Questioning Sovereignty

Sermon  •  Submitted
0 ratings
Video: in Uncertain Times
Good Morning and welcome back to our Teaching Series called EKKLESIA: the unstoppable movement of God. Following our Christmas series, we picked up last week with a part of the story of early Church where they were thrust into some very uncertain times. Certainly we would label many of the things that we have had to deal with over the past couple years as “uncertain times” but we have not yet had to deal with what the Christians Church had to deal with when it came to Stephen’s story last week.
And if we are honest, we prefer the earlier stories from the book of Acts. They had some challenges, but then everything seemed to turn out ok in the end. We like our stories to operate that way…but we know that not everyone’s story works out that way.
We were concerned for the Apostles as they were dragged before the corrupt religious leaders who rejected their message and we were releaved when they were released and could rejoin their brothers and sisters in Christ…but that was not Stephen’s story. If you were with us last week then you remember how it went in Acts chapter 7 where it says
Acts 7:57a
57 But they cried out with a loud voice and stopped their ears and rushed together at him. 58 Then they cast him out of the city and stoned him.
This is not how we would have written this story. This is not the happy ending that we typically expect from a story, especially for a faithful follower of Jesus Christ like Stephen.
And the truth is, the questions that swirl around events like this are the kinds of questions that keep many people from believing the Good News of Jesus Christ. Questions like,
“If this God of yours is so good, loving and powerful then why do bad things happen to good people?”
or even more pointedly to our story today,
“Why do bad things happen even to God’s people?”
I mean why would I want to become a follower of Jesus when I could end up like Stephen? I mean he was full of the Spirit and sharing the “Life-giving message of Jesus Christ” with the great wisdom of the Holy Spirit but his life was not protected from those who would harm him, it was taken by them.
How can this be good? How can this be God’s plan? How can a All Powerful, All knowing, All loving God not intervene to save someone like Stephen who is here faithfully doing what God called Him to do?
And Stephen is just the first of many men and women throughout the history of the Christian Church right up to today who are risking and even sacrificing their lives in order to share the “Life-giving message of Jesus Christ” so these are good questions, questions worth considering and grappling with. How can these things be if there is nothing our God does not know and there is nothing that He cannot do?
These are not easy questions and I am not even going to suggest that I have all the answers for you this morning, but I do believe that there is something to be learned from what is happening here in Acts Chapter 8 when it comes to understanding how our God works in this world, and especially how it does not always meet with our expectations of Him.
So turn with me if you will to Acts Chapter 8, page 916 in the Bibles in the chairs and I will pray and we will tackle something of these difficult questions together.
So these kinds of questions are wrapped up in something that Theologians call the “Sovereignty of God”. And of course “sovereignty” is not only used in theological circles, but it is used whenever we want to say that someone is in control over a particular people or place. To be a “sovereign” is to be the “Lord” or “King” over someone or something. But when we talk about God as being Sovereign, we are talking about a much higher view of Sovereignty. So we say that God is “the King of Kings” and the “Lord of Lords” and in the same way we could say that He is “Sovereign over all other sovereigns.”
And the reason that we need to understand what we mean when we use this word “Sovereign” is because for generations Christians have found themselves in heated debates over this aspect of God’s nature. All Christians agree that God is sovereign, but they don’t always agree on what that means for how God interacts in our world. So the term “Sovereign” can carry some baggage with it, but since it means the same as “Lord” or “King” we should be able to look at it from those perspectives and find some common ground.
In fact many English Bible translations don’t even include the word “Sovereign” but the word “Lord” is present in every one, typically more than 7,000 times.
So I have the difficult task this morning of teaching on this subject that all Christians agree is a part of who God is, but we could fill bookshelves on the different perspectives of how it works in our world.
So for our purposes this morning I just want to summarize three aspects of God’s Sovereignty. My hope is that my explanation, as well as the many verses that I support my thoughts with, will be will help to form a foundation for us to better understand the great value of God’s Sovereignty in the midst of uncertain times. Certainly the Church had to depend on this when Stephen was martyred, and the Church is still depending on this today.
So I am just going to go ahead and give you the three aspects in no particular order, and then we will look at them each individually. When we talk about the Sovereignty of God we are talking about God’s Sovereign Control over all things, His Sovereign Authority over all things and His Sovereign Presence in all things.

God’s Sovereign Control

God’s Sovereign control means that everything ultimately happens according to his plan and purpose. You have probably heard me say that “God is always working everything out for His glory and our good”. That is a widely accepted definition of God’s control in this World. This points to the fact that the nature of God’s sovereignty is such that there is no force that can keep God from doing what it is that He desires to do in the way that He desires to do it. That is part of His nature as God. It is part of his God-ness to have nothing strong enough to keep God from doing whatever he pleases.
There are many places where we see this in Scripture, the Psalms are full of references of this part of God’s character:
Psalm 115:3 ESV
3 Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases.
Psalm 135:6 ESV
6 Whatever the Lord pleases, he does, in heaven and on earth, in the seas and all deeps.
Psalm 33:10 ESV
10 The Lord brings the counsel of the nations to nothing; he frustrates the plans of the peoples.
God is not limited to “time & space” like we are. He is not limited to “causes and effect” like we are. He can do whatever he wants and He can effect whatever He wants through what He does.
Another great reference is...
Job 42:2 ESV
2 “I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted.
And Jesus taught us the same thing about the Father
Matthew 19:26 ESV
26 But Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”
Also from Ephesians we read:
Ephesians 1:11 ESV
11 In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will,
There is no force in heaven or earth that can stay or move God’s hand. That is a part of God being God. It is a part of his “God-ness” for God to be less than that would be to be less than God.
In addition to God’s Sovereign Control, there is the aspect of...

God’s Sovereign Authority

Obviously these three aspects are not completely exclusive, there is overlap in how they are executed or experienced but basically God’s authority is absolute so that no one or nothing can stand in a position where they can tell God what He needs to be doing. We don’t get to tell God what to do, His Sovereign Authority is absolute and He does what He pleases and no one stands in a position where they can tell him otherwise.
Where do we see this in Scripture? Well one strong example is in Daniel chapter 4 where God has shown a pagan King his Sovereign Authority and the King responds in verse 34...
Daniel 4:34–35 (ESV)
34 At the end of the days I, Nebuchadnezzar, lifted my eyes to heaven, and my reason returned to me, and I blessed the Most High, and praised and honored him who lives forever, for his dominion is an everlasting dominion, and his kingdom endures from generation to generation;
35 all the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, and he does according to his will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay his hand or say to him, “What have you done?”
And later in chapter 7 Daniel prophesies of the coming Messiah, the Lord Jesus some 500 years before He was born in a manger and He says...
Daniel 7:14 ESV
14 And to him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed.
Dominion and Kingdom is the language of Authority. And then in the New Testament, the angel Gabriel told Mary that the one born to her...
Luke 1:33 (ESV)
33 (and he) will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”
And right before Jesus ascended into heaven after purchasing our salvation through his death and resurrection He said the same thing about Himself:
Matthew 28:18 ESV
18 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.
So not only is there no force that can keep God from doing what He wants to do, there is also no authority that can tell Him what to do. These are marks of God’s Sovereignty, but one of the more overlooked aspects of God’s Sovereingty is ...

God’s Sovereign Presence

When most people think of God’s Sovereignty they probably think of these first two aspects, but if you stop there then you will have an incomplete understanding of how God’s Sovereignty works. When we limit our understanding of God’s Sovereignty to just his Control and Authority then we are in danger of seeing it as some sort of cold, impersonal and mechanical determinism. But God has taken great pains to show us how He is not a distant and disinterested God, but He desires to be present and involved in the world that He has created.
Consider God’s presence with Adam and Even as He walked and talked with them in the garden, and then they sinned and the Bible says that they hid from His presence
Then even after the fall, God presence came to Abraham and told him all that He would do to bless him and make him a great nation.
Then God’s presence led the great nation of Abraham through the Wilderness, a cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night.
He instructed Moses to make the Tabernacle, the Tent of God’s Presence and set it up in the middle of the Tribes of Isreal
Later God instructed David and Solomon to prepare and build the Temple for His presence in the middle of Jerusalem
Then in the New Testament the promise of Immanuel “God with us” was revealed in Jesus The Christ.
And Jesus said that if you have seen me then you have seen the Father
And then after Jesus returned to the Father, the Apostle Paul tells us 1 Cor 3:16 Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?
You cannot get more present than that, that God would to dwell within us in His Sovereignty!
And I would never say that this third aspect of God’s Sovereignty is more important than the others, but I do think that it is more often overlooked. God’s Sovereignty should not be explored or expressed separate from His loving presence in the world He has created.
His Sovereignty is how He is able to love us with a love that is far beyond our comprehension. A love that supersedes our “ time & space” limitations. It is not subject to the “cause & effect” realities of our world and how we interact with. Those are things that we are bound by but God is not, His Sovereignty reigns over all of those things, but it is not an impersonal, mechanical determinism. It is deeply personal and present.
Isaiah 25:8 ESV
8 He will swallow up death forever; and the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces, and the reproach of his people he will take away from all the earth, for the Lord has spoken.
If your Bible is one of the few translations that chooses to use the word “Sovereign” then “Lord GOD” here in this verse would have been written “Sovereign LORD”. In His Sovereign presence He “will wipe away tears from all faces”
2 Corinthians 6:16 ESV
16 What agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; as God said, “I will make my dwelling among them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.
God’s Sovereign Presence…dwelling within us. Or how about...
James 4:13–15 (ESV)
13 Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”— what a great description of the will of man, but James shows us how futile such determined thinking really is...
14 yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. 15 Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.”
What a great picture of how we should approach our Sovereign God. God’s Sovereign Presence is not something that works against us, but something that He is working in and through us.
2 Peter 3:9 ESV
9 The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.
And God’s Sovereign Presence continues on into eternity.
Revelation 21:3 ESV
3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God.
The sovereignty of God means that He does all that He pleases and nothing can derail His ultimate purposes, including the human will, but God is present in our world and He is working all things for His greatest glory and our greatest good…even in uncertain times when things are not looking that good.
All of that was just to lay a foundation so that we can understand the aftermath of the stoning of Stephen from our text for today. Certainly the early Church would have some of the same kind of troubling questions, because the stoning of Stephen was only the beginning of uncertain times for the Christian Church. Acts chapter 8 beginning with verse 1 reads:
Acts 8:1–3 ESV
1 And Saul approved of his execution. And there arose on that day a great persecution against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles. 2 Devout men buried Stephen and made great lamentation over him. 3 But Saul was ravaging the church, and entering house after house, he dragged off men and women and committed them to prison.

1. God’s sovereignty can appear questionable when faced with evil (Acts 8:1–3)

Lets just be clear that there is no question that these actions were evil. These Christians were doing nothing differently here then they had since the Holy Spirit came at Pentecost, but the attention that they were getting rose the tension with the corrupt religious leadership until it finally boiled over into the stoning of Stephen and this seemed to open a floodgate of persecution for the Church in Jerusalem. At this point it was not just that Christians were allowed to be persecuted, but it was openly encouraged.
And remember what the word “Church” means. It comes for that Greek Word “Ekklesia” which means gathering together but here we have an incident that has “scattered” the “gathering”. What will this mean for the Church? Is it tearing apart? Is it dissolving? Is God even paying attention? Of course He is, for this is not the end of the story of the Church just a painful opening of a new chapter.
God’s sovereignty can appear questionable in the face of evil, but...

2. God’s sovereignty is always at work for His purposes (Acts 8:4)

Acts 8:4 ESV
4 Now those who were scattered went about preaching the word.
The Church has experienced great success in Jerusalem. Remember how thousands of people have come to know the “Life-giving message of Jesus Christ”. In fact right before Stephen was seized we read in...
Acts 6:7 ESV
7 And the word of God continued to increase, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests became obedient to the faith.
Who knows, maybe the conversion of some of their own priests was the “straw that broke the camel’s back” so to speak. What we do know is that what began in Jerusalem was never intended to stay in Jerusalem. What did Jesus tell his disciples right before he ascended into heaven?
Acts 1:8–9 ESV
8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” 9 And when he had said these things, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight.
The scattering of the Church resulted in the gospel being preached beyond Jerusalem, just as Jesus had instructed them. God never intends harm for His people, but He will not waste a hurt. This turn of events at the hand of evil men was allowed to further the great Commission. The Church is God’s Plan to reach the world, so in His sovereignty God orchestrated events for the Church to reach beyond Jerusalem into the rest of the world.
And then we get a small taste of how this worked out in the life of one of the other Deacons like Stephen. This mans name was Philip. He is often called Philip the evangelist and we will see why in these verses and even more so as we look more of his story next week. What Philip found as he scattered away from Jerusalem was that...

3. People are waiting to respond to the gospel (Acts 8:5–8).

Acts 8:5–8 ESV
5 Philip went down to the city of Samaria and proclaimed to them the Christ. 6 And the crowds with one accord paid attention to what was being said by Philip, when they heard him and saw the signs that he did. 7 For unclean spirits, crying out with a loud voice, came out of many who had them, and many who were paralyzed or lame were healed. 8 So there was much joy in that city.
It is a profound comparison to see how the heartache of the Church in Jerusalem led to so much joy in the city of Samaria. Philip’s listeners were eager to hear his message, the “Life-giving message of Jesus Christ”. These people rejoiced in how our Sovereign God moved his people through the evil that was done to them in Jerusalem to bring them the good news of Jesus Christ and the power of God in their lives.
Gospel Application
You know many have said that we have been living in “Unprecedented Times”. Remember that phrase and how it has been thrown around in the last year? “Uncertain Times” for sure in many different ways and in many different lanes of our lives. But we serve a God who is Sovereign over it all. He orchestrates everything for His greatest glory and our greatest good.
There are more than 2,000 unreached people groups in the world today. It is estimated that the population of each group is more than 100,000 people. They are waiting to hear about the Good News of Christ.
Isn’t possible that our Sovereign God is using these many “uncertain trials” in our lives to stir up His people to be faithful in ways that we never would have dreamed of exploring 2 plus years ago? God may be bringing these many things into our lives to drive us into conversations and connections with people that we never would have had without them. Maybe God is trying to bring us to a broader understanding of who He is and how we can reach out to and pave a way to bring them the gospel.
God is not the cause of evil, but evil occurs in the world every day. Because God is sovereign, we can take comfort in knowing that He is using all circumstances to bring glory to His name and to give us the opportunity to share “The Life-giving message of Jesus Christ” with all people.
I would like to close with this story. Many of you are familiar with the Contemporary Christian Artist Steven Curtis Chapman. Back in 2007 He had this hit song called “Yours” and it was about how every where he went, from the”Streets of London” to the “Dirt paths of Uganda” to the “Bright lights of Nashville” - the song was recognizing that everything that He saw and experienced is “Yours”. That was the essence of the song.
Then in 2008, his youngest daughter died in a terrible car accident on the family’s property involving a mistake made by one of their other very young children. In the wake of this tragedy, which I cannot even imagine, Chapman added a verse to this song. In this new verse, he admitted that times like these cause us to question our faith, but because we belong to this God who is present in his control and authority we have hope. He writes:
I’ve walked the valley of death’s shadow/So deep and dark that I could barely breathe/I’ve had to let go of more than I could bear/And questioned everything that I believe/But still even here/in this great darkness/A comfort and hope come breaking through/As I can say in life or death/God we belong to you
This is where we find our hope in Uncertain times, In belonging to our Sovereign God who is working all things out for His glory and our good. I have asked Denny to come up and close the message time in prayer.
Related Media
See more
Related Sermons
See more