Even if Not, No Matter What - Part 4

Series: My Preaching Bucket List

July 29, 2018
Brad Shockley

Episode Notes

We’ve been in a little series called Even if Not, No Matter What. It began with us looking at Acts 12 where both James and Peter were imprisoned by King Herod. The church prayed hard for their deliverance. Peter was saved but James wasn’t.

We were left wondering, why Peter and not James? Was their faith strong for Peter but not for James? Was God sleeping when James got into trouble? Was Peter more worth saving than James? 

We get all pumped about God when he answers our prayers the way we want (as we should), but for every person able to say, “God came through in a big way!” there’s another able to say he didn’t. For every Peter situation, there’s a James one.

We went looking for answers in a well known OT story. The story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. They were Jewish exiles forced to live in the land of Babylon and serve in the court of King Nebuchadnezzar.

King Nebbie set up and idol and commanded everyone to worship it or die. Their response to the king revealed something very interesting in how they approached God…

Daniel 3:16–18 (NIV) — 16 Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego replied to him, “King Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. 17 If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and he will deliver us from Your Majesty’s hand. 18 But even if he does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.”

They acknowledged God’s unquestionable ability to deliver them from the king’s threat, but they left the door open for God to say no. They didn’t limit God to just one option.

They knew something about God the early Christians knew. Something the Bible teaches us about the way he works, and it has not so much to do with how much faith we have but who God is.

They understood that God is SOVEREIGN and he works PROVIDENTIALLY in all things to accomplish his will.

Last week we fleshed this out a bit, with one well-known pastor explaining God’s sovereignty this way: 

[“God has the rightful authority, the freedom, the wisdom, and the power to bring about everything that he intends to happen. And therefore, everything he intends to come about does come about. Which means, God plans and governs all things.

When he says, “I will accomplish all my purpose,” he means, “Nothing happens except what is my purpose.” … nothing has ever happened, or will ever happen, that God did not purpose to happen. Or to put it positively: Everything that happened or will happen is purposed by God to happen.”

This means God is sovereign over all creation so that whatever happens in the universe couldn’t have happened unless he purposed it. God is sovereign over all human actions too, so that nothing anyone does happens unless he purposed it also. And somehow, I don’t know how, God’s sovereignty allows for us to have a free will, the ability to make choices and held responsible for them.]

Now, that sounds good on paper (and by paper I mean my notes I have right here), but when it begins to sink in, it can seem downright scary.

It means God, in his sovereignty, can choose Peter over James, he can choose to let his servants burn in a fiery furnace, he can choose to let suffering into our lives, he can choose not to answer our prayers the way we want, and still be just as much God, just as much blameless and right and good, as he ever was.

If you’re looking for me to explain all this in a way you understand it completely and have no more questions and feel totally comfortable with it, get ready to be disappointed. I don’t think anyone can do that. And if they can, it makes me nervous because I’m not so sure they’ll be talking about the God of the Bible, the God of the universe.

However, I would like to spend a little more time here scratching the surface of who God is in his sovereignty. The Bible, his word to us, teaches that he is sovereign over a number of things…

Random things

Proverbs 16:33  ESV   — 33 The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the Lord.

Casting lots was an ancient way of deciding a matter. Marked stones or shards of pottery were placed into a container and then drawn out or cast out (kind of like dice). The Jews used this method to discern God’s will at times. Replacing Judas was the last time we see it employed so don’t get any ideas (the Holy Spirit guides now).

Point is, nothing random happens in a universe governed by a sovereign God. From our perspective, it seems that way, but it’s not.

God is also sovereign over…

Daily things

Proverbs 20:24 (ESV) — 24 A man’s steps are from the Lord; how then can man understand his way?

Proverbs 19:21 (ESV) — 21 Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the Lord that will stand

You get up and go to work, come home, eat supper, go to sleep, get up and do it again and you wonder if God even cares about such mundane things. He not only cares, he is in sovereign control over them.

So the next time you are sitting at your desk or whatever and it’s only 1:00 on a Wednesday and you don’t know how you’re gonna make it to 5:00, let alone the weekend, just shout: I am smack dab in the middle of God’s sovereign will right now!

God is also sovereign over…

Powerful things

Proverbs 21:1  ESV   — 1 The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the Lord; he turns it wherever he will.

Like King Nebuchednezzar, many a ruler or emperor or president thinks he calls the shots, but in reality not a decision is made unless God ordains it or allows it.

Though this verse (chapter really) has been grossly misapplied, Paul says in…

Romans 13:1 (ESV) — 1 Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God.

This doesn’t mean God approves of every regime’s policies or decrees, just that they fall under his overarching authority.

God is also sovereign over…

Life and death things

The OT story of Hannah is a beautiful one. She is barren and prays for a son. God hears and opens her womb, giving her a little boy she named Samuel.

Her prayer of thanksgiving is surprising. You’d think it’d be all hallelujah and Go God! But it’s more than that…

1 Samuel 2:1–2, 6–8 (ESV) — 1 And Hannah prayed and said, “My heart exults in the Lord; my horn is exalted in the Lord. My mouth derides my enemies, because I rejoice in your salvation. 2 “There is none holy like the Lord: for there is none besides you; there is no rock like our God… 6 The Lord kills and brings to life; he brings down to Sheol and raises up. 7 The Lord makes poor and makes rich; he brings low and he exalts. 8 He raises up the poor from the dust; he lifts the needy from the ash heap to make them sit with princes and inherit a seat of honor. For the pillars of the earth are the Lord’s, and on them he has set the world.

Kind of like our three men, she rejoiced over God’s ability to give us what we ask but also praised his sovereignty.

Hang on for this next one. God is also sovereign over…

Bad things

Moses encounters God at the burning bush and resisting the call to deliver the Israelites…

Exodus 4:11 (ESV) — 11 Then the Lord said to him, “Who has made man’s mouth? Who makes him mute, or deaf, or seeing, or blind? Is it not I, the Lord?”

Isaiah 45:7 (ESV) — 7 I form light and create darkness; I make well-being and create calamity; I am the Lord, who does all these things.

And, grab your seats, God is sovereign over… 

Evil things

You know Job’s story…

Job 1:12 (ESV) — 12 And the Lord said to Satan, “Behold, all that he has is in your hand. Only against him do not stretch out your hand.” So Satan went out from the presence of the Lord.

Notice how the deeper we descend into understanding God’s sovereignty the darker it gets?

Stop right there, pastor. That’s enough. I can handle God being sovereign over random things, daily things, powerful things, and life and death things. But you want me to accept that he is sovereign over the bad things, the evil things in this world? 

If nothing happens except what he has purposed to happen, doesn’t that make him responsible for untold suffering and pain? You mean he purposed that my loved one got sick and died? That my spouse cheated on me?  That I lost everything? 

You mean to tell me that God purposes all that?

No sir. I can’t go there. I won’t.

Many years ago, before being called into ministry, I sat in Sunday School class. Present was a woman whose son died in a tragic car accident. God’s sovereignty was the lesson that day, and at the end of the class she spoke up. In tears, in pain I cannot imagine, she said she could never believe in a God who would purpose her son’s death. 

Can any of us blame her?

But let’s think about a world where God never purposes people to die tragically or get sick or hurt or suffer or experience bad things.

Would you really want to live there? Yes, we could take comfort in knowing God didn’t want us to suffer, but it would mean things happened God didn’t want to happen. In that world, God isn’t able to always protect you. In that world, some of the bad slips through his fingers. In that world, the devil is mighty powerful. In that world, God can fail.

That’s way scarier than a world where God is sovereign over all things, good and bad, and he uses them to somehow, in ways we will never understand, accomplish his perfect and good will. 

In the beginning, this world was free of pain and death and suffering. God never intended for us to know what it's like to lose a loved one or be betrayed or experience some tragic calamity. 

Adam and Eve’s rebelliousness in the garden brought all that. It was their disobedience that ushered in sin and that sin infected the universe. It infected creation (tornadoes, earthquakes, famine, etc) and it infected us creatures. 

God wasn’t caught by surprise. God didn’t fret and pace the halls of heaven. In his sovereignty, he somehow wove that into his plans!? That God is BIG.

Conclusion: Here’s what we take comfort in: Not only is God sovereign over random things, daily things, powerful things, life and death things, bad things, and evil things, he is ultimately sovereign over all things.

As we close, this adds so much depth and substance to a truth expressed in a verse often misapplied and misunderstood.

Romans 8:28 (ESV) — 28 And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.

I love the implications Tim Keller draws from this verse:

1. “All things” happen to Christians (random things, daily things, powerful things, life and death things, bad things, and evil things).

“Christians’ circumstances are no better than anybody else’s. … this tells us … terrible things happen to people who love God. Many Christians explicitly teach (and most Christians implicitly believe), ‘If I love God and if I serve God, then I will not have as many bad things happen to me. There are terrible things that can happen, you know. There are horrible things that can happen, but they’re not all going to happen to me. No, I believe. I serve. I love God. So these things are not all going to happen to me. By and large, my circumstances will be better.’ This text tells us and experience shows us that’s just not true. All the same things that happen to everybody else will happen to people who love God.”

2. The bad things that happen to us aren’t really good things in disguise.

“An endless source of insight for me is Jesus standing before this tomb of Lazarus. Some of you know that because I keep referring to it. When Jesus was in front of the tomb of Lazarus, he was about to raise Lazarus from the dead. He was not smiling. He was angry, and he was weeping. Why?

Why didn’t Jesus Christ say, “They think this is a tragedy. No harm done. I’m about to raise him from the dead. Won’t everybody be excited? This looks like a bad thing. It’s not a bad thing. It’s really a good thing. It’s a way for me to show my glory. It’s really exciting. I can’t wait”? No! He is weeping at the tomb. Why? Because the bad thing he is about to work good is bad. It’s bad in itself.

See, this does not give you a saccharine view that says, “Well, these bad things are really blessings in disguise. Every cloud has a silver lining.” Oh no! The Bible never says anything like that. These are bad things! They’re bad. They are working for good. That means God will give them good effects in your life, but they’re bad. Listen. Jesus Christ, being mad at the tomb of Lazarus, proves he hates death. He hates loneliness. He hates alienation. He hates pain. He hates suffering.

He hates it so much he was willing to come into this world and experience all of it himself so eventually he could destroy it without destroying us. That’s how much he hates it. This is not a saccharine view. The promise is not, “If you love God, you will have more good things happen.” No! The promise is not, “If you love God, the bad things really aren’t bad. They’re really good things.” No!

The promise is God will take the bad things, and he will work them for good in the totality.”

And the reason he is able to do that? His sovereignty.

Content Copyright Belongs to Pleasant View First Baptist Church