Psalm 118 ~ Adulation and Rejection

Many of you know that part of what makes Scripture so powerful is how a particular passage can speak to your life one way the first time you read it.  Then sometime later you read it again, and then it has an added meaning just for that time in your life.  Then maybe decades later, you read it again, and find that is speaks yet again to what you are going through at that point in your life.

Not only can the same scripture speak with power across the decades of your life, it can speak with power across the centuries to many lives of many people, speaking a Word from God to many different situations.  Psalm 118 has that kind of power.  In it are several verses that have become famous:

The stone that the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone

 This is the day that the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it

 Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord

This is the 118th psalm.  Across the centuries it has been just the right word from God to a variety of people in a variety of situations:

  • Originally, it spoke to the life of a king
  • Centuries later, it spoke to the life of Jesus
  • Then it spoke to the disciples and gospel writers who followed Jesus
  • And now it speaks to us.

I’ll need your help to begin this reading.  In verses 1-4 there is a recurring chorus, “His steadfast love endures forever!”  First it was spoken by the people of Israel, then by Israel’s priests in the house of Aaron, then by everyone: all those who fear the Lord.  So let you on my left be “the people of Israel,” and let you on my right be “the house of Aaron,” and let everyone both on my left and right be “all those who fear the Lord.”  I’ll point to you when your part comes, and then you roar out, “His steadfast love endures forever.”

O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good;

His steadfast love endures forever!

Let Israel say,

His steadfast love endures forever

 Let the house of Aaron say,

His steadfast love endures forever.

 Let those who fear the Lord say,

His steadfast love endure forever.

 

WHAT IT MEANT AT FIRST TO A KING

Once there was a king who nearly lost a battle and nearly lost his life.  He was in severe distress; he was in a tight spot.  He was surrounded on every side by enemies that buzzed round him like an angry hive of bees.  “Out of my distress I called on the Lord,” he said.  And the Lord answered him and rescued him out of that tight spot and set him “in a broad place.”  The Lord was with him and delivered him from that close call.

Imagine that king coming back to Jerusalem so full of relief and gratitude that he made straight for the temple, for there he just had to tell what God had done for him.  He had to give thanks for that just-in-time rescue by the Lord.  All the people of his kingdom joined in his rejoicing: their king had been as good as dead, but here he is alive.  They gathered around their king and praised God: This is the Lord’s doing — it is marvelous in our eyes.  They gathered around as their king approached the temple gates, and they called to him, “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.”  “O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever.”

We don’t know which king this was, but this we do know: he was one relieved king who had learned that God is a God of steadfast love, that God won’t give up and won’t let go of him, that God loves him with a deep and lasting love.  So the king praised God.  God is his strength and his might.  God is his salvation.  God has saved him in the past, and if need be in the future, God will save him again, “for his steadfast love endures forever.”  That’s what this psalm meant to one king of Judah.

 

WHAT IT CAME TO MEAN TO JESUS

Centuries after that king, this psalm came to mean a lot about Jesus.  For the past few weeks, you and I have been reading through the psalms, especially the psalms that Jesus likely recited to himself as he came closer and closer to Jerusalem.  Psalm 118 is one of those psalms. It was one of the psalms called the “Hallel” psalms (Psalms 113-118) which pilgrims to Jerusalem would sing at Passover.

As Jesus rode into the city on a donkey, as people laid their cloaks to pave his path, as they waved branches and sang praises, they may have remembered the words of this psalm,

Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.

We bless you from the house of the Lord.

The Lord is God, and he has given us light.

Bind the festal procession with branches, up to the horns of the altar.

(Psalm 118:26-27)

When the gospels tell the story of Jesus on that day, all four gospels quote from this psalm.  (Mark 11:9-10, Matthew 21:9, Luke 19:34, John 12:13)

But there was one key difference between the arrival of the king and the arrival of Jesus.  The king arrived in Jerusalem after an escape from danger.  Jesus arrived in Jerusalem and went straight into danger.  The further the week went, the greater the danger grew.  On the night that Jesus shared his last meal with his disciples, they sang a hymn before they walked over to the Mount of Olives, to the Garden of Gethsemane, and to his arrest.  It was probably Psalm 118 that they sang on the way.  Imagine Jesus singing these words as he walked to the place of his arrest:

Out of my distress I called on the Lord;

The Lord answered me and set me in a broad place.

With the Lord on my side I do not fear.

What can mortals do to me?

The Lord is on my side to help me;

I shall look in triumph on those who hate me.

It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to put confidence in mortals.

It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to put confidence in princes.

(Psalm 118:5-9)

 It is remarkable how these words fit as Jesus walked toward his arrest.  All of the gospel writers quote this psalm as they explain the meaning of what happened that night.   In the Book of Acts, when Peter was arrested and brought before the authorities for openly preaching about Jesus, he quoted from this psalm:

This Jesus is

‘the stone that was rejected by you, the builders;

It has become the cornerstone.

(Acts 4:11)

SO WHAT DOES THIS MEAN TO US?

It means that the same God who was active in the rescue of that long ago king, was also active in the life and death and resurrection of Jesus.  God rescued that old king long ago.  And Jesus trusted that God would rescue him too.  And we too, whenever we are caught in a tight place, whenever we are surrounded by evil, we can trust that God’s love and care will be with us, and we too will be delivered.

So the embattled king was chosen and rescued by God

And the rejected Messiah was chosen and rescued by God

And we too, whenever we are in distress, we are chosen and rescued by God.

We know this, because we know the character of God, for his steadfast love endures forever.

 

- Douglas E. Murray