Posts Tagged ‘End Times’

Psalm 45
<To the leader: according to Lilies. Of the Korahites. A Maskil. A love song.>
1 My heart overflows with a goodly theme;
I address my verses to the king;
my tongue is like the pen of a ready scribe.
2 You are the most handsome of men;
grace is poured upon your lips;
therefore God has blessed you forever.
3 Gird your sword on your thigh, O mighty one, in your glory and majesty.
4 In your majesty ride on victoriously for the cause of truth and to defend the right;
let your right hand teach you dread deeds.
5 Your arrows are sharp in the heart of the king’s enemies; the peoples fall under you.
6 Your throne, O God, endures forever and ever.
Your royal scepter is a scepter of equity;
7 you love righteousness and hate wickedness.
Therefore God, your God, has anointed you
with the oil of gladness beyond your companions;
8 your robes are all fragrant with myrrh and aloes and cassia.
From ivory palaces stringed instruments make you glad;
9 daughters of kings are among your ladies of honor;
at your right hand stands the queen in gold of Ophir.
10 Hear, O daughter, consider and incline your ear;
forget your people and your father’s house,
11 and the king will desire your beauty. Since he is your lord, bow to him;
12 the people of Tyre will seek your favor with gifts, the richest of the people
13 with all kinds of wealth. The princess is decked in her chamber
with gold-woven robes;
14 in many-colored robes she is led to the king;
behind her the virgins, her companions, follow.
15 With joy and gladness they are led along as they enter the palace of the king.
16 In the place of ancestors you, O king, shall have sons;
you will make them princes in all the earth.
17 I will cause your name to be celebrated in all generations;
therefore the peoples will praise you forever and ever.


As it works out, the last Psalm in our summer series, Psalm 45, is one of my all-time favorites. It gives us such a beautiful picture of Jesus and such an amazing vision of the Kingdom of God – and what the future will hold for those of us who love and follow Jesus. And especially for anyone who may be feeling down or discouraged today, this song’s for you.

Psalm 45 has been set to music many times. Verse 8 inspired the hymn Ivory Palaces, and the whole psalm has been set to music by Graham Kendrick, who’s probably best known for Shine Jesus Shine. Kendrick’s version of Psalm 45 was sung by my choir as I came down the aisle to marry my husband Neil, so this psalm has a very special place in my heart.

(lyrics for the above song)

All The Glory

My heart is full of admiration
For you, my Lord, my God and King
Your excellence, my inspiration
Your words of grace have made my spirit sing.

All the glory, honour and power
Belong to you, belong to you.
Jesus, saviour, anointed one,
I worship you, I worship you.

You love what’s right and hate what’s evil
Therefore your God sets you on high.
And on your head pours oil of gladness
While fragrance fills your royal palaces

Your throne, O God, will last forever
Justice will be your royal decree
In majesty, ride out victorious
For righteousness, truth and humility.

Graham Kendrick, Copyright © 1991 Graham Kendrick, http://www.grahamkendrick.co.uk


Starting out with the notations at the top of the Psalm: To the leader: according to Lilies. Of the Korahites. A Maskil. A love song. “To the leader” means for the music director; “the Lilies” would have been a melody or a tune; “the Korahites” were the songwriters. They were descendants of Moses’ cousin Korah, and they worked as temple musicians. A “maskil” is a type of composition; and then it says “a love song” – or in some versions of the Bible it says “a wedding song”, which is actually more accurate.

Psalm 45 was originally written for a royal wedding that took place in the temple in Jerusalem around 3000 years ago. We don’t know for certain exactly whose wedding it was; but some scholars guess it was King Solomon’s wedding to Pharaoh’s daughter, the Princess of Egypt. Whether that’s accurate or not, I think it’s helpful to think of it that way, because this wedding would have brought together two very important families, and it would have been a lavish royal wedding.

We Americans don’t have a lot of experience with royalty, except for occasionally when one of the British royal family gets married, and even then not everybody gets into that… but you gotta admit ‘nobody does it better’. I’ve never lucky enough to be invited to one of the royal weddings (tho I still want to know where they get those hats).

But I got a small taste of British royalty a number of years ago when I was overseas. I had taken a week-long class up at Oxford and was coming back into London on a Saturday morning. I caught a taxi at the train station and immediately we found we were in a massive traffic jam. I looked at the cabbie and asked, “what’s going on?” and he said, “it’s the Queen’s birthday.”

Really?  “I thought her birthday was in April?” I asked. He answered: “That’s her real birthday. This is her official birthday. She’ll be attending a special church service about a mile from the palace and if you hurry to Pall Mall you might catch a glimpse of the carriage.”

Really?!?!  When he got me to my hotel I threw my bags in the lobby, dashed out the door, and following his directions quickly found Pall Mall. Dashing up to the street, I found about a half-dozen rows of British citizens waving flags; and beyond them, on the street facing us, a row of soldiers in red uniforms and those tall black fuzzy hats sitting on huge black horses, with long swords attached to their hips. And they did not look amused. (I tell ya, these guys can be scarier than Secret Service.)

So I struck up a conversation with the people near me and gathered I hadn’t missed anything yet, and one couple kindly invited me to sit down on the pavement and join their family in a picnic lunch, which was lovely.

About a half-hour later we saw some motion down the street to the left, and along came more soldiers on black horses moving in absolute precision.

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And then a marching band – all playing from memory, absolutely flawlessly. And then a carriage: Prince William and Kate! And then more horses. And then another carriage: Prince Harry (he hadn’t married yet at that point) and Prince Charles and Camilla. And then more horses, and then men on horses with trumpets, all in perfect precision, and then a massive gold-trimmed carriage with the Queen and Prince Philip inside, waving. And more horses. And then they were gone.

And I said, “well now, that’s something you don’t see every day.”

And my friends with the sandwiches said, “sit down, join us.” And I looked at them kind of quizzically and they said, “Well the royal family do have to come home, you know.”

Good point. So we sat down again for a little over an hour, and the procession came back, every bit as perfect as the first time.

PhotosThru080513 712

And then something unexpected happened. You and I have seen these processions on TV before, but I’ve never seen what happens afterwards. After the royal company had passed by, the soldiers that had been lining the street watching us from horseback turned and make this beautiful pivot into the street (around every 200 feet or so) and started moving toward Buckingham Palace, and the crowd filed in behind them.

And all of a sudden we were part of the procession!  We were part of the celebration! And we walked down the street, following those horses, all the way to Buckingham Palace. And when we got there we sang “God Save the Queen” while she waved from the balcony. And that was it.

All of this by way of describing something of what it’s like to step inside Psalm 45 and live it.

Because this is us. This Psalm has a dual meaning, and this comes from Jewish scholars as well as Christian theologians:

The first meaning of the psalm is the royal wedding that happened in ancient Jerusalem.

The second meaning is a prophecy of the Messiah with God’s faithful people.

The Christian faith teaches that this king is Jesus, and Psalm 45 is a vision and a prophecy of the future. On that day we will be there. Not just faces in the crowd but taking part in the events of the day!

There are scriptures all through the Old and New Testaments that tie into Psalm 45 and add depth and detail to its meaning, so I’d like to take this psalm line by line and invite you to join me in this royal procession …

Verse one: the heart of the songwriter is full to overflowing, both at the joy of the occasion, and at the worthiness and beauty of the King. The writer describes Jesus as handsome, full of grace, and blessed by God.

This stands in contrast to Jesus’ life here on Earth 2000 years ago. Back then he was, in the words of the prophet Isaiah, “despised and rejected… a man of suffering and acquainted with… grief.” (Is 53:3) Jesus has entered into our pain and our suffering in every way. And now, at last, God is restoring all things. The injustices Jesus suffered are being set right – and here he stands, the king, in all his majesty.

In verse two the writer says of the king, “grace is poured upon your lips.” Two thousand years ago, when Jesus was here on earth, people used to remark about how full of grace his speech was. Luke tells us: “All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth.” (Lk 4:22)  The King’s majesty and blessing does not have its roots in conquest or in force, but in truth, humility, and righteousness.[1]

The songwriter then says: “put on your sword, mighty one, in glory and majesty.”  This is not a prayer for war. It’s more like the swords those British horsemen carried: they never came out of the scabbards. They didn’t need to. And the Bible adds one other interpretation: Scripture speaks of “the sword of the Lord” as “the word of God”, and the songwriter is praying on behalf of us all that “that all the nations on earth would come under the command of the justice, peace, and love of Jesus.”[2]

The songwriter continues: “In your majesty ride on victoriously for the cause of truth and to defend the right.”  Isn’t this what we pray for: that lies would be silenced, that misinformation would be done away with, that injustice would be defeated? Here, today, in this psalm, God answers our prayers with a resounding “YES”!!

And yet the next verse and a half sound almost violent. Will Jesus really kill his enemies? John Wesley gives us an explanation that is as British as it is accurate: “[both the] arrows [and] the sword, are none other than [Jesus’] word, which is sharp and powerful, and pierces [human] hearts.” The people fall, Wesley says, in the same way that a conquered people might fall to their knees in front of a king to ask for mercy.[3]

If there are any who perish, it’s because they reject God and in doing so reject life. There are those who (as Dante put it) would rather “rule in hell than serve in heaven”; but the choice is theirs. God will not force anyone who hates Him to be with Him.

In verse six the songwriter continues: “Your throne, O God, endures forever and ever.” Every Sunday we pray “thy kingdom come, thy will be done” – and at last this prayer is answered YES!!

By the way this passage is quoted in the New Testament book of Hebrews, where the writer makes the connection between this prophecy and Jesus. Hebrews 1:7-9 says:

Hebrews 1:7-9   7 Of the angels [God] says, “He makes his angels winds, and his servants flames of fire.”  8 But of the Son he says, “Your throne, O God, is forever and ever, and the righteous scepter is the scepter of your kingdom.  9 You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness; therefore God, your God, has anointed you with the oil of gladness beyond your companions.”

Then in verse seven the scene changes: and we are in the royal palace. The battles are over, God’s word has won the day… AND won the hearts of the King’s subjects. The songwriter can hardly find the words to express his joy. The king has been perfumed (and he smells good), and the royal palace is gorgeous, and there stringed instruments scattered throughout the palace playing beautiful music, and the ladies in waiting are princesses from various nations.

And then the scene shifts again to the wedding day. The bride – the queen – is robed in golden robes. And the songwriter turns and speaks to her. He says:

“Hear, O daughter; forget your people and your father’s house; the king desires your beauty.”

The bride in this psalm is a union of God’s faithful people throughout the centuries – all of us, together – and the king finds us beautiful: in part because his mercy has made us that way. Charles Simeon, a friend of John Wesley’s, said that: [God’s people have] “by adoption, by regeneration, and especially by [our] union with the Lord Jesus Christ, become the “daughter of Almighty God”… [and we are] addressed by him under that affectionate name.” “The direction is given to every individual [among God’s people]… to give up all earthly attachments… and unite ourselves to Christ. “The interests of the world, and of Christ, are altogether opposite” – and the world must be left behind. Simeon warns: “Remember Lot’s wife” and don’t look back.[4]

Jesus, the King, is delighted with us: because we have been changed “from glory to glory” by the Spirit of the Lord.

Royal wedding

I mean, really, how on earth can one draw this scene? But all the people becoming the Bride… that’s the idea.

So the bride (that is, us) has been decked out in gold and multicolored robes with the richest of jewels. The apostle Paul says: “having put on Christ (Rom 8:14)” “she walks as he walked.” (I John 2:6)  John Wesley says the “people of Tyre” represent the Gentiles, who are also included. And the apostle John says, “blessed are they who are called to the marriage-supper of the Lamb.” (Rev 19:6-9)

The songwriter adds a mysterious postscript in verse 16, and I’m not going to speculate on the details, but his words promise a glorious eternity ahead.

So as we struggle through these dark days, let this prophecy and this vision lift our spirits and remind us of who we are and whose we are.

This will be our royal wedding song in the Kingdom of God. AMEN.

Preached at Fairhaven United Methodist Church and Spencer United Methodist Church, 8/29/21


[1] David Guzik commentary

[2] Charles Simeon, Expository Outlines on the Whole Bible

[3] John Wesley, Commentary

[4] Charles Simeon, Expository Outlines on the Whole Bible

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“The Israelites again did what was evil in the sight of the LORD, after Ehud died. So the LORD sold them into the hand of King Jabin of Canaan, who reigned in Hazor; the commander of his army was Sisera, who lived in Harosheth-ha-goiim. Then the Israelites cried out to the LORD for help; for he had nine hundred chariots of iron, and had oppressed the Israelites cruelly twenty years. 

“At that time Deborah, a prophetess, wife of Lappidoth, was judging Israel. She used to sit under the palm of Deborah between Ramah and Bethel in the hill country of Ephraim; and the Israelites came up to her for judgment. She sent and summoned Barak son of Abinoam from Kedesh in Naphtali, and said to him, “The LORD, the God of Israel, commands you, ‘Go, take position at Mount Tabor, bringing ten thousand from the tribe of Naphtali and the tribe of Zebulun.  I will draw out Sisera, the general of Jabin’s army, to meet you by the Wadi Kishon with his chariots and his troops; and I will give him into your hand.’” – Judges 4:1-7


Psalm 123:1-4  <A Song of Ascents.>
To you I lift up my eyes, O you who are enthroned in the heavens!
2 As the eyes of servants look to the hand of their master,
as the eyes of a maid to the hand of her mistress,
so our eyes look to the LORD our God,
until he has mercy upon us.
3 Have mercy upon us, O LORD, have mercy upon us,
for we have had more than enough of contempt.
4 Our soul has had more than its fill of the scorn of those who are at ease,
of the contempt of the proud.


Now concerning the times and the seasons, brothers and sisters, you do not need to have anything written to you. For you yourselves know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. When they say, “There is peace and security,” then sudden destruction will come upon them, as labor pains come upon a pregnant woman, and there will be no escape! But you, beloved, are not in darkness, for that day to surprise you like a thief; for you are all children of light and children of the day; we are not of the night or of darkness. So then let us not fall asleep as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober; for those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who are drunk get drunk at night. But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, and put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation. For God has destined us not for wrath but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us, so that whether we are awake or asleep we may live with him. Therefore encourage one another and build up each other, as indeed you are doing.1 Thessalonians 5:1-11


This past week, among other things, we observed Veterans Day. That evening my husband and I watched Saving Private Ryan together. The movie tells the story of a family who lost three out of four sons in service to our country during World War II. And it remembers the sacrifices made by everyday people back then – people who today are called “the greatest generation.”

I’m not old enough to remember WWII, but my parents were. They were in junior high and high school during the war. They have shared stories with us about the sacrifices people made back then: buying war bonds, having rubber drives, living with rationing, growing Victory Gardens. In fact I remember one time back in the 1980s, I mentioned to an elderly man that I was growing a vegetable garden in our backyard and he said, “Why? Are you experiencing shortages?”

Our nation really pulled together during those years. We worshipped together and we worked together. Whatever the problems were in our society – and there were many problems in American society back in the 1940s – people knew we needed each other and needed to work together, and everyone made sacrifices for the good of all.

Today, in the 2020s, as the last of our ‘greatest generation’ go home to their eternal reward, that spirit of national unity has been all but lost. It has only taken the passing of one generation to forget.

That’s where Israel was, in our reading from Judges. In the last chapter of the book of Joshua (which comes right before Judges) we see the last of Israel’s ‘greatest generation’.  Joshua succeeded Moses, and he’s the one who led the people into the Promised Land. When they arrived he made a famous speech that we still remember today: “choose you this day whom you will serve; but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” Over 3000 years later people still remember those words.

Joshua said this because, even though God had kept every promise and been faithful to Israel, the people were in danger of being unfaithful to God. The people of Israel had never quite given up worshipping other gods, at least not for long. They experimented with the gods of Egypt when they were in Egypt; they made a golden calf when they were in the wilderness; they were tempted by Canaanite gods when they moved into the Promised Land. So Joshua said to them “if you’re going to worship God, put away your other gods. Worship no one else and nothing else. Choose you this day who you will serve.” And the people answered, “we will serve the Lord.”

The worship of idols is still with us today. We don’t worship statues any more (generally speaking) but we certainly have things that take the place of God. So Joshua’s words are as relevant today as they were back then. And that’s another sermon for another day.

Today I say all of this to give the backdrop to the story in Judges. After Joshua died, the people of Israel kept their promise to serve God for a while. But Judges chapter two tells us:

“the people served the LORD all the days of Joshua, and all the days of the elders who outlived Joshua, who had seen all the great works of the LORD which He had done for Israel. […] When all that generation had been gathered to their fathers, another generation arose after them who did not know the LORD nor the work which He had done for Israel. Then the children of Israel did evil in the sight of the LORD, and served the Baals…” (Judges 2:7-11 edited)

It only took one generation for them to forget. Just like us.

So God provided judges for Israel. There was no central authority in Israel at the time; the nation was essentially tribal and had tribal leaders. The judges were chosen by God and were both prophets and warriors. Starting in Judges chapter two and moving forward, we see a series of foreign invasions, each one followed by a judge telling the people to repent and return to God and then, in God’s power, freeing the people. Judges 2:18-19 says:

“when the LORD raised up judges for [the people], the LORD was with the judge and delivered [the people] out of the hand of their enemies all the days of [that] judge; for the LORD was moved to pity by their groaning because of those who oppressed them and harassed them. And it came to pass, when the judge was dead, that they reverted and behaved more corruptly than their fathers…”

So there’s this downward spiral happening with each judge and each successive rebellion against God.

The name of the first judge was Othniel, and he defeated the king of Mesopotamia. The second judge was Ehud, who defeated King Eglon of Moab in one of the more… colorful… scenes in the Old Testament. (I’ll leave that to your own reading.)

And that’s where today’s reading picks up. When Ehud died, the Israelites again did what was evil in the sight of the Lord. And the king of Canaan, and his right-hand man Sisera (commander of the army) overran Israel and basically terrorized the people of Israel. So God raised up Deborah as the next judge.

Side note: Deborah, being both a judge and a prophetess, had the same calling from God, the same gifting, the same duties and responsibilities as all the other judges in the Old Testament. This passage is one of the strongest arguments in the Bible in favor of gender equality – because God treats Deborah no differently than the male judges. He appoints her and leads her just like all the others.

So Deborah was a prophetess as well as a judge. The Bible says, “She used to sit under the palm…” In other words, this is where she held court. She could be found north of Jerusalem but still in the southern half of the country, so she was basically about as centrally located as a person could be. She’s available to the whole nation. And the Israelites “came up to her” because she was in the hill country.

Deborah then summons Barak, who was a military leader. (BTW as far as I’m able to tell, this is where President Obama’s parents found the name for their baby boy.) This particular Barak was living in the far north of Israel, north of Galilee and north of the foreign king who was oppressing the people. And Deborah was just south of where Sisera was stationed. So Deborah and Barak and their armies are going to act like a pair of pincers, closing in on the oppressors from both sides.

Deborah says to Barak, “I will draw out Sisera and meet you by the Wadi Kishon.” The Wadi Kishon is a dry river-bed about halfway in between the two of them. It also happens to be near a town called Megiddo, or as it will be called in the future, Armageddon. So this battle is a foretaste, a prophecy, of the end-times battle that’s described in the book of Revelation. And Deborah says to Barak, “I will give [Sisera] into your hand.”

And that’s where our reading ends today, but we can’t leave this scene without saying Deborah and Barak won the battle! They set God’s people free. Judges chapter five, the whole chapter, is their song of victory, which ends with the words: “so may all your enemies perish, O Lord! But may those who love you be like the sun when it rises in strength!” Again, a foretaste of the victory in the book of Revelation.

At this point we turn to the words of the apostle Paul. In I Thessalonians 5 we hear Paul say “the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. When they say ‘there is peace and security’… sudden destruction will come… like labor pains on a pregnant woman…”.  As anyone who’s ever been pregnant knows, once labor starts there is no turning back. The only way out is through!

According to Paul, Armageddon – for us, the time of Jesus’ return – will come suddenly. And it will come at precisely the time when all are declaring ‘peace and security’. In that moment there will be no escape and there will be no time to get ready. It’s like the story Jesus told of the bridesmaids with their oil lamps – some who brought extra and some didn’t, and when the bridegroom was late, some ran out. The parable tells us to be ready for any circumstance.

Until that time comes, we live in a world that falls short of God’s plans and God’s perfection. Paul tells us, like Jesus told us, be ready… and Paul gives us some helpful suggestions as to what readiness looks like. He gives us five pointers:

  1. Keep awake – be alert and aware of what’s going on.
  2. Stay sober – which doesn’t necessarily mean ‘don’t get drunk’ although that’s certainly included. It also means be clear-headed, be perceptive, be wise.
  3. Paul says: Put on the breastplate of faith and love. The breastplate was part of a Roman soldier’s uniform, made of metal, and it protected the internal organs, especially the heart. We don’t often think of faith and love as being things that defend us, because they’re things we give. But believing in Jesus protects our hearts; and God’s love surrounds us; and the love we give, we give in God’s power. So faith and love do protect us.
  4. Paul also says: Put on the helmet of the hope of salvation. Hope protects the head. The older I get the more I find this is true. When we have doubts about the faith; when we have doubts about our own salvation, whenever I start thinking ‘I’ve done something so bad God couldn’t possibly forgive me’ – this is how the enemy likes to get at our heads. Put on the hope of salvation to protect the head. I saw something on Facebook this week, attributed to Martin Luther: “When I look at myself, I don’t see how I can be saved. When I look at Christ, I don’t see how I can be lost.” That’s the hope of salvation, and it protects our minds.
  5. And finally Paul says: “Encourage and build each other up.” The word here in the Greek is parakaleo and it’s the same name we use for the Holy Spirit: paraclete. We are to build each other up in the Spirit – in the love and the faith of God.

Our psalmist today adds one more suggestion to the list: keep our eyes on the hand of the Lord. “As the eyes of servants look to the hand of their master, as the eyes of a maid to the hand of her mistress, so our eyes look to the LORD our God…”

This verse reminds me of scenes from old movies when women used to knit together. One woman would be doing the knitting, and her helper would be holding the wool thread on two arms, so it wouldn’t tangle, feeding her more thread. They had to be watching each others’ hands, and anticipating what came next, in order to work together this way. In the same way we need to be watching what God is doing, watching God’s hands – anticipating what comes next, ready to respond.

The day of the Lord’s salvation is closer than we know. God says ‘be ready’. AMEN.

Preached at Carnegie United Methodist Church and Fairhaven United Methodist Church, 11/15/2020

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