“God’s Ways Are Not Our Ways” – An Application to Preaching

Isaiah 55:8-9

For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.

For application to preaching a few thoughts come to mind:

  1. Prayer – Before I can preach on a text of Scripture, I must understand the meaning of the text and the implications of that meaning for us. And too often I might have a different understanding of the text because my thoughts and my ways are not the Lord’s thoughts and ways.  I hope it is obvious that this prayer is not to say I don’t need to do any of the difficult work of exegetical study (an example of an exegetical study); it’s not because I pray God will download the meaning of the text right into my brain.  Instead, the prayer ultimately puts me in the right state of relationship towards God which should put me in the right mindset to appropriately approach the text.  It’s God’ Word I’m reading and it is God’s Word that I am going to preach – I can’t just be flippant about the process and I must make sure my reason and experiences are subject to God’s thoughts and ways.
  2. Quit apologizing for God or avoiding what God says all together.[1]We live in a very politically correct culture, where we don’t want to offend anyone or hurt anyone and we kind of just want to agree to disagree and we usually do that by simply not saying anything that we perceive would bring about disagreement.  It’s becoming more and more common to not mention sin and hell in our sermons – how much of that is us trying to appease people or tone down God’s words?  How much of it is us putting our ways and thoughts above God’s.  I need to not be afraid in my preaching to say God’s ways and God’s thoughts are what is right and what is wrong.
  3. Preach the stupid things of Scripture… and by that I mean preach the things that are revealed in Scripture that are antithetical to the thoughts and ways of the world that are antithetical to what I would reason to be true, right, and good. For example, Scripture teaches things like: “Living is dying and dying is living (Mark 8:35, John 12:24, 1 Corinthians 15:36,” “Save your life and you will lose it; lost your life and you will save it (Matthew 10:39),” “The best self-love is to not be self-centered (Matthew 6:33, Mark 12:29-31),” “The way up is down; exaltation requires humility (Ezekiel 21:26, Luke 14:8-9, 1 Peter 5:6),” “The way down is up; self-promotion leads to humiliation (Ezekiel 21:26, Matthew 23:12), “Please God and you will have pleasures forever more (Psalms 16:11, Matthew 6:33),” and “Please yourself and you will never be satisfied (Proverbs 27:20 and 30:15, Ecclesiastes 5:10).”[2] These statements of Scripture seem completely wrong to our thoughts and our ways, but because they are from God they are right… so in preaching such teachings from God, I really need to remember that even though it might sound stupid, it’s not, it’s the wisest thing there is in this world – the problem is that I’m just stupid.  So proclaim these revelations from God with boldness even if people might look at me and think I’m dumb.

[1] Much of this paragraph I drew from a Christian Post article that recounted Francis Chan’s application of these two Isaiah verses: https://www.christianpost.com/news/francis-chan-church-must-stop-apologizing-for-what-god-says-is-right-and-wrong-in-politically-correct-culture.html

[2] This is an abbreviated list of paradoxical tensions from Scripture that I pulled from Cris Putnam’s book, The Supernatural Worldview. 


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Reaction to Neuhaus’ Catholic Matters

Catholic Matters

 

This blog post is a reaction to Richard John Neuhaus’ book, Catholic Matters.  Neuhaus was a Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod pastor who received ordination through his studies at Concordia Seminary in Saint Louis.  He then left the LC-MS to join the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America.  Finally, he went to Rome and became a Roman Catholic priest.  This post is not a review.  It’s just a reaction.

 

 

 

 

Church-Hopping

Neuhaus points out that church-hopping, even switching between denominations, is common place and expected among most American Protestants today.  This occurs because people are looking for their needs, more aptly their preferences to be met, and the desire for these preferences to be met are placed above what is true in accordance to God’s norming word.  I visited at least ten or more congregations of various stripes while in high school for mid-week services outside of Lent and Advent and I distinctively recognized teachings and rituals that were not just issues of preference; I heard things that if I thought were true, I’d have to leave my Lutheran congregation.  My church-visiting occurred in the late 90s, close to when Neuhaus wrote Catholic Matters, so I imagine I must have been more of an anomaly of a church-hopping visitor at that time.

Neuhaus also points out that such church-hopping preferential judgment is not just relegated to denominational affiliation, but that in each and every denomination, American individualism has made inroads into turning religious allegiance into spiritual preference.  Doctrine is treated as an ala carte cafeteria menu that allows each individual congregation or believer to pick and choose which teachings they’ll confess, teach, and live.  In my experience in the LC-MS, I have seen such treatment of doctrine.  One of the primary ways I’ve seen this is what we spoke about in class through the Sasse reading, in which congregations of the LC-MS are no longer reading and using the Book of Concord, and thus they are also not ensuring that our confessions are a true exposition of Scripture.  This jettison of the Book of Concord in congregational life is so common that many, if not most, LC-MS members are not even aware that the Book of Concord is our church body’s confessions, which also indicates that they are almost certainly unaware of what it is that our church body actually confesses and expects of our pastors and teachers.

My take away from these Neuhaus observations is that when I am a pastor, I should emphasize the “why does this matter” element to each “what does this mean” catechetical moment to ensure that there is no room for doctrinal truths to be thought of as simply a preference of opinion.  I also must ensure that all the teachings from our confessions are demonstrated to be from Scripture, which would also mean actually using the confessions to teach the flock and not just using snippets of the Small Catechism.

History of the term Evangelical in America

I loved the brief but extensive history lesson on the emergence of “evangelicalism” in America that Neuhaus provides in the first chapter.  I will likely reference this section again in the future, or better yet, outline the main points and save a file of it that I can quickly access.  I personally want to identify as an evangelical, because we truly are those who share good news.  Lutherans are by etymological standards the legitimate evangelicals.  I have also heard that Luther didn’t want his followers to be known as Lutherans but wanted his followers to be called evangelicals.  I never quite understood why LC-MS Lutherans avoid wanting to make the evangelical label their own today, or why we aren’t typically lumped into that group in some capacity by others, but knowing the history as presented by Neuhaus has helped me understand why we are not lumped into the evangelical squad and why we don’t want to mix-it up in that camp.

Shocked by the Charity

Neuhaus spent much time on stressing that all Christians are Roman Catholics.  He says we’re just not in full communion – yet.  I had never heard such charity extended to myself from someone who is in full communion with Rome.  I was always under the impression that I was outside of the Church by not being Roman Catholic.  This was charity that I was shocked to receive.  It’s also a level of charity that I do not so easily extend to others, and if I do extend it, it is probably prefaced with a few asterisk marks.

I struggle to recognize unity with Rome, even unity with other Protestants.  I do not consider everyone to be Lutheran who confesses “Jesus is Lord.”  Neuhaus said that in his youth, “the Protestant-Catholic difference was hardly experienced as a matter of life-or-death urgency.”  From my youth, these sorts of distinctions were life and death; I got the very real sense that my family left the Church by having left Rome, and I realized pretty early on that because I didn’t have a date in which I gave my life to Christ and because I was baptized as a baby, I was on the skids and about as bad off as a Roman Catholic among the many Baptist breeds inhabiting “good ole Rocky Top, TN.”

When I first announced almost two decades ago that I was working towards ordination in the Lutheran Church, I was approached by someone in great seriousness to understand why “Lutheran.”  It wasn’t spoken, but it seemed to me as if the transgression of being outside of Rome had been excused of me as a child, but now that I was actually seeking to be a pastor in the LC-MS and was an adult, it was time for me to be held to task for not being in the true fold of God.  Our conversation led me to see that by the confession of the member of Rome that he had no certainty of salvation, that his salvation was not won for him by Christ alone, but that he was very much active in his right-standing before God through attendance of mass every week, through meeting the annual obligatory confessions, and by doing good the best he could.  I know of Roman Catholics who can only hope (with much uncertainty) that they are saved, who when facing death are assured through Last Rites and being reminded that they have met x, y, and z obligations.  After death, monetary collections for a mass for the departed will be collected (the mass in which the Roman Catholic Church will pray for their souls).  Doctrine matters.  Truth matters.  It’s all life or death.

I have many examples of friends, co-workers, and family members who are not Roman Catholic, but are of various Protestant stripes who have been robbed of the certainty and assurance of salvation that Christ has won for them through their churches’ weakening of the Law or their mingling of Law and Gospel.  Doctrine matters.  Truth matters.  It’s all life or death. As such, I cannot so easily extend the charity that Neuhaus did to me by saying that he’s Lutheran, just not in full communion yet.  Of course, he didn’t say what it means for my salvation because I am not in full communion with Rome, so maybe it wasn’t that much charity being extended to me.  He seemed to act as if it was just all hakuna matata and that everything was going to be OK because I was Roman Catholic (by his labeling of course).  Based on Romans 4:4-5, I can’t just simply say those who are in Rome and under the authority of the pope, who is in the office of the Antichrist by the way according to the Lutheran confessions, have no worries in their right-standing before God in which they are by the doctrine of Rome very much active and not righty passive in their justification.

I certainly saw the helpfulness of his language however on this subject in describing my relationship with other Christians who I am not in full-communion at this time.  I’d still have to work out how exactly to use such language, but it was most certainly helpful to think upon.

Big T Tradition vs. Little t tradition

I thought his use of tradition vs. Tradition to be a tad disingenuous, since he used both tradition and Tradition in the text with no clear distinction or explanation between the two. When he first introduced this concept, he was pointing out that Protestants rejected Catholicism’s “two source” theory of revealed truth – the Bible and tradition” (page 71).  I’m not sure why he calls it a theory, since it is clearly a doctrine of the Catechism of the Catholic Church and not just a theory, but we certainly do reject that teaching of Rome.  Here he used tradition and not Tradition.  I find that to be very misleading because he immediately refers to a 2002 statement made by Evangelicals and Catholics Together that says:

Together we affirm that Scripture is the divinely inspired and uniquely authoritative written revelation of God; as such it is normative for teaching and life of the Church.  We also affirm that tradition, rightly understood as the proper reflection of biblical teaching, is the faithful transmission of the truth of the gospel from generation to generation through the power of the Holy Spirit.  As Evangelicals and Catholics fully committed to our respective heritages, we affirm together the coinherence of Scripture and tradition: Tradition is not a second source of revelation alongside the Bible but must ever be corrected and informed by it, and Scripture itself is not understood in a vacuum apart from the historical existence and life of the community of faith.  (page 72)

In this quote, tradition must be normed by the Scriptures and it is not a source of revelation itself, so lower case tradition was being used (except he also capitalized it), but Rome’s “two-source theory of revelation” uses upper case Tradition.  Rome’s Sacred Tradition is part of God’s Word.  Rome teaches that Scripture and Tradition together make up a sum deposit of God’s Word.[1] Neuhaus very soon after the Evangelicals and Catholics Together quote says that when he became a Catholic priest he had to profess: “With firm faith, I also believe everything contained in the Word of God, whether written or handed down in Tradition, which the Church, either by solemn judgement or by the ordinary and universal Magisterium, sets forth to be believed as divinely revealed” (page 75).  The fact that he seems to interchange between tradition and Tradition with no clear recognition of what he is doing for the reader, while also trying to make me think that I should be accepting of Rome because their tradition (little t) is normed by Scripture, while not admitting and making it clear that their Tradition (big T) must be held in equal sentiment and devotion to Scripture, while also not letting me know that large and important parts of their Tradition (big T) are not even mentioned in Scripture to in any way possibly be normed by Scripture, leads me to distrust Neuhaus.  I am left to think he’s just trying to trick me and suck me into all the “more” stuff that Rome has to offer (and the fact that many times a sentence would start with the word tradition so as I couldn’t even easily discern if he was speaking of tradition or Tradition made it all the more less likely that he was going to win me over into full communion with Rome).

We Got More; Don’t You Want More?

Neuhaus never clearly explained why he jumped ship from the LC-MS to the ELCA to Rome.  The best I got was that, “It seemed that, of all the good things we had, they had more.”  And since he knew the good things that we do have all came from Rome, he thought, “Why not just join Rome?”  It seems to me that Neuhaus has succumbed to the American individualism that he’s railing against by his full-communion with Rome.  He chose the spiritual preference of the Roman Catholic Church’s “more” over religious affiliation; it’s just that his preference had him bail out of Protestantism altogether into the open arms of mother Rome, instead of flopping around like a fish within Protestantism from Episcopalian to Pentecostalism, or what have you.  At least he didn’t go to the Hotel California with Anton LaVey, because there is no extension of charity to the Church of Satan that definitely lies outside of the one, holy, catholic Church.


[1]  Taken from the Catechism of the Catholic Church (Part 1, Section 1, Chapter 2, Article 2, Lines 80-82 emphasis added).  “Sacred Tradition and Sacred Scripture, then, are bound closely together, and communicate one with the other. For both of them, flowing out from the same divine well-spring, come together in some fashion to form one thing, and move towards the same goal.” Each of them makes present and fruitful in the Church the mystery of Christ, who promised to remain with his own “always, to the close of the age.” “Sacred Scripture is the speech of God as it is put down in writing under the breath of the Holy Spirit.” “And [Holy] Tradition transmits in its entirety the Word of God which has been entrusted to the apostles by Christ the Lord and the Holy Spirit. It transmits it to the successors of the apostles so that, enlightened by the Spirit of truth, they may faithfully preserve, expound and spread it abroad by their preaching.” As a result the Church, to whom the transmission and interpretation of Revelation is entrusted, “does not derive her certainty about all revealed truths from the holy Scriptures alone. Both Scripture and Tradition must be accepted and honored with equal sentiments of devotion and reverence.”


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The Kings of Isaiah

Isaiah 1:1 places Isaiah within history: “The vision of Isaiah the son of Amoz, which he saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem in the days of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah.”  Uzziah reigned from 792-740 BC; Jotham reigned from 750-735 BC; Ahaz reigned from 735-715; Hezekiah reigned from 715-686.

King Uzziah

King Uzziah is also known as Azariah.  He reigned 52 Years, a very long time.  Isaiah 6:1 indicates that Isiah began his ministry in the year Uzziah died.  2 Kings 15:1-7 and 2 Chronicles 26 give an account of Uzziah’s reign.  Uzziah fortified Jerusalem (2 Chron. 26:9-10, 15) and he reorganized Judah’s army with 2,600 mighty men of valor who oversaw an army of 307,500 men (2 Chron. 26:12).  Uzziah experienced great prosperity during his long reign and was able to extend Judah, taking back land from the Philistines, while also extended Judah into the lands of the Arabians and the Meunites (2 Chron. 26:6-7).  He did what was right in the eyes of the Lord (2 Kings 15:3 and 2 Chron. 26:4), but the high places remained and sacrifices were still offered at these locations dedicated to false gods.

Despite doing what was right in the eyes of the Lord, Uzziah’s success led to pride that brought him great punishment from the Lord.  2 Chronicles 26:16-23 recounts that Uzziah took the place of the priests, burning incense in the House of the Lord.  And as a result, “The Lord touched the king, so that he was a leper to the day of his death, and he lived in a separate house. And Jotham the king’s son was over the household, governing the people of the land” (2 Kings 15:5).

King Jotham

King Jotham reigned for 16 years.  2 Chronicles 27:2 summarizes his reign as follows: “And he did what was right in the eyes of the Lord according to all that his father Uzziah had done, except he did not enter the temple of the Lord. But the people still followed corrupt practices.”  Two of his major accomplishments as king were fortifying the hillsides of Judah and beating the Ammonites, receiving a huge tribute from them.  (2 Chronicles 27:3-5) During his reign, northern Israel was taken by the Assyrians.

King Ahaz

2 Chronicles 28:1-2 tells us that King Ahaz “did not do what was right in the eyes of the Lord, as his father David had done, but he walked in the ways of the kings of Israel.” During his reign Aram led by King Rezin and Israel led by King Pekah partnered against Judah. (Isaiah 7:1-16) Isaiah told Ahaz to not be afraid of them.  Isaiah prophesied that their invasion would fail, that their lands would be taken down by the Assyrians. (Isaiah 7:3-9) Despite this prophesy of safety from his adversaries, Ahaz sought to partner with King Tiglath-Pileser of Assyria for protection.  (2 Kings 16:7-9, Isaiah 7:13, 20) In an attempt to show his submission to Tiglath-Pileser, Ahaz instructed Uriah the priest set up an altar like the one he saw in Damascus.  He had the altar to the Lord brought out to sit alongside this altar pagan altar.  (2 Kings 16:10-18) During Ahaz’s reign, Assyria defeated Israel in 722 BC.

King Hezekiah

King Hezekiah was the last king of Isaiah’s time of prophetic ministry.  Hezekiah “did what was right in the eyes of the Lord, just as his father David had done” (2 Kings 18:3).  During Hezekiah’s reign, King Sennacherib of Assyria threatened Jerusalem.  (Isaiah 36:1-22) Against this threat, Isiah Prophesies that Judah will be delivered.  (Isaiah 37:6-7) Even though this prophesy is given with the assurance of protection for Jerusalem, Hezekiah still prays in response for deliverance.  (Isaiah 37:14-20) The angel of the Lord fulfills Isaiah’s prophesy and answers Hezekiah’s prayers by utterly wrecking the Assyrians, striking dead 185,000 in the camp of the Assyrians while the slept.  (Isiah 37:6) Sennacherib was later cut down by the sword by his sons while he was worshipping his god, Nisroch.  (Isiah 37:7-8)

As noted in the opening of this paper, many have noted that the first 39 chapters of Isaiah are predominantly law based, focusing on the wrath of God against a rebellious people, and that is the message of chapter 39.  Isaiah prophesies to Hezekiah that Judah will be taken by the Babylonians:

“Hear the word of the Lord of hosts: Behold, the days are coming, when all that is in your house, and that which your fathers have stored up till this day, shall be carried to Babylon. Nothing shall be left, says the Lord. And some of your own sons, who will come from you, whom you will father, shall be taken away, and they shall be eunuchs in the palace of the king of Babylon.” (Isaiah 39:5-7)

Sticking to the concept that the last 27 chapters of Isaiah focus on God’s redemption of his rebellious people, chapter 40 opens up with the good news that God will restore Judah:

“Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that her warfare is ended, that her iniquity is pardoned, that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.  A voice cries: “In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God.  Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain.  And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.” (Isiah 40:1-5)

The Central Message of Isaiah

Isaiah’s Central Message and Historical Setting

There are 66 books in the Bible.  The first 39 books are in the Old Testament and the last 27 books are in the New Testament.  Isaiah has been called a mini-Bible, because it has been divided into 66 chapters with a common division in theme between the first 39 chapters and the last 27 chapters.  The first 39 chapters of Isaiah contain judgment and condemnation of an immoral and idolatress people.  The last 27 chapters of Isaiah are a message of hope that point to the comfort all people can take in the coming Messiah who is a savior and king.  The concept then in calling Isaiah a mini-Bible is that for 39 books, the message is all law and condemnation against sinful people, before God gives us forgiveness in Jesus for the last 27 books.  The message being conveyed then is that Isaiah gives us the complete package in one book – gives us both Law and Gospel.

This scheme is forced on numerous levels.  First, this scheme doesn’t recognize that the Old Testament was originally compiled as 22 books according to Josephus, with the modern day compilation being 24 books – not a 39 book arrangement as we have in the Christian ordering of the same text in the Old Testament.  Second, this scheme doesn’t recognize that chapter and verse divisions were added to the text late in history.  Finally, and most important of all is that this scheme doesn’t recognize that there is Gospel proclamations of Christ’s saving work throughout the Old Testament, and even in the first 39 chapters of Isaiah.  Also, it fails to recognize that there is quite a bit of Law in the New Testament text, and in fact it is in the New Testament through the words of Christ that we get vivid imagery of warning of the eternal condemnation that awaits unrepentant sinners – such images reveal the eternal wrath of God in explicit ways that are never even remotely reached in the sparse mention of eternal commendation in the Old Testament.

A much better move to express the overall message of Isiah is to point to the meaning of Isiah’s name, “The Lord saves.”  That is the overall message of Isiah, “The Lord saves.”  This message comes through three main teachings: God is the Holy One of Israel, God punishes his rebellious people, and God later redeems them.

God is the Holy One of Israel

Isaiah 1:4 – “Woe to the sinful nation, a people whose guilt is great, a brood of evildoers, children given to corruption!  They have forsaken the Lord; they have spurned the Holy One of Israel and turned their backs on him.”  (emphasis added)

God Punishes His Rebellious People

Isaiah 1:2 – “Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth; for the Lord has spoken: “Children have I reared and brought up, but they have rebelled against me.

God Later Redeems Them

Isaiah 41:14 – “Fear not, you worm Jacob, you men of Israel!  I am the one who helps you, declares the Lord; your Redeemer is the Holy One of Israel.”

The definitive passage in Isaiah that demonstrates the message that “the Lord saves” is Isaiah 52:13-53:12. This passage is commonly labeled after its key figure, who is named the Lord’s Suffering Servant.  I once heard that if you took this passage and removed its title and all of the chapter and verse numberings and gave it to just about anyone in America and asked whoever read it, “Who is this passage describing,” they’d almost all come back and say it’s about Jesus Christ.  The kicker to drop at that point is that this text was written about 700 years before Jesus of Nazareth!  I ran this test once by offering high school students extra credit to hand this passage to five random people and report back who they said the passage was about, and the few students who took me up on the extra credit only found people who said the passage was about Jesus.  Living in the New Testament era of God’s people, we know very well that Jesus is Lord and that Jesus does save men from sin, death, and the devil.

Jesus saves us very much in the same way that Isaiah describes the person and work of the Suffering Servant.  In a cursory reading of Isaiah 52:13-53:12, the following descriptions serve as clear prophesy fulfilled in the person and work of Jesus of Nazareth:

52:13 – “Lifted up and highly exalted,”
52:14 – “marred beyond human likeness,”
52:15 – “he will sprinkle many nations,”
53:2 – “like a tender shoot, like a tender root,”
53:3 – “rejected by men,”
53:4 – “took our infirmities and carried our sorrows,”
53:5 – “pierced for our transgressions,” “crushed for our iniquities,” “punishment that brought us peace was upon him,” “by his wounds we are healed,”
53:6 – “the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all,”
52:7 – “led like a lamb to the slaughter,” “he did not open his mouth,”
53:8  – “cut off from the land of the living,” “for the transgression of my people he was stricken,”
53:9  – “assigned a grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death,”
53:10 – “the Lord makes His life a guilt offering,”
53:11 – “after the suffering of his soul, he will see the light of life,”
53:12 – “He bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.”

Isaiah 65:17-66:24 closes with vivid imagery of what the complete and final salvation will look like in the “new heavens and the new earth” (for God’s people) and what the hand of doom will wrought (for the rebellious enemies of God).

10 Key Characteristics of God’s Kingship from the Psalms

Psalms 29, 47, 93, 95, 96, 97, 98, and 99 are Royal Psalms that speak to the kingship of God.   These eight psalms reveal and emphasize ten key characteristics of God’s kingship: 1.) God is Lord over all the waters; 2.) God is Lord over all the earth; 3.) God is Lord over all the nations; 4.) God is Lord over all gods; 5.) God has a coming judgement over all; 6.) God is just and righteous in his coming judgement; 7.) God’s enemies will face God’s wrath at his coming judgement; 8.) God’s people will receive his peace, strength, blessing, and protection; 9.) God has worked the salvation of his people; and 10.) The proper response to the royal reign of God is for all to praise him.

Over the waters

First, we see that God is Lord over all.  This is seen in Psalm 29:3: “The voice of the Lord is over the waters; the God of glory thunders, the Lord, over many waters.” He is over the waters, because he made them.  As their creator, he owns them.  (Psalm 95:5) Psalm 93:3 depicts flooding waters in anthropomorphic terms, referring to the raging floods and lifting up their voices, their roaring voices. Psalm 93:4 however proclaims that the Lord is higher in might than the raging flood waters, exclaiming that God is “Mightier than the thunders of many waters, mightier than the waves of the sea.”  Going back to Psalm 29, verse 10 states, “The Lord is enthroned over the flood; the Lord sits enthroned as king forever.”  The flood is the Flood of Genesis 6-9. This shows that God is sovereign in judgement against evil.  Despite the destruction that comes from the raging waters – the Lord sits enthroned over the flood.

Over all the earth

Second, God is Lord over all the earth.  Psalm 47:2 calls God “a great king over all the earth.” Later in the psalm, in verse 7, this kingship is repeated with the words, “God is the King of all the earth.”  The most intimidating land feature due to its sheer height and difficulty to cross is likely the mountains of the earth, yet before the Lord, Psalm 97:5 says, “The mountains melt like wax before the Lord.”  In the same way that God is Lord over the waters due to his status as their creator, so too the Lord is over the earth because “his hands formed the dry land” (Psalm 95:5).

Over the nations 

Third, God is Lord over all the nations.  Psalm 47:8-9 says, “God reigns over the nations; God is seated on his holy throne.  The nobles of the nations assemble as the people of the God of Abraham, for the kings of the earth belong to God; he is greatly exalted.”  Just as the waters and the lands belong to God, Palm 47:10 reveals that “the kings of the earth belong to God” too.  Though these psalms do not state it, it’s clear from the rest of Scripture that the kings and the nobles of the nations belong to God – in fact all people belong to God – because God is the creator of us all; we are all his creatures.  Though in many times and in many places the rulers of this world wield much power and authority over the lives of their subjects, Psalm 99:2 makes it clear that the Lord “is exalted over all the nations.

Over the gods

                Fourth, God is Lord over all gods.  In this world, there are many gods that even kings will bow down to and submit their authority.  Above the waters, above the mountains, there are the heavens, where in various ways the gods of men have been envisioned to dwell – sometimes more often perceived to be present in a spiritual realm animating our physical realm or dwelling in another dimension outside our senses, yet able to impact our plain of existence.  These gods however are “worthless idols” according to Psalm 96:5, because “the Lord made the heavens.”  He is above all that we can conceive and above all the idols that men fear, love, and trust above God: careers, love, money, family, comfort, pleasures, entertainment, food, success, power, sex, and fame, and the list could go on and on.  God is Lord over all these so-called gods, because as Psalm 95:3 proclaims, “The Lord is a great God, and a great king above all gods.

Coming to Judge

Fifth, God has a coming judgment over all.  Both Psalm 96:13 and Psalm 98:9 reveal that “he comes to judge the earth.”  As before his judgment upon all the earth and flesh came through the Flood, this coming judgment will descend through fire.  Psalm 97:3-5 depicts this judgment and its totality as follows: “Fire goes before him and burns up his adversaries all around.  His lightenings light up the world; the earth sees and tremblesThe mountains melt like wax before the Lord, before the Lord of all the earth.”

righteous judgement

Sixth, God is righteous and just in his coming judgment.  Though to us it might seem as unjust for God to allow evil to persist in our day and age, and we likely even think that his coming judgment is too harsh when it does come – for God to scorch all his enemies and to cause even the mountains to melt seems a bit extreme – we should be reminded of the words of the prophet Isaiah that parallel the language of these Royal Psalms of God’s kingship: “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord.  For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:8-9).  Above all is the Lord and his coming judgment will come “with equity,” “in righteousness,” and “in faithfulness” (Psalm 96:10,13).  This is the type of judgment we should expect from God, when we grasp the reality of Psalm 97:2 that “righteousness and justice are the foundation of his throne.”  Psalm 99:4 tells us this nature of his coming judgment, as well, “The King is mighty, he loves justice— you have established equity; in Jacob you have done what is just and right.”

God's Enemies Get Smacked

Seventh, God’s enemies will face God’s wrath at his coming judgement.  In support of this description of what to expect from God’s kingship, I’ve already quoted Psalm 97:3 that declares, “Fire goes before him and burns up his adversaries all around.”  This psalm gives insight into who these adversaries are; they are all of those who do not worship him as Lord of all.  Psalm 97:7 warns, “All worshipers of images are put to shame, who make their boast in worthless idols; worship him, all you gods!”

Peace

Eighth, God’s people will receive his peace, strength, blessing, and protection. Psalm 29:11 says, “May the Lord give strength to his people!  May the Lord bless his people with peace!”  Psalm 95:6-7 remind us of previous points of God’s kingship, that he is our maker and God, and as such, we are given the comforting image that “his people we are occupants of his pasture.”  Being the people of his pasture, we have the Lord’s blessing and protection, and in response Psalm 99:3 tells us the response of his people: “Zion hears and is glad, and the daughters of Judah rejoice, because of your judgments, O Lord.”

Cross_Chasm_300
“Chasm” by Danny Martinez – This image appears in my book, Contradict – They Can’t All Be True.

Ninth, God has worked the salvation of his people.  Psalm 98:1-3 give the good news that the salvation of God’s people is not contingent upon themselves, their own personally earned merits of righteousness before the righteous king who is enthroned above all, but God himself has worked their salvation:

Sing to the Lord a new song, for he has done marvelous things; his right hand and his holy arm have worked salvation for him.  The Lord has made his salvation known and revealed his righteousness to the nations.  He has remembered his love and his faithfulness to Israel; all the ends of the earth have seen the salvation of our God.

As God’s people sitting on the right-side of the timeline of Jesus of Nazareth’s death and resurrection, we understand that Jesus is the right hand of the Lord who has worked this salvation:

For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross. (Colossians 1:19-20)

Praise

Tenth, the proper response to the royal reign of God is for all to praise him.  Psalm 47:1 gives the following exhortation: “Clap your hands, all peoples! Shout to God with loud songs of joy!”  The Psalm also exhorts, “Sing praises to God, sing praises! Sing praises to our King, sing praises! For God is the King of all the earth; sing praises with a psalm! (verses 6 and 7).  Psalm 95:7 gives the following invitation: “Oh come, let us worship and bow down; let us kneel before the Lord, our Maker!” Finally, Psalm 98:4 exclaims, “Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth. 

These Royal Psalms of God’s kingship make it abundantly clear that the Lord is over all things – all other gods are worthless!  God alone made everything that exists.  His creation is not able to be moved.  The proper response of creation is to worship the Creator.  Those who don’t will be judged – they will be moved (removed) by their Creator.

All glory and laud be to the Lord, our King, forever, and ever.  Amen.

Please visit my website, Contradict Movement, for more resources and products that can be used as evangelistic conversation starters.