January 2, 2022


Psalm 8

Steve Bryan


Van Gogh’s starry night is one of the best-known pieces of art in the world. The stars, which are bright and mobile, contrast with the dark and rigid village below. When comparing humanity with the stars, we seem disappointing and insignificant. Van Gogh painted this when in a Mental Asylum, where he was receiving treatment for Epilepsy and Paranoia. The treatment had seemed to work well, but at the time of this painting, Van Gogh was relapsing. He killed himself the next year.

That’s a bit depressing, isn’t it? Actually the night sky should lead us to awe and joy. But because of our human malady, like Vincent we are instead led to depression and death. Before I trusted in Jesus, the night sky disturbed me. It made me feel small and finite, and I hated the personal oblivion which I thought death would one day bring. The stars last forever, unchanging, to our eyes. Yet we perish.

Meeting Jesus changed me. And this Psalm explains how. The Majestic God has made his glory plain to all, in both his creation and his delegation of authority to humanity. This second glory has been tarnished by our sin, but restored by His Son Jesus. As we learn all of this, our hearts are lifted from despondency to praise of God’s majesty.

For this Psalm is a Psalm of Praise, beginning and ending with: Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! The Psalms leading up to Psalm 8 are all prayers for salvation, and Psalm 9 continues in the same vein. This Psalm is a pause button, which allows us to praise the Majestic God, to whom alone we pray for salvation. The result is mingled joy and awe, which is what I pray for you this morning,

The glory of God in creation

The second part of verse 1 through to verse 4 behold the glory of God in his creation, as Vincent Van Gogh did that starry night. David writes,

You have set your glory
    in the heavens.
Through the praise of children and infants
    you have established a stronghold against your enemies,
    to silence the foe and the avenger.
When I consider your heavens,
    the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars,
    which you have set in place,
what is mankind that you are mindful of them,
    human beings that you care for them?

We'll come back to verse 2, which does seem out of place, but is crucial for us to understand at the end of this sermon.

God’s glory is his creation, which he has set in in the heavens, verse 2, being the work of his fingers, verse 3. It’s not that we can see God himself in the heavens, but rather his glory. As children are the glory of their parents, displaying parental love and nurture, so the stars are the glory of God, displaying his eternal power and divine nature (Rom 1:20). David says in verse 3, I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place.

There is heaps to say about the stars, but let’s focus in on the moon this morning, the biggest light in Vincent’s starry night sky. The moon is incredible. It was formed by God throwing a Mars-sized planet at the earth, 4.5 billion years ago. Although it is only a fiftieth of the size of the earth, without it our earth would wobble a lot more, and there would be no tides. God set the moon in place, such that though spin and the moon spins, we only ever see the same half of the moon; it is perfectly synchronised with the earth.

God did this. Therefore, God is majestic. That alone should drive us to praise … but there is another effect of the glory of God’s creation in the heavens. As this Psalm notes, we seem insignificant in comparison. Not so much in comparison with the moon and the stars, but compared to their maker, God. David says, When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is mankind that you are mindful of them, human beings that you care for them?

The great God who made all of this is surely as remote from us as the Mayor of Sydney is from an ant in the Simpson desert. Isaiah said, “Lift up your eyes and look to the heavens: Who created all these? He who brings out the starry host one by one and calls forth each of them by name. Because of his great power and mighty strength, not one of them is missing. (Isaiah 40:26).

Religious people of all persuasions have a different problem to atheists. They find their insignificance in comparison with the universe. They get lost ‘lost in the cosmos’, so the speak. Philip Adams wrote that “I believe, I know that we live on a minor planet in an off-Broadway solar system on the edge of the Milky Way and that, in the final analysis, we’re as significant as the eight billionth grain of sand beyond the final Palm tree in the most distant oasis in the Sahara … Like the hippopotamus and the hedgehog, humans are simply a vanishing expression of the life force, as destined for oblivion as dodos and dinosaurs.

That’s not our problem, as believers in God. Our problem is that the God who made all of this cannot possibly have concern for us. There may be almost 8 billion of us, but God has 100 billion stars in the Milky Way Galaxy alone, and there are 125 billion galaxies! What are we to him? Friends, as we ask that same question: “When I consider your heavens … what is mankind?”, we are led into awe. On our knees we must concede, “God you are awesome, and we are next to nothing.”

The glory of God in delegation

We are not nothing, though, for God’s glory is also seen in his delegation of authority to humanity. Verse 4 says, what is mankind that you are mindful of them, human beings that you care for them? This mindfulness and care is seen most clearly in the position he has put us in. We may be on one small planet orbiting one small star among trillions, but we are number one on this planet, and in this Solar system. Verses 5 to 8 continue

You have made them a little lower than the angels
    and crowned them with glory and honor.
You made them rulers over the works of your hands;
    you put everything under their feet:
all flocks and herds,
    and the animals of the wild,
the birds in the sky,
    and the fish in the sea,
    all that swim the paths of the seas.

The truth is that we do have dominion over all of creation. We ride horses and farm cattle, harness penicillin and invent refrigeration. We’ve even put ourselves on the moon. When we set out minds to do something – like flying in the skies or exploring the depths of the oceans, we do it.

We are remarkable, and there should be no reason for low self-esteem among us. You may compare yourself to others, or even worse to your own hopes and dreams, and get depressed. Beloved of God, he could have made you a cockroach or a dog, and he didn’t. He made you, verse 5, rulers over the works of his hands, and crowned you, verse 4, with glory and honour. God didn’t just make us, he made us rulers over the works of his hands. Our race will get to Mars. Our race will go beyond this Solar System, if Jesus does not return first. God is mindful of and cares for us, friends, above all of creation, for we are meant to rule his creation.

Lest we be arrogant, though, we must remember with David that it is God who has made us and crowned us, and praise him for his delegation of authority.

Glory tarnished

I’m sure you are thinking, though, of this medium over which you are hearing me speak these words. We are online, friends, because of the Omicron variant of the Novel Coronavirus of 2019. We seem too weak to be delegated this awesome authority to rule creation. We often seem to be ruled by the world around us, suffering through drought and storm and earthquake. The crown-shaped virus still ravaging our planet seems to be our sovereign, not the other way around.

The glory, it seems, has been tarnished. As a commantator wrote, Dominion has become Domination; rule has become ruin; subordination to the divine purpose has become subjection to human sinfulness. The creatures suffer (Mays). This is precisely because of the attitude of those like Philip Adams. We ignore God, and therefore we rule with both malice and impotence.

We can’t even rule ourselves effectively. James reflects on verse 6 ruefully, saying All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and sea creatures are being tamed and have been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. (Jas 3:7). According to the Bible, and demonstrated in every human generation, our sin brings us and our rule undone.

We’ve seen this morning that God is majestic, for we see his creation and marvel that he has given us authority to rule. But we stink at ruling! The ants would do a better job!

Glory restored

Thankfully, our God has not left us drowning out of our depth. He has sent a true King, the One who rules as we should. Verse 9 concludes, Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! Whose name? The name of Jesus Christ. As Peter said in Acts 4, “there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12). We can be saved from our malicious and incompetent rule by Jesus.

What we have pictured here in Psalm 8 is how we should be, with delegated authority to rule. The writer of Hebrews reflects on verses 4 to 6 in his second chapter. He says, In putting everything under him, God left nothing that is not subject to him, speaking of mankind. Then he continues, Yet at present we do not see everything subject to him. We don’t seem to be in control, as we have already admitted. The Hebrews locates the restoration of our glory: But we do see Jesus, who was made lower than the angels for a little while, now crowned with glory and honor (Heb 2:8-9).

We seem not to have lived up to the exalted vision of humanity in Psalm 8. But Psalm 8 is not talking about us, primarily. It’s a Psalm of Praise, and God planned a way for the His own Son to live up to David’s vision. Jesus is the one who rules as God intended.

We see this in his life, and his death and resurrection. Ray Galea put it better than I can: When caught in a life-threatening storm, he said to the wind and the waves, “Shut up!” (Mark 4:35-41). When confronted by demons who hijacked the soul of a man, he said, “Get out!” (Mark 5:1-13). When face with a man who was paralysed for 38 years, he said, “Get up!” (John 5:5-9). When he met people who feared God, he said, “Follow me!” (Matt 4:18-22). When he came to the tomb of a dead friend, he shouted “Come out!” (John 11:17-44). Jesus even has authority over death: “I lay down my life that I may take it back up again.” (John 10:17). Jesus fulfilled Psalm 8 completely and perfectly. And so we praise the name of Jesus, whose name is majestic in all the earth.

What's more, in praising Jesus, we actually join Jesus and rule with him. As Galea wrote, Jesus’ authority over everything reveals his divinity, that’s true … but it also reveals his humanity. Jesus is a sneak preview of our glorified selves. He is what we were meant to be. The Bible tells us that God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way (Eph 1:22-23). As we praise Jesus Christ, we join him in his rule.

This is how verse 2 of Psalm 8 should be understood: Through the praise of children and infants you have established a stronghold against your enemies, to silence the foe and the avenger. Our own sin seems to have defeated us, as God’s delegated rulers. Our sinful malice and incompetence testify against us. When we call to Jesus for salvation, though, our sin is crucified with him on the cross.

In Matthew chapter 21, not long before Jesus was crucified, he cleared the temple, as you will remember. Verses 15 and 16 say, when the chief priests and the teachers of the law saw the wonderful things he did and the children shouting in the temple courts, “Hosanna to the Son of David,” they were indignant. 16 “Do you hear what these children are saying?” they asked him. “Yes,” replied Jesus, “have you never read, “‘From the lips of children and infants you, Lord, have called forth your praise’?” Jesus quotes from the Greek version of Psalm 8, verse 2. The children shouted, ‘Hosanna’, or ‘Saviour’ in English. They praised Jesus as their Saviour. They were humble, as children are wont to be, and their humility shows us the way. We must come to Jesus like children, admitting our sin and praising him as our Saviour.

This is how our tarnished glory is restored: We put ourselves under his perfect rule, and in obedience we ourselves rule as God intended. We can’t do this perfectly yet, but Jesus has made the world a whole lot better now, and will complete the job when he returns. Then we shall rule perfectly, under him, but also with Him.

This year, sisters and brothers, commit yourselves to Praising God, and to Praising his Christ, to which Psalm 8 points. Memorise that phrase: Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! When you say that to God, remember what he has done in Christ – who ruled over creation perfectly, and who took our failed record as malicious and incompetent rulers with him to the cross.

The Majestic God has made his glory plain to all, in both his creation and his delegation of authority to humanity, a glory tarnished by our sin, but restored by our Lord Jesus. As we learn all of this, our hearts are lifted from despondency to praise of God’s majesty. Amen?

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