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TEXT: Acts 4:27-28

SUBJECT: God is Sovereign #6: Over the Reprobate

God is sovereign. The Bible plainly teaches this from cover to cover, and where it is not plainly taught, it is everywhere assumed. His sovereignty does not make Him 'the author of sin' or his creatures into 'robots' or 'puppets', but whether we can explain how they all fit together or not, we can be sure of this much: They do fit together! And we know they do because-

The Bible tells me so.

God is in control of all things, from the rotation of Pluto to the birth of puppies and everything else! There is not a speck in the universe of visible or invisible things in which His rule is excluded or minimized or anything less that total. God is sovereign, or as the Psalm says-

The Lord reigns.

Many people will accept the sovereignty of God as long as it's confined to non-human affairs-the rotation of Pluto, for example, or the birth of puppies. But when it intersects with human freedom, they take exception to His rule, sometimes politely, sometimes not.

This is true when it comes the Elect or Christians. But it is doubly true when it comes to the Reprobate or non-Christians. The enemies of God are-by definition-rebelling against His rule, not doing what He wants them to do, and so it seems that He is not in charge of them, that they're ruled by themselves or the devil or the world or whatever, but not by God.

The argument would seem to be sound-until you read the Bible, especially the verses of today's text, Acts 4:27-28. The subject is the Crucifixion of the Lord Jesus Christ, the wickedest thing anyone ever did, and the people who did it were also wicked-

Herod, Pontius Pilate, the Gentiles, and the children of Israel.

They were all in on it-Peter says-and back in Chapter 2, he affirms the personal guilt in what they did. It was by-

Wicked hands [He] was crucified and slain.

The people who crucified Jesus, therefore, were not 'robots' or 'puppets', nor could their guilt be traced to God. But, without incurring any guilt Himself, God was behind their actions! The people gathered together against Christ, to-

Do whatever you hand and your purpose determined before to be done.

And so, in one way the Crucifixion was completely against God's will, but in another way, it was totally under His direction and rule.

This is a mystery that no one can fully explain, but to say 'no one can fully explain' it does not mean it's a blatant contradiction, that we cannot say anything about it. We can offer a satisfactory, though partial, explanation of how God rules His enemies, how He extends His sovereignty over sinful men and the sins they commit.

This is the topic for today's study: God is Sovereign over the Reprobate.

DOES THE BIBLE TEACH THIS?

Before we start denying or watering down or explaining away a traditional doctrine, we ought to first ask ourselves: Does the Bible teach that doctrine. If it's only traditional, we can accept it or not, but if it's Biblical, discipleship means we have to accept it-whether we're 'comfortable' about it or not.

So, does the Bible teach God's sovereignty over wicked people and the wicked things they do?

The best example of this are the passages I just commented on, Acts 4:27-28 and its parallel, Acts 2:23.

The former I've read twice already, so let's go back to the other one, Acts 2:23. There, once again, Peter is preaching on the Crucifixion and Resurrection of Christ, and once again, He traces the former to two different sources-

Him, being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, you have taken and with wicked hands have crucified and slain.

`And so, who was behind Christ's death on the Cross? Was it God or Man? The choice seems clear cut, but Peter refuses to make it. He says the Crucifixion was both an act of God and Man-not half God and half man or some such thing, but entirely God and entirely man!

This is what the Bible teaches about all the terrible sins leading up to and culminating in the Cross.

If God was involved in the Greatest of all crimes, it shouldn't surprise you that lesser sins are included in His sovereignty as well. I think first of Pharaoh and then of Joseph's brothers.

Pharaoh is the archetype of Gentiles kings and why Israel needs its own land. Was he an oppressor? Yes. A murderer? A slaver? A tyrant? A blasphemer? A liar? A fool? An idolater? He was all of the above!

How did he come to power? I suppose it was partly by birth and by political savvy, but God ignores these second causes and says, in Exodus 9:16-

For this cause I raised you up, to show my power and that my name may be declared through all the earth.

In Exodus, Pharaoh's rise to power seems to teach God's control of politics only (or chiefly), but in quoting the verse in Romans 9:17, Paul applies it to the king's spiritual life as well.

Thus, while Pharaoh was oppressing God's people, God was not standing back hoping he'd quit, but was working in the wicked king to accomplish His own holy purposes.

A second example from the Old Testament are the brothers of Joseph. Whether they were 'saved' men or not makes no difference here.

For when they sold their brother into slavery, they committed one of worst sins in history, showing nothing but contempt for their brother, their father, and their God, as well as making God look bad in the eyes of the Gentiles to whom they were supposed to be a good witness.

Did the Lord command them to do the deed? Was He pleased with the envious and hateful brothers? Did He find Jacob's grief amusing? No. But at the end of the story Joseph himself said, Genesis 50:20-

You meant it for evil, but God meant it for good.

The Bible, therefore, does teach God's sovereignty over wicked men and the wicked things they do. We don't have to shout this from the mountaintop, of course, but we also don't have to apologize for it!

PROVIDENCE

This leads us to a very sensitive and complicated question, but before we get to it, let's show the mechanics, you might say, that and how God rules bad people and all the bad things they do. Here I can do no better than to quote the Westminster Shorter Catechism, #11-

What are God's works of Providence?

God's works of Providence are His most holy, wise and powerful preserving and governing all of His creatures and all of their actions.

This is not the Bible, of course, but isn't it what the Bible teaches? When we remove the 'sin question' isn't it what all Christians believe? Thus God rules sinful men and the sins they commit by:

Preserving them. That is, if God willed people to not sin, or at least to not commit 'big sins' He could easily kill or debilitate them before they did. What if Pharaoh had had a stroke before issuing his cruel orders? They wouldn't have been issued. Could God have struck him down in this way? He could have. But He didn't. Because He had something for Pharaoh to do.

Directing them. What if Judas had grown up to not love money? Or what if he had gone to sell Jesus to the High Priest, but had slipped on a banana peel before he got there? Or what if the High Priest had not trusted him? Or Judas bargained for more than '30 pieces of silver' and the priest wouldn't pay it? And what if Pilate had stood up to the mob? Or that Herod had had a generous thought and let Him go? Or what if the mob had not listened to the rabble-rousing rulers?

I offer the list of 'what ifs' only to show that history would have been completely different if God had nor preserved Pharaoh or directed Judas. Had these men prayed, 'Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil' that morning, they might not have sinned that day, and the plan of God would have gone to pieces.

People only sin insofar as God preserves and governs them all and all of their actions. Which He does, every day, all day, for everyone.

THEODICY

This brings us to the question that makes every Christian nervous and some of us very, very mad. If God is really in control of all things-including the sinful deeds of people and demons, how is He not guilty for what they do?

If a man allows his three year old son to play with a loaded gun, the gun goes off, and someone is killed, the boy will not be charged with a crime, but his father will be. The man should have kept the gun away from his son, and because he didn't, he's responsible for what the boy did with it. This is how things are in the world, and how they ought to be. The ruling is just.

But if this is true of human fathers, why is it not also true of our Father in Heaven? How can He be involved in Pharaoh's oppression of Israel without being an oppressor Himself? Or-more to the point-how can He be behind the Crucifixion without being guilty of the crime? If not wholly, at least in part?

Christians have answered this in different ways, some better than others, but here's the one I think is most consistent with the whole teaching of the Bible. Six headings:

    1. God created all things to display His character, including angels and humans.
    2. God's character is gracious, but that's not all it is: It is also just.
    3. God decreed demonic and human sin to display His justice in the visible and invisible worlds.
    4. In decreeing sin, God was not sinning Himself, for He never forced or enticed or approved of anyone committing it.
    5. When God allowed both angels and men to fall and then hardens them in their sin, He is acting justly, because that's what we all deserve.
    6. The evil God decrees serves His own holy purposes in bringing glory to Himself and salvation to His people. Thus, with reverence and awe we can agree with St. Augustine, who coined the term-

Felix Culpa!

Which, depending on the translator, can mean, 'the Happy, the Fortunate, or even, the Lucky Fall'.

ADMISSION AND PERSPECTIVE

This does not tie up every loose end, of course, answer every question, or rebut every objection. But plausible explanation for how God can be sovereign over sin without becoming sinful Himself. Human reasoning is good, but the Word of God is better, so we'll end on that, Luke 10:21-

In that hour, Jesus rejoiced in spirit and said, 'I thank you Father, Lord of Heaven and earth that you have hidden these things from the wise and prudent and revealed them unto babes: Even so, Father, it seemed good in your sight'.

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