Christ, the King of Forever
April 1st, 1988 @ 12:00 PM
CHRIST, THE KING OF FOREVER
Dr. W. A. Criswell
4-1-88 12:00 p.m.
The theme this year is the “Second Coming of Christ,” the return of our Lord from heaven: on Monday The Glory of the Premillennial Faith, that He is coming soon; on the next day, Tuesday Why I Became a Premillennialist; and on Wednesday The Signs of His Coming; and yesterday The Time on God’s Clock; and today Christ, the King of Forever.
In the eighteenth chapter of the Gospel of John, beginning at verse 33; John 18:33:
Then Pilate entered into the judgment hall again, and called Jesus, and said unto Him, Art Thou the King of the Jews?
Jesus answered him, Sayest thou this of thyself, or did others tell it thee of Me?
Pilate answered, Am I a Jew? Thine own nation and the chief priests have delivered Thee unto me: what has Thou done?
Jesus answered, My kingdom is not of this world: if My kingdom were of this world, then would My servants war, that I should not be delivered . . .
but now is My kingdom not from thence.
Pilate therefore said unto Him, Art Thou a king then? Jesus answered, Thou sayest I am a king.
That’s the strongest affirmation in the Greek language, to repeat the question of the man: “Thou sayest I am a king. To this end was I born, for this cause came I into the world . . . and every one that is of the truth heareth My voice” [John 18:37].
Now in the nineteenth chapter of the Book of John, beginning in verse 14: “It was the Preparation of the Passover, and about the sixth hour” [John 19:14]. In preparing this message I thought, “How unusual.” This is the Preparation of the Passover. John uses Roman time, shows the sixth hour is high noon; just now, just now, at this time.
He brings Jesus before [the people] and says:
Behold your King, ecce homo, behold your King!
They cried out, Away with Him! Crucify Him!
Then delivered he Him to them to be crucified. And they took Jesus, and led Him away.
And He bearing His cross went forth into a place called in the Hebrew tongue, Golgotha—Calvary in Latin; the Place of a Skull in English.
There they crucified Him . . .
And Pilate wrote a title and put it on the cross, above His head. And the writing was: JESUS THE KING OF THE JEWS.
This title read many of the people; for the place where Jesus was crucified was nigh unto the city—just outside the northern Damascus Gate—and it was written in Hebrew, and Greek, and Latin.
Then said the chief priests of the Jews to Pilate: Do not write, The King of the Jews; but that He said, I am the King of the Jews.
Then Pilate answered, Gegrapha, gegrapha—What I have written I have written.
This is a sarcastic, grim irony. It was intended by Pilate. He had a contemptuous hatred for the Jews—sent there by the Roman government, but despised them. And this was too delicious an opportunity for insult for even Pilate to pass it by. This peasant, their king: this one—He had a scepter that was a reed; He had the royal purple robe, it was a cast off, moth-eaten garment; He had a crown, it was made out of thorns; and He had a throne, it was a rugged cross [Matthew 27:32]; this Man, your King [Matthew 27:28-29].
Even Pilate, though not a monarch—even Pilate was dressed in royal purple robes. He had a palace in which to live. He had a throne on which to be seated. He had a Roman army to command. But this Man, this Jesus—a King? His worship was the mocking genuflection of those who bowed before Him. And when He was nailed to the tree, the throngs and the multitudes passed, paraded in front with their jibes and their jeers and their blasphemies [Matthew 27:39-43]. And to add insult still to it all, Pilate wrote a superscription and nailed it above His head on the cross: “This is JESUS THE KING OF THE JEWS” [John 19:19].
And it was little more than the elders of the Sanhedrin could accept. So, they went to the governor and said, “Do not say, ‘King of the Jews.’ Say, ‘He said He was king of the Jews’” [John 19:21]. And Pilate, delighting in the grim, ironic insult said: “It stays”—Gegrapha, gegrapha [John 19:22]. Isn’t it an amazing, unbelievable providence of God that what was intended for insult and ludicrous contempt has proven to be the truth of God out of heaven? He is a King.
We have in our fellowship of deacons, I suppose, the greatest Christian cartoonist in the world, Jack Hamm. He sends me each month the drawings that he makes. And this is one, one that I’ve kept: “Behold your King!” John 19:14. He has three—he has three columns. Christ is King in the world of literature. More books have been written about Him than any other man in the world. Then he names some of them: Milton’s Paradise Lost and Paradise Regained, Bryant’s “Thanatopsis,” Wordsworth’s “Ode: to [Intimation of] Immortality,” and Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress.
Then in the column on music, Christ is the King in the world of music. More music has been written about Him than about any other man who ever lived: Bach’s Ascension, Beethoven’s Mount of Olives, Handel’s Messiah, Haydn’s Creation.
Then the third column: Christ is King in the world of art. He is the subject of Titian’s Enunciation, of Raphael’s Sistine Madonna, of da Vinci’s Transfiguration, of Dore’s Vale of Tears, of da Vinci’s The Last Supper, of Durer’s Crucifixion, of Rubens’s Descent from the Cross and of Michelangelo’s The Last Judgment. He is a King. The whole world has avowed that revelation and gift of God from heaven.
The title of my message Christ, the King of Forever. “Of His kingdom, there shall be no end” [Isaiah 9:7, Luke 1:33]. He shall reign forever and ever.
First, all other kingdoms—all other kingdoms pass away in time, all of them. In that marvelous revelation of God of the course of human history, in the interpretation of Nebuchadnezzar’s vision, in the second chapter of Daniel, the dynasties of Egypt at Luxor and Thebes, the dynasties of the Assyrians in Nineveh, have already passed. Then he begins, “Thou, O king, art the head of gold” [Daniel 2:32, 38]. Nabonidus and Nebuchadnezzar and Belshazzar, and those Hanging Gardens—one of the Seven Wonders of the World—gone. Then the chest, the breast and the arms of silver [Daniel 2:32]: the Medo-Persians, with Cyrus and Cambyses and Xerxes and Darius, and their golden palace in Susa, in the Bible called Shushan; gone, crumbled into the dust. Then, the loins of brass [Daniel 2:32, 39]: the kingdom of Alexander and the Greeks, with Cassander and Lysimachus and Seleucus and Ptolemy; gone, crumbled into the dust like the ruins of the Parthenon in Athens. Then the legs of iron [Daniel 2: 33, 40]: the Western empire with its capital at Rome, and the Eastern empire with its capital at Constantinople; gone, crumbled in the dust of the ages.
Then finally, the feet of clay and of iron [Daniel 2: 33, 41]: the nations, small and great. These are the nations of the world that we know in our generation, each one of them, in their succession, crumbling into the dust of the ground. The kingdom of Genghis Khan, of the Turk; the kingdoms of Portugal and of Spain, of Napoleon in France; of Bismark in Germany, and in your lifetime you’ve seen the disintegration of the British Empire.
But in the days of these nations, God shall set up a kingdom that shall never be destroyed. Its leader, in the symbolism of a great stone cut out of the mountain without hands [Daniel 2: 34, 45]—Abraham saw His day, and rejoiced [John 8:56]. Moses spoke of His coming [Deuteronomy 18:15, 18]. The psalmist sang in hallelujah choruses of His glory. The prophets, in ecstasy and wonder, described His kingdom. And the angel passed through the heavens of God above, saying, “The kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our Lord, and of His Christ; and He shall reign for ever and ever” [Revelation 11:15]; Christ, the King of forever.
All of the kingdoms waste away in time. His abides forever. All other kingdoms fade. They are built upon principles that do not endure, all of them. They’re built upon war or conquest or power. All of the kingdoms that have ever reigned over this earth have been built by might and by strength, all of them, even our beloved United States of America.
The story of America is written in blood and in war: the French and Indian wars, the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812, the war of 1845 that involved our state of Texas, the awful, indescribable terror and tragedy of the Civil War, the First World War, the Second World War, and then our involvement in the Korean War and the Vietnam War. And today, the might and wealth and strength of America is being poured into these “Star Wars” and these atomic missiles. Our hope is, they say, that these atomic warheads are for defense and will never be used.
There has never yet been an invention of destruction that has not been tragically used. One of the strangest turns in history is the Scandinavian Nobel, who invented dynamite and TNT. And so awesome and furious was its power to destroy that Nobel said, “It will never be used. It is too destructive, too awesome.” And he implanted in the history of the nations a peace prize. They named it after him: the Nobel Peace Prize. The reason for the foundation that supports the prize created by Nobel was that dynamite and TNT are so destructive; there will be no more war. The first time it was used was to blast into eternity and into death humanity.
I am in sympathy with our American government. I’m not a pacifist. I do not know what else to do but, in times of peace, to prepare for war. When you have a vast empire—our president called it an evil one, given to the philosophy of Karl Marx and Nikolai Lenin, of class warfare, and we see, at our very doorstep, that awesome philosophy being inculcated in the lives of the people in Cuba, under that awful, tragic leader Castro, and now being implemented in Nicaragua under the Sandinistas and Ortega, and to our amazement—at least to mine—in our own Panama, under Noriega, I don’t know what else. Here, south of the border, the hand—vicious—of communist, atheist Russia—I don’t know what else to do. I just know that, reading the pages of history, the nations, all of them, find their ultimate demise in that kind of a tragedy. It ends in blood and in tears, in dissolution, in death.
I sometimes think of the World Disarmament Conference called in Washington in 1922, after the First World War. President Warren G. Harding of the United States, Charles Evans Hughes, then Secretary of State, later chief justice of our Supreme Court, and David Lloyd-George, who was prime minister of Great Britain—all three of them went to the conference in a car. And Charles Evans Hughes remarked, “All three of us are Baptists.” And David Lloyd-George replied, “We belong to the freest communion in the world.”
Anyway, on the first day of that World Disarmament Conference, it was opened by a Christian pastor, leading in a prayer, pleading for God to have mercy upon the nations of the world that we might not learn war anymore. Then, Charles Evans Hughes—I went to church one time and sat right close to him, where I could look at him, a wonderful man—Charles Evans Hughes gave the long address for the day, pleading the intervention of God in the lives of the nations of the world. And that was the first session. That was all.
That night in his hotel room, the Japanese ambassador sat in deep contemplation. His minister came in and said, “Sir, it is getting late. You must retire.”
And the Japanese ambassador replied, “No. Leave me alone.”
After the passing of time, his minister came a second time and said, “But sir, it is so late, you must retire.”
And the Japanese ambassador said, “No. Leave me alone.”
After the passing of other time, his minister came once again and said, “But sir, you must retire.”
And the Japanese ambassador said, “Come and sit down by me.” And his minister sat by his side.
And the Japanese ambassador said, “That was the strangest meeting today I ever attended; this man imploring the intervention of God, and that Secretary of State pleading for the help of heaven and the heart cry of our people in deliverance from war.”
And the Japanese minister heard his ambassador finally say, “They are right. There is no other hope but in the God of all the people.”
If we have any kingdom, it lies in the love and grace of Him of whom God said, “A smoking flax He will not quench, and a bruised reed He will not break” [Isaiah 42:3]. The gentle and loving and sacrificing Lord Jesus, the King of forever! [Revelation 11:15].
Bear with me just for one more moment. All of the kingdoms fail in hope, all of them. Reading history, I would come across so many times Demetrius Soter, Ptolemais Soter, Philadelphia Soter, Seleucus Soter, Antiochus Soter. Looking at it in English, I had no idea what it meant. When I read it in Greek, sōtēr is the Greek word for savior. And these men came, professing to be the savior of their people. Without exception, their saviorhood disintegrated into despair and death. All of the kingdoms toward which we could move in our lives are just like that. Whatever ambition or success we may entertain or hope to achieve finally dissolves in despair and in death.
I remember picking up our paper here in Dallas and reading the headline: Mr. Eastman of Kodak, in Rochester, New York—Mr. Eastman has killed himself. One of the richest men in the world, one of the most successful. Great God! How empty and vain the things toward which we reach in life!
The first president of the United States I ever saw was Calvin Coolidge. Calvin Coolidge had a son he adored, an older teenager. While in the White House, that boy just hurt himself somewhat. The wound became poisonous and the boy died of blood poison. Calvin Coolidge said, “When my boy died, the luster and glamour of the White House lost its appeal for me.” And, as you know, he retired from public life, went back to his little farm in Vermont, raised vegetables that he sold on the street that went by his place, just looking forward to the day when he’d be joined in heaven with his boy.
All of the ambitions and all of the outreachings of human life—if they’re in this world, they belong to a fading and disintegrating and despairing king. But there is a marvelous achievement calling from heaven, to which the humblest of us can give his soul, and his heart, and his love, and his life, and never fail—never, never: the kingdom of Jesus our Savior.
I had walked life’s way with an easy tread,
Had followed where pleasures and comforts led,
Until one day in a quiet place
I met the Master face to face.
With station and wealth and rank for my goal,
Much thought for my body but none for my soul,
I’d enter to win in life’s mad race
When I met the Master face to face.
I built my castles and reared them high,
Until they pierced the blue of the sky;
I had sworn to rule with an iron mace,
When I met the Master face to face.
I met Him and knew Him, and blushed to see
That His eyes, full of sorrow, were fixed on me.
I faltered and fell at His feet that day,
While my castles melted and vanished away.
Melted and vanished, and in their place
Naught could I see but the Master’s face.
I cried aloud, “Oh, make me meet
To follow the steps of Thy wounded feet.”
My thought is now for the souls of men;
I lost my life to find it again,
E’er since, one day in a quiet place,
I met the Master face to face.
[“Rabboni,” S. T. Carter, Jr., 1899]
This is the kingdom and the achievement and the calling that endures, that abides forever. O God, grant that thus we may give heart and life, soul and body, days and years to the wonderful Savior. Now may we stand together?
Dr. Keith Eitel is a professor of missiology in our preacher’s school, and he will lead us in our benedictory prayer. God be good to you, to us, and may Easter be the most victorious Lord’s Day we’ve ever shared!
THE KING OF FOREVER
A. The grim irony and
contempt intended by Pilate
1. The insult to
the Jews he hated – this peasant their king
B. What was intended
for insult has proven to be the truth of God
II. All other kingdoms fail in time
(Isaiah 9:7, Luke 1:33)
A. The revelation of
God of the course of human history (Daniel 2)
B. He will set up a
kingdom that shall never be destroyed (Revelation 11:15)
III. All other kingdoms fail in principle
A. Built on war,
B. The kingdom of
Christ (Isaiah 42:3)
IV. All other kingdoms fail in hope
A. Whatever ambition or
success we hope to achieve dissolves in death
1. If in this
world, they belong to a fading, despairing king