There is a scene in the Civil War motion picture Gods and Generals that is telling. The movie follows the rise and fall of Civil War hero General Thomas Jackson, and does not try to hide his Christianity. Throughout the picture, Jackson's dependence on God is shown, but never more strikingly that in the early morning hours of July 21st, 1861 prior to the First Battle of Bull Run. As the glimmers of dawn break forth, Jackson calls out to God, asking for His will be done.
Almost immediately, things do not go well for the out-numbered Confederates. Union forces quickly overpowered them. The Confederate line broke. All out retreat ensued. Several Confederate brigades ran to the next line of reinforcement, which was held by Jackson's brigade. Morale was all but gone as retreating soldiers swarmed Jackson's position, with the Union army on their heels. But then someone yelled over the din of battle to the men, telling them to look at Jackson.
At that moment, General Jackson was sitting erect in his saddle with cannon fire exploding all around him. His left hand was wounded by a musket ball. Nevertheless, he did not flinch. Word spread among the men: "Look at Jackson, standing like a stone wall," they said. Stonewall Jackson, as he would be known from that day, paced his horse back and forth across the hazardous front line, shouting orders to "charge" as the musket balls pierced the air. His stunning bravery stirred the men to valor, and they turned to face advancing Union forces with new resolve.
At the end of the day, General Jackson returned to the battlefield to survey the losses: 111 Confederates dead, 373 missing. Weary and sad, Jackson knelt beside a dead soldier. And it was then that one of his captains asked him, "General, how is it you can keep so serene, and stay so utterly insensible, with a storm of shells and bullets about your head?"
Jackson replied, "Captain Smith, my religious belief teaches me to feel as safe in battle as in bed. God has fixed the time for my death. I do not concern myself with that, but to be always ready, whenever it may overtake me. [If this was] the way all men...lived, then all men would be equally brave."(cited by Ronald Maxwell, PreachingToday.com)
Stonewall Jackson was declaring his belief that God ruled over the details of his life, even the flight of bullets and shrapnel. His bravery was based on his belief that, as A.W. Pink wrote, "God is God in fact, as well as in name, that He is on the throne of the universe, directing all things and working all things according to the counsel of His own will (Eph. 1:11)." (A.W. Pink, The Attributes of God, p. 40.) Basically, what General Jackson told his captain is, "I am invincible until God is through with me."
A couple of weeks ago, we embarked on a journey that will take us to the heights, under the heading SEEING GOD AS HE IS. We have already explored and rejoiced in the goodness of God. Today, we turn the diamond of truth about God to examine another facet of His glory. And our focus on this day is on that aspect of God that sets Him apart from and above all other rivals. This morning, let us explore together the sovereignty of God and the difference that believing in a God who is in control makes in our work-hard, barely-hanging-on, daily lives.
I. God's resumé
A. He existed before anything else
Ps. 90:2: "Before the mountains were born, before You gave birth to the earth and the world, from eternity to eternity, You are God."
1 Tim. 6:16 tells us that God is "the only One who has immortality." Eternality trumps finiteness every time.
B. He created all things
John 1:3: "All things were created through Him, and apart from Him not one thing was created that has been created." Col. 1:16: "Because by Him everything was created, in heaven and on earth, the visible and the invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities - all things have been created through Him and for Him." Job copped an attitude with God over the crushing blows he was enduring, only to be reminded that God knows the score in the game of life because He created the game, the field, the ball, the bat, and every player.
C. He sustains all things
Col. 1:17: "He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together." Hebrews 1:3 adds that Jesus is the radiance of [God's] glory, the exact expression of His nature, and He sustains all things by His powerful word. The language of the Bible tells us that His power to make everything hold together instead of fly apart is operative from the atomic level to the universe level.
D. He is above all things
Isaiah 46:9-10: "Remember what happened long ago, for I am God, and there is no other; [I am] God, and no one is like Me. I declare the end from the beginning, and from long ago what is not yet done, saying: My plan will take place, and I will do all My will." God is not limited or restrained by anything.
E. He knows all things
Ps. 139:1-4: "Lord, You have searched me and known me. You know when I sit down and when I stand up; You understand my thoughts from far away. You observe my travels and my rest; You are aware of all my ways. Before a word is on my tongue, You know all about it, Lord." The knowledge of God is described in Scripture as exhaustive, thorough, covering the details down to the smallest possible levels.
F. He can do whatever He pleases
Ps. 135:6: "The Lord does whatever He pleases in heaven and on earth, in the seas and all the depths." Jeremiah 32:27: "Look, I am the Lord, the God of all flesh. Is anything too difficult for Me?"
G. He orchestrates all things
Isaiah 14:24: "The Lord of Hosts has sworn: As I have planned, so it will be; as I have purposed it, so it will happen." Eph. 1:11 reminds us that God "works out everything in agreement with the decision of His will."
H. He rules over all things
In Daniel 4:34-35, the most powerful man on earth decided to take on God. When God was through with him, here was what he said, "But at the end of those days, I, Nebuchadnezzar, looked up to heaven, and my sanity returned to me. Then I praised the Most High and honored and glorified Him who lives forever: For His dominion is an everlasting dominion, and His kingdom is from generation to generation. All the inhabitants of the earth are counted as nothing, and He does what He wants with the army of heaven and the inhabitants of the earth. There is no one who can hold back His hand or say to Him, 'What have You done?'"
I. He is in control of all things
He controls the choices of world leaders - Prov.21:1: "A king's heart is a water channel in the Lord's hand: He directs it wherever He chooses."
He controls the course of human events - Ps. 33:9-11: "For He spoke, and it came into being; He commanded, and it came into existence. The Lord frustrates the counsel of the nations; He thwarts the plans of the peoples. The counsel of the Lord stands forever, the plans of His heart from generation to generation."
He controls calamity (Amos 3:6 says, "If a disaster occurs in a city, hasn't the Lord done it?" The psalmist is awed by this: He makes the winds His messengers, flames of fire His servants"; "He unleashes His winds, and the waters to flow . . . Lightning and hail, snow and cloud, powerful wind that executes His command." (Psalm 104:4; 147:18; 148:8). Isaac Watts was right, "There's not a plant or flower below but makes your glories known; and clouds arise and tempests blow by order from your throne."
He controls our circumstances (James 4:13-15: "Come now, you who say, "Today or tomorrow we will travel to such and such a city and spend a year there and do business and make a profit." You don't even know what tomorrow will bring - what your life will be! For you are a bit of smoke that appears for a little while, then vanishes. Instead, you should say, "If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that." Stonewall Jackson believed that whether he lived to fight another day was completely in the hands of the Lord.
You get the picture. To say God is sovereign is to say that He is unrivaled in majesty, unlimited in power and knowledge, and unaffected by anything outside Himself. He is outside of time and completely free to do whatever He wills to do anywhere, at any time, in every single detail without interference. He reigns, period. That is what it means to say God is sovereign. And that's what Stonewall Jackson believed when bullets and bombs filled the air.
Now run that around the block in your thoughts. When someone we love deeply lies in a hospital bed and we don't know what's going to happen, God is in control. When the economy - national or personal - is on a slide, God is in control. When we're lonely and the phone doesn't ring and we wonder if we're ever going to connect with someone, God is in control.
Nothing will enter your life that God does not either decree or permit. And this God, who sustains every atom of this universe, who raises up nations and brings them down, who remains un-thwarted in the accomplishing of all His purposes…this King over all loves you! He wants you to seek Him, to rely on Him, to wait for Him, to walk with Him. If you doubt that - if the evidence of your experience is arguing with the reality of what I'm describing - I want to ask you to consider just a couple of God's Credentials. And as you think them through, ask yourself whether your idea of God as you entered this room this morning was way too small.
II. God's credentials
A. Consider His astonishing promises
Anyone can make promises; not everyone can keep them. God's promises, as comprehensive and ultimate as they are, can only be kept if He is Who He says He is. Consider, for example, the incredible promise of Romans 8:28: We know that all things work together for the good of those who love God: those who are called according to His purpose. What God is guaranteeing is that He can take all the events, all the situations, all the people, doctors, medicines, prayer, relationships - every factor related to whatever difficult circumstance we're in - and create an outcome that brings about good, not only for you, but simultaneously in the lives of every person touching those circumstances who is a believer in Christ. Do you see the complexity and overlapping issues behind making that promise come to pass?
He could never stand behind that promise unless He knew everything! Unless He had unimaginable power! Unless He had created everyone, could direct the hearts of people so that they willingly choose a certain course of action, even dictate what happens down to the atomic level! You simply cannot work things together for good unless you are the Sovereign King of the universe. God makes that promise to you who are Christians and He backs it up everyday of your life!
B. Consider how He tailors temptation
I Cor. 10:13 tells us that temptation is tempered by God's own hand before it ever touches us. "No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to humanity. God is faithful and He will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation He will also provide a way of escape, so that you are able to bear it." God reveals a sovereign promise and a saving plan: He limits the power of temptation and provides an escape hatch. Which means no sin is irresistible. Every temptation we face can be overcome.
Now think about what must take place behind the scenes before, during, and after temptation for God to pull this off. He must be involved on every level. He must know fully the strength of our spiritual life and the attraction that the temptation uniquely has on us. He must constantly keep a leash on Satan. He must temper temptation's power. And He must bear witness to a superior satisfaction than the tempting offer so that we have a way of escape. Only a Sovereign can do that. But hey, that's my King!
I could go on, pointing to hundreds of prophecies fulfilled and historical incidents where He ruled and overruled according to His purposes. He is our benevolent, all-powerful, all-knowing God who loves to do us good. Nothing is more comforting, stabilizing, hope-bringing that believing in a God who has the whole world in His hand, and me along with it.
What difference does God's sovereignty make In my life?
1. It gives me courage to face my days
The command most often repeated throughout the Bible by God or angels is, "Fear not." On what basis shall we be fearless? Here's the answer: "Aren't two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them falls to the ground without your Father's consent. But even the hairs of your head have all been counted. Don't be afraid therefore; you are worth more than many sparrows." (Matt. 10:29-31)
There are innumerable events and circumstances in our lives that are beyond our control. Fear and worry can haunt us, arrest us, paralyze us. If God is not in control, then I ought to be afraid! If I think this universe runs according to luck, I ought to worry. But when I see that He is there in the details, controlling, directing, ruling them for my good, I am strengthened and given courage to obey Him.
2. It helps me give thanks in adversity
First Peter 4:12-13: "Dear friends, when the fiery ordeal arises among you to test you, don't be surprised by it, as if something unusual were happening to you. Instead, as you share in the sufferings of the Messiah rejoice, so that you may also rejoice with great joy at the revelation of His glory." Rejoicing when you're in the hospital makes no sense at all unless you believe God has decreed of permitted your suffering. There is no such thing as pain without purpose for the child of God. He holds you and your sorrows in His mighty hand and is working in them an eternal weight of glory.
3. It humbles us in our planning
Humble yourself under the mighty hand of God and He will exalt you in due time. It is only If the Lord wills that will can do even the most mundane things in life. Don't take another step without considering Him.
4. It deepens our confidence in Him
God's question in Lam. 3:37 gets to the crux of the subject: "Who is there who speaks and it happens, unless the Lord has ordained [it]?" If no plan of God's can be thwarted by human actions or acts of nature, if He rides every storm and directs all things with purpose for His glory and my good, then He is worthy to be trusted with every fiber of my being.