The God of the Bible wants us to know he alone is God and there is no one like him. He is exclusively and incomparably God, who deserves ultimate glory because he is the Creator of the heavens and the earth and we, the creatures, are dependent upon him for everything. We owe him the allegiance, worship, and adoration that he alone deserves.
21 Do you not know? Do you not hear?
Has it not been told you from the beginning?
Have you not understood from the foundations of the earth?
22 It is he who sits above the circle of the earth,
and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers;
who stretches out the heavens like a curtain,
and spreads them like a tent to dwell in;
23 who brings princes to nothing,
and makes the rulers of the earth as emptiness.
24 Scarcely are they planted, scarcely sown,
scarcely has their stem taken root in the earth,
when he blows on them, and they wither,
and the tempest carries them off like stubble.
25 To whom then will you compare me,
that I should be like him? says the Holy One.
26 Lift up your eyes on high and see:
who created these?
He who brings out their host by number,
calling them all by name,
by the greatness of his might,
and because he is strong in power
not one is missing.
Pastor Mark: Howdy, Mars Hill. Pastor Mark here. I’m really excited because I get to introduce you to a friend of mine, Dr. Bruce Ware, preaching at Mars Hill Church on whatever the Holy Spirit has laid on his heart. I’ve known him for many years, learned a ton from him. He actually has his master’s degree from the University of Washington, in addition to a Ph.D. in theology. And also a few of his relatives are members at various local Mars Hill churches, so he’s come and taught for us before. We always love him. He’s one of the best ReTrain profs we’ve ever had, and he’s coming back to preach for another Sunday, as he’s done this before. I know you’re going to love him. So, come, open your ears, and see what he has to say to you.
Dr. Bruce Ware: Well, good morning, Mars Hill. It’s great to be with you and a real privilege. You know, from a distance, I’ve been watching this miracle, really, of what’s taken place through the ministry of Mark Driscoll and those who are connected with him. And I just marvel at the way in which God has blessed this movement as churches are growing, and churches are being planted, and other locations are spreading as well.
I just want you to know that from Louisville, Kentucky, you have a friend who really does support you, loves what’s happening, and rejoices with you at the very evident ways that God is at work. I’m glad you’re here at a place where you’re taught regularly from the word of God and can grow. You know, people coming to faith in Christ and growing in Christ—that’s what it’s all about, and we’re grateful that Mars Hill is doing that, helping out in Seattle.
So, it’s a pleasure to be with you, and this morning it is really a delight to be able to unpack for you—and for my own heart as well—some truths about the greatness of the glory of God, that he really is the one who deserves ultimate praise and glory.
Now, there’s a sense in which we do honor others. We honor and even give glory to others in some sense—for example, as I just did with Mark Driscoll. I honor him, you know, in the work that he has done. But there’s a sense in which that kind of honor pales in comparison to the absolute and ultimate honor, praise, and glory that ought to go to God. He ought to be the one who receives ultimate glory.
And really, my sermon is to unpack some of the reasons why that is the case this morning. But I’m aware of the fact that, as we go into this, it’s very different from the culture in which we live. The culture in which we live is one in which we are encouraged to make much of us. But as you look at the Bible, there really is no encouragement to make much of us, but there is regular encouragement from beginning to end of the Bible to make much of God.
There is an amazing, delicious, beautiful, glorious irony in this, in that if we live our lives with an endeavor to make much of us—so we try to build up the abilities we have and the capabilities and the qualities and so on that we have—we’ll find it’s pretty empty in the end, that it doesn’t lead to true satisfaction and fulfillment as human beings.
But, in contrast to that, if we learn to make much of God and are connected to him through Christ, we realize then that the One who has everything fully in his own life, we’re connected to through Christ so that he provides for us what we lack that he has in infinite abundance. We then enter into—through making much of God—a life of true human fulfillment, true satisfaction through knowing who God is.
So, I invite you this morning—will you join me in endeavoring to make much of God as we look at the Scriptures together? You ready for that? Amen, OK, well, let’s do that together. It’s very clear, as one looks through the Bible, that one of the clearest, most forthright, most prominent themes in all of the Scriptures is this, that there is one and only one God. We are monotheists. We believe that there is only one God and that God is exclusively God—there is no other God than he—and that God is incomparably God—“There is no one like me,” declares the Lord.
We find these statements repeated in the Scriptures. And let me just run through some of them with you to indicate the godness of God. There is no one like him; he is incomparable deity. And there is no other God; he is exclusive deity. Follow along on the screen and look at some of these passages that display this truth about God.
Exodus 8:10, Moses says to Pharaoh, “May it be according to your word, that you may know that there is no one like the Lord our God.”
Exodus 15:11, “Who is like You among the gods, O Lord? Who is like You, majestic in holiness, Awesome in praises, working wonders?”
Deuteronomy 4:35, 39, “To you it was shown that you might know that the Lord, He is God; there is no other besides Him. Know therefore today, and take it to your heart, that the Lord, He is God in heaven above and on earth below; there is no other.”
2 Samuel 7:22, “For this reason You are great, O Lord God; for there is none like You, and there is no God besides You, according to all that we have heard with our ears.”
Psalm, 86:8–10, “There is no one like You among the gods, O Lord, nor are there any works like Yours. All nations whom You have made shall come and worship before You, O Lord. And they will glorify Your name. For You are great and do wondrous deeds; You alone are God.”
Jeremiah 10:6–7, “There is none like You, O Lord; You are great, and great is Your name in might. Who would not fear You, O King of the nations? Indeed it is Your due! For among all the wise men of the nations and in all of their kingdoms, there is none like You.”
Isaiah 40:18, 25, “‘To whom then will you liken God? Or what likeness will you compare with Him? To whom then will you liken Me that I would be his equal?’ says the Holy One.”
Isaiah 43:10–11, “[The Lord declares]: ‘I am He. Before Me there was no God formed, and there will be none after Me. I, even I, am the Lord, and there is no savior besides Me.’”
Isaiah 44:6–8, “Thus says the Lord, the King of Israel and his Redeemer, the Lord of hosts: ‘I am the first and I am the last, and there is no God besides Me. Who is like Me? Let him proclaim and declare it; yes, let him recount it to Me in order, from the time that I established the ancient nation. And let them declare to them the things that are coming and the events that are going to take place. Do not tremble and do not be afraid; have I not long since announced it to you and declared it? Are you not My witnesses. Is there any God besides Me, or is there any other Rock? I know of none.’”
Isaiah 45:5–7, “I am the Lord, and there is no other; besides Me there is no God. I will gird you, though you have not known Me; that men may know from the rising to the setting of the sun that there is no one besides Me. I am the Lord, and there is no other, the One forming light and creating darkness, causing well-being and creating calamity; I am the Lord who does all these.”
Isaiah 45:18–19, “For thus says the Lord, who created the heavens (He is the God who formed the earth and made it, He established it and did not create it a waste place, but formed it to be inhabited), I am the Lord, and there is none else. I have not spoken in secret, In some dark land; I did not say to the offspring of Jacob, seek Me in a waste place; I, the Lord, speak righteousness, declaring things that are upright.’”
Isaiah 45:21–22, “Declare and set forth your case; indeed, let them consult together. Who has announced this from of old? Who has long since declared it? Is it not I, the Lord? And there is no other God besides Me, a righteous God and a Savior; there is none except Me. Turn to Me and be saved, all the ends of the earth; for I am God, and there is no other.”
Isaiah 46:5, “To whom would you liken Me and make Me his equal and compare Me, that we would be alike?”
And finally, Isaiah 46:9–10, “Remember the former things long past, for I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is no one like Me, declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times things which have not been done, saying, ‘My purpose will be established, and I will accomplish all My good pleasure.’”
My, isn’t it clear that the God of the Bible wants us to know he alone is God and there is no one that is like him? He alone is deserving of ultimate praise and honor and glory.
Now, why, why is that the case? Really, this message is to answer that question. Why should we be a people who wants with all of our hearts to give to God the glory that alone belongs to him? And there are many answers in the Bible, but I’ve picked what I think are three very central reasons for understanding the greatness of the glory of God—the exclusivity, as it were, of his glory that far surpasses any glory we would give to anything else or anyone else. Three reasons in particular the Bible upholds.
The first one is this: that God is exclusively God and incomparably God who deserves ultimate glory because he is the Creator of the heavens and the earth. He is the Creator of the heavens and the earth. Look with me if you would please at Isaiah 40. You can look on the screen and follow there, and I’m just gonna read a short passage, Isaiah 40:21–26, to help us get a feel for God as Creator.
Isaiah 40:21, “Do you not know? And have you not heard? Has it not been declared to you from the beginning? Have you not understood from the foundations of the earth? It is He who sits above the circle of the earth, and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers, who stretches out the heavens like a curtain and spreads them out like a tent to dwell in. He it is who reduces rulers to nothing, who makes the judges of the earth meaningless. Scarcely have they been planted, scarcely have they been sown, scarcely has their stock taken root in the earth, but He merely blows on them, and they wither, and the storm carries them away like stubble. ‘To whom then will you liken Me that I would be his equal?’ says the Holy One. Lift up your eyes on high and see who has created these stars, the One who leads forth their host by number, He calls them all by name; because of the greatness of His might and the strength of His power, not one of them is missing.”
My, what an amazing passage that highlights the supremacy of God and puts an emphasis here on God as Creator!
Now, there are two things I want us to see in relation to God as Creator that helps us understand why he alone deserves ultimate praise and honor and glory. And the first one is this: is that God, as Creator, then is independent of everything that he has made, while we, the creatures, are dependent upon him for everything.
So, let me say that again: God, as Creator, is independent of all that he has made, whereas we, his creatures, are dependent upon him for everything. Let’s take those two parts of that statement one at a time.
First of all, God’s independence from all that he has made. It’s so very clear, because God is eternal and existed prior to the universe, that the universe is not necessary for God to be God. He was God just fine, thank you, without a universe. So when he creates the universe, that does not indicate that somehow God receives something he needs because he didn’t need the universe to be God prior. Do you see that?
In fact, God is self-existent. Nothing brings him into existence. He is his own basis for existing eternally and he is self-sufficient. That doctrine affirms of God that God possesses within himself, intrinsically and eternally, everything that is qualitatively good, and he does so in infinite measure. Anything you think of that is qualitatively good, any perfection, any attribute that we might think of that is a good thing—things like righteousness and holiness wisdom and knowledge power and goodness—these are possessed within God intrinsically. Nobody gives anything to God that he doesn’t already possess because he is the possessor of everything that is good, and he possesses it eternally.
So, when he creates the world, this is not, then, God creating a world that he needs. He doesn’t need the world he made but rather is creating a world that displays, in physical, visible form, certain aspects of his own character. It is his wisdom, his knowledge, his power, his beauty put on display in creation in physical, visible form.
This is why the heavens declare the glory not of the heavens, right? Because they don’t account for why they are there. You can’t point to the heavens themselves for why the heavens are there. Rather, the heavens declare the glory of God. Why? Because it’s God’s wisdom, God’s beauty, God’s power, manifest in the created order.
So, while it is the case that God does not depend upon the creation he has made, he existed as God, fully as God, prior to creation, is independent of that created order, it’s also then true—the other side of the coin is this: that the creature, we included in that, are dependent upon him for—how much? Well, for everything.
The way Paul puts it in Acts 17:25 is, “God is not served by human hands as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all people life, and breath, and all things.” Well, my goodness, if he gives all things to us, how much are we dependent upon him for? All things, for life and breath.
I mean, think of it. How many breaths have you taken just in the time that you’ve been seated here today? A lot, right? A lot. Every one of them, no exception, gift of God to you. He grants us breath by which we live. He grants us everything that we have.
You realize, when you see this doctrine of God as Creator and what that entails about him being independent and us being dependent, you realize we depend upon him for absolutely everything, and therefore we cannot take credit for anything we have.
I oftentimes think that we have really missed the mark here in our evangelical subculture in helping us understand the basis for our humility before God when we point only to the cross of Christ. And of course, it is right to point to the cross of Christ as a basis for our humility. I mean, what can we do to get rid of our own sin? And the answer is “nothing.” Christ must do that for us, and therefore we are humble before him, accepting the gift that we could not make happen on our own. And that’s altogether true. In fact, I’ll talk more about God’s redeeming work in a moment.
But more fundamental than God as Redeemer is God as Creator, right, where our very life and every quality that we have is given to us by our Creator. So, Paul will ask the question, for example, in 1 Corinthians 4:7, “What do you have that you’ve not received?” It’s a rhetorical question, but what would the answer be if an answer were given? What do you have that you’ve not received? Nothing. In other words, anything and everything we have is a gift. We received it, we haven’t earned it, we don’t have any right to it, it’s been given to us. So then, Paul goes on to say, “So if you received it, why do you boast as if you’ve not received it?”
Exactly, right? Exactly. So, humility before God is so very important—dependence upon him, understanding he is the one who is the source of every good thing that there is. Everything that is qualitatively good is in God and in nowhere else, no place else, no one else. God alone deserves ultimate glory.
Now, here’s a second thing that follows from God as Creator, a second truth that I want us to see. Not only his independence from the world and our dependence upon him, but secondly, his ownership and rightful rulership over all that he has made—his ownership of and rightful rulership over everything that he has made.
Now, friends, this is good biblical theology. It goes like this. To create is to own and to own is to have rightful rulership over. Question: how much did God create? Everything. How much does he own? Everything. How much does he have rightful rulership over? Everything. Oh my goodness, it is so good to affirm that because we tend to think that we own that stuff, we have rights over it, don’t we? We tend to think that way.
It’s amazing to me how Job had the understanding of God that he did. When everything was stripped away from his life, his very children taken from him, do you remember how he responded at the end of Job 1? He said, “Naked I have come from my mother’s womb, naked I will return. The Lord has given, the Lord has taken away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.” He understood that he did not own these things that were taken from him. They were God’s to give and take as God so chooses.
We need to remember that we are not owners of anything. What’s the biblical category for the way in which we have what we have? What’s the category best for that? We are stewards. God is the owner. Those are two very different categories, aren’t they? A steward of something is someone who manages someone else’s property or goods. This is exactly who we are before God.
He is Creator, he owns everything he made, and he has rightful rulership over all that he made. We, before him, must recognize the tremendous privilege we have of being stewards of what God gives us, and not begrudge the fact that he gives somebody else a little bit more, or not be prideful over the fact that he gives somebody a little bit less, right? Because God is the one who reigns over the giving and the taking because it’s all his.
I think, in response to God as Creator over all things and to understand who we are before him, at least these two words really come to my mind in thinking of our proper response, then, to this God who alone deserves glory as Creator. We are to be a people before him who are humble and dependent. Humble and dependent. We recognize he has the greatness and the glory. We don’t. Anything we have, we have derivatively, as he grants it to us, right? Everything that God has, he has intrinsically. He possesses it within his very nature as God.
So yes, we are humble before him, recognizing true greatness where it is. That’s in him, not in us. And we are dependent upon him, for everything he gives us, for life, and breath, and all things, as Paul says in Acts 17, and recognizing he gives and withholds as he chooses, as he knows best, and he has rights over that.
So, dependent rather than—what? Entitled to things. It just destroys this notion of entitlement before God when we recognize our dependence upon him for everything he, in his mercy, grants us. OK, why should God be glorified above all else? He is Creator. Here’s a second reason for that from the Scriptures. God is exclusively God and incomparably God, and therefore deserves the highest glory because he is the glorious Redeemer of his chosen people. He is the glorious Redeemer of his chosen people.
Now, my friends, I just want you to pause for a moment right here and realize with me that this second point didn’t have to be in the Bible. Here’s what I mean by that: God created us. We’re dependent upon him. We owe him our allegiance. We owe him our worship. We owe him the adoration that he alone deserves, right? Because he’s Creator, we owe that to him.
But what did we do as his creatures? We rebelled against him and went our own way. We committed tyranny against the Most High, and so we brought upon ourselves the just condemnation of our Creator God. And he could have said, “That’s it,” and consigned us all to an eternity away from him. Oh yes, he could have.
But I am here to tell you something amazing: this Creator God, who looks now upon us as sinners deserving judgment, designed a plan by which he could redeem us, save us from our sin, and bring us back to himself so that we could, with him, then again experience the fullness of joy we will only know because we are with the one who has it all.
What did God do to accomplish this? Well, look with me at Isaiah, again, chapter 52 and 53, 52 and 53. We’ll begin in Isaiah 52:7–10, and then read on in chapter 53:4–6.
Isaiah 52:7, “How lovely on the mountains are the feet of those who brings good news, who announce peace and bring good news of happiness, who announce salvation, and says to Zion, ‘Your God reigns!’ Listen! Your watchmen lift up their voices, they shout joyfully together; for they will see their own eyes when the Lord restores Zion. Break forth, shout joyfully together, you waste places of Jerusalem; for the Lord has comforted His people, he has redeemed Jerusalem. The Lord has bared His holy arm in the sight of the nations, that all the ends of the earth may see the salvation of our God.” Now, how did he bring about this saving work?
Move on to 53:4. “Surely our griefs He Himself bore, our sorrows He carried; yet we ourselves esteemed Him stricken, Smitten of God, and afflicted. But He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, and by His scourging we are healed. All of us like sheep have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; but the Lord has caused the iniquity of us all to fall upon Him.”
My friends, this is astonishing, amazing, that this God who is Creator, who did not need the world that he created, now looks at this world that he created with its human population sinful, all sinned against him, turned away from him, and in his compassion devises a means by which we may be freed from our sin and brought back to him.
You see, that has to happen. You understand why that is the case? Because God is holy. We’ve sung about it. He is holy and he—as the holy God that he is, he cannot have in his presence those who are sinful, and yet he looks at us and we’re all in our sin, and he cannot have us with him until sin is dealt with.
But here’s the next problem: if he gives to us the task of getting rid of our own sin, it will never happen. There are no works we could do, there’s no amount of church-going or good deeds that we can do that would rid us of the sin of our lives that would qualify us now to be in the presence of God.
So, what did God do? In his mercy, he sent his Son, no less than his own Son, to come and take on our human form and then bear our sin in his body on the cross, that he might pay for that sin, and that we, by faith and faith alone, might be brought back to him with sins forgiven, restored in fellowship to him, and enter into newness of life that will never ever end. What an incredible thing this God has done in giving his Son.
And look at the ways in which this is expressed in Isaiah 53:4, “Surely our griefs He Himself bore, our sorrows He carried.” But now the second part of the verse. If you were there on that day when Jesus was hung on a cross between two thieves at Gethsemane, what would it look like to you when you see this beaten, bloodied man crucified on this cross? What would it look like to you?
Here’s what it would look like: verse 4, second half, “Yet we ourselves esteemed him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted.” In other words, what he would look like is he’s getting what he deserved. He is smitten of God and he’s being judged for his own sin. That’s what it looks like, but here’s the truth, my friends: verse 5, “But he was pierced through for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities.”
Do you see it? On that cross, he was not getting what he deserved, he was getting what we deserved, and bore the sin of our lives and the penalty of that sin so that, by faith, we could be forgiven and be brought into newness of life and into fellowship of the Father, the Son, and the Spirit forever. It’s an amazing work that God has done for us in Christ. And no other work of salvation is possible. That is, this is the only way to be saved: through what Christ has done for us.
My friends, this is something I know is highly objectionable in the culture in which we live. It’s an offense out there in the culture to proclaim Jesus is the only way to be saved, but it’s true. And because it’s true, we cannot shy away from it. Goodness, their destinies are at stake and our fidelity to God and Christ is at stake in whether or not we are faithful to the gospel message that Jesus is Savior of all who believe in him.
By the way, ask yourself this question: How many saviors does a sinful world need? You just need one that works. Well, guess what? We’ve got one that works. You don’t need 18 or 20 of them. You just need one, and Jesus is that one Savior whose death on the cross paid the penalty of the sins of the world that anyone who believes might be brought into relationship with him. So indeed, God as Redeemer of his people took upon himself the cost of our salvation in his Son and paid the penalty for it.
Now, one other point I want us to see in this, and this goes back to chapter 52. Look at verse 10 again of chapter 52: “The Lord has bared his holy arm in the sight of all the nations, that the ends of the earth may see the salvation of our God.” Now, this is fascinating because you realize the main point of this prophecy in Isaiah 52 is a prophecy to Israel, the Old Testament people of God, that he would not, in the end, cast them away and judge them, that instead God, in the end, would save his people Israel.
So, we realize this is a promise made to Israel, and we, most of us in here anyway, are not Jewish. We are Gentiles. We are not that category of people to whom this promise was made, the Jewish people, and yet we, by faith in Christ, enter into the actual reality and the fullness of this promise that was made to Israel. We get in on that salvation that was promised to them through Christ who is the Son of David, King of Israel, the seed of Abraham, the Father of Israel.
So, as we put our faith in Christ and come in him, we then enter into the very reality of those promises to Israel now coming to us Gentiles. So indeed, “The gospel is the power of God for salvation,” Romans 1:16–17. It is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first, right? That’s to whom the promises were given. To the Jew first, but also to the Gentiles.
Praise be to God. Most of us wouldn’t be here if that were not the case, but because the gospel is the gospel to the Gentiles, this means the mission’s mandate is in place. The gospel must go forth to the nations of the world.
My friends, I hope you feel a holy weight in hearing that. It’s a holy weight. It’s a glorious weight, but it is a weight because we realize what is at stake in whether we get the gospel out there to people or not. In these nations of the world, the missionary enterprise is absolutely essential because people can be saved through Christ, but they must hear of Christ to be saved.
Do you remember Paul’s words in Romans 10? “Whosoever will call upon the name of the Lord will be saved, but how shall they call upon him whom they have not believed, and how shall they believe in him whom they have not heard, and how shall they hear unless someone speak, and how shall they speak unless they are sent? How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good tidings.”
So, my friends, I just encourage you to realize part of what it means to give glory to God alone as Redeemer, as the one who has redeemed his people, is to honor the gospel that he gave us, that is our responsibility to take to the nations, that people may hear and be saved. So indeed, God deserves ultimate glory, absolute praise from his people because he is Creator of them, and secondly, he is Redeemer of those people.
Third and finally this morning, God is exclusively God, incomparably God, and through that deserves ultimate glory because he is the sovereign ruler over everything that happens in heaven and earth, including sovereign ruler over good and evil.
Now, look with me at a passage that we read a little bit of earlier, Isaiah 44 and 45. I’ll begin reading in 44:24 up until 45:7. Isaiah 44:24, “Thus says the Lord, your Redeemer, and the one who formed you from the womb, ‘I am the Lord, the maker of all things, stretching out the heavens by Myself and spreading out the earth all alone, causing the omens of boasters to fail, making fools out of diviners, causing wise men to draw back and turning their knowledge into foolishness, confirming the word of His servant, and performing the purpose of His messengers.
“‘It is I who says of Jerusalem, “She shall be inhabited!” And of the cities of Judah, “They shall be built.” And I will raise up her ruins again.” It is I who says to the depth of the sea, “Be dried up!” And I will make your rivers dry. It is I who says of Cyrus, “He is My shepherd! And he will perform all My desire.” He declares of Jerusalem, “She will be built,” and of the temple, “Your foundation will be laid.’”
“Thus says the Lord to Cyrus His anointed, whom I have taken by the right hand, to subdue nations before him and to loose the loins of kings; and to open doors before him so that gates will not be shut: ‘I will go before you and make the rough places smooth; I will shatter the doors of bronze and cut through their iron bars. I will give you the treasures of darkness and hidden wealth of secret places, so that you may know that it is I, the Lord, the God of Israel, who calls you by your name. For the sake of Jacob My servant, and Israel whom I have chosen, I have also called you by your name; I have given you a title of honor though you have not known Me.
“I am the Lord, and there is no other; besides Me there is no God. I will gird you, though you have not known Me; that men may know from the rising to the setting of the sun that there is no one besides Me. I am the Lord, and there is no other, the One forming light and creating darkness, causing well-being and creating calamity; I am the Lord who does all these things.’”
Well, my friends, this is an amazing passage that indicates the sovereignty of God, his sovereign rulership over all things in heaven and earth. That includes everything good and everything evil.
Now, a couple ways I want to unpack this from this passage. First of all, it’s very clear that God reigns over both nature and nations. Nature and nations. This is, over the physical world that he has made. He reigns over natural law, he controls things that happen in nature, and he reigns over human beings as they make their plans among the nations of the world. Both of these are true.
Now, his sovereignty over nature itself, look back with me at verse 24 of Isaiah 44 where we read there that God is Creator, what we’ve thought about already. “I am the Lord, I’m the maker of all things, stretching out the heavens by Myself, spreading out the earth all alone.”
So indeed, God made the heavens and the earth. He brought it into existence. But we believe, as Christian people, that when God created the world, he didn’t leave at that point and just kind of let it run on his own, but rather he is intimately involved in everything that transpires in that created order among the things that happen in nature.
So indeed, God is the one who brings the wind or withholds it. He’s the one who causes the grass to grow, we read in Psalm 104. By the way, a great passage to look at to expand on this. God is the one who has ultimate control in nature.
Now, one very little hint of that comes in verse 27, where we read, “It is I who says to the depth of the sea, ‘Be dried up!’ And I will make your rivers dry.” Now, it’s just an instance of the more general truth, and that is, God is the one who controls whether the water comes or not, whether floods come or not, whether tornadoes come or not.
You know, our younger daughter Rachel was at college during a time when a tornado hit their school, Union University in Jackson, Tennessee. Hit the school and the dormitories that were filled with students at the time—the two-story dormitories were absolutely devastated, collapsed all the way to the ground. When workers got there—emergency workers showed up—they told the president to expect hundreds of deaths, and guess what they found? Not a single Union student died. With all of that debris collapsing down upon them, he protected every one of them in different ways. It was incredible. So, it was such a testimony to the fact that God brings the wind and he controls what happens within it. Every bit of it is under the control of God.
So indeed, it just is silly to say what some Christian people say when a natural disaster happens. “Oh, God had nothing to do with this.”
Here’s my question: do you believe that God is omnipotent, has all power? Well, of course. That’s the teaching of the Bible very clearly, so that means that there is nothing that he chooses to do that he cannot do. No one can thwart him from accomplishing whatever he chooses. So, he is omnipotent.
Second question, is he omniscient, does he know everything that’s happening? Absolutely, so if he is omnipotent and omniscient, then how can you say he had nothing to do with this, because he knows exactly what’s happening and he evidently chooses not to prevent what he could have, right? So for God to choose to permit what he could have prevented indicates he intentionally lets this happen.
Honestly, I don’t know any way you can get out of that as a Christian unless you deny the omnipotence of God or the omniscience of God. But if he knows everything and he’s able to do something about it but chooses not to, then in the end, ultimately, he has control over whether it happens or not, he has control over the direction it takes and the force of it. He has absolute control over everything that happens in nature.
He also is in control of everything that happens in nations. Now, so much of this passage that I read to you has to do with a promise that God made to his people Israel, that he would bring them back to their own land, to Jerusalem, and rebuild it after they had been taken captive by the Babylonians. Now, the interesting thing is—or one interesting thing here is this, that this prophecy is written at least 150 years before the main figure of this passage was even born. He is named here Cyrus. Well, who is this Cyrus? You see it at the end of 44:28. “It is I who says of Cyrus, ‘He is my shepherd! He will perform all of my desire.’ He declares of Jerusalem, ‘She will be built,’ and the temple, ‘Your foundation will be laid.’”
So, here is this promise that God will bring his people back to Jerusalem, they will rebuild the temple. This will take place under Cyrus. Who is Cyrus? Well, he’s the first king of the Medes and the Persians. But Isaiah is prophesying this in about 700 B.C. Cyrus takes over in 536 B.C., so 170 years later from the prophecy. Cyrus was 150 years from being born when Isaiah made this.
When Isaiah made this prophecy, the ascendant nation in the ancient Near East at this time was Assyria. So Assyria has to be brought down, Babylon takes the place of Assyria, Babylon becomes the prominent ascendant power in the ancient Near East, Babylon has to be brought down, so Medo-Persia can be brought up, and Cyrus can pronounce this decree by which the children of Israel come back, and it’s fulfilled exactly as God predicts it.
Now, think what is involved in God bringing about what he predicts. He has to control, then, what happens with Assyria. He has to control what happens with Babylon. He has to control what happens with Cyrus and with Medo-Persia. All of that has to be in the control of God. And notice, God does not say, “It is I who says of Jerusalem, I hope she will be inhabited, or of Cyrus, I hope he cooperates with me so he’ll do what I want him to do.”
No, this is not the language, my friends. The language is, he says of Jerusalem, “She shall be inhabited,” and of Cyrus, “He will perform all of my desire.” So, it is so clear God has control over what happens, over these nations of the world and the choices that people make so that his will is accomplished.
Now, to bring this home a bit further, look with me at verse 7 of chapter 45. Isaiah 45:7, and I just want to say at the beginning of this, this is one of the areas that Christian people struggle with most deeply, when they come to these difficult teachings of Scripture. And I understand that because I struggled with them for many, many years, and I understand your struggle with them as well.
But I tell you, ultimately what brought me to accept this is simply the conviction, “This is the teaching of the Bible, and if I think I know better, good grief, what does that say about me?” I mean, what arrogant pride do I have to think I know better than God, who declares to us here who he is. So, are you willing to accept God on the basis of what God says of himself? That’s the question.
Here’s what he says, verse 7: “I am the Lord, and there is no other, the One forming light and creating darkness, the One causing well-being and creating calamity; I am the Lord who does all these things.”
So indeed, God has complete control over everything good. Oh my, we love that teaching. It is true, and it is glorious.
“Every good and perfect gift is from above, from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning,” James 1:17. Indeed, God does control every good thing that happens, but this text and many other texts in the Bible also indicate he has equal control over everything bad that takes place. Indeed, he is the one, ultimately, who has the say-so, as it were, of whether these bad things happen and to whom and in what manner, and the like. God is the one who ordains not only the good, but the bad as well.
But my friends, a couple things we have to bear in mind here. The first thing is this: that even though God exercises complete control over both good and evil, God is good, and in no respect is he evil. My goodness, how important it is for us to affirm that, that God is not yin yang, right, as the God of Shintoism is. God is not light and darkness. God is good and not evil. He is light and not darkness. Do you remember 1 John 1:5, “In him is light and there is no darkness in him at all.”
God is light, not darkness. God is good, not evil. Which brings me to my second point, because God is good, he is light, then his control of evil would be for what purpose? For good purposes, that he will bring about only through the evil things that take place. The supreme example of this in the Bible is what? The cross of Christ. It is so clear.
Think, for example, of the statement made by Peter in Acts 2:23 when he begins to explain what happened on the cross of Christ. He says, “This Man, delivered up by the predetermined plan”—referring to Jesus—“Delivered up by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put him to death.” OK, now think of that verse. Let me say it again. “This Man, delivered up by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed to the cross by the hands of godless men and put him to death.”
OK, question: how would you answer the question, how did Jesus get put on that cross? How did this happen? What’s the biblical answer to that question? Well, it’s complex, isn’t it? Don’t you have to say two things, not just one. You have to say—boy, you have to say God put him there. “Delivered up by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God.” “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son,” right? Was Jesus there on the cross because God put him there? Absolutely. This was the Father’s design, we talked about earlier, to send his Son by which we would be redeemed of our sin. This was the design of the Father that his Son be crucified for our sin.
But is that the only answer you give? How did Christ get there on that cross? You also have to say wicked men put him there, don’t you? “Delivered up by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed to the cross by the hands of godless men and put him to death.”
So, you realize, boy, the answer to that question involves two answers. God did it; men did it—wicked men did it. Now, get this further. God, in doing that, is praiseworthy, right? We praise him for our salvation in Christ. Men who did this are blameworthy. They are godless men, they are wicked men, and they are culpable for what they did. Now, one more thing I want you to see. You’ve got this dual agency here. God did it; we did it; men did it.
Now, the next question is this: is one of those two agencies ultimate? Does one have priority over the other? Ah, yes indeed. “Delivered up by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed to the cross by the hands of godless men.”
Clearly, God’s agency is ultimate so that they carry out what he designed they do and yet they bear full responsibility for the evil that they committed. Amazing, isn’t it? So, that’s one example of many examples in the Bible where you realize, yes, God exerts control over evil that takes place. But our confidence is this: because God is the one who controls it—let me stop there.
What if he weren’t the one who controls it? What are the other options that we have? Satan, demons, evil people, forces of nature that are outside of the control of God. I mean, honestly, if that’s the case, stay home and, you know, cover your—stay under your bed or something and hope for the best, because wow, what a scary world this would be if God is not the one in control of the evil that takes place.
But because he is in control and he is good, his ways are right, he is just in all that he does, we can have strength of confidence and hope that God’s purposes will not fail. Even though we read the paper, even though we see horrible things happening, we know God is in control and his purposes will be fulfilled in the end.
So, my friends, when we think of God, God’s glory as the sovereign ruler over all things, it should elicit from us tremendous hope and confidence because we realize who God is.
So my friends, let me just summarize for us what we’ve looked at this morning: Why should God alone receive ultimate glory and praise? Because as Creator, he is independent of the world altogether, existing eternally as the self-existent and self-sufficient God that he is. We, as his creatures, are dependent upon him, and we owe to him everything we have because everything we have is a gift from him. So, our response to this God is one of humility and dependence before him.
Then, this Creator God chose also to be amazing, the redeeming God. So, this redeeming God now in Christ has come to us so that his Son would bear our sin and receive the judgment of God against our sin in himself that by faith in Christ alone we might be saved. What a glorious thing. As we look at this redeeming act of God that is for all of the peoples of the world, we fall before him with a sense of trust and thankfulness for what God alone has done that we cannot contribute to. We trust him by what a heart of love he has.
You know, sometimes I hear that Christian people struggle with whether or not God loves them, and my response is meditate upon 1 John 4:10. “In this is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us and gave his Son to be the propitiation”—the satisfaction of his just wrath against our sin—“the propitiation for our sins.” So, boy, there is the love of God. Do you doubt his love? Look at the cross of Christ, the greatest display. Trust him. Be thankful to him for what he has done for you in Christ.
And then finally, as we think of God as sovereign ruler, and thereby he deserves ultimate glory as the sovereign ruler, our hearts should be filled with hope and confidence knowing that God, who is alone infinitely wise, infinitely good, infinitely knowledgeable, infinitely just, is the one who regulates what happens in the course of history and will bring, in the end, the fulfillment of his promises. What a great God God is and deserving alone of our ultimate dependence, our trust, and our hope in him.
Let’s pray together. Father, we thank you for the opportunity this morning to think together about some of the things that ground our confidence and our belief that you alone deserve ultimate praise and honor and glory.
And we pray this morning you would help us in our own sinful, prideful tendency, to turn from self to you, to understand all that we have as a gift. We can’t take credit for it, and you are the one who possesses within yourself everything that is worthy of praise. And so Lord God, we do praise you. We praise you for your role as Creator and Redeemer and Sovereign Ruler over all things, and pray that you would find our hearts inclined increasingly to know you in greater ways and to love and follow you with hearts that adore you and trust you and are dependent upon you. Do this good work in us, we pray in the name of our risen Savior, Jesus. Amen.
Note: This sermon transcript has been edited for readability.