Congregation of the Lord Jesus Christ,
The question before us with Lord’s Day 8 was Is the doctrine of the Trinity practical?
• We noted that it is essential to know God as One God in three persons.
• To know the promises of God, you must know the God of the promises – He is one God; Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
But our question was is this really any use to us as we go about living as a Christian? Does it make a difference to day-to-day Christian living?
And our answer was a categorical Yes! with a capital letter and an exclamation mark!
We used the illustration of MARRIAGE to demonstrate that knowing a person in a relationship demands intimate communion. And so, because the Christian lives in relationship with God; Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, there must be an intimate union and communion between yourself and the three persons of the Trinity.
Well, we really only touched on what that looks like last time but there is much more that can be said. And so, as the Heidelberg Catechism now moves on to a consideration of the person and work of each member of the Trinity in these next several Lord’s Days, our overarching theme will be COMMUNING WITH OUR TRIUNE GOD. And we begin this mini series, if you will, as we consider WHAT IT MEANS TO COMMUNE WITH OUR FATHER IN HEAVEN.
And we do this today in the light of the story of Joseph. Our text is Romans 8:28, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose.” But we see that this is so and how this is so from the Life of Joseph. So we begin by briefly rehearsing the events of the life of Joseph. We will then consider two passages that help us understand the life of Joseph. And we will finish by considering what all this means for us in terms of communion with our Father in heaven.
So first of all, the INCREDIBLE STORY of Joseph.
1. Now, my guess is that many of you boys and girls could probably come up here and give us a pretty good summary of the story of Joseph. It is a story we learn early and one we like because it is such a powerful story, full of emotion and colour and intrigue. It has incredible twists and turns. But we are going to take the story of Joseph, back to front.
a. Where did Joseph end up in life? He was second in command to Pharaoh!
i. Have a look with me at Genesis 41:41. You will remember that Pharaoh had a dream about 7 skinny cows eating 7 fat cows, right? And no one could interpret it for him except Joseph. So after Joseph explained Pharaoh’s dream, Pharaoh said, “I hereby put you in charge of the whole land of Egypt.” He “took his signet ring and put in on Joseph’s finger. He dressed him in robes of fine linen and put a gold-chain around his neck. He had him ride in a chariot as his second-in-command and men shouted before him, ‘Make way!’ Thus he put him in charge of the whole land of Egypt.
ii. Now, how would you like to be second in command in the land? Putting it into today’s context – An iphone` 6 with John Key’s personal cell-phone number. An Armani suit or a Dior gown! Throw in some Michael Hill Bling and a top of the line, chauffer driven BMW 7 series and free national and international flights and bodyguards! That was Joseph’s life. And we all say, oh, yes please. I’d like a life like that!
iii. But do you remember HOW JOSEPH GOT THERE?
A. When Pharaoh had is dream, where was Joseph? In prison. Why? Because he had been falsely accused by Potiphar’s wife of assaulting her, when in actual fact his behaviour was blameless. That’s chapter 39.
B. And Joseph was in prison two years longer than he should have been because having helped Pharaoh’s cup-bearer get out of prison, the cup-bearer forgot his promise to help Joseph get out of prison. That’s chapter 40.
C. But as a good Jewish lad, why was Joseph in Potiphar’s house in the first place? Because he was sold into slavery by his brothers. At first they had stuck him in a hole in the ground, planning to kill him. But then they changed their minds and decided to at least make some money from him. And why did his brothers do this? Because they hated him and his dreams. What a lonely childhood that must have been. That’s chapter 37.
iv. Congregation, the downward spiral of Joseph’s life that led to prison was the start of his rise to the top in Egypt. Is this how you would choose to become second in the land? No.
Nevertheless, that is the INCREDIBLE STORY of Joseph. So let us now consider the INSIGHTFUL SUMMARY of Joseph.
1. You will recall that severe famine came to that part of the world, just as Joseph foretold. And Joseph’s family suffered also from the famine. But because of Joseph’s careful management of food, Egypt was the place to go to get food. So Joseph once again comes into contact with his brothers. But they don’t recognize him. But finally, the time comes when Joseph reveals himself.
a. So turn with me to CH. 45. Let’s read from there (Read vv1-9 especially noting vv5-8). And there is a parallel to these words in CH. 50, which is some time later and after Jacob has died (read vv15-21 especially noting v20). So what Joseph tells his brothers and all who read these words is that behind all the circumstances of the believer’s life is the hand of his or her Father in heaven who is working for his or her good (repeat).
i. To be sure, we know that Joseph’s brothers sold him into slavery in Egypt. They are responsible for that. But as Joseph said in 45:8, “It was not you who sent me here, but God.” And in 50:20? “You intended it for harm, but God intended it for good.”
ii. Joseph knew and believed what we read in our text, “We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him.”
iii. And because of the incredible story of Joseph, and the life of Job, as another example, and things that Jesus taught in the Gospels, and Romans 8:28, the Catechism says, “All things, in fact, come to us not by chance but from His fatherly hand,” and “He will turn to my good whatever adversity He sends me in this sad world.”
iv. Some of you will be familiar with the name of RICHARD WURMBRAND. He was a prisoner for Christ in Romania when it was a communist country. After his release, he began the organization called Voice of the Martyrs, which seeks to inform the church about persecution around the world. Well, he composed a great number of sermons while he was in prison and later wrote them down. In one of them, he wrote this: A legend says that Moses once sat near a well in meditation. A traveller stopped to drink from the well and when he did so his wallet fell from his pocket into the sand. The man departed. Shortly afterwards another man passed near the well, saw the wallet and picked it up. Later a third man stopped to assuage his thirst and went to sleep in the shadow of the well. Meanwhile, the first man had discovered that his wallet was missing and assuming that he must have lost it at the well, returned, awoke the sleeper (who of course knew nothing) and demanded his money back. An argument followed, and irate, the first man killed the latter. So Moses said to God, “You see, therefore men do not believe you. There is too much evil and injustice in the world. Why should the first man have lost his wallet and then become a murderer? Why should the second have gotten a wallet full of money without having worked for it? And the third was completely innocent. Why was he murdered?” God answered, “For once and only once, I will give you an explanation. I cannot do it at every step. The first man was a thief’s son. The wallet contained money stolen by his father from the father of the second man, who finding the wallet only found what was due him. The third was a murderer whose crime had never been revealed but who there received from the first the punishment he deserved. In the future believe that there is sense and righteousness in what transpires even when you do not understand.”
2. Now congregation, as we return now to Romans 8:28, the story of Joseph and this ‘legend’ are not suggesting that “GOOD” means that if you are poor now, you will get rich later, for example, or that every injustice will be put right on earth. The “good” spoken of in Romans 8:28 is actually explained in the next verse: “For those God foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of His Son.” God may bring physical blessing out of hardships, God may follow a particular trial with a particular blessing, but He may not. What will happen is that His children through any and all circumstances will become more like His Son, Jesus. And that is good!
a. You see, very often, what we experience will not feel good. In fact, there may be incredible pain and distress and upset and turmoil. But did you notice how v28 begins? “We KNOW”! It might not feel good, but we KNOW that in all things [our Father] works for the good of those who love Him.”
And so, having considered the INCREDIBLE STORY of Joseph and the INSIGHTFUL SUMMARY of Joseph, we come, lastly, to the INTIMATE SERMON for us.
1. What does all of this mean for us in terms of communing with God as our heavenly Father? Well, in ROMANS 8, look back at v14, “Those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by Him we cry, “Abba, Father.””
a. As Q/A 26 puts it, “The eternal Father of our Lord Jesus Christ … is my God and Father because of Christ His Son.” The Father loves Jesus, His Son, and He has joined you to Jesus by way of your election and by what Jesus did on the cross to secure your salvation.
i. Listen to EPHESIANS 1:3-6, “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing IN CHRIST. For He chose us IN HIM before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in His sight. In love He predestined us to be adopted as his sons THROUGH JESUS CHRIST, in accordance with His pleasure and will– to the praise of His glorious grace, which he has freely given us IN THE ONE HE LOVES.”
ii. Because of Jesus, you are a son of God!
iii. And because you are a son of God, He will provide whatever you need for body and soul and “He will turn to [your] good whatever adversity He sends you in this sad world.”
2. So YOUR PRAYERS AND YOUR SONGS SHOULD BE ADDRESSED TO YOUR FATHER IN HEAVEN. You have so much to be thankful for. And it all comes to you from Him.
a. Q/A 27 of the catechism includes a list – leaf and blade, rain and drought, food and drink, etc. So brothers and sisters, young people and boys and girls, you could pray, “Father in heaven, thank you for all your blessings.” That’s a good place to start. But over time your prayers should grow to naming each and every blessing.
i. One hymn puts it this way:
When upon life’s billows you are tempest-tossed,
When you are discouraged, thinking all is lost,
Count your many blessings, name them one by one,
And it will surprise you what the Lord has done.
1) As a devotional aid, it is well worthwhile taking some paper and writing a list of the blessings of a day and then praying them to the Father in thankfulness.
ii. But remember that it is not only every physical blessing that comes to you from your Father in heaven, but every SPIRITUAL blessing comes to you from your Father in heaven.
A. Ephesians 1:6, “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing.”
B. Now let me get really detailed here and say that what is meant here is that the Father is the SOURCE of every spiritual blessing. And here is why I say that. It is not the Father, you see, who died on the cross. That was Jesus. But I have heard many people, perhaps unintentionally, begin their prayers with Father in heaven, and say later in the prayer, thank you for dying on the cross, and then end their prayers with in your name I pray, Amen. That is a confused prayer. It ought to be something like, Father in heaven … thank you for giving up your Son to die for my sins … in Jesus’ name, I pray. Amen.
C. And likewise, it is not the Father who has come to live in us to help us understand the Bible. That is the Holy Spirit. So we might pray something like, Father in heaven, thank you for sending your Spirit to live in me and to help me know you and your Son.
D. Your Father in heaven is the source of every spiritual blessing.
iii. And if you are wondering how you go about thanking God for every spiritual blessing? Well, we have mentioned Ephesians 1 a few times. It provides a long list of our spiritual blessings. And as you read Ephesians 1, you can formulate a list of those blessings and pray a prayer of thanksgiving to your Father in heaven for each of them – election, adoption, the forgiveness of sins, grace, wisdom and understanding, and the gift of the Holy Spirit. And this can be done throughout Scripture.
iv. And as you search the scriptures in this way, looking for blessings that you may thank your Father in heaven for, you will make AN ASTONISHING DISCOVERY. You will see that the Father is characterized by His LOVING nature. Indeed, John Owen says this is the great discovery of the gospel!
A. For outside of Christ, God is a only and always a God of great wrath.
B. But you know the words of John 3:16 – “For God so loved the world that He gave us His only begotten Son.”
C. Ephesians 1:5, “In love He predestined us to be adopted as His sons.”
D. And do you remember the words of the Trinitarian benediction we often use at the close of our services? “May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God the Father, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.”
E. And our Romans reading ended with v39: What can nothing separate us from, according to that verse? Nothing will be “able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
F. Don’t you just want to open your Bible and explore the love of your Father in heaven so you can pray and sing it back to Him?
So you commune with your Father in heaven as you read the Bible and learn more of the blessings He gives to you, and then the height and length and width and breadth of those blessings, and also as you see something of the love that is the origin of all of those blessings.
And this is what led the hymn-writer to pen these words:
Great is Thy faithfulness, O God my Father;
There is no shadow of turning with Thee;
Thou changest not, Thy compassions, they fail not;
As Thou hast been, Thou forever will be.
Great is Thy faithfulness! Great is Thy faithfulness!
Morning by morning new mercies I see.
All I have needed Thy hand hath provided;
Great is Thy faithfulness, Lord, unto me!
And the more we come to know this God as our Father, the more patient we will be when things go against us and the more confident we will be that nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus. This is the joy of communion with your heavenly Father!