Blog / Book of the Month / Writing on the Wall - Psalm 82 Sermon, December Prayer Service

Writing on the Wall - Psalm 82 Sermon, December Prayer Service

Writing on the Wall - Psalm 82 Sermon, December Prayer Service

Mount Olive Lutheran Church / Pr. Ted A. Giese / Wednesday December 5th 2018: Season of Advent / Psalm 82 "Writing on the Wall"

God has taken His place in the divine council;
in the midst of the gods He holds judgment:
"How long will you judge unjustly
and show partiality to the wicked?

Give justice to the weak and the fatherless;
maintain the right of the afflicted and the destitute.
Rescue the weak and the needy;
deliver them from the hand of the wicked."

They have neither knowledge nor understanding,
they walk about in darkness;
all the foundations of the earth are shaken.

I said, “You are gods,
sons of the Most High, all of you;
nevertheless, like men you shall die,
and fall like any prince.”
Arise, O God, judge the earth;
for You shall inherit all the nations!

Let us pray: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in Your sight O Lord. Amen.

Grace peace and mercy to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Good Christian Friends. What is Psalm 82 all about? This Psalm seems to make it sound like there are all these gods and God is somehow just one god among many gods. Is that what this Psalm is saying? At the time of this Psalm and through the history of the Old Testament and the Church this Psalm has been understood to refer to kings, to the heads of state of the Nations. When one is a king or queen they can be tempted to start to think that there is no man or woman above them, that they themselves are gods and if they have no fear or love of the One True God they will see themselves as a law unto themselves. In fact at the time of the birth of Jesus, which we are preparing to celebrate during Advent, the Roman Caesars where believed by some in the Roman Empire to be gods and were publicly worshiped as gods, some of the Caesars themselves believed that they were gods. So Psalm 82 is a Psalm that on the one hand uses the term gods in an ironic sense because kings and queens are clearly not gods in and of themselves as the Psalm says, “like men you shall die, and fall like any prince,” while on the other hand the Psalm points to the responsibilities of the vocation of king or queen to use their authority wisely and with honour which this Psalm accuses them of failing at.

Even at the time of the presentation of the Apology of the Augsburg Confession in 1531 the Lutheran Reformers in an attempt to avoid violence between Roman Catholics over matters of faith and practice likewise used Psalm 82 to praise Charles V, the Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire at that time, when seeking his approval of our Confession of faith they said to him, “To God above all, you owe the duty to preserve sound teaching and hand it down to future generations, to defend those who teach what is right. For God demands this when He honours kings with His own name, calling them gods, saying, “I said, ‘You are gods’” (Psalm 82:6). They gently admonished him saying that Charles and all in authority “should work toward the preservation and growth of divine things, that is, the Gospel of Christ on Earth. As God’s representatives, they should defend the life and safety of the innocent.”[1]     

How well did Charles the V know Psalm 82? Well enough to know that God in judgment in this Psalm is levelling a charge against the rulers of the world, people God Himself had given power and authority to as St. Paul says in Romans 13? Would Charles remember that Psalm 82 begins with the judgment, “How long will you judge unjustly and show partiality to the wicked?” God knows: God the Father also knows what the kings and queens and Heads of State of the earth are supposed to be doing with the authority He has given them, they are to, “Give justice to the weak and the fatherless; [they are to] maintain the right of the afflicted and the destitute. [And] Rescue the weak and the needy; [they are to] deliver them from the hand of the wicked,” which was ultimately what the reformers were asking Charles V to do. It was likewise what the people of the Old Testament looked for in their kings and seldom received and it was what the people at the time of Jesus’ birth were looking for in a messiah, a saviour, One who would provide justice, rescue, and deliverance from the Romans and their occupation of Israel.  

In Psalm 14 and 53 we read how, “The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.” [How] They are corrupt, [and how] they do abominable deeds; [how in fact] there is none who does good.” Some world leaders are indeed fools, while in every time and in every place there are always some world leaders who do truly posses the fear and love of God, and then there are some who find it along the way – or I should say the fear and love of God finds them, and occasionally it has to be made painfully obvious. Do you remember the account of “The Handwriting on the Wall” from Daniel 5 while the Southern Kingdom of Judah was in captivity in Babylon? “King Belshazzar made a great feast for a thousand of his lords and drank wine in front of the thousand.

Belshazzar, when he tasted the wine, commanded that the vessels of gold and of silver that Nebuchadnezzar his father had taken out of the temple in Jerusalem be brought, that the king and his lords, his wives, and his concubines might drink from them. Then they brought in the golden vessels that had been taken out of the temple, the house of God in Jerusalem, and the king and his lords, his wives, and his concubines drank from them. They drank wine and praised the gods of gold and silver, bronze, iron, wood, and stone [that the Babylonians had fashioned for themselves and taken in their conquests].

Immediately the fingers of a human hand appeared and wrote on the plaster of the wall of the king's palace, opposite the lampstand. And the king saw the hand as it wrote. Then the king's colour changed, and his thoughts alarmed him; his limbs gave way, and his knees knocked together. The king called loudly to bring in the enchanters, the Chaldeans, and the astrologers. The king declared to the wise men of Babylon, “Whoever reads this writing, and shows me its interpretation, shall be clothed with purple and have a chain of gold around his neck and shall be the third ruler in the kingdom.” Then all the king's wise men came in, but they could not read the writing or make known to the king the interpretation. Then King Belshazzar was greatly alarmed, and his colour changed, and his lords were perplexed.

The queen, because of the words of the king and his lords, came into the banqueting hall, and the queen declared, “O king, live forever! Let not your thoughts alarm you or your colour change. There is a man in your kingdom in whom is the spirit of the holy gods. In the days of your father, light and understanding and wisdom like the wisdom of the gods were found in him, and King Nebuchadnezzar, your father—your father the king—made him chief of the magicians, enchanters, Chaldeans, and astrologers, because an excellent spirit, knowledge, and understanding to interpret dreams, explain riddles, and solve problems were found in this Daniel …. Now let Daniel be called, and he will show the interpretation.”

Then Daniel was brought in before the king. The king answered and said to Daniel, “You are that Daniel, one of the exiles of Judah, whom the king my father brought from Judah. … Now the wise men, the enchanters, have been brought in before me to read this writing and make known to me its interpretation, but they could not show the interpretation of the matter. But I have heard that you can give interpretations and solve problems. Now if you can read the writing and make known to me its interpretation, you shall be clothed with purple and have a chain of gold around your neck and shall be the third ruler in the kingdom.”

Then Daniel answered and said before the king, “Let your gifts be for yourself, and give your rewards to another. Nevertheless, I will read the writing to the king and make known to him the interpretation. O king, the Most High God gave Nebuchadnezzar your father kingship and greatness and glory and majesty. And because of the greatness that he gave him, all peoples, nations, and languages trembled and feared before him. Whom he would, he killed, and whom he would, he kept alive; whom he would, he raised up, and whom he would, he humbled. But when his heart was lifted up and his spirit was hardened so that he dealt proudly, he was brought down from his kingly throne, and his glory was taken from him. He was driven from among the children of mankind, and his mind was made like that of a beast, and his dwelling was with the wild donkeys. He was fed grass like an ox, and his body was wet with the dew of heaven, until he knew that the Most High God rules the kingdom of mankind and sets over it whom He will. And you his son, Belshazzar, have not humbled your heart, though you knew all this, but you have lifted up yourself against the Lord of heaven. And the vessels of [God’s] house have been brought in before you, and you and your lords, your wives, and your concubines have drunk wine from them. And you have praised the gods of silver and gold, of bronze, iron, wood, and stone, which do not see or hear or know, but the God in whose hand is your breath, and whose are all your ways, you have not honored.

… This is the interpretation of the matter: [The Handwriting on the Wall says] God has numbered the days of your kingdom and brought it to an end; … you have been weighed in the balances and found wanting; … [and], your kingdom is divided and given to the Medes and Persians.”

Then Belshazzar gave the command, and Daniel was clothed with purple, a chain of gold was put around his neck, and a proclamation was made about him, that he should be the third ruler in the kingdom.

[Yet] That very night Belshazzar the Chaldean king was killed. And Darius the Mede received the kingdom.”

In the Book of Daniel human fingers appear to bring God’s judgment upon a king who disregarded where his authority truly came from. His misuse of the Holy Things of God came from disbelief and from pride and abuse of his authority to care for the people in his care. As St. Paul says Romans 13:1 all authority comes from God, “For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God.” Which means even those who do not believe in God, like Belshazzar before he saw the writing on the wall, have also received their authority from God. This was true then and it is true now, and this is likewise what Psalm 82 teaches. Such godless and clueless leaders are as the Psalm says, “They have neither knowledge nor understanding, they walk about in darkness.” And here we circle back around again to the season of Advent and our preparation for the Christmas celebration of the birth of Jesus the Son of God. The Gospel of John says, that Jesus, “The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, yet the world did not know Him.”[2] Zechariah the Father of John the Baptizer in the Gospel of Luke talked of the tender mercy of God coming to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death bringing them light to guide their feet, our feet, into the way of peace.[3] 

And this is the thing; you don’t need to be a king or a queen to be tempted into believing that you are the ultimate authority and that there is none above you. Each of us, “by the Holy Spirit,” needs to be careful to keep an eye on, to “guard, the good deposit” of faith that we have received in our baptism, that has been “entrusted to you,” to each of us, in Christ Jesus.[4] And how do we do this? We need to consider our place in life according to the Ten Commandments: Are you a father, mother, son, daughter, husband, wife, or worker? Are you a judge, a king, a queen, or some other kind of head of state? Are you a baker, a butcher or a candlestick maker whatever your responsibilities in life, whatever your vocation you need to consider whether you have been disobedient, unfaithful, or lazy? Have you been hot-tempered, rude, or quarrelsome? Have you hurt someone by your words or deeds? Have you stolen, been negligent, wasted anything, or done any harm?[5] Have you acted like you were the ultimate authority, have you disregarded God? In doing this, in bringing your repentant heart to God, you will not require the appearance of human fingers writing on the wall to show you your sin. In doing this you will be wise, you will know and trust and understand that God the Father is where God is … above all as Psalm 82 teaches. That His Son, Jesus the Christ is indeed, “King of kings and Lord of lords,”[6] the Saviour of the Nations who in all His life was obedient to His Heavenly Father never breaking the Ten Commandments, never having any god above His Heavenly Father, never even putting Himself first with regard to His Heavenly Father even though He is “equal to the Father with respect to His divinity,” yes Jesus in His earthly life, death and resurrection kept His place always acknowledging that He was indeed “less than the Father with respect to His humanity.”[7]

In The End, just as we confess in the Apostles Creed, this same Jesus who exhibited extraordinary humility will fulfill Psalm 82 when He comes to Judge the living and the dead on The Last Day. Your forgiveness is found in Him, the one who never over stepped His authority, never claimed what wasn’t His. Jesus forgives you your sin and because you are given to Him by His Heavenly Father and all authority in Heaven and Earth has been given to this same Jesus in His ascension He claims you as His own today, tomorrow and forever.

Pray in this Psalm, in Psalm 82, that you would never lose sight of The True Light, Christ Jesus, who is our Righteous Judge, who likewise is the one who makes us just and presents us to His Father without wrinkle or blemish.[8] This is the God we celebrate at Christmas that we look forward to and celebrate in Advent. He came to us not just as human fingers writing on a wall but with 10 fingers and 10 toes, a baby born to be King, as the angel Gabriel said to the Virgin Mary, “He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to Him the throne of His father David, and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end.”[9] Amen.    

Let us pray:

Lord have mercy on us, Christ have mercy on us, Lord have mercy on us, “take our minds and think through them, take our lips and speak through them, take our hearts and set them on fire; for the sake of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, Amen.

[1] Concordia Readers Addition, Apology of the Augsburg Confession Article XXI, Concordia Publishing House, Pg 300-301.
[2] John 1:9–10
[3] Luke 1:79
[4] 2 Timothy 1:14
[5] The Small Catechism, Section 1, Confession, Concordia Publishing House 2005, Pg 27
[6] Revelation 19:16
[7] Athanasian Creed, “… He is God, begotten from the substance of the Father before all ages; and He is man, born from the substance of His mother in this age: perfect God and perfect man, composed of a rational soul and human flesh; equal to the Father with respect to His divinity, less than the Father with respect to His humanity. Although He is God and man, He is not two, but one Christ: one, however, not by the conversion of the divinity into flesh, but by the assumption of the humanity into God; one altogether, not by confusion of substance, but by unity of person. For as the rational soul and flesh is one man, so God and man is one Christ, Who suffered for our salvation, descended into hell, rose again the third day from the dead, ascended into heaven, and is seated at the right hand of the Father, God Almighty, from whence He will come to judge the living and the dead. …”
[8] Ephesians 5:27
[9] Luke 1:32–33