“What in the world is going on?” You have probably asked this question or a similar one more than once in your life. We ask this question when we perceive that what is happening does not seem to square with our understanding of how things are supposed to be. It assumes there is a God, and that He has a plan and a purpose for His creation. It also assumes that present conditions seem to contradict that plan.
“What in the world is going on?” Some of the great men of the Bible asked this of God. When Job’s life seemed to crumble, his family, flocks and wealth suddenly snatched from him by the cruel hand of fate, he pressed God for an explanation of what was going on in his world:1
Then Job replied, “Even today my complaint is rebellion; His hand is heavy despite my groaning. “Oh that I knew where I might find Him, that I might come to His seat! “I would present my case before Him and fill my mouth with arguments. “I would learn the words which He would answer, and perceive what He would say to me. “Would He contend with me by the greatness of His power? No, surely He would pay attention to me. “There the upright would reason with Him; and I would be delivered forever from my Judge (Job 23:1-7).
Habakkuk also questioned what God was doing when God informed him that He was about to chastise Judah by means of the cruel and wicked Chaldeans:
Art Thou not from everlasting, O LORD, my God, my Holy One? We will not die. Thou, O LORD, hast appointed them to judge; And Thou, O Rock, hast established them to correct. Thine eyes are too pure to approve evil, and Thou canst not look on wickedness with favor. Why dost Thou look with favor on those who deal treacherously? Why art Thou silent when the wicked swallow up those more righteous than they? Why hast Thou made men like the fish of the sea, like creeping things without a ruler over them? The Chaldeans bring all of them up with a hook, drag them away with their net, and gather them together in their fishing net. Therefore, they rejoice and are glad. Therefore, they offer a sacrifice to their net and burn incense to their fishing net; because through these things their catch is large, and their food is plentiful. Will they therefore empty their net and continually slay nations without sparing? I will stand on my guard post and station myself on the rampart; and I will keep watch to see what He will speak to me, and how I may reply when I am reproved (Habakkuk 1:12--2:1).
In Psalm 73, Asaph confesses questioning what God was doing, coming dangerously close to accusing God of disregarding His covenant promises. He could not understand what in the world God was doing by allowing the wicked to prosper and the righteous to suffer.2
In each of these biblical instances, the question, “What in the world is going on?” was unanswered. God did not explain to Job why he allowed Satan to afflict him. Neither Asaph nor Habakkuk were given the explanation they sought. The focus of each of these men was redirected from the problems which perplexed them to God. Once they came to view their circumstances in light of who God is rather than seeing God in the light of their circumstances, they ceased to question God. They still did not know the plan-- “What in the world is going on?”--but they did know the Planner. That was enough.
When the Lord Jesus came to earth, many were those who asked themselves what in the world was going on. Mary pondered many things in her heart which she did not understand concerning the coming of Messiah. In the beginning, the disciples of our Lord were beside themselves with joy and excitement. But when Jesus began to speak of His rejection, suffering, and death, the disciples were baffled. “What in the world is going on?” they thought. Peter even appointed himself to speak with Jesus and to straighten Him out. How could the Messiah possibly speak of His own death?
Earlier in Jesus’ earthly ministry, He spoke of the kingdom of God in parables, veiling the truth for the time. As the time of His crucifixion drew near, Jesus began to spell out more clearly details of the divine plan for creation.3 He drew their attention to the Old Testament prophecies, explaining how His rejection, crucifixion, and resurrection were a necessary part of God’s eternal plan. The disciples still did not understand.
After His resurrection and before His ascension into heaven, Jesus finally opened their eyes to understand the plan of God, especially concerning His sacrificial death.
And He said to them, “O foolish men and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken! “Was it not necessary for the Christ to suffer these things and to enter into His glory?” And beginning with Moses and with all the prophets, He explained to them the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures (Luke 24:25-27).
Now He said to them, “These are My words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things which are written about Me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” Then He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and He said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and rise again from the dead the third day; and that repentance for forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in His name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem. “You are witnesses of these things (Luke 24:44-48).
This study, led by our Lord, was probably His most comprehensive teaching. He drew together not only all of His teaching during His earthly ministry but all of the Old Testament teaching concerning Himself, especially His suffering and sacrificial death for the sins of men. The response of the two men on the road to Emmaus gives testimony to the power of that lesson:
And they said to one another, “Were not our hearts burning within us while He was speaking to us on the road, while He was explaining the Scriptures to us?” (Luke 24:32)
When we are with our Lord in eternity I believe we shall sit at His feet as He teaches us this same lesson. Even more, I think He will teach us not only of His suffering and how this was fulfilled in the Scriptures, but also of His glory. What a lesson that will be!
In our study of God’s eternal plan for His creation, we shall seek to imitate as closely as possible the method of our Lord in teaching His disciples concerning His suffering and death. Just as our Lord began at the beginning and taught through the Old Testament, so we shall seek to study God’s plan for His creation from the beginning to the end. As our Lord limited His teaching to the revelation of the Scriptures, so shall we. Until we sit at the feet of our Lord and hear from His lips God’s plan for the ages, from Genesis to Revelation, we shall search the Scriptures ourselves. May our hearts burn within us as we do!
In only a few lessons, our series will cover the watershed events of the Bible from Genesis to Revelation. We will span the course of history and beyond, beginning with eternity past and ending with eternity future. As we do this, I would like you to approach our study as an appetizer and not as a full-course meal. We will consider subject matter vastly beyond us both in volume and in content. Do not try to understand all of the details on your first reading, but rather seek to get a glimpse of the horizon. Look for the forest rather than the trees. The depth of the majesty of God and His eternal plan could never be expounded or exhausted in a single message or series. My hope is that this study will serve as an appetizer, whetting your appetite for the full-course meal. That meal will not be found in these lessons alone, but in your own study.
We will consider in this first lesson God as the Author and Finisher of the eternal plan for creation. The next lesson will consider God’s overall plan and its characteristics. In the remaining lessons, we will explore the plan of God as it has been progressively revealed, explained, and executed throughout the course of history. This will include God’s plan as it relates to . . .
Israel and the Gentiles
In some ways, the study of God’s plan for the ages is simply an expanded study of this text in Romans 8:
And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28).
May God grant that our efforts, guided and enlightened by His Spirit, may underscore the truth of this text, that God is Sovereign, in complete control over His creation and that He is orchestrating history to bring about His glory, which is the good of every Christian.
May this lesson, and those which follow, help us take our eyes off of ourselves and fix our eyes on Him who is the Author and Finisher of the faith.4
A vitally important principle should govern our study of God’s plan for creation. The principle is put forth in Deuteronomy 29 as Moses declares to the Israelites God’s plan for the Jews, a plan encompassing Israel’s sin and rebellion, chastening, exile, and restoration:
“The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our sons forever, that we may observe all the words of this law” (Deuteronomy 29:29).
The revelation of God’s plan for His creation is partial; it is purposely so by divine design. Some things are “revealed” and some things remain “secret.” The “secret things belong to God,” we are told. They are not for us to know. The things revealed are for us. They are for us to know, to understand, to meditate upon, and to explore. Specifically, they are revealed to us so that we might obey God’s commands.5
How often we do just the opposite of what God has instructed here. Often, we set aside what God has revealed to us, seeking instead to solve the mysteries of what has not been revealed. We try to fill in the blanks of prophecy, as though this were necessary, when God tells us the blanks are by design because this information is not necessary.6 Let us seek to avoid this error in our study.
Imagine finding a pamphlet entitled “Operation Desert Scam,” written by a man claiming to have a solution to the Middle East problems. The pamphlet outlines a plan for gaining political power over the Middle East. The writer is confident; the plan is bold. At the end of the proposal is the name of the man proposing the plan: Saddam Hussein.
Who will ever forget the words of “Stormin’ Norman,” General Schwarzkopf, describing Saddam Hussein as a military leader? Saddam Hussein was no military man; he was a power-hungry dictator. He was no strategist, no tactician, and no general. The failure of Iraq’s attempt to annex Kuwait is attributable to the failure of Saddam Hussein’s plan. This is because the plan was no better than the planner.
The same is true of God’s plan for all of creation: The plan is as certain as God, the Planner, is wise and powerful. The plan is as good as He is morally perfect. It is as just as He is righteous and holy. It is as compassionate as He is full of mercy and compassion. It is imperative then that we begin our study with a consideration of God as the Planner. Only from this vantage point can we properly appreciate the plan itself. An adequate appreciation of the nature and attributes of God requires more than a lifetime; it requires an eternity in His presence. Here we can only briefly survey some of God’s attributes and characteristics which reflect upon His plan for creation. We will take a sampling from the Scriptures of God’s nature, His character, and His activities as declared in the Bible.
All things came into being by Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being (John 1:3, see also verse 10).
For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities--all things have been created by Him and for Him (Colossians 1:16).7
Because God, the Planner, is also the Creator, He is the rightful owner of all creation. After the exodus, God reminded the Israelites they were no longer Pharaoh’s slaves; they were His slaves. He further instructed them that the land they were to possess and enjoy was not their land but His (see Exodus 19:4-6; Leviticus 25:23, 55; Deuteronomy 7:6; 14:2). As the Creator, God has the right to do with His creation as He wishes because He owns all of creation.
As Creator God also had the freedom to design and fashion His creation in a way that would best serve His purposes. A house designed and built by someone else will be different than the one you would design and build. When someone else builds a house and we buy it, certain things can be changed but some things are beyond modification.
The Scriptures are clear that all creation was planned and brought into existence by God. His creation was made the way He wanted it, in accordance with His eternal plan. He has not been handed a creation of someone else’s making. All things were created in accordance with His plan and His purposes.
At the exodus, God redeemed the Israelite nation from their slavery in Egypt (Exodus 15:13; Deuteronomy 7:8; 13:5; 15:15; 21:8; 24:18). In even a much greater way, God has redeemed all creation through the sacrificial death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
He is also head of the body, the church; and He is the beginning, the first-born from the dead; so that He Himself might come to have first place in everything. For it was the Father’s good pleasure for all the fulness to dwell in Him, and through Him to reconcile all things to Himself, having made peace through the blood of His cross; through Him, I say, whether things on earth or things in heaven (Colossians 1:18-20).
In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace, which He lavished upon us. In all wisdom and insight . . . (Ephesians 1:7-8).
But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things to come, He entered through the greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is to say, not of this creation; and not through the blood of goats and calves, but through His own blood, He entered the holy place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption . . . . And in the same way he sprinkled both the tabernacle and all the vessels of the ministry with the blood. And according to the Law, one may almost say, all things are cleansed with blood, and without shedding of blood there is no forgiveness. Therefore it was necessary for the copies of the things in the heavens to be cleansed with these, but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these. For Christ did not enter a holy place made with hands, a mere copy of the true one, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us; nor was it that He should offer Himself often, as the high priest enters the holy place year by year with blood not his own. Otherwise, He would have needed to suffer often since the foundation of the world; but now once at the consummation of the ages He has been manifested to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself (Hebrews 9:11-12, 21-26).
At the time one is drawn to faith in Christ, the redemption God accomplished through the blood of Jesus Christ results in immediate forgiveness and the assurance of eternal life. Christ’s work on the cross is also the basis for the full and final restoration of all creation in the future:
For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now. And not only this, but also we ourselves, having the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body (Romans 8:18-23).
In whose hand is the life of every living thing, and the breath of all mankind? (Job:12:10)
For in Him we live and move and exist, as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we also are His offspring’ (Acts 17:28).
And He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together (Colossians 1:17; see also 1 Corinthians 8:6).
For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen (Romans 11:36).
God, the Planner and Creator, is also the Sustainer of His creation. He is not distant and uninvolved with His creation; He is deeply involved in every aspect of its existence. He has individually fashioned each one of us; He has numbered our days (Psalm 139:13-16). He feeds the birds of the air (Matthew 6:26) and the rest of the animal kingdom as well:
The young lions roar after their prey, and seek their food from God. . . . They all wait for Thee, to give them their food in due season. Thou dost give to them, they gather it up; Thou dost open Thy hand, they are satisfied with good (Psalm 104:21, 27-28).8
God knows each of us intimately, including the number of hairs on our head and the thoughts of our hearts (Matthew 10:30; Psalm 139:1-6, 16). He knows when a sparrow falls to the ground and the number of hairs on our head (Matthew 10:29-30). God knows not only what will happen, but what could happen. That is, He knows all things actual and all things possible:
Then David said, “O LORD God of Israel, Thy servant has heard for certain that Saul is seeking to come to Keilah to destroy the city on my account. “Will the men of Keilah surrender me into his hand? Will Saul come down just as Thy servant has heard? O LORD God of Israel, I pray, tell Thy servant.” And the LORD said, “He will come down.” Then David said, “Will the men of Keilah surrender me and my men into the hand of Saul?” And the LORD said, “They will surrender you.” Then David and his men, about six hundred, arose and departed from Keilah, and they went wherever they could go. When it was told Saul that David had escaped from Keilah, he gave up the pursuit (1 Samuel 23:10-13).
David had been fleeing from King Saul who was trying to kill him. David and his men went to Keilah to fight the Philistines who had besieged this city of Judah (see Joshua 15:44). After liberating the city, David and his men remained on there. When Saul learned David and his men were staying in Keilah, he sent his army to capture them. David was informed that Saul would try to take him captive, and so he inquired of the Lord (by means of the ephod) what would happen if Saul were to encounter him in this place. David wished to know if Saul would come to Keilah, and, if so, whether the people of the city would turn him over to the king. God answered that Saul would come and that the people would turn him over.
But notice what happened. David and his men fled from the city. When Saul learned they were no longer at Keilah, he gave up his pursuit. God told David that Saul would come to Keilah, and that the people would hand him over to the king. In fact, Saul did not come, and the people did not hand David over because David fled from the city with his men. God’s answer to David’s question was based on the premise that David would stay at Keilah. If he had stayed, Saul’s army would have come to the city and the people of the city would have handed David over. God was able to answer David as He did because God is omniscient, all-knowing. He knows not only what will actually happen but what would happen under any set of circumstances. This kind of knowledge is vastly superior to anything we can even imagine. When God formulated His eternal plan, He took into account everything that could possibly happen.
Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways! For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who became His counselor? Or who has first given to Him that it might be paid back to him again? For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen (Romans 11:33-36).
To the only wise God, through Jesus Christ, be the glory forever. Amen (Romans 16:27).
For the word of the cross is to those who are perishing foolishness, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written, “I WILL DESTROY THE WISDOM OF THE WISE, AND THE CLEVERNESS OF THE CLEVER I WILL SET ASIDE.” Where is the wise man? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not come to know God, God was well-pleased through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe. For indeed Jews ask for signs, and Greeks search for wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block, and to Gentiles foolishness, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men (1 Corinthians 1:18-25).
Knowledge and wisdom are different. Knowledge is the raw material; wisdom is the skill to use this material in the most advantageous way in light of the goal. For us, knowledge is the information we gather from our research; wisdom is the skill to understand and arrange this information into an accurate, enjoyable, and informative paper. God knows all, but in addition God has the wisdom (skill) to arrange and orchestrate all the elements of His creation so the end result is “good, acceptable, and perfect” (see Romans 8:28; 12:2). The Planner is the God who is “all wise.” There is no better planner than God.
Every good thing bestowed and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation, or shifting shadow (James 1:17; see also Job 23:13-14).
From the standpoint of the gospel they are enemies for your sake, but from the standpoint of God’s choice they are beloved for the sake of the fathers; for the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable (Romans 11:28-29).
And the LORD said to Moses, “I have seen this people, and behold, they are an obstinate people. “Now then let Me alone, that My anger may burn against them, and that I may destroy them; and I will make of you a great nation.” Then Moses entreated the LORD his God, and said, “O LORD, why doth Thine anger burn against Thy people whom Thou hast brought out from the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand? “Why should the Egyptians speak, saying, ‘With evil intent He brought them out to kill them in the mountains and to destroy them from the face of the earth’? Turn from Thy burning anger and change Thy mind about doing harm to Thy people. “Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, Thy servants to whom Thou didst swear by Thyself, and didst say to them, ‘I will multiply your descendants as the stars of the heavens, and all this land of which I have spoken I will give to your descendants, and they shall inherit it forever.’” So the LORD changed His mind about the harm which He said He would do to His people (Exodus 32:9-14).
Human plans change, and they change frequently because of imperfection. Our church is currently involved in a building program. Mike Mayse, our architect, is doing an excellent job. When I asked him a question about a certain aspect of the program, Mike pulled out a massive “scroll” of building plans, and I learned the answer to my question. But now our building plans have changed. There have been several sets of plans because we did not know all we needed to know when we made the plans. Our imperfection causes changes to occur. God alone is perfect, and thus there is no need for Him to change.9 And since His plans are perfect as well, they will not change either. Centuries before the event, God said what would happen; centuries later, events occur just as He said.
As Creator and Redeemer, God has the right to determine the destiny of His creation. As the all-knowing, all-wise God, He has the ability to formulate the plan to do so. As a sovereign God, He has the power to execute the plan and bring it to completion.
God’s complete control over His creation is evident everywhere. All of the animals obediently entered the ark before the flood. The waters of the Red Sea parted, allowing the Israelites to pass through but swallowing up the Egyptians who pursued them. In the New Testament, the stilling of the storm amazed the disciples who were awe-struck that even the winds and waves obeyed the voice of the Master (Luke 8:22-25).
The mind of man plans his way, but the LORD directs his steps (Proverbs 16:9).
The plans of the heart belong to man, but the answer of the tongue is from the Lord (Proverbs 16:1).
The tongue is the hardest member of the body to control (see James 3:8). If God is in control over what men say, then He is in full control.10
For not from the east, nor from the west, nor from the desert comes exaltation; But God is the Judge; He puts down one, and exalts another (Psalm 75:6-7).
The king’s heart is like channels of water in the hand of the Lord; He turns it wherever He wishes (Proverbs 21:1).
“And it is He who changes the times and the epochs; He removes kings and establishes kings; He gives wisdom to wise men, and knowledge to men of understanding” (Daniel 2:21).11
God’s control is such that He is able to give men the freedom to make choices and even to sin, and yet use this to fulfill His purpose:12
“And I will grant this people favor in the sight of the Egyptians; and it shall be that when you go, you will not go empty-handed. But every woman shall ask of her neighbor and the woman who lives in her house, articles of silver and articles of gold, and clothing; and you will put them on your sons and daughters. Thus you will plunder the Egyptians” (Exodus 3:21-22).
Blessed be the LORD the God of our fathers, who has put such a thing as this in the king’s heart, to adorn the house of the LORD which is in Jerusalem (Ezra 7:27).
For the wrath of man shall praise Thee; with a remnant of wrath Thou shalt gird Thyself (Psalm 76:10).
“For God has put it in their hearts to execute His purpose by having a common purpose, and by giving their kingdom to the beast, until the words of God should be fulfilled” (Revelation 17:17).
God’s control is vastly greater than any control known to men. In the final analysis we have little control over others. It takes parents only a little time to realize this.13 When we seek to increase our control over others, we do so by limiting their freedom. Society puts criminals in prisons. Parents restrict their children to their rooms. But God’s control is so complete, He does not lose control by giving men freedom to make choices.14 Joseph knew that while it was the decision of his brothers to sell him into slavery behind it all was the guiding hand of God achieving His purposes and promises. Centuries earlier, God said this to Abraham:
And God said to Abram, “Know for certain that your descendants will be strangers in a land that is not theirs, where they will be enslaved and oppressed four hundred years. But I will also judge the nation whom they will serve; and afterward they will come out with many possessions. And as for you, you shall go to your fathers in peace; you shall be buried at a good old age. Then in the fourth generation they shall return here, for the iniquity of the Amorite is not yet complete” (Genesis 15:13-16).
Centuries later, Joseph could say to his brothers:
“And God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant in the earth, and to keep you alive by a great deliverance. Now, therefore, it was not you who sent me here, but God; and He has made me a father to Pharaoh and lord of all his household and ruler over all the land of Egypt. Hurry and go up to my father, and say to him, ‘Thus says your son Joseph,” God has made me lord of all Egypt; come down to me, do not delay’” (Genesis 45:7-9).
There is a plan for Creation. It is God’s plan. Because He is the Creator and Redeemer, God has every right to determine the destiny of His creation.15 His justice, mercy, and love assure us that the kingdom He has planned will be good, for all those who trust in Him. Due to His knowledge and wisdom, the plan will be perfect. In His sovereign power, His kingdom is sure to be established, just as He planned and promised. The plan is a good as the Planner.
It is important that we appreciate God and His attributes in relation to His plan. The plan alone is not enough. Only when the plan and the Planner are presented and received together is the purpose of God achieved. God never asked men to trust and obey Him without a plan. In the Gospels, Jesus not only called on men to believe in Him but to follow Him. It is vital that the Planner and the plan be presented and accepted together.16
To proclaim the Planner, without the plan, is to dilute the gospel of Jesus Christ and is a futile effort to make the gospel appealing and to increase results. To proclaim the plan, without presenting the Person, is to fail to point men to the only proper Object of faith. Ultimately, men have faith in the plan because it is God’s plan.
God’s plan for His creation is no mere academic matter, something we study for the mental exercise or to satisfy our curiosity. The plan, because it is God’s plan, is a matter of life and death. Listen to the words of Moses as he set out the plan of God for the nation Israel:
“See, I have set before you today life and prosperity, and death and adversity; in that I command you today to love the LORD your God, to walk in His ways and to keep His commandments and His statutes and His judgments, that you may live and multiply, and that the LORD your God may bless you in the land where you are entering to possess it. “But if your heart turns away and you will not obey, but are drawn away and worship other gods and serve them, I declare to you today that you shall surely perish. You shall not prolong your days in the land where you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess it. “I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. So choose life in order that you may live, you and your descendants, by loving the LORD your God, by obeying His voice, and by holding fast to Him; for this is your life and the length of your days, that you may live in the land which the LORD swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, to give them” (Deuteronomy 30:15-20).
Throughout history men have rejected God and His rule over them because they did not like His plan. Adam and Eve chose Satan’s plan rather than God’s. Israel conducted itself in the same way, rejecting God by forsaking His law. When the Lord Jesus came to the earth, offering men the blessing of eternal life in the kingdom of God, they rejected Him as their King because they did not want the program which He proposed. I believe the same thing is happening today. When unbelieving men and women hear the message of the gospel, they do not like the program. As Paul put it, the program is offensive to the Jews and foolish to the Gentiles (see 1 Corinthians 1:20-25).
To believe in God, and to submit to His plan, is to find life. To reject His plan is to reject the Planner and to choose death. Our study is of the highest importance to you personally - for our study concerns your eternal destiny.
Our subject for this study draws my attention to a text in the fourteenth chapter of John’s Gospel, where we read:
“Let not your heart be troubled; believe in God, believe also in Me. “In My Father’s house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you. “And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also. “And you know the way where I am going.” Thomas said to Him, “Lord, we do not know where You are going, how do we know the way?” Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but through Me. “If you had known Me, you would have known My Father also; from now on you know Him, and have seen Him.” Philip said to Him, “Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.” Jesus said to him, “Have I been so long with you, and yet you have not come to know Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father; how do you say, ‘Show us the Father’? “Do you not believe that I am in the Father, and the Father is in Me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on My own initiative, but the Father abiding in Me does His works. “Believe Me that I am in the Father, and the Father in Me; otherwise believe on account of the works themselves. “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes in Me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do; because I go to the Father. “And whatever you ask in My name, that will I do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. “If you ask Me anything in My name, I will do it. “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments” (John 14:1-15).
Two vitally important truths are evident in this passage.
First is that Jesus Christ was the revelation and personification (incarnation, if you please) of God to men. The disciples wanted to see what the Father (the Planner) was like. Jesus told them that seeing Him was to know what the Father was like. We began our study by looking at some of the characteristics of the Planner. Jesus told His disciples He was the personification of the Planner. In Christ, the Planner is revealed to men, fully and finally (Hebrews 1:1-3).
Second, in Christ, the plan is presented to men. As Jesus spoke to His disciples about the future, He was explaining God’s plan to them. They protested they could not understand it. They wanted to know the way. Jesus told them He was the way. When the plan seems beyond our grasp, all we need to remember is that God’s plan can be summed up in one word, in one person: Jesus Christ. To believe in Him is to trust the Planner. To know Him is to know the plan. We need only to fix our eyes and our faith on Jesus, and we will have chosen the Planner and the plan, with the outcome of eternal life (Hebrews 12:2).
Years ago, I happened to be present when a wise and godly elder was being informed of some rather serious problems between a husband and his wife. I thought they needed help concerning their specific problem (and perhaps they did). His response surprised me. He said, “I think they need to study the attributes of God.”
I must admit I thought his advice was inappropriate and irrelevant. I now see it differently. Often times we become obsessed with our problems, with our needs. We ask the question, “What in the world is going on?” We strive to learn how the Bible, and more specifically, how God relates to our need. We wonder why a God who is all-wise and all-powerful can be so aloof, so unconcerned with our personal crisis. We want to know, right now, what God’s plan is for our life. We want to know what He is doing through our adversity.
When Job, Asaph, and Habakkuk pressed God for an explanation of their circumstances or an answer to their questions, they did not get one. Job was not informed that Satan and the angels were being instructed. He was not even told his suffering would ultimately strengthen his faith and lead to further blessings. He was simply reminded of who God is. He was turned Godward, to reflect upon His majesty, wisdom, and power. Job finally got the point. If God is all-wise and all-powerful, if God is the Creator and Sustainer of all creation, then He is in control. He was in control of Job’s life, and He was doing what is right, what is best. Job did not understand the plan. He did not need to know it. He did know enough about the Planner to trust in Him, whatever his circumstances. Centuries later, Peter put it this way:
Therefore, let those also who suffer according to the will of God entrust their souls to a faithful Creator in doing what is right (1 Peter 4:19).
If we do not know the plan, we do know the Planner. That is all we need to know in order to trust and obey.
In my study of this lesson, I was reminded of the little book written by J. B. Phillips some time ago entitled, Your God is Too Small. God is not too small; our understanding of Him is too small. We think little thoughts about a God who is greater than our minds can conceive. When our God is too small, we become swallowed up by our circumstances and begin to question what He is doing.
The solution to most of our problems is more simple than we would wish to admit. It is to enlarge our understanding of the greatness of our God. There is a way to do this. It is not a way which appeals to the flesh. That way is to go on what I like to call a “low cholesterol diet.” We need to reduce our intake of “high cholesterol.” The cholesterol to which I refer is self-centeredness, a preoccupation with our own needs and desires and problems.
I propose reading which is God-centered rather than man-centered. It should be reading which results in worship in a deep sense of God’s worth rather fleshly self-absorption. Bible reading will do this for us best of all. Some authors writings can help us as well. Their books will likely not be on the best- sellers list, because they do not cater to the flesh. A. W. Tozer is one of the great writers who persists at pointing us to God and to His greatness. Books on the attributes of God, written by men like Arthur Pink and others, are healthy food for the soul. As our grasp of the greatness of God increases, our self-absorption will begin to diminish. Our preoccupation with our own pain will be swallowed up by the pleasure of knowing and serving God.
One of the foundational attributes of God which assures us concerning His plan is His sovereignty. Sovereignty, like salvation, must be received or rejected. Those who cannot find comfort and solace in the sovereignty of God will find His sovereignty a source of irritation. Sovereignty runs contrary to the natural (fallen) bent of our flesh. Dr. B. B. Warfield has written pointedly on this matter:
“The difficulties we feel with regard to Predestination are not derived from the Word. The Word is full of it, because it is full of God, and when we say God and mean God--God in all that God is--we have said Predestination.
Our difficulties with Predestination arise from a, no doubt not unnatural, unwillingness to acknowledge ourselves to be wholly at the disposal of another. We wish to be at our own disposal. We wish ‘to belong to ourselves,’ and we resent belonging, especially belonging absolutely, to anybody else, even if that anybody else be God.”17
May the sovereignty of God and the resulting certainty of His plan become a great comfort and encouragement to you.
Praise God He has established a plan, a plan which is for the good of all who love Him and trust in Him, a plan which is as sure and certain as the character of God Himself. May God grant us wisdom and understanding as we seek to better understand His plan. As we study the plan, may we come to know and to entrust our souls to our Creator, the Planner who is worthy of our trust, our praise, and our obedience.
(1) How can our Lord’s teaching concerning Himself in Luke 24 (verses 25-27, 44-47) guide us in our approach to the study of God’s plan for the ages?
Jesus drew together all of the Old Testament texts which spoke of the ministry of our Lord, especially those which had to do with His suffering and death. They were familiar with these texts in isolation, but they had not seen them as a whole. Jesus began with the Law of Moses, and then went to the Psalms and all the Prophets. We should do likewise. If we rightly understand God’s plan for the ages, we should be able to see it unfolding as we move from Genesis to Revelation (we, of course, have the New Testament Scriptures as well to take into account).
(2) How does God’s plan for creation relate directly to you and to your life? Why should this study be important to you?
God’s plan for the ages is the “big picture.” It tells me what God is doing and the goal to which history is moving. It tells me the future, which enables me to make the right decisions in time (see Hebrews 11). It informs me of God’s will in general, which sheds much light on God’s will for me in particular. It reminds me that God is not “here for me” as much as I am here for Him, to trust and obey Him, and to worship and serve Him. It puts things back into a proper perspective.
(3) What do the nature and attributes of God have to do with God’s plan for creation?
Plans are no better than the planner. God’s plans are not as thoroughly spelled out in the Bible as His nature and attributes are. But knowing who God is tells me that His plan, whatever it may be, is “good, acceptable, and perfect” (Romans 12:2). The nature and attributes of God assure us that the plan is as perfect as the Planner.
(4) Without considering any of the details of God’s plan (as it relates to this question), in what ways can we be assured that His plan is superior to any human plan because of who the Planner is?
God’s plan is based upon His knowledge of all things (actual and possible), wisdom, goodness, perfection, and sovereignty. He has both the right and the wisdom to formulate and execute a plan for all creation. The creation of all things was one of the first acts of God in beginning to carry out the plan. History, when viewed biblically, is but the outworking of His plan. God’s plan is superior to man’s plans in every way that God is superior to man.
(5) How does focusing on God help me to deal with my problems?
Sin is self-centered; worship is God-centered. Preoccupation with myself is both wrong and counter-productive. Whenever we view God through the midst of our problems, we have a greatly distorted picture of God. Whenever we view our problems in the light of who our God is, we see them very differently. We now see problems as a gift from God, drawing us nearer to Him, and achieving His plan and purposes in a way that will bring Him greater glory. Focusing on God, rather than my problems, strengthens my faith, giving me the strength to endure the sufferings and groanings of life, which God has purposed for my good and His glory (see Psalm 73; Romans 5, 8).
Genesis 1 and 2
Hebrews 1:2; 11:3
Implications: Genesis 2:15-25; Exodus 19:4-6; Leviticus 25:23, 55; Deuteronomy 7:6; 14:2; Psalm 19; 139.
Deuteronomy 7:8; 13:5; 15:15; 21:8; 24:18
Hebrews 9:11-12, 21-26
Psalm 104:21, 27-28
Psalm 139:1-6, 16
Romans 11:33-36; 16:27
Psalm 102:26-27 (see Hebrews 1:12)
Jonah 3:1-10 (see Jeremiah 18:1-12)
Genesis 15:13-16; 45:7-9
Psalm 31:15; 66:7; 75:6-7; 76:10; 104:21, 27-28
Proverbs 16:1, 9; 21:1
Daniel 2:21; 4:25, 35
Matthew 5:45; 10:29
1 Even when God does reveal the plan, it is not spelled out fully but only in broad terms. God informed Isaiah concerning some of what lay ahead for him in his ministry (see Isaiah 6). To my knowledge, the most definitive explanation of God’s plan for a man’s life is that revealed to Paul (see Acts 9:10-16; Acts 13:1-2; 16:6-10; 20:22-23; 21:10-14; 22:14-21; 26:14-18; 27:23-24). Even here, much is not told to Paul. Little did Paul realize, for example, how God would arrange for Paul’s transportation to Rome (see Romans 15:22-29; Acts 21-28).
8 I submit the reason we fail to pray, “Give us this day our daily bread” (Matthew 6:11), is because we have forgotten from where our food comes. Is this part of the reason Jesus considered hunger a blessing (see Luke 6:21, 25)?
9 In reading the Bible one will notice instances in the Scriptures where God appears to change His mind (see Exodus 32:1-14; Jonah 3:1-10). Since a detailed explanation cannot be attempted here, two general comments must suffice. First, the change is apparent, from man’s point of view. At our point in time, we view God as having changed. From His eternal perspective, the apparent “change” was a part of His eternal purpose. In Exodus 32, Moses’ argument was that God could not change His mind and forsake the nation Israel because of her sin. Moses reasoned that God’s glory required God to finish what He had started and not change to some other plan. Second, in the Book of Jonah the “change” which seems to have happened here was not really a change; God was consistently following the principle He Himself laid down in Jeremiah 18:5-12.
10 This truth needs to be pondered. First, we must be careful not to give God credit for everything that is said, as though He prompted the words rather than permitted them. Much sin is committed with the tongue. God allows men to speak certain things which are evil. God does not prompt men to speak evil, for He is not the author of sin. God may prevent men from speaking certain evils which would hinder His plan. But when any word is spoken, it is by divine permission. Let us remember this the next time someone says something very hurtful to us. God allowed it, just as He allowed Satan to afflict Job. But just as surely, He did not permit it for the downfall or destruction of His children but for their good. Also let it be remembered that God sometimes prompted one of His creatures to say something which it would not otherwise have said. I am thinking of Balaam’s beast (Numbers 22:21-30), Balaam himself (Numbers 23:1-12), and the high priest in Jesus’ day (John 11:42-53). Men are always accountable for what they say (Matthew 12:36-37) and for what they do not say (Acts 12:20-23).
12 “Augustine somewhere makes the following correct distinction: ‘that they sin, proceeds from themselves, that in sinning they perform this or that particular action, is from the power of God, who divides the darkness according to his pleasure.’” Calvin, citing Augustine, as quoted by J. Oliver Buswell, A Systematic Theology of the Christian Religion (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1962) p. 167.
13 Those parents who do not (or will not) see this are those who injure and even kill their children, because they refuse to admit they cannot completely control their child. They injure the child by using force to make him submit to their desires or demands. There are things we as parents can control, and we are responsible to exercise this control (see 1 Timothy 3:4). There are also many things beyond our control (such as the salvation of our children). This is why wise parents spend much time in prayer. Prayer acknowledges that God is in control.
16 Those whose understanding of the Scriptures and of the power of God are deficient try to increase the results of evangelistic efforts by playing up the person of our Lord and playing down God’s plan. This is because the plan is not appealing to the flesh and will only be believed and received as the Father draws men through the ministry of the Holy Spirit. The gospel should be a clear presentation of the person of our Lord, as well as the plan to which we are called to submit.