David Jeremiah - God Is in Control
There's no such thing as luck. Anything that happens to you, good or bad, must pass through his fingers first. There are no accidents with God. I like the story of the cowboy who applied for health insurance, and the agent routinely asked him, "Have you ever had any accidents"? And the cowboy replied, "Well, no. I've not had any accidents. I was bitten by a rattlesnake, and a horse did kick me in the ribs and that laid me up for a while, but no, I haven't had any accidents". The agent said, "Wait a minute, I'm confused. A rattlesnake bit you, a horse kicked you. Weren't those accidents"? He said, "No, they did that on purpose".
Well, I need to tell you "sovereign" is a word that means God does everything on purpose. It is a word that inspires a lot of headlines these days. You know this word, perhaps better than you think you do. You often spot it in the financial pages of the newspapers, say, about Saudi Arabia's sovereign funds or about sovereign investors who gobble up prime equities in the stock market. Sometimes you'll read about Russia's sovereign credit rating or about Norway's sovereign wealth fund. With the surge in refugees around the world, debates are raging about the importance of sovereign borders. And of course, here in the United States, the matter of border security and sovereignty, one of our most vexing issues.
How strange that a biblical word should show up in so many headlines. According to the Bible, there is only one who is truly sovereign, and that's Almighty God. But what does that mean? The English word "sovereign" means having unlimited power or authority. It comes from the prefix "sov," which means "over" and it's coupled with the word "reign," so when it comes to "sovereign," the word means to have total control. When it comes to finances and politics, the term has to do with a nation's right of self-determination, of answering to no higher authority than themselves, of being independent in their power. It's a big deal in many cultures today. But to say God is sovereign is to simply declare that he is God, elevated above the highest authority in all the universe and possessing not only infinite power but infinite right, infinite rule, and infinite reign. He is the Most High, doing what he wills with the purposes of life. He is in charge. He is the head of the armies of heaven, so that no one can stay his hand or say to him, "Why are you doing what you are doing"?
To say God is sovereign is to say that he's the governor over all the nations, and the commander of all history. He's the King of kings, he's the Lord of lords. And thinking of God as our sovereign King and Lord answers one of the biggest questions in the human heart, and here it is: Who's in charge? That's what Winston Churchill wanted to know throughout the turbulence of the 1930s. Churchill feared no one, and the British Government was taking Adolf Hitler and the Nazi threat seriously. Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin seemed unable to face the challenges of leading England, and Churchill went around fuming about Baldwin's inadequacy and quoting a little poem that said, "Who's in charge of the clattering train"?
That's a question that is frequently asked today. Is there anybody in charge? That question determines what goes on in our homes. It has a great deal to do with what goes on in our schools and what goes on in our culture. Who's in control here? Sometimes you hear this question in the marketplace, in the workplace, and on a larger scale in our cities and in the life of our nation. Who's in charge? If we're honest, this question haunts us on a global level. I mean, not a day passes without our wanting to stand up and shout, "Who's in control of this clattering train"? How we answer that question determines to a great deal how our lives and our future plays out.
So when I say, "God is sovereign," I mean he's in charge of everything. He's infinitely elevated above the highest creature, he's the Most High God, the Lord of heaven and earth, subject to no one, influenced by no one, independent and free in his own being. He does as he pleases, not only as he pleases, always as he pleases, everywhere as he pleases, and forever as he pleases. No one and nothing can hinder him, compel him, thwart him, or stop him. But I must tell you that while this is a wonderful truth to ponder and celebrate, there is no aspect of the attributes of God that causes more anger and stirs more debate than the teaching of the sovereignty of God. You can take a knife and cut it right down through evangelicalism and there's a different opinion on the sovereignty of God on both sides of the mark that you make. That's why we need a strong biblical understanding of this subject.
Working on this chapter, I jotted down nearly 50 key passages on the sovereignty of God, and I didn't even scratch the surface. I'll just give you four or five of them, and you'll see what I'm talking about. "The Lord reigns; let the people tremble! He dwells between the cherubim; let the earth be moved"! "The Lord has established His throne in heaven, and His kingdom rules over all". "But our God is in heaven; He does whatever He pleases". I like that one. "Whatever the Lord pleases He does, in heaven and in earth, in the seas and in all deep places". All of these verses and so many others convey the same thing, that God is in charge. He is on his throne, and he always will be on his throne. He rules, and he reigns in the affairs of men worldwide from history to prophecy, from sea to sea, from time to eternity.
In my library, I have a set of books that contain every single sermon Charles Haddon Spurgeon ever preached. It is one of the largest collections of writings from a single person in the history of literature. Spurgeon, who didn't live past 60, preached in London in the 1800s, and he was unbelievably prolific. He was sublimely eloquent. One of the volumes that I have in my set includes an index of all the subjects he covered in the message that he preached. I looked under the subject of sovereignty, and I shook my head in amazement. He must have preached on the sovereignty of God every other Sunday. He was enamored with this truth, and he constantly proclaimed that Almighty God oversees our daily lives and our present world and all the tides and trends of history.
Maybe that's why so many people went to hear him. Because when they went to church on Sunday, wondering who was in charge, they came away with this absolute confidence that we serve a God who rules over all, and we can rest tonight, because God isn't going to take the night off. He's in charge. "There is no attribute," said Spurgeon, "more comforting to his children than the doctrine of divine sovereignty. Under the most adverse circumstances, in the most severe troubles, they believe that sovereignty has ordained their afflictions, that sovereignty overrules them, that sovereignty will sanctify them. It is God upon the throne that we love to preach, it is God upon his throne in whom we trust".
That's just a little excerpt from one of his sermons on sovereignty. I don't know that there's any truth in all the world that should comfort us more in this day in which we live than this, that God is in control. And someone says, "Well, why don't we talk about that anymore in our churches"? Well, first of all, we don't even talk about the Bible anymore in a lot of our churches. But this is a biblical truth, and it's at odds with what's going on in our world today. It's because this is the day of humanism. This is the era when people want autonomy and independence, and the absolute right to do whatever they want to do whenever they want to do it, whatever feels good. We attend seminars that tell us whatever we can conceive we can believe and whatever we can believe we can achieve and receive.
If we just give humanity a little bit more time, we're told, all of the ills and problems and difficulties of life will be resolved, because man has become his own god. But permit me to ask a question this morning. How are you doing, sovereign man? Is the world thriving with peace and prosperity under your so-called human sovereignty? Or is it descending into disorder and instability and chaos? Is the world cleaner or more polluted? Is it more peaceful or more threatened? Is it more orderly or more violent? Is it more prosperous or teetering on the verge of bankruptcy? You would think after all the pain we have felt as a nation, after all the hurt and anguish we have felt as a world, after all the problems we've experienced, that somebody might just ask, "Is it possible we're going the wrong way"? We started down this path as early as the book of Genesis.
When Nimrod got the people together and said, in effect, "We don't need God coming down to talk to us. We'll just build our own tower up to God. We'll do our own thing". And they brought everyone together and launched their project and went to work, and something odd happened. Suddenly, one day they went to work and no one could understand anybody else, because God reached down and confounded their language. God was in control. If we keep reading in Genesis, we come to the story of Joseph. As a teenager he was abused by his brothers who threw him in a pit and sold him into slavery. They did everything they could to erase his memory. Years passed, and one day in the sovereignty of God they faced a severe famine in their land, and they journeyed down to Egypt to get their food, and guess who was handing out the food? It was Joseph who somehow had become prime minister of the greatest empire on earth in those days. But it wasn't somehow, it was sovereignty.
Those poor boys thought they had been had. Here they were coming to get food and running into the brother that they had betrayed and now thought was dead. Joseph looked 'em in the eye and gave this little speech, "You meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, in order to bring it about as it is this day, to save many people alive. Now therefore, do not be afraid". Joseph said, "You tried to hurt me. You tried to destroy me. You tried to kill me. But God was in charge and God oversaw all of this, and he brought me to this place not only to be the savior of all of you but to be the savior of all of Egypt," because Joseph became the prime minister of Egypt and doled out the food during the years of famine.
Turn over to the book of Exodus, and listen while Pharaoh commands all the Hebrew male children to be drowned in the Nile River to reduce the population of the Jews. But the Lord said, as it were, "I'll tell you what I'm going to do. I'll use the Nile River to preserve a baby who will become the liberator of my people". And there, in a pitched basket on the Nile River, while Pharaoh intended to kill these precious babies, God hid a baby who would be named Moses, almost as if he were playing a joke on Pharaoh. Many years later, God said, "Let my people go," to which Pharaoh arrogantly responded, "Who is the Lord, that I should obey His voice and let Israel go? I do not know the Lord, nor will I let Israel go". That earned him ten plagues and the death of the firstborn in every one of his families, followed by a rout at the Red Sea.
Somehow the stormy Red Sea, which Pharaoh thought had trapped his enemies, became the avenue of their deliverance, and the watery tomb of Pharaoh's army. But it wasn't somehow, it was sovereignty. God was in charge. Isn't it incredible to read the history of God's sovereignty in the affairs of men? Haman had it in his heart to destroy the Jews and to obliterate the influence of God. He built gallows on which he intended to hang Mordecai. But somehow the tables were turned, and Haman was impaled on the gallows he had built for Mordecai. But it wasn't somehow, it was sovereignty. The God of heaven was showing us who's in control. Looking at it from the perspective of history, not just in biblical days, but throughout all the history of the world, wherever humankind has tried his best to prove he's in control, he has been frustrated and thwarted.
Again and again, Almighty God has said, "I am the Lord. I rule in the heavens and in the earth and in the hearts of men". He is the sovereign God. And when I see what's happening across this country, I have to turn off the television, lay aside the newspaper, open my Bible, bow my head, and say, "I know the one who's in charge". The biblical teaching of God's sovereignty stirs me when I think about it, and when I look at the fact that there aren't any answers anyplace else, this is in the lap of the Almighty, and I come away with three affirmations, which I want to leave with you to take home in your heart today. If this is true, if what I'm saying is true, what should my response be to the fact that Almighty God is in charge? That when you look into the heavens, the throne is occupied. That God doesn't go on vacations. He never sleeps. He never takes his hand off the control level. So how should I respond to that? Well, first of all, I've written down, "Because he is Sovereign, I will reverence Him". The first affirmation about God's sovereignty is this, "Because he is Sovereign, I will give him reverence".
I've had the opportunity of sharing the Word of God in the presence of some national leaders over the years that I've been in the ministry, and that's a very scary thing when you're asked to speak in front of a national leader. But I want you to suppose with me and take all of the nuance out of what's going on in our world today. This is kind of not normal what's happening right now, but let's kind of get back to the normal and think with me through this illustration. Suppose I were preaching and a colleague came to the platform and handed me a note, and it said, "The president of the United States has just arrived unexpectedly, and he wants to attend your service today". If he said that, do you know what I would do? I would take a little break from my sermon, and I would say to the crowd, "Let's all welcome the president of the United States". And regardless of who the president happened to be at that moment, and regardless of whether we agreed or disagreed with his or her policies, if we are the right kind of people, we would stand and applaud, why? Because we respect the office of the President of our nation.
And the Bible tells us to honor the King. So, if we can summon the courtesy to respect a human position, no matter who the leader might be, what should be our attitude about confessing Jesus Christ as Lord of lords and King of kings? The Bible says, "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom". And the concept of fearing the Lord troubles some people, but we're not talking about a debilitating kind of fear. We're talking about a worshipful reverence for God. Christians were once described as God-fearing people. Do you remember those days? Nobody even knows what that means anymore. We seldom hear that phrase, and perhaps it's because we've lost the concept of the fear of the Lord. God wants us to reverence him, to bow before him, to fear him with healthy, godly awe, for God is sovereign, and he is worthy of our reverence and our respect.
We have tired in our culture to bring God down to where we are because we feel so distant from him, but I say to you leave God where he is and get on your knees and reverence him. He is worthy of your respect. And because God is Sovereign, my second affirmation is "I will respond to him in obedience". A few pages back in this little sermon that I'm giving you, when the Lord told the Israelites to go, this man, this most powerful feared man of his day, Pharaoh, said... listen, do you remember this? He said no. But do you know why he disobeyed? Here's what it says. "Who is the Lord, that I should obey His voice to let Israel go? I do not know the Lord, nor will I let Israel go". And if I were Moses, I would have said, "Son, you're about ready to meet him". Because Pharaoh didn't understand or respect Jehovah, he felt free to disobey.
When people disregard God's sovereignty, they disobey him. But let's reverse the equation. If irreverence produces disobedience, then surely reverence should promote obedience? As I open my Bible, this is the word of a Sovereign God. I can't any longer read the Bible just as a student. I have to read it now as a servant. I'm not just trying to learn what the Bible says. I'm trying to find out what God, the Sovereign of the universe, is telling me to do, and I have to respond with a "Yes, Lord".
It's interesting how you read the Bible. If you're just reading the Bible for more information, it won't change your life at all. But if you read the Bible as a servant, and you say, "Lord, what do you have for me today that you need to communicate to my life?" everything changes. It's all about your mindset. When we grasp the sovereign authority of God in and over everything, from the broadest galaxy to the smallest grain of sand, we gladly submit to his will for our lives. He's the captain. He's in control. His eye scans the maps, and he knows what's best for us. We may not always like the weather or the scenery or the route, but those issues pale in the brilliance of his sovereign face.
In the Old Testament there's a story about a man named Eli. He was a priest, and he had two rebellious kids. It's embarrassing to read what they did, and I'm not going to embarrass all of you by giving you the details in the service this morning. You can find it out, and now that I've told you about it, I'm sure you'll look it up this afternoon. But there in that setting, in Shiloh, where these two rebellious sons were disgracing God and their father, there was a young boy who was serving God in the tabernacle. And one evening, God spoke to this boy, saying, "Samuel"? And Samuel said, "Speak, Lord, for your servant hears". And the Lord gave Samuel a message for Eli, and it was not a good word.
He told this young boy, "Go and tell Eli what I'm telling you," and this is what the message was, 1 Samuel 3, "Behold, I will do something in Israel at which both ears of everyone who hear it will tingle. In that day I will perform against Eli all that I have spoken concerning his house, from beginning to end. For I have told him that I will judge his house forever for the iniquity, which he knows, because his sons made themselves vile, and he did not restrain them," wow. Eli gets this message, and you would have thought he would push back, maybe ask for grace and say, "Wait a minute, give me another chance". But according to verse 18, Samuel told Eli everything God said, and Eli said this, "It is the Lord. Let Him do what seems good to Him". In other words, wow, "Samuel, if that's what the Lord said, let the Lord be the Lord".
That's a pretty good sentence to keep in mind, isn't it? Whatever happens to us, whatever God tells us to do, we can simply say, "It is the Lord. Let him do what seems good to him". Abraham said something similar when he learned the fate of Sodom and Gomorrah. He said, "Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right"? Ladies and gentlemen, the Lord will do what seems good to him, and the Judge of all the earth will do right. We get shook up by what's happening, whether near us or far away, but the problem is our own human perspective. That changes when we remember that God is in charge. He sees everything from beginning to end, and the more we comprehend that, and the more we gladly resign ourselves to his will and obey what he says, and we come to the place where we can say, "It is the Lord. Let him do what seems good to him," he will do what is right. He will always do what is best. Because God is sovereign, I will reverence him, and I will respond to him in obedience.
And here we are again, back to this familiar theme in the attributes of God, because God is Sovereign, I will worship him. Here's my final affirmation. Throughout the Old Testament, especially at momentous times in Israel's history, are great outbreaks of praise. It's truly amazing if you study the Old Testament with this in mind. For instance, there's this one dramatic story where King David was trying to build a temple in Jerusalem for the Lord. It was the final dream of history's great visionary, and his dream was good, but God told him he wasn't going to let him do it. Do you remember that? And David was so frustrated. He said to David, "You shall not build Me a house to dwell in". Went on to say, "Because you have been a shedder of blood, you cannot build My temple".
You would have thought David would have gone off and pouted and given up on the whole deal, but the Bible says that David was brokenhearted but just for a moment. He was a resilient man, and what did he do? He undertook the one thing he could do, which is always the hardest part of any building program. He raised all the money for the project. He personally gave from his wealth, and he appealed for funds from others, and then they had this worship set in the midst of that very unlikely situation.
Here it is from 1 Chronicles chapter 29, "David blessed the Lord before all the assembly". David who wanted to build the temple and couldn't because God wouldn't let him do it. "And David said, 'Blessed are You, Lord God of Israel, our Father, forever and ever. Yours, O Lord, is the greatness, the power, and the glory, the victory, and the majesty; for all that is in heaven and in earth is Yours; Yours is the kingdom, O Lord, and You are exalted as head over all. Both riches and honor come from You, and You reign over all. In Your hand is power and might; and in Your hand it is to make great and to give strength to all.'"
I could never have come up with something like that when I was nursing the wounds of a broken dream. As King David stood that day to collect that offering to finance one of the great wonders of the world, he led his people in a prayer of worship, directed to the sovereign Lord, and they brought their offerings, and David said in so many words, "God made you rich". They stood that day in a moment of strength and power, and David said, "God gives you strength". And they stood that day and rejoiced, and David said, "God puts joy in your heart. He's the Sovereign God". He understood what we're trying to learn today, that our God is sovereign, and our response is to praise his name and worship him and honor him, for he alone is worthy.
Whatever I have, whatever is in my heart, whatever I've done, whatever I am doing, God is behind it all. I have no reason for pride. I have every reason to bow humbly before him in gratitude that he would be so willing to let me be a part of what he does. We are not trapped in some aimless universe, spinning on a doomed planet, living in a meaningless life and dying a hopeless death. We're not riding on a runaway, clattering train. Our God is Jehovah and there is none like him. He is absolute, he is eternal and all-powerful and utterly sovereign. And when he reigns supreme and unrivaled as our captain, Adonai Yahweh will be your sovereign God.
Things work out in our lives. Even if you got there because of an accident, God has a perfect plan and there are no accidents with God. The family you were born in was no accident. The country you live in, the language you speak, the friends you have, your weaknesses, your mistakes, all the things that you have done, your poor decisions, none of them are accidents to God. The book of Romans tells us that God works all things together for his glory. And the word for "all things together," is the word "sunergeo," the word from which we get our word "synergy". And synergy is when you take a whole bunch of things and put 'em together, and the result is much more than all of them could be added up to be.
There's a synergistic effect. And when God gets involved in our lives, he takes the good and the bad, the mistakes and all of the things we do right, and in his sovereign he mixes it all together, and he puts it together in his plan, and according to the Scripture, he makes all things beautiful. He's the sovereign God. You make think today, "Oh, I have blown it so much God can never use me". No, if you've blown it, you ask for forgiveness, you get right, and you wait for God's next word, and I promise you he's not done with you yet. He has a purpose for you. He will take what's wrong, and somehow he will weave it together into his plan, and he will make it right.
Do you regret certain decisions you've made? Did things not turn out the way you had hoped? Do you feel stuck? Do you wish you had done things differently? There are no accidents with God. God in his sovereignty even overrides our sins. Maybe you're suffering long-term consequences of a bad mistake. Remember, there are no accidents with God. God is not the author of sin. So wherever we find ourselves and whatever we have to deal with, we can know that God in his infinite wisdom and in his sovereignty has designed it for our good and to make us like Christ and to bring him glory. Just hang in there. You can trust God. He's in control, and he's a good God.
Donna and I are going to board a ship in Boston that will take us to Canada and New England. I know, you feel badly for us, but somebody has to do this. This ship is enormous. Sometimes when I go there, and I stand next to the ship and look up at it, it's overwhelming to me that this humongous piece of steel can float, and I better believe it can, 'cause I'm about to get on it, right? Up on the bridge of this ship, the captain has his maps and his charts and his navigational equipment, and he and his crew have plied these waters many times. They know exactly where the ship is headed. They know the exact moments when the ship will depart one port and reach another.
Meanwhile, down below the bridge, many kinds of people have booked passage. They all think they're in charge of their lives. Some will come to study the Bible with me. But as I walk around the ship, I will notice a lot of people who in absolute certainty did not come to study the Bible with me. They're lost in their own pursuits and in their own pleasures. They're aboard that ship, making their infinite daily decisions like everybody else. But none of that has anything to do with the captain. None of that slows down the ship. No matter what the passengers do or don't do or how frustrated they become or how carelessly they live, the ship keeps bearing down on the waves, maintaining its pre-planned schedule and arriving at its destination at just the right moment.
That's an inadequate illustration of the sovereignty of God, but somehow it helps me to remember that God has his hand on the wheel, and the culture may change, and the storms may rage, and there may be times when I think I'm running the show, but it's all ridiculous, because up in the wheelhouse is Almighty God, and he's in charge, and the ship's going where he wants it to go, and I'm onboard and though I might be confused sometimes about what's happening, I can rest assured. I trust the captain. I believe he knows what he's doing, and he's in charge. And he's in charge of your life, whether you like it or not, whether you know it or not.
And the wonderful thing that happens when you become a Christian is you come to the place where you acknowledge that there is a sovereign God and you realize how wonderful and powerful that is, and you say to yourself, "Sovereign God, be sovereign of my life. Come and sit in the wheelhouse of my heart. Come and be my Lord and my Savior". And when you do that, he never, ever says no. He doesn't say, "I'm too busy".
He always comes when we invite him. But he never comes unless we do. You don't get him by coming to church. You don't get him by reading the Bible or talking to other people or even learning the language of Christianity. You only get God when you invite his Son to come and live within your heart. The Bible says that he is the way, the truth, and the life. And no one comes to the Father except through him. So my plea to you today is if you do not know this sovereign God, you need somebody to get in control of your life, and God Almighty is waiting for you to invite him to be your Lord and Savior. What is there that would keep you from doing that? Why would you not want to do that when you know who he is and what he does?