You Can’t Always Get What You Want
Text: Acts 25
Proposition: What we want may not be what we need especially if we can’t see how sovereign God really is.
Introduction: In 1969 Mick Jagger wrote a song that was meant to be a flip side filler but became one of the best known songs for the next five decades. It was called, ‘You Can’t Always Get What You Want’. It was one of the first rock songs to use orchestral arrangements and choirs and it seemed to speak into the emptiness of the self indulgent 60’s, a call to move on, to continue to seek for the misplaced hope of that era. You may be wondering what does a 60’s rock song have to do with the study of Scripture and the preaching of the Gospel? I think this song and others like it were a search for hope without any acknowledgment of God nor how sovereign He really is in the lives of all people. What the Scriptures shows us is that sovereign hand of God is right there in the very moments when you can’t always get what you want.
When the Romans first conquered the region of Palestine about 60 years before Christ, they made Judaism a legal religion in the Roman empire. They even extended to the Jews the right to exercise capital punishment against anyone who profaned the Temple. Christianity was also considered a legal religion, a sect of Judaism, during those first years of Nero’s reign. The Romans had realized that in order to maintain peace and control over the region they would need to placate the Jews and especially the men who were its leaders, the high priests and Pharisees. In the previous chapter we saw the governor hold a court hearing as the chief priests brought accusations against Paul. The conclusion of that chapter left us without a verdict but the governor kept Paul, a Roman citizen with rights under Roman law, under house arrest for the next two years as a peace offering to the Jews. Now the new governor Festus comes and these politics are brand new to him. What becomes evident is that no matter whether you are a high priest, a Roman governor or even an Apostle of Christ, you can’t always get what you want. Have a look at Acts 25.
I. What Both Festus and the High Priest Wanted Was to be Effective.
To be effective, to make a difference, to have significance, that’s something you could say we all want. To achieve that would mean Festus must find a way to balance the ‘wants’ of Israel with the ‘wants’ of Rome. So he goes up to Jerusalem to meet the leadership of Israel and soon discovers that there is a particular issue they have with a prisoner he is holding at the fortress down on the coast at Caesarea. They suggest to Festus that he just summon Paul to be brought to Jerusalem and the whole matter can be resolved and the governor would get off to a good start. Perhaps Festus had heard about the previous plot to ambush Paul, perhaps he sees this as a ploy to undermine his authority, whatever the reason Festus declines their offer and seeks a speedy resolution of the issue in Caesarea. What looks to him like a rather simple case he quickly discovers to be quite tricky. It is evident that Paul has broken no Roman law so he ought to be let go. But what is also evident is that to do so would create real tension between his administration and the Jews. Nero was on the throne in Rome and any tension would not be favourably received no matter the justification. So Festus seeks to give the Jews what they wanted in the first place, Paul before them in Jerusalem. What he didn’t see coming was the response of Paul who knew that the likelihood of making it to Jerusalem alive was slim let alone the trial that awaited him there. Paul’s response is clear, “I stand at Caesar’s judgment seat, where I ought to be judged. To the Jews I have done no wrong, as you very well know. For if I am an offender, or have committed anything deserving of death, I do not object to dying; but if there is nothing in these things of which these men accuse me, no one can deliver me to them. I appeal to Caesar.” Suddenly this has taken an irreversible turn. Paul as a citizen of Rome had the right to appeal to Caesar and stand before him in Rome when a case was deemed serious and unsolvable. Clearly the high priest didn’t get what he wanted and nor did Festus. In fact Festus was now in trouble because unless the reason for sending Paul to Rome is really serious it would be like sending a parking ticket to the supreme court of Canada because you couldn’t decide how to resolve it. Nero wouldn’t like that. What was unclear to both the high priest and to Festus the governor was that the sovereignty of God directs the decisions and outcomes of all people whether they acknowledge Him or not. The sovereignty of God drives us in the direction of seeing the truth of who God is especially when we don’t get what we want. It’s not at all about what you want, it’s about what you need and the universal need for mankind is freedom from sin and eternal life in Christ Jesus.
II. What Paul Wanted Was to Preach the Gospel Effectively.
I think that to some degree even Paul didn’t get what he wanted. It’s been two years that he has been on hold in Caesarea, he could have at any time appealed to Caesar but what he wanted was to be released and then make his way to Rome in his timing and route. The difference here is that Paul did know that God makes no mistakes and is absolutely sovereign over what happens, good or bad. Had Festus either found Paul innocent and released him or found him guilty and sent him to Jerusalem for certain death would have meant that Paul would not have still been in Caesarea many days later when King Agrippa II, the great grandson of King Herod, the political head of Israel, suddenly comes to Caesarea. In the last half of this chapter Festus tells Agrippa about this man that has appealed to Caesar. He relates how the prisoner was really innocent and the only point of contention was this belief in a man named Jesus who had died and who Paul affirmed to be alive. I would expect that Agrippa’s ears perked up when he heard the names, ‘Jesus’ and ‘Paul’. He asks to hear the prisoner and Festus complies. This will not be a court hearing. For Agrippa this was a curiosity, for Festus this was for insight into how to justify sending Paul to Nero but for Paul this was a God ordained opportunity.
III. You Can’t Always Get What You Want Because God Is Sovereign.
All the way through this passage I’ve taken the man oriented view, the view that says you can’t always get what you want. I’ve hinted at the sovereignty of God as being that which overrules our plans and desires and replaces them with His plan and His desire. Now let’s push this a bit further, let’s say that one of the most eroded doctrines in the church all over the world today is the sovereignty of God. Scottish preacher, John Murray once wrote, “… the sovereignty of God rests upon God’s oneness, God’s self-existence, God’s self-sufficiency, and God’s creatorhood.”
1.By ‘oneness’ he meant that there is a singularity of God. The sovereignty of God calls me to see that there is no other God. “The Lord He is God in heaven above, and upon the earth beneath: there is none else” (Deut. 4:35, 39)
2. By self existence he meant “God is without origin, and He is not dependent upon any for His eternal and immutable being.” “Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever Thou had formed the earth and the world, even from everlasting to everlasting, Thou art God” (Psalm 90:2)
3. By self-sufficiency he meant that God does not need any created existence to complete Him or add to His perfection.
4. By creatorhood he meant that the originating of all other existence has come into being by the act of His will and Word. Murray also said this, “The moment we admit the existence of anything apart from God’s will as the principle of its origin, in that moment we have denied the absoluteness of the divine authority and rule.”
“By the word of the Lord were the heavens made; and all the host of them by the breath of his mouth” (Psalm 33:6)
You can’t always get what you want. Disappointments and fears and failures and sorrows will be a part of our lives. Yet higher than these, above these times and events is the God who is so sovereign that He purposed the death of His own Son, His own self within the Trinity, to experience mortality and in that to carry sin to the vicinity of death. Leaving sin there He rose from the dead, bringing righteousness, hope and eternal life to mankind. The cross of Jesus Christ is the highest expression of the sovereignty of God. Look again at your own heart, has the truth of His sovereignty begun to erode? That would be the design of the world and behind that the design of Satan upon you. When you can’t always get what you want, seek that which you ultimately need, the sovereignty of God over our lives through the love and grace of the Lord Jesus Christ.