Resolved Conference | Palm Springs
Let me start from this morning. I always pray with people at the end of the services, although I ran for the airplane after the second service, but I did pray with a lot of people after the first service. I want to tell you why what I have to say tonight is relevant from three prayers this I had with people this morning.
Prayer and the Sovereignty of God
First, a camp counselor came up, about your age probably, heading for camp with young people. He was all worked up because he had just talked with the supervisors of the camp about what he had planned to teach them and they didn’t want him to teach it — namely, he wanted to talk about the sovereignty of God, and they said, “Children don’t need about the sovereignty of God. Children shouldn’t be taught about the sovereignty of God.”
He was just deeply grieved and exercised, and he wanted me to pray with him. I want to say to you, children need to know a great, big, glorious sovereign God, and they’re the easiest ones to teach it too. Don’t skip it. Don’t don’t create a college crisis if you don’t have to.
Second, a woman in her 50s just had a nine inch ovarian tumor taken out of her body three weeks ago. She was in church again now and will go in for the chemo soon, and all of her hair will come out. It’s stage three cancer. She was standing there with her husband Don, exulting in the greatness and glory and sovereign goodness of God in her life. I’ve seen it for years after years. I just can’t get it when people say that to have a rock under your feet like the sovereignty of God in his goodness is not a helpful thing pastorally. I’ve never known such a thing. That’s number two. If you have cancer or your mom does, what I have to say really matters. It really, really matters.
Third, there was a man named John for the first time in our church because he’s jumping around because of the pain in his life. His wife walked away from him two months ago, and after 21 years of marriage he was sitting in our church for the first time hearing me talk about God’s gracious purposefulness in our lives. He came up to me afterwards and said, “This was totally for me.” God is sovereign. God is purposeful. God is gracious and it really matters. It really matters.
A Million Things at Once
This is the bridge leading into where we’re going here. I’m preaching my way through the Gospel of John, and I’m into chapter four now. I was talking about John 4:1–15 this morning. It’s about the woman at the well. Jesus says, “I have to go through Samaria,” and everything he was doing was purposeful here. He had his target on this woman.
God is seeking such people to worship him in Spirit and truth. This is John’s version of the prodigal daughter story, and he’s after her. I made the point that since he’s so purposeful, anytime God does anything in your life, anytime he bumps you, he’s doing a million things. Every time God does one thing to you, he’s doing a million things. He knows the trajectory of every molecule he bumps, and it bumps another and another and another forever. He knows them all millions of ages into the future.
What happens now makes a difference there because everything relates to everything when God’s in charge of everything. He’s always doing a million things in your life when you see him doing one thing, and you see two reasons and neither of them explain, and you’re mad at him. I just said to our folks, “It’s not wise to get mad at God because you can’t see enough reasons for why this just happened to you, because there are a million.”
I illustrated this with Jesus walking into Samaria, which Jews didn’t like to do. He sits down on a well, which surely would be considered unclean because these Samaritans are half-breeds and they’re heretics because they don’t believe any part of the Bible except the first five books. They’re religious and political rebels from 700 years ago.
He sits on this well at broad noon daylight, and a Samaritan woman comes who he knows has slept with six men in serial adultery, is living with a man who’s not her husband, and says to her, not, “Can I have permission to drink from your well?” But, “Can I drink from your bucket?” She said, “Jews and Samaritans don’t mix. They don’t use it together. They use separate fountains at Woolworth’s and Walgreens and Kress’s, like in 1959.” Therefore, what Jesus was doing in 30 AD in Sychar in Samaria was all about Greenville, South Carolina, 1959 and 13 year old John Piper. That’s what he was doing then, and a million other things.
I regard it as gloriously significant that we have an infinitely purposeful, sovereign, gracious, good Savior, who pursues us thousands of years before we were born to rescue us from our racism and other sins.
All Things for the Glory of Christ
Now, where are we going in this message? That was all spillover from this morning. This is a conference with a theme of sin. When I heard that a year or so ago I said, “Well the easiest thing for me to do would be to talk from the book that was just quoted to you.” In fact, I leaned over to John MacArthur as Rick Holland was reading that and said, “There goes my first paragraph.”
I’m going to argue for God’s supreme right and authority and active sovereignty over all things, including sin. That’s where we’re going. I’m including tonight, in particular, Lucifer’s sin with the fall of the holy angels, and Adam’s sin — the fall of humanity. Those two places are where we’ll focus.
My argument is that, according to that paragraph, everything, absolutely everything exists, including the devil and a fallen Adam, for the glory of Jesus Christ. That’s what I’ll try to argue here.
Everything for Its Purpose
Now, the reason I am exercised about this and have been for some years is because I read my Bible from cover to cover every year, plus lots more, and I bump into texts like these. Let me read you a few. Second Chronicles 10:14–15 says that Rehoboam rejected the wisdom of the old man and said to the people:
My father disciplined you with whips, but I will discipline you with scorpions.
Then the inspired writer says:
The king did not listen to the people, for it was a turn of affairs brought about by God that the Lord might fulfill his word …
Well that was sin for him to reject such good counsel. God is somehow managing, ordering the sins of kings.
In 2 Chronicles 18:22, King Ahab is enticed by false profits to go up and fight against the Syrians, and Micaiah, the true prophet, says:
Now therefore behold, the Lord has put a lying spirit in the mouth of these your prophets. The Lord has declared disaster concerning you.
However, God did it so that he remains impeccably holy, he ordained that there be a lying spirit in the mouth of the false prophets.
In 2 Chronicles 25:20, Joash, king of Israel, gave wise counsel to Amaziah, king of Judah, not to go out and battle his own people. Amaziah refused to listen and the inspired writer says this:
But Amaziah would not listen, for it was of God, in order that he might give them into the hand of their enemies, because they had sought the gods of Edom.
That’s what I find when I read my Bible year after year. Or here’s a good summary verse from Proverbs 16:4. It says:
The Lord has made everything for its purpose,
even the wicked for the day of trouble.
To which I ask, what purpose?
Through Him and for Him
That’s where I’m going to go now, and if you have a Bible and you can see it, turn with me to Colossians 1 for the answer to that question. We’ll be looking at three or four passages, some in more detail, but let’s go here to the Colossians 1:16. I regard these words as breathtakingly glorious, and among the most important in the Bible, especially, perhaps, for young people who are forming worldviews. You need some simple truths. You can’t remember Wayne Grudem’s systematic theology. Would that you could, but you can’t. You need a few sentences to live by, because when the pressure’s on, all you can remember are sentences. You can’t remember books, let alone paragraphs. You can’t do it. You have to have sentences — crisp, clear, short, true, solid, ultimate, all-encompassing sentences. This is one of them. Here we are Colossians 1:16. It says:
For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities — all things were created through him and for him.
That’s important. That is so important. Just get that. Get that all things were made for Christ. That means they were made for his honor, for his fame, for his glory, not for his improvement. You can’t improve upon the King of Kings, the Lord of Lords, very God of very God. What you can do is make much of him, display him, honor him, magnify him, glorify him, praise him, and reflect him. That’s what the for means in for him.
Now that’s a sweeping statement. Every university should have it over every door. This class is for Christ, this science is for Christ, this seminar is for Christ, because everything exists for Christ.
Thrones, Dominions, Rulers, Authorities
Now, I’ll skip the paragraph that was just read and simply say of all the thousands of things that Paul could have named in Colossians 1:16 that he made, and that exist for him, look what he named. He named thrones, dominions, rulers, and authorities. Now Paul knows what he means when he says rulers and authorities; he means wicked heavenly powers. The reason we know that is because of Colossians 2:15. This very phrase, sometimes translated principalities and powers, in the ESV is rulers and authorities. If you go over to Colossians 2:15 it says:
He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him.
The phrase there — rulers and authorities — is the same phrase. If you go over to Ephesians 6:12 it says:
We do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities …
These are cosmic, evil powers out to destroy you. Of course, the destruction might be by making you rich, but nonetheless they want to destroy you.
Colossians 1:16 says these thrones, dominions, rulers, and authorities were made by him and for him. The devil exists for the glory of Christ, and so do all his minions who obey him when he says, “Go.” Now it does not say he created them evil; it says he made them. In fact, Jude over near the end of the Bible says, “Angels who did not stay within their own position of authority, but left their proper dwelling” (Jude 6). Second Peter and Jude give us a little window onto pre-earth heaven, where this evident rebellion took place, and angels that were created good rebelled.
However, Paul knows something else about God, namely, that God knows the future perfectly. Before he made all those angels, he dealt in his mind with the certain prospect that they would rebel. He dealt with that. He thought that through and what the implications of it would be before he made them, and then he made them.
Sovereignty Over Sin
Now I use the word ordain as my verb of choice when I talk about God’s sovereignty over sin, and I’m not weaseling. I’ll explain what I mean by God ordaining the fall of Lucifer and the fall of the angels who fell. Inside the word ordain is the possibility of his causing something directly, and the possibility of his permitting something to happen knowing what all the implications of that will be. Whether he causes directly or permits with infinite knowledge and wisdom concerning what will come of what he permits, he’s ordaining. That’s what I mean.
I’m just not choosing. I find it doesn’t help when you say God causes or God permits. You’re damned with one and you’re damned with the other because they both miss the main point — namely, he’s in charge. He could stop it and he doesn’t. In not stopping it, he has reasons, and his reasons are purposeful. Therefore there’s design in what he permits. Therefore when I say he ordains, I mean he has a history in view and he’s going somewhere with what he permits to happen.
That’s the way I’m talking about the ordaining of, or the governance of, sin or the fall. Paul knows that God knew before creation that his heavenly creatures and earthy creatures were going to go wrong. He knows that. He makes them anyway, certainly knowing they’re going to go wrong.
Ordained Before Creation
Now, let me give you a couple of passages where I get that idea. I’m not just inferring that theologically from God’s infiniteness. I could, and I think that would be warranted, but people get bent out of shape when you do theology like that. It’s better to be biblical than to be theological. Let me read you two passages of Scripture. See if you infer from them what seems obvious to me. This is Revelation 13:8. It’s about the beast and those who don’t worship him. It goes like this:
All who dwell on earth will worship it, everyone whose name has not been written before the foundation of the world in the book …
Now the book has a name. Here’s the name of the book. Before the foundation of the world there’s a book, and in the book there are names, and the names that are in the book don’t worship the beast. Everybody else does. What’s the name of the book? It’s the book of life of the lamb who was slain. Christ, in the mind of God, was already planned to be slain for sin before he made anything. He obviously knew that when he made anything it was going to turn out to need Christ to die for it. That’s clear I think.
Here’s the second text. Second Timothy 1:9 says:
God saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began …
Before the ages began we got unmerited grace in Christ Jesus, which clearly in all the other places where Paul talks about grace in Christ Jesus was bought for us by the Lamb on the cross. There’s grace for sinners like us because the lamb was slain.
We receive that grace in Christ Jesus before anything was created, which means that when he made the angels and he made Adam and Eve, he knew exactly where this was going. It was all part of a magnificent plan to do what, according to Colossians 1:16? It was to magnify Christ. All things were created through him and for him. This entire history is to make Christ look great. If you need a cause to live for, join the biggest cause in the universe. I don’t even know how to say it because the universe is too small. There was no universe when this plan was made. Nothing had come into being, and he saw his Son crucified, the pinnacle of the display of the glory of his grace, and everything was planned to get there.
Get a sentence that sums that up for you and live it. Join him in it. It’ll keep you from a thousand stupidities, a thousand wasted days, so many sins, and so much geeking around on the computer and wasting your life with stuff if you know that you’re caught up into something so absolutely, spectacularly, breathtakingly magnificent as before there was anything, God almighty is planning the display of the glory of his Son in history through the fall of Lucifer and the fall of Adam.
God Over All
Here we are now with the rulers and authorities back in Colossians 1:16. Rulers and authorities have been made for Christ. That seems to imply that they’re going to do God’s bidding because he’s got a purpose by which he’s guiding everything for the glory of his Son. This is what I think we need to tell our children. If they ask you the question, “Daddy, how strong is Satan? Can Satan stop God from doing what he wants to do, daddy?” You better have an answer for that. It’s really clear that the answer should be, “No.” The child will say, “Good, because I was scared last night.” Kids are ready for this glorious teaching. It’s only college students that aren’t ready. They’re too smart.
Now we are not dualists, so I’m saying we Christians don’t say here’s God and here’s Satan. Here’s the principalities and powers and here’s God, and they’re vying and jockeying with two different powers. This one has ultimate self-determination and this one has ultimate self-determination, and you just don’t know quite how it’s going to go today, tomorrow, or forever. That’s just totally not what’s in the Bible. That’s so obvious with biblical texts.
In John 12:31 Satan is called the ruler of this world. That’s serious. He’s the ruler of this world. Daniel 4:17 says:
The Most High rules the kingdom of men …
Yes, Satan has a delegated kind of sway in this fallen world and he does his bidding, and God rules over him. Jesus dealt with unclean spirits. They’re running rampant all over Palm Springs and all over the world, inclining people to evil. Are they free? In Mark 1:27 he commands the unclean spirits and they obey him. Period.
This is six year old theology — awesome theology. If your child says, “I’m scared, daddy. I think there’s a monster in the closet.” Then you say, “Well, what if there is? If there is, it’s because Jesus says, ‘Monster you stay in the closet and they stay,’ so they’ll stay in the closet.”
A Murderer from the Begninning
John 8:44 says that Satan is a murderer. He’s really a murderer. James 4:13–15 says:
Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”— yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.”
If he doesn’t, then Satan can kill you. But Satan cannot kill you if God wills that he not kill you. Of course Satan can kill you. It says so in Revelation 2:10. He’s going to put people to death, but not without God loosening his leash to do it. That’s why there are martyrs, according to Revelation 6:11. They are appointed to die because God is going to loosen the leash of the devil in the last days, and he’s going to waste the church. But God will not have lost control.
That’s why the book of Revelation is in the Bible, so that when those kinds of things happen we don’t say, “What happened to God?” God is in heaven and ruling over the beast, the false prophet, and the devil himself.
Job is clear as daylight isn’t it? Satan comes to Job and wants him. God says, “You can have his stuff, but you can’t touch him.” He kills his kids. Then he comes back and Job hasn’t given up his faith, and he says, “Skin for skin. Let me have his skin and then he’ll curse You.” And God says, “You can have his skin, but don’t you kill him.” In other words, this dynamic that’s going on here is that Satan can’t do anything without God’s permission, and Satan knows it. We are not duelists.
Satan Demanded to Have You
What about Luke 22:31? I love this text. Jesus says to Peter:
Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat …
Now pause there and ask, “Okay, does Satan get his request with Peter?” I think sifting Peter means putting Peter in the sieve and pushing him through so that everything comes through except his faith. He wants to get his faith out of him. He wants Peter minus faith. That’s what Satan is asking for. He wants to put him through the sieve and bring about a useless Peter. Then Jesus says in Luke 22:32:
But I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.
Talk about sovereignty in the face of sin and Satan. What a horrible thing for Peter to do to deny his Lord. But Jesus is orchestrating in his prayer to the Father how far he will let Satan make Peter go and no further. He is saying, “When you turn, be my rock.” I love the sovereign Savior. The only reason any of you has not made shipwreck of your faith is that Jesus is praying for you today in heaven at the Father’s right hand.
Blinding the Minds of Unbelievers
I have one more text just to prove we’re not dualists here. Second Corinthians 4:4 says:
In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.
Now we’re in big trouble because you have a supernatural power blinding the minds of unbelievers. We have little peashooter power in ourselves and are getting nowhere with demonic blindness. You’ve tried haven’t you? I have. How helpless we feel. That was 2 Corinthians 4:4, but then you get two verses later in 2 Corinthians 4:6:
God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.
He gives light in the heart. Satan doesn’t have the last word when it comes to blindness. God can shatter that blindness anytime he wants with his sovereign “Let there be light.” And that’s how you got saved. He said that into your heart.
The Purpose of Satan
Drawing to a conclusion the first part about Satan and the rulers and the authorities, God is sovereign over Satan and all of Satan’s horrible deeds. He hasn’t lost control of history or of your life or your parents’ lives or your church. Let Colossians 1:16 be loud and clear. He made all things on earth and in heaven, visible and invisible, thrones, dominions, powers, authorities, and rulers, and he created them for him, for Christ. Sin in Satan and all that’s from Satan is under God’s Christ’s sway, and it is for his glory. The son of God, Jesus Christ will be more highly honored if Satan exists than if he doesn’t. Have you ever asked that question? I ask this repeatedly and try to re-establish my answer. Why doesn’t God get rid of him? He’s going to do it on the last day isn’t he?
He’s going to take him and first throw him in the pit, and then later throw him in the lake of fire, and he’s over and he’s history. He’s never going to torment or tempt anybody again in the new heavens and the new earth. Why not now? It would just spare us so much trouble wouldn’t it? Jesus, you have authority, you have power, and you have rights. You’re going to do it, so just do it now. Why doesn’t he? He’s not protecting Satan’s free will because he’s going to throw him in the lake of fire against his will. That’s no answer. Here’s my answer: Christ would get glory if he strong-armed Satan now and just threw him in the lake of fire. We’d all praise him. But if he dies to disarm the principalities and powers and forgive us our sins, and then patiently, mercifully wins for himself a following because of his superior beauty over time, and saves us from Satan that way, he will get more glory than if he only manifested power.
If tonight you conquer Satan by a superior admiration for the glories of Christ crucified and risen, you are glorifying more of Christ than if you only glorified him for his raw power in dispensing Satan into hell. Jesus said, “Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in him” (John 13:31), which means that at the cross the glory of God’s grace reached its apex. Paul said, “We preach Christ crucified…the power of God and the wisdom of God” (1 Corinthians 1:23–24). That wisdom and that power would not have been seen had Christ not defeated Satan by this way rather than raw power.
For the Purpose of Sanctification
But here’s one more text that gets more at the essence of what’s going on in your life. Listen to this. Do you remember 2 Corinthians 12:7–10, where Paul sees wonders in heaven that he’s not allowed to say anything about? To check his own pride, God ordains that he has a thorn and the thorn is called a messenger of Satan.
God is using Satan for sanctification here. The thorn is designed for humility, and Satan hates humility. God is making Satan, against his will, serve Paul’s sanctification. Why? Listen to these words. Paul says, “Please take it away,” and the answer is, “No.” Again, “Please take it away,” and the answer is, “No.” A third time he says, “Please take it away, Jesus, it hurts.” And he says, “No.” Then Jesus says this, “My power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9).
Satan is being defeated by the revelation of the superior power of Christ in Paul’s gladly embracing insults, hardships, tribulation, persecutions, and calamities. Paul says, “For when I am weak then am I strong” (2 Corinthians 12:10). In other words, there is a way for Christ to be magnified, there’s a way for Christ to be triumphant and glorified that doesn’t just involve raw power to dispense Satan into hell. It’s a life-long kind of warfare in which you’re involved in making him look great, by gladly embracing the thorns that he gives you so that his power can be made perfect in your weakness. This is very strange and very glorious.
You are involved in the triumph over the devil by how you admire Christ, to the point where your soul is so satisfied that you can actually use the word gladly with Paul. He says, “I will all the more gladly boast in my weaknesses — insults, calamities, hardships, persecutions” (2 Corinthians 12:9–10). I don’t think God is making any mistake in leaving Satan in the world for now if his aim is to magnify the beauty and the triumph of his Son.
The Fall of Man
Let’s spend just a few minutes on the fall of man. We spent all of our time so far on saying that God is sovereign over the origin of Satan out of a good angel through means that nobody understands except God. I have zero explanation for how a good angel chose to sin. If you’re wondering, “Do you have any mysteries in your life?” That’s the biggest one.
The first sin in the universe is the biggest mystery to me. I know of no explanation for it that satisfies. What I do know is that God was sovereign over it, and he’s absolutely holy and never sins. I have a category in my head for God ordaining that sin be without sinning. Do you have that category? If you don’t have that category in your brain you’re going to stumble over a lot of parts of the Bible.
Let me say it again. The category says God ordains that sin be without himself sinning when he ordains that sin be. I don’t know how it happened. I don’t know how to explain what went on inside a holy angel’s head that would make him sin. That is the ultimate mystery. But I do know God governs that and never sins.
Now with regard to Adam, we’ve already seen that God had a book before the creation of the world named the book of life of the Lamb that was slain (Revelation 13:8). We all know that the reason the Lamb was slain is so that we would not perish but have everlasting life. And we know that we are perishing because we are sinners. And we know that we are sinners because we were in Adam. When he sinned we sinned, and everybody has been sinning since Adam, and therefore, God in planning the cross, planned the fall.
Now let’s go to Romans 5. I want to show you just a few things. We’ll take maybe five more minutes and try to do this quickly. Romans 5 is worthy of five hours, but let’s try to do it in five minutes. It’s one of the weightiest, most amazing passages. I’ll be reading Romans 5:12–19, which is about the comparison between Jesus and Adam — the first Adam and the second Adam. What is going on here? What is the ultimate thing that this passage is saying? Let’s see if we can get that. Starting at Romans 5:12–14, it says:
Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man (that’s the fall), and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned — for sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law. Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam …
Then he adds at this particular point — and this is his main assertion:
Who was a type of the one who was to come.
Now get this, he says death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose transgression wasn’t like Adam. In other words, they’re dying and their sin wasn’t like his. Their death is owing and their sin is owing to somehow being connected with him. At the very point he says that, he says that it is a type of the one who is to come. That’s a type. Do you know what a type is? It’s a foreshadowing or a glimpse. In other words, God is aiming at Christ.
He knows there is a lamb who’s going to be slain. In preparation for him, he creates a type of him so that when he comes explanations could be given about his achievements that could not be given had Adam not been a type. That’s the main point. God is orchestrating Adam and what happened in and after the fall so that he could say something about the superiority of Christ. Then he runs forward with it and he shows all these fulfilled as much more in Christ.
The Glory of God’s Grace
I would love to just take your verse by verse through this, but I think instead of that I will close by what God gave me, I think, just as we were landing and I was looking down on this weird city called Palm Springs with green, tan, green, tan, green, tan — back and forth. It’s a weird city. I was mainly praying not about that but about this, and I was praying, “God this complicated. Help me to just come to an end with a clear thing about Romans 5 because I can’t get into all the details.”
Here’s what I think. I think he led me to the last two verses — Romans 5:21–22. Let’s see if I can just say them because otherwise I would have to open my Bible, and I didn’t plan to do that.
Now the law came in to increase the trespass …
I’ll just stop there. Well then why did you give the law? God says why he gave the law; it was to increase the trespass.
But where sin increased, grace abounded all the more …
What’s he doing? He’s calculating everything to magnify grace, but he’s not done yet. He continues:
So that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Now we know what he’s after. Now we know why he gave the law. Now we know why he wanted sin to explode on the earth. Now we know why he’s sovereign over sin. Now we know why he ordains the fall of man as well as Lucifer. It is in order that grace might abound, and not just any old general grace, but the grace that comes through righteousness.
This is the imputed righteousness of the one who perfectly obeyed in Romans 5:19. Through that perfect righteousness imputed to us, grace is abounding over all our multiplied sins — through whom? Jesus Christ, our Lord. This universe is all about Jesus. This universe is all about the cross. It’s all about the apex of the glory of grace, including the fall of Satan and the fall of man.
I close by saying this vision of Christ is relevant for camp counselors this summer. This vision of Christ is relevant for your mom who’s got ovarian cancer. This vision of Christ is relevant for you, perhaps yourself or your uncle or dad, who was abandoned by a spouse two months ago. This is relevant for you.