Our God Reigns!
P. G. Mathew | Sunday, January 1, 2006
Copyright © 2006, P. G. Mathew
As we begin this new year, we do not know what the future holds. But we need not worry, for our God reigns! The triune God, who created the world out of nothing, owns and rules over all. This Yahweh, the "I Am That I Am," is sovereign over all creation, whether visible or invisible, animate or inanimate. The Lord of history reigns over all the nations of the world, ruling over all humans and angels, both good and evil.
God the Father has placed all things under the feet of our Lord Jesus Christ, who is head over everything, that he may be the head of the church. Jesus said, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me" (Matthew 28:18). As our good shepherd, he gives us eternal life and we shall never perish. John 10:28-30 tells us that no one is able to snatch us out of his hand and the Father's hand. Why should we worry? Nothing in all creation is able to separate us from the love of God. As Paul says in Romans 8:31, "If God is for us, who can be against us?" Our God is for us in this new year.
Our God Reigns over the Kings of the Earth
Our God reigns over all history and all people, even the kings of the earth. God's redemptive plan began before the creation of the world, when the Creator of all things chose us to be holy and blameless. He permitted the fall of creation and then began to redeem his people from that fall, promising as early as Genesis 3:15 that the seed of the woman would crush the head of the serpent. As part of his plan, God called Abraham and produced a nation from him in Egypt. Pharaoh tried to destroy this nation and frustrate God's eternal plan. But in the fullness of time, our sovereign God delivered two million Israelis out of Egypt and led them into the Promised Land. As covenant Lord, he then instructed his vassal people that if they obeyed him, they would be blessed. But they disobeyed and eventually were exiled, some to Assyria and others to Babylon.
God himself raised up Nebuchadnezzar, who burned down the temple in 587 B.C. When this happened, it looked as though Israel's history was over and God's plan would not be fulfilled. But God had promised, first to Isaiah and then to Jeremiah that, in fulfillment of his covenant, he would cause his people to return to Jerusalem after seventy years. Jeremiah 25:11-12 says, "This whole country will become a desolate wasteland, and these nations will serve the king of Babylon seventy years. But when the seventy years are fulfilled, I will punish the king of Babylon and his nation . . . and will make it desolate forever." Then Jeremiah 29:10 declares, "This is what the Lord says: 'When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will come to you and fulfill my gracious promise to bring you back to this place." God raised up Nebuchadnezzar and then he put him down. The God of history rules the kings of the earth.
Centuries before the exile, God foretold his will to Isaiah-that he would raise up Cyrus to set his people free to return to Jerusalem and rebuild the temple and the city: "[I am the Lord,] who says of Cyrus, 'He is my shepherd and will accomplish all that I please; he will say of Jerusalem, "Let it be rebuilt," and of the temple, "Let its foundations be laid"'" (Isaiah 44:24, 28). In Isaiah 45 he spoke again of Cyrus: "This is what the Lord says to his anointed, to Cyrus, whose right hand I take hold of to subdue nations before him and to strip kings of their armor, to open doors before him so that gates will not be shut: I will go before you and will level the mountains; I will break down gates of bronze and cut through bars of iron. . ." (vv. 1-2); "I summon you by name. . . " (v. 4); "I am the Lord, and there is no other. . . . I will strengthen you. . ." (v. 5); "I will raise up Cyrus in my righteousness: I will make all his ways straight. He will rebuild my city and set my exiles free. . ." (v. 13). In the fullness of time, Cyrus came to defeat Babylon and fulfill God's plan for him declared centuries before. And in 538 B.C. Cyrus decreed that the exiled people of God could return to Jerusalem. Our God reigns, and sovereignly guides all history to his desired end. Yet Nebuchadnezzar, Cyrus, and others under his control, act according to their free will.
Long after Cyrus' decree, Nehemiah prayed to this sovereign God, using a particular expression, "O Lord, God of heaven, the great and awesome God . . ." (Nehemiah 1:5, italics added). Later, he encouraged the people, using the same words: "Don't be afraid . . . remember the Lord, who is great and awesome" (Nehemiah 4:14). Our God is indeed an awesome God, a great and mighty God, a warrior God who fights for us. He is the God of heaven and of earth, the covenant Lord who remembers his covenant promises and fulfills every one of them. The truth is, no king, no power, can frustrate his plan to save us. All his promises shall be fulfilled; not even one shall fail. So Paul tells us, "No matter how many promises God has made, they are 'Yes' in Christ" (2 Corinthians 1:20).
The book of Ezra begins, "In the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, in order to fulfill the word of the Lord spoken by Jeremiah"-the word about his people returning after seventy years-"the Lord moved the heart of Cyrus king of Persia. . . ." Moved, or stirred, is an important word used a number of times in these post-exilic books. It speaks of rousing up someone from a deep sleep and putting thoughts into his mind that cause him to make a decision and act upon it. For example, when the prophet Elijah fell asleep from misery and exhaustion, the angel of the Lord roused him up and enabled him to do the will of God (1 Kings 19).
In 538 B.C., Cyrus was stirred, inspired, and enabled to do the will of God freely. The great, awesome, sovereign God roused up his servant Cyrus and moved him to let his people go back to their land to rebuild the temple and city of Jerusalem. In God's time, Cyrus proclaimed that everyone who was willing could return to Jerusalem to worship the God of heaven and earth.
God also stirred the heart of Darius I to do his will. In Ezra 6:22 says, "For seven days they celebrated with joy the Feast of Unleavened Bread, because the Lord had filled them with joy by changing the attitude of the king of Assyria," that is, by moving his heart. In Esther 6 and 7 we are also told about King Xerxes, who ruled from 486 to 465 B.C. When he could not sleep one night, he read the annals of his reign and discovered a fact that changed the condition of God's people throughout his realm. Wicked Haman had wanted to destroy God's people, but because the Sovereign Lord roused the king in the middle of the night, the people of God were saved and Haman was hanged. And in Ezra 7:27 we read of yet another king, Artaxerxes, in whose reign came Ezra and Nehemiah: "Praise be to the Lord, the God of our fathers, who has put it into the king's heart to bring honor to the house of the Lord in Jerusalem in this way."
Our great, awesome, and sovereign God controls the will, the mind, the affections, and the heart of every king. So Proverbs 21:1 says, "The king's heart is in the hand of the Lord; he directs it like a watercourse wherever he pleases." Our God reigns!
God Reigns over His Own People
Not only does our God reign over all the kings of the world, but he also reigns over his own people, stirring up, rousing, and enabling them to understand the word of God and do it. So in 538 B.C. the exiles left everything and returned to Jerusalem freely to rebuild the temple and worship in accordance with God's word: "Then the family heads of Judah and Benjamin, and the priests and the Levites-everyone whose heart God had moved-prepared to go and build the house of the Lord in Jerusalem" (Ezra 1:5). About fifty thousand people returned to Israel. And God raised up leaders for them-first, Zerubbabel, the grandson of King Jeconiah (or Jehoiachin), and Joshua the priest, the prophets Haggai and Zechariah, and, later, Ezra the Bible scholar and Nehemiah the governor. God knows how to raise up proper leaders to lead those whose hearts he moves to obey him.
Ezra 3:1 says "the people assembled as one man" to sacrifice and celebrate in Jerusalem. Notice their unity in the Spirit. They likewise came together during Nehemiah's time (Nehemiah 8:1). And in Nehemiah 2:17-18 we see the people's response to Nehemiah's charge to rebuild the wall: "Then I said to them, 'You see the trouble we are in: Jerusalem lies in ruins, and its gates have been burned with fire. Come, let us rebuild the wall of Jerusalem, and we will no longer be in disgrace.' I also told them about the gracious hand of my God upon me and what the king had said to me. They replied, 'Let us start rebuilding.' So they began this good work." God operates in the hearts of his people to do his will.
So in 538 B.C. Zerubbabel and Joshua and many others-fifty thousand or so-returned to Jerusalem and began to work. Soon they gave up building because of the opposition they encountered. But could any enemy frustrate God's plan of rebuilding the temple and Jerusalem, concerning which God spoke centuries before through Isaiah? No, it simply could not happen. God's plan will always come to pass. Our God reigns!
Thus, God himself raised up the prophets Haggai and Zechariah in 520 B.C. to inspire his people to get back to work: "So the Lord stirred up the spirit of Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and the spirit of Joshua son of Jehozadak, the high priest, and the spirit of the whole remnant of the people. They came and began to work on the house of the Lord Almighty, their God" (Haggai 1:14). Through the ministry of these prophets, God caused his people to remember why they had returned-to rebuild the temple and reinstitute worship of the living and true God. This time they persevered and completed the temple in 516 B.C.
Our God reigns! His purposes will be accomplished in history through his people. He stirs us up. He motivates us. He reminds us. He guides us. He makes us willing. He causes us to love him and strengthens us to do his will. One moment we may be sleeping; another time we may be backslidden. But the next moment we awake and begin to study God's word and earnestly pray. We rise up to do God's work in God's way with the strength God gives. Our God reigns!
We find an expression recurring in these books: "The hand of the Lord was upon me." The hand of the Lord is not short but mighty and powerful. This invisible hand of the Lord comes and grips us, grasping us and giving us confidence, boldness, strength, and guidance, not only to build, but also to wage war against the devil and his minions. God will not ask us to build and then not give us the strength and the means to perform his will. He provides for all our needs through the firm grip of his mighty hand upon us. It is the grip of affection, the grip of direction, the grip of protection, the grip of power.
Ezra experienced this hand of the Lord. Ezra 7:6 says, "Ezra came up from Babylon. He was a teacher well versed in the Law of Moses, which the Lord, the God of Israel, had given. The king had granted him everything he asked, for the hand of the Lord his God was on him." We find this idea again in Ezra 7:9 and 7:28. And in 8:18 Ezra says, "Because the gracious hand of our God was on us. . . ." Not only was the hand of the Lord on the leaders, but Ezra says it was "on us." Do you feel that grip of God's hand?
In Ezra 8:22 Ezra says, "I was ashamed to ask the king for soldiers and horsemen to protect us from enemies on the road, because we had told the king, 'The gracious hand of our God is on everyone who looks to him.'" And in Nehemiah 2:8 we see that the gracious hand of the Lord was on Nehemiah also. Our God rules and guides all creation, stirring up the king's heart and putting into the hearts of people exactly what he wants them to do. Then he makes them do it, yet they do so freely. God's mighty hand grasps his people, giving them inspiration, consolation, direction, protection, provision, and power. Our God reigns!
What is this "hand of the Lord"? It is the hand of providential control. It is the hand of God that is not too short to save his people. In Psalm 89:13 the psalmist says, "Your arm is endued with power; your hand is strong, your right hand exalted." And in Psalm 139 the psalmist declares that even in the farthest place, "your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast" (v. 10). God's mighty hand rescues his people and compels his enemies to surrender.
The hand of God stands for the presence of God. It stands for the pillar of cloud and the pillar of fire. It stands for the Holy Spirit, who is in us, as we are told in Acts 1:8: "You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you." To Zerubbabel, the civil ruler, this word came through the prophet Zechariah: "'Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,' says the Lord Almighty. 'What are you, O mighty mountain? Before Zerubbabel you will become level ground'" (Zechariah 4:6-7). No mountain opposing God and his people can stand, for the mighty hand of the Lord is with us.
We see the hand of the Lord throughout the pages of Scripture. Joshua 5:13-14 says, "Now when Joshua was near Jericho, he looked up and saw a man standing in front of him with a drawn sword in his hand. Joshua went up to him and asked, 'Are you for us or for our enemies?' 'Neither,' he replied, 'but as commander of the army of the Lord I have now come.'" Our God is not only a savior; he is also a warrior, and he will deal with everyone who opposes his rule. (PGM) He has a saving hand, but he also has a fighting hand, which holds a drawn sword. And he enables us to fight. In 2 Corinthians 10:4-5 we read, "The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ." The weapons of our warfare are the word of God, the Spirit of God, and our prayers to God.
Romans 8:31 says, "If God is for us, who can be against us?" And Hebrews 13:6 says, "The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?" In 1 John 4:4 we are told, "The one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world." And Elisha's servant found out in 2 Kings 6:16 that "those who are with us are more than those who are with them." Our God reigns, and his hand is upon everyone who calls upon his name.
John 12:31 declares, "Now is the time for judgment on this world; now the prince of this world will be driven out." Jesus has received all authority in heaven and on earth; he reigns over the kings of the world. So Psalm 2 warns: "Therefore, you kings, be wise; be warned, you rulers of the earth. Serve the Lord with fear and trembling. Kiss the Son, lest he be angry and you be destroyed in your way" (vv. 10-12).
Our God reigns over his people to save them, to teach them, to rebuke them, to correct them, to train them in righteousness and to bring them home. Our God reigns over us with his mighty outstretched hand. Do you feel that hand upon you?
God Reigns over Our Enemies
Not only does God reign over the kings of the earth and his people, but he also reigns over our enemies. Every time we rise up to do God's work, enemies will also rise up-to ridicule, discourage, intimidate, persecute, and, if possible, kill us. And if we do not understand the word of God, we may surrender to them.
But we must realize that persecution is part of the normal Christian life. In John 15:20 Jesus says, "Remember the words I spoke to you: 'No servant is greater than his master.' If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also." In Acts 14:22 Paul tells us, "We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God." In John 16:33 Jesus says, "In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world." And Paul warns us in 2 Timothy 3:12, "In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted." If we are not persecuted, we may not be living godly lives. Instead, we may be compromisers who have already given up trying to live holy lives governed by the word of God. When we live by the word of God, we will be persecuted.
Why do we experience persecution? Because God's enemies oppose any revival among his people. They want Jerusalem and the temple to lie in ruins. They hate watching the temple being rebuilt and true worship offered to the living and true God. In Nehemiah 1:3; 2:3, 13, 17; and 4:2 we read about the condition of Jerusalem when the exiles returned-it had been burned with fire and was lying in ruins. During that time, God's enemies were happy. It is only when we try to build our families, our lives, and our churches in the way of God's word that we encounter opposition.
God's enemies hate any revival in his church. They love the church when she is backsliding and conforming to the world. They may even offer to help us build the temple, but not in a way based on the word of God. They will help only if we compromise. If we rebuild the walls of Jerusalem so that we can practice Bible-centered lives of separation and holiness, they will oppose us.
When Nehemiah came in 445 B.C. to rebuild the walls, he found he was surrounded by enemies. There was Sanballat, the ruler of Samaria in the north; Tobiah, the ruler of the Ammonite kingdom in the east.; Geshem, the leader of the Arabs in the south; and the Ashdodites, Philistines of the west. All of these actively opposed the rebuilding of the temple and the reinstitution of worship.
Satan likes to see God's church lying in ruins, God's people backsliding, and God's families living disorderly lives. Satan wants to keep us weak, as we see in the response of the enemies when Nehemiah came: "When Sanballat the Horonite and Tobiah the Ammonite official heard about this, they were very much disturbed that someone had come to promote the welfare of the Israelites" (Nehemiah 2:10). Our enemies hate it when we study God's word, preach the truth, practice holiness, conduct prayer services, and train our children in the way of the Lord. Satan hates it when we seek first the kingdom of God and do not serve mammon with our whole hearts.
Sanballat, Tobiah, Geshem, and the Ashdodites stand for the enemies who hate us even today. At times, such wolves come in sheep's clothing, but at times they show up as real wolves, mocking, despising, intimidating, and falsely accusing God's people. They will do anything and everything to stop the revival among God's people. They are desperate people who do desperate things. But our enemies cannot win, for our God reigns!
Nehemiah was a man of great conviction and iron will, a man who was focused on God's work and would not be distracted, a man who was committed to living according to the regulative principle of the word of God. In Nehemiah 6 we read that his enemies wrote a bad report about him which they intended to send to the king. It was a complete lie. So when Nehemiah read it, he told them, "Nothing like what you are saying is happening; you are just making it up out of your head" (v. 8). Satan is the father of lies.
Jesus understood that persecution would inevitably come to his disciples. Therefore he encouraged them: "Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you" (Matthew 5:11-12).
Persecution is our lot in this world. But our God reigns, and he is with us. It is his will that we worship him acceptably. God stirs up our hearts to pray, to read his word, to do his will. Do you feel that stirring in your heart? His mighty hand is upon us; therefore we will rise, we will build, we will worship, and we will serve our God. We will resist the devil and he shall flee from us.
It happened in Ezra's and Nehemiah's time. The will of the Lord was done. The people of God came and built the temple (Ezra 6:15); they built the walls (Nehemiah 6:15); and they populated the city with God's people (Nehemiah 11:1). God's purposes were accomplished, for our God reigns!
God Reigns over Our Finances
Finally, our God reigns even over our finances. We have a tendency to worry about money and what the future will hold. But our God is Jehovah Jireh-the Lord will provide. In Ezra we read that the Lord opened the windows of heaven and rained upon these people all the monies they needed: eleven hundred pounds of gold and three tons of silver (2:68-69), then almost four tons of gold and twenty-five tons of silver (8:24-27).
When we do God's work in God's way, God will provide sufficient resources. The Bible says the bread is for the children, and our heavenly Father will provide our daily bread. He gives us food, clothing, medicine, work, housing, transportation, and everything else that we need. If we delight to give our children good gifts, how much more will our heavenly Father give us all good things, because we are more valuable to him than the birds and the lilies of the field! The Lord is our shepherd; we lack nothing.
In Christ, We Reign with God
Our God reigns! He purposed before the creation of the world to save a people for himself, and his purposes are being fulfilled. The nation Israel rebelled and was exiled; yet in covenant love, God moved the hearts of Cyrus and the leaders and the people. His hand was with them, helping them; his hand was against their enemies, putting them to shame. His people came and rebuilt the temple and the walls of Jerusalem.
Then, in the fullness of time, God sent the promised Seed-the Messiah, the son of Abraham, the son of David, the son of the virgin Mary, God the only-begotten, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, that they might receive the rights of sons. Our God reigns!
This Christ Jesus lived a perfect life and, as our high priest, offered himself in our behalf as a perfect sacrifice to atone for our sins. By faith in him, our sins are forgiven. Just as the filthy garment of Joshua the priest was removed (Zechariah 3:4), so our filthy garments are also removed and we are clothed with the garment of Christ's perfect righteousness.
Jesus Christ is the head of all things; God has placed all things under his feet. He has all authority in heaven and on earth. He is our head and we are his body, and his fullness fills us to overflowing. He says to us, "I am the vine; you are the branches" (John 15:5). He is our God, and we are his people. He reigns, and we are seated with him.
Therefore, rejoice! Rise up! Build with Christ and build for God in this new year! Jesus said, "I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it" (Matthew 16:18 KJV). They shall crumble, as the walls of Jericho crumbled. Our God is marching on in triumph, and he leads us always in triumph.
Our sovereign God is awesome, great and mighty. Our God is the Lord of the universe and the Lord of history. He is not asleep like Baal (1 Kings 18:27). He is vigilant to fulfill his covenant promises to us. By his life, death, and resurrection, our Lord Jesus Christ has defeated all our enemies and has liberated us, his people, from all captivity. All enemies are under his feet and we can overcome the devil by the blood of the Lamb and the word of our testimony.
In the fullness of time, God will stir up his people to do his purposes, just as he stirred up Martin Luther and others to obey the word of God fearlessly and reform the church. God's hand of power, guidance, consolation, protection, and affection is also upon us. "'Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,' says the Lord Almighty" (Zechariah 4:6-7). Do you feel God's powerful stirring in your heart? Do you recognize his voice speaking to you? Do you feel God's invisible hand gripping you and taking hold of you to make you strong? If so, commit your life to him, walk with him, and work with him.
Our God will never fail his people. Others may abandon, disappoint, despise, betray, oppose, and falsely say all kinds of evil against us. God may even permit them to kill us. But God shall never leave us nor forsake us. He will lead us from success to success and bring us home to himself. "'For I know the plans I have for you,' declares the Lord, 'plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future'" (Jeremiah 29:11). What a glorious future that is! May we reign with our God throughout this new year and forever.
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Copyright © 2006, P. G. Mathew
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