Sunday, December 20, 2009

The Throne of His Father David

Texts: Isaiah 9:2-7; Luke 1:26-38

YOU PROBABLY RECOGNIZED our Call to Worship litany this morning as a version of the ancient Advent hymn, "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel." As I may have mentioned to you before, I belong to a community choir in the Pittsburgh area, and this semester we learned a new anthem using the words to that hymn. The rehearsal we first got it, we were looking over the music and I noticed something. I raised my hand and said to our director, "Excuse me, but there’s a mistake in the text on page 8. It says, ‘O Come! Thou King of David, come!’ It should say, ‘Key of David’ instead."

One of the tenors is a professor of Old Testament at Geneva College and he said, "She's right. It’s ‘Key of David,’ not ‘King of David.’"

Our director looked at the page for a couple of seconds, then pronounced, "I got this at a big choir convention. Nobody there said anything about there being an error in this text. We’ll sing ‘King of David,’ the way it’s written."

One of my fellow sopranos leaned over to me and whispered that the way our director makes us go easy on the consonants, our audiences would probably hear it as ‘Key of David’ anyway and it wouldn’t matter what was written in the score.

But that mistake in a 21st century choir anthem score says a lot about how contemporary Americans (Christian or not) think about Jesus and His Davidic ancestry. There’s the vague understanding that Jesus is connected to David somehow; something to do with both David and Jesus being kings, maybe; but how it really works nobody’s sure, and it doesn’t really matter, does it; it just has a nice ring to it.

But for the Holy Spirit speaking by the prophet Isaiah and for the angel Gabriel addressing the virgin Mary, our Lord’s relationship to King David meant everything about God the Father’s plans for Jesus the Son of Man and for us as His followers. Isaiah says of the Messiah to come,

For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given,
and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the increase of his government and peace
there will be no end.
He will reign on David’s throne
and over his kingdom,
establishing and upholding it
with justice and righteousness
from that time on and forever.

Gabriel says to Mary,

You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end.

David’s throne! That’s not merely some nice-sounding phrase that made its way in with the Christmas wrappings. No, it’s a fundamental reality about our Lord Jesus Christ, who He is, and what He has done, and it powerfully affects all of our lives, now and in the world to come.

It starts with who our God is. He’s a promise-making and covenant-making God. He’s a God who keeps His promises. He made a promise to Israel at Mount Sinai that if they kept all the Law given through Moses, He would bless them and they would live and prosper by it. Keeping that covenant was up to the people just as much as it was up to God. And as we know from history, the Jews, our spiritual ancestors, weren’t able to keep it.

But God made a very different kind of promise to King David in 2 Samuel, chapter 7. There God swore that He Himself would build David an everlasting house. That is, He’d assured David a family dynasty with an unbroken succession of biological heirs. God promised David He’d raise up a son to succeed him and that he’d never take His love from him as He had from King Saul. He swore to establish the throne of the kingdom of David’s son before God forever. This promise required nothing from David and his heirs except humble, thankful acceptance. Its fulfillment didn’t depend on David, it all depended on God.

But how can God’s covenant with David possibly benefit us?

Actually, by Mary’s time, for long centuries many Jews probably wondered how it could benefit them. The promise was partially fulfilled in David’s son Solomon, and for a long time God made sure that a direct descendant of David ruled on the throne of Judah, no matter how wicked they might be. But then came the Babylonian siege of Jerusalem, and as we read in the prophet Jeremiah, God laid a curse on Jehoiachin, who was king at that time, swearing that neither he nor any of his offspring would ever again sit on the throne of David or rule in Judah. Then the Babylonians captured the city and took almost all the survivors away captive, and Jehoiachin was the last king of Judah to have any surviving offspring at all.

What’s more, after the Exile there was no more Davidic king in Judah. The Maccabees-- who are being celebrated now during Chanukah-- were priests who took over the kingship in the first and second centuries before Christ. And then there was the Herod family in Mary’s own time who claimed to be kings of the Jews. But they were not legitimate kings according to the promise of God. They were not kings from the house of David.

So where was this everlasting throne of David that God had promised? And who was the son of David who could sit on it?

These were hard questions! But faithful sons and daughters of Israel still held onto the promise of God spoken to King David and confirmed by Isaiah, Jeremiah, and other prophets. They knew that somehow the Lord would work it out.

And then one day, in a humble home in the village of Nazareth in Galilee (Galilee of the Gentiles, as Isaiah calls it in our passage), the angel Gabriel appeared to a young virgin descended from King David, not from the cursed line of Jehoiachin, several-times-great-grandson of King Solomon, but from David’s son Prince Nathan. And this girl was betrothed to a man named Joseph, who was a direct descendant of Solomon and his legal royal line. By His virgin birth, Jesus through Mary was of the line of David’s son Nathan and did not fall under the curse against Jehoiachin (also called Jeconiah and Coniah). But with Joseph as His adoptive father, our Lord was legally in the kingly line.

And so Gabriel announced to Mary that her Son Jesus would be the one who could at last fulfill God’s faithful promise to David and sit on David’s throne. And you’ll notice, that the angel doesn’t say that her Son would leave His throne to His sons and their sons. No. The promise is that her Son, Himself, would be king forever.

But again, what’s in this for us? Why should be to our good that Jesus should reign on the throne of His father David?

It matters to us, because of God’s plan for our salvation, made before the foundation of the world. God prepared His people Israel to be the channel through which His own appointed Saviour and Christ would come into the world; not to save Israel alone, but to bring salvation to all who believe in Him. As Jesus Himself says in John chapter 4, "Salvation is of the Jews." David was the best king who ruled over God’s people Israel; he was the beloved of God, and despite his sins he was the one who walked with God most closely. David himself could never have been the eternal king and saviour of the world promised even from the Garden of Eden; obviously, David needed a saviour himself. It is his descendant Jesus, coming from David’s house and lineage, who inherits the promises of eternal kingship. His kingdom is not only everlasting, it is also universal.
As it says in Isaiah 9:7,

"Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end."

And Revelation 11:15 says,

"The kingdom of this world has become
the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ,
and he shall reign forever and ever."

Jesus is not merely the king of the Jews, He is the king of the whole world, and the king of you and me.

But it’s worth asking, why is He also called the "Key of David"? We find that term various places in Scripture, and sometimes it also reads "the key of the house of David." Jesus is the Key of David because by His sacrificial death He opens the house of David to us. Through Christ we enter in and enjoy the blessings promised to God’s beloved Son and King. Until Jesus was born and died and rose to take away the sins of the world, God’s fellowship, love, and favor were open only to faithful Jews and those who were willing to become Jews. But Jesus has opened the door to the kingdom of heaven to all believers, and what He has opened no one can shut.

I doubt Mary had any idea of the scope of God’s glorious, world-embracing plan when she said, "I am the Lord’s servant" that day in Nazareth. But God has revealed it to us in the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ, brought to us in the writings of His apostles and evangelists. No one in Mary’s day could have dreamed that God would ever invite all the nations of the world into the blessings promised to Israel . But those blessings are now freely given to everyone who, accepting Him by faith, willingly bows the knee to Jesus Christ as king. They’re available right now to us, whom God has chosen and reconciled to Himself through the blood of His crucified and risen Son.

Sadly, some people want the blessings of Christ without receiving Christ Himself. It isn’t possible. Every good thing Jesus grants from the throne of David is with Him and in Him and through Him. And so Isaiah sings in today’s passage, that Jesus our Messiah is our Wonderful Counselor and our Mighty God; He is the very representation of the Everlasting Father; He is our Prince of Peace. As a good king looks after the welfare and prosperity of his people, Jesus our king gives us everything we need to live and prosper in Him. He blesses us with the forgiveness of our sins, the indwelling of His Holy Spirit, with the promise of perfect joy in the presence of God forever, and innumerable graces beside.

Jesus Son of Mary has inherited the throne of His father David. He is the Son of the Most High, God of God from all eternity. He is the ultimate Child of promise, who confirms to us the love of God, love even deeper than that shown to David and Solomon. His kingdom and rule will never end, and so His love and favor to His people will never end.

And we? We can be His joyful servants, receiving His grace, welcoming His presence in Word and Spirit, and longing for His return. Or we can be enemies in rebellion against Him, doomed to defeat like Midian the enemy of Israel, whom Isaiah mentions in his prophecy. Either way, we will bow the knee to Him who sits on the throne of David. Receive the grace of your Lord Jesus Christ, acknowledge Him to be great David’s greater Son, and like Mary, humbly say, "I am the servant of the Lord."