Over the next few weeks, I will be releasing my sermon notes. Now, I’m not the most erudite theologian, nor the best writer. However, these were sermons I had already set aside to preach before the school year began. Now, that we are in the midst of the corona virus crisis, it seems appropriate to ask and answer these questions as best as I can in a succinct manner for the students in my middle school ministry. Below is my sermon from Wednesday April 1, 2020.
Magnificent Series #9
April 1, 2020
Students, you may not realize this, but I plan our sermon series months in advance. I planned this one back in July. Before the corona virus hit, and before the quarantine, we had this series planned. Furthermore, the topics for these last two sermons had already been set before corona virus was discovered. The last two topics are God’s sovereignty and goodness.
However, for the sake of these last two sermons, I want to switch the topics into questions, because this is what you should be doing. These events should cause you to put God on trial. For example, God’s sovereignty means that God is in control. However, when we look around us at the world, the virus, and the countries responses, we should ask is God really in control? Because to many people right now, it appears as if God is not in control.
Next week, we will tackle the question of is God good? This question comes second to God’s control, because if God is not in control, his goodness doesn’t matter. God could be good, but if he is not in control, then he is powerless to stop the world’s problems. However, if God is in control, then is he good? If God is good, then why would he allow something like the corona virus to exist. Why would God allow something so contagious and deadly to break out against people? Why would God allow so many people to die? Couldn’t he at least stop it? This is our question for next week, and I would highly encourage you to invite a friend to join us.
So, next week, we are going to question God’s goodness, and this week we are going to question whether or not God is in control. Many adults will be scared that I attempted to answer such questions to a group of middle school students in the midst of a quarantine, but I think it’s the perfect time to ask this question. First, because many of you are asking this question, or at least you should be.
At this point in your life, you are transitioning from a child to an adult. This means that your faith must transition with you, or it will get left behind. If your faith doesn’t grow with you, then you will leave Jesus behind with Ninja Turtles, Transformers, Hello Kitty, and princesses. Paul said in 1 Corinthians 13:11, “When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways.”[i]
You see, if your faith doesn’t grow with you into adulthood, this will leave you with three responses. First, you can try to maintain a childish faith, but this childish faith is weak and cannot stand up to life. Instead, you try to be a good person and think God will somehow let you into heaven. This kind of faith is why atheists mock Christianity. Second, you realize you have a childish, powerless faith so you pull the eject chord. You reject God and faith, because you think it is powerless and false. This leads to atheism. However, you have third option. The third option is ask hard questions of God who will answer you! James 1:5 says, “If any of you lacks widom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and will be given him.” Thus, you have a strong and adult faith with a rich knowledge of God!
So, let’s ask a hard question. Is God really in control? I want to try and answer this question in two parts. First, I want to look at Scripture to answer this. If you are following with me, then I want you use your Bibles with me. I also want you to take some notes. These verses I am giving you are a source of prayer through this time. Second, I want to approach this question from a philosophical perspective. So, first, Scripture, and then I want us to ponder together for a second.
1. Colossians 1:16-17 “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. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.”[ii]
This initial verse is actually a direct statement about Jesus, and is often quoted to prove Jesus as God. However, if Jesus is God, then there are some implications here. First, notice the part about all things being made by Jesus both visible and invisible. In the scope of this passage a virus is certainly part of the invisible. I generally would use this reference to consider the spiritual realm, which is invisible, but I believe the implications of a virus are true too.
Now, this isn’t saying that God created the virus directly, but the virus occurred through some sort of mutation within God’s creation. This requires that God at minimum allowed the virus to exist because of his sovereignty. Thus, it is more than simply saying that the virus did not take God by surprise, but that God actually had to allow it to exist.
Furthermore, this passage says that God will use his creation, both the visible and invisible things, for his own glory. I like to refer to three prepositions here in this passage. All things are made by Jesus, through Jesus, and for Jesus. This means that he creates, he sustains, and he receives the glory because everything is made for Jesus and his purposes.
Let me explain this further. Isaiah 46:8-10 says, “Remember this and stand firm, recall it to mind, you transgressors, remember the former things of old; for I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose.” [iii]Here God says, that God is able to predict and manipulate the future before it has come to pass. Remember, God is eternal and omnipotent. He is completely outside of time, and thus he view all of time as it were a single moment. Thus, he accomplishes his future purposes now. Actually, in Scripture, it says that God had already accomplished his goals in time before time began.[iv]
Lastly, take comfort in the truth that Jesus is “holding all things together.” The world is not falling apart at this time, but it continues to spin on. Jesus has not relinquished his grip on reality. He is still in control, and in a little bit, I will talk further as to why this is so encouraging.
2. Lamentations 3:37-39 “Who has spoken and it came to pass, unless the Lord has commanded it? Is it not from the mouth of the Most High that good and bad come? Why should a living man complain about the punishment of his sins?’[v]
The second verse refers more to God’s authority. There is nothing that comes to pass unless it came out of the mouth of God. According to the author of Lamentations both good and bad things are predicted from the mouth of God. Traditionally, the church accepts Jeremiah as the author of Lamentations, and he wrote it after Babylon destroyed Jerusalem, slaughtered its people, and took a large group of people who remained alive into captivity back into Babylon. Lamentations is the record of Jeremiah’s grieving process.
Moreover, Jeremiah was the spokesperson for God during the destruction of Jerusalem. Whatever God had to say about the coming destruction, Jeremiah was the one who had to tell the people.
Now, let me address this last part of the verse. Jeremiah asked the rhetorical question, “Why should a living man complain about the punishment of his sins?” When it comes to sin, there are two ways to consider consequences. Micro consequences are specific to the person. For example, the thief should receive the direct consequence for his sin. Macro consequences happen to everyone because sin entered all of creation. Genesis 3 clearly teaches that before sin there was no death or sickness. Disease and Death is a direct result of creation progressively getting worse because of the macro consequences of sin.
Disease is certainly scary, but humanity is not some perfect race that has never sinned and thus deserving to never deal with disease. Because of our sinfulness, we do not deserve eternal goodness to happen to us all the time. Therefore, certain things like this should not take us by surprise when they happen. This truth doesn’t make the experience of disease less painful, but it doesn’t mean that God is not in control.\
3. Job 42:2 “I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted.”[vi]
Our third verse is from Job. Job’s life was full of suffering. There was little left to lose in his life. He lost his wealth, his influence, his family, his health, and he even thought he lost the favor of God. Nonetheless, he never rejected his faith in God. Job understood the principle from Lamentations that sin affects us because of macro consequences. He said in Job 2:10, “Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?”[vii] In other words, Job said, bad things happen to good people because sin is everywhere. Jesus affirmed this truth when he said, “For [God] makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain of the just and the unjust.”[viii]
Not only did Job understand that God was in control of all things both good and bad, he also understood that no one can stop God’s plans. No one has the authority to tell God what to do or even to give him advice about what to do. God’s ways are so beyond our comprehension, we cannot see or understand his purposes. God said this to one of his prophets who was wrestling with this question. God said, “Look among the nations, and see; wonder and be astounded. For I am doing a work in your days that would not believe if told.”[ix] God’s plans are so above our own, that we cannot even comprehend what he is doing. It’s way too complex for us.
4. Romans 8:28 “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.”[x]
By now, we should all be feeling like God isn’t really on our side. To some extent, this is true. God is actually on God’s side. However, in God’s rich mercy and grace he decided to give us the chance to be on his side, and when you are on God’s side you can’t lose. You cannot lose, because God’s will cannot be thwarted.
This brings us to our fourth verse, Romans 8:28. A lot of people misquote this verse saying, “God is going to work this out to my good.” No, God may not work everything out to your good. There are some qualifications in this verse. First, you must love him! Don’t expect God to hear and answer your prayers if you have no relationship with him. He listens to those who have placed their faith in him. Second, God works it towards your good according to his purposes. This means the only good he works towards is his good.
This is where we see God is for us not against us, because we are on his side. When you are on God’s side, he allows your life to work towards good according to his purpose. Without a relationship with Christ, your life may not work out to good. No, your life may work out to evil.
I had a friend growing up who was a very strong Christian for how young she was. In college we were the Christians in an ethics class, and we would strongly argue for Christian ethics and absolute truth. The next year she died in an awful automobile accident on her way to see her fiancé as they prepared for their wedding. Immediately, this sounds like a terrible thing to have happened. Then, her funeral came. Her church was at double capacity for her funeral. The whole town was talking about it. There were Christians from Australia present because she had worked with them during college doing missions work. Also, people got saved because of her funeral. People glorified God’s name greatly because of her death.
I know that it doesn’t seem like a happy ending to the story, but what a great picture of how God used something tragic towards our good that his name might be glorified according to his purposes. This virus and the things that we are enduring are no different. If you will lean into your relationship with God, he can use this scenario toward your good.
Who is in Control?:
Second, I want us to think together for a minute. As I studied about the question of is God in control, I found that the best verses about God’s sovereignty cam from people in the context of suffering. Our verse out of lamentations came from Jeremiah who was lamenting the destruction of Jerusalem and the slaughter of the Jewish people by Babylon. Just think about Job’s response, who had just lost everything!!! Paul was a very persecuted Christian, and he wrote many of his letters as encouragement to very persecuted people. The Christians we read in the New Testament were a suffering people. Scripture gives us this promise, “Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.”[xi]
Therefore, it seems that historically Christians should be accustomed to suffering and pain. This is part of the gig of being a Christian. However, where the suffering and pain is strongest is also historically where we have some of our greatest stories of faith! Why is this? How can such great statements about God’s sovereignty comes from such pain and los when it appears God is not in control.
Look at 1 Corinthians 1:27-28. It says, “But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are.”[xii]
In truth, we accuse God of not being in control, but its our own lack of control that terrifies us. When circumstances are not what we want, we are quick to accuse God as if he should maintain our perfect happiness at all times. This is so flawed! What if your perfect happiness was immoral or harmful to others? No, God cannot be our lucky charm to keep our world spinning perfectly.
Instead, the deceitful nature of our control is often what keeps us from noticing his absolute soveriengty. Thus, God allows something to strip away our sense of control. It’s in such moments that we finally look up as people to a power beyond ourselves realizing there must be someone else in control, because we certainly are not. God chooses to shame the strong, the wise, the powerful, the influential, and those in control with things like a virus that reminds us of our inconsequence. Ultimately, if we were in control, we would not need to pray to a God who is in control.
Therefore, let these verses I discussed become a list for prayer. In the next few weeks, our fears and anxieties may become greater. Instead of doubting God’s control or even existence, let your own lack of control be the reminder that you are not God. Let our lack of control be the reminder that shames us into remembering there is a God who is in control who loves us and desires us to come to him.
[i] 1 Cor. 13:11, ESV.
[ii] Col. 1:16-17, ESV.
[iii] Isa. 46:8–10, ESV.
[iv] See Psa. 139:16 & Eph. 1:4 for example.
[v] Lam. 3:37-39, ESV.
[vi] Job 42:2, ESV.
[vii] Job 2:10, ESV.
[viii] Matt. 5:45, ESV.
[ix] Hab. 1:5, ESV.
[x] Rom. 8:28, ESV.
[xi] 2 Tim. 3:12, ESV.
[xii] 1 Cor. 1:27-28, ESV.