Psalm 72: Jesus the King

Psalm 72: Jesus the King

Psalm 72 makes it clear that Christ’s reign is earthly. This is not necessarily in the sense some take it of Christ returning to earth and physically ruling from a throne in Jerusalem. No, he is enthroned in heaven right now at the right hand of the Father. But he exercises authority on the earth and over the earth. He shall have dominion also from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth…. The kings of Tarshish and of the isles will bring presents; the kings of Sheba and Seba will offer gifts. Yes, all kings shall fall down before him; all nations shall serve him (vv.8, 10-11).

The word gospel means good news. Most of us learn that in Sunday School. It’s fairly common knowledge. Fewer know that the same word was used by the Romans to announce the ascension of an emperor or the celebration of his birthday. When the Gospel writers say Jesus came into Galilee preaching the gospel (Mark 1:14), they were using a political term, not a religious one. They did not mean Jesus went from town to town handing out tracts on the Four Spiritual Laws. Jesus’ preaching was a royal proclamation with political implications. The gospel announces the coming of the King who is to be King over all kings and Lord over all lords.

This year we are spending the four Sundays in Advent reflecting on aspects of Christ’s identity and authority that help clarify the gospel. Too often Christians think of the gospel merely as a program for how they can get saved. They may define the “plan of salvation” and man’s response to it as “the gospel.” But the gospel is not just good information. It is not pious advice. It is not about you or me. The gospel is an announcement about Christ, and the primary content of that announcement, though by no means its exclusive content, is that Christ is Lord and King. This is the central feature of the gospel both in OT prophecy and NT fulfillment. When the apostles preached the gospel, their message was not: Jesus can forgive your sins so that you will go to heaven when you die, as true as that may be. Their message was: Jesus is Lord.

There are many passages we could use to study the Kingship of the Messiah, but we will use Psalm 72 to organize and develop our reflection on this theme today. The text is attributed both to David (v.20) and Solomon (superscript) prompting discussion throughout the history of the Church on its origin and authorship. It is entirely possible that Solomon wrote the psalm and it was included in the collections of David’s prayers which became Book II of the Psalter, but Calvin suggests a possibility that, while unprovable, is compelling. He suggests Psalm 72 was David’s dying prayer for his son and that Solomon then arranged it as a psalm. Ultimately it is a prayer and prophecy of the Messiah’s later, greater reign.

The Gospel of Christ’s Kingship

Before we look at the psalm, let me prove the thesis I mentioned in the introduction. So many Christians think of the gospel only as a message of personal salvation that it may seem radical to describe it as primarily the message that Christ is Lord.

Acts 2:36: Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.Acts 5:29-31: But Peter and the other apostles answered and said: “We ought to obey God rather than men. The God of our fathers raised up Jesus whom you murdered by hanging on a tree. Him God has exalted to His right hand to be Prince and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins.Acts 10:36: The word which God sent to the children of Israel, preaching peace through Jesus Christ—He is Lord of all—Acts 17:5-7: But the Jews who were not persuaded, becoming envious, took some of the evil men from the marketplace, and gathering a mob, set all the city in an uproar and attacked the house of Jason, and sought to bring them out to the people. But when they did not find them, they dragged Jason and some brethren to the rulers of the city, crying out, “These who have turned the world upside down have come here too. Jason has harbored them, and these are all acting contrary to the decrees of Caesar, saying there is another king—Jesus.”Rom. 10:9: if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus [that Jesus is Lord, ESV] and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.

Some preachers have promoted the idea of the “carnal Christian,” that a person can claim Jesus as their Savior but not have him as their Lord. It’s true there are carnal Christians; they are called disobedient Christians and may even prove to be hypocrites. True faith is trust leading to obedience, not merely intellectual assent to historical or theological facts. Some who begin as “carnal Christians” later repent and realize their obligation to obey Christ as Lord, but if they don’t, they will be lost Christians. You cannot have Jesus as your Savior but not as Lord. He is able to save because he is Lord.

The Righteousness Christ’s Reign

Righteousness is a key word in the first three verses of this psalm, and the idea signified by that word serves as an organizing principle for the entire prayer. The King’s reign is characterized by the objective standard of uprightness. It is Yahweh’s righteousness that is given to the Prince (v.1) that he might judge the people with it (v.2) and that the earth itself might bring it forth under his rule. Righteousness is the source, the norm, and the fruit of godly governance, and nowhere is that more evident than in Messiah’s reign, the kingdom of Jesus Christ.

No king can rule uprightly unless God blesses him with his own righteousness. The Lord imputes righteousness to us in our justification and imparts righteousness to us by our union with Christ in regeneration and sanctification. No man can stand before the Lord without this twofold grace of imputed and imparted righteousness. Measured on its own moral merit, without the cleansing and aid of divine grace, our “righteousness” is nothing but a defiled rag (Isa. 64:6). We can only be righteous by God’s grace, and the one who would rule among men must know it.

The gift of divine righteousness not only empowers the magistrate’s rule, it also serves as the standard by which he rules. The kingdoms of men are not to be governed by a natural law determined by human reason that is separate and different from biblical law known by special revelation. It is God’s righteousness that must be the standard of justice and judgment, which is why Israel’s kings were to write their own copy of the OT law and meditate on it all the days of their life (Deut. 17:18-20). After his resurrection Jesus said, “All authority has been given to me in heaven and on earth” (Matt. 28:18). It is Christ who is the King, David’s Son, who rules the nations with a rod of iron (Psa. 2:8-9). What is the standard for Christ’s rule? His righteousness, Yahweh’s own righteousness. We cannot say, “Christ rules the kingdoms of this earth by one law, a standard known by reason alone, and his Church by another standard found in the Bible.” No, the king rules by God’s righteousness, and anything less than that would be unrighteous.

The Blessing of Christ’s Reign

What is the fruit of Christ’s righteous rule? The mountains will bring peace to the people, and the little hills, by righteousness (v.3). Righteous rule brings blessings to the earth. There are many blessings to acknowledging Christ as our King: Blessed is the nation whose God is Yahweh (Psa. 33:12)—Happy are the people who are in such a state; Happy are the people whose God is Yahweh! (Psa. 144:15). Psalm 72 develops this idea primarily in three ways. Christ’s reign brings peace through justice leading to prosperity.

First, Christ’s reign brings peace. The mountains will bring peace to the people, i.e. the mountains are bearing peace like the fresh, cold waters of melted snow running down from the high slopes. In his days the righteous shall flourish, and abundance of peace (v.7). The word here is shalom, a fullness of joy, health, and satisfaction in God. The peace Christ gives is threefold: peace with God, peace in our hearts, and peace among men. The first is an objective peace. In Adam we are enemies of God, but in Christ we are adopted as his children and made his friends. Once our sins are forgiven and we are reconciled to God, we can enjoy peace in our souls. No more must guilt, fear, and shame burden our hearts. If we are at peace with God, how can we not be at peace with ourselves? Is our own judgment of ourselves and our condition greater than God’s judgment of us in his Son? The last level of peace is with our neighbor. How can we be at war with our neighbor if both we and him are at peace with God and with ourselves? Conflict comes from unholy desires (Jas. 4:1-3), but all desires are sanctified and satisfied in Jesus, bringing war and bitterness and estrangement with our fellow man to an end.

Second, Christ’s reign brings peace through justice.

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