One of the most debated theological topics within our congregations these days is the sovereignty of God. It is a topic about which people get upset, feelings get hurt, and honest conversations are rarely had for the sake of “not wanting to offend one another”. There are obnoxious people on both sides of the argument which make it even more difficult to honestly address. But today I want to look at one event honestly, and observe God’s sovereign hand in and through the sin which was essential in it.
The crucifixion of Jesus Christ.
I am confident that we can agree in the foundational teachings of the Old Testament that murder is a sin.
“You shall not murder.”
– Ex 20.13, Deut 5.17
And while one might argue that the Mosaic Law called for the death of anyone who would blaspheme, and the Pharisees believed that Jesus was guilty of blasphemy and therefore acting out of right conviction, we know that Jesus was indeed God and therefore did not blaspheme in proclaiming that He was God. We also know that the Pharisees were seeking to kill Jesus for sinful motives, not out of a love for the holiness of God.
“Moreover, the one who blasphemes the name of the Lord shall surely be put to death; all the congregation shall certainly stone him. The alien as well as the native, when he blasphemes the Name, shall be put to death.”
– Lev 24.16
“But the Pharisees went out and conspired against Him, as to how they might destroy Him.”
– Matt 12.14
In short, it was a sin for the Pharisees, for the crowd, and for the Romans to kill Jesus.
But Scripture is painfully clear from the very beginning that Jesus’ murder and resurrection were God’s plan. When God created the world, He placed Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden and gave them only one rule which they broke. When God came and pronounced the curse over humanity because of this one sin, He also foretold a savior who would suffer:
The Lord God said to the serpent,
“Because you have done this,
Cursed are you more than all cattle,
And more than every beast of the field;
On your belly you will go,
And dust you will eat
All the days of your life;
And I will put enmity
Between you and the woman,
And between your seed and her seed;
He shall bruise you on the head,
And you shall bruise him on the heel.”
– Gen 3.14-15
The son of man will bruise Satan on the head, while Satan will only bruise Him on the heel. This is the first promise of a Savior. And throughout the history of Israel – as documented in the Old Testament – there are promises and prophecies of the coming Messiah who would redeem the Hebrew people. The prophecies are so specific and clear that it has been counted to 353 prophecies that Jesus fulfilled by His birth, His life, His death and His resurrection. The entirety of the prophecy is that Jesus would suffer an unjust death so that we could experience an unjust forgiveness. This is so clear, in fact, that Revelation teaches us that Jesus was slain from the foundation of the world. Before God created man, He had redemption’s story written, and it included the murder of His Son:
“And all that dwell upon the earth shall worship him, whose names are not written in the book of life of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world.”
– Rev 13.8
So the simple fact of God’s plan to redeem a sinful people through the crucifixion of His son exemplifies His sovereignty and will through the sin of the Sanhedrin, the crowd and the Romans.
“But the Lord was pleased
To crush Him, putting Him to grief;
If He would render Himself as a guilt offering,
He will see His offspring,
He will prolong His days,
And the good pleasure of the Lord will prosper in His hand.”
– Is 53.10
We also see specific elements prophesied and willed by God within the crucifixion event, for instance the betrayal of Christ by Judas. We see a foreshadowing of the betrayal by David:
Even my close friend in whom I trusted,
Who ate my bread,
Has lifted up his heel against me.
– Ps 41.9
And we see the detailed prophecy of the events in Zechariah (written some 600 years before it occurred):
“I said to them, ‘If it is good in your sight, give me my wages; but if not, never mind!’ So they weighed out thirty shekels of silver as my wages. Then the Lord said to me, ‘Throw it to the potter, that magnificent price at which I was valued by them.’ So I took the thirty shekels of silver and threw them to the potter in the house of the Lord.”
– Zech 11.12-13
This is why the Gospel writers bemoaned Judas and the event of his betrayal thus:
“The Son of Man is to go, just as it is written of Him; but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been good for that man if he had not been born.”
– Matt 26.24
“For indeed, the Son of Man is going as it has been determined; but woe to that man by whom He is betrayed!”
– Luke 22.22
“For the Son of Man is to go just as it is written of Him; but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been good for that man if he had not been born.”
– Mark 14.21
In short, it was God’s plan and will that Jesus would be betrayed by one of His closest friends and a disciple, at the cost of thirty shekels of silver (the price of a common slave), and the friend would then feel guilt and throw the money back at the Sanhedrin. It was God’s plan, but yet three of the four Gospel writers pronounce woe for Judas; saying it would have been better for him if he had never been born.
God’s ultimate plan of redemption and salvation included this act of sin, and God is not guilty of sin for willing it, and Judas is guilty of sin for preforming it.
We know that God is perfect and that in Him there is no sin, He cannot sin by His very nature (1 John 3.9, James 1.13). But yet He wills for sin to take place in order for His perfect plan of redemption and sanctification of believers to occur. If we reject this truth, then we reject the very Gospel in which we find our hope.
Is this a unique situation because it is the story of Jesus? Or is this true in our lives as well? To answer that question, let’s look at 1 Peter 1.
“In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials, so that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ; and though you have not seen Him, you love Him, and though you do not see Him now, but believe in Him, you greatly rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory, obtaining as the outcome of your faith the salvation of your souls.”
– 1 Peter 1.6-9
Peter, the apostle who was prophesied to deny Jesus, and who did deny Jesus, but yet was restored, wrote to the scattered church that their faith would be purified as gold through various trials. He gave them hope that their trials were going to work out to their good – and that is the salvation of their souls by perseverance. But not only that, he says that it is necessary. God found it necessary to put these believers through various trials in order that their faith might be placed in a fire, so that the impurities of the faith could rise to the top and be scraped off, leaving it more valuable and more strong. We understand from Rom 5 and James 1 that God intentionally uses trials to produce in us perseverance which produces character which ultimately results in hope. Our faith grows and is proven by trials. But what is the nature of these trials about which Peter spoke?
“For this finds favor, if for the sake of conscience toward God a person bears up under sorrows when suffering unjustly. For what credit is there if, when you sin and are harshly treated, you endure it with patience? But if when you do what is right and suffer for it you patiently endure it, this finds favor with God. For you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps, WHO COMMITTED NO SIN, NOR WAS ANY DECEIT FOUND IN HIS MOUTH; and while being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously; and He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed.”
– 1 Peter 2.19-24
Peter says that it finds favor with God when we are suffering unjustly. That means when people sin against us. God intentionally wills trials for us that are people sinning against us when we do not deserve it. And it finds favor with God when we suffer with the character of Christ, who also suffered by people sinning against Him unjustly. Jesus was our example, and we will be put through trials of the same nature – though for most of us, not to the same extent. Some of our trials will be because of our own personal sin, and it is of no credit to us if we suffer those consequences. It proves our faith when we persevere while being sinned against. And God finds is necessary (1 Peter 1.6) to put us through such trials.
How can this be? How can God be sovereign over my actions and other people’s actions, and yet I still be held accountable for them? This is a great mystery, and a tension that Scripture does not seek resolve for us. It simply states the truth that God is sovereign and we are responsible.
“For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
– Rom 6.23
The just punishment for sin is death and eternal separation from God in Hell. Judas is paying for in eternity what God planned before the foundation of the world. Judas did choose to deny Jesus, and to go through those steps of betrayal, but it was also God’s plan. And Judas is suffering the consequences while it was necessary for God to bring about the Gospel and plan of salvation.
Thus we see that God uses the sin to bring good.
“And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.”
– Rom 8.28
God causes all things to work together for good, and to His glory. Without sin, there is no distinction of holiness. Without evil we cannot grasp the weight and fullness of good. God wills sin in order to exemplify His perfection and glory.
But how can this be fair? Paul asked and answered that very question in the book of Romans:
What shall we say then? There is no injustice with God, is there? May it never be! For He says to Moses, “I WILL HAVE MERCY ON WHOM I HAVE MERCY, AND I WILL HAVE COMPASSION ON WHOM I HAVE COMPASSION.” So then it does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy.”
– Rom 9.14-16
Ok, then if God gets to choose, and if He is sovereign over sin, how can He hold us accountable for that sin? How can Judas be guilty if it was God’s plan all along? Paul also asks and answers that question:
You will say to me then, “Why does He still find fault? For who resists His will?” On the contrary, who are you, O man, who answers back to God? The thing molded will not say to the molder, “Why did you make me like this,” will it? Or does not the potter have a right over the clay, to make from the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for common use? What if God, although willing to demonstrate His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction? And He did so to make known the riches of His glory upon vessels of mercy, which He prepared beforehand for glory, even us, whom He also called, not from among Jews only, but also from among Gentiles.
– Rom 9.19-24
Paul essentially says that our perspective is off. We are looking at it from our perspective, from man’s worldview. We consider man to be the highest value and the author of our destinies. But Paul says that God is actually the one with highest value and the author of our destinies. If He is the potter, He gets to make beautiful vases for honor and He also gets to make chamber pots. And seeing the full picture, He can create sinful people who will be utilized for the purpose of testing and purifying the children of God – bringing about those “necessary trials”.
Judas played an essential role in the Gospel story. He was a vessel of wrath, prepared beforehand for destruction. And because of the spirit and nature that He was given, He willfully chose to follow Jesus for the wrong motives and then turn Him over for money. He had a wicked spirit and He acted out that wicked spirit of His own volition. And He will eternally pay the punishment for it. But it is not sin for God because He was created as a vessel of wrath and the sin was essential to bring about the good and to glorify the greatness of God.
So how does this apply to us? I understand that this is a theological and difficult reality to grasp and make peace with in our Spirits – because it goes against the worldview we have been taught since childhood. There are a variety of ways in which it applies, however. Firstly, it helps us to understand the nature and person of God. The more we know Him, the more we can love him. It is like any relationship – you have to know someone to care about them, and the more intimately you know someone, the more deeply you can love them. God has revealed these truths about Himself so that we can know Him, enjoy Him, and worship Him. If you are in relationship with God, you are a vessel of mercy which He is refining and purifying for an eternity with Him. If that doesn’t make you feel loved, nothing will!
Secondly, it helps us gain perspective over our situations. Has someone sinned against you? Are you in the midst of a tragedy or trial? We have two very distinct encouragements in these times. Firstly, Jesus suffered at the hands of sinners unjustly, and He is our example. Secondly, God sees this situation as necessary to bring about the purification and maturation of our faith. He is allowing this for our good. He has given us an example to follow and He wants us to rely on Him, and trust Him and glorify Him through the process of obedience, growth and purification. God is not up in Heaven calling an emergency meeting because our situations have caught Him off guard and He now has to scramble to figure out how to bring good out of it. He orchestrated it. Purposefully. For our good.
Thirdly, it helps keep us humble. Here in the good ol’ USofA, we like to think of God as our father, our buddy, our “homeboy” as the T-shirt said a few years ago, and while it is true that God is indeed our father and we can approach Him boldly and tell Him our fears, thoughts, concerns and passions – He is also God. He is King. He is sovereign, and He is the juge over sin and righteousness. We are not the most important beings in existence. God is. God does not exist for us, we exist for Him. So when we enter into these difficult situations, we should remember that the king deserves honor, reverence and respect. We can verbalize our confusion, but we should not presume upon God that we know better about our situations.
Lastly, it helps us in evangelism. Jesus left us with a single command: to go and make disciples of all the nations (Matt 28.28-20). There will be many people who reject the Gospel. There will be many people who push back against Jesus. There might even be times that we suffer at the hands of those who oppose the Gospel and Jesus. And we can take great comfort and peace in the fact that this is all part of God’s plan. He has people from every tribe, tongue and nation who will believe (Rev 7.9), and it is not our job to convince them or sweet talk them into salvation – it is only our job to proclaim the Gospel and let God bring about the growth. We as believers should be telling everyone, and God will bring in the harvest.
“So then neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but God who causes the growth.”
– 1 Cor 3.7
So let us consider God in our situations today. Whatever situation you have encountered today, God considers it necessary for your maturity and growth. Let us look to Him, ask Him what it is that we need to learn in it and through it. Let us consider Jesus as our example of suffering unjustly, and ask for strength to persevere and for your faith to be refined as gold. Let us share the Gospel boldly and trust God to bring about the growth that He has promised for people around the world.