THIS PSALM IS NOT ABOUT YOUListen
There’s a stand-up comedian named Jim Gaffigan who employed something of a strange heckling voice in a lot of his routines. It’s this voice, that kind of embodies what an audience member could be thinking at any point in his routine. He can use the voice to break the ice with an audience by making fun of his own appearance (“Oh, I didn’t know he would be so pale”) or building camaraderie with his audience by acknowledging the silliness of his set (“Now he’s doing bear jokes?”) or sometimes he’ll use the voice to give a kind of surreal, absurd commentary on a less-than-funny joke: “You ever eat so much that you feel sick? …isn’t that the best? Then you feel like a real American” (“Oh!! That was strangely patriotic”).
It’s a clever tool because this strange heckling voice say what an audience needs to say or wants to say or doesn’t even know it wants to say.
If we were to allow Jim Gaffigan’s heckling voice to have a turn speaking today—especially after reading this psalm with strange names like Melchizedek and people as a footstool and God crushing people and pilling up corpses—we might hear it say:
(“Should we read this in church? Oh… that’s the Bible. I didn’t see the three easy steps to apply it my life…“)
It’s the question we didn’t know we wanted to ask.
What a strange psalm. When we think about the psalms, we tend to think about Psalm 23 (“the Lord is my Shepherd”) or Psalm 91 (“under his wings we find refuge”) or Psalm 136 (“his love endures forever”). We don’t tend to gravitate to psalms like Psalm 110. If I got honest, my immediate reaction to a Psalm 110 is 1) should we even be reading this in church? and then 2) – what does this have to do with ME? With my stresses, my worries, my relationships, my burdens—what does this have to do with my life? With my REAL life? What does this have to do with my story?
A couple of brief reflections on those two questions—and then we’ll come to the table this morning. First, should we even be reading this in church? Here we find violence and gore and horror to match an episode of Game of Thrones if you take the language literally. It hardly seems…well, Christian. But here’s an interesting factoid: Do you know what Psalm is the most quoted psalm in the New Testament?
You’re not wrong… Psalm 110.
Psalm 110 is not only the most quoted psalm… it’s the most quoted bit of the entire Hebrew Scriptures. Basically anytime you hear anyone in the New Testament talk about Jesus resurrected and now being “at the right of God” it’s at least an allusion to this psalm. So, whatever else we might say about question one (“should we be reading in this in church?”) we must answer “yes.”
We answer “yes” because the early church was absolutely obsessed with Psalm 110. They understood this Psalm—Psalm 110—as a mysterious sort of prophecy… a prophecy about Messiah. Generation after generation read that heading at the beginning of the psalm—that this is a psalm “of David”—and wrestled with:
“Who is the world is David talking about? Who is David’s lord (lowercase L)? Who is David’s master? And what’s going on that David’s boss—David’s lord, David’s master—is being asked to sit at the right hand of Yahweh—of THE LORD (all capital letters)?”
Generation after generation of the Jewish people read this as a story about an incredible Someone who will rule the world. The Early Church ran with that. And they had a really good reason to consider this a prophecy about an incredible Someone—about an anointed King, a Christ, a Messiah: Jesus himself understood this psalm to be about him.
There’s a story in Mark 12, Matthew 22, and Luke 20, Jesus quotes this psalm as a bit of a riddle to all the religious experts of the day. Jesus brings this psalm to them basically raising the stakes about himself:
“David calls the coming Messiah his ‘lord.’ Maybe Messiah is a bigger deal than anyone has ever dreamed.”
So whatever else we might say about this psalm—it’s the most quoted psalm—the most quoted Old Testament passage—so it’s definitely belongs in the Church. And it’s definitely Christian because the Christ himself claims this psalm. So we join the Early Church in thinking long and hard about Psalm 110 and trying to recognize that somehow all the lyrics of this ancient song are about him. This ancient psalm—in veiled poetic verse—points us to Jesus.
Which is weird.
Because the psalms (as I typically think about them) are about teaching me to pray—to get real with God about the conditions on the ground in my life. They teach me to lament—to bring my pain and suffering and doubt to God. They teach me to be thankful—to recognize the good gifts that endlessly come from God’s hand. They teach me to worship—to celebrate the beauty and goodness of God. I’m not particularly great at doing any of those things, but at least I understand what they’re doing. The psalms come to us—reaching deep into us—deep into the plain everydayness of our lives—and model for us how bring our full humanity before God.
But this psalm surprises us because we largely don’t factor into it.
It’s difficult… because Psalm 110 doesn’t talk much about the people we find most interesting in the world… Psalm 110 doesn’t talk about us.
I mean, it’s all well and good that the Early Church understood this to be about Jesus, but what does this mean for me? Because—let’s get real for just a second—most of my life begins and ends with me… and that even includes my spiritual life. The psalms teaching me how to lament or how to be thankful or even how to worship God—that all works for me… because I’m in the middle of all that.
What does it mean, though when a psalm isn’t about me?
Over and over during this series that the psalms teach us the language of faith. And most of the time we’re interested in how does that language of faith apply to ME?—to my spiritual life, to my personal prayer time with God? But what does it mean when a psalm isn’t about me? Well, if the psalms teach us the language of faith, and this psalm—particularly—is definitely not about us, then at a bare minimum we could say:
Life does not begin or end with me.
And this brings us to the second of our questions:
“What does a psalm not about me have to do with me?”
There’s so much we could say about Psalm 110, but we’ll limit ourselves to say it shows us:
1) a throne we cannot claim,
2) a world we cannot heal,
3) and a victory we cannot lose.
Hopefully these three images will not only help solidify the Psalm for us, but also give us the good news of a psalm-not-about-us.
Regarding a throne… a throne we cannot claim.
Verse 1 is rather famous with its declaration that the LORD (Yahweh) has spoken to “the lord” (David’s boss):
The LORD said to my Lord sit my right handPsalm 110v1
until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet.
The right hand of the king was an ancient image of authority and power. The right hand of a king had the authority. The right hand of a king could do what he wanted. The right hand of a king gave orders and made decisions and got the choice parking spot. When the right hand of the king says “jump” people say, “we’re jumping, we’re jumping!” We all want to be at the right hand of power.
We all want the throne.
My dad is a pastor, and I grew up in the church, and I remember when I was probably 9 or 10 years-old, I was attending Vacation Bible School, and during class time I desperately wanted to sit next to Natalie Thomas. Desperately. I was absolutely smitten with this girl. The world would certainly end in apocalyptic blood and fire if I could not sit next to her. And I was quite incensed—blood-pounding-in-my-ears angry—that my poor VBS teacher had assigned seats and had ignored my suggestion that I be seated next to my beloved.
And so at some point—when the moment presented itself—I made my displeasure publicly known that I should be sitting at Natalie Thomas’s table. My teacher publicly rebutted me—she chose the seats and I would be sitting there. And in this moment, some air-tight logic raced through my mind. I had been thinking about this for a while. It was the root of why I was so mad:
“I may have to do what this teacher says, but this teacher reports to the children’s minister… and the children’s minister reports to… my dad.
A gross injustice was happening with my not being given what I wanted. I knew I wasn’t a grown up—of course I’m not the king—but I was at the right hand of power. It took only a moment to declare my logic out loud:
“You need to do what I say because my dad is a pastor staff…”
And that (of course) was enough to get me escorted straight to my dad’s office.
I think that’s the way we live our lives most of the time.
We’re frustrated when life doesn’t work the way we want, the way we expect, the way we think we deserve. Frustrated. Confused. Disoriented. Sometimes blood-pounding-in-our-ears angry. We’re the center of the world and no one is orbiting around us like they should. We’re the main character of this world—shouldn’t everything be working out better than it is? We think the throne is ours. Very often our lives are spent in frustration and anger because we’re convinced that we’re in a story primarily about us. That we’re the hero.
But the good news is this psalm is not about us.
The Earliest Church said: “You want to know some really good news!? You’re not the hero. You’re not the center. You’re not at the right hand of power. We’re actually part of someone else’s story. That incredible Someone else. Someone who actually has all power and doesn’t use it for himself. Jesus uses all his power to give himself away to others. And truest life—deepest freedom—is found when we lose ourselves in his Story.”
So if things aren’t working right now, if things aren’t falling into place like they should, if the deepest levels of reality are not bending to your will, don’t be discouraged, don’t get angry…you’re not on the throne. You weren’t made for the throne. In fact, we find freedom off the throne. And this is fantastic news for all of us who think we’re the main character—that everything rides on us:
You’re not the center.
You’re not on the throne.
The throne isn’t ours… so we can play in the courtyards. Be free. Frolic. You don’t have to be the center of attention, the center of the conversation, the center of the solution. You don’t have to be in control. Not everything is about you… and that means not everything depends on you. The weight of the world is not yours to bear.
You’re invited to recognize that your story is part of something far bigger than yourself. Bigger than your circumstances at the moment. Bigger than the shame and the secrets you carry. Bigger than your deepest regret and your worst mistake. You’re invited to believe the gospel—that the throne isn’t yours but the One on the throne says that you’re loved.
Verse 4 draws us deeper into this reality that not everything is about us because that’s where we recognize something about the world:
It’s a world we cannot heal.
There’s a tremendous freedom in recognizing that just as the throne isn’t ours neither is the responsibility of saving the world—of healing every wound, of fixing every problem. That’s Someone Else’s burden to bear. That’s the job of the Priest. In the ancient world, the Priest was the One who bridges the gap between God and people. Priests would bring the people’s sin and brokenness to God and would bring God’s wholeness and shalom to the people. The Priest is the one who bridges the gap between the world as it is and the world as it should be.
The voice of David is talking to his boss—his lord, the king’s king—and says whoever this incredible Someone is (who sits on the throne) they’re also a Priest. Which is unusual. But the two usually don’t go together. It’s like the President also sitting on the Supreme Court. You usually don’t do both. But evidently this person can. This person rules the people AND this person also heals the people.
That’s a clue that this is no ordinary priest.
They’re a priest “in the order of Melchizedek.” Melchizedek is this mysterious figure who shows up in one verse in Genesis 14. He’s some sort of priest-king who just shows up in the story—pops out of nowhere—and blesses the father of the Jewish faith—Abraham. And then drops a smoke bomb Batman-style and boom—Melchizedek is gone. He’s there, and then he’s gone. He’s this mysterious figure who seems forever there… like he could just show up whenever.
The author of the New Testament book of Hebrews makes a really big deal about this and talks about it for a couple of chapters. That in Jesus of Nazareth, we have an ultimate Priest who has appeared—who knocks our socks off in surprise—and who truly is Priest forever. The Early Church was proclaiming that Jesus has plunged through death and burst out the other side into a new mode of existence. He is—quite literally—a Priest Forever.
What does that mean for us?
Well, there is Someone who bears the weight of bridging the gap between the world as it is and the world as it should be.
If you’ve ever looked at your inner world—inside yourself at your sin, your brokenness, your anger, your shame, your worst parts—and despairingly thought, “I can’t fix all of this”…
Take courage. You’re right.
…and you don’t have to.
We can’t save ourselves. We can’t heal ourselves. There’s Someone else who bears that weight. This psalm isn’t about us. Jesus is the Priest Forever—and he loves healing what is broken.
If you’ve ever look at the world around you, at broken relationships, at broken bodies, at broken systems of injustice, at the endless problems to be solved, and thought, “I cannot possibly bridge the gap between how things are and how things should be—I can’t fix this world.”
You’re right. You can’t. You can’t heal the world… and you don’t have to.You can rest—this psalm isn’t about us. Jesus is the Priest who heals this world. We get to partner with him, what he’s already doing, but it doesn’t depend on us. It depends on Jesus… and he’ll finish the job one day.
There’s a day coming in the future when the Crucified One who was torn apart for the sake of the world will put finally and forever heal this world. Both world around us and the world within us. Trust that. Ask him to heal.
And that brings us to verses 5-7 where we see… victory. A victory we cannot lose. The psalm gives us the Hero of the world who is simultaneously a King (v1) and a Priest (v4), and who is a Warrior (v5-7).
There’s a ton of military imagery in this psalm and it gets rather graphic toward’s the psalm’s end… with rulers (lit. “heads”) being crushed, with bodies being piled up. All these images are ways of pointing toward a victory, a security, a peace. He will crush heads (v5), he will judge the nations (v6), he will drink from a brook along the way and so he will lift his head high (v7). And the psalm ends there. It’s a little like Captain America cracking his knuckles just before the credits role. Whatever is coming, this Warrior is rested and ready.
I’ve read this psalm before and really wished that it ended with him leading us to drink from a brook and him raising OUR head high… but alas, the psalm is not about us… It’s about “him.” About “he.”
It’s tough to tell where the Messiah ends and where God begins. Who is this “He”? Which “Lord” are we talking about. The language is vague in the Hebrew. David’s boss—the Messiah? Or God himself? To which the Early Church would answer: “YES… They’re the same person. The Lord has come in the flesh.”
The Early Church kept going on and on about Psalm 110 because suddenly—in Jesus—in a real, touchable, knowable person—God has made himself completely known. And the life of Jesus shows us a very different Messiah, a very different God, a very different Warrior, than anything anyone expected. If you started with this psalm, I don’t think you’d ever arrive at the cross. It’s only in light of the cross—in the light of Easter—that we can make sense of what God is like.
This psalm is right—God’s Warrior has won the battle… it just looked nothing like we expected. It’s only through the cross that we can see what his Warrior-victory looks like. Instead of corpses piled up by the Messiah we have curses piled up on the Messiah. Instead of Warrior killing their enemies, we find a truer and better Warrior dying for their enemies. From Psalm 110 we learn THAT God has and will win the day. And from life of Jesus we learn HOW God wins the day.
By self-giving, radically-forgiving, enemy-embracing love.
Jesus wasn’t blowing smoke when he said:
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you that you may be children of your Father in heaven. ”Matthew 5v43-45a
When Jesus calls us to love our enemies, he’s not calling us to some standard above God. One of the earliest Christian leaders—a guy named Paul—makes it clear that God does exactly this—God loves his enemies. Paul writes in Romans 5 that while we were sinners—while we are God’s enemies—God the Son is dying for us.
That’s how God wins the battle. That’s how God secures the victory. God always wins by love. God always wins. And the win is always by love. Not by crushing his enemies—but by dying for his enemies and calling them friends. Some of you need to hear that.You need to hear that God is good. That God is love. That God loves you. That beneath it all, the circumstances in your life that look awful, or the Bible passages that are confusing, or what happened that you can’t forgive God for—beneath it all, God is good.
Jesus—crucified and risen—shows us makes that clear. God loves you. Jesus—crucified and risen—makes sense of your life. And God is intent on seeing you—and everyone you love—fully alive and fully free and fully human. God will win in the end. And God will win by love.
I think the invitation of Psalm 110 this morning is an invitation to trust his victory and to rest.
May the Spirit continually remind you that your life does not begin or end with you. May you remember that your story is caught up in the story of Jesus. May you believe that; maybe you believe the gospel. May Jesus set you free from a life all about you, heal the wounds you cannot heal, and assure you that his love will win. May we recognize how beautiful it is when the psalm is not about us.