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Sovereignty 4

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Sovereignty 4.

Who still says “grace” before they eat their meal? [P] It may be considered old-fashioned and become just a habit – but it is a good one – acknowledging that all you have to eat is provided by God, thanking Him for what He faithfully and constantly gives in abundance. Our family always said grace and watch out if it was my Mum’s turn! Her long prayer meant that the meal got cold – so I had it reduced to the bare minimum: “Dear Lord Jesus, thank you for this good food. Amen!” then we could get down to the serious business of eating. But it is good to give thanks. Not only the meat but also the veges. [Psalm 145:15-18 The eyes of all look hopefully to You, and You give them their food in due time, opening Your hand, and satisfying the desire of every living creature. יהוה is righteous in all His ways, and loyal in all His works. יהוה is near to all who call on Him, to all who call on Him in truth.] Saying Grace is acknowledging the reality: that יהוה gives us our food; yes, the meat, but also the veges. And that is what I want to talk about today: the veges! I have been looking at the sovereignty of God. And we saw His sovereignty over inanimate things; [P] יהוה controlling events as easily as we direct streams of water. We looked at events on earth; air, land and sea; but also יהוה’s control over things outside this planet, the celestial order in its vastness but also His control over the miniscule detail, down to seemingly random events. But I limited it to things without life, without a life and a will of their own. Now let’s turn to living things. The Bible says: [John 1:4 In Him was life, and the life was the light of humanity. Acts 3:15 You killed the Originator of life, whom God raised from the dead, of which we are witnesses!] He made life, all life came from and originated with Him – so is it surprising that He controls it, does with it whatever He wants?! But let’s not get carried away, let’s limit ourselves to vegetation, to what the Bible says about plants – they still don’t have a lot of free-will to override. So let’s look at plants – I don’t know whether you have got green fingers? Some people can make things grow, with others it is a disaster. It seems as if how well your garden grows depends upon your gardening skill. We determine how well things grow – or do we? [Genesis 1:11-13 And God said, “Let the earth produce green plants that will bear seed—fruit trees bearing fruit in which there is seed—according to its kind, on the earth.” And it was so. And the earth brought forth green plants bearing seed according to its kind, and trees bearing fruit in which there was seed according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. And there was evening and there was morning, a third day.] God made each kind of plant [P] – and what He made was good. He was pleased with what He had made. It suited the purpose for which He had designed it. He made different “kinds” – He repeats “each according to its kind” – He emphasizes that – it is important. He made each to be a specific way and separate and distinct from others. He was particular about keeping things distinct – and His people under the old covenant were not even allowed to sow different kinds of seed in the same paddock. Now, we were never under those old covenant rules – but they do reveal God’s heart in preserving the separate kinds that He made – what He thinks of our cavalier sticking bits of genetic material from totally different organisms into another, I hate to think! He gave man dominion; but I fear we have arrogantly interfered with יהוה’s sovereign creating according to kind. We like to blur the distinctions and mix things together, lump things together but God separates and makes distinct – according to His sovereign will. That is a big part of the creative process – I have been doing some jigsaw puzzles: you empty the box and have this mess of pieces. I separate all the blue sky pieces and put them in a honey pottle, then I put the green piece in another. Then I join the like pieces together – you separate, then bring together in order. Bring order out of the chaos. That is what God did at creation – it was formless and void and He separated: light from dark, water from water, land from water. Then He brought together in order – He created. If you make something then it is yours to with as you decide. And that is exactly what God does. Just as we saw with inanimate matter – He uses living things for His purpose and has absolute control over them. So do my green-fingers cause the plants to grow? [Psalm 147:7 Sing to יהוה with thanksgiving; sing praises to our God with lyre, who covers the heavens with clouds, who provides rain for the earth, who causes grass to grow on the mountains.] יהוה causes the grass to grow. [P] Jesus was teaching a spiritual principle but He drew it from a fact that is patently obvious: [Mark 4:26-27 And He said, “The kingdom of God is like this: like a man scatters seed on the ground. And he sleeps and gets up, night and day, and the seed sprouts and grows—he does not know how. ] It grows by itself. I haven’t a clue what biochemical processes are going on when I sow a seed; I just stick it in the ground, I don’t do anything that makes it grow. We boast about our fine gardens – but who makes them grow?! [1 Corinthians 3:6-7 I planted, Apollos watered, but God was causing it to grow. So then, neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but God who is causing it to grow. ] Again, Paul is talking of spiritual things, but he draws the analogy from the evident fact that it is God who causes the plants to grow, not us and our green fingers. Jesus said: [Matthew 6:28-30 And why are you anxious about clothing? Observe the lilies of the field, how they grow: they do not toil or spin, but I say to you that not even Solomon in all his glory was dressed like one of these. But if God dresses the grass of the field in this way, although it is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will He not do so much more for you, you of little faith?] Who dresses the grass of the field? God does! It doesn’t just happen – God is involved in the every-day process of plants growing, even mundane grass. One of the original purpose of vegetation was to provide food [P] [Genesis 1:29-30 And God said, “Look—I am giving to you every plant that bears seed which is on the face of the whole earth, and every kind of tree that bears fruit. They shall be yours as food.” And to every kind of animal of the earth and to every bird of heaven, and to everything that moves upon the earth in which there is life I am giving every green plant as food.” And it was so.] So it is יהוה who causes the plants to grow in order to provide food for the creatures He made: [Psalm 147:14 He makes your border peaceful; He satisfies you with the finest of wheat.] We may grizzle about the silver-beet – but all our food comes from God, it is His goodness, His blessing. There are those who deny God, those who hate Him – but still He provides them with food every day. God is good, His love endures forever! [Psalm 65:9-13 You care for the land and water it; You greatly enrich it. The stream of God is filled with waters. You provide their grain, for so you have established it. You drench its furrows, penetrating its ridges. With rains You soften it; its growth You bless. You crown the year with Your bounty, and your wagon paths drip with richness. The pasturelands put on flocks, and the valleys clothe themselves with grain.] Our food comes from God – the food we eat, it is the blessing of God! [Psalm 104:14-17 You are the One who causes grass to grow for the cattle and herbs for the service of humankind, to bring forth food from the earth, and wine that makes glad the heart of man, so that their faces shine from oil, and bread that strengthens the heart of man. The trees of יהוה drink their fill, the cedars of Lebanon that He planted, where birds make their nest. Psalm 104:27 They all wait for You to give them their food at the proper time.] And in the New Testament, Paul preaching in Lystra said: [Acts 14:17 And yet He did not leave Himself without witness by doing good, giving you rain from heaven and fruitful seasons, satisfying you with food and your hearts with gladness.”] All the food we eat comes from His supply – He GIVES it freely and abundantly, so it good to return thanks. That is why we say “grace”. It is good to acknowledge the Source. Some churches have harvest festivals with the purpose of giving thanks and acknowledging God’s provision. You bring the veges you have grown to church – unfortunately instead of glorifying God, it tends to become more of a glorifying of man by showing off your prize marrow. Here is a well-know harvest hymn: [P]

We plough the fields and scatter
The good seed on the land,
But it is fed and watered
By God's almighty hand:
He sends the snow in winter,
The warmth to swell the grain,
The breezes and the sunshine,
And soft, refreshing rain.

Refrain: [P]
All good gifts around us
Are sent from heaven above;
Then thank the Lord,
O thank the Lord,
For all His love.

He only is the Maker
Of all things near and far;
He paints the wayside flower,
He lights the evening star;
The winds and waves obey Him,
By Him the birds are fed;
Much more to us, His children,
He gives our daily bread.

We thank thee then, O Father,
For all things bright and good,
The seed time and the harvest,
Our life, our health, our food.
Accept the gifts we offer
For all Thy love imparts,
And what Thou most desirest,
Our humble, thankful hearts.

Israel was an agricultural society – they depended on יהוה’s sovereign control in causing plants to grow – it was a matter of faith. It had practical ramifications – every seventh year you were not to plant anything, it was a year of rest, “Shemita”. Were you going to trust יהוה’s sovereign control over plants growth to provide for you in that year that you didn’t plant anything? God causes all the growth that we see around us – it happens all the time so we take it for granted and regard it as ordinary – but יהוה is sovereign, not only is He causing that ordinary supply – He is sovereign and steps in in supernatural supply. When He led His people out of slavery in Egypt through the Sinai wilderness, He provided food for the best part of 2 million people [P] – supernaturally, every day – manna came down from heaven. [Deuteronomy 8:3 “He humbled you and let you be hungry, and fed you with manna which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that He might make you understand that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by everything that proceeds out of the mouth of the יהוה.] Not only did יהוה provide them with food – but they were meant to draw a lesson from His sovereign control over that material supply. HE WAS SPEAKING through His sovereign control – I want to develop this point in a few minutes. But God’s sovereignty has implications which we are meant to take note of. If we regard things as just happening, just photosynthesis, natural processes; then we are going to miss what He is saying. [P] FAILURE TO ACKNOWLEDGE יהוה’S SOVEREIGNTY PREVENTS YOU HEARING HIS VOICE! You don’t think that He is controlling everything, so how can He be using it to speak?! I fear our great failing is: to see יהוה in EVERYTHING! But before we look at this I want to give a couple of examples of יהוה’s specific and absolute control over vegetation [P]. The first is from a favourite book of mine: the book of Jonah. You know the story, how eventually Jonah did what יהוה told him to and went and preached to the great city of Nineveh. His preaching may have been reluctant but it was mighty successful! They all repented and God, in His mercy; spared them. But Jonah wasn’t happy; he didn’t want his arch enemy spared from יהוה’s judgement. So ….  [Jonah 4:5-6 Jonah went out from the city and sat down east of the city, and he made for himself a shelter there. And he sat under it in the shade, waiting to see what would happen with the city.  (but it wasn’t a very effective shelter, so יהוה had pity on him …) And יהוה God appointed a plant, and He made it grow up over Jonah to be a shade over his head, to save him from his discomfort. And Jonah was very glad about the plant.]  “יהוה appointed …” “He made it grow …” – it was יהוה’s doing! There was no plant, now there was one. The sun was already hot, that’s why Jonah made a shelter – now, very rapidly, before the sun reached its zenith and Jonah got heatstroke, a gourd plant grew and was large enough to provide shade for Jonah. Instantaneous growth! יהוה is sovereign; He can make a plant grow extremely rapidly. When Jesus fed the 5,000 He not only instantaneously produced wheat, it was ground to flour, and processed into bread! He is sovereign, He can cause life to come, and He can just as quickly take it away – as we see in the second case – it is in the life of Jesus: [Matthew 21:18-20 Now early in the morning, as He was returning to the city, He was hungry. And seeing a single fig tree by the road, He went to it and found nothing on it except leaves only. And He said to it, “May there be no more fruit from you forever, and the fig tree withered at once. And when they saw it, the disciples were astonished, saying, “How did the fig tree wither at once?”] I spray Roundup on the weeds – it is a week before you notice any effect. There was a healthy tree covered in leaves, Jesus spoke the word and it withered at once. Jesus had sovereign control over the life of that tree. Now was Jesus just miffed and taking out His frustration because He couldn’t get any figs to eat? Mark tells us that it wasn’t even the season for figs. No, we recognize, that Jesus’ action had a message, had an underlying significance – Israel was the fig tree and it did not produce the fruit that God sought – it was symbolic of the curse that was coming upon that wicked and adulterous generation. He was speaking a message through His sovereignty over plants. [P] Is God limited to speaking only through His Word, through the Scriptures? Is that the only channel that we allow Him to speak to us through? What about those who don’t read His Word, who reject Him? Is He able to speak to them, get their attention? Will we allow Him to do that?!!! Israel was an agricultural society – their economy depended on things growing – and to a large extent the same is still true of New Zealand today. If you hit their crops, it hurt – it got their attention. If you wanted to bless them you gave them a good harvest. Our communication is not limited to words – if Hannah does well at school, we are likely to stop in at the dairy on the way home. The jelly alligator communicates: “You have done well, I am pleased with you.” – but I haven’t said a word.  And יהוה’s communication is not confined to words either. [Deuteronomy 28:1-2 “And it will happen that if you indeed listen to the voice of יהוה your God, to diligently observe all His commandments that I am commanding you today, then יהוה your God will set you above all the nations of the earth. And all of these blessings shall come upon you, and they shall have an effect on you if you listen to the voice of יהוה your God: ] Deuteronomy 28 is a long chapter it has many specific blessings for listening and obeying. When יהוה is pleased, He blesses [P] – here is a selection: [Deuteronomy 28:2-5 You will be blessed in the field……. Blessed will be the fruit of your ground............. Blessed will be your basket and your kneading trough. Deuteronomy 28:8 יהוה will command concerning you the blessing to be in your barns and in all your endeavours; and He will bless you in the land that יהוה your God is giving to you.] It was “blessing” – the favour of God – on crops, not fertilizer that made it productive. He was controlling how their fields produced. [Leviticus 26:3-5 If you walk in My statutes and you keep My commands and you do them, then I will give you rains in their time, and the land shall give its produce, and the trees of the field shall give their fruit. And for you the threshing season shall overtake the grape harvest, and the grape harvest shall overtake the sowing, and you shall eat your food to your fill and you shall live securely in your land.] יהוה was in control of what the land produced and would make it a blessing, favour their agricultural endeavours if they listened and obeyed Him But if they didn’t Deuteronomy 28 goes on to list curses that יהוה Himself would bring upon them. He is sovereign – He can bless or He can curse, [P] give life or take it – He is in control. [Deuteronomy 28:15 And then if you do not listen to the voice of יהוה your God by diligently observing all of His commandments and His statutes that I am commanding you today, then all of these curses shall come upon you, and they shall overtake you: Deuteronomy 28:17-18 Your basket shall be cursed and your kneading trough. The fruit of your womb shall be cursed and the fruit of your ground. Deuteronomy 28:33 A people that you do not know shall consume the harvest of your land and all your labour, Deuteronomy 28:38-40 You shall carry out much seed to the field, but you shall gather little produce, for the locust shall devour it. You shall plant vineyards and you shall dress them, but you shall not drink wine and you shall not gather grapes, for the worm shall eat it. There shall be olive trees for you in all of your territory, but you shall not anoint yourself, for your olives shall drop off. Deuteronomy 28:42 The cricket shall take possession of all your trees and the fruit of your ground. Deuteronomy 28:51 And it shall consume the fruit of your livestock and the fruit of your ground until you are destroyed, and who will not leave for you any grain, wine, and olive oil, calves of your herds, and lambs of your flock until it has destroyed you.] There was a blight on agriculture when they turned from God. If they rejected יהוה and His covenant then He said: [Leviticus 26:16 I in turn will do this to you: then I will summon onto you horror; and you shall sow your seed in vain, and your enemies shall eat it. Leviticus 26:20 And your land shall not give its produce, and the land’s trees shall not give their fruit. Leviticus 26:26 At My breaking the supply of bread for you, then ten women shall bake your bread in one oven, and they shall return your bread by weight; and you shall eat it, and you shall not be satisfied.] A curse, a lack – it was all under יהוה’s control. There was either blessing or curse, life or death – both came from יהוה and it affected the productivity of their fields because He was in sovereign control of the plants that grew in them. It was not their green-fingers, but יהוה. He was using the productivity of the land to show His pleasure or displeasure. Now we are not under the old covenant but it does imply that God controlled the growth of their crops depending upon their attitude to Him. He is in control. When יהוה struck Egypt it says: [Psalm 105:16 Then He called for a famine upon the land; He broke every supply of bread. Psalm 105:33 And He struck their vines and fig trees, and shattered the trees of their territory.] It was יהוה who did it! He is in sovereign control over agriculture. So what if God’s people turn away from Him and יהוה sends a curse – is that the end? No, there is a way of restoration. [P] This is what Solomon prayed at the dedication of the temple: [2 Chronicles 6:28-31 “If there is a famine in the land; if there is disease, blight, mildew, locust, and caterpillar; …., then any prayer, any plea that is made by any person and by all your people Israel, each one who knows his own affliction and his own anguish and who spreads out his hands to this house, then may You Yourself hear from the heavens, Your dwelling place, and forgive and give to each according to all his ways, since You alone know the heart of the children of humankind, that they may fear You and walk in Your ways all the days that they are alive upon the face of the land that You have given to our ancestors.] And יהוה answered and answered that prayer: [2 Chronicles 7:13-14 When I hold back the heavens so that there is not rain, and when I command the locust to devour the earth, and if I send disease among My people, then if My people who are called by My Name will humble themselves and will pray and will seek My face and will turn from their evil ways, then I Myself shall hear from the heavens and will forgive their sins and heal their land.] Restoration is possible. The One who is sovereign, who withheld His favour, can turn the curse into a blessing – He is in control of the plants and how they grow. He uses that sovereign control over them to speak to His people. יהוה controls plant life, and speaks through it if we have ears to hear – for instance: [Psalm 90:5-6 You sweep them away like a flood. They fall asleep. In the morning they are like grass that sprouts anew. In the morning it blossoms and sprouts anew; by evening it withers and dries up.]  The transience of man is like grass. Look how many parables Jesus took from the field of agriculture, the way plants grew. God can speak through His sovereign control over plants. Can He today? [P] I fear that we make ourselves immune from hearing God speak today! I mean if there is a bad harvest, it is not the end of the world; we will just import what we need from overseas. But we are an agricultural nation, our economy still depends on what the land produces – and God is in control of it. Last year there was a drought – dry Canterbury was sending feed to the North Island! – it was estimated to have cost the country billions! But do we take notice? No, the farmers just plead for Government aid to help them out. It is just a natural phenomenon, global warming, increased CO2 – never is there any consideration that God might be trying to express His displeasure. My parents live on the edge of Tauranga – when I first went up there they were surrounded by Kiwifruit orchards. The Bay of Plenty is the centre of Kiwifruit production – and it is a big export earner. Suddenly a disease hits the Kiwifruit orchards – PSA – it wipes out up to 90% of the golden kiwifruit harvest! Do we consider that God may be speaking, trying to get our attention? No, we look to confining the disease, quarantining orchards, spraying, eradication. It is because we are taken up with mechanistic causes rather than prime cause. New Zealanders don’t read God’s Word, how then is He to speak to them? Do you think that He uses His sovereign control to get our attention? But do we listen?! What does He have to do to get our attention?! Short of speaking audibly what more could He be doing?! But we just get taken up with dealing with the consequences rather than dealing with the underlying cause. No one stops to ask: “Why?” No one pauses to consider their ways: [Haggai 1:5-11 And so then, thus says יהוה of armies: ‘Consider your ways! You have sown much but have harvested little. You have eaten without being satisfied; you have drunk without being satiated.’ Thus says יהוה of armies: ‘Consider your ways! You have looked for much, and look! It came to little; and when you brought it home, I blew it away. Why?’ declares יהוה of armies. ‘Because My house is desolate and you are running each to your own house! Therefore, because of you the heavens have withheld the dew and the earth has withheld its produce. I have called for a drought on the land and the hills, on the grain, the new wine, the olive oil, on what the soil produces, on human beings and wild animals, and on all their labour.] They were chasing their own comfort and life, and neglecting God. How much time do I spend on my own house compared with then time spent on יהוה’s? We are doing a fair amount of repairing and rebuilding in Christchurch – does the house of God, the temple of the Holy Spirit need a bit of repair – and I am not talking about the back hall! [1 Peter 2:5 And you yourselves, as living stones, are being built up as a spiritual house.] – a temple where God Himself dwells – are there any cracks in the masonry, or are we perfect already? As to our nation: do you think passing a law legalizing same sex marriage is pleasing to God? (and that is just a recent example). Is He right and just to try and get our attention through His sovereign control? [P] [Psalm 105:7 He is יהוה our God; his judgments are in all the earth.] Or are we going to close our ears to what He is saying by refusing to acknowledge His sovereignty?

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