“Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. It was Mary who anointed the Lord with ointment and wiped his feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was ill. So the sisters sent to him, saying, ‘Lord, he whom you love is ill.’ But when Jesus heard it he said, ‘This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.’”
There was a book that was written about a decade ago titled Your God is Too Small. It is a good question we can ask ourselves from time to time, how big is your God? In one way or another I think we have all been guilty of shrinking God or making him into our own image. Dr. Packer called this the age of the god shrinkers. God complains in his word in Psalm 50:21, “You thought I was just like you.”
To help fight against that perverse tendency that is in our hearts and resist a world that is always seeking to downsize God, one of the great doctrines in the Bible that we need to continually sink our minds and hearts into by way of meditation, prayer and thanksgiving is the doctrine of divine providence. I have been recommending the book by Dr. John Piper titled, Providence. I think it will be a classic, similar to Dr. Packer’s book, Knowing God. It is interesting that Dr. Piper wrote this at the back end of his life as it captures his most mature thinking about God. When you hear that word providence, we have to realize that we don’t find that word in our Bible; like the word trinity is not found in our Bible but we know that the New Testament is full of Trinitarian words or concepts. The doctrine of providence is found throughout the Bible, it is recognized historically; it has a place in our own London Confession, the 1689, the Westminster Larger Catechism, the Westminster Confession of Faith, the Heidelberg Catechism and the Belgic confession. They all give due allowance for this doctrine of divine providence. Dr. Piper states it as God’s powerful, purposeful, pervasive sovereignty at work. Pervasive means it covers everything; powerful means only God can do this; and purposeful tells us that God does it for a purpose, it is not without rhyme or reason.
What makes the doctrine so wonderful is that it puts God on display, it’s about God’s glory. Why does God cause the grass to grow? Why does God feed the birds of the air? Why does God cause the sun to rise and shine every day? Why does God put food on our tables and clothes on our backs and give us jobs, children, wives, husbands and friends? Every good gift comes from above, from divine providence. But also all of the negatives, all of the trials of life. Why does God appoint a whale to swallow Jonah? Why did God’s providence bring Jesus to the gravesite where he weeps because of his friend Lazarus who is dead? Again, listen to the words of Jesus as he captures the purpose here, “This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.’” Again Dr. Piper says, “The great and last end of God’s works in creation, salvation and providence is for His glory. Pick up that word glory when you think of creation. Psalm 19 and Revelation 4 talks about God’s glory manifested by the things he has made. When it comes to salvation, Ephesians 1, that great chapter on salvation has that little phrase, “the praise of His glory.” That is captured three times in that great chapter on salvation and the same is true of providence. Everything is done for his glory, that is the ultimate design.
Listen to the Westminster Confession of Faith that states it beautifully, “The great creator of all things does uphold, direct, dispose and govern all creatures, all actions and all things from the greatest even to the least by his most wise and holy providence, according to his infallible knowledge and the free immutable counsel of his own will to the praise of the glory of his wisdom, power, justice, goodness and mercy.” Isn’t that wonderful?
Why are we here tonight? We are here to worship God and to glorify him. Let’s realize afresh just how big he is. All the answers to our prayers are part of his providential dealings. He answers our prayers for our good, but the ultimate purpose is for his glory.