Sunday, 22 February 2015

The King who was Raised Up

How do we view the universe? The obvious message of Psalm 148 is that the author regarded the whole creation as being involved in the praise of God. Obviously different types of creatures worship him in different ways. Yet the question must be asked, ‘Why are these different creatures to praise him?’ The psalmist gives the answer in verses 13 and 14. The reason for their praise is connected to what he does for his people.

Looking at verses 13 and 14 we can see that what God did for Israel was to provide a ruler for them, and this ruler was the focus of their praise because their nearness to God was connected to him. Who was this ruler? Maybe the author was referring to David whom God raised from obscurity and made the first of a line of kings who were linked to the Lord’s plan of mercy for his people. Or maybe the author was thinking about Solomon who was enabled by God to build the temple in Jerusalem in which the people could draw near to God.

Great as those individual kings were, the psalm would be irrelevant for us if it only concerned them. They were only on their thrones for forty years each, and once they had died it would not be possible to sing about them as actually present (or raised up by the Lord). Instead they pointed to a greater king that the Lord would raise up in the future – the Messiah. So, in a sense, the psalm is a prophecy of what would happen when he would come.

We sing the psalm after he has come, or perhaps we should say that we sing the psalm between his first and second comings. Another way to look at it is to regard all that Jesus did on earth, all that he is now doing in heaven, and all he will do at his future appearing as belonging to his coming. God has raised up Jesus for the purpose of providing salvation, and his salvation has those past, present and future elements in it.

In order to illustrate what happened to the Saviour we can contrast him with the two kings of Israel that we have just mentioned. First, in what ways are there pictures of Jesus in the experience of David?  We can think about three of them.

To begin with, David was like Jesus in that he was raised from obscurity in Bethlehem and brought to the attention of the public. This was the beginning of the process by which he would come to be on the throne of Israel a few years later. Jesus also came from obscurity, that place being Nazareth where he had lived for thirty years before he became well-known in Israel after his baptism. This was part of the process by which he would come to be on the throne of heaven after his ascension there from Bethany.

Further, David had to overcome all the attempts of a powerful enemy (Saul) to get rid of him. Again and again Saul tried to destroy David. Jesus, of course, faced a far more powerful enemy than Saul – Jesus had to battle with the devil and resist his malice, whether in his direct tempting or in his cruel verbal and physical assaults. This too was part of the process by which he would come to be on the throne of God.

Moreover, David had to engage in warfare after he had reached the throne. He had to move from defeating opponents within Israel to leading campaigns against her enemies from outside. And in this set of campaigns after his enthronement in Jerusalem he also depicts Jesus who after his enthronement in heaven continues to fight against those who oppose his kingdom. He has been raised up for this.

When we think of Solomon, we can see three ways in which he illustrates the King who was greater than he. First, Solomon is renowned for his wisdom, which he asked God for. When we turn to Luke’s account of the childhood of Jesus we see that his wisdom is stressed. Luke says that Jesus grew in wisdom, and no doubt he prayed for it to be given to him. It is interesting the stress that James, the brother of Jesus, makes on the importance of praying for wisdom. Perhaps he had seen Jesus pray for it often.

Second, Solomon is a picture of Jesus in that he erected the temple in which God would be worshipped by his people. Solomon built an earthly temple whereas Jesus is building a spiritual temple. In the earthly temple, sacrifices were a major aspect of its worship and in the heavenly temple the sacrifice of Jesus is central. Despite its greatness, the temple of Solomon was marked by weaknesses that revealed themselves in time. In contrast, the temple Jesus is forming, composed of all his people, will last for ever.

Third, Solomon is like Jesus in that he provided peace for his subjects. The early years of Solomon’s reign were wonderful ones as his kingdom expanded. Yet sadly he changed and his kingdom disintegrated. The kingdom of Jesus is very different. Peace is experienced within it at different levels and in its future state, in the new heavens and new earth, abundant peace will be the permanent experience of all who will live there.

Both David and Solomon were raised up by God to rule his kingdom. But neither of them was the real king who would rule consistently and perfectly for ever. Despite their prominence they would confess their pleasure at being subjects of his kingdom and today they join in his praise in heaven.