Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Luke 22: Divine Sovereignty vs. Human Responsibility

http://pastorerickson.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/11/thirty-pieces-of-silver.jpg Luke 22:14  And when the hour came, he reclined at table, and the apostles with him. 15 And he said to them, "I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer.  16 For I tell you I will not eat it  until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God."  17 And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he said, "Take this, and divide it among yourselves.  18  For I tell you that from now on I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes."  19  And he took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, "This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me."  20 And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying, "This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.   21  But behold, the hand of him who betrays me is with me on the table.  22 For the Son of Man goes as it has been determined, but woe to that man by whom he is betrayed!"  23 And they began to question one another, which of them it could be who was going to do this.
24  A dispute also arose among them, as to which of them was to be regarded as the greatest. 25  And he said to them, "The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them, and those in authority over them are called benefactors.  26  But not so with you. Rather, let the greatest among you become as the youngest, and the leader as one who serves.  27 For who is the greater, one who reclines at table or one who serves? Is it not the one who reclines at table? But I am among you as the one who serves. 28 You are those who have stayed with me in my trials,  29 and I assign to you, as my Father assigned to me, a kingdom,  30  that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom and sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel. 

When Jesus tried to prepare his disciples for his impending betrayal and death, they were too self-preoccupied to hear what he was saying: they were too busy focusing on themselves. They were busy ranking themselves from the worst (the one betraying Jesus) to the greatest (Peter, James and John).  The disciples were distracted by their own personal agendas to really grasp the enormity and urgency of what Jesus was telling them: That though his betrayal is part of God's sovereign plan ("For the Son of Man goes as it has been determined..."), nevertheless, it did not absolve Judas Iscariot from his responsibility ("but woe to that man by whom he is betrayed!").

Here we have a classic example of the seeming conflict between divine sovereignty and human responsibility. The Calvinists argue for divine sovereignty and therefore insist that the divine will ultimately prevails over human choices. The Arminians argue equally that human choices determine our ultimate destiny. But Jesus did not suffer from this Western dichotomous logic (if A is true, not-A is false). For Jesus who is neither Eastern nor Western, but Middle-Eastern, it is integrative logic (if A is true, non-A need not be false). So, Jesus affirms divine sovereignty as the reason for his betrayal. but he also affirms human responsibility by holding Judas' accountable. Judas was no puppet on divine strings.

Paul explains this seemingly contradictory ideas of divine sovereignty and human responsibility in Romans 8:29, "For those whom he foreknew he also predestined..." God's predestination is preceded by His foreknowledge: in other words, He already knows our heart's inclinations and desires long before we make any decision. In this case, God foreknew that Judas Iscariot would betray Jesus for money. Based on that foreknowledge, God predestines His divine plan on the basis of future human choices: God knew in advance that Judas' heart inclination would lead him to betray Christ. So, He incorporated Judas' act into His salvation plan to let His Son die on the Cross to atone for our sins.

In His foreknowledge, He could have used other means to ensure this atoning death would take place. But God wanted to demonstrate clearly that Jesus' death was a consequence of human sin. As John Stott describes it, Jesus was crucified because of Jewish leaders' envy (they were envious of Jesus' popularity), Judas Iscariot's greed (he had been embezzling the common funds before betraying Jesus for 30 pieces of silver), Pontius Pilate's fear (he was afraid of riots in Jerusalem if he did not hand Jesus over to be crucified).

All these people are guilty of evil even though they fitted right into God's saving plan. God can even use evil to accomplish good.God is good and the devil is evil. But God's goodness will ultimately triumph over the devil's evil plot.

We could extend this divine sovereignty versus human responsibility to evangelism too. Just because God in his foreknowledge has already predestined who will be saved, it doesn't mean therefore that we don't need to evangelise. The excuse for inaction--that if God wants to save, he can do so without us--is just a theological cope-out. Paul himself has made it clear that we have to do our part: "But how are they to call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching?" (Rom 10:14) The reasoning for evangelism is this: while God knows whom He is going to save, we don't. And He is not telling us so that we can go out and tell everyone. The ones whom He has predestined to save through His foreknowledge will respond to the Gospel. But our responsibility as believers is to tell everyone so that those who should be saved are saved. If we don't tell, they won't hear and therefore would not believe. If we don't go, God will raise someone else who will, but we will then answer for our inaction.

Father, we thank You that You know all things--especially who will be saved. Fill us with Your Spirit so that we may share the Gospel to those who are being saved. Amen.

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