The sanctuary is abuzz with the murmurs of concertgoers. Shuffling their programs, they gaze at the beauty of the cathedral, bedecked in its Christmas finery. Despite the damp winter air, a warmth of sorts settles in. It could be the glow of candles, the clamorous rise and fall of the orchestra’s warm-up scales, or simply the sense of community as neighbors gather to hear what is perhaps the most well-known sacred music composition of all time: Handel’s Messiah.
In a “normal” Christmas season, this scene would be replicated hundreds, perhaps thousands of times the world over; this year, like many other events, I suppose the Messiah will go online. Its lyrics, however, will remain the same, and there’s one in particular that’s been on my mind as I’ve considered how we, the Church, can wave the banner of faith together:
Lift up your heads, O ye gates; and be ye lift up, ye everlasting doors; and the King of
Glory shall come in.
Who is this King of Glory? The Lord strong and mighty, The Lord mighty in battle.1
“Who is this King of Glory?” the sopranos’ voices ask again and again. And that’s the question I want us to ask ourselves today.
Who is this King of Glory?
That lyric was not original to Messiah lyricist Charles Jennens, of course. It’s the key question of Psalm 24, and it will come as no surprise that the answer is found there as well. And in these days of deep division, it’s exactly what we need.
Jesus Is the Rightful Owner
Psalm 24:1–2 gives us the first glimpse of Who this King of Glory is:
The earth is the Lord's and the fullness thereof,
the world and those who dwell therein,
for he has founded it upon the seas
and established it upon the rivers.
Our Lord is the rightful owner of the whole earth and of all—every creature, every place, and every thing—that dwells within it. Charles Spurgeon said it best:
The world is Jehovah's, because from generation to generation He preserves and upholds it, having settled its foundations. Providence and Creation are the two legal seals upon the title—deeds of the great Owner of all things. He who built the house and bears up its foundations has surely a first claim upon it.2
His position as Owner and Creator of the universe gives Him the exclusive right to establish its terms. “Who shall ascend the hill of the LORD?” the psalmist asks, “And who shall stand in his holy place?” (v. 3).
The perfectly pure, verse 4 answers. The righteous, we read in verse 5. And finally in verse 6 we learn that only His people—“those who seek the face of the God of Jacob”—will receive His blessing.
Jesus Is the Welcomed Heir
If the psalm ended there, what hope would we have? None! Left to my own devices, I am stained instead of pure. I run from righteousness. I’m less like “those who seek the face of the God of Jacob” and more like the prophets of Baal. I’m an idol-builder. A glory-stealer. But the sweet refrain of verse 7 sings,
Lift up your heads, O gates!
And be lifted up, O ancient doors,
that the King of glory may come in.
I’ve sped right over these words many times, but when I stop and meditate on them, they paint a vivid picture. Imagine the gates of ancient days, the doors of ancient cities. What do you see? Stone. Iron. Heavy fortification. An immovable barrier. Those doors and gates are certainly not going to budge without a great deal of effort.
But for Jesus, for the coming King, those gates are commanded to open wide. Spurgeon pointed out that in Eastern cultures, doors were often taken off their hinges to welcome an incoming guest. Some were raised up and down, quite literally “lifting their heads” in welcome. “The picture is highly poetical,” he said, “and shows how wide heaven's gate is set by the ascension of our Lord. Blessed be God, the gates have never been shut since.”3
Jesus is the Heir of all things, for whom the temple gates were flung open with abandon. “Come in!” they beckoned. “Take it all! It’s all yours!” And He Who is higher than any earthly king opened those gates once and for all—wide enough for His rebellious, wandering brothers and sisters to enter, too.
Jesus Is the Invincible Warrior
Who is this King of Glory? Finally in verses 8 and 10 we get our answer:
Who is this King of glory?
The Lord, strong and mighty,
the Lord, mighty in battle! (v. 8)
Who is this King of glory?
The Lord of hosts,
he is the King of glory! (v. 10)
Oh, what a blessed Truth! He is Jehovah God, strong and mighty in battle who “broke the flashing arrows, the shield, the sword, and the weapons of war” (Ps. 76:3). He’s “more majestic than the mountains full of prey,” having stripped the stouthearted of their spoil and rendered all the men of war unable to use their hands (v. 5–6). And He is Lord of the armies of heaven, who,
Arrayed in fine linen, white and pure, were following him on white horses. From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron. He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty. On his robe and on his thigh he has a name written, King of kings and Lord of lords (Rev. 19:13–16).
Jesus is tender and compassionate, a kind and gentle Shepherd. But He is nothing if not also the strongest, fiercest, most noble warrior of them all.
That’s My King
We serve a majestic Warrior King, higher than any other. Perhaps that’s why it can be hard to believe:
- He’s the rightful Owner of all things, but He dwells with us, and we dwell in Him.
- He’s the kingdom’s welcomed Heir, but by His sacrifice, we are heirs with Him.
- He’s the invincible Warrior, but His victory over sin is our victory, too.
So let’s lift up our heads, Church. We may not have a cathedral, a full orchestra, or an audience of adoring listeners, but we can raise our voices together in a song to our King.
Who is this King of Glory?
The LORD of hosts,
He is the King of Glory! (Ps. 24:10)
He alone is worthy of every “Hallelujah Chorus” we can muster. He is the King of Glory. That’s my King.
1 Georg Friedrich Handel and Charles Jennens, Messiah: A Sacred Oratorio, HANDEL Messiah - libretto (Stanford University, October 20, 1999), http://opera.stanford.edu/iu/libretti/messiah.htm.
2 Charles Haddon Spurgeon, “Psalm 24 Bible Commentary,” Charles H. Spurgeon's Treasury of David - Bible Study Online, accessed November 11, 2020, https://www.christianity.com/bible/commentary.php?com=spur.
3 Spurgeon, “Psalm 24.”