Ephesians 1:20-22 “[God] raised [Christ] from the dead, and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion and every title that can be given, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church.”
The subject of both the sentences of our text is God the Father. He is the decisive one and the involved sovereign Lord of heaven and earth. He raised Christ; he seated him at his right hand; he placed all things under his feet and he appointed him to be head over everything. However much Satan might huff and puff God went ahead and did it. Whatever indifference or opposition might come from the world God did this. We know that some in the church are lukewarm believers; they pray, “Lord I believe, help thou my unbelief;” some who even stood on the hill of ascension were doubting, yet still God seated Christ at his right hand and placed all things under his feet. He had made up his mind and it was done. Don’t you rejoice that always the final steps are taken by our Sovereign God? Let us look at his four mighty acts.
1. GOD RAISED CHRIST FROM THE DEAD.
Paul does not mean by those words that the soul of the Lord Jesus survived, nor does he mean that his memory lives on, nor that his teaching lives on through his people. He does not mean that his influences and ideas still have living power. Jesus Christ is not alive in the sense that men may have a ‘religious encounter’ with him, as some say. The raising of Christ means none of those things. There is no doubt that all the above are true, but those attitudes are not what the New Testament means when it talks of the resurrection of Jesus Christ our Saviour. Paul is speaking in the most literal terms of a phenomenal occurrence – a physical event. He is not speaking of the soul of Christ. He is not speaking of Jesus’ ideals, or the religious potential of his influence. He is speaking of the dead body of Christ, and he is saying that something happened to that body which means that it was reanimated; it came to life again, and it still exists; it functions.
We have to lift this whole concept of resurrection out of the realm of doctrine and theology. We must place it firmly where it belongs – in the world of physical reality and history, because you go to the New Testament and ask the women and men who encountered the risen Christ on the first day of the week, “What did you see?” They will say that they saw a body. They witnessed Jesus of Nazareth in a certain physical form. It was a visible and tangible form. This body had hands and feet; it had eyes and ears; it was able to speak; it breathed on them in an expulsion of breath; it was able to think with its brain; it was capable of locomotion, killing fish, making a fire and cooking a meal. It was a body which ate and drank. As the Lord himself said, he had flesh and bones. It was a body which still bore the wounds of the cross. Thomas was invited by his Saviour to see the marks of the nails, and to put his hand into the appalling wound in his side. If we go on to John’s vision in the book of Revelation we are presented with the Lamb in the midst of the throne, and it is a Lamb as if it had been slain.
What these men saw, and what they heard and touched was the body of Jesus. That risen living Christ had a visible tangible body. In other words the whole event which Paul describes in these six words, “God raised Christ from the dead”, is literal. It is substantial; it is solid; it is meaty; it is dense. The body rose. There is a place where Jesus is sitting down today. I am asking whether we ponder that sufficiently? It is not that once Christ used to exist, in the same way as Adam, and J. Gresham Machen, and Lady Diana the Princess of Wales once lived on this planet. It is not that God raised Christ to live for ever in the hearts of his people, in the memory of his church, in Christian literature and in art, but that he exists objectively in a place and world out there. He is as real as you or me. He is the one who actually is. He exists not as a disembodied spirit but he is risen and alive.
Paul is not asking us to believe something totally irrational. As he once said when standing on trial before King Agrippa, “Why should any of you consider it incredible that God raised the dead?” (Acts 26:8). It is not simply a curious event in a curious world. There is a comprehensive rationale for the resurrection of Jesus Christ. God did it as an acceptance of the substitutionary sacrifice of his Son. We are given three grounds to encourage our faith in its truth:
i] Firstly, his resurrection appearances. The apostle Paul was in Jerusalem three years after his conversion on a fact-finding mission. He had been converted in AD 33 and he met Peter and James there in Jerusalem in AD 36. He talked with them, amongst many other things, of the risen Christ, and gathered together these materials for a list which he outlines in I Corinthians 15, verses 5 through 8: “he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.” So that list goes way back to within the first five years after Jesus’ death. It is scarcely legendary. The only objection you can raise to it is that every one of those appearances in all their different circumstances – the upper room, the garden, by the lake in the cold light of dawn, on the road to Emmaus, on the hill of ascension, to the 500 disciples, on the road to Damascus – that those were all hallucinations, every one, but you cannot deny that they occurred. The evidence is historically overwhelming. It is certain that Paul’s information, the many people he talked to, and his own experience, makes it as certain as Julius Caesar lived in Rome, that on separate occasions for almost six weeks various individuals saw Jesus alive from the dead.
ii] Secondly, there is his empty tomb. No one wanted that tomb empty, not his disciples (for they went there to cover his body with more spices), and not his enemies who sealed and guarded it. Let me focus on just one aspect of this event, that the tomb was discovered empty by Jewish women. To understand this point one has to recall two facts about the role of women in Jewish society. Women occupied a low rung on the Jewish social ladder. This is evident in such rabbinical expressions as “Sooner let the words of the law be burnt than delivered to women,” and “Happy is he whose children are male, but woe to him whose children are female.” The testimony of women was regarded as so worthless that they were not even permitted to serve as legal witnesses in a court of law. In light of these facts, how remarkable must it seem that it is women who are the first discoverers of Jesus’ empty tomb. If this were a legend, written fifty or so years later, the inventor would certainly have made the top male disciples come across the empty tomb and meet with the angels and then with Jesus. The fact that it was women, whose testimony was worthless, who were the chief witnesses to the empty tomb can most plausibly be accounted for by this one fact, that they actually did discover that the tomb of Jesus was empty. The body was gone, though the grave clothes were still there.
iii] Thirdly, there is the very origin of the Christian way. Even the most sceptical scholars acknowledge that the earliest disciples certainly believed that God had raised Jesus from the dead. Indeed they pinned everything on it. Without belief in the resurrection of Jesus, Christianity could never have come into being. The crucifixion would have remained the final tragedy in the hapless life of Jesus. Like many another crusading prophet the system got him and the system killed him. Hindus and Jews and all manner of religions would nod their heads in sympathetic understanding. But it was not like that with Jesus. Let me ask a very simple question: if Jesus did not rise from the dead from where did this conviction come that God raised him on the third day? Did it come from Jewish influences or Christian influences? It certainly did not come from Jewish influences. They wanted Jesus dead. Did it come from Christian influences? No, because there was no Christianity yet. No movement. Individuals touched by him, yes, men who were fishermen and tax collectors, but not organised, not a school of writers and philosophers. Yet then and there, right at the very beginnings of Christianity, days and weeks after he died, are five hundred or so people who told everyone that Jesus of Nazareth had risen the third day after they had watched him die.
These three great facts – the resurrection appearances, the empty tomb, and the origin of the Christian faith – all present us with the rationale for our conviction that this is true. God raised Christ from the dead. Its implications are profound: we are living in a supernatural universe. The world and its powers are operating with their unfailing regularity because of the controlling influences of God. Then there are these special moments when the finger of God intrudes in a unique way. God makes it known that he can erupt into the process. He can disturb. He can disorder. He can reverse it because it is his. It happens in the incarnation, the greatest of all miracles, in all the mighty signs of Christ, and it happens here in the resurrection. There is the forth putting of God’s power, and that universe, and all its laws and all its inhabitants, cannot say to God, “Don’t you dare to interfere.” It cannot. At will he interferes. At will he raises the dead. At will he opens the hearts of men and women and reveals his Son in them, and they pay attention to the gospel. One day he says that he will return in power and glory and wrap up this phase of human history. You are living in a supernatural world open to the intrusion of God.
We must also say this, that since God raised up the Lord Jesus, we shall live also. As certainly as there was a tomb for the Lord Jesus there will also be a tomb for you, and for me too. Ezra Pound has a poem in which he speaks of life slipping away. He writes
“And the days are not full enough
And the nights are not full enough
And life slips by like a field mouse
Not shaking the grass.”
Yet we may never forget that at the end of that grass is a gravestone with a name on it. One has my name and one has yours. I can see my name, and the epitaph I hope will be on my stone.
Preacher of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
God created me.
Sin ruined me.
Grace restored me.”
Denying my death, ignoring it, wishing it were not so will not make it go away. Telling St Peter jokes about it will not lessen the great fact that there will be a moment when we will breathe our last, and then meet God at the throne of judgment and that is a great solemnity. As we look down into the shaft of the grave – do we have hope? Will we be buried “in sure and certain hope of the resurrection” through faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, our saved souls immortal, and our bodies to be raised up and reunited to them at the end of the age by the power of God. Do we have this hope? It is incredible to stand before the elemental words of a gospel written by an almost illiterate man, and read these words, “He has risen. He is not here” (Mk. 16:6), and that will be true of every grave and every tomb. I believe in the resurrection of the body. The earth shall give up the dead that are in it. Your dead men shall rise, and “in my flesh I shall see God.” We shall become whole men in Christ. The resurrection of Christ speaks of the universe open to the intrusion of God and the certainty of immortality.
Where are you going? I was reading this week a recent testimony of a Romanian woman named Daniela Untaru who was raised in a once communist land. She says that she was educated under constant humanistic propaganda, the children being charged with this slogan, “Man is in charge of his own destiny.” Let me return to how she became a Christian in a moment. Let’s just pause and consider that thought, that we are in charge of our own destinies. How very limited is our control over our destinies. We don’t know if we’ll all be still alive tomorrow. Think of those thousands of men and women on 9/11 ascending in the escalators of the Twin Towers, the mightiest pair of buildings in the history of mankind, New York and its waterfront stretching out around them. They are thinking, “Man is in charge of his own destiny.” You know what happened next. I was reading a poem called ‘Limited’ written by the American poet Carl Sandburg. It describes a great express train travelling across the prairies a century ago:
I AM riding on a limited express, one of the crack trains
of the nation.
Hurtling across the prairie into blue haze and dark air
go fifteen all-steel coaches holding a thousand people.
(All the coaches shall be scrap and rust and all the men
and women laughing in the diners and sleepers shall
pass to ashes.)
I ask a man in the smoker where he is going and he
You see the point? How pathetically limited the answer. “Omaha?” How limited the horizon. How limited the vision. Where are you going in your lives? College . . . a job . . . marriage . . . retirement . . . old age . . . the grave . . . do you see them all hurtling towards you? God. Yes, God. Do I see him and that inevitable open-ended encounter with him before me? Is it well between me and him? This God raised Christ from the dead.
2. GOD SEATED CHRIST AT HIS RIGHT HAND.
“and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only in the present age but also in the one to come.” (vv. 20&21). Paul is saying that there is a place where Christ now is. He lives objectively in the world that is just out there, the heavenly realms, temporarily hidden by a fine veil from our eyes. He is as real as you or me. He is one who actually is. Jesus exists, not as a disembodied spirit, but he is a living and embodied Saviour in that one certain place. The Jesus we meet in the gospels, the Jesus of Galilee who went to speak to the Samaritan woman at the well, who told Nicodemus he must be born again, who preached the Sermon on the Mount, who held a child in his arms, who wept for Jerusalem, who broke bread in the Upper Room, who spoke to the dying thief – that same Jesus, without a single memory having faded from his mind, is seated at the right hand of God in heaven. He still has a physical form, and he is at this very moment in the place God has put him, and in those realms men and women can look at him. They are the spirits of just people, and now they have been made perfect. One day the whole ransomed church of God will see him, and from those heavenly realms he will one day physically and literally come back into this universe, and back to this earth.
So the Christ who is seated at God’s right hand in the heavenly realms is a physical Christ, but he is also a transfigured Christ. The whole doctrine is that the physical form of Christ has undergone the most marvellous transformation. You ponder the condition of that entombed body. He was crucified in weakness. Then he was un-nailed; his officially dead body was taken down from the cross, physically and literally and lovingly lifted down by Joseph of Arimathea, a broken, bruised, lacerated, disfigured, emaciated body, hardly human. He was inert; he was immobile; rigor mortis was even then setting in; he was utterly helpless. He was laid in the new sepulchre in that condition of humiliation, wrapped in grave clothes and covered in spices in the darkness of that cold tomb.
It was that body which came alive again, but not merely resuscitated, it was transfigured by the power of God. A new vitality was restored to it. Its impotence was ended. Its immobility was removed. Its weakness was no more. This was a new body, raised in power and glory, an object of such great splendour that for those forty days while he was with the disciples in Jerusalem and Galilee, he still needed to have his glory veiled. Mary thought he was a gardener; Cleopas thought he was a traveller. But all that changed when God seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, all the veiling was removed. Before him the very angels need to hide their eyes as they cry “Holy . . . Holy . . . Holy!” When this Jesus came to the Damascus road to confront Saul of Tarsus he was blinded by the sight. Jesus shone like the Mediterranean sun at noon. He was a being of unspeakable splendour, overwhelmingly and overpoweringly majestic. He was intimidating; he was a thing of indescribable glory. When John saw him on the isle of Patmos then his eyes were like burning fire, and his voice was like the sound of many waters. The Christ enthroned in heaven is transformed physicalness. He has been transfigured with a body fit for God the Son.
More than glorified, Jesus has been highly exalted. He is at the right hand of God – God’s right hand man. He is in the place of divine favour. He is in the place of cosmic supremacy. I think the picture we sometimes have of the Trinity is that there is one big throne and God the Father is on that. Then on each side are two smaller thrones and God the Son and God the Holy Spirit are on them. Now the whole picture of three thrones is a false picture. That mental image is contrary to the whole divine revelation which says, “Hear O Israel, the Lord your God is one Lord.” There is one throne; one sovereignty; one great divine monarchy. Right in the midst of that throne there is God the Son. “I beheld, and lo in the midst of the throne a Lamb standing as it had been slain.” The crucified Christ is risen and exalted, regnant at the right hand of God.
Then notice how Paul piles on the various categories of power and dominion over which Christ reigns. It is in this 21st verse. Think of the rule of Jesus, how exalted that is. Consider the rule which presidents and prime ministers and tyrants all this world over exercise, and have exercised – Herod’s, Pilate’s and Caiaphas the chief priest – Jesus is now far above all such rule. Think of the authority of government and armed forces and united nations. What of the authority of armies and businesses and media tycoons and old money and popes and new multimillionaires. Think of the authority of the drug barons of South America and the oil barons of the middle east? Jesus is far above all authority. What of the power of the creation, of light, of the galaxies, the atom, the winds and seas? Jesus created all that power. He is the source of all the energy in the universe. He is the ultimate energy, and we are to be conscious of that energy and power in its overwhelmingness and awesomeness. Without him was not any power made that was made. Without him is not any power sustained that is sustained. And then what about the dominion of the angels in heaven, or the dominion of Satan’s hosts in hell – the principalities and powers and the rulers of the darkness of this world? Jesus is far above all such dominion. What of all the titles you can think of in this age? “The most powerful man in the world” – what a title! “The commander in chief of the mightiest army in the world?” – what a title! Or think of the titles of the age to come – “the Prince of darkness,” “Beelzebub,” or positively “Michael the commander of the hosts of heaven.” Jesus is far above every title that can be given in the present age and the age to come. He is in a position of unparalleled honour and universal authority, and he shall reign for ever and ever, King of kings and Lord of lords, for ever and ever. There is no limitation on what he can do save his own will. Paul tells us of the position the Lord Jesus now has and he says that it is “far above all . . .”
Do you remember when the prophet Isaiah saw Christ’s glory in the temple? “I saw the Lord high and lifted up.” There was such a gulf between the prophet and this Lord. He was far above Isaiah; there was such discontinuity between them. There was no way that Isaiah could get from where he was to get where the Lord was. Christ is other. Christ is separate. Christ is cut off. How powerful Jesus Christ is. Power adequate to create the universe in its vastness. Power adequate to sustain the universe. Power, above all, adequate to destroy the whole universe. He could pull the structures of the cosmos apart atom by atom. How little of that power it would take to destroy me! There is no way that you or I can afford, in the name of some kind of Christianity, to outgrow that sense of the grandeur of Jehovah Jesus, in the name of a user-friendly Christianity, a touchy-feely Christianity, a Christianity that is anxious not to intimidate and reject, an evangelistically motivated Christianity, a concern-for-the-lost Christianity – to discard or minimise that sense of the grandeur of Jehovah Jesus. He is the Power. Fearing him is the beginning of wisdom. It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. That may happen to defiant members of God’s own family or churches who are living under the correction and chastisement of the Lord. That is why we should impress upon ourselves that we cannot trifle because, “Our God – our God no less – is a consuming fire.” Jesus is unlike any other power. He is far above every other power and we are to be conscious of that in its awesomeness.
3. GOD HAS PLACED ALL THINGS UNDER CHRIST’S FEET.
“And God placed all things under his feet” (v. 22). There is that scene in the upper room in the last chapter of Luke where we are told that Jesus showed the disciples his feet (Lk. 24:40). They were broken and wounded by the crucifixion, but now they too are transfigured and glorified. What is this metaphor saying to us? The powers of the whole universe are not simply inferior to Christ, they are subject to him. They’re under his feet. Let me break that down:
i] The powers of hell are under his feet. God’s great prophecy about Christ which he made to the serpent in the garden of Eden has been fulfilled, “He will crush your head.” You see the Lord Christ stamping on the head of the serpent. That is the victory over Satan’s temptations in the wilderness. Jesus can say, “Get thee behind me Satan!” and the devil scurries around behind him. No argument who is the head of whom. There is the triumph of Golgotha: “Having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross” (Cols. 2:15). There is his victory over death on the third day. There is the ascension and enthronement. The devil’s powers to destroy are severely limited. As he goes around the earth seeking to devour us he is dragging his chains behind him. The Lord is watching him, and will say to him as he said when Satan sought to destroy Job, “So far, but no further.” The powers of hell have to obey the Lord Christ.
ii] The material universe is under his feet. Christ governs every planet, its composition, its properties and all its movements. Christ determines the qualities of every crystal and every chromosome. It is the Lord Christ who has given to all of these their own distinctive qualities. He has imposed upon them his own particular laws. They must submit to his own principles. They are under his feet. The only rationality this world has is an orderliness imposed upon it by the infinite intelligence of Jehovah Jesus. He is the ultimate reality in this universe – the mind of Jesus Christ. The last thing, the foundational thing is a Person. It is not matter; it is not light; it is not energy. It is the Lord Christ, and it is his will that imposes upon the universe its every feature and characteristic and movement.
When you study physics or chemistry or mathematics you are only seeing what Jesus Christ has done. School textbook writers, most of them in spite of themselves, are only describing the way God has ordained that things should be. The last and foundational thing in the universe is not mathematics. It is not natural law or human rationality. It is the will of Jehovah Jesus. He is in control and everything else is under his feet. He has given to every particle of matter the properties that he decides. He causes them to behave in the way he has decided. The thinking of Jesus Christ is the last and basic and foundational reality in the whole material universe. Everything else is responding to him.
iii] The living world of biology and zoology is under his feet. We are surrounded by vegetable life, and insect life, the fishes of the sea, the birds of the air and the animals. Who is in control? Who has given them being? Where does the initiation come from? It all comes from the Lord Christ, his will and rationality. It comes from his eternal divine mind. This Lord is the one who said, “Let there be . . .” and it was. None of it came from some spontaneous generation. It did not simply evolve out of inert matter in primordial soup. It came from our Saviour. It develop ed under his control and it is sustained by his decree. He has superintended the whole process of its development. He has given to each a body as it pleased him. Every development of every life form is the result of the decision of God. The whole biological and zoological quest is only an investigation of the will of Christ, of the patterns and forms and characteristics that he has imposed upon them.
iv] Human life is under his feet. Our trivia are under his feet. He numbers the very hairs on our heads. When the sparrow falls it is because he says, “Sparrow, fall!” The great awesome providences are under his feet. The storm and tempest and great fish are the mighty phenomena which he brings into the life of the disobedient prophet Jonah. The earthquake that shakes the prison and breaks the chains and opens its doors all come from him. We never meet an event on any day, great or small, that has not come through him. When the phone rings we receive no message but which originated ultimately from that throne on which Jesus is seated. The person speaking to us – a policeman or a relation – is merely his messenger boy. We always go back to the first cause, and Jesus is the first cause. He is the one speaking to us with news of the sickness, the accident and the death. That is the bedrock of Christian comfort. “The Lord Christ gave, and the Lord Christ took away. Blessed be the name of the Lord Christ.”
He rules over the free actions of men, all those decisions we take which are rooted in uncompelled human choice. When we make up our minds to act in a certain way then the Lord Jesus is ruling there and then. There is no constraint, and no compulsion but he is above all the actions we take. Remember how Ahab dies? A man drew a bow and shot off an arrow vaguely. He was not aiming for a target and yet the whole shot, its trajectory and destination, was determined by the Lord.
v] Salvation is under his feet. When a person puts his trust in the Lord Jesus Christ isn’t that because God the Son had received him from God the Father before the foundation of the world? Isn’t it because that person was on Jesus’ heart and mind as he hung and died redeeming him on the cross? Isn’t it because he sent forth the Holy Spirit at the time of our regeneration to convict and give spiritual life? Isn’t our trust something that Jesus Christ has foreordained? “For by grace are ye saved through faith, and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God.” And when the heart is opened is it not the Lord Christ who opens the heart? When our hearts are broken in contrition and repentance for sin, is it not again because the Lord has given repentance? “God has granted even unto the Gentiles repentance unto life” (Acts 11:18). The Lord Christ convinced them of their sin. When the church grows and many are converted – in revival times every day – is it not that “the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved” (Acts 2:47)?
Now let me tell you about the conversion in Canada of the Romanian woman, Daniela Untaru. The Lord Christ began to deal with her by putting in her heart persistent buzzing questions: “What is the meaning of life? Why am I here? Who am I? What is the purpose of my life?” So she tried eastern religions but they gave her no answers. Then the Lord homed in on her in the following strange way. He brought a difficult person into her work who walked all over her and made her life a misery. She sought refuge in egocentric thoughts, that she was as good as he was. One day the Lord allowed her to explode and give him an ear-full. She felt high and drove along to school to meet her daughter, still going over everything she had said, especially the tongue-lashing she’d given this man. She went into the school parking lot, but instead of putting her foot on the brake the Lord let put her foot on the accelerator. She careered over the lawn and smashed through a basement window into a classroom. There was no one there but a teacher who went hysterical and was slightly cut by the breaking glass.
That accident, determined by the Lord, reduced her to nothing. She says, “I was emotionally and psychologically spent. Darkness engulfed me. I had only one thought: ‘My double life has led me to this precarious juncture.'” She picked up a curious book which again the Lord Jesus led her to, and there he used this one sentence, “Every ailment in us is because of our rebellious natures.” She spent two sleepless nights when she looked back over her wretched life. The Lord Christ had sent the Holy Spirit to her, and when he is come he convicts of sin and righteousness and judgment to come. She began to cry out to God. The next Sunday she started looking for a church. She tried a Roman Catholic church, and the Lord said no. She tried an Orthodox church and the Lord said no. She went to a gospel church, and there the Lord met with her as the gospel came to her not in word only but in power and in the Holy Spirit and with much assurance. She was baptized last October by the church’s minister, Garth Leno, the pastor of Heritage Park Alliance Church, Windsor, Ontario. What I have told you is part of the testimony she gave on the Sunday she was baptized. I read it yesterday in the February “Alliance Life.” Salvation is of the Lord, in its conception, its continuance and in its consummation. Salvation is of him, and through him and to him. It is all under his feet.
4. GOD APPOINTED CHRIST TO BE HEAD OVER EVERYTHING TO THE CHURCH.
“and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way.” (vv. 22&23). Now I have told you that Jesus Christ has been raised from the dead as the undying and glorious one, and he is seated at the right hand of God far above all the powers of earth and hell, and that everything has been placed under his feet. He has complete sovereignty over our entire lives, from the trivia to life-shattering events. It is a picture of the magnificent Saviour, of his grandeur, and his awesomeness and almightiness. Here is the otherness of Christ, his exalted height and the tremendous gulf that exists between himself and us. Paul is giving us here an almost unreachable and inaccessible Saviour, and at this point there lies a great danger, that is, that we should lose contact with Jesus Christ, that we should feel that there is no continuity between ourselves and Christ. Is such a Christ too remote and too incomprehensible for us to understand. How can such a one sympathise with us and be touched by our trials, and address little people like ourselves?
I think that there’ve been times in church history when that has happened. It may be that the exaltation and sovereignty of Jesus Christ is amongst the mightiest of truths, and yet, if it becomes an exclusive emphasis, the single thought in the church’s attitude to our Lord, then, like every other overemphasis, a distorting influence will come into our worship and piety. For example, people will begin to exalt the mother of Jesus more and more, and make her tender and approachable, a mediator with the Lord. “Talk to Mary,” they will say, “she understands us; she is like us.” It was Chesterton who said, “There’s a great man who makes everyone he meets feel small. There’s a truly great man who makes everyone he meets feel great.” Now that is what Jesus Christ does. He makes his church, his people, feel great. Paul tells us here the reason for this, that Christ is the head of all things for the church, for us. He does not consume his time in considering the things of the Milky Way or distant galaxies. He is not fascinated with ocean depths or outer space. He concentrates all his loving power on the people of God. All his power is put to this one end of serving the church. All this authority has been given to the exalted, reigning Christ for our benefit, to bring us to himself, to save us, to keep us, to restore us, to lift us up when we fall, to bring us back when we go astray, to take us to heaven and present us there before his Father faultless and with great joy. That is why all this power has been given to him. It is for this vast company of elect sinners from the greatest of them to the least.
Consider how this mighty sovereign Christ invites us to himself. This is the language he uses, “Come unto me all ye that labour and are heavy laden and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn of me for I am meek and lowly of heart and ye shall find rest to your souls for my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matt. 11:28-30). How sweetly he speaks to sinners, and how tenderly he deals with them when they come to him: “He tends his flock like a shepherd: he gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart; he gently leads those that have young” (Isa. 40:11). This is the good shepherd who is seated at the right hand of God. What promises of protection and patience are made about him: “A bruised reed he will not break and a smouldering wick he will not snuff out” (Matt. 12:20). He tells his disciples to forgive one another seventy times seven. How much more will he keep on forgiving and forgiving us?
All his mighty power is for the church, to add to its number all who shall believe and then to keep them from falling. There is this great theme in the letter to the Hebrews that speaks of our compassionate Saviour: “We do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathise with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are – yet without sin. Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need” (Hebs. 4:15&16). Jesus Christ is not far away. The king of the universe can understand us because he was once tried and tested as we are. He is able to sympathise with our weaknesses. He not only feels for us but he feels with us. There can be empathy between ourselves and one so remote and elevated and magnificent – beyond all that we can conceive. He has taken our nature. This mighty King once came into all the weakness and vulnerability of manhood in a groaning creation in our low condition. He has known the pain of loneliness, and fear, and human sorrow and bereavement. He has known the spiritual pain of being forsaken by God. He remembers that we are dust because he has been dust. He has walked through the valley of the shadow. He has been in temptation, and sorrow, and anguish, and pain. He has been in spiritual darkness and situations where he needed God’s special help if he was going to be able to cope. He remembers all of that. In fact all that was necessary in order for him to become head over all things for us the people of God. So he sees us in our struggles, and physical and emotional pain, our dereliction and loneliness. This great Sovereign’s heart beats for us and with us in sympathy. He prays for us there. “Father I know exactly what that man is going through. I know what it’s like to be so helpless and hurting, baffled and weak. Help him Father!” That is what our Saviour does with his power, he prays for us without ceasing for a moment. He pleads the blood of the new covenant that we might be kept.
This almighty King is our head, and there is no degree of pain that Christ does not understand. There is no spiritual pain and darkness, and no Satanic presence which he does not comprehend. That is why we have such a great High Priest. That is why we turn our faith into a confession and tell the world what a privilege it is to be under the rule of the king of love.
15th February 2004 GEOFF THOMAS