God Sovereign in the Darkness
The three darkest days in history were those between our Lord’s death and his resurrection. On the Thursday night before that Friday morning, his disciples confessed, “Now we are sure that you know all things, and need not that any man should ask you: by this we believe that you came forth from God” (John 16:30). But then the soldiers came with Judas. Jesus was taken away, condemned, and crucified. John stood on the bleak hilltop, waiting for him to do something, knowing he could have done something, but he died. He died horribly, shamefully. The disciples slunk away, more dead than alive.
We are not told how they spent the interim. Hell’s fires tried to burn up their faith. Fear, amazement, depression – remember that they “did not yet know the Scripture, that he should rise from the dead” (John 20:9). That he died at all was radically inconsistent with what they experienced of his power and what they knew about him. How could the One who commanded the seas with a word not sweep away his enemies with a word? How could men crucify the Son of God? They had seen him raise Lazarus. Death obeyed his command. They had ventured all upon their conviction that he was the Christ, the Son of the living God. How could they possibly move forward?
It was only after Resurrection and Pentecost that they could clearly see the divine narrative behind the horror that they experienced. “For of a truth against thy holy child Jesus, whom thou hast anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles, and the people of Israel, were gathered together, for to do whatsoever thy hand and thy counsel determined before to be done” (Acts 4:27-28). This is the explanation for the worst three days that any godly men have ever endured – God did it. It was part of his plan. He was working through that plan, using ungodly and ignorant men. They were carrying out what God had ordained.
This is more than a theological declaration about God’s sovereignty. It is the practical truth that settled these men, instilled unswerving allegiance to Jesus Christ, and inspired quiet, immovable boldness. God was working out his plan. Whatever the human element – and several tragic, human narratives intersected in the death of Jesus Christ – the divine element dominated. The Romans and Jews are mentioned, but the Holy Spirit draws prime attention to God’s hand and counsel.
His hand refers to his power. Together with his arm, God’s power accomplishes his holy will. It opens blind eyes, raises up men and nations to do his will, and judges his enemies. The darkest moment, the most shocking moment in the history of the world is when God took up his arm and struck down his Son for sinners. He stayed Abraham’s hand on Moriah’s height, but his hand plunged in the knife on Golgotha’s holy lamb. It is dreadful to consider, but sin is dreadful. The wrath of the holy God and just Judge is an unbearable burning for sinners, and the only way for sinners to be redeemed was for his hand to slay his beloved Son.
Had Peter and the apostles focused upon the human element, bitterness and vengefulness would have marked their dealings with Jews and Romans moving forward. It did not. They overcame the bitterness of injustice by submitting to God’s hand. Yes, there were human means, but God’s hand moved them to act as they did. They are personally responsible for their actions. Some are in hell; some later repented and are in heaven worshipping Jesus. God’s hand crucified his Son, and God’s hand saves the worst sinners who commit the most atrocious sins.
Men fear that too much focus upon God’s sovereignty will nullify secondary causes. This is a legitimate concern, but the other side is more dangerous, in my opinion. In investigating the human element, we often forget the divine. We do not bow before God’s sovereign counsel. We fail to take seriously that all the evil men do is ordained by God. He uses the wrath of men to praise his name. Men mean evil, but he means good – through the same event (Gen. 50:20). If calamity’s trumpet blows, foreign armies, pestilence, or a tornado, God’s hand has done it (Amos 3:6). He creates the light, and he creates calamity (Isa. 45:7).
We must be very careful, therefore, in our assessments and especially in our attitudes and language toward wicked men – even men on the level of the Jews and Romans who crucified the Lord of glory. The apostle says that they did this in ignorance (1 Cor. 2:8). Our Lord said the same: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34). The Jews had the Scriptures, as did the apostles, but neither knew what was going on. They were carrying out God’s sovereign purposes. Here faith can go no further, but it can worship and be at peace. The worst moment and days in the history of the world, God ordained them. He planned them. They happened as he wanted them to happen. He used the unconstrained and wicked hearts and hands and plans of ungodly men to accomplish his good, holy, and wise purposes. Let us worship and bow before his majesty.
For this is all our peace in unsettled times, that the righteous God is reigning and carrying out his purposes. Although they are veiled to us, we must trust our Father’s word, that no matter how great the darkness, God is in that darkness. He created it, ordained it, and is using it to carry forward his plan to make the nations Christ’s disciples and to gather everything under his headship. Believing this, the apostles could look back upon those three dark days and rejoice in them. God was still at the helm when it seemed to them that truth itself had sunk into the bottom of the sea. Jesus had sunk there, into hell itself, for that is where we were, where the Lord of glory had to descend in order to bring us to new life.
And what of our dark present? Ungodly men are doing their usual scheming and rebelling to build the city of man and overturn the living God and his Messiah, but they are doing what God’s hand and counsel has determined to be done. They are carrying out his purposes, just as Assyria did when God sent them to judge Israel (Isa. 10). The Assyrians did not say, any more than our evil federal government says, “Let us do God’s will.” No, they were doing their own wicked will, seeking plunder, captives, and territory. God was far from their minds. Still, they were carrying out God’s plan to punish his people. The wicked, we must painfully remember, are God’s sword to judge the world and to chasten us (Ps. 17:13).
Therefore, we can be at peace and even have joy – as Peter wrote (1 Pet. 1:5) – if we rest upon the highest of all truths – not what men are doing, planning, and scheming. The way most speak and write, the Wizard of Oz is pulling levers behind the curtain, preparing to send us all into the hellhole of our own Bladerunner reality. This borders on blasphemy, for it forgets that God is the only Governor of the nations. If this does happen, it will not be because the wicked were so strong and intelligent but because we were so unbelieving, so unthankful for his many benefits, and so void of praise and obedience and witness-bearing. And we can rest assured that when the Lord is finished with his sinful tools, he will turn around and break them to pieces (Rev. 2:27).
The world is so completely under God’s authority that no one can lift a finger apart from his will. This is no bare permission, as if he simply allows these things to happen. Far from it, for he is “working all things according to the counsel of his own will” (Eph. 1:11). We must, therefore, be careful that the way we oppose evil men is with the weapons he gives to us and in humble submission to his governorship of the world. There is no man or group of men in charge. The Lord is in charge (Ps. 22:27; Matt. 28:18), and we must humble ourselves under his sovereign, mighty hand.
As we move into a dangerous technocracy, it is easy to forget this. Non-elected, heavily politicized bureaucracies control public opinion. Our elected officials fear to go against these experts, for expert opinion is everything in a technocracy, as the experts daily remind us. This is humanism on steroids. The Lord rules these ungodly groups, whether they recognize his hand or submit to his counsel. “There is no wisdom nor understanding nor counsel against the Lord” (Prov. 21:30). All man’s wisdom will collapse when the Lord thunders from the heavens – or whispers with his still, small voice.
God’s sovereignty guides and settles us in this hour. First, we may not yield to fear (Prov. 3:25-26), not only because he forbids it but also because he rules over all things through his Son. We must trust him and fight against our fears. Second, we must bear witness that there is another and true King, Jesus Christ. All the havoc we are witnessing is because the West has rebelled against his gospel reign and his church has forsaken the old paths of God’s word because it offends. Of course God’s word offends sinners. It offends so that it can convict and deliver us from hell. Better to be offended now than howl in hell later. All whom God saves love his word (2 Thess. 2:10), and the Bible has not changed. Finally, we must learn to possess our souls in patience, die daily, love when hated, keep God’s commandments, and carry our cross each hour. When we pledge to follow Jesus, we pledge to be crucified with him. If you have already counted this cost and are willing to pay it, you have nothing to fear from men.