Christ Our Hope

Rev. David Bast Uncategorized

READ : Psalm 8

Psalm 8 is a beautiful meditation on the Genesis creation account. But it really speaks not just about humanity in general but about one human in particular: Jesus Christ.

These words are from the 8th Psalm.

O LORD, our Lord,
how majestic is your name in all the earth! . . .

When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars, which you have set in place,
what is man that you are mindful of him,
and the son of man that you care for him?

Yet you have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings
and crowned him with glory and honor. . . .

O LORD, our Lord,
how majestic is your name in all the earth!

Psalm 8 is an anthem in praise both of God and of man, the most exalted of all God’s earthly creatures. Who hasn’t sat outside on some brilliant, starlit night and repeated the psalmist’s wondering question: “When I consider the heavens, the moon and the stars, what is man?” We mortals are dwarfed by the immensity of a seemingly infinite universe. Compared to the vastness of time and space, we seem to ourselves like specks of dust, whose lives are as the life of a gnat. How could even the greatest and most famous of humans possibly matter in a universe that’s home to a thousand million galaxies?

But the psalmist says we matter very much. In fact, he says we are crowned with glory and honor. Only a little lower in stature than the angels of heaven, we humans have been placed by God over the whole earth and all its creatures. In language that echoes God’s creation commands to our first parents to fill the earth and rule over it, the psalmist praises God for the authority he has given to humankind:

You have given him dominion over the works of your hands;
you have put all things under his feet,
all sheep and oxen,
and also the beasts of the field,
the birds of the heavens, and the fish of the sea,
whatever passes along the paths of the seas. (vv. 6-8)

That’s an astonishing statement. God has entrusted his whole creation, says the psalmist—”the works of [his] hands . . . all things”—to us! What an honor, and what a responsibility. God sees human beings as important enough to rule over the entire universe, and as responsible enough to take good care of that tiny corner of it in which he has placed us for now.

The Problem of Psalm 8

The 8th Psalm affirms these truths about the dignity and importance of human beings universally. That’s why it uses the old-fashioned generic term “man” to make the point. It’s not just this special person or that one who is crowned with glory and ennobled with status and authority. It is man who is thus honored; humans in general, each and every one of us. Even the lowliest among us is a god-like creature, worthy of great respect. Which raises a problem because it doesn’t seem like this psalm is telling the truth. We—all of us—are great and glorious creatures, whose destiny is to rule the universe? You must be kidding! Just look at reality.

We live in a world where human beings are regularly trampled upon, systematically used up and discarded, and then thrown away like yesterday’s garbage. In fact, the large majority of the world’s people spend their lives in anonymous squalor and suffering.

For the powerful and important, our so-called “rule” over the earth often takes the form of exploitation and abuse. We suck oil from the ground like a cloud of hungry mosquitoes swarming on unprotected skin. We pollute air and water in our quest for even more wealth and pleasure. Our supposed “care” of God’s creation, our rule over our fellow creatures has resulted in mass exterminations and potentially irreparable harm to our beautiful planet.

And not only that, where is the harmony of nature? If God has placed all things in subjection under us, including the beasts of the field and the fish of the sea, then why do lions and tigers and sharks try to eat us? For that matter, why do dogs snarl and bark at us?

Most problematic of all, what about death? Where did that come from? We live in a world where, from the moment we draw breath, death is stalking us. How can we believe in our own importance and dignity when at every turn we’re confronted with that hideous reality? Death mocks all our pretensions. It snuffs our hopes and dreams. It puts an end to everything we love. It shows us how small and insignificant and powerless we are, how meaningless our lives turn out to be in the end. Death is the great enemy, not just to physical life, but to the very possibility that we have any lasting purpose or significance at all.

Obviously, something has gone wrong. The psalmist isn’t lying to us. We do have this exalted place in God’s plan of creation. But things are out of kilter in the world, at least temporarily. Something has entered our world that has disrupted its natural order and distorted God’s original intention for his creation. If you know the whole story of the Bible then you know that that distorting, disrupting “something” is human sin, sin that has given birth to the great destroyer, death. But if you know the whole story of the Bible, then you also know that God has addressed this problem, and he’s done something to solve it.

Christ in this Psalm

This series of programs has been entitled “Christ in the Psalms.” We have been looking at how various New Testament writers quote from the psalms to show how they speak directly of the Lord Jesus Christ. Psalm 8 is also quoted directly in the New Testament, but the way Christ is seen here is highly significant. In the second chapter of the letter to the Hebrews the writer introduces a quotation that brings to light the deeper meaning of Psalm 8. He begins with a rather vague introduction. “Someone somewhere has written,” he states—a phrase that should comfort all of us when we have trouble recalling exact scripture references—someone has written, he says,

What is man, that you are mindful of him,
or the son of man, that you care for him?
You made him for a little while lower than the angels;
you have crowned him with glory and honor,
putting everything in subjection under his feet.

Hebrews 2:6-8

Did you listen carefully to that? If you did, you may have noticed that the writer of Hebrews quotes the 8th psalm with a slight variation: “you made him for a little while lower than the angels. . .” As Hebrews 2 makes clear, the psalm’s statements are not simply about men in general, but about one man in particular. The son of man that God cares for is actually the Son of Man, Jesus Christ; the representative human, the “Proper Man,” as Luther called him. It’s Jesus who fulfills human destiny for us. He occupies the place for all humanity God intended from the beginning. He is the second Adam, who succeeds where the first one failed. He obeys perfectly, he does rule all things. (“What sort of man is this,” they asked, “that even the wind and the waves obey him?”) He suffers and he dies, but then he is raised and crowned with glory and honor. And he has done it all for us, to enable us to share his righteousness and some day to rule with him.

Things at Present

But we cannot see this reality at present, in our death-dominated world. In what surely must be one of the Bible’s greatest understatements Hebrews 2:8 says, “At present, we do not yet see everything in subjection to him.” What a world of frustration and pain is hinted at in that dry sentence.

But we do see this, Hebrews hastens to add. “We see him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone” (v. 9). As it is, “we do not yet see everything in subjection to him”—or to us. Evil and suffering remain, and death seems to hold sway in our universe. The Lord’s rule is not yet acknowledged by all; and his will continues to be resisted. But we do see this: we see Jesus, who died for us to set us free from sin and death, now raised and exalted in glory. It’s the resurrection that is our guarantee, both of Christ’s final authority and of our final victory.

In the year 1534 Martin Luther wrote a comforting letter to his brother-in-law, a fellow scholar, who was seriously ill. Luther sought to encourage the sick man by reminding him that we are always in the Lord’s hands. “We are his at all times,” he wrote, “as Saint Paul says, ‘whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s.'” But then Luther goes on to make a further point from this text—Romans 14:8—which he had quoted in Latin. The Latin word for “Lord’s” in that verse, Domini, could be translated two ways; either as a possessive (“Lord’s” with an apostrophe) or as a simple plural (“lords” without the apostrophe). “Yes, indeed,” exclaimed Luther,

“We are the Lord’s” [apostrophe “s”] because we are his dwelling place, his members, and . . . “we are lords” [plural] because we rule over all things through faith, which is our victory, and because, thanks be to God, we trample the lion and the dragon underfoot. In short, says Jesus, “Be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.”

This is the fantastic message of Christ’s redemption. We are the Lord’s and we are the lords, both in the possessive and in the plural. Because we are the Lord’s, we are also lords over the whole creation. Because Christ has defeated evil, we will one day see all things in subjection to him and to us. Because Christ tasted death for us, we will be raised to reign with him. Praise be to God!