Wednesday, August 1, 2012

“Are we committed to the Sovereignty of God?”

“El Shaddai”

“Of course I do!” was the immediate reply to the question, “Do you believe in the sovereignty of God?”  We evangelicals are quick to say that we believe in God’s sovereignty - but the next words out of our mouths often deny this truth.  We launch into a description of God’s dealings with man that is completely man-centered–having no connection whatsoever to the full council of the revealed Word of God.

The conjecture of man quickly attempts (futilely) to usurp the omniscience of God - with the speaker barely taking a breath.  Descent into the wisdom of men is swift and slippery.  The God of eternity becomes the god of our imagination. Paul speaks to the philosophers of Athens: “Being then God’s offspring, we ought not to think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of man.”  Acts 17:29 ESV

What is the source of such double-speak? We are equating the wisdom of God on par with our own.  The result is a shift from God to self as the central focus of faith.  The mind of man is incapable of grasping the fullness of all that He is. This is nothing more than the age old temptation: “in the day you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God,...” Genesis 3:5 The serpent, in his attempt to deceive the woman, had said - “For God knows...” - thus claiming to know what God knew!  The audacity of such a lie staggers the imagination–yet we succumb to its allure over and over again.  What is original sin?  This is it!

Perhaps we should ask ourselves: “Am I doing what I am doing - or saying what I am saying - expecting God to respond to me; or am I responding in worship to the divine creative initiative of Almighty God?”  Almighty God or God Almighty in Scripture is El Shaddai.  “the LORD appeared to Abram and said to him, "I am God Almighty; Walk before Me, and be blameless.” Genesis 17:1 Albert Barnes defines this name:  "El," the Lasting, Eternal, Absolute. "Shaddai," the Irresistible, Unchangeable,...”  And John Gill: “sufficient in and of himself, and for himself, and stands in no need of any, or of anything from another;...”  Again Paul at Athens: “and human hands can't serve his needs--for he has no needs.” Acts 17:25 NLT  This is Who God says that He Is!!!


Once as I was watching Christian programing the speaker was telling us how we could get what we wanted from God by exercising “our faith.”  Behind him on the stage the back curtain boldly proclaimed “Jesus Is Lord!”  I must admit that I was left a bit perplexed. 

The programing changed and the next speaker began to extol Christ as the ultimate despot of the universe.  He did not have to have a sign behind him proclaiming “Jesus Is Lord.”  From what he said and with the awe that he said it, you had no doubt.

Let’s pause here a moment.  Does that word despot trouble you?  I must admit that on first hearing it in relation to Christ it caused me some consternation - but that is exactly what I am talking about.  It takes us into unchartered territory - beyond the narrow confines of our own reasoning.

This pastor’s teaching was rooted in scriptural passages such as this: “And when they heard it, they lifted their voices together to God and said, ‘Sovereign Lord, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and everything in them,...’” Acts 4:24 ESV Peter and John had reported to their friends that the rulers of their day had told them to no longer speak or teach at all in the Name of Jesus.  With the voice of one - in worship - this was their plea to God.  And they summed up all of the events of their day in this acknowledgment: “to do whatever Your hand and Your purpose predestined to occur.”  Acts 4:28

The Greek despotes is translated here as Sovereign Lord.  Vine’s Dictionary defines it as “a master, lord, one who possesses supreme authority.”  And from the commentator Adam Clarke: “Sovereign Lord, supreme Ruler; one having and exercising unlimited and uncontrolled authority.”  Our English dictionary has nothing but negative connotations for the word despot–once again making my point. He is more than willing and capable to offend our minds that He might reach our hearts.

The use of the word despotes take the form of a confession or a petition.  The voice of the martyrs: They called out in a loud voice, "How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?" Revelation 6:10 NIV Simeon’s confession as he took the infant in his arms: "Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you now dismiss your servant in peace.” Luke 2:29 NIV

There are three other instances of the use of this word in the New Testament in reference to the Lord Christ and they are usually translated as Master.  One of my dear pastor friends who is African-American begins his prayers with: “Master!”  Once his ancestors were forced to serve earthly masters, but now he has been set free to serve the one and only true Master.


Most are probably aware that the most common Greek word for Lord is kurios used in such passages as: “That if you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”  Romans 10:9 NIV There is no doubt from the context as to how this word is used, but there are those who are unstable who would distort its true meaning.  It is similar to senor in Spanish or bwana in Swahili - both of these words can either be used to mean a term of respect such as mister or can refer to the Lord Himself.  The term Bwana Asifiwe in Swahili means Praise the Lord and we readily understand what is meant here, but if you have seen any Tarzan movies you know that the term bwana can also mean the leader of the safari.

Once - actually more than once - while street witnessing we were infiltrated by members of what we would call cult groups who denied the deity of the Lord Christ.  When I challenged one of these deceived ones I was taken aback when it seemed that he confessed Jesus as Lord.  But what he really meant was Mister Jesus - not the Lord Jesus. His conscience had not been offended by the ultimate despot of the universe.


One of the most striking instances we see of God’s sovereignty occurs in the vision received by the prophet as recorded in Isaiah 6.  Indeed, one commentator translates verse one: “It was in the year of King Uzziah’s death, that I saw the Sovereign sitting on a throne,...”  The Hebrew word is Adonai which means the one who is absolutely sovereign.

Uzziah - for the most part - had been a great and good king.  He had ruled Judah for fifty-two years–and now he was gone.  Most of the people had known no other king - including Isaiah himself.  A curtain of uncertainty had fallen across Judah–there was no clear vision for the future of the nation.  R.C. Sproul writes: “The king was dead. But when Isaiah entered the temple he saw another king, the Ultimate King, the One who sat forever on the throne of Judah. He saw the Lord.”  The Sovereign Lord Himself became Isaiah’s vision - not a person, not a thing, not a place.  And Isaiah would never be the same.  

This encounter calls to mind the words of the great Celtic hymn from the Sixth Century. It begins: “Be thou my vision, O Lord of my heart, Be all else but naught to me, save that thou art;” And concludes: “Great heart of my own heart, whatever befall, Still be my vision, O Ruler of all.”

Isaiah was taken from a sovereign to the Sovereign - no figure of his imagination.  There was no longer any room for conjecture.  This One was He who was and is absolute all within Himself.  As the saying goes, “He is God all by Himself.” Our help is not required. The prophet would later write: "Remember the former things long past, For I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is no one like Me, Declaring the end from the beginning, And from ancient times things which have not been done, Saying, `My purpose will be established, And I will accomplish all My good pleasure';” 46:9-10.

There is some question as the whether Isaiah received a vision or this was a dream.  Reminds us of hearing a prophet-seer once being interviewed concerning something he had received from the Lord.  He was asked, “Now, was this in a vision or a dream?”  His immediate reply, “I was there!”  And we must say of Isaiah also: He was there!  A commentator writes: “How he saw the Sovereign is insignificant.  What matters is that he saw him and saw him in such a way as to change the shape of the rest of his life.”       

Ego Eimi

The sovereignty of God will offended your natural sensibilities - it must.  At the same time it will create a desire that can only be satisfied by the Lord Himself.  A thirst that can only be slaked by the Fountain of Living Water. Interesting, as I just typed those words they were sung on the radio by one who is referring to Him as the I Am.  The artist is centering on Christ’s use of the term ego eimi to refer to Himself.  This translation of John 8:28 may be the clearest example of this usage: "When you have lifted up The Son of Man, then you shall know that I AM THE LIVING GOD (Ego Eimi), and I do nothing for my own pleasure, but just as my Father has taught me, so I am speaking.” Aramiac Bible in Plain English This is a direct reference to I AM WHO I AM of Exodus 3:14.  It is not possible to conceive of a statement any more descriptive of absolute sovereignty.

In Isaiah 6:3 and 5 we have the word Lord - translated as Lord of Hosts or Lord Almighty.  This is also the Ego Eimi sometimes called the Tetragrammaton - the unpronounceable name of the Lord often Anglicized as Jehovah.  It is derived from the verb “to be” as expressed in Exodus 3:14 and written as YHWH.  Adonai is his title, while YHWH is His Name: "Thus says the LORD who made the earth, the LORD who formed it to establish it, the LORD is His name,” Jeremish 33:2

When confronted with such a revelation mankind cannot remain neutral.  He must either believe and worship - or he must reject and pick up stones.  Regarding this passage Augustine wrote, “It is well for us, thank God, that He said except ye believe, not except ye understand.”  The Apostle Paul who was confronted by Absolute Truth wrote: “Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways!” Romans 11:33.  And then he called on the words of Isaiah: “For WHO HAS KNOWN THE MIND OF THE LORD, OR WHO BECAME HIS COUNSELOR?”  Romans 11:34 (Isaiah 40:13). 

Yet we persist in our vain attempts to be the counselor of the Lord.  How so?  When we try to define Him in terms of mankind, that is exactly what we do, “Well, my god wouldn’t do...”  We had a friend who called this “mind idolatry.”  In effect creating God in our own image, rather than us being created in His image. “But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised.” 1 Corinthians 2:14 Yet we have hope: “Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may know the things freely given to us by God,...” 1 Corinthians 2:12

"I am the Alpha and the Omega--the beginning and the end," says the Lord God. "I am the one who is, who always was, and who is still to come--the Almighty One." The Revelation of Jesus Christ 1:8 NLT

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