Here’s a rabbi, a young rabbi who starts His ministry at thirty and has about a three-year run.
He travels maybe thirty to fifty miles from His home. He doesn’t have an established religious environment; He is actually a revolutionary. There is no technology, eighty percent of the known world is illiterate. There is nothing in writing. How in the world does one rabbi, without technology, without satellites, without putting things in print – how in the world does that one person turn the whole world upside down?
In the first century, He turns the world upside down. By the way, a great book, a guy named Rodney Stark has written two books. He is a sociologist, I think he teaches at Baylor now, it’s called The Triumph of Christianity and The Rise of Christianity.
And in it, what he documents is the growth of Christianity. And I don’t know where he’s coming from, spiritually, because he is viewing it as a sociologist. What were the events that happened, not the Holy Spirit, not God, not supernatural, but what are the world events that happen so that by 313, when Constantine declares that Christianity will be the state religion, there are sixty million people in the Roman Empire and thirty-three million are followers of Christ.
So how could that happen? Let me tell you how it happens. Galatians 4:4 says, “In the fullness of time, God sent forth His Son.” The word fullness, literally, we get our word. It’s when the world, when the earth was pregnant. Now, I know a little bit about pregnancy. Actually, I thought my daughter was going to have about another month but she was, the fullness of time was there. It’s as big as I have ever seen her. And you don’t have to be a brain surgeon, this baby is coming really soon.
But in God’s game plan, in His sovereign plan to fulfill His purposes, there was a point in time when the earth, when the dynamics of life on the earth were this narrow, little window that allowed a rabbi, for three years, to do something that would transform the world.
Number one, corruption in Rome was at an all-time high. Number two, the philosophies and the religion of the Greeks was at an all-time low. On top of that, for the first time ever in world history, there was one language, it was a trade language called Koine Greek of which the New Testament is written in.
So not matter where you were and where you came from, because Rome took control, is we are going to have a language, it would be like the Internet of today. So now there is a language to communicate a message everywhere in the world.
On top of that is that in the ancient world, travel was very dangerous. You would get killed or beat up or whatever. Well, they had Roman outposts. It was called the Pax Romana. There was peace everywhere and there’s all these soldiers everywhere so that it was safe to travel.
And you maybe have heard that line that every road lead to Rome. Guess what. It did. There was a transportation system to all the corners of the world. So think of this little window of time, for the first time ever, Jesus is born when the Roman government and people are: That’s not the answer.
The religions and the philosophies are drained. Communication at a new level like never before, transportation is happening, you can travel, and then before this happened
the Jews were persecuted so synagogues had been placed all over the Roman world so now the New Testament rolls out, the gospel goes forth, and they have preaching points to say, “The promises of the Messiah, He has come.” So when you read the book of Acts, where does Paul always go? He always starts in the synagogue, they have a God-consciousness, and this revolution occurs. Only a sovereign God can pull that one off.
Jesus’ life fulfilled hundreds of prophecies. His Messianic teaching. The whole book of Matthew is not: I’m a good teacher, this is a good example, there are a lot of world religions, I want to get on the salad bar of the world religions. And this is a good way to live. That’s not what Jesus said.
The whole book of Matthew is filled with prophecy after prophecy after prophecy after prophecy. He claimed to be God. He said, “I am the King. I am the King of the Jews. I am the Lord of lords. I am coming to usher in a kingdom.” And He was never killed. Don’t get mad at the Romans and never get mad at a Jew.
Jesus said, “No one killed Me. I lay down My life,” right? “…and I take it up again.” He’s a sovereign God. His claim was, “Before Abraham existed, I am. I am that I am.” Jesus’ whole life demonstrates the sovereignty of God Himself.
And finally, unlike His very humble beginnings that He is meek and He is gentle, He came in His first coming to be the Savior of the world. And I think a lot of us, maybe from our childhoods, have a picture of the little children coming to Him and those great pictures of a woman caught in adultery being forgiven and the widow with her son who died, touching the coffin; he is raised from the dead. And feeding the five thousand and speaking to the storm and just His compassion and His love. And that’s God.
But when you read the book of Revelation, read it really fast. No, no. Just read it really fast and quit worrying about what seals are doing and what seals and what is blowing up and what is a figure and what’s not. And just ask yourself, Who is Jesus? Who is Jesus in the book of Revelation? He’s the righteous Judge who is coming to bring all things under His rule and power and anything that was unjust and unfair and wrong and every opportunity will be given, but the righteous Judge is coming to judge His world because He is the King.
Listen to the end of the book of Revelation in Revelation chapter 19. “Then I saw the heavens opened, and behold, a white horse, and the One sitting on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness He judges and makes war. His clothing is a robe dipped in blood, and the name which He is called is The Word of God. On His robe and on His thigh He has a name written, ‘KING OF KINGS, AND LORD OF LORDS.’”
That’s who is coming back. That’s the sovereign God.
Now, at the emotional level, at least where I live, the last reason I have given here of God revealing His sovereignty is through redeeming pain in our lives. He redeems pain in our lives.
If you are a student of Scripture and you would read the book of Genesis, you would understand that every major doctrine, it’s the book of beginnings. Every major doctrine is in the book of beginnings. Where did life come from? Creation. Why is there evil? The fall.
You have the first judgment in the flood. You have the promise after that. You have the choosing of a family: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph – of God’s plan, God’s lineage, of His plan to fulfill this Messiah that was foretold, that one day, His heel will be bruised but He will defeat the enemy.
And God’s plan, it’s all laid out in Genesis. And you have got fifty chapters. If you are a person who lived a few thousand years ago, or born a couple of days ago, you don’t have to live very long before the probing question and some of you ask it is: If God is really good, how could the world be this messed up?
Genesis chapter 37 through 50, that’s thirteen of fifty chapters, it’s over twenty-five percent of the book, is on one man’s life: Joseph. How many, if I said, “Joseph’s life,” you feel like you’ve got a pretty good picture of what he’s like, what he has done?
How many people don’t raise your hands in groups? Let me give you the fastest story. Joseph gets a dream from God. It’s a promise that he hangs on to. It’s how God is speaking to people at the time.
He has a father who does poor parenting, shows partiality, so his brothers hate him. His brothers hate him and they decide they are going to kill him. They are jealous of him, they are going to kill him, they are tired of him. And he probably didn’t handle the revelation from God very well. He was a bit arrogant and that is going to get taken care of.
And so they decide they are going to kill him so they stick him in a pit while they are waiting to kill him and it just so happens, or God sovereignly, brings a caravan from Egypt. And they say, “Why kill him?” And the one brother is trying to get him out anyway.
So they sell him and so it’s unjust. It’s unfair. Joseph is just a son, he’s the youngest, and he is, first, his brothers reject him. How many of you have been through a major rejection? Okay?
What’s it feel like if all your brothers…? Our rejections are emotional. This is like they want to kill him. And then they sell him. And so they sell him and he is on the caravan, he doesn’t speak the language, he doesn’t know anyone. So he ends up on an auction block in Egypt as a slave.
And a guy named Potiphar who basically is the equivalent of the Secret Service for Pharaoh buys him. And so he buys him and he makes him his slave and he obviously learns the language and all of chapters 37 through 50, there’s this, “And the Lord is with Joseph,” and Joseph, no matter what, this promise, this God who he actually believes fulfills His promises, who actually believes is good, somehow, someway, he hangs on and doesn’t abandon his faith.
And he also seems to have a highly developed gift of administration that when he is in charge of something, it flourishes. And so it doesn’t take long for Potiphar to realize, This guy has got some wherewithal and capacity, he puts him over his business, then all of his household. And everything he touches, the hand of God, blessing.
Well, apparently, he is a pretty good looking young man and Potiphar’s wife says, “My husband is gone a lot during the day. We could have sex; we’d have a great time!” And most men would say, Well, let’s see, rejection, God promised me this, my brothers sell me out, I have been a slave. But not Joseph. He says, “How could I sin against your husband? He has put everything under my charge except for you and I could not sin against my God.”
And so he rebuffs her seduction. But one day, he is just doing a little bit of work and the house is empty and she finds him and she says, “Now, come lay with me.” And he does what almost no man would ever do in this situation is he flees and she grabs his jacket and so she is left with a jacket and she is humiliated.
And so her husband comes home, “What have you done to bring this crazy, Hebrew? He tried to rape me!” And so he ends up in jail. So it has gone bad, bad, to worse.
So now he is falsely accused, now he goes to jail. He goes to jail, his administrative gifts show up again. He seems to have a great attitude no matter what. And pretty soon the head of the jail goes, “We are going to have him run this place.”
And so he does and it flourishes and flourishes and flourishes. But think of this! Where is God? Where is God? If God loves me, why would my brothers reject me? If God loves me, I did all that I could, in fact, I was righteous and I was falsely accused. Well, then, a couple of guys in Pharaoh’s household, the cupbearer and the baker, they have a bad day. So they end up in prison.
And they both have a dream and Joseph said, “Well, my God has given me an ability. Tell me what your dreams are and He reveals to me what dreams are sometimes.” So the one guy says, “This is my dream,” the other guy says, “This is my dream.” He says to the one guy, “Good news for you, you’re going to get your job back; you’re going to die.” And it comes true.
And so he says to the cupbearer, “Now, hey, this happened, this happened, this happened, this happened – don’t forget me.” He goes, “Oh, no, I could never forget you. Thanks so much.” He forgets him.
Start asking yourself, let’s get this out of a Bible story. Rejection. Injustice. Falsely accused. Forgotten. How does that feel? He’s a seventeen-year-old kid.
Well, the story continues and the Pharaoh has a dream and his wise men and his sorcerers and he is very frustrated. They are not giving him good answers so he comes up with a plan, “Look, either you guys tell me what the dream is and what it means or I kill all of you.” And that got the cupbearer’s memory jogged.
He’s thinking to himself, You know what? That Joseph did it once for me. So the text literally says he took a shave, he came in before Pharaoh, he hears, he says, “Pharaoh, this is what your dream means: There is going to be seven years of abundance followed by seven years of scarcity. Here’s the deal. You had better plan in the future, you need to save a bunch of grain because it is going to be awesome for seven years and then it’s going to be the pits. And if you’re not prepared, you and Egypt go down the toilet.” This is a very loose Ingram translation. But you get the idea. That’s the essence of it.
And so Pharaoh goes, “Well, hey, no one could, you’re the man. You do it.” So at thirty, he is now the second most powerful person in the world. None of which could have happened if he had not been rejected, sold as a slave, falsely accused, and forgotten.
God had a purpose. Now, are all those people responsible for their sin? Yes. Will God judge all those people for what they did, righteous judgment? Yes.
The story fast forwards. He uses his gifts, he has a couple of boys, he names them names that let us know the heartache and the pain and the hurt that has really happened. And he names his boys names that remind him of both God’s faithfulness and the pain and the hurt.
And then after the seven years, this famine spreads not just to Egypt but to the known world. And the family is at about seventy now and finally they come to Egypt to get grain and I will let you read all the details of the story. But he tests his brothers but his heart just breaks and he weeps.
And he reveals himself to his brothers. And he asked Pharaoh and he brings all seventy people and they get this prime real estate in Goshen and God uses that as the incubator to fulfill, for the next four hundred years, it grows from seventy people to about two or three million people.
And then dad dies, Jacob. And his brothers, being the high integrity, faithful, God-fearing men that they are think to themselves, Joseph probably was just good to us while dad was alive and it’s going to get bad.
And so they start making up some stuff to try and get on his good side. And I believe with all my heart Joseph looked at them and I think his head tilted and I think tears streamed down his face. “Guys, you still don’t get it, do you? You didn’t send me here. You meant it for evil but God meant it for good to preserve these many people alive.”
You might jot in your notes: The Genesis 50:20 principle. The sovereignty of God is the greatest and deepest comfort in a fallen world. Because of what we shared a little bit earlier about the freedom God has given us, He marks off for a season where evil is allowed and corruption and terrible things happen. But not for everyone, but for those who say, “I want to follow Yahweh, the God of the Bible. Follow Jesus. I am going to stay on Your path regardless,” because crisis and pain and injustice and difficulty make some people and break others.
For some, it’s the story of a life of faith that none of us can understand as God meets them. And for others, they abandon God. And, by the way, one of my greatest concerns about all this prosperity stuff that is being taught is that when people believe that somehow there is some little formula and that God has committed Himself to make you healthy, wealthy, everything is going to go your way and when that doesn’t happen they are completely disillusioned with God. But that’s not the God of the Bible because He never promised those things.
This really rings home for me. I think of when I taught this, and sometimes things come to me that aren’t in my notes. And I had just gotten done talking and I said this and I looked down and I looked at my wife. And it just popped into my mind.
She was married before I met her. And she wasn’t a Christian. And she was married to a guy that found he could make more money selling drugs than going to work. And he had an affair for over a year, year and a half, with someone that she was unaware of. And then he found out that she was pregnant. It was twins.
And so he leaves her and she’s left and has two babies, no income, no anything. And out of her desperation, she just said, “I just, I wanted to quit on life. My whole life was wrapped up in that man and now I’ve got two little boys and I don’t know how I’m going to support them or what I am going to do.”
And a neighbor watched the kids and her boss led her to Christ. I met her a couple of years later when she was growing into this tender, amazing woman of God out of all that pain. You know what? That guy meant it for evil. God meant it for good. I got to marry her. I got to adopt those two little boys. I got to watch kids that, when the door would open, they were so fearful that they would run and stick their head behind her knee.
And I got to see them become men and I have seen them grow and I have seen them marry godly women and I am watching them raise their kids and I’m thinking, Oh God!; That guy meant it for evil. You meant it for good.
Can I tell you though that there’s a reason we’ve been to counseling. There’s a reason we had all kinds of struggles. Man, she had wounds and hurts and I had just as many but mine were more sophisticated. I covered mine up better.
But I think, thirty-eight years later, what a gift from God that came out of betrayal and evil and sin and adultery.
I thought as I looked down at her, I thought, it was years ago, we got some really bad news and found out she had cancer. And after, we had been married over thirty years and after all that struggle, we, I just, I thought we had about as good a marriage as we could have. We’ve got normal struggles like everybody. Rich and deep.
And then I remember thinking, I don’t know if I am going to have another month or two months or a year or two years. And I just canceled everything for a year other than the local church.
And tell that publisher, here, you want your money back? I’m not going to write a book, I am not going to go anywhere. And after surgery, I drove her to every, single one of the Stanford appointments and she would go through the treatments. And then after each treatment, we would stop at Starbucks and we would get one oatmeal cookie. And they would heat it up and then we would break it in half.
And she was just so wiped out, those treatments. And then we would sit in the car and we would eat our oatmeal cookie. And I remember looking over and thought, I did not know that I could love another human being as much as I love my wife. It was like I knew there was, I thought we had a four-speed. And somehow there was another couple gears.
But those gears came out of a painful, difficult, ugly cancer. And, by the way, for others, the pain is there isn’t a recovery. Some of you have lost children, mates. Some of you have had your whole incomes out from under you. And all I want you to know is that what we hang on to, there really is a sovereign God. He really is in control.
But the invisible faith is if you asked Joseph how was life going from seventeen to twenty-nine and a half, circumstantially - bad. But part of what God does is God will leverage and use your pain and take the comfort that He gives to you as the comfort that you can share with others, right? 2 Corinthians 1.
And there are some things that no amount of Bible study, no amount of spiritual disciplines – you only meet God in the midst of excruciating pain when the only one that can deliver is God and He meets you in ways that you can’t describe and something happens in your heart and your life that makes you more like Jesus and gives you a capacity that you would never, ever when you look back, you would never want to go through it again, but you realize it’s precious.
And so part of the journey…and, by the way, that’s what God is actually seeking to develop. That Romans 8:28, we quote it, but for some reason we jus skip 29. 29 is, “That He predestined and called us according to His purpose, to conform us to the image of His Son.” How He conforms us, I’ve got news for you, it’s painful. But He leverages the evil and the difficulty and the pain.
But you can get bitter. You can get self-focused. You can go into pity. You can somehow unconsciously think that the only thing there really is in life is this little window called “time.”
But you’re made for eternity. C.S. Lewis’ little illustration, for me, has been just a lifesaver in the midst of my worst pain. He goes: If you could imagine fishing line going through that wall, across this room, through that wall – east to eternity; west to eternity – that’s eternity. And then there is a little dot about the size of a pencil on that line. And inside that dot, that’s all of time, that little dot. And inside that dot, if with a powerful, super, electronic microscope there would be a tiny, tiny, tiny, tiny, tiny, little dot that would be your life.
And maybe you get seventy, maybe you get eighty years. I don’t know. And that little dot is just temporal. And God is doing all kinds of things and some of them are very, very, very painful. But how I respond and what I learn forever and ever goes on.
And when I can have an eternal perspective for a sovereign God who loves me and know that those I have lost love Him and I will be with them, you know what? Most Christians don’t really believe in heaven. It’s just a concept, it’s just an idea. Heaven is real. It’s a place. And you’re not going to float around on a cloud and sing in a worship service and sip iced tea and get wings and ring bells.
It’s going to be a new earth and a new heaven and new relationships and the people that you love that are in the Lord and you’re going to have life and culture and future and work. And it’s the line and I love Lewis’ words. “Are you living for the dot or are you living for the line?”
And the sovereignty of God gives me hope in the midst of the worst tragedies in the world. It also gives me the faith to not give up. I just have to think that Joseph had more than a few days where it was like, Lord, where is the dream? Where is the promise?
And all the while, this is what God was doing in Joseph: His character, his character, his character.
See, if God is going to put you over something like this, He has to do a lot of this. And the only way you get a lot of this depth of character is going through the crucible of life. And God has that plan for all of us. He wants to make you like Jesus.
There are two questions that this raises. If God is sovereign, why does He allow evil, pain, and suffering? And I would say, The Problem of Pain, by C.S. Lewis is the shortest, best work on that. There are lots of writing. You might write down: Ken Boa. He is a friend, he is a brilliant writer, thinker, that he has lots of good information on this.
The second question is: If God is sovereign over all people and events in history, doesn’t this make a sham of human responsibility? And Norman Geisler, one of my former professors, did ten years as a philosophy teacher, ten years as Bible, and then theology. And Chosen but True I think is the best book that is balanced on the sovereignty of God and the responsibility of man.
it’s really interesting, I was reviewing this and praying earlier and I thought to myself, Some of the responses to all of God’s attributes, they start looking a lot alike. You know? This sovereign God that every knee will bow? Application number one: how do you respond? Bow before the King of the universe. You are going to. Everyone is. The sooner the better. And voluntarily is way better than by compulsion. Surrender all you are and all that you have.
There has to come a specific day and a point in time. You don’t slide into surrender. It’s a decision.
And when you make that decision and mean it, I have watched Christians who, they basically say, “My life is, I think, changed more than when I was born again.” And all I can tell you is if God is really good and He is the King of the universe, the only other option is you decide you be God and you use your knowledge and your wisdom and you shuck and jive and you try to figure out how to make your life work. Good luck. Good luck.
The wisest, most intelligent, most emotionally satisfying and rewarding life for a follower of Jesus is to offer. It’s in what is called the “aorist tense.” It’s a point in time. Offer you body as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable. This is your spiritual service.” And what it means is it’s what God really wants. Maybe you were thinking about it. I’m just going to say maybe you should think about it a little bit more.
The second application is to believe that all that comes into your life is either allowed or decreed by a good God who will use it for your benefit. And what I mean by this is not intellectually believe it. I mean believe it to the point where you say, Despite how my emotions are screaming, I am going to choose to be faithful. And, by the way, for some of you, faithful just means you just get up and take a step, because the pain and the difficulty and the hurt and the loss and the grief is so excruciating.
God understands. He is kind. Remember? He is tenderhearted. He is quick of sympathy. How did Jesus treat people that were hurting? His arms weren’t crossed. He didn’t say, Come on! Pull up your bootstraps. Get with the program. You should be serving more. He’ll just love you. He just wants to help you. He just wants to nurture you through this, but believe. Believe to the point of trusting. And here’s what I would say by way of application is absolutely refuse to worry. That’s one of those, I think someone has written a book, sins that Christians, we all give each other a pass on or something like that. Acceptable sins. If the Bible says, “Don’t be anxious for anything,” and it’s a command, I’m guessing that being anxious is sinful. But there are some sins we are like, You know, like, we all sin so let’s just…
It’s an insult to God. If He is a sovereign God and He is good. Now, is it hard not to worry? You have to practice Philippians 4:6 and 7, “Don’t be anxious for anything but in everything by prayer,” a general word, get your focus up on God, “and supplication,” in other words, you’re going to ask very specific things, “with thanksgiving, choosing to rejoice, make your specific request.” So, yes, it’s a practice and as you hurt and as you are anxious, you do that. And you know what? You can learn.
Oswald Chambers’ big line was really, his whole life, was Galatians 2:20, “I am crucified with Christ, nevertheless, I live. Yet not I but Christ lives within me and this life that I now live, I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave Himself for me.” It was this abiding life that God is in control, therefore, I can’t project tomorrow. I refuse to worry of outcomes I can’t control, but I am going to entrust that to God. If He is sovereign, you can do that. If you believe it.
Third is: behold in awe the mystery and the majesty of His kind, compassionate, just, and sovereign rule over all that is or will ever be. And the application, for some of you, this is very easy. For some of us high productivity, driven, Type A people, this is very difficult. Worship God for who He is, not merely for what He has done.
Singing to the Lord; reading psalms out loud, slowly, believing them. Isn’t it amazing that when you read the psalms how David, in the midst of responsibility and warfare and all the rest, how he praises God, he thanks God, he laments. But he is a worshiper.
And the more you begin to be in awe of, rather than argue about sovereignty and responsibility, as we would be in awe of who God is and worship Him, as you worship Him, what happens is you will begin to believe and experience a God who is bigger and when you experience a God who is bigger and holy and loving, then what happens is the truth that you have begins to transform and get engrained into what you actually believe and your values and how you actually live.