November 26, 1989
Bethlehem Baptist Church
John Piper, Pastor
"JESUS IS THE RULER OF THE KINGS ON EARTH"
Grace to you and peace from Him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven spirits who are before His throne, and from Jesus Christ the Faithful Witness, the Firstborn from the dead, and the Ruler of kings on earth.
The time between Thanksgiving and Christmas is the happiest of times and the saddest of times. It's happy for millions of people because it brings a spirit of warmth and love and togetherness and sharing and good memories, and a whole lot of cozy experiences like "chestnuts roasting on an open fire." But for others the season is painful. It is the loneliest of seasons for the lonely. For millions the beauty of the season makes their pain worse not better. It makes them ache for what life might have been like if the marriage had worked out. Or what life might be like if I weren't so sick. Or what it might be like if my husband were still alive. Or if I could be home. Or if I had enough money to pay the rent and buy some toys for the kids. It's the happiest of times and the saddest of times.
And in some years, like this year, the advent season comes with worldwide upheaval. And if you already feel a little bit anxious and emotionally vulnerable, maybe because of sickness, or because some relationship is in trouble, or because finances aren't working out, then the upheaval of the world may add to the anxious knot in your stomach. And there is no question that these are incredibly unstable days in national and international events.
In Poland the labor power of Solidarity was triumphant and a new government is in place. In the Soviet Union Gorbachev's leadership has brought unparalleled openness and change at least for now. In East Germany and now Czechoslovakia immense demonstrations for freedom and democracy have brought entrenched communist regimes to an end. These seem like wonderful events. But who knows where the new military alliances and new economic partnerships will lead?
Meanwhile the rest of the world reels with one blow after another. In India dozens of people are killed during a crisis election. Next door in Sri Lanka the Sinhalese and Tamils continue to shed each other's blood and keep that little land in turmoil. In the Philippines communist bands threaten the security of the nation and no one knows what Mrs. Aquino's decision not to run again will mean. The bloody civil wars in Nicaragua and El Salvador and Lebanon and Ethiopia, the racial strife in South Africa and Israel, the economic chaos in Argentina, the oppressive reversals in China, the destructive drug cartels in Columbia when we read of these things day in and day out we begin to realize how unstable and precarious the world is. The fact is, we don't know what will happen in any of these political developments in the world. And the speed of change in these last weeks should make us realize that absolutely amazing developments are possible in the near future beyond anyone's ability to predict.
This could be for great harm or for great good. So the holidays come upon us as days of great instability. And that leads me to the text and the word of hope and encouragement this morning.
In Revelation 1:4-5 John, the apostle of Jesus, is writing to the seven churches of Asia Minor. It is a time of crisis for all of them. You can see that by reading the seven letters in chapters 2-3. So John begins with a very reassuring, strengthening, encouraging, hopeful word. There is nothing that has happened between then and now to make these words of hope any less relevant or less applicable to Christians today. So hear them from the apostle for yourself.
"Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven spirits who are before his throne, and from Jesus Christ the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler of kings on earth."
The phrase I want us to focus on is the phrase, "the ruler of kings on earth." Jesus Christ is "the ruler of kings on earth." This is what John means when he says that Jesus is "King of kings and Lord of lords" (Rev. 17:14; 19:16).
This is what I want to declare today in the midst of the amazing political upheavals of these last weeks: Jesus Christ is the ruler of all the kings and presidents and chiefs and premiers and governors and prime ministers. If George Bush says to Jesus, "How can you be the ruler over me? I have my office by the election of the people of the United States, a sovereign nation, and by virtue of a constitutional inauguration and installation," Jesus will answer, "I have my office as ruler over you by God's election and by virtue of my resurrection from the dead, my indestructible life, and my installation at God's right hand."
When Jesus rose from the dead God exalted him and gave him a "name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee might bow,' and that includes all the rulers and kings of the earth. Jesus is alive today presiding from heaven over the rulers of the earth.
Now this is a breathtaking thought. It is something that most people today do not believe or even think about. But it is at the heart of Biblical truth. Jesus Christ is alive, and reigning over all the kings of the earth, all the events of Eastern Europe and the Middle East and Central America. We need to understand what this means.
1. The reign of Christ today means that he controls who becomes a king and who doesn't.
Daniel 2:21 says, "God changes times and seasons; he removes kings and sets up kings." When Jesus says in Matthew 28:18, "All authority in heaven and on earth have been given to me," I his meaning must include that God's authority to remove kings and set up kings is given to him. The Father appoints the kings and presidents of the earth through the Son.
This doesn't mean that every king lives an obedient, Christian life or pleases the Lord. God often ordains and disposes things that do not please him completely. It means that Jesus overrules the sinful acts of evil rulers and makes their sin and their folly a part of his wise plan for history. The ways of Christ's rule are not simple. We must say again and again, "O the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!" (Romans 11:33). Christ is ruling in taking down the governments of East Germany and Czechoslovakia and in establishing for a time the government in China like he did Cyrus the king (Isaiah 45:1-6). Don't read your papers or listen to the news the way non-Christians listen. Listen with the ears of Scripture and hear the works of Christ, the ruler of the kings on earth.
2. The reign of Christ today over the rulers of the earth means that he regulates what the kings of earth do; sometimes holding them back from evil, and sometimes ordering international events to further his purposes.
For example, in Genesis 20 we read about how Abraham went down to Gerar south of Canaan. To protect himself he said that his beautiful wife Sarah was his sister. So Abimelech the king took her into his harem. But God came to Abimelech in a dream and threatened him with death if he did not give her back untouched. Abimelech protested his innocence and God said something very important: "I know that you have done this in the integrity of your heart, and it was I who kept you from sinning against me; therefore I did not let you touch her."
This means that God has the authority to prevent rulers who do not even know him from doing acts that are sin. God can and does restrain evil in the hearts of rulers. And this authority right now belongs to Jesus Christ. He is the ruler of the kings of earth. Christ is restraining the governments of Eastern Europe from harsh and terrible reprisals. And, yes, he did not completely restrain the crack down in China. He has his wise and loving purposes when he allows sin to take its course, and he has his wise and loving purposes when he restrains the Abimelechs of the world.
But not only does he restrain evil, he also orders international events to further his purposes. For example, since he had promised in the Old Testament that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem, and he chose a young woman in Nazareth to bear the child, he ordered things so that the emperor Caesar Augustus would take a census of the whole empire, which caused Joseph and Mary to travel from Nazareth to Bethlehem just when Jesus was to be born. God rules the nations to fulfil his saving purposes. And so today Christ rules over the nations to order events to accomplish his redeeming work for men. This is the real meaning of what is happening in Europe today: God is planning new things for the advancement of his kingdom. We should be praying and seeking to be alert about how to be right in step with what God is doing.
3. The reign of Christ today over the rulers of the earth means that he has authority to claim citizens for his own kingdom from all the nations and states of the earth.
Notice the connection between Matthew 28:18 and 19. "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. THEREFORE go and make disciples of all nations." In other words the fact that Christ has all authority in heaven and on earth the fact that he is the ruler of the kings on earth means that he can take their citizens to be citizens of his kingdom.
This means that missionaries are rightful emissaries and ambassadors of the King who is over all other kings, and no one has a right to keep them from calling all people everywhere to submit to the King Christ Jesus. The kings of the earth may not recognize this right and authority of Christian missionaries in all countries. But at least the missionaries themselves can have a clear conscience. The authority of the Ruler of the kings on earth is behind them. And they have a right to go where He sends.
4. The reign of Christ over the kings on earth today means that he will triumph and bring all his saving purposes to victory.
1 Corinthians 15:25 says, "He (Christ) must reign until he puts all his enemies under his feet." In Matthew 16:18 Jesus says, "The gates of Hades shall not prevail against" his church. And in Revelation 17:14 the kings of the earth are arrayed in battle against Christ; but it says, "They will make war on the Lamb, and the Lamb will conquer them for, he is Lord of Lords and King of kings." In other words, because he is the ruler of kings on earth, he cannot be defeated. His cause will triumph.
This is the very air we should breath this holiday season. Christ is triumphant in his reign over the kings of the earth. All the developments today are steps to a decisive triumph. It cannot be otherwise because he is risen from the dead. The ultimate weapon of earthly kings is death. If that weapon has lost its power, then the kings will be defeated. It is only a matter of time. And that has been set by the sovereign wisdom of God (Acts 1:7).
5. Finally, the reign of Christ over the rulers on earth today means that Christ is ordering the world for the good of the church; and that means for your holiness and happiness.
You can see this here in the text and in other texts as well. For example in Ephesians 1:22 it says, "God has put all things under his (Christ's) feet and has made him the head over all things for the church." He reigns for the sake of the church.
This is an awesome thought. It should utterly revolutionize the way you watch the news and read the newspaper and live out your life. If you watch the news with the eye of faith, what you are seeing played out before you are the divine strategies for the purifying and expansion of the body of Christ.
You can see this good news right here in Revelation 1:4-5. It says, "Grace to you and peace from . . . Jesus Christ . . . the ruler of kings on earth." In other words, John wants us to know that the authority of the Christ over the kings of the earth is designed to bring grace and peace to his people. That is true whether Christ is ordering glasnost and peristroika in the Soviet Union or whether he is permitting the reversals in China.
At Lausanne II in Manila the Chinese who wept over the crushing of democratic life in Tiananmen Square said, "This was in the wisdom and love of God. The church was not ready for liberty. The church needs to be purified still further."
This too is grace and leads to the true peace of the people of God.
So be encouraged and be strengthened and be hopeful and bold as you enter the turmoil and upheaval of the world this holiday season. Remember "Jesus is the Ruler of the kings on earth."
1. He controls who becomes a king and who doesn't .
2.He regulates what the kings of earth do, sometimes holding them back from evil and sometimes ordering international events to further his purposes.
3. He has authority to claim citizens for his own kingdom from all the nations and states of the earth.
4. He will triumph and bring all his saving purposes to victory.
5. Christ is ordering the world for the good of the church.
Therefore grace to you and peace from Jesus Christ the ruler of the kings on earth.
Copyright 1998 Sound of Grace
Sound of Grace