Psalm 47 – Clap and Shout!

Sing, Clap, and Sound the Trumpets by Melani Pyke

Come, everyone! Clap your hands!
    Shout to God with joyful praise!
For the Lord Most High is awesome.
    He is the great King of all the earth.
He subdues the nations before us,
    putting our enemies beneath our feet.
He chose the Promised Land as our inheritance,
    the proud possession of Jacob’s descendants, whom he loves.

God has ascended with a mighty shout.
    The Lord has ascended with trumpets blaring.
Sing praises to God, sing praises;
    sing praises to our King, sing praises!
For God is the King over all the earth.
    Praise him with a psalm.
God reigns above the nations,
    sitting on his holy throne.
The rulers of the world have gathered together
    with the people of the God of Abraham.
For all the kings of the earth belong to God.
    He is highly honored everywhere.
(New Living Translation)

God is King. In the Christian tradition specifically, Jesus is King. Christ is the One who gives shape, form, and substance to the reign of God over the earth. This is what the Lord’s ascension to heaven communicates – that Jesus sits at the right hand of God the Father, exercising a benevolent rule as the rightful Sovereign over all creation.

This redemptive reality of the Lord’s good reign is a cause for praise. And this is what today’s psalm is all about. We, as the subjects of God’s kingdom, are called to praise the Lord.

The psalm tells us exactly how to praise the Lord because of powerful and compassionate authority: clap your hands and shout! For worshipers who believe acknowledgment of God is most appropriate with silence and contemplation, even a cursory reading of the psalms will inform them differently. Although it seems to me most worship experiences need more familiarity with silence, I also passionately believe they could use a whole lot more enthusiasm with clapping and shouting.

Depending upon where you fit in the spectrum of Christianity’s tradition of worship, high church or low church, very liturgical, or not, it behooves all churches to incorporate the full range of human expression to God – including both silence and shout, hands clasped reverently in prayer as well as exuberantly clapping in praise.

“Let all the rivers clap their hands; let the mountains rejoice out loud altogether.”

Psalm 98:8, CEB

It is biblical to applaud God! And it’s healthy, too – both spiritually and physically. Whenever we fail to pause in our feelings of happiness and enjoy the moment, it is more than a missed opportunity. Unacknowledged and unexpressed joy trains us to depress our feelings, eventually leading to depression itself. Yet, whenever we stop to outwardly demonstrate gratitude through the exuberance of shouting and clapping, it benefits everyone – God, others, and self.

Physically clapping and shouting helps keep the heart and lungs healthy, even playing a curative role with pulmonary problems. It gives relief to joint pain, gout, headaches, insomnia, and digestion. Shouting and clapping even sharpens the intellect and increases the brain’s ability. And, of course, applause is a social phenomenon which binds folks together in community.

For the psalmist, applause to the Lord is the appropriate response to God’s power and victory in the world. Since divine presence is everywhere – and that presence is merciful, just, and kind – we ought to pause long enough to acknowledge and celebrate a loving God watching over us with tender care and concern.

No matter the circumstance, God is with us. That reality alone is enough cause for exuberance and celebration. Even though evil still resides in this old fallen world, God is King, and still sits on the throne. The pastor and hymnwriter, Maltbie Davenport Babcock (1858-1901), had it right:

This is my Father’s world:
O let me ne’er forget
That though the wrong seems oft so strong,
God is the Ruler yet.
This is my Father’s world:
Why should my heart be sad?
The Lord is King: let the heavens ring!
God reigns; let earth be glad! 

It is not the attempt to gin-up human and personal confidence which enables us to face the foulness and degradation of this world. Rather, it’s the spiritual awareness of God’s presence and power which resides around us and within us. This is the basis of our confidence. It is the ground of our peace. It’s the reason for the believer’s joy, even amidst awful circumstances.

Our connection with one another as worshipers is the common acknowledgment of God’s rule and reign over all creation. And our link as followers of Jesus is the collective conviction that Christ is King, we are his subjects, and all things belong to God, including us.

Whenever we connect with this basic theology, spontaneous and joyous praise is the result. So, if we lack the joy of the Lord in our lives, the place to go is to use today’s psalm. Read it several times over, out loud. Shout the psalm! Clap while shouting the psalm! Sing the psalm aloud! Praise the risen and ascended Lord!

May it be so to the glory of God.

This Is My Father’s World, sung by Amy Grant.

Acts 1:1-11 – Ascension of the Lord

In the first book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus did and taught from the beginning until the day when he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. After his suffering he presented himself alive to them by many convincing proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God. While staying with them, he ordered them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait there for the promise of the Father. “This,” he said, “is what you have heard from me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.”

So, when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” He replied, “It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted-up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. While he was going and they were gazing up toward heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them. They said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.” (New Revised Standard Version)

“When you went to bed last night Jesus was at work subduing his enemies. While you slept he was continuing to rule over the world. He was still at it when you woke up this morning and even now as you read this. That is the outrageous claim of the ascension.”

Tim Chester

Jesus was taken up to heaven in what Christians celebrate as the “Ascension of the Lord.”  It is hugely important for followers of Jesus. The ascension means that Christ is now presently sitting at God’s right hand offering continual prayers on our behalf to the Father. We have an advocate, a champion who has gone before us and secured deliverance from sin, death, and hell. This is no small thing. On top of it all, Christ’s ascension means that Jesus is the universal ruler; he commands a kingdom which will never end. Yes, the ascension of the Lord is a big deal.

So, why does a day set aside on the Christian Calendar celebrating the Lord’s mighty and redemptive ascension over all creation garner scant attention from many churches? Maybe the church has A.D.D. (Ascension Deficit Disorder). Perhaps our clue to the inability to focus on such a grand event is the disciples’ response when Jesus ascended.

The picture St. Luke paints for us in the account of our Lord’s ascension is a group of guys looking up into the sky slack-jawed and shoulders hunched. It took a couple of angels to come along and ask them what in the world they were doing just standing there. Now is not the time to stand and gawk at the clouds, the angels insisted. Jesus will come back when he comes back. You aren’t going to know when. So, now is the time to get busy with what Jesus just told you to do two minutes ago: Tell everyone about me.

“At His Ascension our Lord entered Heaven, and He keeps the door open for humanity to enter.”

Oswald Chambers

Christ’s ascension to heaven is a deeply theological event. It’s freighted with major implications for our prayer lives. And it means Christ is the King to whom we must obey. Jesus is coming again. In the meantime, there’s to be no cloud-gawking. Instead, there is to be a well-developed and well-cultivated connection with Jesus which proclaims the good news that Christ died, rose from death, and ascended to heaven for mine and your forgiveness of sins and a new clean slate on life.

Developing extensive prophecy charts and trying to peer into the future about how the end of history will shake-out is, frankly, not the job we are called to do. Believers in Jesus aren’t supposed to stand and gawk at the clouds waiting for the Lord’s return, as if we are in some earthly holding tank until heaven. 

Rather, we are to bear witness about the person and work of Jesus. The Ascension of the Lord means we are God’s people blessed with deliverance from the realm of sin, and the hope of Christ’s coming again. The Church everywhere recognizes together the rule and reign of the Lord Jesus.

“The miracle of Christ’s ascension to heaven is not in the lifting off from earth to another realm. It is in the reality that though being far away, the Lord is actually near.”

Mit Tdrahrhe

The world as we know it shall eventually come to an end. Until that time, Christians since the time of the ascension have been proclaiming Christ crucified, died, risen, ascended, and coming again. This is a day of joy and celebration for us. Jesus is our ascended and glorified king! The fate of the earth is with the benevolent and mighty Ruler of all. Jesus is Lord, and no other human leader is. Thank you, Jesus.

The great Reformed Confession, the Heidelberg Catechism, question and answer 49, states:

Q: How does Christ’s ascension to heaven benefit us?

A: First, he is our advocate

            in heaven

            in the presence of his Father.

Second, we have our own flesh in heaven

            as a sure pledge that Christ our head

            will also take us, his members,

            up to himself.

Third, he sends his Spirit to us on earth

            as a corresponding pledge.

            By the Spirit’s power

                        we seek not earthly things

                        but the things above, where Christ is,

                                    sitting at God’s right hand.

Amen.

Psalm 110 – The Priest King

Jesus Christ – Eternal High Priest by American painter Joan Cole

The Lord says to my lord:

“Sit at my right hand
    until I make your enemies
    a footstool for your feet.”

The Lord will extend your mighty scepter from Zion, saying,
    “Rule in the midst of your enemies!”
Your troops will be willing
    on your day of battle.
Arrayed in holy splendor,
    your young men will come to you
    like dew from the morning’s womb.

The Lord has sworn
    and will not change his mind:
“You are a priest forever,
    in the order of Melchizedek.”

The Lord is at your right hand;
    he will crush kings on the day of his wrath.
He will judge the nations, heaping up the dead
    and crushing the rulers of the whole earth.
He will drink from a brook along the way,
    and so he will lift his head high. (NIV)

Today’s reading is the most quoted psalm in the New Testament (twenty-four times) and is mentioned in the Apostle’s Creed. The reason for this is, of course, because Christ’s apostles discerned Jesus as the messianic ruler of the psalm. The writer of Hebrews had the purpose of emphasizing the superiority of Jesus Christ over all others, and so, lifted this psalm, along with other psalms, and placed it in the beginning of his argument:

In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe. The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven. So, he became as much superior to the angels as the name he has inherited is superior to theirs….

But about the Son he says,

“Your throne, O God, will last for ever and ever;
    a scepter of justice will be the scepter of your kingdom.
You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness;
    therefore God, your God, has set you above your companions
    by anointing you with the oil of joy.”

He also says,

“In the beginning, Lord, you laid the foundations of the earth,
    and the heavens are the work of your hands.
They will perish, but you remain;
    they will all wear out like a garment.
You will roll them up like a robe;
    like a garment they will be changed.
But you remain the same,
    and your years will never end.”

To which of the angels did God ever say,

“Sit at my right hand
    until I make your enemies
    a footstool for your feet”? (Hebrews 1:1-13, NIV)

Jesus the King of the World in Czestochowa, Poland

In Christianity, Jesus is the ultimate Mediator between God and people. Neither angel nor any human can fill such a role. The author of Hebrews wanted to make it clear that Jesus is the rightful Ruler of all creation. Christ’s authority is far and above all others. So, Christians are never defenseless in this world. Believers have a sovereign Mediator and King to willingly submit to, knowing that Jesus has the power and authority to back up his words of love and assurance.

Jesus has the unique combination of being both King and Priest, the One who intercedes for us and leads us with compassionate leadership. Again, the author of Hebrews uses Psalm 110 to emphasize this:

Every high priest is selected from among the people and is appointed to represent the people in matters related to God, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins. He can deal gently with those who are ignorant and are going astray, since he himself is subject to weakness. Therefore, he has to offer sacrifices for his own sins, as well as for the sins of the people. And no one takes this honor on himself, but he receives it when called by God, just as Aaron was.

In the same way, Christ did not take on himself the glory of becoming a high priest. But God said to him,

“You are my Son;
    today I have become your Father.”

And he says in another place,

“You are a priest forever,
    in the order of Melchizedek.”

During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with fervent cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered and once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him and was designated by God to be high priest in the order of Melchizedek. (Hebrews 5:1-10, NIV)

Jesus Christ demonstrated and proved he is qualified to be the rightful Priest and King through obedient suffering. That means he is perfectly suited and able to help us. Christ is no detached and aloof King and Priest. He knows exactly what it is like to be a human in this broken and fallen world. Such divine empathy translates into solid emotional and spiritual support because, as the Christian tradition holds, Jesus has taken care of the sin issue once for all through the Cross.

The Messiah’s enemies, whose final defeat is certain, are not Gentile kingdoms or human institutions. The ultimate foes are the hostile and evil principalities and powers of this dark world, including death itself. The universal reign of Jesus, the exalted Son of David, brings deliverance from guilt, shame, and injustice as the unique God-Man.

In this unabashed Christian view of Psalm 110, Jesus is our perfected high priest who is able for all time to save those who approach God, since he always lives to make intercession for us. (Hebrews 7:25)

The appropriate response to such a great King and Priest is submissive loyalty and eternal praise.

May it be so to the glory of God.

O Lord our God: Reign in power over us, through your Son, Jesus Christ – for he is exalted over all governments and authorities, all ideologies and creeds, and all human hearts and souls. King Jesus: Be enthroned in our lives, in all people everywhere, as our mediator and atoning sacrifice. Spirit of God: Reign in power over us through Jesus Christ and give us the victory over all the enemies of our souls, within and without, for the glory of your Name. Amen.

Matthew 2:13-18 – Flight into Egypt

The Flight into Egypt by Marc Chagall, 1980

When they had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Get up,” he said, “take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.”

So, he got up, took the child and his mother during the night, and left for Egypt, where he stayed until the death of Herod. And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: “Out of Egypt I called my son.”

When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi. Then what was said through the prophet Jeremiah was fulfilled:

“A voice is heard in Ramah,
    weeping and great mourning,
Rachel weeping for her children
    and refusing to be comforted,
    because they are no more.” (NIV)

It can be easy to be diverted either by all the shiny things about the holiday season, or by all the sorrows which are stirred up for us in this time of year. I invite you to the very mundane and simple manger; the dull and unattractive place where God is found. Because it is here, we find the hope of the nations, and the true desire of our hearts.

Almighty God preserved and protected the child Jesus. Christ’s early life retraced the life of ancient Israel. Like the Jewish patriarchs, Jesus went down to Egypt (and would eventually go down and face hell for us in his crucifixion); and, like the ancient Israelites, Jesus was brought up out of Egypt (and would rise from the dead bringing freedom from sin and death once for all) in a New Exodus. By these Old Testament references, Matthew’s Gospel means to say: “Look, here is the Messiah, the coming King, the promised One of Israel and of all the nations. Jesus is our salvation, the fulfillment of all that we hope for.”

Jesus is the New Exodus

In the second of three dreams, Joseph is told to take Jesus to Egypt. Joseph obeyed the Lord and took the role of protecting Jesus, as contrasted with Herod’s role in attempting to murder Jesus.Yet, there is more to this story than Christ’s protection; this is the fulfillment of a biblical pattern, an identification of Jesus with the people of God. Matthew pulled forward the prophet Hosea to say that just as God brought the Israelites out of Egypt through a great deliverance, God brought up Jesus, the Great Deliverer, out of Egypt as the unique Son of God.  Jesus is God’s divine Son, and so is the rightful Ruler in God’s kingdom.

Just as God preserved Israel from Pharaoh’s wrath, the Lord protected Jesus from Herod’s wrath. God’s kindness and loyalty extends to us as covenant people and preserves us from the wrath of the devil who seeks to keep as many people as possible in the realm of darkness. Our hope is in the Lord Jesus who has conquered the devil by establishing a beachhead on this earth through incarnation as the Son of God.

Flight into Egypt by He Qi

Jesus Brought Us Out of Exile

The scoundrel King Herod massacred innocent toddlers to ensure the destruction of Jesus. Behind his atrocity was the devil himself who knew Jesus was the coming King who would one day bring salvation. Reflecting on a vision of Christ’s birth, the Apostle John identified the sinister plan and the divine deliverance:

The dragon stood in front of the woman who was about to give birth so that when she gave birth, he might devour her child. She gave birth to a son, a male child who is to rule all the nations with an iron rod. Her child was snatched up to God and his throne. (Revelation 12:4-5, CEB)

Satan wars against God’s Son and God’s people, whose roots go all the way back to the first prophecy of Christ after the Fall of humanity. God declared to Satan:

“And I will cause hostility between you and the woman,
    and between your offspring and her offspring.
He will strike your head,
    and you will strike his heel.” (Genesis 3:15, NLT)

There has been continual enmity ever since the Fall between the serpent and the seed of the woman, with the Israelites constantly being threatened with extermination and tempted to conform to pagan ways. King Herod was just another in a long line of demonically animated men trying to perpetuate the kingdom of darkness. We must take this threat seriously because the devil knows that his time is short. A second Advent is coming which will be the final judgment.

Satan’s most powerful weapon, death, has lost its sting because of Jesus. Christmas is a hard time of year for many people, filled with depression instead of joy, grieving over lost loved ones for whom we will not spend another Christmas with. Yet there is a reunion coming, the hope of a bodily resurrection in which we will be with Jesus and God’s people forever.  Be encouraged that there is no time in heaven; it will be only a moment and the people who have gone before us will turn around and see us; we will one day join them.

Matthew also used the prophet Jeremiah to communicate hope. Jeremiah’s prophecy dealt with children who were lost in war to the invading Babylonians.  The prophecy is a lament with the hope that captivity will not be forever. Matthew wanted us to see that the exile is over for us; Jesus has arrived, and the tears which were shed will shortly dry up. There may be a time of suffering which we must endure, yet there will be glory. Jesus is the Great Deliverer who brings us out of sin’s captivity and into the promises of God. He is our hope.

Jesus is the promised One who will deliver us from the tyranny of the devil. Christ is the hope of the nations, the Savior of the world. So, let us come back to the first Christmas which was the beginning of the end for evil on the earth. Believers in Jesus are part of God’s victory and overcome the evil one by the blood of the lamb, acknowledging that Christ’s incarnation was essential for us. 

Just as Jesus made a radical break with his former life in heaven through the incarnation, we, too, must break with our old way of life. God will save his people through this child Jesus. The greatest gift we can give in this season and throughout the year is the gift of grace, the presentation of the Christ child.

Loving God help us remember the birth of Jesus so that we may share in the song of the angels, the gladness of the shepherds, and the wisdom of the wise men. Close the door of hate and open the door of love across the world. Let kindness come with every gift and good desires with every greeting. Deliver us from evil through the blessing of the Christ child. Teach us to be happy with pure hearts. Grant us grateful thoughts, devoted hearts, and gracious hands, through Jesus our Savior in the might of the Holy Spirit. Amen.