I went to bed last night troubled. Karla and I prayed. We prayed because we spent the previous two hours watching the Republican debates. I suspect I don’t need to make a list but things are really bad in our world. We could talk about things like ISIS or North Korea of Syria, things "out there.” And of course, it seems like political debates often focus on all that is wrong so each candidate can tell us how he or she is the person to fix it. But then we could fixate on ourselves as well, I mean as a country, even some of the candidates, not to mention the seemingly nightly event of another shooting someplace in our country. What are we to do?
Do you happen to know the most referenced Psalm in the NT? We might be tempted to think it is Psalm 23. It is probably the most famous and while it deserves its popularity, the most quoted psalm does not deserve its neglect. It is a prayer, not only oft quoted but memorized, pondered, discussed and meditated upon by the ancients because it is a psalm that “unselfs” us, recentering the reader in the being and action of God.
When life and its mess threatens to undo us, perhaps even overrun us, when we are knocked off our feet as I was last night by the mention of videos by Planned Parenthood on what is done to unborn children in order to harvest organs for money, when our breath is taken away by the extreme nature of violence and evil in this world, we need to be recentered. Prayer does that and perhaps we need to recapture the psalms as our prayers. So, as I prayed, my mind went back to a psalm in which I had spent some time, one that is the most quoted/referenced psalm in the NT: Psalm 110.
Psalm 110 is a coronation psalm, written by King David, most likely in anticipation of his son, Solomon succeeding him on the throne. It is also prophetic, though I doubt David understood that at the time. The two most important lines come from God and neatly divide the psalm into two equal parts. V1) The Lord says… and then v4) The Lord has sworn…. When life threatens, we are NOT first invited to take action. We are NOT first invited to speak. We are invited to listen! We are invited to listen for God, and what God is saying to us through David is that the next king should remember that God is King and that God is the true priest. Why does that matter?
Those two offices—king and priest—were separated purposefully. It was a sort of checks and balance system, just as today we have three branches of government intended to equally balance power. But as we discover in the NT, this psalm is attributed to Christ. And these two offices now merge. He is both King and Priest. He is the only capable man to handle both without a misuse of power. The psalmist tells us that God, and with forward-thinking, Christ is ruling. Notice where his rule is transpiring. v2 tells us He is ruling in the midst of his enemies. God and Christ are ruling today in the middle of the chaos of life, in personal situations that feel like anything but rulership on his part. Perhaps we stop to ask who are my enemies and how is God ruling there? Verse 3 provides an answer: through His people. Through us! He wants to rule through us by how we relate in the most difficult situations. He wants to rule through us when we are forgiving and gracious rather than mean-spirited and vindictive. I think that is what it means to have holy garments. Holy equals set apart, or said in modern translation, “unlike the world.” We are to relate unlike the world and like God. Jesus became like us so that we could become like Him, and his death and resurrection make that possible. The NT writers pick up on this idea when they invite us to clothe ourselves with compassion, kindness, patience, etc. as Paul does in Colossians 3.
As we pray this psalm, be reminded that God is ruling. Despite what we might see with our natural eyes, He is still on the throne. We start there. We remind ourselves in prayer that God is on the throne so that we can then go out to be his ambassadors, his ministers or reconciliation. If we don’t start here, if we don’t first listen to what is true in the bigger story that goes beyond what we see and experience, then we will be tempted to take over, to react out of our fears and foolishness and in doing so, we will contribute to the violence of our world rather than bring the peace and grace that God offers and we have come to know.
But the author is not finished. Jesus is King, yes. But He is also priest. Zechariah foresaw the day when these two offices would merge under one ruler (6:13). The result of this merger was not hostility, as is often the case in a corporate merger, but rather peace. This is what a priest is to offer to people: peace! To see an example of this office gone bad, see the life of Judas. When Judas realized the error of his betraying ways, he turned back to the priests and discovered not the peace for which his soul yearned but rather the soul’s worst fear: condemnation and loss of hope—what is that to us?, they said to Judas. Death followed because for Judas there was no hope. But as one of our SS kids recently professed wisely and sweetly as only kids can, “Jesus would have forgiven him too!” Yes, he would have because He is a Priest who offers peace.
Now notice something this psalm says that Paul echoes in Romans. I love the irony of scripture at times. This King and Priest of peace will ultimately crush the enemy (Ps 110:5). The words "peace" and "crush" seldom go together. This God of peace is also fierce. Later, Paul would say to the recipients of his Roman letter that the God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet (16:20). I love those words. I think I am a peaceful person but there is a rage in me that someday will be properly directed. It is under “your” feet, says the Apostle Paul, where the enemy will be destroyed. We get to participate in the destruction of the ultimate enemy. As a friend once said, “don’t lose your place in line by going after the wrong people.” God is committed to peace and that requires the destruction of the enemy. It is coming. Wait. Wait. Wait for it, Kent.
This is our God. He is a King, on the throne today while the world rocks and sways under the evil and threat of annihilation, while world leaders move their armies like a game of “Risk.” They don’t stand a chance. But our God is equally Priest, offering us peace in the midst of our fears and scrambling. He offers us peace with Him when we recognize Him as our true King and true Priest. He offers peace for our hearts with regard to ourselves. He offers us the chance to be agents of peace with others, which we won't be if we don’t first start with prayer, reminding ourselves of Who is truly in charge.
From day 1 of His entrance into our world, peace was the message of God. The angels announced it at Jesus' birth. Paul tells us He (Jesus) is our Peace. Even in the OT, God instructed Moses to pray over the people words we use as a benediction, a reminder that this God of theirs was gracious and a Peace-maker.
One last refreshing picture from Psalm 110, drawn for us in verse 7: He will drink from the brook beside the way; therefore, he will lift up his head. Like us, God is thirsty for the same thing we are, for things to be made right. Have you properly identified your thirst? It isn’t ultimately for your spouse to love you better or your boss to recognize your good work. It is a thirst for the lost oneness man once shared with God that then spilled over into every other nook and cranny of life! Jesus, seeing his hurting friends, knowing their loss and confusion, was deeply troubled even though he knew what he was about to do. He was about to raise Lazarus from death and yet, he was troubled with an angst that could best be described as a rage. Why? I think he hates how bad things are, can’t wait for the day when they are made right. The psalmist depicts him, like a warrior confident of victory, stopping to drink from the brook while we his fearful soldiers look around certain that at any moment the arrow of death will pierce our hearts. But He is not!
Last question: What look do you see on his face as he lifts his head from this confident respite of cool water? I choose to see a smile that communicates, “Don’t worry. I got this!
This is what I prayed last night. Lord, remind us and help us live believing that you are King, even now sitting on the throne in charge despite the chaos all around us. Lord, remind us that you are our priest, offering us peace in the middle of a world and lives that are anything but peaceful. Remind us that it all ends in peace with the enemies of that peace CRUSHED! Amen.
The best is yet to come,