Christ, the Lord of History

Reading: Philippians 2.1-11

“Tempus fugit” the Latin students used to learn – “Time flies”. Sometimes we have thought that it went much more slowly for earlier generations, but in fact it has always been on the run.

We talk about time as past, present and future. We live in the present, a razor-edge that is constantly moving forward. We make our plans for the future, but it is only in the present that we can turn them into reality. The past becomes the collection of what we have managed to do – and the reminders of the hopes and plans that didn’t make it!

And that is when we begin to think about history. When we think about history, we tend to limit ourselves to significant events – especially the record of significant events in the lives of people, communities and nations. It is the events of humankind seen in the perspective of time.  It is the interpretation of what happens so we can see what is happening. It may plot the course of intrigue and counter-intrigue. For the Communist, for example, history is seen as the record of the class struggle which must inevitably move forward until the  victory of the proletariat.

In Australia at the moment, we are in the middle of an election campaign. As electors we are trying to discern fact from fiction, to understand what the party policies really are, to decide what set of policies will really be best for our nation, to cast our vote for the people whom we believe lead our country effectively back into economic strength and full employment...

I am not about to advise you on how you should vote. I have never done that and don’t plan to start. I simply observe this morning that history itself is made up of the decisions of ordinary people. The collective mind of the Australian people will determine the direction our country takes.

What is happening today?

We are living  in a period of very rapid social change. This is partly the result of the mass media which allow events on the one side of the world to be viewed on the other side of the world nearly as they are happening. This places us all under intense emotional and social tensions.  The most striking indicator here has been the rapid changes in moral standards in the past ten or twenty years. By and large, Australians had retained the moral standards of their forefathers who had faith in God. Now, suddenly and rapidly our moral and spiritual bankruptcy has become evident.

We have been living too under intense economic pressure. It is a consumer society, pressing for ever-higher standards of living. And we have developed our own cargo-cult mentality – assuming that the system can give us value without our putting value into the system by our own work. Suddenly it has all soured and the country has gone into recession – a recession which has not yet shown significant signs of breaking. The bankruptcy rate has continued to be high and unemployment has risen above 11% – and much higher for young people seeking work.

We also live in an age of great political pressure. There have been massive changes in the former Communist bloc, but the progress to freedom has not brought instant solutions and has allowed suppressed rivalries to surface and express themselves in armed conflict. The ideological struggle between capitalist and socialist systems continues.  And on the industrial front, the question is how many of our special benefits we can retain as we seek to come out of recession.

Among the meanings of the word “politic” is the idea of the expedient or popular – the dictionary also gives “scheming, crafty”. Sadly, having so largely rejected the basis for absolute truth, we are now very much confronted with the questions of integrity and t ruth.

BUT – there is far more to history that the accidents or time or the progress of one cause above another. As Tennyson wrote,

“Our little systems have their day:
They have their day and cease to be.”

There is a God. History has to be seen, not only in the perspective of time but of eternity. Our little systems will be called to answer before the judgement seat of God.

The Example of Jesus Christ

In our Scripture passage from Philippians 2, Paul is possibly making use of an early Christian hymn or confession. He is urging their need for humility and points to Jesus as the greatest example of humility.

Christ Jesus had the very nature of God from all eternity. He could say, “The Father and I are one” (John 10.30). The Jews knew what Jesus was saying. They knew what he was claiming. They picked up stones and would have stoned him to death for blasphemy. Within the one godhead there is Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The Son gave no thought to usurping the place of the Father.

Jesus made himself nothing, took the form of a servant, being made in human likeness. Luke records that at the Last Supper, an argument broke out about which of them should  be thought of as the greatest. Part of Jesus’ reply was “I am among you as one who serves” (Lk.22.27c). John records that at that last meal Jesus shocked his disciples by taking bowl and towel and washing their feet. When he had completed the task, he said to them, “Do you understand what I have just done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord, and it is right that you do so, because that is what I am. I, your Lord and Teacher, have just washed your feet. You, then, should wash one another’s feet. I have set an example for you, so that you will do just what I have done for you...” (Jn.13.12-15).

Jesus took the nature of a servant... He was humble and walked the path of obedience all the way to death – his death on the cross. Having become a man, he didn’t opt out of that universal human experience, death. In fact, he died a death which was a cruel and violent rejection of him – death on a cross.

But that was not the end of him. For this reason God raised him to the highest place above and gave him the name that is greater than any other name... In other words he was received back to all of the glory that he had humbly laid aside to come to earth, into our human history. The name that is greater than any other name is none other than the name of the Lord himself. This is confirmed in the allusion to Isaiah 45.23 that follows – (the Lord Jehovah is speaking) “By myself I have sworn, my mouth has uttered in all integrity a word that will not be revoked: Before me every knee will bow; by me every tongue will swear” (NIV). It is rather striking that it is Jesus, God the Son who came as the final revelation of God in our human history, at whose name every knee is to bow and every tongue confess. This expresses the unity within the Godhead. And in confessing that Jesus Christ is Lord, people give glory to God the Father.

Jesus Christ is the Lord of History

The whole of history focuses on Jesus Christ and finds its meaning in him. In God’s good time it will come to its grand climax as every human being acknowledges his Lordship.

While the decisions and fortunes of today’s politicians will have important immediate and long-term effects for each one of us, we affirm as Christians that our ultimate hope is not and cannot be these mere men. Our ultimate hope is in Jesus Christ before whom Keating and Hewson and all the others will finally be brought to account.

In this important time for Australia, the ultimate question is not whether we have a G.S.T. or what happens to Medicare or how we conduct our industrial relations or how we manage our environment... The ultimate question is still how we relate to Jesus Christ as Lord. Our turning away from him has been the biggest downfall of our country – and of our world. To return to him is still our biggest need.

Pilate has before him Jesus of Nazareth. “Remember, I have the authority to set you free and also to have you crucified.” And the one who is Master of the situation replies, “You have authority over me only because it was given to you by God” (Jn.19.10,11). Jesus Christ was on trial, but Pilate is judged by what he did with Jesus Christ.

Jesus Christ is Lord. One day that will be acknowledged by all. Our systems will be judged by their response to his Lordship, by what they have done with Jesus Christ.

And what have we done with him? How have we responded to him? Let us own him as Lord NOW and, by the aid of the Holy Spirit, express that Lordship in every aspect of our lives.

© Peter J. Blackburn, Maroochydore Uniting Church, 28 February 1993
Except where otherwise noted, Scripture quotations are from the Good News Bible, © American Bible Society, 1984.

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