The Providential God and the Gracious God: One and the Same
Trinity Fifteen Sermon| Rev. Rolf D. Preus| September 24, 2006| St. Matthew 6:24-34
This morning I would like to talk to you about two Gods. The first God is the providential God. The second God is the gracious God. The providential God is the God who provides. He rules over the entire universe, governing what we call the laws of nature. He causes the rain to fall and the sun to shine. He determines the color of our eyes, how tall we will grow, and when we will die.
There are times when the providential God appears to do anything but provide. Instead of good health he sends sickness and death. Instead of good weather he sends drought or flood. Instead of prosperity the job is lost, the market falls, and the savings disappear. The providential God sometimes appears to be less than concerned about the specific needs of our life.
The second God is the gracious God. He’s the God who became a man. He joined the human race as a baby in the womb of the Virgin Mary. He was born and lived a holy life of humble service. He did only good and nothing bad wherever he went. After living a flawlessly righteous life, he was betrayed into the hands of evil people who, in the most wicked and cynical act of injustice in the history of the world had him crucified as a common criminal between two thieves. This is the gracious God. He takes your sin away and brings you eternal life. He suffers for you so that you are reconciled to God.
The providential God and the gracious God are one and the same.
Jesus tells us that our Father in heaven clothes the flowers of the field that are here today and gone tomorrow. He tells us he feeds the birds of the air that can’t even think ahead to plan out their lives. Now if our Father in heaven does this, does this not mean that he is in charge of this world? Does this not mean that he owns this world? He most certainly does own this world. He made it. He said, “Let there be,” and there was. He governs by his almighty power the movement of the stars, the rotation of the earth, the seasons, the weather, and the rise and the fall of nations.
And God owns the world because he redeemed it. He purchased it. He paid for it with his own blood. Yes, it was God’s blood that was shed on the cross for this whole world of sinners. The man who was raised up to be shamed, mocked, tormented, and crucified was none other than the Almighty God become flesh. As we sing:
Praise to thee and adoration,
Blessed Jesus, Son of God,
Who to serve thine own creation,
Didst partake of flesh and blood.
God owns the world and he governs it and he has never let it out of his control and he doesn’t intend to. He who provides is he who is gracious. He rules. All he causes to happen he caused to happen for our good and for the benefit of the Holy Christian Church on earth. At times this seems utterly absurd.
Consider the terrible suffering and tragedy that fall upon people, apparently without any reason or purpose. How can this be reconciled with the idea that a loving heavenly Father is in charge? But he is. More than that, he rules everything in this universe specifically for the benefit of his church. What does Jesus say? He says in Luke 12:32: “Do not fear, little flock; for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” He says in our Gospel Lesson for this morning, “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.” This world belongs to our Father in heaven, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. This world belongs to the One to whom we pray, “Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name, thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”
Could it be that Jesus would invite us to call God “Father” and God would not be our Father? Could it be that Jesus would teach us to petition our Father that his kingdom come and his kingdom would not come? Could it be that Jesus would promise us that if we seek first God’s kingdom and God’s righteousness, everything else would be ours as well and then we would learn that Jesus lied to us? This is all unthinkable! It is utterly impossible. No, there is nothing we need in this world that God will not give to us. The world belongs to him, and his kingdom belongs to us. The world serves the kingdom, and that’s the way it will be until the end of time. God’s providential purpose serves his gracious purpose. So if you want to know for sure that God will care for your material needs, you need to seek first his gracious kingdom.
The kingdom of God cannot be seen. It is hidden under suffering. Jesus said, “The kingdom of God does not come with observation; nor will they say, ‘See here!’ or ‘See there!’ For indeed, the kingdom of God is within you.” (Luke 16:20-21) Jesus has given to his church the keys of the kingdom of heaven. The key that binds sins to unrepentant sinners is the law of God. It tells them that unless they repent of their sins they will be condemned with this world. The key that frees repentant sinners from their sin is the gospel of Christ that tells them that Jesus took away all their sins by dying on the cross for them and rising from the dead. These keys are the power of the Holy Spirit to bring the kingdom of God into our hearts by bringing us to trust in Jesus.
Pay close attention to how our Savior describes God’s kingdom. He says, “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness.” Now this is not complicated language, but proud and vain and foolish sinners refuse to accept these words at face value. What does Jesus say? Does he say that we should seek our own righteousness? Does he say that if we behave ourselves in a righteous fashion God will then give us everything we need in this world? No, Jesus says nothing of the kind. He tells us to seek God’s righteousness, not ours. God’s righteousness is not the righteous or good things that we do, but the righteous or good things that Jesus has done for us. To seek out the righteousness of God is to run to Jesus and to embrace his innocent life and his bitter death in humble faith. It is to toss aside all reliance on our own goodness. It is to confess with Isaiah the prophet that all of our own righteousnesses are as filthy rags. It is to put on Christ, as we did when we were baptized, and to find ourselves vested in that royal robe of his righteousness with a beauty that covers all of our sins and makes us the precious saints of God.
The kingdom of God has power. But you cannot see it. It has authority. But it appears so very weak. Most of all, the kingdom of God has wealth. It has priceless treasures that no power in the world can take away. The God who owns this world and all that is in it has been pleased to give to us something far more valuable than anything in this world. He has given us his kingdom.
It is a kingdom in which a weak and poor little child has the same status as a strong and wealthy man. That’s because human strength and what passes for wealth among the high and mighty of this world count for nothing at all in the kingdom of our Father. It is a kingdom in which there is no fear, no anger, no guilt, no punishment, no hatred, and no sin of any kind that could ever bring any of these things back. It is a kingdom in which death and war are forever outlawed and banned. It is a kingdom in which pure peace prevails because God rules this kingdom by pronouncing everyone in it to be perfectly just, holy, and spotlessly pure. As St. Paul puts it, “Therefore, being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Romans 5:1) This is not a future worldly peace in a mythical thousand year political kingdom with Jesus ruling in the city of Jerusalem. This is a present peace. It is ours right now. It is ours just as surely as Christ has taken upon himself our sin and in exchange has given to us his righteousness and sent into our heart the Holy Spirit who seals this treasure to us. This is the kingdom of God. It is right here in this place and it is wherever and whenever God’s gospel is preached and Christ’s sacraments are administered by the almighty authority of Jesus Christ himself. There it is that the kingdom is established. There Christ rules.
The providential God is the gracious God. God owns and governs this world for the benefit of his Holy Christian Church on earth. Every event in every nation is, by God’s almighty power and gracious purpose, for the good of the church. He who bore all of our griefs and carried all of our sorrows is the God who cares for our every bodily need.
This world doesn’t belong to itself. It didn’t create itself. It won’t be able to keep itself from being destroyed on the Day of Judgment. It cannot keep that day from coming – and it is surely coming. On that day, those that trusted in mammon – the god of material wealth – will find out that they trusted in an idol. But it will be too late. Mammon won’t be able to save them destruction. Mammon is a cruel master who promises you everything but leaves you broke in the end. The God who gives us the kingdom makes us eternally wealthy with a treasure that cannot be destroyed or taken away.
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, seek the kingdom of God’s grace in Christ. God has called you to this kingdom and the holy apostle declares that all things work together for good to those whom God has called. You don’t have anything to worry about. Tomorrow cannot hurt you because this world belongs to the One who loves you. And he will keep on loving you long after he has brought this world to its close.