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Psalm 47

It’s Ascension Sunday, and what better way to worship than with a Psalm of exaltation and praise! When read in the context of this holy day, Psalm 47 is a proclamation and celebration of the most basic gospel truth: Jesus is Lord.

 

When Jesus ascends in Acts 1, it directly follows his final words to his disciples, again promising them the power of the Holy Spirit to continue the work that he has begun. Then, they’re looking right at him as he is lifted up into a cloud (or into the presence of God, as clouds are used to symbolize that presence throughout the Old Testament). The disciples are left staring into the sky, likely amazed and flabbergasted by what they’ve just seen. Suddenly, they’re joined by two men in white that wonder why they’re staring into the sky, and effectively set their minds on what is to come.

 

I always wanted to insert myself into the story and ask those two men and white to just give us a minute. Like, consider the whirlwind that the disciples had experienced over the last three years, let alone the last 43 days. And now, Jesus has literally been taken into heaven, a la Enoch (Genesis 5) and Elijah (2 Kings 2), and the disciples can’t just have five minutes to stare up and consider what in the world just happened?!

 

But they had work to do. They had a ministry to continue. They had a Holy Spirit to receive and a church to start. Each year, though, on Ascension Sunday, we do get to pause. We get our five minutes to stare into the heavens and consider the implications.

 

Enter, into our worship spaces, Psalm 47. Maybe this is what the disciples would have said and done, if the men in white would’ve given them time. This is a Psalm of exaltation. God is King over all the earth. Not just over all the Israelites, and their own kings and prophets. He is exalted over all.

 

Peter went on to preach about the ascension in Acts 2. He explained to the gathered crowd that Jesus was raised up and “exalted at the right hand of God.” Psalm 47 gives us words to help us celebrate the Exalted One. It reminds us how to praise, and that God is worthy of that praise.

 

The entire Psalm follows a model of knowing and showing. This is a simple definition of worship. Because we know who God is, or what God has done, we show our love in response. The knowing is vast, because God reaches beyond our knowledge. There’s more to know than we’ll ever know. The showing is not as far-reaching, as it’s limited by our human ability, but it is as extensible as our Spirit-infused humanity allows.

 

Showing: The first section begins with loud and exuberant praise.

 

Knowing: Why? Because God is awesome, Most High, and the ruler of all nations. In the context of Ascension Sunday, God sits on the throne and Jesus at God’s right hand!

 

Verse 4 calls attention to the great nation of Israel. The author celebrates Abraham’s blessing that his descendants would increase to incalculable numbers and a promised land would belong to that family. It was their heritage, the pride of Jacob. The blessing was being lived out before the psalter’s very eyes.

 

Showing: Over and over in verse 6 the people are told to sing. Show your praise through song. Channel your God-given artistic abilities, and the emotions you express through them, into praise. We don’t just praise with our thoughts and our actions. We praise with the depths of our being. Singing praises invites us to emote and celebrate.

 

Knowing: Why do we sing? Because God is King of all the earth. God is Israel’s King, and that alone would be enough for praise. But God’s kingdom doesn’t stop there. It’s all-encompassing and worthy of all praise. God’s throne isn’t geographical. It isn’t due to a bloodline. It’s isn’t because God took it by force from another who sat there before. It’s a holy throne. It belongs only to Yahweh. The rulers of this world, princes and shields (kings/kingdoms), bow to the exalted one.

 

On this Ascension Sunday, we pause in the moment before we’re called back to our task at hand. The Holy Spirit is coming to fill us and empower us. The work of the church is prayer, justice, healing, peacemaking, discipling, and reaching the lost, and we’ve got work to do. Perhaps, though, just before we get down to it, we do the first work of the church: worship. Like the disciples at the ascension in Acts 1, we’re taking a moment to look up at the sky. And like the psalter, we’re worshiping the Most High, who has gone up with a shout. Jesus is Lord. The ascension solidifies it, and Psalm 47 helps us express it.

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