Strength to strength

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Psalm 84

The way we think about it, careers, businesses and sports teams go from “strength to strength.”  And usually they go from “strength to strength” because of hard work and perseverance.

But in Psalm 84 both those assumptions are challenged.

First of all, it is God’s people who go from “strength to strength.”  (Psalm 84:7)  Now isn’t that an attractive thought?  We speak of impersonal things – like the stock market – going from strength to strength.  But our personal experience is the exact opposite.  In our “green salad days” we might be full of life and vitality.  But isn’t it true that we go from “strength to weakness“?  How can we go from strength to strength?  Such a trajectory goes against everything we know in nature.  Well, listen to the context…

Blessed is the man whose strength is in thee… They go from strength to strength (Psalm 84:5-7)

Consider this example:  A man tells you he is rich.  You might expect that his riches are in his possession.  But he says, no, his wealth is in his father’s bank account.  What’s more, this money is earning interest, and one day it will come into his name.  Right now he doesn’t have a penny to his name.   Nonetheless, you could well say that his money is going ‘from wealth to wealth’.

So it is with strength.  The Christian has no strength in themselves.  Indeed we step out into the world looking just like our Lord.  We turn the other cheek, walk the extra mile, forgive our enemies and answer evil with blessing.  It looks very weak.  But actually we have entrusted our strength to a Lord who, by His cross and resurrection, knows how to turn such weakness into strength.

In all our weakness, our prayer is verse 9:

“Behold, O God our shield, and look upon the face of thine Anointed.”

Our strength is not in ourselves.  We do not protect ourselves. But we have a Shield in heaven who is strong enough for all of us.  Another name for Him is our Anointed – the Messiah.  He is our protection and strength.  So He is the One to whom we look.  Just as the Father entrusts all things to Christ, so we entrust ourselves (our strength) to Him.

This is an investment that will pay eternal dividends.

“I am not ashamed: for I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have committed unto him against that day.”  (1 Timothy 1:12)

And in the meantime:

“though our outward man perish, yet the inward man is renewed day by day.”  (2 Corinthians 4:16)

The whole world follows the pattern of “strength to weakness,” because the whole world believes the lie of “strength in ourselves”.  But the Christian is different.  We know “strength in Christ.”  And therefore we experience “strength to strength” – now and forever!

Bite the dust

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Psalm 72:9-20

It’s a euphemism for death, but these days we rarely talk of people “biting the dust” – not in a final sense anyway.

We might say that a plan or project has bitten the dust.  But describing a person’s death as biting the dust seems the preserve of tough-talking cowboys.

The exact wording – bite the dust – is found nowhere in the bible.  Yet it is thoroughly biblical in origin. This is because the phrase depends on a whole biblical theology of dust and eating.  Let me explain:

In Genesis 2, man was made from the dust.

In Genesis 3, man listens to the serpent (i.e. Satan) and so must return to dust.

And Satan is cursed to eat dust all his days (Genesis 3:14)

Thus Satan is set up as a man-eater (1 Peter 5:8)

Christ will join man to crush the man-eater (Genesis 3:15)

How will He do this?  Incredibly, by being Man eaten (John 6:51)

Only in this way does He swallow His enemies (1 Corinthians 15:54)

Now those who don’t eat (with) Christ get eaten (Revelation 19:18)

But those who do eat Christ join Him in crushing the man-eater (Romans 16:20)

Therefore Satan will eat dirt all the days of his life (Micah 7:17Revelation 20:10)

And all those who follow him will likewise “lick the dust” (Psalm 72:9)

[The Messiah's] enemies will lick the dust.  (Psalm 72:9)

So Christians can do their own John Wayne impression.  Because of Christ’s victory we can use some very tough talk on Satan.  We can say:

“Eat dirt man-eater!  There’s one Man you couldn’t swallow.  He’s swallowed you.  Our food will be the Man eaten.  And you will lick the dust forever.”

To the ends of the earth

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Psalm 72:1-8

The Hebrew language abounds in double entendres.  We have already considered the multiple shades of meaning to the word “Adam“.  It refers to the historical person of Adam, to a man and to man (meaning humanity).  The way the Bible thinks of things, what happens to the man Adam happens to all man.

Or consider the verb “nasa“.  It means “lifted up” but it also means to “bear the weight of” and is the verb “to forgive.”  Thus to the Hebrew mind, the One lifted up is the One bearing a weight in order to forgive.  But I digress…

Today we consider the Hebrew word “eretz”.  It’s a word that means both “land” and “earth.”  In particular it has that double meaning of the land (the promised land) and the earth.  When a Hebrew speaker refered to Canaan as the “eretz”, they were viewing this strip of land at the end of the Mediterranean as a token of the whole world.

When the phrase “the ends of the earth” is used (and it’s used 27 times in the Old Testament) it has this lesser and greater reference.  And never is this more obvious than in Psalm 72:8.  It speaks about the Ideal King, the Messiah:

He shall have dominion also from sea to sea, and from the river unto the ends of the earth.

Does this mean that the King of Israel will rule from the Mediterranean to the Sea of Galilee and from the Jordan unto the ends of the land?  Well, approximately, Solomon achieved this.  But he was only a micro-king ruling over a micro-cosmos.  When the Israelites saw a King like Solomon reigning over a united Israel, they were witnessing a charcoal sketch of a glorious fresco.  At its pinnacle, everything the Israelite monarchy could hope to be was a mere shadow.  Today, enjoy this panoramic vision of Jesus Christ’s  righteous reign:

Give the king thy judgments, O God, and thy righteousness unto the king’s son. 2 He shall judge thy people with righteousness, and thy poor with judgment.

3 The mountains shall bring peace to the people, and the little hills, by righteousness. 4 He shall judge the poor of the people, he shall save the children of the needy, and shall break in pieces the oppressor. 5 They shall fear thee as long as the sun and moon endure, throughout all generations. 6 He shall come down like rain upon the mown grass: as showers that water the earth. 7 In his days shall the righteous flourish; and abundance of peace so long as the moon endureth.

8 He shall have dominion also from sea to sea, and from the river unto the ends of the earth. 9 They that dwell in the wilderness shall bow before him; and his enemies shall lick the dust. 10 The kings of Tarshish and of the isles shall bring presents: the kings of Sheba and Seba shall offer gifts. 11 Yea, all kings shall fall down before him: all nations shall serve him.

12 For he shall deliver the needy when he crieth; the poor also, and him that hath no helper. 13 He shall spare the poor and needy, and shall save the souls of the needy. 14 He shall redeem their soul from deceit and violence: and precious shall their blood be in his sight.

15 And he shall live, and to him shall be given of the gold of Sheba: prayer also shall be made for him continually; and daily shall he be praised. 16 There shall be an handful of corn in the earth upon the top of the mountains; the fruit thereof shall shake like Lebanon: and they of the city shall flourish like grass of the earth.

17 His name shall endure for ever: his name shall be continued as long as the sun: and men shall be blessed in him: all nations shall call him blessed. 18 Blessed be the LORD God, the God of Israel, who only doeth wondrous things. 19 And blessed be his glorious name for ever: and let the whole earth be filled with his glory; Amen, and Amen.   (Psalm 72)

My cup runneth over

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Psalm 23

For many it’s their favourite “King James” phrase.  Yet, as far as I can tell, it was the Geneva Bible of 1587 that first gave us this wonderful wording:

My cup runneth over.”  (Psalm 23:5)

Here is the expectation of the Messiah as He faces “the valley of the shadow of death.”  He will come through to victory and feasting at the LORD’s table.  He will be publicly vindicated, anointed and His cup will run over (read Psalm 23).

This gives us two sources of confidence:

First, the Messiah’s life and blessings have a super-abundant quality.  They spill over in excess.  If we would seek His vindication, His anointing, His place at the feast, then we can take comfort that He has more than enough blessing to go around.  Christ has not won His victory for Himself alone – His cup runneth over.  And His blessings are not dished out with a teaspoon.  Rather, as John declares “Of His fulness have all we received, and grace for grace.”  (John 1:16)

Second, Psalm 23 lets us in on a calculation that Christ made as He faced “the valley of the shadow”.  He weighed the darkness of the valley against the cascading fullness of the LORD’s blessings.  And in Christ’s estimation, the overflowing cup was worth the dark and dreadful valley.

If that’s Christ’s estimation then we can be sure that whatever valley we face, the vindication will make it worthwhile.  Even Christ’s cross was worth it for the sake of the feast.  How much more will our little crosses and sufferings be made to seem trifling in comparison with the weight of glory in store for us?  (2 Corinthians 4:17)

As Martin Luther has said:

“If we consider the greatness and the glory of the life we shall have when we have risen from the dead, it would not be difficult at all for us to bear the concerns of this world. If I believe the Word, I shall on the Last Day, after the sentence has been pronounced, not only gladly have suffered ordinary temptations, insults, and imprisonment, but I shall also say: “O, that I did not throw myself under the feet of all the godless for the sake of the great glory which I now see revealed and which has come to me through the merit of Christ!”

Christ’s cup overflows to us.  And through Him even our cup will overflow.

Therefore even the darkest valley will be worth it.

The valley of the shadow of death

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Psalm 23

When his son Absalom briefly usurped his throne, David withdrew from Jerusalem.  He crossed the Kidron valley, ascended the Mount of Olives and escaped to safety.

“And all the country wept with a loud voice, and all the people passed over: the king also himself passed over the brook Kidron, and all the people passed over, toward the way of the wilderness. (2 Samuel 15:23)

Here was the King after the LORD’s own heart, but now he passes through the valley of deep shadow (Kidron is related to words for blackness and mourning).  It is a walk of shame as he passes through this valley at the people’s head.  He is heading towards the summit of the Mount of Olives (where the garden of Gethsemane stands).  And he seems to be abdicating his throne forever.

Some contend that David had the Kidron Valley in mind as he wrote Psalm 23:

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil.”

Perhaps though it’s the other way around.  Psalm 23 is, originally, the words of the Messiah’s sufferings and glories which are placed on David’s lips.  David’s own typological experiences in the Kidron Valley are foretastes of Christ’s ultimate valley.

Jesus is the King who takes that great and fearful walk of shame.  He enters into the darkness of death itself.  And John felt it was necessary to add this detail as he recounted Christ’s final hours:

“Jesus went forth with his disciples over the brook Cedron, where was a garden, into the which he entered, and his disciples.”  (John 18:1)

Where David crossed the Kidron and then passed through the garden of Gethsemane, Christ stopped at the garden.  Christ could have kept going to safety, just as David had.  He could have used this ancient escape route.  Instead He pauses, prays and accepts the cup of suffering from His Father (Matthew 26:36-46).  Jesus awaited arrest in this garden that He might be brought back to Jerusalem and face death’s darkest valley.

Christ has chosen to walk our path and to do so at our head.  Like a needle piercing the black shroud of death He passes through, bearing the brunt of its terrible curse.  And we trail behind Him like the thread, pulled through in union with our suffering King.

We cannot pray the twenty-third Psalm by ourselves.  Hebrews 2:15 reminds us that we are naturally slaves to our fear of death.  As we contemplate this valley we fear much evil.  And so we should – death is our ultimate enemy.

Yet we do not pray Psalm 23 alone.  First of all Christ prays it.  First of all He walks that path and comes through into feasting, victory and joy.  But He does it as our Forerunner.  If we belong to Him, His victory is our victory.  Today He still prays this Psalm for us and in us as our Intercessor, High Priest and Friend.  As we hear His song, we allow His voice to tune our hearts.  And soon – imperfectly but no less really – we will find ourselves joining in:

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for Thou art with me!

The LORD is my Shepherd

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Psalm 23

In between the Psalm of the cross (Psalm 22) and the Psalm of Christ’s ascension back to heaven (Psalm 24) we have the 23rd Psalm – a Psalm of resurrection.

“1The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want. 2He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters. 3He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.  4Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.  5Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.  6Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever.”

If we assume that the Speaker remains unchanged throughout this section of the Psalms, we can see this song firstly as the prayer of the Messiah as He faces “the valley of the shadow of death.”

Indeed many clues within the Psalm would confirm this.  The whole song is intensely personal – there is only one blessed man here.  And He is contrasted with the many enemies in whose midst He will be vindicated.   He seems to be uniquely hosted at this celebratory table beyond death.  There He is “anointed” (another way of saying christed).  And the final verse could most literally be translated “I will return to the house of the LORD for ever.”

Believers certainly look forward to entering the house of the LORD forever.  But the only Man to return to heaven is the One who came from heaven – Christ Himself (John 3:13).

So this Psalm is, originally, the song of the Messiah who would suffer and then be glorified.  Seeing how He handles death, we can gain much comfort as we walk through that valley with Him and in Him.

And the first comfort Christ confesses is this opening phrase: “The LORD is my Shepherd.”

There’s an oft-repeated biblical phrase that first appears in the book of Numbers: “sheep without a shepherd.”  It describes a leaderless rabble who need a loving and strong ruler to guide them.  Sheep are notoriously foolish creatures.  They require much closer attention than most animals.  And the LORD pictures His care for His people as Shepherd.  Not as a Coach or Instructor, as though He simply issues commands from a distance.  He is a Shepherd who gives hands-on care.

As we read this Psalm we get a sense of that “hands-on care.”  Everything the Psalmist experiences in life, death and beyond is due to the intimate guidance of the LORD.  This Psalm is a counterfoil to the cry of godforsakenness we heard two days ago.  The Messiah declares that his experiences – up to, including, and beyond “the valley of the shadow” – are all the result of the intensely personal shepherding of the LORD.  He is guided through death and back to the table by a loving Shepherd who can be trusted to know best.

As we hear the warmth of Christ’s descriptions of His Father we gain courage for our own walk.  There are times when we can sing the 23rd Psalm with quiet confidence and trust.  Yet sometimes “the rod and staff” of the LORD do not comfort us.  Instead they anger us or make us despair.  Many times we do fear evil, especially in that dark and terrible valley.

Yet this is a path which Christ has walked.  And He has walked it for us.  He has walked it as the trusting and obedient Son of the Father.  He has submitted to the rod and staff.  He has submitted to the deep darkness and come through to glory. Our hope is not in our own “dying well”.  Our hope is in the fact that He has died well.  And if we trust Him, we are in Him, carried through to share a place at the table.

Yet, as we walk our own path, let us allow Christ’s vision of the Father to be our own.  He could trust the LORD even as He headed for Jerusalem, even in Gethsemane, even at Calvary.  He could see that, on the other end of the rod and staff, there was a loving Shepherd.  He had faith that the feast would make the valley worthwhile.

As we face our own sufferings and death let’s allow His song to sink into our hearts.  May His faith in the Father be ours.  And then we too will sing with confidence “The LORD is my Shepherd.”

Laughed to scorn

Psalm 22:1-31

When Jesus cried out “My God, My God, why hast thou forsaken me?” He was referencing the whole of Psalm 22.  Before chapter divisions were inserted into the biblical text (in the 12th century AD), a person would refer to a Psalm by quoting its first line.  And when we study the whole of Psalm 22, we get a unique window onto the horrors of Christ crucified.

The Psalm that begins “My God, My God” continues with an extended, first person account of the Messiah’s sufferings.  In verse 6 He says:

“I am a worm, and no man; a reproach of men, and despised of the people.  All they that see me laugh me to scorn: they shoot out the lip, they shake the head, saying, He trusted on the LORD that he would deliver him: let him deliver him, seeing he delighted in him.”  (Psalm 22:6-8)

A thousand years before Good Friday this Psalm predicts the whole experience of crucifixion – even quoting in advance the words of the crowd at Calvary (Matthew 27:41-43).

The phrase “laughed to scorn” is the KJV’s consistent translation of a single Hebrew word which carries both senses of laughing and scorn.  Nowadays we would call this an amplified translation.  If such a policy is employed too often it can make for onerous reading.  Yet when deployed sparingly and with a poet’s ear, it enriches a translation.

The King James Bible cannot claim the credit for this turn of phrase – it appears in Miles Coverdale’s (1540) and John Rogers’ (1549) translations.  The saying caught the attention of William Shakespeare, who perhaps knew the phrase from its use in the Bishop’s Bible of 1568.  He thought it eloquent enough to use in a key passage of Macbeth:

“Be bloody, bold, and resolute; laugh to scorn
The power of man, for none of woman born
Shall harm Macbeth”. (Act 4, scene 1)

Shakespeare has caught the Bible’s meaning.  To laugh something to scorn is to deride it – to laugh at and deem it as nothing.  That’s how Macbeth considered “the power of man.”  And it’s how the power of man considers the Messiah.  We laugh Him to scorn as He dies in apparent weakness.

Yet there is a profound irony here.  Whilst the mockers felt superior to Christ, their derision only proved His Messiah-ship.  As they laugh Him to scorn they prove that Jesus is the Messiah of Psalm 22.  It’s just one of several striking fulfilments of the Psalm on Good Friday.  The Messiah continues…

“I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint: my heart is like wax; it is melted in the midst of my bowels.  My strength is dried up like a potsherd; and my tongue cleaveth to my jaws; and thou hast brought me into the dust of death. For dogs have compassed me: the assembly of the wicked have inclosed me: they pierced my hands and my feet.  I may tell all my bones: they look and stare upon me.  They part my garments among them, and cast lots upon my vesture”.  (Psalm 22:14-18)

The One who appeared so laughable on that cross is seen – in the light of Scripture – to be in complete control.  As they pierce His hands and feet, as they mock Him and gamble for His clothes, they are in fact establishing His identity.  Jesus is the Messiah, promised of old, the One who must suffer, must die and must rise again.  He will endure the scorn for now.  But He will have the last laugh.

My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?

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Psalm 22:1-2; Mark 15:21-39

We’ve seen how the Psalms proclaim Christ.  These songs show the interplay of four main characters:

1) God

2) The Ideal King (Christ)

3) Those who trust in Him

4) The wicked

Some of these songs are the words of God to His King (His Christ).  Some of them are the people’s words to God about the King.  Some of them are comparisons of the wicked and the true King.  And many of them, like Psalm 22, are the words of the King to God.

David knew  that the very words of the Lord were on his lips as he wrote these Psalms (2 Samuel 23:2).  He was voicing the prayers of the Ideal King – the Messiah.

And incredibly, these prayers take in a whole range of emotions – from joy to anger to utter despair.  So when Christ was born into our situation – full of joy, anger, despair etc – He naturally uses these prayers that He had prepared for Himself and takes them on His human lips.  He enters into the fullness of our predicament.  He sings all our songs

And that includes even this one:

“My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?”  (Psalm 22:1; Mark 15:34)

Jesus cries out His own Psalm 22 while on the cross.  This thousand year old prayer had been prepared for this very occasion and now He prays it to a black and silent heaven.

Is it possible that the Lord of heaven has so descended into our plight that He experiences godforsakenness?

If we are reluctant to affirm this fact, we are doubting the fullness of Christ’s identification with us.  Yes, He is fully God – the eternal Son of the Father.  But He also became fully human – our Brother, bone of our bones and flesh of our flesh.

And since He enters our situation, who can deny that our experience of life is indeed “godforsakenness”?

Godlessness is one of the most keenly felt aspects of our humanity.  Where is He?  How can He feel so remote when “in him we live, and move, and have our being” (Acts 17:28)?  How can we be so estranged from the Source of our life?  Why does God seem so far off?

Jesus enters into all of that.  And into more than the feeling of godforsakenness.  On the cross, He shares our alienation from God due to our sins.  He doesn’t have a bungee cord wrapped around Him, descending only so far but no further.  No, He plumbs the depths.  The Lord of heaven endures hell.

This means that Christianity has a surprising response to the age-old question: “Where is God when it hurts?”

The Christian can say, “I know a God who asked that question Himself!”

Which means that the experience of hurt can never disprove this God.  He has been the godforsaken God.  He has so identified with you in your plight that He has asked that question with you and for you.

And if God takes even godforsakenness to Himself, then there simply is no situation in which we need to despair.  Because Christ was godforsaken, we need never be.  Even the most profound experiences of abandonment can be a participation in the suffering of Christ – and therefore an experience of the deepest divine fellowship!

Whatever depths you’re plumbing, Jesus has gone deeper.  And He’s done it for you. Call out to Him now.

The heavens declare the glory of God

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Psalm 19

It’s a beautifully symmetrical phrase.  The first five syllables perfectly mirror the last five.  In each, the stresses are on the second and fifth syllable.  This is the work of the translators.  And we should remember that the King James version was written to be read aloud.

Yet the poetry in the underlying Hebrew comes from a slightly different source.  The whole of the first verse of Psalm 19 goes as follows:

The heavens declare the glory of God
and the firmament sheweth his handywork.” (Psalm 19:1)

This is a terrific example of Hebrew poetry.  Its distinctive feature is not rhyme or even rhythm but rather “parallelism”.  Two statements are made in parallel so that they reinforce each other.

The second half of the verse answers the first.  It’s a good guess that the author, King David, wrote this call and response format for public worship. This is how many of the Psalms work.

So much for the poetry, what of the meaning?

David says that the heavens are saying something.  In fact they are continuously and strenuously saying something:

Day unto day uttereth speech, and night unto night sheweth knowledge. (Psalm 19:2)

According to David, we live in an all-embracing and inescapable sermon.  Creation preaches.  In particular David points to the “heavenly bodies”, “the heavens and “the firmament”.  Later he will narrow down his concerns to “the sun”.

What do you think of astrology?  Literally it means “the word of the stars.”

As post-enlightenment people we respect “astronomy” because it tells us “the law of the stars.”  Yes, yes, we say, that’s a worthy discipline.  We’re comfortable trying to discover the law of the heavenly bodies.  What’s not acceptable is to imagine that those heavenly bodies are saying anything.  That’s crackpot nonsense peddled by tabloid newspapers and premium rate phone services, right?

Well much of it is.  But the Bible endorses a form of astrology.  And Psalm 19 is a prime example.  The problem with modern astrology is not its supposition that heavenly bodies communicate truths.  The issue lies in what the heavenly bodies are saying.

According to the Bible, the heavens are not declaring whether I’ll be “lucky in love” this week.  They seem completely uninterested in my financial affairs, my career path and the number of strangers I may meet.  Instead, the heavens are declaring “the glory of God.”

And what is the glory of God?

David gives us a concrete example.  He says, think of the sun:

“Which is as a bridegroom coming out of his chamber, and rejoiceth as a strong man to run a race.  His going forth is from the end of the heaven, and his circuit unto the ends of it: and there is nothing hid from the heat thereof”.  (Psalm 19:5-6)

The sun is like a “bridegroom” who is also “a strong man.”  Psalm 45 will speak more of the Bridegroom Warrior who is Christ.  The “race” which the sun runs, goes from the east to the west.  In the tabernacle, that was the path that the High Priest would take from estrangement from God and into His presence.  The sun is also the light of the world and the source of life – chasing away the darkness and bringing warmth and vitality.

Every day the sun preaches the gospel to us.  Every day, the sun rises on a dark world and banishes the cold lifelessness of the earth.  None of us deserve this grace.  Yet the Father bestows this gift on the righteous and the wicked alike (Matthew 5:45).  As we gratefully receive this blessing we are experiencing a gospel presentation.  The love of God shines out in Jesus (Hebrews 1:3) and it is as free as the sunshine.

This is what the heavens are declaring.  Not some abstract glory – as though God is best known in displays of naked power.  The heavens preach gospel truth.  We live in one gigantic evangelistic sermon.

The reason we don’t automatically see it, is because we need the Scriptures to open our eyes to what’s already there, (this is what the rest of the Psalm is all about: v7-14).

But let’s close by thinking about this sermon of creation.  When you look into the heavens what do you see?  Empty blackness?  Vast expanses?  Naked power?  Stars in mechanical motion?  Or the glory of the Radiant Bridegroom, whose greatest joy is to bring light and life to the world?

We live in a gospel world, proclaiming a gospel God.

“Jesus is Lord, creation’s voice proclaims it!”

Blessed

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Psalm 1:1-2:12

The Book of Psalms has been called the Hymn Book of the Church.  150 songs that encompass the whole range of human experience.  There are songs of love and hate, of joy and sorrow, of deep intimacy and of profound disillusionment with God.  We love the Psalms because we can find a song to sing for every occasion.

But God doesn’t want just anyone to pick up His song book – just as the Royal Opera House would be displeased if you decided to join in. .  Only certain people are invited to sing at the Opera House, and similarly, only certain people are allowed into the Psalms.

That’s why Psalms 1 and 2 are often called “the gateway to the Psalms.”  Before we start singing these songs for ourselves, we’re stopped at this checkpoint.  And these two Psalms will instruct us in the basics.  Only certain people can proceed.  And Psalms 1 and 2 will tell us, who’s in and who’s out.

The person who is ‘in’ is called “blessed.”  (Psalm 1:1; 2:12)

It’s just like the sermon on the mount.  As Jesus begins to preach, He uses the beatitudes as a gateway, explaining the kind of person who is in God’s Kingdom (Matthew 5:1-12).  They are called “Blessed.”

“Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven…” (Matthew 5:3)

The one who’s blessed is the one who belongs.  In both Hebrew (the language of the Old Testament) and Greek (the language of the New), it’s a word that means “happy” or you might say “flourishing.”

So who is blessed?  Who is allowed to sing these songs?  The book of Psalms opens like this…

Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful.  But his delight is in the law of the LORD; and in his law doth he meditate day and night.  And he shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that bringeth forth his fruit in his season; his leaf also shall not wither; and whatsoever he doeth shall prosper.  (Psalm 1:1-3)

You might think that the Psalm is “blessing” all those who say “no” to peer-pressure and “yes” to Bible study.  You might think it’s promising prosperity to those who keep their noses in the Scriptures and out of trouble.  But look again.

Only one person is described here: “the man.”  What a title!  I rarely venture to call myself a man.  But here is the man – the definition of man, the one to whom all other men are only relative.

In the Bible, “the man” is often used to refer to a ruler (e.g. Joseph, Genesis 42:30).  And in many parts of the English speaking world we’ve maintained  that same sense: “Stick it to the man”, “the Man is keeping me down.”  In Northern Ireland (where my wife is from) they will often refer to “your man” as a reference to your boss or your head of state.

Well “the man” of Psalm 1 meditates on the Bible day and night.  That’s something that was the particular provenance of the King. (Deuteronomy 17:18-20).  For instance, Joshua is told to meditate on the Bible day and night so that he would prosper (Joshua 1:8).  In the Bible trees, vines and branches are particularly associated with kings.And here in Psalm 1 “the man” will be a prosperous tree.

So, by now we should get the idea, “the man” is a king.

And when we turn to Psalm 2, we encounter a king who is called the Christ (Anointed One), the Son of God.

So when you put all this together, you start to see that “the Man” of Psalm 1 is in fact the King of Psalm 2.  The Man of Psalm 1 is Psalm 2′s Anointed One (or Messiah or Christ, it’s all the same word).  The Man is the Christ, the Son of God.

In both Psalm 1 and Psalm 2 we have a contrast – but not between one group of good guys and another group of bad guys.  In both Psalms we have one man, the King – who is God’s Righteous, Anointed, Blessed, Beloved Son and then we have the wicked – the other kings of the earth, the sinners, the mockers, the rebels.  The message of these Psalms is not ‘Don’t belong to the bad guys, belong to the good guys.’  The message of these Psalms is ‘Don’t belong to the wicked, belong to the Blessed Man.’  Belong to the Christ, the Son of God.

If we take the beginning and end of these two Psalms together we see the whole message of the Bible in a nutshell:

Blessed is the Man” (Psalm 1:1) and “Blessed are all they that put their trust in him.” (Psalm 2:12).

Before the world began, the Father was blessing His Son – anointing Him with the Holy Spirit.  Now the invitation goes out to all the world – “Put your trust in the Blessed Man and find God’s blessing in Him.”

Once we get beyond the gateway, the rest of the Psalms will preach to us this same message.  In all the Psalms there are 4 basic characters:

1) The LORD / God / the Father

2) The Man / The Christ / The Son of God / The Righteous King

3) Those who put their trust in the King

4) Those who refuse the King / the wicked

Some Psalms are prayers of the Christ to God.  Some are the declarations of God to the world about His King.  Some are the prayers of sinners, asking for refuge in the Christ.  But in all these interactions, all the Psalms are proclaiming the gospel to us:  Blessed is the Man, and blessed are all they that put their trust in Him.

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ.”  (Ephesians 1:3)