The Glorious King - Psalm 45
An audio recording of this sermon is available.
It has been described as the Wedding of the Century, the stuff of which fairy tales are made. The bride wore a silk taffeta dress, with a train 25 feet long. Her ring was composed of 18 caret sapphire and the wedding itself was watched by an estimated world-wide audience of 1,000 million people. I am speaking ,of course, of the marriage between the 20 year old Lady Diana Spencer and the then 32 year old heir to the throne, Prince Charles. It was a Royal wedding which gripped the imagination and heart of a nation. Sadly, the fairy tale was to turn into a nightmare. So much hope and promise was to be replaced with tragedy and failure.
Well, this morning we are in fact going to be looking at a song specially composed for a royal wedding. A wedding which will be seen not by an audience of several million, but by an entire universe. This is a royal marriage in which the promises made will be delivered with absolute certainty. It is the marriage between the King of creation and his people, or to put it in New Testament terms between Jesus and his Bride, the Church. This is how the apostle John sees the royal wedding in his magnificent vision on the Island of Patmos as recorded in the book of Revelation: And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down from out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband... Come I will show you the Bride, the wife of the Lamb. That is the goal of the church, to become the beautiful and perfect society caught up in the cascading glory of divine love.
As we have been seeing over the last few weeks, many of these psalms actually look beyond their immediate setting to a time in the future when they will find their complete fulfilment in a special individual-the Davidic King par excellence-Jesus. And Psalm 45 is no exception. If ever the word inspired was to be used to describe a composer, then it supremely applies here- v1 My heart is stirred by a noble theme as I recite my verses for the king: my tongue is the pen of a skilful writer. Its as if this song is bottled up in the heart of the composer-he is stirred and the words come almost effortlessly- like a skilful writer. Sometimes songs come like that. I gather that Paul McCartneys Yesterday came in a dream. He simply woke up and the tune was there in its entirety. The words took a little longer however. The only words he had which fitted the tune was Ham and eggs-its a good job the words Yesterday eventually came, otherwise it would not have become the most recorded song of all time. Well ,there is certainly that level of inspiration here-the words are quite evocative. But there is a deeper level of inspiration too. The apostle Paul tells us in 2 Timothy 3:16 that all Scripture is inspired, literally God-breathed-and that includes the psalms. You see, when you read through the qualities of this King, it is very difficult to find any ruler who has lived who even begins to match up to them. But there is one exception, whom we shall see, fits the description to perfection. This is not simply the ode of a choir master to his King, this is a testimony of God to his Son.
Now there are three things about this King which should move us to wonder and worship.
First, there is the stature of the King- vv 2-5 (Read) Now right at the beginning of this royal song we are given a hint that this is no mere mortal ruler. He is certainly a man who stands out as a cut above the rest the most excellent of men, but we are also told that he has been blessed by God for ever. So here is someone who has known blessing from eternity past into eternity future. Well, you have to be divine dont you to know that, since only God is eternal. And it could well be that this was in the apostle Pauls mind when he wrote of the Lord Jesus in Romans 9:5 that Jesus whose human ancestry can be traced back to King David is the Christ, who is God over all, for ever to be praised. i.e. This is an eternal King.
But notice what is his most distinctive feature : lips anointed with grace. The measure, or the stature of this King, is that whatever he says is right. His judgements are perfect, his wisdom is faultless, his words are compelling and powerful. There is nothing false or hypocritical about this ruler. Whatever he pronounces can be relied upon with total confidence.
What is more, it is by his authoritative words that he defeats his enemies and promotes the three great causes which are close to his heart, as it is put in v 4, the causes of truth, humility and righteousness. In its original setting the way Kings conquered was of course by war-hence all these military pictures of riding out with a great sword, sharp arrows piercing hearts ,and nations being brought into subjection. But what we find in the New Testament is that such imagery is taken up and given a new spiritual twist so that they all depict Jesus taking people captive and silencing his enemies by the word of the Gospel. So in Revelation 19:11 we read ,I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True. With justice he judges and makes war. His eyes are like blazing fire, and on his head are many crowns. He has a name written on him that no one knows but he himself. He is dressed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is the Word of God. The armies of heaven were following him, riding on white horses and dressed in fine linen, white and clean. Out of his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations....on his robe and on his thigh he has this name written: KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS.
The King of Kings, is the Word of God which is Jesus Christ - and by that word he brings victory. This happened of course during Jesus earthly ministry. When tempted by Satan, what did he do? Well, he resisted him by using Scripture with the words It is written. When the religious leaders confronted him trying to catch him out; how did he reply?: Have you not read.. And even in the hour of his greatest need ,which was also the moment of his greatest triumph, the defeat of sin, death and the devil on the cross, it is the words of Scripture we find on his lips-Psalm 22 My God, my God why have you forsaken me? And how are men and women set free today? but by this same word, which is the sword of the Spirit-the Word of God in which Jesus says If you hold to my teaching you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth and the truth will set you free. So this is the saving word of truth, that King Jesus speaks. Of course he doesnt speak it arrogantly but in humility, he comes into his Kingdom humbly riding on a colt. In fact the words to the hymn Ride on ride on in majesty are based on verse 4 of this psalm- do you remember how it goes on? in lowly pomp ride on to die. For it is a message which speaks of righteousness, that is, it enables us to be put in a right relationship with God, because by nature we are on the wrong side of him and by his death bearing our sins in our place he clears away the moral rubbish which blocks the path to God opening up a new and living way. And the picture we have in the Book of Revelation, which is a scary picture is in many ways the future fulfilment of this psalm. We either come to Jesus now seeking him as our Saviour or we shall see Jesus then as our judge and there will be no escape. In his majesty he rides forth victoriously on behalf of truth, humility and righteousness.
Let me ask :What is it that you look for in a leader? If the voting figures of the last election are anything to go by many people in this country have given up looking for anything. But it has not always been like that. Recently there has been a renewed interest in the life of the disgraced President Richard Nixon, who it must be admitted appears high in the honesty stakes compared to Bill Clinton. Paranoia and insecurity constantly dogged him. Well, one evening Nixon stood in the White House looking into the distance across the South Lawn musing about what people wanted in their leaders .He said to one of his aids The people really want a leader a little bigger than themselves dont they? Theres a certain aloofness, a power that is exuded by great men that people feel and want to follow. But that certainly was not the case with this king who championed truth, humility and righteousness. He spoke to those to whom no one spoke; he ate with the lowest members of society; he touched the untouchables and even washed his own disciples feet , a task normally reserved for the household slave. Kings, presidents and prime ministers surround themselves with minions who rush on ahead ,swinging doors wide, standing to attention. But this king actually stands at the door of our lives and knocks, patiently waiting for us to invite him in.
But just look at the supremacy of the King - vv 6-9. Now verse 6 has baffled scholars because it is addressing the King as God- Your throne O God will last for ever. Now while the pagan nations, like Egypt or Babylon for example, thought of their kings as also being gods, the Jews clearly didnt. But this simply means that the writer was saying for more than he realised, as inspired by the Holy Spirit, there was a straining towards a figure who while a human King was also at the same time divine, whose throne lasts for ever- and that figure we now know to be Jesus. And one person who saw this clearly was the writer to the Hebrews. Having begun his letter by saying that in Jesus Christ God has spoken a final word - that is he has given a complete revelation of himself in his Son, and has a accomplished a final work- providing a complete sacrifice for sins on the cross, he then quotes this verse and writes About the Son he says Your throne O God will last for ever and ever, and righteousness will be the sceptre of your kingdom. You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness, therefore God, your God ,has set you above your companions by anointing you with oil of joy. (Heb 1:8) Here, then, is someone who is God, and yet distinct from God. How are we to understand that? Well, in this way: God the Father has given God the Son the place of honour and rule in his universe not simply by virtue of who he is but because of what he has done. We have already seen that his lips are anointed with grace- he speaks words of revelation, and that he establishes truth, humility and righteousness by defeating his enemies, and that he has done by his work on the cross. Therefore, he is exalted above everything and everyone. He is now enthroned in heavenly splendour-v8,his robes are fragrant with the intoxicating aroma of the sweetest of perfumes, he is surrounded by the dazzling beauty of perfection whether it be seen palaces adorned with ivory or heard music of the strings which make you glad. In other words this is a place of pure unalloyed joy we are talking about that this King now occupies.
Now let me ask: is this the picture of the glorified Christ you have in your mind as you come to a place like this? Am I right in thinking that so much for what passes for Christianity today is rather trivial, because we have such a trivial view of Christ? Sure we are happy to sing about him, even pray to him when we have the time or our needs are sufficiently pressing. The sad fact is that we are content with so little because we know so little of this Christ. We so easily have a sentimentalised view of Christ but not an exalted view. Many of us are happy to keep him in the manger meek and mild where he appears relatively harmless, but very few are prepared to have him as their glorious ruler who holds a sceptre of justice and will demand our all. Wherever you care to look, it is those men and women who have been gripped with a great vision of God that have been enabled to do great things for God. More than that, they have been captured with a great love for God-like a bride for her groom in fact-v9 (read).
And so we come to the bride of the King vv 10-17. It is the Kings desire to share his throne with another. That is why there is this royal wedding for which this song was written. But did you realise that it is also Gods desire that he too should share his throne with another and the surprising thing is that it is with people like you and me. Throughout the Old Testament God uses this picture of a bride to describe his love relationship with his people. You see it there in the prophets like Isaiah (62);Hosea(2);and Ezekiel (16). And this finds its New Testament counterpart in the church, which is also described as the bride of Christ-the betrothed of the King. So the apostle Paul writing to one church says this: I feel a divine jealousy for you, for I betrothed you to Christ to present you as pure bride to her one husband.(2 Corinthians 11:2). And the Hebrew word for bride- kallah- means a complete and perfect one, a woman brought to the full perfection of womanhood and beauty on her wedding day. Well, that is the destiny of this bride-his church. We certainly are not perfect yet, but we shall be one day when the King returns for the ones he loves- you and me. Isnt that an amazing thought?
So how are we to prepare ourselves and get ready for the great royal wedding which will take place at the end of time?
Well, first of all there must be total break with the past v10: Listen, O daughter, consider and give ear: forget your people and your fathers house. You know the symbolism of the bride being given away by her father is very important. It underscores the fact that the woman now has a new allegiance- she is someone elses responsibility ,that of her husband. Nothing is more guaranteed to put strain on a marriage than a wife who is constantly running back to her family, seeking their advice and approval. And yet many a Christian or church does precisely that. Instead of looking to Christ and asking what does he want? What are his priorities? We are so busy looking over our shoulder at what the world thinks, seeking the approval of non-believers. There was an article in one of our national newspapers which reported that the Church of England wants to consult people of other faiths and even atheists to help it decide whether it should have women bishops. Why stop there? Why not consult on whether it should believe in the resurrection? Surely, it is the Kings will we should be seeking ,looking to the place where his voice his heard-the Scriptures. Could I ask: what matters most to you when having to decide on a course of action which might be costly: what other people think or what Christ thinks?
Secondly, there must be a complete submission in the present- v 11 The king is enthralled by your beauty; honour him for he is your lord. In the traditional marriage service the groom promises to love, cherish and worship the bride-that is give her her worth. There is the story some of you may have heard of the bride and groom meeting in the vestry with the Vicar in order to finalise the paying of the wedding fees. The groom asked the Vicar how much he had to pay. And being a rather shrewd Yorkshireman the Vicar said, Well give me whatever you think your bride is worth So to the indignation of the bride he handed over £20.The Vicar took one look at the bride and gave him £15 change! Well, normally the bride is beyond price isn't she? Well, that is how our groom, the Lord Jesus views his church-he is enthralled by her. Oh ,to the non-Christian world we might appear to be a strange bunch, but not to him. But then the bride promises to love, honour and obey her husband. This is no mere formal relationship, it involves love-adoration, passion, which seeks his well being. It is also concerned with his honour. Each Sunday we pray that Gods name would be honoured or that is in effect a prayer committing ourselves to evangelism-telling others about this great Saviour and how they can be enriched by his love too. What happens when a couple get married and they meet new people, they introduce their new spouse with pride don't they? - Let me introduce you to my husband with the unspoken thought-isn't he great? Well, that should be the passion of Christs bride, the church. Also we will obey him too. This is not a burdensome thing, it is a delight. Remember how Jesus put it : If you love me you will keep my commandments. It is not just a matter of singing Jesus I love you it is a matter of showing it.
But thirdly, there must be a determined focus on the future vv 12-17- just look at vv 13-15 (read) As many of you know we are in the middle of wedding preparations for our son Christopher. I wouldnt quite say that it is taking over everything, but a lot of planning, thought and time is going into it to make that day a very special day-because it is very special-that precious coming together of a couple in love to form a new family unit. Well, the church is one of the few institutions in this world which actually has a future, an eternal future- sharing the very throne of Christ when we shall judge the world with him and rule the new creation as his consort. And we should be living in such a way now that it is preparing us for that day then-lives befitting the King.
So let me end by asking: have you accepted the invitation to the wedding? This is the King who invites you, who bled for you, who died for you and who is now enthroned in such dazzling splendour that even the angels have to hide their faces, but which he wants to share with you. Let us pray.
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