Sunday, June 05, 2011

Sermon: I Believe in God, the Father Almighty

I believe... Well, what is it you believe? There can sometimes be a danger that we stand together and recite the apostles’ creed without really thinking about it. When was the last time you stopped and said to yourself - why do we say this? Why are these things included?

Why do we have a creed at all? Why not just leave it open for people to think and believe what they want? Well, if you know anything about church history, you’ll know that the creeds were necessary to stop false teaching and wrong ideas floating about. Any society or club will have its list of rules / membership criteria - in a way, it’s the same with the creed. It’s a summary of what has always been the shared faith and witness of the church, what makes us distinctive.

Let’s face it, even as we start to say the creed, we’re becoming distinct from the rest of the world. I believe - already many people can’t go on after those first two words. They can’t or won’t believe in anything. While the focus may be on a Dawkins, there are many more who simply refuse to believe in anything but themselves.

I believe - and many others will have a pick and mix variety selection of beliefs which they try to hold together. A little bit of angels, some meditation, some karma, some loving your neighbour as yourself, lighting a candle - the postmodern world is your oyster. Whatever gets you along, go for it. In contrast to this supermarket sweep of religions, we continue to be even more specific.

I believe in God - again many will join us to this point. Just the word God or god will excite the imagination of many people - with the word meaning whatever the individual wants it to mean. All sorts of notions are conjured up, from Allah to the Roman gods. But again, it’s very general. We must go on, and as we do so, we arrive at the Christian distinctive, the truth that sets us apart: I believe in God, the Father Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth. And in his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord... And the Holy Spirit.

I believe in this God. The creed isn’t just a speculation of what God is like, someone’s best guess of what it’s all about. Nor is it wishful thinking - as if we’re saying, we can’t be sure, but we hope God is like this... In itself, the creed has no merit - but only so far as it is based on Scripture. In effect, what we have in front of us in the creed is a summary of what the whole Bible teaches, from before the beginning to after the end of time. And, precisely because it summarises scripture, the creed reflects the speaking God, the God who has revealed himself to his creation, so that we can know him. It’s not us reaching up to grasp what God is like, but it is God revealing himself to us, helping us know who he is, and what pleases him.

So as we consider the first section of the creed this evening, we come to Psalm 33, which is a great help in showing us the Father Almighty, the creator of heaven and earth. As we survey the psalm, we’ll find that we come to the themes in reverse order.

Following the call to praise in the opening verses, we are given the reason to praise from verse 6. ‘By the word of the LORD the heavens were made, and by the breath of his mouth all their host... For he spoke, and it came to be; he commanded, and it stood firm.’ (6,9) What we have here is a summary of Genesis 1 - where God speaks the light into being (by his word), and everything God decides to make is made.

Everything you can think of or see; when you enjoy a walk by the beach or climb a mountain; God made it all. Already we’re seeing the power of the Lord, as light is commanded in the darkness, and the world is formed and fashioned by his hand.

As we were reminded last Sunday morning - the earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof: God owns what he has made. That means we aren’t the owners of the world, merely the stewards of it - how are we using (or abusing) God’s world?

So God is the Creator of heaven and earth. But there’s more in Psalm 33 as well. It shows us how God is also Almighty. Depending on your generation, you may not use that word very often, but it’s the same as saying God is all-powerful. Recently we had a visit to Dublin of the most powerful man in the world - President Barak Obama. Right now he is powerful because of the weaponry of the American military, but in a few years (or less) he’ll be out of a job, and he’ll lose all that power. God, however, is almighty, all-powerful - ever was, and ever will be.

Look at verse 13: ‘The LORD looks down from heaven; he sees all the children of man; from where he sits enthroned he looks out on all the inhabitants of the earth, he who fashions the hearts of them all and observes all their deeds.’ (13-15) God is all-powerful because he sits in heaven, watching over all that happens, but he’s not just a spectator, not just Jackie Fullerton in the commentary box. More than that, God is sovereign, ruling, reigning: ‘The LORD brings the counsel of the nations to nothing; he frustrates the plans of the peoples. The counsel of the LORD stands forever, the plans of his heart to all generations.’ (10-11)

As we look back, we can see how God is working his purposes out - while nations rise up and empires become powerful, they quickly fade away again - Babylon, Persia, Greece, Rome, the Holy Roman Empire, the British Empire, America. Yet through all those empires, God’s kingdom continues. God is so in control that even the actions of his enemies play into his hands and further his purposes. Just think of the cross - as the might of the Romans and the cunning of the Jews combined to do the devil’s work, they were actually doing ‘whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place.’ (Acts 4:28) Think how powerful you have to be in order to have your enemies do you bidding!

As we move on through the psalm, we find that the amazing Creator, the all-powerful Almighty is also a wonderful saviour. ‘Behold, the eye of the LORD is on those who fear him, on those who hope in his steadfast love, that he may deliver their soul from death and keeo them alive in famine. Our soul waits for the LORD; he is our help and our shield. For our heart is glad in him, because we trust in his holy name. Let your steadfast love, o LORD, be upon us, even as we hope in you.’

Now what’s implicit here is made explicit elsewhere - that God Almighty is also the Father Almighty. We have to remember that the Bible didn’t all drop from heaven at one point in time - it was written by lots of different authors (with one ultimate source and author), over a period of a few thousand years. What that means is that God reveals himself over time, so that the people can understand. So the prevailing message of the Old Testament is ‘Hear O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one.’ (Deut 6:4) God is one, yes, but as Jesus comes, we discover (as the apostles came to realise) that he also is God, as is the Holy Spirit - so God is one, made up of these three ‘persons’ who relate to each other and to us.

Now in the Old Testament, the fatherhood of God is there, but it’s fatherhood in relation to Israel as a whole. So, for example, ‘Out of Egypt I called my son.’ (Hosea 11:1). There’s also a sense in which the king is seen to have a special relationship with God, to have God as his father, but that was as far as it went in the Old Testament. All that completely changes when the Lord Jesus comes, and reveals that God Almighty is his Father (as the only begotten beloved Son) and so teaches his disciples to pray ‘Our Father’.

Now I realise that, as we talk of these matters, some may find it difficult to think of God as father, precisely because of how a man fulfilled (or neglected) that role. Rather than shying away from using the language, however, can I encourage you to discover the fatherhood of God, how he is the perfect father, who loves and cares for you, who only seeks your best, who never leaves you nor forsakes you? There’s a verse in Psalm 27 that may help your particular situation: ‘For my father and my mother have forsaken me, but the LORD will take me in.’ (Ps 27:10)

So how do we apply this? Perhaps it’s slightly different in these weeks as we explore the apostles’ creed. Nevertheless, I think that what we’ve looked at tonight brings comfort and challenge. God is the Creator of heaven and earth - this world is not random, there is a purpose, and therefore you are not an accident - you are lovingly created. But what will you do to love the world, to tend and keep it, to steward it?

God is Almighty - he is all-powerful, and he is on your side, as you trust in the Lord Jesus. As Paul says in that great chapter, Romans 8 ‘If God is for us, who can be against us?’ God’s purposes are not stopped, so that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion.

And God is Father - Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, and Father of us, you, me, as we come into his family. Will you trust him and his purposes for you? Will you trust him in the particular situation you find yourself this week? Will you rejoice in his care and provision?

We can say these things because it’s what the Scripture says - it’s what God has revealed to us concerning himself. I believe in God, the Father Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth. Do you?

This sermon was preached at the start of a new series 'I Believe' in St Elizabeth's Church, Dundonald on Sunday 5th June 2011.

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