When the church in Jerusalem came under threat, their prayer was addressed to the God "who made heaven and earth and the sea, and all that is in them." (Acts 4:24). Yes, such titles may be enshrined in various liturgies but let¹s be honest, they don¹t trip off our tongue so readily. Does this matter? Are we losing something? Are we in danger of relegating God to some distant grandfather? Worse, are we changing the very character of the God we worship?
A prayer from Heavenís perspective
Imagine the situation. You have just heard how your best friends had been questioned by one of the most powerful courts in the land. Their crime? To heal a man in the name of Jesus Christ. Their accusers, being at a loss to know what to do with them, had uttered every possible threat against all disciples of this man - which of course includes you. How would those now gathered respond? Would you to be brow-beaten into keeping quiet about the one who could save people from their sins? Clearly this was a time for earnest prayer, but it had to be prayer from Heavenís perspective - prayer that recognised Yahweh for who He was and is.
In addressing The LORD as the creator of the universe, these first Christians were following the example set in the Scriptures. Many times throughout the history of Israel, God had introduced Himself as the maker of the world. Today we often read these descriptions of God without giving them a second thought, but behind them lies a depth of understanding and confidence that the church of the twenty-first century often lacks. Take for example this prayer of Jeremiah, "Ah, Lord GOD! Behold, You have made the heavens and the earth by Your great power and outstretched arm. There is nothing too hard for You." (32:17) The prophetís confidence in The LORDís ability to do whatever He desires lay in His authority and power as the creator of the universe. Such confidence was vital as he had just been told that God was about to hand over Jerusalem to Nebuchadnezzar!
The God who rules the nations
The believers in Acts 4 were in need of the same confidence when threatened by the people who had just engineered the death of Jesus. After His resurrection Jesus had instructed them to go and preach the gospel everywhere. Dare they now wonder if their God did not realise what was happening to them? Could they doubt His daily care for them? Not at all - it seems they understood their current situation properly because they knew His supremacy. They knew The LORD rules over history, because they were convinced that everything began with Him. Furthermore, because they knew the Scriptures, they were aware that men would seek to rebel against Godís rule over them (Ps. 2:1-6). However, human arrogance against God does not reduce His ability to cause men to do His will - a fact which was illustrated through the Roman governors and crowds of the day. "For truly against Your holy Servant Jesus, whom You anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles and the people of Israel, were gathered together to do whatever Your hand and Your purpose determined before to be done." (Acts 4:27-28). This group of Christians had no doubt that their God was in charge of all that men do on the earth. Consequently they asked Him, not for help to evade their persecutors, but to encourage their confidence in His authority and ability to make a difference in His creation!
The confidence of prophets and psalmists alike
Many times in the Old Testament we find this link between The LORDís creative work and His present action. It is not just the natural realm He rules over - the Scriptures are very clear that He effectively governs the nations of the world. Isaiah expressed the same certainty as Jeremiah - for example 40:21-26, is a well known hymn praising the God who "has created these things". It emphasises not the past acts of God, but His present on-going work in ruling the nations - "He brings the princes to nothing; He makes the judges of the earth useless. Scarcely shall they be planted, Scarcely shall they be sown, Scarcely shall their stock take root in the earth, When He will also blow on them, And they will wither, And the whirlwind will take them away like stubble." (v23 & 24).
The LORD introduced his message to Zechariah about the troubles which were to come upon Jerusalem with these words, "Thus says the LORD, who stretches out the heavens, lays the foundation of the earth, and forms the spirit of man within him" (12:1). Again He highlighted His creative work in order to emphasise His control of matters large and small on the earth ever since. Psalm 33, another hymn of praise to the God of creation, includes the warning, "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 brings the counsel of the nations to nothing; He makes the plans of the peoples of no effect. The counsel of The LORD stands forever, The plans of His heart to all generations." (v8-11).
The psalmists and prophets were the foundation upon which the early Christians built their confidence in God. They believed Genesis accurately describes the way the heavens and the earth were created. This, the writer of Hebrews states, is knowledge obtained through faith (11:3). Only when we possess a good understanding of the God who was at work in forming the universe are we able to gain a trustworthy perspective of the God who is at work today. This affects not only our understanding of the events around us, it also fundamentally shapes our perception of The LORDís character. In Hebrews, Jesus is first described as "His Son, whom He has appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the worlds;" and then as the one who "upholds all things by the word of His power" (Heb. 1:2-3). The writer uses foundational statements such as these to assert the supremacy of Jesus above angels and the Law. These truths are central to his message. If the creator is not involved in the events of everyday life, then the panorama of history found in the Bible deceives us, for that portrays a God who is working out His purpose day after day.
A solid foundation attacked
Most Christians are aware that since Darwin first published his "Origin of Species", faith in The LORDís creative work has been under consistent attack. Less well known is the work of Charles Lyell, who tried to reason the time necessary for the meandering process of Darwinian evolution into the geological record. Lyell suggested the rocks had been formed through the incredibly slow action of erosion and sedimentation which he said he saw at work in his day. Thus he dated the earth as "millions of years" old and not the 6,000 years or so we find outlined in the Biblical record. One of Lyellís stated objectives was "to free the science from Moses" (see "Life Letters and Journals" Vol. 1, p.268, Pub. John Murray 1881), but he also succeeded in removing the hand of God from the tiller of history in the minds of many. Today, his understanding of geology is recognised as flawed, but his calendar of earth history remains popular, being widely taught in schools and through the media. This leaves many Christians confused as to what are the true facts of history, and some are no longer confident that "the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things which are visible." (Heb. 11:3) Consequently much of the church is also unsure if the hand of God has ever been significantly at work in history.
Godís grace ignored?
Jesus described His Fatherís ongoing work in far more intimate terms than we commonly use. He knows the number of hairs on each head, He notices a sparrow die. What we call natural processes, Jesus described as the perfect actions of His Father, "for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust." (Mat. 5:45). When Paul and Baranabas were in Lystra, they were mistaken for Greek gods. Paulís appeal to his would-be worshippers began with a call to "turn from these useless things to the living God, who made the heaven, the earth, the sea, and all things that are in them,". He then encouraged his audience to recognise The LORDís hand in His ongoing grace and provision - "who in bygone generations allowed all nations to walk in their own ways. Nevertheless He did not leave Himself without witness, in that He did good, gave us rain from heaven and fruitful seasons, filling our hearts with food and gladness." (Acts 14:15-17).
Paul knew that Godís willingness to allow individuals and nations to
live as they wanted to was not a sign of His inability to change history,
but the result of His wisdom. Paulís message was that though individuals
and nations chose to ignore their creator, He has still been working for
their good. His provision for their welfare should not be dismissed as
merely the natural processes of life. The testimony of creation leaves
the world "without excuse" in their failure to glorify The LORD
as God (Rom. 1:20). How much more serious is it therefore when we, His
Church, are hesitant to acknowledge Him as the one whose past work was
to create the heavens and earth and whose present work includes sustaining
what He has created? If The LORD is God, then He is the God of history
from start to finish. If He is not the God of the whole of history and
if He is not ruling the nations today, then He is not the God of the Bible.
This article was first published in Prophecy Today magazine. Subscription information and back copies are available from www.prophecytoday.co.uk
This study is intended as a stimulus to personal bible study. Every effort has been made to be accurate, but the reader should test everything (Acts 17:11; 1 Thess 5:21). Please report errors and omissions, and queries unresolved after consulting The LORD to the writer: Email Randall Hardy
© Randall Hardy, September 2000. This paper may only be
copied in its entirety for private non-commercial use. All other
usage requires the written permission of the author.