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TEXT: Daniel 4:1-37
SUBJECT: Daniel #5: Good Sovereignty
God is control. He controls everything at all times. He controlled Himself before there was any time, and when 'time shall be no more', He will be every bit as much in control. This is what I believe, and what I have preached from this pulpit for almost thirty years.
It's flattering to think you'd trust me enough to 'take my word for it', but that wouldn't be good for either one of us. I'm far from the best man in the world, but even if I were, you shouldn't believe in the doctrine of God's absolute sovereignty because I say so. Still, I think you ought to believe it for five good reasons.
In the first place, the Bible teaches that God is in control. You see this on the first page of Scripture. Genesis 1 presents the Lord first creating everything out of nothing, and then bending everything to His will. When He separates light from darkness, they are separated; when He hangs the sun, moon, and stars in the heavens, they stay there. When He tells the dry ground to rise out of the sea, it does so without hesitation or argument. God is in control; this is the first lesson the Bible teaches. And also the last.
By the time we get to Revelation, we find that not everyone agrees with His Lordship, that Satan, fallen angels, and bad men challenge His rule with cunning and brute force, but in the end He asserts His Lordship and appears in public to be what He really is and always has been--
The blessed and only potentate; the King of kings and Lord of lords.
God is in control. He controls everything at all times. If you read Arthur W. Pink's great little book, The Sovereignty of God, you'll find Bible references for His control of minerals, vegetables, fish, birds, mammals, men, women, children, angels, demons, Satan, Israel, the Church, the nations, time, space, life, death, Heaven, Hell--everything without exception! In short--
Whatever the Lord pleases He does,
in heaven and in earth,
in the seas and in all deep places.
This is what the Bible teaches; other verses refine and color the doctrine, of course, but no verse or theme denies it or waters it down in the least.
In the second place, the Church teaches that God is in control. Other than the Bible itself, the most important documents in Church history are the Ecumenical Creeds, and in particular, the Apostles' and Nicene Creed..
The first of which says--
I believe in God the Father Almighty,
Maker of Heaven and Earth.
What does 'almighty' mean if not 'in control'? A mighty being controls some things, but other things he cannot control, or doesn't care to. 'Almighty' means God wants to control all things--and does.
For historical reasons, the Nicene Creed fine tunes it a bit, saying--
I believe in God the Father Almighty,
maker Heaven and Earth, and all things visible and invisible.
This spells out what the former Creed only implied, that God is not only in charge of dirt and flowers and lady bugs, He is no less the Lord of human spirits, angels and demons!
Not every Christian or church explains the sovereignty of God in the same way, of course, but unless we're all liars or fools, we all believe in it. This doesn't prove He is in the same way the Bible does, but it carries far more weight than the silly or crackpot theory you or I might be holding onto.
In the third place, reason teaches that God is in control. If the Lord is what the Bible says He is, why would we deny or doubt His Lordship? An all-knowing and all-powerful God could control all things, and that's just what you'd expect Him to do if He is also all-wise, all-just, and all-loving. Which He is.
In the fourth place, our comfort demands a God in control. Every Christian believes in the promises of God, and His character strongly supports that belief. God cannot lie. But 'lying' is not the only reason for not keeping a promise. I may intend to give you a ride to the dentist tomorrow afternoon. But what if my car breaks down? What if there's a traffic jam? What if the dentist dies? Or his office burns down? Or, you're not home when I come by to get you?
The only way you can be absolutely sure that I'll take you to the dentist tomorrow afternoon is if I'm in control of everything that might prevent us from getting there. And since that would include everything from germs to angels to thermo-nuclear war, the only way to make my promise sure is for me to control everything. But God's promises are absolutely sure. Because He is absolutely in control.
In the fifth place, even Christians who cringe at the doctrine and worry about how it neutralizes human freedom and responsibility, cannot help believing in the sovereignty of God when they pray. A preacher who rails against it in the pulpit, assumes it in the prayer closet. Does he ask God to 'help John save himself' or 'Do what you can for Mary who's sick'? Of course he doesn't! He prays, 'O Lord, save John!' 'Father in Heaven, heal Mary!' Whatever he says, every Christian knows the Lord is in control. As Pascal observed--
The heart has reasons that reason cannot know.
This brings up a question: If all (or most) Christians believe the Bible, respect the Church, use their brains, and deep down, know God is in control and want Him to be, why do so many of us minimize the doctrine? We hold on to the words, 'sovereignty of God', but we drain off most of the meaning.
Why do we do this? Why do we prefer an anemic God who wants to do things, but can't do most of them most of the time, to the Lord who does whatever He wants to, when He wants to, how He wants to, and offers no apologies for doing it?
The short answer is sin and evil. If God controlled everything, everything would be good. But everything is not good. Therefore, God does not control everything.
The best way to answer the objection is to go to the Bible, and, if you stay in the Old Testament, there's no better place to go than the chapter we just read together, Daniel 4.
It starts with Nebuchadnezzar praising God for His sovereignty. The Lord had done great signs and wonders for the king, but they weren't done to amuse him or to satisfy his curiosity. The Lord acted in the king's life so that he--the mightiest king of that time or any time--would realize that only God's--
Kingdom is an everlasting kingdom,
and His dominion is from generation
Nebuchadnezzar wants everyone to know this. He's no democrat and seldom spoke to a common man, but that's what he's doing now. Not speaking to his court or the nobility of Babylonia, but--
To all peoples, nations, languages that dwell in all the earth.
And, unlike the last time he made a public announcement, this time, he's doing it to bless the people, to call their attention away from himself to the One True King.
What made him do this? It was a strange and humbling experience, one he tells us about in the middle part of the chapter.
Nebuchadnezzar was a king, you remember, and even by royal standards, he was a man in love with power and recognition. He wanted everyone to know haw magnificent he was and to sing his praises throughout the Empire. Some of this power was 'all in his head', of course, but not all of it. He was a powerful man. Unlike the Medo-Persian kings who were under the law, Nebuchadnezzar was the law. If he said you lived, you lived; if he said you died, you died. He could even invent new gods or command his people to worship himself.
His power was enormous! But for all he could do in the day, he was like any other man at night. He could rule his armies, but he couldn't rule his dreams. One night he dreamed of a huge tree. It was planted in the middle of the earth and reached all the way into Heaven. The tree was not only big, it was also beautiful and so fruitful the whole world could live on its produce.
As the king admired the tree, a Heavenly Being descended to the earth with a harsh command: 'Cut down the tree but leave the stump!' Then, altering the picture, as dreams so often do, he added--
Let his heart be changed from
that of a man,
Let him be given the heart of an
and let seven times pass over him.
Startled from his sleep, the king calls the wise men of Babylon to interpret it for him. But they were as baffled as he. Then he remembered a man who had explained an earlier dream, a man in whom the spirit of God dwells, one of the exiles from Judah, a man he named after his own god, Belteshazzar, he called him. We know him by his Hebrew name, Daniel.
Daniel listened to the dream with sympathy and a growing horror. God had spoken to the king and the king wouldn't like what He said. Daniel had to wonder if the king would strike him dead for what he was about to say, but he would say it nonetheless. A man who lives in the Presence of the King of Glory is not afraid of the king of Babylon. And so, with a mixture of candor and tact, he explains the dream.
The Great Tree is Nebuchadnezzar himself, a man the whole world admires. The problem is, nobody admires the king more than the king himself! Always proud of himself, he was getting worse by the minute. And God had had enough of his preening and crowing! The great king would be brought down by a Divine judgment, humiliated, and made a laughingstock in the eyes of the whole world. For a time, he'd lose his mind and start acting like an animal.
Daniel was appalled by the prospect, and though he could do nothing to avert judgment, he hoped he could delay it. The king who flouted the laws of God and despised the people below him, might postpone his fate by--
Breaking off his sins by being righteous
and his iniquities by showing mercy to the poor.
This was Daniel's advice.
And for a short time, the king took it. He humbled himself before the Lord and, for a time and seemed like a new man. But, unrenewed by God's grace, the fear and awe that cowed him into humility started to wear off.
One year after the dream, he was promenading around the royal palace when he said to himself and those with him--
Is not this great Babylon that I have built for a royal dwelling by my mighty power and for the honor of my majesty?
No sooner had the arrogant words been spoken, than another voice spoke; the Watcher he had dreamed of announced his judgment. The king would lose his power and reason, and become an animal. Over a span of seven times (perhaps seven years), Nebuchadnezzar walked on all fours, ate grass like an ox, and lived outside, while his hair grew out like the feathers of an eagle and his fingernails and toenails became like the claws of a bird!
What a spectacle! Man was given dominion over the animals, and Nebuchadnezzar dominion over men. But God has turned the world upside down! The king, for all his pride and insolent words, had become a beast.
Who brought the king down? It was the Lord. Why did He do it? In part, because he deserved it. But, mostly, God brought down the king to glorify Himself, to relieve His People in Babylonia, and to save the king.
THE RETURN OF REASON
When these ends were met, the Lord lifted Nebuchadnezzar's madness, his rule was restored, and the king lived the rest of his life--
Extolling and honoring the King of Heaven...
[and recalling] those who walk in pride He is able to abase.
This takes us back to the problem of squaring God's sovereignty with the evils of the world. The Lord controls everything, and much of what He controls is shot through with wickedness and pain and sorrow and death.
Is the Lord evil or indifferent to the evils of the world? No, He's not. What He is is so wise and powerful that He can use death and sickness and crime and all the rest to further His cause in the world. A cause that is good and true and beautiful.
Thus, when we speak of the sovereignty of God, we don't mean the sovereignty of any god, but the Lordship of the One True God, the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. The God who loves the world so much that He sent His Son to share in our loss and pain and death. And to work it all together for His glory and our good.
Don't be afraid. Bad things are going to happen to you and the people you love. But they don't separate us from the love of God; in fact, they're branches of His love, as they chasten us make us into the people He wants us to be. Let us, therefore, live in faith and hope and good cheer. Because the God who works His will in the armies of Heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth is our God.
Amen. Praise the Lord.
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