In Acts 4:27–28, the church is praying in wonder to the sovereign God that has just ordained the death of his Son. They pray like this:
“Truly in this city [Jerusalem] were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place.”
So Herod did what God predestined to take place. Pilate did what God predestined to take place. The shouting crowds — “crucify him, crucify him” — did what God predestined to take place. And the Gentile soldiers who drove the nails did what God had predestined to take place. The sovereign will of God was accomplished at nine o’clock on Friday morning — and it was all sin: Pilate’s expediency, Herod’s mockery, the soldiers’ gambling for his clothes, the hatred of the mobs stirred up by the Pharisees: “Crucify him.” That is all sin. And planned by God.
“If God could not plan the murder of his Son, we could not be saved.”
So that is why I said this text, Acts 4:27–28, is a light on a theological jungle of problems. “You are saying that God’s sovereign will that always comes to pass includes sin?” Yes. If God could not plan the murder of his Son, we could not be saved. It is not like Jesus just jumped up on the cross and died and God said, “Well, I didn’t know that was going to happen. But I will use it to save people.” That is heresy. God planned it for you. And it couldn’t have happened without sin. You don’t kill the Son of God without sin. So, when I say that the sovereign will of God means that God ordains all that comes to pass, I really mean that it includes everything.
First Peter 3:17 says, “It is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil.” It is better for you to suffer for doing good. Imagine you are at work and something is being discussed about a policy. The policy in your mind is an evil policy. It is a sinful policy. It would involve you and other employees in sinning. And you know if you say something, you are in big trouble. You could lose your job. You are going to expose this manager as a bad guy. He is making a bad choice. And if you say something, he is going to be exposed — and he will put you down one way or the other. But you choose to do good. You do what is good. You speak truth, and you get fired.
Now apply this text to that situation: “It is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will.” Now, what does that mean? That means: when you spoke, the manager — who is now in trouble, because you just exposed the evil of what was about to happen — he could be hindered by God from firing you, or God could look at him and say, “I permit you to fire him.” And he fires you. God could just stop it. He could just stop it, and you don’t lose your job. And 1 Peter 3:17 says, “It is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will.” If he fires you, did he do good? No, he sinned. And it was God’s will that he sin.
Now, you have got to have a category here from the Bible that says: God can ordain that sin come to pass without God himself sinning. God is not a sinner. God is not evil. God is holy, just, true, and good. And in the way he governs and runs the world, this text says: it may be God’s will that you suffer for doing good, which always involves somebody sinning against you.
“God can ordain that sin come to pass without God himself sinning.”
Ephesians 1:11 is the most sweeping statement of all in this regard to the sovereign will of God. It says, “In [Christ] we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things [I take that literally] according to the counsel of his will.”
So “will of God” means “all things God does” — all things. He works all things according to the counsel of his will. This extends to the details of all existence.
Matthew 10:29: Not one sparrow “will fall to the ground apart from your Father.”
Proverbs 16:33: “The lot [the dice] is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the Lord.”
In Reno, Las Vegas, Atlantic City, every dice rolled, God decides what turns up. I believe that with all my heart. I play Scrabble with my wife. We don’t gamble. But we reach our hand into the bag to pull out letters. Now, do you pray at that point? “I need a Z. She is way ahead.” I totally believe God decides what letters come out in my hand, so I do pray.
And I thought through how I should pray. This is a marriage issue. I don’t pray, “Let me win.” Oh, no. God knows who needs to win. So I pray, “For the kingdom and for the family. Whoever needs to win, for humility or encouragement.” So I don’t try to pull rank on her and pray for victory. No way.
That is how sovereign God is. No little sparrow falls, nor does a letter come out of the bag, apart from God’s will.
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