The Incomparable Christ — Part Four
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The Incomparable Christ — Part Four

John 18:28-40  (ID: 3429)

Since the beginning, man has been rebellious. By nature, instead of trusting God’s wisdom and goodness, we assert our right to rule over our own lives. By grace, though, God established Jesus as the ultimate King to subdue us to Himself, to defend and keep us, and to conquer our enemies. Alistair Begg teaches that by submitting to His reign, ordinary people like us are welcomed into an eternal community where harmony and intimacy will be restored. Will we accept God’s invitation?


Sermon Transcript:

Our New Testament reading comes from the Gospel of John and chapter 18, and we’re going to read from the twenty-eighth verse to the end of the chapter. John chapter 18 and from verse 28:

“Then they led Jesus from the house of Caiaphas to the governor’s headquarters. It was early morning. They themselves did not enter the governor’s headquarters, so that they would not be defiled, but could eat the Passover. So Pilate went outside to them and said, ‘What accusation do you bring against this man?’ They answered him, ‘If this man were not doing evil, we would not have delivered him over to you.’ Pilate said to them, ‘Take him yourselves and judge him by your own law.’ The Jews said to him, ‘It is not lawful for us to put anyone to death.’ This was to fulfill the word that Jesus had spoken to show by what kind of death he was going to die.

“So Pilate entered his headquarters again and called Jesus and said to him, ‘Are you the King of the Jews?’ Jesus answered, ‘Do you say this of your own accord, or did others say it to you about me?’ Pilate answered, ‘Am I a Jew? Your own nation and the chief priests have delivered you over to me. What have you done?’ Jesus answered, ‘My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world.’ Then Pilate said to him, ‘So you are a king?’ Jesus answered, ‘You say that I am a king. For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world—to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.’ Pilate said to him, ‘What is truth?’

“After he had said this, he went back outside to the Jews and told them, ‘I find no guilt in him. But you have a custom that I should release one man for you at the Passover. So do you want me to release to you the King of the Jews?’ They cried out again, ‘Not this man, but Barabbas!’ Now Barabbas was a robber.”

Thanks be to God for his Word.

Father, as we come now to turn to the Bible, we pray that the Spirit of God will so work in our hearts and minds that beyond the voice of a mere man we may hear Christ himself, perhaps today in a way that has never, ever occurred before. And we earnestly pray that in hearing your voice we will submit to your lordship and to your kingly rule. For we ask it in Christ’s name. Amen.

The Bible makes it perfectly clear that “there is one mediator between God and men,” and that is “the man Christ Jesus.”[1] A few weeks ago, as we began to find ourselves in these interesting circumstances, we recognized that for some, there seemed to be a kind of debilitating sense of pessimism that was beginning to settle in; others, of course, at the other end of the spectrum, immediately responding with a kind of superficial optimism: “Nothing can be wrong or ever get wrong.” And as we tried to navigate through that, we said probably the best way to approach it is by finding for ourselves what we referred to as a theological realism—a theology, of course, that begins and ends with God; that, as we have recognized already this morning, God has made himself known. He has spoken. In the same way that if I were to stand here in complete silence, there would be no way in which you could ever possibly know what was in my mind; it is as I give voice to what is in my mind that you might hear and hopefully understand.

And so, God has spoken: spoken in his world, in the beauty of it, in all the complexity of it; spoken in his Word, the Bible, which has been preserved for us in order that we might read it and know him; and spoken wonderfully in his Son, the Lord Jesus. And so it is that we have taken to ourselves the privilege for these past weeks in looking to Jesus as the incomparable Christ—as, as Paul says, with which we began, the “mediator.”

Despite our rebellion, despite our rejection of him by nature, God is amazingly kind, and he has decided to provide for us what we require.

Now, of course, when the world was created, there was no need of a mediator, because everything was perfect. When you read the opening chapters of Genesis, you realize that God communed with Adam and Eve “in the cool of the day.”[2] If you like, everything was just “groovy,” to go back to the ’60s. Paul Simon’s “59th Street Bridge Song,” I think it was: “Looking for fun and feelin’ groovy,”[3] as if it was just absolutely perfect. Well, of course, it wasn’t in the ’60s, but it was in Genesis 1 and 2. Then, of course, Adam and Eve doubt the goodness of God, they reject his wisdom, they rebel against his authority, and they find themselves banished from God’s presence. And no longer is it the perfect world. Now, if they are ever to be restored to a relationship with God, a mediator is required.

And as they move east of Eden, as they’re banished from the garden, very quickly it’s all about blame, it’s about victimhood, it’s about murder, it’s about revenge. And we read and we discover what we know now to be the case: that the world is then upside down; it’s broken, messed up. And if harmony is going to be restored, a mediator is going to be required.

Well, that’s, of course, the wonder of the Bible. The great story of God’s love for us is that despite our rebellion, despite our rejection of him by nature, God is amazingly kind, and he has decided to provide for us what we require. And he does that not in giving us a philosophy to live by but in giving to us the one who has been our focus for these last few weeks, who, in the words of Newton’s hymn, is our Savior, Shepherd, Friend, Prophet, Priest, and now this morning, King.[4] King. We need a prophet to deal with our ignorance, we need a priest to deal with our guilt, and when the catechism asks the question “How does Christ execute the office of a king?” it replies, “In subduing us to himself, in ruling and defending us, and in restraining and conquering all his and our enemies.”[5]

Let’s take a line through this by, first of all, a brief review, and then considering the relevance of what we review, and then, finally, some words concerning our own personal response to what we’ve considered. So, the review, the relevance, and the response.

A Brief Review

Now, this brief review takes us very dangerously close back to our studies in 1 Samuel. And if you would like an assignment that can last you throughout the week, then go ahead and read Judges, Ruth, and 1 and 2 Samuel. And when you do, then you will be able to confirm what I’m going to review for you now.

Joshua died. Joshua had led the people into the promised land, but there were still enemies to be conquered. The people were fascinated by all that was going on around them, and they were not simply rudderless; they were rebellious. And the refrain which runs through the book of Judges is simply this: they did what was evil in the sight of the Lord and served pagan gods.

God in his kindness raises up for them judges. And each of these judges lasts for a wee while—gives to them, if you like, a kind of stay of execution in their rebellion. And the cycle then continues: the judge is raised up, they get stabilized for a little while, and then they go back to their idolatry, and in their idolatry they find themselves oppressed, and once again a judge is raised up. But the book ends with the sorry picture of ordinary folk in a collapsing society. The judges had to try and do their best to provide solutions for the people—religious, political, moral, social, and so on—and in much the same way that we look to our leaders today for many of these securities.

But the fact that there was no king had paved the way for them to make a request for a king. And that takes us to 1 Samuel chapter 8 and to a place that some of us will recall. And although their desire for a king was provoked by their faithlessness and by a spirit of ingratitude, God tells Samuel, “Go ahead and anoint a king for them.” Because, in chapter 8 and about verse 7 or beyond, he says, “They’re not actually rebelling against you, Samuel; they are rebelling against me.”[6] And in the mystery of God’s providence, he sets in motion that which will, of course, ultimately provide a king—one that they could never imagine.

And when you read through not only 1 and 2 Samuel but 1 and 2 Kings, you realize that all the kings eventually crumble to dust. Saul failed politically. David failed morally. Solomon failed religiously. And through the Northern Kingdom and the Southern Kingdom, as the searchlight looks for a king who will be a good king, eventually the people in the street are saying the kind of things that people say today. Wherever you live in terms of political terms, you will find people having a coffee and saying, “Is this what we were led to expect when we had this person become our prime minister?”—or “our president,” or whoever it might be. “There must be something better than this.” Well, that was actually the kind of things that they were saying. And they were saying them with good reason. Because they had invested so much in the prospect that this king would be the answer to all their dilemmas.

And when Justin read for us a little earlier from Psalm 72, you realize that the boundaries of their expectation were actually far more limited than what God had in mind. And again, you can reread Psalm 72 and rehearse again the things that are said about the one who will fulfill this kingly role: “In his days … the righteous [will] flourish, and peace [will] abound, till the moon [shall] be no more.” This king will have “dominion from sea to sea.” All the other kings will “fall down before him,” and “all [the] nations [will] serve him.”[7] He’s the one who will deliver the needy. He will deliver the poor; he will deliver the helpless.[8] And furthermore, “the whole earth” is “filled with his glory.”[9]

Now, of course, you have to add into that all of the expectations of the Old Testament that combine. For example, when the prophet Isaiah writes, he writes of this “root out of [a] dry ground,”[10] this shoot who is also the root,[11] and writes in such a way that this one who will come will have a king and a throne that lasts forever.[12]

So, we must move on from the review, but here’s the point that should come across very clearly: the Old Testament is preparing us for something that is beyond it. The Old Testament is actually preparing us for what Jesus said in our reading in John chapter 18. It’s preparing us for a “kingdom” that “is not of this world”—so that, essentially, all of the prophetic expectation of the Old Testament ends in silence. In silence. You come to the end of the Old Testament story, and you have four hundred years of silence, making the point that the answer is going to come in the person of one who is both Son of David and Son of God.

You see, that review is very, very helpful when we turn, for example, immediately then to the Gospels. And we’re not going to spend time on it now. But in light of what we have just considered, think about what it meant for this teenage girl, Mary, to be awakened by the arrival of an angel who says to her, “Greetings! You are highly favored.” Now, the other morning, one of my grandchildren woke me up when it felt like it was still the middle of the night and scared me. I awoke with a great start! And so, the angel comes, and it says, “And Mary was essentially freaked.” But it wasn’t even the beginning of it. “Do not be afraid,” he said. “You are going to have a child. And he will be great. And he will sit on the throne of his father David, and he will reign forever and ever.”[13]

Where in the world does that come from, out of four hundred years of silence? The Old Testament pointing us forward, fulfilling the enigma that is there, in Jesus himself.

Relevance

Well, if that’s what it means, or something of what it means, why does it even matter? That takes us to the issue of relevance. Relevance.

When we turn to the Gospels—and we read purposefully from John, but we could equally well have begun at the beginning of Mark’s Gospel, where, in the first of these Gospels, Jesus appears, coming out of the experience of temptation. “After John [had been] arrested, Jesus came into Galilee,” writes Mark, “proclaiming the gospel of God, and saying”—here we go—“‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe … the gospel.’”[14] What Jesus is doing there, of course, is saying that “the answer to the questions that are raised, the lines that are pointing forward from the Old Testament, find themselves in me.” And immediately, when you get into the Gospels, you find that all of the future tenses that fill the Old Testament—“Behold, someone will come, and there will arise, and there will be”—you come to the Gospels, and it is now in an emphatic present: “The time is fulfilled.” That for which men and women had thought and wondered and prayed and looked for a very long time has now come to be in Jesus.

So, for example, when he returns in the Gospel of Luke, in chapter 4, goes back to the synagogue in Nazareth where he was raised, and he is given to read from the scroll of the prophet Isaiah, and, of course, he reads that section of the Messiah who will come—and then, strikingly, he says to the congregation, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”[15]

In the person and work of Jesus, the kingdom of God has a present reality.

Now, here is the point: in Jesus—in the person and work of Jesus—the kingdom of God has a present reality. A present reality. It is now, and yet it is not yet, because it points forward to a future reality when, in fact, Eden will be restored. Really, the story of the Bible goes from one beautiful garden to another beautiful garden. And some months ago, I remember quoting from “Woodstock,” and the line or two that runs through there, and wondering really what Joni Mitchell was on about when she’s singing about “We’ve gotta get ourselves back to the garden.”[16] I think she is clever enough and tuned in enough to understand exactly what she’s saying: “We have been banished, and somehow or another, we’ve got to get back.” But, of course, we can’t get ourselves back. But one has come to bring us back.

And in the reading in John’s Gospel that follows on from where we read in chapter 18, by the time you get into chapter 20, the one who has come to bring us back into the garden is mistaken by Mary as a gardener. As a gardener! It says that she thought him to be the gardener. John’s Gospel is full of wonderful irony—John 3, “Can [a man] enter a second time into his mother’s womb?”[17] and so on. And here you have this amazing, amazing thought. She says to Jesus, not knowing she’s speaking to Jesus, “Sir, if they have carried him away, could you tell me where they put him?” And Jesus says to her, “Mary.” As soon as he says “Mary,” she gets it.[18] And he says, “Go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”[19]

Next Sunday is Ascension Sunday. And when we read the New Testament records, we realize that the resurrection and the ascension are described for us in the Bible as essentially just one movement—that the resurrected Lord is the ascended King. The period of time in between his resurrection and his ascension is in order that he might accomplish certain purposes. But he is resurrected, and he has ascended, and he is King. Now, if that is not the case, my breath is wasted. What possible help could we derive from a dead king? No, the Bible is making it perfectly clear that this one, as Priest, “ever live[s] to make intercession for” us,[20] that he is the only one who is able to redeem us, he’s the only one who is able to restore us.

The picture at the end of Judges is a long time ago, but it’s not far removed from our present experience today. What did we say was the context at the end of Judges? Well, it was ordinary folk in a collapsing culture. Well, here we are: men and women seeking intimacy in an isolated world, looking for harmony in a fractured world, looking for reality in a fabricated world.

And what the message of the Bible does, amongst other things, is this: it challenges the oft-repeated mantra of our day that there is no one objective reality that is real and is true in the whole world. So, if you listen to people talk, they will talk about what “my experience” and “my reality”—and of course we all have experiences of different things. But the idea that we create our own reality and that it is entirely subjective and that there is nothing objective in any way at all, the Bible says, “No. Jesus is actually the King of the universe. He is the source, he’s the sustainer, he’s the goal of all created reality.” This is Colossians 1: “For by him all things were created …. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.”[21]

So, you see, we’re not coming to this this morning and saying, you know, “Jesus is a king in the way that certain European kings are kings”—in other words, they have a nice place to live, and they open fetes, and they sometimes roam around in a carriage, and they’re generally nice to people, and they bring in a lot of tourists. No. No. Nothing could be further from the facts. No, Jesus is actually the King who comes to subdue us to himself, who comes to conquer all his enemies and our enemies, who comes to defend us and to keep us.

Abraham Kuyper, the Dutch theologian who was the president of the Netherlands in the early part of the twentieth century—1901, actually, to 1905—memorably on one occasion said, “There is not a square inch in the whole domain of human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry, ‘Mine!’”[22] “Mine!” It’s hard to imagine now, at the beginning of the twenty-first century, any politician being prepared to make such a statement. All that Kuyper was doing was affirming the Scriptures. Hebrews 1: “Your throne, O God, is forever and ever.”

“Until your enemies become your footstool.”[23]

A Response

So I suggest to you that when we consider the unfolding picture that is given us by way of review, that its relevance is unquestionable—unquestionable in the sense (and this brings us to our concluding point) it demands a response. It demands a response.

It’s not easy to simply dismiss this with a shrug of the shoulders. We’re confronted by a decision. We have to make a decision now about whether Christ has the right to rule and reign in the universe, but particularly to reign and rule in my life—whether he has the right to do this. A couple of Sundays ago, we quoted John Owen when he said, “It is the soul’s estimate of Christ as a person that is the crucial test to discover how a person stands before God. Since God has made him known finally and savingly in his Son—since his Son has come in order that we might know God in this way—it stands to reason that our position in relationship to Almighty God is to be determined by what our response is to his Son.”

Many of us would be happy to have an advocate to plead for us but not a king to rule over us.

But here’s the fact: by nature, outside of Christ, we believe ourselves, we believe in ourselves and our right to rule our own lives. I think more than any other notion that has seeped into the sort of philosophical underpinnings expressed in all kinds of ways—medical and social and every other way, sexual—is this notion: “Nobody’s gonna tell me what to do. Nobody has a right to rule me. No one has a right to reign in my heart. Why would anybody be able to do that at all? I believe in myself.” Contemporary psychology says, “Look into yourself. You will find the answer in yourself. You are fine in yourself.” That’s a dreadful chronicle of despair, because when we look in, we only find that which confronts us with our need of someone outside of ourselves.

This is essentially Billy Joel theology:

I don’t need you to worry for me, ’cause I’m all right.
I don’t want you to tell me it’s time to come home.
I don’t care what you say …, this is my life.
Go ahead with your own life and leave me alone.[24]

Now, that’s essentially what we’re saying to God when we say, “No, I have no interest in any king. I don’t need a priest; I’ll deal with my guilt. And I’m actually a lot brighter than you realize; don’t come to me with talk of ignorance.” We might not put it as forcefully as that. But many of us would be happy to have an advocate to plead for us but not a king to rule over us.

Well, it’s important to recognize that he comes to subdue us to himself. To himself. He doesn’t come to subdue us to an ideology. He doesn’t come to subdue us to a concept. No, to himself: “Take my yoke upon you. Learn of me. Come to me. I am this, I am that.[25] I am the one who has shed my blood. I am the Priest that has offered freedom from your guilt in my own blood.” What grace is this? The grace that seeks us out. He doesn’t need us as his subjects. It’s a wonder that he would invite us to be members of his group. How patient is he? How patient has he been to many of us, bearing with my opposition, and yet all the time showing kindness to me, even though I refuse to march under his banner, even though I refuse to wear the uniform that he gives to those who are his soldiers?

“Well,” you say, “what’s the requirement of entry, if I was prepared to consider it?” Just to trust him. Just to acknowledge that you need him. Not to find yourself saying, “Well, if I can do this,” or “if I can do that,” or “if I get a little better than I am now…” No! All that he requires is that we would know our need of him. In fact, what the Bible makes clear is that only those of us who know our need of him will ever be blessed by his rule.

You see, the way it works is simply this: that the responsibility of the Bible teacher, for myself, is not to ask you to come to faith; it is to invite you to come to Jesus. That you come to Jesus! Because it’s only as you come to Jesus, only as you understand that Jesus is actually a Prophet, a Priest, and a King, only when you understand what he’s come to do and what he has achieved—only then will you find yourself willing to turn away from all the attempts that you’ve made to rule your own life and to say to him, “Lord Jesus Christ, what a privilege to be your subject.” And then we’ll find him to be, as the hymn reminds us, “our shield and [our] defender.”[26] He will then give us our assignments. He will provide our resources. He will conquer our enemies, outward and inward.

And you know, I find it helpful to think in pictural terms. And a throne that is way out and up there is okay; it’s masterful in its grandeur. But when I think in terms of the idea of there being at the very core of my being, as it were, a throne, on which, by my nature, I sit. I sit. No one is taking this seat. And then the story of the Bible begins to pursue me, and I realize that the things that I’ve been trying to do to fix everything and make everything, that if I’m honest, uh-uh. Furthermore, then I begin to realize that I am guilty, that I do need someone outside of myself to subdue me to himself. And so he sets up his throne in our hearts.

As children in Sunday school we used to sing,

Cleanse me from my sin, Lord,
And put your power within, Lord,
And take me as I am, Lord,
And make me all your own.

And keep me every day, Lord,
On the narrow way,
And make my heart your palace
And your royal throne.[27]

And then what happens is we come to Christ, ordinary folk in a collapsing society, an ordinary person with my own collapsed expectations and my own rebellions. And by his grace and in his goodness, he comes to us and takes us as ordinary folk and makes us members of a forever community.

The review is there for you to consider, the relevance is there for you to ponder, and the response is there for you, and for only you, to make.

We pray together:

Our God and Father, thank you that you have not left us to ourselves to wander around in the wilderness of our collapsing communities, but that you have come to seek us out: a Shepherd looking for lost, a Savior coming to forgive and to cleanse, and a King coming to reign.

And we thank you that while you are presently the ascended King, holding everything together, that there comes a day when, in a new heaven and in a new earth, all that has been made possible in your death and resurrection and ascension will come, as it were, into full bloom. The garden will be as it has never been before. And when we think of people that we like to spend time with, and they’re sad that they have to go away or that they move to another country and we’ll never see them again, and then we realize, we get an inkling of what it will be then to be in a context where none of that happens.

Oh, thank you for loving us so much. Thank you for coming to us in Jesus. Thank you that this story does not just wind down to a sorry kind of conclusion, but rather that you reign forever, and in Christ you have invited us to reign with you.

Accomplish your purposes, Lord, in all of our lives, we pray. For Jesus’ sake. Amen.


[1] 1 Timothy 2:5 (ESV).

[2] Genesis 3:8 (ESV).

[3] Paul Simon, “The 59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin’ Groovy)” (1966).

[4] John Newton, “How Sweet the Name of Jesus Sounds” (1779).

[5] The Westminster Shorter Catechism, Q. 26.

[6] 1 Samuel 8:7 (paraphrased).

[7] Psalm 72:7–8, 11 (ESV).

[8] See Psalm 72:12–13.

[9] Psalm 72:19 (ESV).

[10] Isaiah 53:2 (ESV).

[11] See Isaiah 11:1.

[12] See Isaiah 9:7.

[13] See Luke 1:26–33.

[14] Mark 1:14–15 (ESV).

[15] Luke 4:21 (ESV).

[16] Joni Mitchell, “Woodstock” (1969).

[17] John 3:4 (ESV).

[18] John 20:15–16 (paraphrased).

[19] John 20:17 (ESV).

[20] Hebrews 7:25 (KJV).

[21] Colossians 1:16–17 (ESV).

[22] Abraham Kuyper, “Sphere Sovereignty,” in Abraham Kuyper: A Centennial Reader, ed. James D. Bratt (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998), 488.

[23] Hebrews 1:8, 13 (paraphrased).

[24] Billy Joel, “My Life” (1978).

[25] Matthew 11:28–29 (paraphrased).

[26] Robert Grant, “O Worship the King” (1833).

[27] R. Hudson Pope, “Cleanse Me.” Lyrics lightly altered.

Copyright © 2021, Alistair Begg. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations for sermons preached on or after November 6, 2011 are taken from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

For sermons preached before November 6, 2011, unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® (NIV®), copyright © 1973 1978 1984 by Biblica, Inc.TM Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Alistair Begg
Alistair Begg is Senior Pastor at Parkside Church in Cleveland, Ohio, and the Bible teacher on Truth For Life, which is heard on the radio and online around the world.