Sunday, September 4, 2011

Psalm 98 – The LORD Has Come

“O sing to the LORD a new song, for he has done marvellous things. His right hand and his holy arm have gotten him victory.” ~Psalm 98:1 (NRSV).

A joy beyond the difficulty of our circumstances is visible as we read this psalm. Nothing compares to the Glory of the Lord as it captivates our knowledge by way of the Saviour coming to smash the curse of sin. The Lord Jesus has come.

Continuing the echo of Psalm 96, this psalm magnifies the Nativity event; celebrating the coming of Christ not so much by death on the cross, as in humanity. These two psalms challenge the superficial theology that Jesus became Christ on the cross, missing the holy miracle that is the Incarnation of God in the human Jesus.

This is why the Christmas story is of vital importance. Kings are born; they are not made. The King of kings ignited the Divine redemptive plan in the manger of Bethlehem.

Psalm 98 follows a three-x-three structure, each stanza building on the previous.

God’s ‘Vindication’ Made Known

The first three verses peel off praise for the fact of God’s victory in the human birth of Jesus. The Lord’s vindication of Israel is made known, but that’s not the end of it. God has “revealed” the Saviour of humankind to all nations (verse 2b).

In verse 3, the steadfastness of Divine love is noted, by a sharp paradox; the psalmist sees God remembering the Divine nature. What enormous comfort it is when we see the faithfulness of the Lord operating in reality, before our eyes. There could not be a greater gift of God’s faithfulness than provision of the Messiah and, poignantly, our friendship made formal at the acceptance of Christ.

“Victory” is the catchcry in each of the first three verses; a victory causing all those witnessing these events—not just Israel—to create and sing a new song. This new song is a new life, sung to the sounds of grace; by the chords of salvation.

The Sound of Grace – the Chords of Salvation

Verses 4-6 build upon the victorious foundation—the testimony of the remembrance of faithfulness; the Father giving the entire world his only Son, the redemption promise fulfilled.

Musical nuances create imagery enlarging joyous sounds arranged by those enjoying new life. The bevy of instruments, and the utterance of layered tones, makes for a festival mood characterised by joy and praise in the community.

Grace sounds like sweet music. There is nothing bad about it and everything good. Grace grapples in love with a never-give-up approach, searching endlessly for the prodigal. There is nothing defensible about a God before salvation.

In salvation the Lord has come. God’s entire character is salvific.

The Coming Judgment

The final three verses speak of judgment. The word “judgment” most often gets a bad rap—it is seen negatively, as if we will all endure a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Of course, the ancient Israelites saw prophecy enacted at the Exodus. They witnessed with their own eyes the Lord coming. This coming was a salvation event. This coming was also a judgment event. There is no salvation without judgment.

The coming judgment is very much an eternal coming—God coming to save and to judge in righteousness, always.

Salvation is God’s eternal judgment: the proclamation to all nations that the Saviour has come. The fulfilment of grace is, as Isaac Watts wrote, “Joy to the World.” Beyond pain and the brokenness of life stakes God: the holy plan of salvation, which is ruthlessly and innately beyond all evil.

© 2011 S. J. Wickham.

General Reference: James L. Mays, Psalms – Interpretation Series (Louisville, Kentucky: John Knox Press, 1994), pp. 312-14.

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