A King for God's Kingdom
Scriptures: Psalm 110; Hebrews 10:11-18
This week in our church eNews I posed a Bible trivia
question: What verse in the Old Testament is quoted more frequently in the New Testament than any other verse? If you read the eNews, you know the answer: Psalm 110:1-"The Lord said to my lord, 'Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies your footstool.'" That is the most popular verse from the Old Testament in the New Testament. I wonder if any of you would have picked that as your favorite Old Testament verse.
Psalm 110 was composed originally for the installation of a
new king. To appreciate this psalm you need to realize that ancient Israel was a tiny, relatively powerless, nation right in the middle of the superpowers of the ancient world. [Slide 1 and clicks] To the east were the Persians and Babylonians, to the south were the Egyptians, to the west and northwest were the Greeks and the Romans. Every time these superpowers decided to fight each other, they had to march through Israel to attack each other. So Israel was the punching bag of the ancient Middle East. When these ancient superpowers fought wars against each other, they warmed up by crushing Israel first.
That's why Israel dreamed of the day when their king would
win. Every time a new king of Israel or Judah was placed on the throne, they sang Psalm 110, dreaming of the day when their king would vanquish all their enemies and reign in peace.
But it never happened. [Slide 2: Blank] Neither King David
nor any king who followed him ever fulfilled this psalm.
But then we come to the New Testament, and when Jesus rose
from the dead and ascended into heaven, his followers had a revelation. It suddenly hit them that Psalm 110 is describing Jesus!
In Acts 2, after Jesus rises from the dead and ascends into heaven,
Peter preaches a sermon. He says, [Slide 3]
For David did not ascend into the heavens, but he himself says, "The Lord said to my Lord, 'Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool.'" Therefore let the entire house of Israel know with certainty that God has made him both Lord and Messiah, this Jesus whom you crucified.
Peter uses Psalm 110 to explain Jesus. For Peter, Jesus' resurrection and ascension was the fulfillment of Psalm 110. It was his coronation as the King of kings.
The apostle Paul echoes the same idea. In Ephesians 1:20-22 Paul
says, [Slide 4]
God put this power to work in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come. And he has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church.
Notice the reference to Psalm 110:1. Like Peter, Paul sees Jesus as the fulfillment of this Psalm.
Ah, but now we must ask a question: In what sense did Jesus fulfill
this psalm? True, he rose from the dead, but in what possible sense have all of God's enemies been defeated? In what possible sense have the forces of evil been placed under his feet?
The clue to the answer is in Psalm 110, verse 4: [Slide 5] "The Lord
has sworn and will not change his mind, 'You are a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.'"
Now there is a strange verse. The only one other reference to
Melchizedek anywhere in the Old Testament is a single verse back in Genesis 14. When Abraham comes back from a battle, he is met by a king named Melchizedek who was also priest of the Most High God. That is all we are told about him: that he was a king and a priest. But that is the key to Psalm 110. The new king promised in Psalm 110 will be not only a king but a priest who offers a sacrifice to reconcile us with God.
And that, I think, is when another light bulb went off in the minds of
Jesus' followers. Jesus was like Melchizedek. He was not only a king who ruled us, but a priest who offered sacrifices for us. But in Jesus' case the sacrifice was himself, and that is how he defeated his enemies, not by killing them but by dying for them.
You can see this realization in our first scripture reading from
Hebrews 10. It says, [Slide 6]
And every priest stands day after day at his service, offering again and again the same sacrifices that can never take away sins. But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, "he sat down at the right hand of God," and since then has been waiting "until his enemies would be made a footstool for his feet." For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are sanctified.
Jesus combines the two key qualities of Psalm 110: a King
who reigns over his enemies and a priest who offers sacrifice for them. And the sacrifice he offers is himself. [Slide 7: Blank]
So what does this psalm mean to us today? First, I think we
need to admit that the next President of the United States is no more likely to fulfill Psalm 110 than were the kings of Israel. I don't mean to be pessimistic, but let's be honest. None of the candidates running for President, no matter how much they talk about being tough or courageous or experienced, will save us from our enemies. Why? Because the deepest enemy is inside us. It is not ISIS that will ultimately destroy us but greed. It is not Russia or China that will be our undoing but pride. It is not Iran or North Korea that will ultimately bring us down but self-centeredness. And for that we do not need a candidate who appeals to our pride or our greed or our self-centeredness. We need a Savior who loves us enough to die for us on a cross and has power enough to raise us from the dead.
I once read a testimony about this from a most unlikely
source. How many of you remember Eldridge Cleaver? In the 1960s Eldridge Cleaver was a leader of the Black Panthers, a group committed to violent political revolution. In 1968 he was involved in a shoot-out with police in Oakland, CA. When he got out on bail, he fled the country, going first to Cuba, then to North Vietnam, North Korea, the Soviet Union, and finally to France. And there he became disillusioned with his life, particularly his Marxist political philosophy. In his autobiography Soul on Fire he writes,
Communism had nothing to offer me but another chapter in tyranny. I had been trying to escape that all my life and ended up running headlong into its main centers. . I was brooding, downcast, at the end of my rope. I looked up at the moon and saw shadows. and the shadows became a man in the moon, and I saw a profile of myself (a profile that we had used on posters for the Black Panther Party-something I had seen a thousand times). I was already upset and this scared me. . As I stared at this image, it changed, and I saw my former heroes paraded before my eyes. Here were Fidel Castro, Mao Tse-tung, Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels, passing in review-each one appearing for a moment of time and then dropping out of sight, like fallen heroes.
Think here of all those failed, sometimes corrupt, kings of Israel
over whom Psalm 110 was sung. Eldridge Cleaver saw a parade of his political heroes, passing before his eyes. Then he says,
Finally, at the end of the procession, in dazzling shimmering light, the image of Jesus Christ appeared. I just crumbled and started crying. I fell to my knees, grabbing hold of the bannister; and in the midst of this shaking and crying the Lord's Prayer and the 23rd Psalm came into my mind. I hadn't thought about those prayers for years. I started repeating them, and after a time gained some control of the trembling and crying.
After that experience Eldridge Cleaver returned to the
United States and surrendered to the FBI. He spent time in jail and then did community service. In many ways his life continued to be a struggle. He still battled drug addiction, and his religious journey took some strange twists. He became a follower of Rev. Moon-a Moonie. Then he joined the Mormon Church, and then he became what he called a Christian-Muslim. But he never went back to the violence of his earlier days, and in 1994, four years before he died, he recommitted his life to serving Jesus Christ.
"The Lord says to my Lord, 'Sit at my right hand, until I
make your enemies your footstool.'" Can you see why this verse meant so much to the first followers of Jesus? There is a true king who will win the victory over sin and death, and it's not one of the previous kings of Israel, it is not one of the philosophers of 20th century communism, it is not one of the candidates running for President. It is a Savior who rules by serving and who conquers by dying on a cross.