"Jesus as Priest-King: Commanding and Offering"
Meeting Jesus in Unexpected Places, Pt.4
Sept.28, 2008 Psalm 110
Looking for the Perfect Leader
With elections approaching within a month of each other in both Canada and the United States, there's a lot of jockeying for position by potential leaders in the news media these days. An issue of Maclean's magazine invites voters to compare resumes of Prime Minister Harper and Opposition leader Stephane Dion. Local all-candidates-meetings give us an opportunity to meet and evaluate those in the contest to represent our own county. South of the border, McCain and Obama were sparring back and forth this week on whether to even proceed with a scheduled debate.
But there's more to leadership than sheer strength, skill with words, or brilliance - how impressive one's resume looks. The CEOs of financial companies dealing in mortgage-backed securities may have been smart enough, but their greed and wickedness in saddling companies with bad debt have left the United States gasping for able leadership to cope with conditions that could slide into a recession. Following World War I, Germany was hurting badly; people embraced a charismatic leader who promised to get the nation back on its feet again with his own solutions to their economic problems. He had clear goals summed up in a book, Mein Kampf. But Adolf Hitler's pride, lust for power, and hatred of the Jews proved demonic in the end.
Character and moral fibre - essential goodness - are necessities for the best leaders. In regard to our own country's coming election, John Redekop, veteran political science professor and author, contends: "The most important issue for people of Christian faith is the fundamental integrity of the senior party leaders.There is little point in spelling out specific party policies if there is little likelihood of them being implemented. It is much better to have fairly weak policies spelled out by leaders with integrity than to have very specific policies spelled out by party spokespeople who have not commitment to implementing them."
Today as we conclude our series "Meeting Jesus in Unexpected Places", we find our Lord perhaps surprisingly in the political arena, combatting other leaders, showing that God's principles and justice are key for ultimate leadership: lesser motives and ambitions are crushed by comparison. Yet not only is Jesus the ultimate leader as the Messiah, God's anointed: more than a king, He is a Priest-King, offering Himself for the sins of the people. Leadership takes more than might.
Psalm 110 is a coronation psalm, written by David perhaps for the coronation of his son Solomon, yet it had application down through other godly kings of Judah such as Uzziah and Hezekiah. Even more, it is prophetic of David's much-later descendant (legally speaking) - Jesus. It has similarities to other psalms apt for coronation of kings, such as Psalm 2 and Psalm 72. It honours one who has been appointed by God and recognized by the people to be ruler over God's flock.
It's clear by the language that God has authorized this individual for the position they occupy. V1, God says to them, "Sit at my right hand..."; v5, "The Lord is at your right hand..." The right-hand position was the one of delegated authority, the place of honour, the key agent to carry out orders. Jesus applied this text to Himself in Matthew 22:43f at a critical moment when the Pharisees and Sadducees were challenging His right to do and say the things He did. In response to their belief the Messiah would be the son of David (perhaps someone with higher-profile royal breeding), Jesus asked, "How is it then that David, speaking by the Spirit, calls him 'Lord'? For he says, 'The Lord said to my Lord: "Sit at my right hand until I put your enemies under your feet."' If then David calls him 'Lord,' how can he be his son?" So Jesus is applying this very Psalm to Himself as Christ.
The apostle Peter also applies this Psalm to Jesus, in his famous sermon at Pentecost in Acts 2(34ff): "For David did not ascend to heaven, and yet he said, 'The Lord said to my Lord: "Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet."' [then he makes the identification] Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ."
A few chapters later in Acts 7(55f), Stephen is about to be stoned for his witness when he sees Jesus 'standing at the right hand of God'. And he tells those listening, though it costs him his life.
Jesus confirms the truth of His enthronement after His resurrection when, just before the Great Commission, He tells His followers: "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me." (Mt 28:18) Has the significance of that truth really impacted us? Is He actually Lord in your dreams, your desires, and your decisions? Who's on the throne in your inner spirit - is Self on the throne, or is Jesus seated there with Self bowing to serve Him?
David became a great King because He consulted God regularly in his decisions. For example - "In the course of time, David inquired of the LORD. "Shall I go up to one of the towns of Judah?" he asked. The LORD said, "Go up." David asked, "Where shall I go?" "To Hebron," the LORD answered... [later] "So David inquired of the LORD, "Shall I go and attack the Philistines? Will you hand them over to me?" The LORD answered him, "Go, for I will surely hand the Philistines over to you."" [and another time] "So David inquired of the LORD, and he answered, "Do not go straight up, but circle around behind them and attack them in front of the balsam trees. As soon as you hear the sound of marching in the tops of the balsam trees, move quickly, because that will mean the LORD has gone out in front of you to strike the Philistine army."" (2Sam 2:1; 5:19,23-24) Such remarkably detailed guidance! In very practical ways, David made the Lord his prime authority.
Psalm 110 also depicts God's installed King as executing justice - not just expanding his empire for the sake of empire and tyranny. There's power obviously being exercised to overcome enemies - v1B God says "I will make your enemies a footstool for your feet"; v2 "the Lord will extend your mighty sceptre from Zion; you will rule in the midst of your enemies". V5B-6 "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." Obviously heads are going to roll - but why? Power will be exercised and sentence executed relative to WHAT? Not willy-nilly, but relative to God's standards and ways: the foes are those who have not obeyed the Lord's teaching.
V6, "He will judge the nations": the Hebrew behind the word 'judge' means contend, plead, execute or carry out. In Isaiah 42:1 God says of the Messiah, ""Here is my servant...I will put my Spirit on him and he will bring justice to the nations." Who or what defines justice? V2, the sceptre is extended 'from Zion': recalls Micah's prophecy, "Many nations will come and say, "Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD...He will teach us his ways, so that we may walk in his paths." The law will go out from Zion, the word of the LORD from Jerusalem." (Mic 4:2) So the king-as-judge is carrying out sentence relative to God's laws. Those who ignore or reject God's ways make themselves Christ's enemies.
Those crushed will be those who are fundamentally anti-God. V6B has the strong phrase "the day of His wrath": if you don't think that sounds like Jesus, check out Revelation 6:16f where in the end times kings, princes, generals, and others hide in caves and call to the mountains and the rocks, "Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb! For the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand?"
If your theology only imagines a "gentle Jesus, meek and mild" - you'd better allow Scripture to correct the picture. God's righteousness and holiness necessarily involves WRATH against those who do evil. Paul warns hypocrites who condemn others and show contempt for God's kindness, "because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God's wrath, when his righteous judgment will be revealed." (Rom 2:5) Do you have an RWSP? In an RRSP we store up savings for retirement; an RWSP ("Registered Wrath Savings Plan") hypocrites and stubborn unbelievers store up wrath for themselves, registered in heaven God's judgment day. If that's you - run for protection to the cross!
The Bible contains startling apocalyptic imagery concerning the extent of that phrase in v6, "heaping up the dead"; Ezekiel 39(11-20) talks about it taking 7 months for Israel to bury the great horde of dead from Gog when they try to invade. Revelation 19(19-21) talks about "the kings of the earth and their armies gathered together to make war against the rider on the horse and his army..." But these "were killed with the sword that came out of the mouth of the rider on the horse, and all the birds gorged themselves on their flesh." So Jesus as the mighty God-authorized justice-implementing King has power to crush His opponents. But there's more to God's leader than merely being a powerful sword-wielder.
Holy Humble Priest-For-Us
Hitler and Stalin were powerful but not good. God's ruler is qualitatively different. V3 "Arrayed in holy majesty..." Jesus exuded "the splendour of holiness"; He is the only human being who every lived that never sinned (Ps 96:9; Heb 4:15). Good to the core, He calls us to be holy as He is holy. Ephesians 1:4, God "chose us in [Jesus] before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight."
Now, one might suppose such moral excellence and perfection could make Him stand-offish. But more than just a king, Jesus is our Priest-King. See v4 in David's prophecy, "The LORD has sworn and will not change his mind: "You are a priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek."" Suddenly all that kingly ruling/authority is counterbalanced by this designation of being a priest.
Recall the dress of the High Priest as the Lord showed Moses in Exodus 28: on his turban was a gold plate engraved with the words "Holy to the Lord"; while on the breastpiece were 12 precious stones, representing the 12 tribes of Israel. So the priest symbolically brought into God's presence the names of the people of Israel over his heart. The main function of a priest was to offer the people's gifts and to minister God's blessing and forgiveness.
Who was Melchizedek? Long before Moses' time, when Abraham had won a battle and rescued many people including his nephew Lot, Melchizedek, "king of Salem" [meaning peace] and "priest of God Most High" brought out bread and wine (of all things!). He blessed Abram and God for deliverance, then Abraham gave Melchizedek an tenth of everything. His name translates to "king of righteousness". He's a mysterious figure because that's about all we're told about him, but Abraham seemed to recognize him as a bona fide representative for God.
Jesus according to human lineage was from the tribe of Judah rather than the priestly line of Aaron from the tribe of Levi. Judah was the tribe from which rulers came (according to Jacob's prophetic blessing, Gen.49:10); kings were forbidden from assuming priestly duties. For example, King Uzziah, who had been a good king, 'blew it' when he became proud and tried to burn incense in the temple - he was rebuked by the priests and contracted leprosy as a punishment (2Chron 26:16-21).
But in Jesus there is a special case - the offices of prophet, priest, and king all combined in one figure. Jesus as priest is "FOR US", bearing our names on His heart, sacrificially offering on our behalf - then (at the cross) and now. The book of Hebrews explores this Priest-King dynamic in depth. "But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels, now crowned with glory and honor because he suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death FOR everyone." (Heb 2:9) Jesus "has a permanent priesthood. Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede FOR them. Such a high priest meets our need...He sacrificed for [people's] sins once for all when he offered himself." (Heb 7:24-28)
Jesus showed Himself conclusively to be our priest when He offered Himself to forgive our sins on the altar of the cross. But it didn't end there. His function as priest continues today in that "he always lives to intercede for" us! He has us on His heart, bringing us into the Father's presence with requests for our good.
A Great and Reverent American Leader in Crisis
Some are saying the current economic meltdown in the States is their greatest crisis since the Great Depression. A great crisis demands great leadership. If you watched the presidential debate Friday night, who would you say came across most as a Priest-King? Which of our current candidates for Prime Minister of Canada would classify most as a Priest-King - one not only ruling in power, but ready to sacrificially serve the people, being 'for them' not just 'for self' (or party)?
Back in the 1860s another crisis, the Civil War, found a President at the helm who is still honoured today because he seemed to heed God's guidance and principles of justice and righteousness. Abraham Lincoln was a man of prayer. A statue in the National Cathedral shows Lincoln praying on his knees. The artist's grandfather said he observed Lincoln praying in the woods just before delivering the Gettysburg address. (http://www.dcmemorials.com/index_indiv0001484.htm)
Lincoln was humble enough to realize he needed God's help. He said, "I have often been driven to my knees by the knowledge that I had no place else to go."
Elton Trueblood wrote in depth about the president's piety in his book Abraham Lincoln: Theologian of American Anguish. On November 11, 1864, Lincoln told Noah Brooks, "I should be the veriest shallow and self-conceited blockhead upon the footstool, if, in my discharge of the duties which are put upon me in this place, I should hope to get along without the wisdom which comes from God and not from men."
Trueblood says, "The evidence of Abraham Lincoln's own practice of personal prayer is so abundant that no thoughtful person can deny it. He prayed alone, and he called the nation to prayer; he prayed for guidance, and he prayed in gratitude; he prayed in defeat, and he prayed in victory."
Lincoln's wife said that on the morning of the first inauguration, Lincoln read the conclusion of his address to the assembled family and then, when they had withdrawn from the room, prayed audibly for strength and guidance.
And he didn't just reserve prayer for special occasions. Noah Brooks reported that, after entering the White House and in spite of the demands of a busy schedule, Lincoln observed daily the practice of prayer. Brooks noted, "Sometimes it was only ten words, but those ten words he had." (http://www.ccel.us/trueblood1.ch4.html)
Do we meet Jesus in this unexpected place - behind the politician's podium? As we examine candidates for office, do we hear in their speeches echoes of One who is both King and Priest? Do they bring to the task a readiness to wield power in a way that both executes justice and Biblical principles, and puts the needs of others sacrificially ahead of self-advantage? In our own spheres of leadership amongst our friends, in our families, our church, and our community, may we follow Jesus who both extends His sceptre over all and intercedes for His people. Let's pray.