The King and I
The King and I
You probably think this Psalm is about you ...
Do you know the Carly Simon song, “You’re so vain”?
The chorus goes “You’re so vain, you probably think this song is about you.” Supposedly it was written about Warren Beatty. And I always thought it was a bit rich, because the song is about him, so if he thinks the song is about him, that doesn’t seem vain, as much as, well, right!
But I had that song in my head this week, as I was reading Psalm 21, because there’s a trap when we come to the Psalms;, We can find ourselves in a situation where, “you probably think this Psalm is about you.”
That is, we easily read ourselves into the Psalms, and make ourselves the subject.
But we’re not. At least not in the first instance.
Absolutely the Psalms speak to us.
Last week we learned about prayer,
We learned about having confidence before God.
But our first step towards understanding the Psalms is not to insert ourselves into it, and imagine that everything that’s spoken of in the Psalm is true of us.
How the Psalm demands to be read
And so I want to do something slightly different this morning,
And that is begin in verse 4 of Psalm 21, and then we’ll look at the rest of it in order.
It’s not the way we normally read the Bible, it’s not the way we normally read anything, unless you’re one of those people who constantly skips ahead to see what happens!
But you can see that the first half of the Psalm is a collection of thanksgivings, and we’ll look at all that in a moment.
Verse 4 fits within that perfectly;, the people acknowledge God’s gift to the king, He asked you for life, and you gave it to him—
length of days, for ever and ever.
“Great, thank you God!” the people are saying, “You’ve preserved the life of the king.”
And yet it’s pretty obvious, that in an ultimate sense, God hadn’t done that!
The Apostle Peter was talking to a crowd in Jerusalem in Acts chapter 2, about a thousand years after this Psalm was written, and he says David died and was buried, and his tomb is here to this day. And when he said that he probably pointed just, over there, because David was buried in Jerusalem, and his tomb is still there!
David was the best king Israel ever had,
He’s the one who wrote this Psalm,
If he didn’t live for ever and ever, then certainly none of the other kings did.
But here the Psalm says, God’s king lives for ever and ever.
But, if we’re at all familiar with the story of the Bible, we have a sense of how this could be true, don’t we?
You might know, God had spoken to king David, through the prophet Nathan, and said Your house and your kingdom will endure forever before me; your throne will be established forever.
A king, one of David’s descendants, will reign forever. 2 Samuel 7.
So it’s no surprise that between the time of Psalm 21 and the beginning of the New Testament, that the Jewish Rabbis translated and explained this passage, using the term “King Messiah.”
This would only be completely true, in the life of the Messiah, God’s eternal king.
And so when Matthew writes the first words of the New Testament, Matthew 1 verse 1, he says, This is the genealogy of Jesus, the Messiah, the son of David,
Unless we see Psalm 21, and the rest of the Old Testament as fulfilled in Jesus, preparing people for him, we won’t understand it as God wants us to.
This is the perspective that’s built in to the Old Testament. And in fact it’s demanded by the Old Testament, isn’t it?
There must be a person,
Who can be called God’s king,
Who’s going to live forever, otherwise the people here are thanking God for something he hasn’t done!
Yes, God’s people Israel enjoyed many blessings under God’s hand,
Yes, the kings whom God raised up to lead and defend them were servants of God,
But if we read the Old Testament properly, we’re constantly being pointed forward.
Jesus himself says in Luke 24, twice in fact, that the Old Testament speaks of him.
The Apostle Paul says in 2 Corinthians that every promise God ever made finds its fulfilment in Christ.
Reading, the Psalms, for example, as fulfilled in Jesus, is not one approach to reading the Bible.
It’s the message of the Bible itself.
The Old Testament demands, requires us, to look for the fulfilment in the one who was to come.
It’s not that on every page we read about Jesus, but that every page is part of the story that leads to Jesus.
We’ll see a bit more as we go through.
God has brought victory and success (v1 - 2 & 5)
So come back to the top of the Psalm with me, where we see a big long list of things the people of Israel are thanking God for.
I reckon most of us could probably put together a list of things we’re thankful to God for, but there’s a fair chance our list would be different to this list.
In these first 6 verses, the people’s thanksgivings are all about the king. What God has done for the king.
The king rejoices in your strength, Lord.
How great is his joy in the victories you give!
2 You have granted him his heart’s desire
and have not withheld the request of his lips.
Or verse 5, Through the victories you gave, his glory is great;
you have bestowed on him splendor and majesty
God’s people are giving thanks to him, for the victory and success of the king.
He’s been victorious over his enemies in battle, because of God.
It’s the victories you give, the people say.
Now, I’m pretty sure the king would have had a strategy;, we read of David’s plans for battle in the Bible,
He was certainly very brave and courageous,
And he had very skilled, and highly trained fighting men.
But where does victory come from? It’s a gift from God.
The biggest army, the better trained soldiers, the more careful plan, doesn’t always win the day.
It may be how God chooses to deliver the victory, through the skills of the people he’s raised up, the plans that his people make.
But on their own, plans and armies and tactics will come to nothing. It’s God who gives the victory.
And in verse 2 it’s opened up a bit more broadly than just victory in battle.
God has given the king his heart’s desire
and has not withheld the request of his lips.
What the king wants, what he’s put his hand to, has come to pass.
God has brought it about.
And so the king’s having a pretty good day, isn’t he?
And I’m sure that we’d be pleased, if our plans all came to pass,
If God got behind them and brought them to fruition.
At the conference I was at last week, we were talking about the planning and execution of projects in church life, and how thing fail because we don’t execute them properly.
Well, if God was the one in charge of making the plans come into being, that wouldn’t happen, would it?
God has given the king what he wants,
He’s given him victory,
And he’s answered his prayers.
It sounds good to be the king!
But let’s remember who the king is, he’s the person God had raised up to lead the nation. He’s a step towards the eternal king, Jesus.
We sometimes use the language of a “type.” We say the king was a “type” of Christ. Not as in “one kind” of Christ, but a model, a forerunner, a shadow.
The kings of Israel were supposed to point people to the eternal king who would come,
To prepare them for that day, when God would rule his people through his chosen king.
And so because the kings held that unique role as the leader of God’s people, if you opposed the king, you weren’t just opposing a man, you were opposing God’s plans.
So victory for the king, is victory for God.
Victory for the king is how God establishes his justice on the earth.
It’s God’s people being protected,
It’s God’s plans going forward.
I don’t know whether you used to watch the A-Team on TV? It was an action show in the 80s? I always wanted to watch it when I was a kid. I read recently that the show’s plots have been described as “stunningly simple”, which probably explains the attraction!
But one of the characters used to be fond of saying, “I love it when a plan comes together”, and he’d sort of be talking out the side of his mouth, chewing on his cigar, feeling very proud of himself.
But see it’s not just that the king would come up with a plan all of his own, “what do I want to do today?”, and then he asks God to get behind it, for God to make it happen.
These are God’s plans being fulfilled.
Not just the ideas off the top of a person’s head.
We want to remember that when we think about prayer, so that we’re not disappointed, by trusting in a promise that God has never made to us.
Not everything you set your hand to, will God get behind and prosper.
The victories, to use the word from the Psalm, that you seek, may not be the victories God wants you to have.
Here’s the reminder to make sure that what we’re putting all our energies into, the things we’re chasing after, are high on God’s agenda.
For the people of Israel, victory for the king, means safety for the people.
Victory for the king, who leads God’s people and carries out God’s work on earth, means God’s purposes are going forward.
Victory for the king, is how God provides for the needs of his people.
Victory for king Jesus is good news for us!
But of course, we don’t have a king like this.
We don’t give thanks that our king has gone into battle and defeated our enemies.
And even if we had a king, he’s not the one God has raised up to prepare people for his eternal king, Jesus
But we do have a king, if we’re citizens of God’s kingdom, and our king, King Jesus has done battle hasn’t he?
He has been victorious.
And just victory for King David was good news for the people of Israel, the victory of king Jesus is very good news for us.
The victory of king Jesus over sin and death on the cross means life and security for us.
The victory of king Jesus means God’s purposes are going forward.
The victory of king Jesus is how God provides for the needs of his people.
Once we were far off from God,
Trying to live our lives independent of God,
Enjoying all the good gifts God gives us but not giving thanks to him, in fact, just thinking that these good gifts are purely for our own enjoyment and satisfaction.
We enjoy God’s world, but we live as if God neither exists, nor matters, nor cares for us.
It’s what the Bible calls sin, and the penalty for that, the Bible says, is separation from God and from all his many blessings forever.
And we’re powerless to do anything about that, because we’re so completely stained by sin.
On our own we don’t even want to turn to God. We’re thrilled with how things are going. But Jesus steps in, and says “I’ll take the penalty you deserve,
I’ll take the separation you’ve earned,
So that you can have relationship,
So that you can have future.
See, Jesus’ victory is very good news for us.
Psalm 21 teaches us to be deliberate in giving thanks to God for the victory of our king.
We’re reminded to thank God for what Jesus achieved.
This teaches us to sing songs of thanks to God, for our king.
Do you give thanks, if you’re a Christian, which I guess most of us are, do you give thanks for Jesus’ victory over your sin and death?
Do you give thanks that his victory means you can have confidence to come before God,
Hope for the future?,
Confidence in the face of death?
All because our king has been victorious.
God meets his people and pours our blessing (v 3 & 6)
Well, what else are the people of God thankful for?
What else do we learn to be thankful for?
Take a look at verse 3
You came to greet him with rich blessings
and placed a crown of pure gold on his head.
What on earth did the people mean, when they speak of God coming to meet the king?
It sounds like they have in mind some encounter between God and the king. And it might be that they have their eye on the battlefield;,
The king strides out to face his enemies, and then God turns up, because they’re really God’s enemies that the king is fighting.
The cavalry’s arrived! That bit in the movie when you can finally breathe a sigh of relief because you know things are going to be ok.
It might be that,
But the way the 2 parts of this verse go together, it’s probably more likely that it’s the coronation on view.
You came to greet him with rich blessings
and placed a crown of pure gold on his head.
You sometimes hear people talk about wanting an “encounter with God”, have you heard that language? You might use that language.
But an encounter with the living God, who gives victory over powerful armies, that could be quite a frightening encounter, couldn’t it?
And yet how does God turn up?
To greet his chosen one?
with rich blessings.
There’s a generosity evident in God’s encounter with his chosen person. And just as God has raised up this man as the leader of his people, he now honours him with a crown of pure gold.
You know the story of Archimedes, and Hiero of Syracuse. Archimedes had to work out if Hiero’s crown was 100% gold and therefore highly valuable, or whether it was made up of a mixture of metals, and therefore not so valuable. And so Archimedes runs a nice long bath to help him think, and as the water spills over the sides, he realises that since gold displaces less water than an equal weight of other metals, he can work out if the crown is valuable or not.
This crown, is not most valuable because of its gold! But because it comes from God.
It’s God who has showered his blessings on the king, and raised him up to lead the people.
And it’s not just the crown. Even the position he holds comes from God, and so is worth thanking Gpd for.
Look down at verse 6, Surely you have granted him unending blessings
There’s more thing to thank God for than you can poke a stick at!
Certainly this Psalm has a particular focus on giving thanks to God, for driving his eternal plans and purposes forward through the king.
There’s the focus on victory, God protecting the nation, so they can be the means of his blessing reaching all the world.
Those big picture blessings of God are at the forefront.
But it doesn’t look like thanking God for those things makes the people less likely to ask God for other stuff.
In fact, they seem acutely aware of the vast breadth of blessings that God gives and for which we can be thankful.
The thanksgiving starts with victory, but there’s lots more to say thanks to God for.
And so I wonder if this is your picture of God?
You’re not the king of Israel, remember, nor am I, but is this how you imagine an encounter with God goes?
A generous welcome?
When of course we know, we’ve already spoken, that we deserve nothing of the sort.
In another Psalm, Psalm 79, this same language of God coming to greet his people is used to describe God coming to act in compassion and mercy.
Sometimes we can get ourselves into a way of thinking where we imagine that God is stingy, that he’s holding back that things that would be good for us.
And yet here the picture is almost of God rushing out to shower blessings on people.
God pours out his blessings on us in king Jesus
And in chapter one of his letter to the Ephesians, the Apostle Paul gives thanks to God like this;, Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ.
God doesn’t hold anything back!
To have an encounter with God, is to be showered in blessings.
But the way we have an encounter with God, is not through us being crowned the king, but it is through the one God has crowned as king.
Did you hear that language in Paul’s words? In Christ?
That’s the encounter with God,
That’s the place of blessing.
It’s in Jesus whom God has made king, that we receive a warm and generous welcome.
If king David is glad with the joy of your presence, how much more reason have we got to be glad, having been united to Christ,
Created in Christ, and seated, with him in the heavenly realms as Paul goes on to say in Ephesians.
Do you give thanks to God, that you have been brought into his presence?
That you’ve received the many blessings that can be ours, only through Jesus our king, whom God has raised up for us.
Reading Psalm 21 should make us overflow with thankfulness to God for what he’s done for us in Christ.
Now for some of us, that becomes a very visible and outward expression of thankfulness.
Others of us, well, this is me, overwhelmingly thankful and overjoyed!
Don’t think you have to match someone else’s expression of thankfulness.
But I want us to be a thankful people.
Every Sunday we have new people with us, you know that right?
I want someone who walks in here, to recognise that we are overwhelmingly thankful to God for everything he’s done for us.
How can you have confidence in God? (v 8 – 13)
OK, so let’s turn our attention to the second half of the Psalm.
Your hand will lay hold on all your enemies;
your right hand will seize your foes.
Or verse 12, You will make them turn their backs
when you aim at them with drawn bow.
It sounds like the people are speaking directly to the king, but then we’ve got verse 9, The LORD will swallow them up in his wrath,
The LORD all in capitals, that’s God’s personal name. So clearly God is in the frame here.
And God used the king and his armies as instruments of divine judgement on the wickedness of those opposed to God.
Your hand will lay hold on all your enemies;
your right hand will seize your foes.
Now, we’re rightly suspicious of violence.
But we long for justice don’t we?
You just need to read the comments on any news website. People have heaps to say about the need for justice to be done, or to raise outcry if they think it’s not done.
So we don’t want to be too quick to shy away from God dealing with sin and evil. We hate them, so how much more must God hate them. And so he used the king to bring justice.
But some of what’s on view here is clearly not the king’s work.
You will destroy their descendants from the earth, verse 10,
their posterity from mankind.
This kind of justice goes beyond what the king could achieve, doesn’t it?
In fact, it goes beyond even the lifetime of the king.
See, once again we’re forced to look forward, to consider how God is going to achieve these promises. And while they could be fulfilled, in part in the life of the king, clearly something more is anticipated.
Do you remember last week we did pronouns? Well, a bit more grammar today! Look at the tenses.
Verses 1 to 7, past tense everything that God has done,
And then the second half, we’re in the future tense. This is all about what God is going to do.
There’s still a tone of thankfulness, running right through this second half, even though the things they’re grateful for, they haven’t happened yet, have they? We could say these are expressions of faith.
I can remember as a kid being asked to say grace, thanking God for a meal, when I wasn’t entirely sure whether or not I was going to like the meal!
How can I be thankful for something, that I haven’t yet had?
Well God’s people are confident that God is going to achieve all this, because of what God’s already done.
Their confidence for God in the future, comes from how God has acted in the past.
What do they say is going to happen?
Their enemies will run away verse 12. There’ll be victory.
There’ll be justice, verse 9,
Evil and wicked schemes will come to an end, verse 11.
These are the very things that we’ve seen God do in the past. They’ve already been mentioned in the first half of the Psalm.
We see them right throughout the history of God’s relationship with his people.
So they have great confidence and faith, that God will act for their good in the future.
Imagine you were walking through Mount Barker, and someone runs up to you, thrusts a bag full of cash into you hand, and says, “these are the takings from my shop for the whole of this week”, I have to rush off to my family, can you just drop this money, into the deposit safe at the bank for me?”
You ask the person, “How do you know I’m trustworthy?” And they reply, “I don’t! I don’t know you from a bar of soap, but you’re the best I’ve got.”
That’s not really much of a vote of confidence, is it?
But if you asked them, “why trust me with this?”, and they said, I’ve noticed you around Mount Barker for years.
I’ve seen you with your friends,
You’ve come into my shop,
I’ve seen you interact with strangers,
You keep your word.”
That’s reason to have confidence in someone, isn’t it?
God’s been around Mount Barker for years!
You know what I mean.
He’s shown himself to be kind,
He keeps his word.
Having confidence that God will act for us,
That he’ll do what’s right and best for us,
Confidence that God has our best interests at heart,
It doesn’t come from picturing God “as I like to imagine him.”
And we don’t have confidence that God will act for us because of what we’ve done for him,
We have confidence for whatever the uncertain future holds,
Because we’ve seen how God has acted in the past.
That’s the confidence of the people of Israel as they sing this song of thanksgiving to God.
Some of what they confidently praise God for here won’t even happen in their lifetime. There’s generations into the future on view in verse 10.
But they’re convinced of how God has acted in the past, and so absolutely confidence for what lies ahead.
And once again, the looking into the future,
The fact that there are some parts of what the people know is going to happen, that can’t possibly be the work of the human king, forces us to ask, “how does the Bible tell us God is going act?
How can these things be true?
Who is the one who achieves God’s purposes entirely?”
And so we get a glimpse at how God’s people in the Old Testament looked forward to,
Even trusted in Jesus, without knowing exactly how he was going to fulfil their hopes and God’s promise.
And I don’t mean they trusted in Jesus in the way that we can trust in Jesus. But they trusted in the one whom God was going to raise up to defeat his enemies,
To bring an end to evil,
To rescue his people, even though they didn’t have the detail of what that would look like.
Just like it did for its original readers, Psalm 21 points us to Jesus.
And it teaches us to stop and give thanks to God, for the many many, what was the word? Unending blessings verse 6, that we enjoy, but especially for the blessings that come to us through Jesus Christ, because we are in Christ;
Wisdom and understanding,
All those things Paul talked about in that passage from Ephesians one.
I don’t know whether you find it easy to give thanks to God.
To acknowledge that every good gift you have, comes from him.
That, yes, we work hard, and we benefit from other people’s kindness, the New Testament tells us, every good and perfect gift comes from God, and so it’s entirely right and proper for us to give thanks to him.
Those of us who have little kids, or have had little kids, we work hard to teach our kids to be thankful, don’t we?
When someone gives them a present, we kick them under the table until they say thank you, all of that kind of thing!
And yet, perhaps as we get older, and we get more confident in our own abilities to provide for ourselves, to get the things we want on our own, I wonder if we stop thanking God for his good gifts,
Stop acknowledging his kindness to us, in giving us everything that we have.
Psalm 21 is part of the way God helps us train ourselves to be thankful.
This is the parental kick under the table.
The reminder of all the things we have to be thankful for,
The good things God has done for us, because we are in Christ.
And actually, maybe the Psalm speaks of a confidence that you don’t have.
Maybe you’ve kept God at a distance, avoided saying “thank you”, because to do that, would be to admit your dependence on God.
Well maybe Psalm 21 is what you need to hear, to be convinced that it’s God who gives you every good thing,
And he longs to pour out his blessings on you in Jesus.
Of course, it’s much, much easier for us to see how this Psalm looks forward to Jesus, because we look back to Jesus, and see how he fulfils the Old Testament Word of God.
How can I understand the Old Testament better?
Chris Jolliffe, who some of you know, has recently started as Senior Pastor at Trinity Church Aldgate, and because he’s now in our region, I’m working a bit more closely with him.
Chris bears a striking resemblance to the character Wally, from the Where’s Wally books. In fact Chris dresses up as Wally from time to time!
Do you know the Where’s Wally books?
Each page pictures an enormous crowd,
Every inch is covered.
And you have to find Wally. Hidden in the picture somewhere.
Thing is, it’s much easier to find Wally if you know what he looks like, isn’t it?
Once you’ve seen his picture, you can spot him.
But if all you had was a vague a description,
A fuzzy outline,
One or 2 details, you’d have a much harder time spotting him.
It’s much easier for us to see Jesus in the Old Testament, because we know what he looks like. Not physically, of course, but character, actions, accomplishments.
God’s people who only had the Old Testament, they had bits and pieces, like this Psalm, but not the clear picture that we have.
Now, of course, Jesus hasn’t hidden himself, like Wally is hidden, deliberately making it hard for us to find him.
But it’s easier for us to see where God’s eternal king is spoken of, because we can recognise him in a way the original readers of this Psalm didn’t.
Here’s the thing, though, the thing people say to me about the Old Testament more than anything else, is that they find it hard to understand. “I wish I could understand it better” they say.
And quite possibly that’s you,
Probably all of us, from time to time!
If the Old Testament is part of an unfolding story about Jesus,
And if, like Psalm 21 teaches us, the Old Testament itself demands that we read it with an eye open to what it teaches us about Jesus,
How it’s fulfilled in Jesus,
And if it’s easier to see how Jesus is hidden in the Old Testament because we know what Jesus is like, just like it’s easier to find Wally if you know what he’s like.
Then what’s the very best thing you can do to help you understand the Old Testament?
Look at Jesus.
Get to know Jesus.
If you want to make sense of God’s promises and plans, look at how they’re fulfilled,
Meet and encounter the one who is promised and anticipated back there, and then when you read those bits of the Bible that can seem tricky and complicated, you’ve already read the last page, you know where it ends up.
Your understanding and appreciation can be much richer.
The lessons you learn much deeper,
The change God works in you by his Spirit, even greater.
We who are in Christ, have much to give thanks to God for.
I’ll give you a few moments to do that now,
Then we’ll sing,
And we’ll have an opportunity for questions.