divine sovereignty

Feast of the Ascension: Jesus Reigns over All

“For this reason I too, having heard of the faith in the Lord Jesus which exists among you and your love for all the saints, do not cease giving thanks for you, while making mention of you in my prayers; that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give to you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of Him. I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you will know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, and what is the surpassing greatness of His power toward us who believe. These are in accordance with the working of the strength of His might which He brought about in Christ, when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. And He put all things in subjection under His feet, and gave Him as head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all” (Ephesians 1:15-23, NASB).

“Ascension” by John Singleton Copley. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Today the church celebrates the Feast of the Ascension. We remember that Jesus ascended into heaven 40 days after His resurrection from the dead and 10 days before the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.

Since several posts in recent months on this blog have considered some of God’s majestic qualities (including the fact that He is all-powerful, all-knowing, and sovereign over all things), it is worth remembering what the Ascension is really about. Jesus, who died and rose again for our sins, is now seated at the right hand of the Father, ruling over all creation. He is in control. In the age of COVID-19, Jesus rules and reigns. Let us trust Him at all times.

Take some time to read the passage from Ephesians 1 above and reflect on what Jesus’ glory and power mean in your life.

Copyright © 2020 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

[If you do not have a place to worship, please visit my church at http://live.intercessorchurch.com; services stream at 9:30 and 11:30 AM on Sundays, 12:00 noon on weekdays, and 6:00 PM Saturday evening (all times ET).]

Categories: Bible meditations, Church Calendar: Holy Days and Seasons, divine sovereignty, God's Majestic Attributes | Tags: , | Leave a comment

Divine Sovereignty and Omnipotence

“Hallelujah! For the Lord our God the Almighty reigns. Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory…” (Revelation 19:6–7; all Scripture quotations from the English Standard Version).

Image created with the YouVersion Bible app.

One cannot speak of God’s sovereignty without also speaking of His power. Theologians use the term “omnipotent” to describe God. That is not a term most people use frequently. Comedienne Lily Tomlin’s character, Ernestine the telephone operator, defined it as “That’s ‘potent’ with an ‘omni’ before it.” If that does not help you understand it: The prefix “omni” is from a Latin word meaning “all” or “every”; “potent” means “powerful” or “able.” Thus, “omnipotent” means “able to do everything.”

This would be necessary for divine sovereignty. Sovereignty demands the power or ability to back up one’s authority. Imagine a sovereign nation whose government is unable to enforce its laws: its citizens refuse to obey; the police cannot do anything about it. Usually, the government is unstable and easily overthrown. It may claim the authority to rule, but without power—potency—to back up that claim, it is not truly sovereign.

God has made bold claims for His authority to rule. His bold claims demand bold power. Fortunately, He is such a God.

“By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible” (Hebrews 11:3).

God created the entire universe by speaking it into existence. He exercises His authority and power merely by speaking. As expansive as the universe is, it is no challenge to the power and greatness of God’s word!

Jesus said that His authority extended beyond the grave. Throughout creation, death strips every living creature of its power and authority. When President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in 1963, Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson took the oath of office and assumed the role of President immediately. Why? Because Kennedy could no longer exercise any authority. He could no longer do anything. As a dead man, he no longer had any ability or authority.

However, Jesus was not like other men in this regard:

“For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father” (John 10:17–18).

Pay close attention to what Jesus said.

  • “No one takes {My life} from me”: Nobody had the authority to kill Him. The Jewish leaders, Roman soldiers, and Pontius Pilate thought they were in control, but they had no authority beyond what God had allowed them (John 19:11). “I lay it down of my own accord.”
  • “I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again.” It is pretty easy to lay one’s life down. Thousands do that every year by committing suicide. These people are exercising the ability, if not the actual God-given authority, to choose their time and means of death. However, it is not easy to take one’s life back up after laying it down. Only Jesus could do that. The rest of us are just left to decay. However, Jesus did not merely say He had the ability to take up His life again after dying; He said He had the authority. His ability and His authority went hand-in-hand.
  • He had received His authority and ability from His Father. Jesus’ ability and authority were intimately linked to His heavenly Father’s ability and authority.

All humans are limited in our ability and authority. Natural strengths and weaknesses limit us. Somebody may have legal authority to replace all of the electrical wiring in his house, but without a working knowledge of electrical wiring or training as an electrician, he would not have the ability to do so. Illness and death will eventually weaken and eliminate any ability and authority we may have.

However, Jesus does not have this problem. He has conquered death:

“When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. But he laid his right hand on me, saying, ‘Fear not, I am the first and the last, and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades’” (Revelation 1:17–18).

The keys denote authority. Just as keys to an apartment indicate that the holder has authority to open the door and enter, the keys of death and hell indicate the Jesus has authority over death. While physical death eventually conquers all of us, Jesus had authority over death. It did not hold Him down.

This is the God Christians worship. Death could not stop Him. His power is infinite. No problem you face is too big for Him. If His own death could not stop Him, no problem you have is too great for Him. He has the power and the authority to heal, save, restore, and deliver.

Copyright © 2020 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Bible meditations, divine sovereignty, God's Nature and Personality, Omnipotence | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Divine Sovereignty. IV. Bringing Perspective to Problems

“All the ends of the earth shall remember
    and turn to the Lord,
and all the families of the nations
    shall worship before you.
For kingship belongs to the Lord,
    and he rules over the nations” (Psalms 22:27–28; all Scripture quotations are from the English Standard Version).

“My God, My God, why hast thou forsaken me?” by James Tissot (1836-1902). Public domain, via Brooklyn Museum and Wikimedia Commons

God’s dominion extends to all nations. It extends to all people. It guides the perspective of His people. When we know God is in control and loves us, it allows us to see our circumstances from an eternal perspective.

Some of the Old Testament psalms illustrate this. Many believers read Psalm 22 as a messianic psalm. They look at all of the ways this psalm prefigures or reminds us of Jesus. However, it is also helpful to read it from King David’s perspective. When he wrote Psalm 22, he was thinking about his own difficulties and conflicts. Like many similar psalms, it begins with a negative, almost complaining tone. One could think he lost all faith in God:

“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
    Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning?
O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer,
    and by night, but I find no rest” (Psalms 22:1–2).

These verses should look familiar. Jesus repeated the first line while He was dying on the cross (Matthew 27:46), and it is possible that He recited the entire psalm. Whether David was consciously prophesying the coming Messiah or not, Jesus definitely found the psalm appropriate and relevant to His circumstances while on the cross. Yet, even though it could feel like His Father had forsaken Him, Jesus did not give in to despair. He kept a perspective of faith and trust, finally committing His Spirit to His Father’s hands (Luke 23:46). He looked beyond the pain, agony, and humiliation of the cross to the perfect divine will it would accomplish:

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:1–2).

When David wrote this psalm, he was thinking of his own problems. We do not know when he wrote it. It could have been during his youth, when King Saul was pursuing him and trying to kill him. Or, it could have been later in his life, when his son Absalom tried to overthrow the government, forcing David to flee for his life. Whatever the circumstances, at the beginning of the psalm, he felt totally abandoned by God.

God is always present and in control even when He seems to be absent. Jesus knew this, and was able to surrender His Spirit into the hands of His Father. David realized this. Even though he began the psalm by expressing doubts about God’s love and presence, he proceeded to pray from faith. He would describe his pain and the abuse he was suffering (e.g., vv. 6–8), but intersperse reminders of God’s care, power, and protection throughout (vv. 3–5, 22–31).

God had watched over David since his childhood.

“Yet you are he who took me from the womb;
    you made me trust you at my mother’s breasts.
On you was I cast from my birth,
    and from my mother’s womb you have been my God.
Be not far from me,
    for trouble is near,
    and there is none to help” (Psalms 22:9–11).

David knew that God had protected and provided for him so far. He could still trust Him. We can still trust Him. He is always present and always in control:

“Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you’” (Hebrews 13:5).

“And Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.… And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age’” (Matthew 28:18, 20).

God preserved David. He rescued him from King Saul’s murderous plots. He restored him to the throne after Absalom had grabbed control. David would eventually die of old age.

God resurrected Jesus. Even when everything seemed finished, God raised Him from the dead.

God is in control of your circumstances too. Even when things look hopeless, He is able to restore you. Bring your complaints to God like David did. He can handle it. Be brutally honest about your feelings. At the same time, though, remember how He has helped you in the past. He is sovereign over all of your days.

Copyright © 2020 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Bible meditations, divine sovereignty, God's Majestic Attributes, God's Nature and Personality | Tags: , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Divine Sovereignty. III. Success Despite Our Failures

“Remember this and stand firm,
recall it to mind, you transgressors,
remember the former things of old;
for I am God, and there is no other;
I am God, and there is none like me,
declaring the end from the beginning
and from ancient times things not yet done,
saying, ‘My counsel shall stand,
and I will accomplish all my purpose’
calling a bird of prey from the east,
the man of my counsel from a far country.
I have spoken, and I will bring it to pass;
I have purposed, and I will do it” (Isaiah 46:8–11; all Scripture quotations from the English Standard Version unless otherwise indicated).

“The Flight of the Prisoners” by James Tissot (1836-1902), depicting the Babylonian exile. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Divine sovereignty grows out of God’s unique status as the self-existent One, the ground of all being, the Creator of all. He is all-knowing, able to tell the entire story from the beginning, including events that have not taken place as though they already have. He can accomplish all of His plans and use whomever He chooses to fulfill His will.

Isaiah 46 describes God’s judgment upon the Babylonians and their gods. Even though Babylon was the world power of his day, God maintained His authority over that nation. All who rejected His laws—whether the acknowledged Him as Lord and God or not—would be deemed “transgressors.” He counted them as rebels whether they believed He was God or not, no matter how sincerely they believed in something.

A popular lie today claims that “All roads lead to God.” Many believe that God is at the top of a spiritual “mountain” with numerous paths, each one a different religion, leading to Him. This contradicts Scripture. In fact, it is contrary to most religions. I invite you to subscribe to weekly prayer alerts at Voice of the Martyrs’ https://www.icommittopray.com/ website. This ministry mobilizes people to pray for Christians throughout the world who face persecution—disowned by families, attacked by mobs, arrested, assassinated, executed, etc. The perpetrators are not only government officials. Sometimes, they are Muslims, Hindus, Buddhist monks, etc. They do not see Christians as “fellow travelers climbing different roads to seek the same God.” Instead, they see Christians as a threat to be silenced and punished. These religions do not believe we are worshiping their deities. Christians should not assume they are worshiping our God under different names. Exodus 20:2, “You shall have no other gods before me,” prohibits this. Either our God is true and all other gods are false, or our God is not true. Because He is the One True God, having revealed Himself in the death and resurrection of His Son Jesus, He is able to judge all creation. His sovereignty extends to all.

(I realize some people will claim Christians, Jews, and Muslims all worship the same God, since “Allah” is the Arabic equivalent of the Hebrew “Elohim” and Arab Christians also call the biblical God “Allah.” However, the nature of the Muslim Allah is very different from the biblical God. Despite the name, they are very different beings.)

We can trust God even when He executes His judgment. He knows the end from the beginning. Isaiah’s prophecies warned of an impending Babylonian exile. In 587 BC, approximately 100 years after the prophet died, the nation of Judah was conquered by Babylon, and its leaders were taken captive into exile. One would expect that the people of Israel would cease to exist. The words “Israelite,” “Jew,” and “Israel” would slip into the archives of history, joining the Hittites and Midianites as peoples of the past. Think about it—When is the last time you met a Hittite? Do you know anybody whose DNA test says they are 25% Midianite? The same fate should have met the Jews and other Israelites.

However, God had chosen to use this superpower to discipline His people. Even though, humanly speaking, the Babylonians could have wiped Israel out of the history books, God knew the end from the beginning. He knew how things would turn out. He knew how to intervene to ensure that the Jewish nation would survive, revive, and one day fulfill their mission to be a blessing to all nations (Genesis 12:3), which He would accomplish by sending His Son as our Savior.

He not only knows the end from the beginning. He knows us inside and out. He knows we are sinners. He knew before we were born which sins would become our greatest temptations and how we would fail. He is not shocked by our sin. No matter how horrible your sins sound to you and others, He will not scream, “You did WHAT?!? Are you kidding me? How could you do that?” (Incidentally, if your sin has a name, then somebody else committed it before you did. You have created no new sins. God has forgiven it before.)

White House Special Counsel Chuck Colson, ca. 1969. White House photo, Nixon Presidential Library via Wikimedia Commons.

Even when we think we have completely destroyed our lives, God can bring good and blessing out of our mistakes. Chuck Colson was a member of President Richard Nixon’s staff who was sentenced to prison for his involvement in the Watergate scandal. One could easily have assumed that his life was a failure and he would be remembered as nothing more than Nixon’s disgraced henchman. However, through his criminal trial and eventual conviction, Colson came to know Jesus Christ and started sharing his faith with fellow prisoners. After his release he continued to minister to them. He formed Prison Fellowship, a ministry sharing the love of Christ with prisoners and their families, which also touched the lives of many other Christians. His sins and eventual repentance paved the way for a life of ministry and blessing to God, His people, and countless transgressors.

Saint Patrick was kidnapped by Irish raiders as a teenager and sold into slavery as a shepherd, which he often believed was a punishment for some sin committed in his youth. Seven years later, he escaped and returned to his family. However, during his bondage, he learned to love the Irish people and eventually returned to his land of captivity to spread the Gospel to a nation bound by idolatry and superstition. His greatest low point, his time as a shepherd, which should have destroyed his life, became God’s opportunity to use him to change a nation and history.

These were ordinary men, not comic-book superheroes. God worked through their misfortunes, mistakes, and even their rebellion to accomplish His will. Nevertheless, God’s will was not thwarted. His will cannot be thwarted in your life either. He can turn our rebellious behavior around to accomplish His will. Even when we think we have completely destroyed our lives, He can turn our circumstances around and bring good and blessing out of our lives. He will succeed in accomplishing His will. “I have spoken, and I will bring it to pass; I have purposed, and I will do it.” He will not fail.

Let us each surrender our will and lives to the care of God, knowing that He can bless us and others with His abundant life, no matter what we have done before. He will not be defeated by our past, present, or future. He will always be in control.

Copyright © 2020 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Bible meditations, divine sovereignty, God's Majestic Attributes, God's Nature and Personality | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Divine Sovereignty. II. Ruler of the Nations—Whether You Like it or Not!

In the Lord’s Prayer, we say, “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10; all Scripture quotations are from the English Standard Version unless otherwise indicated). The words are so familiar that we rarely think about what they mean. A good paraphrase may be, “May Your kingdom come and your will be done—to the same degree it is done in heaven, let it be done here on earth.” By extension, perhaps we should add, “Since I’m praying for Your kingdom to come and Your will be to be done fully on earth, let it be done in my heart and life. I’m on earth, but let Your will be done in me just like it is in heaven!”

When we speak of divine sovereignty, we acknowledge that God is King, Lord, and Ruler. We acknowledge that all authority in heaven and on earth belongs to Jesus (Matthew 28:18). He hold all rule and authority, and that includes in our own lives.

God’s Word tells us that He rules over our lives:

“The heart of man plans his way,
    but the Lord establishes his steps” (Proverbs 16:9).

This rule extends not only to individual people, but even to all nations—even those that refuse to acknowledge His authority:

“Sing praises to God, sing praises!
    Sing praises to our King, sing praises!
For God is the King of all the earth;
    sing praises with a psalm!
God reigns over the nations;
    God sits on his holy throne” (Psalms 47:6–8).

God is in control and He holds all authority. Are we willing to believe it, accept it, and submit to it?

Photo by Michael E. Lynch

Even when we think that we are in control, God has the ultimate control. Proverbs 16:9 reminds us that people often make their own plans, but God has a way of overturning them. A friend of mine used to paraphrase this verse by saying, “Man makes plans but God laughs.” I have a small mini-plaque on my desk that reads, “Coincidence is when God chooses to remain anonymous.” Much of what we call coincidence, luck, chance, etc., is really God acting behind the scenes. Sometimes, He acts in spite of our decisions. Perhaps you can recall a time when you planned to do something, but then some unexpected event kept you from completing it. I think of people I know who worked at the World Trade Center, but called in sick or missed their morning train on September 11, 2001. “Coincidence” or “luck,” in the form of illness or unexpected lateness, saved these people from the terrorist attack that day. God was in control of their fate.

Even when we choose not to follow God’s will, He has the final decision. He is not hindered by our disobedience or unbelief. Whether we are Christians or unbelievers, faithful or faithless, God is sovereign over our lives. The only differences are that those who follow Him reap the blessings of God’s rule, and those who believe in Him will recognize when He is involved in their situations.

When Psalms 47 said that “God is the King of all the earth” and “God reigns over the nations,” it did not draw a distinction between faithful and faithless nations. In the Old Testament, “the nations” usually referred to the Gentile nations who did not believe in Israel’s God, those who worshiped idols and did not follow His laws. “All the earth” covered all nations, not only the tiny Israelite region. While God was recognized as the Great King in Israel, He was also the Great King over those nations who rejected Him or never even heard of Him.

God is the King—whether you acknowledge His rule or not. God reigns over the nations—whether you obey Him or not. God’s kingdom will come, and His will shall be done, whether you want it or not. Believe Him, trust Him, follow Him, and worship Him. He will be King, God, and Sovereign Ruler of your life whether you follow Him or not; but, if you follow Him, His rule will be gracious and bring blessing to your life.

“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28).

God will accomplish His perfect will. Will it work together for good in your life or not? The choice to follow Him is yours to make.

Copyright © 2020 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Bible meditations, divine sovereignty, God's Majestic Attributes, God's Nature and Personality | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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