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For King Or Country: Where Does Our Hope Lie? (Psalm 47 )

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(This sermon was delivered on November 4, 2012, the Sunday before the 2012 Presidential Election on Tuesday, November 6)

This Tuesday is a big day in the life of our country. It is the day that we as American citizens have the privilege of being part of the process of electing men and women who will lead our states and lead our country. It truly is a privilege and a significant part of the freedom we enjoy. I encourage all of you, if you have not already: be a part of that process and go and vote.

The election season can be an exciting time. As Americans we love good drama. And the election season brings plenty of excitement and drama. It can also be a season of hope and optimism as we support and try to elect men and women who we believe will strengthen our country and lead with the values that are important to us. But along with excitement and optimism, it can also bring anxiety, worry and even fear.

Take all of these emotions–excitement, optimism, hope--and combine them with anxiety, worry and even fear-–and this can become an emotionally intense time. When we go through times that are intense, like a presidential election season, our true character is revealed. Our true self has a way of being pushed to the surface for everyone to see. And it is often revealed in very subtle ways: through the very words we speak. It comes out in how we talk about politics and issues and candidates (and more specifically the ones we don’t support). How we talk about these things reveals our heart. It reveals our character.

For us as Christians, elections (and particularly presidential elections) have a way of revealing the state of our spiritual lives, and more specifically they have a way of revealing where our hope is.

The election season has a way of revealing through our words and actions where we find our security. The election season has a way of revealing through our words and actions who we are putting our trust in.

And when we go through times in which our hope is rattled, when we feel shaken, that is a powerful opportunity to take a moment and be reminded as believers in Jesus Christ where our hope truly is.

So that is what we are going to do this morning in this corporate setting, as the body of Christ and as a local church in Clinton, Iowa, just a couple days from a national and presidential election. We are going to remind ourselves where our hope truly is and where our lives should truly be anchored.

Our passage this morning comes from the book of Psalms, chapter 47.

There are many psalms in which the writer is speaking about his own personal relationship with God (we see this a lot when King David is the writer) or when he is speaking corporately about Israel’s relationship with God. And in those psalms we find ourselves on the outside looking in. We are on the outside observing someone else’s relationship and experience with God. Those psalms can certainly be very beneficial for us. We can learn a lot about the nature and character of God – his love and mercy, the fact that he is our rock, he is a refuge, and he is our light and our salvation. And we can take the words of those psalms and incorporate them into our own prayers and worship. But those psalms were not written about us – they were written about someone else’s personal relationship with God or Israel’s relationship with God.

That is not the case in Psalm 47. The writer does something in verse 1 of this psalm that makes this passage incredibly personal to you and me.

The psalmist writes in verse 1,

“Clap your hands, all you nations; shout to God with cries of joy.” (Psalm 47:1)

When he writes “all you nations,” he immediately invites you and me into this psalm. Psalm 47 now becomes very personal and very relevant to us. Because now we are a part of it.

So, what exactly have we become a part of? Well, the psalmist has invited us into a celebration – a time of worship. The psalmist is saying, “Hey nations, hey people of this earth – you have something to be excited about. You have something to cheer for.” And he tells us what that something is in verse 2.

He writes,

“How awesome is the Lord Most High, the great King over all the earth!” (Psalm 47:2)

The psalmist says the reason we are excited, the reason we are shouting with joy is:

God is King over ALL the earth.

God is no ordinary King. The psalmist tells us he is the Lord Most High. There is no one above him. He is the King of every other king, he is the Lord over every other lord and he is the One true God. And because of that, verse 2 tells us, we should be in awe! We should be in a place of amazement that causes us to clap and cheer and shout!!

Recognizing God as King is the foundational truth that you and I as believers in Jesus Christ stand on. It impacts how we view Scripture, God’s Word--whether we view it as just a historical book or the very authority that we place our lives under. The truth that God is King shapes how we view the world; it determines our decisions and our thoughts and our emotions. It is that truth that should guide us, shape us and change us. It is that truth that should cause us to be people of hope regardless of our circumstances. It is that truth that caused Paul to write in Romans 8:31, “If God is for us, who can be against us?” If God Most High, the King of the earth is for us, then what should really cause us any fear, or any anxiety or worry? And it is that truth that should drive us back to verse one in which the psalmist tells us to clap our hands and shout with joy. Why? Because God is King.

The Psalmist continues in verses 3-4:

“He subdued nations under us, peoples under our feet. He chose our inheritance for us, the pride of Jacob, whom he loved.” (Psalm 47:3-4)

The psalmist moves into verses 3-4 by thanking God for his blessings to Israel. This part does become very personal to the writer and the nation of Israel, which is what worship should do. Worship should lead us to a very personal response to God. The writer thanks God for subduing their enemies by placing other nations under them so they could enter into and live in the land promised by God – they could enjoy the inheritance God had chosen for them. Their inheritance was the promised land that God had given them. When they moved into the land, God gave them victories over the other nations that were living in the land. And so the writer is thanking God for this land, this inheritance, this blessing.

We should follow this same pattern of worship. Begin by recognizing who God is – “God you are King, you are sovereign, you reign over all the earth” -- which is similar to what we did a few minutes ago as we corporately praised God for who he is by singing to him together. And then worship should move to a personal response.

Our response might be something like, “Thank you, God, for sending your Son, Jesus Christ, who not only lived among us and taught us and modeled for us what it truly means to love and serve but he laid down his life for us on a cross. And through his death and resurrection all who trust in him may have life. Thank you, God, for your grace and mercy and your gift of salvation.”

And then our response of worship might move to an even more personal response. My response might be something like, “Thank you, God, for my wife, Anne. Thank you for allowing me to be in a marriage with a woman who loves and pursues you. Thank you for my three precious children. What a privilege it is to be their dad and watch them grow up. Thank you for the protection and provision you have given our family.”

When we acknowledge who God is, it leads us to a personal response of gratitude and worship.

After verse four we see the word “Selah,” which means to “pause.” The word is placed here to give the reader or listener an opportunity to reflect on what was just heard, what was just spoken. And pausing and reflecting is an important aspect of being reminded of our hope. In the previous psalm, Psalm 46, the writer says in verse 10,

“Be still and know that I am God.” (Psalm 46:10)

And so we will take a cue from the psalmist and pause. I would like you to take a moment and think about 2 things: 1) How does the truth that God is King impact or shape what is going on in your life right now? and 2) How has God worked in your life personally? Take a moment and respond to him in worship and gratitude. Let’s pause and reflect.

Selah

I mentioned earlier that the election season has a way of revealing where our hope lies. It has a way of revealing what we are really holding on to. When we go through seasons or situations in which there might be a tendency to become afraid or worried or anxious, our response reveals our hope. Because when we go through times of anxiety or fear, our natural reaction is to run – run to whomever or whatever we truly believe will comfort us or keep us safe. When we are in situations where our life has been rocked a little bit–maybe a loss of a job, a loss of a marriage or a death of a loved one–we run for comfort, we run to whatever will help us regain our hope.

And it is in that moment that our true hope is revealed.

The Bible tells us that everyone can know true hope. We can have a personal relationship with the very God who created us. He longs to be our hope. He longs to be our comforter and our protector. And he is waiting for us to respond to him. The Bible tells us our sins, our wrongdoings, have separated us from God and no matter what we do we can’t restore that relationship on our own. But we are not people without hope. Since we can’t restore that relationship, God chose to do it for us. Through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, our sins have been paid for. And God is waiting for us to receive his free gift of salvation by acknowledging Jesus as our Lord and Savior – by acknowledging him as our Hope!

If we as Christians lose sight of the fact that God is King and that he is our hope and our refuge and strength, then in times of uncertainty we will run to something or someone other than him. And that thing that we run to will be temporal and fleeting, lacking the power or authority to give us hope. While it may temporarily sooth us, it will eventually lead us into greater fear and greater anxiety because the thing we thought was our hope wasn’t really our hope and now we are left wondering if there is any hope at all.

When we focus on anything other than God for our hope, we are setting ourselves up for real disappointment and real pain. I think this is why the psalmist takes us to verse 5.

In verse 5 we read,

“God has ascended amid shouts of joy, the Lord amid the sounding of trumpets.” (Psalm 47:5)

Here we have a picture of God ascending to his throne, and he is doing it amid shouts of joy. The psalmist says there are sounds of trumpets and there is great excitement because God is on the throne!

When we envision this image of God ascending, it causes us both spiritually and physically to cast our eyes upward. It would feel strange to look down and talk about God ascending – no, my natural tendency is to cast my eyes upward when talking about God reigning from his throne. I think that is one of the intentions here. To take our eyes off of everything in this world and redirect our focus upward.

But that is not always an easy thing to do, and this is where we have one of the great tensions of our Christian life. We live in this world, we work in this world, we engage in relationships in this world, and because we live within time we are always living in the present in this world. Yet God has called us as Christians to set our hearts and our focus beyond this world. Scripture calls us to live with an eternal perspective, a kingdom perspective.

The apostle Paul understands this tension, which is why he writes in Colossians 3,

“Set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.” (Col. 3:1-2)

Because there are many things in this world that compete for our attention and our affection, Paul encourages us to be intentional in purposely moving our eyes from the things of this world to the person of Jesus Christ. This must be an intentional act--an intentional act we must make on an ongoing basis or we will unintentionally get swept up in the daily worries of this world.

We dont have to work at being distracted by the things of this world. We dont need to work at finding new things to be afraid of or new things to be anxious about. Those things are all around us. We live and breathe them.

This is why the psalmist has to draw us upward and say, Hey, nations, dont forget: God is King. Dont lose sight of this! And when we do that, verse six tells us what the result should be.

Let’s look again at verse 5 and read through verse 6.

“God has ascended amid shouts of joy, the Lord amid the sounding of trumpets. Sing praises to God, sing praises; sing praises to our King, sing praises. Sing praises to God, sing praises; sing praises to our King, sing praises.” (Psalm 47:5-6)

When we set our hearts and minds upon the One who has ascended and is sitting on the throne, does it create anxiety, fear or worry? No, it creates praise. It creates worship in our lives.

How much of our lives do we spend in worship versus how much time do we spend fretting and worrying about the things of this world?

Some of us need to turn off that TV every now and then and put down that newspaper and get off that website that is feeding our fear and anxiety. When we fill up with fear and anxiety, it doesnt just stay inside us. It comes out. It comes out through our words. Our natural reaction is to share that anxiety with other people and find other people who share our fear and worry.

And when we huddle together with those with like-minded fears and worries, we find ourselves having conversations like this, If that man or that women is elected, I dont know what is going to happen to this country. What kind of world is that going to be for our kids? I cant imagine what kind of world our grandkids are going to grow up in. That is not the kind of world I would ever want to live in.

Our words and conversations just become about fear, fear and fear. And who is hearing those words we are speaking? The answer is our kids and our grandkids. They hear those words and think, If Dad is afraid and Mom is afraid and Grandpa is afraid and Grandma is afraid then what kind of hope do I have?

Let me ask this question: Are you leaving a legacy of fear to your kids and grandkids, or are you leaving a legacy of hope by pointing your kids upward and reminding them that our God is King?

Verses 7 and 8 continue this theme that God is King.

The psalmist writes,

“For God is the King of all the earth; sing to him a psalm of praise. God reigns over the nations; God is seated on his holy throne.” (Psalm 47:7-8)

In verse 5, God is ascending to his throne and then in verse 8 we see that God is seated on the throne.

·         Psalm 90:2 tells us that from everlasting to everlasting he is God.

·         Isaiah 48:12 tells us that God is the first and the last.

·         Revelation 4:8 tells us that the Lord God Almighty was, is and is to come.

God was, is and forever will be king. The position of King has never and will never be vacant. The position of King is not up for vote.

God will be King on Tuesday when we have the elections, and he will still be king on Wednesday. So our hope on Monday and Tuesday should be the same as our hope on Wednesday, regardless of what happens. If you wake up on Wednesday and your candidate did not win and you feel anxiety and fear, you might need to ask yourself, “Where did I have my hope?” On the other side of that, if you wake up on Wednesday and your candidate has won and your anxiety and fear disappear and you have new hope, you might need to ask yourself the question, “Where was my hope originally?” If your hope was in a person winning an election, that hope will eventually disappoint you.

God is on the throne giving us an unshakeable hope.

The psalmist concludes the passage with verse 9 by writing,

“The nobles of the nations assemble as the people of the God of Abraham, for the kings of the earth belong to God; he is greatly exalted.” (Psalm 47:9)

The psalmist is reminding us that someday all nations will acknowledge God as King. This has not happened yet. And it won’t happen until Christ returns. But this should give us great hope!

I often hear people say with such discouragement, “Oh, I don’t know where this world is going. I don’t know where this world is heading.” And I understand what they are saying because we look around us and see a world that does not recognize God as King. We see a world that is perishing. But we need to be careful when we make those types of statements. The Bible is very clear about where this world is heading. The Scriptures tell us that the time is coming when Jesus Christ will return and every nation will acknowledge him as King and every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. The Bible tells us Jesus will defeat Satan, evil will not reign forever and that those who have placed their faith in Jesus will have eternal life.

Our future is not one of despair but one of Hope. So no matter what happens in the present, no matter what happens Tuesday, or in four years or eight years, God will still be King over all the earth and Jesus is still coming back. And we will still be people of HOPE.

Related Topics: Eschatology (Things to Come), Issues in Church Leadership/Ministry, Faith, Cultural Issues, Inspiration, Character of God, Terrorism, Worldview, Empower, Engage