At God's Right Hand: A Sermon based on Psalm 110
This Sunday we’ll be reflecting on the kingship of Jesus. The last two Sundays we’ve spent a decent amount of time noticing our increased vulnerability due to the advancement of certain aspects of technology. We’ve talked about how hackers, governments, companies, and organized groups can all exploit people through the innovative use of technology. We’ve seen how these capabilities make us all vulnerable. We’re not going to rehash all of that, except to say that that the whole conversation points to the fact that this world is not as it should be. Its not that new technologies are bad, its just that they can be used badly by some people who are particularly gifted in figuring out how to weaponize new technologies. The result is that the harm one person can inflict has grown exponentially. And there are of course plenty of other examples of how people use power to make others more vulnerable. Yet, Psalm 82 reminds us that instead being overwhelmed by the power that some possess, we are to remember that those who possess power are still answerable to God. And in that way, their power is seriously limited. (Slide 2)
Initially, the writer of Psalm 82 admitted to being fooled into thinking that those who wield power were like gods. But the psalmist then had a vision of the world’s powerful people sitting in the judgment seat before God, and he realized that their power was just an illusion. He realized that those who abuse their god-like power will fall like any prince. What this does is free you and I from living in fear of those who hold all the cards. We can live confidently, because the one with true power in on the throne, and he holds all the cards. Psalm 110 reminds us, again, that our King is on the throne, and living from that reality changes everything.
Let’s start by looking at the first verse of Psalm 110. The first highlighted word, LORD, is the name of God, YHWH. The second highlighted word, which is often confusingly translated as Lord, is referring to the king in the line of David. So the writer of this Psalm is telling about a message he heard God give to the king. God tells the king to sit at His right hand, and God will make the kings enemies to be like footstools. The rest of the Psalm spells out what that means.
The first half of the Psalm describes what it means to be God’s right-hand man. This is powerful language, God is inviting this King to share in his government of the entire world. (Slide 5) The next couple of verses then reinforce this big picture of God’s king. God will extend the king’s sceptre from Mount Zion. The king is ruling from Zion, God’s holy mountain. And later, the Psalmist talks again about the King on the Holy Mountain. Throughout ancient near eastern literature, mountains are depicted as the place where gods live. That’s exactly where this king spends his time. Not only that, but this king was born from the womb of the dawn, its almost as though the Psalm is saying the king has heavenly origin. In fact, the oldest Greek translations insert in this Psalm the passage from Psalm 2, where God says to the King, “You are my Son, today I have begotten you.” Perhaps that helps us flesh out a bit of what it means to be born from the womb of the dawn. On top of that, the Psalm talks about the king receiving the dew of youth. This could mean a bunch of things, (Slide 6) but it is interesting to note Isaiah 26:19, “For your dew is a radiant dew, and the earth will give birth to those long dead.” In this passage, the dew is a metaphor of resurrection of God’s people. With the references to being born with the dawn, and the dew of resurrection, one can’t help but wonder who this king is?
But before we have time to stop and think of how the New Testament talks about Jesus as first born of creation, but also firstborn of the resurrection, we need to move on to the mysterious passage where where God says, (Slide 7) You are a priest forever, in the pattern of Melchizedek.” Not just a king forever, but also a priest. Melchizedek was the priest-king of Jerusalem back when Abraham was alive. Some have seen this Psalm as being written shortly after King David conquered Jerusalem. In order to secure his rule, the Psalmist wanted to show that King David fits into the line of Melchizedek, who in Genesis was described as the King of Jerusalem. But this king is a priest as well. The essential role of a priest, of course, is to help bring God’s blessings to the world. When you role all this into one, you get a staggering picture of what it means for this king to sit at the right hand of God. And as you read on, that picture simply grows as you realize that God has placed all enemies under his feet. (slide 8)
The way the Psalm spells this out is by saying that the King will judge the nations, heap up the dead, and crush rulers. Its important to place these verses in the context of Book 5 of the Psalms. Book Five starts out with the hope of God gathering his people back from Exile. And when God gathers his people back to Himself, the ethnic people of Israel aren’t the only ones that God is gathering. (Slide 9) Passages like Isaiah 2 get at the full view of what the return from Exile will look like. Not only will the ethic people of Israel be gathered back to the Lord’s house on the Holy mountain. But all the nations will be invited as well. So we can’t read Psalm 110 as talking about the King crushing all the nations. God’s heart is to gather the nations to himself. (Slide 10) Plus, the Psalmist has just said that the King is like Melchizedek. You may remember that Melchizedek blessed Abraham after Abraham went out and defeated a bunch of Eastern kings. The story is that these Eastern kings were forcing a bunch of western kings to pay them extremely high taxes, because the eastern kings were more powerful. Eventually, the western kings rebelled, but were clobbered by the eastern kings. When the five western kingdoms tried to stand up for themselves, they were beaten in warfare, and their wealth was plundered. As the eastern kings were heading back, they stopped and kidnapped Abraham’s nephew to enslave him, and they also plundered all his possessions. Abraham launches into an all out military campaign to rescue him.
This story reminds us that when a powerful force dominates, violates, intimidates, robs, or humiliates the weak, the people of God are not to stand on the sidelines as spectators. When powerful forces exploit the weak, the people of God cannot remain uninvolved. Action must be taken. So in Abraham, we see a man who will sacrificially pursue justice. Abraham defeats these eastern kings, and when he returns, Melchizedek blesses Abraham, saying: (Slide 11) “Blessed be Abram by God Most High, Creator of heaven and earth. And blessed be God Most High, who delivered your enemies into your hand.” Those are the words of Melchizedek, the priest-king, celebrating victory in the name of justice. (Slide 12) Melchizedek validates Abraham who defended the cause of the weak and fatherless; maintained the rights of the poor and oppressed. Rescued the weak and needy; delivering them from the hand of the wicked.”
We need to keep stories like these in mind when we read verses 5 and 6, which describe God’s king as one who will crush kings on the day of his wrath, who will judge the nations, heaping up the dead and crushing the rulers of the whole earth. The King in this Psalm is not one who acts like the eastern kings in the story of Abraham and Melchizedek. God’s king does not use force to dominate, violate, intimidate, rob, or humiliate the weak. Rather, when Psalm 110 that speaks of crushing and judgment, these verses speak of the action the King takes when rescuing the weak and needy, maintaining the rights of the poor and oppressed, and defending the weak and fatherless.
So, who is this king? Who is this king who sits at God’s right hand, this King who lives on God’s holy Mountain? Who is this king who was born from the womb of the dawn, and is arrayed in Holy Majesty? Who is this king who has all God’s enemies as a footstool? Would you be surprised to hear that Psalm 110 is the most quoted Psalm in the New Testament? Again and again, the writers of the New Testament strongly affirm that Jesus Christ is the one described in Psalm 110. Every time you read about Jesus being seated at the right hand of God, the New Testament writers are inviting you to think of Psalm 110. Jesus is that King, He is the fulfillment. Take for example Romans 8. Paul spells out what it means that Jesus is at God’s right hand: (Slide 15): “It is Christ Jesus, who died, who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us. Who will separate us from the love of Christ?”
No one! We can live confidently, because the one with true power is on the throne, and he holds all the cards. Nothing can separate us from the One on the throne! (Slide 16) Not even “hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written,
“For your sake we are being killed all day long;
we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered.”
(Slide 17) No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. (Slide 18) For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to (Slide 19) separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Our King, the Resurrected one, is at God’s right hand. Whom shall we fear?
esus has all power. All enemies are under his feet. And he is ceaselessly working to ensure that justice and righteousness prevails throughout the earth. We live in that reality. But how do we live in that reality? What should we do? The only verse in Psalm 110 that speaks of the action of God’s people is the first part of verse three. Its just two words in Hebrew, and a more literal translation would read: (Slide 20) “Your people a voluntarily sacrifice.” The King’s people willingly follow him anywhere, and will sacrifice themselves for him no matter the cost.
That’s what it means to be more than conquerers. It means following the King anywhere, knowing there is no power in heaven or earth that can separate us from His love.
In this world are people with a lot of power who use their power to exploit the weak and the vulnerable, that’s what we explored when we talked about how technology has been abused to exploit all of us. As disciples of King Jesus, we cannot be intimidated, or fooled into believing we’re helpless. We are not helpless, because Jesus is at the right hand. As followers of King Jesus, we must learn how to resist abusive powers when present.
Its like the story of the monk who's village was being invaded by foreign forces… When the invaders arrived, the leader of the village reported, “All the monks, hearing of your approach, fled to the mountains… all, that is, but one.”
“The commander became enraged. He marched to the monastery and kicked in the gate. There in the courtyard stood the one remaining monk. The commander glowered at him. “Do you not know who I am? I am he who can run you through with a sword without batting an eyelash.” The monk replied: “And do you know who I am? I am he who can let you run me through with a sword without batting an eyelash.”
The other monks ran away, because they were fooled into thinking the commander and his army actually had real power. They ran away, because they were afraid. As Christians, what do we run away from, what do we avoid, what do we fear because we’re fooled into feeling helpless? As Christians, where have we known something needs to be done, but simply given up and said, you win? We can be fooled into feeling helpless so we run away. But our King summons us to take a stand, regardless the consequences. He says, rescue the weak and needy, maintain the rights of the poor and oppressed, defend the weak and fatherless. We are not helpless, our help comes from God’s right hand. That is the way of Jesus. We, His people, must learn to emulate the way he lived on earth, even if it means we sacrifice all we have.