Monday, September 15, 2008

King, Priest, Judge: A Sermon preached in St Elizabeth's Dundonald on Sunday 14th September 2008. Psalm 110

As we approach our Psalm tonight, we’re faced with a big question. Who is it that David is talking about? Even a quick scan of the Psalm tells us that the person in question is king, priest and judge. Who could this be?

The three job titles might lead us to think that the person will be very important, very great. And if we consider the very first words of the Psalm, we’re struck again by the greatness of the person in question. ‘The LORD says to my Lord.’ Who is this Lord, ‘my Lord’ that the LORD God speaks to?

Have you ever noticed the words above the Psalms? Not the words in bold which the ESV has – these are a summary of the Psalm, added in by the publisher. The words in capital letters – so, for example, in Psalm 110, we see ‘A Psalm of David’, or if you look back to Psalm 109 ‘To the choirmaster. A Psalm of David.’ These are a key element of the Scriptures, having been preserved with the text.

So this is David talking. David, the king. David, the chief over Israel. And David refers to someone else as ‘my Lord?’ Who could this be? In a sense, it’s like the Players’ Player of the Year Award. Each year, the footballers in the English Premiership vote among themselves about who they think was the best player of the year. It’s one of the many player of the year awards, but perhaps this one is best regarded, because it is voted by their colleagues. Christiano Ronaldo is the current holder. Here in Psalm 110, David the King is recognising a king who is much superior to himself.

From the earliest times, Psalm 110 has been regarded as one of the Messianic Psalms. These are the Psalms which specifically look forward to the Messiah, to the Christ, the king who was to come. As we consider this Psalm more carefully, we’ll see glimpses of the Messiah’s greatness, and also his work. We’ll also see how this Psalm was taken up and used by the apostles to understand and explain how Jesus is the Christ.

Firstly, we see the Messiah as King. In our Psalm there are two great oracles, or declarations from the LORD God (capital letters) to the Lord. We find the first in verse 1. ‘The LORD says to my Lord: “Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool.”’ The Messiah is told to sit on the right hand of God. This is the position of authority, delegated authority. The king, sitting at the right hand, is to reign in the authority of the LORD.

The purpose of the reign is to conquer his enemies, but notice that God will do it! ‘…Until I make your enemies your footstool.’ What a picture that is. No longer will the king’s enemies stand in opposition, but they will kneel before him, to be used as a footstool.

But until that happens, we see the reign of the king in verses 2 and 3. ‘The LORD sends forth from Zion your mighty sceptre. Rule in the midst of your enemies.’ I don’t know if you have seen pictures or footage from the coronation of Queen Elizabeth. During part of the service, she was presented with various symbolic items to show that she was reigning. There was the crown, and the orb, and the Bible. But another one was the sceptre.

The sceptre is the symbol of authority, and here we see that it is sent forth from Zion. Despite the presence of enemies, God’s king will reign.

As we look at verses two and three, we notice two different types of people. In verse two, it’s the enemies, but in verse three, we find the king’s people. In contrast to the opposition, these people ‘will offer themselves freely on the day of your power.’ These are not conscripts, but are willing volunteers, the glad surrender. Look also how they are dressed. ‘In holy garments.’

Two types of people. Some gladly surrender to the King, freely offering themselves to him. Others refuse, becoming his enemies. And the question tonight is this – in which group of people do you stand? Are you part of the freewill offering to the king, or are you one of his enemies?

[As the king reigns, he will be sustained, and fresh, and youthful – having the dew of his youth.]

This is what David says of his Lord, of the king who will come. Now, who was it he was speaking of? The consistent Jewish hope was that the Messiah would come. He would be the Son of David, the one whose kingdom would never end. Great David’s greater Son.

If you know your New Testament, you’ll perhaps have recognised these verses already. Looking from this side of the death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus, it is obvious who these verses speak of. You might be aware that Jesus uses the first verse to challenge the Pharisees in the days leading up to his death.

In Matthew 22:41-46, Jesus asks them how David’s son can be the Christ, if David calls him Lord. It pulls them up short. They weren’t able to answer. They just can’t see how a son of David can be greater than David. Yet it’s clear that Jesus says that this is a prophecy of the Messiah. How can it be? Well, David, in the Holy Spirit, prophesying, sees one who is king, greater than him, on an entirely different level – in a different league. Yes, David was the king of Israel, but he sees one who is his King, his Lord, to whom he gives his allegiance.

The New Testament writers repeatedly use this verse to point to Jesus, the one seated on the right hand of the Father, risen, ascended, glorified. We find it in Romans, Ephesians, Colossians, Hebrews and 1 Peter. Jesus is the king, David’s Lord, who sits at the right hand of the LORD, and will reign forever.

As we move on, though, we find the second divine oracle in verse 4. Remember that in Israel, the offices of king and priest were separate. The king was originally (in Saul’s case) part of the tribe of Benjamin, and then of the tribe of Judah, but the priest was of the tribe of Levi, the sons of Aaron. Yet here, the LORD God declares (with an unbreakable oath), that this Messiah, this king to come, ‘You are a priest for ever after the order of Melchizedek.’

As well as being a king, the Messiah will also be a priest. That is, one who offers sacrifice on behalf of the people, and who intercedes for them, as well as the one who represents God to the people. There’s that double mediatory role. So what does it mean when it says ‘after the order of Melchizedek’?

Turn with me to Genesis 14 (page 12). This is the only time we encounter this man called Melchizedek. Abram (Abraham) had gone to battle to rescue Lot from Cedoalaomer, king of Elam and the kings who were with him. Having defeated the kings, Abram meets this Melchizedek, who brings bread and wine. Now, we expect that Abraham, the great father of the people of promise would be the greater of the two, but it’s actually Melchizedek who blesses Abram, and receives a tithe from him.

So who is this mysterious figure? Melchizedek is the king of Salem (which means king of peace), and his name means ‘king of righteousness’. And Genesis 14:18 tells us that he is priest of God Most High. Now flip with me over to Hebrews 7. Perhaps you’ll read this chapter later when you get home. There, the writer takes time to establish that Jesus is the priest after the order of Melchizedek, having become a priest ‘not on the basis of a legal requirement concerning bodily descent, but by the power of an indestructible life… (thereby) a better hope is introduced, through which we draw near to God.’ (Heb 7:16, 19)

Jesus is a better priest than Aaron because of his indestructible life. Jesus lives, and so his priesthood, his ministry of intercession for his people continues. God will not change his mind nor his oath. Jesus continues, therefore our hope is secure.

In verses 5 to 7, you might notice a change. In verses two to four, David is speaking to his Lord, to the Messiah-king who is also the priest. Look carefully at the opening words of verse 5. ‘The Lord is at your right hand.’ This is Lord in small letters, not capital letters LORD. So David is now speaking to the LORD God, and describing what his Lord will do.

So far the Psalm has presented the Messiah as the king and the priest. Here, in these closing verses, we see the Messiah as the judge. Here is what he will do. ‘The Lord is at your right hand; he will shatter kings on the day of his wrath. He will execute judgement among the nations, filling them with corpses; he will shatter chiefs over the wide earth.’ (5-6)

The kingly Messiah will have a day of wrath – ‘the day of his wrath.’ Earlier in the Psalm, the Messiah was told to ‘Rule in the midst of your enemies.’ His enemies were still living in opposition to him. But there will come a final day, the day of his wrath, when all opposition will end. One of the great hopes of the Old Testament is the looking for the Day of the Lord. On that day, there would be peace for God’s people, and final defeat for the enemies of God’s people. Here we see that it is the Messiah who will accomplish this. Jesus Christ will be vindicated, and his enemies will be shattered. Have you ever seen a shattered window? I remember one time I was on a bus, and one of the windows was shattered. It was good for nothing then. It was finished. This is how it will be for those who stand in opposition against Jesus.

Friends, this is not something that the world wants to hear. It may even be something that we don’t want to hear. Many think that they can merrily go their own way, without consequence, and do what they wish. Yet here we see plainly that God’s word declares that this Messiah, the king, the priest, is also the judge, and that there is coming a day of judgement. How terrible to be found wanting on that day.

In verse 7 we see a picture of that peace and vindication for the Messiah, as he shatters kings and chiefs over the wide earth. Along the way, he will be refreshed by drinking from the brook. That brings to mind the drink at the brook for the men of Gideon, when just 300 were chosen to face the Midianite army. Again, there’s the reminder that the battle belongs to the LORD. As a result, therefore he will lift up his head, in victory.

So what can we take away with us tonight? What is the impact of God’s word in Psalm 110? The first thing to be clear about is the person in view. We may have been unsure at the start, but by now, we know that the Messiah in question is our Lord Jesus. He is who the Psalm is about.

Perhaps you’ve been a Christian for a long time, or even a short time. Hopefully you will have seen more of the work of Christ in this Psalm. Too often we can be satisfied to depend on wee summaries of who Jesus is, and what he has done for us. Yes, Jesus is the Son of God, but he’s much more. He’s our king, our priest and our judge. We haven’t had much time to get into these, but maybe you’ll explore these further through the week.

Or maybe you recognise that you are one of Christ’s enemies. You haven’t trusted in him, and are content to go your own way, hoping that there are no consequences to your action. In Acts 2, Peter speaks to the crowd in Jerusalem on the Day of Pentecost. His theme is how Jesus is the Christ, and he uses the opening words from our Psalm to illustrate that Jesus lives, and sits on the right hand of the Father. Here’s what he says: ‘Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.’ When the crowd ask how what they should do, Peter’s answer is clear: ‘Repent and be baptised every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.’ (Acts 2:36, 38)

Will you bow the knee tonight, and name Jesus as your king?

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