The Goodness of God — Part Three
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The Goodness of God — Part Three

Nehemiah 9:16–37  (ID: 1741)

After Ezra led the people in reading the Law, they responded with a declaration of repentance and praise as they recounted God’s goodness. Alistair Begg explains that God’s people experience God’s goodness despite our disobedience, and His goodness toward us is sometimes demonstrated through His discipline. Like the Israelites, we are bent on rebellion and refuse to listen to His Word—but in His goodness, God does not forsake us.

Series Containing This Sermon

A Study in Nehemiah, Volume 2

God’s Word for Our Good Nehemiah 8:1–9:37 Series ID: 11602

Sermon Transcript: Print

Now I invite you to take your Bibles and turn to the Old Testament with me, to the book of Nehemiah, where in ninth chapter we continue our studies this morning.

Before we look at the Word of the Lord, let us turn to the Lord of the Word and ask for his help:

Dear heavenly Father, quite simply, we ask now that you will, by the Holy Spirit, quicken your Word, quicken my mind and words and our hearts, so that we may receive your Word with joy and understanding and that it may be applied, lived out, transforming in its influence. We seek you in these precious moments. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Last time, we began to look at this section of Scripture, which is largely a panorama of the history of Israel over a significant period of time, by suggesting that it contains for us a number of indications as to the goodness of God. And we pointed out that it was very possible for us to simply be involved in maintaining religious practices in an irreligious world without ever ourselves deepening in our knowledge and acquaintance of the Lord himself—in other words, that it is possible just to be going through the motions, simply to be attending, and yet not to be growing in any kind of intimate awareness of God himself.

And we said last time that this historical survey provides us with an insight into the goodness of God—if you like, provides us with the opportunity of learning from the past how we might live in the present. Learning from the past how to live in the present. That’s one of the great themes of Fiddler on the Roof—which is coming to Cleveland very soon, I note—where in the course of singing that great song, “Tradition,” the main character stops for a moment, then he says, “Tradition teaches us who we are and what God expects of us.”[1] And in the study of history, we discover who we are and what God expects of us and also, indeed, what God has done for us.

And we want to point out these four great statements concerning God’s goodness, the first of which we dealt with last time, noticing between verse 6 and 15 that God’s goodness is revealed in all that he has done. There is nothing that we experience that does not speak to us of his goodness. Even the difficult things, even the disappointments, even our confusion and our pain somehow or another attaches to the goodness of God. We noted that his goodness, being revealed in all that he has done, touches upon creation, and then upon election, and then upon redemption, and then upon his provision in the law for his people. That was all last Sunday.

Now, this morning I would like to try and make it through the remaining three statements. For those of you who have come expecting a very warm and cozy Mother’s Day message, I do give you my humble apologies, and I do want to invite you back this evening, when we will be sharing in a Mother’s Day message—and my colleague has prepared for that, and I know that you won’t want to miss it. It is going to be a wonderful time this evening, and we will be praying for you from high above the Atlantic Ocean and thinking of you. And I know you’ll want to be there.

But the reason that I want to stay with this is because I must and because we need to continue to learn these things. This is not some kind of special interest for a few people. Theology is not a piece of extraneous baggage that you keep up somewhere in an attic or in an old cupboard somewhere in the garage. It is fundamental to life. It is very, very important.

It struck me forcibly last evening, when I was buying a couple of books in a bookstore in Beachwood. And as I took them up to the counter to pay for them, the lady took them and looked at both of them. The first one was fairly thick, entitled Religion in an Age of Science. She put that quickly in a bag. And then the second one, a book by Peter Berger—whom you call “Burger,” and that’s okay—a sociologist, was subtitled [The Quest for Faith in an Age of Credulity]. [The Quest for Faith in an Age of Credulity]. And the lady took the book, and she looked at it, and she said, “Now that looks very interesting.” She’s a young woman. “I’m interested in this,” she said. “Well,” I said, “well, you would do well to read it.” She said, “I’m going to read it.” We didn’t have the opportunity to pursue the conversation. But it struck me so forcibly: here, in just a casual encounter in the midst of the day, there’s someone expressing an interest in the things of faith in a world that is increasingly incredulous.

Therefore, it is vitally important that God’s people know God’s book in order that they may reach into God’s world. And that is why we labor Sunday by Sunday to study the Bible, to understand the Bible, so that you may be equipped in meeting those people at the cash registers and in the corridors of life, to articulate your understanding of what it means that you worship and serve a God who is good.

God’s Goodness in the Face of Disobedience

Then notice the fact, secondly, as from last time, that God’s goodness is displayed in the face of disobedience. This comes out clearly from verse 16 and following. Speaking of “our forefathers,” we read they “became arrogant and stiff-necked”; they “did not obey your commands. They refused to listen … failed to remember the miracles you performed among them. They became stiff-necked and in their rebellion appointed a leader in order to return to their slavery.”

Now, the stiff-necked arrogance of the people of God is all the more striking against the backdrop of the preceding verses, where we have this record of God’s wonderful provision for his people. He provided for them physically and spiritually. His decrees and his commands were for their well-being. We noted from Deuteronomy 4 that God gave his regulations to his people “that it may go well with you and your children after you.”[2]

Theology is not a piece of extraneous baggage that you keep up somewhere in an attic or in an old cupboard somewhere in the garage. It is fundamental to life.

Now, despite the expression of God’s goodness—the result of which was that they lacked nothing, as you will see in verse 21: “For forty years you sustained them in the desert; they lacked nothing, their clothes did not wear out nor did their feet become swollen”—despite the fact that they lacked nothing, it is tragically true that they appreciated nothing. That’s what verse 17 says. God gave them all that they needed, more than ever they required—kept them, sustained them, supplied them, enabled them, secured them—and yet they were unappreciative.

Now, that sort of rings with a relevant note, doesn’t it, down through the corridors of time? After all, here we are today, sitting in this building, living evidences of the fact that God in his providence and in his grace has supplied our needs way and beyond all that we could ask or even imagine.[3] In comparison to huge chunks of the world, the lowliest member of this congregation is vast in their resources. And yet it is sadly possible for us, while lacking virtually nothing, to be like them in appreciating virtually nothing that we have. We live in one of the most malcontented, discontented generations, where the spirit of Marie Antoinette has gripped us, whereby nothing tastes anymore.

Now, how then can we summarize this disobedience that is manifested here? I tried to do so under what I referred to here as the four r’s. And I have four words beginning with r.

Their disobedience was made clear, first of all, in an obstinate refusal. You will notice verse 16 and then 17: “They refused to listen” to what was being said. Jeremiah 32 says, “They turned their backs to me and not their faces; though I taught them again and again, they would not listen.”[4] God sent his servants. He gave his prophets. He sent his judges. He spoke to his people again and again and again, and yet their response was an obstinate refusal.

Also, they were guilty of an incomplete remembrance. Not only did they refuse to listen—verse 17—but we’re also told that they “failed to remember the miracles you performed among them.” They were guilty of selective review. They were failing to recall the miracles that would have fueled their faith. “Well,” you say, “they surely didn’t forget, for example, the crossing of the Red Sea.” No, they didn’t forget that it took place; they forgot what it represented. Indeed, they chose not to remember all of that of which it spoke.

An obstinate refusal. An incomplete remembrance. Thirdly, an unwarranted rebellion. “They became stiff-necked and in their rebellion [they] appointed a leader in order to return to their slavery.” Turn back, if you want this set in historic context, to Deuteronomy chapter 1—the fifth book of the Old Testament. Deuteronomy 1:26. The picture is of the spies having returned. They searched out the promised land. They brought back their report. Ten of the fellows were not bringing an encouraging report. Joshua and Caleb had something different to say. They finally reported, at the end of verse 25, “It is a good land that the Lord our God is giving us.” And then we read these surprising words—verse 26:

But you were unwilling to go up; you rebelled against the command of the Lord your God. You grumbled in your tents and said, “The Lord hates us; so he brought us out of Egypt to deliver us into the hands of the Amorites to destroy us.”

An unwarranted rebellion and an ill-advised return. Numbers chapter 14 chronicles this in a quite graphic way. You just need to turn back one book. Same context:

That night all the people of the community raised their voices and wept aloud. [And] all the Israelites grumbled against Moses and Aaron, and the whole assembly said to them, “If only we had died in Egypt! Or in this desert! Why is the Lord bringing us to this land only to let us fall by the sword? Our wives and children will be taken as plunder. Wouldn’t it be better for us to go back to Egypt?” And they said to each other, “We should choose a leader and go back to Egypt.”[5]

Their disobedience, then, was expressed in their refusal, in their incomplete remembrance, in their unwarranted rebellion, and in their ill-advised return.

Psalm 106 parallels the ninth chapter of Nehemiah in many ways, and the psalmist puts it succinctly in a couple of phrases, from verse 25 and then from verse 43: “They grumbled in their tents and did not obey the Lord. … They were bent on rebellion and they wasted away in their sin.” You say, “Well, what possible relevance does this possibly have for a late twentieth-century dweller?” Well, let me put it in more common parlance: “They grumbled in their cars and did not obey the Lord. They chose to do their own thing, and sin ate them like a disease.” That’s it.

You see, don’t let’s be clever this morning and suggest that we don’t know what it is to be disobedient. In point of fact, if we run ourselves against the test of these four r’s, it’s a sorry spectacle in many of our lives. Because if we’re honest, the reason that it comes to us with such compelling issue is because we understand what it is to be disobedient. These words cut into my life. How about yours?

Some of us this morning are living in a spiritual slump. We don’t know why it is the Word of God no longer speaks to us with power. We’re no longer interested in service. It is a long time since we shared our faith meaningfully with someone. We no longer have a joyful anticipation of the worship of God’s people. We are not particularly delighted in fellowship. We are present, but we are not correct. We do not know the reason of our slump. And the fact of the matter is, loved ones, it may be as simple as this: that we are refusing to listen to what God says—not that we are refusing to attend when the Word is preached, not that we are missing our Sunday school class, not that we no longer attend our flock or are not involved with people, but we are present on the outside, and on the inside we’re in deep difficulty. In Hebrews chapter 4, the writer speaks of those who listen to the message, and he said it was “of no value”—“of no value to them”—because they refused to “combine it with faith.”[6]

You see, I don’t think people fully understand that it is possible to come to worship like this Sunday after Sunday after Sunday and walk out, and it’s “ONV.” I mean, you can just write it right across the front of your bulletin: “Of No Value.” It’s no surprise to me when people say, “Oh, I got nothing out of that.” That’s not a surprise! Nobody ever will, unless the listening to the Word of God is combined with faith. It must be seasoned by the very gifts and graces of God. Simply to come in and listen to a few songs, and sing every verse or two, and listen to a man talk, and walk out the door is really pretty futile. The only thing that gives it significance is to recognize that God speaks through his Word. “He speaks, and, listening to his voice,” says Wesley, “new life the dead receive, the [humble], broken hearts rejoice.”[7] Now, that’s not as a result of human manipulation. That’s not as a result of some kind of corporate chaos engendered from the front. That can only take place when the people of God listen to God. And a refusal to listen is directly related to By-Path Meadow in the Christian life. You read Pilgrim’s Progress again, you remember how they got themselves off the road on so many occasions.

What about the problem of incomplete remembrance? Beginning to convince ourselves that maybe our pre-Christian life was actually a little better than this—perhaps wanting to go back to some of our pre-Christian experience, forgetting what it was from which God saved us; phoning up some of those old acquaintances, not because we want to witness to them but because we want to go back to Egypt. What a perversity that God could redeem his people from the cries of Egypt; from their backs being open to the sun, blazing and burned; from the beatings of their oppressors; from all of the horrible nature of their condition—God redeems them from all of that, sets them out underneath the provision of the blood, opens up the Red Sea before them, takes them on their journey towards the promised land, and here they are, and they’re saying, “You know what? I don’t think Egypt was that bad.” The degree to which you’ve begun to believe that you don’t think your unregenerate state was that bad calls in question whether you are living in a regenerate state at all.

What about any of us wrestling with the spirit of rebellion? We’ve just become rebellious. We won’t submit to anyone now. We won’t submit to our parents; we cheek them back. We don’t submit to our teachers. We don’t submit to policemen. We don’t submit to anybody. Therefore, it’s no surprise that we don’t submit to God and to his Word. Incidentally, the way that I will manifest to you that I am not walking in obedience to God’s Word is not because I walk around saying to you, “I’m not obeying God’s Word.” It will be seen in my submission to the authority of others in my life.

Many of us this morning, I think, if we’re honest, are a wee bit like the boy who was driving with his mother in the car. She kept telling him to sit down. He was standing up on the front seat, and he refused. And she smacked him on the bottom, sat him down on the seat, and through his tears, with a spirit of rebellion, he said, “I may be sitting down on the outside, but I am standing up on the inside.”

And you see, that is sadly possible. The people around us won’t know. The pastors don’t know. The leaders don’t know, necessarily. It will become apparent. Our husband and wife may be concealed from it for a time, but it will become apparent. If we are standing up on the inside in rebellion to God, all of our externals will eventually be shown to be what they actually are: a sham. Surely none of us would consider an ill-advised return as did these people. “We are not,” says the writer to the Hebrews, “those who shrink back and are destroyed.” We are those who go on and “are saved.”[8]

So you get the picture, then. The disobedience of the people of God is revealed to us in their obstinate refusal and in their incomplete remembrance and so on. But that’s not the point. The point is that God’s goodness is revealed in the face of that disobedience. Look at what we’re told: “You are a forgiving God,” verse 17b, “gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love.”

Now, if you underline in your Bible, there’s a good one for you—17: “You[’re] a forgiving God, gracious … compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love. Therefore you did not desert them.” This is an amazing truth! On account of God’s goodness, he didn’t do what we might have expected him to do. What? Desert them! Verse 17: “You did not desert them.”

Now, dads, let me speak to you for just a moment. You got a bunch of kids in your car, or in your van, or whatever form of conveyance you have—some of your own and a few extraneous—and for whatever reason, you’ve got to make a journey somewhere. And you stop for lunch, and they have lunch, and you drive about a hundred yards, and they want another meal. You say, “Well, didn’t we just have a meal?” They say, “Yeah, but it wasn’t a good enough meal. We need another meal.” “Okay, fine. Well, in another while we’ll try for another meal.” And someone says, “I want a milkshake.” And then someone takes the milkshake and hits the guy across from him with the milkshake straw. And before you know where you are, you have total pandemonium as you look in your rearview mirror. It’s as though there are demons in the back of the van, all formed up, just ugly and disgusting looking. They’re perfectly normal kids. And it crosses your mind; you say, “You know, maybe I could drive somewhere really remote, park this thing, and if somebody could get me out of there, I could just close it up, leave ’em! Leave them—forever!”

Now, for those of you who’ve never felt that way, you can’t relate to this illustration. And I want to hear from you, ’cause I don’t know how not to feel that way. But you think about God. He redeems these people from Egypt. They don’t deserve that. They don’t deserve anything! Gets them out, provides for them, gives them manna, gives them water. Now they don’t like manna. Now they don’t like the water. Now they want quail. Now they want something else. Now they like the leaders. Now they don’t like the leaders. And this is a wonderful verse: “Therefore you did not desert them.” He didn’t do what we might have expected. “You did[n’t] abandon them,” he says in verse 19. “Because of your great compassion you did not abandon them.”

Now, loved ones, listen to this. This is the wonderful part of it all! Don’t you know what it is to be disobedient? Don’t you know what it is to refuse to listen, to be incomplete in your remembrance, to be resistant? And yet here we are this morning. How come? Does it never make you wonder? Since the proneness of my heart is to wander, is to leave, is to never return, is to walk out of the door and keep walking somedays, wouldn’t God be justified in saying, “Walk on, Begg; I’m tired of you”? But he hasn’t done that. Why? Because he is gracious and compassionate and abounding in mercy, and he forgives our sins.

You may be here this morning, and you are aware of the fact that in your life, in the last week or ten days or two months, you have blotted your copybook dreadfully. And the word of the Evil One is to say to you, “You may as well chuck it for good. You have made such a hash of things, there’s no future for you.” And it is a great lie, for the Word of God says to you this morning, “God’s goodness is manifested, is displayed, even in the face of our disobedience.”

So he did not do what we might have expected, and he did what we would least expect. We’re told he gave them his Spirit “to instruct them”—verse 20. He gave them all they needed to sustain them. And he gave them—verse 24 and 25—victory to encourage them. Isn’t that what God has done for us as his children? He’s given us his Spirit to instruct us. He has provided for all of our needs. He’s given us victory in Christ over sin and death and hell. And well we might do as did they—namely, verse 25, revel “in your great goodness”: “They ate to the full and were well-nourished; they reveled in your great goodness.”

I was recalling the little song that we sometimes sing that begins,

He gave me beauty for ashes,
The oil of joy for mourning,
The garment of praise
For the spirit of heaviness.[9]

That’s how God treats us—not in the way our sins deserve. If he kept a record of our sins, none of us could stand.[10] And so out of the ashes of my life and my rebellion and my chaos and my wandering, he grants beauty. He gives to me praise. When I feel myself most down and discouraged, he picks me up.

“Well,” you say to yourself, “there’s a wonderful truth. And surely when it dawned on the people of God, they must have said, ‘Enough of this naughtiness. Enough of this disobedience. We’re done with that!’” Well, you don’t really think that, do you? ’Cause think how many Sundays you said, “Enough of this naughtiness, enough of this disobedience,” and you were done with it. And then it came Sunday lunchtime. Sunday morning, we’ve got it all sorted out: “We’re going to be as close to perfect as we can this week, Lord. Just want you to know in these final moments, at the end of the worship, we’re on track.” Lunchtime: “Lord, things are not going well so far.” Sunday evening, nine o’clock: “Lord, just checking in again with you. It hasn’t been so swift since lunchtime either.” Tuesday afternoon, you’re driving in your car: “Lord, how is it that I can make such a devil of a mess of this with such consistency? If you were not a gracious, good, compassionate, forgiving God, I’d be in deep trouble.”

That is not to say that because God’s grace abounds, sin will much more abound, and we’ll go out and sin like crazy to show how forgiving God is. That is perversity. But rather, it is this: when we come face-to-face with who we are and then understand that in relationship to who God is, it puts us back on our feet, it puts a smile on our face, and sets us on our way.

Now, the fact of the matter is that despite the fact that they were reveling in God’s goodness, verse 26 says that “they were disobedient and rebelled against you; they put your law behind their backs. They killed your prophets, who had admonished them in order to turn them back to you; they committed awful blasphemies.”

Now, let me just step out of this for a moment and make a social comment, if I may. This, verse 26, relates to the people of God, right? The people of God are those who are placed in Christ for all time. Therefore, it is not a word about a culture or about a society. That’s not what it’s saying. But having said that that’s not what it is saying, it does say something with particular relevance to where we’re living our lives in the late twentieth-century America. Listen: “They were disobedient and rebelled against you; they put your law behind their backs. They killed your prophets, who had admonished them in order to turn them back to you; they committed awful blasphemies.” If that isn’t a sad and salutary statement concerning contemporary American culture, I don’t know what is.

Did you see the sign in the Body Shop these weeks? That’s B-o-d-y Shop, where you get all those soaps and everything that nobody touches the animals to get, and nobody does anything naughty to the dolphins. That’s fine. That’s okay. We understood that last week. We are the custodians of God’s creative order. But you see, the great flaw in that Body Shop thing is emblazoned on two dirty great posters that are right there in Beachwood Mall. I’m happy to talk to that English lady who developed the company about how it is to treat the creative order in a correct fashion. Because “the earth is the Lord’s, and the fulness thereof,”[11] right? But straight in the window is the statement “God cannot be everywhere, so she sent us mothers.”

You see the schizophrenia? They’ll slay you if you touch a dolphin, but don’t go in that store and suggest that it is a violation, a blasphemy of the nature of God and his dealings with man to call in question his omnipresence. For God is everywhere, and it is on account of his unbelievable mercy that he does not take that kind of blasphemous rebellion and simply just cast it into oblivion. He said that he would never flood the world again[12]—but he could flood a nation! That wouldn’t violate his promise. And the only reason that we’re able to continue in this dreadful, rebellious condition is because of his goodness. He is long-suffering, “not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.”[13]

God’s Goodness in the Exercise of Discipline

That’s why, you see, thirdly, that God’s goodness is established in the exercise of discipline. It is established in the exercise of discipline. You see, things change here. Verse 27: they did all these things, “so you handed them over to their enemies, who oppressed them.”

God’s goodness is displayed in discipline.

Now, this is a real difficult one for us to swallow today. We live in such an indisciplined generation that it’s increasingly difficult to equate goodness with discipline rather than to accept the popular notion of our time—namely, that goodness and discipline cannot cohabitate. So we live with the notion, “If you loved me, you’d allow me to do what I want. You would allow me to run through Singapore with a can of spray paint and spray up any car that I saw in the street. You would then make it possible for me, in one of the greatest hoopla events in Western culture, to try and avoid the punishment that is due me.”

Irrespective of what we feel about getting your bottom smacked four times with a cane or not, the fact of the matter is, loved ones, that we are living in such unbelievable confusion in our generation that men and women have divorced any idea of punitive punishment from the fact of goodness—so that any exercise of discipline on the part of a mother, on Mother’s Day, is actually child abuse. No, it’s not! It is the exercise of discipline, which God ordained. “Spare the rod and spoil the child.”[14] But not in our culture!

See why it’s so important that you understand theology? ’Cause otherwise, I’ll tell you something: the “Save the whale” people, they’ll tie you up in knots. They’ll eat you for lunch. If all you can drivel out is “Well, I’m a born again Christian; I trust in Jesus,” people will say, “Shut up with that stuff! That doesn’t even mean a thing to me.” And it doesn’t! Simply to recite and recite and recite does not engage the mind of secular man. The reason I purchased the book Religion in an Age of Science, which is 280 pages of stuff that I don’t know if I’m bright enough to read, is to respond to a question from one of my neighbors who began to read the book. It’s not going to be enough for me to say, “Oh, I don’t read those kind of books. I just read the Bible.” They say, “Well, fine. I don’t want to talk about the Bible. I want to talk about Religion in an Age of Science. I want to talk about the nature of discipline.” “Okay, well, let’s talk about discipline. Discipline is an expression of God’s goodness when he manifests it amongst his people.”

Our time is going. You’ll let me run it through for you. Verse 27, notice the cycle: he disciplined them, they cried, he showed his mercy. “Okay, we’ve got it now.” Sorry, no. Verse 28: “As soon as they were at rest, they again did what was evil in your sight.”

You ever get yourself in that cycle? “Lord, I’m never going to do this again. I want to thank you for your forgiveness and everything, and I’m never going to do this again. Now I’m feeling really forgiven. Maybe I’ll do it again just once.” So we go from verse 27 into verse 28: “As soon as they were at rest, they again did what was evil in your sight. [So you brought discipline upon them again.] They cried out … again,” and “you delivered them”—verse [28]. And so you go through the whole issue. But the key to it is in verse 31: despite the fact that “they paid no attention” and that “you handed them over to neighboring peoples … in your great mercy you did not put an end to them or abandon them”—why?—“for you are a gracious and merciful God.”

We can read of God’s grace and mercy in the discipline of his children in the Old Testament as well as in the New, and nowhere in the New more clearly or helpfully than in Hebrews 12. As the writer says, “‘My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son.’ Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons.”[15] You see how warped our world is, that it can’t understand this? God’s goodness is displayed in discipline.

God’s Goodness in the Confession of His People

And finally, in verse 32 and following, God’s goodness is proclaimed in the confession of his people. Notice in verse 32: “Now therefore, O our God”—he is personal to them—“great, [and] mighty and awesome God…” He is powerful. He is a covenant-keeping God. And so the people come to him and say, “We thank you that you are personal to us, that you are powerful in the display of your might, and you are a promise-keeping God.” I wonder this morning if we have come to those kind of convictions, able to make confession of God in this way in our own lives.

You see, these people recognized that while they were enjoying a measure of his provision, verses 36 and 37 make it clear that they were not where they wanted to be. He said, “We[’re] slaves today, slaves in the land you gave our forefathers …. Because of our sins, its abundant harvest goes to the kings you[’ve] placed over us. They rule over our bodies and our cattle as they please. We are in great distress.” They were looking forward to a day when they would finally move into the great provision of God. And indeed, they were looking to a day that has never yet been established and a day that is still to come. For the fact is that even when we’re at our best, even when we know the best of God’s goodness, the abundance of our harvests go to “kings you have placed over us. They [make rules] over our bodies and our cattle [just] as they please.” And actually, there’s a sense in which we’re “in great distress.”

The world we know is the world the way man has spoiled it, not the way the world as God created it.

Think about it. The culture in which we live is a sad and sorry mess. Millions of babies aborted every year. Rape commonplace. Murder on every hand. There are more murders, loved ones, in the city of Cleveland in one year than in the whole of Northern Ireland, which is continually held up as the paradigm of violence and hate. There are more murders in Cleveland than in the whole of that country in one year. That doesn’t make it any better or worse. I’m just pointing it out.

So how, then, are we to live? If God is good, why is it like this? Because the world we know is the world the way man has spoiled it, not the way the world as God created it. And so as Christians, we embrace his goodness in the now, and we look forward to a day when the lion will lie down with the lamb.[16] We look forward to a day when Black and White, and every color and piece of the fabric of humanity will be united around the throne of the Lord Jesus. And on that day we will declare,

Great is your faithfulness, O God our Father;
There’s no shadow of turning with thee;
You don’t change; your compassions never come to an end.
They are new every morning.[17]

Lord, if I only learned one thing today, I learned this: you are a good God.

May his name be praised!

[1] Fiddler on the Roof, directed by Norman Jewison (Beverly Hills, CA: United Artists, 1971). Paraphrased.

[2] Deuteronomy 4:40 (NIV 1984).

[3] See Ephesians 3:20.

[4] Jeremiah 32:33 (NIV 1984).

[5] Numbers 14:1–4 (NIV 1984).

[6] Hebrews 4:2 (NIV 1984).

[7] Charles Wesley, “O for a Thousand Tongues to Sing” (1739).

[8] Hebrews 10:39 (NIV 1984).

[9] Robert Manzano, “He Gave Me Beauty for Ashes” (1976).

[10] See Psalm 130:3.

[11] Psalm 24:1 (KJV).

[12] See Genesis 9:11.

[13] 2 Peter 3:9 (KJV).

[14] Proverbs 13:23 (paraphrased).

[15] Hebrews 12:5–7 (NIV 1984).

[16] See Isaiah 11:6.

[17] Thomas O. Chisholm, “Great Is Thy Faithfulness” (1923). Paraphrased.

Copyright © 2024, Alistair Begg. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations for sermons preached on or after November 6, 2011 are taken from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

For sermons preached before November 6, 2011, unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® (NIV®), copyright © 1973 1978 1984 by Biblica, Inc.TM Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Alistair Begg
Alistair Begg is Senior Pastor at Parkside Church in Cleveland, Ohio, and the Bible teacher on Truth For Life, which is heard on the radio and online around the world.