© 2018, Charles A. Clough
Our Relationship with God in 2018: Estranged or Intimate?
A Study of the Character of God as He has Revealed Himself
vs. the Substitute Idols of our Neo-Pagan Culture
God Alone is SOVEREIGN
2018 North Stonington Bible Church Labor Day Conference
Charles Clough Lesson #02
September 1, 2018
[Note: The slide numbers referenced throughout refer to the
number in the lower right corner of the slides]
This evening we’re going to move on from the introduction that we did in Lesson #1 to applying some of the methodology to start looking at the nature of God Himself and His attributes.
As I said earlier, we’re just living in a very interesting time because the traditional Christian influence on civilization is being profoundly and systemically challenged, and so I’ve shown this slide again and again, but again, it’s just to review so this is clear in our minds. Our method: why do we start with the Bible? And it goes back to the fact that we have these two traditions—they are not 15 different traditions—the nice thing about this is if you grasp the basic axiom that we’re following; that there is a Creator/creature distinction, or there isn’t, it’s very simple. You don’t have to know 45 different religions to see the difference here.
There are two traditions in history. One is the fact that from Noah on, the people groups in the world had an original awareness of God, an original monotheism of God. Anthropologists like Wilhelm Schmidt have shown that in primitive peoples who have a minimum contact with civilization, many of those people groups, because they have uncontaminated-from-modern-man cultures, those cultures have pieces and remnants of Genesis 1 to 11. They have stories about the Flood. They have stories about the Fall. They have stories about Creation. Distorted, yes, but these are elements that we see in the Bible.
Now the first anthropologists that found this out, because they were evolutionists argued that the Bible came out of these traditions. So you go from chaotic polytheism to monotheism. Well, sorry—that’s an evolutionary interpretation. We are reversed. It is the Bible alone that has preserved the true story.
I once challenged some high school students with this thing—it’s very simple to do. Take two pieces of paper and on one sheet of paper write Genesis 1 to say 3 or 4; write what the Bible says, the main elements in the story. Then go to say Gilgamesh, the epic of Babylon, or one of the Greek epics and write down their story.
Now you see when you get done with this exercise you’ve got a difference, a Δ, between those two pieces of paper. That Δ, that difference, is an empirical evidence of what the preserving ministry of the Holy Spirit did. The Holy Spirit preserved the truth—that’s the Word of God, the Bible, and if the Holy Spirit had not preserved the truth, we would be like the pagans.
So those are the two traditions and there are no ifs, ands, or buts here. This is a fork in the road. You have to go down one or the other but you can’t mix the two. They don’t mix. So, either you have a Creator over the creature, as we said earlier, to Whom we are ultimately responsible, because the bottom line in all this is: are we responsible to someone higher than ourselves, higher than other people? Do we have what we call a “transcendent” responsibility?
This is important because around the world today we have more Christian martyrs, people dying for Jesus Christ, than in any other of the 2,000 years of church history. We have an enormous number of Christian martyrs today. Those martyrs are in nations like North Korea, a horrible place; we have Eritrea, which is another horrible place in eastern Africa. We have other countries in varying degrees.
Just ask yourself why would the Kim family that rules North Korea for three generations consider Christian North Koreans a threat? They’re not armed. They’re not overthrowing the government. What’s the problem?
Why does the dictator of Eritrea go after believers? They’re not wealthy people. They’re no political threat. So, ask yourself, what’s the source of Christian persecution? It’s the idea that these people called “Christians” believe in an ultimate responsibility above the state. That’s the threat and that is intolerable to tyrants. Tyrants insist that their people’s allegiance, they’re final allegiance, has to be the tyrant, and the Christians cannot agree with that.
Our final allegiance is not with the tyrant, is not with the civil government, it is with the risen Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. And that statement is what is profoundly offensive to a pagan-type society. It always has been.
When you think of communism, it’s the same story. The Russian Christians were persecuted for years and years and years. The fact that there was a church left after communism fell itself was a miracle. But just remember Rome fell and the church survived. The Soviet Union collapsed and the church survived, because there were people who were stubborn in their faith that said that their higher allegiance was not to whoever reigns in Moscow, their higher allegiance is to Jesus Christ.
So this difference here is a profound difference and people, because of our situation in a fallen world, people are dying tonight because of this difference. Thousands of them are in jail and being persecuted and so forth. So, this separates the boys from the men here: that we are or we’re not going to believe in a Creator/creature distinction. If that belief comes into our heart and we acknowledge that then certain things follow from that.
So we wanted to go into this, the cultural break, and I want to remark that earlier I talked about our methodology in our conference here. You’ll see it start tonight because I’m going to deal with the sovereignty of God and it’s going to be, as you see in the outline, there are four parts to this and I’ll use the same methodology, the same four points, on attribute after attribute after attribute.
The first point in our methodology is to point to “special revelation,” e.g., the Bible; the Creator/creature distinction. We start with that. We don’t start with human imaginations. We start with the fact that we believe God has historically revealed Himself through at least 40 people, writing in three different languages, over 2,000 years, from every walk of life, in a coherent body called the library, which is our Bible. As I said, don’t think of the Bible anymore as a book, think of the Bible as a library of many books, many letters and many poems written through the Holy Spirit’s work in people’s hearts.
So that’s point #1 in the method. We start there. Why? Because we want to know what God is like. And it would seem to reason that we ought to listen to what He says He’s like to find out what He is like. So that’s step one in the method.
Step two that we will see again and again is we will go and look at the fact that we, as made in His image, we are image bearers, and because we are image bearers, there are analogs in our everyday life to His attributes. We’ll go through what is true about human beings, that is analogous to the particular attribute that we are thinking about as far as God is concerned.
Then the third step in our method will be we’re going to show what unbelief does because unbelief wants to suppress awareness of God. And so what replacements does unbelief create to suppress this? If you give up, like tonight we’re going to deal with God’s sovereignty, if you give up God’s sovereignty, you’ve got to replace it with something, something’s going to fill the vacuum.
So, the third thing in our method is to look around and look at what historically unbelief has always done to counterfeit the attributes of God. It’s a drill, a mental drill, so that we can be wise in our critiques of what’s going on around us in the culture.
And finally, the fourth point is: so what? What does this attribute mean as far as my personal relationship with God?
We mentioned that the conflict we have since the Garden of Eden and the fall of man is we have demonic powers that have the ability to project ideas into our heads. We gave the illustration of Peter. Right after Peter confesses that Jesus was the Christ, all of a sudden Peter said, “But you’re not going to the Cross.” And that’s when Jesus turned to Peter, looked at him eye-to-eye and said, “Get behind me Satan.”
I’m sure Peter was hurt by that kind of remark from our Savior but what that shows is that Peter, walking closely with the Lord, was vulnerable to what we call hacking today in cyber warfare—that the principalities and powers can project their lies. And so we’ve looked at this and I call it malware just because of the contemporary connotations here.
But notice what this lie does. There are several things to think about here. Number one: this lie hasn’t changed. Satan doesn’t change his tactics—they’re old, they are millennia old, and we’re stupid if we don’t think about the fact that he’s been doing this for millennia. So why are we always taken by surprise when he’s pulled the same stunt century after century after century through different people, through different situations, but it’s the same deal, the same idea that God has not revealed Himself.
This is critical because if God has not revealed Himself, you can’t tell who God is and I can’t tell who God is, we can’t have a relationship because person-to-person relationships require communication and God isn’t communicating. Well if He isn’t communicating, then trying to get a relationship with the Lord is ridiculous. So that’s why this is so lethal—it destroys verbal revelation.
So that’s God’s thing and that’s why I showed you several slides and we went into Thomas Paine at the time of the American Revolution. He was a Deist. He denied that the Bible was the inspired Word of God and this was prevalent in our colonial fathers.
And I gave you Boudinot, who was a godly evangelical Christian. By the way, there were two outstanding evangelicals in the founding fathers. There are questions about whether George Washington was a believer, or, you know, he had Christian concepts and there have been scholarly discussions for years about that.
Ben Franklin, was he really a believer or not? But there are two men that never was there a question about whether or not they were believers. One was [Elias] Boudinot. Boudinot was a Representative from New Jersey and he also worked for the United States Treasury. The other one was Patrick Henry. As the country got started, and he [Boudinot] was the one that wrote the book against Paine; Paine’s book was “The Age of Reason”; Boudinot’s book was “The Age of Revelation”.
So right there by the titles of the books you see what was going on. One started with reason “without revelation” and Boudinot said, no, we have reason “with revelation.” And so it was clear back in the 1700s what this issue was—it hadn’t changed.
But what I did is show you another slide just to show you this is Harvard’s top theologian in the 1900s, the 20th century. Here’s what he is saying and you look at what [Paul] Tillich is saying: it’s the same thing. It’s exactly the same thing. What does he say? “There are no revealed doctrines, but there are revelatory events”, whatever those are, “that can be described in doctrinal terms.” Well how do I know it’s a revelatory event? “The ‘Word of God’ contains neither revealed commandments nor revealed doctrines.” That is the liberal theology in many denominations today.
So, this is a similar type thing. It is denying the existence of the revelation of God, that He has revealed Himself through those 40 different people, over two millennia of time, in three different languages, from every walk of life. We either believe that or we don’t. And if we don’t believe it, then we ought to have the courage, intellectually, to follow the results of where that leads.
So that’s the first lie and that hasn’t changed. Then we showed the second lie and that was a revision of what reality is. Notice the language that’s used here: “You won’t surely die for God knows that in the day that you eat of it”… And by the way, you notice this little clause here, “God knows.” Now notice what follows this: after the words “God knows” look at the rest of the sentence. “God knows that in the day that you eat of it your eyes will be opened [enlightenment] and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”
God had given Adam and Eve a command to manage His Creation. We call that the “dominion mandate,” and that’s rooted in our hearts because we’re made in God’s image. What happened here, very cleverly, Satan argued, “Well, how are you going to exercise dominion? You’re going to exercise dominion on your own because God is saying this, but He doesn’t have your interests in mind so you have a right to execute the dominion mandate on your terms.”
So, this is the temptation, historically, that’s led to all kinds of things. And I showed you Babel—the first great historical miracle in history. At Babel what was the deal? “We will make a name for ourselves.”
That is in direct contrast to the very next chapter in the Bible where God speaks to Abraham and when God speaks to Abraham He says I’m going to do this, I’m going to do this, I’m going to do this, and I will make your name great.
So you’ve got it right there—two different things. One of the things that’s going on in our culture, it’s behind a lot of the political discussion but we don’t seem to have any perceptive journalists, there are a few that are writing about this: underneath all the surface turmoil, politically, there are two worldviews that are clashing. One is nationalism—the idea from Babel, where God has separated us into different tribes with different regions, the nation state.
The other belief is that we have a homogeneous world state—globalism. For years and years the State Department in our country, as well as most countries in the West, have believed in an ultimate globalism where we’re going to get rid of all the differences and we’re going to have universal people. We’re going to have universal personhood. So, it’s not going be you’re an American, you’re an Englishman, you’re a Frenchman. We’re going to do away with all that. You’re going to be a person.
The problem with unlimited diversity is that you’ve got clashing worldviews that don’t go away. So, it’s a façade. It’s kind of a phony façade, just like Babel was. Babel was a phony façade. God intended that man spread out into the world. They were fearful of that. They were didn’t want to do what God said, what He told the human race.
Remember, this is a corporate command, not just individual commands. They didn’t want to do that, so collectively they decided, “No, the human race” (remember, this is a global thing because these were the people that came off the boat), “globally, we, humanity, are deciding we’re not going to do that. We are going to create our own society;” and that’s the spirit behind globalism.
The tragedy of globalism is this: traditional Christian influence in the West, again, I make no apologies for elevating Western civilization. There’s a great book, I was discussing with one of the mothers here an interesting book. It was written by a historian at Baylor University (Rodney Stark). He is a conservative Roman Catholic so we differ at certain points, but here’s the title of the book, “How the West Was Won.” Now as a historian, he deliberately entitled his book because it irritates the bejeebers out of the globalists. He’s a guy that shows you why the West became a superior civilization. It wasn’t because they’re white; there’s no superiority in the white race. The superiority in Western civilization didn’t come from “whiteness”. It came from the effect of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
The gospel, and one of the most profound things, politically, that the gospel did by having a transcendent authority above humans, what do you suppose that did to government power? The same thing I was talking about with tyrants: Why do tyrants hate Christians? Why are tyrants looking down at the Christians and saying, “You are a threat to me politically?” Christians are a threat because we believe in the Lord Jesus Christ above the tyrant.
So, what politically does that do in your thinking? It makes for limited government; the gospel’s influence on the West is limited government. You don’t find freedom, political freedom, in other cultures. You have it in the West, and it was there because of the influence of the gospel, by having a transcendent authority over and above the civil government. So that’s a great contribution.
Now the problem comes in that if you have a global thing here you’re going to have a tendency to what God says in Genesis 11. You’re going to have people coming together without competition.
Here’s an illustration: when Naval architects build a boat they have different parts of the boat that are walled off from the other parts of the boat. Why? Because if you get into an accident and the hull is ruptured the whole boat doesn’t sink because there’s limited flooding that’s going on in the hull. Now think of the same analogy: the reason God divided the human race at Babel is to keep us separate, so that we talk to one another, we have commerce, there’s no problem there. It’s the fact that by different cultures, if one culture collapses you’ve got another culture where the gospel can still permeate.
Think of the EU now. Remember the building I showed you that is patterned after the Tower of Babel? How is the EU run? Let me ask you this one. It’s very interesting about the European Union. Who runs the European Union, elected officials or unelected bureaucrats? The answer is unelected bureaucrats. That was what why the Brexit thing happened in England. You know one of the reasons the English said, no, we don’t want to be part of the EU? The bureaucracy became so involved with every detail of their life. They literally had a regulation in England, and for all of the EU, that you can’t sell bananas that have a curve on them; they’ve got to be straight before you can sell a banana. Now I don’t know, but with all the things going on in the world, why we’re sitting there spending time deciding what we’re going to do about eating bananas.
This is what happens with bureaucrats. Bureaucrats are after one thing, my [their] job, and my job means I build empires and I save my job because I create so many regulations now everybody has to come to me.
So this is the problem. There’s a profound collision going on between the fact that we Americans traditionally believe in limited government; we have a Constitution which many people don’t have.
By the way, the idea of a constitutional republic came from the Bible. Historically, when churches got together what was the standard: the pastor or this [the Bible]? It was a doctrinal statement, wasn’t it? The idea of a body of revealed truth as your founding document. That’s an analog to a constitutional republic. How many constitutional republics are there in the world? Not many. It’s one of those gifts that made Western civilization wealthy; it made Western civilization have a healthy concept of the limitations of government power. So, all that to say that’s the two stories.
Now what we want to do is we want to use our method. The first thing we’re going to do is look at the sovereign attribute of God—that God is totally in control. No one else is dictating to God how He runs the show. God is the final say.
Lt’s turn to Acts 17. Acts 17 is Paul’s address to the Greeks. They are pagans; they’re brilliant people. The Greeks gave some wonderful things to the West. One of which was the fact you can’t have morals without organized reality, a structure. But here’s Paul in Acts 17. He starts in verse 23. Paul has been asked and they have a hearing. Today maybe the press would report, “We’ve got a controversial figure in town and so we’re going to have a public hearing. And so Paul, would you please get up on Mars Hill and give us a public picture of what it is you’re babbling about in the marketplace, creating all kinds of arguments and debates?”
So, Paul says in Acts 17:23, “I passed by, behold your devotions.” You notice in verse 23, he’s pointing out that you don’t have a nonreligious environment. People who claim to be nonreligious are just as religious as anybody else. They have a hidden creed. It doesn’t appear to be religious, but here he’s basically saying, “Yeah, you’re religious, you’ve got a statue.”
Now in Acts 17:24 Paul starts in and where does Paul start the conversation? He starts back in that chart we have that is in your hand out—the Creator/creature distinction. Verse 24: God made the world and all things in it. So right there Paul sets up the discussion. Here it separates one from the other. We’ve got two groups now. “God made all things.” Then he starts talking about the consequences. And one of the consequences in verse 24 is you don’t make temples to house God. God doesn’t dwell in temples made with hands. He’s immense. Neither is God worshiped with men’s hands as though He needed something.
You don’t give food to the gods and that’s what happens in paganism—they put meals out. Now I don’t know whether they rot or what happens; birds come or something. But the idea is you’re feeding deity. God created the food. He doesn’t need our food.
So, see how simple he starts? He’s not worshipped with men’s hands, like he needed something. He gives to all life, breath, and all things. He’s made of one blood all nations of men. And by the way, that’s the other interesting thing about biblical history. Sadly, we have people in church history that didn’t understand this.
There are not multiple races on earth. Darwin was the one who made a plural out of R-A-C-E. Darwin, in his book, “Origin of the Species”, talked about inferior and superior rac-es, but the Bible doesn’t have races. The Bible has one race. We all got out of the boat. We’re all of the same kind. “He made of one blood all nations of men to dwell on the face of the earth.”
And now notice the Sovereign design. Here is a reference to God’s sovereignty in history: He has determined the times before appointed, and the bounds of their habitation. One: the times before appointed. That’s time. That’s the historical era. And then the bounds are space—their location. So, we’re saying that God, Paul says, that God controls the time and space dimensions of different groups on the earth. That’s a revelation of the fact that He controls history.
There are two areas. If we had the time tonight we’d also go into Job 37 to show God has created all things. He controls the creation, but God continues His control through what we call “providence.” I mean, we have a city right nearby here in the next state called Providence. Where did that get its name? Because Christians who believed in “providence” called Providence, Providence. It meant something to them—that providence means God controls history. It is divine providence.
So, we have those two things: God is sovereign because He’s the Creator of all things. He’s also sovereign because He controls. Let’s think about this a little bit. When God called Abraham, the first Jew, He established a counterculture to the Noahic civilization.
Remember in the Noahic civilization all the groups and peoples came out of the boat. And then you have Babel and it’s all screwed up again. So what God then does is He reaches down and says, “I am going to pick, I am going to pick one guy, and I’m going to start a counterculture with this guy.” Not because Abraham was better than anybody else. It was just that sovereignly for some reason, God chose Abraham and that started a counterculture.
There has not been unity between the pagan mind and the biblical mind ever since Abraham because God says, “I am going to …, from now on,” this is era 2000 BC, “My revelation is going to come from the Jews.” This [the Bible] is not a Gentile book; this is a Jewish book, and Jesus Christ is the Messiah who is Jewish. Why is that? Is that because Jews are better? No, that’s because God chose the Jewish line to be His custodians of the Word of God.
Well now we have a situation with the Jewish calendar. We have the spring calendar: we have Passover, we have the Feast of Firstfruits, and we have Pentecost. Then we have the fall calendar. Isn’t it striking that the Lord Jesus Christ was crucified exactly on the day of Passover? Now how did that happen? That’s the Jewish calendar. You could compute it arithmetically from the time Moses installed it.
You can figure out from all history. It’s just a math problem of knowing when Passover is going to happen. It’s a lunar calendar so it’s just a computer problem and yet events have happened to coincide with them. When did the Holy Spirit come? The Holy Spirit came on Pentecost. How come it was so exact? How come Jesus died exactly on the Passover and the Holy Spirit just happened to come on Pentecost?
In the future there’s a thing in the Jewish calendar called Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, and we believe that on that day, someday in the future, it will be in October or September depending on the lunar calendar, that Israel will confess that they screwed up and that Jesus is their Messiah. Jesus said, “I will not come again to this earth until you people in Israel say, ‘Blessed is he that comes in the name of the Lord;’ when you say that, I’m coming back.” And we know that that’s probably going to happen on Yom Kippur.
How is it that history is so exact? We get this statistical idea that it is just kind of messy, that history is messy. Yes, there are messes in it, but the anchor points are mathematically precise, and that is because God is sovereign.
Now thinking further in providence, think about this: as I said in the previous session, my wife and I just came back from seeing the full-size ark in Kentucky and that ark has a certain space for how many animals and many people. Now ask yourself this: if, when Noah was building the ark, there was a worldwide revival and now we’ve got too many people going into a smaller ark, how is it that God knows exactly what He’s doing here and He builds an ark of a certain dimension, which implies there are only a few people that are going to be saved in this generation?
So again we see these illustrations of God at work in history. In the New Testament we have this expression in Galatians: Jesus came at the “fullness of time.” Now think about that. Jesus didn’t come until the fullness of time. What do you mean by fullness of time? Let’s think about what happened. There were 400 years between the last prophet [of the Old Testament] and the first prophet of the New Testament, which is John the Baptist; but in this fullness of time what happened? Number one: we have a lingua franca; we have a common language throughout the whole Levant—Koine Greek—and that language was spread by Alexander the Great. Of course later the Romans had Latin, but the business language was still Koine Greek.
So you have one language. Do you suppose that helped early Christian missionaries? You bet. That’s why the New Testament is written in Koine Greek; it was the lingua franca of the business world. Think about it. How did Paul and the early evangelists get to Turkey, go through Turkey, go through Greece, when they weren’t on a boat, where are they walking? On Roman army roads. Who built the roads? The Roman army engineers. God put all of these things in place so that when Jesus came, it’s ready to go. That’s an eloquent example of how God providentially works.
We could go into this, but again, I want to keep moving. Let’s go to our finite, human counterpart to sovereignty. It’s revealed to us that God is sovereign. Now if we’re made in His image, there are things you and I do that are like a creature version of sovereignty. What is it? Choice. We choose. What do we choose? We choose among the options that are available to us. We can’t choose options that aren’t available to us. We have to the pray that the Lord opens up options.
You know when a church meets they have elders and so on, the pastors, and they get together and they think about, how do we minister, what are our options here, what languages do we minister to for missionaries? So we have possibilities out there, and we choose what we think is the best of the options, but that process we go through is an analog to God in His sovereignty.
He creates His own options, we don’t. We’re limited. We’re creatures, but we understand at least when God says, “I choose to do something,” that’s not a strange word because you and I do that all the time. So there’s a commonality there between God’s sovereignty.
Here’s an example of that in the text: Jesus is going after these people around the Sea of Galilee that are rejecting Him. Notice what this says, let’s look at the text carefully: “Woe to you Chorazin and Bethsaida.” These are two towns that Jesus visited. “… For if the mighty works which were done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes … it will be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon in the day of judgment than you.” Clearly what Jesus is saying here is that Tyre and Sidon did not have the same degree of options that Chorazin and Bethsaida had, and they are judged relative to the options that they had.
So, these are two different situations historically separated. In one situation you had certain options; in the other situation you also had different options. And what God says is, “I allowed certain things to happen in Chorazin and Bethsaida; I came, I incarnated Myself, I taught the Word of God, you saw My miracles, you saw one thing after another and you had an option to believe that.” Now going back to Tyre and Sidon in the Old Testament: “They had evidence of My existence, but they didn’t have as much opportunity as you had.” So clearly there are these particular moments in history and we are held accountable for the options that are available.
Well, what do we say then about the other situation that we mentioned earlier—Satan? Angels are responsible and are going to be judged. Satan and his crowd are going to be excluded to the Lake of Fire. One of the reasons why is: look what they’re doing to us. Satan is saying, “You will not surely die.” He’s giving Adam and Eve a false sense of what their options are. This is not going to work. This is an unreal option and this is an example of a lie and a deception. So, angels, because they’ve done this, they participated in this, they’re going to be judged because they are distorting our choices. Alright so at the creature level we have to deal with all these options and situations. We have to choose among them.
What is the perversion of sovereignty? There are two tendencies in the world to substitute. If you’re an unbeliever and you don’t believe there’s a person in charge, you have to do something to think about what’s the meaning and purpose in my life? There is a group that believes in passivity, i.e., fatalism; the idea of karma, the idea that there is nothing out there that I can control.
I was talking to a missionary once who’s running an orphanage, and he told Carol and me about this orphanage and he was running into this kind of mishmash of Buddhism and Hinduism. He was saying, “You know here, as a Christian, I’m trying to go help families, particularly widows who are trying to raise kids and they can’t afford it, so they dump the kids into an orphanage.” Now he says what’s interesting is I asked them before Christians came what did you do? Well, the kids just died in the street. Well that’s interesting. Why did you let the kids die in the street? Oh, because of karma—the fact that they’re dying is just because karma. It’s just their past and in their previous life they sinned and they’re in trouble and so this is the price they’re paying for their past life.
Well that’s great. That really helps, doesn’t it, as far as helping people out? See how an idea is very dangerous? It was the Christians who came into this particular town that started helping with orphans and all of a sudden it challenged the whole worldview of these people—that wait a minute, it’s not karma. We have an option today before the Creator Who has died for us and gives us opportunity. We didn’t know we had those kind opportunities. So, there you have fatalism; that’s the core of the Asian group think.
But then we have modern men who are saying that human choice is an illusion and all we do is, what Dawkins and the other new atheists are saying, all we are doing is we just dancing to our DNA. Well, if you and I are dancing to our DNA, we’re not responsible to anything, are we, because it’s neurochemical processes going on in our mind and choice is an illusion. So that’s the passivity side.
Then there is the active side. Well, if God isn’t in charge we’re going to be in charge, and that’s your tyrannical state. The hyper-regulatory state that’s got to regulate everything you think and do because: “If we don’t do that, we’re going to have chaos because no one’s in charge. So we are going to be in charge.” So that’s the two ways in unbelief that you see.
Now we want to say, how do we interact with sovereignty? I want to show you three benefits, three things that help us and we can be thankful to the Lord that He is sovereign. Turn to the Old Testament in the Book of Daniel to Daniel 4. This is a case involving God’s sovereign control of history over the most powerful regime at this point in time—the Babylonian Empire.
You know the story; I’m sure Larry has taught the Book of Daniel here and you remember what happened. Nebuchadnezzar has a dream and he asks Daniel to interpret the dream. You remember the dream: the four kingdoms. And so Nebuchadnezzar is sitting here, “Oh, I’m the head guy on this statue, aren’t I? Well isn’t that gold? So I tell you what, I’m going to make a 90-foot tall idol to me. The first king, you say, Daniel, is gold, so I’m going to set up this thing. And furthermore, I’m going to require everybody to worship it.” That’s not exactly what Daniel was telling him about the dream. What Daniel was telling him about the dream was that God is sovereign in history, and he immediately distorts this into a building project, 90-feet tall, or whatever it was.
Now we have another problem happening. He has another troubling dream, and in Daniel 4:24 we have Daniel discussing this second dream that Nebuchadnezzar has. Daniel 4:24: “This is the interpretation, O king, this is the decree of the Most High …” Notice, Daniel gives credit to a sovereign God, “the Most High which has come upon my lord, the king.” Notice he respects the king. He’s not being insolent. He’s not attacking the king and his personality. He’s honoring the king.
“That they would drive you from men and thy dwelling shall be with the beasts of the field and they shall make you to eat grass as oxen, they shall wet you with the dew of heaven, and seven times shall pass over you until you know that the Most High rules the kingdom of man and gives it to whomever he will.” Daniel confronts a tyrant and he says, “You may think you’re a big boy on the block, but I’ll tell you something, God is over you. He is the Lord of history, and to prove it to you He’s going to give you a mental illness and you’re going to go out,” and I forgot what the name of this particular thing, scholars say what it is, where he goes nuts, “and you’re going to stay in a psychiatric disaster until you come out of it and you acknowledge that God is sovereign and you aren’t.”
So there’s an illustration of God’s [sovereignty] and what’s the conclusion of that? The conclusion is that accepting divine sovereignty, that our God is sovereign, enables us to be humble. Divine sovereignty genders a humble attitude that in the end you’re not in control and I’m not in control. God is in control. And so to say that and to sense it really in the middle of all the chaos of life, to go back and think our God is sovereign—whatever is happening to me He has chosen that, that’s what’s going to happen and I have to deal with that.
So, I look around; what are my options? I read the Word of God. My option is to trust this particular promise. My option is to ask the Lord in prayer for things. So divine sovereignty is a humbling experience. And we want to, as Christians, experience that humility if we really believe that God is sovereign.
Now a second benefit in this, and you have to turn over to see this, is Exodus 32. The reason I’m taking you to Exodus 32 is because people misinterpret God’s sovereignty as a sort of a hyper-computer program. It’s like He has software that automatically cranks things out. I want to show you how to break that mistake in thinking.
Exodus 32:7–10. This takes place on Mount Sinai. Here’s the situation: Moses is up on Mount Sinai receiving the Law and the Proverbs and all the rest of it—the bureaucracy and the rules and regulations while he’s up there. The Jews down at the foot of the mountain decide, “You know, he’s been up there a long time, maybe he got lost or something, so let’s make a statue to God”, and so they proceed to build a golden calf, led by none other than Aaron, of all people.
This is going on and God sees it. So right here in Exodus 32:7 the Lord said to Moses … Now God is really ticked right here, but what I want you to watch is what happens in the conversation between God and Moses, because this will balance your view of God’s sovereignty. Watch what happens, watch the conversation. In verse seven the Lord said to Moses: “Go, get thee down, for thy people which you have brought out of the land of Egypt have corrupted themselves. They turned aside quickly out of the way, I commanded them, they made a molten calf and worshiped it, and sacrificed and said, ‘These are your gods, O Israel, which have brought thee about of the land of Egypt.’ ”
So let’s just stop there and look at this wording. When you study the Bible you want to watch these little details because the Author, the Holy Spirit, and the human author put these in here in their writing to communicate to us, so let’s not stumble here. “Go, get down, for your people whom you, whom you, brought out of the land of Egypt, have corrupted themselves. I have seen this people, and indeed it is a stiff-necked people. Now therefore let me alone, that my wrath may burn hot against them, and I may consume them, and I will make of you a great nation.”
On the surface, from what you know of the Abrahamic Covenant, what’s wrong with that statement? What tribe is Moses? Levi. What tribe was supposed to be the king and the Messiah? Judah. So now what do we have in this sentence? We have God proposing something that seems to undercut the whole rest of the program.
What do you notice about the personal pronouns? Does it strike you as a little odd what God is saying here? Your people? You brought out? Now why is God talking like this to Moses? First of all, it’s obvious that the Lord brought the people out. It wasn’t Moses, but why is God approaching Moses this way with this kind of proposal? Well, there’s a way—and we all do this in communication, husbands and wives, in the workplace—we do this when we want to get somebody’s attention. You do this with kids. You know when they’re sitting there all spaced out and you know they’re just not paying a dime’s attention to you, you have to come up with innovative ways to get their attention; that’s what God is doing here. He’s coming to a Levite.
Now what was the historic role of a Levite in Israel? The Levites were priests, weren’t they? And what do priests do? Priests are supposed to intercede, aren’t they, in prayer? What God is triggering here in Moses by addressing it this way is He’s dropping a bomb on Moses to get Moses’ attention to the fact that, fella, you’ve got to pray for your nation.
So, this is how God gets attention. It’s not strange because we’ve all done this when we get frustrated at trying to communicate to somebody. Haven’t you done this: you say something like this, and you know it’s screwed up, but you have to say it to get them to listen to what you are saying? You have to get their attention.
To show you what happens here, look at Moses’ response to the Lord. “Lord, why does Your wrath burn hot against Your people whom You have brought out of the land of Egypt with great power and a mighty hand?” Now stop right there. See Moses has picked up on this and says, “Wait a minute, this isn’t my people, this is Your people.”
So that shows you that Moses is engaged and why I am showing you this conversation is because God is sovereign. He’s going to discipline this people, but He’s not administrating like a computer software program. God’s sovereignty works through personal interaction, and there’s a great example. God is going to be sovereign all right, but it’s going to be through personal interaction and so let’s follow the line.
Notice he glorifies, and notice what he’s saying here: “It’s not I that have brought them out of the land, You brought them,” and to emphasize You brought Israel out of Egypt, what does he add to the sentence? What does he say? “You brought them out with,” what? “great power and a mighty hand”. See what he’s doing there? He’s elevating what God has done in history. He is showing, “God, look what You’ve done. It’s You.” So in essence what Moses is doing here, he’s praising God. This is a sentence where he is glorifying the Lord.
Now look what he does; the next thing: “Why should the Egyptians speak and say, ‘He brought them out to harm them, and to consume them from the face of the earth?’ ” Let’s stop right there. What is Moses’ pitch? Let’s think about this. It’s God’s glory. He is concerned doxologically about God being misinterpreted in history. Moses is saying, “I want You, Lord, I want You to be glorified. I don’t want some idiot, unbelieving Egyptians to be badmouthing You because it looks like You failed. I want to guard Your glory. You started with great works here and if what You’re saying is true, the Egyptians are going to say, ‘Hah, big God the Jews have. They get out there in the desert and collapse.’ God, that’s not what You want; You want to be glorified in history.”
So here is the Levite, Moses. Now his heart has been activated and he’s acting like a Levite. The Levites were to intercede for the nation. So, here’s where he’s doing that. God has stimulated something that He sovereignly wants to pull off, but He’s doing it through triggering responses in people. The first argument Moses is giving is that it’s going to mess up Your glory in history.
Now he does a second thing: “Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, Your servants, to whom You swore by Your own self, and said to them.” What is he quoting? The Abrahamic Covenant. Remember, the Abrahamic Covenant was ratified through Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. God signed on the dotted line. That’s His contract. See what he’s doing? What a wonderful conversation here. But the problem is that it happens so fast that when you read it you don’t pause long enough to realize, “Holy mackerel, look what’s going on here.” Here’s a Levite arguing with the God of the universe about how God works.
But it’s an eloquent revelation of what real intercessory prayer looks like. These guys interacted with God. They weren’t afraid. They were basically arguing about God’s glory. It meant something to them that the God of the universe would be glorified, and it meant something to them when God entered into contracts and He wouldn’t violate His own word. So, that’s the second thing that sovereignty does. Sovereignty actually, in history, isn’t a software program that mechanically executes. God personally interacts.
Finally, what does sovereignty do for us? It incentivizes prayer, because if you really believe God is sovereign, you’re going to talk to Him about your life, about this thing that happened or that thing that happened. Why do you go to Him? Because He’s the One that’s sovereign.
But I hope you see from this interaction that maybe situations are coming into your life because God is trying to trigger you to talk to Him about it. So please don’t go away from this session thinking about God’s sovereignty in some sort of Hyper-Calvinist way, that it’s just a software program, that I’m helpless, that I just have to go with whatever He goes with. That’s not the spirit of this whole issue here.
God is sovereign but He’s personal and He has a personal interaction with us. Remember that one of the titles of God that Jesus used an awful lot—Jesus emphasized God as the “Father.” Why do you suppose God is called the “Father?” Because there’s a familial relationship that He’s getting at. You can go through the whole New Testament, even when God disciplines believers, He does it as a parent.
I gave a series one time and we were going through the Epistle of Hebrews and the author of Hebrews is trying to get these Christians, “Look guys, you’re asking to be disciplined.” God is not a permissive parent, because God loves us and He’s trying to prepare us for eternity. Think about what you are going to be doing 25,000 years from now. That’s a legitimate question because what are we going to be doing?
The point we have to think about is that we are being prepared for eternal presence with the God of the universe. That’s why at times He can seem almost cruel, kind of like He’s abusive, but He’s not—that’s not God. He is our Father and He is a perfect parent. We’ve got a whole millennial generation out there and sociologists say, “Don’t blame the young people for their unrealistic expectations.” It’s because the baby boomers raised this group, and they raised them in many cases incorrectly by patting them on the head and giving them participation medals because you breathe, and this goes on and on and on. Now they walk into a company for a job and they want top salary in the first two weeks. It doesn’t work that way.
And so we have depression, drugs, and all the rest of it going on. But our God is a model parent and He’s trying to be our parent. For those of us who have trusted in the Lord Jesus, we are still in His family and we are still being raised by the Father.
“Father, we thank You for Your revelation in history. We thank You for these evidences in Your Word; this evidence of this great conversation that Moses had with You 2,000–3,400 years ago and has been recorded by the Holy Spirit; that we understand that You want us to interact with You, You want to hear us, You want to have conversation with us.
“May we be stimulated trusting that You are the sovereign in our life. You are sovereign over every area, and yet we understand that we can be humble before You, but we can also, like Moses, interact with You because You really want fellowship with us. We thank You now for this time in Your Word, in Christ’s name, Amen.”