The Lord of Time and Space : Psalm 8

Jon Meacham, writing in Time [1] this week observes,

“It was supposed to be over in a matter of weeks. In the summer of 1914, the European war that began in the aftermath of the assassination of Franz Ferdinand drew great armies into the fields, launched ships of war upon the seas and engaged imperial ambitions and fears. There was, however, a sense of optimism among several of the combatants, an expectation that victory would be quick. “You will be home before the leaves have fallen from the trees,” Kaiser Wilhelm II told the German troops in the first week of August. Of course, it wasn’t over by the time the leaves fell, and what became known as the Great War really isn’t over even now. From the downing of the civilian Malaysian airliner by Moscow-supported insurgents over Ukraine to the Israeli-Palestinian combat in Gaza to Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan and Iran, the troubles of our time directly descend from the world of 1914–18, the [European Colonial] era that inflamed ethnic and nationalistic impulses and led to the ultimate creation of new nation-states, especially in the Middle East.To understand the madness of the moment, then, one needs to take a long view–one that begins in 1914…

Summing up August 1914, historian Barbara Tuchman wrote, “Men could not sustain a war of such magnitude and pain without hope–the hope that its very enormity would ensure that it could never happen again and the hope that when somehow it had been fought through to a resolution, the foundations of a better-ordered world would have been laid.” We know now that such hope was illusory. It did happen again, from 1939 to 1945, and now, a century on, we live in a world that remains vulnerable to chaos and mischance and misery. Such, though, is the nature of reality and of history, and we have no choice but to muddle through. There is, in the end, no other alternative, whether the leaves are on or off the trees.”

As we mark the beginning of WW1, we realise that war and civil strife have not be resolved by imposing Western democracy or UN peace keepers. The reason is because the problem lies much deeper, deep in the human heart. The Apostle James explains,

“What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight. You do not have because you do not ask God.” (James 4:1-3)

Our psalm today, Psalm 8, explains both the cause and the solution – and the good news is – you and I can be part of it. There are three parts to this beautiful psalm – what C.S. Lewis described as “This short exquisite lyric”, begins and ends with the same refrain, “O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth” (Psalm 8:1, 9).

This psalm spans time and space. It looks back to creation in Genesis (8:1-3) and looks forward to recreation (8:6-9). And in the middle stands humanity and an enigmatic prophecy of the Lord Jesus Christ (8:4-6).

1. The Glory of God: Revealed in Creation

“LORD, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! You have set your glory above the heavens. Through the praise of children and infants you have established a stronghold against your enemies, to silence the foe and the avenger. When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place,” (Psalm 8:1-3)

A few months ago there was a meteor shower over South East England. Mike and I went outside about 11:00pm and stood in the garden and peered into the night sky for half an hour and watched as meteors shot across the dark sky. There is something awesome about the heavens at night, with millions of stars and galaxies twinkling silently their message. Here is, as John Stott observes, “a recognition of the majesty of God’s name, or nature, which his works reveal in both earth and heaven. The enemies of God, blinded by their proud rebellion, do not see his glory; but they are confounded by children and infants.”

Indeed, Jesus quotes from this psalm to rebuke the scribes and Pharisees. They had objected to children shouting “Hosanna” as Jesus entered the Temple on Palm Sunday (Matthew 21:15, 16). Things have not changed. Stott says, “God is still glorified in the simple faith of children and in the childlike humility of Christian believers”.

The Glory of God: Revealed in Creation.

2. The Grace of God: Found in Christ

“When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him? You made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honour. You made him ruler over the works of your hands; you put everything under his feet:” (Psalm 8:3-6)

What particularly evokes David to burst into praise as he ponders the vastness of the night sky? God’s condescension to care at all for you and me. On many occasions as a young shepherd,

David must have laid on his back at night and pondered the vastness of the universe from one horizon to the other. Looking up at the night sky and seeing millions and millions of stars twinkling in the dark makes you feel very small and very insignificant doesn’t it? So David asks the rhetorical question that sooner or later we all ask, “What are mere mortals? What are human beings that you care for them?”

Probably my favourite actor of all time was Peter Sellers, (then John Cleese and then Rowan Atkinson). A few years ago, Time Magazine featured a story about Peter Sellers.  He was appearing on the Muppet Show and was being interviewed by Kermit The Frog. Kermit began by reassuring Peter Sellers, “Now, just relax and be yourself.” Sellers responded, “I can’t be myself because I don’t know who I am. The real me doesn’t exist.” I suppose Peter Sellers was trying to be funny –maybe a dig at Kermit the frog. Sellers was a professional comedian, most widely known as Inspector Clouseau in the 1970s Pink Panther films. But on this particular occasion his words were anything but funny. In fact, they were rather sad.

One of his long-time friends, commenting said, “Poor Peter! The real Peter disappeared a long time ago. What he is, is simply an amalgamation of all the stage and screen characters he has ever played, and now he is frantically trying to unsnarl that mess and find out who he really is.”

I don’t know if Peter Sellers was ever able to unsnarl the mess or not, for six months later he was dead. But whether or not he did, he wasn’t alone in his feelings. I’m convinced that the majority of us go through life wondering who we are and what we’re supposed to be doing and where we’re going.[2] Do you know who you are? Do you know God’s plan for your life? Do you realise your destiny is to live as a child of God, crowned with glory and honour.

We were created to share and steward God’s creation on his behalf.

“As we consider the orbiting planets of our solar system, so infinitesimally small in comparison with countless galaxies millions of light years distant, it may seem to us incredible that the great God of the universe should take any note of us at all, let alone care for us. Yet he does; and Jesus assured us that even the hairs of our head are numbered.” (John Stott)

The Psalm moves from the vastness of the universe, to the littleness of human beings, then to the greatness of God’s redemptive plan for all people on earth. God has invested human beings with royal sovereignty, crowning us with glory and honour, delegating responsibility for ruling creation (Psalm 8:5). But things are not as they should be.

While our divinely ordained status is only slightly inferior to angels, sin has marred God’s image in us, and corrupted God’s purposes for us. As a consequence, creation has been cursed (Genesis 3:17). Everything in creation is not as God intends. Mankind has rebelled against God and treated the world as something to be plundered and exploited and fought over as if it were ours by might and right. Humanity is not “lord of creation”, with everything under our feet. The New Testament explains why. Quoting these verses from Psalm 8, the writer to Hebrews points to God’s rescue plan to redeem mankind and restore the harmony and order of creation.

“In putting everything under them, God left nothing that is not subject to them. Yet at present we do not see everything subject to them. But we do see Jesus, who was made lower than the angels for a little while, now crowned with glory and honor because he suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.” (Hebrews 2:8-9)

Humanity has “sinned and fallen short of God’s glory” (Romans 3:23). Consequently, Stott observes, we have “lost some of the dominion which God has given us; but in Jesus… this dominion has been restored. It is in Him rather than in us that humankind’s dominion is exhibited.

By his death He even destroyed the devil and delivered” us (Hebrews 2:14-15). Jesus has now been crowned and exalted to God’s right hand. So in these verses, David is describing God’s original purpose for mankind, “you made him ruler over the works of your hands” (Psalm 8:5-6) but also points to the One who would come to earth to achieve it. The Lord Jesus Christ.

The Glory of God: Revealed in Creation.
The Grace of God: Demonstrated in Christ.

3. The Purposes of God: Fulfilled in the Church

“You made him ruler over the works of your hands; you put everything under his feet: all flocks and herds, and the animals of the wild, the birds in the sky, and the fish in the sea, all that swim the paths of the seas. LORD, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!” (Psalm 8:6-9)

So the dominion described here is only true in Jesus Christ. However, those who trust in him may also share in his exaltation. The apostle Paul quotes this psalm to describe how we only regain our purpose in Jesus Christ.

“But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (Ephesians 2:4-10)

John Stott observes, “Even this is not the end. Although Christ is exalted far above all rule and authority, and all things are potentially under his feet, not all his enemies have yet conceded their defeat or surrendered to him.

Only when he appears in glory and the dead rise will he destroy death.

“Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death.” (1 Corinthians 15:24-26)

For this we hope and this gives us energy to serve him now. To work for peace and repudiate war. Today we remember the first day of the First World War. It is not over because Jesus Christ is not recognised as Lord of all. This earth is not ours to claim or plunder as we wish.  Every human being, including the Palestinians, the Iraqis, the Syrians, the South Sudanese, the boat people, the refugees, the asylum seekers, the homeless, the widows, the orphans, the vulnerable, the elderly, are all created in the image and likeness of God. Christ died for each one of them. Our rights are not superior just because we are more powerful or more wealthy. Our rights are not absolute. We are not independent. The earth belongs to God. He has entrusted it to us to be shared, equally. Our responsibility is therefore related to our status. Only when we know who we are, we will know what we are called to be.

“You made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honour. You made him ruler over the works of your hands; you put everything under his feet:” (Psalm 8:5-6)

Only when we understand what Christ has done for us, only when we are in a right relationship with God, only when we understand our destiny, our calling, our responsibility, only then will we become part of the solution instead of the perpetuating the problem.

The Glory of God: Revealed in Creation.
The Grace of God: Demonstrated in Christ.
The Purposes of God: Fulfilled in the Church.

He creates (8:1-3); He cares (8:4-5); He calls (8:6-9).

Lets heed His call and fulfil our destiny. Lets pray.

 

I am deeply grateful to John Stott, Favourite Psalms (Word, 1988) and Charles Swindoll, Living Beyond the Daily Grind (Guideposts, 1988)

[1] http://time.com/3028068/from-gaza-to-ukraine-the-effects-of-world-war-i-persist/

[2] Illustration from Melvin Newland, Central Christian Church, Brownsville, Texas.

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