The following message was delivered at SGBC on Sunday, November 30, 2008.
A DISPLAY OF GOD’S SOVEREIGNTY
To say something is sovereign means it is free to act without restraint. It does not need permission. It is independent. And words such as sovereign and sovereignty were used repeatedly by the President in reference to the sovereign states of the U.S. when he declared war on terrorists on the aftermath of 9/11. The message he clearly conveyed to the whole world was the United States does not need permission from other nations to defend itself against a clear and present danger.
Likewise, when we use terms such as sovereign and sovereignty to God, the worth of God elevates and glorifies. Furthermore, it leads to many profound implications. Think of it. The sovereignty of God means God is free to act without any restraint. God does not need permission (and certainly not from us) to do whatever, whenever, wherever, whomever, and however. In fact, the terms sovereign and sovereignty were used historically in reference to a king and his government. Those terms definitely signify power and authority.
Hence the subject of sovereignty of God is not a light issue or considers a non-essential matter by any means. Rather, the sovereignty of God is foundational to how you understand the creation, the fall, redemption, and consummation. Moreover, the sovereignty of God is foundational to how you understand God, his works, and his glory.
To say it negatively, without the sovereignty of God, everything is skewed – including the gospel, Christianity, and Christian life. Without the sovereignty of God, one would fail to the see the overarching theme of the whole Bible. Without the sovereignty of God, your life and my life would not make any sense. Thus, to understand the sovereignty of God is critical for our faith and practice.
Throughout the Bible the glorious displays of the sovereignty of God is shown in pages after pages, including our text for this evening. Here the sovereignty of God is displayed through revelation, namely what he chooses to reveal and what he chooses to hide, and whom he chooses to reveal and whom he chooses to hide. From this text I want to point out five important implications.
1. The sovereignty of God exalts God.
A case in point, look what Jesus says in verse 25 – “I praise You, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that You have hidden these things from the wise and intelligent and have revealed them to infants.”
The goal of orthodoxy is doxology. That is to say, the purpose of sound doctrine is so that God would be worshipped and revered properly. Also, the goal of revelation is not only edification of the saints, but also exaltation to God.
In Reformed theology, God is most glorified through the displays of his sovereignty. In fact, Jesus says in verse 26, “Father, for this way was well-pleasing in Your sight.”
2. The sovereignty of God eliminates any form of pride.
It is true that not every professing Christian understands the doctrine of sovereignty of God. This was certainly true of you and true of me at one time. Hence to understand this glorious doctrine of sovereignty of God should not lead us to become prideful or boastful, as if it had anything to do with our doing. According to Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 4:7, “What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as if you had not received it?” That is to say, the only reason why some of us understand this glorious doctrine is because God sovereignly chose to open our eyes and granted this revelation. In fact, God did what he did not because of us, but in spite of us.
Another form of pride that is so prevalent amongst us is the notion that somehow we know what is best or that we have a better plan or idea. And such attitude often leads to an act of questioning God, such as his fairness or justice. To question God’s fairness or justice by saying things like “God is not fair” is judging God, which implies that somehow I am better than him. Blasphemy does not always come in an outright statement, but also, in a subtle way, such as questioning what he does and why he does it.
Hence understanding the sovereignty of God also helps to eliminate questioning God. Because God is God and does all things for his own glory, namely in what he chooses to reveal and hide, and who he chooses to reveal and hide from, no one can dare to ask why. God is not obligated by any sense to answer that question to anybody. In fact, according to Romans 9:18, “So then, God has mercy on whom he chooses to have mercy, and he hardens whom he chooses to harden” (NET).
3. The sovereignty of God exposes the false gospels.
Jesus clearly indicates that God’s truth is not revealed to everyone. Rather, it is hidden from some, and revealed to others. And if that is the case, then how should we think of the teachings that are contrary to what Jesus is saying here? For instance, the notion that God saves everyone, or that God’s saving grace or God’s saving love is for every individual. A such gospel is not the true gospel. The Bible clearly rejects the doctrine of universal salvation.
The reason why people have hard time accepting the doctrine of election is because they have a minimal understanding of the sinfulness of man and the sovereignty of God. They may agree that man is sinful, but not in a way that he is totally and spiritually dead, and that dead is unable to choose and exercise his will. Hence any so-called gospel that minimizes the sinfulness of sin, sinfulness of man, and the total inability of man is a false gospel.
Throughout the church history since Augustine, the church has repeatedly rejected both Pelagianism and semi-Pelagianism. Although there are some variations between the two, they both teach that man is capable to choose God. But the Bible teaches no such doctrines. Rather, Scripture teaches that upon the fall of man, every faculty of man has been tainted by sin, namely his intellect, his emotion, and his will. That is why the issue of the doctrine of election is about how you understand the sinfulness of man, namely the total depravity of man or the total inability of man. In fact, this is one of the foundational doctrines in the doctrines of grace, also known as, the Five Points of Calvinism. In Christian church, this doctrine is non-negotiable. And every Bible-driven church continues to warn and expose every doctrine that is contrary to the true gospel.
4. The sovereignty of God equates the sovereignty of the Son.
Just as God the Father has chosen to reveal his truth to some and hide from others, Jesus also indicates of his sovereign will in verse 27 – “All things have been handed over to Me by My Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father; nor does anyone know the Father except the Son, and anyone to whom the Son wills to reveal Him.” According to D.A. Carson, this particular verse “places enormous emphasis on Jesus’ person and authority.” That is to say, not only the Father is sovereign, but also the Son.
5. The sovereignty of God exhorts the responsibility of man.
Prior to my conversion to the doctrines of grace, I erroneously believed that Calvinism hinders evangelism and pietism. My reasoning was if God does everything, then why evangelize and why pray? I wrongly believed that God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility could not coexist. Little did I know that God’s sovereignty does not negate man’s responsibility. Rather, because of the fact that God is sovereign, it should motivate me to do what I am commanded to do.
Furthermore, because I am a child of God, he makes it possible for me to fulfill his commands, namely coming to Christ, taking his yoke, and learning from him. In fact, all those verbs in verses 28 and 29 are all imperatives, namely come (v. 28), take (v. 29a) and learn (v. 29b). These three imperatives are God’s commands for us to fulfill, which means, we are responsible for obeying them. But whether I obey or disobey God’s commands, that does not take away his sovereignty, meaning God is God and he is still sovereign. In other words, his sovereignty does not depend on my obedience.
To me one of the greatest displays of God’s sovereignty is the fact that he chose me, a spiritually dead as dead could be, among countless dead to regenerate me. What is amazing is not only his ability to raise a spiritually dead like me, but also the means which he provided for me to experience spiritual rebirth, namely the ability to hear and believe the gospel and repent and obey.
The theological implication from this text is that those whom God has sovereignly chosen will come to Christ, take his yoke, and learn from him.
·NAU John 6:37 “All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out.
·NAU Romans 8:29 For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren; 30 and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified.
Let me briefly unpack these three commands by Christ.
A.First, “Come to Me” (v. 28).
Those three words are just packed with important implications. The word “come” can be seen as the special or effectual call of Christ to regeneration. It can also be seen as one of the many commands of Christ to his own.
Also, those three words speak clearly as to his exclusivity. Notice Jesus did not say come to religion, come to religious rituals, come to religious works, come to religious leaders, come to religious system or tradition, but come to him.
Moreover, Jesus did not say, “Get your life in order, and then come to me.” No, that is not what he said! Why? It is because you cannot get your life in order unless you come to Christ first!
I can try to moralize my behavior and character, but I’ll still fall short. Why? It is because of my sin. A sinner cannot moralize himself. No matter how much I try to behave well or put myself under the care of psychologist or condition myself with all sorts of behavioral methods, unless the core of my problem is dealt with, I can never be changed. So the solution isn’t psychology, moral or behavioral conditioning, or even religion, but only Christ!
Immediately after Jesus commands to come to him, he indicates who are qualified to come, namely “all who are weary and heavy-laden,” which qualifies you and me.
As I noted earlier, our responsibility is to come to Jesus. Guess what happens when you obey? He promised to give you rest!
And, don’t you long for that? You feel tired, burnt out, or pressed down due to your own sins and its guilt, and Jesus promises to give you rest. In other words, by coming to Jesus, you’ll find rest and peace.
·NAU John 14:27 “Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Do not let your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful.
You say what type of peace is this? The Bible says in Philippians 4:7, “It’s the peace of God which passes all understanding.” It’s a peace that the world cannot give nor knows. It’s a peace that only God can give you through his Son.
B.Take My Yoke (v. 29a).
Yoke is something you put on animals for pulling heavy loads. It is an instrument of submission and obedience to its owner or master. Here it is a Jewish metaphor for restrictions or rules that a teacher or rabbi would put on his followers. In essence, what Jesus is saying is that compare to many teachers that would impose many man-made restrictions and laws, his yoke is easy. Certainly, this was true of many religious leaders with their myriad of man-made traditions and erroneous interpretations of the law.
C.Learn from Me (v. 29b).
This is our Lord’s final command. Here the type of learning or the content of learning is not necessarily about how Jesus lived. Since the context is about God’s revelation, namely what he has chosen to reveal and hide, the content of learning refers to all the truths that God has already revealed, namely through the teachings of Christ.