Good God

Good God

TEXT: Psalm 100; John 10:11-15; Romans 12:1-2

“God is great, God is good…” – Christy asked the children what it means that God is great, that God is good. That’s just what we are also going to talk about this morning. Two other sayings come to mind as well.

One is the call and response – see if you know it: GOD IS GOOD [all the time!]  ALL THE TIME [God is good!]

And then this one, which has an entirely different cast to it: “If God is good, why do bad things happen?”

That last one is a deeply philosophical and theological question and not one I’m going to try to answer today. I’m not sure that’s a question that can be answered satisfactorily by human argument. It’s what I call one of the “big questions” that people wrestle with when they wrestle with faith. If that’s one you’d like to talk about, I’d invite you to reach out to me. It’s much better addressed in conversation than in a sermon.

However, there is something close to that big question that today’s texts will proclaim: “God often shows His goodness in the midst of bad things that happen.” I hope to touch some on that today and maybe that will be a good starting place on the other question.

The Lord is Good (Psalm 100)

Our Call to Worship was Psalm 100, which is a Psalm or song of praise. It especially lifts up several traits of God in verse 5, saying:

  • The Lord is good
  • His lovingkindness is everlasting
  • His faithfulness to all generations.

We’ve looked at God’s LOVINGKINDNESS and FAITHFULNESS in previous weeks, and those traits join GOOD in this verse. And for these traits, for who God is, the Psalm invites us to shout to, serve, come before, and know the Lord. We are to give thanks and bless God’s name, praising and worshiping.

Besides declaring that the Lord is good and inviting our praise and worship, this Psalm introduces the imagery of sheep and therefore indirectly, the Shepherd. Though it doesn’t use the phrase, this Psalm calls to mind God as the “Good Shepherd” when it calls us “the sheep of His pasture.” And that’s the image I want to focus on this morning to help us understand God’s goodness. You may also remember Psalm 23, which also portrays God as a Good Shepherd, providing water, pasture, protection, and guidance. Let me remind you of those verses:

1 The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.
2 He makes me lie down in green pastures;
He leads me beside quiet waters.

3 He restores my soul;
He guides me in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake.
4 Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I fear no evil, for You are with me;
Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.

There in verse 4 is that distinction I made earlier. It doesn’t say “I will never walk through the valley of the shadow of death” or “there is no evil” – bad things do happen. We do and will walk through those valleys. We will face evil in the world; there is evil in the world. The goodness of God the Shepherd is not demonstrated by pulling us out of the world or putting some kind of invulnerable shield around us, but by the WITHNESS and the PROVISION in the midst of suffering, evil, and death. God leads, restores, guides, and is with us. The rod and staff, tools for protecting and correcting, offer comfort in those dark places.

The Good Shepherd (John 10)

Jesus picks up this same Shepherd imagery from the Psalms in John 10. He has already claimed that “I and the Father are one” and now he puts himself into the role that the Psalms used to describe the goodness of God. So, John 10 helps us understand the goodness of God the Father, expressed through the person and work of Jesus the Son.

In John 10 Jesus is in the midst of some of the so-called “I am” sayings, where he is identifying with God by using an intentional reference to the holy name of God, Yahweh, which means “I am who I am.” The Gospel of John records some 20 times of Jesus using that phrase to describe himself and his role, and because of the phrase, his identification with God. In John 10 he says “I am the Good Shepherd” twice (v.11 and 14), saying two key things about what makes this Shepherd GOOD. Let’s look at them.

SACRIFICE: The Good Shepherd lays down his life for the sheep (vv.11-13)

The shepherd is contrasted with a hired hand, who flees at the sign of danger from a wolf or other animal that preys on sheep. But the Shepherd protects and defends the sheep, even risking, even laying down his life for the sheep. This becomes especially poignant and powerful in the context of Jesus actually laying down his life for the sins of the world. In the face of evil and death, Jesus gives up his life to give us life.

COMMUNITY: The Good Shepherd knows his own and they know their Shepherd (vv.14-15)

Jesus creates relationship and community with those who trust him. He knows us and we come more and more to recognize his voice and leading in our lives. This is a good gift. He likens that relationship and community with that between him and God the Father. That’s as close as close can be! Jesus brings us into relationship and community with God! Elsewhere Jesus will use language of adoption to describe how we are brought into God’s family. But here it’s sheep and Shepherd, who know each other’s voice and belong to each other because of that special bond.

Serving the Shepherd (Romans 12)

Romans 12 also speaks of the GOODNESS of God, specifically describing the will of God as GOOD (and acceptable and perfect). The will of God is what God intends and desires for us and for the world. If you want to experience God’s goodness, then seek God’s will in every situation. What does God want me to do? What is God’s will for me? God is good and God’s will is good… so that’s what we should strive for.

How do we do that? Romans 12:1-2 offer two key ways:

v.1 – WORSHIP: Present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice…

The first way is through living worship. This isn’t just coming to church and doing the things for an hour. Living worship is an all-life offering of ourselves to the Lord. That’s what “living and holy sacrifice” means. This is our “spiritual service of worship.” Listen to all the worship words in there: PRESENT (offer), SERVICE, WORSHIP. Give yourself to God heart, soul, mind, and strength. That’s the definition of loving God. Do that and you will discover God’s good will. Again, this doesn’t mean God will beam you out of trouble or put a shield of invulnerability around you. It does mean that you will experience the Good Shepherd and all that the Shepherd does for the sheep.

v.2 – HOLY CHANGE: Be transformed by the renewing of your mind…

You have to change the way you think; rather, invite God to change the way you think! Our minds can’t be “conformed to this world” – matching the goals and priorities of the world around us. Rather, inviting God to make our thoughts new again (renewed) through His Word and Spirit, will transform our minds. Transform means change and if it is brought about by God’s Word and Spirit it will be a holy change of thoughts; and thoughts shape behavior. We will be made new.

When we offer ourselves as an act of worship and welcome holy change, we will find ourselves aligning more and more with God’s will. More than that, Romans 12:2 says we will ‘prove’ – that is display – the will of God in our lives. We will demonstrate the goodness of God in and through our thoughts, words, and actions.

Thank you, God

I want to return to Psalm 100 to end. There is a lot of wisdom in teaching children to pray, “God is great; God is good.” Similarly there is a lot of wisdom in singing and praying something like Psalm 100. We are reminded that though there is sin and evil in the world, the Lord is good; His lovingkindness is everlasting and His faithfulness is to all generations. We are His people and the sheep of His pasture. Let us give thanks and bless God’s name. Amen!

Some Music Used

  • Good to Me (Musseau)
  • Good, Good Father
  • CHOIR: We Seek After These Things
  • Psalm 23 (Townend)
  • Postlude: Sanctus (Rick Bean, piano)