The majesty of God - Psalm 8
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One of the greatest atheistic philosophers of the 20th century, a man called Bertrand Russell, was once asked what he would say if he found himself standing before God on the judgement day and God asked him, 'Why didnít you believe in Me?' Russell replied, 'I would say, ĎNot enough evidence, God! Not enough evidence!' What do you think will happen to those who have never heard the gospel? Iím sure the question has crossed your mind before but letís ask it again this morning. Do we think there is enough evidence of Godís existence in the created universe to condemn someone who has never heard the name of Jesus? Or do we agree with Bertrand Russell? How much should a person notice as they look at the world around them?
Have a look at verse 1. "O LORD, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! You have set your glory above the heavens." King David begins this Psalm with a statement of absolute conviction. There was no doubt in his mind what everyone should see in the universe. Can you imagine him coming face to face with Bertrand Russell? "No evidence you say. Are you having a laugh? Is there something wrong with your eyes? Have you checked the accuracy of your optical prescription? Why can you not see the amazing character of God constantly being advertised in his creation?" David was convinced that the universe we inhabit is like a gigantic art gallery crammed full of the masterpieces of God. And no matter where we are on this planet the evidence remains constantly before our eyes. Verse 1. "O LORD, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! You have set your glory above the heavens." Itís a very poetic way of saying the entire universe is full of the evidence of God. From the depths of our very planet to the heights of the most distant galaxy the glory of God is on display for all to see. And so therefore no one has an excuse. The vantage point for gazing at the majesty of God is not restricted to a chosen few. In fact, everyone alive today is surrounded by evidence that demands a verdict. We cannot ignore it, we can only suppress it.
Do you remember what Paul says in Romans 1:18? "The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, 19 since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. 20 For since the creation of the world Godís invisible qualities ó his eternal power and divine nature ó have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse." No one can say to God on the day of judgement "Not enough evidence, God! Not enough evidence!" There is enough evidence! The problem is not with Godís provision but with our perversion. We actively suppress the truth by our sinful thinking and so, therefore, we leave ourselves without a leg to stand on. We leave ourselves liable to Godís judgement.
Until, that is, we join of the company of the children in verse 2. "From the lips of children and infants you have ordained praise because of your enemies, to silence the foe and the avenger." Unlike those who suppress Godís truth these children proclaim Godís truth. They are not his enemies but are his friends. And if we want to avoid Godís judgement in the future then this is the company we must keep in the present. So letís ask the crucial question: Who are these children?
You may know that in Matthew 21:16 Jesus quotes this verse against the religious leaders of his day. He has just been healing a number of blind and lame people at the temple in Jerusalem. And, in response, the local children start shouting at the top of their voices, "Hosanna to the Son of David." They are so pleased and excited as they watch Jesus doing wonderful things that they open their mouths to praise him, much to the annoyance of the religious leaders. In fact, so annoyed are the religious teachers that they approach Jesus and ask him, "Do you hear what these children are saying?" "Yes", replied Jesus. And then he adds, "have you never read, ĎFrom the lips of children and infants you have ordained praise." Now this is one of Jesusí indirect claims to be God. In Psalm 8, the children praise the God of Israel and in Matthew 21 the children also praise the God of Israel, only this time he is actually walking amongst them and has the name Jesus written on his birth certificate.
So who are the children mentioned in Psalm 8? Well, sometimes as weíve just read from Matthew 21 they will be literal children who praise God and, in the process, silence Godís enemies. But if we know our bibles reasonably well we should also remember that children in the bible are sometimes used to symbolise Godís people. Let me read to you what Jesus says in Mark 10:14-15: "Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it." Now do you see the symbolism? Godís people are to be like little children. And, I think, we are meant to understand the comparison in three particular ways. First of all, like children we are to approach God with no achievements of our own. Secondly, we are to trust God in the same way as little children trust their parents. We are to reject adolescent arrogance in favour of humble dependence. And then, thirdly, Godís people are to prepare themselves for the status of little children. Just like them Godís people will often seem weak, powerless and of little importance in day by day human interaction. And yet, according to Psalm 8, these are the very people God will use to silence his enemies. "From the lips of children and infants you have ordained praise." Why? Well, "because of your enemies, to silence the foe and the avenger." Or to put it like this: Godís normal strategy is to use the weak things of the world to show his strength and to achieve his purposes. Just think about David and Goliath. Or Joshua marching around the city of Jericho with only a few trumpets. Or Gideon fighting thousands of Midianities with only 300 soldiers who couldnít even drink water properly from the river. Or what the death of a man on a cross 2000 years ago? To most people of the time the death of Jesus, if they had heard about it at all, was viewed as completely irrelevant. But listen to these words from the apostle Paul, 1 Corinthians 1:18: "The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God." Godís normal strategy is to use the weak things of the world to show his strength and to achieve his purposes.
And this was something David was reminded of as he walked beneath the stars and as he read the Book of Genesis. Have a look at verse 3. "When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, 4 what is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him?" Iím sure if you have ever gazed up into the night-time sky you remember feeling very small. In comparison to the vast dimensions of the universe we human beings are a very insignificance pinprick. We are tiny specks in a world of gigantic proportions. And this is what King David realised many thousands of years ago. Even without the Hubble Telescope and a Mission to Mars he knew that when it came to a size comparison human beings would be identified as a weak and powerless cosmic creation. So why should God look in our direction? Why should we feature in his plans? If the solar system is a work of his fingers (which verse 3 says it is) then why should we expect such a magnificent God to bother with people who are so tiny? Or in the words of verse 4: "What is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him?" Well, the answer is found in verse 5. "You made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor. 6 You made him ruler over the works of your hands; you put everything under his feet: 7 all flocks and herds, and the beasts of the field, 8 the birds of the air, and the fish of the sea, all that swim the paths of the seas."
Now purely on a size comparison human beings are an insignificant part of the universe but thankfully God has revealed to us in the Bible that although we are small we are nevertheless the most important creatures in the cosmos. God has chosen to use us to achieve his purposes for planet Earth. So verse 6. "You made him ruler over the works of your hands." We are to be Godís Prime Ministers in his world. And who are we to rule? Verse 7. "All flocks and herds, and the beasts of the field, the birds of the air, and the fish of the sea, all that swim the paths of the sea." Itís all very similar to what we read in Genesis 1:26, where God said: "Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground."
So what appears to have happened is that during one of his late night strolls David found himself staring up into space. He always seems to be up at night doesnít he? Heís either ill, or being pursued by his enemies and sometimes heís just up for the fun of it. But on one such occasion he found outside and gazing at the stars. And initially he was overwhelmed by the microscopic size of humanity in comparison with everything out there. But then he remembered Genesis 1. It was one of those eureka moments! The works of nature on their own would have led him down the pathway of despair but when combined with word of God in Scripture David realised the true place of humanity in Godís purposes. We may be small but we are not insignificant. And the reason is because God has chosen to use us to achieve his purposes in his world.
A number of years ago Samuel Beckett wrote a play called Breath. It is 35 seconds long, it has no human actors and the props consist of a pile of rubbish on the stage, lit by a light that begins dim, brightens (but never fully) and then fades once again. There are no words, only a "recorded" cry at the beginning, an inhaled breath, an exhaled breath and then an identical "recorded" cry at the end. Do you see the point? For Beckett human existence is such a breath. It has no purpose. It is short-lived and it will quickly be forgotten. Now Samuel Beckett was an atheist. He believed there was nothing beyond the material world. But here is where Samuel Beckett differed from so many of his contemporaries Ė he was a consistent atheist. He was prepared to work out the logical conclusions of what he believed, no matter how painful they turned out to be.
Another person who was prepared to do the same was the French thinker Jean-Paul Satre. He was atheist and this is what he concluded about the purpose of life: "This world is not the product of intelligence. It meets our gaze as a crumpled piece of paper...What is man but a little puddle of water whose freedom is death?"
Our significance is determined by the existence of God. If he does not exist then our life is completely pointless and if we are brave enough we will recognise the futility of everything we do. But if he does exist then everything changes. And thatís one of the big messages of Psalm 8. The universe is huge and we are small but God has told us in the book of Scripture that we are not insignificant.
And this is also a message we need to hear in our Christian lives. Do you ever feel useless as a witness for Jesus Christ? Perhaps you are hearing the clock ticking away and you are beginning to ask yourself: What have I contributed to the advancement of Godís kingdom here on earth? Or maybe you are just starting out on the Christian faith and you are wondering, what can I do to make a significance difference in the years ahead? We need to remember the words of verse 2. "From the lips of children and infants you have ordained praise because of your enemies, to silence the foe and the avenger." It is Godís normal strategy is to use the weak things of the world to show his strength and to achieve his purposes. And that includes you and me. It includes our young people, our middle-aged people and our retired people. In fact, it includes every single one of us in this congregation. Now, of course, many of us will feel very nervous about saying anything at all about what believe. But can I encourage us this morning to remember how God normally achieves his purposes. Not through the strong and the mighty but through the nervous, stumbling comments of a Christian who is trying to share something of the gospel with someone else. I love what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 2:1: "When I came to you, brothers, I did not come with eloquence or superior wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. 2 For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. 3 I came to you in weakness and fear, and with much trembling. 4 My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spiritís power, 5 so that your faith might not rest on menís wisdom, but on Godís power."
What can we learn from Psalm 8? First of all, a lesson about our significance. Secondly, a lesson about our pain. The description of humanity ruling the world in perfect harmony does not fit our experience of reality, does it? Itís all very well to hear that God made us to rule over the works of his hands and to be reminded that human beings were created to have authority over the animal kingdom. We are supposed to be the loving stewards of Godís world. And yet our experience of life is very different. Instead of nurturing the planet we seem to be destroying it. Instead of being the loving gamekeepers in Godís park we have turned into bandits who have exploited the earth for our own selfish gains. And this is one of the main reasons pain exists in our world. Originally it did not feature in Godís creation. Look at Genesis chapter 1 and Genesis chapter 2 and you will find no mention of suffering. It only enters the world after the rebellion of Adam and Eve against Godís rule. They were supposed to rule the world under God but when they decided to rule the world as God the whole cosmos suffered as a result. Do you remember what God said to Adam in Genesis 3:17? "Because you listened to your wife and ate from the tree about which I commanded you, ĎYou must not eat of it,í "Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat of it all the days of your life. 18 It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field." So when we see pain and suffering in our world what are we to remember? We need to remember that humanity has rebelled against the creation mandate of Genesis chapter 1 and Psalm 8. We are supposed to rule Godís world under Godís command. That was his plan! But when we reject Godís command we have no idea how to rule ourselves and so therefore we end up ruining Godís creation.
Do you ever think about the future? Iím sure, like me, most of you are looking forward in some vague way to a better future with God forever. But when you think about the future, what do you imagine it will be like?
The famous atheist George Bernard Shaw once said "Heaven as conventionally conceived is a place so inane, so dull, so useless, so miserable that nobody would venture to describe a whole day in heaven, though plenty of people have described a day at the seaside."
But that is so unfortunate because the Bibleís vision of the future is not of some bodiless existence on a cloud, endlessly singing Graham Kendrick songs. Who would want to go to such a place? What is so exciting about such a prospect? And more importantly what connection does it have with the original creation mandate given to humanity in Genesis chapter 1 and in Psalm 8?
I think the Christian author C.S. Lewis gets closer to the truth in the final chapter of his Narnia books. It is called "Farewell to Shadowlands." The Earth is the shadow and heaven is the substance. And in this final chapter the children are entering heaven and they are amazed by what they see. It is the same as it had been in Narnia. It is not wholly different. It is familiar, only better in an indescribable way. ĎThose hillsí, said Lucy, Ďthe nice woody ones and the blue ones behind - arenít they very like the Southern border of Narnia?í ĎLikeí cried Edmund after a momentís silence. ĎWhy, theyíre exactly like. Look thereís Mount Pire with his forked head, and thereís the pass into Archenland and everything!í ĎAnd yet theyíre not likeí, said Lucy. ĎTheyíre different. They have more colours on them and they look further away than I remembered and theyíre more...more...oh, I donít know...í ĎMore like the real thingí, said the Lord Digory.
More like the real thing. That should be our Christian hope. It is to live in a New Creation where we can at last live out the job description of Psalm 8. And that is something I do find exciting. Iím sure I will enjoy sitting on the tops of clouds for a little while, dangling my legs over the top but in the long term Iím sure the novelty will wear off. But what about an eternity where we as Godís redeemed people can live with God, explore his new universe and, in fact, be joint rulers with him? How about all the good things we enjoy about physical life today multiplied by infinity and with all the sadness and pain removed? Is this not something to get excited about?
But hereís the question: How can we be confident the future will be like this? How can we be sure the New Creation will be similar to the current creation? Well, this is where we need to turn to Hebrews 2:5-9, which you can find on page 1202.
"It is not to angels that he has subjected the world to come, about which we are speaking. 6 But there is a place where someone has testified: "What is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him? 7 You made him a little lower than the angels; you crowned him with glory and honor 8 and put everything under his feet." In putting everything under him, God left nothing that is not subject to him. Yet at present we do not see everything subject to him. 9 But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels, now crowned with glory and honor because he suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone."
God had every right to abandon the human race. He could have taken his hand and wiped the slate clean. Our rejection of him deserved his rejection of us. But, wonderfully, we see from Hebrews chapter 2 that God did not abandon us. Verse 9. Jesus was made a little lower than the angels but is now crowned with glory and honour. How do we know God has not rejected the human race? Quite simply, because God the Son became a human being. And he was sent from heaven not to reject the world but to redeem the world, becoming a human being so that he could stand in our place and take the judgement we deserve.
Why did Jesus become a man? First of all, so that he could taste death for everyone. But, secondly, he also came to earth to show us the human life we were supposed to live and one day the human life we will actually live. The fulfilment of Psalm 8 is found in the life of Jesus. But one day those who have faith in Jesus will be made like Jesus. And when that happens we will finally to see the principles of Psalm 8 being lived out in practice. We will finally see everything subject to humanity and humanity living under the perfect rule of God. So please donít think heaven will be dull. It will be the most amazing place we will ever experience. So make sure you donít miss out. Letís pray.
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