His Kingdom Will Never End
December 10, 2007
“He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end” (Luke 1:33).
“I’m gonna be famous.”
That’s what Robert Hawkins wrote in his suicide note before going to the mall in Omaha last Wednesday where he murdered eight people and then took his own life.
But he was wrong about that. Six months from now, few people will remember his name. Six years from now, fewer still. And in sixty years, he will rate only a sad footnote when people look back on 2007. In six hundred years, no one will recall how he lived or how he died.
Such is the nature of fame on planet earth, even for murderers. It is in part a commentary on how short our collective memory is, and in larger part a reflection on how much we have become used to this sort of thing. So one troubled young man, who wrote of his “meaningless existence,” and referred to himself with a barnyard vulgarism, takes a gun and begins to shoot innocent people doing their Christmas shopping. It is horrible, tragic, evil, monstrously wrong, and it will not make Robert Hawkins famous. He is famous now, or more properly infamous, for a few days, but not for long.
There is one way he could have been truly famous.
If he were the last person ever to murder someone …
That would have been a big story, a headline for the ages.
But it is not to be. He is not even the most recent killer. Just as I am writing these words comes news of a shooting that left two dead at a missionary training center in Colorado. We live in a violent world, and of the increase in violence, there seems to be no end.
To say that is not to diminish the evil that Robert Hawkins did, or the anguish suffered by the families of those whose lives he took so wantonly last Wednesday. I am only reflecting on his pitiful claim to fame, and his vain hope that by killing others, he would somehow achieve the notoriety he utterly failed to find in this life.
Sic Transit Gloria Mundi
Fame is a tricky thing. We all understand that, or at least we should, given how quickly yesterday’s heroes become today’s has-beens, and tomorrow’s forgotten footnotes. It is said that when a Roman general came back from a great victory in a distant land, during the victory parade as the people watched and cheered, a slave followed behind the general, whispering in his ear these words, Sic transit gloria mundi. The glory of the world is fleeting.
Everything good, everything bad, everything happy, everything sad.
It all passes away.
All of it is fleeting.
I do not tire of quoting the famous words from Gray’s Elegy, penned in an English churchyard:
The boast of heraldry, the pomp of pow’r,
And all that beauty, all that wealth e’er gave,
Awaits alike th’inevitable hour.
The paths of glory lead but to the grave.
Fame and infamy are alike in this one way. They both pass away.
Is there anything on this earth that will last forever? Consider these familiar words: “He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end” (Luke 1:33). It is easy to forget how revolutionary these words must have sounded in the beginning. They were …
Spoken by an angel
To a virgin
Announcing a baby
Who will one day
Rule the world.
And it came totally out of the blue.
To a teenage girl who was a virgin.
In Nazareth, a minor city in a remote corner of the Roman Empire.
To her the angel suddenly came and made a series of incredible announcements:
1) You will conceive and bear a son.
2) You will call his name Jesus.
3) He will be great.
4) He will be called the Son of the Most High.
5) He will rule over the house of Jacob forever.
6) His kingdom will never end.
Mary could have asked a follow-up question about any of those things, but being both thoughtful and practical, she asks only about the first one. “How will be this be, since I am a virgin?” (v. 35) The answer was both direct and even more amazing.
1) The Holy Spirit will come upon you.
2) The power of the Most High will overshadow you.
3) The child will be holy.
4) He will be the Son of God.
The angel adds two other facts:
1) Remember how Elizabeth got pregnant.
2) Nothing is impossible with God.
Given this overwhelming information, it is all to Mary’s credit that she responded by saying, “I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word” (v. 38).
Even now after 2000 years, the angel’s message seems mind-blowing. What a series of predictions he made. This week as Marlene and I were reading this passage together, my mind was drawn to the last phrase of verse 33, “And of his kingdom there will be no end.” As I thought about those improbable words, I found myself singing the “Hallelujah Chorus,” especially the part where the choir repeats “And he shall reign for ever and ever, For ever and ever, forever and ever.”
The kingdom of this world
Is become the kingdom of our Lord,
And of his Christ, and of his Christ;
And he shall reign for ever and ever,
For ever and ever, forever and ever.
I started thinking about what the angel’s promise really means. This is how I put it all together.
I. Nothing in This World Lasts Forever.
When was the last time you thought about Zachary Taylor? It’s probably been a long time. Until a few years ago, the last time I thought about Zachary Taylor was back in Mrs. Alexander’s 8th grade American history class—and I didn’t think too much about him then.
We were on vacation out in Arizona and Utah when I happened to hear on the radio that they were digging up Zachary Taylor (he died suddenly and somewhat mysteriously in the summer of 1850). It had been so long since I thought about him that I had to stop and remember who he was. When the announcer called him “President Taylor,” it sounded odd to me. I had never heard that expression before. I knew his name and I knew he was a president, but I had never heard anyone say “President Taylor.” It didn’t sound right. The scientists dug up his remains to see if he had been poisoned with arsenic by his enemies. (It turns out the answer was no. He apparently died after eating some chilled cherries, cold buttermilk and pickled cucumbers—a deadly combination.) Do you know what they found when they opened the casket? They found his hair, his bones, the outline of his brow, his fingernails, and not much else.
One newspaper said, “We now know more about Zachary Taylor than we ever knew before–and more than we ever wanted to know.” Another story called him the most obscure president in American history because he was succeeded by a man whose name has become a sort of running Trivial Pursuit joke–Millard Fillmore.
Here’s the oddity of it all. When he died Zachary Taylor was considered a very great man. One writer put things in perspective by calling him “the Norman Schwarzkopf of his day.” He was a great military leader who later became president. The hero of the Battle of Buena Vista during the Mexican War, his nickname was “Old Rough and Ready,” an appellation not much different from calling George Patton “Old Blood and Guts.” But we have forgotten all of that. Until they dug him up, we had forgotten Zachary Taylor altogether. One of our old hymns puts it this way:
Time, like an ever rolling stream,
Bears all its sons away;
They fly, forgotten, as a dream
Dies at the opening day.
Solomon added these words of wisdom in Ecclesiastes 9:5, “For the living know that they will die, but the dead know nothing; they have no further reward, and even the memory of them is forgotten“. What a sobering thought—”even the memory of them is forgotten.” It’s true. Zachary Taylor had been forgotten—and he was once the president of the United States.
It is true of all human endeavors—”they fly, forgotten, as a dream dies at the opening day.” What a lesson this is for all of us. If you are counting on somebody remembering you after you are gone, forget it. Sooner or later, you’ll be just another name on a tombstone. Let me tell you what will happen after you die. Your family will call up the funeral home and arrange a real nice service. Someone will stand up and say some nice things about you and then they will bury you in the ground. Do you know what happens then? Your friends will go over to your house and have a party and eat your food. Then they will get in their cars, go back home, and get on with their lives.
Someone may say, “That’s depressing.” No, it’s not. That’s reality. And if I happen to die before you do, you’ll do the same thing for me. And before long, I’ll just be a dim memory, and then I’ll be forgotten altogether.
If you are looking for significance and permanence in this world, you are wasting your time. This world forgets the past, lives in the present, and dreams about the future. And all those things we do to give ourselves significance—the degrees after our names, the houses we buy, the money we save, the cars we drive, the empires we build, the relationships we seek, the clothes we wear, the networks we create—in the end, those things will amount to nothing. If you are living for this world, you are of all people most to be pitied.
Why? Because nothing in this world lasts forever. Just ask Zachary Taylor.
II. Only God’s Kingdom Will Last Forever.
Hebrews 12:28 says that God is going to establish “a kingdom that cannot be shaken.” Everything that is of this world is shakable. Buildings crumble into dust, companies go into bankruptcy, our degrees fade into illegibility, our houses age and creak and crumble, our cars rust out, and worst of all, our bodies eventually wear out. But the kingdom of God lasts forever. When the angel Gabriel came to Mary, he predicted that she would give birth to a Son who will “rule over the house of his father Jacob, and of his kingdom there will be no end” (Luke 1:33, emphasis added).
God desires to establish a kingdom on earth that will last forever. That kingdom will be made up of men and women who have decided to live by God’s eternal values. Therefore, the whole human race may be divided into two groups–those who decide to live by earthly values and those who decide to live by kingdom values. The difference is this. Living by earthly values produces earthly rewards that pay off quicker and disappear faster; living by kingdom values produces kingdom rewards. They don’t usually come as quickly, but they last forever.
You can live for this world or you can live for the kingdom of God. The choice is yours.
III. God’s Kingdom Gives Meaning to History.
Where is history going? Philosophers have pondered that question for thousands of years. Is history nothing more than “a tale told by an idiot, scribbled on the walls of an insane asylum?” Or is history, as Edward Gibbon suggested, “little more than the register of crimes, follies, and misfortunes of mankind”? Should we accept the Hindu view that history is an endless cycle of reincarnation? Or should we adopt a vague evolutionary view that we came up from the slime over the course of billions and billions of years? Where would that lead us? To some positive thinking nirvana where “everyday in every way things are getting better or better? Or should we conclude with the cynics that life is meaningless, an eternal cul de sac that leads to nothing at all?
No question is more important because the way you view history ultimately shapes the way you view your own life. If you believe that history is going nowhere, then your life is just a momentary blip on the radar screen of the universe–you pop up, you fly across the screen, you disappear, never to be heard from again. If history has no goal, then life has no meaning and every man is left to his own devices. When pornographer Larry Flynt was interviewed by Larry King, he said he believed we are like bottles on a conveyor belt. We pop up, ride the belt for a while, then something knocks us off the belt, and we disappear, and our place is taken by someone else. It would be hard to imagine a more hopeless view of human life.
History Is His Story
From God’s point of view, history is his story, the record of God’s dealings with the human race. The Bible teaches that the universe had a definite beginning at a definite point in time. And it teaches that man didn’t come up from the slime in some crazy accident of evolution. God created man with a purpose, and history is the story of the slow unfolding of God’s purpose on the earth.
The Old Testament prophets spoke again and again of a coming kingdom on the earth. Abraham caught a glimpse of it, Moses saw it from afar, David learned about it directly from God, and the major and minor prophets filled in the details. The Old Testament writers foresaw a time when God’s Messiah would rule the world from David’s throne in Jerusalem. If you put the pieces together, they speak of a coming golden age for the earth, a utopia if you will, a paradise on the earth itself. In that day, the lion will lie down with the lamb, and all nations will stream into Jerusalem.
The New Testament writers add two very significant details: 1) The promised Messiah is none other than the Lord Jesus Christ, and 2) The kingdom of God will not be ultimately established until Jesus the King returns to the earth in person. And that is where history is going. The kingdom of God is what history is all about. It’s the goal toward which everything else is moving. It’s the last chapter in a story that started in the Garden of Eden.
A Thousand Points Of Light
Let me give you a Reader’s Digest version of what history is all about. In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. He then placed Adam and Eve on the earth and made them stewards over the whole planet. But when they disobeyed, they surrendered their stewardship into the hands of Satan, God’s arch-enemy. From that day until this, the whole world has been the domain of Satan. It is still God’s world by creation. But Satan has usurped God’s authority and set up a counter-kingdom to the kingdom of God. And from that day until this, the earth has been the central battlefield in a war between those two competing kingdoms.
But that’s not the whole story. Once the world fell into enemy hands, God determined to win it back at any cost. That meant sending his message through kings and prophets and priests and poets. It meant raising up an entire nation through whom he would bless the earth. But ultimately it meant that he himself had to enter the conflict. In order to wrest the world back from Satan, God entered the human race in the person of his Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. That story is very familiar to you, but perhaps you are not used to thinking of it as God’s ultimate blow against Satan.
When Jesus was crucified, it appeared that Satan might win, indeed for 36 hours it seemed certain that he had won, that the battle was over and God had been decisively defeated. Then Sunday came, and with it, the empty tomb and the risen Savior. Suddenly it became clear to everyone—even to Satan—that Jesus was the victor in the great battle to reclaim the earth.
The world is still in darkness, but here and there the followers of Jesus have established outposts of the kingdom, little pinpoints of light that promise better things to come.
IV. God’s Kingdom Cannot Ultimately Be Defeated.
Meanwhile the battle rages on between the two kingdoms–King Jesus on one side and Satan on the other. In these last 20 centuries, the light has spread until it seems like there are a thousand points of light chasing away the darkness. In many other places, however, things look darker than ever. That’s the history of the world up until this present moment. But it is not the end of the story. All over the world, in those little outposts of the kingdom, the followers of Jesus are praying “Thy kingdom come,” and as they do, they set their gaze toward the Eastern sky and wait for the Son of God to personally and visibly return to the earth.
When he at last comes, he will trample Satan under his feet, judge the workers of iniquity, set right the wrongs in the world, and reign from David’s throne in Jerusalem. That day has not yet come, but it will come, and indeed it is coming, and we believe the signs are all around us that the coming of Christ is not far away. But whether near or far, the kingdom Jesus will establish on the earth forms the goal of all human history. It is the last and greatest chapter in the “Battle of the Ages.”
The Church in China
I had a long conversation with a man who spent several years in China. When people ask about the state of the Christian movement in China, there is no quick or easy answer. Officially China remains atheistic even though the government tolerates a certain amount of religious activity. In recent years, as China has aggressively entered the global marketplace, in some places there is a measure of freedom. In other places, official opposition and harassment of Christians has actually increased. One wise leader told me, “Remember, China is a huge country. Everything you hear about it is true somewhere.” The issue of religious freedom depends very much on who you are and where you are and who you know and how open you are. It is especially true that in response to the burgeoning house church movement, the authorities have begun a crackdown even though they cannot hope to stop (or even greatly slow down) the spread of small groups meeting in houses and apartments all over China.
In talking about all this, the man pointed me to Habakkuk 2. Read that, he said. Read it and think about it carefully. Read verse 12 with its warning to pagan empires built on bloodshed: “Woe to him who builds a town with blood and founds a city on iniquity!” The prophet aims his words at the ancient Babylonian Empire, which in its day conquered the Ancient Near East through hitherto unknown violence and rapacious cruelty. It is said that the Babylonians piled up the skulls of their enemies as a warning to those who dared to oppose them. But those words apply to every evil empire of history. Those who profit by murder will one day be brought low. Such a thought must have seemed impossible to Habakkuk’s first readers. Every human empire seems invincible at its zenith. But the roll call of fallen empires stands for all to see:
In 1817 Percy Bysshe Shelley penned the classic poem Ozymandias to demonstrate the arrogance of those who believe their earthly empires will last forever:
I met a traveler from an antique land
Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read,
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed,
And on the pedestal these words appear:
“My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings:
Look upon my works, ye Mighty, and despair!”
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.
Ponder the irony of a statue in the desert, surrounded by nothing but the drifting sands. When Ozymandias calls on the mighty to despair, he means that they should live in fear of his power, yet nothing remains of his vast empire but the scattered ruins of the stones that form a “colossal wreck” in the wilderness. Those who think they are invincible should indeed despair, but for another reason entirely. The mightiest empires will one day be brought to the ground. My friend pointed me to Habakkuk 2:14 as the ultimate truth. “For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD as the waters cover the sea.” He earnestly reminded me of what I already knew. “When the Communists came to power in China in 1949, they expelled all the foreign missionaries. Back then there were 700,000 Christians. For decades no one knew what was happening to the church or if it even survived. But by 1980 there were at least 10 million Christians in China. Today there may be as many as 100 million.” Then he quoted Habakkuk 2:14 with its vision of the knowledge of the Lord spreading across the earth as the waters cover the sea.” “It’s already happening,” he said. “Nothing can stop it. There is no power, no policy, and there are no pundits that can reverse what God is doing.” The ultimate fulfillment of this verse awaits the return of Christ to the earth to establish his kingdom. But as we race headlong toward the final days of this age, we should not be surprised—indeed we should expect—that there will be an explosion of gospel preaching around the world with untold multitudes coming to Christ.
All of this is what the angel had in mind when he told Mary that “of his kingdom there will be no end.”
Jesus has a kingdom.
He is building it in human hearts around the world.
Someday he will return and visibly reign on the earth.
That kingdom—his kingdom—will never end.
The true followers of Jesus are the ultimate revolutionaries in the world because they have concluded that only one thing will never end …
There are some men and women who are not like everyone else. They have been gripped with the thought that the kingdom of God is the greatest thing in the world, and that one thought has revolutionized their lives and reoriented their values. Kingdom issues are at stake. That’s the only possible explanation for the way they live.
Here is my final appeal to you. Everyone reading my words has a choice to make. Either you join yourself to the kingdoms of this world that are doomed to fail. Or you join forces with Jesus Christ and follow him as your Savior and Lord.
His kingdom will never end. Why would you follow anyone else?
And He shall reign forever and ever,
King of kings! and Lord of lords!
And He shall reign forever and ever,
King of kings! and Lord of lords!
Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah!