Good evening and thank you for inviting me…
My name is Stephen Armstrong, and I am currently teaching the Sunday night study here on Revelation
However, I suspect the students are merely anxious to find out what will come first: the end of my class or Christ’s Second Coming itself
Truly, I am honored to answer your call to teach on Wednesday nights for this time, and I am humbled by your trust you placed in me to bring you God’s Word. It’s an awesome responsibility and it’s one I do not take lightly
Tonight we begin a 7‐lesson series I’ve titled “Thy Will Be Done,” the Sovereignty of God.
Before I begin today’s lesson, I want to give you an appreciation of why I believe this topic is so important for our times
As I have had occasion to watch Christian churches broadcasting their services on television or the radio or when I browse the popular Christian titles in a book store, frankly I’m astonished by what I see
I know you’ve seen these same things, because they’re immensely popular
From every channel and from every book cover, I see teaching after teaching transforming (if it were possible) the God of the universe and of all creation and of all time – into a genie in a bottle
So many ministries and books teach about a god I’ve never known – a god who wants to make me rich
A god who can’t wait to cure me of every ailment I suffer from
A god to who never wants me to suffer any trials
A god who is prepared to clear every last obstacle standing in the
way of my personal success and happiness in this world
And yet this god is powerless to provide all these things until I enable it, or as they often say, until I release his power
Release his power? Huh? What kind of god needs my help in order to do what he supposedly wishes to do anyway?
Some of the messages I’ve read or heard are probably familiar to you
One popular book tells us to repeatedly pray an obscure Old Testament passage – a virtual chant guaranteed to release god’s blessing
Other popular teachings of the day tell us to lay claim to the blessings ‐ blessings that God is waiting anxiously to shower upon us
– as if they might expire – like some limited time offer – “and if you act right now He’ll throw in a bonus spiritual gifting absolutely free – pray now, St Peter is standing by...”
I recently watched a well‐known television preacher declare that if we tithed regularly, God would be obligated to repay us seven times over or He would be breaking His word – but of course, God won’t give until we do
As if our faith were nothing more than some cosmic multi‐level marketing scheme
Another popular perspective says that I must have the right frame of mind – I need a better self‐view – so that I might achieve the victorious life in Christ
A recent best selling book claims to have the secret for how Christians are…
These misguided teachers would have us believe that our God is a God who is capable ‐ and even obligated ‐ to provide all we could possibly want or imagine, and yet He’s powerless to do anything unless we enable him
What a strange God this is…and is this the God of the Bible?
What has happened to the sovereignty of God?
My brothers and sisters in Christ, the church is under attack by false teaching – and in the worst cases, the teaching seeks to distort the words of the Bible for dishonest gain
The teachings are often saturated by catch‐phrases that sound appealing and seem sensible enough – until you compare them against the light of scripture
For example, is one poor self‐image truly a cause of our problems in life? Would our problems vanish if we just cultivated better self‐esteem? Do we believe we need more self‐esteem in this culture?
I wonder what the Apostle Paul would think.
The Apostle Paul commended the Philippians church to imitate Christ in His humility and willingness to sacrifice His position of honor out of obedience to the Father
If Christ were alive on earth today, no doubt these teachers would blame his miserable circumstances on his obvious poor self‐esteem and the fact that he didn’t choose to be happy
Self‐esteem is a $20 word for a very ancient idea: pride
But the last thing this lost and dying world needs is more pride
Scripture teaches we need far less self‐esteem and we need far more Christ‐esteem – we need to deny ourselves and take up His cross, the cross of obedience to the Father
At the root of all such false teaching is a distorted view of who God is and what He desires and what he has promised to those who love Him
A distorted view of what it means for God to be God and what it means that we’re NOT
But if we’re willing to be honest with ourselves, there’s something even more troubling than simply the false teaching by itself
What should bothers us even more is the fact that these teachings attract such huge audiences of adoring followers
These men and women often find themselves preaching to tens of thousands of people who love everything they’re told
But friends, may I suggest the shame rests with us
Because to attract such a devoted following, these teachers require an audience that is largely ignorant of the truths of scripture
And we the teachers and pastor together with lay leadership have the collective responsibility to provide the instruction our fellowships so desperately need
to exhort all our brothers and sisters to seek after the meat of the Word
To not be satisfied with feel‐good pabulum, porridge for the mind – milk
And to know and teach the sovereignty and power of God
As the Apostle Paul was approaching the end of his life and he recognized that his time and ministry on this earth were drawing to a close...
He used one of his final letters to issue a solemn charge to his young protégé, a minister named Timothy
Brothers and Sisters, I fear the time that Paul warned of is sadly upon us.
And though we are not in control of the times nor the seasons, we can still stand against the tide that has swept so many of our brothers and sisters out into a sea confusion and despair
And our weapon in this battle for the hearts and minds of Christendom is the sword of the Spirit, the Word of God
The series seeks to bring the Word of God to bear on this issue by presenting a Biblical view of the sovereignty of God
Each week we will take a look at a particular aspect of God’s work in His creation through the lives of His people
the work of prayer, healing, provision, evangelism, world events and even the Word itself
And examine passages of scripture to understand what God’s Word tells us about His sovereignty in these areas
Meanwhile, I know that we can all take great comfort in knowing that we aren’t the kind of Christians to take God’s sovereignty lightly – to treat God as our genie, right?
After all, anyone who truly knows the Lord, who truly knows his love and lordship and who knows his awesome power and perfect nature, the incomparable depths of the wisdom of God – would certainly never see God as merely a personal attendant who answers to our every whim.
Surely, we couldn’t do that, could we?
Turn with me to the Gospel of John, Chapter 2
No doubt you’ve heard this story before and perhaps have studied it for yourself ‐ but perhaps if God permits, we might see the story a little differently today
Jesus has recently begun to collect disciples to himself
And while in the region of Galilee, He attends a wedding as a guest of his mother, Mary
Jesus and his small group of disciples come along for the celebration
Weddings were a big deal in Jewish culture, and they typically included a party that could last for days
NIOSA only with less pushing and shoving
The host of this affair had a lot riding on the contentment of his guests
A bad party would be a disgrace and dishonor to the parents of the bride and groom
So at some point in the festivities, Mary takes note that the wine is running out
This was no small matter
A Jewish wedding without wine would be like German Octoberfest without beer
Or a church potluck without a casserole
At this point Mary does a very interesting thing
She calls Jesus over and tells him…
Why did she do this?
Why did she think Jesus should know this?
What did she expect Jesus to say?
This moment is like one of those test moments for every man
Like when your wife asks you, “Honey does this dress make me look fat?”
There’s only one right answer
Just like there’s only one right answer to Mary
Jesus gives her a mild rebuke
Now the first thing that might catch your mind is the phrase “woman”
In that culture it wasn’t a disrespectful term
His next statement is where we should concern ourselves
He says, plainly, what does this have to do with us? My hour has not yet come.
Well, we know how the story ends: we know that Christ honors his mother's request and turns the water into wine.
And not just any water, those pots were for ceremonial cleansing
But what is Mary’s motivation for going to Jesus and saying they're running out of wine
Except that she thought he could do something about it
Which tells us she must have known Jesus was capable of doing the very thing He did.
So Jesus replies, My time has not come.
In other words His time to reveal himself through His public ministry, has not yet arrived.
Through the Gospels, Christ spent many times in the early part of His ministry trying to conceal His identity until the proper time so that His ministry could go to fruition, according to God's plan.
And here's Mary, essentially trying to expose her son for who He is
As we see next, Christ honored his mother and turned her misplaced motives to good, for the sake of God's glory.
We know from scripture that we are to bring our needs before the Lord.
But James 4 says, you do not have because you do not ask. You ask but do not receive because you ask with wrong motives.
So while we are to bring things before the Lord, and we should, if we bring them with wrong motives, we will not receive
The motives that we should bring into prayer as we seek God, and His blessings is that His will be done
And that our will would understand His
And we would receive it gladly
What this series is designed to do is to return us to the biblical view of who God is and who we are in relationship to God
And if we truly understand His word, and all it has to say about how God works in this world, we will understand better our responsibility in this world.
But when our understanding of God's sovereignty loses the biblical centered focus that it's supposed to have, then we're tempted to think:
“I can manipulate God”
“I can do certain things, say certain things, pray certain ways, approach life in a certain way”.
“If I please Him, then I release all this favor.”
That's a genie, not a god
That's not the God of the Bible
It encourages our flesh to be in control – not God
And He will not receive glory if He were to answer those prayers
So we should look to give him glory in our petitions too