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Christ Before Bethlehem

Christ The King

Dr. Erwin W. Lutzer | December 11, 2005

Selected highlights from this sermon

The prophet Isaiah predicted a coming king from the line of Jesse. Pastor Lutzer walks us through this prophecy and shows us how Jesus fulfilled it. Then we’ll take a glimpse of what will happen when Jesus returns a second time.

Well, I would say that there is a war against Christmas. It’s interesting that Ravi Zacharias, who grew up in India, said that the Buddhists and the Hindus used to send his Christian family Christmas cards. And then, of course, there would be the same respect that would be returned. But here in America it doesn’t seem as if we can do that. Some people want to say that we shouldn’t say Merry Christmas. One of the things that you don’t want to tell these people (please don’t tell them) when they tell us that we should say Happy Holidays, is that the word holiday actually comes from holy day, because if they found that out, you couldn’t even say Happy Holidays any more. These are people who want the place scrubbed clean of Christian influence and the Judeo-Christian impact.

But the question is, what is Christmas really all about? How do we connect the dots? Is it only a baby in a manger? To many people it is. It’s more than that – so much more than that. In Isaiah 10 you’ll notice that there is more than one statement made about the mighty Assyrian army. In fact, it is likened unto a forest of Lebanon, and Lebanon had huge forests of cedar trees. And in a dramatic poem in the tenth chapter of Isaiah, the prophet talks about how all those trees are going to be cut down. I won’t read the entire poem as it comes in the last part of the tenth chapter, but I will read the last two verses of chapter 10.

“Behold, the Lord God of hosts will lop the boughs with terrifying power (Remember he is now giving a description of an army that looks like a forest.); the great in height will be hewn down, and the lofty will be brought low. He will cut down the thickets of the forest with an axe, and Lebanon will fall by the Majestic One.” God is going to take this forest and cut it down, but that’s the way we need to understand the context of Isaiah 11:1, “There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his root shall bear fruit.” In contrast to this mighty forest, which is going to be cut down by God, there is going to be a tree – maybe an oak because I’m told that when you cut down an oak tree the life still remains in the tree, and from that tree a shoot can come. There is going to be One who is going to be blessed, and He will be the King coming from the shoot of Jesse. And Jesse, you remember, is the father of David. So we could say He’s in the lineage of David, and He will come. He is King, and that’s part of the Christmas story.

So very briefly let us look, first of all, at the origin or the coming of the King there in verse 1. “There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit.” Notice how quietly this sapling is going to grow. There are no newspaper events, and no newsmen are going to publish it. It’s just so quiet there in the forest that nobody even sees it. It’s just like the birth of Jesus, quietly coming into Bethlehem with no fanfare. The shepherds had to be told about it, but they are the only ones that really do arrive at that time.

You say, “Well what about the Magi?” They come nearly two years later. You know those Christmas cards where you have the Wise men gathering around the baby in the manger? Those Christmas cards are inaccurate. They are unbiblical. It took a long time for the Magi to get there. And there in Bethlehem, almost unseen by the human eye except for those who were there, Jesus comes, and He’s the sapling. He’s the root out of the stump of David.

But you’ll notice that He is a very profitable one. He does what the forests of Lebanon could not do, namely He bears fruit, and the Scripture says He shall be fruitful. He will accomplish God’s work, and you and I, by the way, are to be fruit bearing Christians. Did you know that if you are not a fruit bearing Christian, according to John 15, you really have no reason to be as a Christian? It says that if you are not fruit bearing, He will chop down those branches that do not bear fruit. God wants us to be fruit bearing. The fruit of the Spirit – yes! The fruit of evangelism! All that is a part of it.

So that’s the coming of the King, and in verse 2 you have His anointing, which really took place when Jesus was baptized. You’ll notice it says, “The Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.” If you can imagine a menorah, think of the main candlestick (the main beam that holds up all of the other candles) as the Holy Spirit. It is the primary one, and then on each side there are three candles, making a total of seven. It is as if the Holy Spirit is the middle one and then you have six others that are manifestations of the Holy Spirit. And that’s why it lists it as the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord. It’s going to introduce the Kingship of Jesus. And when He was anointed there, and in His baptism, the Holy Spirit of God came upon Him. And that coming was to enable Him to die, but it was also to enable Him to rule, as we shall see in a moment. And Jesus is introduced as the anointed King. And because He has wisdom, nobody can ever fool Him. Because He has all power, nobody can ever defeat Him. And because He has holiness, nobody can ever accuse Him.

We all long for politicians who can be believed. We long for politicians who don’t have to rethink other decisions. We long for those who would be able to rule us with righteousness and justice and truth, and Jesus is presented in this text as fulfilling that responsibility.

So we have considered very briefly the origin or the coming of the King, the anointing of the King, and now we get to His rule, the rule of the King. Before I go into that, I need to tell you that in the Old Testament this era of the Church was not seen. It was not predicted. That’s why so many Old Testament prophecies go directly from His birth and His coming into the world to His reigning as King, and there is no interruption in the text. If you are here on Christmas Day I’m going to be speaking about a passage where we will see that one phrase talks about His first coming, and the very second phrase continues on talking about His second coming without any break. And this is what confused the Jews during the time of Jesus. One of the reasons that they didn’t accept Him as Messiah is they believed that when Messiah would come all of the Messianic promises of the Old Testament would be fulfilled. His rule, His reign, His Kingship, His taking this world and setting it right, that’s what they expected. And they were not wrong in thinking that would happen. They were only wrong about the timing as to when it would happen. That’s why when Jesus left them under the heel of the Roman Empire they rejected Him. And that’s why when Jesus was crucified on a cross, even though His death was predicted in the Old Testament, they turned against Him because they said, “This cannot be our Messiah, dying in defeat and humiliation, and being nailed on a cross by Roman soldiers. This is not the Messiah that we were looking for.” And they didn’t understand that He was the Messiah that they were looking for. Just give Him time.

Now we live in a time in our own day when people have always been looking for utopia. They’ve been looking for a rule and a time when society is going to be free of injustice. Communism promised that. “Once we do away with this class society and we have a classless society, there will be bread for everyone. Justice will rule.” Well, you understand how Communism ended in repression and in massacre.

During the sixties there were many people who were saying that the young people should revolt so that they can come up with a new society that would be free from injustice, a society that would finally be a utopia. The name Herbert Marcuse probably means nothing to you, but in the sixties he was popular on college campuses, particularly in Europe and also somewhat in the United States, urging young people to overthrow the Establishment and to build their own society. What incredible naïveté. In fact, there are many people who have wrong ideas because they have a wrong view of human nature. They think to themselves, “If I were in charge there would be no injustice. If our party were elected we would take care of all of the wrongs.” And they forget that this world is deeply cursed and so is the human heart.

I heard something the other day on a cassette tape that set me back, and then I realized how true it was. It was a doctor who said that every baby that is born into the world is a potential criminal. It’s not very encouraging, is it? But it is very true. The seeds of all kinds of wickedness exist in our hearts, and that’s why we can never establish this utopian society. But I want you to know that it is coming. It’s on its way.

What I’ve decided to do is to answer some questions about the coming Kingdom and quote many verses from the Bible, or at least some verses, and read others so that we get in our minds what it was that the Jews were properly expecting, and what it is that the Bible predicts Jesus will someday do on this earth.
First of all, the question is this. And by the way, you remember that God said to David, “I’m going to make you a covenant and you’re going to have a Son who is going to rule over your kingdom forever, for at least a very, very long period of time when forever gets swallowed up into eternity.” He said, “I’m going to give you a Son that is going to rule,” and when Jesus was born it was, you remember, the angel who said, “He shall be great and the Son of the Highest, and the Lord God shall give unto Him the throne of his father, David, and He shall rule over the House of Jacob forever.”

That’s what we’re talking about today. We’re talking about the words of the angel, so let’s answer several questions. When will this period of the rule of Christ take place (that we’re going to discuss)? The answer is after His return. It says in Zechariah 14 that His feet shall stand in that day upon the Mount of Olives, which lies before Jerusalem on the east, and the Mount of Olives shall split and cleave in the midst thereof towards the north and towards the south, and there shall be a very great valley. It is when Jesus Christ returns.

Now in a sermon I can’t sort out all of these ideas as to where the various resurrections take place and so forth, but the rule that we are speaking of is not a rule that you and I will see in this world apart from the return of Jesus. And that’s what Advent is all about. They looked forward in the Old Testament to His first coming. We look forward to His second coming. And we have that sense of anticipation. Anticipation is a good word.

Today I happened to speak to someone who is a prayer partner of mine who also parks cars for the church. And he told me he’s missed the last two Sundays parking cars, and helping you find parking places. That’s a real sacrifice. I told him, “That’s a real ministry.” I said, “When people come here, they are going to remember how you helped them park a car possibly more than they will remember the sermon that was preached.” I hope that always won’t be true, but it certainly could be true, and that’s what I told him. But he said, “After being gone for two weeks I have such a sense of anticipation today.” He said, “Being gone just makes the anticipation build.” Well that’s what they had in the Old Testament, and that’s what we have in the New Testament – the anticipation of Jesus returning to earth in glory to establish His Kingdom.

You say, “Well, where will this Kingdom be located? What is the capital?” The capital is going to be Jerusalem, and I believe it’s the Jerusalem on this earth, even though the topography of the area is going to be radically changed. It is there that Jesus is going to rule. Let me quote to you from Isaiah 2: “In that day many people shall come and say, ‘Let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob. For we shall walk in His paths, and we shall follow Him, for the Law shall go forth from Zion, and the Word of the Lord from Jerusalem. And He shall judge among the nations and shall make judgments for many people, and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore.’”

The question for you is, has that ever happened? I’m told that those words are carved into the United Nations building. If I might be a little bit flippant I’ll say, “Good luck.” Do you really think that you are going to put an end to wars through the United Nations? You can try, and we should do all that we possibly can to put an end to war, but it will not happen in the present era. That awaits an era when Jesus rules, and it says that the Law shall go forth from Zion, and the Word of the Lord from Jerusalem, and He shall judge the nations and shall rebuke many people.

Notice what the text says in chapter 11, verse 9. “They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain; for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.” That has not happened. This earth is not filled with the knowledge of the Lord like the waters cover the sea.

You say, “Well, where will we be during this period of time? Will we be in the millennial kingdom?” Yes, we may be participating there in the rule of Jesus, but we will not have these earthly bodies. The people that we are speaking about today who will be in that period do have earthly bodies. In fact, as we shall see, they will still even die, but you and I will already be glorified because when Jesus returns to earth, it is then that we are glorified. And many of us believe that He will come in two stages – first of all for His Church, and then later on with His Church in glory. But either way, whether you believe in one stage or two stages, by then we will be glorified, and we shall have the same bodies that Jesus had when He was here on earth.

You say, “Yes, but Jesus is going to rule in His present glorified body?” Yes, when He was here on earth He ministered to the disciples in His present glorified body. In fact, He even ate fish with them along the Sea of Galilee, or at least prepared breakfast for them, so we will be in that Kingdom also, but not in earthly bodies as the others shall be.

Now let’s look at what it’s actually going to look like. What is this rule going to look like? Now, notice in verses 3-5 it says, “And his delight shall be in the fear of the Lord. He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide disputes by what his ears hear, but with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth; and he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked. Righteousness shall be the belt of his waist, and faithfulness the belt of his loins.”

First of all, we can say universal peace and prosperity! Justice finally over this cursed world! In verses 6 and 7 you’ll notice what happens to nature. It is at least partially redeemed. “The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat, and the calf and the lion and the fattened calf together; and a little child shall lead them. The cow and the bear shall graze; their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.”

Verse 8 and 9 say that children can even touch what today are poisonous snakes, and the children will not be bitten nor will they have poison in them. Wow!

So the wolf, the Bible says, shall lie down with the lamb. And the interesting thing is that today whenever you have a wolf lie down with a lamb, if you notice very carefully, when the wolf stands up, the lamb is missing. But in those days they are actually going to get up together. You see, what God is going to do is He’s going to redeem nature. Nature was put under a curse, and even the appetite of these animals is going to be changed in such a way, and even if you interpret this in some symbolic sense, the fact is that the animal kingdom will be affected because they also were adversely affected because of the entrance of sin into the world. And so, as a result God says, “I’m going to redeem even the animals and no longer will they be killing one another but they will live in peace among one another.”

So there’s going to be universal peace and prosperity. The curse will be, partially at least, lifted. And it says in Isaiah 35:1-2 that the desert shall blossom like a rose. Many people who go to Israel today say, “Oh, you know it’s happening. They are bringing in the Kingdom because now they have irrigation,” and so they are farming desert land. And that’s a wonderful thing to do, but it’s not the millennial kingdom, because the kind of world that God is talking about is one that you and I can scarcely envision. It is going to be such a world of glory and fruitfulness and blessing that we can’t even put our minds around it.

You say, “Well, why this? Why is Jesus going to rule from this earth?” You know there are some of our friends who say, “Oh yeah, these prophecies are going to be fulfilled in the New Heaven and the New Earth.” But in the New Heaven and the New Earth you have nothing but righteousness. You no longer have people needing to be held in line by the authority of Jesus. You no longer have people dying. This is this earth, it seems to me. This earth! Why?

Turn to Romans 8, because here we notice that something unique is happening even in the created order. Sin affected everything. This world is deeply inflicted by the curse of sin, and in Romans 8:18 it says, “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” Now notice! “For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.” In other words, just like we are being redeemed and restored, in the very same way creation will be. “For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved.” And then it says in verse 26 that the Spirit even intercedes for us with groanings.

You’ll notice that he says creation groans. We groan. Some of you aren’t old enough to groan, but when I got out of bed this morning at a quarter to six I felt like groaning. I was thinking, “Yeah, this passage is really true.” We groan. And then the Spirit groans. Just like Jesus intercedes for us because He loves us and awaits our complete redemption, in the very same way, the Spirit also intercedes because He longs to have all of God’s people wholly possessed and wholly His. And furthermore, this creation, which was so tainted by sin, causing all of the tsunamis and the earthquakes and the terrible tragedies that we have all seen on the news recently, all of these things, you see, happen because of the curse. That creation itself will be redeemed – this earth!

You say, “Well, why is it important that it is this earth?” Well, think about it for a moment. Satan is the god of this world, the Bible says. It is in this world where you have the business of good and evil and that which is right and just played out against that which is unjust. And it is here where the contest took place. This is the place where the drama happened, and God now has given Satan the responsibility (if I can put it that way) of being the god of this world. It doesn’t mean that God has abdicated His rule, but it does mean that Satan is permitted to exercise authority in this world under the direction of God. But having said that, it is therefore in this world where Satan now rules, that Jesus will someday rule in the very territory where the devil ruled to prove that He is King of kings and Lord of lords, and God of very gods. It is here where He shall rule. So I take the point of view that there is a millennial kingdom coming.

Now if you read the rest of the book of Isaiah, and recently I finished reading the book of Jeremiah, chapter after chapter after chapter is devoted to this wonderful time when Israel shall be in the middle, the Jewish people, of course given prominence in the Kingdom, but all the other nations also participating, and Jesus ruling. And when you read those you have to recognize that that is a coming day.

I’m emphasizing this because there are some of my friends who are very good people, very good scholars, who disagree. They say that there is no earthly coming kingdom. They want to relegate it to some future time of the New Heaven and the New Earth when everything is recreated, but I see it as rooted in this world where the great drama has happened, and where Jesus will show His supremacy.

This is the kind of kingdom that the Jews in Jesus’ day were looking for. And the disciples had to be told by Christ, even by parables (He used parables) to show them that they had the right idea, but this isn’t the right time. There is going to be a gap “because I’m going to come again and establish it.” And it was on the minds of the disciples at the ascension.

Do you remember when they said, “Will Thou at this time restore again the Kingdom to Israel?” That’s what they were thinking of. Now if there wasn’t going to be a kingdom like that prophesied in the Old Testament, and if it was going to be of an entirely different character, Jesus could have clarified it for them and said, “Look, you guys have got it all wrong. The kingdom that you are looking for is not the kingdom that is going to come. There is an eternal kingdom, and I’m not going to rule on earth. I’m going to rule only in heaven, and your idea that I’m going to rule over the House of David here on earth, like David did, is totally wrong.” But Jesus did not say that to them. He didn’t chide them for asking a bad question, or clarify their question. He simply said these words. He said, “It is not for you to know the times or the seasons which the Father has put in His own power.” And when He told us to pray, “Thy Kingdom come,” He was really asking us to pray for this coming Kingdom. That was the emphasis that Jesus had as He used the word Kingdom. And now we begin to understand what the angel said. “He shall rule over the House of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there shall be no end.” Now we begin to understand how Mary would have understood those words, as bearing the Messiah fulfills the prophecies of the Old Testament.

Let me make several observations as we conclude today. First of all, it is very clear that when you think of Christmas, don’t just think of the baby in a manger. Our society loves to do that because a baby is so, so non-threatening. A baby makes no demands. A baby is cuddly. A baby needs its mother, and nobody is afraid of a baby. Well, yes, there is the crib, but also always connect the crib to the cross to the crown and realize that all three are a part of the same package. We sang Mary Did You Know that your child is the creator, that your child shall rule the world? Did you know that, Mary? That is who Jesus is. Don’t ever confine Christmas to the crib, because you miss the triumph and the future rule of Jesus.

Second, we all live with delayed promises, don’t we? The people in Jesus’ day found it difficult to do that, and you and I find it difficult to do that as well. And now because of this message, you perhaps understand what Isaac Watts had in mind. I remember being about 10 or 12 years old and wondering what in the world we were singing about when we sang Joy to the World.

By the way, when you sing, always listen to the words. Don’t just be carried away by the beautiful music and the words that you perhaps know by memory, but think about what you are singing. What did we sing this morning when we sang the song, He rules the world with truth and grace and makes the nations prove the wonders of His righteousness? Is that happening today? I mean, is Jesus ruling today with truth and grace, and forcing nations to fall in line under His Lordship? Not according to the newspapers I read! The world is out of control. The world has wars. The world has terrorism. No, what Isaac Watts was thinking about, and that’s why it’s perfectly wonderful to sing those words, is some future reign of Jesus. Regardless of how he might have understood when and how that may be different from my own opinion, he was thinking about these prophecies of the Old Testament, and we sing the song in hope and confidence of a future, and we know that we live with delayed promises. We do that as Christians. We also do it as individuals, don’t we? And we have to recognize that the God who came to save us is the God who is going to redeem us, and eventually even nature will be redeemed.

I was unacquainted with the name Anne Rice until a couple of weeks ago because I don’t read vampire books. I don’t read the occult. I stay as far away from that stuff as I possibly can, so I did not know that she had written all of those dark cultic books, nor did I realize that she was a famous writer. But some of you may have heard recently that she has been converted to Christ, and she has now written a book entitled Christ the Lord. It is fiction, but it’s apparently very, very Christian.

I want you to hear what she said. She said, “I longed for God during those dark days of writing those terrible, terrible books. I longed for God as one longs for a lost country,” she said, “because even in those days of darkness and groping around, trying to make sense out of life, trying to find purpose, there is something within the human being that says at some point, ‘Surely there’s more to life than just this darkness, depression, guilt, wandering and searching. Isn’t there a time when there has to come an end to the search?” And then, I love this. She said that when she came to Christ it was like finding a wing on a house that you didn’t know was there, and discovering rooms of treasure.

You see, we as a nation, as a society (this whole earth) long for redemption, but so does the human heart. Some of you who are here today, you long for redemption. You are here because you are really seeking God, and I pray today that He might surprise you, and that He might find you and that you might find Him. He is, after all, the King. He is, after all, the One who is going to return to establish His Kingdom. He is, after all, the One about whom the Bible says that every knee shall bow, and every tongue confess that He is Lord to the glory of God the Father. How much better to do that voluntarily than to wait until the afterlife when everybody is going to have to do it? And they will do it voluntarily as well because they will recognize at that time that they were wrong on earth, and He is Lord even though they can’t spend eternity with Him. I offer Him to you today as King, as Savior. Yes, it’s the baby in the manger that is the Christ of the cross, and it’s the King who is coming.

Let us pray.

Our Father, we thank You today that Your Word predicts a day of great blessing for this planet. We thank You that right here on the soil where Satan operates, Jesus will operate directly, powerfully, crushing the devil, bringing righteousness and showing us what a righteous rule looks like. And we ask that in these times, Father, You would help us to be encouraged, and help us to know that a better day is coming, and all the longings that we have, even as believers, will be fulfilled. In Jesus’ name we ask, Amen.

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