Till All His Foes Submit
return to the main player
Return to the Main Player
return to the main player
Return to the Main Player

Till All His Foes Submit

From Series: Grace and Peace, Volume 1

Ephesians 1:21-23  (ID: 3153)

The world has all kinds of ideas about what is required to fix its problems, but in this message, Alistair Begg points to the most essential need in the lives of all people. In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul wrote of his desire for them to become experientially aware of the power and authority of Jesus Christ. Affirming Christ’s supremacy, His authority over the Church, and the security of the Christian in Jesus, Paul proclaimed the hope that can only be found in our risen, ascended, and reigning King.


Sermon Transcript:

We read from Ephesians 1:15. Ephesians 1:15—Paul’s prayer for the Ephesians, which we’ve been looking at for a couple of weeks now, and we come to the end of it this morning:

“For this reason, because I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.”

Amen.

And the verses that are particularly before us are verses 21 and 22 and 23: “… far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.”

Father, we pray for the help of the Holy Spirit as we study now, to illumine the printed page, to quicken and energize our thinking, so that in thinking properly we may come to know savingly and to love you deeply. For we pray in Christ’s name. Amen.

It seems more than likely that these verses here at the end of Ephesians 1 were in the mind of Wesley when he wrote one of his well-known hymns, “Rejoice, the Lord Is King!” You may be familiar with it: “Rejoice, the Lord is King: your Lord and King adore!”[1] It is the kind of hymn that would be used, and is used, at the beginning of a time of corporate praise. And it unfolds, in the course of a few verses, the reason for rejoicing. Wesley is not exhorting the congregation to rejoice on the basis of subjectivism, on the basis of their circumstances, or on the basis of their feelings. Which, of course, is jolly helpful, because if you think simply about our circumstances this morning, if we were to turn to one another and just begin to recount them, or if we were honest concerning our feelings in arriving here, it probably wouldn’t be a pretty picture overall.

And so he is reminding them of the kingship of Christ. For example—and here is where I think Ephesians 1 comes in—he writes,

He sits at God’s right hand
Till all His foes submit,
And bow to His command,
And fall beneath his feet:
Lift up your heart,
Lift up your voice;
Rejoice, again I say, rejoice![2]

In other words, he frames the context out of which congregational praise should emerge. It is our understanding of these things, it is our view of the world, which frames what we give voice and praise to.

If you were driving at the same time as me this morning and happened to be listening to National Public Radio, you would have heard a lady being interviewed there, a professor from Upstate New York. Sounded like to be a very nice lady indeed; she had a lovely voice. And in the course of the interview, which is—I think the program is called something like On Being or something like that; it is a vaguely spiritual program. And this lady was explaining how she had learned, growing up, from the trees and from the woods—that she was very lucky, she said, to have grown up and to be able to learn from these things. And I was thinking about it, you know, how that actually used to be a psychiatric condition. You remember the phrase: “I talk to the trees… that’s why they put me away.”[3] And what in the ’60s was, you know, a psychiatric problem is now an expression of spirituality. And it sounds absolutely wonderful, doesn't it? Well, you see, it’s just pantheism: that God somehow or another is contained within his creation, and therefore, we might meet him there. That’s not to say a walk in the woods won’t do you good. But it is vastly different from declaring the kingship and lordship of Jesus. Which is, of course, what Paul is doing as he writes to these believers in Ephesus.

They lived in Ephesus. You can find Ephesus on the map, in a contemporary map of Turkey, about twenty-five miles south of Izmir. It was Asia at the time. Still is, really. But nevertheless, there they were. They lived in a community that was prosperous as a result of their ability to trade. It was at the same time a prominent community, on account, primarily, of the great temple of Artemis, or Diana, which was at that time one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World and was the center of all kinds of spiritual activity. It was at the same time a city that was preoccupied with magic and with the occult. And as Paul went into Ephesus to proclaim the lordship of Jesus, he was, as Luke records for us in Acts chapter 19, immediately confronted by opposition, because light and darkness have nothing in common. Truth and error do not coexist, despite the contemporary preoccupation with coexistence.

Now, many of these believers had been involved in this. And in fact, Acts 19 again records for us what must have been a quite magnificent bonfire when a number of them brought their magic books together and burned them in a public forum. The cost of that reading material—those magic books—Luke says was “fifty thousand pieces of silver,”[4] a substantial amount of money. And the people in the community would have looked on and said, “What happened to them? Why are they burning all their books?”

And somebody would’ve said, “Well, they have a completely different view of the world.”

“Well, how has that happened? You mean they don’t believe in chance? They don’t believe in the demons?”

“No, they’ve started to believe in Jesus of Nazareth. They’re going around saying that he’s actually alive, that he is the one who forgives sins and fills them with the very fullness of God.”

And the people would have said, “How crazy is that? You would give up your magic books for a story like that?”

Well, you shouldn’t be surprised, because that’s exactly what people say today, isn’t it? The church community in Ephesus was not the Moral Majority, and we are not the Moral Majority either. They were, and we are, the Christian minority. And the great need that they had, in the face of severe opposition, was to be reminded of these great truths of who Jesus is and what he has done. And that’s why Paul is able to say to them at the beginning of his prayer, “I have heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus, I’ve heard about your love for all the saints, and I’m praying that you might know the hope to which you have been called.” You see, somebody might have looked on the circumstances and said, “You know, what they really need is for somebody to get in there and help them to sort out the political and civic structures of Ephesus. They need somebody to go in there and take care of all of that magic stuff and root it out as a result of the enactment of various laws and codes and so on.”

If you are a believer, what you need more than anything else is to be made experientially aware of the truth and reality of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Well, in actual fact, Paul says, “No, what you really need to know is the truth of the gospel. What you really need to know—or, if you like, who you really need to know—is Jesus. You need to know with assurance all that is yours in the Lord Jesus Christ. You need to know what is true of you now, and you need to be aware of what will be true of you then, when all things are wrapped up.”

And, my friends, this morning, that is actually true. If you are a believer this morning, what you and I need more than anything else is to be made experientially aware of the truth and reality of the Lord Jesus Christ—as Paul puts it here earlier in his prayer, “that you might know the immeasurable greatness of his power among you who believe.” That you might understand, in the words of a contemporary song, that

Above all powers [and]
Above all kings,
Above all nature and all created things,
Above all wisdom and all the ways of man,
You were here before the world began.[5]

And we need to know that. Because so much that presses against us, in Cleveland or in Ephesus, is arguing the reverse. “So,” says Paul, “my concern for you is that you might know the real story concerning Jesus.”

We’ve said in the past that J. B. Phillips’s little book Your God Is Too Small is a helpful, although somewhat galling, book, in that it is an indictment on many of our concepts of God himself. We might add to that, as it were, a sequel, which is Your Jesus Is Too Weak. We’ve got a view of Jesus that somehow or another he’s just fighting for a place in the pantheon of gods, that he’s fighting for his position in the great story of spiritual history, and so on. And Paul says to these believers, “No, you need to know the immeasurable greatness of his power.”

Now, you may be here this morning, and you think you need to know something else entirely. You need to know how to fix your marriage. Well, you may need your marriage fixed, but you need to know “the immeasurable greatness of his power.” You need to know how to deal with your job. Well, we can help with that as well, but you need to know “the immeasurable greatness of his power toward[s] [you] who believe.” Otherwise, why would Paul pray for that? Why wouldn’t he pray for all these other things? He says, “I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you might know the reality of these things.” Why? Because this is vitally important.

He says that “immeasurable greatness of his power” has been displayed in two ways: number one, in the resurrection, which he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead. In other words, he says, “You need to know that Jesus is alive this morning. He’s not simply a figure of history locked in the past.”

We’re just a few weeks away from Easter now; I look forward to it. It’s a wonderful time, isn’t it? We can sing all those Easter hymns, some of which we have made our own, and others we never sing at all. And one that we hardly ever sing—and I don’t say that in a spirit of disdain, but we don’t often sing it—but you know the hymn; it begins:

Low in the grave He lay, Jesus, [our] Savior,
Waiting the coming day, Jesus [our] Lord!

And then the great refrain:

Up from the grave he arose;
With a mighty triumph o’er his foes;
He arose a victor from the dark domain,
And he lives forever, with his saints to reign.
He arose! He arose! Hallelujah! Christ arose![6]

Now, either he did or he didn’t. And if he didn’t, this is irrelevant; and if he did, it changes everything. It’s a precious hymn. Some of us have sung it at the graveside of our loved ones, as an affirmation of the fact that “the immeasurable greatness of his power” has been made known to us in his resurrection.

One of the songs that we used to sing—or have sung for us, rather—in the early days back in Beachwood… Somebody introduced me to a handsome, big, what looked like an elderly man—probably, he was fifteen years younger than I am now—but he was he was a big man, and he was an African American fellow, and we brought him in, and he sang this song for us that began, “Go ahead…” He had a big voice like that. “Go ahead, drive the nails in my hands, laugh at me, where you stand.” And then the refrain: “But I’ll rise again,” you know. “I’ll rise again. There ain’t no power on earth can tie me down! ’Cause I’ll rise again.”[7] Oh, man, it was great! Find him! We’ll bring him back in a month. Find this man! It is so good! You know, it wasn’t like somebody going, “’Cause I’ll rise again.” Say, “No. Stop that!” No. “I’ll rise again!”

And I’ll tell you, he convinced me. He convinced me! Man, it made all the difference to Sunday lunch! It wasn’t like—it’s because he’s risen! The immeasurable greatness of his power! We serve a risen Christ! He’s not fighting for his place in the universe alongside Buddha and Muhammad and Krishna and all the rest. This is Christianity. “You need to know this!” he says. “He has manifested the greatness of his power in the resurrection, and also,” he says, “in his exaltation, which he worked in Christ, raising him from the dead, and seating him at his right hand on high.” “God,” as he writes to the Philippians, “has highly exalted him.”[8]

In theological terms of old, theologians would refer to this as the session of Christ—the session of Christ. For those of you who did Latin, from the verb to sit. For those of you who are lawyers, we say, “The court is now in session,” meaning the court is now seated to exercise its jurisdiction. That is the picture that is provided for us here: of Jesus Christ sitting at the Father’s right hand in the place of authority. And he sits not to rest, but he sits to rule. He sits to rule. He has finished his high-priestly work. He has accomplished the work of redemption. That is now done. “His head had once been crowned with thorns; it’s crowned with glory now. The highest place that heaven affords is his by sovereign right.”[9]

You say, “Well, Alistair, this is all familiar material. We know about the resurrection, and we know about the exaltation. Why are you belaboring the point?” Well, you know, familiarity can dull us, can’t it? We become so familiar with these things that we lose our sense of wonder.

You see, what Paul is saying here is quite miraculous: that this child—this Jesus, who was nurtured in his infant days amongst creatures on a bed of straw; who was taught the alphabet by his mother, Mary; who learned carpentry at the hand of his father; who as a twelve-year-old boy was engaged in dialogue with the leaders in the temple; who in his growth sat by a well, thirsty and hungry and waiting for his disciples to return; who faced in the garden of Gethsemane all hell let loose against him and recoiled from the prospect of death; who was nailed to a cross, who was finished off, as far as the authorities were concerned, never to appear again—it is this Christ who sits at the Father’s right hand. He has been raised to a position of authority. He left heaven as the Eternal Son; he returns as the God-man, in his humanity, bearing the wounds upon his own body. And Paul says to the Ephesians, “I’ve been praying for you, that you might have the eyes of your hearts enlightened so that you might know the immeasurable greatness of his power towards those of you who are believers, a power which is manifested in the wonder of his resurrection and exaltation.” That’s why we sing,

Behold Him there, the risen Lamb,
[Our] perfect, spotless righteousness,
The great unchangeable I Am,
The King of glory and of grace![10]

Well, you know, it would seem that it would have been fine just to place a full stop at the end of that, wouldn’t it? “… when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places,” full stop. But our English translators have given us a comma, because Paul can’t stop himself. He just can’t stop. He’s begun his first long sentence, “Blessed be the God and father of our Lord Jesus Christ who has blessed us with all these things in the heavenly places,”[11] and has laid this all out, and now he says, “In light of all of that, I’m praying for you folks that you would come to a solid, experiential grasp of this and that you would know who Jesus is.”

The power and victory of Jesus is comprehensive. There is nothing that can compare to it.

Let me just point out three things. You say, “Oh, are we starting now?” No. We’re in the second half now. First half had no points; it was pointless. The second half has three points. All right?

Christ’s Absolute Supremacy

He is underscoring, number one, Christ’s absolute supremacy. Christ’s absolute supremacy. The power and victory of Jesus is comprehensive. That’s why verse 21 begins, after the comma, “far above.” Far above. In other words, it is so beyond anything else that there is nothing that can compare to it. The power and the victory and the triumph of Christ over death and over sin, over the grave, is far above.

Far above what? He says, “Well, far above all rule.” All rule. And the Ephesians, as they read the letter, must have said to one another, “You mean like the rule of Rome?” Yes! “Or Greece?” Yes! Far above the rule of Russia or North Korea or Great Britain or the European community or the United States of America. Far above all rule. All rule! Not just some rule. All rule!

Secondly, “above all … authority.” All authority. Now, the death of Antonin Scalia is a significant death; there is no question about that, in relationship to the affairs of our nation, and the balance of power, and so on. That it ever should be so is another question for another day. The idea that the judicial system would be impartial, not a political machine, takes us back some time. But that being said, if you’re tempted to roll over in your bed and pull the blankets over your head because you think somehow or another the world is so upside down that it will never be righted, then get yourself a Bible, and before you get out of your bed just say to yourself, “He has been placed far above all rule and all authority.” And if you can manage to sing it, sing to yourself,

There is a higher throne
Than all this world has known,
Where faithful ones from ev’ry tongue
Will one day come.[12]

Because he rules over all of these things.

“Far above … all power.” All power! Nuclear power. Wind turbines. All the things that I didn’t understand in physics, and still don’t understand. But whatever power you want to come up with—political power, economic power, nuclear power. Power! All power! Some? All! All!

Now, you go back into, you know, your engineering lab tomorrow and tell them, say, “By the way, I was just thinking yesterday morning about how the risen Lord Jesus Christ is so powerful that he’s far above all power, all of this stuff. He invented it, ultimately.” Your friend’s going to say, you know, “Take a couple of Tylenol and a day off and come back later on, and meanwhile, we will arrange for you to see somebody.”

He’s far above all power. The disciples said, “What kind of man is this that even the winds and the waves obey him?”[13] Well, he’s the Creator of the universe; you would be surprised if they didn’t obey him! You would think the King of the universe could walk on water if he chose, and turn water into wine. It’d be a mystery if he didn’t. These are simply indications of his kingship: he’s far above all rule, all authority, all power.

And “all dominion.” All dominion. That’s why when Jesus dispatches his disciples he says to them, “All authority in heaven and … earth has been given to me.”[14] All authority. What an amazing thing to say! Is there anyone else who qualifies for making such a statement? Do you know of anyone you’ve read in history?

“All authority in heaven and earth has been given to me.”

“Who do you think you are, Jesus? God? Only God has all authority in heaven and on earth.”

Exactly.

And he doesn’t stop there. And he says, “and above every name that is named.” Above every name that is named. That must have rung for the Ephesians. Because they had been around when the big brouhaha had emerged in the center of the community, and how they had come up against Paul and his proclamation of the gospel. And in the riot that emerged they said to one another, “There is danger not only that this trade of ours…” They were selling these little shrines, these little silver gizmos. “‘There[’s] danger not only that this trade of ours may come into disrepute”—“we don’t want it to affect our bottom line”—“but also that the temple of the great goddess Artemis may be counted as nothing, and that she may even be deposed from her magnificence, she whom all Asia and the world worship.’ [And] when they heard this they were enraged and were crying out, ‘Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!’”[15] Or “Great is Diana,” the Greek, “of the Ephesians.” And Paul says, “You need to know that his name is far above any name.” Great is Artemis of the Ephesians. Great is Hillary of the Americans. Great is Donald Trump. No. No. Great is Churchill, one of my heroes. No.

I’m reading a book at the moment, Gandhi & Churchill. I’m about a third of the way through; you gotta pay attention. But in the course of it I discovered what I always surmised: that Churchill was a radical secularist, and that in his early days, in his early twenties, as he served in a soldier, he’d never really read a book in his life. And he suddenly realized, “I don’t know hardly anything,” so he started to read. That’s why the reading of books, incidentally, is so vitally important, because what he started to read was not a help to him; it was, in the end, a hinderance to him. And he read, in particular, and was influenced by a book by Winwood Reade called The Martyrdom of Man. The impact upon him, he said afterwards, was intense, because it reinforced his lessons from Macaulay, The Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire, as history being

the story of the triumph of modern progress and [of] science over primitive cruelty and superstition. …

[The book,] The Martyrdom of Man was an early manifesto of what would later be called Social Darwinism. [And] it presented history as a single process of the rise and survival of the fittest, showing how … “our own prosperity is founded on the agonies of the past.”

[This] book made an indelible impression on the young Churchill …. [And] he was … struck by [its] devastating critique of Christianity and of religious faith as reflections of man’s most backward tendencies. Reade’s unabashed atheism left Winston, by his own admission, with “a predominantly secular view” of life and human nature that lasted until death. More than half a century later he would querulously ask his doctor how any trained physician could possibly believe in an afterlife.[16]

Billy Graham met him in London when he was there on one of his crusades; he had personal time with him. And I remember him telling us that as he laid the gospel out for Churchill, Churchill said to him, “Dr. Graham, for me it is too late.” “For me it is too late.” You may be here this morning, and you feel that way yourself. It is never too late, as long as you have life and breath. But you’re going to have to bow your arrogant knees. You’re going to have to bring yourself down before you come up.

Churchill believed the triumph of science over what he regarded as superstitious faith. Maybe you do too. Well, I have to tell you that the name of the Lord Jesus is greater than Diana, Hillary, Donald, Churchill, Alexander the Great, and not only in this age but in the ages to come. All the powers throughout space and time—all the powers, whether material or spiritual, in that whole continuum—are underneath his rule.

The Church’s Sole Authority

So, the supremacy of Christ. And then, very quickly, we also have affirmed for us the authority of the church—the sole authority of the church: “He put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church.” The Lord of the universe is the head of the church.

When David in his Psalms, under the direction of the Spirit, pens that amazing poem, remember: “O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!”[17] And he goes on to speak of man: “You have given him dominion over the works of your hands; you[‘ve] put all things under his feet,”[18] and so on. Well, in actual fact, that Psalm 8 is ultimately fulfilled in Jesus. And to the extent that it was fulfilled in Adam or in humanity, that has all been flawed as a result of our rebellion. But in Christ it is fulfilled, because he is the one who has abolished death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.

And what Paul is affirming here for these believers is that this church, which is the body of Christ—which, incidentally, is a unique metaphor to Paul. He’s the only person who uses that picture of the church. I wonder whether it was because of his encounter on the Damascus road, when he had the question confronting him from the heavens, “Why do you persecute me?”[19] And Paul must have thought to himself, “What do you mean, ‘me’? I’m persecuting them.” And as his mind was schooled under that encounter, and by the work of the Holy Spirit, he realized: this is the wonder—that Christ is the head and his people are the body, and they share in Christ’s victory and they are energized by Christ’s power and they are taught by Christ’s Word. And this Jesus is the head over all things.

Christ is the one who has abolished death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.

So, in fact, the victory of Jesus in the cross has secured the final doom of Satan and his hosts. The demons are defeated, but they refuse to concede. If we were able to see this morning the extent to which demonic activity is part and parcel of human existence, it would be a dreadful experience for sure. And so we need to be reminded this morning that although all of these things go on—he’s going to come to Ephesians 6 and say, “You better have all the armor of God on that you can deal with the onslaught of the Evil One”[20]—at the moment, he says, “You need to know that death has been dethroned, and one day it will be destroyed.” One day it will be destroyed. When the last enemy, which is death, is finally destroyed,[21] then we will be in that place. That is anticipated in Revelation.

The writer to the Hebrews gives us a tremendous help when, again quoting Psalm 8 about putting everything in subjection “under his feet,” the writer to the Hebrews says—Hebrews 2:8—“Now in putting everything in subjection to him, he left nothing outside his control. At present, we do not yet see everything in subjection to him.” That’s true, isn’t it? We don’t see everything in subjection to him. In fact, it looks as though hardly anything is in subjection to him. “But we see him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.”[22]

You see that? We do not see everything under subjection. The devil is a defeated foe. It is checkmate. That is absolutely assured. You can continue to play out with your pieces on the board, but you cannot affect the ultimate outcome. That is what has happened in the death and resurrection of Jesus. He is a defeated foe. He continues, now, to engage in spiritual warfare. The fact of the matter is that in Christ all is put under his feet. One day that will be realized in all of its fullness. And in the meantime, although we do not see that in its totality, we see Jesus—which again, you see, is the reminder of why it is we have to keep our eyes on Jesus. We see Jesus.

The reason that I’m in trouble is ’cause I don’t see Jesus, ’cause I see myself. I’m thinking about myself: How’s it going for me? Am I doing well? Am I doing poorly? Is this exactly what I wanted? Am I experiencing this or that or the next thing? What do I need? I don’t need a course on that! I need to see Christ. See him how? Not as a Galilean peasant wandering around like an erstwhile first-century Gandhi, but to see him as the ascended King, seated in a position of authority, “above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that [has been] named.” That’s what I need. And you wouldn’t know that’s what you need unless you weren’t here to hear the Bible this morning. Because you would have concluded that you need something else. And you may even think you need something else, because those other things are of importance—of course they are. But the real need for the Christian is to understand who Christ is and all that is ours in Christ.

Says one of our Dutch Reformed friends, “The relationship between Christ’s power over all things and his sovereignty over the church is such, that he employs the former to the preservation and salvation of the latter.”[23]

Now, let’s draw this to a close. As the head of the church, he is the sole authority. He is the head over all things to the church. Therefore, we do not yield to the state, nor to a pope, nor to little mini-popes. Every pastor has the potential to become a mini-pope. We yield not to popes. We yield not to the state. We do what we’re supposed to do in rendering to Caesar what is Caesar’s, but when that invasion takes place in the realm of the church to tell us about the nature of marriage, we do not yield to the state; to tell us about the significance of sexuality, we do not yield to the state; that tells us what we do about this or that, we do not yield to the state. Judge for yourselves whether it is right in these circumstances to obey God or to obey man.[24]

He is the head and the sole authority, and he is the source of all of the church’s fullness. He is “the fullness of him who fills all in all.” When Paul writes to the Colossians, he says, you know, “The fullness of the Godhead dwells bodily in the Lord Jesus Christ.”[25] And now he says to the Ephesians, “And the fullness of the Godhead is in Christ, and Christ is the head of the church, and he is the very fullness that is ours, all wrapped up in him.”

Josiah Conder, in the eighteenth and nineteenth century, was a great hymn writer as well, and he was doing the same thing as Wesley. Listen to these words:

He reigns! ye saints, exalt your strains;
Your God is King, [the] Father reigns;
And he[’s] at the Father’s side,
The Man of love, the Crucified.[26]

The Believer’s Complete Security

And that stanza brings us to a final observation, which is, not only is Paul underscoring the absolute authority and supremacy of Jesus and the sole authority of Christ over the church, but also the believer’s security on account of that.

You see, it is the supremacy of Christ which is the basis of safety and security for the Christian. If you think about it, do you know anywhere where your sins can be forgiven, other than in Christ? Then it is in his supreme sacrifice and triumph over sin that there is the opportunity for cleansing and for forgiveness. Do you know of anyone in the universe who has conquered death and opened up the way for another to triumph in death, save Jesus? No, you see, it is his supremacy which is the foundation of security. And it is the function of faith to acknowledge the reality of Christ’s supremacy and rule in the very period of time when unbelievers say, “It can’t possibly be.” It’s the function of faith to acknowledge the supremacy of Christ in a context where unbelief pushes back.

Now, this morning, for some of us, that is a particular challenge, isn’t it? But ask yourself—your faith may not be very strong, but you have faith, don’t you? You do believe, don’t you? You may not, you know, like, be really believing believing believing, but you’re kinda, like, believing. I mean, do you have faith like a strand of a spider’s web? That will be sufficient, provided that childlike, simple faith is grounded in the supremacy of Christ. And when your friends and family members push back and tell you it’s crazy, and you’re tempted to be pressed down by the extent of the opposition, this is where we look. This is the antidote to our fears. This is the assurance of safety in our alarms. When I’m aware of fightings within and fears without, when I’m conscious of my weakness, when I’m aware of the fact that I am not all that I should be and so on, I have to rest in the fact of his authority and in his power.

It is the supremacy of Christ which is the basis of safety and security for the Christian.

You say, “Yeah, but what about all this ‘authority and his power’? I ‘authority and his power,’ and I lost my job. Authority and power, and my health has failed. Authority and power, and my spouse has died.” Well, this is not heaven yet. This is the mystery of God’s providence. What do you do? You cry. You mourn. You wonder. You bow. And you say to yourself, “The God who has taken my loved one to himself is the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. He never would cause his child a needless tear. And therefore, although I do not understand this right now, I bow beneath his rule and his authority.”

Along that path there is safety. And if you talk to Christians who have lived for long enough to have experienced the ups and downs and the ins and outs and the failures and the foibles and the scramblings and the mess, then some of them will be bold and honest enough to tell you that the greatest progress that they’ve made in the journey of faith has not been in triumph but has been in affliction—has not been when the band is playing and everybody’s marching, but it’s been when they’ve felt themselves to be alone in the universe, and then they cried out, “Abba, Father!”

The hymn writer—and with this I close—captures the wonder of this safety. And this is a lady; Anna Letitia Waring writes this hymn:

In heavenly love abiding,
No change my heart shall fear;
And safe is such confiding,
For nothing changes here:
The storm may roar [about] me,
My heart may low be laid;
But God is round about me,
And can I be dismayed?[27]

That’s the great question, isn’t it?

And here we are as a church. What is it we really need? New techniques? New plans? New screens? New seats? We’re grateful for it all, but what we need is a sight of the risen, ascended, reigning Christ. Bring all your fears there. Cast yourself into the immensity of God’s amazing love in Jesus. Luxuriate, if you like, in the overwhelming sweep of his grace and of his goodness. And don’t let anybody tell you differently. Rest in his promises, live in his presence, and by God’s grace, go out and fulfill his purposes for you.

Father, thank you that we have a Bible to which we can turn, that we don’t have to come in here and try and think up something to say. We want to be students of your Word. We want to learn this morning that you really are supreme over all things, and in our world of turmoil and chaos and bloodshed and pain, only the eyes of our hearts, enlightened by your grace and truth, will allow us to affirm that you are actually supreme overall.

Help us, then, to bow beneath your majesty, now, and throughout the day, and tomorrow when we go back to all the things we have to do, so that in the minority status which is ours as believers in this great land, we may commend the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ, the very fullness of him who is all in all. For we pray in his name. Amen.

 


[1] Charles Wesley, “Rejoice, the Lord Is King!” (1744).

[2] Wesley, “Rejoice.”

[3] The Goon Show, series 6, episode 4, “Napoleon’s Piano,” directed by Joe McGrath, written by Spike Milligan, aired October 11, 1955, on BBC.

[4] Acts 19:19 (ESV).

[5] Lenny LeBlanc and Paul Baloche, “Above All” (1999).

[6] Robert Lowry, “Low in the Grave He Lay” (1874).

[7] Dallas Holm, “Rise Again” (1977). Lyrics lightly altered.

[8] Philippians 2:9 (ESV).

[9] Thomas Kelly, “The Head That Once Was Crowned” (1820). Lyrics lightly altered.

[10] Charitie Lees Bancroft, “Before the Throne of God Above” (1863).

[11] Ephesians 1:3 (paraphrased).

[12] Keith Getty and Kristyn Getty, “There Is a Higher Throne” (2003).

[13] Matthew 8:27 (paraphrased). See also Mark 4:41; Luke 8:25.

[14] Matthew 28:18 (ESV).

[15] Acts 19:27–28 (ESV).

[16] Arthur Herman, Gandhi and Churchill: The Epic Rivalry that Destroyed an Empire and Forged Our Age (New York: Bantam, 2008), 97.

[17] Psalm 8:1 (ESV)

[18] Psalm 8:6 (ESV).

[19] Acts 9:4 (NIV).

[20] Ephesians 6:11 (paraphrased).

[21] See 1 Corinthians 15:26.

[22] Hebrews 2:9 (ESV).

[23] Herman Hoeksema, “The Doctrine of the Church, Chapter III: The Attributes and Marks of the Church (Continued),” The Standard Bearer 40, no. 2 (October 15, 1963), http://standardbearer.rfpa.org/articles/doctrine-church-chapter-iii-attributes-and-marks-church-continued. Paraphrased.

[24] See Acts 4:19.

[25] Colossians 2:9 (paraphrased).

[26] Josiah Conder, “The Lord is King!” (1824).

[27] Anna Letitia Waring, “In Heavenly Love Abiding” (1850).

Copyright © 2020, 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.