“I am not speaking of all of you; I know whom I have chosen. But the Scripture will be fulfilled, ‘He who ate my bread has lifted his heel against me.’ I am telling you this now, before it takes place, that when it does take place you may believe that I am he. Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever receives the one I send receives me, and whoever receives me receives the one who sent me.” (John 13:18-20)
How many times have you heard the expression “God is in control?” You may have even read it here in one of my blogs. You may have either heard me teach it in a Bible study I led or a message I preached. No matter when or where you have either heard a pastor preach/teach these words or an individual write these words, the phrase concisely expresses the doctrine known as the Providence of God. What is meant by providence?
Providence is a compound word literally meaning “to see before.” Biblically, providence refers to not only God being the creator of the universe but also its sustainer. In Him we live and move and have our being (Acts 17:28; Hebrews 1:1-3). Providence also refers to a truth called divine concurrence. Divine concurrence means that God is working in and through His creation and His creatures to bring about what He has planned.
The New Bible Dictionary explains providence “as the unceasing activity of the Creator whereby, in overflowing bounty and goodwill (Psalm 145:9 cf. Matthew 5:45–48), he upholds his creatures in ordered existence (Acts 17:28; Col. 1:17; Heb. 1:3), guides and governs all events, circumstances and free acts of angels and men (cf. Psalm 107; Job. 1:12; 2:6; Genesis 45:5–8), and directs everything to its appointed goal, for his own glory (cf. Ephesians 1:9–12).”
Divine providence must be distinguished from the following philosophies: (a) pantheism, which absorbs the world into God; (b) deism, which separates God from the world; (c) dualism, which divides control of the world between God and another power; (d) indeterminism, which holds that the world is under no control at all; (e) determinism, which proposes a control of a kind that destroys man’s moral responsibility; (f) the doctrine of chance, which denies the controlling power to be rational; and (g) the doctrine of fate, which denies the controlling power to be benevolent.
Though we will not be able to exhaustively examine divine providence in this brief article, we do see it expressed in today’s text as well as throughout the rest of Scripture.
Within the context of John 13:18-20, Jesus was speaking to His disciples in the upper room on the evening before the events leading up to and including His crucifixion. He wants them to know, and this included Judas Iscariot, that He as God was in complete control of what would happen in the hours to come. He stated three aspects of divine providence which directly involved Him.
First, Jesus chose His disciples. “I am not speaking of all of you; I know whom I have chosen” However, among the twelve there was one who Jesus had not sovereignly and providentially chosen to be one of His followers. We know this individual to be Judas Iscariot (John 13:10-11; Mathew 26:14-16; Mark 14:10-11; Luke 22:3-6). The eleven received mercy while Judas received condemnation.
Second, Jesus chose Judas to fulfill a particular purpose. Even Judas and his subsequent actions were under the providential plan of Jesus Christ. “But the Scripture will be fulfilled, ‘He who ate my bread has lifted his heel against me.’ I am telling you this now, before it takes place, that when it does take place you may believe that I am he.” Jesus quoted from Psalm 41:9 in explaining to His disciples, including Judas, that nothing was then, and is now, outside of the Lord’s control.
Dr. R.C. Sproul explains that, “Jesus quotes Psalm 41:9 where David complains that one of his meal companions lifted up his heel against him. In the ancient Near East, to eat a meal with someone was a sign of friendship and trust, so it was especially terrible for someone who sat at your table to betray you. David was the greatest king of ancient Israel, so the psalm indicates that his betrayal was not incompatible with his position. The same is true of Jesus. He would be betrayed, but that would not make Him any less the King. Moreover, Psalm 41 also predicts the final triumph of David over his enemies. By quoting the psalm, Jesus indicated that despite His betrayal, He would have the ultimate victory over His betrayers.
Third, Jesus continues to sovereignly direct and work through the ministry of His disciples as God the Father chose to work through God the Son. “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever receives the one I send receives me, and whoever receives me receives the one who sent me.”
Dr. Sproul comments that, “To reject Jesus as Judas did was really to reject God, for to receive Jesus is really to receive God as Lord (John 12:44). Jesus said a similar relationship exists between how people receive us and how they receive God (13:20). When people receive Christians and the gospel they preach, they receive Christ, and in receiving Christ, they receive God. People might reject us in a manner similar to how Judas rejected Jesus, but ultimately they are rejecting God.”
Chapter Three of the Westminster Confession of Faith says, “God from all eternity, did, by the most wise and holy counsel of his own will, freely, and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass (Ephesians 1:11); yet so, as thereby neither is God the author of sin, (James (1:13); nor is violence offered to the will of the creatures; nor is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established. (Acts 2:23).”
I do not know why God ordains certain circumstances to occur in our lives. I do take comfort that while men may take council against me, God purposes it for my good and for His glory (Genesis 50:20; Romans 8:28).
I encourage you to rest in the truth that God is in complete control of everything which has happened, is happening, and will happen in your life. We may not always understand what happens to us, or why for that matter, but we do know that God is providentially working all things in our lives for His glory.
Soli deo Gloria!