Sovereign Over Us
In all my years of hearing sermons and reading through the Bible it never struck me like it did a couple of weeks ago. The sermon didn’t even have anything to do with it directly, but as the pastor preached on 2 Peter, he mentioned all the times that Jesus had taken Peter, along with James and John, to events to which the other disciples were not privy. For instance, Jesus took these three with Him to the Mount of Transfiguration, to the raising of Jairus’ daughter, and had them closer to Him in the Garden of Gethsemane. They were His inner circle, but for some reason, during that sermon, it struck me: Why James?
I’d been hearing those three disciples mentioned together all my life, and it was understandable that Peter and John would be included in big events because of all they would mean to the new church, the writing of the New Testament, and the spreading of the gospel, but James was the first disciple martyred. He had very little to do with either the founding of the early church or the evangelizing of the world outside Jerusalem. Why would God let him in on the intensive, behind-the-scenes special moments when he had such a short shelf-life? It could not have just been a matter of nepotism, not wanting to leave him out when his brother was included, because Peter’s brother, Andrew, was not included in these inner circle encounters—even though it was Andrew who brought Peter to Jesus, having found Him first.
There are certainly reasons for James’ inclusion that we will never grasp, because God has reasons in His sovereign choices that go beyond our understanding, but there are implications we can draw from Jesus’ choice of James, the first being that James was a person, not merely a tool. It is our human mindset that puts value on the achiever for his or her accomplishments more than their personhood, but that’s not God’s way. Jesus valued Peter, James, and John for who they were as men, not merely for what they would produce for the kingdom. He loved them. He seemed to enjoy being with them. When He sovereignly chose these 12 men, He knew what would become of each, including that James would die soon, and yet He still invested in James. This really speaks volumes about Jesus’ priorities and how He views and deals with people, including you and me.
Secondly, God designs each of us as individuals with certain gifts, insights, strengths, personalities, etc. We really are unique, and we have been sovereignly designed by Him to reflect the image of God in ways only we can. There was evidently something unique that James brought to or from those experiences which necessitated him being there. Just the fact that when the disciples are listed, James’ name is mentioned before John’s is a sign that he had a measure of preeminence over John. It could be that John was younger than James, but for some reason James is always mentioned first. That could mean he had a measure of influence with the others in the group that Jesus was nurturing and which flowed out of James onto others, or it could just be that Jesus valued James for being James and wanted him there with Him. For some sovereign purpose, Jesus included James, and that should be of encouragement to us. He has a sovereign purpose for including us in what He brings of Himself into our lives, and then what we uniquely reflect of His glory from those encounters.
The fact that James would be included, despite the fact that he would die so soon after Jesus, also reminds us that God is not all about the high-profile Christians in this world. He doesn’t just favor or draw near to the long-serving Billy Grahams and John MacArthurs of Christendom. While He does give prominent believers an extra measure of support for the task they are called to do, He also draws near to the isolated sufferer tossing on their bed of affliction, or to the pastor or missionary faithfully laboring in a small, seemingly forgotten corner of the world, or to one who dies young seemingly in the prime of his ministry. He draws near to the frail elderly woman who strives unceasingly in prayer, reaching around the globe and doing far more for the kingdom than she ever dreams. He draws near to the mother of young children just doing her best to raise them to know the Lord. He draws near to the faithful father or mother who toil to keep their families in food and shelter. He draws near to the single person who struggles to not feel alone, or like they’ve missed out on a big part of life because they’ve not experienced the typical family life they may have imagined they’d have. He hasn’t ordained for everyone to be a hand or a foot, a heart or an ear, but has sovereignly chosen each of us for the part we play in His Body. Each part of the Body is important and valuable to Him, and should be to us, as well. We are only called to be faithful to where in the Body God has sovereignly placed us, earnestly seeking Him, and steadfastly serving Him out of the overflow of our gratitude for His love and forgiveness. We might feel obscure in this world, but we aren’t in His eyes. He has sovereignly positioned us where we are, and He meets us there, taking us to secret places that He designed only for encounters with us.
Let’s not make the mistake of thinking of His sovereignty just in terms of those tough times in our lives, but as evidence of His love, His faithfulness, His goodness, and His personal touch on us every day. Let us remember that He has chosen us before the foundation of the earth to do good works in Christ (Eph. 2:10), so that whether we labor long and prominently in His kingdom like John, or are taken quickly to our reward like James, or are so obscure that our names are never mentioned, like the widow with her meager yet mighty offering of a mite, we can be assured that God notices, and designed it that way. He is faithfully sovereign over us for His glory and our good.