The Fourth Sunday of Advent December 22, 2013
72, 92, 87, 90(1-3)
Oh, sing to the LORD a new song!
For He has done marvelous things;
His right hand and His holy arm have gained Him the victory.
The LORD has made known His salvation;
His righteousness He has revealed in the sight of the nations.
He has remembered His mercy and His faithfulness to the house of Israel;
All the ends of the earth have seen the salvation of our God.
Shout joyfully to the LORD, all the earth;
Break forth in song, rejoice, and sing praises.
Sing to the LORD with the harp,
With the harp and the sound of a psalm,
With trumpets and the sound of a horn;
Shout joyfully before the LORD, the King.
Let the sea roar, and all its fullness,
The world and those who dwell in it;
Let the rivers clap their hands;
Let the hills be joyful together before the LORD,
For He is coming to judge the earth.
With righteousness He shall judge the world,
And the peoples with equity.
Some years ago, the governor of Illinois was fired, accused of carrying out illegal activities while in office. It led to a newspaper article with the title: “Which State is the Most Crooked—Illinois or Louisiana?” In Illinois, three out of the most recent seven governors had ended up in jail, while Louisiana had had three consecutive insurance commissioners convicted. The author came to the conclusion that the politicians in both places were equally corrupt, but they went about their corruption differently. Illinois politicians focused on the “small, consistent rake-offs” while Louisianans favored big bribes for big projects.
Of course, corrupt officials in government is nothing new. King Ahaz whose corruption and wickedness helped ruin Judah is just one biblical example. How often bad rulers have caused trouble for their people!
In just a few short days we will welcome Jesus to the manger at Bethlehem. Jesus is the King of kings, a Ruler who has all authority and power in heaven and earth. The Apostle Paul wrote about Him in Ephesians 1 with these words: “[God] seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church” (Ephesians 1:20ff NIV).
But what kind of ruler is He? Is He worthy of all this that we lavish upon Him every December? Is He worthy of the carols, the trees, the ornaments, the lights, the special worship services? Does He rule the world with injustice and lovelessness, or does He rule the world with “truth and grace” as Isaac Watts suggests in the fourth verse of his famous hymn Joy to the World?
In the 98th Psalm, the reason for all the excitement at the LORD’s coming is that “with righteousness He shall judge the world, and the peoples with equity.” [v.9] In other words, the earth is to be glad because it is welcoming someone who is fair, just, and righteous. Isaiah prophesied: “with righteousness He will judge the needy, with justice He will give decisions for the poor of the earth. He will strike the earth with the rod of His mouth; with the breath of His lips He will slay the wicked. Righteousness will be His belt and faithfulness the sash around His waist” (Isaiah 11:4-5 NIV).
The rulers of this world do not always judge with justice. Instead of bringing judgment on the wicked, they sometimes are the wicked! Instead of ruling in ways that will benefit their people, they can give in to the temptation to rule in ways that benefit themselves. It is not so with Jesus Christ! His dealings are always righteous. His judgments are always just and proper. His decisions are always the right decisions.
Nor does He overlook the oppressed, the needy, and the helpless. From the very beginning His dealings were often with those of low degree—the plain, the ordinary, and the simple. His mother Mary was an ordinary young woman. The shepherds who hurried to Bethlehem after the skies lit up with heavenly messengers were ordinary people in a common occupation. They were not the rich and famous, the prestigious men of their age. As He grew and began to preach and teach, the Lord was more likely to be found having dinner at Matthew’s house with the “tax collectors and sinners” than He was to be found among the community leaders and people of standing.
Young or old, rich or poor, high-born or common, our King deals with fairness and justice. He reaches out to help all who need Him. He reaches out to us. He is truly a Savior for the world.
People still complain about His rule, however. They say things such as: “If Jesus is really in control, why does He allow bad things to happen? Why doesn’t He make all the sick people healthy with a wave of His hand? Why doesn’t He make better, more righteous decisions for the people of the earth?” There are a few things we need to think about when others—or even when we ourselves—wonder about these things.
Jesus’ goals are different. The goal of an earthly ruler is to make this life better for you. This is what your governor, your congressional representatives, and your president are to be concerned with. But Jesus, the Ruler from Heaven, is naturally more concerned with heavenly things. His goal is to bring you safely to your eternal home, and the decisions He makes and the things He does will serve that goal. Sometimes those decisions that are best for bringing you to life with Him will lead you through dark valleys here. As long as we live in this world, the effects of mankind’s wickedness will still be felt. There will be wars and quarreling, illness and disease, but in all cases the Lord is working to bring you through it. He did not come to force an outward peace upon the earth, but to see to it that you eventually gain peace and rest that will last forever.
He does treat us and this world better than we deserve. Those who complain about what Jesus has done or has not done for them do not see what their own guilt and wickedness deserve. The wages of sin is death, and all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (cf. Romans 6:23, Romans 3:23). Every day that Christ allows us to live here is a gift, an opportunity for us to learn and appreciate His forgiveness and love, and to trust Him more.
Sometimes He chastens us. At times we really need to see clearly where we have gone wrong so that we don’t ruin our faith and lose our hold on eternal life. The Lord might let us feel the effects of our own sins and bad decisions so that we learn to seek Him and rely on His mercy.
He is righteous in His judgments. In Psalm 51 King David said: “Against you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you are proved right when you speak and justified when you judge” (Psalm 51:4 NIV). When He punishes sin, He is right. When He comes again and separates the believers from the unbelievers at the Last Day, that judgment will be right too.
He rules in the heart, not from a palace. When it seems to us like Christ is not in control, we need to remember where it is that He especially exercises His authority. His reign is not always so noticeable outwardly. He does not rule from an earthly palace. His government does not consist of fortresses and armies. There is no capitol or White House for Jesus. And yet He still reigns—in the hearts of His disciples everywhere. In the early days of the Christian church when the believers were being persecuted by the outrageous Roman emperors, and when they were given the choice to renounce the true God or be put to death, they chose death. No matter how hard the government tried, it could not force these men and women to curse God. Do you know why? Because they were ruled in their hearts by someone else. In their hearts they followed Jesus, and they were gladly subject to Him above all governments of this world.
Many don’t understand this. They think that Christ will ultimately set up an earthly kingdom and reign here the way a president or a monarch does, putting down wicked people for good. But this is not so. Jesus is already ruling because far and wide there are people who are following Him, who listen to Him above all else—like you and I do today.
He rules in the heart. You can see this from the Advent and Christmas events too. When John the Baptizer came to prepare the way for Jesus, what did he say? Did he say, “Rejoice! Jesus is coming and the Roman Empire will fall by His hand!” No, he said, “Repent!” He led the people to prepare their hearts because that is where the Lord would rule.
How about the shepherds who came to the manger on Christmas night—did they come because Jesus had made such an outward show of His lordship and rule? No. He was only a Baby in a manger, but already He reigned in their hearts. Similarly, when the wise men came to visit from the east some months after Jesus was born, they brought Him valuable gifts and knelt down to worship Him—a toddler who could barely walk. Why? Because in their hearts He was King of kings and Lord of lords.
This is not your usual Ruler! So don’t expect Him to work in the usual way. Don’t expect Him to think and act like the governments of the earth that we know. Don’t expect Him to do what you would do. He has different goals, and a different way of carrying out His kingdom work. Therefore no matter what any may think of Him, He will judge the world in righteousness and the peoples with equity. Whatever it is, Jesus will be righteous in all that He does—without mistake, without error. All of His decisions will be correct. As our divine Ruler He is fair and faithful to us.
Perhaps you found it interesting when you heard Psalm 98 again today and realized that all the singing, the trumpets, the blast of the ram’s horn, the shouting for joy before the LORD—the King—that all of that joy and excitement is explained in verse nine: “For he comes to judge the earth.”
How can we be glad about being judged? How can we be happy to receive this righteous King—we who are filled with sin and evil, whose best righteousness is only like filthy rags in the eyes of God? Should we not shrink in fear when He comes to Bethlehem and when He comes again in glory? Why aren’t we afraid of the appearance of the Messiah? If He judges rightly and rules in equity, should not we be lost?
The answer looks from the manger to the cross. If this Baby in Bethlehem were just another king to rule in the manner of all other earthly kings, with the weight of the law and the threat of punishment, then we would indeed be afraid. But this righteous King gives us His own righteousness. This righteous King offers Himself as a sacrifice for all. This righteous King wins our salvation and our hearts by taking our guilt upon Himself.
When He judges, yes it is just and right, but we who trust in Him are already declared “not guilty.” The judgment is: “You are free. Delivered.” That too is a righteous judgment—the most righteous and blessed of all—that we stand forgiven.
He rules the world with truth and grace. Therefore welcome Him this Christmas and always, for He comes not in terrors as the King of kings, but kind and good, with healing in His wings (cf. TLH 552: 4). Don’t turn aside from Him, but as He appears, give Him your heart with joy.
Hail, the heav’nly Prince of Peace!
Hail, the Sun of Righteousness!
Light and life to all He brings,
Ris’n with healing in His wings.
Mild He leaves His throne on high,
Born that man no more may die,
Born to raise the sons of earth;
Born to give them second birth.
Hark! the herald angels sing,
“Glory to the newborn King!” Amen.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
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