A Father’s Hand
In this week’s bulletin article, "A Father’s Hand," I compared my holding Augie’s hand to how our heavenly Father holds ours. I won’t regurgitate all of it now…but before I wrote that I used my Logos Bible Software 4 to look up every occurrence of the word "hand" in the English Standard Version. There were enough that it had to split the results into two pages…and a huge hunk of the results spoke of the hand of God.
Enough that all this sermon is going to be able to do is lightly touch on the subject…but hopefully in a way that by the end you’ll not only want to have that hand touch you, but that you’ll realize just whose hand is reaching down from above.
And let’s start with the question of whose hand…
Looking through all the uses of "hand" in the Old Testament, my favorite book was Isaiah. In his poetry and prose I couldn’t help but connect our Lord’s hand with our Lord’s majesty. For instance, let’s turn to Isaiah 45:11-12:
11 Thus says the LORD,
the Holy One of Israel, and the one who formed him:
"Ask me of things to come;
will you command me concerning my children and the work of my hands?
12 I made the earth
and created man on it;
it was my hands that stretched out the heavens,
and I commanded all their host.
[ These are quick sermon notes…not cleaned-up…and missing the “extras” that come out in the audio (which is available here). All quotes are from the English Standard Version unless otherwise noted. ]
I may have mentioned this before…but once, while living in a cabin of sorts in Cornish, I went outside with a pair of binoculars on a cold and extremely clear winter night. Magnifying the night sky I realized that every spot my unaided eye thought was empty space was filled with stars. Although he claimed that he never used the "billions and billions" phrase he is so famous (and so razzed) for1, the late astronomer Carl Sagan also sensed the immensity of it all…we are truly just a "pale blue dot"2 when compared to the rest of the universe.
Yet it is the hand of our God "that stretched out the heavens"…
Over All Nations
But Isaiah doesn’t stop there, in 14:26-27 he reminds us of something else:
26 This is the purpose that is purposed
concerning the whole earth,
and this is the hand that is stretched out
over all the nations.
27 For the LORD of hosts has purposed,
and who will annul it?
His hand is stretched out,
and who will turn it back?
The same hand that created everything you see, feel, hear, smell, or touch…is stretched out over all the nations…and nobody can "annul" what He has purposed or "turn back" that omnipotent arm.
I suppose it is odd, in a conversation about the majesty of God, to go from largest to smallest—for effect it would seem appropriate to go the other direction. However, before we leave Isaiah, let’s turn to a reference that might make this discussion more personal than words of the cosmos or kingdoms:
8 But now, O LORD, you are our Father;
we are the clay, and you are our potter;
we are all the work of your hand (Isaiah 64:8).
Yes…that same hand that formed every star…whether we can see it or not…that same hand that is stretched over the nations and cannot be turned back once it has purposed something…
That same hand formed you and me. Our God is not some impersonal being, too busy with running the universe or hobnobbing with heads of state…He reached down, picked up some clay, and formed everyone sitting here today. He formed you!
And, as Isaiah notes, He can be properly referred to as "our Father"…
What kind of hand is it?
Now that we know that God, our Father, has a direct, personal interest in you and me…what kind of hand does He have for us?
I realize that’s kind of odd wording…"what kind of hand"…but if you think about it…many grow up with fathers whose hands are more likely to be raised at them than to be held for comfort.
What kind of hand does our heavenly Father have for us?
Back on July 8, 1741…not way too far away in Enfield, Connecticut, the preacher Jonathan Edwards may have given his most famous sermon. Perhaps the title alone will give you an idea how Jonathan Edwards would answer that question, at least for the lost:
"Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God"
And, if that’s not enough…it seemed only fair to read you a representative portion of his talk:
The God that holds you over the pit of hell, much as one holds a spider, or some loathsome insect over the fire, abhors you, and is dreadfully provoked: his wrath towards you burns like fire; he looks upon you as worthy of nothing else, but to be cast into the fire; he is of purer eyes than to bear to have you in his sight; you are ten thousand times more abominable in his eyes, than the most hateful venomous serpent is in ours. You have offended him infinitely more than ever a stubborn rebel did his prince; and yet it is nothing but his hand that holds you from falling into the fire every moment. It is to be ascribed to nothing else, that you did not go to hell the last night; that you was suffered to awake again in this world, after you closed your eyes to sleep. And there is no other reason to be given, why you have not dropped into hell since you arose in the morning, but that God’s hand has held you up. There is no other reason to be given why you have not gone to hell, since you have sat here in the house of God, provoking his pure eyes by your sinful wicked manner of attending his solemn worship. Yea, there is nothing else that is to be given as a reason why you do not this very moment drop down into hell.
O sinner! Consider the fearful danger you are in: it is a great furnace of wrath, a wide and bottomless pit, full of the fire of wrath, that you are held over in the hand of that God, whose wrath is provoked and incensed as much against you, as against many of the damned in hell. You hang by a slender thread, with the flames of divine wrath flashing about it, and ready every moment to singe it, and burn it asunder; and you have no interest in any Mediator, and nothing to lay hold of to save yourself, nothing to keep off the flames of wrath, nothing of your own, nothing that you ever have done, nothing that you can do, to induce God to spare you one moment.
What do you think? Should I stop here?
Is that your picture of the hand of God?
Even though I greatly respect the life and work of Jonathan Edwards, I’m not sure how that fits with King David’s words. We know that God was very unhappy…fair to say "angry"…with David after he took a census of the Israelites. We’ll join the biblical narrative as David realized how much he messed up:
But David’s heart struck him after he had numbered the people. And David said to the LORD, "I have sinned greatly in what I have done. But now, O LORD, please take away the iniquity of your servant, for I have done very foolishly." 11 And when David arose in the morning, the word of the LORD came to the prophet Gad, David’s seer, saying, 12 "Go and say to David, ‘Thus says the LORD, Three things I offer you. Choose one of them, that I may do it to you.’ " 13 So Gad came to David and told him, and said to him, "Shall three years of famine come to you in your land? Or will you flee three months before your foes while they pursue you? Or shall there be three days’ pestilence in your land? Now consider, and decide what answer I shall return to him who sent me." 14 Then David said to Gad, "I am in great distress. Let us fall into the hand of the LORD, for his mercy is great; but let me not fall into the hand of man" (2 Samuel 24:10-14).
Did you catch that?! David would rather fall into the hands of an angry god than into the hands of men. Yet often we Christians give a picture of our Lord that would make people afraid of coming into His presence even if He was happy with them.
But a single instance in a single saint’s life does not a doctrine prove…and those of like mind with Jonathan Edwards can come up with rebuttals like Hebrews 10:26-31:
For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, 27 but a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries. 28 Anyone who has set aside the law of Moses dies without mercy on the evidence of two or three witnesses. 29 How much worse punishment, do you think, will be deserved by the one who has spurned the Son of God, and has profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has outraged the Spirit of grace? 30 For we know him who said, "Vengeance is mine; I will repay." And again, "The Lord will judge his people." 31 It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.
It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God! The writer of Hebrews seems to be of the same spirit as Jonathan Edwards in 1741…how do we know if their picture is the one we should run with? The hand that God has for us?
First…as always with the Bible…context…context…context. The writer of Hebrews is just trying to remind people the ultimate result of rejecting the truth. No matter how loving our Father…no matter what kind of hand He has for us…"it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment" (Hebrews 9:27). As Jesus did before him, the person who penned that letter was more than glad to use hyperbolic language to wake up his listener—to hopefully keep them from driving full-speed over a cliff.
So, short of going through all 66 books together, what is the best way for us to know what kind of hand God has for us?
Perhaps by seeing how God used His hands when He came, in the form of a man, to earth.
You know, the old "Fix your eyes upon Jesus" rule? 🙂
I knew that Jesus had no aversion to touching us while He was here on our planet, but I was amazed at how many times the Bible mentions Him doing so. For instance…
- He touched a leper to make him clean (Matthew 8:1-3)
- When the sick were brought to him, "he laid his hands on every one of them and healed them" (Luke 4:40)
- He touched Peter’s mom’s hand and her fever left (Matthew 8:14-15)
- He took the ruler’s terminally ill daughter’s hand and she arose (Matthew 9:23-25)
- He grabbed Peter so he wouldn’t drown when his faith wavered (Matthew 14:28-31)
- He welcomed and laid hands on the children that His disciples tried to shoo away (Matthew 19:13-15)
- He gave sight to the blind man by touching his eyes twice…even if it did mean using spitty mud (Mark 8:23-25).
- He lifted up the demon-possessed boy after excising the spirit out of him (Mark 9:21-27).
- He laid hands on the woman who could not stand up for 18 years and "immediately she was made straight" (Luke 13:11-13).
- He touched the ear of one of the men who came to arrest him in the Garden and it was no longer cut off (Luke 22:47-51).
- And even after He returned to His glory in heaven, "he laid his right hand on" John after he "fell at his feet as though dead" and told him to "fear not" (Revelation 1:17-18).
Jesus was willing to touch everyone…from the daughter of the privileged to the…well…untouchables. And we know from the healing of the Centurion’s servant (Matthew 8:5-13) and the official’s son (John 4:46-53) a physical connection wasn’t required. Jesus chose to touch every one of them…and in a day where there were no handy bottles of Purel around to disinfect the hands of modern day Howard Hugheses…
No…Jesus…God…showed us exactly what kind of hand He has for us…and John 3:35 says that the Father "has given all things into [Jesus’] hand." That includes us!
A Love That Will Not Let Us Go
As I wrap up this sermon I’d like to point people to perhaps the most important "hand" reference in all of the Bible for us Christians:
27 My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. 28 I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. 29 My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. 30 I and the Father are one" (John 10:27-30).
Steve Camp does a song titled, "Love That Will Not Let Me Go"…it as easily could be titled "A Hand That Will Not Let Us Go."
And as we enter 2011, isn’t that a great thing to praise God for?
That the same one who showed us what kind of hand God has for us is also the one whose hand we can never be snatched out of?
And, when our time on earth is finally up, let us all follow the advice implicit in Jesus’ last words on the cross:
46 Then Jesus, calling out with a loud voice, said, "Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!" And having said this he breathed his last (Luke 23:46).
When we breath our last we have a heavenly Father whose hands we can confidently commit our spirits…
1http://books.google.com/books?id=bPWy5ta4lM0C&lpg=PP1&pg=PA3#v=onepage&q=%22billions%20and%20billions%22&f=false (accessed January 1, 2011).
2http://books.google.com/books?id=9hzqn9gWtAcC&lpg=PP1&ots=Ka-te9W9_5&dq=pale%20blue%20dot&pg=PP1#v=onepage&q&f=false (accessed January 1, 2011).
3http://www.ccel.org/ccel/edwards/sermons.sinners.html (accessed December 31, 2010).