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Let me pray for us. Now, our Father, we come to Your Word this morning and we pray that You would give us ears that we may hear from You. I pray that Your Word would go forth with conviction and with power. Men and women, and boys and girls, may hear from You and their lives may begin to be transformed from one degree of glory to the next. I pray Your special attendance upon this morning. Pour out Your Holy Spirit. We pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.
First, let me tell you what an extraordinary privilege it is for me, personally, to be with you. It was a very kind reception that you gave to us a few moments ago. I stand before you a humbled man, profoundly grateful for this congregation. You have loved my family and me and in only four years in ways that no pastor should be loved, and I thank you for your kindness towards us.
If your visiting with us this morning, you’ve been hearing that today is my final Sunday with this beloved congregation. The reasons for my departure are delightful and very positive. You heard Pastor Kevin’s comments on the church down at Surfside, Surfside Presbyterian Church being something of a sister congregation to our own, albeit somewhat smaller. The church was planted by one of our former senior pastors here, one of the members of the search committee, that’s how we do things in the Presbyterian world. We have search committees, we have committees for everything, and among them is search committees to bring pastors in, and one of the members of that search committee, as a former member of Christ Covenant, one of the elders of the church is a former of Christ Covenant, that’s just to name a few. So the relationships and the connections are deep and strong and abiding.
One of the things that we like best about this move is that we are not going far. Only three hours. For a Californian, three hours is just a drive across town, you know. [laughter] So for us it feels like nothing. For most of you, as you come to visit us, you’ll find it to be an easy drive. And we’ve got lots of reasons to be up here in Charlotte with some regularity, so sometimes we say this is not goodbye, it’s a farewell, and in some ways I’m not even sure this qualifies as a farewell. Maybe, maybe a see ya later, maybe see ya sooner.
Nevertheless, we’re going to the beach, and you’re all welcome to come. [laughter]. Maybe not all on the same day, but, you can come if you bring your boat. That’s the rule. If you want to come and see us. We used to have a tradition in our home, on New Year’s Day, we’d open our home for all the members of the church to come, and our single rule was if you come, you’ve got to bring a soup with you. We once had a young man that came and he thought I was kidding and he showed up in my home, a single guy at the time, and he did not have any soup with him, I wouldn’t let him in the house. I said go to store and get soup and then come back. So, if you want to some see us, you’re welcome, but if you don’t bring your boat, go back and get one [laughter] and then come.
Now on to more important matters. Would you open in your Bibles this morning to Proverbs and to chapter 21. Generally speaking, I can tell to the minute how long my sermons will be based on how much I write. I can tell you exactly how much I have planned for. We’re likely to go a little bit longer, but there’s nothing anyone can do about that. [laughter] Can’t fire me. [laughter]
I’ll be reading the first couple of verses of Proverbs 21. I really want us to focus, however, on the implications of verse 1. Proverbs 21.
“The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the Lord; He turns it wherever he wills. Every way of a man is right in his own eyes, but the Lord weighs the heart. To do righteousness and justice is more acceptable to the Lord than sacrifice.”
The Proverbs are a unique book of the Bible, because unlike almost every other book, the Proverbs, their primary function is principial in nature and is loaded with godly advice. If you were to Google, you won’t do it now because you’re in church and we don’t get online when we’re in church, right? But if you were to Google the word “proverb,” what does it mean, you would find proverb defined something like a saying that is generally regarded as an embodiment of something true. That’s what a proverb is. So now if we narrow that in a little bit, in the world of biblical studies, the Proverbs have been described as a collection of sayings and instructions for living a useful and effective life before the Lord.
That’s a good way for us to think about the book of Proverbs. These are divinely inspired maxims that embody the truth of God. Some of the Proverbs are easy and they’re joyful and they’re sweet and they’re tender to our hearts and our consciences. Some of the Proverbs are hard and they are, they are directed and biting, not in an ungodly way, of course, it is after all the Word of God. But they are, they are direct and they are piercing, may be a better way to put that.
I have a topical index of the Proverbs that I was thumbing through. I went back to my office this morning and was going to go back and look again and confirm some things, and I found that all my books are, you know, my Proverbs books are box #347 or something, so I, I couldn’t look up what I’d hoped to do, but there’s an index of the Proverbs that I have and I noticed that there are Proverbs of some number about the fool, Proverbs about the fool and his folly, those are some of the hard ones. There’s Proverbs about kindness, and there’s Proverbs about business, as we’ve been hearing, and practices of economics, and there’s Proverbs about the family, and there’s just about everything in between.
You may have noticed that while I was reading the text of Proverbs 21 how this text centers on the idea of the goodness of God’s sovereignty. The goodness of God’s sovereignty. That’s the theme. You’ve been noticing the theme from, from the reading of our call to worship to Pastor Derek’s pastoral prayer, the theme this morning of the goodness of God’s hand, or the goodness of God’s providence.
Our text, Proverbs 21, contains something of a book end. There are places in the Bible, especially the Old Testament, where there is a text that begins and ends with the same thing, this book end. Psalm 8 is a famous one of those. “O Lord, O Lord, how majestic is Your name in all the earth.” It begins and it ends with this book end. In this case, Proverbs 21 begins and ends with the same thought, with the rule and the reign of God over all things. You might consider that to be the first and most important aspect of Proverbs 21, because if you look down at verse 30, “No wisdom, no understanding, no counsel can prevail against the Lord. The horse is made ready for the day of battle, but the victory belongs to the Lord.”
Even what appears to be the most powerful thing on earth, the army, and the horses arrayed for battle. The only thing more powerful to the ancient mind. Remember, a fundamental rule or principal of understanding the Bible properly is to understand how a text was to be read and understand by those original readers. For these original readers in the ancient days, few things are more powerful and can strike more fear into the heart of man than an army that is arrayed for battle with all of their muscle and all of their might, but chief among them is the horse made ready for the day of battle. The only thing more powerful on the earth to the ancients than the army made ready for battle is the will of the king. This is what strikes fear in the hearts of people, the wrath of a king. We can read in the book of Esther, among other places, and see that firsthand.
History is full of such things. I’m a student of history. Among the things that I love about looking at history, the world’s history, most especially American history, is to see, particularly in the earlier days of our republic, the hand of God behind the movement of different people and the hand of God behind how certain ideas changed and turned people. And when you expand that idea to look at a history, some of you will think history is terribly boring. I regret that; I wish you would never think that again. Because you simply must see the hand of God that is behind all the events of the world’s history. It’s terribly exciting to see this. Nothing in my estimation will so extol the greatness of God’s sovereign care and providence than seeing His hand behind the world’s events. As a student of history, I’m always looking for this.
Do you know what the 30 years’ war was? Some of you think “I think I remember reading that in tenth grade or something.” 30 years’ war. It was reaching its end right about the time the Westminster Assembly was finishing its work. 30 years’ war was fought primarily over the control of central Europe, middle portion-ish of the 17th century. Do you know how all that war began? It began with a despotic ruler by the name of Rudolf II, he was the king of Bohemia and Germany and a few other modern day nations, and his tyrannical ways are marked in history by their brutality. Every non-Catholic under Rudolf’s reign is immediately to be put to death in a brutal fashion. The will of the king striking fear in central Europe. He burned all Protestant churches because he had absolutely no interest in religious freedom. An iron fist, that’s how he ruled. You can see the hand of God here, turning the will of the king, because though Rudolf ruled with an iron fist, that began to cause a revolt, and that revolt weakened his kingdoms, and because Rudolf’s kingdoms are weakened, this leads to something known as the Ottoman invasion and that is what sets the stage very famously for the spread of the Reformation throughout all of Europe, and especially central Europe.
When you begin to look at the world’s affairs, let’s zoom the camera out a little bit, away from ourself for a moment, and look at God’s dealing in all the world’s affairs, you begin to see how it is, in every little piece of the puzzle, God’s invisible hand is always behind it, turning the will of the king according to His own perfect and providential sovereignty. History is full of rulers who had the power to change the course of history, but the heart of the king is like a stream in the hands of God.
Our Proverb begins and ends with a declaration of the goodness of God’s sovereignty. And do you know something? Let’s zoom that camera now back. Your life, the totality of your life, begins and ends with the goodness of God’s sovereignty. Your life, your family, your children, your grandchildren, your career, your future, your salvation, your perseverance, begins and ends with the goodness of God’s sovereignty. There are no mistakes. There are no surprises in the eternal wisdom of God.
The king’s heart is in the hands of the Lord, verse 1. Verse 30: “No wisdom, no understanding, no counsel can avail against the Lord. The horse is made ready for battle, but the victory always belongs to the Lord.” Nothing can threaten the goodness of God’s sovereignty.
I wonder how many of us live our lives in that context. I wonder how many of us interact with the events of our life in that context, that nothing can threaten the goodness of God’s sovereignty.
I grew up, as most of you know, some of you know, in southern California. It was earthquake central. Now these last two weeks have seen another run of earthquakes. Maybe you’ve seen the pictures of the openings of the ground, these big chasms that have opened up in the desert floor where the earthquakes tore in to the earth. They are astonishing pictures. Maybe some of you have seen the pictures of people climbing down into the cracks, those crazy Californians. We wish they’d all fall in there. [laughter]
One of the famous earthquakes to hit the southland was the North Ridge quake in 1994. I was visiting a friend at his house, his parents’ house, just as the place erupted, and I can recall his mother’s fine china and crystal falling off of her shelves just as I walked into their living room. I was almost heroic, because as they began to fall, I began to catch them, you know, like those cartoons when stuff falls and they’re catching stuff on their feet and their hands and on their head. And I had a few crystal things in my hand as I tried to keep my balance, and then soon the whole thing collapsed and shattered at my feet. I was standing in a pool of shattered crystal.
It’s something of a picture of life otherwise the living God. Always on the edge of shatter. My friends, there is nothing that can shake the authority of God. There’s nothing that can shake the authority of God. God’s authority is never threatened by man or machine. His sovereignty is never endangered by unexpected things, like bad blood tests, or fearsome phone calls from an oncologist. God’s authority is never threatened by the untimely closing of a business, or a merger that leaves you out. The language of verse 1, “the heart of the king is a stream of water in the hands of the Lord, He turns it wherever He wills.” God’s good sovereignty.
This idea of streams of water in the hands of the Lord, turning it wherever He wills. This would have conjured up something very definite for the original readers of this. It’s very earthy, it’s very boots on ground, it’s farming language. Some of you are from arid areas like I am and it’s the same now as it was then. When a farmer brings water into his field in an arid area, especially, you dig a ditch or a canal of sorts, and you move water and the water could feed from certain directions and then he’s able to move that water from this field to that field through a system of hatches and side canals. That’s the imagery here. Turning the water. As a matter of fact, the language that’s used here is a very common Hebrew word called “natah,” it means “to turn.” God turns the king’s heart wherever He wills, like you turn the water in the stream.
But when it’s deployed in a certain way like it is in our text, it also carries the idea of influence, or inclining, or even to thrust aside. The picture is that God is the active agent. God is always the active agent, always turning, always inclining the world’s affairs for His own purposes, and always according to the counsel of His own will. He doesn’t always promise you understanding for the complex questions of this life, but he does always promise goodness in His providential care. And that’s how verse 1 reads. “The Lord inclines the king’s heart to do His will.”
Lots of implications of this; we’ll get to them in just a few minutes, but one implication of Proverbs 21:1 is that we should pray for the Lord to incline the hearts of the world’s rulers and the influencers to do the will of God.
When’s the last time you prayed for the world’s influential people? That God would incline their will, or incline their heart, to do God’s will.
Christians have always understood the world this way. Christians have always understood the world as according to God’s sovereign and providential and good care. Pastor Kevin mentioned that there are lots of things that he and I share in common, lots of things that this entire pastoral staff share in common, humor among them. One of the things that Kevin and I share is a love for early American history.
Pastor Kevin is something of an expert in somebody named John Witherspoon. There’s really two phases of Witherspoon’s life; Scotland phase and American phase. On May 17, 1776, note that date. It’s May, it’s 1776. Big things are about to happen in the summer of 1776. July the 4th is coming. Six weeks after John Witherspoon preached a sermon that is undoubtedly to be marked as one of the most important sermons ever preached on American soil, he signed his name to the Declaration of Independence, risking hanging and so forth as a treasonous offender. And he dedicated a sermon that day to his friend John Hancock. Hancock was the president of Congress at the time, leader of the Continental Congress at the time, and he had called for a day of fasting, and Witherspoon at that time was unquestionably the most important Presbyterian of the colonies, so when he preached, people came, and they listened, and they learned. They wanted to know what the Scripture had to say about a world that felt very uncertain. They wanted to know what the Scripture had to say and how they should respond to a world that felt like it was threatening, with a dark abyss just around the corner. It feels very much like our world in some ways, doesn’t it?
And so Witherspoon preached. At that time he was the president of what became Princeton. This was the training ground for ministers and statesmen. And here is how he began his most famous sermon. Bear with me as I read two paragraphs.
“There is not a greater evidence either of the reality or the power of religion, than a firm belief in God’s universal presence, and a constant attention to the influence and operation of His providence. It is by this means that the Christian may be said, in the emphatical scripture language, ‘to walk with God, and to endure as seeing Him who is invisible.’ The doctrine of divine providence is very full and complete in the sacred oracles. It extends not only to things which we may think of great moment, and therefore worthy of notice, but God’s providence always extends to the most indifferent and inconsiderable things of this life.”
You’re standing on the edge of the world’s history. You’re standing on the edge of the next phase of your life, and it appears to you as an abyss. I’ve lost my job, I’ve lost my spouse, I’ve lost my children, I’ve lost my reputation. It appears to you to be an abyss. The doctrine of divine providence is very full and complete, and extends not only to great things, but also to the things that seem most indifferent and most inconsiderable.
I’ve endured my own storms over the years, difficult things, and I know how it goes when the adrenaline runs out, and that’s when God’s hand seems most invisible to us. But that is also when God’s hand is most surely beneath us.
So let me conclude this morning with three implications of Proverbs 21:1 and then if you’d allow me a few moments for personal remark.
Implication #1: There is nothing in this life that determines the future or your experience of it except for the providence of God. Do you believe that? There is nothing in this life that determines the future or your experience of it except for the providence of God.
We might think of the infant church and the boat in Mark chapter 4. Leaving the crowd, they took Jesus along with them in the boat, just as He was, and the other boats were with them, and there arose a fierce gale of wind. The waves were breaking over the boat so much that the boat was already filling up, and Jesus Himself was in the stern asleep in the cushion. And they woke Him and said “Teacher, do You not care that we are perishing?” That’s a question not far from many of us, I’m afraid. And He got up and rebuked the wind, said to the sea “hush, be still” and the wind died down and it became perfectly calm, and He said to them “Why are you afraid? How is that you have no faith?” and they became very much afraid, and said to one another “Who is this that even the wind and the seas obey Him?”
There is nothing in this life that determines the future or your experience of it except the invisible hand and the providential care of God.
Second implication: No power of hell nor scheme of man shall ever pluck me from His hand. No power of hell, no scheme of man, can ever threaten God’s prerogative.
We live in troubled times just now, don’t we? There’s almost nothing in our culture that honors or respects God and His Word as was the case in the previous day. And that causes great confusion for a great number of Christians. And I don’t care what political party you affiliate with, your politician will not usher in the kingdom of God, but nor will your political opponent threaten God’s prerogative, because all things are in the hands of the Lord at all times. Our trust for the future must always reside in the pages of Scripture.
Third implication: Proverbs 21:1 always leads to Psalm 11:4, “The Lord is in His holy temple, the Lord’s throne is in heaven, His eyes see, His eyelids test the children of man.”
The key word here is “in.” The Lord is in His holy temple. There is no thing that can threaten God’s good sovereignty. As our beloved church at Christ Covenant continues to move into the future that God has graciously and kindly ordained, let our hope be anchored in the sure knowledge that the Lord remains in His holy temple, with His eye on the children of man.
Let me turn the page on those remarks, and if you’ll indulge me a few minutes, before we turn to the Lord’s Supper, my last time to celebrate communion with you as one of your pastors. Almost exactly four years ago, exactly 20 years ago Anna and I got engaged. We were in France. I’ve got one up on all of you; I got engaged on Bastille Day in the French Riviera. And almost exactly four years ago I said goodbye to my church in California. I had been their pastor for almost 13 years at that time. And I arrived here to serve this role to a warm and lovely, friendly and earnest congregation, and you have brought me and my family great joy. And I want to take a moment to say thank you. Our first Sunday, we sat right back over there. The pastor at the time asked us to stand and we stood and you gave us a warm greeting, and this morning you had your own bookend by arising and giving Anna and me and our children a warm send-off. And I must tell you that when I first came to this church, I could never have imagined the joy that your pastors have brought me. I’ve had the good fortune to travel to different parts, different quarters of the PCA, and I want you to know that the pastoral staff of this church is a rare gift. It is a rare gift to a local congregation. I say this as I am no longer one of them, so I’m not included in this. Your pastors are each uniquely gifted, highly gifted, and they are a rare gift to me personally. And as we go from this place, I will take a piece of each of them with me. Kevin and Bernie, Bruce, Stewart, Mike, Dave, Zach, Derek, Nathan… That’s a lot of pastors for one church, and that is a force to be reckoned with as God builds His church, and I will take a piece of each of you, brothers, with me. You brothers are a treasure to me. May God richly bless your continued ministry among my friends at Christ Covenant Church.
Let’s pray together. Our Father, we have once again had a short bit of time to remember afresh the goodness of Your sovereignty. O Lord, you have been with us, You have gone before us, You have given to us the kindness of Your Word, and now I pray our Father, that You would so minister to this congregation that Christ will be made much of and He will be highly exalted. I thank you for the privilege of serving here, loving these people and being loved well, and for these dear men, with whom I’ve had the privilege to serve. We ask your favor to be with them all, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.