The restoring king - Psalm 8
An audio recording of this sermon is available.
- The parable of the bacteria (Briefing - 252 - May 2000).
Is significance linked to size? I guess that if the truth be known, many of us would have some sympathy with the argument of Professor Platitude. Instinctively, as we contemplate the immensity of the world, let alone the universe, we certainly feel insignificant because we feel so small. But is that feeling justified? In one sense, yes it is - a healthy humility is no bad thing. On the other hand we must also realise that significance is a value which is often given, not arbitrarily, but because of the role something plays in the grand scheme of things. So something as small and therefore insignificant as bacteria might be deemed significant when placed within the wider setting of medical research, providing a common cure. And something as tiny and as puny as human beings can be deemed of significance because of the role they have been given by the one who made them - God. And for many, that appears to be what Psalm 8 is saying and to some extent that is right. In addressing God, David exclaims in v3 When I consider the heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him or the son of man that you should care for him - he is very small indeed - a nothing, but then comes v5f : You made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honour, you made him ruler over the works of your hands.' - i.e. he is very significant. But if that is all the psalm is about - a meditation on Genesis 1: 26 where God says Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over all the earth.' - then what is the point of v2 ? : From the lips of children and infants you have ordained praise because of your enemies to silence the foe and the avenger.' If we had been writing the psalm we would have missed that verse out completely and the psalm would still have hung together flowing more smoothly in contrasting the greatness of God with the smallness and yet dignity of man.
Well, I want to suggest to you that v2 is key to understanding the main purpose of this Psalm and how ultimately it is primarily to do with Jesus Christ. It is a song about the Saviour.
First of all we need to take into account the context of the psalm. The one who is speaking is, of course King David. And as such this is no ordinary King, he is Gods King, specially chosen by God to rule and lead his people on his behalf. And the Hebrew word for anointed one is Messiah, the Greek is Christ.' So, this is David the Christ speaking. But not only is he speaking as Gods King, he speaks as a persecuted King, someone who has enemies, foes and avengers, that is, those who are out for themselves and will attack Gods appointed ruler to achieve it. In fact psalms 3 - 7 and 9 - 23 are all psalms which deal with this theme, that of Gods chosen servant being given a hard time by some savage opponents and the call to God to deliver and vindicate him. And so it is not unreasonable to expect that Psalm 8 should also deal with that theme and in fact it does, hence v2. You see, this is a song not written within the quiet confines of a recording studio at EMI, but in the rough and tumble of hard nosed politics - here is a King in trouble, desperately needing Gods help.
So the question is this: how will that help come? What means will God use to silence and shame the Kings enemies - putting them in their place?
Well, we are told in v 2 From the lips of children and infants you have ordained praise because of your enemies (King Davids enemies are automatically Gods enemies) to silence the foe and the avenger.' Now what is that all about?
Well, it is something like this: this great and almighty God is going to use that which to us appears weak, helpless and insignificant - like tiny babies and children, doing something which appears to us to be simple and inconsequential, like praise - in order to shame and so silence those who think of themselves clever enough, and strong enough and proud enough, to oppose God and his rightful ruler.
Now what has led David to this conclusion that this is the way God normally acts, turning on their head all our ideas about what is great and significant - using that which would appear of little value and stupid to achieve his great purposes of rescue and judgement?
Well, it is a walk beneath the night sky on the one hand and a meditation on the Book of Genesis on the other. Or if you like, reading the book of nature and the book of Scripture. Doing that David discovered that this God has always worked according to this principle, just as the apostle Paul was to put it many years later in 1 Corinthians 1: 27 God chose the foolish things in the world to shame the wise, and the weak things to shame the strong.'
So from one perspective as we see it in vv 3 - 4, against the backdrop of the infinity of space - who in their right mind could possibly think that the human race as a whole, let alone an individual, is of ultimate significance? And the conclusion that we are in fact freak nothings is what many of the leading thinkers of the 20th century came to; so writes the philosopher Bertrand Russell: Man is the product of causes which had no pretension of the end they were achieving; his origin, his growth, his hopes, his fears, his loves and his beliefs are but the outcome of accidental collections of atoms.' All very bleak isn't it? But what other conclusion can you come to as you contemplate living in a massive, cold, impersonal universe? But even thinking about the vastness of the universe with the conviction that the one who stands behind it is a personal Creator, still leaves you feeling small and amazed at the thought that God should care for people as pathetic as us - v4 what is man that you are mindful of him? - why should you, this great God who speaks the stars and moon into being give us even a second thought? Well, the amazing thing is that he does. You see, that which from the standpoint of a dazzling universe measured in billions of light years are a nothing - human beings - are from the standpoint of the all knowing, all loving Creator a very important something - v5 You have made him a little lower than the angels and crowned him with glory and honour.' And David knows that because his Scriptures teach it - Genesis 1. And this is shown in the role God has assigned this seemingly unimportant creature - man - he is a ruler over all living things - whether on land, sea or air - the whole earth is his dominion - vv6 - 8.. In other words God has always been in the business of taking nothings and surprising everyone by making them into somethings - that is how he operates.
So who is this man or son of man who is crowned with glory and honour - which from one point of view appears so small and weak and yet from another point of view is brimming with dignity and worth?
Well, in the first place it is Adam as the head and originator of the human race. Adam was made from the dust of the earth an inauspicious beginning if ever there was one. It is Adam who is placed in the garden and told by God to care for it, to the name the animals, to bring things under subjection - that is, order things on Gods behalf. That so called creation mandate still holds, which is why we should engage in ethically guided scientific research and thoughtful application of technology for the good of others. So in this sense this psalm applies to all of us.
In the second place, this man is also David himself. He too began life as a nothing a shepherd boy, the lowest of the low on the Israelite social scale. And yet God took him from the fields and literally crowned him with glory and honour, making him King David. And David could never get over the wonderful kindness of God in doing that. Within the nation Israel, he was ruler over everything, Gods deputy if you like, who was meant to show in his own kingship the righteous rule of God - exercising a just and loving rule over Gods people.
But in both of these cases there was failure. Instead of exercising a caring use of power under God there has been an arrogant abuse of power acting as god. Adam rebelled and brought the whole show down with him. David might have been the best of the Israelite Kings but even he left a lot to be desired - spoiling his children rotten resulting in incestual rape, civil war and murder. And as we look out on our world can we claim that we have managed the earths resources all that well ? Can we honestly say that God has put everything under our feet? Hardly - we can barely manage our own impulses let alone a world as vast as this.
But there is one who fulfilled this psalm perfectly, someone who was also known as the anointed one - the Christ, who also went by the term Son of Man - and that was Jesus. He too began life as a nothing - born in a stable of poor Jewish stock. Who for thirty years lived in complete obscurity, making tables and chairs, fixing broken farming implements in a hick northern town, in a run down corner of the Roman Empire. And yet as he steps out in his public ministry, we see Jesus as the new Adam, the royal successor to David.
This is implicit in the opening of Marks Gospel for example. Following Jesus baptism we hear these words echoing Psalm 2 - the enthroning psalm, v11 And a voice came from heaven "You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased. At once the Spirit sent him out into the desert, and he was in the desert for forty days, being tempted by Satan. He was with wild animals, and angels attended him.' Just as the first Adam, the representative of humankind was tempted in a garden and failed and so was thrown out of Eden by God, so Jesus, the second Adam is literally thrown into the wilderness by the Holy Spirit to be tempted and he triumphs. The wilderness representing the wasting, devastating effects of Adams rebellion, a garden made barren. As the first Adam was surrounded by animals over which he was to be master but lost control, here is Jesus the second Adam surrounded by wild animals, over which he is now the master, they do not harm him. As Adam having once been excluded from the garden is preventing from re-entry by angels - the flaming cherubim, Jesus the second Adam having triumphed over Satan is ministered to by angels. he fulfils psalm 8
Do you see how at every point Jesus came to reverse the effects of the fall, that moral and spiritual fault line which runs through our very being? So this is the Son of Man about whom this psalm is talking about, whose reign of service has begun - God has started to put everything under Jesus feet.
And Jesus himself takes this very psalm and applies it to himself in quiet an astonishing way. Turn with me to Matthew 21: 14. This follows on from what we call Palm Sunday, and this is what we read: The blind and lame came to Jesus at the temple, and he healed them. But when the chief priests and the teachers of the law saw the wonderful things he did and the children shouting in the temple area: Hosanna to the Son of David, " they were indignant. "Do you hear what these children are saying? "they asked. "Yes" replied Jesus, "Have you never read (and here comes v2 of our psalm) "From the lips of children and infants you have ordained praise. " Now let the full implications of that sink in for a moment. First of all, Jesus in quoting v2 which originally speaks of children praising God - is saying that those words legitimately apply to himself. In other words, he too is divine. Secondly, the ones who should have known their Scripture and acknowledged Jesus as the true King are being corrected and shown up by those you would least expect to know the truth - children. Praise in Scripture is often just another way of speaking about proclamation praising Gods name in all the earth.' In other words, the weak, insignificant nobodies, the children, who were being told to keep quiet were proclaiming the Gospel about Jesus. Thirdly, the implication is that the religious leaders were in fact Gods enemies because they were Jesus enemies, hence this word of Scripture applying to them. In the original Psalm it is the words of the children - their testimony - which shames the Messiahs enemies. Well, that is exactly what is happening here. The children acknowledge Jesus as King and adore him, the religious rulers do not and seek to destroy him. The children cry Hosanna, the religious leaders later cry crucify.' So this too is a persecuted King who for a while was made a little lower than the angels - not only by taking the form of man, but also by submitting to a cross. And it is through the apparent absurdity of the cross that God was to defeat the greatest enemy of all - death caused by our sin - so setting free all those who would put their trust in his Son. That is what the writer to the Hebrews is saying in chapter 2 of his book where he quotes this psalm and then writes in v 8 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. But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels, now crowned with glory and honour because he suffered death, so that by Gods grace he might taste death for everyone.' At the moment we do not see everything subject to King Jesus do we? - there are still wars, crime, selfishness and unbelief. But because of his death and resurrection, God has raised him to be seated in heaven and by faith we see that he is now directing all the affairs of this world and the course of history to the end that people will come to know him and be saved and those who reject him will be judged. And one day he will return to complete his work by creating a new heaven and a new earth which he will rule for ever - so bringing this psalm to its complete fulfilment He is also, then, a restoring King.
The psalm begins and ends with the acclamation LORD, our Lord how majestic is your name in all the earth.' How is that name seen to be majestic now in all the earth? It is seen in the person and reign of Jesus and in people coming to trust him,. That is why he said to his disciples after the resurrection All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me, go therefore and make disciples of all nations.' That is how we fulfil v 2 in the meantime. Through apparently insignificant people like you and me, folk the politicians and the intelligentsia might treat with contempt, having beliefs which we might expect of children but not clever people - God is set on building his eternal kingdom. And he does it through a most ridiculous method too - lips of praise - Gospel proclamation - sharing our faith - at home, in the shop, at the university. Again as the Apostle Paul put it in 1 Corinthians 1: 21 God was pleased through the foolishness of what we preached to save those who believe
Do you sometimes feel that you are not up to much as a Christian? That the world seems to be passing you by and you are but a tiny speck who makes no significant contribution at all to the great events which make history? Do you? Well, let me tell you this: when one of our little children in Climbers or Pathfinders speaks a word witnessing to the Lord Jesus - they are influencing the world more than any King or Prime Minister ever could; for by that word souls are being saved for ever. Now do you know of any ruler who has the power to do that? And as people are saved, people are changed, and as they are changed, families, towns, whole societies get changed too - slowly, almost imperceptibly at first - but lastingly. We live in a world who has little time for nobodies, but we worship a God who makes us into somebodies as we come to know the one who was made a little lower than the angels, but who is now crowned with glory and honour - and do you know what - he is willing to share that glory and honour with people like you and me.
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