A Journey Thru Acts 10: God Is In Control Part 2 (Acts 4:23-31)
We continue in this our 10th post digging into the book of Acts. We are trying to build on the 53 sermons 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 middle of June 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?”
We learned that often the Bible tells us WHAT but not usually HOW…or WHY, and we talked about the importance of not changing WHAT the Bible teaches just because we don’t understand HOW it is true.
So we looked at the What—at different Bible passages about God being in control, being Sovereign.
We also discussed the question many have:
“How does that mesh with human responsibility, so-called ‘free-will’?”
Great question—another “how”!
Then we briefly began to dig into another question many of us have:
What about my suffering? What about the trials I go through?
If God is in control why does He allow all that?
Finally, the last post ended by responding to the question: Why does this matter?
Isn’t discussing God’s in-control-ness just a debate for scholars & theologians?
Let’s continue with that question: Why is God’s sovereignty important?
- It teaches us to be content in all situations—satisfied in the Lord Jesus Christ!
In a world where nothing truly satisfies for long (not even SNICKERS!), what a witness it is to non-Christians to see us learning to be satisfied with King Jesus, for us to not be chasing what everyone else chases, to see us saying like David, “The LORD is my shepherd, there’s nothing that I want” (Psalm 23)—why did David want nothing? Because the LORD was in control of David’s life, not David, shepherding him, not Davi being shepherded by the culture, his own appetites, God shepherding him to feast not on bread alone, not on fame or good looks or money but on every word that comes from the mouth of God. Oh for non-Christians to see us not worrying about what they worry about & not chasing after what they chase but seeking first His Kingdom & His righteousness (what He is like & how He reigns), trusting that all these things that we need like food & water & clothing will be provided for us by our heavenly Father Who is with us and caring for us Personally each day, making us lie down in green pastures, leading us beside quiet waters to restore our souls!!!! When Paul wrote, “I have learned the secret of being content in every situation”—Philippians 4—he was in JAIL! How could he be content there? Because he was convinced that God is in control, even in control of his chains—if Paul didn’t understand HOW or WHY, he trusted the WHAT…
- Walking through a grocery store after you have had a big meal: you spend less money and you buy less junk food. Opposite is also true—go into a grocery store right before a meal and you will spend more and buy more junk. Loved ones, we are not satisfied & full of Christ—we do not taste & see that He is good each day (Psalm 34:8) and so we go through the grocery store of our culture overspending and gorging on what everyone else does, looking to satisfy our hunger for God with the cotton candy of this world, with the cleverly bottled & marketed saltwater that leaves us more thirsty. But trusting that God is in complete control is a stomach full of protein—good for strength, good for growing, and good for curbing our sinful appetites.
Two extremes for many church attenders: we consciously or subconsciously think: “God’s in control so I can live however I want! I don’t need to really follow Jesus I just need to believe, pray a little prayer, walk to the front, get my fire insurance card…I’m not responsible for anything else!” In this extreme we look just like the world, living how they live and basically believing what they believe…
The other extreme is we white-knuckle it through life so stressed and so burdened and so somber all the time—we are joyless because we are walking around each day wound up tightly thinking every decision is all on us & we are basically on our own until the Lord Jesus returns—we live as if He is NOT in control (we subconsciously live as practical atheists)! In this extreme we look so miserable—what a monstrous portrait this paints of the Lord Jesus!
But as we cry out to God to help us see & trust & live as if He is in control, we will avoid BOTH of these extremes: we will RUN the race Jesus has marked out for us (Hebrews 12)—we won’t use God’s sovereignty as an excuse for us to be lazy & selfish & sinful, and we will use it as fuel & encouragement to get in the game and get off the bench! Going on the field is nerve-wracking, but if your team is up 1 billion to one because of the Team Captain, it actually helps the athletes to play looser and less tight because the game’s final outcome ISN’T on their shoulders!
But we will run the race of Christ in a relaxed manner. My running coaches in high school always said your hands should be limp as you run and your face bouncing around—no tenseness…being tense causes you to use more energy than other runners and you will either drop out of the race or your time will suffer. You can’t run well if you are constantly clenching. You are still running, you are sweating, you are tired, your heart is pumping hard, but you are running in a relaxed way. THAT is what happens as the Holy Spirit matures us to trust in God’s sovereignty! We are to be a people who are relaxed as we run, not because of the power of positive thinking, but because of the power of Jesus Christ living in us as we fix our eyes on HIM, His cross and His empty tomb and His promises, not just on happy positive thoughts…
- God’s sovereignty helps us take wise risks in following the Lord Jesus.
For Christians, most fear is a lack of faith that God is in control. As Tim Keller has said, “Fear is thinking that God won’t get it right and bitterness is thinking that God has gotten it wrong.” Most of us would never try to walk a tightrope over a high distance. But with a secure net directly beneath our feet—we might fall from the rope but we’ll never fall from His grip—we would dare to walk as King Jesus leads us! The net doesn’t mean we won’t suffer ever, but we won’t suffer FORever. As Joseph said in Genesis, “You meant it for evil but God meant it for good, for the saving of many lives.” So we can risk and follow Jesus in His mission for us—not truly foolish risk but foolish from the world’s perspective—because even if & when terrible things happen to us His sovereignty will bring good out of it all!!!
Some tall skyscrapers have races up the stairs to raise money for various charities. For buildings with 100+ stories, it’s a little crazy to think of taking the stairs. No one does it for fun—the elevator is what they want and use. Get to the top as quickly and easily as possible. The stairs are just in case of emergency.
For many Christians, we view risk and trials like the stairs—only use in case of emergency. In our daily situations, we want God to take us to the top easily, smoothly, with nice music and not too many other people in the Elevator (preferably those who won’t make eye contact with us!). We want it easy and safe. That is NOT Christianity, loved ones. The elevator doesn’t lead to spiritual maturity in Christ…
Our salvation—new life, forgiveness of sins, and adoption into God’s family—is an elevator, simply a gift to be received by faith, not by works. But our sanctification—our maturing and growing as a Christian—that is mainly stair work, loved ones. Only the Holy Spirit enables us to grow, but we are to water and plant, we are to put ourselves in a position for Him to grow us, staying in the soil of the Word and the Son-light of Christ! It involves daily carrying our cross, it involves sweat and soreness and oftentimes gasping for breath, it involves discouragement, considering going back DOWN the stairs, because it seems like we are getting nowhere. Muscles do not grow with Styrofoam weights; same with our faith in Christ—it grows through risk and work and perseverance and going uphill in the strength of the LORD…
My children are often scared to go into our basement alone…they often find courage if someone else goes with them. Sometimes I offer to walk with them and then they are willing to go and do what I asked. Now imagine if after I offered to go with them they STILL did not go, they were STILL afraid & unwilling to obey, even with my presence. Oh how hurt I would be as a dad…it would signify that the risk is so terrible that not even my presence is enough to give them courage & reassurance. Now imagine, loved ones, what it does to our heavenly Father when we won’t take the risks He commands us to take, guaranteed with the promise of His constant presence…oh how important it is to have rock-solid faith in the sovereignty and in-control-ness of God…
- Trusting more in God’s sovereignty allows us to have joy in suffering—we can suffer well…suffering is a big part of being a Christian on earth—it is not the highest point (OR the lowest point!), but it is a big point that God uses to bring us to the highest point—maturity, joy & closeness to Him.
Early Christians in Rome, often fed to ravenous lions, had this reputation among non-Christians: “Those people die well.” Calm, full of joy, full of peace, praising the LORD as they were executed, praying for their persecutors, all because of trust that the LORD IS in control, even as they were being fed to hungry lions, being burned alive. GOD is sovereign & in total control, not Caesar, not the culture, not the mob, not the economy, not my bank account & thankfully not ME…
Romans 8:28-30: And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. 29 For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. 30 And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.
- The only way that that God can predestine anything is for Him to be in total control. It doesn’t say that He hopes that His people will be conformed to the image of His Son, it says we WILL…it doesn’t say God tries or intends to work good in some things, it says in ALL things He works for the good of those who have been called. It is only by being in total control of all situations that the LORD can guarantee that certain things will happen no matter what anyone does or doesn’t do…
Romans 5:1-8: “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2 through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. 3 Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; 4 perseverance, character; and character, hope. 5 And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.
6 You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. 7 Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. 8 But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
Why is all this true? Because God is making sure that our suffering produces endurance, God is making sure that our endurance produces character, and that our character produces hope. All of this doesn’t happen on accident or by coincidence but because He is active in every area & moment of our lives! Thus we can rejoice in ALL situations, especially suffering, because our suffering for the LORD is not in vain; we don’t just survive we THRIVE! What a witness this is to non-Christians—THIS is what can cause us to rejoice & celebrate even in deep pain & grief, this is why Job could worship the LORD immediately after the death of all ten of his children, this is why Job could proclaim, “I know that my Redeemer lives, and in the end he will stand on the earth” (Job 19:25).
We are called to be a rejoicing people in ALL situations, a people on the roller coaster of life with hands lifted high in praise to the LORD, not hands that are low, white-knuckling the safety bars, thinking that OUR grip is what keeps us safe. God keeps His children safe in light of eternity, but in terms of our time on earth He will keep us Unsafe in order to mature us. As we trust in God’s in-control-ness & dare to follow Christ, we will avoid the extremes of risking but trusting in our own strength or not risking and not trusting in God’s strength. Both are wrong. Peter initially got out of the boat & walked on water—which no one else did!—because he was looking at the Lord Jesus, not at Peter’s own experience or abilities and certainly not at the waves or the probability of Peter’s success.
The world is looking for peace & happiness, and we can show them the true and lasting peace & joy of Jesus Christ in both easy times & painful times…all by trusting in the sovereignty and utter in-control-ness of God, even though we don’t fully understand how…
May we trust in, be encouraged by, & shout aloud the glorious Truth of Psalm 116:
I love the Lord, for he heard my voice;
he heard my cry for mercy.
2 Because he turned his ear to me,
I will call on him as long as I live.
3 The cords of death entangled me,
the anguish of the grave came over me;
I was overcome by distress and sorrow.
4 Then I called on the name of the Lord:
“Lord, save me!”
5 The Lord is gracious and righteous;
our God is full of compassion.
6 The Lord protects the unwary [inattentive];
when I was brought low, he saved me.
7 Return to your rest, my soul,
for the Lord has been good to you.
8 For you, Lord, have delivered me from death,
my eyes from tears,
my feet from stumbling,
9 that I may walk before the Lord
in the land of the living.
10 I trusted in the Lord when I said,
“I am greatly afflicted”;
11 in my alarm I said,
“Everyone is a liar.”
12 What shall I return to the Lord
for all his goodness to me?
13 I will lift up the cup of salvation
and call on the name of the Lord.
14 I will fulfill my vows to the Lord
in the presence of all his people.
15 Precious in the sight of the Lord
is the death of his faithful servants.
16 Truly I am your servant, Lord;
I serve you just as my mother did;
you have freed me from my chains.
17 I will sacrifice a thank offering to you
and call on the name of the Lord.
18 I will fulfill my vows to the Lord
in the presence of all his people,
19 in the courts of the house of the Lord—
in your midst, Jerusalem.
Praise the Lord.