Some pastors and fellow Christians in my community probably thought I had gone off the deep end when they found out I would be preaching a multi-part series – during the Thanksgiving and Christmas holiday season no less, on The Sovereignty of God.
I freely admit that it is definitely not your typical, holiday, seeker-sensitive or attractional pulpit series, such as: How to Beat the Negativity in Your Life or 7 Steps to a Marvelous Marriage.
So, what would lead a pastoral leadership team to agree to preach and teach a congregation at this time that God is the all-sovereign, creator, sustainer, king and “governor of the world,” as many of the Puritan influenced, founding fathers of this nation referred to?
The first answer to the question would be that the series would be directed foremost at our congregation or the local assembly itself, for whom such weighty doctrines are primarily intended rather than unregenerate visitors. But then again, the gathering of the local church is by name and definition for the local church.
The sovereignty of God and his providence is a doctrine or teaching not for the faint of heart and mind and least of all in our day, for the unredeemed heart and mind, which has enough difficulty grasping God and his word at even the most fundamental level, much less the fact that God has the power, wisdom and both the freedom and the right to do anything He wants whenever he wants.
Why here and now?
The second reason we decided to do a series about the sovereignty of God, came as the result of just looking around, looking at our internet and social media news feeds and having a pretty good idea of what the year of our Lord 2020 is and has been like:
- COVID-19, a year-long global pandemic having led to reportedly more than a million world-wide deaths and chock full of mitigation, masks and a seemingly never-ending stream of neo-apocalyptic news about our health’s present and future.
- A Coronavirus which infected and quarantined the economy, leading to massive job losses, business failures and all sorts of societal upheaval. Travel? Sports? Entertainment? Recreation? Each and every one of those cultural pastimes were put on hold or redefined if permitted at all.
- Civil, racial and social unrest having erupted from a summer of high-profile police shootings and deaths.
- A wild, wacky and divisive U.S. presidential election campaign of which the results (the likely razor thin election of Democratic challenger Joe Biden – much to the chagrin of over 90% of evangelicals), is still being contested by the Republican incumbent, Donald Trump in court.
Little wonder why some end times Christian analysts and prognosticators have been pointing to this year as being quite possibly the end or the beginning of the end of the age- the whole shebang, end of God’s story on earth.
What those ‘prophets’ have failed to remember though, is the Bible makes clear that we have been in the ‘birth pains’ of the end- the ‘end times’ since the first Christmas was birthed 2,000 years ago.
Therefore, I found there was no greater time and season than now, to bring Christians the comfort, confidence and courage available to survive and thrive in the rest of this year of uncertainty, than the certainty and rest found in the sovereignty of God – particularly in the areas of life that are so relevant to living today.
After all, the scriptures and their manifestation in the flesh, Jesus Christ, command Christians not to worry because they have not been given a “spirit of fear” (2 Tim. 1) and are promised the provision of good, God-glorifying things (Matt. 6:25-34) in spite of and in the midst of evil, pain and suffering.
That reality can only be meaningful if you believe and trust in the God of the Bible who is clearly presented as the absolute authority over everything and everyone in his creation, determining their days, places and the final outcome of every circumstance and contingency in that creation.
Romans 8:28, is my favorite verse from God’s word (as it is for so many other Christians), ‘for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.’
That conditional promise can only comfort the real disciple of Christ if God is sovereign enough to guarantee that “all things” (including sin, death and disease) will work out as he intends for his ultimate glory. Consider then the following areas in which God’s providence – the outworking of his sovereign will, takes place:
- God is Sovereign Over Elections
Yes, including this year’s too! As difficult as it seems for many of us to digest the possibility of an anti-Biblical administration and platform of policies occupying the White House, the Lord was not caught by surprise by last month’s election results from his throne.
Quite the contrary, as I preached this message in the first part of our series and that he preordained the election results according to his own word (Ro. 13:1)
He changes times and seasons; he removes kings and sets up kings.. (Dan. 2:21a-b).
“But Pastor Bernie what about the allegations of election fraud and irregularities that may have taken place and effected the oucome?” Yes, I believe in the adage, ‘Where’s there’s smoke, there’s fire’ or ‘If it looks and sounds like a duck..’ Or, “But what if socialism rears its ugly head and comes closer to the American way?”
In either case, I rest in the biblically based fact that God sovereignly controls the course of human history- all world events including the removal and ordination of all earthly kingdoms for the ultimate good of his people and for his own glory. According to the prophet Daniel, he literally changes administrations – of all nations of all times and places. God is behind the scenes and controls the scenes He is behind.
How did Donald Trump win the White House from 2016-2020? Because God put him there. Why Barrack Obama? Bill Clinton? JFK? Fidel Castro in Cuba? Nazi Germany’s Adolf Hitler? Russia’s Karl Marx? Pick your favorite despot or dictator.
God put them all there in one way or another as he did when using pagan kings such as Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon and later Cyrus of Persia, to advance his kingdom causes.
God can and will take out a national leader and choose to preserve or keep them in power, as he wills and pleases, at times to judge nations and/or draw the lost to himself through suffering (Gen. 50:20; Job. 12:23, Psa. 22:28).
- God is Sovereign Over Your Health
Why is God currently allowing the reported deaths of more than 2,000 Americans per day as a result of the Coronavirus being a contributing factor?
Such a question inevitably leads to the greater one that the atheist or skeptic of our faith may ask, “If God is good, why does evil, pain and suffering exist? Is it that he’s not that good, or that he’s not powerful enough to do anything about it?” Unfortunately, some grieving and some liberal Christians may teach and believe such an unbiblical fallacy.
“‘See now that I, even I, am he, and there is no god beside me; I kill and I make alive; I wound and I heal; and there is none that can deliver out of my hand (Deut. 32:39).”
Our sovereign God has not chosen to reveal the details of his providence to us, nor is he obligated to, and we probably wouldn’t understand those reasons anyway if he did (Deut. 29:29). But there are clues, there are principles in God’s word that give us direction, which can produce wisdom, such as Oswald Chambers offered many years ago: God does not tell us what he is going to do. He reveals who He is.
What we do know as Job understood, is that God is the maker, giver and taker of all life and he will use a variety of means and methods to glorify himself, manifest his justice and mercy – even by means of disasters, calamities (Isa. 45:5; Amos 3:6) and even disease (Job 5:18).
From the scripture we find that God delivers promises and purposes greater good from disease and death in the way of:
- Salvation (Lu. 13:4-5)
After the tower of Siloam ‘just fell’ atop of 18 people causing their death during a time of persecution in Judea, Jesus received the proverbial “Why?” question noted above, from observers at the time.
Rather than the Lord answering the question to what seemed to some to have been be a random act of death and suffering, he exhorted his listeners to “repent”- so they would not die permanently in judgment.
In other words, Jesus seemed to teach that we should not be as preoccupied with how many people die (which is estimated to be at least 150,000 every day around the world) or by what manner, but rather what death means to our eternal future. The question worth asking would be, “Were those Galileans that perished ready to meet God on judgment day?”
Suffering and death is what is sometimes necessary to awaken the unredeemed to the reality of their destiny. As C.S. Lewis wrote in one of his most famous lines:Pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pain: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.
- Sanctification (2 Cor. 1:9; Phil. 3:10; Heb. 12:6, 10-11)
Pain and struggles with health can refine and strengthen our faith and make us more Christ like. Paul wrote to the Philippian church that by sharing in the Lord Jesus’s sufferings (i.e. beatings, persecution, hunger) they would better relate to and become more like Christ.
The fitness freaks we know and love like to say, “No pain- no gain.” Ask yourself if you are more likely to grow in Christlikeness in a lifestyle of pure comfort and ease with little or no pain and suffering, or a life like our Lord’s and the apostles? Romans 5 and 1 Peter 1 tell us that illness and suffering happen in part so the gold and silver of our faith would be refined or made pure, helping us grow in personal holiness and righteousness.
Finally, the sovereignty of God over our health, will result in:
- Glorification (Exo. 4:11; Jo. 9:3)
God told Moses to do powerful signs and wonders before the Egyptians at the time of the Exodus and preach the law to Israel, to which he responded in effect, “No I can’t”, appealing to some kind of speech impediment he may have suffered from- perhaps the classic fear of public speaking.
Without skipping a beat, the Lord responded by saying he providentially was the force behind four different kinds of disabilities afflicting mankind and Moses’ stuttering problem would therefore be overcome by the sovereign power of God. And so it was.
John 9, is one of my favorite texts of scripture in the Bible that I remember played a large part in my understanding of this doctrine. As Jesus and the disciples walked by a man born blind at birth, the followers asked Jesus which of the man’s sins or those of his family had contributed to his birth defect. Jesus replied with great insight into what God sovereignly does with health when he said, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but that the works of God should be revealed in him.”
In order for God to reveal or manifest his merciful work of healing in the man, to be praised and worshipped for doing so, the man had to be born blind. In this case, if there no blindness – there would have been no healing. The glory of God would have had to have been revealed in some other person or way if at all.
The fact that God counts every hair on your head and every sparrow that falls, you should lead you to glorify him and take comfort in the truth that He loves and cares about you, his creation, the administration of it and that he is working sovereignly behind the scenes to bless people by saving them, sanctifying them and all the while bringing glory to them and more importantly, himself. I take comfort and confidence in that.
That is reason enough to sing and declare as Horatio Spafford did in the aftermath of tragedy, “It is well with my soul.”
Part two will deal with the Sovereignty of God over your salvation, life and future.