THE MIGHTY HAND OF GOD
Rehoboth Chapel, Coventry.
February 24, 1980.*
“Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time: Casting all your care upon Him; for He careth for you.” 1 Peter 5.6-7.
A week ago you may remember I was speaking about the subject of personal assurance. We saw that it is a very real experience for people to know that they are saved and to be sure of their own salvation. You may not at first sight think that these verses have anything to do with that particular subject, but I believe they have, and I want to continue in that same line of thought from another direction because in these two verses we have two things which are absolutely fundamental to any sense of personal assurance of salvation.
The first point in these two verses is humility, and the second is confidence in God. Peter speaks about “humbling ourselves under the mighty hand of God” and then he speaks about our confidence in that same God as we cast all our care upon Him. This is so fundamental it goes even further back than an assurance of our salvation. It goes right back to that conviction which we have in our hearts about the being of God; that there is indeed a God. It goes right back to what we think about God, about what God is like, and there can be no personal comfort, no personal peace and assurance in our lives unless we have a real knowledge of God. We must first know God and what God is like and we have to ask ourselves, what do we think about God? What is God like? What do we know about God? Do we know God at all? You know, there are times in most people’s lives when the situation in which they find themselves is so utterly confusing and so completely overwhelming that if they had not a real knowledge of God then all their previous thoughts about God would just be scattered and broken. There are times in our lives when things happen, when they happen one after the other, they happen so quickly, making us feel distressed, confused, bewildered, troubled. Then we become anxious and fearful and if we did not have a knowledge of God, a real spiritual knowledge of
God, and a real confidence in God, we should be tempted to say, There is no God. We should be tempted to say if we have not already said it, well, if there was a God it would not be like this. And of course that is one of the most frequently used arguments against true Christianity. You have heard the argument, I well expect, when people say. Well, if God is a God like you say He is, and if He is a God of love, then why are things like they are? You find people become angry and antagonistic when you speak about God because they happen to be in a situation where they are very miserable, where everything has gone wrong and where they cannot have their own way, and so they turn on God and say. Well, if God is a God of love, why am I like this? And then there are people who think more deeply and look at things in a more worldwide sense and they say, Well, if God is God, why are there people starving in the world, and why are there so many people oppressed and persecuted in the world? If God is a God of love, why are there so many homeless children in the world? If God is a God of love, why are there so many hospitals and institutions full of people all over the world. And make no mistake, friends, these are very, very strong arguments, and they are arguments which may well threaten your belief in God. And there is really no answer to these many questions, except the answer that Peter gives us here and the answer which the scriptures give us over and over again. “Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God.”
“The mighty hand of God” is the answer to these questions, and it is because people do not believe God is a mighty God, and because people do not really believe that God has a mighty strong hand that they still argue with God and against God, and against what God is doing in the world, and they argue against what God is doing with them. I am not talking in a theoretical way because I know exactly what sort of attitude this is myself. I get into the state of mind where it is so easy to argue with God, and especially when God has come into my life and circumstances with a mighty hand. What does a mighty hand do in a person’s life? A mighty hand disturbs a person’s life, a mighty hand stirs up things in a person’s life. A mighty hand may seem sometimes to be hard to bear. These people that Peter was writing to were people who knew that God’s mighty hand had not brought them into an easy comfortable situation. He said, “Now for a season if need be ye are in heaviness through manifold temptations”. Many different temptations coming from many different directions; not just one, but many. We have a saying that troubles never come singly, and it seems very true for believers, troubles never come singly. It seems as though it is trouble upon trouble. The hymn writer puts it in another way, ‘Oh Zion afflicted with wave upon wave, whom no man can comfort, whom no man can save’. Now, who raises the stormy wind and tempest, according to the scriptures? God does. It is God’s mightiness that raises the stormy winds and the waves on the sea. “Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God.” And when God’s mighty hand stirs this stormy wind and tempest, when in our lives it seems
as though there is wave after wave of trouble, is it not then that this temptation is most powerful? ‘I trusted in God. I really did trust in God, but now look what has happened. It is not much good trusting in God if God lets this happen, and then that happen, and then something else happen!’
The Psalm 55 is very instructive in this connection because it tells us the sort of troubles that David went through, and his troubles did not come singly. It is also instructive because it is a prophetic psalm, and it tells us something of the deep grief and sorrow of the heart of Jesus. It tells us some of the troubles that came upon the Saviour, when He lived here, and it especially tells us of the trouble of unfaithful men and particularly one who betrayed Him. You must surely read these verses and see a description of that wicked man Judas. He put forth his hands against such that be at peace with God. He broke his covenant, that is, he broke his own word, he showed himself unfaithful, the words of his mouth were smoother than butter but war was in his heart. He was a traitor, he was opposed to Christ. His words were softer than oil, yet were they drawn swords and they wounded Jesus. “Hail Master”, but there was no love in his heart! For thirty pieces of silver his Master was betrayed. Now David’s experience was prophetic. David had had the same thing happen to him. David had had unfaithful men illtreat him in this way, but never so painfully and so terribly as Jesus did. And then what does the Psalmist say? “Cast thy burden upon the Lord.”
That word ‘burden’ is very interesting because it has a double sense. It is not only the thing that burdens you, but it is something that has been put on you to burden you and the word can be translated ‘gift’. “Cast thy gift upon the Lord”, and that seems to me to put the whole matter in a completely different light. Your burden is something you thought you could just get rid of. Your burden you thought would be easily dealt with if you could just throw it away. Your burden is just something that irritates you, troubles you, depresses you, distresses you. You think, ‘The sooner this burden is off my back the better’. And that is a very natural, completely understandable reaction. The sooner it is gone, the better it will be for me and everybody else. But the situation becomes more difficult than that, doesn’t it? The burden is a burden and it gets to the point sometimes where you say, “I cannot stand it any longer; I cannot bear it”. Let me illustrate this. If you go out walking on the hills, and you have a rucksack on your back, at the first, in the morning, you can carry it easily – you hardly notice it. But then the straps begin to chafe, you begin to realise how heavy it is and by the afternoon you begin to feel very weary. You would like someone else to take it off your back and carry it for you, but it is not till you get home that you can take it off, feel the relief, the complete relief of having it taken right off your back. By late afternoon you might be saying, it’s not only a case of feeling heavy, it’s a question as to whether I can go on to the end of the journey – whether I can get home with this weight on my back. And it is then that the painfulness of this temptation is
felt so deeply. It is then when you become rebellious, you might begin to say to yourself, I wonder why ever they packed so much into this rucksack before I set off? Did we really need to put so many things in here? And you begin to question. But it does not make it any easier to carry the burden. Indeed, in a sense it makes it harder because it means that you are all the while thinking about how heavy is the burden. Then comes the temptation. And what does David say? “Cast thy burden upon the Lord”. ‘Ah’, says someone, ‘that’s easy, that really is the solution. I’ll get this weight off my back, I’ll be rid of all this. I’ll be out of my troubles and distresses. I’ll just cast my burden on the Lord’.
But David says, “Cast thy gift on the Lord”, and do notice that little word ‘thy’. It is not his, it is yours. It is thy burden. And I want just to emphasise this, that casting what God has given us to bear upon Him does not mean that we have no further concern or interest or weight to carry, it does not mean that at all, because God has given a burden to be borne. I remember reading some time ago of a person who had a dream and in the dream that person had a very heavy cross resting on his shoulders and in his dream he saw many other people. Some were big strong people and they only had very small crosses. Some were weak and small and staggering people and they seemed to have very big crosses. But as he looked around in his dream it seemed as though the cross he had to carry was the biggest and the heaviest of them all. And in his dream he thought to himself, ‘Why is it that the big strong people only have a small cross and why is it that these weak little people have such a big one? And why is it, and most of all why is it, that I who feel to be the weakest of all have the biggest of all?’ And then in his dream some one came and took hold of his own cross and showed him where it fitted on his shoulder and said, ‘Look, that cross fits your shoulder and no-one else can carry it’. And he woke up with a lesson he never forgot. God fits the cross to the shoulder. “Cast thy burden upon the Lord”. That does not mean that the cross has gone. A burden is to be borne to the end of our lives, maybe – as long as God chooses. Yes, certainly, as long as God chooses, because Peter says “Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God that he may exalt you in due time”. You must wait His time and you may sometimes feel afraid when you are humbled under the mighty hand of God, that God’s hand will crush you. You may be afraid that God will crush all the faith out of your soul, that He will crush your religion until there is nothing left and you become afraid that all that you thought was your religion is going to come to nothing. But remember what Peter says, “Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God”.
Remember also that God has made the cross to fit our shoulders and God has appointed the things that happen in our lives for our good, and not only for our good, but His glory, and consequently for the good of others as well. For we shall not live to ourselves, that is, we shall not live our lives in isolation. What God does to us will affect others. The cross He puts on our shoulders will help us to
understand the cross that He has put on other people’s shoulders. The burden you have to bear will help you to sympathise with others who have a similar burden. “Humble yourselves therefore” -humble yourselves so low before God as to say, ‘He must be right’. And how strange it is when we realise something of our own ignorance, when we realise our shortsightedness, when we know how many times in the past we have become confused, and how many times we have been wrong, how many times God has proved to us that, although we could not understand at the time, He was right, how strange it is that again we are doing the same thing and saying, Why? We do not seem to have learned the lesson that He was teaching us years ago. “Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God that He may exalt you in due time.”
The very way Peter speaks makes it clear that humbling ourselves under the mighty hand of God means that we are going to be in a low place. We may be very low in other people’s estimation, we may be very low in our own spirits, we may be brought very low in our situation in life, we shall certainly be brought very low before God. We shall be brought again to such a place before God that we despise ourselves – “O wretched man that I am” – and that is a low place. Of course in the context of the earlier part of this chapter we may find it very hard to humble ourselves in the face of other people. Your burden may be the way other people treat you, your burden may be the way other people think of you, your burden may be that you have a boss who is very uncaring, who is very hard to please. It may be in your family situation you have things that are very, very difficult. It may be you are in a situation where you are very tempted to rise up in a kind of angry retaliation against other people, especially people who God has put over you, but remember God resisteth the proud”. You may then be asking. Why does David say “Cast thy burden upon the Lord” if there is a cross to be carried, if there is a burden to be borne, if it is what God has given you to carry, then why does the Psalmist say “Cast thy burden upon the Lord”?’ What is this casting of the burden upon the Lord? If the situation is not going to change, if the weight is still there, what is the use of casting my burden upon the Lord? And this is the way we argue, isn’t it? If God is not going to take it all away, what is the point of casting my burden upon the Lord? I always thought it meant that casting my burden upon the Lord would mean that He would take away all these things that were painful and hard to bear. However, if you look a little further in verse 22 it says “He shall sustain thee”. Now, if He took everything away and made everything easy and you had no burden to bear, you would not need sustaining would you? Surely then, there is something that remains in which we need to be strengthened and sustained, even when we have cast our burden upon the Lord. What does God relieve us of when we cast our burden upon the Lord? Well, Peter explains it. “Casting all your care upon Him”, and the.word ‘care’ really means something like anxiety or distress. It is quite clear that Peter was teaching the same as the Psalmist. “The trial of your faith, being
much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise and honour and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ.” (1 Pet. 1.7). It is quite clear that Peter was not thinking in terms of a sudden miracle in which all these people he was writing to would be free of all their troubles and would live a completely happy and peaceful life without any difficulties at all. He was not talking about heaven on earth, he was talking about the life of faith, he was talking about the conflict, the battle. He was talking about real life, the real life of a believer.
One question must be asked before we go any further. Are some of your burdens, and the care and anxiety that you feel about them, burdens that God has not given to you? Are they things that you have burdened yourself with? Let me use an illustration. Imagine that someone has a great ambition in life, say the ambition to be the Mayor of Coventry, and all their life long they were aiming at this one great objective. They get very distressed and upset because other people are appointed before they are, people they do not think very much of get elected to this office and they become more and more irritated, more and more angry, because they have been passed by. Well, they have certainly got a care, they are certainly very anxious about what is going to happen when they choose the next Mayor. ‘Will it be me, shall I get the honour?’. And it may be that they have got a religion of sorts and they pray very much to God that God will work things round so that they can have what they want. And that person could become very, very distressed. Now what have these verses got to say to that person? I think these verses just say to that man, ‘Neither the burden nor the care have been given to you by God, and neither of them are to be taken to Him’. Why? Because, if God appoints us to a place of responsibility and honour in this life, then he will order things so that happens, and we do not need to put our hands to it. There is no need for us to burden ourselves with this unnecessary anxiety, this proud sort of longing for something better. It is a sinful ambition, it is a wrong care, it is a sinful anxiety. Now, things like that are not to be cast on the Lord, they are to be cast away. I read this morning a little passage from one old writer commenting on this part of the epistle of Peter, and he said, ‘Entertain no care at all but such as thou mayest put into God’s hands’. Now, friends, if I was ambitious to be the Mayor of Coventry I should be too ashamed to put that into God’s hands because I should know very well it was sinful pride that was driving me on in this ambition. I should be too ashamed to pray about a thing like that. But if I had an ambition like the hymnwriter had, “This prayer and this ambition mine. Living and dying to be Thine’, then I could put that into God’s hands and I could say to God, That is my ambition, that is my great concern; and I can leave that in the hands of my God. Now it is that kind of burden, that kind of care – spiritual burdens and spiritual cares, and there are many of them which we commit to the Lord. But then you might say, but what about other sorts? Is it not legitimate for me to be concerned about my family, about my relatives, my health or the health of
those I love? Is it not right for me to be concerned about my children and how they are getting on in life, at school, at college or wherever they are? Is is not right to have concern about things like that? Are you saying that we are to cast away all those burdens?’ No, I am not, because God has put us in the place where we are. He has given us our families and our friends; He has ordered the circumstances of our lives so that we are surrounded with these things, and when we can see what God is doing we can go to God about those things, we can take those things to God. But it is when we have put our hand to things, when we have begun to force these issues in our lives, when we have become oppressed by our own ambition, then the only thing to do is to throw away those cares and say, I will have nothing to do with thoughts and cares like that again. But with the cares that come, through the burdens that develop, in the way in which God sovereignly controls our lives, then, whether they be providential or spiritual, – and the two can never be separated, – we can take all these things to the Lord.
How do we take these things to the Lord? Well, first of all, recognise them for what they are. You say, well, that’s easy, I cannot help but recognise mine. Very well, I will leave people who :can recognise their burdens and see what they are concerned about, and I will come to those who are distressed but have not really recognised what it is that is distressing them. First of all, then, we must recognise what it is that is the cause of our care or our anxiety. And it may not always be the thing that we think at first sight. The cause of our anxiety may not be the thing that we see so quickly. The cause of our anxiety may be much deeper than the thing we see. The cause of our anxiety may be unbelief, not – not the particular circumstance we are in. Indeed, I would say this, that the cause of our anxiety must be our unbelief. You say, but I thought it was the situation, I thought it was the trouble that has come into my life. Friends, the anxiety and the weakening effect of that anxiety springs not just from the circumstance, but it comes from within us because of our attitude to the circumstance. And so Peter says, “Casting all your care upon Him”. Now, it may be this is the way you have to come to the Lord in prayer and say, ‘Lord, I thought it was just the circumstance that was the cause of all my distress, but I can see now that it is not just that, it is because I have got a wrong attitude in my heart, it is because I am in a wrong spirit, that is why I am so distressed’. Now, do not misunderstand me, I am not saying that the circumstance itself is not exceedingly painful, I know only too well that circumstances are exceedingly painful in themselves, but I am saying that it is our attitude of heart to those circumstances which causes so much inner pain and grief and distress. It is this which Peter is calling the ‘care’. “Casting all your care upon him.” If I could go to God and say, ‘I do trust, I do believe, I can leave all these developing circumstances in the hands of my God, knowing that He will do what is right with them’, would not that make a difference? Would not that make a profoundly great difference? If I could so believe in God that whatever happens I could say with Paul
“I know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to His purpose” (Rom. 8.28). If I could really say in my heart and believe it, that all these things are right and that what God does is best; if I could stop struggling and trying to change the situation, if I could stop fighting against God – that may sound an extravagant thing to say, but that is often what we are doing, though we do not realise it – if I could stop fighting against God, and if I could see that God has a purpose and say to my God, ‘I am willing to go this way, I am willing to go through this’, knowing that it is the right way, knowing that there is no other way, and knowing that God would not leave me in this way if it was not right. “Casting all your care upon Him” is putting your hand in His and saying, ‘Lead me Lord’, and then being content with the way He leads you, saying ‘Lead me Lord, lead me in thy righteousness, make thy way plain before my eyes’ – putting your hand in His and then letting Him lead you. I do not like using that word, not really, because you cannot stop God. But you know what I mean. I am really meaning that you agree with God with all your heart, you are saying to God, This is the way, it must be right, because I know I put my hand in the hand of my God. “Casting all your care upon Him”. “Cast thy burden upon the Lord and He shall sustain thee.” Friends, it does make a difference. This is not just a kind of mental exercise, it does make a difference. It means immediately that one tremendous weight has gone off my spirit. I just know that whatever happens tomorrow, that will be God’s will for me. I will know that whatever happens tomorrow God is guiding me on. God has my hand in His. It may not be pleasant, I doubt very much whether it will be easy, but whatever it is like, it is God’s way and He is in control, and will be the day after, and in those days in the future that you dread so much. Can you not see what is happening when you cast all your care upon Him? You are saying, ‘God knows what is going to happen and God alone knows what is going to happen. But I believe that what does happen is right and best for me’. But you say. Well, that’s all right for me, but what about other people, when it affects other people as well? Friends, it even includes that. When we are so burdened for others, those we love, when we are so distressed by things that happen to them, that becomes a burden to us, that is our care and our anxiety. And the Lord is saying. Bring that to me as well; Cannot you trust Me to do what is best with them? Someone may say What about the things that are so distressing, so terribly difficult? Well, Peter is speaking about that as well. Casting ALL, not a part of it, not just the part that affects you personally, but how it affects everybody else and consequently how it affects you. How it affects your loved ones and hence how it is distressing you. “Casting ALL your care upon Him, for He careth for you”. Now that’s another reason why we are so anxious because we are not really believing that He cares for us. We think these things have happened because He has stopped caring for us. Whereas in fact all these things are happening because He does care for us. Now you say, ‘Well, I just do not believe you’. I am not
surprised, friends. Only faith can say that. I am not surprised when people say, I don’t believe you. I would not, if it was not for the grace of God. It is an act of faith to say He is caring for me. Peter says. He is caring for me, really caring for me in a way that I cannot care for myself, and really caring for me in my situation, in a way that I cannot care for myself. And as you bring your problems, your distresses, your loved ones, and lay them in His hands, you can say with Peter, He is caring about all these things. Let Him care about all these things. It does make a difference, friends. “Cast thy burden upon the Lord and he shall sustain thee.” You will need it, you will need sustaining, we all will. We shall need His strength to be made perfect in our weakness, but then the Psalmist goes on to say, “He shall never suffer the righteous to be moved”. He will never suffer these things to separate you from your God. He will never suffer these things to separate you from your Saviour. “He will not suffer the righteous to be moved.” He will not suffer these things to overwhelm you in despair – they may bring you very low, but cast “all your care upon Him, for He careth for you”. Amen.
* This sermon is printed by request and has been subject to a minimum of editing. It was preached in a very personal way to my own people at a time when we were passing through very deep sorrows. A dear husband and father of two little children was dying with cancer, another dear wife and mother was lying in severe pain, my own daughter was attending a hospital school after two months of continuous distress and my wife was recovering from a minor operation. There is also added significance in that four days after the sermon was preached our eldest son, Stephen, was killed instantly in a motor cycle accident. Throughout that fiery trial of faith the precious words of the text and of Psalm 55.22 were God’s most gracious comfort to my soul by which my heart was kept quietly humbled and resigned to His mysterious will.