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? O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! (Psalm 8.3-4,9)
Suggested Outline of Psalm 100
Psalm 100: A Hymn of Praise / Thanksgiving to Yahweh (cf. Psalms by the Day: A New Devotional Translation, Alec Motyer)
A1 (v1-2) Invitation Come Because he is God:
Shout (imperative) aloud to Yahweh, all the earth,
Serve/worship (imperative) Yahweh with joy
Come (imperative) into his presence with loud shouting (singing)
B1 (v3) Explanation (affirmation):
Know Yahweh he is Elohim
Because he made us; we are his;
We are the Shepherd’s sheep
A2 (v4) Invitation: Come Because he is Good
Come (imperative) in within his gates with thanksgiving
Give thanks (imperative) to him
Bless (imperative) his name
B2 (v5) Explanation (affirmation)
Because Yahweh is good
His steadfast love is forever
He is true from generation to generation
The backdrop of Psalm 100
The Psalms, as with other biblical literary forms such as, parables, historical narratives, didactic, pericopes and so forth are best read contextually. Because of the numerical division of the Psalms I suppose there is a natural tendency to read the Psalms as independent from one another. Yet, this is often not the case as they are intentionally organized, often with thematic connections. For example, Psalms 1 & 2 are wisdom and Messianic or royal Psalms that introduce the larger hymnody codex. Of course, the obvious Messianic Psalms 22-24 are often seen as a natural literary triptych; and the Mosaic Psalms 90-91 (possibly also 92) are easily paired together. Though not as obvious as these examples, Psalm 100 is thematically connected minimally with the preceding Psalms 93-99 and, most like its successor Psalm 101.
As you may know there are a great variety of psalmic types. There are imprecatory Psalms, Psalms of thanksgiving, praise, Messianic Psalms, Psalms of lament, hymns, Psalms of trust, and royal or enthronement Psalms. These Psalms exalt God as King and stress his sovereignty over all creation; men and nations are subject to his Divine will. Six Psalmsnotably fall into this category: Psalms 47, 93, 96, 97, 98 & 99. The Psalms are a reminder that Yahweh is the King of kings & the ruler of the universe. It is because the Lord reigns over all the earth that his people ought to “sing a new song;” indeed, all the earth should sing to the Lord and bless his name (96.2). Ultimately, the earth itself will not be able to contain its voice of praise let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice; let the sea roar, and all that fills it; let the field exult, and everything in it! Then shall all the trees of the forest sing for joy … (96.11-12).
A common theme in Psalms 93-99 is that of the Kingship of YHWH (Yahweh). Psalm 93 opens with Yahweh is king and the theme continues through Psalm 100. “Psalms 93 & 94 depict Yahweh’s kingship in relationship with a turbulent world; while Psalms 95 & 96 reveal him in relationship with ‘other gods.’ The former pair guard us against being blown off course, the latter against being enticed off course” (Motyer p. 269).
Illustrative of the theme of Yahweh as King in Psalms 93-99 we find the psalmist’s warning of the dangers of trusting the false gods of this earth in Psalm 95 and 96. Therein the psalmist extols Yahweh as King to be “… reverenced above all gods. Because all the gods of the nations are godless and as for Yahweh, the very heavens are what he has made!” Linking this Psalm (96.4b -5 he is to be feared above all gods. For all the gods of the peoples are worthless idols, but the Lord made the heavens) with 1 John 5.21 (Keep yourselves from idols – past and present) – Alec Motyer makes the following observation on this Psalm:
"When John commands his readers to ‘keep yourselves from idols’ (1 John 5.21) he is looking beyond the mere outward fact of physical representations of ‘gods’ in wood and stone to the supposed reality behind them. In this sense, the ancient ‘gods’ which the Psalms inveigh against are extraordinarily relevant today. Baal makes the most obvious connection. Mountain tops belonged to him (Psalm 95:4) because his worship required visibility. It had to be performed where he could see it. You see, Baal was not a person but a force, the force that guaranteed fertility – for humans, animals and land. The only way to try make this important force operate was to do, visibly, on earth what you wanted Baal to do from heaven – hence Baal sanctuaries concentrated on the sexual acts of human fertility hoping that Baal would see and copy. It was called imitative magic. If Baal took the hint, the economy prospered. And there, indeed, is the point: wherever nothing is more important than ‘the economy’; where ‘market forces’ are the primary factors; where the ‘gross national product’ is what really matters – Baal is still worshipped.Should we also say that where sex is exalted out of all proportion, Baal is worshipped? Where materialism reigns supreme? Or we trust our bank balances for security? Tiamat ruled the sea (95.5) – the sea with its constant, powerful battering against the defenses of the habitable land. Tiamat was the god of success by power. So then wherever physical prowess is the priority, where problems are to be solved my militarism and domination, Tiamat is still on the throne. At a local level Tiamat is the god of the bully, the ruthless pursuit of the ‘rat race’, the business empire which trampled on its competitors. Molech, with his dreadful rituals in the depths of the earth (95:4) is the god of things done in darkness or in hiding – wherever the occult is ‘god’ – or there is a secret life under whatever cover (Ephesians 5:8-12). May we see to it that for us the deep places are in ‘his hand; the heights belong to him, and the sea is his!’" (Alec Motyer p. 273)
We have noted in these Psalms thus far a link between kingship and holiness (93.5; 94.15, 20; 99.9); in Psalms 97-98 the theme moves to the throne of righteousness (97.6); there is a call to righteousness (97.10-12; Yahweh reveals his salvation and righteousness (98.2); He is coming to judge the earth with righteousness (98.9). Psalms 99 & 100 depict what it will be like when Yahweh reigns. As with Psalm 93 the opening line in Psalm 99 is Yahweh is king. The entire earth will be subject to his rule; so, give thanks for he is great and to be feared (he is awesome 99.3). Yahweh is our God; he is transcendent; he bears sin away. So, exalt Yahweh our God, and bow in worship at the mountain of his holiness, because Yahweh our God is holy (99.8-9). This is where we pick up our text.
A few thoughts about Psalm 100
Psalm 100 is, if anything, a call to worship. The psalmist evokes images of God as creator, as Shepherd (100.3 cf. 95.7; Psalm 23), King (the goodness, love and faithfulness of his character and as such is worthy of joyful service, thankfulness, worship and praise. The preceding Psalms are a reminder that Yahweh is the King of kings and the ruler of the universe. It is precisely because the Lord reigns over all the earth that his people ought to come into his presence with singing. As we have seen, Yahweh is king (cf. 93.1; 95.3; 96.10; 97.1; 98.6; 99.1) and Creator and we are his people. If you are a part of the covenant community, then your allegiance is to the Lord of that fellowship. The theme segues naturally into the worship theme of Psalm 100 with its seven imperatives to worship the King.
"Ps 100 may be regarded as the Doxology which closes the strain” of the “Jehovah is King” psalms in Pss 93–99: “It breathes the same gladness: it is filled with the same hope, that all nations shall bow down before Jehovah, and confess that He is God.” … Thus Ps 100 is both an appropriate sequel for Pss 96–99, for 93–99, and even for 90–99." (WBC, Marvin Tate)
Psalm 100 celebrates the new heaven, the redemption of God’s people who abandon the city of man found in Isaiah 24.10-13; 25.2 (as with Bunyan’s allegory of the city of destruction in Pilgrim’s Progress) for the strong city of GodIsaiah 25.6-10a, 26.1-4 (also see Augustine’s City of God for the contrast with the city of man). Isaiah contrasted the two cities and the apostle Paul also looked to the coming day when God’s people would be united together with Christ in the day of resurrection 1 Thessalonians 4.13-17; and John’s Apocalypse records his heavenly vison of the redeemed, peoples from all tribes and languages standing before the throne and before the Lamb … crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” (Revelation 7.9-17; cf. 21.1-8).
Jesus’ upper room discourse assures the disciples that there is a day coming when they will be physically united with him: Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also (John 14.1-3). The Father and the Son by the Spirit makes his home with us (John 14.23) and the earnest of the Spirit (Ephesians 1.13-14) is the guarantee that we will in due course be at home with him. The apostle Paul makes this point emphatically as he contrasts those who are earthly minded with those who have their eyes fixed on Christ and his heavenly kingdom: Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us. For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ. their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with mind set on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself (Philippians 3.20).
The opening verses of the Psalm employ three verbs that suggest an increasing nearness to Yahweh Shout (joyful noise),serve (worship) as one who is a servant devoted to his Lord and finally, come into his presence with triumphal singing. One may initially know facts about God; this may lead to knowing God more fully which may lead to a sense of wonder and awe but finally there is the intimate relationship of worship. The psalmist is building upon what has been said already about the covenant relationship between the king Yahweh and his covenant people what remains is the affirmation that his steadfast love endures forever and his people, the sheep of his pasture know the joyous reality of their inheritance. They know the first table of the law; they regularly reflect on the words of the Shema (Hear O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one – Deuteronomy 6.4). The shepherd motif is common throughout the Old Testament (e.g. Ezekiel 34.11-15; Isaiah 40.11; 49.9-10; Micah 4.6-8; 7.14 etc.). Thus, it is not surprising that the praise song sung in worshipful response to Yahweh as the great King should repeat the shepherd motif. Of course, as we examine the Psalm through the lens of the New Testament we are immediately drawn to John’s portrait of Jesus as the Shepherd of the sheep.
As the covenant people of the Old Testament look to Yahweh as the keeper of the covenant of love, so, too, the New Testament believer looks to Christ as the fulfillment of God’s promise to care for his disciples. The psalmist declares that the Lord God “it is he who made us and we are his; we are the people, and the sheep of his pasture.” The psalmist is not speaking of creation, but of the effectual call that set apart a covenant people who are his very own. Likewise, Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep: I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep (John 10.11-15).
Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more
excellent than theirs. (Hebrews 1.1-4)
Much of what is common to the traditional Christmas narratives is filled with unanswered questions and perplexity. For example, who are the Magi in Matthew 2.1-12? Why did they come? Are they the Persian Magoi with a monotheism derived from their association with the Jews of the Diaspora? Did their arrival in Bethlehem stem from an ancient Jewish tradition reflected in the Midrashim (the book of Elijah, and the Mysteries of Rabbi Simon, the son of Jochai) and the so-called Messiah-Haggadah (Aggadoth Mashiach) which opens: A star shall come out of Jacob (cp. Edersheim, Jesus the Messiah, vol. 1, p. 211). Why wasn’t Herod’s insane reaction to the Magi’s secret departure recorded in the secular histories of the day? Was it because he murdered all pretenders to the throne, whether real or imagined? We know that he killed one wife, three sons (one only five days before his own death), a father-in-law and a mother-in-law. Thus, the murder of some twenty infants under two years of age as recorded in Matthew 2.13-20, while no less an act of barbarism, was certainly not out of keeping with the character of the man and the violence of the time.
While these questions are interesting, from a biblical point of view there are more important questions surrounding the incarnation. Who is Jesus? How is he the fulfillment of the Davidic covenant? What is the apparent conflict between the earthly throne of David and the heavenly throne? How are we to understand Jesus the Christ as the revelation of the second person of the Trinity? These questions have more to do with the glory of God veiled in human flesh and thus are the loci of the incarnation narratives. Jesus is the unique and special revelation of God to man. Jesus is God’s last word of revelation. The author of Hebrews argues that the Christ is superior in every way: to man, angels, the Aaronic priesthood, Moses and the law, and the old covenant. In the opening three verses he gives us seven reasons why Jesus is superior in his incarnation to everything in creation.
1. In these last days he [God] has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things (1.2). The meditations of the psalmist are at the root of the declarative statement of the author of Hebrews: Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage, and the ends of the earth your possession (Psalm 2.8). Jesus is in a singularly unique position, not just as the head of the church (Ephesians 1.22; 5.23), but as sovereign over the entire universe (cosmos), in this age and the age to come. The first man, Adam, brought ruination to his offspring; Jesus, the last Adam, brings the old order to an end (1 Corinthians 15.45). As the second man (1 Corinthians 15.47-49), Jesus begins a new race by the salvation he offers (Romans 5.12-14). He alone is able to accomplish this because he alone is the rightful heir of his Father’s kingdom. As God’s one and only Son (John 3.16-17) he has all the rights and privileges of Sonship. John the Baptist had this in mind when he said, “He who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me” (John 1.15).
2. Through whom also he created the world (1.2) – That is to say, everything in time and space was made through him (cf. John 1.3). This is the clear and definitive witness of Scripture. For example, consider Paul’s letter to the church at Colossae: For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him (Colossians 1.16). The Bible DOES NOT PERMIT one to draw the noxious conclusion that Jesus was an exceptional child who turned out to be an unusually gifted moral philosopher, whose revolutionary ideas grew to mythological proportions by which he came to be viewed as the savior of the world. Consequently, those who follow his teaching are somehow inwardly transformed and the world becomes a better place because of Jesus’ pervasive moral influence down through the centuries. To the contrary, the Bible portrays Jesus as the second person of the Triune God who was miraculously conceived in the womb of the Virgin Mary; he lived a sinless life, and in his death provided a vicarious atonement for the sins of men and women. His resurrection from the dead is the basis of the believer’s hope for eternal life. The New Testament speaks of Him as God, and his disciples worshiped Him as God (… Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God! [ὁ κύριός μου καὶ ὁ θεός μου] John 20.28). These are the words of a radically devout monotheist for whom to claim a mere mortal as God would be anathema. In modern philosophical parlance Jesus as the Son of God is the uncreated necessary cause.
The choice presented to the reader is simple: either acknowledge the Son as the supernatural creator of the universe and its sovereign Lord and savior or reject Him in favor of a theory of a mechanistic universe in which we have a world without purpose, final cause, or any sort of spiritual dimension. Those who seek solace in agnosticism will not find an intellectual retreat. It is not an option in which one may find a permanent refuge. James Orr, a 19th century theologian and Christian apologist, states the problem clearly: “Agnosticism is not a state in which the mind of an intelligent being can permanently rest. … It will press on perforce to one or other of the views which present themselves as alternatives – either to Theism, or to Materialism and dogmatic Atheism” (James Orr, The Christian View of God and the World, p. 51).
3. He is the radiance of his glory (1.3). The glory of the Son is the glory of the eternal second person of the Trinity. It is that same shekinah glory which was manifested in the tent of meeting by God (Exodus 33.9). With Christ’s incarnation the glory of God is revealed to man. Just as the radiance of the sun reaches the earth, so in Christ the light of God shines in the hearts of men (cp. Exodus 40.34-35; John 1.1, 14; 2 Corinthians 4.6). “It was, moreover, the glory manifested on the occasion of Christ’s transfiguration, again accompanied by the resplendent cloud of the shekinah (Mark 9:2ff., par.), an event which demonstrated that this glory belongs to the Son and was not just a reflection of a glory not his own: … The brilliant light, brighter than the midday sun, seen by Paul at his encounter with the Risen Jesus on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:3; 22:6; 26:13) was the same radiant glory of the divine presence” (Philip Hughes, Hebrews, p. 42). It was this same glory that John witnessed and recorded in the opening chapter of the Apocalypse (Revelation 1.12-16).
4. [God’s Son is] the exact imprint of his [God’s] nature (1.3). What God is in essence is precisely manifested in the person of Christ (2 Corinthians 4.4). As a coin is the image of the die in which it was cast, so Christ is the image of the Father. To see what Christ is like is to see what God is like. Jesus does not reveal to us all that God is, but what Jesus reveals of God is precisely what God is like. It is important for the Christian to examine the whole life of Jesus in order to grasp something of the person and nature of God. That is why a view of the incarnation from the perspective of Bethlehem, while vitally important, is nevertheless insufficient to present to us the full import of the incarnation. We need to examine the whole corpus of the New Testament to have a complete portrait of Jesus.
The heir of all things, the maker of the ages, he who shines with the Father’s glory and expresses in himself the Father’s person, has all things that the Father himself has, and is possessor of all his power; not that the right is transferred from the Father to the Son, but that it at once remains in the Father and resides in the Son. For he who is in the Father is manifestly in the Father with all his might, and he who has the Father in himself includes all the power and might of the Father. (Gregory of Nyssa, Contra Eunomius, ii. 6)
5. He upholds the universe by the word of his power (Hebrews 1.3). This is the ongoing dynamic working of Christ, not something that was done once for all in ages past. What Jesus has wrought he will carry forward to its completion. What God has created, God will sustain; what God sustains, God will bring to its final completion. Because of this the believer may have a supreme confidence in the providential works of God on behalf of his children. It is the theology behind the petition in the Lord’s prayer, give us our daily bread (cp. Colossians 1.15-17). Jesus will bring creation to its final destination; indeed, his incarnation is God’s final word. “The word of the Son is not less or other than the word of the Father for he who himself is the Word is the perfect and harmonious expression of the mind and will of God” (op. cit. Hughes, p. 46).
6. After making purification for sins (1.3). This is what gives purpose to the manger event. As John relates the events of Jesus’ life, he constantly points to the words of Jesus, my hour has not yet come (John 2.4); that is, the time to fulfill His purpose as mediator between God and man. The theme of redemption is the primary theme of Scripture and the author of Hebrews highlights that purpose by demonstrating that only the superiority of the Son is sufficient to be the atonement for our sins. Men and women who are made aware that God is holy and that they are personally sinful either respond to God in hatred and rebellion or in fear and repentance. God’s holiness demands that He act justly with regard to His personal righteousness. His just nature demands that His wrath be satisfied. This He has done by punishing His innocent Son instead of His guilty children (cp. Isaiah 53.4-10; 2 Corinthians 5.21): there is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love. We love, because He first loved us (1 John 4.18).
7. He sat down at the right hand of the majesty on High (1.3). The phrase right hand is a periphrasis (substitution) for God and is not meant as a literal location; it connotes Christ’s exultation (Psalm 110; cp. Philippians 2.9), which is the pivotal idea for this epistle. The work of redemption is now completed as is indicated by the image of Christ sitting. This is not to suggest that Jesus is inactive, only that the work of purification is completed. There is the further contrast which is developed later in this epistle between Christ and the Aaronic priesthood. The Messiah is seated. The Aaronic priest (Hebrews 10.11) remains standing because his sacrificial service never came to an end. There is a mystery to the incarnation.
Once seated upon the throne Jesus is exalted to the highest place, possessing the name that is above every other name and, at the mention of his name, every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus is Lord to the glory of God the Father (Philippians 2.9-11). Thus it was appropriate that the Magi brought gifts fitting for a mortal man, a king, and a Lord. Jesus is the prophet through whom God has spoken His final word. Jesus is the Priest who accomplished the purification of humanity’s sins. Jesus is the King who is now seated at the right hand of God.
Though it is proper to celebrate the festivities of Christmas with our families, it is good to remember that there is much more. Behind the pastoral scene of the incarnation a cosmic battle is raging: while the angels are singing to the shepherds on the hillside, Satan is roaring in his den. We do but see through the glass darkly. The causes are often concealed, but, if one’s eyes and ears are attentive to the things of God, then he may be granted an insight into heaven. Jesus is the great and final epiphany of God: God’s final word to man about salvation. God has spoken in Jesus Christ; there is nothing left to say. He who is heir of all things; the one who has as an inheritance all nations; the last Adam; the maker of worlds; the radiance of God's glory shining forth as a bright light; the divine Logos; the upholder of all things by the word of his power; it is he who speaks, and says, Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing (Luke 4.18-21).
A number of years ago I wrote a reflection on the death of a friend's daughter. Today I was reminded again that though life may seem to be little more than a morning mist that fades too quickly before a rising sun, yet, there is more to this life than meets the eye and those who touch our lives may in their brief sojourn, by the grace of God, leave an indelible mark. What follows is my short response to the sad announcement of her passing.
My friend called me today to tell me that her daughter died. My heart hurts and I don't know what to do about it. On the one hand I want the pain to go away and on the other hand, I want the pain to remain, because I do not want to lose or lessen my fond memories of a young woman who was an exceptionally bright, witty, creative and compassionate friend. I say that my friend embodied all these things, but the truth of the matter is, she has not lost any of these attributes – actually, she now possesses them in even greater measure. There is so much more to life than that which meets the eye. Paul’s comment in 2 Corinthians 2.16-18 is a favorite text of mine. So we do not lose heart. Though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day. For this slight momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. There comes a point when we put off our earthly body and put on our heavenly body, but we do not lose our identity, quite to the contrary, we gain our full identity in Christ.
While this dear woman has escaped the pertinacious assaults upon her soul from a variety of sources, including the pressing exigencies of work, there remains for us who await the day of our own home going the pain of losing her. They tell me that heart wounds of this sort heal in time, but that has not been my experience. I think this kind of loss creates a hole in the heart and while the skin of the heart may heal, a bruised and tender spot remains for an interminably long time. She was near enough to my oldest daughter’s age that I formed a close attachment to her; one that has endured through the nearly three decades I have been gone from the southwestern town she called home. Sadly, my pastoral commitment during this Advent season precludes my traveling to west to be with my friends. If I did not think that it would only add grief upon grief, I would just quit my post and head west. Thankfully, my wife is able to go.
The book of Job may seem like an odd place to turn for solace when confronted with heartache, but there are few others who have suffered so in the crucible of life’s trials and still maintained their unshakable confidence in God's covenant love and mercy. We read, for example: Man who is born of a woman is few of days and full of trouble. ... Since his days are determined, and the number of his months is with you, and you have appointed his limits that he cannot pass, look away from him and leave him alone, that he may enjoy, like a hired hand, his day (Job 14.1, 5-6 ESV). That life is full of trouble, as Job knew all too well; but for all his misery he declares: Though he slay me, I will hope in him; yet I will argue my ways to his face (Job 13.15) and, of course, that grand statement of eschatological hope: For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been thus destroyed yet in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another (Job 19.25-27).
Perhaps some may think it strange, but I often think about my mortality, and when a friend departs this world the thoughts of my own departure override all other thoughts. The Bible does not give us a full description of the new heaven and a new earth; rather, the imagery suggests that what lies ahead is so wonderful that everything I’ve known up to this point pales in comparison to it. If this is true, then I suppose it is reasonable to be hopeful about what lies ahead. How we depart this life may vary from person to person but the country to which to which we journey is not a place to be feared. Three years before his death Alford Lord Tennyson the Poet Laureate of the United Kingdom wrote the poem “Crossing the Bar.” He insisted that it be the final poem in all publications of his poetry.
Sunset and evening star
And one clear call for me!
And may there be no moaning of the bar,
When I put out to sea,
But such a tide as moving seems asleep,
Too full for sound and foam,
When that which drew from out the boundless deep
Turns again home.
Twilight and evening bell,
And after that the dark!
And may there be no sadness of farewell,
When I embark;
For though from out our bourne of Time and Place
The flood may bear me far,
I hope to see my Pilot face to face
When I have crossed the bar.
A month or so ago I had an occasion to refer once again to the sometimes acerbic English pundit Malcolm Muggeridge’s book “Jesus Rediscovered” as an introduction to a talk on the brevity of life. What Muggeridge has to say is based on the passage of Scripture I quoted in the opening paragraph (2 Corinthians 4.16-18). “For myself, as I approach my end, I find Jesus' outrageous claim ever more captivating and meaningful. Quite often, waking up in the night as the old do, I feel myself to be half out of my body, hovering between life and death, with eternity rising in the distance.”
“I see my ancient carcass, prone between the sheets, stained and worn like a scrap of paper dropped in the gutter and, hovering over it, myself, like a butterfly released from its chrysalis stage and ready to fly away. Are caterpillars told of their impending resurrection? How in dying they will be transformed from poor earth crawlers into creatures of the air, with exquisitely painted wings? If told, do they believe it? I imagine the wise old caterpillars shaking their heads -- no, it can't be; it's a fantasy.”
“In the limbo between living and dying, as the night clocks tick remorselessly on, and the black sky implacably shows not one single streak or scratch of gray, I hear those words: I am the resurrection, and the life, and feel myself to be carried along on a great tide of joy and peace.”
The Bible is replete with assurances about God’s provision for his children, not because they have adhered to a rigid moral standard (though being good is a good thing) but because they believe and trust in their heavenly Father. At the conclusion of Paul’s argument for the justification by faith alone in the first eight chapters of Romans he makes this remarkable statement: What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God's elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised— who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8.31-39).
HOLY SONNETS - III John Donne
This is my play's last scene; here heavens appoint
My pilgrimage's last mile; and my race
Idly, yet quickly run, hath this last pace;
My span's last inch, my minute's latest point;
And gluttonous Death will instantly unjoint
My body and soul, and I shall sleep a space;
But my ever-waking part shall see that face,
Whose fear already shakes my every joint.
Then, as my soul to heaven her first seat takes flight,
And earth-born body in the earth shall dwell,
So fall my sins, that all may have their right,
To where they're bred and would press me to hell.
Impute me righteous, thus purged of evil,
For thus I leave the world, the flesh, the devil.
During our river boat cruise up the Rhine and down the Danube we were privileged to listen to a number of well-informed lecturers. Not surprisingly a number of the tour guides in Germany & Austria commented on the devastating effects of the Nazi regime on their respective countries. I suppose it was providential that one of the books I was reading on the trip was Elie Wiesel’s book “Night” – a nightmarish account of a teenage boy’s suffering in Auschwitz and Buchenwald. A year or so ago I had read a couple of novels “The Book Thief” and “All the Light We Cannot See.” These were in part a continuation of my reading the biography “Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy” by Eric Metaxas (an excellent account of an extraordinary German Lutheran pastor who refused the exhortations of scholars and theologians to escape the Nazi regime; indeed, he returned home to Germany from America where he was lecturing to bear witness to the liberty inherent in the gospel message. As you may know, Hitler had him imprisoned and when it became apparent that it was only a matter of weeks before the Third Reich would be compelled to surrender to the Allied forces Hitler gave orders for Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s execution. Sometime during his imprisonment Bonhoeffer wrote the following poem.
Who am I? They often tell me
I stepped from my cell’s confinement
Calmly, cheerfully, firmly,
Like a squire from his country-house.
Who am I?They often tell me
I used to speak to my warders
Freely and friendly and clearly,
As though it were mine to command.
Who am I?They also tell me
I bore the days of misfortune
Equally, smilingly, proudly,
Like one accustomed to win.
Am I then really all that which other men tell of?
Or am I only what I myself know of myself?
Restless and longing and sick, like a bird in a cage,
Struggling for breath, as though hands were
compressing my throat,
Yearning for colors, for flowers, for the voices of birds,
Thirsting for words of kindness, for neighborliness,
Tossing in expectation of great events,
Powerlessly trembling for friends at an infinite distance,
Weary and empty at praying, at thinking, at making,
Faint, and ready to say farewell to it all?
Who am I?This or the other?
Am I one person today and tomorrow another?
Am I both at once? A hypocrite before others,
And before myself a contemptibly woebegone weakling?
Or is something within me still like a beaten army,
Fleeing in disorder from victory already achieved?
Who am I?They mock me, these lonely questions of mine.
Whoever I am, Thou knowest, 0 God, I am Thine!
In the liturgrical tradition the compline is the last office of prayer and reflection for the day and it tends to be a contemplative devotion that emphasizes spiritual peace.