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The Goodness of God (Part 4 of 4)

Truth for Life / Alistair Begg
The Truth Network Radio
November 3, 2023 4:00 am

The Goodness of God (Part 4 of 4)

Truth for Life / Alistair Begg

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November 3, 2023 4:00 am

Good parents love their children even when they misbehave—but they do discipline them. God, too, loves us even when we disobey—but it doesn’t always feel good! Hear about man’s disobedience and God’s redeeming love, on Truth For Life with Alistair Begg.


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Music playing Truth for Life, we'll see how that's a picture of God's own love and goodness. But sometimes his goodness doesn't feel so good.

Alistair Begg is teaching from Nehemiah chapter 9. We're focusing on verses 16 through 37. We want to point out these four great statements concerning God's goodness, the first of which we dealt with last time, noticing between verse 6 and 15 that God's goodness is revealed in all that he has done. There is nothing that we experience that does not speak to us of his goodness. We noted that his goodness, being revealed in all that he has done, touches upon creation, and then upon election, and then upon redemption, and then upon his provision in the law for his people.

Now, this morning I would like to try and make it through the remaining three. This is not some kind of special interest for a few people. Theology is not a piece of extraneous baggage that you keep up somewhere in an attic or in an old cupboard somewhere in the garage. It is fundamental to life.

It is very, very important. Therefore, it is vitally important that God's people know God's Book in order that they may reach into God's world. And that is why we labor to study the Bible, to understand the Bible, so that you may be equipped in meeting those people at the cash registers and in the corridors of life to articulate your understanding of what it means that you worship and serve a God who is good. Then notice the fact, secondly, as from last time, that God's goodness is displayed in the face of disobedience.

This comes out clearly from verse 16 and following. Speaking of our forefathers, we read, They became arrogant and stiff-necked. They did not obey your commands. They refused to listen, failed to remember the miracles you performed among them.

They became stiff-necked and in their rebellion appointed a leader in order to return to their slavery. Now, the stiff-necked arrogance of the people of God is all the more striking against the backdrop of the preceding verses, where we have this record of God's wonderful provision for his people. He provided for them physically and spiritually. His decrees and his commands were for their well-being. Despite the fact that they liked nothing, it is tragically true that they appreciated nothing.

That's what verse 17 says. God gave them all that they needed more than ever they required, kept them, sustained them, supplied them, enabled them, secured them. And yet, they were unappreciative.

Now, that sort of rings with a relevant note, doesn't it, down through the corridors of time? After all, here we are today living evidences of the fact that God in his providence and in his grace has supplied our needs way and beyond all that we could ask or even imagine in comparison to huge chunks of the world. The lawliest member of this congregation is vast in their resources. And yet it is sadly possible for us, while lacking virtually nothing, to be like them in appreciating virtually nothing that we have. We live in one of the most malcontented, discontented generations. Now, how, then, can we summarize this disobedience that is manifested here? I tried to do so under what I refer to here as the four Rs. And I have four words beginning with R. Their disobedience was made clear, first of all, in an obstinate refusal. You will notice verse 16, and then 17, they refused to listen to what was being said. Jeremiah 32 says, they turned their backs to me and not their faces, though I taught them again and again they would not listen. Also, they were guilty of an incomplete remembrance. Not only did they refuse to listen, verse 17, but were also told that they failed to remember the miracles you performed among them.

They were guilty of selective review. They were failing to recall the miracles that would have fueled their faith. We see, they surely didn't forget, for example, the crossing of the Red Sea. No, they didn't forget that it took place. They forgot what it represented. Indeed, they chose not to remember all of that of which it spoke. An obstinate refusal, an incomplete remembrance. Thirdly, an unwarranted rebellion. They became stiff-necked, and in their rebellion they appointed a leader in order to return to their slavery. Turn back, if you want this set in historic context, to Deuteronomy chapter 1 and verse 26.

The picture is of the spies having returned. They searched out the promised land, they brought back their report. Ten of the fellows were not bringing an encouraging report. Joshua and Caleb had something different to say. They finally reported in the end of verse 25, It is a good land that the LORD our God is giving us. And then we read these surprising words, verse 26, But you were unwilling to go up. You rebelled against the command of the LORD your God. You grumbled in your tents and said, The LORD hates us, so he brought us out of Egypt to deliver us into the hands of the Ammonites to destroy us. An unwarranted rebellion and an ill-advised return. Numbers chapter 14 chronicles this in a quite graphic way.

Same context. At night, all the people of the community raised their voices and wept aloud, and all the Israelites grumbled against Moses and Aaron. And the whole assembly said to them, If only we had died in Egypt or in this desert, why is the LORD bringing us to this land, only to let us fall by the sword? Our wives and children will be taken as plunder.

Wouldn't it be better for us to go back to Egypt? And they said to each other, We should choose a leader and go back to Egypt. Their disobedience, then, was expressed in their refusal, in their incomplete remembrance, in their unwarranted rebellion, and in their ill-advised return.

Psalm 106 parallels the ninth chapter of Nehemiah in many ways, and the Psalmist puts it succinctly in a couple of phrases, from verse 25 and then from verse 43. They grumbled in their tents and did not obey the LORD, they were bent on rebellion, and they wasted away in their sin. You see, don't let's be clever this morning and suggest that we don't know what it is to be disobedient. In point of fact, if we run ourselves against the test of these four Rs, it's a sorry spectacle in many of our lives. Because if we're honest, the reason that it comes to us with such compelling issue is because we understand what it is to be disobedient. These words cut into my life.

How about yours? Some of us this morning are living in a spiritual slump. We don't know why it is. The Word of God no longer speaks to us with power. We're no longer interested in service. It is a long time since we shared our faith meaningfully with someone. We no longer have a joyful anticipation of the worship of God's people. We are not particularly delighted in fellowship.

We are present, but we are not correct. We do not know the reason of our slump, and the fact of the matter is, loved ones, it may be as simple as this—that we are refusing to listen to what God says. Not that we are refusing to attend when the Word is preached, not that we are missing our Sunday school class, but we are present on the outside, and on the inside we're in deep difficulty. In Hebrews chapter 4, the writer speaks of those who listened to the message, and he said it was of no value. Of no value to them, because they refused to combine it with faith. You see, I don't think people fully understand that it is possible to come to worship like this Sunday after Sunday after Sunday and walk out, and it's O-N-V.

I mean, you just write it right across the front of your bulletin. Of no value. It's no surprise to me when people say, Oh, I got nothing out of that.

That's not a surprise. Nobody ever will, unless the listening to the Word of God is combined with faith. It must be seasoned by the very gifts and graces of God. Simply to come in and listen to a few songs and sing every verse or two and listen to a man talk and walk out the door is really pretty futile. The only thing that gives it significance is to recognize that God speaks through his Word.

He speaks in listening to his voice, says Wesley. New life the dead receive, the humble broken heart rejoice. Now, that's not as a result of human manipulation.

That's not as a result of some kind of corporate chaos engendered from the front. That can only take place when the people of God listen to God, and a refusal to listen is directly related to bypass meadow in the Christian life. You read Pilgrim's Progress again, you remember how they got themselves off the road on so many occasions. What about the problem of incomplete remembrance, beginning to convince ourselves that maybe our pre-Christian life was actually a little better than this, perhaps wanting to go back to some of our pre-Christian experience, forgetting what it was from which God saved us, phoning up some of those old acquaintances—not because we want to witness to them, but because we want to go back to Egypt. What a perversity that God could redeem his people from the cries of Egypt, from their backs being opened to the sun, blazing and burned, from the beatings of their oppressors, from all the horrible nature of their condition. God redeems them from all of that, sets them out underneath the provision of the blood, opens up the Red Sea before them, takes them on their journey towards the promised land, and here they are, and they're saying, You know what? I don't think Egypt was that bad.

The degree to which you've begun to believe that you don't think your unregenerate state was that bad calls in question whether you are living in a regenerate state at all. What about any of us wrestling with the spirit of rebellion? We've just become rebellious. We won't submit to anyone now. We won't submit to our parents.

We cheat them back. We don't submit to our teachers. We don't submit to policemen. We don't submit to anybody.

Therefore, it's no surprise that we don't submit to God and to his Word. And you see, that is sadly possible. The people around us won't know. The pastors don't know.

The leaders don't know necessarily. It will become apparent. Our husband and wife may be concealed from it for a time, but it will become apparent. If we are standing up on the inside in rebellion to God, all of our externals will eventually be shown to be what they actually are—a sham.

Surely none of us would consider an ill-advised return, as did these people. We are not, says the writer to the Hebrews, those who shrink back and are destroyed. We are those who go on and are saved. So you get the picture, then. The disobedience of the people of God is revealed to us in their obstinate refusal and in their incomplete remembrance and so on.

But that's not the point. The point is that God's goodness is revealed in the face of that disobedience. Look at what we're told. You are a forgiving God, verse 17b, gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love. Now, if you underline in your Bible, there's a good one for you.

17. You're a forgiving God, gracious, compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love. Therefore, you did not desert them. Isn't that an amazing truth? On account of God's goodness, he didn't do what we might have expected him to do.

What? Desert them. Verse 17.

You did not desert them. He redeems these people from Egypt. They don't deserve that. They don't deserve anything.

Gets them out, provides for them, gives them manna, gives them water. Now they don't like manna. Now they don't like the water. Now they want quail.

Now they want something else. And this is a wonderful verse. Therefore, you did not desert them.

He didn't do what we might have expected. You didn't abandon them, he says in verse 19. Because of your great compassion, you did not abandon them. Now, loved ones, listen to this.

This is the wonderful part of it all. Don't you know what it is to be disobedient? Don't you know what it is to refuse to listen, to be incomplete in your remembrance, to be resistant? And yet here we are this morning. How come? Does it never make you wonder? Since the proneness of my heart is to wander, is to leave, is to never return, is to walk out of the door and keep walking some days, wouldn't God be justified and say, Walk on back! I'm tired of you! But he hasn't done that.

Why? Because he is gracious and compassionate and abounding in mercy, and he forgives our sins. You may be here this morning, and you are aware of the fact that in your life, in the last week or ten days or two months, you have blotted your copybook dreadfully. And the word of the evil one is to say to you, You may as well chuck it for good.

You've made such a hash of things there's no future for you, and it is a great lie. For the Word of God says to you this morning, God's goodness is manifested, is displayed, even in the face of our disobedience. So he did not do what we might have expected, and he did what we would least expect. We're told he gave them his Spirit to instruct them, verse 20. He gave them all they needed to sustain them, and he gave them, verse 24 and 25, victory to encourage them. Isn't that what God has done for us as his children? He's given us his Spirit to instruct us. He has provided for all of our needs. He's given us victory in Christ over sin and death and hell. And well we might do as did they, namely, verse 25, revel in your great goodness.

They ate to the full and were well nourished, they reveled in your great goodness. I was recalling the little song that we sometimes sing that begins, He gave me beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness. That's how God treats us. Not in the way our sins deserve.

If he kept a record of our sins, none of us could stand. And so, out of the ashes of my life and my rebellion and my chaos and my wandering, he grants beauty. He gives to me praise when I feel myself most down and discouraged.

He picks me up. Now, the fact of the matter is that despite the fact that they were reveling in God's goodness, verse 26 says, that they were disobedient and rebelled against you. They put your law behind their backs, they killed your prophets who had admonished them in order to turn them back to you, they committed awful blasphemies.

If that isn't a sad and solitary statement concerning contemporary American culture, I don't know what is. And the only reason that we are able to continue in this dreadful, rebellious condition is because of his goodness. He is longsuffering, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance. That's why you see, thirdly, that God's goodness is established in the exercise of discipline. Verse 27—notice the cycle. He disciplined them, they cried, he showed his mercy. Okay, we've got it now.

Sorry, no. Verse 28—as soon as they were at rest, they again did what was evil in your sight. You ever get yourself in that cycle? Lord, I'm never going to do this again. I want to thank you for your forgiveness and everything, and I'm never going to do this again. Now, I'm feeling really forgiven.

Maybe I'll do it again just once. So we go from verse 27 into verse 28. As soon as they were at rest, they again did what was evil in your sight. So you brought discipline upon them again, they cried out again, and you delivered them. Verse 29—and so you go through the whole issue. But the key to it is in verse 31. Despite the fact that they paid no attention and that you handed them over to neighboring peoples, in your great mercy you did not put an end to them or abandon them.

Why? For you are a gracious and merciful God. We can read of God's grace and mercy in the discipline of his children in the Old Testament, as well as in the New, and nowhere in the New more clearly or helpfully than in Hebrews 12, as the writer says, My son, do not make light of the LORD's discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, because the LORD disciplines those he loves, and he punishes every one he accepts as a son. Endure hardship as discipline. God is treating you as sons.

You see how warped our world is that it can't understand us? God's goodness is displayed in discipline. And finally, in verse 32 and following, God's goodness is proclaimed in the confession of his people. Notice in verse 32, Now therefore, O our God, he is personal to them. Great and mighty and awesome God, he is powerful. He is a covenant-keeping God. And so the people come to him and say, We thank you that you are personal to us, that you are powerful in the display of your might, and you are a promise-keeping God. I wonder this morning if we have come to those kind of convictions, able to make confession of God in this way in our own lives. You see, these people recognize that while they were enjoying a measure of his provision, verses 36 and 37 make it clear that they were not where they wanted to be.

He said, We're slaves today, slaves in the land you gave our forefathers. Because of our sins, its abundant harvest goes to the kings you've placed over us. They rule over our bodies and our cattle as they please. We are in great distress. They were looking forward to a day when they would finally move into the great provision of God. And indeed, they were looking to a day that has never yet been established and a day that is still to come. For the fact is that even when we're at our best, even when we know the best of God's goodness, the abundance of our harvests go to kings you have placed over us.

They make rules over our bodies and our cattle just as they please. And actually, there's a sense in which we're in great distress. Think about it. The culture in which we live is a sad and sorry mess. Millions of babies aborted every year. Rape commonplace.

Murder on every hand. So how, then, are we to live? If God is good, why is it like this?

Because the world we know is the world the way man has spoiled it, not the way the world as God created it. And so, as Christians, we embrace his goodness in the now, and we look forward to a day when the lion will lie down with the lamb. And on that day we will declare, Great is your faithfulness, O God our Father. There's no shadow of turning with thee. You don't change. Your compassion's never come to an end.

They are new every morning. Lord, if I only learned one thing today, I learned this. You are a good God. May his name be praised. You are listening to Truth for Life, and that is Alistair Begg as he concludes a four-part message he's titled, The Goodness of God. Like me, you are seeing signs of Christmas everywhere you go, and the Christmas season really is the perfect time for us to meditate on God's goodness.

But sometimes the busyness of the season clouds his glory. That's why we want to recommend to you a 40-day Advent devotional. It's titled, O Come, O Come, Emmanuel. This is a book that will help you and your family keep your eyes fixed on Jesus during the Advent season. Ask for your copy of the book, O Come, O Come, Emmanuel today when you support the teaching ministry of Truth for Life by donating through our mobile app or online at slash donate. And by the way, if you're a pastor, let me remind you that registration is now open for the 2024 Basics Conference. This is the conference that Alistair hosts each year for pastors and church leaders. The conference will take place in May at Parkside Church in Cleveland, Ohio. Alistair will be speaking along with friends and special guests Rico Tice and Sinclair Ferguson. You can register now to attend the Basics Conference. Go to I'm Bob Lapine. We hope you have a great weekend. Join us Monday when we'll learn why we never go forward in life effectively until we learn to view the past properly. The Bible teaching of Alistair Begg is furnished by Truth for Life where the Learning is for Living.
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-11-03 14:09:35 / 2023-11-03 14:18:34 / 9

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