The Peculiar Mark of Majesty, Part 1
O LORD, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! You have set your glory above the heavens. 2 Out of the mouth of babies and infants, you have established strength because of your foes, to still the enemy and the avenger. 3 When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, 4 what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him? 5 Yet you have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor. 6 You have given him dominion over the works of your hands; you have put all things under his feet, 7 all sheep and oxen, and also the beasts of the field, 8 the birds of the heavens, and the fish of the sea, whatever passes along the paths of the seas. 9 O LORD, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!
Palm Sunday gives us a very fitting opportunity to talk about one of the main marks of the majesty of God, because this mark of God’s majesty is revealed most beautifully and compellingly in the God-man Jesus Christ during the last week of his life on earth, and in an unusual way on that first day of Triumphal Entry. And this mark of God’s majesty becomes eventually the means of our own salvation and a picture of what true Christianity should be like—what we should be like.
Palm Sunday and the Majesty of Christ
Palm Sunday is the Sunday before Easter and is the day we celebrate the Triumphal Entry of Jesus into Jerusalem at the end of his earthly life. We will look at it in a few minutes in Matthew’s Gospel. But before we do that, I want us to understand some things from Psalm 8. The reason I want us to go to Psalm 8 is that Jesus quotes this psalm during the Triumphal Entry. And the way he quotes it has huge implications for his own majesty.
That’s the main thing I want us to see today—the majesty of God, the majesty of Christ, and the implication for our lives. And specifically I want us to see the one crucial mark of God’s majesty that Psalm 8 emphasizes and that Jesus focuses on in his Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem on his way to be crucified.
The Majestic Name of Yahweh
So please turn with me to Psalm 8. The psalm begins and ends with its main point. Verse 1: “O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!” Verse 9: “O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth.” The two words for lord (O LORD, our Lord) are not the same in Hebrew. The first one, with all caps, is a translation of the name Yahweh—not a generic name for God, but the personal name of Israel’s God built on the statement in Exodus 3:14, “I am who I am.” God named himself Yahweh, that is, the absolutely existing one—the one who simply is, who did not come into being, and does not go out of being, and never changes in his being, because he is absolute being. He depends on nothing for his being and all else depends on him.
This name is majestic in all the earth. “O Yahweh, our Lord, how majestic is your name—Yahweh, the absolutely existing one—in all the earth.” There is no place in all the earth where God is not Yahweh—where he is not the absolute one. Everywhere everything depends absolutely on him. He has no viable competitors anywhere. He is above all things everywhere. He sustains all things everywhere. He is the ground and goal of all things everywhere. He is greater and wiser and more beautiful and wonderful than everything everywhere. “O Yahweh, our Lord (our Master, our King, our Ruler), how majestic is your name in all the earth.” That’s the main point of the psalm. And the aim is that we stand in awe of him and worship.
Now that is the main point, but between verses 1 and 9, David wants us to see a very peculiar mark of his majesty. The peculiar mark of this majesty is seen in the way God relates first to children and second to humans in general. Let’s look at these two relationships.
God Defeats His Enemies Through the Weakness of Babies
First, contrast verse 1b and verse 2. Verse 1b: “You have set your glory above the heavens.”1 Verse 2: “Out of the mouth of babies and infants, you have established strength because of your foes, to still the enemy and the avenger.” In verse 1b, we see God’s glory exalted to the highest. He is the greatest of all beings. None could be stronger, wiser, greater. But in verse 2, we see babies. And the contrast is stark. Babies are weak; they seem to have no wisdom or knowledge. They are utterly dependent on others. They are insignificant in the world’s eyes.
So why are they here? What are they doing? Well, it’s clear what they are doing: They are defeating the enemies of God. They are opening their mouths and saying or crying something. And whatever they are saying or crying is powerful enough to still the enemy and the avenger: “Out of the mouth of babies and infants, you [God] have established strength.” God is making what comes out of their mouths strong. Whatever it is that is coming out of their mouths, it is subduing the enemies of God. “Out of the mouth of babies and infants, you have established strength because of your foes, to still the enemy and the avenger.”
So the mark of the majesty of God that David wants us to see is that God, in his majesty and greatness, stoops to make babies the means of his majestic triumphs. Let the strangeness of this sink in. Verse 2 says that God has foes. You see that near the middle of the verse: “. . . because of your foes.” But God is God. When God has a foe, this is not a problem for him; he is God. He simply snuffs him out if he wants to. God can make anything he chooses simply go out of existence. But instead, God chooses to defeat his enemies with babies. And not just with babies, but with what babies say: “Out of the mouth of babies and infants, you have established strength because of your foes, still the enemy.”
So there it is. The peculiar mark of God’s majesty is not just that he stoops to listen to or take thought of or care for infants, but that he makes them the means of his triumphs. God conquers his foes through the weaknesses of the weak—the speech of babies. When you think of God as a warrior, remember: He wins with weakness.
God Rules His Universe Through the Weakness of Men
Now consider the second contrast in verses 3-8. In verses 3-4, David describes God as the majestic Creator who makes stars with his fingers. “When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him?” The point of these two verses is that God is infinitely great, and man, by comparison, is nothing. “What is man, that you care for him?” You create stars with your fingers. Man is infinitesimally small compared to Earth, not to mention a star, not to mention billions of stars. So just as with the contrast between God and children, the distance between God and man is infinitely great.
So what is this tiny, seemingly insignificant man doing here? Why does he even come up in a psalm that begins and ends with, “O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!”? The answer is that he is here to take dominion over the works of God’s hands. Verse 6: “You [O God] have given him dominion over the works of your hands; you have put all things under his feet.” Now that is absolutely astonishing. Man is like a baby. He is as nothing compared to God. And compared to the works of God’s fingers man is infinitesimally small.
But just as God uses children to defeat his foes. He uses man to rule his glorious creation. Let’s read verse 5-8 to see the full weight of this:
Yet you have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor. You have given him dominion over the works of your hands; you have put all things under his feet, all sheep and oxen, and also the beasts of the field, the birds of the heavens, and the fish of the sea, whatever passes along the paths of the seas.
So here it is again, this peculiar mark of God’s majesty: God not only defeats his foes with the weakness of children, but he rules his world with the weakness of men. “What is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him” (verse 4)? Yet you make him ruler of all your works. And what are children that you are mindful of them, or the babes that you care for them? Yet you make their cries to conquer your enemies.
Majesty! God’s Strength Established Through Human Weakness
Don’t this miss this mark of God’s majesty. It runs all through the Bible.
The glory of God’s strength is greater because it is established through human weakness. The glory of God’s wisdom is greater because it is established through human folly. What man regards as weak, God makes the means of victory. What man regards as foolishness, God makes the means of triumph.
So when Jesus, the God-man, came into the world, this was the mark of his majesty. God’s strength magnified in human weakness. God’s victory achieved through childlike lowliness. God’s rule of the world established through humble servanthood. Let’s go to the Triumphal Entry and see how Jesus used Psalm 8 to make this plain. Turn with me to Matthew 21.
Majesty in Matthew 21
He draws near to Jerusalem (v. 1) and arranges to enter the city riding on a donkey. In verse 2, he gives his disciples instructions: “Go into the village in front of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her. Untie them and bring them to me.” Why did he want to ride a donkey into Jerusalem? Matthew tells us in verses 4-5, “This took place to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet [Zechariah 9:9], saying, ‘Say to the daughter of Zion, “Behold, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden.”’” He chose a donkey because he was the king of Israel and because he bore the mark of divine majesty. He would manifest his kingship on a donkey. His magnificence would be displayed through a lowly animal. This is the mark of divine majesty.
The crowds see some of what this means and they cry out in verse 9, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” Hosanna means “salvation.” They are shouting that God’s salvation is coming. This is a prophet—or perhaps the Messiah himself. The Redeemer. The king of Israel who would defeat the enemies of God.
Majesty Manifest in the Temple
Then Jesus acts with amazing authority as he enters the temple in verse 12 and drives out all the money changers. He explains in verse 13: “It is written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer,’ but you make it a den of robbers.” Then he does another act of authority and power in verse 14: “And the blind and the lame came to him in the temple, and he healed them.”
Now the children are not blind. They see what’s happening. And they have heard their parents shouting the meaning of it all. So they take up the chant in verse 15, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” Son of David! That is the title of the Messiah.2 These children are calling him the king of Israel. The long-expected Savior.
The chief priests and the scribes cannot endure this any longer. They think it’s outrageous for Jesus to hear this kind of acclamation and not stop them or correct them. So they say to Jesus in verse 16, “Do you hear what these are saying?” What they meant was, “We know you can hear what these are saying, but we cannot imagine why you don’t stop them, since you are most certainly not the Messiah.”
Jesus’ answer is first crystal clear in its simplicity, and then jaw-dropping in its connection with Psalm 8. First, he simply says, “Yes.” Do you hear what these are saying, Jesus? They are calling you the Son of David. They are calling you the bringer of deliverance and salvation. They are calling you the king of Israel. Do you hear this? “Yes.” There is a whole world of meaning in that word. “Yes, I hear. And I approve. I receive what they are saying. They are not mistaken. They are not blaspheming. They are not foolish. They just seem foolish. To you, the wise and strong and important, they seem ignorant and weak and insignificant.”
But doesn’t that sound familiar, scribes and chief priests? You know your Bibles. Does the weakness and folly and insignificance of children lifting up their voices remind you of something? So Jesus goes on in verse 16 and says to the chief priests and scribes: “Have you never read, ‘Out of the mouth of infants and nursing babies you have prepared praise’?” In other words, he quotes Psalm 8:2.
Psalm 8 and the Majesty of the Messiah
Specifically, he cites the Greek version of Psalm 8:2.3 Remember the Hebrew version said, “Out of the mouth of . . . infants, you have established strength.” The Greek version said, “Out of the mouth of infants . . . you have prepared praise.” In other words, the Hebrew version doesn’t tell us how the babies use their mouths to establish strength and silence the enemy. It just says, “Out of the mouth of . . . infants, you have established strength” to still the enemy. But the Greek version that Jesus cites ventures an answer to the question of how these babes use their mouths to silence the enemy—they praise God. “Out of the mouth of infants . . . you have prepared praise.” This would not be the only time in the Old Testament when the praises of God’s people was the power that defeated the enemies of God (e.g., 2 Chronicles 20:22).
But why did Jesus cite this Psalm? Two things happen when he quotes this Psalm. First of all, it comes true. The enemy is silenced. The chief priests and scribes say no more. The day belongs to the children. What they say holds sway. What the chief priests and scribes say falls to the ground. So Jesus makes clear that this psalm is coming true in his ministry. God is defeating his enemies through the weakness of children and man. The king was on a donkey. And the triumph came from the mouth of babes. This is the way it will be all the way to Calvary. The kingship of Jesus, the Messiahship of Jesus, the power and lordship of Jesus will triumph in weakness.
But something else happened when Jesus described these children with the words of Psalm 8:2. When Jesus cited Psalm 8:2, “Out of the mouth of infants and nursing babies you have prepared praise,” the meaning in the psalm was clearly praise to God. But these children were saying, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” Their praise was directed to Jesus. Jesus knew that. The chief priests and scribes knew that. So it is jaw-dropping when Jesus says, “I will tell you what is happening here: Psalm 8, verse 2, is happening. God is being praised by these children. When these children praise me as the Messiah, the Son of David, they are praising God. Because that’s who I am. Before Abraham was, I am.”
The Majesty of God Has a Face and a Name
The ultimate meaning of Palm Sunday is the same as Psalm 8 only now God has another name. Psalm 8 means God defeats his foes with the weakness of children, he rules his world with the weakness of men. And Palm Sunday means the same, only now God has a face and a name: Jesus, the God-man defeats his foes with the weakness of children, and he will save the world and rule the world on the path of weakness.
Christ crucified looks foolish and weak. But all of Scripture aims to teach us that “the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men” (1 Corinthians 1:25). If you would have a strong Savior, embrace the crucified and risen Christ. If you would be strong, trust him and follow him like a child in the path of humility and love.
1 The other possible translations (“O that your glory were above the heavens” and “Your glory is chanted above the heavens”) do not substantially change the point I am making.
2 Matthew 22:42: “‘What do you think about the Christ? Whose son is he?’ They said to him, ‘The son of David.’”
3 Assuming Jesus spoke Aramaic or Hebrew at this point, Matthew is saying that Jesus communicated the meaning of the Greek version of Psalm 8:2.
©2013 Desiring God Foundation. Used by Permission.
Permissions: You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in its entirety or in unaltered excerpts, as long as you do not charge a fee. For Internet posting, please use only unaltered excerpts (not the content in its entirety) and provide a hyperlink to this page. Any exceptions to the above must be approved by Desiring God.
Please include the following statement on any distributed copy: By John Piper. ©2013 Desiring God Foundation. Website: desiringGod.org