Friday, March 19, 2010

eternal King (better than the angels, part 4 of 5)

...And of the angels He says, "Who makes His angels winds, and His ministers a flame of fire." But of the Son, He says, "Your throne, O God, is forever and ever, and the righteous scepter is the scepter of His kingdom. You have loved righteousness and hated lawlessness; therefore God, Your God, has anointed You with the oil of gladness above Your companions" (Hebrews 1:7-9)

Before Mary, the mother of Jesus, conceived as a virgin, God sent the angel Gabriel, "who stands in the presence of God" (Luke 1:19), to proclaim this good news:

"Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you." But [Mary] was very perplexed at this statement, and kept pondering what kind of salutation this was. The angel said to her, "Do not be afraid, Mary; for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a Son, and you shall name Him Jesus. He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David; and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and His kingdom will have no end" (Luke 1:28-33, emphasis added)

While we may frequently speak of this passage in the context of the Advent/Christmas season, focusing on the humility and grace with which Mary submitted to God's holy will as well as the glorious Incarnation of Jesus, I would like to highlight here features of the circumstance as a whole. Specifically, in this event we see features that resemble the contrast in Hebrews 1:7-9 between Christ and the angels: angels are "ministers" whereas Jesus is the eternal King (see also Hebrews 1:14).
We get the impression in Scripture that angels are glorious and majestic beings that inspire awe and fear in humans. So, as in the Lucan passage above, we constantly read that the angels declare upon their appearance, "Do not fear." Moreover, these beings, at least some of which are "in the presence of God," arouse worship, though, not being worthy, they never receive it and explicitly encourage humanity to worship God alone (see, for example, Revelation 22:8-9). Yet despite the grandeur that angels display, the writer of Hebrews reminds us what God has revealed of them, in that God "makes His angels winds and His ministers a flame of fire" (Hebrews 1:7; Psalm 104:4, LXX). In our frailty, we are wont to exalt angels because of their apparent splendor. But God is gracious to remind us that His angels are created, temporal and fleeting beings, like "wind" and "fire," whose primary purpose is to worship and serve Him. What they have, they receive from God, the Creator of all things. What God has, He possesses eternally, being uncreated. Even the great angel Gabriel was but a messenger, a servant, sent from God to declare the True Majesty, God's Son, Jesus the eternal Savior King.
Though we must temper our attitude toward angels, it is always fitting to worship the divine Son. In contrast to the temporal angels, whose majesty is derived, we see Jesus, who is "better than the angels," as reigning forever, and His majesty inheres. So, as we read in Hebrews, the writer quotes again from Psalms, citing God as the author who declares Jesus' deity and eternal, righteous reign as King: "Your throne, O God, is forever and ever, and the righteous scepter is the scepter of His kingdom. You have loved righteousness and hated lawlessness; therefore God, Your God, has anointed You with the oil of gladness above Your companions" (Hebrews 1:8-9; Psalm 45:6-7).
When we speak of Jesus' reign and His kingdom, we should recall that it is intimately related to His person and work. Therefore, it relates to His nature as both fully divine and fully human, and it relates to His Incarnation, Crucifixion, and Resurrection. As divine, He possesses innate authority and sovereignty; as human, His obedience to God and love for righteousness has enabled Him to be "anointed...above [His] companions." Stemming from Jesus' work in His Incarnation and Crucifixion, we perceive attributes of Christ's Kingship and kingdom that are unique in comparison to any earthly king and kingdom. Jesus humbly condescends to the lowly estate of humanity in the midst of our fallen condition. Furthermore, He empties Himself to take on the form of a servant so that He might suffer on our behalf and become accustomed to our weaknesses. His reign and His kingdom are characterized by selfless acts of love towards others in need, and He was put to death because the world, for whom He died, would not receive Him. Yet, He rose from the dead, conquering death and hell and bestowing life upon those who will believe in Him, and He is now entered into the position of exaltation which He had from the beginning. He is King forever, and the principles of His kingdom originate from Himself. Consequently, greatness is measured in terms of lowliness and servitude; nobility is measured in terms of righteousness, uprightness, and a morality that continuously expresses love toward God and necessarily overflows with compassion toward all of humankind without partiality (see, for example Matthew 20:20-28; 23:11-12; Luke 22:24-36; John 12:24-26; 13:1-15; Matthew 22:36-40; 9:35-36).
Because of the singularity of Christ's Kingship and His pure righteousness, we must take care not to associate His righteous rule with kingdoms of this fallen world. The kingdoms of the world all too frequently display selfishness and an insatiable desire to oppress and destroy others for personal gain and protection of so-called "rights." The kingdom that Christ ushered in through His first coming is distinguished by love and service. In an already/not-yet tension, the Kingdom of God both has come (the Incarnation) and is to come (the Second Coming). Christ desires to rule and reign in us, His believers. And if we say that we believe in Him we ought to live as He lived, obeying and manifesting the principles of His kingdom. Furthermore, we wait anxiously for His return when He will inaugurate the age of His perfect, just, and righteous reign over all things. With such a King as we have, what amazing comfort we find to abide in Him and partake in His kingdom. He reigns forever, triumphing over all - even death and hell - rendering powerless all unrighteousness and evil. And though we still see so much of this (unrighteousness and evil) in the world, He will come again to bring the fulness of His sovereign reign to perfect fruition throughout all the earth.

While I know that I have already written a bit long (especially for a blog!), I invite you to consider and contemplate a small portion of the richness of Christian worship throughout various centuries that has sprung from the source of Christ the eternal and righteous King. In these hymns we are brought to a place of prostration and worship before Jesus, the humble King who gave Himself for His creation, and now lives forever to give us life in Him:

Crown Him with many crowns,
The Lamb upon His throne.
Hark! How the heavenly anthem drowns
All music but its own.
Awake, my soul, and sing of Him
Who died for thee,
And hail Him as thy matchless King
Throughout all eternity.
(Matthew Bridges: Crown Him with Many Crowns, v. 1)

Born Thy people to deliver,
Born a child and yet a King,
Born to reign in us forever,
Now Thy gracious kingdom bring.
By Thine own eternal Spirit
Rule in all our hearts alone;
By Thine own sufficient merit,
Raise us to Thy glorious throne.
(Charles Wesley: Come Thou Long Expected Jesus, v. 2)

O Christ, our King, Creator, Lord
Savior of all who trust Thy word
To them who seek Thee ever near
Now to our praises bend Thine ear

Now in the Father's glory high
Great Conqueror never more to die
Us by Thy mighty power defend
And reign through ages without end
(Gregory the Great: O Christ, Our King, Creator, Lord, vv. 1 & 5)

Lead on, O King eternal,
We follow, not with fears,
For gladness breaks like morning,
Where'er Thy face appears.
Thy cross is lifted over us,
We journey in its light;
The crown awaits its conquest;
Lead on, O God of might.
(Ernest Shurtleff: Lead on, O King Eternal, v. 3)

Rejoice, the Lord is King!
Your Lord and King adore
Rejoice, give thanks and sing,
And triumph evermore;

The Lord our Savior Reigns,
The God of truth and love;
When He had purged our stains
He took His seat above;

His kingdom cannot fail,
He rules over earth and heaven,
The keys of death and hell
Are to our Jesus given;

Rejoice in glorious hope!
Our Lord the Judge shall come,
And take His servants
Up to their eternal home.
(Charles Wesley: Rejoice, the Lord is King, vv. 1-4)

Lo! He comes with clouds descending,
Once for our salvation, slain;
Thousand thousand saints attending,
Swell the triumph of His train:
Hallelujah! Hallelujah!
God appears on earth to reign.

Yea, amen! Let all adore Thee,
High on Thine eternal throne;
Savior, take the power and glory,
Claim the kingdom for Thine own;
O come quickly! O come quickly!
Hallelujah! Come, Lord, come!
(Charles Wesley & Martin Madan: Lo, He Comes with Clouds Descending, vv. 1 & 5)

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