It was just a mound of topsoil. The dump truck arrived and delivered it, pouring it on the back corner of our suburban ¼ acre of land. Little by little, the mound diminished as my father planted flowerbeds around the perimeter of our house. But before the mound was gone, it provided hours of entertainment for my brothers and me who wrestled to be “king of the mountain.” One of us would plant himself at the top and dare the others to topple him. A couple of us would combine forces and chase the “king” from his place, then inevitably turn on each other to see who the new ruler would be. It was all in good fun but we learned the lesson: To be on top, you had to conquer other would-be kings.
YAHWEH, KING OF THE NATIONS
Psalm 47 speaks of another king, one who is not local but global. This king rules not only over Mt. Zion (Micah 4:7) but is king “over all the earth” (Ps. 47:2). Yahweh (the LORD) is no minor potentate. Rather, Yahweh is the supreme sovereign worthy of the accolades of all peoples and nations. The “shields” (Heb. māgēn) of the earth belong to God (v. 9), a likely allusion to God’s superiority to this world’s suzerains (James Smith, Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament , 1:169). Because God is a king like no other, the Psalmist invites the worshipper to join in by clapping (v. 1), shouting (v. 1, 5) and singing (vv. 6-7). This is hardly a subdued gathering; instead, it is a raucous celebration of the One who has “gone up with the sound of a trumpet” (v. 5) and “sits on his holy throne” (v. 8). It is recognition of a majesty so surpassing that all the earth’s princes gather to worship Abraham’s God (v. 9).
ASCENT OF CHRIST
For the Christian, Jesus is prophet and priest, but he is also king. The New Testament appropriates divine terminology like Psalm 47’s language of royalty and applies it to Christ, who is “king of all kings and Lord of all lords” (Rev. 19:16, NLT). The Risen Christ possesses the power of One who is sovereign: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me” (Matthew 28:18). The eternal One who descended, who “emptied himself of all but love” (Charles Wesley), now “ascended to the heights” and “gave gifts to his people” (Ephesians 4:8, NLT). The fanfare of a trumpet that accompanied Yahweh’s ascent to the throne in Psalm 47:5 was absent in Acts 1 as Jesus returned to the Father. Nonetheless, the trumpet’s blast will announce the arrival of King Jesus at the eschaton (Matthew 24:31).
FROM TEXT TO SERMON
As we reflect on Psalm 47 through the lens of Ascension Sunday, several preaching points come into focus:
God’s power exceeds the power of all others. While God is not the only one with power in this world (1 John 5:19), to be king over all the earth (Psalm 47:2) is to exercise authority unlike any other. We can address our prayers to God, in the name of Jesus, confident that the One who hears us is the One who has the power to act in our favor (2 Cor. 1:11).
The natural response to divine majesty is joyful worship. Grant Zweigle remarks: “In worship we turn our attention toward the divine other, the holy one in our midst, joining the eternal chorus of praise to the One we have come to know as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit” (Worship, Wonder, and Way: Reimagining Evangelism as Missional Practice , 37). Shouting, clapping, and singing are encouraged by the Psalmist as means to offer our praise to God.
Rest in the kingship of God in Christ. The Ascension of Christ reminds the Christian that both Father and Son reign in majesty, even as Christ is at the right hand of God (Acts 7:56, Hebrews 1:3). Resting does not mean that we disengage, only that we keep straining to push back the darkness, assured of the positive outcome. As Yahweh “subdued peoples and nations under his feet” (Psalm 47:3) so Christ will bring all in subjection to his Father (1 Corinthians 15:28). The rule of the Triune God is the source of our confidence as we expend ourselves in kingdom service, knowing that our labor is not in vain.