Christ Rejoices Over Divine Sovereignty (Matthew Sermon 46 of 151)
February 16, 2003 | Andrew Davis
God's Providence and Sovereignty
Earth is out of step with Heaven
I'd like to ask that you open to Matthew chapter 11. We'll be concentrating this morning on verses 25 through 27 in particular. This entire section of Scripture, Matthew 11:20-30 is a masterpiece really of theology and of the deep fruits of God and we began to touch on them some last week with a consideration of divine sovereignty and human responsibility. In this text today we see Jesus our Savior rejoicing over divine sovereignty and in this matter we find that the Earth is out of step with heaven. Recently I read a story about one of my favorite composers George Frederick Handel and how he composed Handel's Messiah, probably his greatest work. He was 57 years old at the time, he was in despair, drifting in life, wasn't really a success at that point. He was close to poverty, frequently went without food. He had lost his thread to some degree and didn't know where to turn. He was a naturalized citizen of England, and was away from his home area of Germany and just trying to make his way in the world.
One night in 1741, he went for a walk out on the streets of London. He just walked all night and was in despair, came back to his room and there was a package at his door. He brought it in and it turned out to be from Charles Jennings. He was the man who wrote his libretto, the words that he would put music to. And as he began to read it, he thought about it and was so fatigued from his night of walking that he kind of collapsed on the bed, but he couldn't shake the Scriptures that were in his mind from this libretto. "Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, saith your God. The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light. For unto us a child is born. Glory to God in the highest and hallelujah, hallelujah." It started to stir him up and started to move inside him. He couldn't shake it and so he got up out of bed and he began to work. He worked for 21 consecutive days without resting, scarcely eating, nobody came and went, he just worked until the Messiah was completed. Finally at the end, some of his friends who were very concerned about him were there at the door knocking and one of them was admitted entrance. The composer was sitting at his piano sheets of music all over the floor. He wasn't a very neat person but there was the music everywhere and there were streams of tears flowing down his cheeks, and he said, "I do believe I have seen all of heaven before me and the great God Himself."
The hallelujah chorus, the most famous part of that entire piece of music, was focused on the climax of the Book of Revelation. Revelation 19: 6 which says, "Then I heard what sounded like a great multitude, like the roar of rushing waters, and like the loud peals of thunder shouting hallelujah! For the Lord God almighty reigns." It's not just hallelujah. There's a reason for the praise. Why are the angels praising God at that point? Why are they thrilled? It's because God Almighty sits on His throne, because He reigns, and in the libretto another text from Revelation, Revelation 11:15, "The kingdoms of the world have become the kingdoms of our Lord and of His Christ and He will reign forever and ever." There is praise in heaven over the prospect of God sitting down on a throne and ruling on earth the way He rules in heaven. I can't wait for that to happen. Even as I was thinking about these texts this morning, I was stirred myself in my spirit. I don't have Handel's musical talent so I can't write the way he did. But my desire this morning is simple. I want you to rejoice in His sovereignty as much as the angels do in Revelation 19. I would like you to rejoice in sovereignty as much as your Lord and Savior Jesus Christ does in Matthew 11:25. I want you to delight in it, and yet, it is not natural for us to think of it that way. Actually, naturally, we come against the sovereignty of God and have to be transformed.
"We have to repent and enter the kingdom of heaven", said Jesus. It's not naturally our state. I've read this quote before from Charles Spurgeon concerning this doctrine. It bears reading again. Spurgeon said this, "There is no attribute more comforting to His children than that of God's sovereignty." Is that not true? Think about the events of our times. Were it not for a God who sat on His throne and ruled over all things there would be little but despair as we face the prospect of yet another war. As General Sherman said, "War is all hell."
Under the most adverse circumstances, in the most severe trials, we believe that sovereignty has ordained our afflictions, that sovereignty overrules us and that sovereignty will sanctify us all. There is nothing for which the children of God ought more earnestly to contend than the doctrine of their Master over all creation, the kingship of God over all the works of His own hands, the throne of God and His right to sit upon that throne. On the other hand, there is no doctrine more hated by “worldlings”, as the truth of the doctrine of the sovereignty of the infinite Jehovah. Men will allow God to be everywhere except on His throne. They will allow Him to be in His workshop to fashion worlds and make stars. They will allow Him to be in His almonry to dispense His alms and bestow bounties. They will allow Him to sustain the earth and bear up the pillars thereof, or light the lamps of heaven, or rule the waves of the ever moving ocean. But when God ascends His throne, His creatures then gnash their teeth.
We proclaim an enthroned God, and His right to do as He wills with His own. To dispose of His creatures as He thinks well, without consulting them in the matter. Then it is that we are his and execrated. And then it is that men turn a deaf ear to us, for God on His throne is not the God they love but it is God upon the throne that we love to preach and it is God upon His throne that we trust. In all of my life, I've never found a truth, as delightful as the Gospel of Jesus Christ. That Christ would give His life for me, that through His blood, I would have complete forgiveness of sins and that when I die, I'm going to heaven. Second to that, I found no doctrine as delightful as the sovereignty of God. I have moved on in my Christian life, to the point where I really can scarcely see a distinction between the two. I hesitate to even say second because I attribute the first to the second. It's a delightful thing. But it's not our natural state, is it? Naturally we tend to be allergic to the doctrine. Jonathan Edwards, a great exponent of the doctrine of the sovereignty of God, had the same experience. He said, "From my childhood up my mind had been full of objections against the doctrine of God's sovereignty. It used to appear like a horrible doctrine to me. But I remember the time very well when I seemed to be convinced and fully satisfied as to the sovereignty of God, and there has been a wonderful alteration in my mind in respect to the doctrine of God's sovereignty, from that day to this. So that I scarce ever have found so much as the rising of an objection against it in the most absolute sense. I have often since had not only a conviction, but a delightful conviction. The doctrine has often appeared exceeding, pleasant, bright and sweet. Absolute sovereignty is what I love to ascribe to God. But my first conviction was not so."
Earth is out of step with heaven on this matter. We are out of step with our Savior Jesus Christ. May God grant in the speaking of my words and the moving of your hearts through the Spirit a change in that, if such a change needs to happen. And does it? I think so. In all of our cases, we still hesitate a little bit. We hold back at the sovereignty of God. Yet I've seen this whole text, Matthew 11:20-30, as an integrated whole in which this issue is brought to the fore. In the end Christ is inviting us to find rest in it. "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened. And I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me." Christ's yoke is a submission to His kingship. You bow your neck, and you put it under Christ's yoke and you'll find rest for your souls. In Isaiah 1, if you resist and rebel you'll be devoured by the sword. Those are the choices that we have, and so we yield to the sovereignty of God, and find delightful rest. "Take my yoke upon you and learn from me. For I am gentle and humble in heart. I'm not a raging tyrant, but a gentle loving Savior. And you will find rest for your souls for my yoke is easy and my burden is light." That's what we're working on today. That we might come to the point where we find as much delight in this doctrine of God sovereignty as Christ did.
The section that we're looking at today is part of a larger study on the sovereignty of God. We began looking last week at three points of these things. I have listed out 10 points of sovereignty that I find in this text. We will deal with four of them today, we have already dealt with three. There are 10 points: First Divine Power. We see in Christ's miracles a display of kingly power. He would couple His miracle working with the proclamation, "Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." There's a combination of the display of His miracles and His kingly power, His divine power. Jesus began to denounce the cities in which most of His miracles had been performed because they did not repent. Secondly, we saw last time, Divine Perception. The supernatural knowledge that Christ has of what Tyre and Sidon and Sodom would have done, if they had had the same miraculous display that Chorazin, Bethsaida and Capernaum received. This wasn't merely theory or a flight of fancy on His part, but He knows all things. He knows what was, what is and what will be. He also knows what might have been had some other things occurred. He knows all of these things. This is Divine Perception, a supernatural knowledge that only He could have. And then thirdly, we saw last week, Divine Prerogative. As a king, you have prerogatives, you have the ability to choose one course, and not the other. That's what makes you a king. He has the prerogative to do those same miracles that He did, in Chorazin, Capernaum, Bethsaida, in Tyre and Sidon if He wanted to. But He chose not to. That is His Divine Prerogative. We've seen those three things already.
Christ Praises God’s Sovereignty
Now we begin with the fourth, Divine Praise. It's really quite striking. In verse 25, it says, “At that time, Jesus answered and said. . . .” Why is this important to me? Because it's a double emphasis on the context of Jesus's praise. "At that time." At what time? At the time when he's thinking about Tyre and Sidon and Sodom and Capernaum and Chorazin, Bethsaida, these cities. At that time when He's thinking about the failure to repent of the cities in which His miracles had been performed. At that time, Jesus answered. What do we mean by answered? Well, He's responding to the stimulus, He's responding to the situation, He's responding to the rejection. So, Chorazin and Bethsaida and Capernaum are rejecting Him, they are not repenting, they're indifferent to Him. How does He respond? He praises God. We are out of step with our Savior; we would do something else I think. What causes heaven to rejoice? What causes Christ to rejoice causes us to become grumbly and irritable and out of sorts and puzzled and scratch our heads and have a hard time. Christ just looks up to His father and says, "I praise you Father, Lord of heaven and earth." He's praising Him, and He could have done many other things. He could have praised God for other things at that moment, He could have praised God for example for His patience and not destroying Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum. He could have praised God for His mercy and grace in giving those cities such miracles. He could have praised God for His love in sending them rain and sunshine, and many physical blessings, He could have done that. He could have praised God for His mercy to those who did repent in other places. Or He could have chosen at that moment to plead for these cities, to pray for them. Or to weep over them as Jesus did over Jerusalem. He could do all of these things, but instead He praises God for His sovereignty. It's a strange thing, and I don't think we would have done it, but that's my point, we wouldn't have and so we must repent, we must change, we must look again at our Savior and our king and praise Him for His power.
The next thing we see is Divine Position and we find this in the titles that He ascribes to God, "I praise you," He says, "Father, Lord of heaven and earth," stop there. These are two titles that he gives to God. First, He calls Him, Father, then He calls Him Lord of heaven and earth. Let's take the second first. The essence of paganism, and of polytheism is of jurisdictions given to the Gods, much like a federal office. You go in there and you bring a certain document to an office and you're in the wrong place, and you're told to go to another. Well, polytheism basically works that way. There's the God of war, and there's the God of the oceans and then there's the God of the mountains and of the valleys. Or it may work along political lines. There's the God of Moab and the God of Ammon, the God of Edom and the God of Judah. And they each have their jurisdictions, for example, the Moabite's God was Chemosh. The concept was whatever God, the God of the Moabites, Chemosh gave to his people, that's what they received, whenever they went out to battle, Chemosh would go with them. If they won, it was Chemosh that gave them the victory; if they were defeated, it was Chemosh that had given them over to the defeat. Jephthah in Judges 11:24, speaking to Moabites says, "Will you not take what your god, Chemosh gives you? Likewise whatever the Lord our God has given us, we will possess.” Oh shameful understanding of Jephthah. "Well, we get Yahweh and whatever he gives and you get Chemosh, and whatever he gives."
If the Moabites went out and fought and lost it was because Chemosh had given them up. Numbers 21:29 says, "Woe to you O Moab, you were destroyed, O people of Chemosh. He has given up his sons as fugitives and his daughters as captures to Sihon king of the Amorites." Now, Chemosh would never hurt his people too much because without the people, there's no Chemosh anymore. Case in point, have you ever met a Moabite? Have you gone to school with a Moabite? Do you have any living in your neighborhood? Is there an outreach to Moabites that we can give money to? What happened to Moabites? They are gone as a people. Second question, what happened to Chemosh? If you look in the yellow pages will you find a temple that Chemosh that you can go worship at this morning? Chemosh is gone, the Moabites are gone.You see the God of Israel is different. He chose Israel out of all of these nations to be His treasured possession, but He will go on whether they're extinct or not, and they know it. Therefore, He commands them to be holy or He will judge them and they know that He is not just a tribal deity but He is Lord of Heaven and Earth; He rules over all things. Therefore the Old Testament prophets in their oracles frequently would make pronouncements about Moab and about Ammon and Edom, and Syria, and Egypt, and all the world because God rules the world. When Jonah was taken on the boat by a bunch of Gentiles and they find out that he doesn't worship one of those tribal deities, he worships the Lord who made heaven and earth, they became very afraid because of God's reputation. He is Lord of heaven and earth. At one point, he specifically sends a messenger to say, "I'm going to give you the victory in the battle because of what your enemies are saying." 1 Kings 20:28, "The man of God came up and told the king of Israel, ‘This is what the Lord says, “Because the Arabians think the Lord is a god of the hills and no a god of the valleys, I will deliver this vast army into you hands, and you will know that I am the Lord.’” “I’m not a God of the hills only or of the valleys only. I am a God of the hills, and the valleys and everything else besides. I am not a tribal or localized deity." Jeremiah 23:23-24, “‘Am I only a God nearby, declares the Lord, ‘And not a God far away? Can anyone hide in secret places so that I cannot see him?’ declares the Lord. ‘Do I not fill heaven and earth?’declares the Lord.”
This is the God that we worship. This is the God that our Savior, Jesus Christ lifted His face to and praised, "I praise you Father, Lord of heaven and earth who rules over all things". God created Heaven and Earth. God has the right to sit down on the throne and rule heaven and earth, and He does. He rules over individual nations, even Gentile ones.God chose Israel out of that nation to be His people, His treasured possession, and from Israel, He brings salvation to the world, "For salvation is from the Jews." Christ at this moment, in verse 25, is delighting in and rejoicing in the sovereignty of His father over heaven and earth, over all things. He rules over them and can do with them whatever He chooses, because He is king, He is Lord of heaven and earth. This very sovereignty over all of the earth is what gives the Gospel its success. In the Great Commission Jesus came to His disciples and said, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me, therefore go and make disciples of all nations." Do you see the connection? Because God rules over the whole world, we are commanded to go and make disciples of all nations. If God were not Lord of heaven and earth, the gospel could not and would not conquer the world, but it will in the end. There will be people from every tribe, and language, and people, and nation, because of the sovereignty of our God. What about the first title? "I praise you Father, Lord of heaven and earth." This shows the relational aspect of God's sovereignty. It shows that He is not some austere tyrant King, but rather a heavenly father. It's an endearing title, a title of authority definitely, but a display of God's loving relational rule. He desires not just to be Lord of heaven and earth, but to be father. And so, Jesus praises Him, "Father, Lord of heaven and earth."
Then we see Divine Preference, concealing to some and revealing to others, "I praise you Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because. . . .” That's very important. Why are you praising Christ? "Because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned and revealed them to little children." That's striking isn't it? I praise you that you conceal, and I praise you that you reveal. This is the praise of our Savior, Jesus Christ. God can choose to deal differently with some than He does with others, and He does. To some in this case, He conceals, and to some others, He reveals. And Christ praises God for it. He delights in it. He rejoices in it. First of all, He praises God for concealing, "I praise you Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned." This is shocking. We tend to think of ourselves as, or tend to think of God as, a God who would reveal Himself to everyone, who shows Himself openly all the time to anybody. The whole time He's revealing, opening, demonstrating, imploring sinners to come and to sit at the banquet feast and to enjoy a full revelation of His nature and His glory. We would never think He would conceal Himself. It doesn't seem to be the God that we know or the God that we worship. From whom does He conceal? He says, "I praise you Father, Lord of heaven and earth that you have concealed or hidden these things from the wise and learned." This is rather striking to us as well. What's wrong with wisdom? What's wrong with learning? As a matter of fact, there's a whole book of the Bible, Proverbs, devoted to the blessings of wisdom. There's nothing wrong with wisdom, but there's a kind of wisdom and learning that Christ is singling out here. It's an arrogant human wisdom separated from God, in which humans are seeking of themelves and from themselves to learn these things, these Gospel truths.
Why did philosophers in Greece, like Plato and Aristotle and Socrates, not discover God? Because He had concealed Himself from them. Scientists, like Archimedes, did not discover God, because He had concealed himself from them. Mighty potentates, like Alexander the Great and the Roman emperors and all the other conquerors of that region of the world, had never discovered God through sheer power, because He had concealed Himself from them. It says in 1 Corinthians 1:20-21, "Where is the wise man? Where is the scholar? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world through its wisdom did not know him. God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe." God has made the wisdom of the world foolishness, and He has ordained that through those means no one will discover Him. It does not matter how intelligent they are. It doesn't matter how much they inquire. They will never find Him, because God delights to conceal Himself from arrogant people.
Isaiah 45:15 says, "Truly, you are a God who hides himself, oh God and Savior of Israel." That's a striking verse, isn't it? "You are a God who hides himself." Man will never find God if He does not reveal Himself, and God does not always choose to reveal Himself. Christ praises God for concealing Himself, first and foremost. Secondly, Christ praises God for revealing Himself, "I praise you Father, Lord of heaven and earth, not just because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, but because you have revealed them to little children." It delights Christ that His Father conceals Himself, but it also delights Him that He reveals Himself, and to whom? To little children. If you're willing to repent. If you're willing to turn, to humble yourself, to turn away from your own wisdom and your own power and strength and achievement, He will show you everything. He will reveal Himself fully to you. You will see Him face-to-face. You will see His glory. You will be part of that prayer that Christ prayed in John 17, "Father, I want those whom you have given me to be with me where I am, to see my glory." We will see His glory if we humble ourselves and become like little children. Mathew 18:3-4, Jesus said, "I tell you the truth. Unless you repent and become like little children, you will never enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven." Jesus also said, "Blessed are the spiritual beggars, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven."
In Mathew 23, Jesus says, "Whoever exalts himself will be humbled and whoever humbles himself will be exalted, for the Lord gives grace to the humble, but he opposes the proud." This is a major and a consistent theme in Scripture. Number one, God cannot be found if He does not will Himself to be found. It doesn't matter how hard you try, you will not find God unless He reveals Himself. Secondly, God actively hides Himself from the wise and learned, they chase rabbit trails and they will never find Him. Thirdly, God actively reveals Himself to the humble, to those who are like little children. Do you see then the benefit of this kind of preaching. It humbles us, doesn't it? It makes us like little children, it slays our pride so that we can bow our neck to the yoke of Jesus Christ, and He will reveal Himself fully and completely to us. Who are the little children? — Humble Jews, outcasts, like tax collectors and sinners, He reveals Himself to them. and even to Gentiles who know nothing, who were rejected, and outcast by the Jews. He will reveal Himself to them, as they trust in Him, and believe in Him.
And then seventh, we see Divine Pleasure, all things done according to God's pleasure. He says in Matthew 11:26, "Yes father, for this was your good pleasure." What Christ delights in, God delights in. There's no dis-harmony between Father and Son. It's not wrong for Christ to delight in His Father's sovereignty because His Father delights in His own sovereignty. He says, "Yes father, this was your good pleasure." God was pleased to conceal and pleased to reveal. He's not disgruntled, irritable, out of sorts, frustrated with His rule of the universe, it's not going badly for Him. Every mighty potentate has a bad day or even a bad year. The seven fat cattle are swallowed up by the seven skinny cattle, even if you're Pharaoh, King of Egypt, but for God, it's never that way. He rules over all things according to His pleasure. Our God is in heaven and he does whatever pleases Him.
Psalm 135:6 says, "The Lord does whatever pleases him, in the heavens and on the earth, and the seas, and all their depths." Now what pleases God, is it automatically delightful to us? Are there not some surprising aspects of what pleases God? Does He not delight in some things we would not naturally delight in? For example, He speaks to Israel, and He says, "He was delighted to make Israel prosper in their land, in the promised land, if they would only obey his commands but he's also delighted to crush them and destroy them if they won't." In Deuteronomy 28:63, "It shall come about that as the Lord delighted over you to prosper you and multiply you, so the Lord also will delight over you to make you perish and destroy you and you will be torn from the land where you are entering to possess it." That's not our way but that is God's way. He was delighted also to make Christ suffer on the cross.
Isaiah 53:10, it says, "The Lord was pleased to crush him and cause him to suffer, and if he would render himself as a guilt offering, he will see his offspring and prolong his days and the good pleasure of the Lord will prosper in his hand." God's good pleasure flowers in Christ's hand like a garden. God delights in concealing from the wise and revealing to little children. Now, let me explain what I mean. I don't believe God finds any pleasure intrinsically in crushing Israel and expelling them from the land. I don't think He finds any masochistic delight in watching His Son suffer on the cross nor does He have any delight in concealing himself from arrogant people, but rather in the big picture, He sees the new Heaven and the new Earth, the home of righteousness where all sin is crushed and destroyed, where the devil and all of the rebels are removed and Heaven and Earth is one under His rule. That's a delightful thing and in that He delights. Just as Jesus said, "He endured the cross despising its shame for the joy on the other side, the joy set before Him, that's the pleasure of God. What God delights in, if you're a Christian, means salvation for you. It was the pleasure of God to choose you before the foundation of the world. Ephesians 1:5, "He predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ in accordance with his pleasure and will." It brought Him delight, He said, "Little flock, don't be afraid, it is God's good pleasure to give you the kingdom." And it is also His pleasure now that you're saved, to sanctify you, to help you to grow. It says in Philippians 2:13, "It is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good pleasure."
This is the delightful thing. How can we apply this? This understanding of the sovereignty of God, of God's divine power and of His divine pleasure, prerogative and all of these things that He has shown us. There is no end to those things we can be anxious about in this world. Did you know that? There's no end to anxiety, no end to concern, to current events, to problems. How about in the future? You look ahead in your life, there's no end to what your imagination can tell you will happen to you or your loved ones, to your bodies, to your souls, no end to the anxieties. If you do not accept this doctrine of God's sovereignty, it leaves you without a rudder on a sea of anxiety and fear and God would not have it so. He wants His people at rest and at peace with Him, "Come to me all you who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest. I will give you peace if you trust in my sovereignty, rest in it."
Be confident in the rule of God. Secondly, be humbled by this doctrine. God is not asking our opinion concerning the rulership of the universe, He does not poll us, He does not need our insights. When you are praying, you're not giving Him advice as to a course of action that He should take that He hadn't considered thoroughly. That's not what's going on there. This is a humbling doctrine, and it makes us like little children, doesn't it? It humbles us, and makes us low and meek so that we can receive the full revelation of His nature and His character, be humbled. Thirdly, repent and live in the kingdom. "Repent for the kingdom of Heaven is here." The time has come for you to throw away your weapons of rebellion and allow Him to be king, because that's what He is. Let Him rule therefore over every area and every aspect of your life. Let Him rule over you and let Him rule over the world and realize that it's a good thing. Repent therefore and live in the kingdom. How practical is this? Are there any areas of rebellion in your life? Anything that you know is out of sorts with the will of God, anything you know that's not in harmony with the word of God, Then repent from those things and take delight in His kingdom.
How did Jesus apply this teaching? Verse 28, "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest." Come to Christ, come to Him now, if you've never trusted in Christ, come to Him today and keep coming, find rest for your souls.