I would like to begin by referring to a text (although it is not the main text for today).
Firstly, how have you gone through the past year? Have you been able to see God in everything that has happened to you this year - whether the times were pleasant, joyous, prosperous, difficult, challenging or when there was sickness? Have you seen God in everything or have you felt forsaken by God? The Bible says that God is a God who hides Himself.
15 Truly, you are a God who hides himself, O God of Israel, the Savior. Isaiah 45:15
If you look at your circumstances with a human, logical mind, it is easy to miss God. You may have gone through this year not really seeing God.
Some examples: When the Lord Jesus was born, a choir of angels appeared to the shepherds and sang, ‘Peace on earth and goodwill to all men.’ It did not take long, and a jealous Herod killed all boys under the age of two in a certain area. He aimed to kill a possible rival who would dethrone him barely 2 years after the birth of Christ. Does that sound like ‘peace on earth and goodwill to all men’? The nation of Israel had anticipated the birth of the Messiah that the angels sang about.
I once asked a Jewish heart specialist several years ago during a period of fighting with Hamas or the Palestinian authorities, ‘Professor, what is your opinion about what is happening in Israel?’
‘Nothing new,’ he said, ‘since the birth of the nation we have been fighting with our backs against the wall just to survive. It started off when we left Egypt, Pharoah was on our tracks. Once he was shaken off, nation after nation attacked us as we trekked through the desert.’ Does that sound like ‘peace on earth and goodwill to all men’?
It is easy not to see God when we look at things around us - whether in our personal lives or in our nation. What was such a blessing to me this Christmas was that God sent His son to this world for one reason only: to suffer and die in our place for our sins, to pay the price for our sins. When His Son was born, God knew where it was headed and where it would end - the final conviction and crucifixion of His Son – even to the point where God left Him and the Lord Jesus cried out, ‘My God, My God, why has Thou forsaken Me?’ Did God send a host of angels to weep for this very difficult time? No, because God loved us He did not look at the suffering He and His Son would endure. He looked ahead to the possibility of our salvation. His love for us meant that He was not looking at the tragedy and suffering ahead for Him and His Son, no, rather it was a joyous occasion. He sent the angels ahead to announce it. Why did He ignore His own pain and suffering? Because He loved us and anticipated the salvation of our souls.
Let this be a lesson to us to live for others and not ourselves. God was totally selfless. He did not consider what it would cost Him, but He was occupied with the joy of saving our souls and destroying Satan’s works. This is a lesson from Christmas. God was beside Himself with joy for mankind and the birth of His Son was a joyous occasion.
Has God hidden Himself this year or did you see God in this year?
Something happened some time ago in the Cango Caves. The Cango Caves is one of the most popular tourist sites in South Africa. A Christian guide at the caves was given a group of tourists to take through the caves. Amongst the tourists was a Jew. He asked the Jew how he experienced the God of Israel. The Jew exploded angrily saying, ‘I don’t believe in the God of Israel. It is a myth. If it is not a myth, if He really exists, then He has turned His back on Israel and hates Israel. How else would He allow us to suffer the way we do?’
Thereafter the Christian guide informed the group of tourists that the tour would be challenging and that there were some difficult places ahead. One place was called the Lumbago Valley where they would have to bend very low to get through. He assured them that he would be with them all the time and that they need not worry. After this information, some tourists in the group left - as not everybody was willing to go all the way.
When the group reached a more difficult spot, the Devil’s Chimney, he asked the Jew to take charge of the group. This spot in the caves is very narrow. Often some people get very fearful at this point, others are not able to continue through because of their size. The guide told the group that they would take the route through the Devil’s Chimney. He reminded them of what he had said - that he would be with them all the time. Then, he promptly turned and walked away into the darkness. The group was shocked that the guide had suddenly left them. They began climbing up the Devil’s Chimney. The tourists were bewildered and confused, some were upset and disappointed, some were angry. They murmured as they crawled and wriggled through the narrow spots. Little did they know that when the guide had left them, he had taken another route that met up with the route they were taking. So, he did not leave them. He went another way and from the top he climbed down and watched their every step. Finally, when they reached their destination, the Devil’s Postbox, suddenly out of the dark they heard the voice of their guide. He had instructed them to take this route and the next moment they were in a room filled with bright lights and their guide was waiting for them.
At the end of the tour, he asked the Jew what he had to say? ‘I am mad. I am still cross with you,’ he replied. The guide told him that he did not have to be upset and reminded him that he had said that he would be with them all the time and would ensure that they arrived safely at the end. ‘Do you see that this is how the God of Israel is? Sometimes He hides Himself. We may go through dark and difficult times, but God is there and He has not deserted us,’ the guide said. As they were about to part, the Jew took the guide’s hand and squeezed it, ‘Thank you,’ he said, ‘you have helped me to believe again.’
You may have been through very difficult times, but if you did not allow any sin to enter then God has been there, even though He may have been hiding. If you have been through the past year with this conviction, then you will have faith for 2024, and you will look forward to the new year because you know that the God of Israel is looking after you and He will not desert you. Even though he may place you in the most difficult and unbearable circumstances, you will not be depressed, instead you will look forward to 2024.
What is the most common reason for not seeing God in certain circumstances? The main thing is when there is sin between us and the Lord Jesus. If you tolerate sin in your life, you will be unable to see God. What will happen instead? When it is going well, instead of being thankful to God you will be proud of your own goodness. Pride will blind you to the living God. You will not see God who hides Himself. When it is going badly, however, you will find someone to blame. Is there not someone this morning against whom you have a grudge? You blame that person for being responsible for the black hole in which you have been. Your sin of unbelief blinds you. You nurse your grudges. I do not even refer to your gossip about that person. When you gossip you lose it all. You are lost when you accuse people around you for your difficulties. You will attend church feeling quite justified. ‘Even though I have been treated like a dog, I am where I am,’ you will say. The thing that blinds and prevents you from seeing God is sin. Keep that in mind as I read the text from 1 Peter 5.
5Likewise, you who are younger and of lesser rank, be subject to the elders (the ministers and spiritual guides of the church)—[giving them due respect and yielding to their counsel]. Clothe (apron) yourselves, all of you, with humility [as the garb of a servant, so that its covering cannot possibly be stripped from you, with freedom from pride and arrogance] toward one another. For God sets Himself against the proud (the insolent, the overbearing, the disdainful, the presumptuous, the boastful)—[and He opposes, frustrates, and defeats them], but gives grace (favour, blessing) to the humble. 1 Peter 5:5 (AMPC)
In other words, carry out what the elders and spiritual guides of the church lead you to do. (But do not just obey them while grumbling in your heart that you are being made to do this and that.) Peter then addresses the attitude of the heart. Giving them due respect, in your heart where nobody can see, respect them. …yielding to their counsel, submit yourself to their counsel. Young person, have you followed this instruction from God’s word? If not, do not be surprised if you have not seen God and you are only aware of people, your own goodness and what others have done for or against you. Peter does not say that although they do not deserve it, just obey them. No, give them the respect they deserve and submit to their counsel.
Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility. Can that be said of our lives? Are we clothed with humility? Can people see the humility that covers us, like clothes cover our bodies? Clothe yourselves with humility, he says, as the clothing of a servant. Oh, God be merciful to me! May I never lose the clothing of a servant. …so that its covering cannot possibly be stripped from you… no matter how you are treated, people cannot take your humility away from you. …with freedom from pride and arrogance. To whom, the elders? No, …toward one another, those around you.
Paul says that each one should esteem the next person higher than himself Phil 2:3 Think of all the people you know. There should not be one person whom you do not esteem as higher than yourself.
For God sets Himself against the proud…There are many ways in which God can resist the proud. One way is to hide Himself from the person. God sets Himself against the proud, the arrogant – the person who tells others how good he is, what he has done, what he has attained, what he means. To the insolent, the overbearing (those who are self-confident in their abilities), the disdainful, the presumptuous and boastful. What is a boastful person like? He cannot help but emphasise what role he has played, how important his role has been so that everything went well. God sets Himself against the proud, but He gives grace, favour, blessing to the humble. Andrew Murray wrote a book about humility in which he said, ‘Humility is the diamond of holiness, it is the most beautiful side of holiness.’
6 Therefore humble yourselves [demote, lower yourselves in your own estimation] under the mighty hand of God, that in due time He may exalt you…1 Peter 5:6
If God or people humble you, do not fight back for recognition. Humble yourself, shut your mouth, and in God’s time He will uplift you. If we are humiliated, let us keep quiet and humble ourselves before God. Remember God who sees everything, sees your heart. Do not tell everyone what you have done and that without you things would not have happened. No, leave that to God. Humble yourself and God will uplift you in His time. Do not fight for yourself.
I was once at a funeral of a man who had worked with Rev Stegen for a long time. It was a funeral I thought Rev Stegen should have taken, but he was neither asked to take the funeral service nor to say something, but he attended the funeral out of respect for the man whom he knew so well. We were all there and I waited expectantly for Rev Stegen to say something, but he was not asked. He was just there as someone who had been invited. He was quite contented. The person who took the funeral, made a very hurtful remark about Rev Stegen, our pastor, in front of us all. I watched Rev Stegen carefully. There was not the slightest indication that he was offended, there was no effort from his side to uplift himself, he just remained quiet and was himself, as usual. You could talk to him and there was no evidence that he had been at the receiving end of a hurtful remark. There was no change in his attitude. His actions that day were worth 100 sermons to me. Finally, after the refreshments, he said goodbye and returned to the mission.
7casting the whole of your care [all your anxieties, all your worries, all your concerns, once and for all] on Him, for He cares for you affectionately and cares about you watchfully. 1 Peter 5:7
Once you have taken the steps to ensure that things between you and God are clean, there will still be burdens and anxieties that you will need to carry - family burdens, burdens for the present, burdens for the future, for yourself, for others, for the church of Christ – all these burdens must be cast on God. He cares affectionately and cares about you watchfully. Like the guide at the Cango Caves who watched over every step through the difficult parts of the cave. If you do not do this, be careful, you can invite a depression.
There is the story of a man who lived next to a highway. He sold hot dogs. He could not hear very well, so he never listened to the radio. He could not read very well, so he did not really read the newspapers, but he sold good hot dogs. He put signs up next to the highway advertising his good hot dogs. When a person drove past slowly, he shouted to them, ‘Mister, come, buy a hot dog – the best you have ever had!’ People bought the hot dogs and he had to order more bread rolls, more sausages, buy a bigger stove. He could not keep up with the demand.
From the profit he made selling the hot dogs, he paid his son’s university fees. One day his son came from university, and something happened. He said to his father, ‘Don’t you know - the whole of Europe is in a recession - even in our country, money is losing its value – there is inflation.’ His father thought, well my son has been to university and he reads the social media, the news reports and the newspapers, so he must know what he is talking about. So, he stopped ordering so many buns, he stopped ordering sausages, he stopped promoting his hot dogs. Within two short weeks, the sale of his hot dogs crashed. He said to his son, ‘You know my son, you spoke the truth. I can see there is no money around. There is an inflation and depression, even my hot dog sales have dropped. ‘
If you are entering the new year with unbelief and carrying these many burdens, you will miss what God wants you to be –the blessing God wants you to be, the light and encouragement God wants you to be.
Why did Peter say this? Casting the whole of your care, all your anxieties, all your worries, concerns, once and for all on Him – for He cares for you affectionately and cares for you watchfully.
This is what a man of God said about carrying our burdens. ‘For seeing all kinds of anxious anxieties that become a burden to you – can become a temptation to lose your faith in God.’
This is my advice for 2024. If you have taken care that your life is clean and your relationship with God is right, do not allow the devil to burden you with all kinds burdens that you should not be carrying. Even the best of Christians, Peter says, are apt to suffer by giving way to anxiety and burdens and fears that keep them from doing what God wants them to do. Maybe there are some hot dogs that God wants you to sell. There may be some souls that God wants you to ‘sell’ the Gospel to and bring them to Jesus Christ, but if you carry all the burdens and anxieties, God cannot use you. This man of God said it is to care unnecessarily - which is very sinful because it results from unbelief. And it makes us unfit for the duties God wants us to perform. It hinders us from performing the delightful duties for God.’
It should be a delight for us to serve God. Do not allow the devil to rob you of that. You can always be used by God, even if you are sick in bed, day and night and are unable to get up due to your illness. God keeps you alive in bed, as sick as you are, for a purpose. He still has a purpose for you. (This is where the devil has gained most ground in some western countries, especially Holland, Belgium, Canada and Switzerland where if a person feels that his life is not worth anything, he can have an injection to ‘rest’ since his life serves no purpose. No, a thousand times no, no, no! That is a lie from the devil! There is an organisation working to get that legalised in South Africa as well. Where it has been legalised already, a child of 12 years old may ask for the injection without his parents’ consent. Yet, there is so much hope! We cannot allow the devil to incapacitate us, paralyse us and make us lame. We need to do something for God’s Kingdom.
Allow me to end with this point: Where is the biggest area where the devil manages to blind us so that we cannot see God? When we live under the attractions of this world - its lights and glory, its lust and sex - we never realise that we are sinners and the things around us are sin. God sent His Son at Christmas to give His life so that we can be saved from our sins and see God’s hand, our own sinfulness and the need to run to God for forgiveness, to be washed of our sins, to continue in 2024 and mean something for God’s Kingdom. Have you seen that? Have you seen your need for forgiveness? Have you felt convicted? Have you felt the need to confess your sins and bring them to the light? Then you have seen God. If you are quite happy with your lukewarm life, Satan is the happiest creature because you live in that state never having had your soul properly washed in the blood of the Lord Jesus Christ. You are in your own world and in the devil’s pocket.