On the day of Pentecost, the apostle Peter stood up and preached the truth concern­ing the risen Christ. He pointed to a vacant sepulchre and boldly affirmed that its very empti­ness, rather than being a sign of abject failure, was in fact perfectly in accord with the purpose of God. To demonstrate his point he drew their attention to two psalms which not only predicted the resur­rection of God’s Holy One, but also foretold his ascension into heaven itself. The two passages he quoted were Psalms 16 and 110.

The Jews expected a conquering hero, a victori­ous Messiah who would sweep all Israel’s enemies away and secure an everlasting kingdom. Can we appreciate, then, the revolutionary message that was now before them? Their king was in heaven! He was at the Father’s right hand and the role that had been assigned to him was one of personal priestly mediation and reconciliation. They had never heard of such a teaching as this. How could he possibly appear in their midst for just a brief time and then be taken away without saving them from the Roman yoke?

It is no wonder that Peter had to quote exten­sively from the Scriptures to prove his point and this is why, when he cited Psalm 16 and Psalm 110, he spelt out the critical verses in full and took his time explaining their meaning.

In Psalm 110, the spirit through David describes a unique work for the resurrected Son of God, something Israel under their Mosaic constitution would have wrestled with repeatedly. Before he could subdue his enemies and strike through kings in the day of his wrath (v1,5) the Lord Jesus Christ was to mediate on behalf of others as a priest after an entirely new order and covenant (Heb 8:6; 9:15; 12:24). Israel were looking for a king; instead Peter was drawing their attention to something far more personal and eternal: a priest who could provide forgiveness and life.

In looking for our Lord’s return as the conquer­ing king we are sometimes apt to lose sight of the significant personal work he is currently engaged in on our behalf as our high priest. He is both merciful and faithful in his work and able to run to the cry of those who are in distress (Heb 2:17-18). He was touched with the same infirmities we ex­perience and that thought should encourage us to come boldly before the Father’s throne of grace that we may “receive kindness, and find grace – for seasonable help” (Heb 4:16, YLT).

The emphasis in Psalm 16 is altogether different, however. It outlines Christ’s personal reflections as he sits in the Father’s presence and shares with us his innermost thoughts. He looks back on his life and tells us how he was able to face the crucifixion with humility, confidence and joy (v1-2, 8-11). He looks at the inheritance with which God has rewarded him and explains how wonderful this gift is (v5-6). He looks at his work as a mediator and informs us of those whom he loves and those whom he will not tolerate (v3-4). Its very frankness is arresting but at the same time it is full of reassurance and comfort for us all.

The second and third verses provide us with a great deal of encouragement. The AV translates it this way: “O my soul, thou hast said unto the LORD, Thou art my Lord: my goodness extendeth not to thee; But to the saints that are in the earth, and to the excellent, in whom is all my delight”. Unfortunately, the Hebrew is difficult to translate and the insertion of numerous italics in these verses is an indication of how the translators strug­gled to convey the meaning.

Taking into account some of the more literal translations, the verses could be better rendered this way:

To Yahweh I call; thou art my Lord;

My goodness extends not above Thee.

For the holy ones who are in the earth,

And the honourable,

all my delight is in them.

These words express some wonderful truths, conveying the very thoughts of the Son of God in relation to his Father and to his brethren. He clearly declares that his Father is greater than himself. He is but a servant and his Father is his Lord and King. Any goodness he displayed, whether in word or deed, was wholly derived from his Father. This was the consistent message to the Jews: “My Father is greater than I” (John 14:28); “why callest thou me good? there is none good but one, that is, God” (Matt 19:17).

Having spoken about his dependency upon God, even in his current state of exaltation, he turns his attention to the people he came to save. He styles them “the saints who are in the earth” and “the excellent in whom is his delight”.

He abhors the godless (v4) but he delights in the godly. He styles them “the holy ones” because they reflect the same qualities of holiness that he possesses (v10). They are like him because they are separate from evil (Heb 12:14, 1 Thess 5:22). They are described as being “in the earth,” not just con­fined to Israel, and his affection is showered upon them because of their holiness. The psalmist is in fact describing all those whom the New Testament calls “saints.”

Moreover they are described as “the excellent” or “the honourable”. The Hebrew word conveys the idea of might and is used of “nobles, princes, chiefs” and “those who manifest noble and godly quali­ties”. In Nahum 3:18 the word is indeed translated “nobles” and paralleled with “shepherds” in the same verse. These are men and women who have a moral excellence about them. They are virtuous and upright, able to discern between right and wrong. They have a wonderful sense of moral integrity.

Though not necessarily noble by birth (1 Cor 1:26), they are noble in character. Luke describes the truly noble in this way (Acts 17:11): “These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether these things were so.” The noble are those who readily receive the Word of God and search out its meaning.

This thought of nobleness and moral excellence is described by Peter in 2 Peter 1:5 where he ex­horts the saints to give all diligence to add to their faith, “virtue”. This is a Greek word that refers to any pre-eminence in a moral, intellectual or mili­tary capacity. By extension it came to mean moral excellence and hence it was used of God Himself “who has called us by his own glory and virtue” (2 Pet 1:3, RV).

These are the kind of people in whom the Lord Jesus Christ delights. He gives them his affection and love. He finds joy and delight in their obedience and nobleness of charac­ter. This is why in Luke 12:32 the Lord says, “Fear not little flock; for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” He will not bestow the reward of immortality to His people grudgingly. He has pleasure in their obedience and therefore has pleasure in granting them His reward.

His love towards the excellent is expressed in John 15:9: “As the Father hath loved me, so I have loved you: continue ye in my love”. Again in John 14:21: “He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me: and he that loveth me shall be loved of my Father, and I will love him, and will manifest myself to him.” He loves those who love to obey his commands.

So the question we must ask ourselves is whether we are these kind of people in whom He delights. Do we have those noble qualities of moral excellence, searching the Scriptures daily? Are we reflections of His own excellence (1 Peter 2:9)? Jesus Christ delights in those who are the excellent in the earth. If this is the virtue He seeks from His servants, what manner of people ought we to be?