Jesus Christ, the Lord of History
P. G. Mathew | Sunday, December 1, 2002
Copyright © 2002, P. G. Mathew
Ever since September 11, 2001, life has not been the same. We cannot get into a plane without wondering whether a heat-seeking missile has been fired at us. We may be engaging in a war soon. Everywhere there is anxiety and insecurity.
In the Westminster Confession of Faith, chapter 3, article 1, we read, "God, from all eternity, did, by the most wise and holy counsel of his own will, freely, and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass. . . ." Chapter 5, article 1, tells us, "God, the great Creator of all things, doth uphold, direct, dispose, and govern all creatures, actions, and things, from the greatest even to the least, by his most wise and holy providence, according to this infallible foreknowledge, and the free and immutable counsel of his own will, to the praise of the glory of his wisdom, power, justice, goodness, and mercy." I believe in these declarations of God's sovereign control of history. That is why I can have confidence in God even in times like these when terrors are unleashed throughout the world.
Through God's Son, the eternal Word, all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. Jesus Christ sustains all creation by his powerful word. Paul writes
He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together (Colossians 1:15-17).
Neither Lord Krishna, Lord Buddha, Prophet Mohammed, or anyone else is the Lord of history. According to God's word, Jesus Christ alone is the Lord of history, for he alone created, sustains, owns, and judges all things. He alone is the Savior of the world, who alone is guiding all of history to its preordained consummation. He is the King of Israel as well as the King of the whole world.
The essential definition of pride is that a creature tries to become God. The Lord Jesus Christ opposes all such pride and will put down all arrogant individuals, nations, and groups of nations who stand against God. But he will exalt the humble.
This section beginning in Isaiah 13 speaks about many nations, including Assyria, Babylon, Egypt, Philistia, Moab, Damascus, Cush, Tyre, Edom, and Arabia, and ends in Isaiah 24, speaking about the whole earth. Everything is under God's control. Isaiah deals particularly with Babylon in these chapters, so first we want to look at the pride of Babylon.
Notice, in the days of Isaiah, Babylon did not even exist as an empire. In fact, she did not achieve her great power until one hundred years later. But our God declares the end from the beginning and sees all things at one view. He revealed the rise of Babylon to his prophet Isaiah.
Isaiah 13:1 tells us, "An oracle concerning Babylon that Isaiah son of Amoz saw. . . ." Babylon is representative of any kingdom that is against God. It is seen as the kingdom of Satan, though it is described as the jewel and glory of all kingdoms (Isaiah 13:19). It is seen as a kingdom drunk with idolatry, and economic and military might.
The pride of Babylon is spoken of throughout the book of Daniel. Daniel 3 tells us that Nebuchadnezzar made a golden image of himself that was ninety feet high and nine feet wide. Imagine the arrogance and pride of this king! Then he demanded that everyone worship him, including the Hebrews who were worshipers of the true God.
In Daniel 4 we find another example of this arrogance. In Daniel 4:28-30 we read, "All this happened to King Nebuchadnezzar. Twelve months later, as the king was walking on the roof of the royal palace of Babylon, he said, 'Is not this the great Babylon I have built as the royal residence, by my mighty power and for the glory of my majesty?'" The Westminster Confession tells us that God does everything to the praise of the glory of his wisdom, power, justice, goodness and mercy. But Nebuchadnezzar was declaring, "I built this great Babylon by my own mighty power and for the glory of my own majesty!" What arrogance! What self-sufficiency! What independence and wickedness manifested by a mere creature!
In Daniel 5 we read about a great feast given by the playboy king Belshazzar. In verses 3-4 we read that "they brought in the gold goblets that had been taken from the temple of God in Jerusalem, and the king and his nobles, his wives and his concubines, drank from them. As they drank the wine, they praised the gods of gold and silver, of bronze, iron, wood and stone." Suddenly a hand appeared and wrote on the wall: "Mene, mene, tekel, parsin." God counted, weighed, and divided Babylon and was going to give it over to the Medes and Persians. At this Belshazzar's knees knocked and gave way. Jesus Christ, the Lord of history, can make this happen to us too. In him all things hold together.
In Isaiah 14:12 the king of Babylon is likened to the planet Venus, which shines very brightly in the morning, as if it were the sun. But when the sun rises, Venus' glory disappears. "How you have fallen from heaven, O morning star, son of the dawn! You have been cast down to the earth, you who once laid low the nations." God raises up some nations and puts down others. He uses one nation as a club to discipline others.
Here Isaiah is saying, "O Babylon, you laid waste nations, but now you are cast down to the earth by the Lord of history!" Then we find the pride of the king of Babylon described. It is the pride of every man, woman, boy and girl. Suppose you have money, live in a large home, and drive an expensive car. Additionally, you may be healthy, educated, good-looking, and have a powerful job. All this feeds into pride, and pretty soon you may pretend you are God.
In verses 13-14 we find five declarations beginning with "I will." First, this king says, "I will ascend to heaven." He is speaking by the inspiration of Satan. This king does not like being a finite creature who is confined to earth and subordinate to God. Then he says: "I will raise my throne above the stars of God," "I will sit enthroned on the mount of the assembly, on the utmost heights of the sacred mountain," and "I will ascend above the tops of the clouds." Finally, he exposes his heart attitude: "I will make myself like the Most High."
The Problem of Pride
Pride, then, is a desire to be equal with God, a desire to be God's rival. It is an anti-God, anti-Christ attitude. We find a description of another person who manifested such pride in 2 Thessalonians 2:3-4, where Paul writes, "Don't let anyone deceive you in any way, for that day will not come until the rebellion occurs and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the man doomed to destruction. He will oppose and will exalt himself over everything that is called God or is worshiped, so that he sets himself up in God's temple, proclaiming himself to be God."
I hope we will recognize pride as it truly is. As we said, it is an attempt at self-deification. Professor John Murray said, "To be like God, in one sense, is the greatest piety. But to be like God in another sense is the greatest sin and wickedness anybody can commit."
This desire to be like God in a prideful way is an ancient issue. Remember what the devil said to Adam and Eve? "'You will not surely die,' the serpent said to the woman, 'for God knows that when you eat of it, your eyes will be opened and you will be like God, knowing good and evil'" (Genesis 3:4). Adam and Eve did eat, but instead of becoming like God, they died spiritually, became afraid, and ran from God. Filled with shame and guilt, they were cut off from the presence of God because they had believed the devil, not God. How many people believe the devil when he promises to exalt them?
Babylon's problem of pride is revealed in the Bible as early as Genesis 11:
As men moved eastward, they found an plain in Shinar and settled there. They said to each other, "Come, let's make bricks and bake them thoroughly." They used brick instead of stone, and tar for mortar. Then they said, "Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves and not be scattered over the face of the earth" (vv. 2-4).
These people were praising themselves, not God. Though it was God's will that they should fill the earth, in their pride they said, "We do not want to do what God says. He is always telling us what to do. We want to be self-sufficient and independent. Let's unite against him! Who wants God, anyway?" But the Lord of history opposes arrogance:
[T]he Lord came down to see the city and the tower that the men were building. The Lord said, "If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them. Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other." So the Lord scattered them from there over all the earth, and they stopped building the city.
Like Adam and Eve, these people wanted to be God. But they all died.
The last person to think he was God was Emperor Hirohito of Japan. Finally he realized he was not God, and surrendered. Later in life, he visited Disneyland and even had his picture taken with Mickey Mouse. But he died, and that is the problem. The Pharaohs, the Caesars, the Nebuchadnezzars and the Hirohitos of the world are all sinners trying to be gods. But God puts them down. All men will die and be covered by maggots. They will eventually discover that they are not God.
In Isaiah 14 we find the spirits of departed kings in Sheol welcoming the king of Babylon. They said, in essence, "What happened to you, O king of Babylon? We thought you were mighty and powerful but you have become as weak as we are. You died!"
How many people have we spoken to who did not want God at all! Oh, they were proud. They smoked cigars and spoke about golf. They took cruises. I don't think anyone is going to eulogize me when I die, saying that I was a good golf player or took seventy-five cruises.
When man dies, he discovers finally he is not the Sovereign Lord but only a mere, weak mortal, under the control of the Lord of history.
God Opposes the Proud
In Isaiah 13:11 we find out how God humbles those who are proud. God says, "I will punish the world for its evil, the wicked for their sins. I will put an end to the arrogance of the haughty and will humble the pride of the ruthless." God is speaking about the whole world. Babylon represents all nations.
In verse 19 we read, "Babylon, the jewel of kingdoms, the glory of the Babylonians' pride, will be overthrown like Sodom and Gomorrah." Babylon is the anti-kingdom, always opposing Jerusalem, Israel, and God's plan to save his people through Jesus, the seed of the woman. So Babylon opposed the coming of Jesus Christ.
But here Isaiah is telling us that Babylon would be brought down by God. If Babylon could destroy God's people, Jesus Christ did not need to come. But it will never happen. The seed of the woman came as promised by God. Babylon was brought down, Satan was defeated, Israel was restored, and Christ was born of the virgin, as Isaiah predicted. He destroyed all his enemies on the cross and delivered those who were captives to sin. The seed of the woman has crushed the head of the serpent and we who were slaves to Satan have been liberated by Jesus Christ.
Christ Casts Down Babylon
Isaiah not only spoke about the pride of Babylon, but also how God will cast it down. This is also found in Jeremiah 50-51.
God has an eternal plan, not only to save some, but also to destroy every arrogant man. Isaiah 14:24 says, "The Lord Almighty has sworn, 'Surely, as I have planned, so it will be, and as I have purposed, so it will stand." Only the Sovereign One can say that. If he plans something, it will come to pass. You and I can plan all we want; it doesn't mean our plans will come to fruition. But the Lord of history made his plans from all eternity, "so it will be."
In verse 26 we learn that God's plan was not just for arrogant Babylon, but for all arrogant nations of the world: "This is the plan determined for the whole world; this is the hand stretched out over all nations." The hand of Almighty God is stretched out, the same hand that was stretched out against Pharaoh. Our creaturely hands are not very powerful, but God's is mighty. God has to humble us until we get on our knees and say, "Now I see it. You are the sovereign, infinite, personal, almighty God, and I am nothing-only a dying creature."
Verse 27 tells us, "For the Lord Almighty has purposed and who can thwart him? His hand is stretched out, and who can turn it back?" Nebuchadnezzar was humbled and became like an animal for seven years. When he finally came to his senses, he acknowledged God's sovereignty. God alone is able to do whatever he pleases, and no one can thwart him.
Not only is God the one who plans, but he is also powerful. So we find the expression, "the Lord Almighty," or "El Shaddai," in Isaiah 13:6, 13, 14:22, 23, 24, 27.
Additionally, verse 24 tells us, "The Lord Almighty has sworn. . . ." We find this idea of God swearing only three times in the book of Isaiah. God swore by himself, for there is no one greater for him to swear by. When Isaiah says he swore, that means God determined something and it would take place.
God Acts Against Babylon
Earlier we looked at the five "I will's" of the king of Babylon. Now let us examine the five "I will's" of God against Babylon in Isaiah 14:22-25.
"'I will rise up against them,' declares the Lord Almighty" (v. 22). The Most High says this whenever he observes an arrogant attitude. Notice, this is a declaration. God is not saying, "I wish I could oppose that arrogant nation."
"I will cut off from Babylon her name and survivors" (v. 22). God had no plan for a remnant of Babylon to be saved.
"I will turn her into a palace for owls and into swampland. . ." (v. 23). I am sure people looked at this prophecy during the glory days of Babylon and laughed at it. We would not have believed it either if anyone tried to predict the events of September 11, 2001. We would say, "Oh, nothing like that could ever happen to the United States. Aren't we the most powerful nation on earth?"
"I will sweep her with the broom of destruction" (v. 23). Here God likens great Babylon to chaff, saying that after this great nation had been brought down, it would be like garbage. How many places in the world do we find ruins, not only of cities, but also of churches! God's hand is clearly seen in these ruins. He brings down arrogant nations, arrogant churches, and arrogant people.
"I will crush the Assyrian" (v. 25). I hope we understand by now that it is better to give up pride than to be crushed by God.
Oh, people don't like this idea of a wrathful God. We want God to be loving and nice, always hugging us and never asking questions about moral issues. PGM We want him to be like a parent whose laws we can violate at will, but who still loves us. But in Isaiah 13 we find four expressions of God's wrath to be manifested against Babylon: "I have summoned warriors to carry out my wrath" (v. 3); "They come from faraway lands, from the ends of the heavens-the Lord and the weapons of his wrath-to destroy the whole world" (v. 5); "See, the day of the Lord is coming-a cruel day with wrath and fierce anger. . ." (v. 9); "Therefore, I will make the heavens tremble; and the earth will shake from its place at the wrath of the Lord Almighty, in the day of his burning anger" (v. 13).
The Lord of history summoned and nations gathered from afar to deal with the Babylonians. These people did not care for gold or silver, so they could not be bought off: "See, I will stir up against them the Medes, who do not care for silver and have no delight in gold" (v. 17). This was speaking about Cyrus, whom God calls by name in Isaiah 44, one hundred and fifty years before his birth.
God's wrath against Babylon was expressed not only against its sins, but against the Babylonians themselves. Have you ever heard the expression, "God hates sin but loves sinners"? It is a lie. If it were true, then God would just have to deal with this theoretical sin somehow and all sinners will be saved. But the Bible tells us God is angry at sinners daily, not that he is angry at sin, as though it can be isolated from the individual. So Isaiah 13:9 says, "See, the day of the Lord is coming-a cruel day with wrath and fierce anger-to make the land desolate and destroy the sinners within it." And verses 15-18 of this chapter tell us God was going to kill men, women, and infants. The Medes and Persians were going to do it, but it was done under divine oversight. Such things can be very difficult to understand, but they are true.
Verse 19 says, "Babylon, the jewel of the kingdoms, the glory of the Babylonians' pride, will be overthrown by God like Sodom and Gomorrah." The biblical paradigm of destruction is the story of Sodom and Gomorrah. Once large cities on a well-watered plain, they were totally destroyed. Isaiah was predicting that one day Babylon, famous for its culture, idolatry, military and economic might, would be destroyed like Sodom and Gomorrah. It seemed like an unbelievable prophecy. After all, Babylon was the home of one of the seven wonders of the ancient world! Yet Isaiah says,
She will never be inhabited or lived in through all generations; no Arab will pitch his tent there, no shepherd will rest his flocks there. But desert creatures will lie there, jackals will fill her houses; there the owls will dwell, and there the wild goats will leap about. Hyenas will howl in her strongholds, jackals in her luxurious palaces. Her time is at hand, and her days will not be prolonged (vv. 20-22).
This is exactly what happened. If you go to Babylon now, in modern Iraq, you will see only ruins. Not even shepherds use that area anymore. The Lord of history raises up one kingdom and then puts it down, using one nation to punish another. Throughout history the wrath of God has been revealed and experienced in this way: Babylon was defeated by Medo-Persia; Medo-Persia was defeated by Greece; Greece was defeated by the Romans, and so on.
That is why I am preaching about Jesus Christ as the Lord of history. He controls all nations and peoples, putting them up and bringing them down. He will even use them to discipline arrogant western nations, who mock and say like the fool, "There is no God." People all over the world are trembling because of the threat of terrorism. Billions of dollars have been lost since September 11. We hear of heat-seeking missiles, biological weapons, and "dirty" nuclear devices, and feel helpless. No nation can claim that God is on its side against "them." We all have become arrogant and self-sufficient, trusting in our culture and economic and military might. We think we are self-sufficient and do not need God.
But Jesus Christ, the Lord of history, will deal with the pride of all individuals, groups, and nations. He has been doing it throughout history and continues to do it even today. He will deal in history until he brings history to its final end.
Babylon Is Fallen!
In Isaiah 21 we find a phrase that is repeated in the New Testament: "Look, here comes a man in a chariot with a team of horses! 'Babylon has fallen, has fallen! All the images of its gods lie shattered on the ground'" (Isaiah 21:9). That message came to a people who were at ease. "They set the tables, they spread the rugs, they eat, they drink!" (v. 5). When they least expect it, the Lord of history will deal with the arrogant.
In Isaiah 2 we read about God's determination to put down every arrogant man, family, tribe, nation, and group of nations: "So man will be brought low and mankind humbled-do not forgive them" (v. 9). Man is always aspiring to be God. He says in his heart, "I will ascend, I will make my throne on the top of the clouds."
"The eyes of the arrogant man will be humbled and the pride of men brought low. The Lord alone will be exalted in that day" (v. 11). So we say, soli Deo gloria-to God alone be glory! Everything in all history will contribute to the praise of his glorious grace. "The arrogance of man will be brought low and the pride of men humbled; the Lord alone will be exalted in that day" (v. 17). In this repetition of verse 11 we see the divine purpose and plan clearly.
Isaiah 5:15 tells us, "So man will be brought low and mankind humbled, the eyes of the arrogant humbled." We find the same idea in Isaiah 13:11: "I will punish the world for its evil, the wicked for their sins. I will put an end to the arrogance of the haughty and will humble the pride of the ruthless." No wonder we read in Proverbs, James and 1 Peter that God opposes the proud and gives grace to the humble.
Thus, Isaiah 21:9 tells us, "Look, here comes a man in a chariot with a team of horses. And he gives back the answer: 'Babylon has fallen, has fallen!'" Babylon is falling all the time in the history of the world. But there will be a final falling, a time when the eschatological Babylon will fall also. We read about this final fall of Babylon in the book of Revelation as well: "A second angel followed and said, 'Fallen! Fallen is Babylon the Great, which made all the nations drink the maddening wine of her adulteries'" (14:8). "The great city split into three parts, and the cities of the nations collapsed. God remembered Babylon the Great and gave her the cup filled with the wine of the fury of his wrath" (16:9). Oh, we want to speak only about a nice God, but our God is a God of justice as well as of love. So he thrusts into the hand of Babylon the cup of the fury of his wrath and tells her to drink it to the very dregs.
"After this I saw another angel coming down from heaven. He had great authority, and the earth was illuminated by his splendor. With a mighty voice he shouted: 'Fallen! Fallen is Babylon the Great! She has become a home for demons and a haunt for every evil spirit, a haunt for every unclean and detestable bird'" (18:1-2). The writer is harking back to Isaiah's prophecy.
God will deal with Eastern arrogance as well as with Western arrogance, with those inside the church as well as those outside it. So in Revelation 2 and 3 we find great threats coming from the resurrected Lord who holds the keys of hell and death. But praise be to God, he also says, "Repent! Repent! Repent! Humble yourselves!"
Christ Saves His People
Finally, the Lord of history will save his people, as we read in Isaiah 14. If Jesus Christ could not defeat all his enemies, he could not save his people from their sins. But Jesus Christ is God Almighty. He came to this world to save his people, and he does so by crushing the head of the serpent. God destroys Babylon through his just wrath, but saves Jerusalem in his grace and compassion.
How does God demonstrate his compassion to his people?
He chooses Israel. There is no such plan for any other nation. But God has a plan for his people, so first, he chooses Israel, which stands for all of God's people throughout time. In his eternal determination, God chose us, and he will not change his mind.
He shows compassion on Israel. God should be showing wrath against us, for his wrath is being revealed against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men. But that is not the only thing that is revealed. The righteousness of God is also being revealed. It is ours, if we put our faith in Jesus Christ.
He settles them in their own land. The people of God were in captivity, but in his sovereign mercy, God brought them back into their own land. As Jesus said, the meek shall inherit the earth.
Israel will possess the nations. How easy it is to think that Babylon, or the nations of the world, or unbelieving professors and politicians are so mighty and that the church is nothing! But there is coming a day when Israel will possess the nations. Our God is the Lord of all the nations.
Her captors become her captives. "They will make captives of their captors and rule over their oppressors" (v. 3).
He gives rest. "On the day the Lord gives you relief from the suffering and turmoil and cruel bondage. . ." (v. 3). God will give rest to those who put their trust in Jesus Christ. They will be liberated from the shackles put on them by the devil and translated from the kingdom of Satan into the kingdom of God's dear Son, which is righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.
He gives his people a song. "And you will take up this taunt against the king of Babylon. . ." (v. 4). God gives his redeemed people a song: "Fallen! Fallen! Babylon is fallen! God has defeated all his enemies and has taken us who were hostages out!" What a song! "I will sing unto the Lord. . . . The horse and the rider have been thrown into the sea." The Christian life is a glorious celebration of these truths, that God chose us, God showed compassion upon us, God settles us in his country, God gave us possession of nations, God made our captors are our captives, God gave us rest, and God gave us a song.
The Lord will give us rest. We are told to resist the devil and he shall flee from us. He said, "Come unto me, all you who are weary and heavy laden." The result of servitude to Satan is weariness. But Jesus is our peace and our rest. So the church sings in celebration of God's salvation.
The Fruitless Search for Sin
Jeremiah 50 and 51 also deal with Babylon. In these chapters we read something that is "exciting" in the true sense of the word, something so unbelievable that we must stand outside of ourselves and look at it to make sure it is true.
Jeremiah 50:19-20 tells us,
"But I will bring Israel back to his own pasture and he will graze on Carmel and Bashan; his appetite will be satisfied on the hills of Ephraim and Gilead. In those days, at that time," declares the Lord, "search will be made for Israel's guilt, but there will be none, and for the sins of Judah, but none will be found, for I will forgive the remnant I spare."
A thorough search will be made for our guilt, but none will be found! It is as if our guilt will be buried in the ocean, and a sign posted that says, "No fishing"! This is what salvation, justification, and forgiveness of all sins is all about. All our guilt is covered by the blood of Jesus Christ. Go ahead; search for it! If you know doctrine, you will say with confidence, "Nobody will find it."
When does this take place? It happened when Jesus Christ died on the cross. We should have been destroyed and wiped out, but we have been spared by the One who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all. We are the spared ones.
In Jeremiah 50:34 we read, "Yet their Redeemer is strong; the Lord Almighty is his name. He will vigorously defend their cause so that he may bring rest to their land, but unrest to those who live in Babylon." Notice, there is rest and there is unrest. Those who believe on the Lord Jesus Christ will receive rest, but those who are arrogant will remain restless.
Not only is the wrath of God is being revealed, but also God's salvation. So a sinner can now be saved through Jesus Christ. "Repent and believe on the Lord Jesus Christ"; "Humble yourselves and call upon the name of the Lord"; "Kiss the Son"; "Confess with your mouth 'Jesus is Lord' and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead and you shall be saved." Flee Babylon and come to Jerusalem. Get out, just as Lot did. Trust in Jesus Christ and you'll be saved. Salvation is of the Jews. It is found in Jesus Christ only, the Lord of the nations and the head of the church. "Now is the accepted time, now is the day of salvation, now is the favorable year of Jubilee."
In Proverbs 3:34 we read, "He mocks proud mockers but gives grace to the humble." James, the Lord's brother, says, "God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble." The apostle Peter instructs us, "Humble yourselves,, therefore, under the mighty hand of God, that he may" exalt you in due season."
If you haven't trusted in Jesus Christ alone, the reason is your own arrogance. You are manifesting the spirit of Babylon, thinking that you are God and can save yourself. Repent now. Believe now. Kiss the Son now. Call upon his name now.
Praise God for opening our eyes to our own arrogance! May we humble before this God Almighty, flee Babylon and come to Jerusalem. The Bible tells us salvation is of the Jews. May we, therefore, come to Jesus Christ, who alone is the Savior as well as the Judge, and be saved. Amen.
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Copyright © 2002, P. G. Mathew
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