Is God Really in Control?
Do you sometimes wonder whether God is really in control? Maybe something has gone wrong with your health, relationships, job or some other situation in your life, and you wonder: Does God know? Does God care? Is there anything he can do about it anyway?
One of the things that I remember so well about Bishop Sandy Millar’s time as vicar of HTB is that whenever things seemed to have gone wrong, or we were facing some kind of crisis, he would always remind us: ‘The Lord reigns.’ God not only loves you, but he is also the sovereign Lord who is ultimately in control of your life. He is also in control of events and history.
As A.W. Tozer wrote, ‘God is love and God is sovereign. His love disposes Him to desire our everlasting welfare, and His sovereignty enables Him to secure it.’ The Lord reigns!
11 If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me
and the light become night around me,”
12 even the darkness will not be dark to you;
the night will shine like the day,
for darkness is as light to you.
13 For you created my inmost being;
you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
14 I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
your works are wonderful,
I know that full well.
15 My frame was not hidden from you
when I was made in the secret place,
when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.
16 Your eyes saw my unformed body;
all the days ordained for me were written in your book
before one of them came to be.
The Lord reigns from conception to death
You do not need to worry about or fear death. God has a good plan and purpose for your life. Even before you were born, he planned all the days of your life (v.16). You are ‘fearfully and wonderfully made’ (v.14).
Human life begins at the moment of conception. God’s sovereign love extends to those in the womb. This is where our personal history began:
‘You watched me grow from conception to birth;
all the stages of my life were spread out before you,
The days of my life all prepared
before I’d even lived one day’ (v.16, MSG).
God is in control from the moment of your conception to the moment of your death and beyond. Put your trust in him.
3 John 1:1-14
1 The elder,
To my dear friend Gaius, whom I love in the truth.
2 Dear friend, I pray that you may enjoy good health and that all may go well with you, just as you are progressing spiritually. 3 It gave me great joy when some believers came and testified about your faithfulness to the truth, telling how you continue to walk in it. 4 I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth.
5 Dear friend, you are faithful in what you are doing for the brothers and sisters, even though they are strangers to you. 6 They have told the church about your love. Please send them on their way in a manner that honours God. 7 It was for the sake of the Name that they went out, receiving no help from the pagans. 8 We ought therefore to show hospitality to such people so that we may work together for the truth.
9 I wrote to the church, but Diotrephes, who loves to be first, will not welcome us. 10 So when I come, I will call attention to what he is doing, spreading malicious nonsense about us. Not satisfied with that, he even refuses to welcome other believers. He also stops those who want to do so and puts them out of the church.
11 Dear friend, do not imitate what is evil but what is good. Anyone who does what is good is from God. Anyone who does what is evil has not seen God. 12 Demetrius is well spoken of by everyone —and even by the truth itself. We also speak well of him, and you know that our testimony is true.
13 I have much to write you, but I do not want to do so with pen and ink. 14 I hope to see you soon, and we will talk face to face.
Peace to you. The friends here send their greetings. Greet the friends there by name.
The Lord reigns over every area of your life
God wants to bring restoration to every area of your life today. The apostle John prays for his dear friend Gaius in a holistic way: ‘I pray for... everything you do, and for your good health – that your everyday affairs prosper, as well as your soul!’ (v.2, MSG).
John was thrilled to hear that Gaius was making spiritual progress: ‘I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth… They have told the church about your love’ (vv.4,6).
However, John's prayer extends beyond the ‘spiritual’ to the physical needs of Gaius. There is nothing wrong with praying for friends to enjoy ‘good health’ and that ‘all may go well with \[them\]’ (v.2).
Faith is made visible by love. Love is practical. Hospitality is an act of love. In providing ‘meals and a bed we become companions in spreading the Truth’ (v.8, MSG).
When you show hospitality, you are part of a long Christian tradition that goes back to the New Testament.
John warns Gaius about Diotrephes who ‘not only refuses hospitality to travelling Christians but tries to stop others from welcoming them’ (v.10, MSG). He ‘loves to be in charge’ and will have nothing to do with John, but spreads ‘vicious rumours’ about him (vv.9–10, MSG). Even the holy and loving apostle John did not win everyone’s approval.
He urges Gaius, ‘don’t go along with evil. Model the good’ (v.11, MSG) and he prays: ‘peace to you’ (v.14).
John deliberately does not put everything down on paper (vv.13–14, MSG). Some things are best reserved for face-to-face meetings.
A Call to Return to the Lord
1 In the eighth month of the second year of Darius, the word of the Lord came to the prophet Zechariah son of Berekiah, the son of Iddo:
2 “The Lord was very angry with your ancestors. 3 Therefore tell the people: This is what the Lord Almighty says: ‘Return to me,’ declares the Lord Almighty, ‘and I will return to you,’ says the Lord Almighty. 4 Do not be like your ancestors, to whom the earlier prophets proclaimed: This is what the Lord Almighty says: ‘Turn from your evil ways and your evil practices.’ But they would not listen or pay attention to me, declares the Lord. 5 Where are your ancestors now? And the prophets, do they live forever? 6 But did not my words and my decrees, which I commanded my servants the prophets, overtake your ancestors?
“Then they repented and said, ‘The Lord Almighty has done to us what our ways and practices deserve, just as he determined to do.’”
The Man Among the Myrtle Trees
7 On the twenty-fourth day of the eleventh month, the month of Shebat, in the second year of Darius, the word of the Lord came to the prophet Zechariah son of Berekiah, the son of Iddo.
8 During the night I had a vision, and there before me was a man mounted on a red horse. He was standing among the myrtle trees in a ravine. Behind him were red, brown and white horses.
9 I asked, “What are these, my lord?”
The angel who was talking with me answered, “I will show you what they are.”
10 Then the man standing among the myrtle trees explained, “They are the ones the Lord has sent to go throughout the earth.”
11 And they reported to the angel of the Lord who was standing among the myrtle trees, “We have gone throughout the earth and found the whole earth at rest and in peace.”
12 Then the angel of the Lord said, “Lord Almighty, how long will you withhold mercy from Jerusalem and from the towns of Judah, which you have been angry with these seventy years?” 13 So the Lord spoke kind and comforting words to the angel who talked with me.
14 Then the angel who was speaking to me said, “Proclaim this word: This is what the Lord Almighty says: ‘I am very jealous for Jerusalem and Zion, 15 and I am very angry with the nations that feel secure. I was only a little angry, but they went too far with the punishment.’
16 “Therefore this is what the Lord says: ‘I will return to Jerusalem with mercy, and there my house will be rebuilt. And the measuring line will be stretched out over Jerusalem,’ declares the Lord Almighty.
17 “Proclaim further: This is what the Lord Almighty says: ‘My towns will again overflow with prosperity, and the Lord will again comfort Zion and choose Jerusalem.’”
Four Horns and Four Craftsmen
18 Then I looked up, and there before me were four horns. 19 I asked the angel who was speaking to me, “What are these?”
He answered me, “These are the horns that scattered Judah, Israel and Jerusalem.”
20 Then the Lord showed me four craftsmen. 21 I asked, “What are these coming to do?”
He answered, “These are the horns that scattered Judah so that no one could raise their head, but the craftsmen have come to terrify them and throw down these horns of the nations who lifted up their horns against the land of Judah to scatter its people.”
A Man With a Measuring Line
2 Then I looked up, and there before me was a man with a measuring line in his hand. 2 I asked, “Where are you going?”
He answered me, “To measure Jerusalem, to find out how wide and how long it is.”
3 While the angel who was speaking to me was leaving, another angel came to meet him 4 and said to him: “Run, tell that young man, ‘Jerusalem will be a city without walls because of the great number of people and animals in it. 5 And I myself will be a wall of fire around it,’ declares the Lord, ‘and I will be its glory within.’
6 “Come! Come! Flee from the land of the north,” declares the Lord, “for I have scattered you to the four winds of heaven,” declares the Lord.
7 “Come, Zion! Escape, you who live in Daughter Babylon!” 8 For this is what the Lord Almighty says: “After the Glorious One has sent me against the nations that have plundered you—for whoever touches you touches the apple of his eye — 9 I will surely raise my hand against them so that their slaves will plunder them. Then you will know that the Lord Almighty has sent me.
10 “Shout and be glad, Daughter Zion. For I am coming, and I will live among you,” declares the Lord. 11 “Many nations will be joined with the Lord in that day and will become my people. I will live among you and you will know that the Lord Almighty has sent me to you. 12 The Lord will inherit Judah as his portion in the holy land and will again choose Jerusalem. 13 Be still before the Lord, all mankind, because he has roused himself from his holy dwelling. ”
Clean Garments for the High Priest
3 Then he showed me Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of the Lord, and Satan standing at his right side to accuse him. 2 The Lord said to Satan, “The Lord rebuke you, Satan! The Lord, who has chosen Jerusalem, rebuke you! Is not this man a burning stick snatched from the fire?”
3 Now Joshua was dressed in filthy clothes as he stood before the angel. 4 The angel said to those who were standing before him, “Take off his filthy clothes.”
Then he said to Joshua, “See, I have taken away your sin, and I will put fine garments on you.”
5 Then I said, “Put a clean turban on his head.” So they put a clean turban on his head and clothed him, while the angel of the Lord stood by.
6 The angel of the Lord gave this charge to Joshua: 7 “This is what the Lord Almighty says: ‘If you will walk in obedience to me and keep my requirements, then you will govern my house and have charge of my courts, and I will give you a place among these standing here.
8 “‘Listen, High Priest Joshua, you and your associates seated before you, who are men symbolic of things to come: I am going to bring my servant, the Branch. 9 See, the stone I have set in front of Joshua! There are seven eyes on that one stone, and I will engrave an inscription on it,’ says the Lord Almighty, ‘and I will remove the sin of this land in a single day.
10 “‘In that day each of you will invite your neighbour to sit under your vine and fig tree, ’ declares the Lord Almighty.”
The Gold Lampstand and the Two Olive Trees
4Then the angel who talked with me returned and woke me up, like someone awakened from sleep. 2 He asked me, “What do you see?”
I answered, “I see a solid gold lampstand with a bowl at the top and seven lamps on it, with seven channels to the lamps. 3 Also there are two olive trees by it, one on the right of the bowl and the other on its left.”
4 I asked the angel who talked with me, “What are these, my lord?”
5 He answered, “Do you not know what these are?”
“No, my lord,” I replied.
6 So he said to me, “This is the word of the Lord to Zerubbabel: ‘Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the Lord Almighty.
7 “What are you, mighty mountain? Before Zerubbabel you will become level ground. Then he will bring out the capstone to shouts of ‘God bless it! God bless it!’”
8 Then the word of the Lord came to me: 9 “The hands of Zerubbabel have laid the foundation of this temple; his hands will also complete it. Then you will know that the Lord Almighty has sent me to you.
10 “Who dares despise the day of small things, since the seven eyes of the Lord that range throughout the earth will rejoice when they see the chosen capstone in the hand of Zerubbabel?”
11 Then I asked the angel, “What are these two olive trees on the right and the left of the lampstand?”
12 Again I asked him, “What are these two olive branches beside the two gold pipes that pour out golden oil?”
13 He replied, “Do you not know what these are?”
“No, my lord,” I said.
14 So he said, “These are the two who are anointed to serve the Lord of all the earth.”
The Lord reigns over events and history
It is not just in your own life that things can go wrong and you can wonder whether God is really in control. Sometimes, as we look at world events and history, we wonder what on earth is going on. Does the Lord really ‘reign’ in all the chaos?
Zechariah’s original audience needed to be reminded that ‘the Lord reigns’. He was a priest and prophet, who prophesised to the people who had returned to Jerusalem devastated after many years in exile. Zechariah lifts their gaze to God with messages of hope and salvation. God reigns – and he has not finished with his people!
At the heart of this renewed hope are promises of renewed relationship with God, which are ultimately fulfilled through Jesus. Again and again in these visions we get glimpses of Jesus:
God will return (chapter 1)
The book opens with a call to repentance, as God calls the people to return to him. Alongside the call there is a promise – ‘“return to me,” declares the Lord Almighty, “and I will return to you”’ (1:3). Returning to God means repenting and admitting our guilt (v.6).
God’s promise to return is illustrated by a vision of a man riding a red horse (v.8). God promises: ‘Everything’s under control’ (v.11, MSG). He cares about them (v.14, MSG). The Lord reigns, and he loves you. It seems that the myrtle trees are a picture of the people of God then and the church now, and so it symbolises Jesus (the man riding the red horse) who stands among his church.
If this is the case, then it is Jesus who intercedes for the church (v.12). His intercession was answered: ‘I’ll see to it that my Temple is rebuilt’ (v.16, MSG). This had a literal, historical fulfilment in the rebuilding of the temple in Jerusalem but it also applies to the church.
God will protect (chapter 2)
Next, Zechariah saw a man with a measuring line in his hand (2:1). Again, could this be Jesus? God promises that Jerusalem will be a city without walls but he will be a wall of fire around it and its glory within. The church is the new Jerusalem – a city without walls (v.4). It is the ‘apple of his eye’ (v.8). God’s Spirit lives among us (v.10).
He assures them, ‘Anyone who hits you, hits me’ (v.8, MSG). He promises: ‘I’m moving into your neighbourhood!’ (v.10, MSG).
God will forgive (chapter 3)
I have a habit of putting pens in my back trouser pocket and then sitting on them, leaving a stain that seems impossible to remove however often the trousers are washed.
You cannot remove the stain of sin in your own life. But Jesus can.
The angel of the Lord appears to foreshadow Jesus. Standing before Jesus, Zechariah saw Joshua the high priest and Satan, standing at his right hand to accuse him (3:1). The name ‘Satan’ means accuser (see Revelation 12:10).
But Jesus is more powerful than Satan. The Lord rebuked Satan and said of Joshua, ‘Is not this man a burning stick snatched from the fire?’ (Zechariah 3:2). This is an image that applies to all who have been rescued by Jesus.
Joshua was dressed in ‘filthy clothes’ standing before Jesus (v.3) who said, ‘Take off his filthy clothes… I have taken away your sin and I will put rich garments on you’ (v.4). Jesus cleanses and re-clothes you through the cross.
The Lord Almighty says, ‘I am going to bring my servant, the Branch’ (v.8; see Jeremiah 23:5f). It continues, ‘and I will remove the sin of this land in a single day’ (Zechariah 3:9) – this points to the first Good Friday, when Jesus removed all our sin in a single day.
The result is: ‘In that day each of you will invite your neighbour to sit under your vine and fig-tree’ (v.10). This is a symbol of peace, security and prosperity.
God will give you his Spirit (chapter 4)
God’s word came to Zerubbabel: ‘Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit’ (4:6). Neither the temple nor the church is built by might or power: ‘You can’t force these things. They only come about through my Spirit’ (v.6, MSG).
Are you facing a seemingly impossible situation? You cannot overcome by sheer willpower. Ask for the help of the Holy Spirit.
Do not despise ‘the day of small things’ (v.10). Don’t look at seemingly minor accomplishments as unimportant. Don’t despise apparently insignificant, humble, ‘small beginnings’. The kingdom of God starts with a mustard seed, which grows into a big tree. Small numbers make no difference to God. There is nothing small if God is in it. Everything big has to start small. Nothing you do for God goes unnoticed or unrewarded. You may not see the fruits but you are accomplishing God’s purposes. Don’t give up on your dream.
The Lord reigns. He is in charge of events and history. In his sovereign love, by his Spirit, from a day of small beginnings, the temple was rebuilt. Now you can trust him to keep building and rebuilding his church from small beginnings by his Spirit.
In 3 John 1:2 it says, ‘I pray that you may enjoy good health and all may go well with you...’
This seems a very good prayer to pray for family and friends this Christmas.
Verse of the Day
‘“Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit,” says the Lord Almighty’
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A.W. Tozer, Knowledge of the Holy (HarperOne, 2009), p.99.
Unless otherwise stated, Scripture quotations taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version Anglicised, Copyright © 1979, 1984, 2011 Biblica, formerly International Bible Society. Used by permission of Hodder & Stoughton Publishers, an Hachette UK company. All rights reserved. ‘NIV’ is a registered trademark of Biblica. UK trademark number 1448790.
Scripture marked (MSG) taken from The Message. Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002. Used by permission of NavPress Publishing Group. Unless otherwise stated.