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The Sovereignty Of God, Part 1

From the series The Real God

Who says the God of the Bible is better than any other god? Are there really any major differences between all religions? Chip explores the answer to these questions.

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Message Transcript

Everybody has a job and there are parts of it that you pinch yourself and say, Wow! I can’t believe I ever got to do that. And for me it has been probably traveling to places around the world that, as a young kid in central Ohio, I just never even knew were there.

And one occasion was a number of years ago. I was flying from Beijing to Hong Kong.

And Annie and Theresa were with me and they were separated twenty rows somewhere, and this will surprise some of you, but sometimes I get in a talkative mood.

And because I traveled a lot, I just found if you could say, “Hi, how are you? That was delicious.” Just six, seven, eight phrases in five or six different languages, it really helps people connect.

So I just thought I am going to probably say “Hi” and “How are you?” in Chinese and then I am going to open my Bible and do some work. So there was a lady right next to me in her early thirties I think. And I gave her my best Chinese, “Hi, how are you?”

And the answer just shocked me. And in the clearest, British accent, “I’m quite good, actually. How about yourself?” And I just noticed that she had very finely manicured hands, her briefcase was at her feet and it was monogrammed, it was leather. Just from the jewelry that she had on and the very pristine business suit, I was aware just – I think she is probably a pretty successful businesswoman.

And I think she saw my Bible and some dialogue began to happen. And I spent the next two hours explaining to her my best understanding of who God really is, the gospel. But I have never, ever, this was one of those conversations of a lifetime. I had never met someone who, for the first twenty-three to twenty-five years knew nothing of God.

She grew up in Beijing, her parents were a part of the Cultural Revolution. God was outlawed completely. Her parents had some level of education and so they were discriminated against and they were made street sweepers.

She was really intelligent so less than one percent could get a college education. She passed all the tests, did her undergraduate work in Beijing, did graduate work in Europe, and then she was in a multinational company in London and from all the externals, it was obvious she had been very, very successful.

And so, if you can imagine someone who has had no concept of God, there is no God, who then gets educated and then had a very humble, very humble financial, socioeconomic beginning and now found herself for about the last eight or ten years in London, multinational corporation.

And she now was exposed to this world that she didn’t know existed and she was beginning to explore various truth claims and various religions. And our conversation was different than any one that I had ever had because I began to explain just a little and she paused and it wasn’t like antagonistic and it wasn’t like, “Prove this to me.”

It was like someone with a desire to know and she said, “Well, I have been doing lots of reading in the last ten years and I studied the world religions and different philosophies. Would you explain to me why your God is better than all other gods?”

But not, it wasn’t like hands on her hips. It was like a child who had never heard and said, “You seem to make sense. Would you please help me understand?” And it was one of those moments like, Oh God. Please help me. And I explained to her the character of God, that there was a Creator and that she was deeply loved and she is made in His image and there was a fall and the suffering in the world and all of us are separated and God the Son came and has died in her place, rose from the dead. He is a Redeemer and He loved her and He had a new life and it’s a free gift. And for two hours. I’m just…

And she was just leaning forward and taking notes. And I gave it my best shot. And I always have this thought. I thought, if – this is not going to happen, by the way – if she would walk through that door right now, what I would say is, “I did that on the fly. But I have had some time to prepare now.” And I would really like to make it a lot clearer about why I worship the One, the only, the sovereign God of the universe.

And on the front of your notes, if she would walk in that door, this is what I would share with her. I would tell her that the reason I think my God, the Creator God, the unique God, the one and only God is better than all other gods, all other religions, and all other truth claims is because He is before all things, He created all things, He upholds all things by the word of His power, He is above all things, He actually knows all things actual and possible, He controls all things, He can do all things, He accomplishes all things, He rules over everything, and He is in control even of prime ministers and nations and kings. He is actually in control of the visible and the invisible.

He is the Alpha and the Omega. He is outside of time. He is the all-knowing, infinite, self-sufficient, holy, loving Creator of all that is and ever will be. And He loves you. I worship the sovereign God of the universe. His purposes cannot be thwarted. He has a purpose for your life, for nations, for peoples. That’s why.

And then I would have her read all those passages that I gave you on the front of your notes very, very slowly. And as you open your notes, I put those purposefully and they can feel very overwhelming. But here is something, if you would care to do this, because we are going to talk about the sovereignty of God and there are some pretty significant, intellectual issues about the sovereignty of God. There are some pretty big biblical issues about the sovereignty of God.

But when we finish, I believe what God would want you to get more than anything else is that perhaps the most comforting aspect of the character of the God that you serve is the sovereignty of God.

That in the midst of a fallen world and pain and difficulty and mystery and things you don’t understand and mistakes that you will make and I will make, in betrayals and hurts, in things that happen in a world of terrorism and the sex trade, of radical Islam, of upside down economics and corruption, I believe the most comforting attribute of God is that He is sovereign.

So what I want to do is I want to give you some intellectual aspects and I want to give you some biblical background. But then I want to share what I think is the Bible’s story of the sovereignty of God that its heart and intention was to comfort you and to answer the big question of life is: if there is a good God and if He really cares, how can there be so much evil and suffering?

And what you are going to see is that for a season in a limited way, God will allow evil and He will actually flip it and use it for good for those who are called, for those who love Him, for those who walk with Him.

So as you open your notes, I thought I would give a definition of sovereignty because maybe some of you are like me. I had never heard the word. I was a new Christian, I was a Christian maybe a year, year and a half. And a good friend was in an accident in our college campus.

He was best friends with my roommate. And he was in intensive care, he was paralyzed from the waist down. The doctors told us that there was very little chance he would live. He had internal bleeding. And all I remember, I was a young Christian and I remember down in the emergency room.

And Frank was just screaming, “I can’t feel my legs! I can’t feel my legs!” And about twenty of us college students, we prayed for him there then we went up to the chapel and we just begged God for two days to save his life. And God intervened.

But I remember as we were praying, a girl that was far more spiritual and mature than me, I remember just vividly her saying, “God, I thank You that in the midst of all of this, that You are sovereign, that we can trust You, that You are in control.”

And I don’t know if you have ever been in a prayer meeting where someone was praying and they said something and you thought, I don’t know what that means. And so I was definitely not going to ask the girl. So I asked a friend. I said, “You know when she was praying, ‘Thank You God,’ that He is sovereign, what does that mean?” Maybe I just had a bad education. I had never heard that word before. I had never heard anyone say God is sovereign.

And so notice, sometimes the dictionary is a great place to do Bible study. The word sovereign means above all, superior to all, the greatest, the supreme in rank in power; holding a position of authority; a ruler, excellent, reigning; a person who possesses sovereign authority, and specific like a monarch or a ruler.

And I put some synonyms down there that helped me to think of, it’s the ultimate authority. It’s the King of kings, it’s the Lord of lords. It’s someone who is completely without equal that is absolutely free in the universe.

That’s the God that you serve. He’s the Unique One. The Creator. He is all-powerful, He is all-knowing, He is all-wise, He is all-loving, He is completely holy, He is infinite, He is self-sustaining, He needs no one. Before there was time, before there were planets, before there was an existence He was before, He will be after. He is the sovereign ruler, King, Creator of all that is, of all that ever was, and that all will ever be. That’s a huge, that’s a huge statement about who you serve.

I tried to take what I have learned about the sovereignty of God and put it in a couple of paragraphs to summarize. The sovereignty of God is that which separates the God of the Bible from all other religions, truth claims, and philosophies.

We say, “God is sovereign,” we declare that by virtue of His creatorship over all of life and reality, His all-knowing, all-powerful and benevolent rule, that He is in fact the Lord of lords and the King of kings and in absolute control of time and eternity. Think of that. You might underline that. He is in absolute control of time and eternity.

And then put a little squiggly line under the last one, because here is where the comfort comes. Nothing will come into my life today that He did not either allow or decree for my ultimate good. Nothing today, nothing ever. It doesn’t mean it’s easy.

People do terrible things. In a fallen world, terrible things happen. But if God is sovereign He either decrees, this is His will, or it is allowed. And if I will cooperate and trust Him, He will actually take the very worst that can happen in your experience and mine: the mate that walks out, the cancer that brought death, the drunk driver who went left of center, the wayward son, the wayward daughter, the betrayal by a business partner, the upside down financial experience, the loss of a house, even terrorism.

God says, I am in control of it all and I don’t keep My people from the effects of a fallen world but I will use, I will use these things as you would trust Me and go through the pain and lean in and let Me love you through them. I will ultimately use them for your good. And if you ever get that and it’s a huge faith statement because in your pain and difficulty and betrayal, it is really hard to believe that. But the Bible is clear on that.

How do we know that? I have given you four or five things about how God reveals His sovereignty. And I would encourage you to find one of these old things that force you to turn pages and go to where it says, “He is above all things,” and look up the verse and read it slowly. “He is in control of all things.” And just read through each of those passages very, very slowly and I think what you will experience is your view of God will get bigger and bigger and bigger and bigger and bigger and bigger and bigger.

And there will be phrases that, “He created all things and through Him, all things and for Him all things – thrones and dominions and powers; His purposes aren’t thwarted.” You will get this larger and larger and larger picture of God and faith is always rooted in the character of God and the promises that He makes and if you don’t have a clear, accurate picture of God, you can’t trust Him.

And if you have a small God, you will always have big, overwhelming problems. But if you have a big, big God that little by little, those problems, they won’t be less painful but they will be smaller and smaller and the perspective of a sovereign God who made you for Himself, but made you for eternity, not just this little window of time.

So let’s go through some of the intellectual, this is the proof of God’s sovereignty and then we will talk about some heart relationships.

First of all, He reveals His sovereignty through His titles. Sovereign Lord, Most High, Alpha and Omega, King of kings, Lord of lords. You don’t have to believe in the Bible, the Bible is very clear God is not looking for any teammates, He’s not looking for any syncretism. He is saying, I am above all other gods.

Second, His promises demand that He is sovereign. Romans 8:28, a very familiar passage, says, “For we know that God works all things together for the good, for those that love Him and that are called according to His purposes.”

Now that means if God is going to work everything for good, He needs to know every situation of every person in every circumstance and every motive to weave it in a way that will work out for your ultimate good.

In Philippians chapter 2, we get God’s ultimate plan for God the Son. And in chapter 2, verses 9 through 11, it says, “Therefore God highly exalted Him and bestowed on Him the name that is above every name so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, those in heaven and on earth and under the earth and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father.”

Angels, demons, believers, unbelievers, everything that has ever been created, there will come a day and they will either voluntarily out of relationship, or involuntarily out of power – every tongue will confess that Jesus is the Lord of lords and King of kings.

You have to be sovereign in order to make a statement like that. You’ve got to be in control.

The third way that God reveals His sovereignty is through prophecy. I don’t know if you have thought of this, but when this book was written or came to a close and still a huge portion, one third of all the Bible is prophetic.

One out of every three verses is God telling us, in the future, specifically, without err, one hundred percent of the time, “This is what is going to happen.” And it gives you tremendous confidence because He is the Alpha and the Omega.

In the time of Israel, as today, there were competing gods. And so God made this challenge, speaking through Isaiah in Isaiah 44:6 through 8. He says, “This is what the Lord says, Israel’s King and Redeemer,” and notice how He identifies Himself, “The Lord of hosts,” or, “the Lord of heaven’s armies. ‘I am the first and the last; there is no other God.’” That’s pretty clear. “Who is like Me?” Rhetorical question. The answer is: no one.

But He is throwing out a challenge. “Let Him step forward and prove to you his power.” So in other words, okay, there’s Baal, there’s Molech, there’s all these gods, there’s all this competition. Okay. “Let him step,” now, here’s the test, “let him do as I have done since ancient times when I established a people and explained its future.”

So what He is saying is: I have told you in advance this is going to happen, this is going to happen, this is going to happen. And the challenge to these other gods is this: “Don’t tremble or be afraid.” He said, “Did I not proclaim My purposes for you long ago? You are My witnesses. Is there any other God? No. There is no other Rock, not one.”

And the challenge is: If your god can tell the future with one hundred percent accuracy all the time, then let him step up and do it because from ancient times, that’s what I have done.

And I was a skeptic, I didn’t believe the Bible growing up, I wasn’t a Christian growing up, I struggled to believe whether I could trust the Scriptures, all the things that you hear about: Is it like playing telephone and they were written so long ago, I didn’t know about the Dead Sea Scrolls, I didn’t understand about archaeology. I have since done lots and lots of study, but for me, the tipping point on the authority of Scripture is prophecy.

Let me give you, we have got a whole series called Why I Believe that develops this and I am really, because I was a skeptic, it was so helpful. But to me the greatest picture of that is Daniel chapters 7 through 12. And we won’t get the whole, let me just give you the gist of it.

Daniel is taken captive, Israel disobeys God if you know your history of Israel, and God promised that: When you disobey Me, I am going to scatter you, and they go into captivity, they go into Babylon. So Daniel is bright and so they would take the young and the best and they would put them in with the king and they would want to try to brainwash them.

And so Daniel ends up in three different dynasties and he just, each time, he ends up as an official with authority.

And so Daniel is a very, very godly teenager all the way through. In fact, you might be interested to know that when he is in the lion’s den, he is eighty years old.

And so he is in the Babylonians, the Medo-Persians, and then when they get taken out, each time, God gives him favor. So as the seventy years that God said there would be, Daniel is praying.

And Daniel is asking God, it’s a very tremendous passage and God reveals to a human being and in Daniel 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, and 12, in those chapters, God reveals to Daniel the next four major kingdoms that would come. Identifies them very, very specifically. Okay, the Babylonian will be followed by the Medo-Persian, the Medo-Persians, they will be a great ruler and the Greeks will take over. They will have a great ruler who will take over the world and then it will break into four parts. The great ruler was Alexander the Great. It broke into four parts with four different generals.

Then the Romans will take over. And so hundreds of years of specific prophecy in advance, so much so, that liberal scholars, when they read the book of Daniel, they try and date it hundreds of years later than it was actually written because there is no answer for: how could anyone know those things? And know them with such specificity?

And so what God is saying is, You can know I am sovereign because I don’t just tell you that Cyrus, a hundred years before Cyrus was born, God said he would be the king that would allow captivity and deliverance when they went back to rebuild Jerusalem and the wall.

But all through Scripture God says, I know the end from the beginning because I am in control. My purposes can’t be thwarted.

The fourth way, not only through titles, promises, and prophecy, but through Christ. His life is a picture of the sovereignty of God. His supernatural birth. And I don’t mean just by a virgin.

Just think of this, just try and be a skeptic with me just for a minute and think about, Okay, there have been lots of people, lots of leaders, lots of truth claims. 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.

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 Romana Pax. 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. 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.  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.