Its always a good idea to read the small print, isn’t it? Whether you are signing up to a new mobile phone contact, starting a new insurance policy or choosing a new utility supplier, its always wise to read what’s written at the bottom of the page. Its only when we read the tiny writing that we really understand what we’re signing up for – only then do we realise what’s really going on, hopefully before its too late!
As we come to Psalm 110 today, it’s also a good idea to read the small print. Unusually, the small print comes at the top of the Psalm, not hidden away at the bottom of the page. It is small print which reads “Of David. A psalm”. Today’s psalm was written by Israel’s most famous king, yet it describes the coming of an even more impressive figure. A figure even the king calls “my Lord”. Helped by the Holy Spirit, king David wrote Psalm 110 to predict the coming of Christ. Psalm 110 provides a portrait of the Lord Jesus that was written hundreds of years before he was born.
Its no surprise that Psalm 110 is the most frequently quoted Psalm in the New Testament – thirty times in fact. In the years after Jesus’ death and resurrection, the early church referred to this Psalm time and time again as they tried to make sense of who Jesus was and what he had achieved. Indeed, it was a Psalm that Jesus himself had used to explain his identity and help people understand his mission. It remains an important Psalm for every Christian and every curious enquirer to understand – because it presents Jesus as our perfect Priest and our perfect King. So let’s begin!
Jesus: The Perfect King
Most of us will have heard of King David. He is a hero of the Old Testament and Israel’s most famous king. Even today the Star of David appears on the flag of Israel. You may remember David’s amazing exploits from your time in Sunday School. He was the man who fought Goliath, routed the Philistines, captured Jerusalem and united the nation. He even wrote poetry, including our psalm today. If anyone could claim to be the greatest king, it was surely king David.
So verse 1 of our Psalm comes as a great surprise. Let me remind us what it says: “The LORD says to my Lord: “Sit at my right hand”. The first LORD in that sentence is clearly God Almighty, David’s Heavenly Father. But who is this second ‘Lord’? Who does David, the great king of Israel, refer to as “my Lord”?
The answer is given to us in the New Testament. In passages like Matthew chapter 22, Acts 2 and Hebrews 1 we are explicitly told that David was writing about the coming of Christ. An even greater king than David was on his way. Inspired by the Holy Spirit, David had foreseen the arrival of the Son of God centuries in advance. We all groan when Christmas adverts appear on our TVs in October – but for David, Christmas really had come early!
As we read the following verses we learn more about this coming King. Unlike every other political leader, from King David to David Cameron, Jesus Christ doesn’t disappoint. Christ is a King with unrivalled authority, a King who will defeat every enemy, a King with a multitude of loyal subjects.
For a start, we are told that King Jesus will have unrivalled authority. In verse 1 and verse 5 of our psalm this morning we are told that Jesus will sit at God’s “right hand”. To sit at the right hand of any ruler, let alone God’s, is to occupy a position of tremendous authority and importance. It is to be God’s Chief Executive or Prime Minister in his governance over the universe. A position even more exalted than the angels. And this is the position that Jesus has occupied ever since his Ascension to Heaven 2,000 years ago. David has long since died, but Christ continues to reigns at his Father’s right hand.
If we are a follower of Jesus here this morning, this psalm is a reminder that we follow the most important man in the universe. If we are Christians, we are friends with the most influential and powerful person we could ever hope to know. When we pray to Jesus, we are praying to a King with unrivalled authority. We should all appreciate what a privilege it is to talk with him, and so pray daily.
Our Psalm also tells us that King Jesus will defeat every enemy. For example:
- Verse 1 tells us they will become “a footstall for his feet”;
- Verse 2 says he “will rule in the midst” of his enemies;
- While verses 5 and 6 predict that he will one day “crush” all who oppose him.
The New Testament tells us that Jesus’ great victory over his enemies has already begun. As he walked the earth he cast out evil spirits, resisted the temptations of the devil, cured the sick and restored sight to the blind. And when he rose from the dead he overcame the religious authorities who had mocked him, the Roman soldiers who had crucified him and the tomb that had held him.
Ever since that first Easter morning, Jesus’ ultimate victory over his enemies has been assured. This year we remembered the 70th anniversary of D-Day – the event that turned the tide of World War 2. From D-Day onwards an allied victory was assured. For the past 2,000 years since Christ’s resurrection and ascension, we have continued to live in a world of sin and suffering, a world with evil, death and decay. Millions continue to deny Christ and idolatry, blasphemy, cruelty and greed are still around us. But their time is limited, Christ’s ultimate victory is assured.
Verses 5 and 6 of our Psalm today are a sombre promise that Christ will return. One day, “on the day of his wrath” he will return to finally defeat death and decay. One day he will “judge” the nations and “crush” everything that is evil. If we are followers of Christ we should look forward to that day with hope. Those who are his enemies urgently need to end their rebellion and repent.
Christ is also a king with many willing subjects. Verse 3 of our Psalm is tricky to translate, but it should read something like this: “Your troops will be willing on your day of battle”. This tells us that King Jesus will have many willing subjects. He will have hordes of followers, a whole multitude of Christians trusting his promises and following his commands. Verse 3 is already coming true isn’t it? If we are Christians here this morning we are among millions around the world who know Jesus as their Saviour and their Lord.
If we are Christians we should be willing servants of our perfect king. We should be keen to serve Jesus in a myriad of ways. We should be willing to put our time, talents and treasure at his disposal. For example, three practical opportunities to serve King Jesus are in our Sunday Guide this morning. Could you volunteer to be a welcomer once a month? Would you be willing to serve as a Sunday School helper in the new year? Or could you contribute a little more money towards our church’s ministry and mission?
Most importantly, we can be obedient subjects of King Jesus by telling our non-Christian neighbours, friends and colleagues about him. We can tell them about his authority and his achievements. We can tell them about his death and resurrection. And we must tell them that he will return to judge us all. Please invite every non-Christian you know to ‘lay down their weapons’ and join the winning side!
Jesus: The Perfect Priest
I expect we all know the saying that “power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely”. That’s why most countries try to restrict the amount of power that any one person can hold. In this country no one person can be king, prime minister, mayor of London and archbishop of Canterbury all at the same time – despite what ambitions Boris Johnson may have!
The same principle applied in Old Testament Israel, because no one was allowed to be king and a priest at the same time. The two roles were so powerful that they had to be kept separate. No one person could exercise both political and religious authority over the nation. No fallible human being could be trusted to take on all that power.
Kings like David were powerful law-makers who led the nation. But priests were powerful too. They were powerful because they prayed for people and offered sacrifices to God to take away the people’s sin. Old Testament priests were spiritually-significant mediators between God and man – peacemakers and bridge builders between a holy God and sinful human beings. Priests offered the only access route to God.
With that in mind, verse 4 in our psalm today comes as a complete surprise. Because the perfect king David foresees will also be a perfect priest – “a priest forever in the order of Melchizedek”.
Who is this Melchizedek? He’s the only other person in the Bible to have been a king and a priest at the same time. Way back in Genesis chapter 14, back at the time of Abraham, a mysterious figure called Melchizedek had briefly been the king of Jerusalem and a priest of God.
Melchizedek is long gone, but the figure that David foresees in our Psalm will live “forever”. As well as being a perfect king he will be a perfect priest. Someone totally trustworthy, incorruptible and immortal. Someone who will offer a perfect sacrifice that will offer unlimited access to God for his people.
Jesus was (and is) this perfect priest. When Jesus died on the Cross he was offering his life as a perfect sacrifice to his Heavenly Father. He was offering his body and blood as a full, perfect and sufficient sacrifice for the sins of everyone who would believe in him. If we are trusting in Jesus’ death for us on the Cross we have forgiveness and friendship with God forever.
Because Jesus is our perfect priest we no longer need any other priests and no other sacrifices. Christian ministers like myself are never called ‘priests’ in the New Testament. We are called pastors, teachers, elders and shepherds – but never priests. Since the coming of Christ, no other priest is needed. When you’ve got the finished product, why go back to an inferior model? If you own a sportscar you won’t be interested in my old Skoda! My job as a Christian minister is to point people to Christ – to your one perfect priest who lives forever.
And when we celebrate Holy Communion, as we shall do shortly, we are not offering God a new sacrifice. We are simply recalling the full and final sacrifice that Jesus offered for us all upon the Cross. We are remembering the one perfect sacrifice by our one perfect priest – Jesus Christ.
So as I finish this morning, Psalm 110 reminds us that Jesus is the perfect king and the perfect priest. A perfect priest who laid down his life as a sacrifice for our sin. A perfect king who was raised up again to reign over all. So, like David, let’s all trust and follow him as our “Lord”.