30th July 2023

I being in the way, the Lord led me

Passage: Genesis 24, Acts 27:13-44, Psalm 86:11, 17
Service Type:

Automatically Generated Transcript

In our evenings in the scriptures, we've been looking at questions to do with how to find what God wants in your life, but also his will for the world. And we've been exploring the fact that it's a very difficult thing to know the purposes of God and to know the will of God, and sometimes we find that there are ideas coming from two different directions, and you're not sure how to weigh up the whole scene. It's a bit like that with Bible passages as well. You may be aware my role in the college was to be the professor of systematic theology, and there is a difference between what is called systematic theology and what is called biblical theology.

You may be surprised to know that the systematic theologians can be more conservative than the biblical theologians, because what biblical theology is about is what particular things are taught by this passage or this writer. You take Pauline theology. What does Paul contribute? And you disregard the rest of the scriptures and just take what you read of Paul. In actual fact, the study of biblical theology went more liberal, away from trusting the accuracy of the scriptures, and so you can probably find more biblical theologians, at least technically called that, who are further left of the centre in terms of not trusting the accuracy of the passages. Systematic theologians, on the other hand, they can also be liberal. That's not the thing I was going to say, but what it is to be a systematic theologian is that you admit the entire scriptures to be a part of that which you're going to seek to put together in a system. And because that entirety of scriptures include a lot of passages like the creation of the world, like the finishing up of the world, the second coming of Christ, it generally drives a lot more conservative point of view. When we come to finding the will of God, one of the issues that we have to struggle with is this question of God's sovereignty and man's responsibility, human responsibility.

And the fact that we have got, we've been made by God to have a choice, is something he and his sovereignty decided to do at the beginning. We have the story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, and they're given a choice. And the history of our world is that they sinned, and they caused the human race to be thrown into darkness and into a sinful condition. And then God sets about to bring about the escape from that sinful condition for humanity, to bring about salvation for the world. The issue arises again as to when the offer of salvation is made, is it that God decides who gets to get in the door through his salvation, and you can't change his mind, and you can't make any difference? That's a more Calvinistic viewpoint. Or is the truth that it depends on what we decide to do, to say yes or not? And there are passages in the Bible which would lend to both sides of that question. Don't doubt the fact it's true that the Bible teaches that God is sovereign, and you can't get away from the simple fact that he's God, the very idea of God means that he decides what he wants. And yet the Bible teaches that we are put in a position to make a decision, and the decision is going to be very, very important. Jesus wept over Jerusalem, and he said, How often would I have gathered you together under my wings like a hen gathers her chicks? But you would not. But you would not.

So even though the Bible teaches us that God is not willing, that any should perish, it goes on to say, but that all should come to repentance, which is to change your verdict, change your mind, to be sorry for your sin. And so there is, introduced by the scriptures themselves, these two elements that need to be held in tension, for both are true. The answer is not to find a way of thinking that chooses one and sticks to it and ignores the other, because both are in the scriptures. And you find this antinomy, we sometimes call it, a choice between two directions. The word for law or principle in the Greek language has the word nomos in it. Nomos is a law, and antimony is anti-law, when there's two statements that are principles or laws going in opposite directions. And an antinomy is right there in the question as to whether God has chosen a sovereign or whether we've been put on the spot that our choice will make a difference.

And there's no release from the fact that there's a dual truth that the Bible teaches. And I have a couple of passages to get into tonight, and I'm not going to be able to extensively get into this with all the Bible passages, because we have to do the whole Bible to do that. But I've picked out a few, which I have preached on previously, but which exemplify in the storyline these two principles as both being true. And I've just picked a few, and one of them is in Acts, in chapter 27. And this is the story of Lion, it is the narrative of the apostle Paul when he's on a ship being taken down to Rome, where he's appealed to Caesar, so to have his case against him the Jews were being handled by Caesar, he has to be taken by soldiers on my ship down to Rome. And something happens, and in the very happenstance of life and this journey, you get these two principles coming out again. And when the south wind gently blew, supposing that they had obtained their purpose, I like the way the scriptures speak, because the people had a purpose to get Paul to Rome, on the ship, and the weather was the issue here. And the weather looks congenial, they supposed that they had obtained their purpose, time to sail and we'll make the journey. And they weighed anchor and sailed along Crete, close to the shore.

But soon a tempestuous wind called the Northeaster, it was famous, this wind game, which was very sudden and awesome, struck down from the land. And when the ship was caught and could not face the wind, we gave way to it and were driven along. Being under the lee of a small island called Korda, we managed with difficulty to secure the ship's boat, in other words they put things around underneath to keep it from breaking apart. After hoisting it up, we used the ports to undergird the ship, and then fearing that they would run aground on the Sertes, they lowered the gear and thus they were driven along. Now interestingly, the little word, they were driven along, I'm talking about the people on the boat. The word were driven along is in the original language, a word that means that the wind got bossy. There was no chance of them going anywhere but what the wind took them. They were driven. As a matter of fact, it's the same word in the Greek that's used when the scriptures are describing their own composition and talking about what it is for there to be the word of God in the scriptures. And it talks about the fact that those scriptures come out because of a private interpretation by a person who thinks he knows what it should say, but the scriptures were written because they were driven along by the Holy Spirit.

And what is being described for the boat is the same as what is the Bible's description about itself, the scriptures, that although there are sometimes very slight winds that you could recognize as pressing in the opposite direction from where you want to go, you don't necessarily have to let that happen. These days we've got a tacking ability so even when the wind is strongly against you, you know how to do the tacking bit and you can go contrary to the direction of the wind and get where you want to go. And there was a sense in which the sailors back then were far more at the expense or at the pushing of the winds than we are today, but nonetheless they can do some things. But when the wind really got too strong, then there was no way that you could win against it, and ultimately what sailors had to do was just let go of all attempts to direct the ship and just let it be driven along, which is what this is saying.

And how interesting that the same wording in the Greek talks about how the scriptures are not coming about, have not come about because of people's ideas, but as the Holy Spirit has driven along the people or the ideas, so the scriptures have come about and that's why the scriptures are God's ideas. And so the very concepts, the very understanding about the Bible as being God's will, and you can trust what it says, is built on the fact that even though people are involved in its composition, and you can see the human contribution often made in the language used, the type of wording done, there's very visible the different authorships that you can trace through the scriptures, but where God wanted to have his way, he got his idea there in the scriptures, which gives birth to what we call the inerrancy of the scriptures, the fact that it is to be relied upon as true and not mistaken. That caused the Bible Society once to put out an article, and the article it put out was one which talked about the scriptures as being both the word of God and also the word of man.

Word of man because there is, when you study the scriptures and how they're worded and how they're put together, the evidence of the human contribution through the different authors. And yet there is, as being described here in the parable, if you like, that I'm presenting of the comparison between the ship having to give up and be blown where the wind wanted to go, the people couldn't make any difference, that's actually how it is with the dual authorships of the scriptures, but though that you can see that they are the word of man, Jesus himself acknowledged that, I'll get to that in a minute, nonetheless they are the word of God in terms of what the result is. And so here in the ship they're caused to be very scared. I've driven along verse 18, and since we were violently storm-tossed, they began the next day to jettison the cargo, they're getting desperate, and on the third day they knew the ships, they overthrew the ship's tackle with their own hands, and when neither sun nor stars appeared for many days and no small tempest lay on us, all hope of our being saved was at last abandoned.

So it was a pretty big storm going on. And since they'd been without food for a long time, Paul stood up among them and he said, men, you should have listened to me and not set sail from Crete, and incurred this injury and loss. He's telling them off for not having listened to him previously and gone anyway. Yet now I urge you to take heart, for there will be no loss of life among you, but only of the ship. For this very night, the night preceding, there stood before me an angel of God, and then he says, to whom I belong and whom I worship. To whom I belong and whom I worship. Some of the different versions of the Bible were that, to whom I belong, to say, he's the one that I serve. No, no, no, the worship is the serving, because the actual word for worship there is the sort of worship that was done in all the sacrifice system and in helping people in the temple to worship God. It was a type of worship that was helping God to be acknowledged. And so sometimes the Bible, depending on what translation you're reading, will say the word serve, but it's because the actual Greek word for worship is the word for serving God and arranging the worship. Now you people who sit up in the back, and people who sit over here, and the ones that stand here like Kieran and the others, you do something here that is what that little Greek word, worship or serve, can mean, that you're both helping us worship Lord in leading the service, in orchestrating the service, but you're also not only helping serve, but you're also helping worship. And it's interesting, the close connection between worship and service that the Bible puts on us as to being our duty, but here Paul refers to God and the fact that the God is the one to whom I belong and whom I worship.

And I've had a sermon, I must admit that I heard it first given by someone in my church in Sydney, and I thought it was a wonderful sermon on the two halves of being a Christian. And the two halves of being a Christian is that you worship and you serve. And once again we have before us this antinomy, two opposites, that the heart of being a Christian isn't only just serving the Lord by what you do at church. I think there are churches that put too much emphasis on putting what I call saddles on people's backs. So you come to the church, and someone told me this morning, I don't know whether it was a friend or someone they knew who went to a church, but then the people at the church they went to asked them to start doing jobs. So they stopped coming because they didn't want to spend that much time. And I think amongst people who are not yet fully committed to the Lord and are still listening in and are people you can win to Christ in their coming, if you put a saddle on their back too quick and they disappear because they weren't intending more than giving Sunday morning or something like that, then you've actually done a disservice to the Christian purpose. Because getting converted to Christ and getting to belong to Christ is what's also important. Paul said, whom I worship and whom I serve, or whom I serve and whom I worship. They're the two halves of being a Christian.

And how those two halves come together is that you have to learn to belong to God by responding to the gospel before the church or your conscience or people put a burden on you to try and serve God. Because serving him without first knowing him always leads to exhaustion and usually not a good ending necessarily. So here we have immediately in our storyline the Apostle Paul acknowledging that he has as motivation for all that he's doing both one that he belongs to God and also that he serves God. And we've got to keep the same balance ourselves. It's a part of the antinomy of the very fact that we're human beings and we also can be called of God to serve him. And the two are two parts, the two halves of being a Christian. But the ship also is made by God and the storm is caused by God or allowed by God. And here we have again a talking of a ship which for many normal occasions will be steered along by the fellow who's got the rudder. And similarly in our lives you can find yourself being put in a position where you have to make big decisions and you can't run away from the big decisions and sometimes you pray to God for guidance and he gives you some hints but sometimes he leaves you without knowing for certainty what he's exactly saying.

Recently we had a sermon for the Sunday evenings which was about prayer and on Luke 11 where Jesus is talking about the fact that ask and go on asking and you'll go on receiving. Seek and go on seeking and you'll find. Knock and go on knocking and the door will be opened to you. And although I think you could build a case for not taking it the way I interpret it exactly I think my way is the most likely that the asking where if you go on asking you're going to go on being a person receiving all the time and there are some things that you don't know what to ask for so you seek for the will of God. And if you keep seeking eventually he will show you. But some you're not sure at first and then there are things that you know to be the will of God but you can't get them to happen because they're roadblocks. They're the ones that you knock on the door and say I'm not going to stop knocking father until you make it happen.

And that's an understanding about the varied role that we have in prayer that has to do with this antinomy choice of two opposites where both are true. There are some things in life that God doesn't force you to have to do in a prescribed way and leaves it to you to work out what suits your personality, what maybe suits the opportunities and what is your mind saying I'm a human being and I'm going to think through the best thing to do here. The same time there are some things in the Christian life where God has a definite purpose and he comes to you and you become aware that he is pressing you and you still could say no or you could make an excuse and keep refusing to acknowledge. Many a person there has been called of God to do a particular thing who hasn't done it. I became aware of one of our leaders of the Baptist denomination, going back a little bit, won't say who, but had always been aware that God had called him to be a missionary but he wanted to serve the Lord alright but he wanted to do it in Australia.

So he took one step back from the missionary idea and said I'll be a pastor and he rose up through the ranks in the Baptist union, was in a position where he was being useful to God there and then some event happened and he said to us all that he really knew he should have gone as a missionary and there were certain things that did not work out in his life, it's because of a disobedience. So there are times when God comes to you and he weighs on you to do something. If that is the case don't worry that you might miss the hint or God mentions it in a little moment that you hardly noticed and you've never been obedient just by not realising it because when God wants to do something he won't give up, he keeps coming and pressing you and he's not one that's going to worry about you missing the point, he'll keep on you and one of the ways that the committees that decide whether a person should go and become a pastor is whether or not this has come to them and they've experienced that pressure across time and then the committee calls them in and say why should you become a pastor and what they're listening to hear is the person says well this is not exactly what I'm meant to do with my life myself but I've given in to God and one of my good friends going through college myself, his storyline was that he'd given, he'd refused to go into the ministry and I was 24 and he was I think 44 and the 20 years difference was the time he spent not doing what he knew was the will of God and then he had a car accident and had some time in hospital having to recover but when he got out of hospital he said yes God I'll go.

So sometimes you know God has to work on us to acknowledge that he and his sovereignty is given a call and he doesn't change his mind but that fellow I think he was a lovely man but I think he always regretted the 20 years of growth he would have had had he gone straight away and the story, that sort of story you hear a lot of times. On the other hand there are people who assume to go into the ministry and after the 20 years of being in the ministry and it not working they sometimes come to the conclusion that it wasn't really God calling them at all. So we're dealing with the area that God can have a sovereign purpose but he doesn't always force us to do it. There is a place for him to have a purpose for you and for you to come to a place of surrender willing to do it and those two things apply as to what happens in your life. Well it was the case with Paul himself because he got arrested on the road to Damascus which is why he's become an apostle of God and he's now going down to have a visit with Caesar and he's in the will of God even though it's going to be a difficult, I was going to say road but he went by ship.

And look at verse 24, the angel of God to whom I belong and whom I worship and he said do not be afraid Paul you must stand before Caesar and behold God has granted you all those who sail with you. So take heart men for I have faith in God that it will be exactly as I've been told but we must run aground on some island. Now the rest of the story I'm not going to follow through, you can look it up yourself at home, Acts 27 is the shipwreck and they all were saved, the people that is, and God eventually gets Paul to Rome. Just one more little quick place, I had in mind two places in the scriptures and the other one is in the Old Testament, the book of Genesis in chapter 27. So we'll go to chapter 27 of Genesis and there's a person there who is the hero, Old Testament personality and he's Abraham's servant. So can we go please to Genesis chapter 24 and verse, where will we pick it up, well in the middle of the episode, Genesis 24, the first part is Abraham getting old and calling in his servant, his name by the way is Eliezer, and we had a visitor to our church a few weeks back who called herself Elisa, not Brazilian Elisa, but this was a person who had Jewish background and spelled her name E-L-I-S-A, but she said it's a derivative of Eliezer, now I hope I've got the right person but I think Eliezer is the name of the servant, someone is sure to tell me if I'm wrong.

Anyway, the servant of the Lord is called in by his master and told to go and to get a wife for Isaac, that's the storyline, you might remember my sermon on it. And go up to the next slide on that down the verse here, and the servant said to Abraham as he delivered this request, perhaps the woman may not be willing to follow me to this land. Now here there's a question of somebody else's will, it's not Eliezer who's wondering whether this will work out if he didn't agree with God or something, he's going to obey God. What if the girl won't follow me? But I then, must I then take your son back to the land from which you came? Do I have to go and get Isaac and take him over there to make this happen because he's not willing? And Abraham said to him, see to it that you do not take my son back there. The Lord God of heaven who took me from my father's house and from the land of my kindred and who spoke to me and swore to me, to your offspring I will give this land, he will send his angel before you and you shall take a wife for my son from there, it's going to happen. Now God is saying it's going to happen because I've decided.

But notice the next bit, but if the woman is not willing to follow you, then you'll be free from this oath of mine, he's going to make the man swear by an oath he'll be obedient, only you must not take my son back there. And the whole question is left totally open if the girl says no I'm not travelling. So the servant put his hand under the thigh of Abraham his master, which was how they used to do things, maybe they could feel the pulse, the old man couldn't see too well but he'd know whether the servant was telling the truth, put your hand under the thigh of Abraham his master and swore to him concerning this matter. Then the servant took of his master's camels and departed, taking all sorts of choice gifts from his master and he rose and he went to Mesopotamia to the city of Nahor, which is the correct place to go, and he made the camels kneel.

Now notice first of all he's using his head, a knowledge of culture, he takes a lot of presents to give to the people, he's not going to turn up and say I'm taking this girl of yours whether you like it or not, he's going to go along and make friends of the family and give them gifts, talk about their relative connection, etc, he's using his head. And so there he is and he makes the camels kneel in the city and the kneeling is because they've come a long journey and it's time to give the poor animals some drinking water. And then he thinks about that circumstance that would fit into a prayer, a prayer he makes up to test whether or not God is in what he's hoping will now happen. Verse 14, let the young woman to whom I shall say, please let down your jar that I may drink and who shall say, drink, who shall say, drink and I will water your camels also. Let her be the one whom you have appointed for your servant Isaac. By this I shall know that you have shown steadfast love, chesed love that is, to my master. Now what he's actually doing here is he's inventing out of his own mind a test to see whether God is in this or not.

And so when you have faith and you're looking for guidance, sometimes it's quite appropriate that you think of a way to give God the opportunity to show that he's indeed in the whole deal. And so he makes up this test. Now you might think, oh, how likely was it that the girl would do that anyway? Well, if you knew how many much water camels drank, and there's a whole lot of them, what that girl was giving herself to do was a very big task of a lot of drawing up a water and pouring it out into the trough for all these camels that's come with this man that she's never met before.

So it is an unlikely thing, the test that he's inventing, and the least likely thing and the least not, you'd have to say it's not an easy thing for her to do it, you know, just for something to do on a hot Saturday afternoon or whatever it is. By this I shall know that you have shown steadfast love to my master. Before he'd finished speaking, behold, Rebecca, who was born to Bethuel, the son of Milcah, the wife of Nahor, Abraham's brother. So she's in the family line that Abraham had sent the servant to visit. Came out with a water jar on her shoulder and the young woman was very attractive in appearance. And the maiden whom no man had known. She's suitable for what God has in mind for Isaac. And keep on the next bit. And she drew for all of his camels.

And the man gazed at her in silence to learn whether the Lord had prospered his journey or not. And what you've heard from me, because this is a bit of a theme in my preaching, I know that true Christianity is experimental. It isn't all certainties. Sometimes you make a wrong estimate as to what you're meant to learn from God, and he has to correct you. One of the ways he corrects you is what you were supposing was going to happen doesn't happen. It's experimental. And we are not rescued by our spirituality from the fact that the life that we live in the body is a human life we have, is vulnerable to all sorts of forces and events that are in God's sovereignty. And you can't, because you're being spiritual and because you're being obedient, immunise yourself against something that might not be perfect and might not be pleasurable or may not even be good at all. The promise the Bible actually has is not that if you walk with him that everything will be good for you. The promise is that God can turn even the bad things to work. God makes all things work together for good.

He makes all things, including the bad things, to work together for good. And a part of our faith is to rest in what God does allow, even though we're in this scenario of having to find his will where we have a part to play in experimentally seeking to do something. In having a prayer life that sometimes asks God, Lord, if this is your will, would you show that? I'd be very happy if you showed it, and you might even suggest a way like Gideon did with the fleeces. And God can respond to those requests. I might add here he doesn't have to, and sometimes you can try all sorts of what you call Gideon's fleeces. That's when you seek to find the will of God by putting out a fleece. Metaphorically, I've been through that happening in my teenager life. I won't go into the details, but up the tower of the college where my dad worked, I went up to pray over something, and there were four possible choices to the request I was going to make. And of the four choices I wrote on a piece of paper, then I scrooged them up and threw them up into the air. And no, no, I left them on the floor up the top of the tower I was and asked the Lord to blow away the ones that were not his will. I thought I didn't answer quickly.

Well, the wind gave a puff and blew the lot away. And I kept screwing up pieces of paper, and God kept on blowing the lot away. I didn't know whether it was because I stupidly didn't understand how much wind blew up there all the time or whether he was chuckling at me thinking I was going to twist his arm to have to say something when he didn't want to say anything. You have to bow to God's sovereignty in those things. But sometimes he also answers, and very quickly. Sometimes he amazes you at what he can do in answer to prayer, and you leave that to him. You work walk with God, and you do it experimentally, and he will guide you one way or the other. And if he chooses to stay silent, Leighton Ford told me of how he went through a time when God shut up the heavens and wasn't saying anything to him. And he was in international ministry wanting the Lord to answer his prayers and getting no answers.

And he learned just to trust God knows what he's doing. And in this case, the fleece, it's not a fleece, but asking the girl to water the camels is going well. So he asks her, please tell me whose daughter you are, is there, you're in your father's house, can I stay there for the night? And she says yes. And she tells who she is and, and she adds, and we've plenty of both straw and fodder, and even your camels will be looked after. Now, he ends up saying, and look down there in verse 27, and they get him talking, and he makes a bit of a speech, and he says, as for me, the Lord has led me in the way to the house of my master's relatives, Kinsman. And he tells of wonder that he's having it, God led him to that house. And God must be that the young woman ran and told her mother all sorts of things. And eventually, she says that I'll get to the end of the story that they ask whether she will go or not. And she says she'll go. So that works out. And the end of the story is when she arrives back, where Isaac is in the fields, and he sees her coming. And she, they meet, and he takes her into his tent. And that's their marriage. And she becomes in the line of people that eventually brings the Messiah into the world. So God is doing his will, but it's packed full with human contributions to it.

So whatever you think about the sovereignty of God, don't have the picture that he acts and there's nothing you can do about it. You just live a normal life. And whatever happens is what God's will is. No, he calls us to participate, and to participate experimentally, and to trust that he is in charge, no matter what, and no matter whether you make the right discernment or whether you get off the track in your thinking, and he's going to turn you around. But he answered the prayers and the desires of Abraham, and the finish, Isaac was comforted after his mother's death. And, and the line of to eventually have the Messiah come into the world has been set up by what God did. Well, from these stories, and actually, the more I began to look around as to I've got several other stories I could pick on to illustrate, and we'd be here till a few more hours. But all through the Bible, you'll find the same truth that God's sovereignty is never thrown away. But nor is the fact that he's made us as creatures who can experiment with finding his will, and have an active part in that discernment. And there is the two sides to the whole issue.

I've got a new book. When it comes time for the tax returns to eventually have to come, I go and buy a lot of books. And one of them I've got is about the will of God, and this issue of the sovereignty of God, for a balanced view. And it says some of the same things I'm saying to you tonight. And it's a very big area of life, so don't run away from it. Explore the scriptures and find out for yourself whether what I've said to you is indeed how it is.

Let's bow and pray, let's pray. Heavenly Father, we give you thanks for the word of God, and that, Father, your spirit is the one that inspired it, that we can trust its accuracy. Yet, Lord, you did that with it not just being the word of God, but nothing to do with human contribution. It's also the word of man. How amazing. Actually, Lord, I think about it, Moses is recognized by Jesus as Moses' writings, yet at the same time, Jesus refers it to the word of God. To the word of God, and that it cannot be broken. Oh, Father, help us to cling to a very deep commitment to the truthfulness, the inerrancy, the inspiration, the wonder of the word of God. We pray this in Jesus' name, amen.

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