A Plan That Cannot Fail (Sermon)
In 2005, the Professional Association of Teachers in Great Britain proposed a ban on the word “fail.” Teachers would no longer be able to speak of failure in the classroom. They would instead be forced to speak about student’s deferred success.[i]
I’m sure some of the motives behind this proposal were noble. Shortsighted? Absolutely, but noble. Anyone who has ever failed at something understands the pain and frustration of failure. Whether it’s an F on a term paper, a pink slip on a desk or a last-second loss on the field, failure hurts.
It hurts to fail, and it hurts when someone else fails you. I remember seeing the agony on the face of speedskater Sven Kramer at the last winter Olympics.
“In the Olympic finals for the 10,000 meter race, he skated the 25 times around the rink so well that he set an Olympic record time of 12:54.50. He finished a full 4 seconds ahead of the second place skater. He was thrilled. The week before he had won gold in the 5,000 meter race. Now he had won a second Olympic gold medal, and done that representing a country that adores speed skating. He was a national hero! But some of that glory quickly evaporated. Moments after Kramer crossed the finish line, his coach Gerard Kemkers, a former Olympian himself, approached him and broke the unthinkable news. Kramer had been disqualified from the race. With eight laps to go, he had changed lanes improperly. What made this disqualification so bitter for Kramer was that he had changed lanes for only one reason: his coach had told him to change lanes. In other words, he had no plans to change lanes until his coach called out for him to change. Worse yet, Kramer had never received lane-change directions from a coach in a race prior to that day! In a situation when a split-second decision had to be made, Kramer trusted his coach…and it cost him an Olympic gold medal.”[ii]
Have you ever had someone fail you? Together you had hoped and planned, and then they made a mistake, and everything came crashing down. Have you ever experienced the crushing disappointment of failed dreams? In those moments, what would you give to have failure-proof plans?
100% failure-proof—what would it be like to know that there was no way your plan could fail? How much might it be worth if you could guarantee success to such a degree that you could rule out even the remotest possibility of failure?
But we can’t. We can’t guarantee success. We can’t eliminate failure. Our plans and promises, like us, are made of dust. If the wind blows the wrong direction, they float away. If the wind blows too strong, they tumble over.
We can make the most intricate plans. We can draw the most detailed blueprints. We can build the greatest model, but nothing we do can rule out the possibility of failure.
(Psa 115:3 ESV) “Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases.”
(Psa 135:6 ESV) “Whatever the LORD pleases, he does, in heaven and on earth, in the seas and all deeps.”
God never fails to fulfill His plans. Whatever God decides, He will bring to pass. There is no possibility of failure, no chance of disappointment. God has never felt the despair of frustrated plans. He has never experienced the sorrow of broken dreams. If God plans it, then it will happen.
As we survey two Old Testament books this morning, I want you to see God at work. I want you to understand that God is always working to bring His plans to pass. I want you to be convinced that God never fails to fulfill His plans.
1. An Underlying Pattern
We’ll begin with the book of Judges. I want you to take notice of an underlying pattern. The book of Judges covers roughly 300 years of Israelite history and includes some of the most famous and colorful characters in the Bible.
What propels the story of Judges forward is an underlying pattern of rebellion, reckoning, remorse and rescue. This pattern is spelled out clearly in the second chapter of Judges.
(Judges 2:6–9a ESV) When Joshua dismissed the people, the people of Israel went each to his inheritance to take possession of the land. And the people served the LORD all the days of Joshua, and all the days of the elders who outlived Joshua, who had seen all the great work that the LORD had done for Israel. And Joshua the son of Nun, the servant of the LORD, died at the age of 110 years.
Overall, life was good in Israel when Joshua died. Though they had failed to expel all of the nations from the Promised Land, they had conquered the land and enjoyed peace.
(Judges 2:10–13 ESV) And all that generation also were gathered to their fathers. And there arose another generation after them who did not know the LORD or the work that he had done for Israel. And the people of Israel did what was evil in the sight of the LORD and served the Baals. And they abandoned the LORD, the God of their fathers, who had brought them out of the land of Egypt. They went after other gods, from among the gods of the peoples who were around them, and bowed down to them. And they provoked the LORD to anger. They abandoned the LORD and served the Baals and the Ashtaroth.
After Joshua and his generation of Israelites died, the problems began. The following generation did not know God. The generation that died had failed to impart the teaching of the Law to their children. They had not listened to Moses’ instructions to keep the truth on their lips and train their offspring to love the Lord with all their heart.
The pattern began with rebellion. The Israelites were attracted to the gods of the pagan nations dwelling in the land. Instead of worshipping the true God, they went after false gods, building idols and shrines for false worship. They abandoned the one true God of heaven for a bunch of false gods made of stone.
(Judges 2:14–15 ESV) So the anger of the LORD was kindled against Israel, and he gave them over to plunderers, who plundered them. And he sold them into the hand of their surrounding enemies, so that they could no longer withstand their enemies. Whenever they marched out, the hand of the LORD was against them for harm, as the LORD had warned, and as the LORD had sworn to them. And they were in terrible distress.
The next step in the pattern was reckoning. Their actions brought consequences. The Law of Moses was clear—rebellion would bring punishment. Disobedience comes with a price. God settled that account when He brought fierce and swift justice through the nations around them. Instead of God going before them to bring victory in battle, God was now against them. Victory had disappeared, replaced by defeat.
The third step in the pattern was remorse. Living in slavery has a way of making you think about your actions. Israel, enslaved by another nation, would begin to consider what brought them to this point. They would cry out to God in sorrow for their sin and ask for help. I call this remorse instead of repentance because their later actions would indicate a lack of genuine sorrow for sin, but more of a sorrow over their circumstances…over the punishment.
(Judges 2:16 ESV) Then the LORD raised up judges, who saved them out of the hand of those who plundered them.
The final step in the pattern was rescue. God heard their pleas for help. He remembered His promises to their forefathers, and He raised a deliverer—a judge. These are the stories we love in the book of Judges—stories about mighty Samson and fearful Gideon. These stories reveal the depth of God’s grace and mercy in delivering a sinful people, and they remind us of His endless power in overcoming opposition.
Rebellion, reckoning, remorse and rescue—this was a pattern, not a one-time occurrence. After being rescued, Israel would again fall into rebellion.
(Judges 2:17–19 ESV) Yet they did not listen to their judges, for they whored after other gods and bowed down to them. They soon turned aside from the way in which their fathers had walked, who had obeyed the commandments of the LORD, and they did not do so. Whenever the LORD raised up judges for them, the LORD was with the judge, and he saved them from the hand of their enemies all the days of the judge. For the LORD was moved to pity by their groaning because of those who afflicted and oppressed them. But whenever the judge died, they turned back and were more corrupt than their fathers, going after other gods, serving them and bowing down to them. They did not drop any of their practices or their stubborn ways.
This pattern begins in chapter 3 and lasts until chapter 16. In these chapters, we hear the names of thirteen different judges, though we’re left with the impression that there might have been others. Five of the judges are described in greater detail: Ehud, Deborah, Gideon, Jephthah and Samson.
The accounts of these five judges highlight God’s power displayed in weakness. Each one is an unlikely rescuer. Ehud is left-handed. Deborah is a woman. Gideon is a nobody from a family of nobodies. Jephthah is the son of a prostitute, and Samson...well, Samson is a mess. He’s driven by his passions, and his greatest victory comes in the moment of his death. It was through these weak men and woman that God chose to rescue His people.
In spite of God’s deliverance, the nation refused to obey. We find a refrain repeated four times at the end of the book, after the stories of the judges.
(Judges 17:6 ESV) In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.
The Law of God was no longer the standard for what was right and wrong. Black and white had blended, and every moral decision was colored in a shade of gray. The Law which should have governed the nation had been tossed into the dumpster and each man became a law unto himself. What could break this vicious pattern of rebellion?
The hope of the nation was a coming king—a king who would lead the nation back to God. A king, like Moses described in Deuteronomy 18, who would govern the people by the law of God. A king who would rule under the ultimate Kingship of God Himself.
This underlying pattern of rebellion, reckoning, remorse and rescue exposed Israel’s desperate need for a king after God’s own heart. The book of Judges builds the anticipation for a new kind of king, a king unlike the kings of other nations, a king who loved the Lord with all his heart, mind, soul and strength.
2. An Unlikely Plan
If we see an underlying pattern in the book of Judges, then the book of Ruth reveals an unlikely plan. Turn with me to the book of Ruth. The setting for this story is found in the very first verse.
(Ruth 1:1 ESV) In the days when the judges rule…
That phrase is the ancient equivalent of “It was a dark and stormy night…” It sets an ominous tone, a hopeless tone. The time of the judges was a wicked and evil time. It appeared as if all of God’s promises were going to fail, as much of that time was spent in captivity.
If someone has experienced repeated failure, we’re not surprised when they’re slow to commit. If a number of relationships have ended badly, it makes sense that you are hesitant to begin a new one. By the time of this account, it would not have been surprising if an Israelite had determined that God’s promises were not going to come through. They could look around at their nation and see nothing but disobedience and destruction.
But this story of Ruth reveals that when the nation of Israel had reached its darkest moment, God was still at work. When it seemed as if they were all alone, God was with them. This story reveals God’s unlikely plan. He used an unlikely person in unlikely circumstances to produce an unlikely king.
(Ruth 1:1–5 ESV) In the days when the judges ruled there was a famine in the land, and a man of Bethlehem in Judah went to sojourn in the country of Moab, he and his wife and his two sons. The name of the man was Elimelech and the name of his wife Naomi, and the names of his two sons were Mahlon and Chilion. They were Ephrathites from Bethlehem in Judah. They went into the country of Moab and remained there. But Elimelech, the husband of Naomi, died, and she was left with her two sons. These took Moabite wives; the name of the one was Orpah and the name of the other Ruth. They lived there about ten years, and both Mahlon and Chilion died, so that the woman was left without her two sons and her husband.”
The unlikely person was a Moabite widow named Ruth. She was an unlikely person because she was both a Moabite and a widow. She was from Moab, the sworn enemies of Israel. Moab was the nation who tried to curse Israel when they were wandering in the wilderness. They were the nation God had promised to destroy. She was also a widow. Widows didn’t have much of a future in that time, especially a Moabite widow who had married into an Israelite family.
Beyond her own background, she had married into a disobedient family. Her husband was disobedient for marrying a foreigner. Her father-in-law was disobedient for moving his family away from Israel during a time of famine.
If you were drafting people God would use to fulfill His plan, Ruth would have gone undrafted.
(Ruth 1:6–18 ESV) Then she arose with her daughters-in-law to return from the country of Moab, for she had heard in the fields of Moab that the LORD had visited his people and given them food. So she set out from the place where she was with her two daughters-in-law, and they went on the way to return to the land of Judah. But Naomi said to her two daughters-in-law, “Go, return each of you to her mother’s house. May the LORD deal kindly with you, as you have dealt with the dead and with me. The LORD grant that you may find rest, each of you in the house of her husband!” Then she kissed them, and they lifted up their voices and wept. And they said to her, “No, we will return with you to your people.” But Naomi said, “Turn back, my daughters; why will you go with me? Have I yet sons in my womb that they may become your husbands? Turn back, my daughters; go your way, for I am too old to have a husband. If I should say I have hope, even if I should have a husband this night and should bear sons, would you therefore wait till they were grown? Would you therefore refrain from marrying? No, my daughters, for it is exceedingly bitter to me for your sake that the hand of the LORD has gone out against me.” Then they lifted up their voices and wept again. And Orpah kissed her mother-in-law, but Ruth clung to her. And she said, “See, your sister-in-law has gone back to her people and to her gods; return after your sister-in-law.” But Ruth said, “Do not urge me to leave you or to return from following you. For where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there will I be buried. May the LORD do so to me and more also if anything but death parts me from you.” And when Naomi saw that she was determined to go with her, she said no more.
There was more to Ruth then first met the eye. She made have been from Moab, but she had chosen to worship the true God. In a time when Israel was turning from the true God, Yahweh, to the worship of false gods, she was turning from the worship of false gods to Yahweh. Israel was forsaking Yahweh for idols, but Ruth was forsaking idols for Yahweh.
She was an unlikely person in unlikely circumstances. From an earthly perspective, the story of Ruth seems to be full of luck, both bad and good. It begins with what appeared to be bad luck, as her father-in-law died, then her husband and brother-in-law. She’s a young widow without any family or means of support.
But notice that there is what appears to be a stroke of good luck as they receive reports of food in the land of Israel. From this point forward, her story appears to be either one of great luck or perfect timing.
We, as readers of this story, understand that luck has nothing to do with her story. These are not chance encounters, freak circumstances or fortunate flukes. God is at work. He is fulfilling His plan. He is working to bring to pass what He had promised.
God made Ruth a widow, and He was the one who would make her a wife again later in the story. God brought the famine on Israel which drove Elimelech and Naomi to Moab, and He ended the drought at the moment of His choosing. Behind all of the unlikely circumstances, God stood as author of Ruth’s story.
In chapter 2, Ruth decided to go to a field and glean some wheat. Look at verse 3:
(Ruth 2:3 ESV) So she set out and went and gleaned in the field after the reapers, and she happened to come to the part of the field belonging to Boaz, who was of the clan of Elimelech.
The writer is using irony when he says that Ruth “happened to come to the part of the field belonging to Boaz.” He’s inviting us as readers to see the unseen hand of the director moving Ruth and Boaz into place. Though it may have appeared as if God was silent during the time of the Judges, He was actually on the move in a small barley field on the outskirts of Bethlehem.
We see the hand of God at work when Boaz instructed his workers to leave extra grain for Ruth to gather (vv.15-16). Naomi, the embittered widow, recognized it when Ruth came home with a heaping mound of barley.
The final two chapters of Ruth cement this understanding that God is working to fulfill His plan through Boaz who redeemed Ruth and then married her.
(Ruth 4:13–22 ESV) So Boaz took Ruth, and she became his wife. And he went in to her, and the LORD gave her conception, and she bore a son. Then the women said to Naomi, “Blessed be the LORD, who has not left you this day without a redeemer, and may his name be renowned in Israel! He shall be to you a restorer of life and a nourisher of your old age, for your daughter-in-law who loves you, who is more to you than seven sons, has given birth to him.” Then Naomi took the child and laid him on her lap and became his nurse. And the women of the neighborhood gave him a name, saying, “A son has been born to Naomi.” They named him Obed. He was the father of Jesse, the father of David.
She was an unlikely person in unlikely circumstances who produced an unlikely king. The great significance of Ruth’s story is found here at the very end. She had a great grandson named David. David, a little shepherd boy from the small town of Bethlehem, grew up to become a king. He was a king after God’s own heart. He was a king who ruled the people by the Word of God. He was a king who delivered His people from the hands of their enemies. He was the king that the book of Judges cries out for.
While Israel was mired in this underlying pattern of rebellion and rescue, God was fulfilling His unlikely plan of producing a king to rescue Israel and raise them to greater heights then they had ever known.
3. An Unmistakable Picture
On August 15, 1988, the editors of Time Magazine ran a question on its cover, “Who Was Jesus?” Less interesting than the headline or the accompanying story is the picture on the front cover. It’s actually 23 different pictures blended into one. Each one is taken from a different famous old painting of Jesus Christ. When you put them together you can clearly see a picture of Jesus. All of these pieces fit together to make one unmistakable picture.
In these two books, we discover all of the pieces that put together make an unmistakable picture of Jesus Christ. In many ways, the coming of Jesus Christ was a parallel situation to that of King David.
The book of Judges presents a picture of a rebellious nation of Israel enslaved to foreign occupiers. More than 1,000 years later, we find Israel in the very same situation. The Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) chronicle a very rebellious nation of Israel, enslaved to Roman occupiers.
In all of that time, Israel’s fundamental problem had not changed. They were still rebellious, enslaved and helpless. They were enthralled by false gods. Even those who claimed to follow the true God had refashioned Him into someone entirely different.
When all seemed lost, God started to work in an unlikely way. He chose an unlikely person—Mary, a young virgin girl—in an unlikely circumstance. She was engaged to a carpenter from Nazareth. They were forced to travel to the small city of Bethlehem where she gave birth to an unlikely king.
This king never sat on an earthly throne or held sway in an earthly court. He did not have earthly armies or chariots. But He was a King, and He is a King. He is the King of all Kings. His kingdom is borderless, extending not only from coast to coast, but from galaxy to galaxy. His reign is unending.
What was pictured in the books of Judges and Ruth came true in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. Just as God raised up David to save His people from slavery, God raised up Jesus Christ to save His people from a greater type of slavery—slavery to sin and death.
(Galatians 4:4–5 ESV) But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.
(Acts 2:22–24 ESV) Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know— this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it.
David was a temporary savior. He died, and the great works that he did for the nation of Israel eventually faded. The freedom he won for them was eventually lost.
Jesus Christ is the final, full and permanent Savior. Because He conquered death, His reign will never end. God’s plan for Israel in the time of the Judges was to raise up David, but that was only to prepare them for the ultimate fulfillment in Jesus Christ. Jeremiah the prophet wrote:
(Jeremiah 23:5–6 ESV) Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In his days Judah will be saved, and Israel will dwell securely. And this is the name by which he will be called: ‘The LORD is our righteousness.’
The great victories of David pale in comparison to the victories of Jesus Christ.
David conquered a giant named Goliath. Jesus conquered a giant named death.
David defeated a hungry lion. Jesus defeated an ancient serpent.
David won rest for the people of Israel. Jesus won rest for people from every tribe, tongue and nation.
Friend, we each can identify with the nation of Israel. We have all rebelled. Whether our rebellion was the blatant kind of the nation during the time of the Judges—the kind where we do whatever we feel like doing whenever we feel like doing it—or the kind of rebellion before Jesus was born—a rebellion manifested in self-righteousness, we each need to be delivered.
God made a plan for you to experience deliverance, and God never fails to fulfill His plan. Jesus was born, and He took your reckoning. You see, your rebellion has consequences. Jesus took them, so that if you repent, He can rescue you. If you call out to God to save you, He will rescue you through Jesus Christ. Cry out to Him today and experience the deliverance only He can bring.
Brothers and sisters, let me end by reminding you of two truths.
God never fails to fulfill His plan
Why do we doubt? Why do we fear? Why do we worry and wonder? The plans of God are 100% failure-proof. That’s a quality no one else can claim. Who can make that guarantee?
Your spouse will fail you.
Your pastors will fail you.
Your friends will fail you.
Your parents will fail you.
Your children will fail you.
Your boss will fail you.
Your employees will fail you.
Your government will fail you.
Your brothers and sisters here will fail you.
God will never fail you. There is no possibility, no chance, and no prospect of Him failing.
I am amazed that I get the privilege of knowing and trusting this God. I am able to live with a security unknown to much of the world. Nothing can happen to me that my Father does not allow. No foe can assail, no friend can betray, no fool can belittle unless my God gives the okay. So, if it happens, I can still rest secure knowing that my God is in control. My God has planned it. It will come to pass, and it will be what’s best for me.
His plan is centered on Jesus Christ
Though we cannot understand or comprehend all that our God has planned. Of this we can be certain: Because the plan of God is centered on Jesus Christ, and I, by faith, am united with Him, then my past is forgiven, my present is protected, and my future is secure.
I can live in joyful anticipation, knowing that God’s plan is to bring all things under the rule and reign of Jesus Christ. He is planning to show the immeasurable riches of His grace in kindness towards me in Jesus Christ for all of eternity.
Two years ago, two brothers were living in a cave outside of Budapest. They were broke, scraping together whatever they could by selling scrap metal and candy. One day, out of the blue, charity workers informed them they had received the bulk of their late grandmother’s $6 billion fortune.[iii]
Brothers and sisters, God planned, through Jesus Christ, to give us something far more valuable than money. He gave us Himself. How could we ever doubt His goodness? Why should we ever worry or fear? God never fails to fulfill His plans. All of His plans for us are wrapped up in Jesus Christ, and they are 100% failure-proof.
This sermon was originally preached at Redeemer Community Church in 2012.
[i] "UK Teaching Group to Consider Banning "Fail," ABCNewsonline (7-20-05).
[ii] Brian Hamilton, "One lane change changes everything," Chicago Tribune (2-24-10), sect. 2, pp. 1, 8
[iii] Mike Krumboltz, "From Cave to Castle," www.buzz.yahoo.com (12-3-09)