Are You Satisfied With God?
December 3, 2013
Preach your own sermons.
Although that’s a good rule to follow, I plan to break it in this sermon. I’m going to preach a sermon by someone else.
In seminary they told us not to do this, but I’m going to do it anyway. I have three good reasons for doing this:
First, I’m telling you up front what I’m doing.
Second, the man who preached this sermon has been dead for 177 years.
Third, it’s a very good sermon.
Preach your own sermons</h6 class=”pullquote”>
Let’s start with the man who first preached this message. Though the name Charles Simeon is mostly forgotten today, he was considered one of the greatest preachers of his generation (See John Piper’s excellent summary of his life). He pastored Holy Trinity Church in Cambridge, England for an amazing 54 years. During his pastorate he prepared detailed sermon outlines from all parts of the Bible. These detailed outlines have been gathered in a massive 21-volume set that costs around $400 if you can find it for sale. Though his style reflects his own age, the sermons stand up very well because they are both biblical (rooted in the text) and evangelical (pointing the reader to faith in Christ).
Charles Simeon published a sermon on Genesis 45 called God Viewed in Joseph’s Advancement. Though the title may sound stuffy, the sermon itself is actually very contemporary in the best sense. As someone has noted, we do not have to “make the Bible relevant.” The Bible is already relevant because it speaks to our universal need to know the God who made us. Our task as preachers is simply to show how relevant the Bible already is.
Simeon begins his sermon by talking about the “hidden secrets of divine providence.” If that sounds familiar, it’s because we’ve already discussed this principle several times in this series on the life of Joseph.
We see far less than God sees</h6 class=”pullquote”>
When we are going through the ordeal of being unfairly attacked, when we are being lied about, when our reputation is being publicly smeared, when our friends betray us, when a spouse abandons us, it may appear impossible that such things could accomplish anything good, but they do. The key is the word “appear.” We see far less than what God sees. The good that may come from the treachery of others is not planned by the hand of man, is not seen in advance, and is not seen at all except by faith.
That leaves us with one very important question: How does God bring God out of evil? Simeon uses an unusual word to answer that question. He says that God “interposes” in every situation so that he is able to bring good out of the worst that happens in this world. The dictionary says that to “interpose” means to place or insert between one thing and another. Used in this sense, it means that God actively involves himself in the worst moments of life.
I freely admit that when I consider the evil and heartache in this world, I cannot fathom what it means for God to “interpose” himself in those situations. My limitation is not simply a lack of creative thinking on my part. No one on this side of the “keyhole of life” can say with certainty how this works. But we can rest assured that God in his wisdom knows what he is doing. I find it a great comfort to know that in a world marked by sudden death and every sort of cruelty that man can devise, our God is not merely a passive observer. He works behind the scenes to bring about ends that are for our good and his glory.
“God Sent Me Here”
With that background, we return to the story of Joseph. He had been hated, envied, betrayed, sold into slavery, falsely accused and unfairly accused. Joseph sends the Egyptians away and reveals himself to his brothers who are understandably terrified to meet the brother they sold into slavery 22 years earlier. Now he has them firmly in his grasp. He can order them killed and it will be done. Or tortured. Or thrown into jail. Or anything else he desires to have done to them.
If anyone had a “right” to be bitter, it was Joseph</h6 class=”pullquote”>
I pause to comment that if anyone had a “right” to be bitter, it was Joseph. He has “lost” 22 years of his life. The temptation to get even must have been great. But this is how he summarizes the whole affair:
“I am your brother, Joseph, whom you sold into Egypt. And now do not be distressed or angry with yourselves because you sold me here, for God sent me before you to preserve life. For the famine has been in the land these two years, and there are yet five years in which there will be neither plowing nor harvest. And God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant on earth, and to keep alive for you many survivors. So it was not you who sent me here, but God. He has made me a father to Pharaoh, and lord of all his house and ruler over all the land of Egypt. Hurry and go up to my father and say to him, ‘Thus says your son Joseph, God has made me lord of all Egypt. Come down to me; do not tarry.’” (Genesis 45:4-9).
His words point to an enormous irony. The very thing used against him (their betrayal) results in his exaltation so that he can now save the brothers who betrayed him. We see the central truth in verse 8: “It was not you who sent me here, but God.”
Joseph had a great God!</h6 class=”pullquote”>
Those are either the words of a madman or a man of faith. He mentions God five times in six verses so his brothers won’t miss the point. “I know what you did. I haven’t forgotten your treachery, but that’s not the issue. You did what you did because you wanted to hurt me, but God allowed it to happen so that I would end up a ruler in Egypt so that at the exact moment when you needed me, I would be here to save you and your descendants.” His vision of God was so great that it dwarfed the sin of his brothers.
I. How God Involves Himself with Evildoers
With Joseph’s amazing words as the background, I want to do a bit of theological investigation into this question: How does God involve himself with evildoers? What did Joseph mean when he said to his brothers, “It wasn’t you who sent me here but God?” After all, if not for their betrayal, he would never have come to Egypt in the first place. How does a holy God accomplish his plan for us through the deeds of evil people?
A. He allows them to reveal what is in their hearts.
Joseph’s brothers were motivated entirely by envy and malice. They couldn’t stand the thought that their little brother would one day rule over them. God simply gave them a chance to reveal the envy that was already there. As long as they were under Jacob’s direct control, Joseph was safe. But when they were out gathering the flocks, and Joseph came to find them, their latent envy boiled to the surface. At first they planned to leave him to die in the pit, but God interposed and the Midianite traders came along. As the story unfolds, others enter the picture. First, Potiphar, then his wife, later the baker and the cupbearer, and still later the Pharaoh. They all acted according to their own inclinations, but all in accordance with God’s plan. God didn’t cause the brothers to envy or Potiphar’s wife to lust. The brothers and the wife did that on their own. He simply gave them a chance to act on their evil intentions. In so doing, he allowed them to reveal the evil that was already in their hearts.
B. He permits Satan to instigate them to evil.
Satan prowls the world like a roaring lion, looking for those he can destroy (1 Peter 5:8). But though he possesses great power, he can do nothing without God’s express permission. In Job 1 it is God who tells the devil to consider his servant Job. Satan cannot afflict Job beyond the limits established by God. The devil is powerful, but he is not omnipotent. He has great knowledge but he is not omniscient. A few hours before his betrayal, Jesus told Peter that Satan had requested permission to sift him like wheat, meaning that Satan could not tempt him to evil without God’s permission (Luke 22:31). Satan operates within limits imposed by God. This is both a comfort and a warning. It is a comfort to know that our temptations do not happen by chance but are permitted by our Heavenly Father. The warning is that God still holds us accountable for how we respond. No one will ever be able to escape judgment by saying, “The devil made me do it.” No, he may have tempted you, but you did the sinning all by yourself.
C. He withdraws his restraining grace.
Restraining grace simply means that God doesn’t let things get as bad as they could be. But when God removes his hand of grace, things fall apart quickly. Romans 1 tells us that God exercises judgment on unbelieving humanity by giving men and women over to further sin. Sometimes God’s harshest judgment on sinners is to do nothing at all. He simply says, “If you want to destroy your own life, go ahead. If you want to destroy your own family, go ahead. I won’t stop you. You’ve already rejected me so I will now respect your decision. If you wish to plunge off the cliff, go ahead, but you’ll find out how sharp the rocks are at the bottom of the ravine.”
Things aren’t as bad as they could be</h6 class=”pullquote”>
If men despise God’s mercy, they are left with nothing but his judgment. He blinds the eyes of those who choose not to see, and he hardens the heart of those who prefer to go their own way.
D. He uses them to accomplish his own purposes.
Sometimes he uses the evil deeds of evildoers to further his own plans in the world. When Christ was born, the Father used the paranoia of Herod the Great to guide the Magi to Bethlehem. Later he used Herod’s slaughter of the innocents to lead Mary and Joseph and the baby Jesus to Egypt so that the Scripture could be fulfilled that says, “Out of Egypt I called my Son” (Mathew 2:13-15). We see this very clearly in the events surrounding the death of Christ. Jesus’ death was not some afterthought with God, as if it happened because events suddenly spun out of control. He died according to the “definite plan and foreknowledge” of God, and he could not have died otherwise. But his death took place at the hands of “lawless men” who stand guilty before the Lord (Acts 2:23). Even though we may not fully see it, there is perfect harmony between God’s predestination and the free moral choices of sinful men. In the case of Christ, God used the wicked deeds of wicked men in crucifying the Son of God to bring salvation to the world.
II. How Knowing This Helps Our Faith
The truth behind Genesis 45 needs to be tattooed on our souls. We desperately need an infusion of good theology so that when trouble comes our way (and it comes to all of us sooner or later), we won’t buckle under the pressure and watch our faith suddenly disappear.
A. We know that our troubles did not happen by accident.
When we focus on immediate causes, we end up in despair, anger and bitterness. It’s very easy to think only of the people who have hurt us deeply—parents or children or grandparents or friends we thought we could trust or church members who let us down or people at work who stabbed us in the back. The list goes on and on. But as long as we focus exclusively on the people who hurt us, we are doomed to dwell in the swamp of bitterness. It is far better to understand that our enemies (who often are our closest friends) are actually instruments in God’s hands. They are his rod to correct us and to shape us into the image of Jesus Christ.
The scales of justice will balance in the end</h6 class=”pullquote”>
When God finishes with our enemies, they will face his judgment. God knows how to discipline his children, and that includes those believers who take unfair advantage of us or go out of their way to mistreat us. The day will come when they will be brought low before the Lord. Count on it. Those who misuse others will someday be called to account for it—if not in this life, then in the life to come. The scales of justice will be balanced in the end.
And in the end, we will be improved, our faith will be stronger, and our reliance on the things of this world will be lessened. The Lord will be our portion. A man told me that after going through a hard time, he finally came to the place where he had to say, “Lord, I am satisfied with you.” Once he said that, he gained a new perspective on his troubles and his life began to change. When hard times come, we should say, “It is the Lord, let him do what seems best to him.” After Job had lost virtually everything, he declared, “The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord” (Job 1:21). That should be our testimony too.
B. We can see good where others can only see evil.
More than anything else, this was the secret of Joseph’s life: He saw God everywhere. He had such a profound sense of God’s presence that he understood that every event in his life must somehow be ascribed to the hand of God working behind the scenes. Thus he could say to his brothers, “It was not you but God that sent me to Egypt.” The same is true for his seduction by Potiphar’s wife, the false rape accusation, and the years he spent in prison. All of it related back to God’s purposes for his life. Joseph means to say more than simply “God was there” when all the bad things happened. That is true, of course, but it does not comprehend the full sense of his words. Joseph means to say, “God was in charge of the whole process.” It’s not as if the brothers sold him into slavery and then God intervened to bring about a good result. His words demand something more than that. Joseph means that everything that happened—the good and the bad—was part of God’s ultimate plan for his life. He was sent to Egypt to save the lives of his own family—the very brothers who had betrayed him. This was God’s plan from the beginning, and that fact alone explains all that happened to him. What a profound view of the sovereignty of God!
C. We have a reason to forgive those who hurt us.
Sometimes those “much better” moments never come. Not every story has a happy ending. Sometimes there is no reconciliation, and sometimes mistreatment continues unabated. But if we believe in the sovereignty of God, we have a reason to forgive those who hurt us deeply. I don’t say that we should forget what they did to us. We can’t really forget because the memories are with us forever. But we can forgive even when we can’t forget. To forgive means to choose not to remember. To pardon means to clear the record so that we no longer cling to the hurts of the past. This is only possible when we come to see that our enemies are agents of the Lord, sent by him (or allowed by him to come) for reasons that we may never fully understand. If this sounds impossible to do, please recall the words of Jesus as he hung on the cross, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34).
D. We have a new admiration for God’s wisdom in all things.
Life is like a giant jigsaw puzzle. And we are like children trying to put the puzzle together when we don’t have the box with the picture on the cover. So we’re left trying to fit our little handful of pieces together and trying to figure out the big picture at the same time. No wonder we struggle to figure out what life is all about. As the years pass we pick up more pieces to the puzzle and things that once troubled us now seem to fit into place. Over time we gain a new appreciation for the wisdom of God because nothing is ever wasted. Everything “fits” somewhere.
We live this way by faith</h6 class=”pullquote”>
How can we live like this in a world where tragedy is never far away? The answer is simple though not easy to put into practice. We live this way by faith. We choose to believe that God is at work in everything that happens to us. We choose to believe that even when we see nothing at all that makes sense to us. Faith like that is made strong when it is based on the Word of God. And that’s why the story of Joseph is so important.
Two Final Thoughts
Charles Simeon concluded his sermon with two points of application that bear repeating:
1. How happy is the Christian in this world!
The unsaved have no hope in this world. To those who don’t know Christ, bad things happen with no ultimate purpose. Not so for those who know the Lord. As the Christian navigates a tempestuous ocean, he does so knowing that an All-wise, Almighty Pilot is at the helm. Even when the waves rise around him and threaten to cast him into the deep, he has no fear. Though he does not know what will happen in the short run, he is certain that in the long run God’s plan for his life will be worked out perfectly. Therefore, he is satisfied and has perfect peace in his soul.
2. How happy will he be in that future world!
The Christian firmly believes that Romans 8:28 is true in every circumstance. He believes that all things work together for his good and for God’s glory because God has said it is so. Thus he walks by faith, not by sight. He firmly believes that someday he will see all the links in the chain of circumstances that led him from earth to heaven. And in that day he will bless the Lord for his sovereign wisdom displayed in every circumstance of life. With that confidence, he can rest in the Lord now, knowing all will be well later.
God knows what he’s doing even when we don’t</h6 class=”pullquote”>
As I worked on this sermon, I started singing a song that I first learned 45 years ago. It was a song we would often sing during Sunday night services. The song is called We’ll Understand It Better By and By. Here’s the first verse:
Trials dark on every hand, and we cannot understand
All the ways that God would lead us to that blessed Promised Land.
But he’ll guide us with his eye, and we’ll follow till we die.
For we’ll understand it better by and by.
Today we see through a glass darkly.
Soon all will be made plain.
God knows what he’s doing even when we don’t.
He’s never clueless even when we don’t have a clue.
We need a big God!
That brings us back to Joseph who said to the brothers who sold him into slavery, “It was not you who sent me here but God.”
Charles Simeon ended his sermon with these words: “Let us commit ourselves entirely to God, and be satisfied with his dealings toward us.” And “what we know not now, we shall know hereafter.” I am struck by the phrase, “be satisfied with his dealings toward us.” How many of us could say that we are satisfied with the Lord and how he has dealt with us?
And that’s the big question for today:
Are you satisfied with God?