One day after working on my brakes, I got in the car and put it in reverse, the car leaped backward, and I hit the brakes - but they went right to the floor. I put the car into neutral as I frantically pumped the brakes. How do you like it when things are out of control? Few things in life are worse than that "out of control" feeling. Maybe there have been times in your life when you were so angry that you just sort of lost it. You were out of control. Many of you will say anger is not your problem, but stress is. You may feel so overcome by worry that others begin to notice, and say things like, "Hey get a grip, you're losing control." Most of us want a steady life that we feel we're managing well. We like things to be under control. But often they are not.
The Bible teaches that God is Omnipotent, and He is in control. That's a reassuring thought, isn't it? Have you ever been working on a big project, and everyone involved had an important part to play. But you still feel the need to ask, "Tom, how are things going with the project?" and Tom replies, "Everything is under control." It's such a relief to hear those words, isn't it? What we will look at today is what it means for God to be in control of things. For many of us, our concepts of God take on an all too human tilt. My hope is that this message will LIFT our preconceived ideas about God and allow us to see him as he really is - an Awesome God! God is an omnipotent, sovereign God. That means God is in control. To be omnipotent is to be all-powerful.
Isaiah 40:25-26 (NKJV) "To whom then will you liken Me, Or to whom shall I be equal?" says the Holy One. 26 Lift up your eyes on high, And see who has created these things, Who brings out their host ("the starry host" NIV) by number; He calls them all by name, By the greatness of His might And the strength of His power; Not one is missing.
God has the POWER: to speak the universe into existence, to fill the oceans and scatter the stars through space, to stack mountains to the summit, to ignite the sun that maintains all life, to create man in his own likeness. God did it ALL.
Omnipotence is a attribute of God. Theologians sometimes speak of God's attributes in two categories: communicable and incommunicable. That sounds strange until you remember that we commonly speak of communicable diseases that can be spread from one person to another, such as chicken pox. Incommunicable diseases are those that cannot be spread from one person to another, such as rheumatoid arthritis or most forms of cancer.
When this distinction is applied to God, communicable attributes refer to those aspects of God's character that we may share in some way, such as; mercy, grace, anger, justice, and holiness. Incommunicable attributes are those that are unique to God and unshared in any way by his creatures. Omnipotence falls into this category.
With that as background, we want to spend our time this morning looking at the attribute of God called omnipotence. The word means "all-powerful" and refers to the fact that God's power is infinite and unlimited. He can do with power anything that power can do. Said another way, God has the power to do all he wills to do. He has both the resources and the ability to work his will in every circumstance in the universe. If you prefer a simpler definition, just think of these three words "God is able." That's what omnipotence means. He is able to do everything he needs to do or wants to do.
This doctrine is assumed everywhere in the Bible. One might easily find 500 verses that either teach omnipotence or implicitly assume it. Although the word is not found in our modern translations, the concept might be truly said to be assumed on every page of the Bible. It is found in the King James Version of Revelation 19:6, "For the Lord God omnipotent reigneth." George Frederick Handel composed his majestic "Hallelujah Chorus" around that phrase.
Let's look at some scriptures that lead us to the doctrine of omnipotence:
Jeremiah 32:17 (NKJV) 'Ah, Lord GOD! Behold, You have made the heavens and the earth by Your great power and outstretched arm. There is nothing too hard for You.
Luke 1:37 (NKJV) "For with God nothing will be impossible."
Psalms 115:3 (NKJV) But our God is in heaven; He does whatever He pleases.
As a simple summary statement, we may say that there are no limits to what God can do, because there are no limits to GOD.
Among the many titles given to God in the Old Testament is one that relates directly to his omnipotence. In Genesis 17:1, God speaks to 99 year old Abraham who has been promised a child by God. By this time, his body is "as good as dead" (see Romans 4:19-22). In the face of all his very understandable doubts, God reassures him by calling himself El Shaddai, which means: "Almighty God". It was God's way of saying, "Don't look in the mirror, Abraham. Look at me. If I say you're going to have a son, it's going to happen. Age means nothing to me. I am Almighty God."
God has infinite power, we have nothing to compare him to. There never has been or ever will be anyone or anything to compare to God. HE IS creator and ruler of the universe. So I guess that puts him in control, now doesn't it? The sovereignty of God speaks of his authority. And this word "sovereignty" is used over 300 times in the Bible.
Daniel 7:14 (NKJV) Then to Him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, That all peoples, nations, and languages should serve Him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion, Which shall not pass away, And His kingdom the one Which shall not be destroyed.
The scriptures teach us that God has authority over nature, history, people - everything. So once again, that puts him in control.
One commentator writes, "The Bible teaches that God is all-powerful. And he has complete authority over everything that happens. But we must never forget that he also chose to give us free will. And he does not use his power to overrule our freedom to choose the direction we go in life."
Like this commentator, many of us are prepared to grant God's sovereignty over nature and impersonal circumstances, such as a mechanical failure in an airplane. After all, nature does not have a will of its own. God is free to operate through his physical laws as he pleases. But the concept of divine sovereignty over people can seem to destroy the free will of humans and make them no more than puppets on God's stage. Yet, the Bible repeatedly affirms God's sovereignty over people. It speaks of God making the Egyptians favorably disposed toward the Israelites:
Exodus 12:35-36 (NKJV) Now the children of Israel had done according to the word of Moses, and they had asked from the Egyptians articles of silver, articles of gold, and clothing. 36 And the LORD had given the people favor in the sight of the Egyptians, so that they granted them what they requested. Thus they plundered the Egyptians.
The Bible tells us of God moving the heart of Cyrus, king of Persia, to fulfill his word:
Ezra 1:1 (NKJV) Now in the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, that the word of the LORD by the mouth of Jeremiah might be fulfilled, the LORD stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, so that he made a proclamation throughout all his kingdom, and also put it in writing, saying,
The Bible also tells us of God causing King Nebuchadnezzar's official to show favor and sympathy to Daniel:
Daniel 1:9 (NKJV) Now God had brought Daniel into the favor and goodwill of the chief of the eunuchs.
One of the strongest such assertions is in:
Proverbs 21:1 (NKJV) The king's heart is in the hand of the LORD, Like the rivers of water; He turns it wherever He wishes.
In our day of limited monarchies and figurehead royalty, it may be difficult to appreciate fully the force of this statement. But in Solomon's time, the king was an absolute monarch. There was no legislature to pass laws he did not like, no Supreme Court to restrain his actions. The king's word was the last word. His authority over his realm was unconditional and unrestrained.
Yet, this verse teaches that God controls the heart of the most powerful monarch on earth as easily as the farmer directs the flow of water in his irrigation canals. The argument, then, is from the greater to the lesser - if God controls the king's heart, surely he controls everyone else's. All must move before his sovereign influence.
All of us at times find ourselves and our future, immediate or long range, in the hands of others. Their decisions can determine the success or failure of our plans. A government official can deny a visa to enter a country. A professor can determine the academic success of a graduate student. A supervisor can block a career. I do not overlook our own responsibility for diligent and prudent efforts in these areas, but when we have done our best, we often seem still to be at the mercy of the decisions and actions of others.
In reality, though, we are not at their mercy, because God sovereignly rules over those decisions and actions. God moves people to do his will and restrains people from accomplishing the evil they would normally carry out. A striking illustration of this is found in what appears to be an almost passing comment in:
Exodus 34:23-24 (NKJV) "Three times in the year all your men shall appear before the Lord, the LORD God of Israel. 24 "For I will cast out the nations before you and enlarge your borders; neither will any man covet your land when you go up to appear before the LORD your God three times in the year.
Let's apply this passage in our present setting. What God commanded Israel to do was equivalent to commanding our nation to shut down all its commerce, close all its educational institutions, and furlough all its military personnel simultaneously, and gather all those people into one giant Christian assembly three times a year. Think of how vulnerable our nation would be during those occasions.
Yet, that is what God commanded Israel to do. But along with the command, he promised them that no one would even covet their land during those times, let alone invade. God could make that promise because in his sovereignty, he had the power to restrain people from even desiring to harm them. God is sovereign over not only our actions; he is sovereign even over our desires.
Obviously, God does not always restrain the wicked desires or actions of sinful people. We have only to read our daily newspaper to see that. But God can do so when he chooses. And he does do so when it is his will. Therefore, as his children we can be sure that all evil intended against us by other people passes through his sovereign control and is either permitted or restrained as he chooses.
Let's think together about three implications of God's omnipotence.
1. No power or will can ultimately thwart his purposes.
This is what Job discovered at the end of his trials. I find it interesting that, as far as we know, Job never discovered the truth about the conversation between God and Satan that started all his troubles. If you take the book of Job at face value, it ends with God interrogating Job in a most humbling fashion. "Job, where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth? Were you there when I put the stars in their places? By the way, have you ever tried to make a crocodile? What about a rabbit? A simple rabbit, Job, how are you at making rabbits? That's what I thought." In the end, Job bows in silence before a God whose ways are beyond human comprehension.
Omnipotence teaches us that no power in all the universe can stop God or impede his plans. Not evil men. Not natural catastrophe. Not reversal of fortune. Not fate or luck or chance. Not human error.
2. No matter how great the need, God's resources are never depleted.
I can remember the great gas shortage of 1973 when we stood in line for hours to get a few gallons of gas. The shortage was caused by the OPEC oil embargo that cut supply to a trickle and drove prices through the roof. That never happens with God. Because he is omnipotent, his power knows no limits. He is never worn out, exhausted, or "running on fumes." It's no harder for him to create a universe than to create an ant. He says, "Ant, be," and there's an ant. He says, "Universe, be," and there's a universe. It's all the same to him. That's why you can safely cast all your cares on him. He not only cares for you, he's got unlimited power to carry your burdens and to solve your problems.
3. God has the power to keep his word.
There is a verse of scripture that gives us great comfort when we understand that "God is omnipotent, and He is in control":
Romans 8:28 (NKJV) And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.
Romans 8:28 makes an incredible promise, that you, as a Christian, can be reassured God cares about you so much, that the tapestry of your life, meaning all events - good and bad, are being woven together into a blanket of his love and protection. You can be confident in knowing, that even in difficult times God is with you, and as a baby chick runs to its mother's wings for protection, so should you run to God in difficult times and praise him in times of joy. Romans 8:28 is telling us we can KNOW that no matter what happens, God is at work bringing about good from it. For who? For everyone? No, this promise is limited to those who love him; those whose hearts are set on following and honoring and loving God. When you put it all together, here's what you get: To know and love the Lord is to have absolute assurance that God will take every turn of events in your life and somehow, someway, someday bring about good from it. In other words, he knows what's going on, and he is in control.
I'm sure many of you remember Chuck Colson. He was Richard Nixon's White House hatchet man. He was convicted in the Watergate scandal and served time in prison. During his prison stay, Chuck Colson became a Christian. It has been over 25 years now since his conversion, and since then he has built a nation-wide prison ministry. His ministry is helping men and women, who in all likelihood could never be reached any other way. So you see, God can take our biggest, most humiliating mistakes, those we see as absolute failures, and cause them to bring about good.
In the Old Testament, Joseph's jealous brothers sold him into slavery. They tried to destroy his life. But as the drama turned out; Joseph went on to become one of the highest government officials in the land. Later in his life, Joseph was reunited with his brothers. But he didn't seek revenge or harbor any bitterness toward them. Joseph said:
Genesis 50:20-21 (NKJV) "But as for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, in order to bring it about as it is this day, to save many people alive. 21 "Now therefore, do not be afraid; I will provide for you and your little ones." And he comforted them and spoke kindly to them.
Think about it, even when people intentionally hurt you, God is there looking after you. He can even use those painful events in your life to bring about good. Thank God, he is in control. Would you say the crucifixion was the darkest day for the twelve disciples? They left everything to follow Jesus. They were convinced he really was the long-awaited Messiah. But on the day Jesus was crucified, I'm sure they were confused. Had they been duped? Did Jesus' plan fail? What would happen to them now? They didn't understand. They couldn't understand. At that time they couldn't see the big picture. But three days later, when Jesus rose from the grave, they understood the purpose behind the event. Every word Jesus had spoken, now, had newfound meaning. As bad as things seemed, the glory of the resurrection abolished their doubts! God is in control!
You see, God was there all along. Whether Chuck Colson understood it; whether Joseph understood it; whether the twelve disciples understood it; whether you and I understand it. "And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who have been called according to his purpose." (Romans 8:28) The real test of our spiritual maturity is trusting God to fulfill this promise, even when we can't see the good in a situation.
It's when we are in the midst of a crisis, when everything is spinning out of control, that it's so hard to have the confidence in God we should. But this is the very time we need to display our trust in him. He will come thorough for us, maybe we can't see it or understand it, but his promise is that he will be there for those who love him. He is in control. Most of us hate to wait, don't we? Few things are more irritating than having to wait in line, waiting for someone to show up, or waiting for the light to turn green. We hate to wait. But God's timing is not always our timing. You can't microwave the (Romans 8:28) truth. But you can count on God, in his own perfect timing, to work through the circumstances of your life to bring about good. He has the POWER to do it, he has the AUTHORITY to do it, he loves you and has put it in writing that he WILL do it. There is truth in saying that God is in control; even when things in your life seem out of control; even when things happen that are beyond your control; even when you think you have everything under control. The fact is, God is in control, and that is a good thing!
Some object to God's omnipotence saying that God cannot be all-powerful because of all the suffering in the world. Although it may be stated in many ways, it goes something like this: "If God is all-powerful, why is there so much suffering in the world?" Why do buses crash or tornadoes destroy homes? Why does God allow armies to kill innocent people? Why is there so much disease? Why do good people die of cancer? Why doesn't God stop the suffering in the world?"
Some years ago, Rabbi Harold Kushner wrote a best-selling book entitled Why Bad Things Happen to Good People. In it he wrestles with these difficult questions from a very personal point of view. He tells about his own son who died at a young age from a rare disease that caused his body to age rapidly. In the aftermath of his own loss, he came to the conclusion that he could no longer believe the traditional formulations about God's goodness and God's power. Finally, he came to the only conclusion that satisfied him. Very simply, he concluded that God is not all powerful. At one point he openly declares that "God can't do everything." God didn't want his son to die; not like that, not at such a tender age, not in such a terrible way. God didn't want that, but he didn't have the power to stop it either. He concludes that there are forces in the universe that are beyond even God's control.
Kushner is in effect saying, "God is either good and not all powerful, or He is powerful and not all good. You can't have it both ways." Well, Kushner is wrong. The Bible from beginning to end teaches the absolute goodness and sovereignty of God.
If Rabbi Kushner is correct, then there is no hope. For if God is not truly omnipotent, then evil is more powerful than God, and it really doesn't matter how good God is if he is impotent.
1 Corinthians 1:18 (NKJV) For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.
To the world, the cross was a terrible waste, a tragedy, an enormous mistake. But to those who believe, it is a demonstration of the power of God.
Think about that for a moment. In the very place where God seemed to be defeated, there we see God's power. Is the all-powerful God good and does he care for us? Look to the bloody cross and judge for yourself. He, who had all power, gave it up and became weak like us. He knows what it is to die young and be cut off in the midst of life. And there at the cross, in that place where the world sees weakness, there we find the power of God. We come helpless to the God who is our help and weak to the God who is our strength. If God were not omnipotent, Jesus would still be dead. But if God can raise the dead, he can do anything. Let that thought encourage you this week as you face the impossibilities of life. Just remember, you're not alone, for Almighty God walks by your side.
Psalm 23:4 says, "I will fear no evil for you are with me." If God is walking by your side, you have nothing to fear. The omnipotence of God is thus a doctrine of wonderful comfort to the believer. The all-powerful God is with me. He exercises his power on my behalf. Whenever I need him, and even when I think I don't, he is there. He never fails. All his plans for me will come to pass. I can trust him completely.