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Hanging On For the Ride

This past Sunday we sang one of my favorite hymns: Jesus Shall Reign Where'er the Sun. Isaac Watts wrote this hymn as a paraphrase of Psalm 72 with specific application to Jesus as the true King of Israel.

Years ago, I heard an atheist mocking this great hymn. He also mocked Psalm 19. Why? Because they picture the sun as "running." Psalm 19 speaks of the sun as an athlete running a race (v. 5), making its track the edge of the heavens (v. 6). That's quite a racetrack. This, the man said, is the view of a borderline Neanderthal–a geocentric view of the universe. The sun doesn't run. This would mean that the sun is orbiting the earth. And, of course, we modern folk know that's wrong. It's the earth that is running, not the sun. Right? In the words of Lee Corso, "not so fast, my friend." We need to consider the scientific discovery of "solar orbit."

Here's how it goes. The earth is orbiting the sun at about 67,000 mph. That's Mach 88 (and somehow, we're not even dizzy; think about that for a minute). And it gets more amazing. Do an internet search for the phrase "galactic year." Here's a summary of what you'll find. Scientists are now telling us that the sun is orbiting the center of the Milky Way at a speed almost eight times faster than the earth is orbiting the sun—514,000 mph. That's Mach 675. And the sun is "running" this race so fast, with so much mass and force, that it is dragging along the planetary system with it in perfect step. It's like a cosmic dance near the speed of light. It's a race that's hard to imagine. But we're living in it every day, not even sweating most of the time.

There is so much symbolism in the sun. Genesis 1 records God creating it: "And God made the two great lights—the greater light to rule the day and the lesser light to rule the night—and the stars. And God set them in the expanse of the heavens to give light on the earth, to rule over the day and over the night, and to separate the light from the darkness" (vv. 16-18). The sun is a servant-ruler. It rules the day. And in so doing it serves us by giving us light. Christ, the Son, is a servant-ruler. He is our King. But He comes not to be served, but to serve, and give His life as a ransom for many (Matt. 20:28).

As Jesus hung on the cross, paying the ransom for our sin, "there was darkness over the land" for about three hours (Mark 15:33). For light to shine on us, Jesus had to suffer in darkness. The glory of the Son of God had to be eclipsed by sin and the wrath of God so that we could appear in heaven "bright shining as the sun." On the cross, the sun set. In the resurrection a new morning dawned. We are living in that morning, knowing that Jesus shall reign where'er the sun doth it's successive journeys run.

The idea of solar orbit gives new dimension to how we imagine the reign of Christ. Abraham Kuyper said, "there is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry 'Mine!' But Christ's reign goes even beyond the realm of human existence. Jesus isn't simply going to reign in the orbit of the earth. The sun's orbit is far beyond that. It extends to every inch of the Milky Way. It all belongs to Christ. And Jesus, like the sun drags the planets, is dragging us along in this great race of life by His power, calling us to center our orbit around Him and hang on for the ride.

Like much of our nation during the pandemic and present social unrest, you may be feeling some turbulence right now. Life's a bumpy ride. But I'm glad we have Jesus hanging on to us. And I'm glad we're hanging on to each other. 

Posted by Heath Cross

The Christian Life is a Musical

Jim and I have both made the point that Psalms is God's hymn book. God gives His people a hymn book because He ordained for them to be a musical people.

When Adam first saw his new bride, his response (in the Hebrew text) is poetic: "This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man" (Gen 2:23). This is essentially the first love song. Our bent for poetry is as old as creation.

When Israel crossed the Red Sea, they sang a hymn of triumph (Ex. 15). Throughout Hebrew history, it was a tradition to sing when God gave them victory. They also sang when they suffered defeat.

King David became the sweet psalmist of Israel. Imagine a king who is also your nation's most prominent singer-songwriter. He also ordained musicians and choirs to perform his songs.

King David point us to King Jesus, who also was, and is, a singer. In Psalm 18, David thanks God for causing him to triumph in battle. He writes, "For this I will praise you, O Lord, among the nations, and sing to Your name" (v. 49). The Apostle Paul says that Christ's victory over sin fulfilled the words of David "in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for His mercy. As it is written, 'Therefore I will praise You among the Gentiles, and sing to Your name'" (Rom. 15:9). Christ's suffering and death, according to Paul, was a love song of praise performed in front of the nations. It's fitting, therefore, that Christ's final moments with the disciples on the night in which He was betrayed involved singing a hymn (Matt. 26:30). And He quoted a psalm with one of His dying breaths (Mark 15:34).

Paul tells us that the Spirit-filled life produces music. Christians are to be constantly "addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with all your heart" (Eph. 5:19). Singing and making melody are different. Singing is self-explanatory. But the making of melody is to be done "with" or "in" the heart. He means that our hearts have to provide the melody for our words. God wants to pluck our heart strings, not just our vocal cords.

Music is one of the most important things we do as a church. And it's something we should carry into our homes and work. It's an act of obedience. It's also a way of addressing the world. A while back I heard a story of a famous actor who became a Christian because his housekeeper was constantly singing hymns. After hearing these songs over and over, and being somewhat annoyed by them, he asked her, "Why do you keep singing these songs?" This was an open door for her to share the gospel. And the gospel changed his life.

I tell my daughters that the life of a Christian should be like a musical—a song could break out at any moment—even when it feels ridiculous. And the gospel should be the soundtrack of our lives. 

I look forward to hearing your voices this coming Lord's Day.

Posted by Heath Cross

Psalms is Telling a Story

Here is some food for thought as we begin to study the book of Psalms. Psalms is a collection of prayers that are telling a story. One of the more amazing things I've learned about Psalms is called the "canonical" view of the psalter. It goes like this:

There are five books in Psalms:
 
  • Book 1 (Psalm 1-41)
  • Book 2 (Psalm 42-72)
  • Book 3 (Psalm 73-89)
  • Book 4 (Psalm 90-106)
  • Book 5 (Psalm 107-150)
These books were arranged deliberately. Each book is telling part of a larger story. I don't have space to lay this out in detail but here's a broad picture.

Books 1-3 show us the rise and fall of the messianic kingdom of God in Israel. Book 1 is introduced by Psalm 1. It is the prologue to the story, calling us to focus our mental powers on the Word of God. Then, in Psalm 2, we see the announcement and anointing of God's King. From there, the King faces problem after problem, attack after attack.

The King's kingdom hits a dramatic low point at the end of Book 3 in Psalm 89. The psalmist recounts God's promises to David that he would never lack a son to sit on the throne. But now Israel is facing exile: "But now you have cast off and rejected; you are full of wrath against your anointed. You have renounced the covenant with your servant; you have defiled his crown in the dust" (vv. 38-39). It appears the crown is falling off the King's head.

In Book 4, beginning in Psalm 90, God's people are in exile. The kingdom is in shambles. In a surprising turn, Psalm 90 is written by Moses, the key figure of exile and wandering in the Old Testament. He says, "O Lord, you have been our dwelling place in all generations" (v. 1). He reminds God's people that no matter where they are—at home, in exile, in Egypt, or in Babylon—their true home is found in God Himself. They will never be homeless even if they don't have a roof over their heads.

Book 5 is a book of praise. Very early in the book we have the Psalms of Ascent (120-134). These were songs that pilgrims sang as they made their way back to the holy city of Jerusalem. Exile is over; God's people return to the land to offer Him sacrifices of praise.

Put this together and the structure of Psalms shows us a picture: God anoints His King. His King and kingdom suffer attack. His people go into exile. Then they return home with triumphant songs of praise. This is a canonical view of the psalter. And it is good news.

Martin Luther called Psalms a "little Bible." Indeed, it is, because it summarizes the message of God's saving work. Jesus Christ must wear the crown of thorns before He wears the crown of gold. He must go homeless so that we can find a true home in Him (Luke 9:58). He must be cast off and exiled so that we can be brought near to God. He must ascend Mount Calvary so that we can ascend Mount Zion with triumphant songs of praise.

God's kingdom may appear to be in shambles from time to time. But return always follows exile. Joy always follows sadness. And resurrection always follows death. Here we have no lasting city, but we will cross the Jordan with triumphant songs in our ascent to the Promised Land.

As you look at the hills around Stephens Valley this coming Lord's Day, remember the words of Psalm 121: "I lift my eyes to the hills. Where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth."

Let everything that has breath praise the Lord.
Posted by Heath Cross

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