Wednesday, November 09, 2005

A Third Approach (Second Edition)

I’m a big fan of God’s sovereignty.

I want you to know that.

I don’t know how you could not be.

Sovereignty, it’s a word to describe what the Bible teaches about God’s power and control, and you know what the Bible says in a big way is that we serve a God whose power knows no limits and whose control extends in some mysterious way, to absolutely all things.

All things, you start thinking about that and it blows your mind, to the point where you are like, can that be true? and you turn to the Bible and you see in like, BOLD PRINT, it most certainly, totally is.

Daniel 4:34,35 “His dominion is an everlasting dominion and his kingdom endures from generation to generation, 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?’”

Lamentations 3:38, “Is it not from the mouth of the Most High that good and bad both come?”

Psalm 135:6, “Whatever the Lord pleases, he does, in heaven and on earth, in the seas and all deeps.”

We would be making a big mistake if we, in thinking about the problems that are going on in this world, ever get, I don’t know, embarrassed and started minimizing that. But at the same time, I think we have to be careful as we talk about God’s sovereignty that we don’t act as if it were always easy. I’m kind of afraid of that.

I mean, I don’t know if you’ve noticed, there are a lot of problems in this world.

Babies dying, people starving, grown men and women living their whole lives on the street. Rape, murder, theft, unjust governments, evil dictators, countries that are so given to false religions that they won’t even let missionaries in.

We know God is sovereign, that He is King, but you know there is a whole lot of stuff going on in this world that could cause a person to question that.

If you don’t, unbelievers do, they ask these kinds of questions all the time:

If God is good and God is all powerful, what in the world is going on?

I think when people ask questions like that, we tend to take one of two approaches.

We sometimes take the approach where we pretend God isn’t sovereign. Or we sometimes take an almost exact opposite approach where we act as if all God was was sovereign.

I want to look at what I believe is a third approach, it's found in Mark 4. I want you to look carefully with me at Mark 4 because there’s a sense in which Jesus here is addressing this very problem, and what I want us to see is that while Jesus doesn’t minimize God’s sovereignty at the same time He doesn’t distort it.

First, Jesus acknowledges there are problems.

That's part of the point of the parable of the sowers.

I’m not going to dive into this whole parable too deeply because we all know it pretty well but you remember he’s talking about the word and he’s talking about why people aren’t always transformed by it, and he brings up Satan, he talks about tribulation, and he talks about stuff and it’s obvious in Jesus’ mind these things are very real threats to the working of the word in people’s hearts.

He doesn’t say Satan swoops down like a bird and snatches away the word, wink, wink, asterisks, asterisks, look at all these other passages, it’s Satan but it’s not really Satan.

I’m not denying God’s sovereign purpose, I’m not denying God’s ultimate authority over things, I’m just saying as we try to understand what’s happening in this world and as we try to help other people understand what’s happening in this world, we have to recognize there are some problems in this world, there are some very real obstacles to the work of God in this world and in people’s hearts.

It's o.k. to say that.

Jesus certainly did.

He acknowledges there problems.

Second, he doesn’t pretend like everything is easy to understand right now.
We’ve got these kids at school who are really eager. You probably remember these kinds of students from your days in the classroom, the kind of kids who raise their hand to answer before the teacher even asks the question.

They are just so confident, so sure they know it.

I think sometimes when we’re talking about God’s sovereignty it’s easy to be like that, we’re so glad and excited about his sovereignty and really I’m talking about his invisible sovereignty, how He’s working behind the scenes that we don’t stop and consider the question.

When somebody comes and has questions about what’s going on in the world, we don’t need to pretend like understanding how God is working right now is always easy. That’s not where we find our strength, our hope. Really, we find our strength, our hope in the fact that it’s not always going to be like that. It may be hidden now, but it won’t always be.

That’s the point of parable number two.

“Is a lamp brought in to be put under a basket, or under a bed, and not on a stand? For nothing is hidden except to be made manifest; nor is anything secret except to come to light.”

I don’t know about you, but I find great comfort in the fact that Jesus acknowledges it may seem like things are hidden. He doesn’t pretend that everything is really easy to understand. What he does is encourage them that it’s not always going to be that way.

Third, and this is really, really important, while Jesus certainly acknowledges that there are some things about what God’s doing that may seem to hard to understand, he’s not telling us just to throw our hands in the air and say, well, I guess that’s that.

No, there’s more to his response.

I want you to note a third key component: Jesus challenges people to focus on Him.

To put it another way, while there are problems and while not everything is easy to understand, what we need to do right now is pay very careful attention to what Jesus says. If you and I pay very careful attention to what He says we will grow in our understanding of what God is doing, but if we don’t we most definitely won’t.

To quote Jesus once again…parable number three:

“Pay attention to what you hear with the measure you use, it will be measured to you, and still more will be added to you. For to the one who has, more will be given and from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away.”

Perfect example: the disciples versus the pharisees.

If you were going to just try to chart where the disciples were at in terms of understanding, knowledge when they first met Jesus you’d have put them way down almost at ground zero.

The Pharisees on the other hand, were way up at the top. After all, they spent their life studying the Scriptures.

But the disciples came to Jesus humbly in faith and what happened?

Slowly but sure they grew in their understanding of what God was doing and how God was accomplishing His great plan for the world.

The Pharisees on the other hand, didn’t. And the results were just the opposite.

I hope you are seeing how all this works out.

When I’m talking to someone who is questioning what God is doing in this world, if I’m going to follow Jesus’ approach: one I’m going to acknowledge that there are some very real problems and two, I’m going to highlight the fact that while God is ultimately sovereign, much of what He is doing remains hidden right now. The key I’m going to tell them third of all is that they need to go to Jesus and let him explain what’s up. I really believe the best approach to understanding what’s going on in this world is to focus your attention on Jesus.

Tomorrow, component number four.

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