I appreciate various worship practices and approaches across many different church traditions. Richard Foster calls these different approaches, "streams," which I think is a lovely term for them. Learning from these different streams can be extremely informative and life-giving; what one tradition overlooks, another holds dear. I also appreciate having learned under Christian approaches that emphasis that Christ is King. While all Christians should (and must!) acknowledge the Lordship of Jesus Christ, the admiration and loyalty one feels toward Christ changes when He is more than Friend and Savior---He is also one's Sovereign.
Spurgeon--who has many sermons on Isaiah, often focused around a single verse--says this in his sermon, "The King in His Beauty""
I am afraid that many Christians do not understand the mediatorial royalty of Christ in the church. I see so many of them acting as if they were not subjects of a King at all, but were mere banditti fighting on their own account, doing just according to their own judgment. I hear so many professors quoting this man’s authority, and that. I am of the same mind as the apostle, who spoke of some of whom he said he feared lest their faith should stand in the wisdom of man, and not in the power of God. If it does so, you forget that your faith and everything else must stand in Christ, and that Christ must in all your graces and in all your actions be acknowledged as head over all things to his church, which is his body, or else you err, not holding the Head.
What a fascinating image of us when we go rogue and don't submit under Christ's Lordship: We are like banditti fighting our own battles! This often looks...messy...and rarely results in the victorious Christian life.
To take the illustration further, we, like Jonny Depp's character above, can then become more focused on our personal needs ("But why is the rum gone???") than what the King wants. We Americans have literally no frame of reference for this other than occasional forays into The Crown, for instance, where we are shocked to watch individuals submit their happiness and future in to deference to the Crown. We secretly think this is wrong-headed. And yet, as Christians we are asked to do this very thing under Christ's Lordship.
Spurgeon focuses on Isaiah 33:17 for this sermon:
Your eyes will see the king in his beauty; they will behold a land that stretches far away.
In addition to the kingly imagery, we see the word, "beauty." Both David and Isaiah focus quite a bit on the beauty of the Lord. This is another descriptor that we possibly struggle with, depending on our particular church tradition. God as beautiful?? David says,
One thing I asked of the Lord, that I will seek after; to live in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord and to inquire in his temple (Psalm 27:4).
Earlier in his book, Isaiah says,
In that day the Lord of hosts will be a garland of glory, and a diadem of beauty, to the remnant of his people... (Isaiah 28:5)
How powerful and meaningful then is Isaiah 33:17 that draws together the kingly imagery with a focus on the beauty of the Lord.
The rest of the passage lists what the King has done and will do--each of these resonate strongly with me for where I am this year. I'm using both the NRSV and NIV translations here and will just start with the first three.
Be our arm/strength every morning (v. 2)
He filled Zion with justice and righteousness (v. 5)
He will be the sure foundation/stability of your times (v. 6)
I've always known the Psalm images of God as our shield and our strength. But I love the imagery of the NRSV, with God's arm literally running interference for us. I picture myself huddling behind His strong arm. There are battles that I don't even know about that He is undertaking for me, for others, for this universe.
Justice and righteousness are hallmarks of Christ's Kingdom. Rather than us floating on
clouds playing harps, we will be ushered into a Kingdom where we participate in Christ's kingly reign in which not only will individuals be whole and healed, but interrelationships of people and communities will be coexisting in perfect harmony with one another in the New Heavens and New Earth.
While the NIV translates verse 6 as, "He will be the sure foundation for your times," I'm intrigued by the NRSV's, "He will be the stability of your times." We need Christ as our foundation and our stability. In this moment in this world, it seems to me that people are still feeling unmoored and unstable. This is understandable. We have had instability in our communities this year, instability politically, instability economically, and instability with our health. It's as if God is grabbing our attention! Rather than moving quickly to musing whether events are punishments for something, it's worth asking whether they are messages and circumstances operating to draw us to a more whole place both emotionally and spiritually. With Christ as our stability, we can hope to avoid the reverse happening.
Why is Christ our stability? Verse 6 goes on to talk of the abundance of salvation that He gives, as well as His wisdom and knowledge. We don't have to go it alone as banditti!
Spurgeon, later in his sermon, reminds us to meditate on Christ--on His beauty (which is directly tied to His love) and other qualities. Our conversation and behavior should then follow:
Would that our conversation were more in heaven, and that we were more taken up with the person, the work, the beauty of our incarnate Lord. More meditation, and you would see the King in his beauty better.
Lord, help us to behold Your beauty, by taking the time to think and meditate on You. Let our words be more heavenly and more mirrored on what You showed us while You were on earth. May we see you better!