Wednesday, November 16, 2011

King of kings

Yours, LORD, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the majesty and the splendor, for everything in heaven and earth is yours. Yours, LORD, is the kingdom; you are exalted as head over all. Wealth and honor come from you; you are the ruler of all things. In your hands are strength and power to exalt and give strength to all. Now, our God, we give you thanks, and praise your glorious name.
1 Chronicles 29:11-13

The Bible teaches a wonderful truth that that should fill Christians with hope and joy, but often (I think because of the way we approach the topic) ends up leading to conflict and division instead. The precious truth that I am talking about is that God is sovereign! There are many different reasons why talking about the sovereignty of God is so fraught with danger, but perhaps the main reason is that we often choose to focus on the most difficult questions the doctrine raises (the portions of this doctrine that are actually least clear in Scripture) and completely ignore the larger picture that Scripture communicates. There is a place and a time to debate Calvinism and Arminianism and all that goes with them, but we need to be reminded that for both sides it is true that God is sovereign!

I would like to suggest another way of looking at God's sovereignty, a way that I think can help us avoid getting bogged down in endless debates. I want us to return to a metaphor that is much older than these debates, a metaphor that Scripture uses to talk about God's sovereignty: God as KING. Repeatedly the Bible refers to God as a king. In fact, He is not merely a king, but the King of kings. I like I Timothy 6:15 which says that God is "the only Ruler, the King of kings and Lord of lords." I love that! God is the only Ruler. It may look like other people are in power, but they aren´t. At the end of the day when it all boils down, only God is in control.

In ancient times, a king had absolute power. Within his own kingdom there was no limit to his power— no checks, no balances, just him. The only real recourse a citizen had was to try to lead a rebellion against him, which would almost certainly end in a painful death for the rebels. Short of that, the king ruled with an iron fist. He could have you killed at the snap of a finger… or he could make you wealthy just as quickly. He could seize your land without apology, because it in fact was not your land but his land. In short, everything that fell within the boundaries of his kingdom was at his command. A king was to be feared and obeyed.

Now according to the Christian worldview, the LORD God Almighty is like this king in many ways. He has absolute power in His kingdom, but His kingdom has no boundaries. There is no limit to His rule. His kingdom is all of creation.... not simply the earth, but all of the cosmos. Because this is true, God has the right to do whatever He pleases Job testifies to this when he asks, “Who can oppose [God]? He does whatever He pleases” (Job 23:13). Paul uses the metaphor of a potter’s right to utilize his clay however he wants when he asks, “Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for noble purposes and some for common use?” (Romans 9:21). God's sovereignty means that He has the right to do whatever He wants to with my life even now. We are but dust in the hand of God. We have no rights to claim at His throne. We are completely dependent upon Him and at His mercy.

This understanding of God might seem offensive to you, but it is basic to the Christian concept of God, and what’s more it is basic to all of the major religions’ concepts of God. It is not at all unique to Christianity. There is one major way, though, in which the Biblical concept of God’s sovereignty is unique. It is only in the Christian tradition that God is presented as the Father of a sinful/prodigal son whose love compels Him to throw all dignity aside and run in pursuit of His wretched offspring. It is only within the Christian tradition that it could be fathomed that the eternal One would humble Himself and become human, and that as a human He would be humiliated and would suffer for His creation.

You see the Christian God is a god who is King of kings and Lord of lords. He is the only Ruler. He is all-powerful. He can do whatever He pleases. And yet, He chooses to love and pursue sinners like you and me. He chooses to call us into relationship with Himself. He chooses to reveal Himself to us so that His magnificent love might result in our blessing and in His glory. This tension is one which we must always keep before ourselves. If we lose sight of God’s awesome power, if we lose sight of his complete freedom to do whatever He pleases with our lives, then we risk entering His presence in an irreverent manner. But on the other hand, if we lose sight of God’s immense love and of the great lengths that it has driven Him to in his pursuit of us, then we have lost the heart of Christianity. We are left with something to fear, but nothing to love or to worship. So if we are to have a truly Christian understanding of God’s sovereignty, we must have both. We must always remember that the King of kings allowed Himself to be tortured and killed by His own creation not for lack of power but for excess of love.

So remember this week that God is in control of His kingdom. Nothing happens without His consent. He holds your future in His hands. But remember also that this God, the King of kings, has come near to you in Jesus Christ. He has a plan for your life and He will not leave you alone. He is worthy of your trust. Though we do still suffer in this life, we know that His plan will ultimately work itself out for our good and His glory because His plan comes to completion not in this life but in eternity.

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