PULPIT TODAY SERMONS
Robert D. Pace
I want to preach to you on the subject: He Who Sits Above the Circle of the Earth. It’s a picture that describes God’s supremacy over all Creation. And his sovereignty over this planet is so complete that nothing transpires without his direct intention or reluctant permission.
That last statement suggests something so vastly important that no one should overlook it: God’s sovereignty is so total and complete, that it infers God is either in control of all, or he is not in control at all. Its implication is that forceful!
The Bible is not only a book of history and prophecy; it is a book of unfaltering science. 2750 years ago, Isaiah contradicted modern astronomy and publicly denounced “The Flat Earth Society.” Under divine inspiration Isaiah perceived a spherical dimension of the world when he said God “sits above the circle of the earth.” What was in Isaiah’s mind when he saw God there?
(Harbinger) Isaiah shows God sitting in the ultimate seat of authority. He is the preeminent ruler of every square foot of this planet, and nothing goes unnoticed or escapes his reach. Ephesians 2:2 says Satan is the “prince of power of the air,” but somewhere beyond those atmospheric boundaries God “sits above the circle of the earth,” and no one thwarts, outmaneuvers, or triumphs over Him.
(Illustration) Sometime back, I was in California and spotted a rusty, dilapidated car that looked like it had been hauled from the junkyard back to the road. I mean it was a rattletrap! Anyway, there was a sticker plastered on what was left of the bumper that declared two words: “God Rules”!
I agree with that statement, but it struck me funny that it was plastered on that ramshackled automobile. It would have been more convincing on a shiny, late-model vehicle.
Do you see how appearances can undermine the doctrine of God’s sovereignty? It happens a lot. Whenever there is Broadcast News, the headlines imply that life is spinning out of control and God’s supervision is nowhere to be found. Think about some headlines: Isis Slaughters Village; Earthquake Rattles City; Tsunami Kills Thousands; Bombing at Airport! Headings like these have a way of infiltrating the subconscious and suggesting that some aspects of life operate outside God’s supervision.
This is why the Doctrine of God’s Sovereignty is important—and it’s especially important for Christians. But if you have ever searched for one succinct verse to define it, you have found that it’s impossible! Theologians have taught us that we can only understand God’s sovereignty as we amalgamate passages from across the Bible. Since that’s the case, let’s piece together some verses:
Psalm 115:3 says, “Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases.”
Daniel 2:21 says that God “changes times and seasons; he removes kings and sets up kings.”
1 Chronicles 29:11—12 says, “All that is in the heavens and in the earth is yours. Yours is the kingdom, O Lord, and you are exalted as head above all. (12) Both riches and honor come from you, and you rule over all.
God didn’t assign the world to fatalism or “chance.” The God who sits “above the circle of the earth” governs everything from insects to arch-angels. That’s why Proverbs 16:9 says, “The heart of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps.” Wow! Isn’t that good to know! God is always in control!
In fact, God is in such control that he can accomplish his plans even when people resist Him with all their might. God doesn’t need compliance from man to fulfill his plan.
(Illustration) Sometime back, I read the story of a group of Methodists in North Carolina that wanted to build a church. The town was situated in a valley, so securing property above the flood plane was necessary. The Church approached a prosperous land-owner about a lot that was just two blocks from downtown. It was prime property; but he wouldn’t sell! Nothing the Methodists offered could change the landowner’s mind, so they settled for some outlying acreage. In the coming days, they built and dedicated the church and prepared to worship. But three days later, the unthinkable happened. The town was besieged by a torrential storm! The storm was so severe that the entire structure of the Methodist Church was lifted atop the floodwaters and began drifting off its foundation. Men of all Faiths waded into waist-deep water and tied ropes to the building in an effort to control it—but to no avail. It was literally drifting atop the street and heading downtown. When the building reached the center of town it took a sudden turn and moved two blocks. It then veered off that road and settled into the middle of the area’s prime real estate. The very property the landowner had refused to sell! The following day, when the proprietor discovered what happened, he donated the real estate deed to the Methodist Church.
God can fulfill his plan whether men harden their heart or willingly comply! (Pause) I love what Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 3:19—20.
“The wisdom of this world is folly with God.
For it is written, “He catches the wise in their craftiness,”
 and again, “The Lord knows the thoughts of the wise,
that they are futile.”
I’m thankful that God’s purposes succeed with or without help from man. I just always want to find myself in agreement with his plans!
God Governs the Nations
(Quote) One of the most infamous acts of the 20th Century was the attempt of Communism to rule the world. How many remember the name of the Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev? In 1960 Khrushchev traveled to the United Nations and delivered his infamous shoe-banging speech. He said, “By the year 1980—the building of socialism would be completed and the era of Communism would be ushered in.” I believe Heaven takes note when leaders make such arrogant assertions. Here’s what happened during this predicted “Era of Communism” of the 1980’s and the early 1990’s:
The USSR converted to a democracy.
The Berlin Wall was flattened.
Communism in Romania was overthrown.
Communism in Czechoslovakia collapsed.
Bulgaria removed its red star from atop its Party headquarters and is now a Democracy.
Poland and Hungary now exercise democratic elections.
Despite the defiance of Communism and all godless leaders, the one who “sits above the circle of the earth” still governs the nations. And as the world moves into a time of distress and the curtain of the Apocalypse falls, the Bible shows that God will control the termination of life as certainly as he controlled the origination of life.
That’s the Bible’s overriding message regarding the last days and the Apocalypse—God guides and governs everything! Ultimately, God will control the Antichrist, the False Prophet, and every creature and calamity that creeps its way out from the Seven Seals. Nothing will escape God’s supervision.
But, there is something else to consider about God’s sovereignty. If God is supremely powerful, why is life filled with disorder?
If God is Sovereign, Why the Disorder?
(Illustration) I heard about the Seminary professor who was arriving one morning to campus. As he parked his car, he made certain to roll up his windows. He then fastened the steering wheel with that intractable anti-theft pole. After exiting the car, he locked the doors, and then finally activated the alarm system. A student saw it unfold and said, “Professor, don’t you believe in the sovereignty of God to protect your car?” The professor responded, “Son, you know I believe in God’s sovereignty to protect this vehicle. But I also believe in the total depravity of man to vandalize it!”
There are many occasions when life doesn’t turn out the way we anticipate. The Red Sea doesn’t part, the storm doesn’t subside, and at times our boat capsizes. From an early age, we discover that life is filled with misfortune. And eventually, we confront the question that asks, If God is sovereign why do bad things happen?
As mature Christians, we have some serious questions to ponder: Why do famines and diseases decimate countries? Why would a sovereign God allow terrorism, murder, head-on collisions, and cancer? Why does God permit birth defects or an innocent child to be sexually assaulted? Why does he let people linger in comas or be burdened with Alzheimer’s when it seems they would be better off in heaven?
These are questions that Christians need to muse. And one reason we should consider them is because the skeptics are keenly aware of these issues! The skeptics are quick to scoff and say, “If God is all-powerful but doesn’t eliminate evil, then he is a monster! A loving God wouldn’t possibly permit such atrocities.” How do Christians answer that accusation?
(Illustration) The other day, I read about a denominational leader that suffered a head-on collision. Within days, a minister published an article on the Internet about the accident. Here is what he wrote: “If God was in control why was . . . [the Bishop] in a crash? . . . Is God in control of the out-of-control person who drives drunk or the person who stabs somebody or kills someone in a robbery? Obviously not”!
I cringed when I read that indictment against God’s sovereignty! Where had this minister’s theology gone so wrong? Can God prevent catastrophes, robberies, murders, and disease? Yes, he’s done it countless times. The Lord has worked behind the scenes and intervened in ways that we will never know. But there are occasions when our good, loving, and sovereign God doesn’t impede evil. And that’s what perplexes us!
I want to caution you, once more, that there is no one, concise Scripture that answers this question. For example, you can quote Romans 8:28 as an answer to a tragedy and say, “All things work together for good to them that love the Lord.”
That’s a wonderful Scripture to know, but if you’re going to rush that Scripture to a parent that’s lost a child in a drive-by shooting or to a family whose home has just burned down, it won’t remove the pain of their throbbing heart. In fact, a hundred Scriptures that offer the “right” answer as to why God allows tragedy probably won’t pacify a grief-stricken heart.
In times of crisis, people don’t need to hear how much we know about God’s sovereignty and the presence of evil in the world. They need to see how much we care! They need to feel our touch, see our tears, and sense our compassion. These are things that people need at the moment of crisis. As time passes, people are more receptive to Romans 8:28 and finding a Biblical answer.
Before I directly answer the question I want to mention one more mistake we can often make when trying to explain tragedy.
(Quote) Sometimes we hear the cliché, “Hindsight is 20/20.” I disagree! I can look back on life and some things still don’t make sense. They will forever be a mystery. The incomprehensible God works in incomprehensible ways and our finite minds can never decipher his plans! Theologians explain this concept as the “inscrutable purposes of God.” That means, you can investigate God’s ways until there is nothing left to scrutinize and they will remain mysterious.
Isaiah 55:8 says, “My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are My ways your ways. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways and My thoughts higher than your thoughts.”
Romans 11:33 says, “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! (34) “For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor?”
So what does all of God’s enigmatic working leave us to do? If there are issues we can’t decipher, what’s our course of action? It’s this: Trust God! The Bible doesn’t ask Christians to melt down the slag of life and decipher God’s purposes. They are inscrutable! But what God does ask Christians to do is . . . trust Him! And in Proverbs 3, Solomon tells us to trust God with “all our heart.”
(Insight) I have discovered two wonderful reasons that Christians can trust God. Once I realized this I made certain to teach my children and the churches I’ve pastored: Whatever happens in life, always remember that (1) God is thoroughly good; and (2) he is infinitely wise. It doesn’t matter what you encounter. The God who is thoroughly good and infinitely wise cannot let anything happen to you that can’t fit into his Master plan. Amen!
(Transition) Since we are gathered as the Church, in the house of the Lord, I want to finally muse and explore what is knowable about God’s sovereignty as it relates to evil in the world. And we start to discover that answer when we dig into the Garden . . . of Eden.
The main reason God allows evil to plague the world is because man is a creature of free will. When God placed Adam in the Garden he set a prohibition against eating from the “tree of the knowledge of good and evil.” Unfortunately, Adam disobeyed God, and that disobedience unleashed a floodtide of evil. You say, “Why didn’t God stop Adam and Eve from eating from that tree? In fact, why did God even plant the tree?”
Can you imagine man’s estate had God created us without the power of choice? That would have eliminated any possibility of ill, evil, or affliction, but it would have also reduced humans to being robots. We would have submitted to God’s will at the command of a few keystrokes on a heavenly computer. God would punch in, “Worship me,” and without choice we would start praising, thanking, and blessing his name. Even if we could do it over, would you want to live a robotic life without the power of choice? I wouldn’t!
In Genesis 1, God created mankind as free moral agents. Afterward, he said, “It was very good” (1:31). From that day forward, God has taken his sovereignty and mysteriously mixed it with man’s free will, and according to Ephesians 1:11, has “work[ed] all things to the counsel of his will.”
The Lord has done this despite the fact that man has been notorious for wrecking life. Despite our sins, failures, and poor choices the Bible insists that God is somehow working everything into his Master Plan—even our worst mistakes and transgressions. In some inexplicable way, the Lord’s wisdom unites every event in life and configures them into his eternal plan of the ages.
Some people would say, Since that’s the case, let’s “live and let live.” God will work out everything for his glory. That’s precisely what the Bible warns against! Paul said, “Shall we sin that grace may abound? Heaven forbid”! Folks, there are consequences to a freewheeling lifestyle! When the Bible says that God “works all things to the counsel of his will” it isn’t conferring Christians with a license to sin.
There is not an adult in this house that doesn’t know that our power to choose is consequential. Some choices have begotten good, while others have begotten harm; some choices have brought us fabulous success, while others have produced embarrassing failures. Yet the mystery remains: While God’s holiness has not approved of everything his sovereignty has somehow controlled it.
God’s Guidance of Joseph
I love the story of Joseph in the book of Genesis. Joseph was one of Jacob’s 12 sons. And at a young age God gave Joseph grandiose dreams. He dreamed of the moon and stars bowing to him. And when he shared the dream, everyone in his family knew it foretold a time when Joseph would be their lord. And it angered his whole family. His brothers hated him for it. Then later, after his brothers sold him into Egyptian slavery, he suffered years of scandal, betrayal, and imprisonment. You can imagine how Joseph interpreted his sorrows:
When his brothers sold him into slavery Joseph probably thought, “Lord, not slavery! You said you would use me.” And God says, “Settle down, Joseph. I’m priming you.”
And when Joseph arrived in Egypt, Potiphar’s wife falsely accused him and he was incarcerated. Again, you can imagine Joseph’s prayer. “Lord, not prison”! But God says, “Calm down, Joseph, I priming you.”
It wasn’t long until Joseph gained the favor of the warden and he was running the compound. Now he had the keys to the prison and could pick a midnight hour for a jailbreak. But by now, he knew that wasn’t God’s plan. He could hear God’s voice saying, “Be patient Joseph, I’m priming you.”
Finally, at the appointed time, Pharaoh called for Joseph to interpret his dreams. And he interpreted them with pinpoint accuracy. He announced that Egypt would enjoy seven years of plenty followed by seven years of severe famine. Pharaoh knew those words were from God, and that’s when he reached over, put a ring on Joseph’s finger, clothed him in royalty, and said, “Joseph, you’re second only to me. I’m priming you. You’re now my Prime Minister”!
Our times are in the hands of the sovereign God. They aren’t in your enemy’s hands, the government’s hands, or anybody else’s. The One that “abides above the circle of the earth,” and is directing every movement of the cosmos, is also actively involved with your life.
(Quote) In May 2001 President George W. Bush delivered the commencement address at Yale University. During his speech he said this. “’When I left here [Yale], I didn’t have much in the way of a life plan. I knew some people who thought they did. But it turned out that we were all in for ups and downs, most of them unexpected. Life takes its own turns, makes its own demands, writes its own story. And along the way, we start to realize we are not the author.”’
When we stand before God’s throne on that great Resurrection Day, “knowing even as we are known,” we’ll discover that God was a much better leader than we were a follower. Just remember, while there isn’t one Scripture that promises that you can control life, there are dozens of Scriptures that testify to God’s control of life. And I would rather be under God’s control than to be in control any day.