Playing Psalms — An Advent Series, Act 3

The lights flicker, indicating the end of intermission. Picking up our playbill, we note that Act 3 of Playing Psalms will portray Psalm 110. Interestingly, the playbill goes on to explain that Psalm 110 is the most quoted Psalm in all of the New Testament. By a lot. We wonder why that would be, but we suspect it has something to do with the Messiah. Curiosity peaks just as the curtains lift.

Our eyes try to take in the props before us. Three large statues, spaced equally apart so that none seems to overtake the others. A king. A priest. A warrior.

Act Three, Scene One

Photo by Karolina Kołodziejczak on Unsplash

Immediately, the spotlight illuminates the king, and our narrator’s voice speaks clearly, slowly, as if to help us hear every word.

The LORD says to my Lord:
“Sit at my right hand
    until I make your enemies
    a footstool for your feet.”

Psalm 110:1

The words of this verse pop up on a screen we hadn’t noticed before. No explanations. Just verse one of Psalm 110.

Then the verse is repeated aloud, our eyes following along:

The LORD says to my Lord:
“Sit at my right hand
    until I make your enemies
    a footstool for your feet.”

Psalm 110:1

Understanding dawns as we work out there are three kings at play in this verse:

“Psalm 110 is spoken by a human king (David) about a divine king (God) and a divine-human king (Jesus).”  

(many thanks to Jen Wilkin at Village Church in her Psalms study for this observation)

David is speaking. About God, who is speaking to Jesus and inviting Him to sit at His right hand…

[Pause the play.]

In case you’re wondering about the interpretation of this verse, I’d love to point you to Matthew 22 — a place in the New Testament where Jesus Himself dialogues with the Pharisees, Jewish leaders of His day.

While the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them, “What do you think about the Messiah? Whose son is he?”

“The son of David,” they replied.

He said to them, “How is it then that David, speaking by the Spirit, calls him ‘Lord’? For he says,

“‘The LORD said to my Lord:
  “Sit at my right hand
until I put your enemies
    under your feet.”’

If then David calls him ‘Lord,’ how can he be his son?” No one could say a word in reply, and from that day on no one dared to ask him any more questions.

Matthew 22:41-46

In an epic battle of wit, Jesus victoriously directs the Pharisees toward truth. Pharisees had long believed Psalm 110:1 described David’s literal son, but Jesus pointed out the fallacy of such logic. King David would not have called his son, Lord, a title saved for someone of higher rank. 

Jesus clarifies for everyone what was intended in this Psalm — a foreshadow of Messiah as King, as God’s literal “right hand man.” 

Writers of the New Testament quoted and alluded to this verse over 20 times. All three synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) include this clarifying conversation between Jesus and the Pharisees. In other words, it’s important.

Peter, an apostle and one of the leaders of the Jerusalem Christian church, quoted Psalm 110:1 in his Pentecost sermon (see Acts 2:34), convincing three thousand people to follow Jesus that day. 

Paul also quoted this same verse in his letter to the Corinthians, arguing Jesus as the resurrected Christ (see 1 Corinthians 15:25). Additionally, he either quoted or alluded to it in several other letters, building on the imagery of Jesus sitting at God’s right hand as proof of His identity — as did the letter of Hebrews in its opening paragraph (1:3). 

To say this verse is significant in pointing people to Jesus as Messiah is an understatement. 

[back to the play]

Our eyes glued to the statue of the king, we picture Him sitting next to God on a throne, with his feet propped-up on the backs of his enemies. This is a King of great power!

Act Three, Scene Two

The spotlight remains on the king as we hear the next verses of this Royal Psalm:

The Lord will extend your mighty scepter from Zion, saying,
    “Rule in the midst of your enemies!”
Your troops will be willing
    on your day of battle.
Arrayed in holy splendor,
    your young men will come to you
    like dew from the morning’s womb.

Psalm 110:2-3

The image of the mighty scepter in the hand of the Lord opens our imaginations further. While most of us have never been led by a king, we know enough of history to recognize this ornamental staff as a symbol of sovereignty. 

Jesus the King reigns supreme. The Sovereign One rules His army in all glory and power, and He leads in such a way that soldiers freely follow Him onto the field of battle — they pursue His presence because they want to.

Act Three, Scene Three

Photo by Mauro Shared Pictures on Unsplash

We watch as the spotlight meanders to and rests upon the middle statue of the priest. Our narrator picks up with our Psalm:

The LORD has sworn
    and will not change his mind:
“You are a priest forever,
    in the order of Melchizedek.”

Psalm 110:4

We recognize the voice in this verse as God’s, speaking to His Son, the King. Only now God calls Jesus…priest? 

Risking a glance at our playbill for an explanation, we find a simple definition — Priests are mediators who stand between God and God’s people, representing the people on their behalf before God.

Could Jesus be both king and priest?

Our inner inquiries are interrupted when the screen lights up, emblazoned with the name, MELCHIZEDEK. Simultaneously, the narrator cites a selection from Genesis:

After Abram returned from defeating Kedorlaomer and the kings allied with him, the king of Sodom came out to meet him in the Valley of Shaveh (that is, the King’s Valley).

Then Melchizedek, king of Salem, brought out bread and wine. He was priest of God Most High, and he blessed Abram...

Genesis 14:17-19a

Grateful for some context, we learn that Melchizedek was both a king and a priest of God. The comparison of Melchizedek and Jesus sheds light on the complex nature of Messiah.

Then, the narrator continues with a passage from Hebrews:

This Melchizedek was king of the city of Salem and also a priest of God Most High. When Abraham was returning home after winning a great battle against the kings, Melchizedek met him and blessed him. Then Abraham took a tenth of all he had captured in battle and gave it to Melchizedek…. There is no record of his father or mother or any of his ancestors—no beginning or end to his life. He remains a priest forever, resembling the Son of God….

Jesus became a priest, not by meeting the physical requirement of belonging to the tribe of Levi, but by the power of a life that cannot be destroyed. And the psalmist pointed this out when he prophesied,

“You are a priest forever in the order of Melchizedek.”

…Because Jesus lives forever, his priesthood lasts forever. Therefore he is able, once and forever, to save those who come to God through him. He lives forever to intercede with God on their behalf.

Hebrews 7:1-2a, 3, 16-17, 24-25 (NLT)

The production pauses, perhaps to give us space to ponder how Jesus the Messiah fittingly fills both roles — king and priest. Jesus certainly reigns and rules, but He also intercedes for us before God, making us right with God (see Romans 8:34). 

We stare at the priest statue with wonder and awe. Jesus is both! King. And priest!. 

But, wait. There’s a third statue. You don’t think…

Act Three, Scene Four

Photo by Andrea Junqueira on Unsplash

The spotlight finds its way to the warrior sculpture and stops. This mounted soldier holds his sword high. He is ready for battle. We scratch our heads as the narrator finishes Psalm 110:

The Lord is at your right hand;
    he will crush kings on the day of his wrath.
He will judge the nations, heaping up the dead
    and crushing the rulers of the whole earth.
He will drink from a brook along the way,
    and so he will lift his head high.

Psalm 110:5-7

Psalm 110 ends where it began with Jesus at God’s right hand, vanquishing His enemies. This is a picture of final victory — the one of Jesus’ second coming. This Warrior King and Priest wins! The victory is His! We end with this picture:

“The king-maker put His King on the throne. The true King rules with His head held high.”  

(Jen Wilkin in Village Church’s Psalms study)

The three statues loom over us, helping us see Jesus as He is — King, Priest, and Warrior. He came to earth, born in a manger to rule, intercede, and fight for us.

[Enter choir — stage right]

We close our eyes as the familiar tune begins. We sing along, recognizing all the truths we’ve been learning, woven throughout the lyrics.

It came upon a midnight clear
That glorious song of old,
From angels bending near the earth,
To touch their harps of gold:
“Peace on the earth, goodwill to men,
From heaven’s all-gracious King.”
The world in solemn stillness lay,
To hear the angels sing.

Yet with the woes of sin and strife
The world has suffered long;
Beneath the angel-strain have rolled
Two thousand years of wrong;
And man, at war with man, hears not
The love-song which they bring;
O hush the noise, ye men of strife,
And hear the angels sing.

And ye, beneath life’s crushing load,
Whose forms are bending low,
Who toil along the climbing way
With painful steps and slow,
Look now for glad and golden hours
Come swiftly on the wing.
O rest beside the weary road,
And hear the angels sing!

For lo, the days are hastening on,
By prophet bards foretold,
When with the ever-circling years
Shall come the age of gold
When peace shall over all the earth
Its ancient splendors fling,
And all the world give back the song
Which now the angels sing.

Glory to God
Glory in our heart

[Exit choir — stage right]

The curtains still lifted above us, the statues still gazing upon us, we remain there in worshipful gratitude. We mutter a word of repentance. We speak silent words of thanks. We bow our heads and utter, “Glory to God!”

And the curtain closes.

Psalm 110, written over 700 years before Jesus’ birth, paved the way for Messiah, giving Jesus definition beyond our understanding and roles of authority in every facet of life we can imagine — governmental, spiritual, physical. 

How will you respond today to your King? Will you submit to His reign in your life? Accepting His will over your own?

How will you look to your Priest? Will you surrender every thought and action to His authority and accept His grace?

How will you come alongside to serve the leader of the Angel Armies? Willingly? Humbly? Ready to step forward as needed?

This Advent we can look at the manger full of renewed gratitude for what He came to be and do. That little baby, full of innocence and fully holy, becomes king, priest, and warrior. For us.

Still uttering my worship, Shelley Johnson

PS — Read ahead for Act Four: Psalm 89:1-4, 19-37.

Header photo by Pro Church Media on Unsplash

Published by Shelley Linn Johnson

Lover of The Word. And words. Cultivator of curiosity about all things Christ. Lifelong learner who likes inviting others along for the journey. Recovering perfectionist who has only recently realized that rhythms are so much better than stress-inducing must-do's.

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