Faithlife Sermons

The Lord Reigns

Christmas in the Psalms  •  Sermon  •  Submitted   •  Presented   •  33:22
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Psalm 97 communicates the almighty, uncontested reign of God. This morning we consider the paradoxical nature of the incarnation in light of the truths in Psalm 97 and consider why Jesus cam as a man.


The Almighty God

One of the unique and at times confusing; maybe even frustrating, realities for followers of Christ is the constant state of tension we must learn to live in. I’m referring to the ever-present pull between the current implications and future expectations of our faith. One example is the nature of God’s kingdom, that we are apart of as followers of Jesus. God’s word teaches us that his kingdom is here and now; that it is established and yet at the same time, his kingdom is not fully here and is not fully established. How about the fact that our God reigns over all and yet, not all things are fully submitted to him, in the sense that, all things work toward his will, but all things do not work willingly for His will. Or the fact that followers of Christ are born again, made brand new. God’s word describes our state before belief as being dead, but now we are alive a brand new creation and yet we are not fully sanctified, aspects of the “old man” as Paul calls it, still remain and though we are brand new, we will not be perfected until eternity. Or, the fact that we will never perish, yet we must taste physical death to obtain eternal life with Christ. These kinds of tensions are ever-present in our faith and we do well not to try to resolve them but rest in them; to understand them as well as we can, but rest in what we cannot fully understand, trusting this is how God has designed things to be.
Psalm 97 brings one such tension to light when the verses in psalm 97 are contrasted with the incarnation of Jesus as a man. This morning, I hope to highlight the uniqueness of God’s work in the world by considering this tension between the proclamations in Psalm 97 and the paradoxical nature of the coming of the Christ child; and in doing so, I think we will see the uniqueness in how God has chosen to work in his creation and at the same time, why it can be so easy for the world to misunderstand the message of Christmas.
Let’s start by reading Psalm 97 and unpacking some of it together,
Psalm 97 ESV
The Lord reigns, let the earth rejoice; let the many coastlands be glad! Clouds and thick darkness are all around him; righteousness and justice are the foundation of his throne. Fire goes before him and burns up his adversaries all around. His lightnings light up the world; the earth sees and trembles. The mountains melt like wax before the Lord, before the Lord of all the earth. The heavens proclaim his righteousness, and all the peoples see his glory. All worshipers of images are put to shame, who make their boast in worthless idols; worship him, all you gods! Zion hears and is glad, and the daughters of Judah rejoice, because of your judgments, O Lord. For you, O Lord, are most high over all the earth; you are exalted far above all gods. O you who love the Lord, hate evil! He preserves the lives of his saints; he delivers them from the hand of the wicked. Light is sown for the righteous, and joy for the upright in heart. Rejoice in the Lord, O you righteous, and give thanks to his holy name!
Psalm 97 describes the Lord’s magnificent reign in the world. It highlights specifically his might, his power, his glory and it does this through the use of theophanies.
A theophany is a manifestation of God which is perceptible to human senses, making God’s presence visible to individuals or groups. Some examples of theophanies are; the burning bush, the pillar of fire and cloud of smoke that lead the people of Isreal in the wilderness, the dove descending on Jesus when he was baptized, the tongues of fire over the disciples on Pentecost. These are theophanies, showing God’s presence with his people. Psalm 97 uses such descriptions to proclaim the Lord’s ultimate rule and reign.
In verse one, the Psalmist begins by establishing the rule of the Lord. He proclaims, “The Lord reigns, let the earth rejoice; let the many coastlands be glad!”
And already in this proclamation, we see the kind of tension I spoke of earlier as the Psalmist proclaims the reign of the Lord and then directs the whole earth to respond in joy and gladness, which is the right response to the Lord’s reign; but this is not the response much of the earth has to such a prospect. Especially in our culture, the idea of an almighty God who reigns over everything is not an idea that brings joy and gladness to the masses, but one that illicits reviling and contempt. So we see this tension, between what should and will be one day, and what is currently.
But, for followers of Christ, the proclamation that Our God Reigns, is a joyful one now and forever. If you remember, I had said last week when we looked at Psalm 96, that the season of advent is traditionally marked by waiting and anticipation as followers of Christ await their coming King. It is a waiting and anticipation that on this side of the cross, is two-fold, first, advent is a time of anticipation as we await Christmas and the celebration of the king who has come as a babe, who lived a sinless life, who died on the cross to free us from sin and second, it is a reminder that we wait for Jesus to return. As we anticipate our King who will come again in power and it is this anticipation of the second coming which Psalm 97:1 points to. The psalmist is pointing forward to the day when King Jesus will come again in power and on that day, the earth will rejoice and the coastlands will be glad as the earth is liberated from the curse of sin. The “many coastlands” the psalmist refers to, points to the fact that this second coming will be a world wide liberation; that the many coastlands where humanity dwells will be freed.
So, Psalm 97:1 gives us a picture of the ultimate reign of Christ over the earth that we wait for an anticipate.
But this proclamation is also reflective of the current state of things as well, because the Lord reigns as much now as we await the full manifestation of his kingdom, as he will forever more when it is fully established. Followers of Christ can have good confidence and peace which comes from knowning our God reigns is not only a future prospect but a current reality.
In his famous devotional ‘Morning and Evening’, Charles Spurgeon says this of Psalm 97:1
There are no causes for anxiousness so long as this blessed sentence is true. On earth the Lord’s power as readily controls the rage of the wicked as the rage of the sea; his love as easily refreshes the poor with mercy as the earth with rain. In all our conflicts and tribulations, we may behold the hand of the divine king. In hell, evil spirits acknowledge with misery, his undoubted supremacy. When they are permited to roam, it is with a chain at their heel. In heaven none doubt the sovereignty of the King Eternal, but all fall on their faces to do him homage...
God is God; he sees and hears
All our troubles, all our tears.
Soul, foget not, amid thy pains,
God over all forever reigns. - Charles Spurgeon
So have confidence oh follower of Christ, in the Lord’s reign now and forevermore.
Which leads us to what the psalmist says next and what gives us confidence in the Lord’s reign. It is not as though Him reigning is confidence inspiring in itself. It is the nature of a ruler that gives those subjected to his rule confidence, or lack thereof.
For example, a tyrant, does not illicit confidence in his rule. He may illicit fear and therefore obedience stemming from that fear which could be confused as his subjects having confidence in his reign; but its not that his people trust him; their obedience stems from a lack of trust and they obey because of the fear of what it means if they don’t. There is a difference between obedience through fear and obedience from confidence and trust.
God’s people have confidence and trust in His reign because of the nature of his reign; because as important as the fact that the Lord does reign, is HOW he reigns and verse 2 affirms the foundations of the Lord’s throne is righteousness and justice. We examined these words a couple weeks ago in another psalm. These are the hebrew words ‘tsadek’ and ‘mishpat’ and they declare that the Lord acts according to justice and equity, giving each person what they are due, judging everything evenly according to what is true and right.
So the pslamist proclaims the Lord’s reign and the nature of his reign and after he establishes that he uses three theophanies to describe the Holy, Might of his rule. In verse 2, the psalmist says he is surrounded by “clouds and thick darkness”. This imagery illustrates the Holy nature of God, that he is unapproachable and it mimics the scene at Mount Sinai when the Lord met with Moses to give the people his law. In 1 Timothy, Paul charges Timothy to persevere in the faith in the presence of God and he describes the Lord as, the one:
1 Timothy 6:16 ESV
who alone has immortality, who dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see. To him be honor and eternal dominion. Amen.
These images of clouds, thick darkness and unapproachable light all serve to exemplify the Lord is holy; he is set apart.
In verse 3-4, the Psalmist says, ‘Fire goes before him and burns up his adversaries all around. His lightnings light up the world; the earth sees and trembles.’ The imagery of fire and lightning represent that the Lord is a conqueror, he has irresistable power; his enemies tremble and perish before him. In Hebrews, the writer describes the Lord similarly:
Hebrews 12:29 ESV
for our God is a consuming fire.
This is a declaration of his divine judgment.
Then, in verse five the psalmist declares, ‘The mountains melt like wax before the Lord, before the Lord of all the earth.’ This represents God’s All-mighty nature as mountains, the most significant landmarks on earth, the most established and awe-inspiring places melt like wax under the might of the Lord. In many ancient traditions, the tops of mountains were thought to be the places where gods dwelt. The psalmist is establishing the Lord’s power over such false gods and idols.
Such imagery is meant to stir the hearts of man to praise at the awe-inspiring reality of the Lord’s rule. The words paint a picture of God’s uncontested sovereignty over all of creation. Descriptions like these open the mouths of God’s people to declare in joy, ‘surely the Lord reigns’!
This is the heart of this psalm, to show the Holy might and power of our God and bring forth praise from the mouths of his people in response to such glorious truths.
Now, lets consider the tension between the proclamations made in Psalm 97 and the paradoxical nature of the incarnation of Jesus Christ. As the one who is the all-mighty, all-powerful, sovereign King of creation, before whom enemies tremble and mountains melt, comes humbly to earth as the Christ child. This is something the people of God should dwell on in this season. It is awe inspiring. Why did our all-powerful King put on human flesh and come as a lowly baby. His incarnation and life on earth was anything but reflective of the nature the psalmist portrays in psalm 97.

The Humble Coming of the Son

Let’s consider a few aspects of the paradox that is Jesus’ time on earth. First, there is His humble birth, as described in Luke 2:7,
Luke 2:7 ESV
And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.
In light of psalm 97, isn’t that incredible?
Thomas Watson wrote of Jesus’ birth in his work, ‘A Body of Divinity’, saying,
That Christ should clothe Himself with our flesh, a piece of earth which we tread upon; oh infinite humility! Christ’s taking our flesh was one of the lowest steps of His humiliation. He humbled Himself more in lying in the virgin’s womb than in hanging on the cross. It was not so much for man to die, but for God to become man was the wonder of humility. “He was made in the likeness of men” (Phil. 2:7). —Thomas Watson, A Body of Divinity page 196
Second, consider where he grew up with his family; in Nazareth, an area of poverty and overall negative reputation to the rest of Judea as demonstrated in Nathanael’s response to Philip when Philip told him he had found the Messiah, “Jesus of Nazareth”.
John 1:46 ESV
Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.”
Third, Jesus’ working class parents, Mary and Joseph, and his own occupation as a carpenter which was the subject of amazement for the people when they heard his understanding of the scriptures.
Matthew 13:54–55 ESV
and coming to his hometown he taught them in their synagogue, so that they were astonished, and said, “Where did this man get this wisdom and these mighty works? Is not this the carpenter’s son? Is not his mother called Mary? And are not his brothers James and Joseph and Simon and Judas?
Fourth, his appearance was plain, there was nothing special about how He looked. We don’t know much about Jesus’ appearance apart from what is said about him in by Prophet Isaiah,
Isaiah 53:2 ESV
For he grew up before him like a young plant, and like a root out of dry ground; he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him.
Fifth, he lived a relatively destitute life during his earthly ministry, During one interaction, he refers to the fact that he had no permanent home.
Matthew 8:20 ESV
And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.”
Consider, his ministry and the response by many of the people. He was despised by many, he was an outcast, especially from the power players in Israelite culture, teh religious leaders.
This was the form which Jesus took when he came. A far cry from the descriptions of our Lord in Psalm 97.
And I think this is part of the reason why people struggle with the message of Christmas, because the idea in our culture of someone at the top, a CEO, giving everything up is unheard of. You keep climbing that ladder, you keep achieving, you keep moving up, you don’t willingly take a step back. In terms of achievement, our Lord committed what would be considered career suicide. An all-powerful God, giving up everything to become destitute and eventually die in complete humiliation? That’s a paradox to the world, it doesn’t make sense. It is the opposite of what is taught to us by literally every aspect of our culture.

Why Did the Lord Submit Himself to Such Humility

To Show His Ways are Not Our Ways

He did this to show that what we most readily boast in has no worth at all.
1 Corinthians 1:27 ESV
But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong;
Pride is our biggest problem and biggest hindrance in relationship with Christ.

To Fulfill God’s Plan

Acts 2:23–24 ESV
this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it.

To Fullfill the Law

Matthew 5:17–18 ESV
“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished.

To experience what we experience

Hebrews 4:15–16 ESV
For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

To be an example for us

1 Peter 2:21–24 ESV
For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed.

To Win Our Hearts

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