The God Who Watches Over Us Sermon by Pastor David A. Reed at Immanuel Baptist Church – July 9, 2017Back to ImmanuelBaptistNB.org
I've titled my sermon today, "The God Who Watches Over Us."
When you tell someone today that God watches over us,
chances are that they will think of the song titled
"From A Distance"
It's lyrics go like this:
"From a distance the world looks blue and green,
and the snow-capped mountains white.
From a distance the ocean meets the stream,
and the eagle takes to flight.
"From a distance, there is harmony,
and it echoes through the land.
It's the voice of hope, it's the voice of peace,
it's the voice of every man.
"From a distance we all have enough,
and no one is in need.
And there are no guns, no bombs, and no disease,
no hungry mouths to feed.
"From a distance we are instruments
marching in a common band.
Playing songs of hope, playing songs of peace.
They're the songs of every man."
Then it ends with this refrain:
"And God is watching us, God is watching us,
God is watching us from a distance.
Oh, God is watching us, God is watching.
God is watching us from a distance."
This song, "From a Distance" was written in 1987
by American singer-songwriter Julie Gold.
She was working as a secretary at the time,
barely able to pay the rent on her one-room apartment.
But her song went on to earn a Grammy in 1991
for Song of the Year,
and has been performed by many artists,
with Bette Middler's rendition being the most famous.
Some who hear the lyrics take it to mean
that God is distant and uncaring-
that He sees us only from a distance,
and isn't in touch with our problems.
However, the composer has said that she believes in a God
who is close to us, and who does good for us.
She said her aim was to contrast how things are
with how things ought to be.
She is from a family of Eastern European Jewish immigrants,
but I haven't found any more information
about whether she is a practicing Jew herself.
The Bible makes it very clear, though,
that the God who watches over us
is close to us,
cares very much about each one of us,
and actively reaches out to help and bless us.
Act 17:27 says that people ,
"should seek the Lord, in the hope that they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us;"
Our responsive reading this morning in Genesis chapter 16
reveals how closely
God watches over even the lowliest of people.
In Genesis chapter 16, we find ourselves
in the middle of a marital mess.
Abram's marriage was a mess.
It was many generations after the Flood of Noah's day,
and mankind had already drifted away from the true God
who sent the Flood.
There was no record of God speaking to anyone
since He spoke to Noah
and told him to build the Ark
that preserved mankind and the land animals
through that global Flood.
But now God
was intervening in human affairs again
by speaking to a man named Abram
who was married to a woman named Sarai.
(We know them better as Abraham and Sarah-
--the names God gave them afterwards.
So, I'll be using both names as I speak about them.)
Abraham wasn't some super-human "saint"
with a halo over his head,
who could do no wrong.
No, Abraham was just an ordinary guy,
and Sarah was just an ordinary woman.
They were very much like all of us.
When God spoke to Abraham,
Abraham put faith in God-he trusted Him.
But, just like us, he also struggled with lack of faith,
and he messed up many times.
And each time he messed up,
the mistakes he made backfired on him.
And that's why his marriage was a mess at this point.
At Genesis 12 verse 1,
we read how God had given a promise to Abraham.
I'm going to read from Genesis 12, verses 1 - 3.
[ READ Genesis 12:1-3 ]
So, God was going to make Abraham into a great nation.
That meant his offspring would be very numerous.
And God went on later to elaborate on that promise.
At Genesis 15 verse 13,
God told him,
"Know for certain that your descendants will be strangers in a country not their own, and they will be enslaved and mistreated four hundred years."
Abraham put faith in God and believed Him.
But he thought there was a problem
with that promise about his offspring coming true:
Genesis 16 verse 1 tells us,
"Now Sarai, Abram's wife, had borne him no children."
So, how was he going to have any offspring?
Eventually, God miraculously enabled Sarah
to have a child when she was 90 years old.
But, instead of trusting and waiting for God to keep His promise,
Sarah and Abraham took matters into their own hands.
Genesis chapter 16 goes on to tell us how.
Beginning at Genesis 16:1 it says,
1 Now Sarai, Abram's wife, had borne him no children. But she had an Egyptian slave named Hagar;
2 so she said to Abram, "The Lord has kept me from having children. Go, sleep with my slave; perhaps I can build a family through her."
Abram agreed to what Sarai said.
3 So after Abram had been living in Canaan ten years, Sarai his wife took her Egyptian slave Hagar and gave her to her husband to be his wife. 4 He slept with Hagar, and she conceived.
When she knew she was pregnant, she began to despise her mistress.
And that's why Abraham's marriage was a mess.
Instead of trusting and waiting for God to keep His promise-
-and instead of following the pattern for marriage
that God set up in the Garden of Eden,
with one man married to one woman-
Sarah and Abraham did what they thought best.
They had Abraham sleep with Sarah's slave girl, Hagar.
And then when the slave girl became pregnant,
she despised Sarah,
who had been unable to conceive a child.
We're told simply that Hagar now despised Sarah,
but it must have made for a lot of hostility
and bad feelings in that household.
And verse 5 tells us Sarah blamed
her husband Abraham for the whole mess:
5 Then Sarai said to Abram, "You are responsible for the wrong I am suffering. I put my slave in your arms, and now that she knows she is pregnant, she despises me. May the Lord judge between you and me."
What a mess!
Abraham naturally was upset
that his wife was mad at him,
so verse 6 tells us what he did:
6 "Your slave is in your hands," Abram said. "Do with her whatever you think best."
Then Sarai mistreated Hagar; so she fled from her.
The Bible account focuses mainly on Abraham and Sarah,
how Sarah later conceived a child in her old age
and gave birth to Isaac,
who later fathered Jacob,
the progenitor of the nation of Israel,
in the line of descent leading to Christ.
But this morning we're going to look instead
at what happened to Hagar,
this poor Egyptian slave girl
who Abraham got pregnant.
She was just an Egyptian slave girl-
someone held in low esteem in the culture of those days.
Apparently, she didn't even have a choice
when Abraham and Sarah decided
Abraham should sleep with her
to provide them with a child.
Back in those days and in that Middle Eastern culture,
men could do what they wanted with their slaves,
including sleeping with them.
(But that was man's idea, not God's.)
So, we'll take up the story of Hagar,
where we left off in Genesis chapter 16.
I'll start reading at Genesis 16, verse 6,
where Sarah had been mistreating Hagar,
and Hagar had fled from her presence.
The family was living in tents
near a Middle Eastern oasis.
So, when Hagar fled,
she went off into the wilderness.
And this is where God's angel found her,
in Genesis 16:7.
[ READ Genesis 16:7-11 ]
The child that Hagar was carrying would be named Ishmael.
When he reached manhood,
Ishmael would become father to 12 sons,
who would become Arab sheiks or princes.
God's angel told her to name her child "Ishmael."
That name "Ishmael" is a two-part Hebrew word
El means God, and Ishma-el means "God hears."
At Genesis 16:11 the angel told her, "the Lord has heard your affliction."
The true God saw her in her distress,
and He sent His angel to help and comfort her.
Hagar must have been glad to hear
about the child she was carrying,
and who he would grow up to become-
father of many nations.
But what impressed her the most?
It was that God saw her.
God saw her in her affliction,
and that meant so much to Hagar.
Genesis 16:13 tells us,
"Then she called the name of the Lord who spoke to her, You-Are-the-God-Who-Sees; for she said,
'Have I also here seen Him who sees me?'"
When she was lonely and afraid,
God sent his angel to her.
The Creator of the whole universe
saw what was happening
and revealed Himself to this poor girl.
And Hagar appreciated
how significant that was.
Hagar had come from Egypt,
from a society and culture where people worshiped
all sorts of false gods.
But now the one true God had revealed Himself to her,
and she appreciated that.
The thing that impressed Hagar the most,
was that God heard her in her affliction,
that God saw her,
that God was watching over her.
She called God "El-Roi."
El-Roi is variously translated as
"a God of seeing" (in the English Standard Version),
"the God Who sees me" (in the New International Version);
and "You Are the God Who Watches Over Me."
(in the God's Word Translation)
Our God really is
THE GOD WHO WATCHES OVER US
Hebrews 4:13 tells us God sees everyone and everything:
"there is no creature hidden from His sight,
but all things are naked and open
to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account."
Hagar found great comfort
in knowing that God was watching over her.
And we today can find comfort in knowing that, too,
that our God cares about each one of us,
and watches over us.
Pain, tragedy, and frightening events
can cause us to take our eyes off God,
but He never takes his eyes off us.
Hagar was an Egyptian slave,
someone of low social stature in that culture,
but God watched over her
and comforted her in her affliction.
How much more will He comfort us,
who have been adopted as His children through Christ,
and have been filled with His Holy Spirit!
We may not be visited by an angel
but prayer and meditation on the Bible
can help us realize that God watches over us,
and can help us keep our eyes on God.
Psalm 139 poetically describes
how God sees us and watches over us,
no matter where we go.
Beginning at verse 7, Psalm 139 says:
7 Where can I go from your Spirit?
Where can I flee from your presence?
8 If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
9 If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
if I settle on the far side of the sea,
10 even there your hand will guide me,
your right hand will hold me fast.
11 If I say, 'Surely the darkness will hide me
and the light become night around me,'
12 even the darkness will not be dark to you;
the night will shine like the day,
for darkness is as light to you."
So, all of this was known to the Jews.
We've been reading from the Old Testament.
God revealed Himself to the people of the Old Testament,
and they knew that God was watching over them.
So, when Jesus came to earth
and began his earthly ministry,
the Jews already knew that our heavenly Father
sees us and watches over us.
But now in the New Testament,
God begins revealing Himself through His Son.
We begin to get a closer, more intimate revelation of God.
Jesus said at John 14 verse 6,
"I am the way, the truth, and the life.
No one comes to the Father except through Me."
And then He added,
7 "If you had known Me, you would have known My Father also; and from now on you know Him and have seen Him."
8 Philip said to Him, "Lord, show us the Father, and it is sufficient for us."
9 Jesus said to him, "Have I been with you so long, and yet you have not known Me, Philip?
He who has seen Me has seen the Father;
so how can you say, 'Show us the Father'? 10 Do you not believe that I am in the Father, and the Father in Me?"
Jesus perfectly reflected the Father to His followers.
And Jesus gradually revealed to His followers
His own divine attributes.
And one of those divine attributes
that Jesus shares with His heavenly Father
is that name Hagar the Egyptian slave girl spoke:
"El-Roi"-"the God Who sees us,"
"the God Who watches over us."
Yes, Jesus is God,
and because He is God,
Jesus sees everyone and everything.
Jesus watches over us.
We learn that in the very beginning of the Gospel of John.
In John chapter 1,
we read about how Jesus began calling His first disciples.
After calling Peter and Andrew to follow Him,
He called Philip,
and then Philip went and told Nathanael.
We read about it in John chapter 1, beginning at verse 43.
[ READ John 1:43-50 ]
We don't know what Nathanael was doing under the fig tree.
But we surmise that he was alone,
and that no one could see him there.
Perhaps he was praying under the fig tree,
or confessing his sins to God,
or worshiping God.
But, whatever was going on under that fig tree,
it was between Nathanael and God alone.
No one else could have known about it.
So, when Jesus told Nathanael
that He had seen him under the fig tree,
Nathanael immediately knew who Jesus was.
He said to Jesus, "You are the Son of God,
You are the King of Israel."
So, we can trust that, just as Jesus saw Nathanael,
Jesus also sees us.
He sees us and hears us when we are praying,
and He sees us and hears us when we are in trouble,
like Hagar was in trouble
when she fled from Sarah.
We can draw comfort from knowing that Jesus
is watching over us.
As King David wrote in the 23rd Psalm,
we can say,
"Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil;
For You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me." (Psalm 23:4)
His presence comforts us,
as if He were sitting beside us,
holding our hand through difficult times.
And Jesus is not just watching us,
watching things happen.
He is also making things happen: coming to our aid.
2 Chronicles 16: 9 says,
"The eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to show Himself strong on behalf of those whose heart is loyal to Him."
Jesus cares for us.
Even though we may suffer in this world-just as Jesus suffered-
even though we may be tempted-just as Jesus was tempted-
we have His promise
as the Apostle Paul expressed at 1 Corinthians 10:13
"No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful,
who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able,
but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it."
He is the hearer of prayer,
and He answers prayer-helping us through our times of trial,
just as He helped Hagar, the Egyptian slave girl.
God was watching over Hagar,
and He came to her rescue and helped her.
He watches over us, too.
And He doesn't do it "from a distance"
as that popular song said.
He is not a distant, far-away God.
He is much closer to us
than the composer of that song ever realized.
When we are born again as believers,
Jesus comes to live in our hearts
by His Spirit.
His Holy Spirit lives within us,
and he watches over us closely.
He holds our hand through all our trials.
Yes, He truly is "the God Who Watches over Us."