Free Reformed Church of Kelmscott
" THE CHRIST WHO DIED FOR US RULES EARTH FROM HEAVEN UNTIL HE RETURNS ."
50. Q. Why is it added, And sits at the right hand of God?
A. Christ ascended into heaven to manifest Himself there as Head of His Church, through whom the Father governs all things.
 Eph. 1:20-23; Col. 1:18.  Matt. 28:18; John 5:22, 23.
51. Q. How does the glory of Christ, our Head, benefit us? A. First, by His
Holy Spirit He pours out heavenly gifts upon us, His members. Second, by His
power He defends and preserves us against all enemies.
 Acts 2:33; Eph. 4:7-12.  Ps. 2:9; 110:1, 2; John 10:27-30; Rev. 19:11-16.
52. Q. What comfort is it to you that Christ will come to judge the living
and the dead?
A. In all my sorrow and persecution I lift up my head and eagerly await as judge from heaven the very same person who before has submitted Himself to the judgment of God for my sake, and has removed all the curse from me. He will cast all His and my enemies into everlasting condemnation, but He will take me and all His chosen ones to Himself into heavenly joy and glory.
 Luke 21:28; Rom. 8:22-25; Phil. 3:20,21; Tit. 2:13, 14.  Matt. 25:31-46; I Thess. 4:16, 17; II Thess. 1:6-10. God the Holy Spirit and our Sanctification
Singing: (Psalms and Hymns are from the "Book of Praise"
Anglo Genevan Psalter)
Psalm 96:8; & Hymn 57:4
Beloved Congregation of the Lord Jesus Christ!
Our thoughts this weekend focus on Jesusí death on Good Friday and His resurrection on Easter Sunday. This afternoon, though, we come to Lordís Day 19 of the Catechism, about the sovereignty of the ascended Christ in heaven and His return on the clouds. To our minds, itís a different topic, one scarcely related to Golgotha and the Garden of Gethsemene. But notice, congregation, that our Lordís Day very deliberately reaches back to Good Friday and puts Christís return in the context of His work on the cross long ago. Question & Answer 52: "Ö I Ö eagerly await from heaven the very same person who before has submitted Himself to the judgment of God for my sake and has removed all the curse from me." We realize: it was at the cross of Calvary that Christ submitted Himself to the judgment of God, with as wonderful result that on the last day there is no curse left for us.
The thoughts of many focus this weekend on Christís death and resurrection. But to see Christís death and resurrection in the light of Godís judgment against sin Ė no, our nation and our culture doesnít want to do that. At best, the cross provides us with opportunity to "look for the signs of the dawning reign of the love of God" Ė as Archbishop Carnley put it in his Easter message to the nation. The message of the Easter season, then, is that our families, our society, our government needs to show the self-emptying love of Jesus, and thatís it. Certainly thereís no place to speak about judgmentÖ.
How offensive, then, congregation, will our confession in Lordís Day 19 be to our nation! Here we speak not of a soft love whereby each is nice to his neighbor; in Lordís Day 19 we speak about enemies, we speak about "sorrow and persecution", we speak about the "judge from heaven", about "casting all His and my enemies into everlasting condemnation." Our nation embraces multiculturalism and therefore officially embraces any religion as acceptable; in our land there is no room for condemning statements of judgment about peopleís faith, peopleís lifestyles, peopleís eternity. Language of judgment, speaking about curse, indicating others as enemies does not fit in a society that wants to promote mutual respect and acceptance, that wants to see only love. No, that the crucified Jesus would return on the clouds in order to judge, and then send all unbelievers, all non-Christians to hell, is offensive talk in our nation.
But here we are, Free Reformed Churches of Australia, speaking about judgment, even "eagerly awaiting" the Judge from heaven. To stick to our Lordís Day makes us offensive in our land. But that be so, beloved, for in our Lordís Day we simply repeat after God the gospel He revealed to us in His Word.
I summarize the sermon with this theme:
THE CHRIST WHO DIED FOR US RULES EARTH FROM HEAVEN UNTIL HE RETURNS.
1. Christ rules the earth as King today
2. Christ returns to the earth as Judge tomorrow
1. Christ rules the earth as King today
Each one of us in this past week has experienced something of the brokenness of this earthly life. Be it wounds we received from accidents, or heartaches weíve experienced from frictions with other people, or sleeplessness we battled due to stress: weíve all experienced in some way that this life knows its pain and sorrow. Itís so human, in the midst of this pain and sorrow, to keep our eyes fixed on the hurt and those who cause it, to keep our eyes fixed on this earth as we cast about for solutions to our problems. We could even cast our minds back in history and look at Jesusí example on the cross of Calvary for insight and perspective in how we ought to tackle our problems todayÖ.
The Lord our God, though, tells us to lift our eyes off this earth. The answer to our problems is not within ourselves, is not found either in following the example of Christ on the cross Ė for His example is one we cannot follow. The Lord God tells us in Col 3 to "seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God" (vs 1). In the midst of lifeís struggles, this is where the Lord would direct our attention.
Why? Because, brothers and sisters, Christ in heaven is not idle. Last week, with Lordís Day 18, we confessed Christís high priestly labors in heaven; in the presence of His Father He intercedes for us so that in turn the Father receives our prayers and deals with us in mercy. With Lordís Day 19 we confess that Christ is occupied in heaven with His function as King. In the midst of lifeís struggles, itís to Christís kingship that the Lord in Col 3 directs our attention.
Christ is "sitting at the right hand of God," says Paul in our chapter. The phrase "sitting at the right hand of God" appears frequently in Scripture as a designation of authority. I think of Ps 110. David says:
"The Lord said to my Lord,
ĎSit at My right hand,
Till I make Your enemies Your footstool.í
The Lord shall send the rod of Your strength out of Zion.
Rule in the midst of Your enemies!" (vss 1f).
Notice how the notion of Ďsitting at the right handí is placed in the context of authority, of being sovereign ruler over the entire world. To have enemies as your footstool pictures you as sitting on a chair with your feet stretched out upon the necks or backs of your enemies Ė you are sovereign, victor.
This psalm, with this notion of triumph for the one at Godís right hand, is applied to Jesus Christ on the day of Pentecost. Peter quotes Ps 110 in relation to the ascended Christ, and then adds this conclusion:
"Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ" (Acts 2:36).
"Lord," says Peter under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. The term "Lord" means ĎMasterí, ĎSovereigní. Thatís the ascended Christ: Lord of lords, King of kings. In his letter to the Ephesians Paul puts it like this:
"Ö[God] seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, far above all principality and power and might and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in that which is to come. And He has put all things under His feet, and gave Him to be head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all" (1:20ff).
That is: His sitting at the right hand of God means that He is sovereign over the principalities and powers and mights and dominions Ė terms Scripture uses to describe the demons of hell. The ascended Christ is King of such magnitude that the powers of darkness are subject to him! In the words of Question & Answer 50: Christís sitting at Godís right hand means that "Christ ascended into heaven to manifest Himself there as Head of His Church, through whom the Father governs all things."
What, now, brothers and sisters, is the implication for us today? This: Christ rules this world totally, sovereignly. The horrors that Slobodan Milosovich poured out over Serbia and Croatia did not happen by chance, but had the hand of your sovereign Savior behind it. In fact, Jesus Christ uses Milosovichís evil to gather His church in Serbia. The liberalism that has swept through South Africa in the last decade did not happen willy-nilly, but the hand of the King of kings was behind it Ė so that His church gathering work in that country might continue. The mid-air collision between the American spy plane and the Chinese fighter jet, with its resulting tensions, did not happen by chance, but had your Saviorís mighty hand behind it Ė so that in turn His church gathering work in China and America, and around the world, might continue. How the virus that carries foot-and-mouth disease travels is determined by your Lord and Savior, and He allows the virus to settle here and not there with a view to His church gathering work. I canít understand it all, but I know that here is an encouragement for us in the midst of the godlessness we see in our society. Does the fact that church leaders in Australia pervert the gospel mean that the church of Christ will perish? Not unless the Lord wishes the gospel to be silent in Australai. For the ascended Christ, King of kings as He is, will bring to glory every one whom the Father has given Him; none shall be snatched out of His mighty hand (Jn 10:27ff). So we need not fear, though being a faithful Christian in our multicultural society becomes increasingly difficult. For, as we confess in Question & Answer 51, Christís glory as our Head has this wonderful benefit for us: "by His power He defends and preserves us against all enemies." Thatís true on a national or international scale, and true too on a very local and personal scale. For the Christ who rules sovereignly in heaven loves each one of His sheep so dearly that He laid down His life for each. Today, from heaven on high, He so governs the world that each of His sheep Ėyou and I included- are safely protected in His almighty and loving hands. So no powers of hell or hatred of workmates can touch us apart from the will of the One who laid down His life for us. See there the wonderful comfort that flows from Godís revelation of Jesusí enthronement at Godís right hand.
But this wonderful comfort, beloved of the Lord, is not the only implication flowing from Christís place in the world as King of kings. Paul draws out another consequence in Col 3, one relating to lifestyle. For he says in vs 2: "set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth." He works that out in the instruction of vss 5-17. "Therefore," he says, "put to death your members which are on the earth: fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry." Earth-centered drives as sexual urges, being in with the crowd, getting that car at all costs: put it to death, says Paul, for Christ your Savior rules from heaven, and so there are bigger and more important realities than your earthly urges. Paul continues that theme in vs 8: "But now you yourselves are to put off all these: anger, malice, blasphemy, filthy language out of your mouth. Do not lie to one anotherÖ." Paul speaks of "putting off", and the picture is of what one does to a coat. As a result of the fall into sin weíve received a coat of attitudes coming from hell, attitudes as anger, hatred, filthy language. That coat of attitudes results in particular behavior, conduct driven by anger, hatred, foul talk, etc. But that coat, says Paul, we need to "put off." In its place weíre to "put on" Ėvs 12- a new coat of attitudes: "tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering; bearing with one another, and forgiving one anotherÖ." Why weíre to put on this new coat of attitudes? Because these are attitudes that come from heaven where Christ is. So Paul asks us to imitate Christ. Vs 13: "even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do." Vs 16: "let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdomÖ." Vs 17: "whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord JesusÖ." In heaven, at Godís right hand, He is ĎLordí, and so on earth we need to acknowledge Him, submit to Him. Putting on attitudes from heaven results in lifestyles on earth agreeing with Christís sovereignty over all. See there the second consequence that flows from Godís revelation of Jesusí enthronement at Godís right hand.
We say: we canít act in a manner consistent with Christís lordship. True, in ourselves we canít; we remain too weak and broken, too oriented to this earth. But I draw your attention, congregation, to the material we confess in the first part of Question & Answer 51. The glory of Christ our Head benefits us Ėhow?- in this that the ascended Lord "by His Holy Spirit Ö pours out heavenly gifts upon us, His members." And in the strength of the Holy Spirit we can lift our eyes off the behavior patterns of this world, and adopt patterns consistent with the reality of Christís ascension and lordship in heaven. Itís a topic we can speak about more, the Lord willing, with Lordís Day 20, about the Holy Spirit. Meanwhile, let it be enough to say today that we certainly can begin to live in a manner consistent with Christís ascension and sovereignty.
Our land, my brothers and sisters, does not acknowledge that the very same Christ who died on Good Friday and arose on Easter Sunday is today Lord of our land. Thatís why so much ungodliness is permitted in our land today, so much lawless behavior. In the midst of this unbelief we repeat after God the fact of Christís enthronement in heaven. We draw much comfort for ourselves from that confession; more, because Christ is King today our lives are different Ėmust be different- from those of fellow Australians around us.
I come to our second point this afternoon:
2. Christ returns to the earth as Judge tomorrow
Yes, we live in a society that ignores or denies Christís enthronement at Godís right hand. That ignoring or denial, however, will not continue. The angels who came to earth after Jesusí ascension told the disciples that "this same Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will so come in like manner as you saw Him go into heaven" (Acts 1:11). When He returns to earth every knee will bow before Him, be they knees of forces from heaven above or from the earth beneath or from waters under the earth Ė including every knee in Australia.
Meanwhile, as long as the ungodly ignore Christís sovereignty over the world, these ungodly will make life awkward and difficult for the child of God. Itís a fact: to put on attitudes that come from heaven Ė"tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering; bearing with one another, and forgiving one another"- produces word choice and conduct that attract derision, scorn. To be Ďiní with your mates you need to laugh along at crude jokes, need to use some foul language. Because the child of God is different - must be different- from people around us, we find ourselves in uncomfortable positions. The temptation is great, as with Asaph in Ps 73, to join the ungodlyÖ.
But the Lord who rules all the world today, congregation, would encourage us to Ďhang in thereí! For Jesus Christ is returning from heaven to this earth. When He comes, He will call all men to appear before Him, and all must give account of everything theyíve ever done or said. The passage we read from Mt 25 makes the point so clearly:
"When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the holy angels with Him, then He will sit on the throne of His glory. All the nations will be gathered before Him, and He will separate them one from another, as a shepherd divides his sheep from the goats" (vss 31f).
The sheep, the righteous, will be told that they "inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world" (vs 34). But the goats, the unrighteous, will be told to "depart Ö into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels" (vs 41). So speak the Scriptures, and so we confess in Question & Answer 52 that "He will cast all His and my enemies into everlasting condemnation, but He will take me and all His chosen ones to Himself into heavenly joy and glory."
In the midst of the "sorrow and persecution" Godís children suffer in this earthly life, here is a word of enormous encouragement! Today the Godly may find themselves at the bottom of the pile, the object of derision and scorn. How tempting, then, to look for ways to take vengeance, to get back at those who keep putting Christians down, to try to clamor to the top of the pile, to get one better over the other. But the Lord has said that vengeance was His; no man has the right to take justice in his own hands. And the Lord at His time will execute His vengeance. When? It will all come together on the last day, for then the Lord will wreak His vengeance on all who did not acknowledge His lordship. For when Christ comes back
"the books will be opened and the dead will be judged (Rev 20:12) according to what they have done in this world, whether good or evil (2 Cor 5:10). Indeed, all people will render account for every careless word they utter (Mt 12:36), which the world regards as mere jest and amusement. The secrets and hypocrisies of men will then be publicly uncovered in the sight of all"
- as we confess in the Belgic Confession (Article 37).
What a thought that is, beloved! Everything will come out of everybodyís closet; no secret will remain secret, whether the offender was you or me, or anybody else.
"And so for good reason the thought of this judgment is horrible and dreadful to the wicked and evildoers, but it is a great joy and comfort to the righteous and elect. For then their full redemption will be completed and they will receive the fruits of their labour and of the trouble they have suffered. Their innocence will be known to all and they will see the terrible vengeance that God will bring upon the wicked who persecuted, oppressed, and tormented them in this world."
And our sins that will come out of the closet on that day? To the degree that there is faith in Christís atoning work on Good Friday, these sins are all covered in His blood - so that we need give no explanation, no matter how horrid those sins. Notice how we echo Godís revelation in our Lordís Day: "I Ö await as judge from heaven the very same person who before has submitted Himself to the judgment of God for my sake." Yes, this is a reference to Good Friday: the Judge has Himself laid down His life for me, taken upon Himself the curse that I deserve! When Christ comes back as Judge, itís the cross of Calvary that will stand in the center of attention, for that cross means that my sins have been washed away. How, then, can I give account for my sins? I canít, true, but I can and may and must draw the Lordís attention to His work on Calvary, the work that atoned for my sins so that I donít have to suffer for them anymore.
And where there is no faith in the Christ of Calvary? Make no mistake, beloved: account must be given of every sinful word and every evil deed Ė and that account canít be given in such a way that one can get out from under the wrath of GodÖ.
Yes, brothers and sisters, older and younger, here is encouragement for the child of God. Letís not get downhearted because of the opposition we encounter in this life. Instead, let it be fixed in our minds that the Christ who reigns supreme today Ėso Heís the One who permits suffering in my life!- will come again as Judge. So weíll not stare at the injustices of this life, nor the hurt we experience, but weíll fix our eyes on high, where Christ is at the right hand of His heavenly Father Ė from where also Heíll come again to judge the living and the dead. Meanwhile, weíll make it our business to be ready and waiting for the coming of our Lord and Savior.
How can we be ready? By embracing today the promises of forgiveness that God has extended to us in the covenant He established with us long ago. Faith, responding to my baptism: thatís what I need so desperately today Ė lest Christ return before Iím ready. And if Iím not ready, I shall suffer the eternal horrors of everlasting hell. For Christís work on the cross covers only the sins of the believer. And having the full load of Godís wrath come upon me is something I donít want.
Then again, I donít want it for others either. Well did the apostle Paul lay his heart on the table in his plea to king Agrippa when he said to him: "I would to God that not only you, but also all who hear me today, might become both almost and altogether such as I am, except for these chains" (Acts 26:29). A heart for other people, a longing to see others spared the eternal torment of hell: that belongs to the attitude the Christian must put on according to Col 3. No anger towards another, no matter what suffering he caused you, but instead kindness, mercy, even forgiving one another as Christ forgave you Ė yes, that attitude drives one to seek out the other so that you can sit together in the kingdom of heaven. As Christ rescued me from hell through His self-emptying on Calvary even while I was His enemy (Rom 5:8), so I seek to persuade others of the truth of the gospel Ėregardless of who they are or what theyíve done to meĖ so that in the day of Christ they may not perish under the curse of the Judge but live forever under His blessing.
Itís not politically correct in our society to speak of judgment, of sin, of hell. All roads lead to heaven, weíre told, and the gospel of Jesusí death and resurrection is simply that we should let ourselves be weak in order to gain others. But the gospel of Good Friday and of Easter Sunday goes far beyond that. Christ defeated sin and Satan, and so has received a throne today over all the world, with Satan and his demons under His feet, and world rulers and politicians and union bosses under His feet also, and likewise all employers and employees, all teachers and students, all parents and children, yes, every thing in all creation. The triumphant, risen, ascended Christ leads world history with a view to gathering His church, so that He can come again on heavenís clouds Ė to be worshipped by all men. He comes as Judge, and that day will represent the end of all tears, all crying, all suffering. Then Paradise will be restored!
"Come, Lord Jesus!" Amen.