Sermon: God Works in Mysterious Ways (Part Three)
John W. Ritenbaugh
Given 23-Dec-17; 68 minutes
Back in the dark ages when I was a boy, back in the 30s, I was about 6 years old there was no television, no cell phones, we had to depend upon the kind of radio you plug into the wall and listen to the programs that were on them. Those programs, of course, were only sound, there was no picture with the sound we heard. Most of the programs were on for about half an hour and some of them were serialized so that they went on continuously from one day to the next.
When I was a boy I listened to “Jack Armstrong, the All American Boy,” and there was his cousin Billy, that was one of the programs that were on there continuously. Another was “Tom Mix and His Wonder Horse Tony.” I later saw Tony and Tom Mix in an old movie and that horse was really a wonder horse. He could do everything except tie a knot because he had hoofs and not hands. They were interesting to hear, on radio you had to supply the pictures in your own head, imagining what was going on.
I really was not that interested in any of those stories that I have named so far, but I really loved the mystery programs. There was one that my mother would not allow me to listen to, “I Love a Mystery.” They were on in the late afternoon, and they were designed for young people, probably teenagers, but because I was six, seven years old my mother would not allow me to listen to it because they were too scary for her. I would sneak over to the Clemente’s house (we were out in the country and lived in a little community of maybe 20 families, and the Clemente’s were one of those families), they had three boys: Chakino, he was about two years older than me, Angelo who was the same age as me, and there was Jimmy who was about two years younger than me. You could not see the Clemente’s porch from our house because we were on the next street over (there was a house or two between our house and their house), so I would just go over and listen to “I Love a Mystery” there.
About 25 years later Chakino came into the Radio Church of God, appeared out of nowhere at services one day. We had a grand old time reuniting with one another. But when Evelyn and I went out to Ambassador College he somehow slipped away.
Movies were not all that interesting to me for some reason. The first movie I ever saw was “The Wizard of Oz.” That was 1938, and my aunt took me to the movie in downtown Pittsburgh to see that. I do not think I saw another movie, even though there was a movie house in the town next to us, but I did see “The Razor’s Edge” during the WWII. It had Tyrone Power in it, and it was an interesting movie.
What I really found interesting was the mysteries. There were three that really grabbed my attention. I was allowed to listen to these at home. “Suspense,” another was “Lights Out.” They usually told you at the beginning to turn the lights out, and in the wintertime it would be pitch dark, so my Aunt Dorothy and I would listen to it in the dark. They were half hour programs. They created a great deal of suspense in a very short order for a six or seven year old boy. I would be almost terrified.
Here is a program that I remember which led to me writing an article just within the past year. It was a “Lights Out” program. It was about two men, supposedly brilliant scientists, and they worked in a laboratory. They were pretty much by themselves inventing whatever they did on that particular program. In this particular program, which was called “Chicken Heart,” these two scientists discovered a way to keep a chicken heart alive in a glass container and a solution inside to enable it to keep on living. The heart was out of the chicken, the chicken was not attached to the heart. You have to get the picture here and the sound as well, because all the while the program was on you heard the sound of the heartbeat. After the heart was in the container for a while, they discovered it was growing, and the sound became more insistent and persistent throughout the program. All of a sudden you heard a crash and tinkle of glass because chicken heart burst his captivity inside the jar.
By this time my heart was so beating fast and I was really frightened wondering what was going on there. The scientists did not know what to do, they tried to kill it, stomp on it, hit it with a hammer, but it just kept right on growing! The first thing you know you heard the heartbeat, it grew right out of the laboratory, the whole building collapsed, and by the time the program ended, the two scientists were flying around in an airplane, down below them the earth had disappeared, chicken heart was still beating away, and they ran out of gas. You can see that stuck with me. And by the way, the lights were out.
I said that it led to an article that I wrote, “Will Satan Live Forever?” To me the logic of God, as intelligent, smart, understanding, compassionate, and merciful as He is, would not create a being that He could not get rid of. That is illogical to me. We have to prove ourselves to God before He gives us eternal life. We are not going to be proved by our works but it is part of the mix by which God is creating us, so that He will be certain that we are not going to destroy His earth or any portion of His creation, by something that we are doing.
This feeds into the series that I have been working on here since the Feast of Tabernacle. What I am doing is looking into why God is directing the operations the way that He is, that somewhat hides Him from people’s immediately clear view. We cannot see Him, of course. We know, we believe, and we pattern our life after what He wants us to live, because we do “see” Him with understanding. Not with our eyes, but with our understanding, and we believe.
I am looking at this, not because I am finding fault with His way, but the manner in which He is doing things makes His reality somewhat obscure, and that obscurity does impact on us because those who do not believe in Him as clearly and strongly as we do react, within the culture we live in, negatively against those who do truly believe in Him. So we have to deal with the fact that they do not see God with understanding, and have faith in Him.
That very issue is part of the subject that Paul deals with in Romans 9-11. We will not solve the “why” issue as we go through this in the sermon, but we still must continue dealing within a culture that we live in, dealing with a few of the effects that result by this, because the unconverted react in a manner in which they do.
Romans 11:25-27 For I do not desire, brethren, that you should be ignorant of this mystery, lest you should be wise in your own opinion, that blindness in part has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. [We are in a part of Israel, so this blindness that He is speaking of includes us as well as those to whom the apostle Paul was writing.] And so all Israel will be saved, as it is written; “The Deliverer will come out of Zion, and He will turn away ungodliness from Jacob, for this is My covenant with them, when I take away their sins.
Romans 11:28-31 Concerning the gospel they [Gentiles] are enemies for your sake, but concerning the election they are beloved for the sake of the fathers. [The Israelites are beloved, and now the Gentiles who are being converted they too are beloved. What Paul was trying to do is get to these people in such a way that they will become lovers, in the same way he was, of the Gentiles who were being called into the church.] For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable. [That is wonderful assurance to all who are Israelites, that despite the blindness that has come upon Israel, despite the conduct of Israelites, we are on track as it was before the Flood.] For as you were once disobedient to God, yet have now obtained mercy through their disobedience, even so these also have now been disobedient, that through the mercy you have shown, they also may obtain mercy.
Romans 11:32-36 For God has committed them all to disobedience, that He might have mercy on all. Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and His ways past finding out! [Listen to this eulogy that God receives from the apostle Paul.] “For who has known the mind of the Lord? [Why is God doing things the way that He is? Some people He shows a great deal of favor to, like the Israelites, and then it seems as though He is withdrawing that favor from them and showering His favors upon the people that He formally did not pay any attention to seemingly, the Gentiles, why does He do that?] Or who has become His counselor? Or who has first given to Him and it shall be repaid to him?” For of Him, and through Him, and to Him are all things, to whom be glory forever. Amen.
Paul’s concluding statement regarding this three-chapter discussion of this subject, his basic conclusion is that the way that God is operating is going to produce the most and the best for His purposes, and who can find fault with that.
Turn to Isaiah to look at another statement by God in regard to something that some people were doing. In a way it kind of answers a way that God could easily say. He is really blunt here. God is announcing His greatness to these people.
Isaiah 66:1-4 “Heaven is My throne, and earth is My footstool. Where is the house that you will build Me? And where is the place of My rest? For all things My hand has made, and all things exist,” says, the Lord. “But on this one will I look: On him who is poor and of a contrite spirit, and who trembles at My word.”
The whole creation that we are familiar with can be described as nothing more than God’s footstool! That is where all humans live. We live on a footstool. What kind of right do we have to call God into question for the way He is doing things? Any man, no matter how brilliant, does he have the right to do something like that? But that is what people are doing. That is what this whole series of sermons is about—people calling God into account for the way He is doing things. That is what the Jews were doing in Rome, and that is what the Israelitish are doing here in the United States. I am not saying that they are religious. I am only saying that they live in the United States and Britain.
This series of verses is a blunt response to that overall question in which God basically says, “Who are you, created man, to find fault with the way that I am doing things. What do you know about operating a universe, and creating mankind in My image?” Mankind calls God into account because He chooses to remain invisible. Mankind calls God into account because He gives instructions for what He is doing in such a way that they have to be searched out. They call God into account because He chooses to afflict man with blindness at His will, at His say-so, and for His reasons.
Do we have the right to do those things? Now, we do have the right to do it, but it is not going to get us anywhere, so why do it. Though we have that right and we take advantage of that right, it does not mean that God is going to be pleased. He tells us plainly that it does not please Him at all! He responds to people who are humble and would never think or allow that kind of a question to come out of their mouth regarding Him without apologizing right away when they think about it. In a way that is what this series, these three sermons, have been about: calling God into account and complaining about the way that He is running things.
In my previous sermons since the Feast, I have covered examples of mankind’s proud and hardheaded reasons for not believing in God’s existence, and then using as their justifications various complaints regarding His assumed nonevidence of any easily found purpose. But between my previous sermon and this one, I had another thought regarding a truth that is inferred in this series of verses.
What is it that God is saying here? What is the background of why God replies to man in this manner? The background is that some of mankind assumes that God is irresponsible in not responding to their questions regarding the way He is operating things. Why does He not shout down answers from heaven? I would have them know that ever since He began this He has been operating in the same way. He is not going to change just because of them.
The real problem here is that what is driving them is that they feel free to worship Him as they please. They assume that He does not care what we do if they are worshipping Him. (That is basically what David [Grabbe] said in his sermonette and Richard [Ritenbaugh] said in his commentary as well.) Mankind is acting as though God does not care, that silence from Him is indicative to them that God does not care. I say this reminding you that this Book has existed the whole time that says He does care, and it tells mankind exactly how He wants to be worshipped, but they do not care that He actually said it, and in many cases they do not look it up to find out what He does say. And when some do look it up how do they respond?
(I have read a book or two by Mr. [John] Piper, and he is normally fairly sound-minded, but when we get into technicalities like this, he is not very sound minded. He is ignoring God. That is not sound-minded! He is assuming God does not care that Christmas has pagan connotations, and this man with no holiness really sanctifies that period of time, takes it upon himself to do that. To me and the way we look at God, that is pretty bold to do something like that. They do something that only God can do and assume that He is going to accept it.)
We are beginning to see one of the drifts in my thinking here. Their whole religion, or many religions, are built on assumptions. How good are assumptions when we are dealing with the Creator God and supposedly worshipping Him? There are people who believe in Him and one of these groups we call today Deist. A Deist believes God exists, but they assume He is not involved in it operations. What an assumption that is! Like He makes a creation and then walks away. That is their assumption, so to them God merely observes what is going on.
Then there are those who assume that He does not even exist, but they assume that He does not. They do not have proof that He does not exist. Did you ever stop to think about that? They have no answer to whether He exists, but they assume that He does not. It is crazy the extent that mankind has gone in order to justify what we are doing in relation to God. So to these people the entire creation, including life itself, somehow just came to be.
These people have no right to complain regarding evil, these people who believe that the creation just came to be. What that means then is that without God’s existence the only standards regarding what is evil and what is not evil, never goes higher than other men, and how good are their opinions?
Just how pure and righteous are mankind’s opinion? Basically, what God is saying here in Isaiah 66:1-4 in answer to this question, God is telling them, I do not owe you even one iota of an explanation. He just asked them, “Where is the house are you going to build Me?” Anything that God builds He is going to operate it according to His already-predetermined purpose. Know this and understand it, because if He did not build it for a purpose, it would not get built. He does not do foolish things like that.
What do men know about operating a creation as complex and as large as this one is? God is not being hardnosed about this. He is being realistic. What good advice could He possibly get from men who have done such a horrible job living their own lives?
This past week I was chomping on some breakfast cereal and broke off a tooth. It broke off beautifully, there was absolutely no pain resulting from the break and I am still in no pain. Did I take it to a surgeon to fix me? Did I take it to somebody who fixes broken legs? No, I went to a dentist. You go to the person who knows what they are doing. This lady worked on my teeth in the past. The last time she did such a good job they lasted about ten years before this one finally broke. (She had not done the drilling on the previous tooth, the guy they bought the business from had done it.) She did a really good job. She was proud as a peacock about that for a little while.
I think that is the way God feels about His creation. They are His, and He has every right to operate them the way He desires, making twists and turns as He deems is right, and calling and converting those He wants to be converted at this time.
The first part of this sermon is devoted to telling you that we, mankind, really have a bloated opinion about our value. We have no credentials of having accomplished anything that even begins to approach what God has accomplished, yet we want to give Him advice on how to run His creation. We are going to tell Him how we are going to worship Him. I think we understand that when we do that we are not worshipping Him. We only think we are worshipping Him, we are only assuming we are worshipping Him.
Mankind’s motivations for this attitude against God are lodged deeply and firmly within what the Bible terms as our carnality. We spent two sermons on our carnality, showing what it is and where it comes from and what it focuses on. Carnality is a powerfully persistent influence enslaving us to focus on things pertaining to the interest of the here and now. In my past two recent sermons I have been giving you evidence from the Bible of how influentially powerful the carnality within us is. It is with it that our major spiritual battles are fought. Every called person is waging this same basic battle, in which he must overcome carnality self-centered influence.
There are some unconverted who believe, to their satisfaction, that God indeed does exist but in overwhelming numbers they still choose to believe that He really does not mean what He clearly says. That is evidence of this carnality influencing the person.
Our carnality is ever searching. In my previous sermon I used the expression, or the terminology as though our carnality is a living being within us. It is not a living being, but it does have power to influence our thinking. It influences our thinking to make us concentrate on the here and now. It focuses on right now. It is capable of focusing on distance times, but it causes us to focus on the here and now.
Our carnality is ever searching for wiggle room to continue it domination of the one that it dwells in. A clear example of this constant influence is that Jesus says that God’s law is not done away, but mankind as a whole ignored this declaration because that is what his carnality thinks. So that carnality influences the man to concentrate on the here and now, not the purpose that God is creating us for. He is creating us for the future, but what we do now has an impact both on the future, as well as now. Thus, not keeping His Sabbaths is a clear example of mankind’s noncompliance so the hardheaded, disobedience continues right on.
Each person with his inborn carnal nature finds what is to him sufficient reason to override the weighty authority of His sovereign Word in favor of his own inexperience and immaturity, so that one’s carnality will be met to its satisfaction. Who is serving who? What we humanly do is serve our carnality and that is not what God wants us to serve.
We set this choice early in life, before we have much in the way of discernment, so our path in life is not made on the basis of wisdom. Babies want to be taken care of and that is natural, but along with being taken care of slowly but surely that baby is developing the mindset, “I want to be taken care of all the time.”
We set this choice early in life, so that our path in life is not made on the basis of wisdom, it is being set right from birth, and that choice sticks with us until God in His mercy intervenes by calling us, and we begin to be released from this bondage. One of the clearest examples of this bondage to our carnality is found in the first of Adam and Eve’s sins. In that circumstance, you will remember, they were just created, truths were taught honestly and solidly by our Creator as their only teacher. There was no competing counsel from anybody. They had no experience apart from Him in the world to persuade them to defy Him, except maybe for personal experiences in the Garden.
I Corinthians 10:13 [This is the way God operates and we should be very thankful that it is this way.] No temptation [trial] has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it.
I want you to apply this to Adam and Eve. God does not change. He was following this principle in dealing with them. I want you to understand that God is still following the same principle with us. He carefully observes our life as we are living it so that we do not get in over our heads. He is working to promote growth, not to overburden us, but when their first test came, for which they were prepared by God Himself, they deliberately chose to fulfill their untested desires rather than follow what God instructed them to do. The first test with God overseeing, they did this sin despite the serpent’s reminding them that God told them not to eat of that one tree. The serpent did this before they ate it. The enemy reminded them they were not to do that. Eve responded that she knew that, and even added something He did not say, but she still did what her carnal nature desired.
I hope this impresses you. That is how powerful that nature is. They walked out of God’s presence after He had talked with them, gave them instructions, and the very first time they were free of Him they sinned. Everyone of us is fighting the same battle. It may differ in intensity from person to person but that nature within us is always working toward making us focus on the here and the now for fulfilling desires.
Matthew 15:15-20 Then Peter answered and said to Him, “Explain this parable to us.” So Jesus said, “Are you also still without understanding? Do you not yet understand that whatever enters the mouth goes into the stomach and is eliminated? But those things which proceed out the mouth come from the heart, and they defile a man. For out the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornication's, thefts, false witness, blasphemies. These are the things which defile a man, but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile a man.”
I bring this up because, I want you to see that a measure of the carnality that we have within us existed even in Adam and Eve. Six thousand years ago they had it and it played a major role in how they reacted to Satan, despite the fact that God was their only teacher. God is not our only teacher; we have been taught by this world. Guess how strong our carnality is? What a battle we have on our hands! Thank God that He is still on His throne, He is still watching over what we are doing, and He is still abiding by I Corinthians 10:13, watching that we do not get in over our heads.
God is dealing in salvation, not loss. He wants us to be saved, so He is carefully monitoring our behavior in the progress or failures that we are permitting.
That example of Adam and Eve ought to show how powerfully influential the carnal nature can be if it is permitted. Have we become more fully aware of the powerfully deceptive influence on our heart or made by our heart on us? Our personal and private natural heart is fully capable of generating sin, so how strong is the carnal, self-centered elements of which we still carry in daily life?
Romans 1:18-20 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them. [God even teaches the unconverted mankind in some way, shape, and form. God has made sure that they have a basic knowledge of how they are to conduct their lives.] For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse.
I ended my previous sermon with an illustration regarding the erection of an office building, a shopping center. I chose this illustration because the verse tells us that even God’s invisible attributes are made known by what He has made. Regarding the office building, I was able to observe its development on a day-to-day basis almost from start to finish. I made sure I took my walks in that direction every day. My purpose is that I hoped to prepare you for today’s sermon with a small bit of evidence, the thoughtful similarity of care our Creator has given us in His Word to show that He and Jesus Christ indeed planned and purposefully built Planet Earth. He built it purposefully, it was not thrown together. In these verses that I have shown you in Romans 1, we see that God did it purposely so that we could learn that even though we do not see Him, we can see what He made, and we can learn from what He made.
Paul is not saying here in Romans 1 that the unconverted will lose their opportunity for salvation because they reject clear proof for God’s existence and rulership. What God is saying is that the unconverted are without valid excuse, because God’s reality is easily seen. We do not literately have to see Him to know that He exists, we can learn about Him from what He has made. That is why mankind is without excuse because we can see the earth. From looking at it and studying into it we learn what God is like. We learn His character, His mind. One of the claims that disbelieving secularists makes is that even if there is a Creator God, He has given mankind neither plan nor a purpose for doing so. That is a bunch of hogwash! It is in the Book. For anybody to make such a claim they must not be in their right mind.
Why did the electronic company build that building that I saw them put together piece by piece? Did they have no purpose? They just wanted to build a building? Well, they invested a lot of money. It is a nice building, pretty too. They not only built it purposely, they designed it to their specifications, because they needed a facility designed to meet their specific needs for their employees to work within in order to produce their specific product.
How about God? Did He build this universe with no plan in mind? Did He do it whimsically because He had a little bit of time and He was laying there with nothing to do? The entire earth, much like with a when a home or office building is begun, it is done with a raw piece of land that first must be somewhat prepared so the real building can begin in earnest.
How does God start the book of Genesis? He begins with the earth in horrible condition, just like you have seen a house building begun where there is nothing on there but trees, shrubs, etc. What is the first thing they do? They prepare the ground so that they can begin to build the building. In a simple way that is exactly what God starts out with in Genesis 1. He starts out with a raw piece of land that we call earth, and it is in horrible condition. The first thing He does is begin to get the land into shape so that He is able to build what He is going to work within for the people He is going to create.
God is following a logical progression of moves in order to build something. This is why Paul says in Romans 1 that God did things the way He did, He followed a progression, so we know that our God is not only able to build, He does things logically. In one sense, even the way a man would do it if he was going to build something, and that is what God did. He started with the land as raw as anything, and the first thing He did was prepare the land so that He could begin to build on it.
It is not until Genesis 1:26 that He tells us, and anybody who reads His Book, what His purpose is. Only 26 verses and He is already telling anybody who reads His book what His purpose is. “Let Us make man in Our image.” That comes that close to saying, “I am reproducing Myself, I am making man in My (Our) image.” What do they mean He does not tell us what He is doing? He is telling. People simply assume the wrong things, far too many people do not look any further.
So mankind made in God’s image is His product that He is going to build on and in and through the earth that He prepared for this to take place. So those who deny His purpose are not in their right mind, because the right mind, as God perceives us, does not begin until one is converted and triggers the process of being created in the image of Jesus Christ. It is then that true sanity that has a godly foundation begins. Deliberately lying as those unbelieving folks do, is an indicator that one is not as realistic as they need be, and has not the wisdom to know that no sin has actually ever been solved positively.
I know that you do not think of these people who deny the existence of God as lying, but they are, they are passing a lie on for which they have not even cared to prove out, they just pass it on. Let us add something to that. Confessing the truth of God’s existence is a major failing of the “no creator, and no plan or purpose” side of this issue. The issue is generated by the reality that their nature is fighting tooth and toenail to avoid submitting its dominance of that person’s life to the loving Creator and His way of life.
Their nature simply wants to possess the present enslavement over that person, and it realizes that it is in a war to retain its present control. It wants to do what it wants to do, when it wants to do it, and how it wants to do it regardless of whether a sin maybe involved. It is obvious that much more detailed technical planning and exertion of raw power was involved in the creation of Planet Earth than in the construction of that office building that I observed. The deniers still cannot bring themselves to submit to His sovereignty. Thus, despite the hardships that we face because of the persecuting barriers the secularists have placed in peoples’ minds from their positions of influence, we have to be prepared to resist them.
What is going to happen, and what is happening, and will continue to happen is that our carnality will rise up to the deniers’ defense because it agrees with the deniers. We have to be fighting our carnality at all times, and be on guard for the way it is moving to persuade us.
Besides clearly and dogmatically telling mankind in Genesis that He created Planet Earth, God also gives us more detailed evidence elsewhere in the Bible showing that much thoughtful planning was given to what the Father, through Jesus Christ, created. In this message I want to give you a small number of biblical evidences of the purposeful planning involved in, and noted within the Scriptures of creation having taken place.
I will not be giving documented evidence from science, I will be giving you only an outline of statements found in Scripture (they are worth far more anyway) for people to thoughtfully discover if they want to make the effort. God put them there to meditate upon and believe in.
That is the major part of this problem that we have about this. People’s carnality persuades them not to carry through and find out what they can about God’s existence, and His purpose, so they cave into it. It is a simple thing. They just find other things to do, they can watch TV, they can watch a ballgame, go bowling, you name it. There are a million different instances that our minds can persuade us with to not pay any attention to God, and not seriously seek Him. Part of it, Paul tells us in Romans that there is a partial blindness on the Israelitish people.
Now I am going to give a series on the book of Hebrews. That really interests me, I kid you not. That is a great writing. I began to do research and almost immediately I began to find out there are very famous biblical researchers who believe it is the most important book in the Bible. Why? Because it tells us what Jesus Christ is doing right now, and He is our Savior. He is responsible to the Father for us. We better know what He is doing.