The Lord is come, but He’s coming
Published 10:34 am Wednesday, December 21, 2016
One can assume that Isaac Watts did not envision the thousands of churches that would still be singing his song, “Joy to the World,” on Christmas day in 2016. Three years from now will mark the 300th anniversary of these lyrics being transcribed from the mind of Watts into the English language.
Like many hymns from that period, this carol was not merely a ditty, but a timeless masterpiece because of its rich doctrinal character. But study these lyrics and you may ask, “What does this song have to do with Christmas?” No manger. No wise men. No frankincense. No star. And are the words even true? The third stanza asserts, “No more let sins and sorrows grow, nor thorns infest the ground.” Last time I checked, I’m a sinner and the thorns are still creeping out of the woods towards my lawn. This world is still broken. The curse of sin continues. The blessing of Jesus has not yet eradicated darkness “far as the curse is found.” Just read the obituary section; the curse of death is still alive.
Watts recognized from the Christmas story what Bible scholars are calling the “already/not yet” of the Gospel. And it is only within this framework that the carol, and for that matter, Christmas will make sense. The caterpillar already has the DNA of a butterfly. But it is not yet a butterfly. In a similar way, the kingdom of God has already come (Matt. 3:2) but the kingdom has not yet fully come (Matt. 6:10). Jesus inaugurated the kingdom in his first coming while he will commence the kingdom in his second coming.
So the carol begins declaring the Lord is come (that is, he has already come). Jesus, God in the flesh, was born in that Bethlehem manger, lived a perfect life, bore the curse of our sin on the cross, and rose again. But the Lord has not yet fully come. He has promised to return and fully set up his kingdom on this earth forever. Already, yet not yet.
The Savior already reigns with truth and grace. The devil is roaming, but he is on a leash. Jesus rules in the hearts of his people that believe the Gospel. Jesus is sovereign; he’s got the whole world in his hands. But he does not fully reign. One day the United States will not exist nor any other sovereign nation. The king is coming with truth and grace.
Already sin and sorrows do not grow, that is, they have lost their power. The cross has defeated sin and death by offering forgiveness and eternal life to those who believe. Jesus offers the gift of the Spirit to transform our hearts to look more like him. But sin and sorrows have not yet been fully vanquished. Revelation 21 is coming where “he will wipe away every tear … and death shall be no more.” Far as the curse is found, the earth will be made new.
Remember what the angels spoke to the shepherds in Luke 2? Peace on earth. You see! Already, but not yet. Already, you can find peace in Jesus. But this broken world will not be mended until Jesus comes again.
Joy to the world, the Lord is come. But he’s coming. May our hearts prepare him room this Christmas.
Matthew Homan is the pastor of Eureka Baptist Church. He can be reached at email@example.com.