The Lord's Day Morning
September 4, 2005
Lamentations 3:19, Job 1
“What About Katrina?”
Dr. J. Ligon Duncan III
Hear the word of God.
“There was a man in the land of Uz, whose name was Job, and that man was blameless, upright, fearing God, and turning away from evil. And seven sons and three daughters were born to him. His possession also were 7,000 sheep, 3,000 camels, 500 yoke of oxen, 500 female donkeys, and very many servants, and that man was the greatest of all the men of the east. And his sons used to go and hold a feast in the house of each one on his day, and they would send and invite their three sisters to eat and drink with them. And it came about, when the days of feasting had completed their cycle, that Job would send and consecrate them, rising up early in the morning and offering burnt offerings according to the number of them all; for Job said, ‘Perhaps my sons have sinned and cursed God in their hearts.’ Thus Job did continually.
“Now there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the Lord, Satan also came among them. And the Lord said to Satan, ‘From where do you come?’ Then Satan answered the Lord and said, ‘From roaming about on the earth and walking around on it.’ And the Lord said to Satan, ‘Have you considered My servant Job? For there is no one like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, fearing God and turning away from evil.’ Then Satan answered the Lord, ‘Does Job fear God for nothing? Hast Thou not made a hedge about him and his house and all that he has, on every side? Thou hast blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land. But put forth Thy hand now and touch all that he has; he will surely curse Thee to Thy face.’ Then the Lord said to Satan, ‘Behold, all that he has is in your power, only do not put forth your hand on him.’ So Satan departed from the presence of the Lord.
“Now it happened on the day when his sons and his daughters were eating and drinking wine in their oldest brother's house, that a messenger came to Job and said, ‘The oxen were plowing and the donkeys feeding beside them, and the Sabeans attacked and took them. They also blew the servants with the edge of the sword, and I alone have escaped to tell you.’ While he was still speaking, another also came and said, ‘The fire of God fell from heaven and burned up the sheep and the servants and consumed them; and I alone have escaped to tell you.’ While he was still speaking, another also came and said, ‘The Chaldeans formed three bands and made a raid on the camels and took them and slew the servants with the edge of the sword; and I alone have escaped to tell you’ While he was still speaking, another also came and said, ‘Your sons and your daughters were eating and drinking wine in their oldest brother's house, and behold, a great wind came from across the wilderness and struck the four corners of the house, and it fell on the young people and they died; and I alone have escaped to tell you.’
“Then Job arose and tore his robe and shaved his head, and he fell to the ground and he worshiped. And he said,
‘Naked I came from my mother's womb,
And naked I shall return there.
The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away.
Blessed be the name of the Lord.’
Through all this Job did not sin nor did he blame God.”
Amen. And thus ends this reading of God's holy, inspired, and inerrant word. May He write its eternal truth upon our hearts.
Let us confess our faith with Job in the one true God, using The Apostles’ Creed.
Christians, what do you believe?
“I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth,
and in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord, Who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, Born of the virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried. He descended into hell.
The third day He arose again from the dead. He ascended into heaven, and sitteth on the right hand of God the Father Almighty. From thence He shall come to judge the quick and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Ghost, the holy catholic church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting. Amen.”
Our Lord and our God, we come before You this day acknowledging that You are our only hope. You are our help from ages past. Before the mountains were made, or ever the earth and the world were brought into being, You are God from everlasting.
We acknowledge, O God, that You are the One who cares for us, and You are the One who is in control of the seasons, and You are the God of storms. Shall we accept the manifold good that You have given to us from Your hand and not accept the dark providences? O God, we acknowledge that You have cared for us in this assembly. How many testimonies are there, O God, to the way that You have provided? In this assembly, O God, because You have given to us You have enabled us to give to others who are in need. We bless You for this. This in and of itself is an enormous blessing from the hand of the living God.
O God, in these days to come, we pray that You would make us to be generous in our care for others; to be sacrificial not only in our support of the work of this local congregation and what it is able to do to minister to those around it in need, but that we would be generous in our own personal giving of our own time and energies and financial resources to help those who have lost everything.
O God, make us to have a good and clear witness in word and deed to the saving grace of the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ towards us. Lord God, use even this storm to bring men and women and boys and girls to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ, and use the tangible, loving, care and concern of Christians as a living witness to Your grace. Our Lord and our God, we pray for the families of our congregation that are still without power and other basic necessities of life. We pray that You would provide for them, and that You would provide for them through us. We pray that as a congregation we would be constantly looking for ways that we can minister to our own family.
Our Lord and our God, we pray that You would make us to be a resource for those hurting Christians in the southern part of this state, especially. And we pray that you would use those efforts to encourage not only those local congregations, but to make those local congregations a base of outreach for the gospel in ways that they have never been able to be in years past.
Our Lord and our God, we come before You this day asking You to meet with us, to speak to us by Your word, to enable our hearts to praise You. We thank You, O God, for what You have done for us in Jesus Christ, and we ask that as a congregation that You would build us up in Your grace and love so that we might become more and more like our Savior, who was Himself the exact representation of God. We would be morally upright; we would be growing in maturity, so that we might approximate Him in our character, so that what we love are the things that He loves, and that what we hate are the things that He hates.
Lord God, bless the many members of this congregation who are working either in their vocations or simply out of their private desires to bear witness to You in this time. Strengthen them for the work, for the duty that is at hand. Make us all to be ready to hand, faithful, ready to serve. Receive our thanks, forgive our sins, hear our prayers. All this we ask in Jesus' name. Amen.
Please open your Bibles to Lamentations 3 verse 19. I want to look at five biblical truths with you as we respond to this great storm that we've seen and ask some questions about God and about Hurricane Katrina, and attempt to inform our thinking with these five biblical truths in the areas of: The Power of God; The Providence of God; The Proof of Depravity; The Pathway from Misery back to Sin; and, The Provision of the Cross.
So let's begin by hearing God's word in Lamentations 3:19.
“Remember my affliction and my wandering, the wormwood and bitterness. Surely my soul remembers and is bowed down within me. This I recall to my mind, Therefore I have hope. The Lord's lovingkindnesses indeed never cease, for His compassions never fail. They are new every morning; Great is Thy faithfulness. ‘The Lord is my portion,’ says my soul, ‘Therefore I have hope in Him.’
Thus far the reading of God's holy word. Let's bow our heads in prayer.
Lord God, speak to us this day. Speak to us from Your holy Scriptures. Cause our hearts and minds to respond to the experiences of this last week not by our own inherent instincts and intuitions, but wholly in accordance with Your word, for You have given us Your word to guide us in the way that we should think about the world, in the way that we respond to adversity, in the way that we minister in time of need, in the way that we answer our questions — ‘ why?’ So speak to us now in Your word we pray, in Jesus' name. Amen.
As we think about God and Katrina, I want to think with you about five things that the Bible teaches us about God that ought to order the way in which we assess what has happened in this week past.
There are going to be many people offering their own theories about what the message of Katrina is. For some, it's a political message. “Clearly, some particular political party had not made proper infrastructure preparations, and therefore we suffered this disaster,” some will say. Others will say, “Clearly a particular political party has not cared enough about global warming, and therefore this disaster has fallen upon us.”
Others, however, will have their own theory — some of them religious. They’ll say, “Clearly, God was sending a message to those sinners in the city of New Orleans, shot through with vice as they are. Surely God [it will be said] was sending a message to the casinos on the coast of Mississippi.” There will be all sorts of theories as to why this happened and as to what the message is.
But the place we go to get God's answer to what is going on in the providences — even the dark providences of this world — is not from our own political inclinations and the opportunity to take a jab at the other side, but it is from God's word. It is God's word that informs how we think about everything, and I want you to see five truths from God's word that inform how we need to think about Katrina, and the first one is this: Our God is powerful.
I. The power of God.
The power of God is one of the messages of this storm. As I was thinking about the surging power of this storm as it was right over us, blowing somewhere from 60 to 90 miles an hour even here in Jackson, with gusts much higher…as I was thinking about the power of this storm, I remembered the biblical truth that He has gathered the winds in His fists. The wind, the storm, is merely a tiny manifestation of the power of God. How do we sing it?
“God moves in a mysterious way, His wonders to perform.
He plants His footsteps on the sea, and rides upon the storm.”
God is the God of storms, and this storm is just one tiny manifestation of His awesome power, and so as we consider the power of this storm, if we're going to think biblically about it, we're going to trace back that power to the living God, who over and over in Scripture is described as the God who sends winds.
Let me just prove that to you. Think all the way back to Genesis 8, the very first verse. You know what's happening there. A flood has been visited upon the earth, and now God in His mercy is bringing that floodwater back. He's moving the waters back into place, and what does He do? He sends a wind to dry the land. It's God who sends that wind to dry the land.
Fast forward to Exodus 10. It's in the middle of the plagues that are being visited upon Egypt, and you know what happens. God sends a wind that blows the locusts into the land of Egypt, and then later He sends a wind that blows the locusts out of the land of Egypt. God is the one who sends that wind.
Exodus 14 — the children of Israel are trapped. The sea is before them, the Egyptians are behind them. They’re going to be slaughtered! No. Why? Because God sends a wind, and He parts the sea, and the children of Israel go through it. And He sends another wind in Exodus 15 and brings the waters down on the Egyptians.
God is the God of storms, of wind, and all the power of that wind is simply a manifestation of His power.
In Numbers 11:31, when the children of Israel are in the wilderness and they’re in need of food, God sends a wind that blows them quail and they eat quail to their fill. But, then, again, my friends, in Job 1 when we see the awesome power of what, no doubt, everyone in Job's day would have seen as a “natural disaster” — when that wind comes off of the wilderness and blows the house down on the children of Job, God says He was in control of that wind.
But there's another wind I want to remind you of. It's a wind that's described in Luke 8:23, 24. The disciples are out in a boat on the Sea of Galilee with Jesus, and a mighty storm comes up. And Jesus seems unconcerned, and the disciples cry out, “Lord, don't You care about us? We’re going to die!” And Jesus rebukes the wind, and it stops. And the disciples say, “Who is this that commands even the wind?” Well, the answer is obvious, my friends, because the disciples know that there's only one Who commands the wind. It's God, and Jesus commands the wind, and so Jesus is the very incarnate Son of the living God. He commands the wind. And so, when you look at the awesome power of that surging wind, you remember that that is but a display of the power of God.
His power is far greater than the power of that wind to destroy, and that gives us great hope in this time, because our resources are at a finite limit. As generous as we can be to help those in need right now, our resources are finite. His are not, because He's the God of the wind, and that wind that we saw displayed in New Orleans and in South Mississippi and all across this state is just a fraction – a tiny, an infinitesimally small fraction – of the power of God. And just as He has the power to bring judgment, so He has the power to bring blessing; and so, as we minister we should minister in utter dependence (but in confident dependence) upon God because of His power. That's one lesson we learn from this storm. Its power is just a small illustration of the power of God, because He is the God of wind, He is the God of storm.
II. The providence of God.
But the second thing I want us to remember is the providence of God, and that's why I read from Lamentations 3:19-24. First of all, isn't it a providence of God that Derek was preaching on that passage last Lord's Day? He had chosen that days and days in advance, but before we knew that Katrina would be rumbling through our state from bottom to top, knocking out 97% of the power in the city of Jackson, robbing light and power from over 1.2 million homes in Mississippi, taking water from thousands, disrupting commerce, interrupting our lives for a week…when is the last time that a natural disaster stopped you in your tracks for a week?…And there was Derek, preaching on Lamentations, chapter 3: “Great Is Thy Faithfulness. Your compassions, O Lord, are new every morning…Your mercies….”
But you remember the context in which Jeremiah was uttering those words. He was looking upon the destroyed city of Jerusalem, the exiled people of God. They had faced the worst kind of disaster, and Jeremiah knew that that disaster was not a Babylonian disaster just like we know that this disaster is not merely a “natural disaster.” In fact, ultimately speaking there's no such thing as a “natural disaster”, because it's not “Mother Nature” who visits these things on us. It is the Lord God who rules who is in control of everything. Not one hair on your head is out of His control. Not one wind on this earth is out of His control, and that reminds us of His providence. He is overseeing everything. He is in control of all things.
But even in the midst of that dark providence of the loss of Jerusalem, Jeremiah is able to say to God “Great is Your faithfulness”, because even as He is in control of everything, great is His mercy and His providence towards His people.
How many things do we have to celebrate together this week? Let me tell you, for the first time in a long time, I took a sip of water this week and thanked God for that water. I presume upon that water all the time. I act as if it is my inherent right to be able to drink that water. I drank it with a new appreciation this week, realizing that God had provided that water for me. When the power came back on in my home a few hours ago, after four days of darkness and sweat, you believe me, I was not only thankful for Entergy and all those crews of guys that were working late at night to get that thing back up, I was thankful to the Lord! Because I presume upon a thousand things a day that God provides me in His mercy, I presume upon them as if they were my right, when in fact they are the provision of God.
My friends, we are here today, we're breathing. That is the doing of God as much as that storm was, and we ought to be thankful. We ought to be grateful — grateful for those things that we typically assume and presume upon. I love the way that E. B. Hill, before the Lord took him home, used to say that he’d wake up in the morning and the first thing he’d say with his head on his pillow was, “Thank You, Jesus. I woke up again. Thank You, Jesus.” Let's be thankful for the providence of God. He has provided for us richly. We’re alive. Most of us still have our jobs. Most of us still have our homes. A lot of us have electricity. We’re still drinking water and eating food. There are folks on the coast that can't say that, so we ought to be thankful for the providence that God has shown to us in His mercy, and then we ought to be giving, and be the conduit for His provision for them because of His rich provision for us–even as we stand back and see the amazing way that He will provide.
I got a call from a pastor in South Mississippi yesterday. We’d been trying to call one another for four days. I have dialed his number about 85 times. We got a line through. He said, “Our greatest need in this community right now is fuel, ice, and water.” Well, just about an hour before, Billy Joseph had called me up to say that 60,000 gallons of gasoline had just been contributed to the MNA Disaster Relief Fund, and that they were looking for places to send that where it would help people. Well, if we're going to hear stories like that over and over, you just watch how God provides for the people of God, but don't you forget to praise Him for His provision. One of the things this storm teaches us is His provision.
III. The proof of human depravity.
There's a third thing that I want you to see that we learn from this storm in Scripture, and if you have your Bibles, I want you to turn to Psalm 55. And that third thing is that this storm has given us ample Proof of Human Depravity.
Now the storm, of course, didn't do that itself directly. It's the reaction of people in the midst of this storm that has given us ample proof of human depravity. Hear God's word in Psalm 55, beginning in verse 4:
“My heart is in anguish within me, and the terrors of death have fallen upon me. Fear and trembling come upon me; and horror has overwhelmed me. And I said, ‘O that I had wings like a dove! I would fly away and be at rest. Behold, I would wander far away. I would lodge in the wilderness. I would hasten to my place of refuge from the stormy wind and tempest.’ Confuse, O Lord, divide their tongues, for I have seen violence and strife in the city. Day and night they go around her upon her walls; and iniquity and mischief are in her midst. Destruction is in her midst; oppression and deceit do not depart from her streets.”
Isn't it interesting that David, in lamenting a situation in his own life and time 3,000 years ago, can describe for us the city of New Orleans this week…the longing to find a place of refuge, and yet looking out on the city and seeing iniquity?
Now, it is very easy from the comfort of Jackson, Mississippi, to stand in judgment of the humans that are in that horrendous situation, and I want us to be careful about easy generalizations about that situation. But one of the things that has clearly been on display there is human depravity.
You know, if the looting this week had been the looting of grocery stores for bread and water, my guess is that almost the whole nation would have been in sympathy with that – whether we should or not, we would be in sympathy with that. But that's not what we've seen in New Orleans. We have seen a manifest display of human depravity.
You have seen a living proof in thousands of cases that human beings are not basically good: that if you take away government and law and policemen and light — all of the normal restraints of a civil society — human beings will turn into the depraved, morally corrupt beings that they are, apart from the grace of God in Jesus Christ. We have seen a living proof that it is a lie when the world assumes that human beings are basically good. They’re not basically good.
We will see, now, my friends, numerous examples of heroism and bravery and self-giving and self-denying love. We've already seen that. Who of us will ever forget that woman saying to her husband as she slipped out of [his] grasp, “Let me go. Take care of the kids and the grandkids.” We will see numerous examples of heroism and love and self-denial in these next days. But, when we see them we will be seeing evidences (a) of God's special saving grace at work in people's hearts, so that they have been changed from the inside out and they are self-denying and self-giving; (b) we will be seeing examples of God's common and restraining grace, where God in His mercy has poured out by His Holy Spirit a goodness upon people which is not natively their own in their own depravity, and has, by the forces of society and government, restrained their evil tendencies and prompted them to move in good direction by the examples of others, by the restraint of law. But we will not be seeing evidences that people are basically good.
No, the kinds of deeds that we have seen perpetrated in New Orleans, and frankly, in our own back yard — whether it's price-gouging or whatever, are examples of actions that are not driven by human need, but actions that are driven by depravity. The gangs on the fourth level of the Superdome, the snipers shooting at rescuers–what is that for? It is an example of human depravity. We have seen not only the power of God and the providence of God, but we've seen the proof of human depravity in the response to the storm. So the next time somebody tells you that people are basically good, you say ‘Let's go down to New Orleans, and let's think about what we've seen this week.’
IV. The pathway from misery back to sin.
Fourthly, having seen the Depravity of Human Beings, we also have seen the pathway from misery back to sin. Let me take you to Romans 6. In Romans 6:23 — you know it by heart — “For the wages of sin is death.” Now let me just stop there in that verse. You know the rest of it, but let me just stop there. The Apostle Paul is connecting in Romans 6:23 death as the consequence of sin, and in fact, death is the final manifestation of all the human misery that comes from sin. And the Apostle Paul is telling us that all the misery and death which we experience in this world ultimately can be traced back to sin. And when we see situations of catastrophic misery, we need quickly in our minds (if we're going to think biblically) to work our way back to sin. Now quickly let me say, not in the way that Job's counselors did! You see somebody in misery, you don't immediately say ‘Ah! They've committed a sin. That's why they’re in misery.’ We don't do that with individuals.
Job, we're told at the beginning of this book, was upright, and yet his counselors kept telling him – what? ‘You wouldn't be having these problems if you were upright. The reason you’re having these problems is because you’re a sinner.’
God is telling you at the outset of this book that you cannot make that equation: that people who have been robbed of all that they have under the weight of adversity, facing all manners of oppression and deprivation…those people are not necessarily sinners. It is not necessarily their sin that has led to the misery. Jesus makes this point. When people come and say ‘What did that man or his parents do, for him to be born that way?’ ‘Well, actually, it was neither,’ Jesus said. ‘He was born that way so that God would be glorified.’ So, it's not that we connect misery with a particular person or a group of people's sin, but we always recognize that the misery that exists in this world is the result of sin. Misery is in this world because sin is in this world, and misery would not be in this world if sin were not in this world; and misery will be in this world until sin is out of this world, and that is why Revelation is so beautiful. It tells us in chapter 7 and elsewhere that “there was no more sea.”
You remember how Revelation tells you that? “There is no more sea.” The image there is of this chaotic, crashing, dangerous place which has visited devastation on the people of God. (Wouldn't the people of New Orleans have loved to have heard that announcement Monday – “The sea's gone, don't worry about the storm surge.”) What John is telling you is that in the new heavens and the new earth all of that chaos and destruction that can snatch everything away from us all at once, it's all going to be gone because sin's going to be gone. Misery will go when sin goes. And so, whenever we see misery on a small scale or a large scale, we quickly make our way along the pathway back to sin and we recognize it is this way in this world not because God is capricious and is playing with us, but because of the consequences of our sin and the sin of our first parents. They sinned and brought misery into this world, and we sin and we perpetuate that misery…and all the misery of this world can be traced back to that original sin.
The only possibility of relief then of that misery is not going to be found in human industry or in utopian schemes: the only remedy is going to be found in the shed blood of Jesus Christ, and isn't that what the Apostle Paul says in the second half of Romans 6:23 — that “the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” The only ultimate hope of the relief of human misery is through the crucified, dead, buried, and resurrected Savior who even right now is at the right hand of God the Father Almighty.
V. The provision of the cross.
Finally, this storm points us to the provision of the cross. Just as Paul goes from the wages of sin to the free gift, we read in Romans 8:23, “He who did not spare His own Son but delivered Him up for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things?”
You know, some time this week…maybe you've already been asking…somebody's going to say, “How could a loving God have allowed this to happen?” And maybe they know you’re a Calvinist and they want to poke at you a little bit, and they say, “Wait a minute! I'm going to ask it in a different way: how could a loving God have caused this to happen?”
My friends, Romans 8:32 gives you God's response, and that response is simply this: Let me give you a bigger crisis, a bigger tragedy to think about: The death of the only begotten Son of God. Who did that? “He who spared not His own son; He who delivered Him up for us all.” You see what Paul is saying. He's saying that it's God the Father who didn't spare His own Son. It's God the Father who delivered up Jesus Christ on the cross. The early church “got” that. Remember when Peter is accusing the multitudes at Pentecost of their complicity in the death of Christ, and he says to them, “Men of Israel! This man who has been nailed to the cross by the predeterminate plan and foreknowledge of God — you nailed Him to the cross by the hands of sinful men.” In other words, Peter is saying this is God's plan, this is God's design, this is God's doing…and you’re responsible for your own deeds.
So, how could it be that God would allow, how could it be that God would cause such misery? Well, I've got a better question to ask you: How could God deliver over His only Son? You see, it is that act of giving on the part of God that takes out of all question His goodness and love so that when we see the inexplicable things in this world for which we do not have an answer — and I don't have an answer as to what God is up to in New Orleans and Mississippi. I know general biblical principles. That's what we've been trying to look at today. But I don't know the specifics of that. That will only unfold in the days to come. I don't have any more answers than many of you have to those specific questions as to what God is doing in this great event.
But I do know this: His love and His goodness and His kindness are beyond question, because He gave His own Son, and with Him He has given us all things. And that is why Paul is able to say, “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? For I am convinced that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Jesus Christ our Lord.”
Our God has already put into place the very plan whereby He will redeem us from all our sins, and whereby He will comfort us in and deliver us from all our sorrows, and that is in the shed blood of Jesus Christ. And for all of those today, no matter what they've lost, if they will trust in Christ they will find that with Him God will give them all things.
Lord God, thank You for Your word. Thank You for Your love in Jesus Christ. Help us to believe it, to be transformed by it, to be made loving towards others by it, in Jesus' name. Amen.
Let's stand and sing together our last song, Jesus, What a Friend for Sinners.
Receive God's benediction.
The Lord bless you and keep you. The Lord make His face to shine upon you, and be gracious to You. The Lord lift up His countenance upon you and give you peace, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.