Scripture Psalm 2, Acts 4:23-37
OH SOVEREIGN LORD
(c) Copyright 2000 Rev. Bill Versteeg
Acts 4:23-37 NIV
"23 On their release, Peter and John went back to their own people and reported all that the chief priests and elders had said to them. When they heard this, they raised their voices together in prayer to God.
"Sovereign Lord," they said, "you made the heaven and the earth and the sea, and everything in them. You spoke by the Holy Spirit through the mouth of your servant, our father David: "'Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth take their stand and the rulers gather together against the Lord and against his Anointed One.'
27 Indeed Herod and Pontius Pilate met together with the Gentiles and the people of Israel in this city to conspire against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed. They did what your power and will had decided beforehand should happen. Now, Lord, consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness. Stretch out your hand to heal and perform miraculous signs and wonders through the name of your holy servant Jesus."
31 After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly. All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they shared everything they had. With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and much grace was upon them all."
The ascension of our Lord to the right hand of the Father verified by the reality of Pentecost was the vision fresh in the minds of John and Peter. Peter and John had just healed a lame man at the temple gate called Beautiful . People saw this undeniable miracle, and they came in awe, "How did you do this?" Peter and John used it as an opportunity to show them that this was actually done by Jesus Christ, the ascended Lord, whom the Israelites had disowned and killed but whom God had raised from the dead.
The Sanhedrin (Jewish rulers who did not believe in the possibility of a resurrection) heard the news of the healing and the claim that it was accomplished by the resurrected and ascended Christ. Quickly, they arrested Peter and John for disturbing the peace in the temple courts. In caucus, the Sanhedrin who were much more interested in power and control than in the things of God demanded to know by what power Peter and John had done these miracles. Peter and John, though uneducated gave them the Spirit's persuasive answer, it was Jesus, the cornerstone whom they rejected and crucified, who arose again. The one whom they had killed, who was supposed to stay in the grave because the resurrection was not possible, had done these things. In one answer past acts were exposed and their system of theology was cut off at the roots! And how people throughout history like to protect their sacred theology. This miracle was undeniable. The Sanhedrin was stuck. With as much public support as Peter and John had they could do little against them except warn them and threaten them not to talk about Jesus. So they released them.
The apostles however had felt the sting of opposition. So they returned to their friends, discuss what has happened and then they prayed.
Sovereign Lord! Now that sounds innocent, something that we might do. But in the original language the word is heas Despotns, literally it says "Dear Despot." That is not exactly a title that we are accustomed to giving to God. `Dear Despot.' Something inside of us resists calling him a despot, it has such negative connotations. We would normally give that title to a tyrant, dictator, autocrat, one who rules with an iron fist. When we think of despots, we think of Sadam Hussein, Col. Kedaffy. We think of abuse of absolute political power. But we don't think so much of our Lord - we have this soft, comfortable democratic image of who Jesus is, a kindly old gentleman in the sky who looks on men with pity. He's no Despot!
But that's what this prayer starts with - the words Dear Despot , a word which tells us that all power is in his hands without limitation, and he can use that power any way that he wishes. The scripture we use translates the original Greek with the words "Sovereign Lord." But our western understanding of political rulers has turned Sovereigns into anemic individuals who are chastised when they don't do our bidding and if they continue to go against our will, are dethroned by public opinion. In Western civilization we basically rule, and our rulership is represented in our democratic government. Despotism, absolute rulership and Lordship is foreign to our experience.
One of the ways that this comes into expression in our faith is in our North American understanding of the Lordship of Christ - it all too often contains frightfully little content.
I could ask you "What does it mean that Jesus Christ is Savior?" and you might be quick to answer that he has saved you from all your sin, he has saved you from the tyranny of the devil and he has saved you from eternal destruction.
But if I were to ask you "What does it mean that Jesus Christ is Lord?" What would you answer?
Take note on this Ascension day, early church Christians prayed to God as their despot, their tyrant, their absolute Lord. When they addressed their Lord as Despot, they were addressing him as slaves might address their master. The term meant that he had absolute control and ownership in their lives.
When he gave commands, they were not suggestions. They were commands to be obeyed!
When this Despot said ` Repent ' - there was no option - either you repented or judgement resulted for disobedience
When this Despot said "All authority is heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations." he wasn't making a suggestion for church growth, he wasn't asking them to go out, he was commanding them. And if they did not obey the command, they could expect this Sovereign Lord to use his power any way he wanted to get his desires achieved. And so when the church kept to itself in Jerusalem and Israel, the Sovereign Lord sent a persecutor named so that the church would scatter throughout the nations.
When this tyrant said "Love one another", he wasn't talking in vague generalities, he was talking in terms of laying down lives for one another, sacrificing possessions, material wealth, prosperity, their very own lives for one another just as he had done.
These disciples were slaves. They were saved from the evil tyranny of the devil, now they were slaves to a new absolute sovereign Lord, Jesus Christ! In view of his mercy they had given their lives to him in obedience, they were now owned by a new master! Owned they were, slaves to a master that demanded everything that his people had. Their leisure time, their money, their wives, their children, their husbands, their friends, their homes, their grain fields, their cars, their boy - girl friend relationships, their eating habits, every second of their time, - everything was his and everything was to follow under his order for life. This despot ruled every square inch of life, even their sleep and their entertainment.
Jesus is Lord, ascended to the right hand of the Father. We are his, completely, from beginning to end. He doesn't only want our 10% for our offerings, he doesn't want just our Sundays as a day of worship, he doesn't only want 30 minutes of every day in devotions, he wants everything that we have, everything that we are. 100% Lordship, partial Lordship will not do.
But his passage even goes further. It was customary for a slave to address his owner as Lord, or master, but here the disciples address Jesus as Sovereign Lord or Dear despot. Why?
The term `Despot' denoted the absolute control over everything. The title despot could have a negative flavor in those days as it does today. It referred to a ruler that was concerned only about his own ends, and if people resisted his purposes, they would simply be either destroyed or used for his own purposes any ways. The disciples quote from Psalm 2 in this prayer, lets turn to that together and read it.
"1 Why do the nations conspire and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth take their stand and the rulers gather together against the LORD and against his Anointed One.
"Let us break their chains," they say, "and throw off their fetters."
The One enthroned in heaven laughs; the Lord scoffs at them. Then he rebukes them in his anger and terrifies them in his wrath, saying, "I have installed my King on Zion, my holy hill."
7 I will proclaim the decree of the LORD: He said to me, "You are my Son ; today I have become your Father. Ask of me, and I will make the nations your inheritance, the ends of the earth your possession. You will rule them with an iron scepter ; you will dash them to pieces like pottery."
10 Therefore, you kings, be wise; be warned, you rulers of the earth. Serve the LORD with fear and rejoice with trembling. Kiss the Son, lest he be angry and you be destroyed in your way, for his wrath can flare up in a moment.
Blessed are all who take refuge in him."
What a picture of our ascended Sovereign Lord. It tells all the nations, even those forces in this world, in our lives, that refuse to bow before his Lordship to submit, to serve this dictator with fear, with trembling kiss his feet in submission, or else he might get angry. Destruction and death follow in the wake of his anger!
Jesus has absolute power to achieve his own ends any way he wants. Paul understood that. He tells us in Philippians that God was using him, his life was being offered up as a sacrifice for the sake of the gospel. One life for the bigger picture, a pawn in the hands of a master chess player, Paul understood how the Sovereign Lord would do that.
But the despot to whom this New Testament church is praying is much more powerful that just a chess player in the chess game. This despot plays both sides of the board. This Absolute Sovereign even controls the opposition against their own wishes. When the opposition, when all the forces of Satan try to frustrate his plan, he turns those attempts into things that advance his kingdom.
That's what Psalm 2 is all about. Even though the nations conspire against the work of the Lord, all their plots are in vain. He is the Despot, the absolute ruler, the Sovereign Lord who controls all of creation, including the destinies and the actions of those who would resist him. There is no force in all creation that will be able to boast that he has frustrated the purposes of the Lord. The Lord laughs at those who would attempt to destroy his purposes that have been set in eternity and all attempts to change that purpose will in the end be used to accomplish his will.
Scripture abounds with examples:
Remember the sons of Jacob selling Joseph into slavery. He who sits in heaven laughs. Remember Pharaoh's stubborn refusals to let God's people go - Ha - watch how eager they will be after the 10th plague! I do not have time to list the many many stories of scripture where curses were turned to blessings, the powerful became nothing, the Sovereigns enemies became victims of his laughter and ashes after his anger. Even Satan's most diabolical attempt at thwarting the plan of God became his own disarming and final destruction in the cross of Christ. Judas may have betrayed. The pharisees and teachers of the Law may have started the crowd with chants of "Crucify Him," the powers of evil did their worst, but it was only for their own destruction.
It was to this Despot, this all powerful Sovereign Lord that the disciples prayed. They knew that the resistance that the early church would face, in the end would only benefit the Kingdom of God. They prayed for the power to go on preaching the good news about how Jesus in his death and resurrection had been claimed both Lord (Despot) and Christ. And the Almighty Lord blessed that prayer with a fresh anointing of His Holy Spirit so that the Christians might be empowered to deliver that word of God boldly, in the face of persecution and opposition.
Jesus Christ is the ascended Lord, our Lord, our master. We are his servants to do his bidding, to do his will alone.
Jesus Christ is the ascended Lord, creations ruler, the Almighty God, Despot over all. He rules with absolute power and authority! He has chosen to use every force, every principality, every power, every angel, every demon, for his own good purposes in the end. He is Despot. Not a very pleasing kind of dictatorship for those that would resist his work in the world.
This evening, I would like to point out one more aspect of these passages that is most important for us. It has to do with how we relate to this Despot. What kinds of relationships does he recognize?
Repeatedly, Jesus pictures for us two options (Luke 6:46f, Matthew 7, 25). There are those who obey him, and there are those who do not. The world will be divided on the basis of obedience.
We are either his obedient to him as purchased slaves, with an obedience that arises from faith in him who gave his life for us so that we no longer live for ourselves but for him who died for us and was raised again, absolute Sovereign over all. Or we are deceived into thinking that we can afford to be his enemies, ignoring his call, disregarding his will, setting our lives for destruction.
Either obedient or disobedient. Either friends or enemies of the Despot of the universe. There is no grey between. He is either our Lord or he is an enemy dictator, either way he will use us to his own ends.
His enemies he will rule with and iron scepter, he will use them, then he will dash them to pieces like pottery, he will stamp on them with the judgement of his bronze burning feet, he will burn them in the flare of his anger, simply because they thought they could conspire against the Lord.
But for his friends, blessed are they who take refuge in Him. They could address him as Dear Despot as they fled into his presence in prayer. He was the absolute ruler of their lives, but at the same time he was the absolute ruler that loved them, and in all his power and strength, he had committed himself to protect and bless them. They just had to ask, and the Lord would make the nations their inheritance, just for the asking, he would make the entire earth their possession. To the obedient slave, the despot gave eternal rewards far beyond the value of the slaves life. And he gives those slaves his Spirit as a down payment guaranteeing the blessings that are to come in the future. Through that Spirit, they spoke the word of God boldly, they saw the coming of his kingdom.
They came to know the reality of the very last line of Psalm 2 Blessed are all who take refuge in him.
"Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written: "For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered." No in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our LORD !"
(NIV) Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION. Copyright (C) 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers.