Sermon for Sunday Evening, November 28th, 2021 at First Presbyterian Church at Unionville, NY (BPC)
[Act 4:23-31 ESV] 23 When they were released, they went to their friends and reported what the chief priests and the elders had said to them. 24 And when they heard it, they lifted their voices together to God and said, “Sovereign Lord, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and everything in them, 25 who through the mouth of our father David, your servant, said by the Holy Spirit, “‘Why did the Gentiles rage, and the peoples plot in vain? 26 The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers were gathered together, against the Lord and against his Anointed’– 27 for truly in this city there 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, 28 to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place. 29 And now, Lord, look upon their threats and grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness, 30 while you stretch out your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant Jesus.” 31 And when they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness.
I. The Kings of the Earth
The tension throughout these early chapters of Acts is between the Jewish religious leaders and the Apostles of Jesus Christ. The religious leaders had arrested the Apostles and threatened them, but finally let them go finding no way to punish way.
Now in our text the Apostles are reflecting back on what had just happened with the death of Jesus Christ. Just as the religious leaders are persecuting them, so they persecuted Jesus, even unto his death.
And Jesus’ death is here tied to a fulfillment of the prophecy of Psalm 2.
Let us read Psalm 2.
[Psa 2:1-12 ESV] 1 Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain? 2 The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the LORD and against his Anointed, saying, 3 “Let us burst their bonds apart and cast away their cords from us.” 4 He who sits in the heavens laughs; the Lord holds them in derision. 5 Then he will speak to them in his wrath, and terrify them in his fury, saying, 6 “As for me, I have set my King on Zion, my holy hill.” 7 I will tell of the decree: The LORD said to me, “You are my Son; today I have begotten you. 8 Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage, and the ends of the earth your possession. 9 You shall break them with a rod of iron and dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel.” 10 Now therefore, O kings, be wise; be warned, O rulers of the earth. 11 Serve the LORD with fear, and rejoice with trembling. 12 Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and you perish in the way, for his wrath is quickly kindled. Blessed are all who take refuge in him.
The Kings of the earth. They do evil, as part of God’s plan.
But when God so choses, the kings of the earth can do nothing.
And it is they (the religious leaders) were are threatened by God – they shall be broken with a rod of iron and dashed into pieces like a potter’s vessel. The threat of the religious leaders against the Apostles has come to naught, but the threat of God is a promise that will one day be fulfilled.
The script is flipped. While there are kings and rulers of the earth, these are powerless against the King of All.
II. The King of All
The king of all is the king of kings, Jesus Christ. He is the one truly in control.
In fact, as the text tells us, even the death of Christ is among that which God’s hand and God’s plan had predestined to take place.
This is an important verse. It tells us a number of things.
First, it confirms that evil is not something that happens apart from God’s plan, but is in his very control. The singularly most evil act in world history — the killing of Jesus Christ — happened according to his plan and was predestined to take place. So when we see other evils — no matter how bad they are, they are lesser evils — when we see other evils we are to be encouraged that God is yet in control, and has a plan in all of it. And while we know that Jesus’ death was done by evil men for evil purposes, yet in God’s plan Jesus’ death had a grand purpose of forgiving our sins. The worst thing that ever happened is the best thing that ever happened for us.
We do not have a dualistic religion in which there are competing good and evil Gods, but rather we have one God who is over all things. He says in Isaiah 45:
I am the Lord, and there is no other.
I form light and create darkness
I make well-being and create calamity
I am the Lord who does all these things.
And that shouldn’t be very controversial. But, take a look at the same verse in the King James Version. Instead of saying “I make well-being and create calamity” it says “I make peace, and create evil.”
God creates evil. The Hebrew word is “ra.” And it is mostly translated as “evil” in the Bible though it can be translated in some similar words like “wickedness” and “trouble.”
This verse says “God creates evil.” And this is very controversial among Christians.
God creates all things. But God is not the author of evil.
The best explanation of the situation I know is from our Westminster Confession of Faith:
God, from all eternity, did, by the most wise and holy counsel of his own will, freely, and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass: yet so, as thereby neither is God the author of sin, nor is violence offered to the will of the creatures; nor is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established.
But let us return to the verse in Acts: 27 for truly in this city there 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, 28 to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place.
Here we see, also importantly, that God’s mind and God’s actions correlate. He does not think one way and go the other. He does as he wishes. His hand and his plan are one. Some erroneous contend that while God desires the salvation of each and every person, he does not save each and every person. This is the error called “The Well-Meant Offer of the Gospel” and it puts God’s plan at odds with God’s hand. It has it that God plans one thing, but does another. The idea that is promoted is that God desires the salvation even of those whom he does save, a clear contradiction. And this is very popular in churches today, even supposedly Calvinistic churches. But the teaching is really something between Calvinism and Arminianism. It is a confused idea. We know, rather, that God does as he pleases. Psalm 115:3 – “Our God is in the heavens, he does all that he pleases.” And all that he pleases, he does.
This is great hope for the Apostles in this time when they are being persecuted by those same authorities that persecuted and killed Christ. God does what he pleases. The kings are not in control; the king of kings is in control. Not only then, but in all time. God was in control in all of the Old Testament and all of the New Testament and in our day today. In our tribulations we are to look to him, and trust in God even if we sometimes don’t understand his plan.
Because God is King of All, his Holy Spirit is active. Not so much unopposed, but un-opposable. Hence we have the doctrine of irresistible grace. It is not that we sinners do not resist God, but that his Holy Spirit overpowers our sin of unbelief and renews our hearts that we cannot but believe in Him.
So the apostles prayed:
29 And now, Lord, look upon their threats and grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness, 30 while you stretch out your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant Jesus.” 31 And when they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness.
And their prayer was answered. Boldness.
They can have boldness because God in control of all things.
They can have boldness because Christ is King of all, king of kings.
And they can have boldness because they were filled with the Holy Spirit.
That is to be our prayer too. Lord, fill us with Holy Spirit. Be active and powerful in our lives and in our speech that we may speak the word of God with boldness against any and all opposition that comes our way.
The day is coming and is even already here in many places in this world where it is illegal to preach some or all of the Biblical truths. But we should never let such persecution slow us down. We should pray for boldness to overpower any opposition to us. Let the word of God win the victory as it changes hearts and minds.
And, you know, even some of the pharisees came to believe in Jesus. And so today, some of those most aggressively against God may be converted by the power, the irresistible power, of the Holy Spirit.
Just to name a few – we read “The Gospel Comes with a Housekey” by Rosaria Butterfield. She was ardently opposed to God, a feminist lesbian professor who was entirely changed by God. Another, and I’m not an expert on the validity of this, but the rapper Kanye West in recent years had a very public conversion to Christianity. And I pray that it is genuine. And I often think of the famous criminals who have converted in prison including David Berkowitz and Jeffrey Dahmer.
Now, it may be difficult for us to have certainty about these cases, but it is clear that the Lord changes lives. The Holy Spirit is powerful. And for all us who believe we have that inward testimony of the Holy Spirit and have seen the Holy Spirit work in our lives. We know that we were sinners opposed to God and that we believe only by the work of the Holy Spirit in us.
Jesus Christ is King of All. King over those of us Christians who believe in him, king over those who do not believe in him, king even over all kings. We serve a powerful mighty God. This brings me great joy. We are on the winning side. And thus we speak and live with boldness in service of our loving God. Let us pray.