Daily Bible Studies & Sermon Notes

Godís Overruling Hand
Pastor Steve Schell
Acts 23:11-24
We’re watching a proverb being lived out. Solomon wrote, “Many are the plans in a man’s heart, but the counsel of the Lord will stand” (Pr 19:21). The psalmist said the same thing this way, “Let all the earth fear the Lord; let all the inhabitants of the world stand in awe of Him. For He spoke and it was done, He commanded, and it stood fast. The Lord nullifies the counsel of the nations, He frustrates the plans of the peoples. The counsel of the Lord stands forever, the plans of His heart from generation to generation” (Ps 33:8-11).

On the same night when a group of men were forming a plot to kill Paul, Jesus appeared to him and told him to cheer up because he was going to Rome. No matter how careful these men were to hide their plans, or how determined they were to carry them out, God almost effortlessly overruled them. The turning point comes at verse 16. Somehow a young man heard information he should not have been able to hear. That simple fact changed everything. God can overrule humans so easily it’s almost laughable. We’ll never outwit Him.

But, does God overrule in all situations? Obviously not, yet as we see time after time in the Bible He does overrule the evil attacks that come against His people so that they can fulfill the plan He has for them. Paul was in the middle of God’s will, doing what he believed God wanted him to do, but that didn’t mean it was an easy path. He suffered a great deal, and in the future he would die by execution. But not until God’s time arrived, until then, God’s hand repeatedly protected him. Or, maybe I should say, especially then, God’s hand protected him (2Ti 1:12; 4:6-8). Let’s watch God protect Paul, and then realize He will do the same for us.

Rescuing Paul (Ac 23:11-24)
DBS (Sunday-Friday)

Human leaders
We focus too much on the quality of human leaders, thinking that unless we have good people in authority over us God can’t help us. But, if we step back and watch what’s happening to Paul in these final chapters of Acts, we see that’s not true. Look at the lineup of leaders Paul faced:
• Ananias, the high priest
• Claudias Lysias, the Roman commander
• Felix and Drusilla, the Roman governor
• Festus, another Roman governor
• Agrippa and Bernice, the great-grandson of Herod the Great, and his sister
• Nero

God didn’t turn these leaders into good people, He just made them unknowingly serve His purposes. God gives humans the freedom to reject Him, but He reserves the right to use ungodly people to serve His purposes. That’s the point Paul makes when he talks about Pharaoh in his letter to the Romans. He says, “For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, ‘For this very purpose I raised you up, to demonstrate my power in you, and that My name might be proclaimed throughout the whole earth.’ So then He has mercy on whom He desires, and He hardens whom He desires” (Ro 9:17-18). In other words, God forced Pharaoh to glorify Him by giving him the courage to keep rebelling (hardened) in the face of terrifying miracles. If we understand this principle, and believe it is at work in our lives, it will change the way we relate to all leaders.

A destructive seed
One of the saddest by-products of bad leadership is that it breeds a distrust of all leaders. The “I’ll never let anyone lead me again!” attitude can set in and leave us unable to follow anyone, unable to cooperate with anyone. We end up angry, alone and often unemployed. Yet, to that person who has been abused by bad leaders, it all seems so reasonable. They don’t think of themselves as damaged, but enlightened. They’ve seen the dark side of the human heart, and are determined to never fall captive to it again.

But, the rebellion that’s been sown in their soul is actually a very destructive seed which inevitably grows with time. It ruins everything. It turns us into a harsh judge of every leader. It makes us critical and hard to lead. Yet, all human leaders are… well, human, vulnerable to their flesh, prone to mistakes, and even, at times, evil. So how can anyone expect us to submit to them? And, yes, of course, there are leaders who are so damaged by sin we have to escape, if we can. It’s too dangerous to let them lead us. But, the truth that will set us free from this fear is that there is another Leader involved in every believer’s life, an unseen, but very powerful Leader who can be trusted to protect us and direct events so that His plan for us is fulfilled. Trusting Him makes it possible for me to submit to people I don’t trust.

The source of leaders
Who appoints human leaders? Many people will answer, “Well, God does. Isn’t He the One who puts down one and lifts up another (Lk 1:52)? Isn’t all authority from Him (Ro 13:1-5)?” But, if that’s true, it’s very confusing, considering the outright evil we see in so many places. On the other hand, the devil boasted to Jesus that he had been given authority over all the kingdoms of the world. He said, “… for it has been handed over to me, and I give it to whomever I wish” (Lk 4:5-6). And, Jesus didn’t disagree. His response was that He didn’t want anything the devil would give Him. He was going to worship and serve God alone (Lk 4:8). So, where do leaders come from? Is it God or the devil? I think the answer is both. In this rebellious world there are a lot of very broken people rising to leadership, and in some cases they are actually under the enemy’s direct control. But, there are also situations where godly people can rise to leadership and be a blessing to many (“When the righteous increase the people rejoice…” Pr 29:2). Most of the time it seems we’re led by humans who, unfortunately, aren’t any better than we are. They’re proud, fearful, lustful, greedy… etc. just like the people they lead.

Does God control everything?
Obviously not! If He were in control of everything, things would be better. The Bible describes a future age when He will be in full control, and it looks much different from this one. It’s wonderful. Sorrow, sickness, wars, dishonesty, violence, even bad weather, will be gone. And that’s what you’d expect if our good, wise, loving God were in control. The situation now seems to be a mixture of good and bad, including leaders. Some are better than others. Some are really bad. But, for the man or woman who loves God and has surrendered to His purpose in their lives (Ro 8:28). God steps in and takes control at a level He doesn’t with others. While bad things can still happen, He sets limits, and works through us to bring about His plans for us, regardless of the human leaders over us. He directs the events of our lives with a touch which can be so gentle it might look like something happened accidentally, but suddenly the situation is moving in another direction and no one is sure how it happened. People who wanted to hurt us end up blessing us. In places where we seem trapped, a door opens (1Co 10:13). In the wilderness a highway appears, and in a desert suddenly there are rivers (Isa 43:19). This is our new reality. This is why we don’t need to be afraid. This is why we don’t have to be rebellious. We have a Father who’s watching over us. Here are some familiar examples:
• Joseph and his brothers: “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive” (Gn 50:20).
• Esther and Haman: “And who knows whether you have not attained royalty for such a time as this?” (Est 4:14).
• David and Saul: “May the Lord judge between you and me, and may the Lord avenge me on you; but my hand shall not be against you” (1Sa 24:12).

Faith for me
The problem is, a person can have faith that God had a plan for Joseph, Esther, David and Paul, and may even have a plan for some of those around them, but not have faith that there is actually a plan for them. They feel too insignificant, they’re too aware of their own weaknesses, or the poor choices they’ve made, to believe God actually cares about what happens to them, beyond getting them to heaven. Yet, if we’ll just step back and ask, “Why did God miraculously step in and direct events in the lives of Joseph, Esther, David and Paul, we’ll realize it was because those people were going to be used to rescue others. They were destined to be a blessing… and, yes, maybe on a different scale, but so are we. If we love God and surrender to His plan for our lives, there is no question where we’re headed. He’ll use us to rescue others. There are people who need us as desperately as people needed Joseph, Esther, David and Paul. People whom God will heal, deliver, feed, protect or bring into eternal life… through us. In God’s mind every soul is infinitely valuable. He doesn’t think in numbers like we do. He thinks of people He knows by name, and loves, and may be separated from forever. He goes after the one wandering sheep. So, His plans for us are as real as for these great men and women of the Bible. And the miracles He’ll do for us are as real as those He did for them. And that’s where faith comes in. Do I believe that? Do I believe I, too, have a heavenly Father watching over me? Do I believe He has a plan for me, and will protect me from dangerous people, and steer those who lead me so His will can come to pass? And finally, here comes the really painful question: Am I willing to stop running away, to stop fighting to protect myself and trust Him to fight for me? Because when I stop, He starts. When I rest, He works.

Many years ago, when I was struggling with this very issue, the Lord said this to me:
“I’m not asking you to trust human leaders; I’m asking you to trust that I can control human leaders.”

And I’ve watched Him do that over and over again, but it’s a lesson I still have to revisit whenever I find myself in a situation where I don’t trust, or fear wants to rise, or I doubt God’s will can be done. His words challenge me to look again with the eyes of faith and see behind the people involved, His overruling hand.

1) Are you in a situation where you need God’s overruling hand right now?
2) Have you ever had God step in and change someone’s attitude toward you? It could be in a job, or school, or family, or court, or military, or…
3) Has God ever stopped you from making a bad decision that would have hurt someone else? How did He do that? 

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