I have to hand it out to you who have stuck with me all this way looking at the sovereignty of God. If you have, you will recall that we saw that God is sovereign over ALL. [Romans 11:36 For from Him and through Him and to Him are ALL things. To Him be glory for eternity! Amen.] And of all His works, salvation is surely the most wonderful – it is supremely His work. [P] יְהוָה is sovereign over salvation. [Revelation 7:10 “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!”] Then last time we looked at the converse – we saw that the Bible also teaches that God is also sovereign over reprobation, [P] over those who are lost and end up in eternal judgement. The thing is, if that is the case – God is in control, He chooses, He foreknows, He saves, those who are lost are known – just as Jesus did about Judas right from the beginning. Well, the conclusion seems to be that all is fixed and determined. God does it all. The saved are going to be saved and the lost are going to be lost – there is nothing that we can do about it – so, let’s just put our feet up! [P] There is nothing that we can do; the outcome is already fixed by God. God does it all, let’s sit back and just leave Him to it! That is a criticism that is often levelled at teaching on the sovereignty of God. Why preach the Gospel if God is sovereign? How does anything I do affect anything, if God is sovereign? The problem with those who come with this objection is that they fail to understand something. The thing that they don’t understand is: THE SOVEREIGNTY OF GOD! There is a God on the throne. [P] He is sovereign! The Sovereign, the King, rules! Now we live in a democracy; OK, we have a monarch but really only as a figurehead. We are used to democracy – laws are set by a government that we elect – we all have our say, everyone’s opinion counts – we can lobby, initiate a referendum. But that is not how it is in a kingdom: the king rules. What He says goes! So יְהוָה is the Sovereign, on His throne, what He says goes. He sovereignly decides and orders how things are to be done. So what does the Sovereign on the throne ordain? [P] – that salvation comes through the foolishness of the Gospel being preached: [P] [1 Corinthians 1:21-23 For since, in the wisdom of God, the world through its wisdom did not know God, God was pleased through the foolishness of preaching to save those who believe. For indeed, Jews ask for sign miracles and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a cause for stumbling, but to the Gentiles foolishness.] You notice that it is God who does the saving, and that salvation is through faith: those who believe are saved. And you notice that God “was pleased”, it was His good pleasure, His will. He is sovereign and this is the way that He decided to do it. He didn’t have to. For example Saul of Tarsus was saved through direct Divine intervention; he had a blinding vision of Jesus on the road to Damascus – no human agency was involved. And today you hear reports of people in Islamic countries saved through visions and dreams. But that is not the way that salvation normally comes. God is sovereign, He can save by any way He chooses – but He has taken delight in having His own people involved in the process. We have the privilege of sharing in His wonderful work! This is the way that it pleased Him to do it, the way that He has chosen to do it. The sovereign on the throne decided that this is the way His salvation should come – through the proclamation of the Gospel. [P] [Matthew 24:14 And this Gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed in the whole inhabited earth for a testimony to all the nations, and then the end will come.] The King ordained that the Gospel of the Kingdom be PROCLAIMED! The parallel massage in Mark says: [Mark 13:10 And the Gospel must first be proclaimed to all the nations.] This is the necessary way for it to happen. Now we have our own ideas – and I have been around long enough to see a few of the schemes come and go. Do you recall the signs and wonders movement? – you heal a few people and they will be flocking to be saved. Or we become a social agency – in compassion meet people’s needs: run a foodbank, a soup kitchen, a counselling service, budget advice. Then there is friendship evangelism – all we have to do is make friends, let people see that Christians are just the same as everyone else – so to get alongside people we run a preschool, or men’s breakfast, a bowling club, a craft group, a walking group – the permutations are endless – anything other than preach the Gospel! Salvation comes through faith in God’s Son, Jesus; through the Gospel of His death and resurrection. We saw previously that even this faith comes from God. And God being sovereign ordained how that faith comes. We are saved by faith, faith is a gift of God; we would not have faith of ourselves, but faith comes – how does it come?: [P] [Romans 10:17 Consequently, faith comes by hearing, and hearing through the word about Christ.] God sovereignly ordained that faith come by hearing; and He also sovereignly ordained how we should hear: [P] [Romans 10:13-15 For “everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved.” How then will they call upon Him in whom they have not believed? And how will they believe in Him about whom they have not heard? And how will they hear about Him without one who preaches to them? And how will they preach, unless they are sent? Just as it is written, “How timely are the feet of those who bring good news of good things.”] God has set the way by which He saves: you call upon יְהוָה, you call based on faith; that faith comes by hearing, you hear because the message is preached, and the preaching is due to people being sent; sent on the authority of the Sovereign. The whole way is sovereignly ordained by God, including our preaching of the Gospel. No, we don’t sit back, the Sovereign on the throne sends out human beings to proclaim His message – we are His ambassadors: [P] [2 Corinthians 5:18-20 Now all these things are from God, (He is sovereign, in control) who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry (that is service, serving the King, doing as He orders) of reconciliation, namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making an appeal through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.] And He ordained how this message be heard: through the foolishness of the message preached. It is not through great rhetoric or persuasion, convincing wisdom or great shows of power – if we did, through those means we would get some glory. God has ordained it so that the glory only goes to Him only. So He has made it that salvation comes through preaching this foolish message. And it is! – to human understanding. I really feel this when we go out to the prison. I mean, what relevance has someone who lived over 2000 years ago got to a man in the 21st century? To contend that this man was God, that somehow Him dying is of relevance and importance, has any power and effect now? To say that He rose again – to the sceptical modern man it is Pollyanna and pie in the sky – something implausible, foolish, irrelevant, without power. What did Paul say?: [P] [1 Corinthians 1:21-25 For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not come to know God, God was well-pleased through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe. For indeed Jews ask for signs and Greeks search for wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block and to Gentiles foolishness, but to those who are the called, (those whom God sovereignly chose) both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.] So why do we preach the Gospel – because the Sovereign, the One who exercises sovereignty and rule over us said to: [P] [Mark 16:15-16 And \He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the Gospel to all creation. The one who believes and is baptized will be saved, but the one who refuses to believe will be condemned.] That is the way the Sovereign ordained that it be! In the parallel passage in Matthew, that we know so well it says: [P] [Matthew 28:18-20 And Jesus approached and spoke to them, saying, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Me. (Dominion, sovereignty has been given to Him, because He is God. What is the consequence and implication of Jesus having all authority, being sovereign? – sit back and put your feet up?) Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe everything I have commanded you, and behold, I am with you all the days until the end of the age.”] No we go and teach and preach and make disciples. God is sovereign over who is saved, I am not! I don’t know who the elect are – my job is just to preach the message. We sow the seed, some will fall on rocks, some on good soil – I don’t know which will germinate, I just scatter the seed. The One in Authority has delegated that responsibility to us. That is what the Sovereign has ordained. We don’t do it off our own bat. Unfortunately, many do this. But Jesus came because He was sent – given authority by the Father. We go because we are sent, and go in His authority, not from our own initiative. Our motivation for preaching should not be primarily concern for the lost, compassion for those heading for hell. Simon Pyatt said this when He preached here on this passage in Matthew 28 – bottom line: we preach the Gospel because Jesus told us to. We can accomplish nothing of ourselves [John 15:5 “I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing.] Salvation is God’s work, only God can accomplish it so we must be sent and preach with authority from Him. Let’s have a little look at how we see this working out in practice in the New Testament – no, let first look at the Old Testament – in the book of Ezekiel: the prophet had a vision [P] [Ezekiel 37:1-6 The hand of יְהוָה was upon me, and He brought me by the Spirit of יְהוָה, and He let me rest in the midst of the valley, and it was full of bones. And He led me all around over them, and look, very many on the surface of the valley, and look, very dry. And He said to me, “Son of man, can these bones live?” And I said, “Lord יְהוָה, You know.”(we go out with the Gospel among those who are spiritually dead. How can life come to them – it seems impossible, how can they come to any spiritual understanding. Can they come to life? – we don’t know! Only God does!) And He said to me, “Prophesy to these bones, and you must say to them, to the dry bones, ‘Hear the word of יְהוָה! (Ezekiel was to proclaim יְהוָה’s message to them) Thus says the Lord יְהוָה to these bones: “Look! I am bringing into you breath, and you will live! And I will lay on you sinews, and I will let flesh come upon you, and I will cover you over with skin, and I will put breath into you, and you will live, and you will know that I am יְהוָה.” ’ ”] It seemed impossible to Ezekiel that those bones could live but He preached the message as יְהוָה told him to and יְהוָה brought them to life: [Ezekiel 37:9-10 And He said to me, “Prophesy to the breath(or Spirit); prophesy, son of man, and you must say to the breath, ‘Thus says the Lord יְהוָה from the four winds, “Come, O spirit and breath, on these dead ones, so that they may live!” ’ ” And I prophesied as He commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they became alive, and they stood on their feet, a very, very large group.] יְהוָה sent out his prophet with His message of life. Jesus also sent out His disciples: [P] [Luke 9:1-2 And summoning the twelve, He gave them power and authority (Jesus has authority and delegates it to His own) over all the demons and to cure diseases, and He sent them out (Jesus sent them out in His authority) to proclaim the kingdom of God (Jesus sent them out to preach, to proclaim) and to heal the sick. Luke 9:6 So they departed and went throughout the villages, proclaiming the good news and healing everywhere.] They went because the King sent them. Paul and Barnabas sent out on their missionary journey in Acts 13 because the Holy Spirit sent them: [P] [Acts 13:2-3 And while they were serving the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart now for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” Then, after they had fasted and prayed and placed their hands on them, they sent them away. ] They sent with Divine authority. Paul was very conscious that this was not his own idea – he had a Divine commission: [1 Corinthians 9:16-17 For if I proclaim the Gospel, it is not to me a reason for boasting, for necessity is imposed on me. For woe is to me if I do not proclaim the Gospel. For if I do this voluntarily, I have a reward, but if I do so unwillingly, I have been entrusted with a stewardship.] He had a responsibility entrusted to him. God was directing him: we read in [P] [Acts 16:9-10 And a vision appeared to Paul during the night: a certain Macedonian man was standing there and imploring him and saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us!” And when he had seen the vision, we wanted at once to go away to Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to proclaim the good news to them.] God had called them to proclaim/preach the Gospel. What had God sent Paul to do?: [1 Corinthians 1:17 For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to proclaim the Gospel, not with clever speech, lest the cross of Christ be emptied.] There was a Divine commission from the Sovereign! It was not men preaching their own ideas – it was a message from God, of Divine origin: [Galatians 1:11-12 For I make known to you, brothers, the Gospel that has been proclaimed by me, that it is not of human origin. For neither did I receive it from man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ.] I want to have a brief look at how Paul received this revelation. It shows us something about one of those BIG questions of life: [P] “What shall I do with my life?” Let’s have a look at Acts 22: [P] It is an important question – we each have a life, what are we going to do with it? A number here have recently retired – what am I going to do with all that time I now have? If you are younger – what direction am I going to take: career, training? People have bucket lists, things they want to do before they die. Things they want to see, places they want to go, things they want to accomplish. It is my life – what am I going to do with it? Or is it? Here Paul is telling the Jews in Jerusalem about his conversion: [Acts 22:6-16 “But it happened that as I was on my way, (doing his own thing) approaching Damascus about noontime, a very bright light suddenly flashed from heaven all around me, and I fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to me, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?’ “And I answered, ‘Who are You, Lord?’ And He said to me, ‘I am Jesus the Nazarene, whom you are persecuting.’ (Jesus sovereignly revealed Himself to Saul) And those who were with me saw the light, to be sure, but did not understand the voice of the One who was speaking to me. “And I said, ‘What shall I do, Lord?’ (up until that time Saul had been persecuting Jesus, now He recognized His sovereignty – He was “Lord”! And because He was Lord, He had directions, things which Paul must do. The consequence of Lordship, sovereignty, is obedience) And the Lord said to me, ‘Get up and go on into Damascus, and there you will be told of all that has been appointed for you to do.’ (here Saul had been persecuting the church, that was his self-appointed mission. Now he comes to the revelation that Jesus is Lord and that he has things that have been appointed for Him to do. He is appointed to service. [P] God, the sovereign assigns His people to service. He is sovereign so He directs them as He desires. “Has been appointed” – perfect tense: Paul was appointed in the past in the foreknowledge of God long before this encounter on the road to Damascus) “But since I could not see because of the brightness of that light, I was led by the hand by those who were with me and came into Damascus. “A certain Ananias, a man who was devout by the standard of the Law, and well-spoken of by all the Jews who lived there, came to me, and standing near said to me, ‘Brother Saul, receive your sight!’ And at that very time I looked up at him. “And he said, ‘The God of our fathers has appointed you to know His will and to see the Righteous One and to hear an utterance from His mouth. (Saul had this revelation, saw Jesus, heard Him speak, had His will revealed to him – why? because God had sovereignly appointed that this occur) ‘For you will be a witness for Him to all men of what you have seen and heard. ‘Now why do you delay? Get up and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on His name.’] Interesting, although there was direct Divine intervention bringing Saul to a realization of Jesus, still God had ordained that a man, Ananias, preach the message of repentance and calling upon Jesus Name in faith for salvation. We tend to put Paul on a pedestal as a mighty apostle (something he himself didn’t do) but Paul had the influence that he did solely because that is what God appointed him to do. He appointed Peter as apostle to the Jews [Galatians 2:7-8 But on the contrary, seeing that I had been entrusted with the Gospel to the uncircumcised, just as Peter had been to the circumcised (for He who effectually worked for Peter in his apostleship to the circumcised effectually worked for me also to the Gentiles),] God had a different job for each – assigned each to a different area, sovereignly directing them according to His plan and purpose, and making them effective in it. [2 Timothy 1:9-11]. God made them, redeemed them, He is sovereign and Lord – He does with them as He wishes because He is sovereign. And the same is true of us [1 Corinthians 6:19-20 Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own? For you were bought at a price.] [P] If God is sovereign then we are His subjects [P] – we are subject to Him. [P] And if we are subject, then we are to serve. We are appointed for service – just as Paul was; and this was before he had lived or done anything – it was God’s plan from the beginning: [Galatians 1:15 But when God, who had set me apart even from my mother’s womb and called me through His grace, was pleased to reveal His Son in me in order that I would proclaim the Gospel about Him among the Gentiles.] He was set apart for the purpose God had in mind, he was called by grace, Jesus was revealed to Him and that because God was pleased to – it was His sovereign will. And God’s purpose for him was that he proclaim the Gospel. What was true of Paul is true of others – for example: the prophet Jeremiah [Jeremiah 1:4-5 And the word of יְהוָה came to me, saying, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, (there is the foreknowledge of God) and before you came out from the womb I consecrated you; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.”] God appointed him to the role of prophet, to declare His message to the nations. Jeremiah said this: [P] [Jeremiah 10:23 I know, O יְהוָה, that a man’s way is not in himself, nor is it in a man who walks to direct his steps.] – it is not in us to direct our lives, they are directed by יְהוָה who is sovereign. It is not just Paul and Jeremiah – it is the same for all of us: Jesus said: [P] [John 15:16 “You did not choose Me but I chose you, and appointed you that you would go and bear fruit, and that your fruit would remain, so that whatever you ask of the Father in My name He may give to you.] We are appointed by God – and His purpose for us is that we go and bear fruit. We have our lives and we decide what we are going to do with them, what we are going to become. But it is not in us to direct our way – that is in the hand of God! It was a secular songwriter who wrote:
“God only knows, God makes His plans,
the information is unavailable to the mortal man.
We work at our jobs, we collect our pay;
believe we’re gliding down the highway
when in fact we’re slip sliding away.”
You Know? we can be just getting on with our lives as if they are our own: doing our work, collecting our pay packet – as if that is all that life is about! But we are slipping away – drifting from what we are appointed to be doing! יְהוָה is sovereign – there is a King and He is in control, He rules, He reigns, He directs, He plans – He says what we are to do. My life is not my own! There is one who is sovereign over all, and that means sovereign over my life. [P] [Proverbs 20:24 Man’s steps are ordained by יְהוָה, how then can man understand his way?] We cannot understand or direct our lives – it is in the hands of one higher than I! Yet we are taken up with making something of our lives, we ask God to bless our efforts; when, perhaps, it would be wiser to be like Paul: “LORD, what would you have me do? We need to bow the knee before the Sovereign. Of course He will have His way, His will will be carried out – but how much better to align ourselves with Him, delight in His will, be seeking it and walking in it; rather than being compelled. [Psalm 32:8-9 I will instruct you and teach you in the way that you should go. I will advise you with my eye upon you. Do not be like a horse or like a mule, without understanding; that needs his tackle—bridle and rein—for restraint or he would not come near you.] The donkey has to be forced with reins into the right path – we are sons, not dumb animals! We gave been appointed to bear fruit; fruit that can only come from the life of Jesus in us; by us abiding in Him the Vine. We have the honour and the awesome privilege of sharing in His Divine work. Salvation is His work, from Him alone, but He has ordained that we share in that wondrous work through the foolishness of preaching of the Gospel. In [Luke 12:42-43 The Lord said, “Who then is the faithful wise steward whom the master will put in charge over his servants to give them their food allowance at the right time? Blessed is that slave whom his master will find so doing when he comes back.] A stewardship has been entrusted to us – the blessing is for those who are faithfully carrying out the service which the sovereign appointed them to.