Archive for December 2011
I wrote the following material for a hymn and Psalm sing.
The Psalms were Israel’s hymnal. Little is said about the use of music in corporate worship before the time of David; the emphasis was on offerings and sacrifices, Sabbaths and festivals. The coming of the king ushered in a liturgical revolution. Under the guidance of the Spirit, David reorganized the Levites and featured music prominently in worship. Even today, we speak of offering a sacrifice of praise, and the Psalms are as much a treasure to Jesus’s church today as they were to Israel.
Abraham Kuyper once said that “there is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry: ‘Mine!'” And this is true. The Psalms confess this truth over every area of our lives; to sing them is to see and confess and invite Jesus’s involvement in our whole life. He is lord of our sorrows and joys, trials and triumph, deaths and resurrection. He is lord of our possessions and bodies, lord of our children, lord of nations and kings and of history itself. It is good, very good, to belong to him.
We’ve chosen some Psalms from the Genevan psalter, which was compiled by Calvin with the help of others. This French Psalter was first used by the persecuted Huguenots, but its lively tunes have been put to use in many languages.
Psalm 2 is a Messianic Psalm, referring to Jesus. Jesus is the anointed one (Messiah, Christ), the son, the stone uncut by human hands (Daniel 2) who dashes the nations into pieces and whose kingdom shall never be destroyed. Jesus still calls his church to disciple the nations; we command kings, presidents, governors, representatives and magistrates to bow before him and serve him.
Speaking of this Psalm, Calvin says that “All who do not submit themselves to the authority of Christ make war against God. . . . He who shows himself a loving shepherd to his gentle sheep, must treat the wild beasts with a degree of severity either to convert them from their cruelty, or effectually to restrain it.”
Everyone will experience some kind of death. Jesus himself suffered death for our salvation and life. He requires his people to pass through the life-giving death of confession, repentance and submission. Those who refuse to do so will suffer the never-ending death of his wrath.
Psalm 24 is another Messianic Psalm, and its theme is ascension. Our worship is an ascension: just as the pleasing aroma of offerings ascended into God’s presence, we ascend into God’s presence as we draw near to worship him. He is actually enthroned on our praises.
But Jesus himself ascended. He is our ascension offering, bringing us forgiveness and cleansing and drawing us into his presence. This Psalm particularly highlights his ascension in victory: he is the one who defeated all his enemies, even sin and death, and entered the gates in victory to be enthroned at his Father’s right hand. Fundamentally, it is only in him and his victory that we ourselves can ascend.
Psalm 68 has been called the marching song of the French reformation, sung by the persecuted Huguenots. Their singing this Psalm so outraged and frightened the Catholics that its singing in public, and eventually its whistling, was outlawed. This Psalm celebrates God’s might and power, which he uses to provide for his church, convert many of his enemies, and destroy those enemies who will not repent.
David uses a wealth of biblical symbolism and imagery here. Some examples to consider are the use of rain and water as a picture of salvation and life; the mountain and sky as symbols of God’s heavenly throne, and of approaching God in worship; rival mountains as symbols of false worship; and wild bulls as rebellious leaders.
Psalm 71 may be a continuation of Psalm 70. David’s emphasis here is on his trust and dependence on God in every season of life, in every circumstance. Though he is old and beset by enemies, he recalls God’s unfailing faithfulness to him even before his birth, and he calls on God to keep his promises to defend and restore him. Because of his confidence in God, he is full of joy and praise in the midst of his trials.
This is the Christian vision of the good life, the life that we desire for our children: to have never known a time when Jesus was not near, and to be so deeply rooted in him that no trial can touch our joy.
Psalm 73 dramatizes our struggles with doubt and envy. When the wicked prosper and God’s people suffer, is it really worth it to remain loyal and faithful to Jesus?
It is! The crucial turning point comes when the psalmist draws near to God in worship — he remembers that God is our greatest satisfaction, and he is always near to us, sustaining us through suffering. He will certainly vindicate and glorify us, but the wicked will suffer eternal ruin.
The essense of faith is patience, patience over years and decades to trust and obey the one who always keeps his promises.
In his chapter in The Glory of Kings, “Holy War Fulfilled and Transformed,” Rich Lusk deals with the unique way in which God led Israel to prosecute war in the conquest of Canaan. Lusk contrasts Israel’s conquest of Canaan against the much more restrictive demands God placed on their ordinary warfare. He goes on to establish how the conquest is typological for Jesus’s conquest of the world through the cross and the church. The church engages in battle and wrestling through our worship, prayer, sacrifice, evangelism, discipleship and ministries of mercy.
There is a kind of double meaning in the idea of something being devoted to God: it may entail either punishment or acceptance, judgment or justification. While cities were sent up in smoke as a mark of God’s judgment, the system of offerings shows a positive meaning of ascension in smoke. The penalty and judgment for sin came into play when the animal was put to death. After its death, the animal’s ascension in smoke was a positive figure of its entering into God’s presence on behalf of the worshipper. The underlying Hebrew for “whole burnt offering,” in fact, literally means “ascension offering.” Likewise, Jesus, our offering for sin, in his ascension brings us to the Father in union with him as our representative. So, today, the church wields the sword of the Spirit, the word (Eph. 6:17; Heb. 4:12), waging a campaign of devoting the world to God by spreading the fire of the Holy Spirit, life born out of repentance. Since Pentecost, we are living sacrifices.
What struck me in thinking about this was Israel’s refusal to enter into Canaan, and how this may serve as a caution for the church. Consider Numbers 13:25-14:38. Clearly God promised to give them the land, and they saw firsthand his power to fight for them. And yet they still did not believe. Ultimately, God forgave their sin, but they had to endure the consequence of their unbelief through forty years of wandering and death. In a way, they were given only as much as they believed God for: they did not believe God could or would fight for them, so they do not enjoy the victory that God had promised.
What does this mean for the church? Jesus is the high priest whose death brings about an atoning transition from judgment to grace (Numbers 20, 35), and immediately opens the way to the gospel’s conquest of the world (Numbers 20:29-21:3). Jesus’s ascension is his coronation; the Father has now put everything in subjection under his feet (Ps. 8, Heb. 2). Here are a few ways we can work at walking in faith in Jesus’s lordship:
- Jesus is lord of nations, kings and magistrates, so our responsibility as citizens does not stop at voting and prayer: we call them to account to Jesus and seek to disciple them
- Our children belong to Jesus and his Spirit is at work in them, so our parenting owes as much to the pattern of discipleship as to evangelism
- Jesus is lord of our work, so we can work in any lawful vocation “as for the Lord,” knowing that he is beginning a new work of subduing the earth regardless of the seeming futility we see on our own time horizons
- Jesus is lord of all, so we can confidently appeal to unbelievers on the basis that they live under his rule in his realm, that everything they enjoy is a blessing from him, and that true joy and blessing is to be found in welcoming him and his lordship rather than despising him.
And belt out some Christmas songs this holiday season. Joy to the world!