Three Questions for Christmas
December 8, 2010
“Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth” (Revelation 1:5).
You never know how a baby will turn out.
I feel like more of an expert on this subject than I was a year ago. Over Thanksgiving our new grandson Knox came for a visit. The rest of our family came too, and his father and mother came with him, but Knox was the star of the show all weekend long.
We all have our jobs to do, and mine was picking up our four-month-old grandson (who is a hefty little boy) and walking him around the house. It really wasn’t a “job” at all. A long time ago I picked up his father and walked him around our house in Norwalk, California. That was in the last century, a nice phrase that reminds me of the passing of the years. I am actually happy about because I could look around and see three generations in the same room: grandfather, father, son . As I walked Knox, I would sing to him. Usually I started with “You are my sunshine, my only sunshine,” a song I remember my father singing often. Then I sang Christmas carols and Scripture songs, including one I used to sing to Josh, “The wicked they flee when no man pursues, but the righteous are bold as a lion” (see Proverbs 28:1). I made up the melody when Josh was a little boy, and now I sing it to his son, my grandson.
About our grandson I would only venture to say that he is absolutely captivating. This grandparenting business is entirely different from being a parent even though I can’t exactly explain it. I find myself thinking about that little boy and praying for him and wondering how he will turn out.
Parents and grandparents have been wondering about babies since time began. It must have been that way when Jesus was born. Luke 2:19 tells us that after the shepherds visited Mary and no doubt shared what the angels had said to them, she “treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.” There was certainly a lot to think about:
“He will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end” (Luke 1:33).
“Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:11).
“A sword will pierce your own soul too” (Luke 2:35).
The last verse of Mark Lowry’s beautiful Mary, Did You Know? poses the question this way:
Mary did you know that your baby boy is Lord of all creation?
Mary did you know that your baby boy will one day rule the nations?
Did you know that your baby boy is heaven’s perfect Lamb?
This sleeping child you’re holding is the great I am.
You never know how a baby will turn out, do you?
This one turned out to be the Savior of the world.
But not everyone knows that or understands it or believes it. As we prepare our hearts for Christmas, let’s remind ourselves once again who Jesus really is. Revelation 1:5 offers a threefold picture of our Lord. This verse is part of John’s introduction to his book where he introduces himself and wishes his readers grace and peace. Here is his description of Jesus Christ: “Who is the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth.”
These three phrases help us understand the true identity of the baby born in Bethlehem. Each one answers a question we would like to ask about Jesus Christ.
Question # 1: Can I Trust Him?
The first question is the most basic of all. The men and women of this generation have heard the name of Jesus many times. What they want to know is very simple-“Can I trust him?” In a world of religious charlatans, this is where we must begin. We discover the answer in John’s first title. He calls Jesus “the faithful witness.” A witness tells what he has seen or heard. A faithful witness is one whose testimony is reliable every time.
John means that Jesus Christ can be relied upon to tell the truth. When he speaks, he speaks only the truth. His words are absolutely true and authoritative. 1 Timothy 6:13 speaks of “Christ Jesus, who while testifying before Pontius Pilate, made the good confession.” What did he say when he stood before Pilate? “I came into the world to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me” (John 18:37). Jesus Christ is the supreme truth-teller, and those who want to find the truth must listen to him.
Writing several hundred years ago, one commentator said that the title “faithful witness” means four things:
1. What God said, Christ made known.
2. He taught without regard to the words of men.
3. He was faithful even in death.
4. He will reveal the truth in the end.
I love this statement by John Watson:
“No one has yet discovered the word Jesus ought to have said, none suggested the better word he might have said. No action of his has shocked our moral sense. None has fallen short of the ideal. He is full of surprises, but they are all the surprises of perfection.”
Every person has to deal with this fundamental issue about Jesus–Can I trust him? Some people will answer yes, others will say no. Until this issue is settled, there is no point in talking about anything else.
Many years ago Bob Harrington, the Chaplain of Bourbon Street, and Madeline Murray O’Hair, the famous atheist, had a debate on the Donohue TV program. At one point someone in the audience asked Mrs. O’Hair what she was going to do when Jesus returned. What would she say then? With great confidence she declared, “It won’t happen, so I don’t have to worry about that.” To which Bob Harrington replied, “The Bible contains 318 verses that speak of the return of Jesus Christ. She’s just said he isn’t going to return. Over here you’ve got 318 verses in the book of God and over there you’ve got one verse from the book of O’Hair. Now, who you gonna believe?”
That’s the key question.
Who are you going to believe? Let’s suppose you don’t want to take my word for it. Read the record for yourself. Take 30 days to read the Gospel account. Read the story for yourself and come to your own conclusions. I will tell you what I believe will happen. If you read with an open mind and an open heart, you will come to the inevitable conclusion that what Jesus said is true, that he is the truth, and that his word can be eternally trusted.
I am not saying anything to try to prove it to you. I simply challenge you to read it for yourself. Make up your own mind. When you do, you will find that he is entirely trustworthy.
Can I trust him? Yes I can, for he is the faithful witness.
Question # 2: Does He Have The Power To Help Me?
That naturally leads to another question. “If I trust him, does he have the power to help me?” The answer is found in John’s second title for Jesus Christ. He calls him “the firstborn from the dead.” This refers to his resurrection from the dead. When he rose from the dead, he was the “firstborn from the dead.” What exactly does that mean? It means he is the first person who ever rose from the dead never to die again. During his ministry Jesus raised several people from the dead, including Lazarus who had been dead four days (John 11). Each occasion was a remarkable miracle but they had this in common. All of the people Jesus raised would eventually die again.
But not Jesus himself.
When he came forth from the tomb on Easter Sunday morning, he rose once and for all. When he left the grave, he left for good. Jesus is the firstborn from the dead in the sense that he is the first in a long line of people who will be raised from the dead never to die again.
I find great comfort in this. Over the years I have presided at many funerals. I know what it’s like to stand at the graveside and try to say something hopeful in the calloused face of death. It’s not easy to pray when someone you love has been taken from you. No wonder the Bible calls death “the last enemy” (1 Corinthians 15:26).
In those moments I find strength in one thing and one thing only. Jesus has conquered the grave and done what no mortal man has ever done. He has come back from the dead never to die again. What happens to those who believe in him? Thank God, we are not left to wonder or to speculate. God himself has spoken on that subject. 1 Thessalonians 4:14 (NASB) says, “For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep in Jesus.”
“If we believe.” It is as simple and as difficult as that. You will never convince yourself of the resurrection by camping out in a cemetery. If you go to a cemetery and wait for a resurrection, you’ll have to wait a long time. After all, the last one happened over 2,000 years ago. But we have the word of God which overrides anything we can see with our eyes. Our faith in the resurrection of the dead does not rest in what our eyes can see. Our faith rests in that act of God whereby he raised Jesus from the dead. If God can do that, he can do anything.
Does Jesus have the power to help you? Yes he does, for he is the firstborn from the dead.
Question # 3: Will He Take Care Of My Future?
“Suppose I do trust him, and suppose he does have the power to help me, will Jesus take care of my future?” The answer comes in John’s final title for Jesus Christ. It is breathtaking in its scope. He calls Jesus “the ruler of the kings of the earth.” The word for “ruler” means he is the ultimate authority over all the kings of the earth. They are great, but he is greater. They are mighty, but he is mightier. Millions answer to them, but they answer to him. He is not merely one of the kings. He rules over them all.
When John Piper preached on this phrase, he put the matter this way:
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.”
But that sermon was preached in 1989. The George Bush of that quote would be George H. W. Bush. Since then we’ve had Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and now we’ve got Barack Obama as our president. The quote is still true no matter who occupies the White House. It’s as true for George Washington as it is for George Bush (father or son). It’s as true for Abraham Lincoln as it is for John Kennedy or Barack Obama.
In the first century the mighty emperor Nero thought he was the ruler of the kings of the earth. He held in his hands the power of life and death. Thumbs up: one man lived. Thumbs down: one man died. It is said that he ordered the burning of Rome and then blamed it on the early Christians. He had Paul the apostle beheaded, thinking that the pernicious Christian movement would die with him. But now 2000 years have passed, and the tables have turned. We name our dogs Nero and our sons Paul.
Who are the rulers of the earth John is talking about? They are political leaders in their various spheres–mayors and councilmen, chairmen and governors, congressmen and senators, presidents and prime ministers, and potentates of every variety. There are small-time kings who rule tiny realms and mighty kings who rule vast empires.
Their names are Obama, Putin, Netanyahu, Ahmadinejad, Harper, Blair, Singh, Kim, Abdullah, Sarkozy, Karzai, Hu, Mugabe, Calderon, Merkel, Biya and Cameron. And a million others just like them.
Jesus is ruler over them all. It’s true this world is in a mess. That’s why it’s hard to believe this is true. All the evidence seems to move in the opposite direction. The pornographers go free, the baby-killers are untouched, the politicians break the laws they write, the drug dealers make their millions, and the nations arm themselves for total destruction. When you look around, you could make a good case that Satan is the ruler of the kings of the earth.
But it only seems that way. Satan has no power except that granted to him by God. In due time and at the proper moment, Jesus will step back on the stage of world history. Think of it. The hands that were nailed to the cross will someday rule the world. Though we do not see it today, it is certain and sure of fulfillment. That’s what the book of Revelation is all about. Read it for yourself and see how the story ends.
In the meantime, right now and at this very moment, he is the ruler of the kings of the earth.
By him they reign.
By him they are restrained.
By him they are replaced.
By him they will be judged.
Will Jesus take care of my future? Yes he will, for he is the ruler of the kings of the earth. You’re in good hands when you are in his hands for those hands rule the universe.
But that wasn’t evident on that first night in Bethlehem. A casual onlooker would not have suspected the earthshaking events that were taking place in a forgotten stable in a tiny village in a remote corner of the Roman Empire. The prospects for the young child didn’t seem very promising.
You can never tell how a baby will turn out.
But this one would surprise us all.
And we are still surprised by him 2000 years later.
What is the application? Grip fast to Jesus Christ. There is no security anywhere else. Today as yesterday and tomorrow as today, he is the answer to the deepest questions of life.
Can I trust him? Yes I can, for he is the faithful witness.
Does he have the power to help me? Yes he does, for he is the firstborn from the dead.
Will he take care of my future? Yes he will, for he is the ruler of the kings of the earth.
We all need him and we need him more than we know. This truth is worth repeating: You’re in good hands when you are in his hands, for those hands rule the universe.
Joy to the world, the Lord is come!
Let earth receive her King.
Place your life in his strong hands and you will never be disappointed.