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“King; His Reign”

Psalm 72
Bob DeGray
December 26, 2004

Key Sentence

The child in the manger is the king who reigns.


I. The righteousness of His reign.
II. The eternity of His reign.
III. The extent of His reign.
IV. The salvation of His reign.
V. The blessing of His reign.
VI. The object of His reign.


        I don’t like to leave Jesus in the manger after Christmas. The manger is an incredible place for Jesus to have started his human experience, but it is only the dawn of the day of redemption. It is his redemption and reign that receive most of Scripture’s focus. That’s why I’m glad the Christmas story itself doesn’t end in the manger. Matthew tells us of the wise men who came later, following the star, giving gifts that pointed to the significance of His life. In the frankincense was a recognition of Jesus’ deity, a gift offered as a sweet fragrance to a god. In the myrrh was a recognition of his death, a spice used to prepare a body for burial. Finally, in the gold there was a recognition of Jesus’ sovereignty; a gift fit for a king, himself fit to reign. Even in the magi’s visit we see that the child in the manger is the king who reigns.

        Our neon word this week, the last in our series, is ‘king’, Hebrew ‘melek’. If you think about how many kings there are in the Old Testament, you won’t be surprised to know that this is the most common of all our neon words. It’s used over 2200 times - a factor of a hundred too many for a good sermon. So I’ve chosen one text in which the word king is used a few times, and which expansively describes the king’s reign, so we can get a sense of God’s idea of what it means to be a king.

        The text is Psalm 72, a great prophetic Psalm that looks forward to the coming of the Messiah as king, to rescue all nations and reign over all nations. That prophecy began to be fulfilled in Christ’s Incarnation, it continues to be fulfilled as we take him to be our King, and it will be finally fulfilled when he comes again to reign in glory. This text reminds us that the child in the manger is the king who reigns.

I. The righteousness of His reign.

        Psalm 72 was written by Solomon or possibly to Solomon by David. On one level these verses describe an earthly king who rules with integrity over a vast kingdom. But the Psalm has long been recognized as focusing on the coming Messiah as King over all nations. The first few verses show us the righteousness of his reign. Psalm 72:1-4 Endow the king with your justice, O God, the royal son with your righteousness. 2He will judge your people in righteousness, your afflicted ones with justice. 3The mountains will bring prosperity to the people, the hills the fruit of righteousness. 4He will defend the afflicted among the people and save the children of the needy; he will crush the oppressor.

Who is this king? The Psalmist, whether David or Solomon, has created a description of kingship that goes far beyond what any earthly king could achieve. Instead he is looking forward to the reign of the Messianic king whose coming was promised in so many neon verses, and whose birth we celebrate at Christmas.

        This promised king was distinguished from all earthly kings in that he possessed the qualities of deity, including justice and righteousness. These similar English words were the focus of our very first study in this neon series. We learned that God is righteous, that God’s standard of righteousness is the standard for all people, and that we cannot achieve this righteousness by human merit - we can only receive it.

        So in one sense the first verse of this Psalm is merely asking that the king have that gift, that he be endowed with justice and possess righteousness. But the strong wording of verses 1 and 2 implies that this king would act with a righteousness and justice reserved to God. In the Hebrew mind these qualities flowed from God’s nature: inherent righteousness, righteousness to the core was only possible for God. Psalm 97:2 “Clouds and thick darkness surround Him; Righteousness and justice are the foundation of His throne.” Psalm 9:8 “He will judge the world in righteousness; he will govern the peoples with justice.” Yet in Isaiah 11:1 we have a prophecy of the Messiah, the Davidic king we’ve seen so often in this series. “A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit. The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him . . . “ And this Messiah dispenses supernatural justice and righteousness. Verse 3 “He will not judge by what he sees with his eyes, or decide by what he hears with his ears; but with righteousness he will judge the needy, with justice he will give decisions for the poor of the earth.”

        Verses 3 and 4 give us a preview of the results of a righteous reign. First, the mountains will bring prosperity to the people. The word prosperity is Hebrew ‘shalom’ our neon word ‘peace’ from last week. This peace is a byproduct of righteousness, of this king’s righteous reign. In verse 4 he brings justice to the afflicted, rescues the needy, crushes the oppressor. I recently read a really good biography of Alfred the Great, king of England, Wessex, in the 800's. He was a remarkable ruler in that he was able to substantially defeat, or at least hold at bay, the Viking hordes that were invading England, and in doing so he created an effective army and a navy. He was also a devout believer, and even converted some of the key Viking leaders. On top of that he was the first English king to ever be concerned with literacy among the people, and wrote a number of books to priests especially toward education. Finally, he was very concerned with justice and gave his people their first written code of law. And yet, Alfred the Great is hardly remembered. True and lasting righteousness and justice can only be fully achieved by the Messianic king because they require the supernatural wisdom and power of one who is not merely a human king but one endowed with the full qualities of deity - God incarnate.

        Before we go on we need to ask when this prophetic Psalm was or will be fulfilled. Was it fulfilled by Solomon or one of the Hebrew kings? None come close. Was it fulfilled at the first coming of Christ? Partially. Much of this Psalm pictures Christ as we know him in the Gospels. All followers of Jesus need to acknowledge him as their king and worship him for his reign, as described so wonderfully in this Psalm.

        But the final and most explicit fulfilment of this prophecy is yet to come. It won’t begin until the thousand years, when Jesus reigns on earth, as Lord over all nations and all people. So as we study the reign of this king, we want to ask “Has Jesus already done this, in the incarnation?” “Should it be true now in our lives?” and “Will there be a final fulfillment of this truth when he comes again?” If we think about those questions in terms of righteousness and justice we are immediately drawn to think of his sinless and therefore righteous life, and to the justice displayed in his death.

        Think of it. In one sense Jesus’ death was completely unjust. He was just as innocent of wrongdoing at his death as he was in the manger. In another sense his death was just; he took on himself our sins, and those sins rightly deserved punishment. The holiness of God, which makes him hate sin, needed to be satisfied. Justice needed to be done. When Jesus substituted himself for us, it was just that the full judgment of our sin fall on Him, so that when we put our faith and trust in him, we escape that judgment. The justice of God was fully satisfied in the death of Christ.

        And looking forward, we expect righteousness and justice when he comes again. We’ve seen that often in the last weeks of this series. The prophecies agree he will bring justice to all peoples and nations, and that his reign will be a reign of righteousness.

II. The eternity of His reign.

        A second characteristic of his reign will be its eternality. He will reign forever and ever. No human king can make that claim, but the child of Bethlehem can. Verses 5 to 7: 5He will endure as long as the sun, as long as the moon, through all generations. 6He will be like rain falling on a mown field, like showers watering the earth. 7In his days the righteous will flourish; prosperity will abound till the moon is no more.

Don’t you see Jesus in those verses? He is the eternal king, God as well as man. No mere human king could endure as long as the sun or the moon, or provide an eternity of of benevolence and goodness. Jesus isn’t coming to set up a cruel dictatorship or tyranny, like Hitler or Stalin. No, when you live under the tyranny of Jesus, you find it gentle and good, like rain falling gently to water the earth. Admittedly it’s a bad time of year for that imagery: we actually had a white Christmas. But we’ve all known spring rain, a soft, warm rain that seems to carry sunshine to the earth. That’s the kind of reign God’s king will bring - a gentle and benevolent rule.
        Under that rule the righteous will flourish, and prosperity will abound. So often we look at our world and ask “Why do the evil prosper?” Why is it that someone blatantly ignoring God’s morals and God’s word would achieve fame and power and public approval, while many seeking to follow God struggle with poverty and tragedy? Something is wrong, and Scripture is well aware of the injustice of the situation. The author of Psalm 74 says “When I looked at the prosperity of the wicked, my feet almost slipped.” Well that may be the way it is now, but that’s not the way its going to be. When God reigns on the throne as king, the righteous will flourish.

        Now obviously this promise of eternity is most focused on the second coming of Christ. But it was reconized in his first coming. The angel said to Mary that he would reign on the throne of his father David, forever; his kingdom would never end. He didn’t take that throne in his first advent, but he was recognized by many as king, and even admitted kingship to Pilate, though he said “my kingdom is not of this world.” After his resurrection he went further, promising to return in glory, and saying “All authority has been given to me in heaven and on earth . . . . I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Only an eternal king could make those promises.

        And that means that for us the child we celebrate is now and should be our eternal king. The fact that he hasn’t come yet to set up his kingdom doesn’t mean he shouldn’t reign over his people. He has the right, the authority, to tell us what to do, and where to do it, when to do it and how to do it. And such rule is not tyrannical, for he does reign over us like a gentle spring rain and like a mist falling on the fields. He doesn’t often twist our arms; he influences us by his word and by His Spirit to know and do His will. Having Jesus as our king, is no burden for those who have learned of him, for his yoke is easy, his burden light: he gives rest to the soul.

III. The extent of His reign.

        So, his is an eternal righteous reign – and it is also universal. Verses 8 to 11: 8He will rule from sea to sea and from the River to the ends of the earth. 9The desert tribes will bow before him and his enemies will lick the dust. 10The kings of Tarshish and of distant shores will bring tribute to him; the kings of Sheba and Seba will present him gifts. 11All kings will bow down to him and all nations will serve him.

The King will reign every when and every where, forever and wherever. The Psalm describes this using typical Hebrew imagery. From sea to sea is from east to west. In other places in the Bible, describing local rule, one of these words would be the sea, the Mediterranean, and the other would be the Jordan or the Sea of Galilee. But here the phrase is ‘from sea to sea’ From Mediterranean to Mediterranean: implying, though not teaching directly that if you went east far enough, you would eventually come home from the west - around the world. Again, this King will rule from the Euphrates to the ends of the earth. The Euphrates was the great river of Babylon, bordering Eden, and was considered the center of the world. This king will rule from there to the ends of the earth - in other words, everywhere.
        David’s kingdom was limited to the land of Israel, and some few surrounding conquests. Solomon’s was a bit larger, but not a world empire. Only the Messianic King, only Jesus could be said to rule to the ends of the earth. It follows, that if this king is ruling everywhere, then he is also ruling everyone. All people of all nations are part of his domain. The desert tribes, his enemies, the kings of Tarshish and the distant shores: all will bow down to him and serve him. He is the overlord, high king over the kings of nations, sovereign over their peoples. They serve him, bring tribute to him, present him gifts, bow before him. He is Lord; they are his subjects.

        This is the way it’s supposed to be, and the way it will be when Jesus returns. In that day each person will acknowledge him. Every knee will bow, as those magi did so wisely in Bethlehem, and every tongue will confess that Jesus is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. And even in these days before his return, still he is Lord. To those who follow him he is just as much our sovereign as if he sat on a throne in Jerusalem. The ‘now’ part of his ‘now and not yet’ kingdom is his reign in the heart, his rulership over all who will submit themselves to him.

IV. The salvation of His reign.

        So now we’ve seen that the king’s reign is righteous, that it is eternal, and that it is universal. In verses 12 to 14 we see that it is a compassionate or saving reign: 12For he will deliver the needy who cry out, the afflicted who have no one to help. 13He will take pity on the weak and the needy and save the needy from death. 14He will rescue them from oppression and violence for precious is their blood in his sight.

This is the most exciting part of this Psalm. This Messiah, this King, is born to save, to rescue those in need. That’s most clear in the original Hebrew. Verse 12: “For he will deliver the needy” The word deliver literally means ‘to pull someone out of a hole”, and is often used of a spiritual deliverance. In Psalm 39:8 “Deliver me from all my transgressions.” In Psalm 51:14 “Deliver me from blood guilt, O God, the God who saves me.”

        This compassionate king who rescues us will also have compassion on the poor and needy. The word ‘needy’, used three times in these two verses, is used of physical need. In most places God is seen as being the rescuer of the needy, but here it is the King who rescues from oppression and violence. And notice a key phrase at the end of verse 13: He saves the lives of the needy, or he saves the needy from death. Literally, he saves the souls of the needy. He is the rescuer not only from their physical affliction, but he is their Savior spiritually. Moreover, when you see the word save, in the Old Testament, you are looking at the word ‘Yeshua’, one of our neon words, the name the angel gave Jesus who would save or ‘Yeshua’ his people from their sins. The King, the Messiah, is the Yeshua, the Savior; Jesus.

        Finally, verse 14, he will rescue them from oppression and violence. That word ‘rescue’ is the Hebrew ‘ga’al’ which is more profoundly translated ‘redeem.’ - another neon word we haven’t studied. It basically means to buy back, to pay the debt someone owes, to purchase their freedom. It was used when a relative bought back a family member from slavery, or , as we saw Friday night, it could be used of the price paid for adoption. In Isaiah God uses this word to describe himself. Isaiah 44:6 This is what the Lord says__Israel's King and Redeemer, the Lord Almighty: I am the first and I am the last; apart from me there is no God. Isaiah 41:14 Do not be afraid, O worm Jacob, O little Israel, for I myself will help you," declares the Lord, your Redeemer. In redeeming from oppression and violence, this Messiah king is taking the part of God.

        And the reason given for this redemption reveals it’s nature: Their blood is precious in his sight. If this King was to be their redeemer he would have to pay the debt of their sin. The payment due was their life blood. The price of rebellion against God our creator, the price of sin against him, is eternal separation, which we call death and hell. This penalty is pictured in the Bible by the shedding of blood - and without the shedding of blood, the Old Testament says, there is no forgiveness of sins. So this king, this Go’el, this Jesus, redeems those whose blood is precious in his sight by shedding his own blood. He offers himself as a substitute to pay their debt. Thus does he rescue, thus does he save, thus does he deliver, thus does he redeem.

V. The blessing of His reign.

        The Christmas child was the ultimate king, having a righteous reign, an eternal reign, a universal reign, and a reign of salvation. His reign is blessed and a blessing. Verses 15 to 17: Long may he live! May gold from Sheba be given him. May people ever pray for him and bless him all day long. 16Let grain abound throughout the land; on the tops of the hills may it sway. Let its fruit flourish like Lebanon; let it thrive like the grass of the field. 17May his name endure forever; may it continue as long as the sun. All nations will be blessed through him, and they will call him blessed.

        These verses are a picture of blessedness. There are really two uses of the word blessing. One the one hand, the King blesses his people. Verse 17: ‘all nations will be blessed through him.’ In this case blessing is the provision of abundance and prosperity: the grain abounding in the land and swaying on the hills is evidence of His blessing. The fruit flourishing like Lebanon, like the grass of the field is his blessing.

        But the blessing in these verses is also directed to the king: Verse 15: may people ever pray for him and bless him all day long. The King’s people recognize his greatness, recognize his provision, and then they value him, honor him, and exalt him because of these things. That’s really what we’ve been trying to do as look at this Psalm. We want to value and honor and exalt Jesus because of his greatness as the ultimate Biblical king. We could’ve looked at a hundred other kings to study this neon word. Some would have been awful abusers of their power, some would have attempted to reign in righteousness, but none of them compare to the king we actually have.

        What other ruler has ever ruled with real righteousness and real justice? Many have tried, but only Jesus has ever really done so - or ever will. What other ruler has ever had an eternal reign? The Pharaohs, the Caesars, the Charlemanges, the Napoleons, the Hitlers, the Stalins have long since rotted in their graves but Jesus reigns now and forevermore. What other ruler has achieved world wide dominion? Many have tried, many great empires lie in the dust. Only Jesus as king will rule over all. Most of all, what ruler has ever rescued his people though sacrificial compassion? Many have desired to do good, but they had not the power to rescue the afflicted, or to redeem them or bring salvation. But Jesus, through the shedding of his blood, has done all that. We are blessed by this eternal king: we should bless him for it.

VI. The object of His reign.

        And as the Psalm teaches us, that blessing looks a lot like praise. Verses 18 and 19 remind us that the source of this goodness is God himself. It is God who has come in Jesus. It is God who has saved. It is God who reigns. It is God who is to be praised. Praise be to the Lord God, the God of Israel, who alone does marvelous deeds. Praise be to his glorious name forever, may the whole earth be filled with his glory.

As we meet here, on the day after Christmas, it is natural for us to look back, and to celebrate the one born in Bethlehem, one who came to sit on David’s throne and to rule the nations. It is natural for us to look forward, to his future rule, to that time when every nation, every king bows down and serves him. But our main concern must not be with the past, nor even with the future, but with the present, with his rule and his reign in our hearts and our lives. We must not leave him in the manger, but place him on the throne, and live in grateful obedience and praise to him for all he has done. If he is to reign anywhere, he must reign in you, and in me.

        Many of the great hymns of the faith that we still sing were written in the middle of the 1700's by a small town Puritan pastor in England, a man who was dissatisfied with the church’s music and longed to make it accessible to the common believer. His name was Isaac Watts, and one of his greatest works was a hymn-book called ‘The Psalms of David in the Language of the New Testament’. He wrote one or more hymns for each of the 150 Psalms, with the goal of expressing the thoughts and ideas of Scripture in language that would touch people’s hearts. He wanted to write simple poetry, singable hymns. Some of his poems are pretty bad, but some of them are tremendous. One of the ones we still sing is thought of as a Christmas carol, though in fact it is a meditation on Psalm 98: “Joy to the world, the Lord has come; let earth receive her king.”

        But I want to close today with another hymn from that same collection. It’s a hymn intended to express the thought of a particular Psalm, and that Psalm is the one we’ve just been studying, Psalm 72. Isaac Watts meditated on the truths we’ve seen today, took up his pen and wrote “Jesus Shall Reign”. The child in the manger is the greatest expression of what the Bible means by ‘king’ and he shall reign.