We’re going to talk about the question: What does God have to do with it?
I remember flying out to the ACBC Conference in 2001 and it was as if I were on a private jet. I think we had six people on the full-size jet that I was flying on because the air ban over New York had only been lifted for about a week and no one wanted to get on the plane. If you’re old enough, you probably know exactly where you were when you saw two planes fly into the towers in Manhattan. Friends of mine who live closer to the city will tell you that the impact of those events is with them every single day because they can’t help it. When their eyes hit the skyline, there’s this prominent fixture missing and so it begins to come down upon them.
As bad as the events on 9/11 were, in my mind probably what was even more horrendous were events that happened the next day when evangelical leaders across America fell all over themselves to get themselves in front of a camera to say to the American population, “God had nothing to do with this. Nothing.” You have probably heard people say the same thing to counselees who are facing very difficult circumstances. It doesn’t have to be an event like 9/11, but when the floor falls out below them, people want to rush in and say, “God had nothing to do with this.”
It seems that the sentiment behind it is well-intentioned, even if really wrong. The sentiment seems to be that, “I really don’t want you to think that God is doing anything to hurt you, so I don’t want you to think that God had anything to do with this.” Or even more, “The honor of God is at stake here because if God can’t keep this from happening to you, then there’s something wrong.” For both of those reasons, people seem to want to say, “God had nothing to do with this.”
There’s a problem. C.S. Lewis sums up the problem as people conceive of it in his work Problem of Pain. He said, “If God were good, He would wish to make His creatures perfectly happy, and if God were almighty, He would be able to do what He wished. But the creatures are not happy. Therefore, God lacks either goodness, or power, or both.”
Christians conceive that the way to avoid that dilemma is to say that God has nothing to do with a situation, that a situation is not what God is concerned about, and that God has nothing to do with the things that a person is facing in his or her life. In doing that, we sap away from them the only hope and comfort that a Christian really has at the time when they need it the most. What does God have to do with it? God has everything to do with it.
In the year that ACBC was being formed, at Westminster Seminary, Jay Adams was teaching the program out of which ACBC grew. In his inaugural address in the chair, he addressed this topic. He was talking about the sovereignty of God and counseling. He asked these questions:
- On what basis do counselees who are facing horrendous situations try and go on?
- Is there any use? Is there any meaning to it at all?
- Is there any hope to help them understand and cope with their dilemma?
- What does their pastor tell them?
- To what bottom-line truth should he point?
His answer to the last question was that there is but one: the sovereignty of God, knowing that God knows, that God cares, that God hears their prayers, and that God can and will act in His time and way to work even in this for good to His own. That and nothing less than that conviction can carry them through. Hope may be reduced to this: a confident assurance that God is sovereign. It has always been so.
Maybe you’re thinking that this is probably not a good topic to give to somebody whose church has Presbyterian in the name. Maybe we’re becoming a little too reformed. Jay did go on and said that this is basically just an outworking of reformed theology. I would go a little further than that and suggest this: If you believe in the God who is revealed in Scripture, then you believe in a powerful God; if you believe in the God who is revealed in Scripture, you believe in a sovereign God. In fact, if you give them a chance to talk about it, any group that purports to be a Church of Jesus Christ recognizes the sovereignty of God. To oppose or to take away from the sovereignty of God is really, in one sense, to oppose Christian theism. If you believe in the God who reveals Himself in the Bible, this is the God that you’re going to believe in.
Now, I’m not going to presume that everyone is as conversant as we need to be with the term “sovereignty,” so I have decided to use a Bible dictionary definition instead of one from a systematic theology or doctrinal creedal statement. What does a simple Bible dictionary say about sovereignty? It says that sovereignty is “the biblical teaching that God possesses all power and is the ruler of all things. God rules and works according to His eternal purpose, even through events that seem to contradict or oppose His rule.”
If you’re undermining the sovereignty of God or if you’re afraid to declare the sovereignty of God, you are either undermining His character or eclipsing or hiding it from people. As a result, often those who undermine the sovereignty of God—whether counselors or people trying to comfort God’s people—are really trying to treat the problems as a practical atheist without the comfort and hope that God would give.
Now this is an area where we really need to have a thorough understanding because again and again people are going to wonder what God has to do with the problem that they’re facing. In supervision, I’ve heard counselors who will at one point say, “Well, God’s got everything to do with it.” Then a week later, on a separate issue, the same counselors will question that God has anything to do with the situation the counselee is facing. On a third week, the counselors have become so confused about this doctrine in the Scripture that they are unable to give a clear biblical answer and clear biblical guidance to encourage the sheep of God’s flock.
If God is not sovereign, then we really don’t have anything of any value to offer that helps the child of God and that’s different from the world. You could say, “We have the promises of God.” That’s great. But if God isn’t able to deliver on those promises, if there’s something that thwarts His will in this world, if there’s another force at work directing those things, then the promises of God become like my promises to my wife and we won’t get into how that works out sometimes.
God is Sovereign over All Things, Including the Insignificant Details
So, back to our question: What does God have to do with it? We would say, “Everything.” Luther describes it as, “It’s the way of God: He humbles that He might exalt, He kills that He might make alive, He confounds that He might exalt.” Luther understood that God working out His purposes in the lives of His children often brings things into their lives that they would not choose for themselves given any opportunity to weigh in on it. And yet, they are used of God for the good of His children. Not to put too fine a point on it, the Apostle Paul himself weighs in and says that God works all things according to the counsel of His will. All things. Does that include people’s sin? Yes, all things. When somebody sins against you? Yes, all things God works according to the counsel of His will.
Your world and your counselee’s world—and you can tell your counselee this—are not out of control and are not out of God’s power. God’s arm is not withered; His power is not weakened. God is certainly able to help your counselees through the trials that they face in their families, in their office, and in their work. Those are all part of God’s work in their lives, and God deals with them. When we think about these things, we have to recognize that God ordains the big and the small. When we say all things, it really does include everything that comes into the life of God’s children. It’s not just 9/11.
We can wrap our minds around the fact that a world-changing event like 9/11 can’t be out of the control of God. But can we wrap our minds around that the fact that this is also true in the little things that happen in our lives? Cicero said in his work that the gods are concerned with important things and they ignore the trifles. Honestly, many believers think that’s really how God deals with their lives too, and are concerned because there are many trifles that they think are affecting them that God has ignored.
When we think about this doctrine in Scripture, God makes it clear that He is not only concerned with the big picture and with the big brush stroke—so to speak—but He is concerned with minute, little, insignificant details that you don’t even pay attention to. I think we all remember Jesus when He speaks about two sparrows. He says, “Are not two sparrows sold for a copper coin, and not one of them falls to the ground apart from your Father’s will?”
Dr. Scipione is a bird watcher. Driving down the road today he got all excited about a red-tailed hawk that he saw. He just picked it out and in the middle of the conversation exclaimed, “Red-tail hawk!” I have yet to experience going down the road with him and hearing him exclaim, “Sparrow!” I have never been asked to pull over the car to look at a sparrow because they are so insignificant and so common.
In fact, in the winter, there was an entire flock of sparrows in the bushes by my house. I don’t know how many of these little sparrows were in there. Sometimes I’d be working on a sermon by the window and I would notice them. You’ve seen them before, right? They are so fearful; they’re skittish little birds. They jump down and look this way and that way. Then they jump back into the bush. They jump down, and do it again and again. Hundreds of times in an hour, all these birds go in and out of the bush, flitting back and forth. What did Jesus say? He said that not one of these falls to the ground. I used to think, “You know, this is an amazing verse. These birds are virtually worthless in the scheme of things and God knows if one of these little birds dies.”
That’s not what it says. In reality, it uses the word “pipto,” which means to alight to the ground. It’s not just that God is paying attention when one of those birds in the bush dies or that if one of them dies it’s not apart from the will of God. But even more than that, every time one of those little birds jumps to the ground and then back to the bush, Jesus says that’s by the will of God. Can you believe that? Once I sat there and realized that I can’t even count in an hour how many times those sparrows came out of the bush, hit the ground, and went back. God is concerned with that tiny detail and ordains that tiny detail in this world. Jerry Bridges put it this way: “God does not exercise His sovereignty only in a broad way, leaving the smaller details of our lives to chance or luck. God, our Father, who exercises sovereignty in such detail as to control the destiny of such a little bird will certainly exercise His sovereignty to control even the most insignificant little details of our lives.”
Of course, if God doesn’t control those insignificant details, He doesn’t control anything else, does He? How many times have you sat there and said, “You know, if I had left the house five minutes earlier, I would have been in the middle of that, but I lost my keys….” God controls the small things as well as the great things.
Concurrence & Synergy
Now, wait a minute. Doesn’t Scripture say in James that wars and fighting come from your desires? So what about those sinful things that come from us? What about the things that we do? What about the trials and the conflicts that result from wickedness or lust or those kinds of things? Those are immediate causes. We recognize and we deal with those immediate causes when we talk to counselees. Certainly, foolish behavior should change because it causes trouble, misunderstandings, conflict, and competition over limited resources. Differences in values can really cause challenges. We look at dreams that get crushed and problems.
Sin in all of its forms can be the immediate cause of the trouble that we’re facing. We’re responsible for those proximate or immediate causes and we certainly do bear responsibility. If I deal with you in a sinful way, I have responsibility for that. But that doesn’t limit God’s prerogative and it doesn’t limit God’s power. From my personal experience, understanding this is the most practical part of counseling. We’re dealing with what theologians call “God’s concurrence.” Concurrence describes two drives with different goals that work together in some fashion.
When we take a look at that working together, the Greek word for that is “synergy.” You might say, “I don’t remember reading synergy in my Bible.” But I bet you could quote the English of that to me because it shows up very clearly in a verse that Christians love dearly. “And we know that all things… “—synergy—” all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.” All things work together. Why? Is it because we just think and presume that everything is always going to turn out fine? There are people who go through life that way. But it doesn’t randomly happen that way.
The Scripture tells us that it happens this way as God is at work. Though the proximate cause of something that comes into our life—like the thorn in the flesh or the sin of another person towards you—may really be intended to hurt you and to do evil, God works with that to bring good in your life. God doesn’t say that it’s good. The fact that somebody is sinning against you is not good in and of itself and those people are responsible for what they do, but God is at work in that.
In fact, I think you probably know the next two verses. Why does it work this way? “For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover whom He predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified.” All this work God begins and carries out through your life. It’s all third-person singular. This is His work. This is what He does to conform you to the image of Christ. He works everything together for the good of His people. His purpose is to make you increasingly like Christ. It’s God who guarantees the outcome of this process in the life of the person that you’re seeking to minister to.
Now notice what Paul says God guarantees: He will work all things together for good. He doesn’t say that He’s necessarily going to work all things together for your ease. He doesn’t say that He’s going to necessarily work all things together for your comfort. He doesn’t say that He’s going to necessarily work all things so that you will always have what you want in this life. Yet, it is God who is working all things together for good for His children.
As counselors, our job is not to see God working in a certain way in a person’s life and simply focus on bringing relief. Our job is not to short circuit what God is doing. But we do need to be able to approach the people who come to us with the absolute gut conviction that we can have a confidence that God is at work in the things happening in the life of our counselee to whom we are ministering.
God works in everything that comes into our lives. In fact, every once in a while, I have to sit down and ask the question: Why did God bring this counselee to see me right now? God is not only working in their life, but also in my life. How is God working in my life by bringing this particular counselee with this particular problem to see me right now? Think about this. When you keep this foremost in your mind, it’s going to affect the way that you respond to the people who come to see you.
When we start talking to people who are dealing with gut-wrenching circumstances in their life, with something that’s horribly embarrassing for them, or who are trying to bring some trial that they’re going through and the change that God wants to work in their life, there is probably nothing more helpful for them to understand than the fact that God not only knows, not only sees, not only hears, but has ordained the issue to begin with and is at work to bring about change in that person’s life.
You and I might not be privy to what God is intending, but we certainly know that His ultimate purpose is for His glory and for the good of His children. His ultimate purpose is to conform them more to the image of Christ. We may not know why it’s happening in their life right now. If you look at the life of Joseph, he really had zero idea why he was sitting in the bottom of a pit and why his brothers were ticked off at him. He had zero idea why Potiphar was tossing him into prison. He really didn’t understand what was happening at that time, but he had confidence in one thing: that God was in control and was working good.
Our goal isn’t just to pray that all suffering will go away. Let’s be honest. That’s kind of a default position. If we take a look at the prayer lists in most of our churches, we’re always just praying to have relief from suffering. One of the most telling things I saw was a missionary who wrote once and asked not just to pray that all of their trials would be taken away, but that they would have grace equal to the trials that they faced. Grace equal to the trials that we face because God has brought this into my life for a reason.
When I face some of these things, I do tend to think, “I want to try and suck the marrow out of whatever it is God is bringing my way.” The reason for that is because I do believe that God tends to practice mastery teaching so that if you try to go around the lesson that He’s teaching you in one circumstance, He’ll teach it to you through another circumstance. I’d rather just go through it once if I could. What does God have for me to learn? What do I need to practice more consistently? Instead of just crying out for relief, I need to practice praying for grace.
How do we begin with this absolute assurance that troubles are no random occurrence? What do we do when somebody comes to us and they’ve got a horrific problem? Do we immediately sit down and just say, “Okay, let me talk to you about the sovereignty of God”? Have you ever thought about that?
John Babbler was very helpful in this. He was talking about having responded to the Wedgwood shooting as a chaplain. He asked the class a loaded question: “Here’s somebody whose child has just been shot and who is sitting on the curb. Will you talk to them about the sovereignty of God?” In the class of probably 50 people, maybe one person said, “Yes.” As we walked through that we realized, “Wow, we are really afraid to tell people about who our God is and we really are hiding from people the comfort that is found in God’s sovereignty.” On the other hand, when you visit the hospital room and a mom has just miscarried, saying, “Let me talk to you about the sovereignty of God,” and giving a lesson in theology may not be a place to start.
I want us to just think about the way that God has worked sovereignly in the lives of His people. I’m going to go out of chronological order for a minute because the thing that really helped me the most and that I have found very useful as an approach is to use the life of Joseph (again, John Babbler is the person who had presented this to me). As we look at the way that God has worked in the lives of the people in the history of the Church, I think it’s very useful when you’re talking to a Christian to be able to talk to people about some of those events that they know.
Life of Joseph
Think about the life of Joseph and what you know about this young man. Here is a person who was blessed by God and recognized by his parents as somebody that God had His hand on. Then his brothers, through nothing that he himself had done—he walked in and said, “Here’s what God said”— hated him for what God was going to do in his life. At first, they were going to kill him, and then they decided to be merciful and sell him into slavery. Let’s be clear: This is a really dysfunctional family if you want to use that term.
Even though that happened to him, in slavery he distinguishes himself as a faithful servant to his master and God is actively blessing him so that he rises to a point of prominence. Then, his master’s wife tries to seduce him and he says that he could not dishonor God or his master that way. If you ask the average Christian, their mindset is that the result should have been a nice reward; instead, he is cast into prison. Then he helps two people in prison who immediately go out and forget every promise they made to him. All along the way, he recognized the hand of God at work in his life and is very faithful.
At the end of his life, when his brothers come to him after his father’s death—whether their father really had said anything to them or not—they wonder if he’s now going to get vengeance. He replies, “But as for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, in order to bring about as it is this day, to save many people alive.” Joseph could look at his life and see that every one of the high points—being honored by his father, by the captain of Potiphar’s house, and by Pharaoh—is balanced out by a horrific event in his life. But he recognized that God was working good in all of that.
We talk about that story with someone who is suffering and sometimes ask the question: “Where do you see yourself in that story?” That has helped so many people because that’s not saying, “Let me take out my systematic theology and share with you the doctrine of the sovereignty of God.” They already know that. If you’re a pastor in a reformed church and you show up to somebody suffering, they tell you that they’re believing the sovereignty of God and say, “Before you’re going to tell me that passage, let me tell you, I really know that God is in control, and I know this is a work of God.” But it’s not really gotten to minister to them yet. We’re going to reply, “Where do you see yourself in the story?” At the moment when they are suffering, it is probably not in Pharaoh’s palace, but they can understand in a very clear way that God is going to use this in their life.
Life of Job
That is not the end of the opportunities that we see of concurrence in the Scriptures. Think for example of the key figure of Job. Job teaches the sovereignty of God in the midst of the most terrible circumstances that we can probably imagine. He is a prosperous rancher. He is prosperous financially, and he is prosperous spiritually. God places him in conflict with his neighbors and his friends and even his spouse. The outcome of the struggle was never in doubt in the mind of God. He always intended to bless Job, to make him more like His Son, and to make him to be spiritually more in tune with Him. We know that because that’s what God does.
But have you ever thought about this trial that Job faced and who instigated all of it? There is the account where you get this wonderful picture where God pulls back the curtain and we get to see this heavenly scene. Satan comes with the other sons of God and appears before the Lord. In Job 1:8 God says, “And the LORD said to Satan, ‘Have you considered my servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil?'”
In the past, when I read this passage, I have most often thought of the second half of the verse that talks about the wonderful character of Job and have glossed over the first half of the verse. Look at the first half of the verse. Satan comes up to God and God says, “Hey, by the way, have you considered my servant Job?” We might think, “If God is having that kind of conversation with Satan right now, I hope that He’s saying, ‘Have you considered my servant Heath Lambert,’ and not me.” Let’s be honest. We might think, “Have you considered somebody else?” But that’s not what God does.
So often we’ll say, “Lord, I don’t need this right now,” and yet every one of these things that comes into our lives has come because God has decided that we need that right now. The important point to dealing with the difficulties of life that we face is that this happens in our lives not merely by the permission of God, but by the ordination of God. He ordained it in Joseph’s life, and He instigated it here in Job’s life.
It’s God who brings about the conversations. It’s God who has orchestrated the entire trial. Now, let’s be clear. This is another example of concurrence. God did not need to wind Satan up for this. He says, “Have you considered my servant Job?” The answer makes it very clear that Satan’s answer is, “Absolutely.” Satan’s response is to say, “Yes, I’ve considered it. I’ve considered it very well and I know what I could do with this guy. The only reason I can’t is because You’re protecting him.” Satan does not scratch his head and say, “You know, I really never have thought about him. Do you really think I should, God?” That’s not how it goes. Satan really has been considering it.
I think it’s the same thing with the people surrounding Job. I don’t think God had to go up to the cattle rustlers that lived all around Job—the people who lived in his neighborhood who loved Job and came over for barbecues every Saturday—and all of a sudden turn them into sneaking thieves. They lived with envy of Job, and all they needed was an opportunity. One after another after another, they attacked Job and took what belonged to Job and killed his family.
Why? Don’t you wish there was a chapter 43 to Job that had a summary of exactly why all of these things happened the way that they did? Don’t you wish that there was something like Jesus’ explanations of the parables to the disciples? Let’s be honest. The only reason we really know what the parables are about is because the disciples walked over and said, “Lord, what do these things mean?” and then the Lord said, “Here’s exactly what they mean.” Commentators will generally tell you as they wrestle through it that we think we know some of the things that are there, but you’ll wish that there was more and that God would just say, “This is the way it is.”
There are some things that we know. We certainly know that God intended to raise Job in the esteem of his neighbors because He did that when his neighbors had to go to him to pray to God for them. We certainly know that God is going to restore to him everything that was taken twofold—except for the children, because their souls are eternal and so they really are doubled as well. But the most important thing, in Job 42:5, is when Job says to God, “I have heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now, my eye sees you.” He met with God and as he met with God, two things happened. He laid his hand upon his mouth and he humbled himself before God. Any supposed understanding was gone. Not that he had sinned with his lips, but God had humbled him. Now he has a knowledge of the Lord that has been deepened beyond anything he could have had before.
Have you had that kind of experience as you have faced challenges and troubles in life? I do a lot of teaching on some of this in various areas, so I’ve had an opportunity to ask this question, not only in many parts of the United States, but in many parts of the world. I ask the question: “Excluding when you first came to know Christ and there was a sort of rapid ramping up, how many of the times in your life when you have grown the most in your relationship with Christ were tied to trouble and trial?” Every time I ask that question, I see heads all around the room going, “Mmhmm.” God uses these things for the good of His saints.
We certainly want to honor God. We’re not dishonoring God by recognizing that His purposes are at work. Instead of seeking merely for relief, while needing to hold people accountable for what they’ve done, we also need to understand that God is at work in this for our good.
I happened to be ministering in Sri Lanka two weeks before the tsunami hit. I left just ahead of the tsunami. Then I got to go back six months later to help with some relief work. When I got home, everybody kept asking the question, “What did you tell those people?” When I had been there before the tsunami, the government was considering a non-proselytization law and the Christians were facing horrific problems. A Christian was hand-grenaded and killed at the airport when we were getting ready to take off. It was a time of real persecution. When I was there after the tsunami, things had changed dramatically, of course. Christians were in and doing what Christians always do: helping people and rebuilding things. Yet, in the midst of that, one of the ministers that I knew had written this: “We were able to speak to our young children about how amid disasters, fears, and possible disasters, we must learn to trust in the God who controls all things and tell them that everything in our life comes from the hands of our loving Heavenly father. We prayed for God’s mercy and salvation to come down upon the nation and that we may have life and strength, and that we may have life for the good of others so that one day, we will be missed.” How can you say that when the water is rising rapidly around and destroying everything that you’ve lived for around you unless you have confidence in God being at work in all things? When you have that confidence, you can talk to your children and to yourself in the face of disaster and have a comfort and a commitment to be able to live for the Lord.
We saw that example in the life of Joseph when he said, “You meant it to me for evil; God meant it to me for good.” When he says that, he’s dealing with the differences between an immediate or proximate cause—the one that is close and that’s coming from the people—and an ultimate cause. Again, it’s not an esoteric principle of systematic theology for Joseph. It was a very practical thing. He understood that Potiphar’s wife was not trying to help him. He understood that his brothers really deserved to be punished for what they had done because what they had done was wicked. But he also understood that God was working with those things in his life.
Life of Christ
As we would probably expect, we see this most clearly in the life of our Savior. Let me give you three examples from His life.
1. Jesus working with the man born blind in John 9.
There was a young man who was there in the city. He was begging, and he had been born blind. His healing was pretty rare. There were some people who lost their sight and had received their sight, but there had never been a man who was born blind who was given his sight back. Yet, the Lord restored sight to that man who was born blind.
Immediately, this man landed in hot water with the Sanhedrin because they had committed themselves to excommunicate anybody who had said that they believe that Jesus was the Messiah. As a result, they dragged him before the court. There he was as they came in with all of their pomp and circumstance arrayed against him with their own guard at their beck and call. Their hatred against Christ was poured out on him. If you look at the immediate causes of this poor guy’s trouble, you see:
- he was born blind from his birth; and
- people are out to get him simply because he affirms who the Savior is.
The disciples have a question about who is responsible for this man’s blindness. It seems that the Jews of this time also believed that you were a human being from conception and that it was possible that his sin was either due to himself—something he had done in utero—or to his parents. Therefore, they asked the simple question of whose fault it was, assuming that it had to be one or the other. Jesus answers that the ultimate issue is nothing that the man had done nor anything his parents had done. Instead he says, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but the work of God should be revealed in him.”
This was God’s plan. This blindness for him was God’s plan. The trouble that he ends up in because of the healing was God’s plan. It was God’s plan to do good in this man’s life working concurrently with the evil of the Sanhedrin.
2. Jesus and his enemy in John 7.
Jesus is the target of the people who are around Him and they come clamoring to destroy Him. The enemy wants to arrest him. They even want to kill him. They want to instigate the crowd to stone him. The proximate, immediate cause was the hatred, jealousy, and fear of the Jews and their desire to keep their control over the people.
Jesus indicates how concerned He is about this: not at all, not at all. In verses 33-34. Jesus said to them,”I shall be with you a little while longer, and then I go to Him who sent me. You will seek me and not find me, and where I am you cannot come.” All of the people are ready to kill Him on the spot. This Christ is being surrounded by a group of people who, when they get angry enough, have a tendency to look for stones to pick up the stones and kill Him, and in Palestine, stones are always at your hands as they are right by your feet. Yet, He’s not concerned at all. Why is He not concerned at all?
Because He says, “I’ve got time with you.” How does He know that? Because God had appointed an hour for His death. He knows that. If you read the Old Testament and you read what’s happening with Christ, there was a plan. Where were the prophets killed? In Jerusalem. As a prophet, He would go to Jerusalem and they would kill Him in Jerusalem. As to timing, He was the Lamb who had come to take away the sins of the world. When was the lamb killed? At Passover.
Those conditions weren’t filled at this time, so He knew that it was impossible for Him to be doing ministry in some other part of the country and for the people to get upset and kill Him because that was not God’s plan for Him. God’s plan for Him was that He was still going to be with them a while, and then all these things were going to come to pass. Essentially, it’s another way of saying, “My hour has not come.”
Martin Luther commented on this. Here’s what he says: “In the same way, your life is in the hands of the Father.” Luther knew what he was talking about, didn’t he? He had people who wanted to kill him regularly. He faced some serious problems in attempts to overthrow his ministry. He said, “Who is Christ’s protector who fends off His enemies? No one, nothing, no soldiers, no supporters. His entire armor is this little hour granted to Him for His crucifixion. Since that hour had not come, no designs of His enemy formed against Him could possibly reorder the sovereign plan of God.” Luther concludes by saying, “Nothing can touch the Christian unless it coincides with the explicit order of God.”
Christ’s crucifixion was not plan B. It was plan A from before the foundation of the world. The message that we’re giving to those who come in need is this: God is in control of their life and nothing can affect them apart from the hands of a loving, heavenly Father. I look at it this way: God is holding me in His hand and whatever comes into my life has to come through the fingers of God, who not only lets it into my life, but intends it for my good.
3. Christ and the cross.
We see this ultimately in the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. This is a tremendous verse that is recorded for us in Acts 2:23. “Him”—that’s Jesus—”being delivered by the determined purpose and foreknowledge of God…” Let me just stop here for a second and say, I don’t know of a stronger way to say this. This is not that God kind of came along and got involved in this afterwards. This is not that God winked. This is not that God allowed this maybe by bare permission. This is “by the determined purpose and foreknowledge of God.”
The verse continues speaking about the crucifixion, “Him, being delivered by the determined purpose and foreknowledge of God, you have taken by lawless hands, have crucified, and put to death…”
Remember what we just looked at under example number 2. Jesus was not worried about this happening at any point in His life because He knew that God had planned for this. He knew the hour was coming and that at that appointed hour, this would happen. This is happening by the appointment of God in His life. We see here both elements: synergy and concurrence.
It says, “You with your wicked hands.” Just because God planned this, you’re not exempt. God did not coerce you, just like the cattle rustlers who stole Job’s cattle and just like Satan who was just waiting for an opportunity. The hatred of the Jews, their failure to trust in the promises of God, and the desire to remain in control motivated everything that they did and they are responsible to God for that. The full phrase is, “You’re wicked lawless hands have taken.” Even though wicked lawless people are committing the greatest crime in history, who planned for it? Who ordained it? God claims that He did. Proximately, you’re responsible for what you’ve done, but this is always God’s plan A.
If we want to talk about Him using what is evil for the good of His people, can you think of any greater good that God can work for your life than that He would take you and me who are lost and make us His own children? The greatest evil brings the greatest good. If God works in Christ’s life in this way, to do this for us, it really is the way that He works in our counselees’ lives in much less significant ways through much less horrendous sin. God works concurrently with wicked men. God ordains not just by bare permission, but He ordains the beginning from the end.
Likewise, the things that bring people to see us for counseling are often the areas where God has chosen to work most intensely in their lives. The privilege of the child of God is that all that God does, He does for them. Our Father in Heaven is a good Father. He’s a father who always has His eye upon His children. He’s a father who was always planning for our good. He’s a father who brings all these things about in our lives for His purpose, including the things that we love and the things that we loathe, the things that we would choose for ourselves and the things that we would never choose for ourselves, and the things that people see publicly and the things that are private that are very personal. All of these things are part of God’s plan for our good. Jerry Bridges puts it this way, “God never pursues His glory at the expense of the good of His people, nor does He ever seek our good at the expense of His glory. He has designed His eternal purpose so that His glory and our good are inextricably bound together.”
Jay was finishing his inaugural address at Westminster at the time when ACBC was being formed. He finished by saying this: “We should all stagger at the challenges we are confronted with in life, but for one fact. It’s a fact that brings hope and confidence. It’s a fact that is the source of all humility and gratitude. It is the fact that God is sovereign.”