Honoring the God of History
INTRODUCTION: Man operates within a time-space-mass continuum, but dreams of an existence that is not bound by these dimensions. Through technology, man has loosed himself from the earth’s gravitational pull, rocketing through space in supersonic craft. He has propelled himself into orbit, experiencing weightlessness, but he cannot escape the dimension of time. Time machines are but a product of science fiction writers.
No doubt our longing for the timeless is a propensity planted in our hearts by our Creator. In the book of Ecclesiastes, Solomon indicates that, “[God] has put eternity in their hearts (Eccl. 3:11). There is sound reason for this. Man cannot be satisfied with a finite integration point – only an infinite God can satisfy the heart of the creature made in God’s image. Man is made for God – nothing finite can fill that God-shaped void in the soul.
Man is locked in time, God is not. He is transcendent – He is not a part of His creation, nor is He subject to its physical laws. Man experiences events in the sequence of time. God sees all at once. This is difficult to comprehend, but an illustration can offer some assistance.
Suppose you purchased a grandstand seat to watch the Rose parade, you would see each float as it passed by in the sequence it was placed in the parade. But if you were in a blimp looking down on the parade route, you would see all of the floats simultaneously – you would not be subject to their sequential appearance in time. So also, God comprehends the end from the beginning. But in doing so, He is infinitely more than a spectator. Scripture declares that God is carrying out His purpose in history – “[He] works all things after the counsel of His will (Ephesians 1:11).
One’s view of history determines one’s view of God. A person’s worldview quickly manifests itself when it comes to his philosophy of history.
Naturalistic and humanistic philosophies of history DENY that the origin, purpose and consummation of history are controlled by an all-wise, all powerful, personal God.
Scripture continually affirms the sovereignty of God over history. The Bible proclaims that God is sovereign over:
1.) Good and evil events – Isaiah 45:7; Amos 3:6.
2.) The sinful acts of men – Gen. 50:20; 2 Samuel 16:10,11; 24:1.
3.) The free acts of men – Proverbs 16:1; 21:1; Romans 8:28,35-39.
4.) The details of the individual’s life – Job 14:5; Psalm 139;16.
5.) The affairs of the nations – 2 Kings 5:1; Psalm 75:1-7; Daniel 2:27.
6.) The final destruction of the wicked – Proverbs 16:4; Romans 9:17.
Therefore, according to the Bible, the government of God is not simply limited to the enforcement of His holy laws. The reign of God encompasses all things that come to pass, even the evil acts of men.
God’s providence rules over the smallest details. Jesus told His disciples, “But the very hairs of your head are all numbered” (Matthew 10:30). In that context, Jesus was encouraging His disciples to greater trust in their heavenly Father’s competent care.
The very substance of saving faith in God is the confidence that He is in control of the believer’s life (Rom. 8:28). By contrast, how helpless is the man without faith in God’s Word (in terms of understanding reality). The “wisest” unbeliever who does not interpret history by the authoritative Word of God resigns himself to epistemological despair (he never attains to certainty as to the meaning and purpose of history and his own life). As a consequence, the unbeliever is left with the bare phenomenon of sight – for him all things appear to unfold by a principle of bald contingency and chance without a governing, all-wise plan.
Consistent with his worldview, the unbeliever orders his life autonomously, as if the sovereign God of history does not exist and as if history has no plan.
The natural man collects “evidence” of a chance universe formed by chaos. He argues for the randomness and senselessness of history in order to support his worldview. The natural man has an axe to grind – it is the axe of who will be in control – God or man. The denial of God’s sovereignty over history is tantamount to an attack upon the authority of His throne. (God’s mighty rule over all events is a marvelous truth, especially when one considers that history is like a tapestry of intertwined and interwoven threads – it cannot be cut off clean. Every event decreed by God, whether good or evil and every person extends influence to all things. Note the plethora of examples from Scripture of the interrelatedness of events, especially those which began as an inconsequential detail but ended up effecting innumerable lives. The book of Esther perfectly illustrates this profound truth.)
God’s power to redeem sinful man, God’s ability to fulfill prophecy and God’s faithfulness to His promises demand that He be in control of history. It would be impossible for God to promiseredemption if He did not control all things. The smallest event out of His control could cause the plan of redemption to miscarry. Prior to His crucifixion, Jesus assured His disciples that the Father’s plan of redemption could not be stopped by all the forces of darkness (see Matthew 16:18). After Christ’s resurrection, the Apostle Peter told his hearers that God’s plan foreordainedthe crucifixion of Messiah. Though the persecutors of Jesus were guilty of great wickedness, in their ignorant rage they actually fulfilled God’s plan by crucifying the Lord Jesus Christ (See Acts 2:22,23; 3:14,15; 4:25-28; 1 Cor. 2:8).
It would be impossible for God to give precise prophecies and ensure their fulfillment if He were not in control of history. More than a quarter of the Old Testament is prophecy. Many contain so many specifics that the chance of an accidental fulfillment is outside the realm of possibility (if calculated by mathematical probability).
It would be impossible for God to promise comprehensive care, provision and leading to His people if He were not in control of history. There are scores of promises to believers concerning God’s tender care, protection and provision. The smallest detail outside of God’s control would always pose a potential threat to these comprehensive promises (See Matt. 6:25-34; Philippians 4:6, 7, 19).
The intellect of man, unaided by Scripture, cannot understand the meaning of history. Scripture is filled with the message that God is moving all history to its point of consummation. God is the One who unifies history in Himself and in His purposes.
From our perspective, so much of history appears to us to be mishmash of chaotic events. Apart from Scripture, history appears to have no unifying plan or purpose. But the Christian knows something that the world does not know -- namely that God has given His people a vivid sneak preview of the last chapter of history yet to be lived out. God has told us in His authoritative Word that he will “tie up” the innumerable loose ends that are now but a confusing paradox (See Ez. 39:21-23).
As in a “who done it” novel, history (by God’s design) has saved its thrilling climax for the last chapter. Then what has been hidden and mysterious will be revealed (See Rom. 2:16).
The Scriptures cite numerous examples of what appear to be unrelated events dove-tailing into a majestic plan. These biblical historical narratives are intended to show us God’s involvement in history. They function as precursors of the final consummation at the end of the age. God will then “tell all” that is necessary for us to see His perfections in the way He has ruled human history.
The story of Joseph in the book of Genesis is a classic example of God’s commentary on His historical dealings with men. Think of the power, might and wisdom necessary to bring together seemingly antithetical happenings into a perfect plan.
Here is a partial list of the events that occurred in the story of Joseph’s imprisonment and his rise to the throne of Egypt:
Joseph’s brothers sell him to traders as a slave, then the brothers hand their father a bloody coat and let their father conclude Joseph was slain. Betrayed by the wife of his master, Joseph is deposed and sent to prison, falsely accused as a rapist. A plot to kill Pharoah is uncovered – the baker and the cup bearer are sent to the prison where Joseph is held. Joseph interprets the dreams of both men. The baker is hung, but the cup bearer is restored to his post. The worst drought in half a millennium hits the Mediterranean basin. Jacob is forced to go to Egypt to buy grain for food.
All these events, including God’s dealings with each person on the stage of history at the time (whether pagan or believer) must be considered as well.
God is bringing His plan to fruition while at the same time respecting the free agency of each person (so that God is described in the Bible as showing no partiality, but exercising justice and goodness toward all).
In the story of Joseph, all of the fractured beams of light that bounce chaotically about from our vantage point of history are focused into a stunningly bright, clear beam of intense cohesive light like a laser beam. For God tells us the outcome of the story – Joseph’s rise to power declares God’s goodness in dealing with a family, a nation, a kingdom and the whole Mediterranean basin (all are preserved from death by famine). The summary verse in Genesis regarding the wisdom of God’s providence in the life of Joseph is as follows: “And as for you (Joseph’s brothers), you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive” (Genesis 50:20).
When we read the account of Joseph in the book of Genesis, it is God graciously pulling back the veil that we might see the majesty of His providential wisdom and power. God is giving us a glimpse of the height of His throne – that is the omnipotence of His wisdom and power in providence.
We see God accomplishing His plan to give food to the Mediterranean world. We see Him dealing with His creatures in perfect holiness and we see Him exalting His attributes.
Joseph’s father, Jacob has his faith severely tested at the height of the famine. Prior to his reunion with a “living” Joseph in Egypt, he begins to despair of God’s goodness. As Jacob contemplates the “loss” of Joseph and the potential loss of Simeon and Benjamin, he utters “all these things are against me” (Genesis 42:36-38).
Without the benefit of God’s revelation in these events and without seeing the outcome of a glorious family reunion with his sons in Egypt, Jacob is tempted to function only by bare sight. Little did he know that God was going to restore to him what he thought he’d lost as well as grant him additional blessings.
So it is that in narrative and prophetic divine revelation, portions of history have the veil pulled back to reveal God’s providential might, power and wisdom.
Believers are greatly heartened by these passages of Scripture which display God’s infinite power over history. For most of history does not have the veil pulled back as yet. History’s flow so often seems to be a “river” of unrelated, often senseless and cruel events that appear to mock any unifying plan. (See also the book of Job. Job experiences incalculable losses without the immediate benefit of God’s immediate commentary – Job 1-3 ff. Only later does he understand the true meaning of God’s greatness.)
In the end, Christ will consummate every purpose of God. He will pronounce the destiny of every rational creature. All human measuring sticks will be discarded – on that day, the meaning of all things will be defined by their relation to Christ.
Redemptive history shall prove to be the very triumph of God’s perfections and excellence. This is the believer’s hope and confidence – that the same God who decreed history also invaded human history in the Person of Jesus Christ will invade history again at final consummation of the age in order to install His eternal kingdom (Revelation 11:15).
God has exhibited His Son as an atoning sacrifice for sin and has raised Him from the dead (Romans 3:25). History’s crowning and unifying purpose is that of man’s redemption. The Creator of the universe left His throne to accomplish man’s deliverance and restoration (Philippians 2:5-11). At the end of the age, God will wrap up history – because of Christ’s perfect and triumphant work, He will do away with sin and all of its multifarious consequences (death, suffering, disease, wickedness, injustice, etc. – see Acts 17:30,31; Revelation 21:1-7).
God’s Word makes sense of the greatest antinomy of history, the death of Christ (Acts 2:22-24; 4:27,28). Nowhere in history and nowhere in Scripture is the light beam of God’s providence more intensely and cohesively focused than in the death of Christ. In the cross of Christ, innumerable events are brought together: O.T. prophecy, Roman government, Greek language, Judaism, divine justice, mercy, love, wisdom, power, holiness and promises, as well as human fear, unbelief, persecution, envy and cowardice.
God, whose throne is so very high, not only overrules the antinomies which scandalize the human mind, He turns antinomies into a declaration of His immutable purpose and perfections. His sovereignty rules over all – even over events which from our perspective are merely scattered, haywire, and unjust.
Jesus announced ahead of time the sovereignty of God in the cross. Jesus proclaimed to His disciples that His coming crucifixion was not due to a victimization that flowed from weakness. Jesus told His own, “No one takes My life from Me, I lay it down on My own initiative” (John 10:18). Essential to the gospel is that Christ’s incarnation and death were totally voluntary on His part.
The cross is filled with divine sovereignty – it is filled with our philosophy of history. It gives us clues into the greatest antinomies that have ever occurred.
The cross of Christ brings together two seemingly irreconcilable events: 1.) the greatest travesty of justice in human history – the murder of the innocent Son of God AND 2.) the perfect satisfaction of divine justice – the propitiation or satisfaction of God’s justice by the death of Christ. (No wonder the cross is a stumbling block to the mind of the unbeliever -- it towers over the human intellect (1 Corinthians 1;18-25; 2:6-16; 3:18-20). For in the Gospel, the cross is declared to be the result of God’s planning and permission. By God’s foreordination, the God-man is slain by His creatures that sinners might be reconciled to God.)
To our sight, providence often looks like a string of coincidences. Related events appear to be held together by strands of “chance” no wider than a hair’s breadth. Were not some of King David’s escapes from King Saul by a hair’s breadth to our sight?
To the one who knows God, nothing is left to chance. What appears to be a fragile silken strand has been decreed from all eternity and rendered certain. (In the nineteenth century, a Christian was fleeing from his persecutors – exhausted, he squeezed into a shallow cave. The moment he entered, a spider spun a web over the entrance. When the pursuers came to the cave they exclaimed, “He can’t be in here, look at the spider’s web, no one has been here for long time.” Because of His overruling providence, God can make a web into a wall and a wall into a web.)
For the believer, this is no cause for quietism or passivity, for God brings about His will through innumerable secondary causes. God’s people shall reach the heavenly shore by the use of means that God has appointed (Christians are urged in Scripture to use these means diligently, see Hebrews 6:11,12; 1 Peter 1:3-6. Remember, what God has decreed is always joined to the use of means).
The beginning of wisdom is the fear of the Lord (Proverbs 1:7).
Divine providence is a cause for deep fear of God. No sinner, rebel or scoffer can thwart God’s purposes by sin. Not even Lucifer who has marshaled an immense black kingdom of billions of souls shall overturn one of God’s purposes by his fomenting such a massive rebellion. God’s purposes are not frustrated by the wickedness of man. WHY? Because God’s throne is so high, and His plan is so wide, it encompasses both His saving purposes and the wicked rebellion of the impenitent.
The crushing of the grapes of wrath is no children’s fairytale – God will ultimately make “wine” of the wicked (See Revelation 19 and Isaiah 63). The wrath of man shall praise God’s justice (Psalm 76:10; Romans 9:17).
When we think of God’s sovereignty, it ought to instill in us reverential fear. For human and angelic rebellion did not take God by surprise nor jeopardize His plan.
The entrance of sin into creation fell within the scope of God’s decree. Fools twist this doctrine into heresies of fate and determinism – or even the blasphemous notion that God is the author of sin. God will confound them and terrify them on judgment day – for then the lost will understand to their everlasting horror that God granted their wish to live separated from Him. Though His Spirit strove with them to repent and though God’s truth was pressed upon their consciences, they preferred to have their own way. God permitted them to cling to their self-willed choices and solidify their character -- their choice to remain estranged and alienated from God will prove to be a choice for destruction.
Is this not a cause for fear? God is not a spectator who strolled by the drama of human history and took a seat. NO, God originated time and space history – He ordained and decreed what shall come to pass that ultimately His divine perfections might be declared to the rational universe.
Human history shall prove to be the record of the honoring and dishonoring of God and the consequences of each. History will prove that God is not mocked. It shall be manifested in the end that sowing and reaping are ineffably joined (Gal. 6:7-9). This is an inescapably moral universe because its Creator and Ruler is absolutely righteous and holy.
Destinies are decreed in eternity past by a sovereign God BUT they are fixed in time by sowing. Oh how this should drive us to God for mercy while there is time. For the principle of sowing and reaping never ends -- the soul made in the image of God never goes out of existence (an eternal harvest in our own persons is a most sobering concept).
Scripture calls us to judge our sinful motives – if we are honest, we must admit that we are altogether prone to sow to the flesh (Romans 8:1-11). It is the grace of Christ alone that interrupts the unbreakable principle of sowing and reaping. It is the grace of Christ that made Him willing to come to earth to take the place of helpless sinners. It is the love of Christ that made Him willing to “reap” the sinner’s penalty of death and divine wrath. It is the grace of Christ that plants in the believer a new inclination to sow with a view to righteousness. (Illus.: Why is it that the same sun that hardens clay, softens bee’s wax? It is because clay and wax have radically different natures.)
It is the grace of Christ that illumines the heart of a man so that he apprehends the seriousness of eternal issues. Those who die in unbelief will reap the eternal consequences of their sowing.
To reject divine mercy found in Christ is to remain locked in the strict principle of sowing and reaping. It is to come under the crushing justice of God’s unbending law. It is a rejection of God’s grace.
The unbeliever operates in the futility of his own mind. He doesn’t consider that the universe exists for the glory of God AND that God shall surely realize the purpose for which He made the creation.
Every man’s existence is either aligned to God’s purpose to glorify Himself or it is contrary to God’s purpose.
The natural man has no sentiment to live for God’s glory. The natural man has no desire to “pay” the modest “rent” of daily thanksgiving to God. Judgment day entails the “eviction notice.” Only the grace of God can change the heart of man to live for God’s glory. God’s grace aligns a man to live for God’s glory by uniting the man to Christ. Living for God’s glory is the grateful response of the soul who has tasted the God’s grace.
Nearly one third of Scripture is prophecy. The detailed fulfillment of Bible prophecy is one of the key evidences of the infallibility of God’s Word. God has joined the honor and reputation of His great Name to the infallibility of Scripture. Those who fear God understand that God has raised His Word as high as His Name (Psalm 138:2). This means that not one jot or tittle of Scripture shall fall to the ground unfulfilled (the jot and tittle represent the smallest portions of a letter in the Hebrew alphabet – see Matthew 5:18; Luke 16:17).
God’s glory is inseparably joined to every threat and promise in Scripture. (In His Word is the knowledge of God, the ways of God, the wonders of God and the will of God – God is jealous for His own honor, He has spoken clearly, He has not stuttered nor allowed men to falsify His authoritative self-revelation.)
Since God has declared that He is as good as His Word and that He will fulfill every iota of it, the sinner’s apathetic unbelief is tantamount to throwing down the gauntlet before the Creator. The scoffer makes a wicked wager with his own soul, in his impenitent pride, he thinks that his soul is unconquerable – he tells himself, “I won’t see damnation, I shall continue to escape eternal judgment.” (The natural man’s “hope” constitutes defiance against God’s Word. The natural man makes a suicidal wager that God is not as good as His Word (Prov. 21:30; Ps. 10:13).
God has affirmed in His holy Word that there is no possible way of escape from divine wrath but by safety and refuge in Christ (Hebrews 2:1-3).
The impenitent sinner flies in the face of this unbreakable truth by trusting in his own schemes and opinions while casting aspersion upon the Word of God (Psalm 1:4-6). The unbeliever has more respect for gravity than he does for God’s Word. He takes care not to slip in the shower but races toward the grave without a thought that he has bypassed the Word of life.
The man who has been born again behaves in a much different fashion. The regenerate man constantly places himself under the scrutiny of Christ’s eye (Hebrews 4:12). He regards his safety to be bound up in God’s faithful examination and correction of him (Psalm 139). He knows that apart from the promises of God’s Word, he will lack security, certainty and confident hope. He knows that apart from the warnings of God’s Word, he will stray and be tempted to presumption. He regards the Scripture to be the agency through which the Holy Spirit produced his life in God (1 Peter 1:23). He knows that apart from faith in Scripture, it is absolutely impossible to know God and please Him (Hebrews 11:6).
It is impossible to be neutral toward the Word of God. In the realm of human relations, it is by our words as well as our actions that we are known. Through the words used in communication, relationships are formed, broken and mended. Through the instrumentality of our words, we communicate the contents of our heart to our spouse making ourselves known and winning their love. Through our words, we provide boundaries for our children’s behavior. Our greatest ideas and highest passions are expressed through our words. Our words have the power to elicit joy, tears, comfort, rage or love in others.
Now realize that our Creator, the Author of language and our faculties has reached out to our minds, souls and hearts through the means of His immutable Word. It is impossible to honor Him, bow before Him or know Him without taking His words into our minds and hearts.
Even in our horizontal relationships, our closeness to others is established by the “bridge” of our mutual words. As the Scripture says, “Can two walk together except they be agreed?” (Amos 3:3).
The message of God’s Word comes to us at first as an extremely “bright light.” Men shield their eyes of their souls from its penetrating beams. The Bible gives us the reason why men navigate in a wide swath around its eternal truth:
“And this is the judgment, that the light is come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the light; for their deeds were evil. For everyone who does evil hates the light, and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed. But he who practices the truth comes to the light, that his deeds may be manifested as having been wrought in God” (John 3:19-21).
The reason men will not read God’s Word is because they fear exposure. God’s message comes as a hammer that breaks rock – men feel its blows upon their conscience and flee from the discomfort (Jeremiah 23:29).
Every man is a part of history – God is the One who interprets and consummates history. He will on the last day announce to each person his eternal destiny (Revelation 20:12,13). It is impossible for a man to be right with God apart from faith in Christ (Acts 4:12). To be “in Christ” by faith is the only right standing before God. Without Christ, there is no standing, no hiding place from God’s wrath, no favor and no acceptance.
It is a staggering thought that men who would not risk one dollar in a one on one basketball game with Kobe Bryant dare to go one on one with God on judgment day without Christ as Savior. (The Scripture presents Christ as the “defense attorney” for the believing sinner – see the use of “Advocate in 1 John 2:2.)
God has but one perfect hiding place for believing sinners – the Son of God, friend of sinners. This brief life is but a preparation for eternity. God has commanded us in His Word to be reconciled to Him through Christ. He has given us fair warning that His coming judgment is more comprehensive than we can possibly imagine.
His gracious offer of mercy is priceless – for God is willing to receive even the worst sinner now and wash him from every transgression (Isaiah 1:18). On the last day, it will be too late, the doors of mercy will be closed. Therefore God is now imploring men through His servants to be reconciled to God now.
The gospel of Jesus Christ is the greatest possible news and tidings from heaven – God is satisfied with the Person of His Son as a Substitute for sinners! He asks NOTHING MORE by way of satisfaction and acceptance. The believing sinner can add NOTHING to Christ’s work of satisfying the demands of God’s broken law. And the sinner can add NOTHING to the perfect obedience that Christ rendered to God’s righteous demands in the law (Romans 6:23).
The sinner’s blessed task is to “settle out of court” – admit the full extent of your guilt and receive full pardon now. All those who refuse to settle out of court now will receive the sentence of eternal judgment on the last day. God is glorified in the salvation of sinners. His willingness to freely receive the believing sinner is promised in His Word (Isaiah 55:1-8).