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Dressed in Majesty

Series: Psalms Book 4

Sermon by J. Ligon Duncan on Jul 6, 2008

Psalm 93:1-5

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If you have your Bibles, I’d invite you to turn with me to Psalm 93.

The Psalms are an anatomy of all the parts of the Christian soul. The Psalms give us guidance in Christian experience. How should a Christian react in all the varied circumstances of life? How does a Christian respond when he or she feels the need of refuge, shelter, a place to call home? The world does not afford him this. How is a Christian to respond in danger? How ought a Christian to approach worship on the Lord’s Day? All of these we’ve seen addressed in the Psalms that we’ve been looking at the last few weeks.

We’ve been working our way through the Fourth Book of the Psalms, beginning in Psalm 90, and we said that Psalm 90 shows us that believers find refuge in God himself. It’s not just that He provides refuge, He is their refuge.

And, believers see sin as the root of all human misery. As we look around at this world filled with misery, we recognize that it’s not that way because God originally made it that way; it’s that way because of our sin spoiling this world that God originally made good. So all the misery of this life can be traced back to our own sin in our first parents. And in response to this, believers urgently crave God’s grace. That’s what that beautiful set of petitions at the end of Psalm 90 is all about.

On the other hand, as we came to Psalm 91, we saw this is a Psalm for a believer in danger, and we said that in response to danger believers trust in God and in His providence, and so the answer to the circumstance of danger is trust in God and His providence.

And then, last Lord’s Day, as we looked at Psalm 92 we found that believers delight in God more than anything else. They treasure God himself more than anything else in this world, and they delight in His day precisely because of that.

So, as we come this morning to Psalm 93 we’ll learn yet another thing about the Christian life and Christian experience, and it’s a very important lesson and it’s a very simple lesson, but a very profound lesson, a very important lesson, a very practical lesson. It’s simply this: Believers read their life and their world in light of the character of God Himself, and not vice versa. Believers look at their life and they look at the world in which they live, and they look at all the hard things in their lives and all the hard things in this world, and they read that experience in light of what they know about God from His own lips in His word rather than developing their idea of God out of their fallible reading of their experience in this world.

It’s a hugely important lesson for the Christian life, and it points out a very unique thing about Reformed Theology. As Presbyterians, we are the benefactors of a great biblical tradition, a revival of Bible truth that came about in the sixteenth century Reformation, and one of the things that those great Reformers believed and which they handed down to those who aspire to be their biblical followers is simply this: that all of truth and life must be viewed through the truth of God himself. Let me say that another way. Reformed Theology believes that every other truth, every other doctrine, must be understood in light of the truth of God Himself.

So, for instance, all around us are professing Christians in churches where the Bible is not accepted as the infallible, inerrant word of God. Now there are many problems with that. One problem with that is that view of Scripture fails to do what? It fails to reckon with who God is! God is sovereign, and God does not lie, and therefore He cannot give us in His word something which is false, which is filled with errors; for He speaks and it is true, and His word is trustworthy, and His very character is faithfulness; and, so, the Scripture that He gives is consistent with His own character.

And because in Him there is no untruth, so also in His word there is no untruth. In other words, any doctrine of Scripture that asserts that the Bible is anything less than the inerrant, infallible, word of God has failed to reckon with what God teaches about himself in His word. And so in this and hundreds of other ways the Reformers said we have to understand everything in light of what God teaches about himself.

I was in a conference at General Assembly a few years ago when R. C. Sproul was giving a message. It was on this very subject (about how Reformed Theology views everything from the standpoint of what the Bible teaches about God), and he started his lecture this way:

 “When you compare what the Reformed believe about God to what the other great traditions believe about God, you will find nothing unremarkable about the doctrine of God in Reformed Theology in comparison to other Christian traditions.”

And then he proceeded to say this:

            “But the Reformed doctrine of God is its most distinctive contribution to theology.”

Now, he loves to make those sorts of seemingly contradictory statements, and we were all waiting: “What do you mean? How can it be totally unremarkable in comparison to other Christian traditions, and at the same time be its most unique contribution?”

He went on to say:

“Because in Reformed Theology, every area of theology is studied with a view of the doctrine of God itself brought to bear on that truth.”

You see, that’s what the psalmist is going to teach you in this great Psalm. He’s going to say every area of your life must take into account, Christian, what God has taught you about Himself, or else you’ll miss the comfort that He wants to give you in His own person and in His word.

Now let me outline this Psalm for you before we read it together. The Psalm comes in three parts. The first two verses give you the first part of the Psalm, and they very simply assert this: God is King. God is King. That is so simple to say, and so hard to believe and live. I doubt many people would have the bravery to stand up in the midst of this assembly and say, “No, He’s not!” You might be thinking it in your heart, but you’d have a hard time standing up in the assembly and saying it. But you know, even those of us who believe it have a hard time living it out, especially when the trials of life come. But there’s the first thing that the Psalm teaches: God is King (verses 1 and 2).

Then the second part of the Psalm you find in verses 3 and 4, and it’s this assertion: Life is scary, but God is mighty. Life is scary, but God is mighty. The trials of life are described in verse 3 under the image of a mighty storm, and the waves breaking on the ocean and on the shore. But God is declared to be mightier than that storm.

And then, finally, the third part of the Psalm you’ll find in verse 5, and it’s the assertion that God is not only mighty, but He’s trustworthy and righteous.

Now before we read God’s word and hear it, let’s look to Him in prayer and ask for His blessing.

Heavenly Father, this is Your word, and You mean it for Your glory as well as our good. So we ask that You would open our eyes to behold wonderful things from Your word, and we’ll give You all the praise for it. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Hear the word of the living God:

“The Lord reigns; He is robed in majesty;

The Lord is robed; He has put on strength as His belt.

Yes, the world is established; it shall never be moved.

Your throne is established from of old;

You are from everlasting.

“The floods have lifted up, O Lord,

The floods have lifted up their voice;

The floods lift up their roaring.

Mightier than the thunders of many waters,

Mightier than the waves of the sea,

The Lord on high is mighty!

“Your decrees are very trustworthy;

Holiness befits Your house,

O Lord, forevermore.”

Amen. And thus ends this reading of God’s holy, inspired, and inerrant word. May He write its eternal truth upon all our hearts.

The message of this Psalm is simple, and every believer to some degree already believes this message. But as simple as this message is, it is hard to believe, especially in the tests and trials of our lives, and it is a message that we will spend the rest of our experience in this life before the Lord takes us home to glory…that we will spend the rest of our lives learning. And here’s the message encapsuled: Believer, you are to read this life in light of who God is, and not the other way around. Believer, you are to read this life, you are to interpret this life, in light of who your God is, and not the other way around.

You do not read who God is in light of deductions that you draw from what is happening in your life. If you do, you’ll end up missing who God really is. You learn who God is from God himself in the word, and you read your experience in light of that. You do not deduce who God is from your own fallible reading of your experience. You look at your experience in light of who God has taught himself to be to you in His word. Simple, simple message…but it is profound and practical because we live in a world that is filled with uncertainties and insecurities, and we are often overwhelmed by the things that enter into our experience.

And the psalmist is saying, ‘Believer as you face uncertain and insecure and overwhelming experiences in this life, don’t try and figure out who God is from your experience, but read your experience in light of who God has told you that He is in His word. Otherwise, you’ll miss the comfort that God intends you to draw from who He is in the midst of your experience. No matter how overwhelming it is, no matter how unsettling it is, no matter how insecure it makes you feel, no matter how out of control you feel in that experience, you’ll miss the comfort that God intends for you if you don’t realize that God wants you to read this life in light of Him. He wants you to read your experience in light of who He is – His character.’ And that’s what the psalmist does in this Psalm: he talks about life’s insecurities and uncertainties, and the feeling of being overwhelmed. That’s there in verse 3.

I. God is King.

But before he gets to verse 3, he’s given you verses 1 and 2. And what are they about? They’re all about God. They’re all about His character. They’re all about His person. They’re all about His power. In other words, he says, ‘I know that you feel overwhelmed, that you feel that you’re in a fallen world where there is great evil, and you are utterly out of control. But before we think about that, I want you to think about something that’s bigger than that, and something that’s better than that. I want you to think about God.’ And so he begins with this affirmation:

“The Lord reigns; He is robed in majesty:

The Lord is robed; He has put on strength as His belt.”

What’s the point? Here’s the point.  God is King! It’s the virtual picture of a coronation ceremony, isn’t it? The king is robing himself with all his kingly vestments, and he’s going to appear before his subjects and they’re going to shout what? “Long live the king!” The psalmist is saying, ‘Your God is King. He is reigning. He is in charge.His rule is not uncertain or insecure, and that makes all the difference for you, believer, in this life.’

It makes all the difference because though this world may be out of your control, it is not out of His control. He is the Lord. He reigns. He is King, and that is the best possible news for a believer in a fickle and fallen world, when there are events all around you that surge through you, overwhelm you, to know that though you are not in control, He is in control. The Lord reigns.

Now there are two or three things I want you to see about this first point. The first is simply this: The cultures around Israel had ceremonies, some of them yearly, to celebrate their god being crowned and acceding to his throne.

It is very interesting that Israel did not have such a yearly ceremony. Do you know why? It is because their God was never crowned: He’d always been King. There wasn’t some point in time in human history when He acceded to the throne. His throne was founded in this world forever, the psalmist says. There has never been a time when He wasn’t reigning. And yet, this Psalm does seem to look forward to a time when God’s reign is going to be so pervasive that all of the evils that the believer experiences in this world are going to be brought totally under His dominion, and the believer will not face those uncertainties and insecurities anymore.

In fact, you prayed that…you prayed that when you prayed The Lord’s Prayer this morning. Do you remember what you prayed? You prayed first, “Thy kingdom come.” And then later in that prayer, you all prayed, “Yours is the kingdom.”

Now I’ve got a question for you. Which is it? Do you want the Lord’s kingdom to come, or is the kingdom already His? And you know what the answer is? “Yes!”  Because the Lord reigns, and yet again, He will reign. And His reign will be so total and pervasive that there will not be a tear-filled eye over the griefs of this sin-filled and miserable world ever again, when His reign is consummated. And yet, even now this world is ruled by word and spirit by the Lord Jesus Christ, who sits at the right hand of God the Father on high. He reigns, and He will reign. The believer lives under those twin realities.

But there’s a second thing I want you to see, though, about this truth that God is King, that the Lord reigns, and that is that the New Testament applies this truth directly to the Lord Jesus Christ. We’ve already studied the book of Philippians at length, and when we were in Philippians 2, the culminating expression about the Lord Jesus  Christ was this: that on that day every knee will bow, and every tongue will confess – what? – that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of the Father.

Now what does that say but that Jesus is reigning? He is Lord. It’s the central confession of Christians, so that at baptisms in the New Testament that confession was given. Acts 8, the Ethiopian eunuch…what does he say at the baptism? “Jesus is Lord.” And the Apostle Paul writes to the Romans. You remember in Rome there was a saying, and it went like this: “Caesar is lord.” And what did that mean? It meant that Caesar ruled. It meant that Caesar was in charge of everything in the Roman world, and to some it even meant that Caesar was divine. And Paul…(go ahead, sneak a peek in your Bibles, Romans 1:1-4)...Paul writes to Roman Christians who are at Ground Zero. They are within the shadow of Caesar’s palace. And who was that Caesar? A nut named Nero, who everybody in the Roman world said, “Caesar is lord!” And what does Paul say? Look at it. Romans 1:4. To those Roman Christians he says, ‘What’s our confession?’ Look at the last phrase of verse 4: “Jesus Christ is Lord.” … ‘Let me just make this declaration right now, within shouting distance of the palace of Nero: Caesar is not lord; Jesus Christ is Lord. He rules over everything.’

By the way, my friends, that is the charter of civil liberty. That is the charter. It is important for us to remember this, just two days after the Fourth of July, because events that began in Scotland in 1660 directly impinged upon the liberties that were eventually enjoyed by Americans over a hundred years later. An obscure Scottish minister wrote a little book called Lex Rex. His name was Samuel Rutherford. It got him accused of treason. Now, that little phrase Lex Rex simply means the law is king. And the treatise was to show that the king was not above the law, but under the law, and the king didn’t like that. The king rather liked the phrase Rex Lex – “the kingis law.” And Samuel Rutherford said, ‘No, I beg to differ. God is Lord. The king is under the law of the Lord. Not even the king is above the law of the Lord.’

You know we’ve experienced that some here in the United States in the last few months. There was a Supreme Court judgment that was handed down that went against the President regarding Guantanamo Bay. [Now whatever your politics are, whether you like George Bush or not, whether you like Guantanamo Bay or not, it doesn’t matter.]  But listen to this. The Supreme Court said that what the President wanted to do at Guantanamo Bay could not be done, and the President, while in Europe, said…he released a press statement, and here was the statement: “I don’t like the ruling, but I will abide by it.” You can pat Samuel Rutherford on the back and thank him when you see him in heaven, because an American President said that over three hundred years later, because there was a tradition grounded in the authority of God and the lordship of God in the world that basically says this: There is no such thing as absolute government in this world; all government is subject to the lordship of God, who is the only Lord. And that means that civil rulers must be under law, and might does not make right.

Well, God is King. Do you understand – and this is my main point – this is the charter, this is the charter of Christian comfort as well as our charter of civic freedom? Because this means that no matter what is happening in your life, God is still in charge. And for the believer that is a very comforting thought.

II. God is mighty.

And that leads us to the second point in this Psalm. Look at verses 3 and 4.

“The floods have lifted up, O Lord;

The floods have lifted up their voice;

The floods lift up their roaring….”

It is a picture of a wild, uncontrolled and uncontrollable, dangerous, horrific storm at sea. It is “the perfect storm” and tidal waves are churning and the ocean deeps are stirred, and the traveler on the boat is storm-tossed and in mortal danger.

You know the Hebrews were scared to death of the sea. They just…seafaring was not their thing. That’s why when God wanted to tell them a horror story – you know the little book of Jonah?  - He talked about the prophet getting on the boat in a big storm. That would have scared any Hebrew! You’ve never read a book called “The Heroes of the Hebrew Navy”! [Laughter] It’s never that…the book’s never been written. They didn’t like the sea. They were land lovers. The Phoenicians, they were seafarers. The Egyptians, the Greeks – they all mastered it. Not the Hebrews. They wanted to stay on dry ground. And so the sea is a powerful picture of forces that are uncontrolled and uncontrollable, unexpected, frightening, dangerous. Those pictures are throughout the Psalms and they’re throughout the Old Testament. It’s a picture of the danger of this life. And what’s the message of verses 3 and 4? The message is simply this: Life here is storm-tossed and filled with danger, but God is mightier than the waves, and He rides upon the storm.

Our great hymns pick up on that imagery from the Psalms all the time. Let me ask you to take your hymnbooks out and keep them in hand, because I want to turn you to some passages. First, look at song No. 128, God Moves in a Mysterious Way, and look at the first stanza. The hymns that we sing will pick up the image of the wild, stormy ocean as a picture of the dangers of life, and they will use them in regard to God. And here’s one of them, William Cowper’s great hymn, God Moves in a Mysterious Way. Look at the first stanza:

“God moves in a mysterious way, His wonders to perform;

He plants His footsteps in the sea, and rides upon the storm.”

Now, very frankly, I didn’t understand that line until about a month ago when Derek explained it to me. If God had planted His footsteps on sand or in the mud, you’d be able to see them. So what does it mean that God plants His footsteps in the sea? You can’t see footsteps in the sea. You have no idea where He came from or where He’s going. In other words, it is a picture of the inscrutable in your experience. Stuff is happening, and you don’t know why it’s happening. Have you ever asked the question, “Lord, why are You doing this? Why is this happening to me? Lord, what’s going on here?” William Cowper is describing that. ‘He plants His footsteps in the sea… Lord, I have no idea where You came from, where You’re going; I don’t know what You’re doing here!’

But then there’s the second half of the line: “…and He rides upon the storm.” Even though you don’t know where He came from or where He’s going, even though you don’t know what He’s up to, He is riding upon that storm. He is in total control. And that is the message of Psalm 93! You may not know what He’s up to; you may not be able to see His footprints because they’re in the sea, but He’s riding on that storm, and He is in fact mightier than that storm. That is a powerful comfort to believers. And it is not…it is not, my friends…incidental that one day (Luke tells us about this in Luke 8) that Jesus and His disciples were in a boat, and a great storm stirred up, and Jesus was sleeping. And His disciples were terrified, and they thought they were going to die, and they came to Jesus and they said, ‘Jesus, we’re going to die!’ And He wakes up and He speaks to the wind and rebukes it, and the winds stop and the waves cease. And the disciples (in Luke 8:25) say, ‘Who is this who can speak to the wind and waves and tell them to stop?’ And Luke is telling you, ‘You remember the God of Psalm 93? The One who’s mightier than the waves? This Lord Jesus Christ is that God.’

I love the words of hymn No. 689. (I told you to keep that hymnal out!) I love the words of No. 689, Be Still, My Soul. It’s at the very end of the second stanza. Do you remember what it says? ‘The winds and the waves still know the voice of Him who ruled them when He lived here below.’ It’s an affirmation that Jesus is Lord and He reigns! And even though there are things in our lives that we do not understand, He is absolutely in charge for our everlasting good.

Have you ever noticed how often that image is picked up in our hymnody? (Now keep your hymnals in hand!) Turn forward just a couple of songs to No. 691, and there you’ll see the very, very well-known hymn, It Is Well with My Soul. Look at the first stanza. Talk about a juxtaposition of images!

            “When peace, like a river, attends my way…”

You almost have this picture of this pastoral, slow-moving river – and peace.  And now listen to the next image:

“When sorrows like sea billows roll;

Whatever my lot, He has taught me to say,

‘It is well, it is will with my soul.’”

Now why is my soul well? Because Jesus reigns! And He rides on that storm, and He can speak and He can stop that storm, or He can save me through it; or, though I perish in it, He will receive me into His glory. That’s why it’s well with my soul. Because the Lord Jesus is King, Jesus is Lord.

Or, turn back to No. 521. When we sing the hymn, My Hope Is Built on Nothing Less, we pick up this same image. Stanza two:

            “When darkness veils His lovely face…”

Now there’s the same image that we saw in God Moves in a Mysterious Way (He plants His footstep in the sea, we don’t know what He’s doing). When darkness veils His lovely face, I’ve lost sight of Him. I can’t see Him. I don’t know what He’s doing in my life.

“I rest on His unchanging grace.

In every high and stormy gale,

My anchor holds within the veil.”

So even in the midst of the storm, my anchor holds. Why? Because Jesus is Lord! He is sovereign. He’s mightier than the experience that I’m enduring.

And then, turn back a few more hymns to No. 498. The same image in verses 3 and 4 of Jesus! What a Friend for Sinners!

Stanza three:

“Jesus! what a help in sorrow! While the billows o’er me roll,

Even when my heart is breaking, He, my comfort, helps my soul.”

“Jesus! What a guide and keeper! While the tempest still is high,

Storms about me, night o’ertakes me,

He, my pilot, hears my cry.”

Why are we comforted in the storm? Because Jesus is Lord! God reigns! He’s mightier than the storm we’re enduring. He is sovereign. He is in control even of that storm. He rides upon the storm.

We haven’t mentioned Eternal Father, Strong to Save, hymn No. 630, the Navy hymn. Somebody was telling me after the early service that C.H. Spurgeon once said if a man wants to know how out of control he is, you ought to send him to sea for six months! No wonder they sing about the sovereignty of God over the sea in No. 630! And we haven’t mentioned My Anchor Holds. Here’s an assignment for you. Go home this afternoon and look through your hymnal, and look how often the picture of a wind-tossed, storm-weary individual under the loving, powerful, sovereign, good watchcare of Jesus or of the Triune God is in our hymnody. Just look how often that picture appears.

But, you see, the point is simply this: Life here is storm-tossed and it’s filled with danger, but God is mightier than the waves and He rides upon the storm.I don’t know what your problem is today. The problem may be with your job. A child may have broken your heart…a husband or a wife may have left you. You may feel like the rug has been pulled completely out from under you, and there is no support system. But no matter what your trial, no matter what your insecurity, no matter what your uncertainty, no matter what is overwhelming your soul this morning – it may be a diagnosis – God is King, and He is mightier than anything that you are encountering, and that is very good news for a Christian.

III. God is good and wise and righteous.

And then there’s one more thing. In verse 5, the news even gets better, because this God is not only mighty, He is good and wise and righteous.

“Your decrees are very trustworthy;

Holiness befits Your house, O Lord….”

The psalmist is teaching you that God is not only mighty, He’s not only sovereign, but God the King acts with integrity, and He is faithful, righteous and good.

You know, one of the things that disappoints us most is when those public officials which we have vested with authority and power and might act immorally, and they abuse that power for their own ends. It deeply disappoints us. And here is the psalmist saying, ‘The thing about God is, with Him, His might is always used for right, because He is just, and He is trustworthy, and He is faithful, and He is holy, and He is righteous. And, therefore, you may be assured that His exercise of might will never disappoint you. And you can count on His exercise of might because He is trustworthy.’

My friends, I don’t know where you are this morning, but I know that wherever you are, you need that comfort.

But I’ve got to say just one more thing! The only person who can have this comfort is the person who says, “Jesus is my Lord.” And the Apostle Paul, in I Corinthians 12:3, says,           
            “No one can say Jesus is Lord, except by the Holy Spirit.”

Do you know what he’s saying? He’s saying no one can really believe in Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior unless the Holy Spirit has transformed his or her heart, so that we have a heart of faith rather than a heart of stone. And, my friend, if you are not trusting in the Lord Jesus Christ this morning, then His lordship is not a comfort for you, it’s a terror.

You know in Keith Getty and Stuart Townend’s song Jesus is Lord, they close that song with these words:

“Jesus is Lord!

A shout of joy; a cry of anguish.”

 Now that’s a strange thing to say, isn’t it? Why would “Jesus is Lord” be a shout of joy and a cry of anguish? What are they talking about? They’re talking about the Second Coming of the Lord Jesus Christ, and for all who have already embraced Him as Savior and said “Jesus is Lord,” the sight of the coming Christ is going to be an immeasurable shout of joy. But for those who have turned their backs on Him, for those who have worshiped themselves and not Him, it is going to be the deepest cry of anguish possible.

For those who have named Him Lord and Savior, He will take His children home. For those who have been indifferent to Him and who have rejected Him, He will reject them forever.

And so it will be a cry of joy for those who know Him by grace, but it will be a cry of anguish for those who know Him not.

May God cause all of us to trust in Him, so that we may shout with joy when He returns.

Let’s pray.

Heavenly Father, in this fickle and fallen world, in this uncertain and insecure and overwhelming world, we need a word of comfort that God is King and that the Lord reigns. By Your Holy Spirit, bring that word of comfort home in our hearts and lives, by faith in Jesus Christ. We ask it in Jesus’ name. Amen.

© First Presbyterian Church.

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