The Encourager

The Encourager

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God's Mysterious Ways

Sunday, January 17, 2021

God’s Mysterious Ways

by Jeff Curtis

 

According to the first chapter of Ezra, in about 538 BC, the Persian king Cyrus the Great issued the order that allowed the Jews to return to their own land after they had spent several years in Babylonian captivity. What can we learn about God and His dealings with man from the events of Ezra chapter 1?

 

God’s Power is Sovereign. Cyrus issued the proclamation that the Jews to return home, but God caused him to do so. This is made clear in the text: “The Lord stirred the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, so that he sent a proclamation throughout all his kingdom” (1:1). Isaiah had predicted that God would use Cyrus to bring His people home, calling the ruler by name almost two hundred years before Cyrus began his rule (Isaiah 44:28-5:5).

 

God used Cyrus for His purposes. Did Cyrus know that he was being used by God? Probably not. Even though Cyrus used the personal name of God (“the Lord,” or “Yahweh”;1:2) when he said that the Lord had given him success, he was probably following the customs of his day by referring to the God of Israel as if He were the only God.

 

Today, Christians can take comfort in knowing that even when evil seems to reign on the earth, God rules over the rulers and allows them to rule only because it suits His purposes. In the end, God is sovereign, His cause will triumph.

 

God Keeps His Promises. The text says that Cyrus allowed the Jews to return “in order to fulfill the word of the Lord by the mouth of Jeremiah” (1:1; Jer. 29:10). God had promised to bring His people back from captivity in seventy years, and He kept that promise.

 

This, of course, is a constant characteristic of God. “The promise of the Lord proves true” (2Sam. 22:31; 2Peter 3:9). God kept His promise to Abraham even though twenty-five years passed between the time He made the promise and the time that the promised son Isaac was born. God kept His promise to bring Israel into Canaan, in spite of Israel’s sins. In the same way, we can be sure that God will keep His promises now and in the future.

 

God accomplishes His purposes. In the case of Cyrus and the Jews, God’s purpose required that the Jews return to their own land. This emphasizes the connection between the land that God gave Israel and the promise to bring the Messiah into the world. When the Messiah came, the purpose was accomplished; therefore, from the New Testament times on, Israel has had no special God-given right to the “Holy Land.”

 

God works in the world through Providence. In Bible times, God sometimes worked in the world through miracles. Miracles were real. They were historical; they happened at certain times in definite places. However, even then God sometimes worked non-miraculously, or providentially.

 

God doesn’t work through miracles today (1Cor. 13:8-13), but He still works providentially. The best New Testament statement of that is found in Romans 8:28: “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.” With this assurance, Christians can believe that God works through people and events in this world to accomplish His purposes. He can work through sinful acts, malicious people, natural events, and apparently haphazard “chance” occurrences, as well as through the good deeds done by His people.

 

Conclusion. Ezra 1 teaches us several important truths about God: He has power over the kings of the world, He keeps His promises, He accomplishes His purposes, and He works through his providence. Knowing these truths, we can rest better at night, even when evil seems to be winning on every hand, even when the days are dismal. They know that behind the blackness of the hour stands the Almighty God, who will ultimately – as He did in Ezra’s day – triumph over the evil one, win the victory, and bring His people home.

God's Providence; Man's Hope

Sunday, January 10, 2021

God’s Providence, Man’s Hope

by Jeff Curtis

It’s tragic to lost hope. We have been with people when they lost hope that their health would improve, that a loved one would recover, that a mate would return. We have seen their shoulders slump, their faces sag, their eyes glaze over. When hope is all that keeps us going, it is devastating to conclude “There is nothing to hope for” (Job 6:11).

At one time, Paul had hoped to go to Rome (Acts 19:21; Romans 15:22-29), but that hope had been crushed. A few days after his arrival in Jerusalem, he had been attacked and then arrested. Now he was imprisoned, and the Jews continued to plot his death. It looked like a hopeless situation: If he stayed in prison, he had no ministry; If he were released, he would certainly be killed. His hope of reaching Rome was all but dead.

In Acts 23, we find the rebirth of Paul’s hope. He received reassurance that the Lord was in control of his life and that he would bear witness to Christ in Rome (v.11). A consideration of God’s providence in our lives will without a doubt enhance our hope as well. G.C. Brewer, a well-known gospel preacher from the past, was once asked, “Do you believe in the special providence of God?” He answered, “What other kind is there?”

Providence is God working through natural law rather than through the suspension of natural law, that is, through miracles. Someone has called providence “God’s hand in the glove of history.” In the story of Paul’s last visit to Jerusalem, we see God’s providence at work again and again. Was it merely coincidence that a Roman commander was immediately at hand to when Paul was mobbed in the temple court? Was it “lucky” that Paul escaped the Roman scourging because he was a Roman citizen? Did it “just happen” that the commander was a conscientious official who respected Paul’s rights as a citizen? Was it by chance that Paul’s nephew overheard the plot on his uncle’s life? No, our God is in control.

When we teach today that God doesn’t work miraculously today, we are often limiting God. However, those who believe that God can’t work unless He works through a miracle are the ones who limit God. Acts 23:12-35 doesn’t mention God once, nor does any miracle occur. However, the hand of God is apparent in all that takes place.

The fact that God is in control helped Paul keep his hope alive. Augustine said, “Trust the past to the mercy of God, the present to His love, and future to His providence.” From day to day, we may not be able to tell that God is at work in our lives, but we can rest assured that He is. Ed Wharton noted, “God’s providence in our lives is a book which like some languages can only be read backwards, and then only by Bible believers.” No what happens, trust in Him. Learn to say with the Psalmist, “You are my hope; O Lord God, You are my confidence…” (Psalm 71:5).

When night is the darkest and hope has almost vanished, the Lord can rekindle our hope. No, the Lord will not come to us in a vision with a promise that every dream will be realized. However, He gives us a message of courage, commendation, and confidence: His message of courage is “Wait for the Lord; be strong and let your heart take courage…” (Psalm 27:14). His message of commendation is “Well done, good and faithful servant” (Matthew 25:21; KJV). His message of confidence is “This is the confidence which we have before Him, that, if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us” (1John 5:14). Maybe not everything in our lives is right, but this is right: God loves us and cares for us and will cause all things in our lives “to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28).

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