NEW YORK – A movement is sweeping quietly across evangelical Christian America, sparked by a minister asking a simple question: “Would you have voted for Cyrus the Great?”
The minister is Derek W.H. Thomas of the First Presbyterian Church in Columbia, South Carolina.
His sermon – “I Am the Only God There Is!” – derives from Isaiah 45:22, which reads: “Look unto me and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth: for I am God and there is no one else.”
Reading from Isaiah, Chapters 44 and 45, Thomas evokes the historical Cyrus the Great, who ruled Persia from 559 to 530 B.C. Cyrus was renowned for defeating the Babylonian Empire and liberating the Jews from Babylonian captivity, re-establishing the city of Jerusalem and issuing a decree that the Second Temple should be built on the refurbished site of Solomon’s Temple.
Nowhere in the sermon does Thomas refer to the candidacy of Donald Trump for president. Yet, the sermon is going viral on the Internet and is likely to be repeated in evangelical sermons in churches across the country in the last three weeks of the presidential campaign.
Thomas’ point is that Cyrus the Great, a brutal dictator, was raised up by God to serve God’s purpose in returning the Jews, God’s chosen people, to the land of Israel.
In the sermon, Thomas asks the faithful to contemplate that those anointed by God to serve God’s biblical purposes need not be perfect in their devotion to God or the morality of their lives.
Without saying as much, Thomas’ message is aimed squarely at evangelicals disturbed by Trump’s personal life.
“I don’t think you would have liked Cyrus,” Thomas says, framing a key point of his message. “History has looked favorably upon him because of what he did for the Jews in the record of biblical history, but he was a brute.”
Thomas pointed out that, remarkably, Isaiah wrote Chapters 44 and 45 as a “predictive prophecy,’ identifying Cyrus by name in the last verse of chapter 44 and the first verse of chapter 45, even though the events surrounding the fall of Babylon and Cyrus’ decree to allow the Jews to return to Israel were some 200 years in Isaiah’s future.
“How can God use a pagan king like Cyrus the Great to advance his glory?” Thomas asks. “It’s a very serious question. Let me suggest that God as sovereign may employ whomever he wishes to advance his kingdom and his purpose.”
Thomas focused on Isaiah 45:7, pointing out that God says, “I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the Lord do all these things.” Thomas’ stressed that God takes responsibility for not only the good that advances God’s purpose, but also the darkness and evil that God includes as part of his plan.
“What this passage says is that what happens on the world stage – the rise and fall of emperors and queens, and presidents – happens at the behest of God, who is always in control,” Thomas stressed.
“If God has a plan for 200 years in the future, you can’t complain about the present,” he continued. “If that present is going to advance to God’s future, it must take place through this present, through what is happening right now. If you don’t like what God is doing right now, it is because he hasn’t finished yet. If God has plans for the future, no plan is too small to accomplish that future.”
Thomas pointed out that all that would have needed to happen to prevent Cyrus from being born is “just one detail to go astray,” for example, if Cyrus’ grandmother had died.
Returning to Thomas’ first question, his point is that had the ancient Persians been given the opportunity to vote, they would have stayed home from the polls or voted against Cyrus the Great.
Had Cyrus the Great lost the election, the Jews may never have gotten out of the Babylonian captivity to return to Jerusalem, where they built the Second Temple. These were preconditions, Thomas notes, of the coming of Jesus Christ, the Messiah, and the beginning of his ministry in Galilee.
“God is in charge. God is in control. God is sovereign,” Thomas emphasized. “Nothing takes place without God’s will or command. There is always a purpose, even if we can’t see it or understand it.”
Thomas turned his attention to Isaiah 45:4: “For Jacob my servant’s sake, and Israel mine elect, I have even called thee by name; I have surnamed thee, though hast not known me.”
He pointed out that Cyrus the Great throughout his life continued to worship the pagan gods.
“Yet God purposes here were that Cyrus should serve God’s purposes with Israel, so the God Jesus would be born of a virgin in a manger in Bethlehem,” he said. “That was God’s ultimate purpose – for the sake of Israel, and so God could build his church so the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”
“Why did God raise up Cyrus the Great as a messianic figure, a deliverer?” he asked. “Well, God had a purpose and that purpose could only be seen 700 years later when Jesus was born in Bethlehem. We can see that purpose now, but I venture to say Isaiah’s initial hearers probably could not see it.”
In closing, Thomas asked the congregation again if they would vote for Cyrus.
“Well, God voted for Cyrus,” Thomas said in conclusion. “God voted for Cyrus because he had a greater purpose in mind – the deliverance of his people with whom he had made a covenant that could not and would not be broken, and the salvation of the likes of you and me.”