In Acts 7, the record is given us of Stephen’s sermon and his defence of wrong accussations brought against him. From Acts 6, a situation arose over the distribution of food to which the apostles charged that leaders be appointed over this particular “mercy ministry” so to speak of the first century church. The criteria was given as “seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom” (Acts 6:3b). Of these seven men chosen, Stephen, also described as “a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 6:5) was included.
Though he was chosen to “serve tables” as the narrative records it, which I believe is an administrative role, Stephen by the power of the Holy Spirit engaged in more activity beyond where he was called. Luke reported saying: “And Stephen, full of grace and power, was doing great wonders and signs among the people.”(Acts 6:8).
This visible work of the Holy Spirit in Stephen’s life didn’t go well with others and he was eventually falsely accused and brought before a council to answer for the false accussations:
Then some of those who belonged to the synagogue of the Freedmen (as it was called), and of the Cyrenians, and of the Alexandrians, and of those from Cilicia and Asia, rose up and disputed with Stephen. But a they could not withstand the wisdom and the Spirit with which he was speaking. Then they secretly instigated men who said, “We have heard him speak blasphemous words against Moses and God.” And they stirred up the people and the elders and the scribes, and they came upon him and seized him and brought him before the council, and they set up false witnesses who said, “This man never ceases to speak words against this holy place and the law, for we have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth f will destroy this place and will g change h the customs that Moses delivered to us. (vv.9-14).
God’s Sovereignty In Redemptive History
Stephen is now before the council and is given the opportunity to defend himself. In his defense, one truth that stands out is the sovereignty of God in redemptive history. God’s overarching hand in human history is clearly seen in Stephen’s narrative. According to A.W. Pink the Sovereignty of God is the “doctrine which is the key to history.”¹ This means that God is not removed from the world he has created. James M. Boice and Philip G. Ryken in their book The Doctrines of Grace posit that “God did not create the world only to let it run down; he also continues to sustain it. All of creation remains under God’s governance.”²
These thoughts point us to God’s sovereignty over all of his creation. God’s sovereignty is simply his supremacy and control over the world he has created and all of its events. Nothing in this world takes God by surprise for God is in control over all things in the world. The Psalmist in acknowledging the greatness of God proclaims that “Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases.” (Psalm 115:3). He does what he pleases. Period! And no one can question him. The Westminster Confession of Faith more succinctly explains the Sovereignty of God saying,
The light of nature showeth that there is a God, who hath lordship and sovereignty over all; is good, and doth good unto all; and is therefore to be feared, loved, praised, called upon, trusted in, and served, with all the heart, and with all the soul, and with all the might.
There are a number of things said in the above which are worth mentioning. But I will touch on two: That there is a God evidenced by nature and this God has lordship and sovereignty over all. These are not light words but words that have implications. The existence of God answers the atheists who says there is no God and the lordship and sovereignty of God answers the word of faith adherent who in their core teachings deny the sovereignty of God by claiming God needs man’s permission before he can operate in this world. But that is not the God of the Bible for the God of the Bible is Lord over all.
God’s Sovereignty In The Call Of Abraham
Stephen’s opening words brings God’s sovereignty in the call of Abraham to the fore: “The God of glory appeared to our father Abraham … said to him, ‘Go out from your land and from your kindred and go into the land that I will show you.” (Acts 7:2-3). You see, Abraham didn’t go looking for God. In fact, Abraham was from a heathen family who didn’t know God yet God called him (Joshua 24:22-23). This pictures the Sovereignty of God not only in Jewish history but also in the salvation of sinners.
God calls sinners to himself who hitherto will have nothing to do with him. Again, not only did God call Abraham, but He also gave Abraham promises and entered into a covenant with him commanding him to walk before him and be perfect (Gen. 17:1). The call of God is a call of separation from the world of sin into God’s kingdom of holiness. It is a call to worship so we may live and serve God rest of our lives.
God’s Sovereignty In Israel’s Journey To Egypt.
In God’s promises, the road map towards fulfillment of the promises were outlined by God for Abraham: “And God spoke to this effect— that his offspring would be sojourners in a land belonging to others, who would enslave them and afflict them four hundred years.” (v.6). This is a part of the road map for fulfilment of that promise. So as part of the conditions so to speak, Abraham’s descendents will have to go into slavery. And that obviously points to Egypt. It is here we see the sovereignty of God beginning to show: “And the patriarchs, jealous of Joseph, sold him into Egypt; but God was with him and rescued him out of all his afflictions and gave him favor and wisdom before Pharaoh, king of Egypt , who made him ruler over Egypt and over all his household.”(vv.9-10).
Joseph’s brothers sold him out of jealousy into slavery but the Scripture tells us “but God was with him.” Everything that happened to Joseph was on God’s agenda to fulfill his promise to Abraham. Though the brothers were guilty; God was at work in accomplishing his purposes. In the events surrounding this history, Joseph later will tell his brothers “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.”(Gen. 50:20). Here is one of the clearest teachings about the sovereignty of God in human history. Indeed we can say men propose, but God disposes.
God’s Sovereignty In The Exodus
Now, the first part of the roadmap towards fulfillment of the promise to Abraham has been fulfilled. The Israelites are now in Egypt through the wickedness of Joseph’s brothers. Yet, that wickedness turned out to be their salvation as it preserved the Jewish state from dying of famine. And as God truly prophesied, the Israelites came under servitude because “there arose over Egypt another king who did not know Joseph. He dealt shrewdly with our race and forced our fathers to expose their infants , so that they would not be kept alive.”(vv. 17-19).
The Script is playing out as God intended it. At the same time this oppression was ongoing, Moses, who will deliver the Israelites was born: “At this time Moses was born” (v.20). In line with God’s Sovereignty, Moses was preserved from been killed and grew up in the palace of the Egyptians—what I would call enemy territory. Events that unfolded afterwards caused Moses to flee from Egypt after he had murdered an Egyptian in his attempt to deliver the Israelites. Some have accussed Moses of going ahead of God in his attempt to deliver the Israelites. But that assertion doesn’t so much hold water. Rather, we must see everything as part of God’s plan. For if Moses had not fled he may also not have experienced God in the burning bush. I believe it is right to say everything played out according to God’s plan.
Now after many years of sorjourning in the wilderness; God appeared to Moses and send him back to Egypt:
I am the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham and of Isaac and of Jacob.’ And Moses trembled and did not dare to look. Then the Lord said to him, ‘Take off the sandals from your feet, for the place where you are standing is holy ground. I have surely seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt, and have heard their groaning, and I have come down to deliver them. And now come, I will send you to Egypt (vv.32-34).
It could be possible that after all these years, Moses had forgotten about been a deliverer. He may have lost ties with his people and given up on all there is about Israel. But God was not done. God’s promise to Abraham ought to be fulfilled and Moses was the one to bring Israel out of bondage in Egypt. Moses here is a type of Christ to redeem God’s people from bondage.
The Benefits Of The Doctrine of God’s Sovereignty.
What is the essence of knowing this doctrine one may ask. I will attempt to provide two benefits or the importance of the doctrine.
- Hope and Trust In God
We live in a world filled with disappointment, pain, hurt and disillusionment. People are seeking for answers for life in wrong places. But for those who have come to faith in Christ Jesus for the forgiveness of sins, you can be certain that your life is not on auto pilot. We are not products of chance: our life is in the hands of a Sovereign God who rules in the affairs of human beings (Daniel 2:28). Whatever situations we may encounter in life, we can be assured that God is working his purposes behind the scenes. The outcome may not be pleasant as we saw in the life of Joseph and Moses but God’s purpose would be accomplished.
- Salvation To Anyone Who Will Believe
The story of Abraham, Josesph, Moses are all stories that points to an ultimate deliverer—Jesus Christ— who will save his people from their sins. God promised Abraham that through his seed, who is Jesus Christ, all nations shall be blessed. Scripture then tells us Abraham believed and it was counted unto him as rigtheousness. This is how God deals with all sinners: when He calls out to sinners; they must believe and repent—turn away from their sins. When God called Abraham to leave his family house, which was pagan, he left; that is, he believed. God through the seed of Abraham–Jesus Christ, has made a way for us to reconciled to him. Sinners must believe and repent of their sins and place their faith in Christ for the forgiveness of their sins. That is God’s Sovereignty in is his plan for the salvation of sinners:
just as Abraham “believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”? Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham. And theScripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “In you shall all the nations be blessed .” So then, those who are of faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith. (Galatians 3:6-9).
May the Lord bless his word to accomplish his purposes in your life. Amen.
1. A. W. Pink, The Sovereignty of God (West Linn: Monergism Books, 2015), PDF
2. James Montogomery Boice and Philip Graham Ryken, The Doctrines of Grace ( Wheaton: Illinois, Crossway, 2002), 217