The Sovereignty of God

Sermon by Gabe Fluhrer on Aug 23, 2015

Isaiah 44:6-8

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Let us pray.

Almighty and everlasting God, as we come again before Your Word, we recognize our own impoverished condition in which we need to humbly implore You for the aid of the Holy Spirit to understand. And so we pray that the Spirit would cause Christ to increase and the one who speaks to decrease, all for Your glory. We ask it in the name of our mighty, risen King, even the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

Please turn with me in your Bibles together to the book of Isaiah, Isaiah chapter 44. You’ll find it on page 604 in your pew Bibles. Let me say again as you’re turning there, how grateful my family and I are for all of the love and support during the hospitalization of our daughter that we received during her hospitalization last week. I’m happy to report she is here tonight, she is doing well by God’s grace, and we thank you for your prayers and love. Isaiah 44 and we will study verses 6 through 8 this evening. This is the inspired and therefore inerrant Word of the living God. Let us give careful attention:

“Thus says the LORD, the King of Israel and his Redeemer, the LORD of hosts: ‘I am the first and I am the last; besides me there is no god. Who is like me? Let him proclaim it. Let him declare and set it before me, since I appointed an ancient people. Let them declare what is to come, and what will happen. Fear not, nor be afraid; have I not told you from of old and declared it? And you are my witnesses! Is there a God besides me? There is no Rock; I know not any.’”

The grass withers, the flowers fall, but the Word of our God shall stand forever and ever.

Big “Godders” and Little “godders”

Donald Grey Barnhouse, who was the pastor of the historic Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia, returned to his alma mater, Princeton Theological Seminary, in the mid-1920s just as Princeton was involved in the struggle between faithful, Biblical, Gospel-centered ministry training on the one hand and liberalism on the other, and he went back to preach. Barnhouse was one of the leaders against the movements of unbelief. When he finished, his Old Testament professor and leading scholar of that day, Robert Dick Wilson, who would go on to become the founding Old Testament professor at Westminster Theological Seminary when Princeton split from them in 1929, Wilson came up to him and said this to him after his sermon. “I only come once to hear the former students preach. I’m glad that you are a ‘big Godder.’ When my boys come back I come to see if they are ‘big Godders’ or ‘little godders’ and then I know what their ministry will be.” Barnhouse was intrigued and asked for further explanation. Wilson continued, “Well, some men have a little god and they are always in trouble with him. He can’t do any miracles; he can’t take care of the inspiration and transmission of the Scriptures to us. He doesn’t intervene on behalf of his people; they have a little god and I call them ‘little godders.’ Then there are those who have a great God. He speaks and it is done; He commands and it stands fast. He knows how to show Himself strong on behalf of them that fear Him. You, Donald, have a great God and He will bless your ministry.” He paused a moment and then said, “May God bless you.”

Why Should We Believe Him?

Well, the theology of “big Godders” is perhaps nowhere more on display than in the second half of the prophecy of Isaiah beginning in chapter 40 and then on through the end to chapter 66. Especially in chapters 40 through 48 where we find ourselves this evening, we see that Isaiah is emphatically no “little godder.” Millennia before this incident in Miller Chapel at Princeton Seminary, Isaiah was overcome with the greatness of God and the text before us shows this overcoming-ness that Isaiah experienced in the most beautiful, terrifying, and comforting way. Let me briefly set the context for you. The section of text where we find ourselves really begins back in chapter 42 and verse 10. That’s going to continue through the end of this chapter. And the main thought of those roughly two chapters is this - because God alone controls history, what has happened to Israel was neither a surprise to Him nor against His will, hence the title of our sermon, “The Sovereignty of God.” But the question for us then is, “How is God going to accomplish this? How is it all going to happen and why?” the ancient Israelites would have asked Isaiah. “Why should we believe Him?” And our text answers that question.

I want to look at this text with you under three headings. In the first place in verse 6, God’s sovereignty is revealed by His titles. God’s sovereignty is revealed by His titles. In the second place in verse 7, God’s sovereignty challenges false gods. God’s sovereignty challenges false gods. And then in the last place in verse 8, God’s sovereignty is a comfort to the believer.

I. God’s Sovereignty is Revealed by His Titles

God’s sovereignty, then, is revealed by His titles. Look at verse 6. “Thus says the LORD, the King of Israel and his Redeemer, the LORD of hosts: ‘I am the first and I am the last; besides me there is no god.” And God begins His explanation of Himself with a magnification of His titles.

Yahweh

He begins by saying that He is Yahweh. Your English translations translate the covenant name of God, the four lettered name of the Old Testament, with capital L-O-R-D. That is the covenant name of God. That is what He described Himself as to Moses at the burning bush incident in Exodus 3. It was a title of comfort for His people. It was a title that spoke to them, “I am the One who has pledged Myself to you and will never leave.” And Isaiah invokes it here, by the inspiration of the Spirit, to remind the Israelites that what is happening to them happens under the auspices, under the protection of the very One who has pledged Himself in covenant to them. God’s covenant faithfulness is always contrasted with our unfaithfulness, isn’t it, my friends? We look on our lives and we see nothing but straying. And as the hymn that was so beautifully sung would put it in one of the stanzas, “Prone to wander, Lord I feel it! Prone to leave the God I love.” No, God is the covenant keeping God who has not forgotten them.

King of Israel

And then He tells them He’s the King of Israel. That’s another reminder they needed to hear as they were being prepared to be carried off to exile in Babylon where they would be impressed, no doubt, by the military might of Nebuchadnezzar, the ruler of the known world who would come with his armies and lead away the nobles and the kings of Jerusalem disgracing them in a train of victory as they did so. And in the midst of that God says, “No! There’s only ever and only been one King in Israel and it is Me, My people!” That’s what He says to them. The earthly kings were failures precisely because God alone was King. Only God, then, is the One who is enthroned in splendor and majesty, the One who reigns as a King on high. That’s a hard concept for us to understand in this country. The last time we had a king here we threw him out, and so kings don’t do well with us, but as Christians we ought to joy in the fact that our God is King, that He reigns, but also that He’s the One who speaks comfort to us in the very naming of Himself, that He is the One who is covenantally faithful.

Redeemer

And then He continues with the comfort. He says He is Israel’s Redeemer. You see, this is a concept embedded in the Mosaic Law, the law outlined in the first four books of the Old Testament. It is the kinsman-redeemer concept, the concept that if somebody died in one of the lineages of the tribes of Israel and there was nobody to take his name and to reclaim the inheritance that some would come and be a kinsman-redeemer to him and shockingly here, my friends, God says He is Israel’s Kinsman-Redeemer. He Himself will do it. He is the One who will come down and be their Comforter and their Redeemer. And he continues and says - you’ll notice here what Isaiah is doing, what God is doing through Isaiah really, is He’s piling on these titles to them so they would remember who it is who is promising this to them.

The Lord of Hosts

And He continues by saying that He’s “the LORD of hosts.” This is an image of military might. In other words, He’s saying to us and to Israel, “When you see the armies of the world arrayed in all their pomp and circumstance, be they goose stepping down streets of North Korea or be they in black clad jihadist outfits thousands of miles away from us, there’s only One who commands the armies that really matters and He sits enthroned in heaven. His name is Yahweh, the LORD of hosts.” And then He says, “I am the first and I am the last.” He’s eternal, my friends. There’s nobody else who can say that, not a concept of evolution whereby the world is brought into existence by some fiery burst of energy so that matter and molecules are what’s most basic in this world and we are simply scum kicked up from bacteria of stardusts! No, no, not eternal matter. And by the way, though that concept of the eternity of matter and evolution was developed by Charles Darwin, it’s present in the Babylonian religious texts that Israel would have heard all around them during this time. It’s not new; we know that. Solomon told us there is nothing new under the sun. But in the midst of that kind of false, pagan idea of what is real and who is true, God comes and says, “I am the first and I am the last.” He alone is eternal.

Why is that important for us to realize? Why was it important for them to realize? Because if He is the eternal One who is high and holy and our Redeemer and the One who wants to comfort us, then He is the One who can be counted on to keep His word because He does not change, because He never fails to keep His promises, that no matter what happens to us in this life, God will be the same. He’s the first; He’s been there before us. He’s the last; He’ll have the last word, not the sun exploding billions of years from now. No, God has the last word, my friends, and therefore we have great hope and great comfort. He’s the One to whom we must fly and flee when we need this comfort. And until we realize that, when we do get the diagnosis from the doctor that none of us want to get, when we’re told that it’s not going to be as long as we thought it would be, when a spouse lets us down, when all of a sudden we’re told that work no longer needs our services, it’s only then that our theology will become clear, that what is spoken here for the comfort of God’s people throughout all ages will come home to us. John Piper put it wonderfully. He said, “Nobody’s ever learned the most about God’s sovereignty on the sunny days, have we?” It’s when tragedy would strike the Israelites, like the exile, and in our own lives, our personal tragedies, when they strike we need to know that He is the first and the last and He’s not abandoned us.

“Who is Like Me?”

And then finally He closes out this opening section here saying, “Who is like Me? Besides me, there is no other god.” He is peerless. We have to see the full force of Isaiah’s words here, my friends. He’s not saying that there’s some other gods who may or may not exist, and if just given the chance they’ll prove that they’re worthwhile and worthy of being trusted, and maybe they do in fact exist. That’s not what he’s saying at all. He’s saying, as he’s going to go on and develop in the rest of this chapter, that the very gods that we make for ourselves depend upon this God for their existence! They wouldn’t even be able to exist unless the true and living God existed and was there and had spoken and had promised. There’s no one besides Him. Everything else is simply an airy, ephemeral figment of fallen man’s imaginations. What assurance. Can you imagine what it would have been like to be carted off to Babylon and see nothing but idols all around you and you remembered these promises that Isaiah had spoken where God told them, “There’s no other god. Those idols of wooden stone, there’s nothing behind them. You don’t need to be afraid!” And what a comfort that is for us today as the siren song of the false gods comes through our televisions, our music, our movies. “Trust me, trust this,” and God comes and says to us there is none besides him.

II. God’s Sovereignty Challenges False gods

 

Then in the second place, God’s sovereignty challenges false gods. Look at what He says. He says, “Let him declare and set it before me, since I appointed an ancient people.” And what He’s saying there is legal, courtroom language. He’s drawing these pretended gods forward to the bar and saying, “Your case needs to be made and it can’t be. The heavenly Judge sits in session and He comes to reign judgment upon those who would trust in false gods and upon the false gods themselves.” And what’s the reasoning? He says, “I appointed an ancient people.” That’s the difference, my friends, between the true God and every other god. Every other god we make to rule over us. Only God, the true and living God, appoints us to Himself. That’s what He says is the proof. “Look at the fact that Israel exists. I’m the One who sustained them. I’m the One who brought them,” He says through the prophet, “I brought you through all of this.” That’s what He says to them. “Since I appointed you, you know that I am real. The other gods can’t even claim to do anything like this.” And that’s because God alone controls history, my friends. As one theologian put it, “God controls completely because He knows exhaustively, and He knows exhaustively because He controls completely.” And therefore He can point to Israel and say, “Bring these false gods forward. You are My witnesses. I will show you that I am the only one worthy of being trusted. These gods can do nothing. They are powerless.”

He Tells Us What is Going to Happen

His sovereignty challenges the false gods and they say to Him - He continues and says to the people, “Let them declare what is to come and what will happen.” If you want an interesting study of what happens when people who don’t believe the Bible is true read a passage like this, liberal commentators on the Scriptures will say, “Well of course, we know that these prophecies were written after the fact.” Why do they say that? Because at the end of this chapter, about ninety or so years before he came and was born, Isaiah names by name the pagan king who would deliver Israel out of exile, Cyrus, by name. And there’s no evidence anywhere in this text that somebody later came along and rewrote this and said, “Oh let’s make sure we catch up God’s Word for Him and make it current and make sure it’s true.” No, everything in the text shows us that this was penned by Isaiah so we have here predictive prophecy. You see what God told His people back in Deuteronomy 13 was, “If you want to see if somebody’s a false prophet, just see if what they say comes to pass and if it doesn’t, do not fear them.” Isaiah shows himself the true prophet - God speaking through him predicts and again points to His people and says, “You are the evidence of this. I have told you what’s going to happen.” Wonderfully in the last part of this prophecy he’s going to describe the new heavens and the new earth that John sees coming to pass in the book of Revelation and he does it thousands of years before and here he comes predicting this and God says, “Look at that! This is why you can trust Me! I tell you what is going to happen.”

III. God’s Sovereignty is the Believer’s Comfort

 

Finally, God’s sovereignty is the believer’s comfort. Notice how this section ends. “Fear not, nor be afraid.” This is the choice we all have this evening, my friends - fear or faith. Fear walks by sight, looks at the circumstances that surround our lives and says, “There is no way God can work in this situation. There’s no way He’s going to be able to bring it to pass.” It reasons in that kind of logic and fear always leads to distrust, disobedience, spiritual malady. And then there’s this favorite admonition of our Lord Jesus. This is what He tells us not to do more than anything else. Have you noticed that when you read the New Testament? The one thing He tells us not to do more than anything else is to be afraid. Now, image again who Isaiah’s speaking to. Babylon is some kind of abstract noun to us; it was a very real power to them. They would have looked at Isaiah incredulously and said, “Fear not? How can we not fear?” And God always says the choice is fear or faith and faith grasps God’s promises and begins to reason like a Christian. Faith looks at the circumstances all around and every temptation to distrust and disobey and disbelieve and says, “No, because God has spoken I will trust Him. Though I cannot see where He is taking me, I will trust Him.”

“Have I not told you?”

It reminds me of when we moved into one of our homes. It was dark and our oldest at the time was younger and we walked into this dark house and we couldn’t see down the hallway. And her instinct was to reach up her hand for Daddy’s hand because she thought, “How am I going to go through this darkness?” She couldn’t see and her instinct and fear was to reach and grab and it was touching, of course, as a parent and as a father to be trusted that way, but in so many respects and in so many ways that is our lives. Those are our lives as Christians together - walking with the sovereign God, not seeing the next step in front of us, and all we have to go on is His Word. The circumstances are going to look absolutely against that Word and yet we come back to, “Fear not nor be afraid, have I not told you.” That’s what we hold onto my friends. “Have I not told you? Has God not spoken to us?” And how much more so for those of us who live on the other side of the cross who have another twenty-seven books plus the Old Testament, to have all of these promises lavished upon us as God’s beloved, adopted children? What a great impetus. What a great motivation we have to have all of the promises given to us to trust Him and not be afraid. And He says, “You are my witnesses.”

My friends, the sovereignty of God is so precious to us, is it not? It will challenge the false gods of our age - relativism, money. How often do you pick up the smartphone and look at the bottom line before we look at a line of God’s Word? How often do we worry when we click on the website and see how much is in that bank account or in the retirement account and say, “Is it enough?” And all of a sudden scenarios begin to flood our minds and the voice of God speaking through someone like Isaiah is drowned out by the cacophony of unbelief. What are we doing? We’re serving, we’re worshiping; we’ve found an idol. We say to our bank accounts, our insurance policies, our health, our grandchildren, our children, all of these things that are blessings in and of themselves but then we begin to make them things that take on a far greater character and we begin to love the gifts more than the giver and we become worshipers of them. And we say to them as we bow down, “Behold our gods!” And the whole point of God telling us that He’s sovereign and these gods are not is that they will all fail us. Everything like that is dusty, raspy, going away, fading like a shadow. Only God, the first and the last, remains. One of the amazing things about the Gospel is that even though Israel would be responsible for going into exile, God was going to protect them despite their folly and their sin and that is such good news for us tonight because the same thing applies to us today. When you make a mess of things, when things don’t turn out the way you thought they would - some of you are looking back on your lives going, “I don’t know how I got here.” The same God who brought you step by step here is the same One that will lead you safely home.

Jesus, the King of Israel

And finally, if we miss this we miss the whole point. There’s somebody else who’s called the first and the last in Scripture, four times in the book of Revelation. There’s somebody else who is Israel’s Redeemer. And that somebody else is the second person of the Trinity, God incarnate, Christ Himself. In fact, if you take up the gospel of John you’ll notice there’s seven “I AM” sayings and if you read through Isaiah chapters 40 going through to around chapter 53 there are seven “I AM” sayings. What is John doing? He’s saying, “If you read the Old Testament, if you read particularly these sections of Isaiah, you will see Jesus. He’s the King of Israel, the new Israel, His Church, and unlike every other king in Israel who always failed them, who were always concerned for themselves, who were always sinful, this King is perfect! This King comes down and says, ‘I gather servants to send them out to serve others, and oh by the way, I am the One who will serve them!’” That’s what our King says to us. He’s the One who bled and died for us. There’s no other King like Him. He is the Rock that followed Israel in the wilderness Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 10. John pictures Him as the mighty Captain of heaven’s armies in Revelation riding forth on the white horse with a name only He Himself knows, the King of kings and Lord of lords, the God Almighty who comes to rescue His people and save them from their sin.

That’s what we’re coming to celebrate here in a few moments, isn’t it? As real as this bread and wine is the incarnation of Christ. As real as what you will taste and see and smell is your God. That’s why He gave us this supper - to remind us that He is sovereign and He will provide bread for our pilgrimage and therefore Christ the sovereign God is our comfort, my friends. He’s the One who invites us to the family table here in a few moments. He’s the One who has come down to redeem us at the greatest possible cost to Himself and therefore no longer do we fear an eternal exile. That’s what the exile pictured - life away from God’s presence of blessing. That’s what hell is - eternal life away from God’s presence of blessing and in His presence of wrath. And only Christ can save us from exile. And that’s what Isaiah promised and that’s what Christ came and fulfilled and therefore when you need comfort He is your Rock.

Do you suffer this evening? Behold Him there, praying in the garden of Gethsemane. Behold Him there saying, “My Father, if it’s possible let this cup pass from Me, nevertheless Your will be done.” When you come to the cup this evening, behold Him who drank the full cup of God’s wrath in your place so that no one who trusts in Him will ever have to drink that cup! Behold the suffering Servant of Isaiah 53 who bore in His body the marks for the sins that you and I deserve. Are you worried? Are you afraid? Behold King Jesus on the throne. The King you come to lowers the scepter to us and says, not only does He hear us - He’s our older Brother. Isn’t that astonishing? That’s how the book of Hebrews describes Him. He’s our older Brother. He draws near to us. He’s anxious to hear from us. He longs to comfort us. He will enfold us in His love and care for us all the days of our lives. Thus God declares the futility of idols. He promises it in shadow form in Isaiah, He fulfills it in Christ, and therefore He looks at you, dear believer, every one of you in the eyes tonight and says to you through His Word, “You are my witnesses. Is there any god worth serving besides Jesus Christ? I know not one!”

Let us pray.

Almighty and everlasting God, we thank You for Your Word. We thank You that You are such a wonderful and compassionate King to us in Christ. May we love Him more, may we desire more of Him, may we long to serve Him more after hearing Your Word. We pray in Jesus’ name, amen.

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