1 Corinthians 15:20–28
One of the most heart-wrenching words in human language is the word "closed." You plan for days to take the family to the zoo. The kids are all excited. Dad has taken time off. Mom has a special lunch packed. You drive half an hour. And the sign at the gate says, "Closed."
Just like the proverb says, "Hope deferred makes the heart sick" (13:12).
You're 11 years old. It's summertime, and the little league baseball teams are starting to practice. "Mommy, can I play baseball this year?" You get a new glove. Daddy pitches with you in the back yard. You practice with the team for two weeks. But there are too many players, and some have to be cut. The roster is read by the coach one afternoon and you're not on it. The coach says they will plan to have two teams next year. And you cry all the way home. Closed.
Perhaps you dream from the time you are 13 about the one you will marry, about the thrill of falling in love, the beauty of the wedding day, the utter release and peace of being held by someone who loves you above all others, and the door closes again and again.
Or perhaps you come to your mid-40s and step back and take stock of your life and what you hope to accomplish. You decide to stay with the firm and give it your best shot. And in five years, after hundreds of late nights and long weekends and working vacations, you're passed over for the promotion and the door closes on the dream of your career.
Or perhaps all your career doors are open, and all the doors of your relationships are open, and you have made every team you ever tried out for, and now the doctor says that you have cancer, or AIDS. And all the doors start to close.
Or worst of all, perhaps you have made it to the top in your career; perhaps you have had the relationship of your dreams; perhaps you have been healthy every day of your life—one open door after the other. But the journey through all these doors has been a journey without Jesus Christ. And now you have died and stand before the door of heaven and it is closed. And you cry out, "Lord, Lord, open to me!" But he replies, "Truly, I say to you, I do not know you."
It is a heart-breaking word, both in this life and the next—CLOSED.
Now the point of Easter and the resurrection of Jesus from the dead is that God is in the process of clearing this world of all heartbreak. And the opening of the closed tomb of Jesus is the first step in a campaign to throw open ten million doors of hope for people who will trust him.
The phrase that I want you to focus on in our text this morning is in 1 Corinthians 15:25, "He must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet." Jesus must reign. And I want us to ponder together four things about this reign, all of them under the heading of OPEN—the opposite of closed—OPEN. In fact what I see in this text even spells O. P. E. N.
- O - the Opening of the reign of Christ.
- P - the Presence of the reign of Christ.
- E - the Extent of the reign of Christ.
- N - the Necessity of the reign of Christ.
I want us to take the word OPEN this morning and write it large over the doors of disappointment. Not that the risen, reigning Christ will make you a first-string baseball player, or give you your dream spouse, or your career advancement, or perfect health; but that he will turn the closed door of disappointment into a vestibule of glory.
There is a hidden door of hope in the waiting room of faith.
I want you this morning from the bottom of your heart, by an act of faith, no matter how dark the room, to write the word Open on the wall beside every closed door in your life.
Picture the disciples behind the locked door of fear on that Easter Sunday morning. It says in John 20:19, "On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being CLOSED where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, 'Peace be with you.'"
Surely the implication of this Easter story for our lives today is this: when the door of hope has been closed, and we are locked in the dark room of our fear and can see no exit for us and no entrance for God, the risen, reigning Christ is not limited to human doors. What is impossible with men is possible with God. The door was shut. And Jesus was suddenly in the midst.
There is a hidden door of hope in the waiting room of faith. Therefore, I urge you this morning to write in capital letters over every closed door in your life OPEN.
And then be like the psalmist in Psalm 130,
I wait for the Lord, my soul waits,
and in his word do I hope;
my soul waits for the Lord
more than watchmen for the morning,
more than watchmen for the morning.
And the waiting of faith will be rewarded. The great word of the resurrection is OPEN! Because Jesus Christ "must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet." And if you trust him, your enemies are his enemies, and no door of disappointment will be able to close you up in darkness.
So let me help you write it now with big letters.
1. "O" - The OPENING of the Reign of Christ
Was the Son of God reigning over the world before he took on human flesh and was born of a virgin and lived among us as Jesus of Nazareth?
Christ Has Always Reigned in One Sense
Yes he was. John (1:1–2) tells us that he was in the beginning with the Father and that all things were made through him and without him was not anything made that was made. And Hebrews (1:1–3) tells us that the world was created through him and that he upholds the universe by the word of his power.
Now it makes no sense to say that a person created the universe and upholds it by the word of his power, but that this person has no kingly right or might over it. And so we must say that Christ has always reigned over the world in one sense. So was the opening of his reign at the beginning of creation or at his resurrection from the dead?
The Resurrection Introduces Three New Elements
There are at least three things new about the reign of Christ since the resurrection and exaltation of Christ:
- Since the resurrection Christ is now the God-man. He has taken humanity onto himself which he never had before, and now he rules not merely as Son of God, but also Son of Man.
- As the God-man he has now been openly declared to be the Messiah, the Christ, who will fulfill all the promises of God and will sit on the throne of his father David as a legal heir. Before the incarnation Christ was King over the world incognito as it were. And during his 33 earthly years he was still incognito, except for a few who had eyes to see. But now he is openly declared to all the world as Christ and Lord, which means Messiah and King. It is no secret now. Jesus is Lord!
- And the third thing that is different about his reign now is that it is based on his finished work of redemption for the forgiveness of sins on the cross. Which means that in this age the word of the King is the word of the cross. His reign is primarily a saving reign. Judgment is delayed. The King reigns in a day of grace.
So in a very real sense the reign of Jesus, the God-man, the Messiah, the Lord began at his resurrection, or more exactly, at his exaltation to the Father's right hand 40 days after the resurrection. This was the public inauguration, as it were, of one who came from a throne of glory, took on human flesh, died for human sinners, conquered death, and ascended back to that throne with a human nature and with a sealed covenant that his people are redeemed.
Peter put it like this in that first Pentecost sermon, "This Jesus God raised up and of that we are all witnesses . . . Let all the house of Israel know therefore assuredly that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified" (Acts 2:32, 36).
This is the "O" over the door of disappointment this morning. The OPENING of the reign of Christ was his resurrection from the dead. What could be more hopeful behind the closed doors of disappointment than that the reign of Christ opened with an open grave?
Now write "P."
2. "P" - the PRESENCE of the Reign of Christ
There are a lot of people I think who have the idea that the reign of Christ over the world will begin when he returns and puts all his enemies under his feet. But our text (1 Corinthians 15:25) says almost the exact opposite. "He must reign UNTIL he has put all his enemies under his feet."
Two Things Meant by "Until"
What does that little word "until" mean? It means two things.
First, it means that Christ is reigning NOW! He rose from the dead, ascended to heaven, and sat down at the right hand of God (Colossians 3:1). His kingdom does not begin at the second coming. When Christ comes again, there will be a thunderclap of great victory in his reign over evil. You can see it in verse 23—at his coming those who belong to Christ will be raised from the dead. But that thunderclap of victory will not be the beginning of his reign. His reign is underway now.
The other thing that the word "until" means is that Christ's kingly warfare against his enemies is going on right now. In other words his reign is not passive. If a football player gets injured and the coach wants to take him out of the game, but he says, "No, I am playing until we win," you know two things: you know that he is playing now, and that he is playing to win.
So when Paul says Jesus must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet, you know two things: he is reigning now, and he is reigning to win.
Isn't this what Jesus said in Matthew 28:18? "All authority in heaven and on earth as been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations." In other words, I am the rightful King over all the peoples of the earth. I have triumphed over the devil and the powers of darkness on the cross (Colossians 2:15). Now you are my ambassadors. Go and call people everywhere to turn from sin and to accept me as King.
The reign of Jesus Christ is present, not just future and not just distant. And his aim is to defeat his enemies and put them under his feet. If the enemies of your happiness are the enemies of Christ, then you can take heart that Christ will fight for you with all his kingly power. He is moving in the world, in his own way and in his own time, to subdue his enemies.
What the Scoffers Forget
There will always be people who scoff as they did to Peter (2 Peter 3:3–7) and say, "If Jesus can't defeat his enemies and establish his kingdom in 2,000 years, then he can't ever do it, and the whole thing is probably one big myth."
- But they forget that with the Lord a thousand years is as one day.
- And they forget that God's battle strategies are not our battle strategies (remember Gideon!).
- And they forget that his timing is not our timing (remember the 400 years in Egypt because the sins of the Amorites were not yet completed, Genesis 15:16).
- And they forget that the Father has fixed the times and seasons by his own authority (Acts 1:7), and that Jerusalem will be trodden down until the times of the Gentiles are complete (Luke 21:24).
O let us believe God rather than exalt our opinions against him. Christ is reigning now. Not just in the past. Not just in the future. That is the "P" over the door of disappointment this morning.
Now write "E."
3. "E" - the EXTENT of the Reign of Christ
"O" for the opening of the reign of Christ at the resurrection. "P" for the presence of his reign here and now to defeat his enemies. And "E" for the extent of that reign to every whiff of opposition in the universe. How far does the reign of Christ extend?
Verse 25 says, "He must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet." The word ALL tells us the extent. So does the word EVERY in verse 24: "Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power."
There is no disease, no addiction, no demon, no bad habit, no fault, no vice, no weakness, no temper, no moodiness, no pride, no self-pity, no strife, no jealousy, no perversion, no greed, no laziness that Christ does not aim to overcome as the enemy of his honor. And the encouragement in that is that when you set yourself to do battle with the enemies of your faith and your holiness, you will not fight alone.
Jesus Christ is now, in this age, putting all his enemies under his feet. Every rule and every authority and every power will be conquered. So when you write "E" over the door of your disappointment, remember that the EXTENT of Christ's reign reaches to the smallest and biggest enemy of his glory. It will be defeated.
And finally write "N."
4. "N" - The NECESSITY of the Reign of Christ
- The reign of Christ OPENS with his resurrection.
- It is PRESENT here and now to defeat our enemies.
- Its extent is universal over every enemy of his glory and all opposition to his will.
- And its NECESSITY is rooted in the absolute right of God the Father to be the one where all glory terminates.
Notice in our text (v. 25) the word "must." "He must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet." Why must he? Where does this necessity come from? Verse 27 says it comes from God the Father. "For God has put all things in subjection under his feet."
And what is the Father's goal in subjecting all things to Christ? First, that the Son use his authority to redeem a people for himself from every tribe and tongue and nation. Second, that he defeat the enemies of God. And finally, that he draw all attention—all glory—back to the Father.
"Every knee shall bow and every tongue shall confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father" (Philippians 1:11). "The city will have no need of sun or moon to shine upon it, for the glory of God is its light, and its lamp is the Lamb" (Revelation 21:23).
Write Christ's Reign Over Every Closed Door
And so I urge you this morning write the reign of Christ over every closed door in your life. OPEN!
- Opened at the resurrection.
- Present in power here and now.
- Extending over every enemy of his glory and of our joy.
- And as necessary as the all pervasive deity of God.
The last enemy defeated, the victory won, the church redeemed, and the Lord Jesus himself, exalted in majesty, turns to the Father and bows his head. And then comes the end—and the beginning!—when God the Father is the final focus of all praise and blessing and honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.