A Journey Thru Acts 8: God Is In Control 1 (4:23-31)
We continue in this our 8th post digging into the book of Acts. We are trying to build on the 53 posts from 2016, our foundations series, where we dug into the Bible to understand what it means to truly elevate God, elevate Christian community, and elevate others (non-Christians). So now through the end of May we are digging into Acts to answer the question, “What do we do NOW? What is the LORD building on the foundation of this local church? What does the Bible say the church is supposed to be and do? Not what does the suburban American culture say, but what does the Bible say?”
23 On their release, Peter and John went back to their own people and reported all that the chief priests and the elders had said to them. 24 When they heard this, they raised their voices together in prayer to God. “Sovereign Lord,” they said, “you made the heavens and the earth and the sea, and everything in them. 25 You spoke by the Holy Spirit through the mouth of your servant, our father David:
“‘Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain?
26 The kings of the earth rise up and the rulers band together
against the Lord and against his anointed one.[b]’[c]
27 Indeed Herod and Pontius Pilate met together with the Gentiles and the people of Israel in this city to conspire against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed. 28 They did what your power and will had decided beforehand should happen. 29 Now, Lord, consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness. 30 Stretch out your hand to heal and perform signs and wonders through the name of your holy servant Jesus.”
31 After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly.
SO much to dig into here. let’s focus on the word “sovereign”—the in-control-ness of God.
Often the Bible tells us WHAT but not usually HOW…or WHY.
- Jonah being swallowed by a great fish for three days.
How is this possible? Not sure–but the “what” is clear!
- The Lord Jesus is fully God & fully human (but without sin).
How can this be? Not sure—but the “what” is clear!
- The Lord Jesus fed 5,000 men (+ more women & children!) with only five loaves of bread & two fish.
How did He do this? Not sure–but the “what” is clear!
Because of difficulties with the HOW, many church attenders in the 20th century stopped believing in the miracles of Jesus altogether! They couldn’t understand HOW these things happened, and their trust in science—really their reliance on only what can be seen with our five senses—was so great as to trust in it more than God & His Word. People reasoned (trusting in our own understanding instead of God’s!) that the various supernatural miracles weren’t “salvation issues”—science has “proven” that those miracles are impossible so they must have been symbolic stories merely meant to inspire us.
Thus they felt content with subtly disregarding the miracles, subtly cutting them out of their beliefs if not their physical Bibles. Problem is, once you start doing this you never really stop. Either God’s Word is True or it is not. If the miracle of Jonah & the whale isn’t true—and Jesus Himself refers specifically to it!—then why should anyone believe the miracle of the manger, the cross and the empty tomb!? And thus in 2017 we can look back on the last 100 years and see precisely this consequence—many other hard to understand but clear Bible teachings have been cut out of people’s beliefs and local churches. We think we are being loving by lowering the flame of the Bible so that no one gets burned…but we fail to realize that doing so also prevents people from being warmed and having sight–we stay cold & blind. We may not get burned alive but we will die of frostbite instead.
So let’s look at the What—let’s see just a few passages in the Bible that teaches about God being in control, being Sovereign. Thoughts may immediately arise in your minds: “What about X or Y or this situation?” etc. Gently but firmly tell those thoughts to step aside & grab a seat in the waiting room—you’ll interact with them after you have interacted with God & His Word. 🙂 We must let God’s Word tell us WHAT is True before our minds grapple with HOW it’s True.
Daniel 4:34-35: At the end of that time, I, Nebuchadnezzar, raised my eyes toward heaven, and my sanity was restored. Then I praised the Most High; I honored and glorified him who lives forever.His dominion is an eternal dominion; his kingdom endures from generation to generation.
35 All the peoples of the earth are regarded as nothing.
He does as he pleases
with the powers of heaven
and the peoples of the earth.
No one can hold back his hand
or say to him: “What have you done?”
Isaiah 46:3-10: “Listen to me, you descendants of Jacob, all the remnant of the people of Israel,
you whom I have upheld since your birth, and have carried since you were born.
4 Even to your old age and gray hairs I am he, I am he who will sustain you.
I have made you and I will carry you; I will sustain you and I will rescue you.
5 “With whom will you compare me or count me equal?
To whom will you liken me that we may be compared?…
…8 “Remember this, keep it in mind, take it to heart, you rebels.
9 Remember the former things, those of long ago;
I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me.
10 I make known the end from the beginning, from ancient times, what is still to come.
I say, ‘My purpose will stand, and I will do all that I please.’”
Ephesians 1:7-12: 7 “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace 8 that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and understanding, 9 he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, 10 to be put into effect when the times reach their fulfillment—to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ.
11 In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, 12 in order that we, who were the first to put our hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory.”
Job 42:1-6: Then Job replied to the Lord:
2 “I know that you can do all things; no purpose of yours can be thwarted.
3 You asked, ‘Who is this that obscures my plans without knowledge?’
Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know.
4 “You said, ‘Listen now, and I will speak; I will question you, and you shall answer me.’
5 My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you.
6 Therefore I despise myselfand repent in dust and ashes.”
But many say, “How does that mesh with human responsibility, so-called ‘free-will’?” Great question—another “how”! Many people over the last 2k years have written hundreds of thousands of pages trying to answer that question, and oftentimes such speculating leads them to believe things that aren’t in the Bible or to disbelieve some clear teachings of the Bible. We must be careful when we are trying to understand the HOW, like little red riding hood dilly-dallying on her way to grandma’s house and leaving the clear path…
- Deuteronomy 29:29: The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may follow all the words of this law.
- Matthew 3:13-15: 13 Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptized by John. 14 But John tried to deter him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” 15 Jesus replied, “Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.” Then John consented.
The Lord Jesus doesn’t answer John’s question by providing him an understanding of the how…Christ simply says what—we must do this to fulfill all righteousness. Today we would ask follow up questions before we obeyed—what do You mean? How does this fulfill all righteousness? Let’s talk first! Convince ME befre I do what YOU have told me to! But look at verse 15: “And John consented.” He submitted to his Lord…even without knowing the how. We are called to do the same—to submit that God is in control and is working out everything according to His plan and for His glory, even if we don’t understand how.
This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t ask questions—we should! But as Tim Keller has said, “There is a doubt that is truly looking for answers and there is a doubt that really doesn’t want the answers.” There is a doubt that doesn’t want to know, doesn’t want to submit—ignorance is bliss!—so that at the end we can use as an excuse, “I didn’t know, I didn’t understand! It’s not my fault! I’m not responsible!” At the end of the day, will we trust WHAT God has said even if we don’t understand the WHY/HOW? That’s the question. Blessed are those who haven’t seen & still believe…
What about my suffering? What about the trials I go through?
If God is in control why does He allow all that?
Quite possibly the oldest question of humanity. I cannot presume to neatly and tidily answer it in a few minutes (or in a thousand years!). But here a few verses to help us trust the Sovereign LORD not just before and after our suffering but during it as well—SEVEN of the many reasons that God allows His children to suffer on earth:
2 Corinthians 1:3-11: 3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, 4 who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. 5 For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ. 6 If we are distressed, it is for your comfort and salvation; if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which produces in you patient endurance of the same sufferings we suffer. 7 And our hope for you is firm, because we know that just as you share in our sufferings, so also you share in our comfort.
8 We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about the troubles we experienced in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired of life itself. 9 Indeed, we felt we had received the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead. 10 He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us again. On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us, 11 as you help us by your prayers. Then many will give thanks on our behalf for the gracious favor granted us in answer to the prayers of many.
Why does this matter? Isn’t discussing God’s in-control-ness just a debate for scholars and theologians?
NO! It is so important in our daily lives of carrying our crosses & following the Lord Jesus!
Many people in the 1700s—including some of the founding fathers of the United States—were deists. They believed in the God of the Bible, and they believed that He created everything. They also believed that after He created the universe He stepped aside and allowed it to unfold, like a person winding a clock and then the clock works for a long time without the person winding it again. Some of them looked at God as pretty “hands-off”, doing some general guiding of humanity in certain ways but leaving us be in many ways to make our choices. If that is true, who will we rely on during our lives? Ourselves, not God, or relying ONLY on others—this is what the people did in building the Tower of Babel in Genesis: they relied on each other but not God and so it was sin to make a name for themselves APART from God. And so the LORD jumbled their language & scattered them throughout the earth. This is what people do today—very popular to build community with other people w/no thought of Christ as the exclusive Lord & King of such community!
But if it’s just us humans down here until God returns, how will we grow closer relationally to our Father & Savior on earth if we have to fend for ourselves until He returns from His well-deserved cosmic vacation? If deism is true, we won’t be able to grow closer to Him until heaven because He wouldn’t be with us in the day to day trenches. But Enoch walked with God…to believe in God’s utter control of reality is to WALK with Him & know Him & rely on Him moment by moment: “In Him we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28).
But the sovereignty of God is even better than just that He is with us. He isn’t just in the stands with nice intentions cheering us who are on the field. Of course we have to make choices each day, but the LORD is on the field and on the sidelines and in the coaches box high above directing and empowering and guiding and correcting and disciplining and encouraging us!
- Philippians 2:12-13: “Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed [that’s the importance of our choices, but our choices are not ALL that is important!]—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, 13 for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.” [We need the Sovereign and In-Control LORD of the universe to work IN us, not just cheer us on outside of us!]
So why is God’s sovereignty important?…Lord willing, we will dig into that in the next post…