Psalm 135:5-6

Sermon preached on December 9, 2001 by Laurence W. Veinott. © Copyright 2001. All rights reserved. Other sermons can be found at

Unless otherwise noted, quotations are from The Holy Bible: New International Version (NIV). Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Publishing House.

Have you ever heard the question,

"Can God make a rock bigger than He can lift?"

What's the answer to that? If we answer, 'Yes', then God can't lift the rock. If we answer, 'No', then God can't make the rock. Either way God loses.

Another form of the question is posed by Richard Rice, professor of theology at Loma Linda University. He asks,

"Can [God] create beings with a capacity to surprise and delight him, as well as disappoint him, as they choose, and not know in advance what all their choices will be? If he cannot, then there is something significant that God cannot do. And this means that His power is limited."

Both questions are very much the same. But what's the answer? Can God make a rock bigger than He can lift? Is it, 'yes, or 'no'? C.S. Lewis says that such questions are nonsense and I agree with him totally. What are these questions really asking? They are asking if God can do two mutually exclusive things. Lewis said that the idea of a being with total ability creating something beyond its ability is logical nonsense. It is saying yes and no about the same thing in the same way at the same time. (John Piper, The Pleasures of God, p. 56,58)

Such questions are not only logical nonsense, but they also show
a distinct lack of understanding of the greatness of God. People who seriously pose such questions have no idea how great God really is. How great is our God? The psalmist writes,

"I know that the LORD is great,
that our Lord is greater than all gods.
The LORD does whatever pleases him,
in the heavens and on the earth,
in the seas and all their depths."

The truth we are taught here is that

God is absolutely sovereign.

He does whatever pleases Him. He rules with absolute power and authority. He rules according to His pleasure. Nothing frustrates His plans and purposes. He is the great King.

Perhaps the best way to begin to show the greatness of God in this area is to talk about some of the things that God cannot do
. For as paradoxical as it may seem, these limitations show us something of the greatness of God. These limitations reveal to us the only ways in which God is limited. What we will see is that these are glorious limitations, that God would be less if He were any different. The limitations reveal His greatness.

What are some of the things that God cannot do?

One thing is that He cannot tell a lie. In Hebrews 6:18 we read,

"God did this so that,
by two unchangeable things in which
it is impossible for God to lie,"

God cannot lie. His very nature is one of truth. It's at the very core of His being. He is fully and absolutely committed to truth. We can tell lies because we are imperfect. Our nature is fallen. But God is perfect and there is no defect in Him at all. He loves truth. He is truth. It's of the very fabric of His being. Therefore, He cannot ever tell a falsehood. That may be a limitation, but it's a glorious limitation. It's a perfection. It's part of God's greatness.

Another perfection of God is His
aversion to evil. This aversion to evil limits God in some ways as well. For example, it means that God cannot approve of evil. In Habakkuk 1:13 Habakkuk says about God,

"Your eyes are too pure to look on evil;
you cannot tolerate wrong."

God hates evil. James 1:13 is interesting in this regard. It reads,

"When tempted,
no one should say,
'God is tempting me.'
For God cannot be tempted by evil,
nor does he tempt anyone;"

God has such an aversion to evil that He's not ever tempted by it. He has such an aversion to evil that He cannot tempt anyone to do evil. It is something that His nature will not permit Him to do. Again, this is not a defect in God's power, it's part of His glory.

A third thing that the Bible tells us that God cannot do is to
deny Himself. 2 Timothy 2:13 reads,

"if we are faithless,
he will remain faithful,
for he cannot disown himself."

God will remain true to Himself. He will remain true to His Word and promises. They are an expression of His very nature. He cannot fail to fulfill them. To do so would mean that He would deny His own nature. God cannot do that. He is faithful.

Yes, there are some things that God cannot do. But these things show His greatness. Wayne
Grudem summarizes what God cannot do. He writes, (Systematic Theology, p. 217)

"God cannot lie, sin, deny himself, or be tempted with evil. He cannot cease to exist, or cease to be God, or act in a way inconsistent with any of his attributes."

God is only limited by His perfections, by His glorious character. He is not limited in any other way. He is perfect and all glorious. That cannot change. If you take any of God's characteristics and think about the opposite of it, you soon see how wonderful and glorious God is. You see that He is perfect and that these limitations are part of His everlasting glory.

To sum up, God is absolutely sovereign. He is only limited by His perfections. He is not limited in any other way. We often speak of God's power as being infinite. It is. But when God's sovereignty is defined, they usually qualify it with reference to His will. They say things like, (
Grudem, Systematic Theology, p. 216)

"God's omnipotence means that God is able to do all his holy will."

The second thing I want you to see about God's sovereignty is that

God is so great that He is free to do whatever pleases Him. Indeed, God actually does whatever pleases Him.

Now I'm not suggesting that God's pleasure is the only characteristic that He uses when He rules, but it's interesting that the Bible often points to this when it speaks about God's rule. For example, our text reads,

"I know that the LORD is great,
that our Lord is greater than all gods.
The LORD does whatever pleases him,
in the heavens and on the earth,
in the seas and all their depths."

This teaches us a very simple yet profound truth.

What God does, He does because of His pleasure.

God does not do things because He is compelled to do them. It is not forces outside of God that causes Him to act. No, according to the Bible, God acts according to His pleasure. Nor does God decree things merely on an intellectual level. No, He rules according to His pleasure.

We see this principle in many places in Scripture. In
Isaiah 46:9-10 God said,

"I am God,
and there is no other;
I am God, and there is none like me.
I make known the end from the beginning,
from ancient times,
what is still to come.
I say: My purpose will stand,
and I will do all that I please."

Psalm 115:3,

"Our God is in heaven;
he does whatever pleases him."

Daniel 4:35,

"All the peoples of the earth
are regarded as nothing.
He does as he pleases
with the powers of heaven
and the peoples of the earth.

No one can hold back his hand or say to him:
'What have you done?'"

The point is that God controls things according to His good pleasure. That's how He rules—according to His delights.

The passages I've quoted speak about God's providence in general terms.
Proverbs 21:1 gets a little more specific and says,

"The king's heart is in the hand of the LORD;
he directs it like a watercourse
wherever he pleases."

John Piper writes, (The Pleasures of God, p. 51)

"If God is not under constraint by forces outside himself to act contrary to his good pleasure, but rather acts only out of the overflow of the joy of his boundless self-sufficiency, then all his acts are the expression of joy and he has pleasure in all that he does."

God rules according to His pleasure.

Other passages speak of
God working His pleasure in salvation. This shows His absolute sovereignty there. For example, in Ephesians 1 we read how God chose us before the foundation of the world. In verse 5 we read,

"he predestined us to be adopted
as his sons through Jesus Christ,
in accordance with his pleasure and will "

We were predestined according to God's pleasure. Verse 9 says of God.

"And he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure,
which he purposed in Christ,"

God has revealed the mystery of His will according to His good pleasure. In Matthew 11:25 Jesus spoke of God's sovereignty in salvation. He said,

"I praise you, Father,
Lord of heaven and earth,
because you have hidden these things
from the wise and learned,
and revealed them to little children.
Yes, Father,
for this was your good pleasure."

John Piper writes about God's deeds. (The Pleasures of God, p. 52)

"God does in fact do all his pleasure. He is free in that he has no deficiencies that make him dependent, and he is sovereign in that he can act on his delights with out being stopped by powers outside himself. 'All that he pleases, he does.'"

God acts according to His delights. Piper writes, (p. 53)

"the unique function of his power is to make way for the overflow of his joy in the work of creation and redemption. It is his power that removes (in God's time and God's way) any obstacles to the accomplishment of his good pleasure. Thus the declaration that God does all that he pleases is a declaration of his power. This is what we mean by sovereignty—God's power always makes way for his perfections to be expressed according to his good pleasure."

At this point I want to make an application. It is this:

You should look at God's providence from this perspective.

In creating the universe, in ruling it as He does, God is acting according to His pleasure.

We look at what is happening on this earth and there are many things that we don't understand. We look at things and it seems that sometimes God's enemies are triumphing. For example, I heard recently that
Islam is the fastest growing religion in the world. Not only that, but many horrible things happen on this earth. We need only think of September 11, the concentration camps of World War 2 or the horrible diseases like cancer and anthrax. From our perspective, things often look like they are a mess.

But we should remember that Jesus is ruling and He is ruling according to His pleasure.
Revelation 5 and 6 reminds us that it is Jesus who opens the scroll that was sealed with seven seals. When He opens each seal, dreadful and astounding things happen. Yet those seals being opened are symbolic of the outworking of God's plan of salvation. The end result is that God will save His people, punish His enemies and establish a new heaven and a new earth where His people will reign with Him in righteousness. God is working things out according to His pleasure.

This should give us joy and confidence. We should rejoice in the rule of Jesus for we know that He is ruling for His glory and for the church. (Ephesians 1)

Now I'm not trying to minimize the difficulties and hardships of life
. But I am suggesting that you Christians ought to have great confidence and delight in God's rule. God is working out all things according to His pleasure. Look at things from that perspective. Don't let setbacks discourage you. Don't let them stop you from doing good. God is working according to His pleasure. No matter what your circumstances, you can rejoice in Him and lift His name high.

The third thing I want you to see about God's sovereignty is that

it encompasses all things.

God does whatever He pleases in heaven above and on the earth. In Ephesians 1:11 we read,

"In him we were also chosen,
having been predestined
according to the plan of him
who works out
in conformity with the purpose of his will,"

God's sovereignty is a sovereignty is sovereignty over everything.

God's sovereignty even encompasses human actions.

In Genesis we read how Joseph's brothers were jealous of him and plotted to kill him. Instead, some of them sold him into slavery. Later, when Joseph revealed himself to them, he said, (Genesis 45:5)

"And now,
do not be distressed
and do not be angry with yourselves
for selling me here,
because it was to save lives
that God sent me ahead of you."

After his father Jacob died, Joseph said to them, (Genesis 50:20)

"You intended to harm me,
but God intended it for good to accomplish
what is now being done,
the saving of many lives."

God worked in those events. He worked to bring good out of the evil that was in Joseph's brothers. He did it in purity and righteousness. God is not the author of sin. What He does is always right and good. Yet we see that He is sovereign over human events.

Although gambling is wrong and sinful, God even controls the dice in Las Vegas.
Proverbs 16:33,

"The lot is cast into the lap,
but its every decision is from the LORD."

He doesn't approve of gambling, yet it's not outside His control. He controls everything.

We have another example of God's sovereignty in
Proverbs 16:9. It says,

"In his heart a man plans his course,
but the LORD determines his steps."

Exodus 8:15 tells us that Pharaoh hardened his heart. Yet Exodus 9:12 tells us that God hardened Pharaoh's heart. In Romans 9:17f, Paul wrote,

"For the Scripture says to Pharaoh:
'I raised you up for this very purpose,
that I might display my power in you and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.'
Therefore God has mercy
on whom he wants to have mercy,
and he hardens whom he wants to harden."

Pharaoh, and Pharaoh alone, was responsible for his sin. Yet God used it for His glory. James Montgomery Boice writes, (Foundations of the Christian Faith, p. 119)

"God's sovereignty extents to the human will and therefore also to human actions. Thus, God hardened Pharaoh's heart so that he refused to let the people of Israel go. On the other hand, he melts some individual's hearts so that they respond to his love and obey him."

This is one of the great mysteries of the Christian faith. John Frame writes, (Apologetics to the Glory of God, p. 15)

"God's sovereignty does not exclude, but engages, human responsibility. Indeed, it is God's sovereignty that grants human responsibility, that gives freedom and significance to human choices and actions, that ordains an important human role within God's plan for history."

How can God be sovereign and we still make free choices for which we are responsible? Doesn't one exclude the other? No. Both doctrines are taught in Scripture. Both doctrines are true.

I'm not going to attempt to give an answer to that question except to draw your attention to another aspect of God's sovereignty.

It is this:

God's sovereignty is so great that the things we know of are but the hiding of His power.

In Habakkuk 3 we are given many examples of God's rule over His creation. Habakkuk said they were things that were so great that they caused him to stand in awe of God. Habakkuk recalled the mighty operation of God's power on Mount Sinai when Israel camped there. Habakkuk talked about God measuring the earth, driving the nations asunder, causing the hills to sink low, splitting the earth with rivers, causing the sun and moon to stand still . When God came to deliver His people and save His anointed One, He marched through the earth in indignation, trampling the heathen and smashing the heads of the wicked.

Yet what were all those things?
Verse 4 of Habakkuk 3 tells us that there but, (KJV)

"the hiding of his power."

Donald Macleod writes of all the works of God talked about in Habakkuk 3. (Behold Your God, p. 59) He says,

"It was not an exhaustive demonstration. For all its brilliance, it was only a dim shadow of the reality."

It was like what we read about in Exodus 33. Remember what Moses asked God in Exodus 33:18? He said to God,

"Now show me your glory."

God replied,

"There is a place near me
where you may stand on a rock.
When my glory passes by,
I will put you in a cleft in the rock
and cover you with my hand until I have passed by.
Then I will remove my hand
and you will see my back;
but my face must not be seen."

God only showed Moses a little bit of His glory. Moses saw His back. That was all that Moses could take in. He saw but the fringes of God's glory.

In the same way, what we know of God's power is but the hiding of His power. We know that He has created the universe, that He upholds and sustains it moment by moment. We know that He rules over all His creatures and is absolutely sovereign over men and all our affairs. But those things are like the hiding of His power.
Donald Macleod writes, (Behold Your God, p. 59)

"God has a power beyond what is expressed in His works. He can do infinitely more than He has done or will do."

But what we do know is glorious.

" The LORD does whatever pleases him,
in the heavens and on the earth,
in the seas and all their depths."

In Ephesians 1:18f, the apostle Paul prayed for the Ephesian Christians that their eyes would be opened and that they would come to realize something of how great God's power is. He wrote,

"I pray also that the eyes of your heart
may be enlightened in order that
you may know the hope to which he has called you,
the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints,
and his incomparably great power
for us who believe.
That power is like the working of his mighty strength,
which he exerted in Christ
when he raised him from the dead
and seated him at his right hand
in the heavenly realms,
far above all rule and authority, power and dominion,
and every title that can be given,
not only in the present age
but also in the one to come.
And God placed all things under his feet
and appointed him to be head over everything
for the church, which is his body,
the fullness of him
who fills everything in every way."

Christians, what a Savior you have. How safe you. How wonderful to have such power available to the church of Jesus Christ. Be very bold in prayer. As Paul said in Ephesians 3:20-21,

"Now to him who is able to do
immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine,
according to his power that is at work within us,
to him be glory in the church
and in Christ Jesus
throughout all generations,
for ever and ever! Amen."

Lastly, for those of you who haven't trusted in Jesus.

You need to embrace Jesus now.

2 Thessalonians 1:7f speaks of the day of Jesus Christ.

"This will happen when the Lord Jesus
is revealed from heaven
in blazing fire with his powerful angels.
He will punish those who do not know God
and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus.
They will be punished with everlasting destruction
and shut out from the presence of the Lord
and from the majesty of his power
on the day he comes
to be glorified in his holy people
and to be marveled at
among all those who have believed."

Go to Jesus now.

Benediction (Ephesians 3:20-21)

"Now to him who is able to do
immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine,
according to his power that is at work within us,
to him be glory in the church
and in Christ Jesus
throughout all generations,
for ever and ever! Amen."