Behold Your God: The God Who Reigns | Psalm 103:19
Brian Hedges | November 15, 2020
I want to invite you to turn in your Bibles to Psalm 103:19. This is a wonderful verse about the sovereignty of God. We’re continuing in a series called “Behold Your God,” and for seven or eight weeks now we’ve been looking at the different attributes and perfections of God.
I’m really grateful, by the way, for the elders who have filled the pulpit for me in my absence. You’ve heard wonderful messages on the goodness of God, on God’s omniscience and his omnipresence, and last week Andy’s message on the power of God, which was a real encouragement to me as I listened to that through the livestream. I’m grateful to them for their opening the word, and I know you are as well. I hope you’ll encourage them and let them know how grateful you are.
Today we’re looking at the sovereignty of God, which is one of God’s perfections that really flows out of the other attributes that we’ve been considering. So it’s deliberate that it comes at this point in the series. We’re going to look at Psalm 103:19, and then a number of other verses—lots of passages I want to quote this morning. But let me begin by just reading this verse and then talk about three aspects to the sovereignty of God.
Psalm 103:19 says, “The Lord has established his throne in the heavens, and his kingdom rules over all.” That’s a wonderful and simple verse, but with profound meaning that points us to the reign of God, the rule of God in the affairs of men. “The Lord has established his throne in the heavens, and his kingdom rules over all.”
When we think about the sovereignty of God, I think there are three aspects to this we have to understand. There really are three clusters of terms that are used in Scripture, and I think we could summarize those with three words. Those words are authority, ability, and activity. Really, each one of those concepts are essential to a right understanding of the sovereignty of God.
The first cluster of words are words that have to do with God’s rule or God’s reign. Words such as God’s rule or his reign, his kingdom—he is the king who reigns over the kingdom; his dominion, his throne, his scepter—this is kingly language. It is the language of royalty; it’s the language of sovereignty. A sovereign is a ruler, a sovereign is a king, and when we say that God is sovereign, we mean that God is king, we mean that God has dominion, and we mean that God has the authority to reign.
You’ll never be able to reckon with the sovereignty of God in your daily life, the sovereignty of God in salvation and in judgment, if you don’t understand the authority of God—that God has the authority to rule and to reign.
But we also need to understand the ability of God, that God actually has the ability, he has the knowledge, and the power, and the wisdom, with which to reign. The various attributes we’ve already considered in this series are essential to an understanding of God’s sovereignty. When we read in Scripture language about God’s power and knowledge and presence and wisdom and goodness and justice and righteousness and love—all of those ascriptions of characteristics to God are essential to understanding how it is that God reigns. God doesn’t merely exercise arbitrary authority; his rule is good, his rule is just, his rule is wise. When we talk about the sovereignty of God, we’re not talking about chance, we’re not talking about blind fate, we’re not talking about the dictatorial rule of some tyrant. We’re talking about a good and wise God, a God who is our Father. So we have to understand everything that Scripture says about his character. This is part of understanding his ability to rule and to rule well.
Then, thirdly, there are words that speak of God’s will, his pleasure, his purpose, his counsel, decrees, his works and acts and deeds. These terms often refer to the activity of God, the actual outworking of his sovereignty in the execution of his will. I want these three basic concepts—authority, ability, activity—I want those three concepts, those terms, to be the building blocks for constructing an understanding of the sovereignty of God from Scripture.
If we put them together, here would be a possible definition. To say that God is sovereign is to say that he has the authority to reign supreme, he has the ability (that is, the wisdom and knowledge and power and so on) to reign supreme, and that he demonstrates that supreme reign through his providential activity in the world, causing or permitting all that comes to pass. This is the comprehensive sovereignty that God has, comprehensive reign over all things.
Let’s look at each one of these things in turn. We’re going to consider:
1.The Basis of God’s Authority to Reign
2. The Perfection of God’s Ability to Reign
3. The Extent of God’s Activity in His Reign
1. The Basis of God’s Authority to Reign
First of all, the basis of God’s authority to reign. Look at the text again. “The Lord has established his throne in the heavens, and his kingdom rules over all.”
The first thing to notice from that verse is that God is the source of his own authority. “The Lord has established his throne in the heavens.” God is the source of his own authority. He has established his throne, and his kingdom rules over all.
God has the authority—that is, he has the right—to reign and to reign supreme for a number of different reasons; first of all, because of the supremacy of his being. Because he simply is the supreme being in the universe.
We’ve emphasized this a number of times in this series, that God is above all other beings; he is transcendent. He is the supreme one who reigns with solitary power. Psalm 86:8 says, “There is none like you among the gods, O Lord, nor are there any works like yours.” God is in a class all by himself.
One of Spurgeon’s predecessors was the Baptist pastor Benjamin Keach, a pastor of the New Park Street pulpit maybe 100 or 150 years before Spurgeon. Benjamin Keach wrote a little catechism. The very first question of the catechism was simply this: “Who is the first and best of beings?” The answer, as you might expect, is, “God is the first and best of beings.”
That’s what we mean by saying that God is supreme. We mean that God is the first of beings and we mean that God is the best of beings. He’s in a class all by himself. Psalm 135:5-6 says, “For I know that the Lord is great, and that our Lord is above all gods.” There’s his supremacy: he is the first of beings. “Whatever the Lord pleases he does, in heaven and on earth and in the seas and all deeps.” There’s his sovereignty, the exercise of his supremacy. In fact, A.W. Pink said that God’s sovereignty is the exercise of his supremacy.
Here’s one more passage on this, Isaiah 46:9: “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.’”
In that passage, there is a contrast between the gods of Babylon and the true God. The gods of Babylon were gods that had to be carried by their worshippers, but God says, “I am the one who carries you.” In fact, many times in Scripture when the Bible is critiquing the idolatry of pagan nations, or even the idolatry of Israel itself, there’s a contrast between the gods that they worship, who have eyes but can’t see, and mouths that can’t speak, and feet that can’t move—gods that are impotent, gods that have no power—there’s a contrast between them and our God, who does see, and who does speak, and who does have power, and who does reign. The false gods are impotent, but our God is omnipotent. The false gods are characterized by futility, but the true God is characterized by sovereignty. That’s what Isaiah’s trying to get across. The supremacy of God’s being is the ground, the basis of his authority.
Secondly, the fact that God is the creator and the preserver of all things. God created all things, and therefore has the right to reign over the things which he has created. Genesis 1:1, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” If that verse is true, then everything else the Scriptures teach about the sovereignty of God flows right out of it. If God is the one who created all things by his will, by his word; if we exist by the mere will of God, then certainly God has the right to rule over us. He is creator and preserver.
Let me give you just one text here, Nehemiah 9:6. “You are the Lord, you alone; you have made heaven, the heaven of heavens, with all their host; the earth and all that is on it, the seas and all that is in them [there’s creation], and you preserve all of them, and the host of heaven worships you.” God not only created, but he preserves. The Scriptures tell us that “in him we live and move and have our being.” Listen, every breath you breathe is a gift of God. Your very existence, your life, your brainwaves, your heartbeats—every aspect of your being is dependent on God preserving your being. If God had not created us, if God did not preserve us, we would not exist at all; and therefore, God has the right to rule over his creatures.
Abraham said in Genesis 14 that he is the almighty God, "the possessor of heaven and earth.” He possesses it, he owns it, and because he owns it he has the ownership rights.
Many of you may know that when I was much younger I spent three years traveling with Life Action Ministries, a para-church ministry that’s in our area; many of you know about it. I’ll never forget that every year during the training, when all of these teams would be together during the summer, at the camp over there in Buchanan that Dan Puckett, who was the director of operations, would bring us all together in one room for the policy session.
This was the session where he would just lay out the rules for people who are traveling on the road. And he would always say, “When you came up here, you flew on an airplane, and when you got on the plane, you had to follow the rules of the airline. You had to a wear a seatbelt when they said to wear a seatbelt, you had to keep your seats and your trays in the upright, locked position when the pilot said so. You couldn’t move around on the plane unless the pilot gave you permission; because they own the plane, so you have to follow their rules.” Then he would say, “Listen, we own the plane, Life Action Ministries. If you’re going to travel on this team, you have to follow our rules.”
Well, every organization has its rules, every organization has its policies. We didn’t particularly like this, as young 19 and 20-year-olds at the time, but those were the rules, and you had to follow the rules.
Listen, God created the universe. He owns it! He has ownership rights, and therefore he has the right to rule over us. Now, as we will see, his rule is a good rule, it’s a wise rule, it’s a merciful rule. God is not a tyrant, but he does have authority.
God also has the authority to reign because he is the end for which all things exist. We exist for him; he created us for himself. Romans 11:36 says, “For from him and through him and to him are all things; to him be glory forever. Amen!” Again, we’ve emphasized this a number of times in this series, that God created all things for his glory; we exist for him. Revelation 4:11, “Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power…” Why? “...for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created.” We live by the will of God, we live for the will, the purpose, the pleasure of God.
Then, for Christians, there’s one other reason why God has supreme authority in our lives, and that’s because he has redeemed us, he has purchased us and redeemed us by the blood of Christ. 1 Corinthians 6:19-20: “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit with you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you have been bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.”
I remember a story that I heard many years ago about a little boy who made a toy boat, carved it out of wood. He would take his little toy boat out into the river, he would float it down the river. But one day the boat got away from him, it floated downstream, and he wasn’t able to retrieve it. Some time later, he found the boat in the local general store. When he found that boat, it was for sale, so he had to save up his money in order to purchase back the boat. When he finally had enough money he bought the boat, and on his way home he looked at his little boat and he said, “I made you, and now I bought you; you’re doubly mine.”
Brothers and sisters, believers in Jesus Christ, if you are a Christian this morning, God made you and he bought you, and he has a double ownership in your life. You belong to him, and therefore he has the authority to rule.
2. The Perfection of God’s Ability to Reign
This is God’s authority to reign, but that authority is matched with the perfection of God’s ability to reign. “The Lord has established his throne in the heavens, and his kingdom rules over all.” His authority there is asserted. But when you look at everything else that Scripture says about God, we see that he also has the power to reign. He has not only the right and the authority, he has the power to exercise that reign, and he has the wisdom to do so, the knowledge to do so, the goodness to do so.
This really connects to all the earlier sermons, and especially the last three messages you’ve heard on God’s goodness, on his comprehensive knowledge, his presence, and on his power. You put all of that together, you see that God—how could he not reign if he has these various attributes?
I want you to see this just in Psalm 103. If you’re open there in your Bibles, look at Psalm 103 for a minute, and I just want you to see, if you only look at this psalm, all the attributes of God that are right here in this psalm that define verse 19 and show what kind of king God is who reigns.
We see, first of all, that God is holy. Look at verse 1: “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me bless his holy name.” He’s holy, he’s set apart, separate from sinners. He’s in a class all by himself. He is uniquely pure and just and righteous and transcendent; the holy God.
We see that is our benefactor. Look at verses 2-5. “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits.” Here’s a good God who gives benefits to his people. “Who forgives all your iniquity, who heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit, who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy, who satisfies you with good so that your youth is renewed like the eagles’.” This is not an angry, stingy dictator; this God is a good God who give benefits to his people.
He is also a God of justice and righteousness, verse 6: “The Lord works righteousness and justice for all who are oppressed.”
He is a merciful, gracious God, verse 8: “The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.”
This, then, gets explained in the following verses. Look at verse 9. “He will not always chide, nor will he keep his anger forever. He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast toward those who fear him. As far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us.”
God is not only a king who rules, he is a compassionate Father. Look at verse 13-14. “As a father shows compassion to his children, so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him. For he knows our frame, he remembers that we are dust.”
His steadfast love is eternal, just as he is eternal. Look at verse 17. “The steadfast love of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear him, and his righteousness to children’s children; to those who keep his covenant and remember to do his commandments.”
His reign extends to the hosts of heaven, the angels. Verse 20, “Bless the Lord, O you his angels, you mighty ones who do his word, obeying the voice of his word! Bless the Lord, all his host, his ministers who do his will!”
His reign extends over all things. We’ve already seen it in verse 19: his kingdom rules over all. Then verse 22 says, “Bless the Lord, all his works, in all places of his dominion. Bless the Lord, O my soul!”
Do you see it? Do you see the ability that God has, the power, the wisdom, the justice, the goodness, the mercy that makes God a good ruler? Every perfection that is true of God is true to the superlative degree! God cannot be any better than he is. He is the one who is greater than anything that we can think or conceive of, and he is great in every aspect of his being.
Herman Bavinck said it well—he was this Dutch theologian—he said, “God’s will is one with his being, his wisdom, his goodness, and all his other perfections. For that reason, the human heart and head can rest in that will, for it is the will of an almighty God and a gracious Father, not that of a blind fate, incalculable chance, or a dark force of nature. His sovereignty is one of unlimited power, but also of wisdom and grace. He is both king and father at one and the same time.” Therefore we can trust this God.
He has the right to reign (that’s his authority), and he has the power, wisdom, and goodness to reign well (that’s his ability).
3. The Extent of God’s Activity in His Reign
Thirdly, I want you to see the extent of God’s activity in his reign in our world. It’s one thing to make the assertion that God rules, that God reigns over all things; but does that have a trickle-down effect to the circumstances of our lives, the daily circumstances of our lives? Does it affect the big movements and moments in history? I want you to see that it does.
Again, I’m going to give you a lot of texts here. I’m going to give you five categories of things over which God reigns. I know I’m quoting a lot of verses. I’m doing that because I want you to just feel overwhelmed this morning with the pervasive sovereignty of God as it is described for us in Scripture again and again and again.
Our verse says, “The Lord has established his throne in the heavens, and his kingdom rules over all.” What does “all” include?
Well, it includes creation, and everything that is within creation. Psalm 147:15 says, “God sends out his command to the earth; his word runs swiftly. He gives snow like wool, he scatters frost like ashes; he hurls down his crystals of ice like crumbs. Who can stand before his cold?” Maybe you ought to think about that verse before you complain about the Michigan winters! “He sends out his word and melts them; he makes his wind blow and the waters flow.”
That’s just one of dozens of verses that show that God has control over the weather. He controls the created world.
A wonderful illustration of God’s pervasive control over creation is the book of Jonah. Do you remember the story of Jonah? He was that runaway prophet. God said, “Go down to Nineveh; preach to them. I’m going to destroy the city. Go down to Nineveh.”
Jonah doesn’t want to go to Nineveh. He hops on a boat and heads the other direction. What does God do? Jonah 1:4, “The Lord hurled a great wind upon the sea, and there was a mighty tempest.” There’s a storm, because God is the Lord of the storm, and he uses that storm to bring Jonah to distress. Jonah’s finally cast out of the boat by the sailors, and he’s going to drown, but God doesn’t want Jonah to drown. God still has a purpose for Jonah, so what does God do? Chapter 1:17, “The Lord appointed a great fish to swallow up Jonah.”
The whale swallows Jonah, vomits him up onto dry land. Jonah gets his act together, he goes to Nineveh; he preaches, they repent. Jonah does not have the heart of God, he is not compassionate. He’s feeling sorry for himself.
There he sits on the outside of the city of Nineveh; he’s withering the sun, and God, in compassion for him (Jonah 4:6), says, “The Lord prepared a plant.” A plant grows up over Jonah and provides shade for him.
But then it says in verse 7 that “the Lord appointed a worm,” and a worm devours the plant, so that the plant withers and dies. That becomes something of a word picture for Jonah. He’s feeling so sorry for himself because of his plant that has died, and God wants him to feel compassion and pity for the people of Nineveh. In verse 8 it says that “God appointed a scorching east wind.”
I mean, there’s just one little book, and God is hurling a storm and appointing a great fish, and appointing a plant, and appointing a worm to devour that plant, and appointing an east wind to blow the plant away. It reminds us of Isaac Watts’ words, doesn’t it?
“There’s not a plant or flower below
But makes his glories known;
And clouds arise and tempests blow
By order from thy throne.”
God rules over creation, and we can see dozens of examples of this in Scripture.
He also reigns over kings and kingdoms. It’s not just the created world, but human beings, and human beings in the highest possible positions of influence and authority. Proverbs 21:1, “The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the Lord; he turns it wherever he wills.” There is not a ruler on the face of the planet whose decisions are outside of the control of an almighty God.
Daniel 2:20-21; the prophet Daniel says, “Blessed be the name of God forever and ever, to whom belong wisdom and might! He changes times and seasons; he removes kings and sets up kings; he gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to those who have understanding.” Did you hear it? “He removes kings and he sets up kings.”
Anybody worried about the election? I want you to know that there has not been a vote cast, counted, or miscounted that is outside of the control of the sovereign God. God is the one who sets up kings and presidents and prime ministers and parliaments and senates and houses of representatives and emperors. The kingdoms of this world are under the sovereign control of God. Therefore, whether you are happy or sad with the outcome, you can trust God, because God reigns.
Remember the words of King Nebuchadnezzar, Daniel 4? Here’s this king who is proud of the empire that he has built; God humbles him. He loses his sanity. He’s like an animal in the field for a period of time. But when he regains it, this is what Nebuchadnezzar, this pagan king, says, Daniel 4:34, “At the end of the days, I, Nebuchadnezzar, lifted my eyes to heaven and my reason returned to me, and I blessed the most high and praised and honored him who lives forever. For 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?’” Is there a stronger description of sovereignty anywhere in Scripture? God is in control; he reigns over kings and kingdoms.
He also reigns over human life and all the circumstances of human life. This includes things such as when we are born and when we die. It includes the various circumstances of our lives. 1 Samuel 2:6-7, “The Lord kills and brings to life; he brings down to Sheol and raises up. The Lord makes poor and makes rich; he brings low and he exalts.”
Acts 17:26, “And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods in the boundaries of their dwelling place.” You know what that means? It means that God determined when in history you would be born and where on the earth you would be born.
Have you ever thought about all the circumstances of your life that you had no direct control over? You had no control over when you would be born, you had no control over your family of origin, no control over your ethnicity, your race, the language, the nation into which you were born. You had no control over your basic physical attributes, your intellectual capacities, your temperament and personality, your brothers and sisters, the family in which you were raised, the community in which you were raised; and you have no control over when you will die. “It is appointed unto man once to die, and after this the judgment,” Scripture says.
Now, of course there are a number of things that we have some kind of intermediate control over in our lives. We can take care of our health or neglect it, and so on. But ultimately, God reigns over our lives and all the circumstances of it.
There are three verses in Proverbs 16 that show the control of God over the more minute circumstances of life. Verse 1, “The plans of the heart belong to man, but the answer of the tongue is from the Lord.” You can make your plans, but the words we speak ultimately are under God’s sovereignty.
Verse 9, “The heart of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps.” Verse 33, “The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the Lord.” You might think of the roll of dice. In the Old Testament times, people would often make decisions by casting a lot. But the author here is saying that the roll of the dice, the casting of the lot, is not arbitrary, it’s not up to chance; "its every decision is from the Lord." God controls even those seemingly random things in life.
Here’s another category. Scripture says very clearly that God has control over even things like calamity, disease, and death. Isaiah 45:7, “I form light and create darkness, I make wellbeing and create calamity; I am the Lord who does all these things.”
Do you remember the story of Job? Here’s this righteous man, maybe the most righteous man upon the face of the earth when he lived, and yet God gives Satan permission to afflict him, and Job loses everything. All his children die, he loses all of his wealth, then he loses his health. He’s afflicted with boils, with sores on his body, from the crown of his head to the soles of his feet. His wife finally comes to him and says, “Job, why do you retain your integrity? Just curse God and die!”
Do you remember what Job says? He says, “You’re speaking like a foolish woman. Shall we receive good from the hand of God and not receive evil?” The very next phrase says, “In all this Job did not sin with his lips,” which means his theology was right.
You might say, “Wait a minute! Wasn’t Satan the one who afflicted him?” Yes, but Satan did it with God’s permission, so God was ultimately in control. God could have prevented it; he didn’t, he allowed it. Why? God had a purpose, and he was working it out in Job’s life, including in his afflictions. So Job was able to say, “The Lord has given and the Lord has taken away; blessed by the name of the Lord.”
God exercises control over calamity, and disease, and death. Exodus 4:11, “Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘Who has made man’s mouth? Who makes him mute or deaf or seeing or blind? Is it not I, the Lord?’”
Charles Haddon Spurgeon one time said, “I think it would be a very sharp and trying experience to me to think that I have an affliction which God never sent to me, that the bitter cup was never filled by his hand, that my trials were never measured out by him, nor sent to me by the arrangement of their weight and quantity.” That’s a remarkable statement from a man who suffered a lot, and he said, “It’s more comforting to me to know that God filled the cup than to think this just happened.”
God reigns over calamity, disease, and death; and then here’s the fifth category: he also reigns over judgment and salvation. He is sovereign in judgment and salvation.
I don’t have time to develop this one this morning, but I’m going to quote one verse, and if this raises all kinds of questions in your mind, as it probably will if this is new to you, you should go back a year to a series we did on Romans 9-11. Look at the sermons there if you want all the nuance. But here are a few verses from Romans 9. Paul is building his argument, the sovereignty of God’s purpose being worked out in the salvation of Jews and Gentiles, and he says, “For [God] says to Moses, ‘I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.’ So then, it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy. For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, ‘For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.’ So then, he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he pardons whomever he wills.”
The least that we can say is that God is sovereign in salvation, and though there is mystery (there is mystery here in the inner relationship between God’s will and human will), no one can ever look at their salvation and say, “I saved myself.” Anyone who’s saved has to look to the sovereignty of God, and no one is outside the scope of God’s ability to save them. He saves whom he wills, he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills. He is sovereign in mercy and in hardening, in salvation and in judgment.
Do you see here—we’ve looked at maybe a couple dozen texts—do you see the pervasive, total sovereignty of God? His activity extends across every dimension of life, large and small, in creation, providence, and in salvation.
How then should we respond? We could easily spend an entire message just on this. I’m not going to do that, because this comes up a lot. I talk about God’s sovereignty and providence pretty often.
Joel Beeke lists eight practical applications. Let me list them, and then I’m just going to pick one to end with. Beek says that we should respond to God’s sovereignty with: repentance from rebellion, trust in the promises, reverent fear, humble praise, faithful service, submission in sorrows, hope for the salvation of others, and boldness in prayer. We could do a sermon on every one of those, and they’re all good. If you want to read Beeke’s exposition, read Volume 1 of his Systematic Theology, which is excellent.
I want to just focus on submission in sorrows. The sovereignty of God means that when sorrows and trials rush into our lives, our responsibility to God is to humbly submit to his will.
Sarah Edwards was the wife of Jonathan Edwards, the great New England theologian. Jonathan Edwards, in his mid-50s, was given a new post, to be president of the College of New Jersey, which became Princeton University. When he was there, he received a smallpox vaccination that backfired, and he died. He was only (I think) 56 years old.
Sarah was not with him when he died. She received word of it. She had many children, and she wrote a letter to her adult daughter, and this is what she said.
“What shall I say? A holy and good God has covered us with a dark cloud. Oh that we may kiss the rod and lay our hands on our mouths! The Lord has done it. He had made me adore his goodness that we had him so long. But my God lives, and he has my heart. Oh what a legacy my husband and your father has left us! We are all given to God, and there I am and love to be. Your affectionate mother, Sarah Edwards.”
I probably first heard that or read that 20 years ago, and it’s always stood as a testament to me of how someone should submit to God in the midst of sorrow.
As I’ve been thinking about this message, this has been a theme for me for all my ministry here. The very first sermon I preached on a Sunday morning in this church was on March 9th, 2003, and I preached on the story of Job from Job 23.
In that message, I told a story. Maybe a handful of people were here and remember it, or have heard me tell this before. It was a story of my parents, who, when I was maybe 17 or 18 years old, lost a child through miscarriage. My mom was just heartbroken over this—she wept and wept and wept. But I’ll never forget how my parents gathered me and my brothers into the living room of our house, and my dad read the words of Job, “The Lord has given and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.” Then we sang William Cowper’s song, his hymn, “God Moves in a Mysterious Way.” Here are the words to that song.
God moves in a mysterious way,
His wonders to perform;
He plants his footsteps in the sea,
And rides upon the storm.
Deep in unfathomable mines
Of never-failing skill,
He treasures up his bright designs
And works his sovereign will.
Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take;
The clouds you so much dread
Are big with mercy and will break
With blessings on your head.
Judge not the Lord by feeble sense,
But trust him for his grace;
Behind a frowning providence,
He hides a smiling face.
His purposes will ripen fast,
Unfolding every hour;
The bud may have a bitter taste,
But sweet will be the flower.
Blind unbelief is sure to err
And scan his work in vain;
God is his own interpreter,
And he will make it plain.”
I read those words on March 9, 2003, and then I said (or at least this is in my notes) that that verse, that song rather, and the theology of that song, the sovereignty of God, is the granite-like foundation of my life.
Brothers and sisters, I was 28 years old, and I had not suffered very much. I still haven’t personally suffered that much, but many of you know that 2020 has been a hard year, and the last several weeks have especially been hard. There have been a lot of small trials that really aren’t worth enumerating, but there have been three big losses this year.
On August 6, my grandfather, 94 years old, passed away, went to be with the Lord, the first deeply personal loss that I have experienced and really felt deeply. I cried a lot when he died.
Then, on October 19, on a Monday morning, my mother-in-law, Linda, passed away. Thursday of that week, we attended her funeral in Athens, Georgia. Two weeks later, on November 5, my mom passed away, after 15 years of dementia.
It would not be an overstatement to say that the five or six days preceding my mom’s death were the most sorrowful days of my life. I’ve never felt the grief that I felt during that time. I thought I was prepared. I’ve been grieving for years the dementia that she has experienced and the losses that our family has experienced, but I was not prepared for what it would be like to be with her in her dying days.
She’s now with the Lord. I drew comfort from something that was said in mother-in-law’s funeral. The pastor there said that Alzheimer’s is sort of like a skyscraper in a dark city. All the lights are on, but the lights go off one story at a time, until all the lights are out. That is, I think, an accurate description of what dementia and Alzheimer’s is like what people experience and what families witness, and that’s what we have witnessed in both my family and in Holly’s.
But I drew comfort from this thought, that the very moment my mom (this is true of Linda as well, my mother-in-law), the very moment they died, they were in the presence of Jesus, and all the lights came on! They are now more fully alive in the presence of their Creator, their Redeemer, than they ever had been.
This is still the foundation of my life, brothers and sisters. By the grace of God, I still believe with all my heart that God is sovereign, that he is good, that he is merciful, that he is gracious, and that when we suffer trials and sorrows and suffering, when we go through these things, God, in a mysterious way, is working out his good purposes in our lives.
I prayed for years for my mom’s healing, and God did not choose to heal. He’s answered other prayers; he didn’t answer that prayer in this life. But I trust him. I believe he’s trustworthy, I believe he’s faithful.
The ultimate demonstration of his trustworthiness and his faithfulness is in the death of Jesus Christ. The death of Christ on the cross is the most horrific event that ever happened in human history. No one ever suffered like Jesus did. No one ever suffered like this man, and no one suffered as an innocent man, as he did. And yet through it, God was bringing redemption to the world. He was working out his mighty, saving purposes through the darkest event that ever happened in human history. If he works that for our good, will he not also work all things together for good for those who love him, who are called according to his purpose? I believe he will. I believe God is trustworthy, and I hope you will trust him as well this morning and in your lives, whatever trials may come. Let’s pray together.
Gracious, merciful God, we bow before your sovereignty, your authority, and we recognize that you are God and we are not. You give and you take away; blessed be your name. You are a good God; you are gracious and merciful to your children, and all of your sovereign ways are characterized by wisdom and by goodness and by mercy and grace. Even in our afflictions, Lord, you are gracious and you give us strength and comfort and endurance, and you help us to trust in you.
Father, I pray that that would continue to be true for myself and for my family, and I pray that it would be true for my church family as well. Whatever trials we face, may we know and believe with all of our hearts that they come filtered through the fingers of a loving, heavenly Father. May we trust you, may we love you, may we adore your goodness, and may we rest content, and say, whatever comes our way, whatever our lot, may we say, “It is well with my soul.”
Draw near to us now as we continue in worship, as we prepare our hearts for the Lord’s table. Draw near in comfort and in grace and in assurance, and be glorified, we pray in Jesus’ name, Amen.