there is also mystery in it. There is mystery in it. In that, God directs all things—he directs the heart of the king, if we stay with Proverbs 21.1—he directs the heart of the king without violating the nature of things.

Okay? Without impinging upon causality. What does that mean? In the case of Ahasuerus, it means this. Vashti was banished because of a free decision made by Ahasuerus.

And when you read on in the story—which I hope, as I've suggested to you, you will do—you discover that there are these amazing little coincidences that somehow or another appear to be evidence of the overruling activity of God. So if your Bible is open, you could just flip forward to Esther chapter 6 and look at verse 1, where it says, On that night the king could not sleep. Why couldn't he sleep?

I don't know. It doesn't say why he couldn't sleep. He couldn't sleep. Maybe he had pizza. Maybe he was drinking again.

Maybe—who knows? But he couldn't sleep. And so he did what is not uncommon for people to do. He decided that he would get an audiobook.

Right? Some of you do that. You have earphones by your bed. You listen, you fall asleep. You don't know where you were in the book, and then you waken up, and you still don't know where you were in the book, but it helps you. And the more boring the book, the easier it will be, presumably, to get to sleep. And so he apparently haphazardly gave orders to bring the book of memorable deeds, the Chronicles.

A real zinger, you know? Why don't you read me about the Chronicles of the kingdom? Well, what was happening? He decided when he woke up, as a result of insomnia, that he'd have to have something read. So he said, Why don't you bring me that book, which appeared to be apparently inconsequential, a happenstance. But in actual fact, that was the book that allowed him to read about what had happened with Mordecai, to whom we will eventually come. Without that, he would not have known, and therefore he would not have exalted Mordecai to the position.

It's kind of mysterious, isn't it? Because what was actually happening was that God was ordering these events, not ordering them by interfering, as it were. I had somebody tell me not so long ago that they were trapped in an elevator, and they were supposed to phone their wife, and then the phone wouldn't work, and as a result of the phone not working, he couldn't get his wife out of a situation, and because he couldn't get her out of it, she actually became a Christian. And so he said, What an amazing thing it is that God stops elevators. I said, Okay, fine. But I went away. I said, No, yeah, he can stop elevators. But no, the elevator just stopped, man.

It stopped because it stopped. And in the economy and purposes of God, that causality was used in order to achieve a far higher end. Now, you check this, and you'll find that the pattern is repeated again and again. If you follow the kings of the earth, whether it's Nebuchadnezzar, whether it is the Pharaoh, whether it is Ahab, whoever it might be—or, classically, let me just give you one.

I'll give you an illustration. In Genesis chapter 20, in the story of Abraham and his cute wife and Abimele—you remember?—that Abraham, who was, you know, a big, I'm trusting God hero kind of guy, had a little bit of a lapse in Genesis 20, and decided that he would, in this area to which they'd gone in the territory between Kadesh and Shur and in Gerar, he would tell people that Sarah was his sister. And so Abimelech took Sarah, we're told. And then in verse 3 of Genesis 20, God came to Abimelech in a dream by night and said to him, Behold, you're a dead man, because of the woman whom you have taken, for she is a man's wife.

Now Abimelech had not approached her. So he says, Lord, will you kill an innocent people? Did he not himself say to me, She is my sister? And she herself said, He is my brother. So they were both in on the lie. In the integrity of my heart and the innocence of my hands I have done this.

So he takes personal responsibility for it. Then God said to him in the dream, Yes, I know that you have done this in the integrity of your heart. And it was I who kept you from sinning against me.

It's great, isn't it? It's mystery. And the mystery is at its apex when you come to the issue of the kings of the earth conspiring against the Lord and his anointed.

For your homework, just read Acts chapter 4. Read the wonderful account of how it is that the apostles are released from prison, and the people lift up their hearts to God in prayer, and they quote from Psalm 2, and they say, Why do the nations rage and the Gentiles rage, and why are these people opposed to God? Why do the kings of the earth lift up their hands and their hearts against the Lord and against his anointed one?

And then you step back from it, and you say, When the kings of the earth set themselves against the Lord, in the exercise of their rebellious will, they were actually setting forward God's foreordained plan of salvation. It's mystery. So we affirm the clarity with which the Bible addresses it. We acknowledge the mystery that is contained in it. And finally, just a word concerning the fact that we must accept the security that is here for all who belong to Jesus.

The security that is here for all who belong to Jesus. You see, even when it is obvious to us that the wicked flourish, that evil people seem to be in the ascendancy, that bad seems to be called good and good seems to be called bad, even when we're disheartened, and even when it appears that everything seems to be so crooked and irregular, the doctrine of providence is in the Bible to say to us, Remember that God is actually sovereign over all these affairs. Thomas Watson, in his Body of Divinity, uses this picture. Suppose he says you were in a blacksmith's shop and should see there several sorts of tools, some crooked, some bowed, others hooked.

Would you condemn all these things because they do not look handsome? The Smith makes use of them all for doing his work. Thus it is with the providences of God. They seem to us to be very crooked and strange, yet they all carry on God's work. If we don't understand this, if we don't come to terms with this, it will have implications in every dimension of our lives, in dealing with sadness, in dealing with suffering, in dealing with the ongoing political machinations of our world and, most pressingly, of our nation. And I fear for American Christianity that doesn't come to terms with an understanding of God's providence in the affairs of time. Because when we read our Bibles, it is clear that God often in history has made use of the wicked sometimes to protect and shield his people and at other times to purify and to refine his people.

Right? How else do you understand the invasion of Nebuchadnezzar and the forces of Babylon, carrying his people away into exile? Anybody on that day would say, This is a disaster. And if viewed in the immediacy of it, surely it was a trial.

But from the vantage point of the backward glance, we see what God was doing. And it is imperative that we come to terms with that if we're not to go wrong in our understanding of history and of politics. Some of us actually are so proud that we're tempted to think that we could order things better if we had the government of the world in our own hands. We talk like that, don't we? So silly.

You can't even match socks when they come out of the tumble dryer. You want to run the universe? I have no one in mind in mentioning that.

I guess it's just a random, foolish observation. But, I mean, it's just that we would harm ourselves if we were able to make our own decisions. We would make wrong decisions.

We would have changed the life of Naomi, wouldn't we? It's her triple bereavement and her husband's foolish decision to go away, on the understandable decision to get bread. He leaves the house of Bread Bethlehem in search of bread.

What a disaster! She loses her husband, she loses both of her boys. But in the overruling providence of God, this is the mechanism whereby she becomes such a friend to her daughter-in-law Ruth.

And then the story unfolds from there. If you think of David in his sin with Bathsheba, producing a child, and then you remember that he prayed long and hard and pled with God to save the life of his child, and God took the child. While anyone says that to lose a child is the worst thing in the world, it surely must be. But if that child had lived, that child would have been a permanent monument to David's shame.

There wouldn't have been a time when somebody wouldn't have said, You know that boy? That was the king when Bathsheba did that. God knows what he's doing. God knows what he's doing. You see, the real issue is whether we actually know God through Jesus, whether we have come to understand that God is not a cosmic principle, that he's not something inside of us, that he's not a higher power simply to be tapped into, but he is the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ who has revealed himself savingly in the person of his Son, and he seeks us out to draw us to himself, to make us his own, and to let us know that he cares for us as no one else cares for us. So we have to learn, then, to trust the providences of God even when they seem to be contrary to his promises.

Because they often do. What are you going to do in that context? Trust the promise. I could illustrate it, but our time is gone. One illustration. The end of Acts. The ship wreck scene. Paul.

It's craziness, right? Do you remember as it's described there by Luke? And God, in a vision, says to Paul, Everyone on this ship is going to be saved.

And so they all sit up on the deck and sing songs as they go down the lazy river. Everything is nice now. Everyone's got… No.

No. It says, On the fourteenth day it got even worse than it had been before. So much so that he started to throw things off the ship.

So absolute chaos and mayhem. And the only thing he had to go on was a vision and a promise by God to Paul that everyone will be saved. The providences of God were in direct opposition to the promise of God. What are you going to do in that circumstance? Trust his promise. Trust his promise. Obey his word. Trust his promise. It's the only way to go. How strangely did God raise up Esther to preserve his people?

That's what he's doing! Esther goes to the throne as a result of the free decision of Ahasuerus to banish Vashti. She goes to the throne as a result of God creating her DNA and making her really beautiful.

She goes to the throne as a result of the guy who has the oversight of the thing, taking a shine to her and making sure that she's got really well looked after. I must stop. Do you have the point? During the week, you know, I wake up singing songs.

Well, that wouldn't be true. You have to check my wife. I don't always wake up singing songs. But I often have a song in my mind when I wake up, so I want to be dead honest.

She wouldn't appreciate it if I woke up singing songs. But this week, I had a song in mind, and I thought to myself, I wonder where I got that song from. And the refrain—I could only remember the refrain—it goes like this, I trust in God wherever I may be, on mountains steep or on the rolling sea. When billows roll, he keeps my soul, my heavenly Father watches over me. It just was a blast from my past, a song from my childhood. I came in one of the days of the week and was forwarding all the stuff that had come in from Truth for Life and went over to Kay's desk, and in it there's usually things that people send to me, and in one of them was a book called Songs of the Sawdust Trail by Homer Roadheaver. That's… Sorry, I don't mean to be unkind to anyone called Roadheaver, but it just seems like… It's like a cartoon character, isn't it?

Homer Roadheaver, Songs of the Sawdust Trail. Anyway, so I pulled this out, and after I'd done that little thing to myself, no one cared, but anyway, I did that. Kay's like, Okay, read the book. So I said, before I opened that, I said, Wouldn't it be amazing if one of the Songs of the Sawdust Trail is I trust in God wherever I may be? So then I opened the book. Chapter 2.

I trust in God wherever I may be. The story of a man called Robert Steele. I can't read it to you.

We don't have time. His dad dies when he's young, leaves him a gold watch. His stepfather steals the gold watch from him and treats him shamefully. Robert Steele steals the gold watch back, leaves home, decides he's gonna live his own life, he's gonna do his own thing. His life spirals out of control, and you fast-forward to a day when somebody invites him to come to a mission hall.

He said it was a dilapidated kind of place, and he didn't have much interest in going into it, but he went anyway. They were playing some catchy songs, he said. There was a catchy song.

I wouldn't say it was that catchy, but anyway, he thought it was catchy. And it drew him in. And when he got in there, there was a man, he said, talking about God, who was, quotes, our heavenly Father. I had always had the idea that God was standing over me with a whip, ready to strike the moment you made a false step. But this man said that was all wrong. He was ready to help me.

A queer lump in my throat was coming, and they started the song again. I trust in God. I know he cares for me. And he said, my eyes were opened, and I suddenly realized all I could understand, he says, was that I had found a new father, and that he had been looking for me for years. Have you found a new father? Do you realize he's been looking for you for years?

Do you realize that he takes the initiative that we love because he first loved us? Or maybe you're a deist, or a pantheist, or an atheist. Does your view of the world satisfy all the twists and turns and crooked bits and pieces of disappointment and failure and sadness and anxiety? And if not, why do you stick with that view of the world?

Why not get yourself another one? Why not bow down and trust your Heavenly Father? One way we can feel secure about what God will do is by remembering what God has done. You're listening to Alistair Begg on Truth for Life. Alistair will be back in just a moment to close today's program. Speaking of providence, it's been a remarkable season of growth here at Truth for Life over the past couple of years. We have seen more people in all parts of the world accessing Alistair's teaching through our mobile app, online, through many other ways that the program can be heard. We are so grateful for how God is using this ministry to proclaim the truth of the Bible to a growing worldwide audience. And we could not be doing this without the financial support that comes from Truth Partners, listeners who pray for us monthly and who give to this ministry. As we press on, we pray God will continue to use Truth for Life in an even broader way. And an ever-growing Truth Partner team will help make that possible. If you're not yet part of this vital group, we would love it if you'd sign up to become a Truth Partner today. When you do, you select the amount you'd like to give each month. And as a way of saying thanks, you can request the books we feature each month. Enrolling just takes a few minutes online at slash truth partner, or you can call our customer service reps at 888-588-7884. When you get in touch with us, be sure to request today's recommended book. It's titled 12 Things God Can't Do.

It's our way of saying thanks for your support. Sometimes we try to relate to God as if he were like us, but his attributes are not like ours. In fact, there are some human experiences that God is totally incapable of. For example, God can't lie. Truthfulness is a mark of his character.

Knowing that his promises are trustworthy will help us feel secure even in troubled times. You'll find comfort and peace as you learn about the things that are impossible for God. Request your copy of the book 12 Things God Can't Do today when you sign up to become a truth partner.

You can also request the book when you give a one-time donation at slash donate. Now here's Alistair with a closing thought. In the 17th century, Samuel Rutherford was a godly minister. He died by the time he was 61. And one of his great legacies were letters that he wrote to members of his congregation, many of whom were members of the aristocracy.

And he had a particularly long dialogue with a lady called Lady Kenmuir, whose marriage was a disaster, who had lived with great bouts of depression and sadness. And in one of his letters to her, he says, Madam, when you are come to the other side of the water and have set down your foot on the shore of glorious eternity and look back again to the waters and to your wearisome journey and shall see in that clear glass of endless glory nearer to the bottom of God's wisdom, then you will be forced to say, If God had done otherwise with me than he had done, I would never have come to the enjoying of this crown of glory. Gracious God, I pray that you will help us to take Jesus at his word when he says to his disciples, Your heavenly Father knows that you need these things. Help us to turn to you in genuine repentance, to repent of our arrogance and our pride, to repent of how we choose to worship our own little substitute gods rather than to bow before you, and grant to his childlike faith and the joy of discovering what it is to be able to name you as our Father in heaven, not simply as a result of creation but as a result of your redeeming love, the redemption in our catechetical question that is found through the substitutionary atonement provided by Jesus on the cross. And then let us go out into the week that lies ahead, resting and trusting avowedly in the fact that Father knows best, for we pray in Christ's name. Amen. I'm Bob Lapine. Thanks for listening today. There's a lot of behind the scenes work in every successful movie or play, and in our lives that's true as well. Join us tomorrow when we'll take a behind the scenes look at Esther's story. The Bible teaching of Alistair Begg is furnished by Truth for Life, where the Learning is for Living.
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-02-23 06:51:55 / 2023-02-23 07:00:49 / 9

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