This is chapter 4 of the book Name Above All Names by Alistair Begg and Sinclair Ferguson
“Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel’” (Mark 1:14–15). The ministry of Jesus began with this announcement.
Jesus often spoke about the kingdom of God—it is a central theme in his message. He both preached and demonstrated that the kingdom of God had broken into the world in his coming. In his preaching he taught his disciples how to enter the kingdom and the kind of lifestyle to which this would lead. Through his miracles he gave visual, physical demonstration of the restoring and transforming power of the kingdom.
A week or so prior to his crucifixion he did something that made it clear that he himself was the king in the kingdom of God. Here is John’s description of the event:
The next day the large crowd that had come to the feast heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem. So they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him, crying out, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!” And Jesus found a young donkey and sat on it, just as it is written,
“Fear not, daughter of Zion;
behold, your king is coming,
sitting on a donkey’s colt!”
His disciples did not understand these things at first, but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things had been written about him and had been done to him. The crowd that had been with him when he called Lazarus out of the tomb and raised him from the dead continued to bear witness. The reason why the crowd went to meet him was that they heard he had done this sign. So the Pharisees said to one another, “You see that you are gaining nothing. Look, the world has gone after him.”1
These melodic lines in the Bible’s portrayal of Jesus—the seed of the woman, the prophet, and the priest—not only run all the way from Genesis through Revelation, but they also, in a sense, intersect with one another.
You might think of these various themes in terms of a Venn diagram, those interlocking circles we learned about in math in high school. The point at which they all meet with one another centers on the person of the Lord Jesus Christ and on his work of salvation and restoration.
As boys in Sunday school, our teachers constantly reminded us that the Bible is a book all about Jesus:
- In the Old Testament Jesus is predicted.
- In the Gospels Jesus is revealed.
- In the Acts of the Apostles Jesus is preached.
- In the Letters Jesus is explained.
- In the book of Revelation Jesus is expected.
Actually that’s quite a useful little summary for grown-ups as well as youngsters! It may not be exhaustive or sophisticated, but it certainly helps us as we move around the Bible. For the truth is that the Bible will be an impenetrable mystery at every point where we take our eyes away from Christ. We will lose our way around the Bible when we fail to look to Jesus.
The story of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem on the first Palm Sunday is a case in point. What is happening in this familiar passage?
Sometimes the most familiar verses can be the occasion for our most superficial reading. This particular passage is routinely read on Palm Sunday. But despite our familiarity with the Triumphal Entry scene, we may not have grasped its significance.
So—what is the message? What does it mean? Why does it matter?
If we are honest about our uncertainty, we should not be unduly disheartened. We are in good company—with Jesus’ own disciples. John says: “His disciples did not understand these things at first.”2 Hardly complimentary to them, is it?
Incidentally, one of the marks of the authenticity of the Gospels is, surely, the number of times the authors tell us what the disciples didn’t know! They were not written to commend to the church the natural gifts of the apostles!
It is helpful—and can be wonderfully encouraging—to notice these little details. They remind us that we are on a pilgrimage, and we have not yet arrived at our destination. Jesus is transforming us, but our lives are still under construction. We too have much to learn. That simply underscores what a privilege it is to be able to possess Scripture and to live under its tutelage.
The disciples just weren’t getting it, were they? Nor was this the only time John recorded their lack of spiritual intelligence.
Later, in the upper room, Jesus told them, “I am going to prepare a place for you, I will come back and I will take you to be where I am,” and he added: “and you know the way to where I am going.” Then Thomas said, “But we don’t! We don’t understand you, Jesus. We don’t know where you’re going, so how can we know the way?” Jesus replies, “Well, you know, I am the way, and if you really knew me you’d know the Father.” And then dear Philip says, “Well, Jesus, why don’t you just show us the Father, and that will be enough for us.” He still did not understand that the Father was revealing himself in Jesus! “Have I been with you so long,” replied the Lord, “and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.”3
Jesus tells them that they should be encouraged by the fact that when the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide them into all truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. In “a little while . . . you will see me no longer; and again a little while, and you will see me.”4 That’s not particularly difficult, is it? “I’m going to be going away, and you won’t see me. And then I’ll be coming back, and you will see me.” But some of his disciples said to one another, “What is this that he says to us, ‘A little while, and you will not see me, and again a little while, and you will see me?’ ”5
Of course it seems perfectly plain to us, because we have been able to read the end of the story. We have the New Testament Letters to explain it all to us. But as you listen to the disciples, it isn’t a surprise to discover that later Jesus is calling out, in prayer, “Father! Father!”—as if he is saying: “Look at these characters you have given me. I’ve had them in Sunday school for three years, and they’re still absolutely hopeless! One after another they keep asking me these simple and basic questions. O, Father, I have kept them. Will you please keep them?”6
All of this underlines for us that when we read the Scriptures we need to guard ourselves from thinking, “Oh, I know a lot about this; I know all about the meaning of this passage. It’s the Palm Sunday passage. I know that one. Yes, we’ve done that one already. I’ve been at any number of Palm Sunday services. There can’t be anything for me to learn now. Now, Jesus, he’s a king, isn’t he?”
No! Our starting place should be, “Lord, you know, I really don’t know much about this.” Then we’re more likely to think: “I wonder, what is exciting and dramatic and interesting here, and what I can discover that’s fresh this morning out of this passage?”
Use Your Imagination
If it were possible for us to go back in time and observe a family preparing for the Passover, we might overhear a conversation between a boy and his father:
“Dad, I can’t wait for tomorrow. I’ve already got my palm branches, Dad. I’m all ready. I don’t know if I’m going to be able to sleep tonight, Dad. Because tomorrow . . . it’s that wonderful time, isn’t it?”
“Oh, yes, son. It is,” the father replies.
“Father, sing me a song before I go to sleep. Can we sing together that one I like?”
“Which one do you mean?”
“Well, isn’t it one of those Psalms of Ascent? 7 The one that begins, ‘I rejoiced with those who said to me . . . ’ That one about how our feet are standing inside Jerusalem! Can we sing that one?”
You may know this psalm in Isaac Watts’s version:
How pleased and blest was I
To hear the people cry,
“Come, let us seek our God today!”
Yes, with a cheerful zeal
We haste to Zion’s hill,
And there our vows and honors pay.8
It is important for us to keep in mind that the material in the Gospels is set within the warp and woof of ordinary life. Granted, we see this little boy only in our imaginations; but many excited little boys just like him were there with their families on Palm Sunday—like children lining the streets for a presidential inauguration or a British coronation. The Jerusalem crowds, however, gathered to celebrate God’s saving interventions in their nation’s past. They had also learned from the Old Testament of a new age, a new day that would dawn, when all that had been lost and forfeited would be restored and when all that they longed to see would be revealed. In the crowd of bystanders and palm branch wavers, there would be multiple layers of anticipation built into the expectation and enjoyment of that day.
Behind the Scenes
In John’s record of the Triumphal Entry, however, the immediate context for what happens on Palm Sunday is the raising of Lazarus from the dead. Jesus had come to the village of Bethany a few days after Lazarus had died. He had gone to his tomb—probably a cave—and had told some men to roll the stone away, and had called, “Lazarus, come forth!” His dead friend had come walking out of the grave. More likely he “tottered out”—he was still bound in his grave clothes.
When Lazarus came out of the tomb, Jesus gave a command that his grave clothes should be removed. Then we are told that many of the Jews who were there to visit Mary, and had seen what Jesus did, put their faith in him. That is followed by the frustration of the religious leaders, which leads to the hatching of a plot to kill Jesus.9 Can you imagine the “buzz” there was in this community?
They kept looking for Jesus, and as they stood in the temple area they asked one another, What do you think? That he will not come to the feast at all?10 But a few verses later on, when Jesus had returned to Bethany, we are told that by the time the large crowd of Jews found out that he was there,they came, not only on account of him but also to see Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead.11 But this was not all that was happening. Because of this the chief priests made plans to put Lazarus to death as well, because on account of him many of the Jews were going away and believing in Jesus.12What a remarkable statement! Small wonder that Jesus had looked over Jerusalem and said:
Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes.13
Think of it. All of these people, with their deeply religious background, with their amazing heritage, with their knowledge of the Scriptures—but as they tried to weave together the strands of their messianic expectation, they got it all dreadfully wrong. Here, in the most unexpected way, is the answer to all their expectations; but they could not recognize him. Truly “he came to his own, and his own people did not receive him.”14
It would take us on too long a journey to show how they misread hint after hint, prophecy after prophecy, as the Old Testament pointed to Jesus. But it is worth pausing to set out some pointers.
The Big Picture
One of the disadvantages about digital—in distinction from Polaroid—cameras is that we do not get any pictures in our hands. Not actual pictures. But one of the advantages is in being able to immediately create a collage and to see how the individual moments are all part of an extended narrative leading up to the final frame. We can look back on a complete vacation or the growth of a child from kindergarten to high school. The same is true of video. We can zip through all kinds of scenes that help to explain how we reached the final scene.
In the same way, as we scroll through the Scriptures we discover the layers that precede the moment in time when Jesus arrives in Jerusalem as king.
For example, we could scroll back to Luke 1:26–38 and the appearance of the angel Gabriel to Mary. Remember how she was troubled at the greeting, and the angel said, “You shouldn’t really be troubled”:
You have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God [notice that!] will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”15
This is one of those little snapshots. Here we have the announcement of a future birth. But there is so much more—including the nature and identity of the child who is going to be born. He will be given the throne of his father David. He is a king, and he will have a kingdom!
Mary was an ordinary young woman, probably a teenager. Small wonder that she pondered these things!16 She must have mulled them over many a day. Think of Mary watching her Jesus grow, seeing him coming back into the house after being outside, and asking him, “What have you been up to today, Jesus?” Think of her watching him in his little triumphs when he had copied the work of Joseph and so on. And always at the back of her mind the echo of the angelic announcement, “And he will reign on the throne of his father David.”
Phillips Brooks captures something of that in his Christmas carol:
O little town of Bethlehem,
How still we see thee lie,
Above thy deep and dreamless sleep
The silent stars go by.
Yet in thy dark streets shineth
The everlasting Light;
The hopes and fears of all the years
Are met in thee tonight.17
Here it is! All the hopes and fears, all the anticipations, all the dreams, all the Old Testament promises of the one who would come and embody the great prophetic announcements about the Messiah—they are now all somehow coming to fulfillment there in Bethlehem.
And then—fast-forward thirty years—to find the same thing in this triumphant scene on the road up to Jerusalem. The King is coming!
Here is the fulfillment of the prophecy of Zechariah: “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! . . . Your king is coming to you.”18 And of Isaiah 32: “Behold, a king will reign in righteousness.”19 And of 2 Samuel 7 and the promise that God gave to David that an eternal and universal king would come from his line.20
All of these we discover by scrolling through the biblical record. Further back to Genesis 49 we read the prophetic words of Jacob as he blesses his sons:
The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until tribute comes to him; and to him shall be the obedience of the peoples.21
Now, imagine an Old Testament believer reading these—and many more—passages. They would naturally ask, “How will this be? Who can this be?”22 As we move forward through the Bible, we find the people longing for a king, hoping that this will be the answer to all their dilemmas. But none of the kings fulfills their expectations; none of them is able to bring real salvation. And so the Old Testament people were left at the end of it all looking for the “Someone” who would be the great king. The prophetic ministry of the entire Old Testament ends with silence—several hundred years of silence—waiting for this unknown Someone who would come to be the embodiment of the prophetic word.
All this and more is on the hard drive of God’s unfolding revelation, and then we come to the picture to which all the others have been pointing.
What Kind of King?
Jesus mounts a donkey and rides into Jerusalem surrounded by this huge, noisy crowd. We do not have any other record of Jesus riding anywhere, do we? This is the only place it happens.
It isn’t because Jesus is tired that he is riding on the donkey. He had deliberately sent his disciples into the city to get it on this particular day.23 He wanted to make a point.
But what point?
Jesus is here confronting the community by his actions. He is deliberately entering the jurisdictions of Annas and Caiphas the Jewish high priests, and of the Jewish ruling council (the Sanhedrin), and of Pontius Pilate the governor who represented all the might of the Roman Empire. Later, Pilate will ask him, “Who in the world are you?” At one point he will ask directly, “Are you then the King of the Jews? Let’s just get this sorted out, Jesus. Are you the King of the Jews?” And Jesus replies, “You have said so.”24
But what kind of king is he? What kind of king rides on a donkey? What kind of king wears a crown that is woven with thorns? What kind of king is dressed up in someone else’s robe and made to look foolish and a figure of fun and is cruelly mocked by his ill-disciplined military custodians?25 Here we see the great paradox that confronts any intelligent reader of the Bible.
It is also the paradox that threw off many of the people who were looking for the coming one. They cried, “Save us, we pray, O LORD! O LORD, we pray, give us success!”26 But then they witnessed a whole series of scenes in which Jesus was “despised and rejected . . . a man of sorrows . . . acquainted with grief.”27 What possibility was there that he could bring salvation, safety, and success when he could not apparently secure his own safety? His ministry had led him to such an ignominious end.
How Does Jesus Reign?
The Shorter Catechism is famous because of its opening question: “What is the chief end of man?” (Answer: “Man’s chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever.”)28 But later in its exposition of the gospel it asks another important question, this time about Jesus:
How doth Christ execute the office [ministry] of a king? That is precisely the question these scenes force us to ask. Here is the Catechism’s answer:
In subduing us to himself, in ruling and defending us, and in restraining and conquering all his and our enemies.29
We have considered how Christ came as a prophet to oust our ignorance and as a priest to deal with our alienation and to lead us into God’s presence. Now we see him as a king who subdues all the tyrannical forces that are arraigned against us, and, yes, those that fight within us too.
But how does King Jesus do this? Here we must limit our discussion to three dimensions and consider each of them in summary form. First, how he is king in relation to our salvation, then in relation to the cosmos, and finally in relation to the future.
How does Jesus exercise his reign for our salvation? We will need to consider this further when we think about him as the Son of Man. But for the moment we need to understand that the cross is the crisis point of his reign. There he accomplished everything necessary to deal with our sin:
And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him.30
Earlier in his ministry the apostle Paul explained to the Galatians that this—death on a cross—meant that Jesus had borne the curse that we deserve for our sin.31
More than this, Jesus has done everything necessary to deliver us from the power of death.
The tyranny of sin and guilt is made visible in our death. God had said to Adam and Eve, “In the day that you eat of it [the tree of the knowledge of good and evil] you shall surely die.”32 That is now our inherited condition. Our death is the corrosive, degenerative impact of sin and judgment. The weakness, frailty, disintegration, and loss involved in death are the final evidences in this world that we have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.
But, in addition, listen to what the author of Hebrews has to say:
Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery.33
So Jesus has done everything that we needed to be saved from sin. He has done everything we needed in order for us to be saved from thejudgment of death. And he has done everything necessary to set us free from the bondage of the Devil. In a word, he has done everything we need done for us but could never do for ourselves.
The evidence for his victory is, of course, the resurrection. It is like a loud “amen” being pronounced on his work by his Father.
Jesus was raised physically from the dead as a sign that his sacrifice for sin had been accepted. It was as if the Judge were saying, “You have paid the penalty the law demanded; you are now free to go!” Clearly it was also the sign that he had broken the power of death, because it was not possible for him to be held in its grip.34
Having crushed the power of Satan, Jesus then spent a period of forty days meeting with his disciples. What a seminar on biblical teaching and resurrection life that must have been! Imagine being taught about new life, resurrection life, by the one who had said, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live. Whoever, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.”35
But how is it that Jesus’ resurrection leads to the resurrection of those who believe in him? How can it be—as Scripture makes clear—that because Jesus rose from the grave, it is an ontological impossibility for believers not to be raised?
Here is the biblical logic:
- We are “in Christ.”
- We are therefore united to him.
- We can never be separated from Christ.
- Christ has been raised from the dead.
- Therefore, because we are in him we have been raised and we will be raised!36
This is why his resurrection is described as the “firstfruits”—it is the pledge and assurance of a final harvest.37
So, Jesus reigns as king in our salvation.
Scripture teaches us to think of the kingly reign of Christ in cosmic terms. Here a key text is Colossians 1:15–17: “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth.”
Just think about this in relation to the average class in anthropology at almost any secular university. Or think about our young students who are reading history, or those who are studying medicine and will become physicians. Does it make any difference there to be a Christian? Does it affect their view of things?
Does it? If Paul’s words mean anything, it certainly does:
For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.38
There is, then, this great cosmic dimension to the kingship of Jesus. He is the source, the sustainer, and the goal of all created reality. “The universe was made by Him, is providentially sustained by Him and is utterly dependent on Him.”39
As Christians we must learn to think properly, biblically. Then we may watch CNN or BBC News, or read the New York Times, or make our way through the Wall Street Journal without joining the ranks of the gloomy or singing in the choir of the fearful. To be in Christ is mind stretching and life transforming. It is a mind-altering experience to bow before the authority of what is said concerning this cosmic Christ, who reigns over all. It changes our perspective on everything.
We were not stellar students in the physics class in high school. Our report cards at the end of the year contained such statements as: “He has decided that physics is not for him—and he is very firm in this decision.” But although we are in dangerous territory when it comes to science, we are able to look up at the night sky, and see the stars and planets, and stare in wonder at the Milky Way.
If the Milky Way contains, as astronomers now tell us, three hundred to four hundred billion stars, and if it is only one galaxy among possibly hundreds of billions of galaxies—then we little people are in need of Colossians 1:16–17 just to be able to get to bed at night and to wake up in the morning and feel we have any security at all in the universe.
We are helped by reading the prophet Isaiah’s great words:
Lift up your eyes on high and see:
who created these?
He who brings out their host by number,
calling them all by name.40
And by this reminder from the prologue to the Gospel of John:
All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.41
In a cosmos of otherwise impenetrable mystery, we are greatly helped by knowing that Jesus is king in the cosmos.
In addition to seeing Christ’s kingship salvifically and cosmically, we also need to think of it in futuristic terms.
Go back to the earlier illustration of the Venn diagram with its circles. We now begin to see how the various biblical descriptions of the Lord Jesus intersect with each another. The same Bible themes and passages keep recurring.
So in 1 Corinthians 15, we discover that there is an order to resurrection. First, Christ the first fruits, then, when he comes, those who belong to him.
Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death.42
See then this magnificent tapestry into which images of Christ as the ascended king are woven. Truly, “the head that once was crowned with thorns is crowned with glory now.”43
The “spillage” from his ascension is seen in the outpouring of the Holy Spirit so that he indwells the people of God. Jesus ascended in order to ask his Father to keep his promise to send the Spirit to his people so that they might experience every spiritual blessing.44 When he, the Holy Spirit, comes, he makes much of the Word of God in our lives and points us constantly to the Son of God.45 All this comprises the glorious benefits of Christ’s triumph and kingship.
This—with all of these elements included—ought to be central in our thinking as Christians. Indeed this future dimension should control our perspective on everything, and certainly the way in which we view the world.
But how should the Christian view the world?
The Christian views the world in terms of “the good, the bad, and the new, and the perfect.” Yes—the new and the perfect!
When God created the cosmos he made everything in it. And he made everything good. Then came the fall of man, and everything went bad. But in the Lord Jesus Christ it is made new. Indeed, says Paul, “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation.”46 More literally what he says is, “If any in Christ—new creation.” In Christ’s resurrection there took place a renewal process that will eventually involve the whole cosmos. “The creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption.”47
We live in anticipation of the day the new creation will be realized in all its perfection. Then those who are underneath Christ’s footstool will at last fall down, along with many more, and acknowledge that he is king.48
So we may learn to begin the day affirming that “Christ is King. Jesus is Lord!” It is important to develop the practice of affirming central gospel truths as we waken to the new day, saying to ourselves, “The Lord God omnipotent reigns. This is the twenty-fifth of January (or whatever); today the Lord God omnipotent reigns. Yes, I saw the New York Times before I went to sleep last night. I have it on my iTouch. I did look at the BBC report before I went to bed last night. I saw all about Gaza. I saw all about Zimbabwe. I saw so much to disturb and distress. But Christ reigns from the beginning of the day to its end—every single day of my life.”
This is why we love to sing at the end of the day: The day Thou gavest, Lord, is ended,
The darkness falls at Thy behest;
To Thee our morning hymns ascended,
Thy praise shall sanctify our rest.
We thank Thee that Thy church, unsleeping,
While earth rolls onward into light,
Through all the world her watch is keeping,
And rests not now by day or night.
As o’er each continent and island
The dawn leads on another day,
The voice of prayer is never silent,
Nor dies the strain of praise away.
The sun that bids us rest is waking
Our brethren ’neath the western sky,
And hour by hour fresh lips are making
Thy wondrous doings heard on high.49
What an amazing picture that is! Here are God’s people throughout the world. And as those in one time zone are going to sleep, those in another time zone are waking. And as they do, they are saying, “The Lord God omnipotent reigns. Here I am in North Korea. I can hardly function in many areas of my life, but Jesus Christ is King. Here I am in Kuala Lumpur. Here I am in the heartlands of India. Here I am.” And so God’s people rise at every hour of the day to praise him in every time zone in the world. Why? Because he reigns.
And then comes the final, triumphant stanza:
So be it, Lord; Thy throne shall never,
Like earth’s proud empires, pass away:
Thy kingdom stands, and grows forever,
Till all Thy creatures own Thy sway.
That’s it! Earth’s proud empires will all pass away. But the kingdom of Jesus Christ will continue, grow, triumph—and last forever.
Now, as we begin to grasp all this, we see that the kingship of Jesus changes the way in which we view the world. And the kingship of Jesus will then control how we live in that world.
We must not affirm that “Jesus Christ is King” or trot out phrases like “Jesus Christ is Lord” as if these are merely expressions of personal devotion. That would show that we had failed to understand their real meaning. When Paul wrote of the day when, “at the name of Jesus every knee should bow . . . and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord,”50 he was not describing the devotion of the worshiper but the identity of the one who is worshiped. He is proclaiming the divine identity of Jesus. Jesus is Lord. This isn’t a statement about my attitude to Jesus; it is a statement about who Jesus is. He is Lord. Kurios is the Greek word he uses. In the Greek version of the Old Testament current in Paul’s world, that was the standard way of translating the great covenant name for God, “Yahweh.”
And since Jesus is Lord and God, King and Savior, this impacts all of life.
For example, I have no right to develop convictions or practice a lifestyle contrary to my King’s word. That is why I cannot, for example, invent new views of marriage, or reengineer human sexuality, because I bow beneath the rule of the King.
I cannot rewrite the New Testament documents. I dare not play fast and loose with the historical narrative in Genesis 1–11. Why? Because Jesus is King, and this is the King’s Word. Nor do I have the right to behave in any way I please. My behavior must be marked by obedience to my King.
The reign of Jesus will also influence my business practices. It will affect the way in which I go to work tomorrow morning. It affects my relationship as a child with my parents, or as a parent with my children, or as a husband with my wife, and so on.
In addition, I have no right to think that I can be disenfranchised or disengaged from the people of God, because my Lord and King is also the head of the body, the church. It is in company with others who have been brought under his lordship that I both benefit and make a contribution.
Not only do we obey his commands, but we also enjoy his company. He is a King who has made himself accessible and who is wonderfully approachable.
We have no right of immediate access to the British monarch in Buckingham Palace in London. But we do have immediate access to the King of kings and Lord of lords. Moreover, he is not only our King—he is our Savior. And he is not only our Savior; he is our friend! It’s true: “There’s not a friend like the lowly Jesus. No, not one!”51 So we can come to him with all our fears, with all our failures, with all our stresses, with all our disappointments, with all our losses, and with all the needs of our loved ones and say, “Jesus, you’re the King over all of this. There’s so much that we can’t handle. There are so many aspects of this that are overwhelming us. But we come before you now.” And then we can rise to our feet and go out into the day—and into all of our days—to declare these great and amazing truths.
Back again to Sunday school in Scotland! Our teachers used to teach us some of the most amazing songs. They are etched into our memories—and some of them really were marvelous. Here is one that drives home the nitty-gritty, day-to-day, practical difference it makes to know that Jesus is King. In its child-friendly, child-attractive fun way (and surely children had fun with Jesus?), it underscores the power of the gospel. It says: “Come on now, you don’t have to be bedeviled and overwhelmed by all of these things that are coming at you.” Here are the words:
Come leave your house on Grumble Street
And move to Sunshine Square.
For that’s the place where Jesus lives,
And you’ll be happy there!
Well, you say, “That isn’t exactly a brilliant lyric. What were they doing teaching mischievous little boys that kind of poetry?”
Yes, but we got the message of these choruses. It wasn’t necessary to master a systematic theology textbook to see the point: “Come on now; we say that Jesus Christ is King. Why then are our faces sad? Jesus Christ is King. Where then is our hope? Jesus Christ is King and Lord; where is our enthusiasm for the Lord Jesus? We do need to leave our house in Grumble Street and move to Sunshine Square. That’s the place where Jesus is. We’ll be happy there.”
And then as we grew up we learned the great “grown-up” words of Isaac Watts, in his wonderful paraphrase of Psalm 72: “Jesus shall reign where’er the sun.” It has a special association for us because of the story of Eric Liddell.
In 1925 Eric Liddell was leaving Scotland to go to China as a missionary teacher. He was both a Scottish Rugby internationalist and an Olympic gold medalist in the 1924 Olympics in Paris (memorialized in the movie Chariots of Fire).
When Eric Liddell boarded his train in Waverley Station, Edinburgh, on the first leg of his journey to China, a vast crowd had gathered to bid him farewell. He was the great sports superstar of his day. Family and friends intermingled with folks just off the street. Liddell lowered the window of his compartment, put his head out of the window, and shouted, “Christ for the world, for the world needs Christ!” And then he led this massive throng in singing the hymn “Jesus Shall Reign Where’er the Sun.”
Here is the vision of Christ’s reign that the people of God have shared since time immemorial:
Jesus shall reign where’er the sun
Does his successive journeys run;
His kingdom stretch from shore to shore,
Till moons shall wax and wane no more.
To Him shall endless prayer be made,
And praises throng to crown His head;
His Name like sweet perfume shall rise
With every morning sacrifice.
People and realms of every tongue
Dwell on His love with sweetest song;
And infant voices shall proclaim
Their early blessings on His Name.
Blessings abound where’er He reigns;
The prisoner leaps to lose his chains;
The weary find eternal rest,
And all the sons of want are blessed.
Where He displays His healing power,
Death and the curse are known no more:
In Him the tribes of Adam boast
More blessings than their father lost.
Let every creature rise and bring
Peculiar honors to our King;
Angels descend with songs again,
And earth repeat the loud amen!
That was the 1920s in Edinburgh.52
It is now a century later.
Jesus Christ was King then.
Jesus Christ is still King now.
Cheer up, you saints of God.
This is chapter 4 of the book Name Above All Names by Alistair Begg and Sinclair Ferguson
1 John 12:12–19.
2 John 12:16.
3 See John 14:1–11.
4 John 16:16.
5 John 16:17.
6 See John 17:11–15.
7 Psalms 120–134 seem to belong together as a kind of songbook for pilgrims at the Jerusalem festivals.
8 Isaac Watts’s “How Pleased and Blest Was I” is a paraphrase of Psalm 122.
9 See John 11:44–45, 48, 53.
10 John 11:56.
11 John 12:9.
12 John 12:10–11.
13 Luke 19:42.
14 John 1:11.
15 Luke 1:30–33.
16 Luke 2:19.
17 The opening verse of Phillips Brooks’s hymn “O Little Town of Bethlehem,” 1867.
18 Zech. 9:9.
19 Isa. 32:1.
20 2 Sam. 7:12–16; cf. Ps. 72:1–19.
21 Gen. 49:10.
22 See 1 Pet. 1:10–12.
23 Matt. 21:1–11.
24 Matt. 27:11.
25 John 19:1–3.
26 Ps. 118:25.
27 Isa. 53:3.
28 Published in 1648 by the Westminster Assembl