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October 10/11, 2015

Dominion and Vocation

Jason Meyer | Psalms 8:1-8

O LORD, our Lord,
        how majestic is your name in all the earth!
    You have set your glory above the heavens.
        Out of the mouth of babies and infants,
    you have established strength because of your foes,
        to still the enemy and the avenger.
    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?
    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.
    O LORD, our Lord,
        how majestic is your name in all the earth!—Psalm 8


Part 1: Summary of Psalms 1–8 and Fulfillment in Christ

This week we are looking at Psalm 8 again. Why are we looking at it again? I am glad you asked. In order to understand why we are looking at it again, we need to retrace our steps through Psalms 1–8. Then we will on be on the same page and you will be ready for the answer.

1. The Double Doors of Psalms 1–2

We then entered the Psalms through the double doors of Psalms 1–2. It is no accident that Psalm 1 begins with the word for happiness and the last line of Psalm two repeats the same word for happiness. The Psalms answer the fundamental question: where is true happiness found? The answer of Psalm 1–2 is that true happiness is found in the Son of God (Psalm 2) as revealed in the word of God (Psalm 1).

If Psalm 1 asks us to consider we are all heading, Psalm 2 zooms out further to look upon the One who controls where all history is heading. God looks at the worldwide rebellion of the nations and He can’t keep a straight face. He laughs with scorn at the absurdity of marshmallows coming to fight a flame thrower. History is heading toward a time when everyone who rebels against God will face the wrath of Jesus as God’s King. The time is short! Be warned, be wise, make peace with Jesus and rejoice that he is a refuge from wrath (2:10–12). 

2. Psalms 3–8

Then everything changed. We walked through the double doors of Psalm 1 and 2 and walked right into the long, dark tunnel of Psalms 3–7. In that deep darkness, we are suddenly aware that our enemies seem to be surrounding us—they are many and mouthy—saying that God will not save. But the light of God’s promises shine in the darkness like an LED flashlight.

We also noticed a pattern. Psalm 1 says that the righteous person delights in the Law and meditates upon it day and night. Psalms 3–6 fit this pattern (morning, Psalm 3:5; evening, Psalm 4:4; morning, Psalm 5:3; evening, Psalm 6:6). David is meditating on promises from the Law. In Psalm 3, he draws upon the promise that God is a shield from Genesis 15:1). In Psalm 4, he believes the promised blessing from the Law in Numbers 6:24–26 that the LORD gives grace, lifts up the light of his countenance, and gives peace. In Psalm 5:7 and Psalm 6:4, he trusts in the steadfast love of the LORD that was revealed most fully in Exodus 34:6. In Psalm 7:6–7, he uses the battle cry of Numbers for the LORD to arise and let his enemies be scattered and then return (Numbers 10:35–36).

Then in Psalm 8, the narrow tunnel opens up into a wide-open meadow where we see the stars and say, “How Great is our God!” We hear that God is so great that he can use babies to beat these enemies. He also meditates on Genesis 1. He looks up at the moon and the stars, and he feels so small like a microscopic speck against that massive cosmic backdrop. But the mystery that staggers the heart isn’t how big the universe is or how small we are—it is the mystery of love that says, "Look at how big his love that he cares so much for microscopic specks! He also meditates on Genesis 1:26 and marvels how God gives humanity the job of caring for his creation. Then he comes back again to his main point: O how great is our God (Psalm 8:9).

3. The Golden Thread of Christ’s Glory

But there was a consistent refrain throughout these Psalms— like a golden thread of Christ’s glory. Who could ever fulfill Psalm 1? Who could ever claim that he or she always delights in the word of God? Who could claim they never listened to the counsel of the ungodly, who never stood and longingly looked at the lifestyle of sinners, or never once sat down and joined them in their rebellion? The answer: only Jesus. He never walked in the council of the wicked, nor stood in the way of sinners, nor sat in the seat of scoffers. He always delighted in the word of God because he was the word of God in the flesh. He came to die for all the times we failed to do all those things.

Now enter Psalm 2. God’s King is God’s Son, enthroned in the heavenly Zion. We paused at that moment to linger over Psalm 2 a little longer in another sermon. We saw again and again and again in the New Testament that the resurrection of Jesus fulfills the decree of Psalm 2. Listen again to Acts 13:32–33.

And we bring you the good news that what God promised to the fathers, this he has fulfilled to us their children by raising Jesus, as also it is written in the second Psalm, “You are my Son, today I have begotten you.”

We said that the Resurrection is the tornado siren of the Second Coming. The King has defeated death! He is reigning on high! Be wise. Be warned. The day is fixed when he will come again and judge the earth. He will dash his enemies like a sledgehammer smashes a piece of pottery. Run to him. The Cross is the only refuge from the wrath to come.

Jesus was despised and opposed by enemies like those in Psalms 3–7 who taunted him and told him that God could not deliver him. Yet he did not only trust the promises of the Law perfectly; he fulfilled them perfectly.

Psalm 8 is not a pipe dream. Hebrews 2:5–9 says he fulfilled it. What an amazing psalm! First it went all the way back to the beginning (Genesis 1) and then it showed us the end of all things (Hebrews 2:8–9) when Jesus will have all things under his feet. Jesus is called the Last Adam in 1 Corinthians 15 and also the one who will have everything under his feet (see also Psalm 110 and Ephesians 1).

That part of the plan has not yet happened yet, but what we see now is that Jesus was made lower than the angels for a little while (the Incarnation) and now he is crowned with glory and honor through his death and resurrection. He died and rose again so that he could save people from death!

Jesus shines so much in Psalm 8. God does his best work through weakness. God shows his glory in overpowering his enemies with his weakness (the manger shows God used a baby to defeat Satan, the enemy and hater). We saw the weakness of God again at the cross when God totally defeated our greatest enemies: sin and Satan. God used the weakness of the cross to confound the wisdom of the wise and the strength of the strong. We also said that God’s love for us was displayed immeasurably more in Jesus than in considering the moon and the stars. Let’s put that into perspective for a moment.

4. Putting Gospel Love Into Perspective

Think about this for just a moment. The moon and stars are the works of his fingers. Effortless—not even a wrist involved so to speak. It reminds me of the story of the Arabian sultan who captured a businessman that was lost and stumbled onto his property. He was captured and the businessman pleaded with the sultan to let him go because he was newly married. He was enjoying his first year of wedding bliss. This had been his first trip away from her. He couldn’t stand the thought of breaking her heart by not returning.

The sultan made a gruesome deal with the man for the sport of it because he did not believe in love. He had the man write to his wife and ask her to send her finger with her wedding ring to prove her love and then she would be released. The sultan thought that this would be too high a price for her. They waited and waited and waited for a response from England. The sultan mocked the man and said she would never do it. Finally a package arrived. It had a note from the wife saying that her love was true and the finger was not too high a price. They looked inside the package and found the whole of her left hand. A finger was not enough. I assume he let him go to be reunited—I don’t even know if it is a true story.

But this I know. The gospel is a true story and it is so much greater. Behold the wonder of the gospel. A finger or a hand was not what God gave. He gave everything—all of himself. God’s love is beyond the realm of question. It has been proven in an incomparable way. No greater love has ever been displayed. How great is our God. Behold the wondrous mystery of his love. There is no greater love than gospel love.

Part 2: Redemption and Recovering our Original Job Description

Now we are ready to get back to our opening question. Why are we back in Psalm 8? What is here for us to see on the other side of Christ’s fulfillment and our redemption? Here is the main point of the sermon: On the other side of Christ’s fulfillment of Psalm 8, Christians can recover our original job description.

1. Seeing the Job Description in the Text: Psalm 8:6 and Genesis 1:26, 28

We are going to double click on the idea of dominion. Let’s listen to it again in Psalm 8:6:

You have given him dominion over the works of your hands; you have put all things under his feet.

As we double click on the idea of dominion, we have to ask what it means to take dominion over creation as Christians? Psalm 8 forces us to go back to Genesis 1:26 and 28, where we see the word “dominion”:

v.26 Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”

v.28 And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”

In our first pass through Psalm 8, we saw the mystery of God’s love and care for humanity. We saw that the dignity of humanity—we are made in the image of God so we have value and purpose and meaning. We saw that Christ’s death for us accentuates God’s care for us incomparably more. This week we take one more big step.

2. Recovering the Dignity of Daily Work

Genesis 1 and Psalm 8 also declare the dignity of daily work. David Kim came to Bethlehem to speak on faith and work earlier this year. He made this claim concerning how God speaks to us every morning as we prepare to go to work. God says, “I love you and the work that you do.”

If you have a hard time hearing that phrase, “God loves you and the work that you do,” why doesn’t it click? Why is it hard to hear God say, “I think the work you do is meaningful and valuable. You are made in my image. I create on a universal scale and you create on a much smaller scale. It is a reflection of me. It matters to me. I am giving you an opportunity through your work to honor me, enjoy me, and love others.” If you are having a hard time wrapping your head around that, then let me suggest there are three missing links we need to recover.

3. Missing Link #1 – Recovering The Cultural Mandate (General Job Description)

God’s call in Genesis 1, which is repeated in Psalm 8, has been called the Cultural Mandate. These texts help us understand our original job description.

And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth” (Genesis 1:28).

I love what Nancy Pearcy says about the Cultural Mandate in her book Total Truth:

“Be fruitful and multiply,” means to develop the social world: build families, churches, cities, governments, laws. The second phrase, "subdue the earth" means to harness the natural world: plant crops, build bridges, design computers, compose music. This passage is sometimes called the "cultural mandate" because it tells us that our original purpose was to create cultures and build civilizations—nothing less.

God calls us to use the intelligence and skill that he gave us to bring order out of the chaos in order to create a context for flourishing. Allow me to give a very simple example. David Kim talked about seeing in the sink a pile of dishes when you get home from a busy day at work. The hard work of creating order out of the chaos of your kitchen is what leads to flourishing the next morning over pancakes as a family. Imagine trying to put away your dishes without structure and order. When you are doing the dishes, you are doing a divine work. You are giving structure so that you and those around you can flourish. That work can honor God. Whether you eat or drink or whatever you do (which has to include what you do with the dishes that come from eating and drinking), do it all to the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31).

4. Missing Link #2 Recovering the fullness of the word 'Calling' or 'Vocation' (personalized job description)

The word “vocation” comes from the Latin word vocatatio. It means a “calling.” In the medieval world of the Catholic church, they reserved this word for a God-given call for the spiritual work of nuns, monks, and priests.

Martin Luther, the father of the Protestant Reformation, recovered not only the gospel of faith alone saves, not works (like Roman Catholicism added), but also recovered the way that the Bible dignifies daily work. He said that the work that a cobbler or a smith does is just as consecrated to God as a priest or monk. Paul Helm in a book entitled The Callings, talks about the heritage of dignified daily work by Martin Luther:

Luther claimed that the distinction between the clergy and the laity is not the distinction between the spiritual and the temporal, but that the distinction is simply a functional one. So a minister is not closer to God, he is not a better or more worthwhile spiritual person, than a cobbler or smith. The difference between minister and cobbler is functional: both are equal as believers before God, both have worthwhile work, but that work is different merely because each has a different gift and opportunity to serve God and one another in society.

The whole of a person’s life is a calling from God. The Christian life is not split into sacred and secular—we live one life. God is in all of life. It has his blessing. The Christian lives his whole life under the providence of God and the belief that God calls him or her to use the particular gifts, aptitudes, and interests to the full. 

Where do you think these gifts, abilities, aptitudes, and interests come from? “What do you have that you did not receive” (1 Corinthians 4:7). Who is it that gives us the capacity to learn and to think? Who is it that gives us the skill and the craftsmanship to build? Who is it that gives us the skill with gifted hands to perform a surgery?

5. Missing Link #3 –Recovering the Distinction Between Structure and Direction (the foundation that working in any sphere is a good calling)

Underneath the understanding of every vocation as a calling from God is a massively important distinction between structure and direction. Are any spheres of existence off limits from what could be called good? A musician? A sandwich artist at Subway? A florist? A painter? A banker? A teacher?

In Genesis 1, God saw all that He had made and He called it “good.” He created humanity and called it all very good. What are the structures? Take these three as an example: Sex, Food, and Music. They are all good. Sex as a category is not dirty or bad. Music is not inherently bad.  Because of humanity’s fall into sin, every created structure can be twisted by sin so that we take these structures in a godless direction. Sex is an amazingly good gift. It is like a fire that when put in the fireplace warms the whole house. But if it gets out of the fire place and becomes a wild fire, it destroys the house. Sex was created to be enjoyed in the confines of marriage. But humanity has devised many, many ways to take sex in godless directions that dishonor God and hurt people.

The Fall made all of life more difficult. Childbirth became painful, working the ground became difficult. You don’t need to plant weeds. You have to pull them if you want the good stuff to grow. The effects of the fall are obvious in our own bodies. The human body is a great gift. Adam and Eve fell because they disobeyed God, not because they had physical bodies. That means things like teeth are good gifts. The Fall means that they can grow crooked. You don’t have to use a pliers and try to bend them. You get things like a small mouth and crowded teeth.

But God in his kindness gives people gifted hands and caring hearts to do orthodontist work. Isn’t it amazing to think we can bend teeth back so they straighten out? Martin Luther said when you meet needs like that you get to be “the face of God” for someone. God is helping straighten their teeth through you. Farmer: God is feeding people through you. We could go on and on—nurses, engineers, educators, homemakers. God is in all of life.

6. Direct Challenge to College Students and All Christians

College Students: Let me talk to you for a moment. You are at a pivotal point in your life. Don’t buy into the lie that money will make you happy so that you try to find a high-paying job that you don’t like. Find something that you love to do and go for it. God wired you each in amazing ways with different loves, interests, and abilities. We have so many gifted people on our staff that love spreadsheets. I am glad that God makes such interesting, perplexing people—spreadsheets? Take a boatload of information and use math and give it order so that we can make wise decision and see trends and a thousand other things.

Christians, I call you to be people that really know how to enjoy God’s world. He gave us all things richly to enjoy. Learn how to love things. I find enjoyment in certain things that are sweet and savory and beautiful (root beer floats, the 60/40 burger at Red Cow – 60% beef and 40% ground bacon topped with candied bacon—I call it the gospel burger. It is a new covenant burger. The new covenant is so much better than the old covenant and one of the ways God proves it to us is by letting us eat bacon. I am only half joking about that—the rest of me is serious. I ate one right before I got braces. Now I am praising God for things like pudding and jello.

I even enjoy hard work. The hard work of bringing order to a large church. Wow. It can be difficult. But when you find structures and strategies that cause people to flourish and be well-cared for it is so satisfying. Dominion can be hard work, but it is a satisfying experience. One of the things we like to do—especially when it seems like things resist order—is pulling weeds. The job has a beginning and an end. You go up to a weed and pull it. It feels good. That is the feeling of dominion. Putting logs together and solidly putting a huge spike through the wood. I can understand how some people like carpentry. Pound a nail really good and really straight—wham—that was dominion.

Conclusion: Work, Ditches, and the Gospel Path

My friend, Greg Gilbert, wrote a book with Sebastian Traeger called The Gospel at Work: How Working for King Jesus Gives Purpose and Meaning to Our Jobs. They blessed my heart by basically talking about two ditches when thinking about vocation. We can be idle in our work (don’t see purpose or importance so we resent work and are lazy) or we can make work an idol (we try to derive from it a sense of importance for ourselves).

Work is often an idol—something seen as a savior—the thing that gives security, meaning, and relevance. Other people tell a different story about work, “We just punch in at work so we can punch out so we can do what we really want to do. We are living for the weekend.” Thank God it’s Friday. A Christian should be able to say, “Thank God it’s Monday.” You don’t have to be idle at work and come alive only after work.

In the book, King’s Cross, Tim Keller compares and contrasts two runners in the classic movie Chariots of Fire and how they approached the same task very differently:

The classic movie Chariots of Fire is based on the 1924 Olympics and two prominent runners—Eric Liddell and Harold Abrahams. Both were gifted and successful athletes who carried the hopes of their respective nations on their backs when they raced. Eric Liddell was a devout Christian who represented Scotland. He was a missionary, and some believed he should give up the sport to preach, but Liddell believed that God had called him to race and to race for the glory of God. Harold Abrahams ran for Great Britain. He loved his country as well as the sport and was obsessed with winning. He studied the sport, threw himself completely into it, and made running his overarching passion.

In the movie you see a clear contrast between Liddell and Abrahams. They both run. But they run for very different reasons.

In one scene Abrahams says, “And now in one hour’s time I will be out there again. I will raise my eyes and look down that corridor, 4 feet wide, with 10 lonely seconds to justify my whole existence. But will I?”

In a different scene Liddell says, “I believe God made me for a purpose, but He also made me fast. And when I run, I feel His pleasure.”

Tim Keller, in comparing the two runners as depicted in the movie, states: “Harold Abrahams was weary even when he rested, and Eric Liddell was rested even when he was exerting himself. Why? Because there’s a work underneath our work that we really need rest from. It’s the work of self-justification.” 

Abrahams seeks satisfaction and joy in the race, and it always eludes him. Liddell finds satisfaction in Christ and experiences His joy as he runs.

Two artists paint a similar picture. One seeks joy in the painting and is never quenched. The other seeks joy in God and feels his pleasure as he paints.

Two doctors perform surgery. One performs surgery because she loves the feeling of being needed. Another performs the surgery for the glory of God, and she senses God’s pleasure as she operates.

Two parents raise their kids. One seeks joy in her children, and she builds her life on their success. If they misbehave, she is crushed as her identity takes a blow. Another parent finds her joy in God and offers her children to him. As she parents, she feels his pleasure.” 

I am so happy that every square inch of this universe belongs to Christ. We are moving toward the moment when all creatures of our God and king will bow on bended knee and confess that everything belongs to him. It will be under his feet. But until then, what if we know that we belong to him now and we say, “Lord, what do you want me to do now that I am yours?” He puts his finger on you and says I have given you specific gifts and a specific call—take those gifts and go there—glorify me there. I love you and the work that I call you to do (because I am doing it through you). 

Sermon Discussion Questions


Part 1: Summary of Psalms 1–8 and Redemption in Christ

  1.     The Double Doors of Psalms 1–2
  2.     Psalms 3–8
  3.     The Golden Thread of Christ’s Glory
  4.     Putting Gospel Love Into Perspective

Part 2: On the other side of Christ’s fulfillment of Psalm 8, Christians can recover our original job description.

  1.     Seeing the Job Description in the Text: Psalm 8:6 and Genesis 1:26, 28
  2.     Recovering the Dignity of Daily Work
  3.     Missing Link #1 – Recovering the Cultural Mandate
  4.     Missing Link #2 – Recovering the fullness of the Word “Calling” or “Vocation.”
  5.     Missing Link #3 – Recovering the Distinction Between Structure and Direction
  6.     Direct Challenge to College Students and All Christians

Main Point: On the other side of Christ’s fulfillment of Psalm 8, Christians can recover our original job description.

Discussion Questions

  • What was the main point of Psalm 8 from last week? Can you recall the outline of the text?
  • This week was further application of Psalm 8. What was the main point of the sermon?
  • Describe how Christians can recover our original job description. What are some missing links that we need to recover if we are going to live it out?

Application Questions

  • What did you think of daily work prior to the sermon? Has your understanding been sharpened or challenged in any way?
  • What aspects of work bring a special sense of significance and joy? What aspects of work are challenging and difficult and testify to the Fall?
  • Are you prone to make work an idol? Or are you more prone to be idle at work? How does the gospel give you a way to avoid both ditches?

Prayer Focus
Pray for a grace to glory in Christ’s redemption and fulfillment of Psalm 8. Pray for a grace to live out our original job description with a sense of God’s smile upon us.