“For this very reason, Christ died and returned to life so that he might be the Lord of both the dead and the living…
It is written: “ ‘As surely s I live,’ says the Lord, ‘every knee will bow before me;
every tongue will confess to God.’” (Romans 14:9,11)
“This is what Cyrus, king of Persia says, “ ‘The Lord, the God of heaven, has given me
all the kingdoms of the earth and he has appointed me to build a temple for him at Jerusalem in Judah.
Anyone of his people among you—may the Lord his God be with him and let him go up.’” (2 Chronicles 36:23)
Sometimes I get to studying a verse or even a word or two from the Bible and I am FLOORED by it’s meaning. The amazing thing about studying the Word of God as a living text rather than simply for it’s literary merit, is that when you dig – even a little—you’ll always strike gold.
As I’ve been thinking about advent, mulling over the usual traditions and even scripture passages used at this season, I’ve been asking God to keep me open. I want to “hear” something or discover something I hadn’t before.
I love to thrift shop and dig around at yard sales. I love finding the treasure that someone else overlooked or the beautiful or useful or absolutely perfect item for a steal of a deal.
And studying the word is like that – but free!
It’s a hobby. Or a passion? Call me weird.
So this day of advent, I’ve been thinking about how everything and everyone will be absorbed in the praise and worship of Jesus Christ. Absolutely every idea, every philosophy, every religion, every political system, every single last person who ever lived, died and went subterranean will one day, all at one time freely profess, praise and adore and kneel at the foot of our creator, savior, Jesus.
Yeah, that right there eliminates the importance of nearly everything we use to validate ourselves. I wondered, what will this future global praise-fest look like? After a study of the words used in this passage of Philippians (and it’s sister passage in Romans 14:11) the cool discovery I made is this: everyone will WANT to praise Jesus. He will not morph into a militaristic despot with unlimited genie power and turn us all into robotic worshippers.
Rather, it looks to me like everyone will be clamoring for a spot to kneel at Jesus’ feet.
I thought of those stinky shepherds who saw behind the curtain of heaven and straightway dropped everything to find the baby that the throng of angels had announced. Come and worship had been the invitation. And worship they did.
So as I dove into this study of the words “Every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus is Lord”, I became so excited that I could jump up and down and clap like I just won the World Series.
Because I can’t wait to see what Jesus is going to do that’s going to inspire every person, every hardened atheist, every lost soul, every religious devotee, every Satanist, every unborn or long dead soul to prostrate in willing adoration!
What kind of kick-ass savior is this Jesus?
What theological ideals is he going to shatter? What kind of huge grace is he going to slather in Technicolor over the entire.stinking.universe? How many billions of us are going to finally get it and get our fill of him?
Today’s passages in Philippians and in Romans originated deep in the Old Testament in a very particular, very interesting prophecy of Isaiah.
And this rocks me, just a little bit.
This is a story about a king who would be born, raised up to power and chosen by God to free his people from captivity, to return them to their homeland and restore them. But it’s not a story about Jesus.
(This has a familiar tone, does it not?)
Only this king was Persian, not Hebrew. He wasn’t from the line of David. He was a Gentile.
So first, a little Hebrew history. For a long time God was warning his chosen people, the Israelites, that if they didn’t forsake idol worship and start turning to God and live according to the law he set out for them, that really bad things would happen. Really bad things. Severe drought, cannibalism, child-sacrifice, wars, ravaging disease—you know, bad, bad stuff. (Read Deuteronomy 27-30, if you need clarification). Moses shared God’s warning to the entire nation of Israel before his death, and then, like a good father, God send prophet after prophet to try to explain that this wasn’t merely God being a big, killjoy-theocrat, but these were largely natural consequences of their careless, selfless, living.
A nation known as Babylon rose to incredible power. Modern day Iraq is in the region of ancient Babylon. Babylon was used by God to bring about some of the unsavory consequences to their disobedience. They carted off the best and brightest Israel had to offer (Daniel, of the lion’s den fame, and his bros) as well as a whole bunch of others to be used as slaves around their empire. This was a dark day, in about 630 BC, as voiced by the watch-tower prophet himself, Habakkuk. (Read Habakkuk 1-2 for this desperate prophet’s prayer and God’s answer.) Habakkuk decided, “I will stand at my watch and station myself on the ramparts; I will look to see…” (2:1).
So, at this bleak intersection, all of Israel is scattered and King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon was all about building this giant statue of himself (and then, later, is cursed to graze his own farmland like a cow, and then worships God), who then is succeeded by Belshazzar and then Darius (he’s the king that sent Daniel to spend a night with the big cats). For all those years while Israel languished in captivity, their land lay fallow and recovered from over-farming. God’s people lived all over an empire far from any temples, any prophets, and chance at salvation, any hope of ever becoming a nation again.
Then Persia began bolstering it’s military and gathered its people and resources and became a world power, as well. Cyrus, the king of Persia, conquered all of Babylon and decided to let the Israelites free AND build them a new temple in Jerusalem!
Oh, but because this is scripture, there is more. So much more.
<Insert sound of rewinding tape here: zwsisssaizssswsz.>
We just rewound 150 YEARS to a place in time and a spot in your bible and mine called Isaiah 45.
Way back there, the prophet Isaiah told the people of Judah by name the man who would free them from their Babylonian captivity. His name was Cyrus. In Isaiah 44:28-45:1-7 Isaiah spoke the words of God concerning a man yet unborn, the words that would one day reach this man’s ears whilst he sat in a palace eating all kinds of rich foods with slaves fanning him:
“…who says of Cyrus, ‘He is my shepherd and will accomplish all that I plese;
he will say of Jerusalem, “Let it be rebuilt,” and of the temple, “Let it’s foundations be laid.’
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.
I will give you hidden treasures, riches stored in secret places,
so that you may know that I am the Lord, the God of Israel, who summons you by name.
For the sake of Jacob my servant, of Israel my chosen,
I summon you by name and bestow on you a title of honor, though you do not acknowledge me.
I am the Lord, and there is no other; apart from me there is no God.
I will strengthen you, though you have not acknowledged me,
so that from the rising of the sun to the place of its setting
people may know there is none besides me.
I am the Lord, and there is no other.
I form the light and create darkness, I bring prosperity and create disaster;
I, the Lord, do all these things.”
And it’s from this chapter that Paul quotes in his letters to the believers in Rome and Philippi:
“ ‘Turn to me and be saved, all you ends of the earth; for I am God, and there is no other.
But 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.
They will say of me, “In the Lord alone are righteousness and strength.’ ” [says the Lord]
And then, and I LOVE this, Isaiah adds:
“All who have raged against him will come to him and be put to shame.” (45:22-14)
Because my boy Isaiah knows what’s up. God is, I’ve said it before, the shizz. He can bring up rulers and nations and take others down and like I can eat candy. This is no problem for him. He will save his people and he certainly wants all people to be his people (we’re all created in his image, aren’t we?).
And Cyrus, years later, did as God wanted him to do. He was the agent of redemption and the chosen one who restored hope to the Hebrews.
Beyond simply filling the prophecy, Cyrus himself gave God the props he deserved: “The Lord, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth and he has appointed me to build a temple for him at Jerusalem in Judah.”
So the question is this: are we going to do it now – this bending of the knee and professing of his magnitude – or are we going to wait until he dredges up the dead and the unborn and the long-lost souls of eternity to admit he’s God?
I don’t want to, but until I see it in full-fledged force, I will perpetually and accidentally underrate God’s mercy. I won’t get into a debate about whether a good and saving God would send people to hell. I believe, as much as I don’t understand, that he is so merciful and so just that we cannot, this side of the Day of the Lord, truly comprehend him. Honestly, I don’t know what this future day when every knee bows and every tongue confesses is going to look like, but it’s going to be awesome. Because look at this story of a promised king from our Old Testaments. Look how God shattered every pretense, broke through cultural and racial confines, and reached his long arm into the ways of humanity to restore his people, demonstrate his mercy in the face of their rebellion, and be magnified by the king of the greatest nation on the earth. Cyrus himself was a shadow type of Jesus.
And Jesus is Christmas. And here we can point to this ancient text and see shimmers of the advent of the birth of Christ and glimmers of that future day when every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus is Lord.
O, Come. Let us adore him.
It doesn’t matter what millennia or decade or country or irreligious state you may come from, you will, like me, that morning in my pajamas, see a glimpse of God for the amazing non-human, creator-of-all-things, intelligent designer and master of the universe that he is and you will kneel and you will praise – because you’ll see: he did it all to save you.
Today’s reading was sort of like getting caught up in looking at old pictures long left in a box in a basement corner. A bit of a nostalgic glimpse into God’s past interactions with the world. Today’s gift of Jesus is that he is “The Lord and there is no other”. He is so worthy of our worship. Let’s take a bit of time this advent to remember not the babe born in the manger but the Lord of the Universe who will be praised by every person, ever. And let’s remember that his capacity for love and mercy is immeasurable and indefatigable. It takes my breath away.