The Sovereign God

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Happy New Year to you all and on this first Sunday morning of 2001 we're starting a new sermon series on The True and Living God beginning today with The Sovereign God. So please do turn to Psalm 93.

As we've gone back to work this week, or maybe over Christmas and New Year have we seen or experienced things which have prompted us to question whether God does have full control in his world? Have we found ourselves asking, 'Who is in ultimate control?' Is God? As we look around us are we sometimes tempted to think – is the devil in control for the time being? As we see evil all around us – the possible awful fact that 300 patients were murdered by their GP, the continuing attacks on Christians in Indonesia - and the evil in us, we can understand why one journalist began to think 'that at some point the world will be drowned in evil, and evil will rule the world'? Some people may ask us, 'If God is all powerful why is the world the way it is today? Doesn't he have the will to do anything about the state we're in?'

Add to that the troubles or 'evils' we face – our own sinfulness, illness, the loss or the fear of losing a loved one, the problems in the wider church, the lack of belief in God among the young in this country, the unbelief of some members of our family. Do they again lead us to sometimes ask, 'Who ultimately rules in this world, who ultimately wins?' Is God in control? Does the Lord reign? Is he King? How can he allow this? Is God absolutely sovereign in creation, providence and grace as the Bible asserts?

Well the fact is evil is everywhere and primarily the evil of human actions. And those questions would probably have been on this psalmist's mind as he looked around him. But as he refocuses on the true and living God his faith and evidence of God at work in creation tell him, that the truth is God is sovereign, 'The Lord is King!', 'The LORD reigns', which is my first heading:


First, THE LORD REIGNS

As we refocus on the true and living God at the start of this New Year, as we study Psalm 93 a psalm which expresses joy, hope and confidence in God we shall do well to take its teaching to heart and know that the Lord does reign! And as this psalm goes on to teach, the fact of God's sovereign rule is said to: guarantee the stability of the world against all the forces of chaos (v.1-4); confirm the trustworthiness of all God's utterances and directives (v.5); and call for the homage of holiness on the part of his people (v.5).

Look at the first half of v.1:

The LORD reigns, he is robed in majesty; the LORD is robed in majesty and is armed with strength.

The psalmist is saying, 'The Lord does reign. The Lord is king. In spite of what appears to say otherwise. It is true. I believe it'. Do we? Of course it's easier to say we believe it than sometimes to put it into practice when confronted with whatever our situation is. But knowing this truth that the Lord does reign, that he is in control and dwelling on this truth that the Lord tells us about himself in his Word is important. Our faith should not rest on feelings, which can go up and down, but on the unchanging Lord himself and his revealed truth. 'God does not lie.' (Titus 1:2)

Are we letting the Word dwell in us richly? Are we focussing on God or only on the problems? Are we spending time reading God's Word and praying each day? Getting to know him better, talking and listening to him? The latest surveys reveal that most Christians don't. If not why not start again at the beginning of this New Year? There are plenty of materials at the back of church to help you.

The LORD does reign, he is robed in majesty, the LORD is robed in majesty and is armed with strength.

The proclamation here that the Lord reigns and its impact is rather like Isaiah's picture of the news of victory reaching a despondent Jerusalem with the runner's shout: 'Your God reigns' (Isaiah 52:7). And the decisive tense of 'The LORD reigns' points on to the day when the King will come in power. Also the repetition 'he is robed in majesty, the LORD is robed in majesty' hails a sovereignty that is neither muted nor dormant: God appears in full magnificence and armed for battle. He has put on glorious robes and girded himself with strength. Again the verbs are decisive here – 'he is robed and is armed'. So while his Kingship, glory and might are ever present facts there may here be a leap into the future, anticipating the great Day of the Lord, to which we'll return later.

'The LORD reigns.' The Lord is King! God rules, OK! as some might put it today. This vision of God ruling recurs through Scripture and we are constantly told that the Lord reigns as king, exercising dominion over great and small things alike. What vision of God do we have? Is it too small? He is sovereign over the minutest details of our lives. Mt 10:29-30: 'Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered'. He is sovereign in electing and redeeming his people (Eph. 1:11&Jn 3:3). Though this does not mean we don't evangelise. God commands us to evangelise and surely God's sovereignty should motivate us to obey and should encourage us in evangelism. Humanly speaking, preaching the gospel is futile. He is also sovereign over the sufferings of believers (Phil. 1:29). He is sovereign over world history (Dan. 4:35 & 5). The LORD reigns, let the nations tremble (Ps. 99:1).

This biblical idea of God's sovereignty includes all that is involved in the divine kingship and this means at least three things. First, ownership. The Bible asserts constantly that all things are God's -

'The earth is the Lord's and everything in it, the world and all who live in it.'(Psalm 24:1)

- the earth, the heavens, the silver, the gold and, above all Christians themselves – those of us who have faith in Jesus. Secondly, authority. God has an absolute right to impose his will on all his creatures. But his commands are never arbitrary. They express his own character as righteous and holy love. Yet his authority is categorical, and when confronted with it, people have no right to negotiate or disobey. Thirdly, control. God is in control. He is master of his universe. At times he is displeased with it and at times angry but it never baffles or frustrates or threatens him as we see in v.1-4 of Psalm 93. He is mighty. God's dominion is total: he wills as he chooses and carries out all that he wills, and none can stay his hand or thwart his plans.

As someone has written: "The foundation of this control is God's foreordination". Meaning that nothing in the universe is outside his plan. He works all things according to the counsel of his will (Eph. 1:11). He has foreordained fortuitous occurrences (Proverbs 16:33), laudable human actions, especially the good works of Christians (Eph. 2:10); and even sinful actions such as David numbering the people (1 Chr. 21) and Jews crucifying Jesus (Acts 2:23). But there are two caveats to remember here. God's foreordination of all things does not mean that he is the author of sin. Sin by definition is lawlessness. Nothing can justify it – not even the fact that God overrules it and brings good out of evil. Also foreordination does not mean that God overrides or violates the will of his creatures. No, God has given some of his creatures, namely angels and humans, free agency, meaning power of personal decision as to what they shall do. As Packer puts it,

"we would not be moral beings, answerable to God the Judge, were it not so, nor would it then be possible to distinguish, as Scripture does between the bad purposes of human agents and the good purposes of God, who sovereignly overrules human action as a planned means to his own goals (Gen. 50:20; Acts 2:23). Yet the fact of free agency confronts us with a mystery, inasmuch as God's control over our free, self-determined activities is as complete as it is over anything else, and how this can be we do not know."

The LORD reigns, he is robed in majesty; the LORD is robed in majesty and is armed with strength.

He is the great King above all gods (Ps. 95:3). Then the psalmist continues:

The world is firmly established, it cannot be moved. Your throne was established long ago, you are from all eternity. (v.1-2)

The physical world is established only because his throne is established. The world of humanity, which does not acknowledge the Lord's throne, is in turmoil as in v.3 or Psalm 46 where the nations rage and the kingdom totter. God's sovereign rule guarantees the stability of the world against all the forces of chaos. The Psalm reminds us that God created everything. And that he allows everything that happens. So nothing has got, or ever will get, out of his control. We can be secure in that. And this leads us on to my second heading:


Secondly, THE LORD ON HIGH IS MIGHTY

And not only is the Lord mighty but he is mightier than anything. Look at v.3&4:

The seas have lifted up O LORD, the seas have lifted up their voice, the seas have lifted up their pounding waves. Mightier than the thunder of the great waters, mightier than the breakers of the sea – the LORD on high is mighty.

God is sovereign over all and more powerful than anything else.

The seas are the chaotic waters tamed and put in place by God's creative word back in Genesis 1, and which here symbolise all that opposes the coming of the Lord's Kingdom. They pound away. But the Lord is mightier. What do we feel helpless in the face of in our Christian life and service? The Lord is mightier. Take time to read Mark's Gospel over the next few days – it only takes a few hours – and you'll read of Jesus overthrowing the evils we were thinking about at the start. For example, Jesus heals a woman who's been bleeding for twelve years. As we heard in our Gospel reading Jesus stills the storm at sea with a word. The Lord Jesus is mightier. God has stepped in. God sent his Son into the world, fully God and fully man. The Lord Jesus reigns. 'Even the wind and waves obey him'. But if Jesus does reign why doesn't he put an end to all the evils in the world? We pray every Sunday for that to happen don't we? 'Your kingdom come.' And it will happen when Jesus returns as Judge. 2 Peter 3:8 says about Jesus' return and the promised removal of evil from his world once and for all:

Do not forget that with the Lord, a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.


Thirdly, THE REIGN OF RIGHT

Look at v.5:

Your statutes stand firm; holiness adorns your house for endless days, O LORD.

God is not only king and all powerful, but also king and always perfect, always holy. Here then is God's true glory, not of mere strength but of character, which is 'wholly reassuring' for those who are his and 'wholly demanding' if you'll forgive the play on words.

There is a confidence here that God will judge. 'Your statutes stand firm' and they will be the basis for judgement. And there will be a place where there is no evil – 'holiness adorns your house for endless days, O LORD' a place for those who have faith in Jesus (John 14:1-6) where there will be no more evil around us or in us.

Do we believe that the Lord will judge? That there will be a division between those who've been reconciled to God through Christ and those who've continued to rebel? And if we have been reconciled then we can look forward to a room in our Father's house which holiness adorns for endless days because of what Jesus has done for us on the cross. (A communion service reminds us of those things. Paul says in 1 Cor 11:26: 'Whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes'.)

Your statutes stand firm. They are trustworthy. God's sovereign rule confirms it. And we are to live by them and stand up for them in a world which increasingly departs from them. And we are to go out into the world to live in the light of the Lord's return. His sovereign rule calls us to live up to our calling – to be holy. Only in Christ are we holy, but if we are in Christ, God is making us more like Christ. Romans 8:29:

For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son.

And God will make us completely holy beyond death. We will still face evil now and still sin but not forever. God is sovereign. The Lord reigns not evil. He is in ultimate control. He has won and he will win. We can go out into this week and into this new year confident in God, trusting him.

Your statutes stand firm; holiness adorns your house for endless days, O LORD.

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