Lend me your ears now for two stories, and see if you can detect the common denominator they share. The first is one of those ripping good parables that Jesus told about our Heavenly Father. Once upon a time, there was a wealthy man who, early one morning, dropped by the marketplace, which was the ancient equivalent to the unemployment office. There he hired a bunch of guys to work in his vineyard for an agreed upon rate of pay. A few hours later, he went back again and then again later that same day, each time employing more and more men. In fact, as Jesus told it, the owner of the vineyard hired extra workers right up until quitting time. The last men were hired just one hour before sunset.
As the last light of day faded, the workers gathered to receive their pay. They were lined up in order from the last ones hired and working backward. And this is when Jesus tucked a zinger into the story. Every man, no matter how long they had worked that day, received exactly the same pay: one day's wages.
I don't have to tell you that things got a little testy by the time the line reached its end. A low murmur passed among those who were hired early that morning. Finally someone just said it: "This is not right. We got a bum deal. You have short-changed us! We did most of the work today. We carried the burden under the hot sun. But you treated them as equals in the labor!"
Jesus put these words in the mouth of the owner of the vineyard: "Didn't we agree together on what I would pay you? I've kept my word to you. Now don't begrudge my desire to be generous! For reasons that are mine, I wanted to do something unexpected, something crazy, something that would make these men run home to their wives and say, 'You're not going to believe what happened to me today!'" (Based on Matthew 20)
Now for the second story, which took place in a classroom at Hannibal-LaGrange College in Missouri back in 2002. It was the day for final exams. Denise Banderman walked into the classroom minutes before the professor arrived. Everybody in the room was doing last-minute cramming. Then the professor enters and takes a few minutes to review. Most of it was familiar, but there were some things that no one remembered ever hearing. The professor responded with what sends cold chills up every student's spine: "This is in your textbook, and you are responsible for the content on this exam.
The time came for the test. He gave the word, every student took up their pen and turned over their test. I want you to hear this in Denise's own words: "I couldn't believe it! To my astonishment every answer on the test was filled in. My name was even written on the exam in red ink."
A wordless stir traveled like a wave over the class as each student looked at their completed exam. On the bottom of the last page of every test was this note from the professor: "All the answers on your test are correct. You will receive an A on the final exam. The reason you passed the test is because the creator of the test took it for you. All the work you did in preparation for this test did not help you get the A."
(Denise Banderman, Hannibal, Missouri; cited in PreachingToday.com, "Professor Takes Students' Test for Them")
Now, consider what you have heard. There was the story about laborers who were paid a full day's wages for one hour's work. There was the story of an already-completed exam that gave every student an undeserved "A." What do these stories have in common? Call it out!
Can I tell you something? Those aren't just the experiences in other people's lives. There isn't a single person in this room who hasn't experienced outrageous, lavish, unexpected, undeserved kindness. What is more, we experience these serendipities every single day. They are poured out over us constantly. I know this, and I declare it with total confidence today because of one unchanging truth that permeates every crease of reality: God is good!
If you want to see God for Who He really is, here's a good starting point. "Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good" (I Chron. 16:34). "Taste and see that the Lord is good!" (Ps. 34:8) "Enter His gates with thanksgiving, and His courts with praise! Give thanks to Him and praise His name! For the Lord is good and His love is eternal, and His faithfulness endures to all generations." (Ps. 100:4-5)
When Moses boldly pleaded with God, "Please, show me Your glory," he was asking to see God for who He really is. "Show me as much as I can stand, Lord." So what did God show him. Exodus 33:19-20 gives us God's response: "I will cause all My goodness to pass in front of you and I will proclaim the name Yahweh before you." Moses wanted to see God's glory. God showed Him something so wonderful and accessible that it caused the skin of Moses' face to glow with the radiance of God's presence. He showed him His goodness.
I. God's goodness defined
We sing about it and we say it often. But do we fully understand this attribute of God? Meditate on the goodness of God with me this morning. The Bible defines God's goodness in two ways. One has to do with His character; the other focuses on His actions. Ps. 119:68 captures both when it says of God: "You are good and You do what is good . . . " The first half of that verse focuses on that fact that God is by nature good. That is, He is "morally excellent, extraordinarily beautiful, deeply glad, and extravagantly bountiful." But since this is God we're talking about, this goodness ascribed to Him is raised to the highest possible levels.
Think about it: God is the original definition of good. He is good in and of Himself. For us, goodness is an added quality. But it comes naturally for Him. God is not just the greatest of beings; He is the Best.
That's exactly what Jesus meant when He said, "No one is good but One - God." (Mark 10:18) We call all kinds of things good - "This steak is good. He's a good friend. That was a good movie." But all that we call "good" on this earth is tainted and imperfect. God alone is goodness itself.
But how do you see the true character of a person? By his actions. So the second strand of definition for God's goodness concentrates on what He does. And the Bible is replete with descriptions that point to His kindness, His mercy, His steadfast love, His generosity. God is disposed to give to human beings beyond all deserving, all the time.
Have you ever thought of God as generous toward you? Can you believe that when He looks at you with all your baggage, all your junk, all your hang-ups, He says, "I want to be generous to you. I can't wait to pour out on you that which will make you happy - not because you deserve it, but because there's something about Who I am that loves to overflow in extravagant ways upon you."
The Bible says those are actually God's thoughts about you. God is for you. He has your back. He is there, plotting to do you good. You are the object of His affection, and because of His divine nature, all that He expresses comes from an expansive, over-whelming, God-sized generosity toward you.
But maybe you just can't go there this morning. Maybe your circumstances are so mundane, your life so hard, and your options so few that saying "God is good" feels hollow. Let me help you see through the lenses the Bible supplies.
II. How God reveals His goodness
Let me give you three specific channels God uses to broadcast His goodness to us.
A. Natural blessings
This is the lowest level at which He expresses His goodness and the one we tend to overlook or take for granted. But David saw it clearly. He was moved by God to write Ps. 145--a hymn of praise that celebrates God's goodness expressed in the created order.
In v. 3-4, he shouts out, "Yahweh is great and is highly praised; His greatness is unsearchable. One generation will declare Your works to the next and will proclaim Your mighty acts." And v. 7-9 describes what the older generation will say to the younger: "They will give a testimony of Your great goodness and will joyfully sing of Your righteousness. The Lord is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and great in faithful love." Notice v. 9: "The Lord is good to everyone . . . "
Who is included in the word "everyone"? You are. In case we missed that, he repeats the idea in the next phrase: "His compassion [rests] on all He has made." That means there's nowhere in the universe you can go where God won't be good to you.
Down in v. 15-17, we read more about His goodness: "All eyes look to You, and You give them their food in due time. You open Your hand and satisfy the desire of every living thing. The Lord is righteous in all His ways and gracious in all His acts." Every relationship, every job, every tree, every taste of food that pleases us, every birdsong, every friend and flower and field are a reminder of His compassion for us. Look in every corner of this world and every part of your day and you will find the overflow of His generosity, if you will only begin to look for it.
B. Kind interventions
Psalm 107 is totally devoted to this theme, and opens with joy: "Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good; His faithful love endures forever. Let the redeemed of the Lord proclaim that He has redeemed them from the hand of the foe . . . " Then the psalmist describes four different scenarios where God graciously steps in to reveal His goodness. I don't have time to unfold each one, just touch on it:
God comes to the rescue of people who are frantically searching for something or someone that will satisfy their soul. When they cry out to the Lord, He will deliver them and their soul will find its true home.
God intervenes in the lives of those who have rebelled against the Word of God and suffer for it. When they repent, He delivers them from their distress, breaks the chains of sin that bind them, and turns the night to day.
God intervenes on behalf of His goodness in the lives of foolish people who had given themselves to sin and find its death-bringing results touching their relationships and lives. When they cry to the Lord. He heals them, and reverses the killing effects of sin in their lives.
God rescues those pounded by calamity. When the storms threaten to sink us and we're at our wit's end, we can call to Him and see Him command the storms to be still, because He is good.
He's been there for you, more than you'll ever know. No matter what situation you're facing this morning, God is the best Person to take it too. There is no surer source of deliverance or blessing than Him, because He is good all the time.
C. Through God's Son, Jesus
Colossians 1 reminds us that Jesus "is the image of the invisible God" (v. 15) and that "God was pleased to have all His fullness dwell in Him" (v. 19). Jesus is God's goodness in the flesh. He demonstrated God's desire to pour out blessing and help and deliverance on us in three ways.
1. He took the judgment that our sins deserved upon Himself
Romans 5:8 says, "God proves His own love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us!" God's extravagance flowed to us in the amazing substitution of His Son in our place on the cross. His death for us is the undisputed picture of unmerited goodness. You don't deserve it. I don't deserve it. In fact, we continue to do things that prove we didn't earn this.
But God is good. His nature drives a desire to do for us what we can't do for ourselves. So He puts forward His Son on our behalf to take our hell and give all who believe heaven.
2. He includes a thousand other things in the gift of Himself
Romans 8:32 says this of God: "He did not even spare His own Son, but offered Him up for us all; how will He not also with Him grant us everything?" In other words, God has already shown His goodness toward you in the biggest way possible. All the other little details to help you live a godly life through thick and thin are included in that gift.
3. Jesus unlocks God's goodness toward us in new ways
Second Cor. 1:20 tells us that "every one of God's promises is 'Yes' in [Christ]." That means all the good and perfect gifts of God come to us through our relationship with Jesus. If I want to understand and appreciate God's goodness to me, I can begin and end with Jesus.
III. Respond to God's goodness?
The goodness of God calls for a response. Let me give you three specific steps we must take to change our lives and begin to fully experience the effects of God's generosity.
A. Repent of unbelief and ingratitude
Romans 2:4 says, "Or do you despise the riches of His kindness, restraint, and patience, not recognizing that God's kindness is intended to lead you to repentance?" Paul is saying, "Do you think that all these blessings that visit your days came because you're just an incredibly nice person who made God's special list? No, His goodness was meant to lead you to Him." Going through your life receiving what He has been giving without trusting in Christ is like saying, "God I had all this coming. I deserve this and more. So keep it coming." We want the gifts, not the Giver. Our ingratitude and greed for what He can do for us while rejecting Him is the heights of sin. And one day, the gravy train will come to an end.
Stop. Look around you. See the hand of the Lord in your life and turn to Him today. Put an end to taking from God and learn to thank Him.
B. Rest in His goodness when adversity comes
We live in a world where bad things happen to good people and good things happen to bad people. Sometimes, our circumstances argue with us about how good God is. Sometimes God's good plan for us means going through trials and losses and heartache and death.
But hear me: He is there for you. Ps. 31:19-20 says, "How great is Your goodness that You have stored up for those who fear You, and accomplished in the sight of everyone for those who take refuge in You. You hide them in the protection of Your presence; You conceal them in a shelter from the schemes of men, from quarrelsome tongues." God has great goodness stored up for you. Take your refuge in Him. Rest there. He is up to more than you know, and has hidden help that only comes when you give it up to Him.
C. Step out in faith
When you believe that God is good all the time, it frees you to take ever-increasing steps of faith. In our living room, we have a beautiful print of Jeremiah 29:11 that reminds me of God's intent toward me and my family: "For I know the plans I have for you" - [this is] the Lord's declaration - "plans for [your] welfare, not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope." Believing that cuts you loose from fear about taking risks for Christ's sake. Psalm 84:11 is fuel to the fire of daring greatly for Him: "For the Lord God is a sun" (He illuminates the path I should take) "and shield" (He protects me); "the Lord gives grace and glory (that's exaltation for those who follow Him). "He does not withhold the good from those who live with integrity." You never miss out if you step out with God.
John Gilbert only lived to age 25. When John was five years old, he was diagnosed with Duchenne's Muscular Dystrophy, a genetic, progressive, debilitating disease. It would claim his life twenty years later, but not before subtracting almost everything from him. Every year John Gilbert lost something. In time, he lost the ability to do all the outward things that we take for granted, even the ability to speak.
But there was one moment that stood out. It happened when he was invited to a National Football League fundraising auction. When it began, one particular item caught John's eye: a basketball signed by all the players of the Sacramento Kings. John so desperately wanted that ball that when it came up for bid, he felt his hand raise up in the air. His mother quickly brought it back down, knowing they didn't have the funds to cover any bid.
The bidding on the basketball continued with excitement. It rose to an astounding amount compared to other items at the auction and especially to the real value of the ball. Finally, a man made a bid that no one else could possibly match, and won the prize.
The man walked to the front, claimed the basketball; but instead of going back to his seat, this man walked across the room and gently placed it into the thin, small hands of the boy who would never dribble that ball down a court, never throw it to a teammate, never fire it from the foul line, but would cherish it for as long as he lived.
John Gilbert, while he was still able, wrote these words: "It took me a moment to realize what the man had done. I remember hearing gasps all around the room, then thunderous applause and weeping eyes. To this day I'm amazed! Have you ever been given a gift that you could have never gotten for yourself? Has anyone ever sacrificed a huge amount for you without getting anything in return . . . ?"[
(John Ortberg, Everybody's Normal Till You Get to Know Them (Zondervan, 2003), p. 197; submitted by Gino Grunberg, Gig Harbor, Washington)
And everyone in this room would have to answer that question, "Yes."