In Acts 4 we read of a prayer which helps us understand how God works with us. It begins in verse 24 with “Sovereign Lord” and what follows is a prayer displaying the apostles’ complete trust in the power and wisdom of God. They’ve just experienced persecution at the hands of the authorities but they put it all down to God being in control of the situation and continued to “speak the word of God with boldness” (v.31). What a wonderful mindset they had, and something to think about as we continue to deal with the situation we’re all going through.
The first thing they acknowledge in their prayer is that God is the one “who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and everything in them” (v.24). He truly is sovereign! But he’s not just the creator of material things; he’s also the crafter of history. In verse 28 they also acknowledge that God allowed his son to be killed “to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place.” This reference to predestination is intriguing and brings with it many questions about free will, sin and evil and how this relates to our responsibility for the choices we make.
Fortunately, we have a clue in this passage as to what it means. The word itself, proorizo, which literally has the meaning “before the horizon” has the idea of mapping out something in advance. The way the apostles describe it was by referring to Psalm 2 – “who through the mouth of our father David, your servant, said by the Holy Spirit, ‘Why did the Gentiles rage, and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers were gathered together, against the Lord and against his Anointed’— for truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel” (v.25-27). In other words, God mapped out beforehand what would happen to his son in the words of Psalm 2.
But were those who fulfilled Psalm 2, Herod and Pontius Pilate for instance, like puppets on a string being forced to be the kings and rulers mentioned in the Psalm? The Psalm itself begins to provide an answer. The same kings and rulers mentioned in verse 2 of the Psalm, quoted in the apostles’ prayer, are also appealed to at the end of the Psalm – “Now therefore, O kings, be wise; be warned, O rulers of the earth. Serve the Lord with fear, and rejoice with trembling. Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and you perish in the way” (Psa. 2:10-12). It wouldn’t make any sense to say in one breath “you kings and rulers are going to put my son to death” and then in the next “be wise and serve God instead.” So, what’s going on here? How do we solve the conundrum of predestination?
The key is in the appeal to the kings and rulers to be wise. Paul picks up this train of thoughts in his first epistle to the Corinthians where he talks about “a secret and hidden wisdom of God” (1 Cor. 2:7). The rest of that verse says this wisdom “God decreed before the ages for our glory.” That word “decreed” is the same word proorizo – predestined. Now look at what Paul says in the next verse – “None of the rulers of this age understood this, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.” That’s the key to understanding predestination – it’s based on whether you understand the wisdom of God. Paul says that if the rulers of the day had understood God’s wisdom (that is, heeded the warning at the end of Psalm 2) they wouldn’t have fulfilled the beginning of the psalm. So, it wasn’t inevitable; the rulers didn’t have to put Christ to death. At least that’s true on an individual basis, and we do know that some of the rulers of the day, like Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea, didn’t join in. Instead, they listened to the wisdom of God.
But on a group level, the rulers did exactly what was mapped out beforehand in Psalm 2. Not because God forced them to do it, but in his infinite wisdom he knew they would do it. As we’ve been reading in Ecclesiastes, “What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun….Is there a thing of which it is said, See, this is new? It has been already in the ages before us.” God created us and he knows exactly what we are like. He knew that if he put his son into the crucible of first century Judea and had him say the things he said, the religious authorities, following their natural tendencies and nature, would deliver him up to be crucified.
You see, God knows his creation inside out. He created the heaven, earth and sea and everything in them. He knows how we think, and he knows how we will act in any given situation. He knew what Herod and Pilate would do; he understood their psychology even before they were born. But he has provided the wisdom for those looking for it to rise above their natural tendencies and instead make different choices based on Godly wisdom.
And he knows us too. In Ephesians Paul talks about predestination in relation to us – “he predestined us for adoption to himself… In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will” (Eph. 1:5, 11). God has mapped out beforehand the journey and destination. But not only that, he’s opened our eyes and given us the wisdom to make a choice to not just blindly follow the path that leads to death – “having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you” (Eph. 1:18). God has given us the map in the form of his word and example of his son. We can see the horizon ahead of us and God is in control. Not by forcing us into his kingdom against our will, but by offering us the knowledge to choose a different path based on the map of his plan that he has provided. He has given us the wisdom to choose to follow the path that leads to an eternal destination.
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