Last week we began a brand new series entitled "With All My Heart." We are looking at the subject of how we come to trust God. I outlined the reality of troubles, suffering, and afflictions in this life that can often leave us dejected, anxious, worried, fearful, depressed, and constantly stressed. We want to be people, saved by the grace of God, who live with peace, contentment, and comfort in this world, despite what we have been through in the past, are going through in the present, or may potentially go through in the future.
We are looking at Proverbs 3:5-6 (quote). Last week the point I made was that the key for finding peace and comfort in all situations is we must learn to trust God. But trusting in the Lord is not a light switch we can flip on or off, it is a byproduct and fruit of an ongoing relationship with God that is nurtured, developed, and grown over time. The key for us if we want to learn to trust God, is we must truly come to know God. And I don't mean knowing God as we imagine Him to be in our own minds, but to know Him as He has revealed Himself in Scripture. So my appeal to you last week was to seek the Lord. Pursue the Lord each day. Dive into the Word, pray, gather in worship to hear the Scripture's preached, prioritize time with God.
Today, I'm outlining a few attributes of God's character that help develop trust as they make their way from our heads into our hearts. We're looking at two attributes of God that displays His transcendence and greatness, His otherness from us, and in seeing those, we are brought into a place of humble submission to Him. It's that process of preaching these truths of God's character to ourselves, and humbly submitting to His Lordship, that are the seeds and watering of a growing trust in the Lord.
Have you ever had someone tell you a story about a person you knew, and the story didn't match what you knew about the person? It's not that you thought the person telling you the story was lying, it's that you know the other person so well that there has to be an explanation or something else to it. For example: if someone ever tells you they saw me at Taco Bell, just elbow deep in some food, with a giant smile on my face, and hot sauce all over clothes, you would have a justified reason to doubt the truth of that story. Because you know me. If someone told you they heard me preaching at an event about my excitement for the rapture, you would know that they had something wrong about the story, because you know me.
In real life scenarios, if we have someone tell us something that doesn't match with what we know about the person, we may say, "Well, if he did that (or said that) there must have been a good reason, or more to the story, because I know him, and I can't see that happening." We've all experienced something like this before.
There are specific attributes of God's character, that knowing them and holding them, breeds trust in God. Most of our worries and fears are exacerbated by lack of knowing God. Inch deep belief in God, that lacks root in the actual nature of God, holds no sway and offers no help in deterring the host of crippling effects lack of trust produces.
The reason the Bible tells us to trust God isn't because everything will always turn out the way we want it to; it's because things will always turn out the way God wants it to and, most of the time, we won't understand it. And being at peace, through any circumstance and every outcome, requires we trust God. And this kind of trust in God demands we know Him at a deep, personal level. There must be a deep abiding confidence in the God who decides all things.
The Sovereignty of God
The Sovereignty of God captures the picture of God's authority and control over all His creation. Connected to the authority and control over all things, is His power to do all that He pleases. This is what it means to be sovereign. He's over all, nothing can thwart or disrupt God's plans. God's never helpless or wondering what He's going to do. Nothing happens without God’s willing it to happen, willing it to happen before it happens, and willing it to happen in the way that it happens.
Psalm 139:16 -- Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them.
We've talked about this passage before. But notice the days that were formed for us were written in God's book before one day ever came to pass. That is the picture of what His hand and plan has predestined to take place. That's what it means that He's sovereign.
Isaiah 14:27 -- For the LORD of hosts has purposed, and who will annul it? His hand is stretched out, and who will turn it back?
The questions are rhetorical, but let's answer them together. Who will annul the purposes of the LORD of hosts, who will turn back His outstretched hand that has acted? No one. That's what it means that He's sovereign.
Job 42:2 -- “I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted."
How many things can God do? All things. What purposes of God can be thwarted by something or someone? None. That's what it means that He's sovereign.
Proverbs 21:30 -- No wisdom, no understanding, no counsel can avail against the LORD.
Proverbs 16:33 -- The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the LORD.
We've studied this in recent months at the church. We seen the sovereignty of God in the book of Habakkuk, in Jonah, and we've talked about the story of Joseph in Genesis and God's sovereign, meticulous plan at work in those stories. The truth is: God is always sovereign over what is happening, even when we don't have it spelled out for us specifically. God is repeatedly called "Almighty" in Scripture. And we've heard it so much that we forget what it actually means. It is the possession of all power and authority.
Now there are some questions this can stir up?
Does this make us robots? No. The Bible's clear testimony is that we make choices, and that our choices are real, have consequences, and we'll be held accountable for them. The Bible affirms God's freedom to do all that He pleases, and the Bible affirms man's responsibility for all that he chooses.
Does that make God responsible for evil and sin?
Wisdom of God
When we talk about the wisdom of God, implied in that is His knowledge of all things. But beyond His knowledge of all things, His nature is one of wisdom, which informs all that He does. Wisdom is not just knowledge, but is the nature of God's knowledge and will put into practice. It means that God always chooses the best goals and the best means for achieving those goals. What we mean by God always chooses what's best, is He always chooses what's best from Hisperspective, not ours.
God does not decree, ordain, work, or act without thinking, but is guided in all His works by wisdom. The wisdom of God in permeates His creation, ordering, guidance, and government of all things. God doesn't just have wisdom, He is wisdom. Because God is wise in His decisions and decrees, He never regrets. He never says "oops." He never gets caught by surprise. He never says "I didn't say that coming." He never has to say, "I made a foolish mistake."
Consider the mind of God and the complexity of His wisdom is forming the universe and the galaxies. Think of the wisdom of God displayed in the intricacy of the human body, molecular biology, the reproductive process, the sheer physics and mathematical precision of our universe. Consider the wisdom of God exercised in the raising up of some nations, and the casting down of others. The raising up some people, and the laying low of others. But also consider the wisdom of God that permeates all His commands. He never commands flippantly or arbitrarily. All of God's commands flow forth from His wisdom.
When God commands we rest and honor the Sabbath, it's grounded in wisdom. When God commands we not steal, lie, or kill, it's rooted in wisdom. Everything God plans, commands, and ordains flows from His wisdom.
There are many things about God's wisdom we can understand and learn, there are things which are a mystery. The wisdom of God is not something we can exhaustively know or understand. Which means there are things that God does according to His wisdom that we don't grasp or fathom the wisdom in. But Scripture reminds us:
Isaiah 55:8-9 -- For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.
God's own testimony is that His thoughts and our thoughts are worlds apart. We can get glimpses right, occasionally, but should be shocked that we don't fathom or understand the wisdom in something God ordains.
Romans 11:33-36 -- Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! “For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor?” “Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?” For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.
The wisdom of God plums the depths of human exploration. We will sooner put a man to the edge of the universe before we reach the depths of the wisdom of God. His judgments and ways are inscrutable, meaning, impossible to understand and interpret.
Combining these attributes
And remember that God is always all of His other attributes at the same time. So His sovereignty and wisdom are always exercised from His holiness and goodness. So God cannot be charged with evil or unrighteousness.
If God were sovereign, but not wise, then He would have all power and authority, but could make foolish and reckless decisions. If God were wise, but not sovereign, He would always know the path and course for the best outcome and greater flourishing, but lack the power to execute His will. He would know what was best, but be unable to fulfill it.
But there is great power in seeing the sovereignty of God and wisdom of God held together. To recognize that nothing in this world happens by chance or accident, nothing that happens takes place outside the determination of God, yet we know that everything that happens passes through the filter of His wisdom.
God does all things according to the council of His will (Ephesians 1:11). All things includes everything, nothing withheld or missing. All things that God sovereignly ordains passes through the council of His will, which can only choose what is wise. The combination of God's sovereignty and wisdom reminds us that God involves not only His eyes (to see and know all things), but His hands (to do all that He pleases).
Now I want to take these very thought and mind heavy matters, and I want to drive them into our hearts. I want to bring what we talked about into practical application for your life. Because these are not intellectual exercises for the theologically elite, these are foundations that help us in real life.
As I talk about God's sovereignty and power, that nothing comes to pass in your life or in this world that is not decreed and guided by His sovereign plan, it comforts you that nothing is arbitrary. Nothing happens by chance. None of us are simply at the mercies of other people's whims. Simultaneously, everything God decrees and brings to pass is according to His wisdom, which comforts us that God knows best. God chooses what will bring supreme flourishing to His people. In all things, God is working for the good of those who love Him (Romans 8:28).
Here's the rub, here's the challenge we all face: at some point we will all reach the place where what we think God should do or bring about is different than what He does. We will arrive at the place where there is a gap between what we think would be the best plan in the world and for people verses what God wills to do. It's that tension, where we don't understand the wisdom of God in some action He's brought to pass. And by the way, if you live more than a day, this will happen all the time, multiple times a day. We see something on the news and think, "Man, God, where are you in this?" You hear about bad news from a family or friend and think, "Why are you bringing this to pass, Lord?" But where it really confronts us is when we are face-to-face with God's will and plan for our lives and it not matching what we think He ought to do.
What are you to do? How do you respond?
The response that starts you on the pathway of trusting God in a deep way is humble submission. "Your will be done, Lord." Remember Elisabeth Elliot's teaching on how we should respond to suffering? We should open our hands to receive it and accept it, and say, "Thank you, Lord." We may not understand. We may like it. We may hurt. It may cost us fulfilling fleshly desires or it may keep us in a difficult situation, but we are to humbly submit to what God says.
In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus was hours from facing the wrath of God on the cross for sin. He would experience an eternity in Hell in three hours on the cross. He prayed in Matthew 26:39 “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.” Jesus, the Second Person of the Trinity, fully God and fully Man, was staring at the atonement required as the Lamb of God, and He prayed to the Father that if the cup could pass, if there was another way. His soul was in anguish. This is the tension I'm talking about, gang: Living in the reality of God's sovereign plan and wisdom, but in the real life anguish, pain, and suffering it can bring. What does Jesus do, when the sovereign and wise plan of the Father involves drinking the cup, not letting it pass? In his flesh, in his humanity, he wants the cup to pass. If there was another way for redemption to come, and for sinners to be saved, great. But there isn't. And what did He do? He said, "Nevertheless, not my will, but your will be done." Not what I think, not what I know, not what I feel, but your will be done. Nevertheless. Humble submission to the Lordship of God.
Oh, gang, this is the picture. This is the battle for us as well. When it's firmly established in our minds and hearts that God is sovereign and wise, and we face things we wish would be different, do we humbly submit. Are we "nevertheless" people?
When a terminal cancer diagnosis is given, and you can't understand why THIS would be God's plan, and your wisdom believes another way would be better..."God I don't want to depart from people I love, there's so many things I still want to do and experience, but nevertheless, Lord, your will be done."
When you're in a marriage that's struggling and you find it hard to see the reason for staying, and happiness seems just around the corner if you end it, but God's Word says you're not in biblical grounds for divorce..."I'm not happy God and I just want to leave, but nevertheless, Lord, your will be done."
When you're facing infertility as a couple, and you can't understand why God won't give you a child when you'd be such good parents, especially in a world where many aren't..."We want a child, lots of children, or we feel like our lives are incomplete, but nevertheless, Lord, your will be done."
When your past is marked by so many mistakes and failures that you're still dealing with the repercussions of, you don't understand why you were born into the family you were or were drawn to the friends you were..."My past seems to keep following me and I wonder if my future will ever be smoother, but nevertheless, Lord, your will be done."
When you struggle with sexual desires outside of the Bible's boundaries, and the culture is telling you that it's okay to express those and fulfill those desires..."Everyone is telling me to live my truth and live a sexually fulfilled life, but nevertheless, Lord, your will be done."
When you lose a child, a sibling, a friend, a family member unexpectedly or before the natural length of life..."I don't want to live without this person in my life, and experience the pain of grief and sorrow, but nevertheless, Lord, your will be done."
When you wrestle with why God hasn't brought a husband or wife into your life yet, or perhaps you sense you're called to singleness but struggle with loneliness..."You know the desires of my heart and how I would like to find someone, but nevertheless, Lord, your will be done."
When you God has called you to a task, responsibility, and action but you feel unworthy, under prepared, and that someone else could do better..."I'm not sure I'm ready or good enough to do this, but nevertheless, Lord, your will be done."
When you are battling crippling anxiety or depression, or a physical ailment that doesn't appear to have an end in sight..."My desire God would be to live free of this, but nevertheless, Lord, your will be done."
There are so many more examples I could keep giving. It's unending. Letting the sovereignty and wisdom of God seep into our hearts, and bring us to humble submission to His will and plan for us, is the roots to growing in trust. How do we trust the Lord? We come to know the God who is sovereign and wise in all that comes to pass. This is why pastor Tim Keller once said, "If we knew what God knows, we would ask exactly for what He gives." Why is that? Because we would see and understand the wisdom and goodness of it.
Passage Exegesis: Acts 4:23-28
Before we look individually at the attributes of God's sovereignty and wisdom, I want to look at how they play out in the redemption of sinners and sacrifice of Jesus at the cross.
In Acts 4, we see the apostles living in the post-cross, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus. They have started preaching the gospel in Jerusalem and it is getting them persecuted by the Jews, particularly the religious leaders. After Peter and John had been arrested, but then released, we see what happens in our passage.
Peter and John go to their friends after they're released. They tell everyone what the chief priests and elders had said to them (one of which was to no longer speak in the name of Jesus). The response of the group when they heard it was one of the most incredible prayers in the Bible.
"Sovereign Lord" They begin their prayer by addressing God as Sovereign Lord. This is not a formal title as much as it is a description of His nature. He's the all-powerful, all-ruling Lord of the universe. He made heaven and earth and the sea and everything in them. He is the Creator and ruler over all things. He is the one who through David prophesied about the actions of the leaders against the Christ (Anointed).
"For in this city (Jerusalem) were gathered together against you holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel." In other words, everyone rallied together against Jesus, even those previous enemies of one another.
"to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place." This is huge. Why did those groups of people rally together and plot to kill Jesus? Because they were doing what God's hand and plan had predestined to take place. What does predestined mean? People sometimes get all tore up about that word. It means to pre-determine. To give a destiny. Here's what this means: the arrest, phony trial, and crucifixion of Jesus was not happening by the will of men, it was happening by the will of God, through the actions and will of men. The people involved were responsible, but what Acts 4 is showing, and how the apostles understood it, was these things took place by the plan of God.
It was in this event we see the sovereignty and wisdom of God on full display. Revelation 13:8 teaches that the God determined to save sinners through the sacrificial death of His Son before the foundation of the world (which means that before there was a world, or humans, or sin, God determined that world would be, and that event would take place). The prophecies throughout the Old Testament pointed to the coming of a Savior who would die. Isaiah 53:6 reminds us that the Lord would lay upon him (the Christ) the iniquities of us all.
How did God know His plan would be fulfilled? Because He is sovereign to accomplish it. How do we know this plan is good and best? Because God's wisdom governs all His decrees and plans. This is just a picture of how the sovereignty and wisdom of God in the cross of Christ, but the reality is that the sovereignty and wisdom of God is active in everything that comes to pass.
In our passage today, God is directly speaking concerning Himself.
vs 5 --
To whom will you compare God and make Him an equal? Who will you compare God to? There is no one like Him.
vs 6-7 --
The idols made by goldsmiths are fashioned as objects of worship that peoples fall down and worship before. They have to lift it and carry it places. In the same way that it can't move on its own, neither can it answer when the peoples cry out to it.
vs 9-11 --
God tells them to remember this and stand firm, recall it to mind so you don't forget.
God alone is God, and there is no other. There are none like Him.
He declares the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done. Meaning, he declares from the beginning all that will take place, even all the way to the end. He declares it. He declares the events that will unfold, not as He watches them or anticipates them, but as He ordains them from the beginning.
And then he announces, "My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose." What God declares to happen, will happen. It is fixed. It is stable. The wonderful reminder this gives us is that God determines the things that will take place, and they have purpose and design. And the plans of God won't be frustrated.
This is good news. How terrifying would it be if God's plan could be defeated by some person or circumstances outside of God's control? No, He will accomplish all His purposes. He has spoken it, and it will come to pass. He has purposed, and He will do it.
In this passage, though the words are never used, are attributes of God that display and reveal His character. We see clearly the sovereignty of God in 1. planning and declaring the end from the beginning, and 2. accomplishing His purposes without fail. Nothing or no one can overthrow God's designs and plans. We see the wisdom of God. All His purposes and plans are according to the counsel of His will. I want to take a moment to outline these two attributes with greater depth.
Describe in your own words what you think it means for God to be completely sovereign. Read the following Scriptures and discuss how they describe God’s sovereignty: 1 Chronicals 29:11-12, Psalm 139:16, Isaiah 14:27, Job 42:2, Proverbs 16:9, Proverbs 19:21
Describe in your own words what you think it means for God to be completely wise. Read the following Scriptures and discuss how they describe God’s wisdom: Isaiah 55:8-9, Romans 11:33-36, Isaiah 40:28, 1 Corinthians 1:25
Discuss what you think it means for God to be completely sovereign and completely wise. Read the following Scriptures and discuss how they describe a completely sovereign and completely wise God: Romans 8:28, Ephesians 1:11, Proverbs 16:33, Romans 11:28-36
Is it easy or difficult for you to be in charge? Not in charge? Give an example of how/where you struggle with this, especially when it comes to letting God be in charge.
What do you think is most significant in John 10:17-18 to your understanding of God’s sovereignty and wisdom? What difference would it make if Christ’s death were not the plan and initiative of the godhead?
With a better understanding of God’s sovereignty and wisdom, discuss the following passages and how they can bring comfort to you in times of trial and suffering: Ephesians 4:10, Philippians 4:6-7, John 14:27, Jeremiah 29:11, Psalm 23:4