Sovereignty and Responsibility in Judas

Acts 1:15-16 – 15 In those days Peter stood up among the brothers (the company of persons was in all about 120) and said, 16 “Brothers, the Scripture had to be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit spoke beforehand by the mouth of David concerning Judas, who became a guide to those who arrested Jesus.

Acts 1:24-25 – 24 And they prayed and said, “You, Lord, who know the hearts of all, show which one of these two you have chosen 25 to take the place in this ministry and apostleship from which Judas turned aside to go to his own place.”

In Acts 1, we see the response of the disciples to the death of Judas. Once the risen Lord Jesus had ascended into heaven, and the disciples were awaiting the arrival of the Holy Spirit, they needed to deal with the fact that there were 11 and not 12 apostles. Peter broaches the topic and the group prays before casting lots to choose Judas’ replacement.

As Peter speaks, he first tells us that the Scripture had to be fulfilled regarding Judas. Peter shows us here how we should be thinking about Scripture. Scripture must be fulfilled. God’s word is solid and sure. God will always fulfill what he promised. And this is true of what happened with Judas.

Looking at what Peter said about Scripture, we see the sovereignty of God in play. What God had predicted regarding Judas had to happen. There was no way that this would not take place. God is fully sovereign.

But later, when the group prays, they point out that Judas, by his own will, turned aside to go his own way, to his own place. Judas was free to choose his path. The Lord did not force Judas away. Judas did what Judas wanted to do. And in doing so, Judas did what God sovereignly decreed would happen in the word.

Grasp, friends, that God is sovereign. The Lord will always, absolutely always, accomplish his will for his glory. At the same time, know that we are fully responsible for the choices that we make. The only exception that I would make to this is the good and glorious choice that we make to trust in Jesus. After all, we are dead in sins before our salvation, and only God can make us alive. That good decision we must credit to the Lord. But in all other areas of life, we must own the proper responsibility for what we do.

Never Forget that Governments Use Crises to Seize Freedoms

President Ronald Reagan was known for clever humor. At least once he quipped that the nine most terrifying words in the English language are, “I’m from the government and I’m here to help.” I wonder how much more that joke rings in our ears today.

While reading through the book of Genesis in my newest Bible reading plan, I found myself thinking about government. No, I do not believe that the narrative at the end of Genesis is there for the purpose of teaching us about politics. But, I think, as we observe the narrative, we can at least see something of human nature and political nature holding true-to-form.

In Genesis, God moves to relocate the family and future nation of Israel to their own land in Egypt. God prepares the way for Israel to move to Egypt through the way that Joseph helps the government of Egypt deal with the disaster of seven years of famine. Over a period of four centuries between Genesis 50 and Exodus 1, the family of Israel will grow into a nation. Then, in Exodus, God will bring this new nation out of its incubator and into the promised land.

Now, let’s ponder government. With the point already made that this is not the message of Genesis, let’s catch some truth anyhow. What is the nature of a government when its people face a crisis? In historical human experience, when the government helps a people out of a time of crisis, the government will also use that time of crisis to increase its own power over the people. Particularly, in Genesis, Joseph puts together a food-storage program that saves the lives of many. However, when the people need to come to him, a government official, for their food, he gives it to the people in exchange for their property and eventually their freedom.

Genesis 47:20-21 – 20 So Joseph bought all the land of Egypt for Pharaoh, for all the Egyptians sold their fields, because the famine was severe on them. The land became Pharaoh’s. 21 As for the people, he made servants of them from one end of Egypt to the other.

Understand, dear friends, that any government not bound by the standards of the Lord and his holy word will move to grant itself greater and greater power over its people. Government will happily use times of crisis to take freedoms from its people. And even when freedoms are returned, they are never as many as were taken. A government that takes five freedoms from you and returns to you three has not left you as free as you were before it reached into your world.

Joseph was used by God to save lives. But Joseph was also used by the government of Egypt to create a new world in which the people and the land were under the thumb of Pharaoh. Eventually, this same power became the power that enslaved the people of Israel. And let’s not take time to ponder much about the fact that the oppressive taxation of Pharaoh was a 20% flat tax, which, all the sudden does not sound as bad as some other systems with which you may be familiar.

It will be for you to figure out your own views on politics and government. But, dear friends, be very careful tolerating the taking of your freedom by leaders in power. The powerful have a very hard time giving freedoms back to the people. And if we let these things pass unnoticed, we put ourselves in a very vulnerable position.

Do You Want What You Think You Want?

Humans are amazing creatures. Consider the things that we say we want. Consider what we show that we really want. Consider how they are not the same thing.

People want happiness, fulfillment, or prosperity. I think that is true for nearly every human being. I have never met anyone who told me that the last thing they want is to be satisfied with life. (Of course, I have known some sour people who seem to find satisfaction in a frown, but I digress.)

Here is what I found interesting in the Psalms recently. In Psalm 81, God speaks to his people and makes the most prosperity-theology-looking sorts of promises [disclaimer: I fully reject prosperity theology]. He promises the people success, victory, physical comforts. It is a no-brainer that the people should jump at. But, what the Lord shows us in his word is that the people specifically do not do what God says.

Psalm 81:8-16

8 Hear, O my people, while I admonish you!

O Israel, if you would but listen to me!

9 There shall be no strange god among you;

you shall not bow down to a foreign god.

10 I am the Lord your God,

who brought you up out of the land of Egypt.

Open your mouth wide, and I will fill it.

11 “But my people did not listen to my voice;

Israel would not submit to me.

12 So I gave them over to their stubborn hearts,

to follow their own counsels.

13 Oh, that my people would listen to me,

that Israel would walk in my ways!

14 I would soon subdue their enemies

and turn my hand against their foes.

15 Those who hate the Lord would cringe toward him,

and their fate would last forever.

16 But he would feed you with the finest of the wheat,

and with honey from the rock I would satisfy you.”

There is a lot in that section, but just think with me about the prosperity the people say they want. I think all of Israel would say that they wanted the success God mentioned here. They want the favor and the blessing. But there is something that keeps them from it. What is that? And do we have the same problem?

I would argue that the text above shows us something of great significance about the human heart. We want success, comfort, and satisfaction. But, our lives show us that we somehow get so disordered that we value something else above actual joy and satisfaction. That something shows us the very heart of our sin nature, and we need to get it.

In the Psalm, the people show that they want their autonomy even more than they want joy. They, by their actions, show that they will reject the joy that satisfies a soul and makes a life easy if they do not get to have that joy in their own way, under their own control, by their own standards.

This is human nature at its clearest. It was the problem in the garden. Adam and Eve had everything they could ever need. All comforts and joys were present. They had food, beauty, marriage, intimacy, comforts, long-life, fellowship with God. But the rebellion that they gave into said that all those things were worth rejecting if they could not be the masters of it all. If they could not have things their way, being at the top of the organizational chart, they would turn from all comforts and embrace death.

And this is our nature today. Humans naturally reject the rewards of God in order to magnify our own freedoms and autonomy. It is true in little things and in big things. It is true in my life and in yours. And a major part of living as a Christian is learning that soul-satisfaction is found in submission to the Lord, not in my own autonomy.

Look at your own life. Are you willing to walk away from God rather than submit to him? Do you want to be the one in charge of yourself, even if being in charge takes from you the joy you desire? Many are. Often, I am—that is what happens when I sin. When I sin, I say to God that I will give up the joy he can give because I refuse to bow to him. I say to God that I would rather hurt in life than yield to his authority. And the only way for me to find joy and peace in life is to learn—like a horse in a bridle—that there is a greater joy for me, the joy and even the freedom I desire, to be found only when I submit to Jesus as God created me to do.