The Powers that Be

May 9, 2017 at 2:41 pm | Posted in Common Expressions | 1 Comment
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“The powers that be” is a common expression used to encompass worldly authority in general, or sometimes to refer to the state of things against which the “common person” has no recourse.

“I wish my taxes weren’t so high, but the powers that be have decided to make sure I never get ahead.”
“I don’t like to sit in a circle in Sunday School, but the powers that be have decreed that it’s the best way to generate class discussion.”

It is an expression that is often accompanied by eye-rolling, exasperated sighs, or exaggerated and resigned shrugs of frustration. However, its origin is straight from the Bible:

Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God.

Romans 13:1

In a time when wicked Roman emperors allowed, encouraged, and even commanded the persecution, torture, and death of Christians, the Holy Spirit through the Apostle Paul told the believers in Rome something that we might think very odd: Recognize that earthly governments and authority structures are ordained by God Himself, and willingly submit yourselves to them.

Since this world is, by nature, opposed to Christ and His truth, what hope is there for us who are commanded to live out our faith under this corrupt system? The answer is that part of our hope lies in the knowledge that these earthly powers, although they are called powers that “be,” are not really “beings.” Only our immutable God is truly a “Being,” since He is the only entity in all of existence Who is truly self-sufficient, eternal, infinite, and independent. Even you and I, His highest creations, are not being accurate when we call ourselves human “beings,” for we have no existence apart from God’s sustaining power. Only in Him do we live and move and have our “being.” We are far from immutable, changing by degrees from one moment to the next all our lives. “Human becomings” would be a more apt term for our race. If our state of existence is in such flux, even more flimsy and subject to rebellion, public opinion, and changing of the guard are the political parties and philosophies of the world.

This helps us to remember that God is sovereignly in control of all earthly authority. He has ordained even wicked governments and evil rulers for some good purpose we do not yet understand, and the knowledge that He is ultimately in control will help us to humbly submit even to those who have no desire to glorify Him or to treat His people with respect.

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A One Thousand Year Flood

October 18, 2016 at 12:59 pm | Posted in The Flood | 2 Comments
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Although the flood which happened in southeastern Louisiana in August, 2016, was declared to be a “1000-year flood,” there is some confusion as to exactly what that meant. Some people were saying it was such a rare catastrophic occurrence, that it was the kind of thing that only happens once every thousand years. Others said it meant that there is only a .001 percent chance of such an event happening in any given year. For those who found themselves wading through three feet of rain-and-river water flowing through their uninsured living rooms, it did not make much difference at that point, other than the meager consolation that, having rolled the meteorological equivalent of snake eyes during their lifetimes, at least now they wouldn’t have to deal with such a problem again.

While it is dubious as to whether or not this makes sense even statistically speaking, Christians, of all people, ought to know better. God – Who controls the weather – does not deal in “odds,” “chance,” “luck,” or blind “fate.” He could bring a flood in 2017, 2018, 2019, and every year thereafter, or He might decide never to allow a mud puddle to form south of the Mason-Dixon line until Jesus comes back. Living in a world that is obviously designed, but subject to apparent randomness in the events that affect it, can cause us, if we are not careful, to forget that the Lord is in control.

The lot is cast into the lap; but the whole disposing thereof is of the Lord.

Proverbs 16:33

He is under no obligation to follow a statistical pattern or to bow down to any so-called laws of probability.

But our God is in the heavens: he hath done whatsoever he hath pleased.

Psalm 115:3

As faithful Christians, we have the privilege of praying that God would send favorable weather, but we also recognize that He knows best, and we joyfully submit to His supreme, perfectly wise will. Otherwise we run the danger of being “spoiled” by this world’s system, which gives praise to “fortune” or “luck” rather than the sovereign God.

Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ.

Colossians 2:8

Delightfully Intertwined

January 25, 2016 at 2:54 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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When I was in elementary school, we used to play a silly little game. One kid would cross his arms in front of him, turn his palms inward to face each other, lace the fingers of his hands together, then pull his hands up and in, turning the wrists over, so that his hands were sort of held together the way we sometimes do in prayer, but reversed.

https://swimthedeepend.files.wordpress.com/2016/01/eb491-steptwo.jpg?w=550

The person facing him would then tap one of his fingers to see if he could – while watching the tap – move the finger that was tapped. For most people it’s a little harder than it sounds to move the correct finger right away. I’m sure there is some scientific (and somewhat dry) explanation for why it’s difficult, and it probably involves concepts like hand-to-eye coordination and muscle memory. I’m not saying those things aren’t interesting. I’m sure to plenty of people they are. However, there is also joy and wonder and plan old fun in playing the game and trying it out.

Since you became a Christian (IF in fact you HAVE become a Christian), I hope you have been reading your Bible with diligence, fascination, and delight. I also hope you have meditated deeply on what you have read and are reading. Bible study is one of the key ingredients to Christian growth, and you will never fully experience the fullness of Christ the way He wants you to unless you engage in it.

However, as you read more and more of the Bible, and as you think more and more deeply about God, you are bound to come upon certain concepts which are difficult for the finite mind to reconcile. One of the ones I am most often asked about is the perceived tension between man’s will and God’s sovereignty. In explaining what the Bible teaches about these concepts I find it helpful if I can keep myself from beginning with a frown, a sigh, or a crossing of the arms. Though the concepts of human responsibility and Divine predestination may pose difficulties when it comes to our attempts to “reconcile” them, they are never addressed with consternation or puzzlement in Scripture. In fact, they are spoken of as plainly co-existing in blessed harmony. Therefore, as we speak about them, perhaps we should re-imagine them as something in which to be delighted as fully enmeshed – not separate and distinct and contradictory.

Thou wilt shew me the path of life: in thy presence is fulness of joy; at thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore.

Psalm 16:11

S.W.I.M. with Humility

January 6, 2016 at 4:37 pm | Posted in Quotes | 1 Comment
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Some of us are lured by pride into believing that we are “deep” thinkers. We ponder the mysteries of God. We believe we have “figured out” some of the inner workings and mysteries of His providence and sovereignty. We are quick to pontificate, but reluctant to utter the dreaded inquiry-stifling words: “I don’t know.

Certainly we want to immerse ourselves as deeply into Biblical doctrine as God would have us to go, but we must be careful not to dive down into sinful frustration, nor to burst up in a splash of hubris, claiming that we are masters of the deep, smugly certain and unteachable.

A god who could be completely fathomed would not be a real God at all. He would be encompassed and susceptible to explanation by the finite minds of creatures. The true God reminds us of our inferiority and our place of abject humility before His majesty.

Hast thou entered into the springs of the sea? or hast thou walked in the search of the depth?

Job 38:16

Some things in nature must remain a mystery to the most intelligent and enterprising investigators. Human knowledge has bounds beyond which it cannot pass. Universal knowledge is for God alone. If this be so in the things which are seen and temporal, I may rest assured that it is even more so in matters spiritual and eternal. Why, then, have I been torturing my brain with speculations as to destiny and will, fixed fate, and human responsibility? These deep and dark truths I am no more able to comprehend than to find out the depth which coucheth beneath, from which old ocean draws her watery stores. Why am I so curious to know the reason of my Lord’s providences, the motive of his actions, the design of his visitations? Shall I ever be able to clasp the sun in my fist, and hold the universe in my palm? yet these are as a drop of a bucket compared with the Lord my God. Let me not strive to understand the infinite, but spend my strength in love. What I cannot gain by intellect I can possess by affection, and let that suffice me. I cannot penetrate the heart of the sea, but I can enjoy the healthful breezes which sweep over its bosom, and I can sail over its blue waves with propitious winds. If I could enter the springs of the sea, the feat would serve no useful purpose either to myself or to others, it would not save the sinking bark, or give back the drowned mariner to his weeping wife and children; neither would my solving deep mysteries avail me a single whit, for the least love to God, and the simplest act of obedience to him, are better than the profoundest knowledge. My Lord, I leave the infinite to thee, and pray thee to put far from me such a love for the tree of knowledge as might keep me from the tree of life.

Charles Spurgeon, Morning and Evening
“Evening Devotion for September 5”

The Personality of God

December 9, 2015 at 1:39 pm | Posted in Exodus | 4 Comments
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Shortly after the exodus from Egypt the Israelites became panicky and dissatisfied, and reminded Moses that they had previously told him to leave them alone so they could go back and side with their slavemasters against the God Who wanted to set them free.

Is not this the word that we did tell thee in Egypt, saying, Let us alone, that we may serve the Egyptians? For it had been better for us to serve the Egyptians, than that we should die in the wilderness.

Exodus 14:12

In Chapter 32, as Moses comes down from Mt. Sinai, and God sees the people’s shameful idolatry around the golden calf, God tells Moses to leave HIM alone so that He can deal with them according to their sin.

Now therefore let me alone, that my wrath may wax hot against them, and that I may consume them: and I will make of thee a great nation.

Exodus 32:10

This is pointed mockery by God, as He suggests allowing the people to do what their actions indicate that they really want: to deal with Him without an intercessor (in their case Moses, but also foreshadowing Christ’s role as Intercessor). However, God’s suggestion is also a thinly veiled invitation to Moses to decline to “leave God alone.” It is obvious that God is giving Moses the opportunity to stay and intercede on behalf of the people – which he does.

Moses’s beseeching and pleading by appealing to God’s past deeds, glory, promises, and Word were successful.

And the Lord repented of the evil which he thought to do unto his people.

Exodus 32:14

Moses “changed God’s mind” in a sense, although God’s perfect will was still being sovereignly worked out in this apparent reversal. The Bible describes this scenario a number of times when various servants of His intercede in prayer in response to His stated intention to bring wrath and judgment. However, none of these scenarios ever describe what is known as “Open Theism.” Open Theism is a technical heresy intended to: (1) make God seem actively involved in human affairs, as opposed to fatalistically predetermining all events, and then passively watching them happen; and (2) justify God’s alleged failure to overrule evil in the world.

God does not need this help. He is imminent as well as transcendent, and the existence of evil in the world is not a “failure” on the part of God, although He does choose to allow it. Augustine argued that evil is not a “thing,” but simply the absence – in varying degrees – of good. An analogy is the sense in which darkness is not a “thing” in opposition to light, but rather the absence of light. In other words, Augustine posited that God is good and that evil is a privation of good.

That’s certainly one way to think of it, but another way to think of it is that God is a person, and not a force. This reminds us that, even if we must attribute responsibility to Him when evil happens, He still can draw a straight line with a crooked stick. He doesn’t just know the future – He also has already made choices about the future and is already there “eternally” in the “future.” In other words, there’s no real “future” to Him. Omniscience requires no surprises – no “new” or “acquired” information or knowledge – because “omni” means “all,” “everything,” not a “figuring out,” or deciding upon, possible alternatives.

The underlying motivation for Open Theism is a desire to say that we have pure free will – that we are not being “controlled” by God. What this ignores is that everyone is being controlled – under either system. You are either controlled by yourself or by one greater. If the “one greater” is God – the loving, gracious, merciful, true, and right God, Who is a real “person” – then why would we even want to suggest that we should be “free” from Him and beholden to our own choices?

The Intercessory Prayer of Moses

November 18, 2015 at 11:42 am | Posted in Exodus | 5 Comments
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Now therefore let me alone, that my wrath may wax hot against them, and that I may consume them: and I will make of thee a great nation.

Exodus 32:10

This is an example of anthropopathism. In Exodus 15 we learned about anthropomorphism (“man-form”), where human physical characteristics are used to describe God. Anthropopathism is derived from anthropos, meaning “man,” and “pathism,” referring to feelings or emotions. For example, “pathology” is the study of disease – or why people “feel” bad. Sympathy is feeling bad for someone. Empathy is feeling bad with someone. Someone who is “pathetic” is someone for whom we feel sorry. Anthropopathism is attributing human feelings to something (or in this case Someone) who is not human. It does not mean that God is faking His anger, but, unlike us, He is sovereignly and omnipotently in control of it. His feelings or emotions are real, but they are decreed by Him. They are controlled by Him. And they are exhibited in a way that lets us (finite beings) understand His attributes.

God also seems to be testing Moses in Exodus 32:10, telling him that He is mad at the people, and that He is going to demonstrate His anger and wrath, while at the same time making it clear that He is not mad at Moses. It is as if He is telling Moses to move aside while He deals with the people, and that He will start over by a making a new nation from the seed of Moses. God is not lying when He does this because He is not practicing deceit, but He is giving Moses a chance to demonstrate his own humility and faith – which, in fact, Moses does:

And Moses besought the LORD his God, and said, LORD, why doth thy wrath wax hot against thy people, which thou hast brought forth out of the land of Egypt with great power, and with a mighty hand?

Exodus 32:11

A casual, out of context, glance would make it seem like Moses was disrespectfully questioning God, or just being obtuse, asking a dumb question. But what was really going on was that Moses was praying a prayer of intercession. He asked God to do something in a rather bold way, but he recognized this, and he tempered it with a formal Hebrew way of reasoning.

When you were in high school, you probably didn’t say to your father, “Dad, you’re wrong for not letting me drive the car!” At least not if you were thinking rationally. You probably said something more like, “Why would a kind, gracious man like yourself refuse something harmless and kind to a responsible and careful lad like myself?” So, even though it looks like Moses was questioning God’s wisdom, God really received this as a respectful and reverent prayer, with solid reasoning included, as Moses tried to induce God to have mercy. By reading closely, we can find some principles to emulate in our own intercessory prayers:

1. Moses appealed to God’s great past deeds on behalf of these people: “…why doth thy wrath wax hot against thy people, which thou hast brought forth out of the land of Egypt with great power, and with a mighty hand?” As if he said, “Lord, you have gone to great lengths to redeem them, even though they don’t appear to appreciate it.”

2. He appealed to God’s glory

Wherefore should the Egyptians speak, and say, For mischief did he bring them out, to slay them in the mountains, and to consume them from the face of the earth? Turn from thy fierce wrath, and repent of this evil against thy people.

Exodus 32:12

As if saying, “The Egyptians (and the world) are watching. It’s going to look to them like You couldn’t finish what you started, or like You were playing a cruel trick in bringing them out of a bad condition, getting their hopes up, and then destroying them.” Moses asked God to “repent of evil,” but it’s not the same thing for Him that it is for us. The “evil” that Moses referred to was not moral evil. It was catastrophic consequences. The word “repent” here is the idea of “relenting” – of reconsidering what He’s thinking about doing. He respectfully asked God to “change His mind,” also reminding Him of the fact that they are “Thy people.”

3. He reminded God of His Own promises.

Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, thy servants, to whom thou swarest by thine own self, and saidst unto them, I will multiply your seed as the stars of heaven, and all this land that I have spoken of will I give unto your seed, and they shall inherit it for ever.

Exodus 32:13

For God to start over with Moses would pose a difficulty in making it seem like God was breaking His promise to Abraham, so Moses asked God to keep His side of the Covenant for Abraham’s sake, and, more importantly, for His Own name’s sake. This is not a “prayer-trick” to get God to do what we want. It is a God-ordained feature of prayer and one that pleases Him. He is far more interested in His Own glory than in our desires, comfort, or even needs.

Prayer is not really about getting God to change His mind; it’s about re-centering us on His will, His glory, His name, and His purposes. Some people think this whole exchange between God and Moses is just a set-up – just play-acting arranged by God – and, in an attempt to rescue the doctrine of God’s omnipotence and sovereignty, they say that Moses’s prayer was basically useless – that God was going to do what He was going to do anyway. If you say, no, prayer really works, Moses really did “get” God to hold back His wrath, then someone might say you are guilty of something called “Open Theism.”

Open Theism is a technical heresy that states either: (1) God does not and cannot know the future because, although He can know all the possible outcomes of free will choices, He still can not know what “free will agents” will choose; or (2) God has the power to know the future, but has chosen to limit His own knowledge so that His relationship with His creatures can be more “real” vis-à-vis reciprocal love.

It is not necessary to resort to Open Theism in order to believe in the omniscience of God and the real effects of Moses’s prayer. God simply chooses prayer (and even changing His Own mind, which is infinite and eternal) as the means to accomplish His perfect sovereign will and plans.

Remember the former things of old: for I am God, and there is none else; I am God, and there is none like me, Declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times the things that are not yet done, saying, My counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure:

Isaiah 46:9-10

Lord, thou hast been our dwelling place in all generations. Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever thou hadst formed the earth and the world, even from everlasting to everlasting, thou art God. Thou turnest man to destruction; and sayest, Return, ye children of men. For a thousand years in thy sight are but as yesterday when it is past, and as a watch in the night.

Psalm 90:1-4

Through Whom God Works out His Plans

November 16, 2015 at 2:09 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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Several years ago my wife and I were sitting across the table from another married couple, having a meal together at a Christian retreat. They were telling us about the first and only house they had purchased after getting married. The wife said that, after looking at many houses, they had a found a few possibilities but none seemed like the perfect choice. Finally, her husband drove them out to the country, down a winding path, to a little rundown home in a wooded area. The wife was adamantly opposed. The price was right, but the house needed a great deal of fixing up, and she did not want a renovation project to be the first task they tackled together as married couple. To put it bluntly, she hated it. She had a certain type of home in mind, and this was not it. Then, as she was telling us about it, the couple smiled at each other, and the wife said, “I had a plan, and…”

I remembering thinking, “I know what’s coming next. She’s going to say, ‘I had a plan, and God had a plan… and His plans are always better than our plans.'” Or something to that effect. But that’s not what she said. She said, “I had a plan… and my husband had a plan.”

The husband listened carefully and patiently to his wife’s input, but, even though they didn’t agree, he made the decision to purchase the house. She lovingly submitted, they fixed it up, they raised a family together there, they glorified God in that home, and, all those years later, they were still living in it and they loved it.

I still think about it that conversation sometimes. It sounded so unspiritual compared to what she could have said. However, the Bible says:

Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord.

Ephesians 5:22

That’s not the most popular Bible verse these days. Our modern society doesn’t like the idea of “submission,” especially where gender roles are debated and used as cannon fodder in the culture wars. And, even within the confessing evangelical church, a whole bunch of ink has been spilled trying to “explain away” the plain meaning of such a simple principle.

Many times, we forget that God ordains and commands authority and submission and obedience – even in our fallen and sinful earthly realm – for good, using them as means to carry out His sovereign will. God is omniscient, so He is certainly able to foresee and determine the outcome, even of bad human decisions, but He still tells sinful children to submit to sinful parents, sinful church members to submit to sinful church leaders, sinful employees to submit to sinful employers, and even sinful wives to submit to sinful husbands. It’s not always easy to trust a another human being with a life-altering decision, but it should not be difficult at all for us to read the Bible, understand its basic concepts, and to trust the omniscient God of the universe.

Dost thou know the balancings of the clouds, the wondrous works of him which is perfect in knowledge?

Job 37:16

Great is our Lord, and of great power: his understanding is infinite.

Psalm 147:5

For if our heart condemn us, God is greater than our heart, and knoweth all things.

I John 3:20

For there is not a word in my tongue, but, lo, O Lord, thou knowest it altogether.

Psalm 139:4

Now unto the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only wise God, be honour and glory for ever and ever. Amen.

I Timothy 1:17

God’s Secret Will

July 20, 2015 at 2:53 pm | Posted in Where There's a Way There's a Will | 7 Comments
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The secret things belong unto the Lord our God: but those things which are revealed belong unto us and to our children for ever, that we may do all the words of this law.

Deuteronomy 29:29

The Deus absconditus, meaning the hidden or obscure or secret will of God, would include the decretive will of God. The Bible is a huge book, and it reveals more about God than we could fathom in this lifetime, but, in addition to that, there is an eternity of information about God that we cannot know.

The Deus absconditus is contrasted with the Deus revelatus, meaning God’s revealed will. Certainly, what God has revealed is trustworthy and true, even when it appears to be in conflict with what is really happening. God is not harassed into mutability by human actions, nor can His ultimate plans be thwarted or frustrated by human actions, although from the finite view it may sometimes appear that way. One Biblical example of this is Moses’s intercession with God when he came down from Mt. Sinai to see the people worshiping the golden calf. It appears that Moses “changed God’s mind,” but from the perspective of God’s hidden and decretive will, everything that happened was subject to God’s own sovereign control. The parade example of this is the unfolding and culmination of the life of Joseph.

But as for you, ye thought evil against me; but God meant it unto good, to bring to pass, as it is this day, to save much people alive.

Genesis 50:20

A lifetime of ups and downs caused by the sins of others was used to weave a beautiful tapestry of redemption and salvation.

God’s Preceptive Will

June 3, 2015 at 12:53 pm | Posted in Where There's a Way There's a Will | 2 Comments
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God’s preceptive will refers to precepts and specific orders that are spelled out in the Bible – and to principles pertaining to the application of God’s will in circumstances that are not spelled out word for word in the Bible. We encounter God’s preceptive will when we read what He has commanded people to do in order to be obedient to Him, and what He will hold them accountable for failing to do. The parade example is the Decalogue.

God’s preceptive will is our way of thinking about God’s commandments of righteousness and His commandments against unrighteousness. Unlike His decretive will, the preceptive will can be resisted. God allows unrighteous choices and actions to come from man’s will, but is not morally culpable for allowing them. This bothers people. We like to imagine a God who wished to prevent people from committing evil acts, and then we apply our understanding of His power to do just that (which He often does), and then we are upset because He doesn’t it all the time. Our challenge instead is to be grateful He has the power to overrule the consequences of our own evil actions, and, again, He does in fact choose to overrule vast numbers of evil intentions on the part of those who would like to carry them out. Then we recognize that He is sovereign and powerful enough to control the whole thing to show off the greatest good. It is a challenge to our faith, but that is definitely the God you want when you are thinking correctly, and, regardless, it is the true God Who exists, and it is better for us to know the reality. God wishes to use evil – for reasons we admittedly don’t understand – but at the same time He is in absolute control and is incapable of making mistakes.

God’s Decretive Will

May 20, 2015 at 1:41 pm | Posted in Where There's a Way There's a Will | 11 Comments
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There are two main ways to think about the will of God. One is to think about His will in general. What is He doing? What is He accomplishing with His existence? The other, more common way, is to think, “What is His will for my life?” I would like to offer some ways in which we can think about God’s will systematically.

The first of these falls under the heading: God’s Decretive Will (His will of decree), meaning what He has decreed or commanded to come to pass. Or, to put it another way, what He has ordered, or spoken into existence. This is sometimes called His absolute sovereign will. This is how we think about God’s will in the sense that it can not be resisted. For example:

And God said, Let there be light: and there was light.

Genesis 1:3

God’s decretive will can not be resisted, much less overcome. Other examples of this kind of exercise of God’s will would be: the speaking into existence of all of creation; the manna falling from Heaven; and the unredeemed and Satan being cast into the lake of fire at the final judgment; just to name a few.

God’s decretive will often acts through the means of human agency, and sometimes completely overrules human choices. In Acts Chapter 4 Peter and John healed a lame man, and ended up being brought before the council. The authorities could not deny the divine healing, nor even the truth of their message, but they threatened them to stop preaching, to which they responded that they could not. They had to obey God even if the government said it was illegal. Then they went back and reported to the other disciples what God had done, and here is what they said:

And when they heard that, they lifted up their voice to God with one accord, and said, Lord, thou art God, which hast made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and all that in them is:

Acts 4:24

God did the acts ascribed to Him in Verse 24 by His decretive will.

Who by the mouth of thy servant David hast said, Why did the heathen rage, and the people imagine vain things?

Acts 4:25

The people who instigated and demanded Jesus’s execution were furious at Him for claiming to be God.

The kings of the earth stood up, and the rulers were gathered together against the Lord, and against his Christ.

Acts 4:26

The people in charge summoned all their authority and effort. The Jewish leaders and Roman authorities worked together for one evil, united purpose.

For of a truth against thy holy child Jesus, whom thou hast anointed, both Herod, and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles, and the people of Israel, were gathered together, For to do whatsoever thy hand and thy counsel determined before to be done.

Acts 4:27-28

But, despite their total assumption of the control they wielded, they ended up doing exactly what God wanted done.

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