At Christmastime it is very fitting that we should examine some of the psalms we have completely bypassed till now -- the Messianic psalms, i.e., the psalms which look forward to the coming of Messiah. There are a number of them among these folksongs of faith which we call "psalms," and both Jewish and Christian commentators agree that they do indeed portray the Messiah.
Some of them are well known. They cover various facets of the life and ministry of Messiah. Psalm 22, for instance, is one of the most striking and graphic descriptions we have in the entire Bible of the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. There we are told that they would pierce his hands and his feet, and part his garments and gamble for them. All of this was fulfilled, as you know, at the foot of the cross. Psalm 16 is a wonderful description of the resurrection of Jesus. On the Day of Pentecost, when the apostle Peter stood up and spoke to the gathered multitudes after the manifestation of the Holy Spirit's presence there, he used this psalm to prove to them that the Scriptures had foretold that Jesus would be raised from the dead. Psalm 69 tells us of the betrayal of Judas, and how the Lord would react to that betrayal. These Messianic psalms give us facts about the ministry of Christ that we would not have known otherwise -- even from the Gospels. Psalm 110 is a wonderful description of his present ministry with us -- what the book of Hebrewscalls the "Melchizedek priesthood" of Jesus.
You remember that Jesus himself told us that the psalms spoke of him. In the twenty-fourth chapter of Luke's gospel, as Jesus appeared to the disciples in the upper room after his resurrection, he said to them, "These are the words which I spoke unto you, while I was yet with you, that all things must be fulfilled, which were written in the law of Moses, and in the prophets, and in the psalms, concerning me," (Luke 24:44 RSV). As he had read the psalms he had noted in them various things concerning himself, and these were fulfilled in his ministry.
There are three psalms which portray the King:
Psalm 2 is a picture of the King in his authority: "Why do the nations rage, and the peoples imagine a vain thing?" (Psalms 2:1 RSV). Here are the nations of the world, all upset. God says, in the midst of this, "I have set my king upon my holy hill of Zion," (Psalms 2:6). And he warns the nations, "Kiss the Son...lest you perish from the way," (Psalms 2:12).
Then in Psalm 72 you have another beautiful description of Messiah as King. This is a wonderful picture of the day which is coming, when Messiah shall reign throughout the earth. All the earth shall be restored in beauty and splendor, and peace shall fill the earth as the waters fill the sea.
And here in Psalm 45 we will be looking at the King in his beauty. It is a beautiful glimpse of the perfection of the character and the beauty of Jesus Christ.
As were all the psalms, this one was built around an historic occasion. It evidently was originally written on the occasion of the marriage of a king, probably King Solomon, many scholars feel, at the time of his marriage to the daughter of the king of Tyre, which is mentioned in the book of Chronicles. But here is a description which goes far beyond the earthly wedding service. These words could never be limited to an earthly king; they clearly go beyond that. Even the Jewish commentators on this passage recognize that this is a picture of Messiah.
The first nine verses describe to us the King in his beauty. They open with a personal note from the author:
My heart overflows with a goodly theme;
I address my verses to the king;
my tongue is like the pen of a ready scribe. (Psalms 45:1 RSV)
You can see from that that this psalm is indeed what the superscription says: a love song, a song inspired by the love of this writer for the King he sees. And, as the superscription also tells us, it is a Maskil, a teaching psalm. It is designed to teach us something about the beauty of the King.
So, as we read this psalm through, let us see that it is inspired by a heart which overflows with a sense of love and adoration for One with whom he has fallen in love. There is no other way to interpret this but to see it as applying to and being fulfilled in the ministry of the Lord Jesus Christ.
This writer confesses an eagerness to write. Words flow easily and "my tongue," he says, "is like the pen of a ready writer." When my son-in-law, Steve Kappe, left for Vietnam just one week after his marriage to my daughter, we started receiving letters every day. Week after week, day after day, there came a letter from Steve. Unfortunately they were not addressed to the family, so I don't know what was in them! But I was struck by this remarkable phenomenon. Steve had never been a letter writer before, but now the words just flowed from his pen. That is what love does to you. And here is one who has fallen in love with the King in his beauty, and now he describes it to us -- first of all, the general impression that he creates:
You are the fairest of the sons of men;
grace is poured upon your lips;
therefore God has blessed you for ever. (Psalms 45:2 RSV)
"What an incomparable person this is," says the writer. There is no one like him, no one who can compare to him. We get a hint here of the physical appearance of Jesus Christ. I know there are many who have tried to guess what Jesus looked like, but it is amazing that in the Gospels we are never told what he looked like. No hint is given to us of his physical appearance. Many painters have tried to portray how he looked. Some have felt that perhaps he was very ugly, marred, disfigured, unattractive. They draw that conclusion from the words in Isaiah 52 and 53:
As many were astonished at him --
his appearance was so marred, beyond human semblance,
and his form beyond that of the sons of men -- (Isaiah 52:14 RSV)
he had no form or comeliness that we should look at him,
and no beauty that we should desire him.
He was despised and rejected by men; (Isaiah 53:2b-3a RSV)
But I have never belonged to that school of thought, because I feel those words are a description of what happened to him on the cross. But our Lord in his lifetime was evidently a most attractive person. Everywhere he went children flocked to him, and the multitudes followed him -- not only to hang upon his words, but also because they were drawn by his beauty. As this writer says, "He was fairer than the sons of men."
Incidentally, I do not think it can be established from the Scriptures that he had long hair. I know there are many today who say they want to look like Jesus, so they let their hair grow down to their shoulders. But Jesus did not look that way. I am sure of that, because Paul, writing to the Corinthians, says that it is a shame for a man to have long hair, that it is basically a denial of his masculinity, that even nature teaches us this. Now, Jesus undoubtedly had a beard, and there is nothing at all wrong with a beard or a mustache or long sideburns. But long hair is a different matter. It is interesting that statues dug up from Greek and Roman ruins of that period all depict men with short hair. The reason why artists depict Jesus with long, shoulder-length hair is that this convention was established during the Middle Ages by artists who simply adopted the style of their own day. But there is no basis for this in the Scriptures.
Jesus did not have long hair, but he was fairer than the sons of men. We capture this in a hymn which is a favorite of many: "Fairest Lord Jesus". That captures this very thought: "Thou art fairer than all the sons of men."
But most remarkable and impressive, says the writer, are the words which came from his lips: "...grace is poured upon your lips; therefore God has blessed you for ever." Luke tells us that on one occasion Jesus went into the synagogue in Nazareth, his home town, and there among the people who had watched him grow up as a boy, he stood up and asked for the roll of the prophet Isaiah. He opened it up and read to them the words from the sixty-first chapter which are predictive of him and his ministry:
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovering of sight to the blind,
to set at liberty those who are oppressed,
to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord. (Luke 4:18-19; Isaiah 61:1-3a RSV)
Then he closed the roll and said, "Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing," (Luke 4:21b RSV). And then he went on to preach other things. At the close of the message it is recorded that "all spoke well of him, and wondered at the gracious words which proceeded out of his mouth," (Luke 4:22a RSV). These words captivated men, as they saw that here was One who held the secrets of life, who understood what life was like. This is what made the crowds follow him and the multitudes seek him out, forgetting their work, their lunch, and everything else, in order that they might hang upon his words. No wonder they said of him, "Never did man speak like this man!" He himself said that his words would have this power. He said to his disciples, "If you continue in my words, then you shall be my disciples indeed. You shall know the truth, and the truth will set you free," (John 8:31-32 RSV). That has been the experience of millions through the generations since, as they have listened to the words of Jesus and have been set free to be the men and women God intended them to be.
Many writers have tried to capture, in one way or another, the incomparable character of Jesus Christ. Not all attempts are successful, but here is one which has always struck me as being very realistic and true:
More than 1900 years ago there was a man born contrary to the laws of life. This man lived in poverty and was reared in obscurity. He did not travel extensively. Only once did he cross the boundary of the country in which he lived, and that was during his exile in childhood. He possessed neither wealth nor influence. His relatives were inconspicuous and had neither training nor formal education. Yet in infancy he startled a king, in childhood he puzzled doctors, in manhood he ruled the course of nature, walked upon the billows as if pavements, and hushed the sea to sleep. He healed the multitudes without medicine and made no charge for his service. He never wrote a book. Yet all the libraries of the country could not hold the books that have been written about him. He never wrote a song. Yet he has furnished the theme for more songs than all the songwriters combined. He never founded a college. But all the schools put together cannot boast of having so many students. He never marshaled an army nor drafted a soldier nor fired a gun. Yet no leader ever had more volunteers, who have, under his orders, made more rebels stack their arms and surrender without a shot fired. He never practiced psychiatry. And yet he has healed more broken hearts than all the doctors far and near. He stands forth upon the highest pinnacle of heaven's glory, proclaimed of God, acknowledged by angels, adored by saints, feared by devils, as the living, personal Lord Jesus Christ -- my Lord and Savior.
There also is one whose tongue is like the pen of a ready writer, and who has written a goodly theme concerning the King.
Next the Psalmist goes on to give us another picture of the victories of the King:
Gird your sword upon your thigh, O mighty one,
in your glory and majesty!
In your majesty ride forth victoriously
for the cause of truth and to defend the right;
let your right hand teach you dread deeds!
Your arrows are sharp
in the heart of the king's enemies;
the peoples fall under you. (Psalms 45:3-5 RSV)
This seems to be a complete about-face. Here is One who has been extolled as gracious in his words, but now he is pictured as mighty in his enmity, and he fights and destroys all his enemies. We must remember that in these psalms we have figurative language. This is not a description of actual bloody warfare. The enemies spoken of here are not flesh and blood. Rather, as the apostle Paul reminds us in Ephesians 6, "We do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against the powers, against the world rulers of this present darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places," who hold humanity enslaved. And when this writer is picturing the victories of the King, he is not talking about battles won and bodies slain; he is talking about powers destroyed, and forces made to loosen their grasp, and powers of darkness driven back, and men and women set free to be what God intended them to be. These are the victories of the King.
And he accomplishes them with the weapons of truth and righteousness, Verse 4: "In your majesty ride forth victoriously," and not: for the cause of truth and to defend the right; literally it is: "by means of the truth and humble righteousness." Humble righteousness, i.e., meekness -- that is the quality of Jesus Christ. You know, there is another kind of righteousness -- self-righteousness. Jesus never had that. What the writer is talking about here is that unselfish righteousness which Jesus Christ always manifested, which never made anybody feel uneasy, or feel that he was "holier than thou", but which was perfectly right and true to the character and the being of God. Those are the weapons by which he destroys his enemies: truth and humble righteousness.
Yesterday our Board of Elders met at Dr. Lazier's home. We were sharing some of the things we were thinking about and experiencing lately. Dr. Lazier told us that he had been struck by the fact that in any gathering of businessmen today there are expressions of fear for what is happening in the world. They do not understand why people act the way they do. They can no longer account for the behavior of people, in public or private, on the basis of the old explanations, but people act in strange and unusual ways today. Why is this? Well, it is because, as Paul says, "we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but we are striking out against those dark powers which hold humanity enslaved," (Ephesians 6:12 KJV). Dr. Charles Malik, former President of the General Assembly of the United Nations, said, "We must remember that we are still living, as the Germans say, zwischen den zeiten (between the times) when demonic forces can quickly soar very high, and can bring about conditions wherein men are no longer able to control the events of their lives." This is what we are facing.
And, you see, this is what the writer is celebrating -- the mighty power of Jesus Christ to open men's eyes, and to stroke them free from the shackles which bind them -- these illusions that clamp an iron grip on the minds and hearts of people, young and old alike, and hold them in enslavement to do things which destroy themselves and others, and yet which they can seemingly do nothing about, because they do not even see how mixed up their thinking is, how confused they are. What a King is, who rides out in majesty!
The next section describes the nature that he possesses:
Your divine throne endures for ever and ever.
Your royal scepter is a scepter of equity;
you love righteousness and hate wickedness.
Therefore God, your God, has anointed you
with the oil of gladness above your fellows; (Psalms 45:6-7 RSV)
These verses are quoted in the opening chapter of Hebrewsto prove the deity of the Lord Jesus Christ, and his superiority to any of the angels. He is not an angel; he is not the highest of the created beings; he himself is God -- yet God become man. Instead of, "Your divine throne..." the Hebrew reads, "Your throne, O God, endures for ever and ever." The reason it is rendered as it is in the Revised Standard Version is not that the revisors were trying to destroy the doctrine of the deity of Jesus. Rather, they were trying to use language which they felt would fit the human situation from which this psalm arose. No Hebrew would ever address a king as, "Your throne, O God..." So, in order to tone down the language to fit the human situation, they made it, "Your divine throne..." But this is what we need to remember about the psalms -- oftentimes their language is exalted beyond any possible application to an earthly being, and then it must be translated the way it is. And here it is, "Your throne, O God..." The King is addressed as God.
Yet the very next sentence says, "Therefore God, your God, has anointed you..." Here is One who is both God -- and yet has a God -- God and man! So the secret of Jesus' incarnation is recorded for us here one thousand years before he appeared on earth. Here is blended this marvelous mystery which caused the shepherds to whisper in awe-struck wonder on the occasion of his birth in Bethlehem, "Emmanuel -- God with us." Think of it! Think of the wonder of this Person, who was himself the mighty God -- and yet became flesh. This is what moves the Apostle Paul to cry out to Timothy, "Great indeed is the mystery of our faith: God was manifested in the flesh!" What an amazing mystery this is! This is what has moved the hymn writers of the Christian faith to write such startled phrases: "The Son of God appears." "Veiled in flesh the Godhead see!" "The Immortal dies!" -- all centering on this amazing, remarkable secret: that here is One who blended together the natures of man and God.
And yet as he lived among us, though his deity was there, hidden away, he never acted from it, he never spoke from it. Instead, he relied, as we must rely, upon the imparted life of the Father dwelling within him. Yet he himself was God the Son. This is a mystery which beggars all possible explanation; we cannot grasp it.
Because of this mystery, as we are told here, he was the Anointed One. He fulfilled all the offices for which an anointing was required in the Old Testament: the Prophet, the Priest, and the King. As the Prophet he spoke the words of God in a way which has never been equalled. As the Priest he offered himself as a sacrifice. As the King he ruled the course of nature, and he came rising up from the dead. Death could not hold him, because he was anointed of God: "Therefore God, your God, has anointed you with the oil of gladness above your fellows..." That is a beautiful phrase to describe the Holy Spirit: "the oil of gladness". It was by the Spirit that he did all these things. And it is the Spirit that creates gladness in the human heart. This is the heritage of all who come to know the Son of God. They share with him in this anointing with the oil of gladness.
The final section of this division of the Psalm sets before us the relationship that he desires. What is this all about? Why this marvelous story of One who is fairer than the sons of men, and whose lips are filled with gracious words, who is able to strike the shackles of slavery from people and set them free, and who combines in his own being the character of God and man in a marvelous mystery of union? What is he after, what does he want? Well, the Psalmist tells us. He has come to get married. He has come for a bride:
your robes are all fragrant with myrrh and aloes of cassia.
>From ivory palaces stringed instruments make you glad;
daughters of kings are among your ladies of honor;
at your right hand stands the queen in gold of Ophir. (Psalms 45:8-9 RSV)
This describes a marriage service. And traced for us here is a remarkable series of preparations. First of all, he has prepared himself. The writer says, "Your robes are all fragrant with myrrh and aloes and cassia." Now, these are burial spices. You remember that when the women went to the tomb on Easter Sunday morning, they carried with them a quantity of spices -- myrrh and aloes -- in order to wrap the body of the Lord and preserve it in its death. And yet here these same spices are present at the wedding. What does this mean? Well, that this marriage is made possible out of death, that somehow out of death comes this fragrant incense which makes glorious the scene of the wedding. You can see how beautifully this fits with what the Apostle Paul describes for us in Ephesians 5, when he says that Christ loved the church and gave himself for it, Ephesians 5:25). He died for it. He went into the bonds of death for us. Why? In order that he might present to himself a glorious church, a beautiful bride, without spot or blemish or any such thing. That is what he is after. So he prepared himself for this purpose.
Then, he has prepared a place. We read of where this wedding is to take place: "From ivory palaces stringed instruments make you glad; daughters of kings are among your ladies of honor..." It is a picture of a beautiful place, and it reminds us immediately of Jesus' words to his disciples before the cross. He said to them, "I am going to prepare a place for you. But if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you unto myself, that where I am you may be also," John 14:2-3). That place is being prepared now. It is a place of beauty and glory beyond any possible description. These terms used here are simply a way of suggesting to us what it is like: ivory palaces, filled with music and gladness, with a rejoicing company around.
And finally the bride herself is prepared: "...at your right hand stands the queen in gold of Ophir." In Oriental custom, this golden dress was always presented to the queen by the bridegroom himself. He paid for the golden dress. I have been interested for some time in trying to reestablish scriptural customs for wedding services here in the Western world. It is right for the grooms to pay all the expenses, as they did there! Since I have four daughters, you can understand my urgency in this respect!
But this is also a wonderful picture for us, is it not? Who is it that is preparing us for this day, for this sharing of life together? There is a sense in which we have already entered into this relationship with the Lord, if we belong to his bride, the church of Jesus Christ. Well, it is he who is preparing us. He has clothed us with his own righteousness -- our golden robe. Gold, in Scripture, is always the picture of deity, and this is a hint of what Peter speaks of: "We are made partakers," he says, "of the divine nature," (2 Peter 1;4). Do you really grasp this? Have you ever really thought that these words are not merely magic poetry? This is true! Jesus Christ is blending our lives with his, and giving us all his position and all his privileges and all his power and all his interests. All that belongs to him belongs to us. One of the things which is most seriously wrong with the church today is that we are forgetting the privileges we have. We do not reckon on them, we do not think about how tremendous they are. Yet here stands the bride, ready to join him, dressed in gold which he has provided.
The next division of the Psalm is addressed to the bride. If anything should be significant to us in this psalm, it is this. Here are the words to the bride:
Hear, O daughter, consider, and incline your year;
forget your people and your father's house;
and the king will desire your beauty.
Since he is your lord, bow to him [literally, "worship him"],
the people of Tyre will sue your favor with gifts,
even the richest of the people. [Put a period there, because the next phrase really belongs with what follows.] (Psalms 45:10-12 RSV)
Two things are said here to the queen. First, "Consider, and incline your ear; forget your people and your father's house." What does that mean for us today? What is the Psalmist saying to us when he exhorts us as Christians to forget our people and our father's house? What is our father's house? Well, it is the old nature, the place where we were born. It is the Adamic life, the flesh, the self-centered life with which we started, the process of depending upon self, by which we have been operating. Forget this, turn from it, reject it, "forget your people and your father's house; and..." What? "...the king will desire your beauty." Is not that beautiful? Do you see what he is saying there? Have you ever thought, when the Lord Jesus throughout the Scriptures is exhorting you to give yourself to him, to forget your old, selfish, self-centered way of life and to make yourself available to him, an instrument of his working, that you are arousing a desire and a hunger in his heart for you, that he desires your beauty? This is, of course, put into the intimate language of a marriage relationship -- a husband and wife. He is exhorting her to forget the old in order that he might desire the new.
And the second thing said to the queen: "Since he is your lord, bow to him; [Worship him, acknowledge his Lordship. And the result will be,] the people of Tyre will sue your favor with gifts, even the riches of the people." Throughout the Scriptures the city of Tyre is used as a picture of the world. He is saying that if the church begins to worship its Lord as it should, the world will start coming to our door asking for help. One of our problems at present is that the church has stopped worshipping its Lord. We do not bow to him anymore, do not acknowledge him. He is no longer King in our hearts; he is more like a constitutional monarch who is sort of a figurehead to whom we pay a little homage now and then. Once in awhile we toss him a dime or two to keep him happy. But we do not follow him; we do not obey him. This is why the world looks at the church as irrelevant and foolish, a waste of time. But when the church begins to worship its Lord again, and to glory in his being, and to count on the riches of his grace, and to honor and exalt and obey him, then the people of the world will court the favor of the church, and will come again for wisdom and help, and for light in their darkness.
The rest of the psalm is simply a description of the beauty of the wedding. We will read it quickly, beginning with verse 13, and will adopt the marginal reading:
All glorious is the princess within, [that is, her inner life is right]
gold embroidery is her clothing; [Her outer life also.]
in many-colored robes she is led to the king,
with her virgin companions, her escort, in her train.
With joy and gladness they are led along
as they enter the palace of the king. (Psalms 45:13b-15 RSV)
That is another way of describing the coming event which Paul speaks of in the eighth chapter of Romans, when he says that the whole creation is now held in bondage and travail, groaning in pain, waiting for the day when what God is doing through this present age will suddenly be unveiled, and the sons of God will stand forth in manifestation. In that day, he says, the whole creation will be delivered from bondage, and it will shout and sing as in a great wedding celebration.
On that day, the bride of Christ will be claimed in open acknowledgment for what she is, having been fashioned through this period of time. This is what God is doing now. The important things happening today are not what is recorded in our newspapers. What is happening today that is important, what will be reckoned throughout eternity as the most staggering thing that has occurred in our day, is what is taking place right now, right in our hearts -- changes of attitude, deliverance from various bad habits, freedom to be what we ought to be, the fact that love is beginning to fill our homes, and that we react less frequently in resentment and bitterness toward one another but are beginning to learn how to show forth the love of God which is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit. Those are the important things.
The psalm concludes with two verses which are the promise of God toward this mighty King. Rather than upon his human ancestry, the Davidic line, the emphasis in that day will be upon those who are linked with him as sons. The book of Hebrewssays that the Father is in the process of bringing many sons to glory. This is what he is doing right now.
Instead of your fathers shall be your sons;
you will make them princes in all the earth.
I will cause your name to be celebrated in all generations;
therefore the peoples will praise you for ever and ever. (Psalms 45;16-17 RSV)
Is this not another way of saying what Paul so beautifully says in Philippians?
Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:9-11 RSV)
What a king! The king in all his beauty!
Our Father, we thank you for this glimpse, through this Old Testament Psalmist, of the beauty of the Lord Jesus Christ. How our hearts are stirred again by this story -- which is told out in this old, old Christmas tale -- of One who left heaven's glory and came to dwell among us, in all the coldness and bondage and enslavement of earth, in order that we might be free to be with him some day in all the glory of his being and to share his glory for all eternity. How tremendous this is, Lord! What purpose and meaning it gives to life! Help us to rejoice in it this day, we pray in his name, Amen.