I would like to read two portions of Scripture as a background for my message. The first is Psalm 115:1-3.
Not unto us, O Lord, not unto us, But to Your name give glory, Because of Your mercy, And because of Your truth. Why should the Gentiles say, "Where now is their God?" But our God is in heaven; He does whatever He pleases. Psalm 115:1-3
As we read the second passage, Daniel 4:30-37, I want to give you a sermon outline on these verses. I could easily use this section as the basis for my entire message, but I feel constrained to take another direction. However, we will get a clear view of "Our Sovereign God" in these verses. I am indebted to Pastor John Weaver of Jessup, Georgia for this outline. This could be entitled "The Testimony of a Pagan King to the Absolute Sovereignty of God."
Outline of Daniel 4:30-37
I. v. 30 - God's Sovereignty Ignored and Rejected. The king spoke saying, "Is not this great Babylon, that I have built for a royal dwelling by my mighty power and for the honor of my majesty" You can feel the pride and arrogance of this pagan king. He has no thought of God but only his own self appointed importance.
II. v. 31-33 - God's Sovereignty Experienced. While the word was still in the king's mouth, a voice fell from heaven: "King Nebuchadnezzar, to you it is spoken: the kingdom has departed from you! And they shall drive you from men, and your dwelling shall be with the beasts of the field. They shall make you eat grass like oxen; and seven times shall pass over you, until you know that the most High rules in the kingdom of men, and gives it to whomsoever He chooses." That very hour the word was fulfilled concerning Nebuchadnezzar; he was driven from men and ate grass like oxen; his body was wet with the dew of heaven till his hair had grown like eagle's feathers and his nails like bird's claws. Today people say, "Oh, God would never do anything so cruel as that." If such treatment was the essential means necessary to bring this proud king to a knowledge of God, then it was a very gracious act.
III. v. 34a - God's Sovereignty Gladly Acknowledged. And at the end of the time I, Nebuchadnezzar, lifted my eyes to heaven, and my understanding returned to me: and I blessed the Most High and praised and honored Him who lives forever....
There are three things in this verse that always go together, and they always follow the same order:
(1) "I lifted up my eyes" - A right view of God.
(2) "My understanding returned" - A right understanding of reality.
(3) I blessed...praised...honored..." - A right attitude of worship.
You will immediately think of Romans one showing how the exact opposite is true.
1. Instead of looking up to God, Paul says that men have deliberately turned their eyes away from God and rejected His revelation (Romans 1:18-20).
2. Their foolish hearts were darkened because their mind had become vain and, like Nebuchadnezzar, they were given over to senseless insanity in morality and life style (Romans 1:21-32).
3. They refused to "glorify God" and "thank Him," but instead they exalted the creature and boasted about themselves and their own power (Romans 1:21,22).
Either the three things in Nebuchadnezzar's experience or the three things in Romans one will always occur. Every person fits one of these two descriptions. There is no neutrality.
IV. v. 34b-37 - God's Sovereignty Described.
1. v. 34b - The Superiority of His Kingdom. For His dominion is an everlasting dominion, And His kingdom is from generation to generation.
2. v. 35a - The Insignificance of His Creatures. All the inhabitants of the earth are reputed as nothing.
3. v. 35b - The Sovereignty of His Will. He does according to His will in the army of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth. No one can restrain His hand Or say to Him, "What have You done"?
4. v. 36 - The Sureness of His Purposes. At the same time my reason returned to me, and for the glory of my kingdom, my honor and splendor returned to me. My counselors and nobles resorted to me, I was restored to my kingdom, and excellent majesty was added to me.
5. v. 37a - The Supremacy of His Person. Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and extol and honor the King of heaven...
6. v. 37b - The Singleness of His Character .....all of whose works are truth, and His ways justice.
7. v. 37c - The Strength of His Position. And those who walk in pride He is able to abase.
That, my dear friend, is the God of the Bible! That is the God that you and I must face in eternity! That is Our Sovereign Holy God!
Several year ago I spoke at a conference where the sermon titles given to the evening messages were stated in terms of God Himself. My topic was "Our Sovereign God." We are on solid Biblical ground when we talk about God Himself instead of speaking only of doctrines about Him. I agree with A.W. Pink when he said, "To speak about the 'Sovereignty of God' is to be theological, but to speak of a 'God Who is sovereign' is to be Biblical." The goal of our conference is not to know things about God, it is to know God Himself.
We must not get lopsided and think of God in terms of only one attribute. Our sovereign God is also a most gracious God. His grace sweetens His sovereignty and His sovereignty makes certain that His grace will accomplish its intended purpose.
Our study is not going to cover the ground so familiar to those who glory in the truth known as "Calvinism." I do not hesitate to own myself a "Calvinist" simply because I believe the great truths set forth under that name. However, I have often found that many men and women, who rejected the sovereignty of God when it was set forth in theological terms, would bow in worship and praise to a sovereign heavenly Father when they were in affliction. I hate to admit it, but my pastoral experience has convinced me that Godly Arminians often exhibit more practical submission to "Our Sovereign God" than the Calvinist who can win all of the theological arguments about "the sovereignty of God versus free will." Calvinists have a tendency to have a better grasp of the "logic" of theology than they have of the grace and love of God Himself!
I am assuming that you have read Pink's book on "The Sovereignty of God." If you have not, then I urge you to do so as soon as possible. I am sure you know that Romans nine is not only in the Bible, but you also know that it clearly teaches that our God is indeed a most sovereign God. I am also assuming that you accept without question that God has "mercy upon whom He wants to have mercy, and He hardens whom He wants to harden" (Romans 9:18).
My goal is more pastoral and is aimed at encouraging the heart. I have a sermon on Romans 8:28 entitled "A Soft Pillow for a Weary Head and a Sorry Heart." God has used this particular message to bring help and hope to many suffering sheep. There is no sweeter Balm in Gilead to a true sheep of Christ than the knowledge that his God is the "Sovereign God" who controls the whole universe. This is especially true when God's providence turns our personal world upside down. It is then that we must be able to say with David, "My times are in thy hands" (Ps. 31:15). The hymn writer has caught the truth we long to experience:
My times are in thy hand; My God, I wish them there;
My life, my friends, my soul, I leave entirely to thy care.
My times are in thy hand, whatever they may be;
Pleasing or painful, dark or bright, as best may seem to thee.
My times are in thy hand; Why should I doubt or fear?
My Father's hand will never cause His child a needless tear.
My times are in thy hand, Jesus the crucified;
Those hands my cruel sins have pierced are now my guard and guide.
Daniel 4:34 expresses what I pray might happen to all of us during this week. Notice again the three specific things that happened to Nebuchadnezzar, and be sure that you catch the sequence in which they occur.
(1) "I, Nebuchadnezzar, raised my eyes to heaven," and when he did that, he saw a Sovereign God sitting on a throne. Nebuchadnezzar describes what happened in his heart at this sight.
(2) ".....and my sanity was restored." The most insane thing a man can do is look toward himself instead of up to God. Just as Nebuchadnezzar's insanity was directly related to his pride and exalting himself, so the return of his sanity was related to his humility and repentance in "raising his eyes to heaven." What a lesson for the egotistical "me first" society in which we live.
(3) "Then (note well the connection) I praised the Most High; I honored and glorified Him who lives forever." You cannot see God as He is and not want to honor and praise Him, and you cannot turn away from Him without seeking to honor and praise yourself. A right sight of God will always give you a right sight of yourself.
I trust we are beginning to see how firmly these three things are tied together and cannot be separated. You will notice, of course, the similarity of this passage with the words of Stephen, the first martyr.
Stephen.....looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God...."Look," he said, "I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God." Acts 7:56
Whenever you see "heaven open," you will always see a sovereign Saviour at the "right hand of God," and when you see the exalted Saviour you will always see the "glory of God." When we really get that into our heart with a living faith, then we will be enabled to fall on our knees and pray for the people throwing the stones. That is the kind of power we need to experience in our personal lives as we think about "our Sovereign God." We need to know experimentally in daily life what we can argue so effectively in debate.
Several years ago I preached in a large church in Detroit. After the service a young couple came up to me and showed me a copy of an old Sword and Trowel, a magazine I began, and which I edited for several years. The young lady gave me an autographed copy of a book she had written. She said, "You will recognize some of your own material in this book." The name of the book was Yet Will I Trust Him and her purpose in writing the book is my purpose tonight. The back cover says: "Yet Will I Trust Him is a practical, provocative guide showing how to yield to God's control and experience His peace and victory, no matter what!"
That is the kind of attitude we need this week as we study together. We cannot afford to come together just to confirm our theological convictions. We do not want to "hold fast our theology", we want our theology to hold us fast in real life. I fear that too often we pass the test in the classroom of theology and then flunk the test in the classroom of life. It is a hollow victory for us as Calvinists if we can write better books and preach better sermons than Arminians but can not live more contented and joyful lives than they do.
Peg Rankin had just been witnessing to a girl friend involved in divorce proceedings. The girl was bitter, frustrated, and left in anger. Yet will I Trust Him was probably conceived in Peg's mind in the next few moments.
As I walked back into the kitchen, I answered the jangling phone. It was a friend. "Did you hear about Bob?" she queried.
"No, what?" I asked. I had seen Bob in the hall at the church on Sunday. We had chatted awhile about a mutual friend who was giving up a lucrative job to become a missionary.
"That's what I'd like to do someday," Bob had said, "become a missionary. I guess one of these days I'll just have to take the bull by the horns and do it. I'm not getting any younger, you know. Just turned 40 last week."
With the conversation only a couple of days old, I expected my friend to announce that Bob had come to a decision to give his life to Christ in a full-time missionary effort. But it was not to be. The voice on the phone shattered my thoughts.
"Bob was struck by a car and killed on his way to work this morning," it said, hesitating between the phrases. "His wife is stunned. And the kids, they're so young to be without a daddy. What will they do?"
"They will have to cope with the crisis," I philosophized, startling myself with the starkness of what I was saying, "and go on from there. What else is there to do?"
As I hung up the phone, I had the same helpless feeling that I had experienced when dealing with the family whose rebellious daughter had just run away from home. Then I thought of Shirley and her divorce. Problems seemed to be multiplying everywhere.
Someone has said, "when your world is badly shaken, start with what you know you believe and build upward from there." I decided to put the advice into practice.
I thought, "I know that God is in control of all things. I believe that His plan for our lives is perfect. At least that is what the Bible says. But how can I toss such a platitude to someone caught in the maelstrom of a crisis? Especially when I'm not even sure that I have hold of it myself?"
I was confronted with what I felt has to be accomplished in my own life and in the lives of many others. Somehow we Christians have to get the sovereignty of God out of the closet and into the mainstream of living. But how do we go about doing it? Victory on the mountain peaks is easy. It is a natural result of success. But if Christianity doesn't work in the valleys, it isn't worth having at all, is it?
From: Yet Will I trust Him, by Peg Rankin,
Gospel Light, pages 12,13.
Shortly after this Mr. and Mrs. Rankin were asked to team teach an adult class in Daily Vacation Bible School on the subject "The Sovereignty of God In Family Crises." Their first preparation consisted in listing all of the crises that their family, and all the families they knew, had faced or were facing. Their first reaction was, "All of life seems to be a crisis." They began to study and prepare for the course in dead earnest.
With anticipation, we tossed out the questions that would be covered during the course of study:
1. Who is this God I'm trying to serve?
2. Where is He when I need Him most?
3. Why are there crises in my life?
4. What do life's crises accomplish?
5. How can I have victory in the midst of crises?
We know teachers cannot integrate truth without spending hours in disciplined study. So before we laid our heads on our pillows that night, we pledged ourselves to God afresh to be diligent in our searching of His Word. Then we reaffirmed ourfaith in a God who controls all things, working them for His glory and to His children's good. Ibid, page 15.
One of the things I enjoyed about Yet Will I Trust Him was the author's definition of the sovereignty of God. In fact, I quoted all of the foregoing just to get to this definition:
Several years ago, Lee and I taught a class of very sharp young married couples. We imparted to them the same truth that we impart to every class we teach: God is sovereign in the lives of men. We examined His sovereignty in creation, proceeded with His sovereignty in history, and looked with detail at His sovereignty in salvation. The entire course took a year to cover. We ended with a challenge to the students that if they would surrender their lives daily to the will of the King of kings, no limit could be placed upon their spiritual victory.
Then we said to them, "OK, you've sat for a year in a course entitled The Sovereignty of God, now you define God's sovereignty." I will never forget the statement that came from Tom, a doctoral candidate in the field of physics. Although he had not anticipated the question, he was thoroughly prepared for the answer. He said, "The sovereignty of God means that God can do any thing He wants to do, any time He wants to do it, any way He wants to do it, for any purpose He wants to accomplish." Ibid, page 23.
Wow! What an answer!
Now you and I must realize that "any thing, any time, any way" includes any and every person as well as all events. More specifically, it actually means you and me and all of my loved ones and everything that pertains to them. Normally, this truth would be learned at conversion. However, with the current distortion of the gospel of grace in modern evangelism, many sincere Christians are ignorant of this awesome fact.
The heart of a sinner's rebellion to God is the sinner's implacable hatred of God's sovereign authority, and the essence of true repentance and faith is confident submission to God Himself as absolutely sovereign. The Psalmist put it beautifully when he said, "Be still, and know that I am God..." (Ps. 46:46). Moffitt translated that "Give up, and admit that I am God." The contest since the Garden of Eden has been, "Who is really God?" Are we the master of our fate, our own god? Or is the God Who "made heaven and earth and the sea, and all that in them is" really the Sovereign Ruler of everything, including you and me.