Category Archives: Psalms

Psalm 55: A Song of the Betrayed

It’s a sad fact of life that at some time or another, you’ll be the victim of a personal attack. It might be angry words. Or gossip about you behind your back. It might be some sort of ACTION – like vandalism or robbery.

It doesn’t matter how nice you are. Or how much you want people to like you. At SOME time, ALL of us will be attacked.

And being a member of a church doesn’t protect you. In fact, some of the WORST sorts of attack come from people who are SUPPOSED to be brothers and sisters in Jesus.

Unfortunately, most churches have people who are discontented, or angry, or hurt, or bitter, or malicious/ gossips, slanderers, back-stabbers and betrayers.

Perhaps YOU’VE been on the receiving end of that sort of treatment.

It’s a terrible situation when people personally attack you. When there’s disagreement and conflict. And it’s even worse when it’s in the church.

But there’s a level of attack that’s at a COMPLETELY DIFFERENT LEVEL. And that’s when the attack comes from SOMEONE CLOSE. When you’re betrayed and wounded by someone you trusted completely.

Many of you have experienced it. Perhaps it was a SPOUSE—someone who promised to love you until the day they died. But they BETRAYED you. And that wound is deeper than any wound you’ve ever known.

Or perhaps it was another family member – a son or daughter who abused your trust. And took advantage of your love, or your generosity. And cut your heart in two.

For others it might have been a long-term friend, or a business partner. Our dentist is a friend – a Christian – and a number of years ago he was ripped off by his accountant. Cheated him out of tens of thousands of dollars. It took him years to recover. He’d trusted this guy. And he’d been betrayed.

You can cope with it when it’s someone you don’t know very well. It’s not that hard to move on. Not nice, but it doesn’t cut that deep.

But when it’s someone CLOSE, it shakes your whole world. Because their opinion of you matters far more than what OTHER people think. And so their rejection or betrayal hurts a lot more.

They’re the ones you EXPECT to support you. It’s the worst sort of attack because it shakes your whole world. It impacts your trust of EVERYBODY. If you can’t trust your friends or family – the people you LOVE- then who CAN you trust?

So what do you do? How do you respond? Let’s learn from King David. Who was in the exactly the same situation.

The cause of the problem – betrayal (12-15; 20-21)

The SPECIFICS of Psalm 55 might be a little difficult to work out, but the GENERAL IDEA is clear. David’s been betrayed by a close friend. Look there in v12.

12 If an ENEMY were insulting me, I could ENDURE it;

if a FOE were raising himself against me, I could HIDE from him.

13 But it is YOU, a man like myself,

my companion, my close friend,

14 with whom I once enjoyed sweet fellowship

as we walked with the throng at the house of God.

He was a mate. Someone David had TRUSTED. They’d even WORSHIPPED together. But not any more. Now, he’s ATTACKING him in some way.

We get another hint down in v20 about how this guy works.

20 My companion attacks his friends; he violates his covenant.

21 His speech is smooth as butter, yet war is in his heart;

his words are more soothing than oil, yet they are drawn swords.

Seems like David’s not the only one. This guy says ONE thing. PROMISES it. SIGNS THE CONTRACT. Then does something DIFFERENT. You can’t trust him. A salesman. A con-man. Says whatever he thinks people want to hear.

We don’t know the exact details. Perhaps a rebellion. One of his army officers, or close friends, trying to overthrow him. It might even have been about his son, Absalom, who lead a rebellion to try to claim the kingship.

  1. David’s situation (1-8)

But whatever the SPECIFICS, it’s obvious how much it’s affecting David. Scan across the first 5 verses and look at the sorts of phrases he uses.  My thoughts TROUBLE me  I am DISTRAUGHT  SUFFERING  ANGUISH   the TERRORS OF DEATH  FEAR AND TREMBLING   HORROR. David, piling up phrase after phrase about how DREADFUL things are. So bad, all he can think of doing is to ESCAPE. In v6, he wishes he had wings like a dove and could fly off into the desert where none of this could affect him.  Get out of the city, into the country. He’s desperate for a TREE CHANGE.

Have YOU ever felt like you’d like to do that? Things are just so overwhelming you can’t deal with them. You’d love to just go somewhere you can get some peace and quiet. Sometimes a break can be good. It can give you a chance to clear your head. And be able to make a good decision.  As long as you’re not trying to escape the problem.

I remember Caron giving birth to one of our kids, and some time during the labour Caron said, “I don’t want to do this. Can we just go home?” It would have been NICE, but it wouldn’t have HELPED. The baby was coming, and it didn’t matter WHERE we were.

And it’s a bit like that when we want to escape OUR problems rather than deal with them. If we go somewhere else, the problem doesn’t change. It’ll still be there when we get back.

We might try GOING ON A HOLIDAY from work. But the pile of papers will be twice as high when we get back. We might try softening the pain with ALCOHOL OR DRUGS. But the problems will still be there when we come down. They’ll probably be WORSE.

We might try and solve a problem-marriage by WITHDRAWING EMOTIONALLY. Living separate lives. So you can’t be hurt any more. But that fixes nothing. It’s no life at all if you won’t allow yourself to love, and be loved.

  1. David’s prayer (9-23)

David thinks about escape. But in the end, it’s only a daydream. He needs to deal with the problem. And so, he prays for God’s intervention. v9,

9 CONFUSE the wicked, O Lord, CONFOUND their speech,

It’s WORDS that have done the DAMAGE. So make their words POWERLESS. Discredit them. Or silence them. Or take away their audience, or their influence.

And then, as David thinks about these personal attacks. (How they’re affecting the whole city, v9-11. And how the betrayal’s from trusted friends, v12-14). In v15, he prays something that’s pretty hard for us to accept.

15 Let death take my enemies by surprise;

let them go down alive to the grave,

for evil finds lodging among them.

To us, it sounds fairly vindictive and hateful. And perhaps you wonder how it fits with Jesus’ teaching in the New Testament to turn the other cheek. And his example on the cross of asking God to forgive the sins of those who are crucifying him.

And verse 23 gives us a similar feeling, I suspect.

23 But you, O God, will bring down the wicked

into the pit of corruption;

bloodthirsty and deceitful men

will not live out half their days.

It doesn’t seem right to be praying that God will kill our enemies.

But I wonder if we’d feel the same way about these verses if we were Christians in North Korea or China. And a family member, or our church pastor, had been arrested and beaten up for being a Christian. Or perhaps been killed, if we were in Saudi Arabia or Pakistan or Libya.

I think we’d probably find them COMFORTING and REASSURING. Because they’re not about PERSONAL revenge. It’s asking GOD to bring justice. It’s asking for God to stand up for his people, and protect and vindicate them.

There’s a hint in that strange idea in v15 “let them go down ALIVE to the grave.” How can you do THAT? It seems like David’s thinking of what happened to Korah’s rebellion in the wilderness. It’s in Numbers 16. A small group, led by Korah, undermining Moses’ leadership.

And to cut a long story short. The next day, God tells Moses he’s going to destroy THE WHOLE NATION. But when Moses pleads that it’s only the sin of the ONE GROUP. God agrees to destroy only the rebels. Listen to what happened. Judgment that AFFIRMS Moses’ leadership, at the same time as removing the rebels. Numbers 16.

28 Then Moses said, “This is how you will know that the LORD has sent me to do all these things and that it was not my idea: 29 If these men die a natural death and experience only what usually happens to men, then the LORD has not sent me. 30 But if the LORD brings about something totally new, and the earth opens its mouth and swallows them, with everything that belongs to them, and THEY GO DOWN ALIVE INTO THE GRAVE, then you will know that these men have treated the LORD with contempt.”

31 As soon as he finished saying all this, the ground under them split apart 32 and the earth opened its mouth and swallowed them, with their households and all Korah’s men and all their possessions. 33 THEY WENT DOWN ALIVE INTO THE GRAVE, with everything they owned; the earth closed over them, and they perished and were gone from the community.

A pretty unusual way of dying. But that was the point. To show that it was GOD’S judgment, and not an accident. And to support God’s appointed leadership.

And that’s the sort of thing David’s praying that God will do with THESE rebels. These traitors against God’s people. These insiders attacking from behind the walls. “Deal with them according to how you’ve shown justice BEFORE. KEEP the unity of your people, and support your leader. Like you did with Moses.”

So I think that means it’s a different situation to our personal betrayals. It’s NOT right for us to be praying that God would be DESTROYING them.

But we SHOULD be praying for God’s deliverance, and for him to silence our betrayers. And take away their power.

And when we DO, we can be confident that he’ll do it JUSTLY. He might do it IN THIS LIFE. Or he might only do it on Judgment Day. But he WILL do it. And it will be JUST.

From v16, we see something of David’s confidence in God.

16 But I call to God, and the LORD saves me.

17 Evening, morning and noon I cry out in distress,

and he hears my voice.

18 He ransoms me unharmed from the battle waged against me, even though many oppose me.

19 God, who is ENTHRONED FOREVER, WILL hear them and afflict them–

Enemies are CERTAIN to attack you. And friends can’t be trusted either. But God can. He DOESN’T change. He CAN be trusted to deliver.

And that’s the point of the Psalm. The comparison between GOD, and PEOPLE. One, can ALWAYS be trusted. And the OTHER, CAN’T. It might SEEM like earthly powers rule. But it’s GOD who’s enthroned forever. No one ever deposes HIM.

And so we come to David’s conclusion. The lesson he’s learned. There in v22.

22 Cast your cares on the LORD and he will sustain you; he will never let the righteous fall.

And what are the cares that David’s unloading onto God? The very next verse.

23 But you, O God, WILL bring down the wicked into the pit of corruption; bloodthirsty and deceitful men will not live out half their days. But as for me, I trust in you.

And that’s where David finishes. He’s cast his burdens onto God. And he’s going to LEAVE them there. He’s going to TRUST God. He’s not sure what the future holds, but he’s stepping into it with the CONFIDENCE that God will SUSTAIN him. The future’s God’s. Let HIM deal with it.

Whether it’s cares about the terrible betrayal of A CLOSE FRIEND. Or cares about WORK, or childlessness or illness. Leave them with him.

If it’s cares about your CHILDREN, leave them with him. Cares about their salvation. Cares about their safety. Cares about their future. Cares about their choices, and their character.

If it’s worries about GUIDANCE – where God wants you, and what he wants you to do. LEAVE IT WITH HIM.

But what does that LOOK like? How does someone who’s leaving their cares with God/ BEHAVE DIFFERENTLY from someone who ISN’T? How are they THINKING differently?

At the very least, casting our cares onto God will mean PRAYING. Praying about everything. Praying longer. Praying with lists. Praying with others.

To cast you cares onto God means to ask him to deal with your situation. Make that your FIRST option, not your last resort. That’s the example David gives us. To PRAY about our cares.

David knew the confidence of trusting God. But we have even MORE confidence. Because we know JESUS. And Jesus suffered the rejection and betrayal of those who loved him. Just like WE do. He UNDERSTANDS.

And so we can come to him with our cares, CONFIDENT that he knows and understands. He knows what it is to be abandoned. And he weeps with us. Hebrews 4:15 puts it like THIS

 15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are-yet was without sin. 16 Let us then approach the throne of grace with CONFIDENCE, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.

Bring your cares to God CONFIDENT that you’ll receive a warm welcome.

But here’s ANOTHER way we cast our cares on God. We SHOW we’re trusting him in THE WAY WE LIVE. In NOT responding with vengeance and anger when we’re betrayed. That’s a positive, constructive, concrete expression of trusting God. And laying our cares on him.

That’s the advice we get in 1 Peter. Peter’s talking to a group of people who are suffering persecution. And at the end of Ch 4 (v19) he sums up what their lives should look like.

19 So then, those who suffer according to God’s will should COMMIT THEMSELVES TO THEIR FAITHFUL CREATOR AND CONTINUE TO DO GOOD.

Commit yourself to your faithful Creator. In other words, cast your cares on the God who is faithful, and who’ll sustain you. And SHOW that commitment, not by seeking revenge, or by worrying. But by CONTINUING TO DO GOOD. As if nothing was wrong.

That’s how we show we’ve cast our cares on God. In the face of huge burdens, to behave in a way that people can’t understand. “How can you keep going when life is so tough? How can you seem so NORMAL?”

And the answer is/ because you’ve cast your cares onto God. He’s carrying them.

Peter continues into Ch 5, describing what doing good looks like. For the elders in the church, they’re to keep looking after the sheep. Then, v5, for the young men, doing good will mean being submissive to their elders. To clothe themselves in humility.  And then Peter gets to v6. HUMBLE YOURSELVES, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, THAT HE MAY LIFT YOU UP IN DUE TIME. 7 CAST ALL YOUR ANXIETY ON HIM BECAUSE HE CARES FOR YOU.

To cast our anxieties on him is to humble ourselves under God’s care. To recognise that WE are weak, and HE is strong. That HE controls tomorrow, and we don’t. To trust that, while others will abandon us, God NEVER will. And to SHOW that trust by living obedient and godly lives.

Psalm 104: Science

One of the things that surprises kids in my Scripture classes is that I used to be a SCIENCE TEACHER, and now I’m A MINISTER.

They’re surprised because most people today assume that science and believing in God don’t go together. (They’re incompatible). That ONE is about EVIDENCE and REASON. And the OTHER one is about believing WITHOUT evidence. ONE is about the PHYSICAL, MATERIAL world. And the OTHER is about the SPIRITUAL world.

It’s a pretty common opinion in the world today. But it’s really only been around for the last three hundred years or so. Since the Age of Enlightenment. Scientists and philosophers, from the late 1600’s, valued human reasoning, and focussed on measurement and the scientific method.

The Enlightenment produced the Industrial Revolution and constitutional government and lots of other great things. But philosophers like David Hume focussed SO MUCH on the value of human reasoning, they proudly decided that if the human mind couldn’t understand, or explain, or measure or observe something, then it WASN’T REAL. And so, they decided that since you couldn’t prove a miracle, or reproduce it, then miracles weren’t POSSIBLE. Miracles, by definition, broke the laws of nature, and since the laws of nature were always kept, then miracles couldn’t happen.

And since you couldn’t prove the existence of GOD, then HE mustn’t exist EITHER. There was no spiritual realm. There was only the physical, measurable, observable world.

And that’s probably been the dominant belief in University science and philosophy departments ever since. And it’s dribbled down into popular culture so most people today believe religious faith has no part to play in public life. In schools, or Universities, or political decisions or scientific enquiry or business.

The compatibility of the Bible and science

But it wasn’t the ONLY belief to come out of the Enlightenment. There were plenty of Christians at that time whose faith in the God of the Bible encouraged them to investigate HIS CREATION.

They believed God was intelligent and consistent in creating the world. So that meant the world was designed and consistent, and that order could be IDENTIFIED. He made it GOOD, so it was WORTH investigating. And he gave us the task of ruling and subduing the earth, so STUDYING it helped us do that better.

Rather than thinking that the spiritual and the physical were SEPARATE, they thought the physical world provided EVIDENCE of the spiritual. God had left his fingerprints all over his creation.

Scientists such as Robert Doyle, the founder of modern chemistry in the 1600’s, who wrote “God [is] the author of the universe, and the free establisher of the laws of motion.” Or Sir Isaac Newton, probably the most well-known scientist.  “In the absence of any other proof, the thumb alone would convince me of God’s existence.”

Or Louis Pasteur, the founder of microbiology and immunology in 1800’s “The more I study nature, the more I stand amazed at the work of the Creator. Science brings men nearer to God.” –.

Or Lord William Kelvin, who worked on thermodynamics, the concept of absolute zero and the Kelvin temperature scale. He said, “If you study science deep enough and long enough, it will force you to believe in God.”

In fact, Charles Darwin, whose theory of evolution explaining the origin of species has been used as a weapon AGAINST belief in God, wrote “The question of whether there exists a Creator and Ruler of the Universe has been answered in the AFFIRMATIVE by some of the highest intellects that have ever existed.”

To that list of scientists who recognise the Creator in his creation, we can add the writer of Psalm 104. Let’s spend a few minutes looking at it together. The more he looks at nature, the more he sees GOD. Studying the PHYSICAL world teaches him more about the SPIRITUAL. He begins with a faith statement, or if you’re a scientist – a THEORY based on EVIDENCE.

Praise the LORD, O my soul. O LORD my God, YOU ARE VERY GREAT; you are clothed with splendor and majesty.

A great and majestic God he can talk to. What’s his EVIDENCE for that? He begins by looking to the SKY. 2 He wraps himself in light as with a garment; he stretches out the heavens like a tent 3 and lays the beams of his upper chambers on their waters. He makes the clouds his chariot and rides on the wings of the wind.

I think we’ve all looked up at the sky, and imagined what was beyond what we can see. And then beyond THAT. And SO on. We’ve got a much greater understanding of the size of the Universe than the Psalmist did! And God is BIGGER than all of that. And MADE it all.  THAT’S evidence that God’s great and majestic!

Then, v5, the writer turns his attention to the EARTH. 5 He set the earth on its foundations; it can never be moved. The sky, stretching on and on, says something of God’s SIZE. The solidness of the earth says something of God’s STABILITY AND STRENGTH.

And when you add the way the OCEANS cover the earth, v6, and how uncontrollable they are, we see something of God’s POWER. 6 You covered it with the deep as with a garment; the waters stood above the mountains. 7 But at your rebuke the waters fled, at the sound of your thunder they took to flight; 8 they flowed over the mountains, they went down into the valleys, to the place you assigned for them. YOU set a boundary they cannot cross.

Hydraulic engineers and plumbers and builders will tell you how difficult it is to keep water where you want it. And out of where you DON’T want it. But God sets the place for water to stay. And it stays there.

But that’s not all. The Psalmist turns his attention from CREATION to PROVIDENCE. From God’s MAKING of the world in the beginning/ to his CARING for it, day by day. More evidence for his theory that God is great and majestic.

From v10, he thinks about the way water moves around the planet via the water cycle. From salt to fresh. From liquid to vapour to ice. From depths to mountain tops. From earth to clouds. And all the way, providing life for plants and animals and fish. And God’s commanding and controlling it all. V10.

10 He makes springs pour water into the ravines; it flows between the mountains. 11 They give water to all the beasts of the field; the wild donkeys quench their thirst. 12 The birds of the air nest by the waters; they sing among the branches. 13 He waters the mountains from his upper chambers; the earth is satisfied by the fruit of his work.

We can build dams, and set irrigation quotas, and restrict water usage. We can design water saving devices – flow inhibitors on taps and half-flush toilets. We can change our plans for harvesting, and breed genetically-modified drought-resistant crops.  But we can’t make it rain.

There are LIMITS to what science can do. There are questions science can’t answer. And problems science can’t fix. And studying God’s world -using the TOOLS of science – teaches us THAT LESSON.

When there’s drought, and farmers and weather-forecasters and government policy-makers run out of ideas. And despair and hopelessness grow. EVEN THE UNBELIEVER TURNS TO PRAYER. Because, no matter how much he doesn’t want to believe it, he knows deep down the truth of v13. That GOD waters the mountains from his upper chambers, the earth is satisfied by the fruit of HIS work. And, just perhaps, one of the reasons we’re in drought is that God wants Australia to HUMBLY ACKNOWLEDGE him. And turn from pride and independence.

Since the age of enlightenment and the Industrial Revolution, we’ve slowly forgotten that we’re CREATURES, not CREATORS. That we’re DEPENDENT, not SOVEREIGN. Science and technology have, one after another, solved our big problems: mechanisation, immunisation, antibiotics, electricity, computers, organ transplants and joint replacements. We’ve travelled to the moon, and captured images from the millions of light years away. And we’ve mapped the human DNA genome.

But we can’t cure a cold, or control the weather, or the tides, or bushfires. We can’t cure Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s or cystic fibrosis. We can’t stop wars, or gun massacres, or racism. We watch on helplessly as earthquakes, floods and tsunamis rage. GOD is Creator. And we’re simply his CREATURES. And humbly studying his world helps us REMEMBER that.

But as well as HUMILITY, we should ALSO be GRATEFUL and JOYFUL. Because God PROVIDES for his creatures. V14 He makes grass grow for the cattle, and plants for man to cultivate– bringing forth food from the earth: 15 wine that gladdens the heart of man, oil to make his face shine, and bread that sustains his heart.

We can plant the seed, or the grape vines. But we’re dependent on GOD to make the crops GROW. We can squeeze the grapes, or grind the grain. But it takes YEAST that God created to turn the juice into WINE. Or the flour into BREAD.

The Psalmist continues. Not just HUMANITY. V16, God provides for the REST of his creatures. For trees and birds and goats. Even the LIONS, down in v21, so powerful and independent. Even THEY seek their food from God.

Verse 24, there’s the summary statement. The natural scientist proposing the conclusion to his investigation. 24 How many are your works, O LORD! In wisdom you made them all; the earth is full of your creatures.

V25, including the SEA. VAT. Teeming with life. V27. 27 These all look to you to give them their food at the proper time. 28 When you give it to them, they gather it up; when you open your hand, they are satisfied with good things. 29 When you hide your face, they are terrified; when you take away their breath, they die and return to the dust. 30 When you send your Spirit, they are created, and you renew the face of the earth.

God is the one who PROVIDES and WITHHOLDS. Who GIVES LIFE and TAKES IT AWAY. It’s a very different way of looking at the world to a David Attenborough nature documentary. That’s all about chance, and survival of the fittest. And death.

There’s one last conclusion about God, v31 and 32. About his connection to his creation. Giving us a hint about why God made us in the first place. “May the LORD REJOICE in his works.” The joyful relationship between the CREATOR and his CREATION.

And then the Psalmist turns to HIMSELF. The practical application of his investigation. V33

33 I will sing to the LORD all my life; I will sing praise to my God as long as I live. 34 May my meditation be pleasing to him, as I rejoice in the LORD. 35 But may sinners vanish from the earth and the wicked be no more. Praise the LORD, O my soul. Praise the LORD. 

Just as the Creator rejoices in his creation. So the right response is for creation to humbly rejoice in the Creator. That what God requires from his creatures.

Investigating creation drives him CLOSER to God. The truth is/ the material and Spiritual worlds ARE connected.

But the Psalmist wasn’t alive at the right time to see the GREATEST connection between God and the physical world. When the Creator BECAME a creature. When the Word became FLESH, and made his dwelling among us. When Jesus, the eternal second person of the Trinity, didn’t hold onto equality with God, but made himself nothing. And took on human flesh.

People MAY find God in creation. But they’ll see him much more clearly in JESUS. God in the flesh.

And when your scientific or rationalistic friends question how you can believe in God and be a modern, thinking person. By all means point them to CREATION. To the evidence for intelligent design in the Universe. But, even BETTER, point them to JESUS. Give them a Bible. Offer to READ it with them. Take them to a course like Christianity Explored.

Because the historic documents about Jesus are evidence that can be studied. People saw and heard and touched Jesus, and they were convinced that he was God in the flesh. And that he died and came back to life.

One of those eyewitnesses wrote this, in 1 John 1.

1:1 That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched-this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. 2 The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us. 3 We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. 4 We write this to make our joy complete.

And Jesus himself ENCOURAGED that same investigation. When people worried about life (Luke 12), he didn’t say, just TRUST me. He said, Consider the ravens. Look at the lilies. If God looks after THEM, he’ll look after YOU.

INVESTIGATE God’s CREATION! IT will POINT you to your CARING CREATOR.

When a lame man was lowered through the roof for Jesus to heal (Mark 2), and Jesus said his sins were forgiven. He didn’t just say, Trust me, I’ve got the authority to forgive sins. He said, Which is easier to say – your sins are forgiven, or get up and walk? And then he HEALED him. AS EVIDENCE that he could forgive sins.

And when Jesus appeared to the disciples after his resurrection (John 20), Thomas wasn’t there, and he didn’t believe them. He said “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe it.” But Jesus didn’t rebuke his scepticism. He didn’t cast him aside because of his unbelief. When he appeared to him too, he invited him, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.” And Thomas DID, and the evidence supported his belief, and he WORSHIPPED Jesus, “My Lord and my God!”

We have nothing to fear from investigating, and reason, and examining the evidence, and searching for the truth. You can be confident that science will never discover something that disproves the Bible.

Good science and Christianity are in agreement. They both encourage A SEARCH FOR TRUTH. Science can do lots of great things. And we should REJOICE in them. Christians should study science, and discover better ways for us to cultivate and care for and rule the earth. But science can’t stop a war, or forgive your sins, or cure a broken marriage, or resurrect the dead, or locate the human soul, or analyse LOVE. It can’t explain why we weep while listening to an opera or symphony, or gaze at a sunset or painting, or laugh at a joke. And it can’t measure the immeasurable. Or see the unseeable. Or understand what’s beyond human understanding. Or know tomorrow. So don’t place your ultimate trust in Science. Place it in the One who CREATED us. And who, from beyond eternity, sent his Son into time and space to SAVE us.

God influences his physical world every day. All the time. And he calls US to DO THE SAME. To be incarnational TOO. To infect our world with Jesus. To imitate him. To be his hands and feet. To live out, by the power of his Spirit, truth and love and forgiveness and acceptance and joy and purpose and peace. So that people might see the eternal, spiritual, Trinitarian God in US. That’s why God MADE you!

I want to finish with ONE LAST QUOTE. It’s from Richard Smalley, winner of the 1996 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for the discovery of a new form of carbon (buckminsterfullerene or “buckyballs”).

“Recently I have gone back to church regularly with a new focus to understand as best I can what it is that makes Christianity so vital and powerful in the lives of billions of people today, even though almost 2000 years have passed since the death and resurrection of Christ. Although I suspect I will never fully understand, I now think the answer is very simple: it’s true. God did create the universe … and of necessity has involved Himself with His creation ever since.

The purpose of this universe is something that only God knows for sure, but it is increasingly clear to modern science that the universe was exquisitely fine-tuned to enable human life. We are somehow critically involved in His purpose. Our job is to sense that purpose as best we can, love one another, and help Him get that job done.”

Psalm 50: Don’t get God wrong!

Have you come to church this morning with the expectation of MEETING GOD? I HOPE so.

But exactly WHAT SORT OF GOD were you hoping to meet?

Perhaps you hoped to meet one who’s, well, A LITTLE LIKE YOU? Who overlooks the odd slip-up and failure, because, after all, nobody’s perfect? Whose standards are achievable, because he knows how hard it is to be consistent?

Or maybe you’re hoping to meet a God who doesn’t even NOTICE some of those things/ because he’s busy and pre-occupied. Like a distracted parent, whose kids get away with EVERYTHING?

Or maybe you’re hoping to meet a God who’s PRETTY PLEASED YOU’RE HERE AT ALL? After all, life’s busy, and he’s just one of your many commitments. And, if you’re honest, you reckon you’re doing pretty well. And certainly a lot better than “you-know-who” over there.

After all, where would the church budget be without your generous giving? Or the home group without your leadership? Or the quality of coffee without your barista skills? Or the dress standards of church without your fine collection of designer clothes?

Are you hoping to meet GOD this morning? I’ve got some NEWS for you. It’s both GOOD news, and BAD news. You ARE going to meet God this morning.

It’s BAD news, because he’s nothing LIKE you. He doesn’t NEED you. There’s nothing he LACKS that you can SUPPLY.

And he SEES EVERYTHING. Every MOTIVATION as well as every secret action.

And he won’t overlook your sin. He CAN’T overlook your sin. And he’s COME TO JUDGE. And there’s no one who can help you.

But it’s GOOD news, because he’s come to SPEAK to us. To WARN us. And to tell us what he DOES want.

Introducing God (v1-6)

Psalm 50 begins with the royal herald introducing the king. Like when royalty arrives at a function, and the herald introduces them for everyone to hear.

For example, here are the titles of the Queen Mother:

Most High, Most Mighty and Most Excellent Princess Elizabeth, Queen Dowager and Queen Mother, Lady of the Most Noble Order of the Garter, Lady of the Most Ancient and Most Noble Order of the Thistle, Lady of the Imperial Order of the Crown of India, Grand Master and Dame Grand Cross of the Royal Victorian Order upon whom had been conferred the Royal Victorian Chain, Dame Grand Cross of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire, Dame Grand Cross of the Most Venerable Order of the Hospital of St John, Relict of His Majesty King George the Sixth and Mother of Her Most Excellent Majesty Elizabeth The Second

I don’t know what most of that means. But I DO know it means someone PRETTY IMPRESSIVE is coming.

Listen to how THIS king is introduced. V1.

The Mighty One, God, the LORD,

speaks and summons the earth

from the rising of the sun to the place where it sets.

2 From Zion, perfect in beauty,

God shines forth.

3 Our God comes and will not be silent;

a fire devours before him,

and around him a tempest rages.

4 He summons the heavens above,

and the earth, that he may judge his people:

5 “Gather to me my consecrated ones,

who made a covenant with me by sacrifice.”

6 And the heavens proclaim his righteousness,

for God himself is judge.

The mighty one. God. The LORD. He’s THE KING. The God above all gods. And not just over his PEOPLE. He’s king over EVERYTHING. And he’s calling it all/ to GATHER TOGETHER. Heavens above and earth below. And he’s coming to JUDGE.

Marvel in his qualities. V2. He’s PERFECT in BEAUTY. (Faultless and attractive in morals and personality.) And He SHINES LIKE THE SUN. (Bringing life. Shining purity into every part of his creation.) And he’s FIRE (v3). Cleansing, refining, destroying. Powerful and insatiable. And he’s a TEMPEST. A wild uncontrollable STORM. That uproots trees, and flattens houses. Just like WIND, you can’t see him, but you can see his effects.

But don’t get too comfortable. Thinking that he’s come to judge THE EARTH. (Everything he’s assembled. The REST. Those out there). V4, he’s come to judge HIS PEOPLE. To those, v5, he’s CONSECRATED – set apart as holy. Those he’s made a COVENANT with, and so the ones he expects a COVENANT RESPONSE from.

His creation is simply there TO WATCH. To WITNESS. To TESTIFY. (V6). To declare his suitability to judge – the reliability of his character and actions.)

SELAH.

Can you see that word there? At the end of v6? No one really knows what it means. Best guess: it means something like “musical pause” or in modern translation “lead guitar solo”. It’s designed to give you space to stop and think about what you’ve just sung. And that certainly seems appropriate HERE, doesn’t it?

The Mighty One, God, The LORD is introduced. And he’s summoned his whole creation. And he’s about to speak. So get ready…

V7 “Hear, O my people, and I will speak. I am God, YOUR God.”

Relationship before religion (7-13)

But when he speaks in v8. His first words are SURPRISING. Especially after the big build up.

8 I do NOT rebuke you for your sacrifices

or your burnt offerings, which are ever before me.

The people are offering plenty of sacrifices. So what’s the problem? What is it he’s JUDGING? God’s not rebuking them for the number of sacrifices. The QUANTITY is fine. It’s the QUALITY he’s got a problem with. He wants RELATIONSHIP BEFORE RELIGION. Look at what he says from v9.

9 I have no need of a bull from your stall

or of goats from your pens,

10 for every animal of the forest is mine,

and the cattle on a thousand hills.

11 I know every bird in the mountains,

and the creatures of the field are mine.

12 If I were hungry I would not tell you,

for the world is mine, and all that is in it.

13 Do I eat the flesh of bulls

or drink the blood of goats?

What attitude is he ANSWERING? The problem with the sacrifices was that the people THOUGHT THEY WERE BRINGING SOMETHING VALUABLE to God. That, somehow, God NEEDED their offerings.

They had an inflated view of themselves. Their focus was on WHAT THEY WERE CONTRIBUTING. Rather than on the God they were CONTRIBUTING TO.

Instead, he says He MADE EVERYTHING. He RULES everything. He OWNS everything. He needs NOTHING. WHO ARE YOU to think you’ve got anything God needs!? Who are you to think there’s anything you can do to make you acceptable to God!?

He’s speaking to the RELIGIOUS. To those who focus on the performance of certain duties. (Who TRUST those duties as works that make them acceptable to God.)

God’s saying, “I don’t need what you’re offering.”

But thankfully, he doesn’t stop there. He goes on, in v14 and 15, to TELL us what he DOES want.

14 Sacrifice thank offerings to God,

fulfill your vows to the Most High,

15 and call upon me in the day of trouble;

I will deliver you, and you will honor me.”

Now that might sound like just offering more sacrifices. But notice they’re THANK offerings. God wants THANKFULNESS. You see, it’s all about your MOTIVATION. WHATEVER you offer to God, do it IN GRATEFUL RESPONSE to what he’s done for you. THAT’S the sacrifice God wants. He’s interested in the QUALITY of your sacrifices, not their QUANTITY.

But that’s not all. He wants you to FULFIL YOUR VOWS. He wants you to DO WHAT YOU SAY. To OBEY him. To FOLLOW THROUGH on your good intentions. Be CONSISTENT. Walk the walk, don’t just talk the talk. That’s the BEST way to show your thankfulness.

And, thirdly, v15, he wants you to CALL ON HIM IN THE DAY OF TROUBLE. Don’t just soldier on in your own strength when you’re in trouble. Reach out to God. He LOVES it when you do that.

He’s like the father whose daughter offers to help wash the car. He doesn’t need her help. But it’s nice she wants to help. And he LOVES it when she says, “Daddy, I can’t reach that spot. Lift me up so I can wash it.”

God wants an attitude of DEPENDENCE and humility. He can work with that. He can work with people who come to him with open hands and empty pockets. Not stiff necks and lists of achievements. He wants RELATIONSHIP before RITUAL.

Thankfulness, obedience and dependence.

And when we come bearing THOSE gifts. (Last part of v16) God promises to meet us with DELIVERANCE. To answer our prayers. And then we’ll HONOUR him. We’ll give him his due. And recognise him for what he is, and what we’re NOT.

That’s his word of warning for the religious. Relationship not religion. Thankfulness, obedience and dependence rather than RITUAL.

Holiness before hypocrisy (16-22)

From v16-22 God turns his attention to ANOTHER type of person. The FIRST type of person thought THAT ACTIONS MATTERED. The SECOND type of person thinks WORDS / DON’T matter.

In some ways, it’s more of the same. Because this person LOOKS religious, like the first type of person. At least SOME of the time. V16, they can recite God’s laws. And take his covenant on their lips. (They know their memory verses. They sing the songs even without opening their hymn books.)

But all God hears is BLAH, BLAH, BLAH. Because they don’t MEAN what they say. They don’t BELIEVE the words they recite. V17.

17 You hate my instruction and cast my words behind you.

How does God know that? Where’s the EVIDENCE? V18, they’re HYPOCRITES. They don’t DO what they SAY. They’re WORDS say they love God, but their ACTIONS say something DIFFERENT. V18

18 When you see a thief, you join with him;

you throw in your lot with adulterers.

19 You use your mouth for evil

and harness your tongue to deceit.

20 You speak continually against your brother

and slander your own mother’s son.

You recite the commandment, DO NOT STEAL. But then you STEAL. You say the words, DO NOT COMMIT ADULTERY, but then you join in with, and approve of, those who break their marriage vows.

You recite the commandment DO NOT LIE. But then you DECEIVE. You say the words DO NOT MURDER. But you harm your brother with YOUR INSULTS.

AND GOD SEES IT ALL. Imagine what it’s like for him! He sees his people speaking his laws and singing his praises. And then he sees the same lips deceiving and slandering others.

Hypocrisy doesn’t seem so obvious to US. Because we’re forgetful. And we’re inconsistent. And we don’t see what’s done in secret. But God never forgets, and he always sees, and he never changes, and he’s always faithful. And hypocrisy is contrary to his character, and it’s an INSULT to him.

In James 3 we read about the danger of our tongues. V8

No man can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. 9 With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in God’s likeness.   10 Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers, this should not be.

You can sense some of James’ frustration as he writes that. But imagine God’s frustration. In James 1 26 he warns us

26 If anyone considers himself religious and yet does not keep a tight rein on His TONGUE, he deceives himself and HIS RELIGION IS WORTHLESS.

Words can render our actions WORTHLESS in God’s sight.

But why would people keep DOING that? Surely, they must realise God SEES!?

Because they think God won’t DO anything. V21.

21 These things you have done and I kept silent;

you thought I was altogether like you.

But I will rebuke you and accuse you to your face.

All their false words, and destructive words, and God speaks NO WORDS in response. And so they think God isn’t interested. And they can DO AS THEY PLEASE.

They think God’s like THEM. (Morally ambivalent. Inconsistent, with limited knowledge). But he’s NOT. He WILL rebuke. Justice DEMANDS it.

Some people think the opposite of love is HATE. But it’s not. It’s INDIFFERENCE. And God’s NOT indifferent. He sees our behaviour. And he CARES.

He cares enough to ACT. He’s not like us, who don’t care enough about sin to confront it. V21. I WILL rebuke you and accuse you to your face.

V22.

22 “Consider this, you who forget God,

or I will tear you to pieces, with none to rescue:

The reality is / we are very sinful. And God is right to be very angry with us. Even if, at the moment, it doesn’t LOOK like he’s angry.

At the moment, he’s PATIENT. LONG-SUFFERING. He’s not bringing the judgment we all deserve. 2 Peter 3:9 says it’s not because he’s slow in keeping his promise. He’s PATIENT, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.

Romans 2:3 questions us,

Do you think you will escape God’s judgment? 4 Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, tolerance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness leads you toward REPENTANCE?

God is angry with our sin. But he’s KIND enough to be PATIENT. And, in mercy, to WARN us. Which is what Psalm 50 is. God’s warning us what will happen if we DON’T remember him. If we don’t repent. (Consider THIS/ OR I’ll tear you to pieces.) If he didn’t LOVE us he would just wipe us out WITHOUT A WORD.

What he wants is the command we see in v23. (Almost the same as v14-15) To the hypocrite he says

23 He who sacrifices thank offerings honors me,

and he prepares the way (or orders his way)

so that I may show him the salvation of God.”

In other words, God wants THANKFULNESS that honours him. And he wants AN OBEDIENT WAY OF LIFE. Faith expressed like THAT results in God’s salvation.

You’ve met GOD this morning. And he’s not like you. He sees, and he knows, and he’s coming to judge. And he doesn’t need your sacrifices or gifts. He wants your thankfulness and your obedience and your dependence.

And if that sermon was being preached in a Jewish synagogue one Sabbath. That might be where the sermon STOPPED.

And the Jews would leave the synagogue reminded of how holy and righteous God is, And how sinful and perverse THEY are. And how he doesn’t need their sacrifices. But, instead, wants their thanks and obedience and dependence.

And their new determination would last until Sunday morning, perhaps, when they messed up again.

And, just perhaps, they asked themselves, “How is that the holy Judge of all the earth, the devouring fire, can just forgive my sin? It can’t be SACRIFICES! He doesn’t NEED them.”

“How can God be JUST, and the One who JUSTIFIES the ungodly? We need another way! We need a better sacrifice. That, once and for all, deals with sin.”

And, of course, WE can’t bring it. Because we’ve got nothing God needs. And we’re basically hypocrites at heart.

And so, it will take GOD HIMSELF PROVIDING the sacrifice that satisfies him.

Which he did, of course, when he sent Jesus. In the words of Romans 3. From v23.

All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God 24 and are JUSTIFIED FREELY by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.

25 GOD presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood. He did this to demonstrate his JUSTICE, because in his FORBEARANCE he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished- 26 he did it to demonstrate his justice at the present time, so as to be JUST and THE ONE WHO JUSTIFIES those who have faith in Jesus.

Notice it’s GOD who offers the sacrifice. There’s nothing we can offer him he needs. And it comes from his PATIENCE. Because his JUSTICE demands it. And he PUTS US RIGHT with him. He SAVES us from his anger.

All themes we see in Psalm 50.

And that means we’re much better of than JEWS who read this Psalm. Because of Jesus, we have MUCH GREATER confidence to come to this holy Judge in humble, trusting, dependent gratitude. Not because we’re more confident in our own ability. But because we know more clearly how great a debt we’ve been forgiven.

Or, as Hebrews 10 encourages us (from v19)

19 Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, 20 by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near to God with A SINCERE HEART in FULL ASSURANCE OF FAITH, having our HEARTS sprinkled to cleanse us from A GUILTY CONSCIENCE and having our bodies washed with pure water. 23 Let us HOLD UNSWERVINGLY TO THE HOPE WE PROFESS, for he who promised is FAITHFUL.

THAT’S how to meet your God!

 

Psalm 34: Fear of the Lord

Fear can make us do desperate things. Fear strengthens a father to lift a car off his trapped daughter. Fear of dying keeps a sailor lost overboard treading water for 24 hours before he’s rescued. Fear of flying makes someone sit on a train for two days to attend a friend’s wedding. Fear of losing control causes a wife and mother to nag her husband constantly, and refuse to allow her children outside on their own.

Or here’s another example of fear making someone do desperate things. Fear of SAUL makes David run to the PHILISTINES. Look at the sub-heading to Psalm 34. “David wrote the Psalm after pretending to be insane before Abimelech, who drove him away”. It’s a summary of 1 Samuel 21.

Saul’s king of Israel. But God’s chosen DAVID to replace him. Saul’s jealous, and wants David DEAD. So David’s running for his life. He stops to visit the tabernacle and Ahimelech the priest. He gives him Goliath’s sword for protection. And then he heads off.

But look what FEAR does. He’s so scared of Saul, he heads to the LAST PLACE Saul would look. GATH. One of the five Philistine cities. The people David’s been fighting. In fact, Gath is GOLIATH’S home city. Their champion, who David killed, and whose sword he’s carrying.

Perhaps he thinks he’ll be able to stay anonymous. But he’s public enemy number one, so that doesn’t last long. The king’s servants find him, recognise him – the one who’s slain tens of thousands. Many of them PHILISTINE! And they take him to the king.

David’s jumped from the frying pan into the fire. Things have gone from bad to worse. He was scared of SAUL. But now, v12, we read,

12 David took these words to heart and WAS VERY MUCH AFRAID OF ACHISH king of Gath.

He’s STILL afraid. He’s used to FIGHTING Philistines, but now he tries a DIFFERENT approach on them. V13.

13 So he pretended to be insane in their presence; and while he was in their hands he acted like a madman, making marks on the doors of the gate and letting saliva run down his beard.

14 Achish said to his servants, “Look at the man! He is insane! Why bring him to me? 15 Am I so short of madmen that you have to bring this fellow here to carry on like this in front of me? Must this man come into my house?”

22:1 David LEFT Gath and escaped to the cave of Adullam.

They let him go! Because they think he’s HARMLESS. And, miraculously, David escapes. And he makes it to the safety of an isolated cave back in Israel. And his family, and a whole crowd of distressed and desperate people, join him.

And it may even be in THAT CAVE that he writes Psalm 34.

I will extol the LORD at all times; his praise will always be on my lips. 2 My soul will boast in the LORD;

And then he calls on those who are listening to join with him.

Let the afflicted hear and rejoice. 3 Glorify the LORD with me; let us exalt his name together.

HEAR! REJOICE! GLORIFY! EXALT! And then, in verses 4-7, he gives the REASON WHY God should be praised by everyone.

4 I sought the LORD, and he ANSWERED me; he DELIVERED me from ALL MY FEARS.

David’s life is threatened. First by SAUL, and then by the king of Gath. And he’s AFRAID. And, in the face of that danger, he does TWO THINGS. He PRAYS, and then he ACTS. 1 Samuel tells us about his ACTIONS. (He flees, and then he pretends to be crazy.) Psalm 34 tells us about his PRAYER.

He looks to GOD. AND he ACTS. If you’re suffering from fears or anxieties, please don’t hear me saying in this series that all you have to do is hand it all over to God. I’m NOT saying stop seeing specialists, or treatment with counsellors, or taking medication. David’s example, at least, is to do BOTH. Pray AND act. He’s come up with a good plan in desperate circumstances. And God worked THROUGH that plan. And worked miraculously in the Philistine king.

He’s PRAYED. And God ANSWERS his prayer, and RESCUES him, v4. He intervenes. And David’s life is DIFFERENT! He’s SAFE. And he wants to CELEBRATE!

V5-7 We get some more details about the fears God RESCUES people from.

5 Those who look to him are radiant; their faces are never covered with shame. 6 This poor man called, and the LORD heard him; he saved him out of all his troubles. 7 The angel of the LORD encamps around those who fear him, and he delivers them.

One of the fear-idols people have is APPROVAL. We want people to LIKE and ACCEPT and RESPECT us. And we fear NOT RECEIVING that. Did your mum ever say to you as you left the house, “I hope you’re wearing clean underwear. What if you’re in a car accident, and they take you to hospital?!”

That’s the idol of APPROVAL. She’s more concerned about being EMBARRASSED than being physically harmed in a car accident!

But notice what David says? V5. When people look to God for help, he makes sure their faces aren’t covered with SHAME. They won’t be EMBARRASSED. Which might mean he’ll rescue them from the embarrassing situation, or perhaps they won’t FEEL the embarrassment of it. They’ll be STRENGTHENED IN THE FACE of the trial.

That sort of deliverance is a WONDERFUL RELIEF for many people.

That seems to be what’s happened to David. He’s not feeling the shame of his situation. V6 He calls himself “this poor man”. Yes, he’s not the army commander anymore. Or the anointed king. He’s hiding in a cave. But that’s ok! He’s a poor man, who looks to God – that’s what counts. It’s a relief not to have to keep up the performance, but to just leave it with God.

Or V7, here’s ANOTHER fear. The angel of the Lord ENCAMPS around, or SURROUNDS, those who fear him and he delivers them. There’s PROTECTION for those who fear the Lord.

For many people COMFORT or PLEASURE is an idol. And they’re FEARFUL of being in pain, or stressful situations. But God’s angel SURROUNDS and PROTECTS those who fear him. And that’s a great blessing.

At this point I want to stop for a moment and answer a question you might be asking. What about when God DOESN’T protect, or rescue, his people? Christians STILL get cancer, or are beaten up. Or experience tsunamis or bushfires. Or are ridiculed. Or robbed. Why do bad things still happen to God’s people?

The first thing to say is that even DAVID’S experience was that God ALLOWED him to go through difficult situations. God doesn’t guarantee an easy life. Look down to v19. David says it himself.

19 A righteous man may have MANY TROUBLES,

But notice what he adds NEXT.

but the LORD DELIVERS him from them all;

The reality of the Christian life is that God ALLOWS and BRINGS and USES trials. His purpose is to GROW us through them. Like EXERCISE – to strengthen our FAITH. He brings GOOD out of them. James 1:2 says

2 Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, 3 because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. 4 Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, NOT LACKING ANYTHING.

That’s his goal. Same thing in Hebrews 12.

7 Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons… God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness. 11 No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. LATER ON, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been TRAINED by it.

And the trouble ALWAYS lasts only EXACTLY as LONG as God WILLS it. Not a second longer. Until his good purposes are achieved. And then he BRINGS it TO AN END. He DELIVERS us from them.

It might seem like the difficulty’s going on FOREVER. But God’s timing’s PERFECT.

But perhaps you’re thinking, ‘But what about when the trial DOESN’T end? Plenty of Christians DIE EARLY. From sickness, or in accidents, or war, or murder, or natural disasters.

At this point it’s good to take a step back, and see the BIG PICTURE. Step back from the tragic accident, or the awful illness or murder of a Christian. Step back and see that life from the perspective of ETERNITY. And you see God’s eternal commitment to the Christian in JESUS. In electing them from before the creation of the world. In redeeming them from judgment. Forgiving their sin. Filling them with his Spirit, the downpayment of eternity. And then bringing them safely home.

Step back from that one tragic event. And see Jesus dying to defeat sin and death. And then CONQUERING death, and reconciling this broken world to himself. The broken world of murder and rape and war and childhood cancer. And beginning its restoration.

That’s the BIG PICTURE.

We even get a hint of that big picture here in this Psalm. Down in v21 and 22.

21 Evil will slay the wicked; the foes of the righteous will be condemned.

David’s not seeing it YET. But one day, evil will be called to account. And judged. Those they’ve hurt will be VINDICATED. There’s COMFORT for victims in that. Ultimately, for David and for us, that’s on JUDGMENT DAY.

And the flip side of that, v22

22 The LORD REDEEMS his servants; no one will be CONDEMNED who takes refuge in him.

David’s thinking of being saved from trouble in THIS life. But God does MORE than that. He redeems us– buys us back – ETERNALLY. From the slavery of sin and death. And when he joins us to Jesus, and FORGIVES us, then we escape any threat of CONDEMNATION. Romans 8:1

there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus,

So that’s ANOTHER fear we can face with confidence. Many people fear DEATH AND JUDGMENT. SOME people fear it because it’s UNKNOWN and they can’t CONTROL it. Others love COMFORT and they’re scared of the pain of dying, or of hell.

But when God makes you his child through Jesus, and forgives your sin. Then he guarantees you safe passage through death and judgment. There’s no need to FEAR condemnation. (More on that fear NEXT week).

Let’s get back to the Psalm. V8. David addresses his hearers again.

8 Taste and see that the LORD is good;

blessed is the man who takes refuge in him.

9 Fear the LORD, you his saints,

(It’s the SECOND of his calls to his hearers. Or instructions. There’s a THIRD call in v11. And after each call, we get an explanation of WHY. So the structure of the Psalm is “call, because, call, because, call, because.”)

He’s just described how God’s heard his prayer and rescued him from his fears. And then, in v8, he applies it to his hearers. “Taste and see that the LORD is GOOD”. Experience him for yourself!

God’s not a philosophy to follow. Or a strategy to practice. He’s a PERSON to have a RELATIONSHIP with. You can’t follow him theoretically, or vicariously (second-hand) through someone else’s experience. There are no GRAND-children of God, just CHILDREN.

And the WAY to experience him is to TAKE REFUGE in him. Which means, when fear strikes, turning AWAY from those things we tend to take refuge in. From COMFORT, or POWER, or CONTROL, or APPROVAL. Take refuge in GOD ALONE.

Taste and see that he’s GOOD. That he’s better than the pale, weak imitations we try to protect ourselves with.

Or to put it another way, v9. FEAR the Lord. The Bible uses LOTS of words to describe how we’re to relate to God – obey, worship, love, follow, praise, honour, serve. But more than 300 times we’re told to FEAR God. There’s a good case to say FEARING God is the PRIMARY attitude to God that RESULTS in, or PRODUCES, all the rest. Fear of God includes RESPECT and AWE and REVERENCE. But it ALSO includes LOVE and OBEDIENCE and LOOKING to him and SEEKING him and FLEEING to him.

And it’s interesting that David mentions it fear of God in THIS Psalm, where he’s facing OTHER fears. His point seems to be, “Choose who, or what, you fear. Choose your fear! Fear people or pain and you’re on your own. OR… fear GOD. And he’ll deliver you from THOSE fears.

V9b is the start of the second “BECAUSE” section. Why fear God? Because those who fear him LACK NOTHING. Or v10. Those who seek him LACK NO GOOD THING.

And that’s ANOTHER fear-idol we worship. One reason we worry about money is because we love COMFORT. And PLEASURE. But God promises that when we seek him, we LACK NO GOOD THING. Jesus says the same thing in Mt 6:31

31 So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33 But SEEK FIRST HIS KINGDOM and his righteousness, and ALL THESE THINGS WILL BE GIVEN TO YOU AS WELL.

So don’t fear MISSING OUT! You WON’T, when you fear God. He promises to give you all the things you need when you PUT HIM FIRST.

In v11, we come to our third “CALL” section.

11 Come, my children, LISTEN to me; I will TEACH you the fear of the LORD.

Listen, and you’ll learn what it LOOKS like when someone fears the Lord. How you LIVE IT OUT IN PRACTICE. Because true fear of God CHANGES you.

V13, Your SPEECH changes. You won’t tell lies, or speak EVIL. And, v14, your ACTIONS change. You’ll turn away from evil.

We fear disappointing God, and we fear his judgment. So we OBEY him.

But it’s ALSO about tasting and seeing that he’s GOOD. He’s pure and good. So we want to REFLECT him in our speech and actions. His ways bring joy and contentment.

There’s RELATIONSHIP in fearing God. Fear of God drives us TOWARD him, not AWAY from him. Look at what ELSE this Psalm says about the person who fears God.

V1. We PRAISE him   V4. We SEEK him   V5. We LOOK TO him   V6. We CALL to him

V8. We TASTE him and TAKE REFUGE in him   V10. We SEEK him.

So that’s the third “call” or “command” section. In v15, we start the third “because” section. Why taste and see that God is good? Why fear him? Why obey him? Because, v15, his eye is on the righteous. He SEES. And, v16, he sees the WICKED, TOO. He’ll JUDGE them. And, v18, he’s CLOSE to the broken-hearted. And he saves those who are crushed in spirit. Why flee to him? Because you won’t have to travel FAR!

He’s CLOSE to the broken-heated. That’s a wonderful promise because it’s the OPPOSITE of how we feel when we’re crushed. We feel like God’s DISTANT. Nowhere to be found. But that’s when he’s CLOSEST.

He’s close  A. because that’s his NATURE – to protect those who NEED it. HE’s COMPASSIONATE.  And B. Because the broken-hearted are humble enough to TURN to him. They’re DESPERATE. At the end of their rope. The bottom of their hole. They’ve tried everything ELSE, and God’s the only One LEFT.

It’s at THAT point, God is close. And POWERFUL. And COMPASSIONATE. And JUST. And GOOD. And GENEROUS.

So, if you’re facing a fear. Listen to David. Turn AWAY from your fear-idols. Let go of the need to CONTROL, or be COMFORTABLE, or be LIKED, or POWERFUL. Turn away from the empty, narrow, hollow, shameful FEARFUL life you’ve carved out for yourself.

And turn to, seek, and fear God. Those who look to HIM are radiant, and their faces are never covered with shame. Taste and see that he is good. And begin to live the GOOD LIFE he’s got planned for you.

Psalm 40: What God wants for Christmas

christmas-giftI don’t know how Christmas presents work in YOUR family. But for the last few years we’ve put everyone’s name on the fridge, and each person writes a wishlist of things they’d like. And you buy people something FROM THE LIST. Normally, there’s more things on the list than you actually GET, so it’s SORT of a surprise.

I reckon it’s a GREAT idea. Because, as a gift GIVER, you don’t spend money, and waste time, buying things people don’t want. And as a RECEIVER, you actually get things you LIKE. So no more hankies and hand-knitted Christmas jumpers!

But what about GOD? Have you ever wondered what GOD would like for Christmas? What’s on HIS wishlist?

After all, he’s the REASON we celebrate Christmas. He’s the One who sent us the greatest gift of all. When he sent Jesus, his only Son, to be the Saviour of the world.

The wise men brought gifts of gold, incense and myrhh to Jesus. But is that what GOD wants?

We could GUESS. And lots of religions do that. They imagine what God would be like. And what he’d like us to give him. And then they try to DO it.

But Christianity has a great advantage. Because God’s TOLD us those things. In his word, the Bible. He’s actually given us his Christmas list. Like the one we have on our fridge. And you might be a little surprised at what it says.

In particular I want to think about Psalm 40. It’s a song written about 3000 years ago by King David of Israel. In fact, U2 recorded it a number of years ago.

David begins, from v1, by talking about how his life was in a mess, and how he waited patiently for the Lord to act. And God heard his cry, and lifted him up out of the muddy pit he was in. And set his feet on a firm foundation.

And, as he thinks about how he can say thank you to God, look at what he says. And it’s not what we’d expect. It’s printed there in your song sheets. Verse 6.

6 Sacrifice and offering you did not desire, but my ears you have pierced ; burnt offerings and sin offerings you did not require.

Firstly, what God DOESN’T want. (His equivalent of socks and hand-knitted jumpers.) God’s not interested in sacrifices and offerings. Which might SURPRISE you. Because that’s the way LOTS of religions work. You sacrifice a sheep or a goat, or some grain or fruit. Or you burn some incense. All so God will ACCEPT you, and HEAR YOUR PRAYER.

And maybe you think that’s the way it works WITH CHRISTIANITY TOO. Donate some money to the church, or do some good deeds. Dig deep when the Salvation Army comes door-knocking. Volunteer your time at a soup kitchen or an orphanage. Recycle your cans and bottles, or join Landcare. Do some of THOSE things, and surely God will be pretty impressed!?

And they’re certainly good things to do. The problem is God can see what we’re like ON THE INSIDE. And that’s what really matters to him. He wants to see actions that come from A CHANGED HEART.

Actions that come from INSIDE, rather than being FORCED. From genuine gratitude, rather than wanting something from God.

And he wants CONSISTENCY, not HYPOCRISY. He wants a 24 hour 7 day a week worshipper. Not a one hour a week wonder.

And King David had worked that out. Although we might be just a little puzzled by what he says God IS interested in. See it there in v6?

6 Sacrifice and offering you did NOT desire, but MY EARS YOU HAVE PIERCED ;

What does THAT mean?

Well, it’s probably NOT about earrings. Which is just as well, because I’m pretty sure they wouldn’t SUIT me. But most Bibles have got a little footnote at that point that gives an alternative translation. “My ears you have OPENED, or UNBLOCKED.”

God wants us to LISTEN to him. And that makes a lot more sense. Especially if we keep reading.

7 Then I said, “HERE I AM, I have come–it is written about me in the scroll.
8 I DESIRE TO DO YOUR WILL, O my God; your LAW IS WITHIN MY HEART.”

THAT’S what God wants for Christmas. He’s spoken to us. And he wants us to LISTEN. And then be WILLING to DO WHAT HE SAYS.

Those of us who are parents know how frustrating it is when our kids don’t listen to us. It’s a sign of DISRESPECT. Same with God.

He’s spoken to us in the Bible. He’s spoken to us in his Son JESUS. The thing he wants MOST from us is TO LISTEN TO HIM.

Begin by asking God to unblock your ears. To get rid of the stubbornness and pride that blocks you from hearing. And then listen carefully. Read the Bible. Learn from Jesus. And follow him.

That’s what God wants most of all from you this Christmas.

Psalm 95: the hand of God

https://i2.wp.com/www.worldtimeattack.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/06/australian-flag-map.jpgAustralia’s national identity is that we’re INDEPENDENT and EGALITARIAN. We don’t like admitting weakness or asking for help. We love our INDEPENDENCE. AND, we like everyone to be EQUAL. Which ALSO means we love to cut down the tall poppy.

Perhaps it comes from our harsh climate and the difficulties of making a living off the land. Or maybe it’s our convict background.

And so, for MOST of us, it goes against our nature to say thank you, or to admit we DEPEND on ANYONE. Including GOD.

America has their “Thanksgiving” holiday, where they thank God for his blessings. And their national anthem, the Star Spangled Banner, includes the words, “Blest with vict’ry and peace, may the HEAV’N-RESCUED land PRAISE THE POWER that hath made and preserved us a nation! Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just, And this be our motto: “IN GOD IS OUR TRUST.

Then there’s Britain. Who sings that God would save their gracious Queen. And New Zealand, who sings that God would DEFEND New Zealand.

While we Australians rejoice because we are young and FREE.

But, you know, if we look a little CLOSER at our National Anthem, we ALSO rejoice in a land of golden soil, and wealth for toil – that it abounds IN NATURE’S GIFTS of beauty, rich and rare.

It’s not so OBVIOUS, but we’re recognising GIFTS. Gifts that come, not from NATURE of course. Because nature can’t “GIVE” ANYTHING. But from the One who MADE nature. And who RULES over it. From the ONE TRUE GOD. The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. HE gives us the things of nature.

We might SING it, but many Australians TODAY might not want to RECOGNISE God’s gifts to us. But, you know, it wasn’t ALWAYS like that. In fact, back when our forefathers were framing the Constitution, at the end of the 19th century, they wanted to make it very clear, as our new nation was born, that we depended on God.

Here’s what the preamble to our constitution says: Whereas the people of New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia, Queensland, and Tasmania, HUMBLY RELYING ON THE BLESSING OF ALMIGHTY GOD, have agreed to unite in one indissoluble Federal Commonwealth

I wonder if that’s something YOU’RE willing to recognise. (That you humbly rely on the blessing of Almighty God?) Or whether you think you’re doing fine on your own. That you’re independent, and proud of it.

But let me push back a bit on that. I wonder, though, if you’re HONEST with yourself, WHETHER THAT’S REALLY TRUE. Whether you’re COMFORTABLE with how well you’re coping with life. Whether you’re REALLY IN CONTROL of your career, or your family. Or the economy. Or your health. How independent are you REALLY? And how much can your WORRY and planning about the future achieve stability and strength?

If that IS something like where you’re at, then I want to encourage you TODAY. To learn a lesson from our Federation forefathers. To admit your dependence, and to humbly RELY on the blessing of Almighty God. To RECOGNISE him, and to give him THANKS for his gifts.

And that’s what Psalm 95 encourages us to do. It’s printed there in your service sheets.

It’s an OLD song. Far older than Advance Australia Fair. Or even God Save the Queen. But it is A NATIONAL song. It’s one of ISRAEL’S national songs. Probably around 3000 years old. And that’s what the Psalms are – Israel’s national song book.

And this song in particular encouraged them, and US, to do THREE THINGS. And for each point, there’s a REASON given.

So here’s the SUMMARY. (If you’re someone who reads the headlines, but never the rest of the article. Then this is the bit you want to pay attention to.)

ONE. Sing for joy with THANKSGIVING before God… Why? Because he’s the great King above all gods.

TWO. KNEEL before the Lord our Maker… Why? Because we’re the people under his care.

And THIRDLY. DON’T harden your heart to him… Why? Because your ANCESTORS did, and they never entered God’s rest.

So, there you go, you folk with short attention spans. If you really MUST, you can switch off for the next ten minutes or so. (Though of course, I hope you won’t!)

  1. Sing for joy with thanksgiving

So, FIRST point. There in the first couple of verses. Come, let us SING FOR JOY to the LORD. Come with THANKSGIVING. And EXTOL him with song.

Christians are a bit unusual these days in that we SING. Aussies aren’t much for singing. Unless it’s the national anthem at the football. Or at Karaoke when we’ve had a few drinks for Dutch courage.

But Christians sing, because we’ve got something to sing ABOUT. We sing our THANKS to God. Thanks for what he’s done. For his WORLD, and particularly FOR US.

And we EXTOL him. We tell him, and ourselves, how EXCELLENT he is. We LIST his characteristics. And, as we do, those things give us JOY.

So, for example, here in THIS song, v3-5, we see some of his qualities worth singing about.

He’s the GREAT God, the King above all gods. The number one. He’s no small, tribal god. (In charge of crops, or good luck, or weather. Or who works only for the good of ONE NATION.)

And he’s not invented by human imagination either. He’s not the god 100 different people would describe in 200 different ways. He’s COMMUNICATED to us, in many ways and various times, what he’s like and what he does. And how he wants us to RESPOND. In fact, THIS PSALM is God’s communication to us about what he’s like, and how we should respond to him.

And He’s not created from something else. Or dependent on ANYTHING. On our sacrifices or obedience. By our money, or the strength of our will or faith. He’s BEFORE everything. The CAUSE of everything. And he’s BIGGER and more POWERFUL than anything.

Because, in v4, the DEPTHS OF THE EARTH are in his hands – the deepest ocean trench, the molten core of the planet. And so are the mountain peaks. From the Swiss Alps to the Himalayas to the Andes. Doesn’t matter where you go, on earth, or anywhere ELSE for that matter. God’s hand of ownership and control is on it.

Because, v5, he MADE it all. Not only is his hand of OWNERSHIP on it all, but his hands FORMED it all. His fingerprints are all over it. Everything we see, from the tiny microscopic plankton to the vast galaxies in space, is hand-SHAPED by God, and hand-HELD by God.

Which means, that of all the things and people who demand our recognition and attention, GOD’S the One who deserves it the MOST. The One who DESERVES that songs be sung about him. And to whom THANKS be given.

  1. Kneel before the LORD our maker

In fact, he’s SO deserving, he deserves far more than simply our SONGS. He deserves our WHOLE LIVES. That’s the SECOND encouragement there in v6.

6 Come, let us bow down in worship, let us kneel before the LORD our Maker;

They’re physical actions. (Bowing down, and kneeling). But they represent LOYALTY and ALLEGIANCE. They represent SUBMISSION, and a recognition that HE rules, and not US.

And that means that if he’s God over EVERYTHING, then he deserves our SUBMISSION AND LOYALTY IN EVERYTHING. Every area of life. In public and private. In government and corporate. In family and work. In finances and health and recreation. In our driving and our shopping and our holidays. In our downloads, and our tax returns. In our reading and our TV watching. In attitude and motivation. In word and thought and action.

He deserves to be king IN EVERYTHING. To only give him an hour a week on Sunday, in one particular place, IS AN INSULT.

And if we don’t have enough reasons to do that ALREADY, we get ANOTHER one in v7.

7 for he is our God and we are the people of his pasture, the flock under his care (or HAND).

This is where the God of Christianity distinguishes himself from all the OTHER gods. He’s the God whose hand FORMED the whole world. And whose hand HOLDS the whole world. But that’s ESPECIALLY true for HIS PEOPLE. His children. Those he’s chosen and called. And who follow him. The flock under his hand.

He’s OVER everything. But he INVOLVES himself in it, TOO. With LOVE and CARE. Like a FATHER with children. Or a SHEPHERD with a FLOCK.

For the Jews, he’d rescued them from slavery and brought them into the Promised Land. He’d promised to be their God, and they’d be his people. He’d be like a shepherd looking after his flock of sheep. He’d protect them from harm. And make sure they had plenty of food and water and shelter.

And as the story of the Bible unfolds we see God’s care for his people reach its PINNACLE when he sent his only Son, the Lord Jesus. To be our GOOD SHEPHERD. The ULTIMATE involvement.

Not just for the Jews, but for sheep from EVERY nation and country and language.

And not just a shepherd who would RISK his life for his sheep, but who’d GIVE his life for them. Who would LOSE it, so they might LIVE.

Which means Christians have even MORE reason than the Old Testament people to give joyful thanks to God. And to kneel before him in loyalty and obedience.

And we can see what that looks like in a bit more depth in that SECOND Bible reading on your sheet. It’s from Paul’s letter to the Colossians, written about thirty years after Jesus’ death and resurrection.

And down near the end, in v12, he describes how the Christian responds to God.

joyfully 12 giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the kingdom of light.

There’s the JOY and the THANKS, same as Psalm 95. And his care for us as a Father isn’t just for THIS world. But he qualifies us to share in his kingdom of light. A future eternity that’s PERFECT and SAFE and CERTAIN. That’s something to be joyfully thankful about!

And look at how he DOES that. Through his Son Jesus. V13.

13 For he has RESCUED us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, 14 in whom we have REDEMPTION, the FORGIVENESS of SINS.

Not a rescue from Egypt and slavery to Pharaoh. But rescue from the darkness and lostness of SIN. Rescued by Jesus, our Good Shepherd, who dies in our place, so our sin can be forgiven.

Which is an even more wonderful reason to sing for joy to him. And to extol him with song.

  1. Don’t harden your heart to him

But there’s a THIRD part to the Song. The FLIP SIDE of the first two. God’s a shepherd with his people, the flock under his hand. He PROVIDES for them, and PROTECTS them. He DESERVES their allegiance and worship.

But for all that, right through their history they’d FAILED to kneel before God. To thank him, and submit their lives in obedience to him.

And so the THIRD point. From v8. Is LEARN THE HISTORY LESSON. DON’T harden your heart to him. Don’t be like Israel’s forefathers.

You see there’s TWO RESPONSES to God who provides and cares for you like a shepherd. You can proudly go your OWN way. Or you can SUBMIT to him as king.

It’s a bit like dogs and cats. Have you heard the saying, “Dogs have MASTERS, but cats have … SERVANTS”? In other words, A DOG says, “This person gives me my food, protects and cares for me, HE must be the master. But a CAT says, “He gives me my food, protects and cares for me, I must be the MASTER.”

And it’s the same two reactions people have to GOD. And the people of Israel had the “CAT” reaction. Verses 9 to 11 give the history lesson. Back when God had saved the nation out of Egypt, and was leading them through the desert, despite all he’d already done, they complained about the lack of water. They grumbled that if THEY were in charge, things would be different. They DOUBTED God’s motives, and his love and his power.

And then a few weeks later, when they MADE it across the desert, and God told them to go in and take the land, they were SCARED, and refused to TRUST him. They thought they knew better.

And so God made the whole nation head back out into the desert. For forty more years, until all the adults had died of old age or sickness. They never made it into their REST.

And WE need to learn that lesson TOO. Because it’s not just AUSTRALIANS who are independent, and don’t like authority. (Who are rebels at heart.) It’s HUMAN NATURE to want to do our own thing. To think that WE know best. And that WE control our destiny.

In fact, we’ve ALL done it to God. (Rebelled against him. And gone our own way instead).

But this Psalm says, “DON’T!” DON’T harden your hearts. Don’t be proud and independent. Don’t think you know better than God.

Instead, kneel before him. Recognise his right to rule. And offer him your allegiance.

God is speaking to YOU, through this song. So TODAY, if you hear his voice. If, TODAY, you recognise that you HAVEN’T bowed the knee before him. You HAVEN’T accepted the gift of his Son who died in your place.

Don’t harden your heart. Turn from your independence. Accept the gift of forgiveness and rest he offers.

Do it TODAY! Because God will only put up with that attitude for SO LONG. And the Jews who died in the desert are THE WARNING.

Because the reality is/ our good shepherd wants something FAR BETTER for us. Look at what God’s will is for your life. Down in v10 of Colossians 1. A life where we recognise his right to rule, and when we humbly and joyfully submit to it.

Live a life WORTHY of the Lord and please him in EVERY way: bearing FRUIT in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, 11 being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, and JOYFULLY 12 GIVING THANKS to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the kingdom of light. 13 For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.

That’s a life of thanksgiving. Not just WORDS, but ACTIONS and ATTITUDES. Because God is the great King over EVERYTHING, whose given us JESUS. And he deserves nothing less.

 

Psalm 3: Our Shield and Protector

insomnia1Insomnia. It’s an epidemic of modern society. Up to a third of Australians report having trouble FALLING asleep, trouble going BACK to sleep, or else WAKING UP TOO EARLY. And, I’m guessing there’s a number of YOU who fit into one of those categories.

And it seems to be getting worse. Our culture is just getting busier and faster. Emails, social networking, online shopping. Ipads, iphones, laptops. Hundreds of TV channels to choose from.

Longer work hours. More pressure. More coffee and caffeinated drinks. Less time to exercise. Financial pressures. All sorts of factors for why we have trouble sleeping.

And they all contribute to growing levels of ANXIETY. Which is closely connected to sleeplessness. The more you WORRY. The more you stay awake thinking about all the things you need to do. And all the problems you need to solve.

And then there’s the connection to DEPRESSION. Which is ALSO on the increase. 50% of those with depression suffer insomnia. And if you have insomnia, you’re twice as likely to develop depression in the future.

All these factors combine to mean we’re finding it harder and harder to get the sleep we need.

And Christians aren’t immune from insomnia either.

And while there are all sorts of causes, sometimes our sleeplessness is a measure of our WORRY AND STRESS. And there’s SIN in that attitude we need to REPENT OF.

Like the idolatry of WORK. Of finding your IDENTITY in work. Rather than finding it in Christ. We think success AT WORK means success AS A PERSON.

Of being CONSUMED by work. Of never being able to switch off. Of constantly checking emails.

Or the idolatry of people-pleasing. Friends, or bosses, or parents. Of not wanting to disappoint people because you care more about what THEY think than what GOD thinks.

Or there’s the idols of money, or possessions. Sleeplessly worrying about repairing the roof, or booking the holiday, or upgrading the TV.

And those idols CONSUME us. Consume our thoughts and energy and time. And we lie awake WORRYING how we can SATISFY them.

They’re IDOLS you need to turn away from. Repent of. And turn back to the ONE TRUE GOD. Who satisfies ALL your desires.

And then there’s GOOD things you find yourself worrying about, and not sleeping. Like protecting your family, or concerns you have for people here at church.

But the worry and the sleeplessness are really expressions of A LACK OF FAITH in God. They’re examples of taking onto YOURSELF/ burdens that are GOD’S. THAT’S the sin. And THAT needs to be repented of.

Instead, we need to follow Jesus’ advice. Matthew 6.

“Don’t worry about your life, what you’ll eat or drink, or about your body, what you’ll wear. O YOU OF LITTLE FAITH. The pagans run after these thingsand your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33 But SEEK FIRST HIS KINGDOM AND HIS RIGHTEOUSNESS, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

Worry is the opposite of Faith. And your SLEEP (or LACK of it) is an expression of your TRUST (or Lack of it).

So if you can’t sleep, here’s a THEOLOGICAL solution. Pray. If sleeplessness is an expression of a LACK of faith. Then PRAYER is an expression of FAITH.

If you’re lying in bed staring at the ceiling for hours on end, PRAY. It WORKS! Before long, you’re ASLEEP. Not because it’s like counting sheep. It’s so boring it sends you to sleep. But because it’s handing over the God the concerns that are keeping you awake.

REPENT of those sins. Let GO of the idols. Let GOD be GOD, and find your REST as his helpless, dependent child. And you might find you sleep more soundly.

Which brings us to Psalm 3. Because we all need to learn a lesson from Psalm 3. We may think there’s plenty that keeps us awake. But King David had MORE. And yet, for all the pressures and struggles he experienced, he DIDN’T LOSE SLEEP. Awake or asleep, it was all about his trust in God. See it there in v5?

5 I lie down and sleep; I wake again, because the LORD sustains me.

The problems

But let’s begin at the start. This little Psalm has four sections of 2 verses each. And the FIRST couple of verses describe David’s PROBLEMS.

O LORD, how MANY are my foes! How MANY rise up against me! 2 MANY are saying of me, “God will not deliver him.”

Three times we get the word MANY. One wave after another. And David feels like he’s drowning.

Perhaps YOU feel like that sometimes. With bill after bill. Or task after task. Or phone call after phone call – and everyone wants something. Demand after demand, your stress levels rise, and you just feel like you’re drowning.

But for David, it was ENEMIES. Who were out to get him. And the sub-heading tells us a little more about the situation. “When he fled from his son Absalom”

The sad story’s in 2 Sam 15. Absalom plotted to undermine David’s authority as king. He was encouraged by his father’s weakness and foolishness, And he built up a support base, and v6, he “stole the hearts of the men of Israel.”

And so David’s forced to flee Jerusalem in fear of his life. While Absalom assembles a rebel army to chase him down.

And yet, despite the threat from Absalom, despite THE BETRAYAL, David instructs his army to be gentle with him. Because Absalom’s HIS SON.

What a terrible, CONFLICTED situation for David to be in. Not just under threat from an ARMY who want him dead. But it’s led by his beloved son.

That was the difficult situation A. found herself in.  She’d had a hard life, and beaten a heroin addiction, including getting off methadone. She’d suffered physically from Hepatitis C, and been cured of it.  She was a committed Christian, and had seen God do amazing things IN her and THROUGH her. She had an amazing strength to cope with almost ANYTHING life threw at her.

But her daughter B. was her greatest struggle. And it brought A. to her knees. B. had completely gone off the rails. Pretty much uncontrollable from the age of 10. As she got older it got worse. Violent rages made worse by marijuana and alcohol abuse. Punching holes in walls, hurting her mother.  A. was scared to sleep for fear of the damage B. might do while she slept. What would be gone when she woke up. Jewellery stolen. Her key card taken and money withdrawn.

In the end, A. had to take out an AVO against her own daughter. And kick her out of home. Even though it meant B. was on the streets. And it broke A’s heart!

And it must be like that with King David. Under attack, from his own family. Worse than STRANGERS.

But it’s not just Absalom. There’s a whole HOARD of enemies. MANY foes rising up against him. Threatening.

There’s something awful about being in the MINORITY. About feeling OVERWHELMED. Feeling ALONE. People who are BULLIED know what it’s like. To feel like EVERYONE is against you.

And King David’s feeling like that.

And the enemies aren’t just against DAVID, they’re insulting HIS GOD, TOO. V2 “God will not deliver him!”

That makes them GOD’S enemies as well as David’s.

And it would be salt rubbed into the wounds of the PERSONAL insults. Here’s David feeling like he’s all alone – that God’s his only companion and friend. And they’re tempting him to believe that EVEN GOD isn’t interested in his situation. It’s a cruel taunt.

That’s the PROBLEM. Our FIRST section.

And notice at the end of v2 the little word Selah? It’s Hebrew and we don’t really know what it means. It’s scattered through lots of Psalms. And this is the first place it appears. And, interestingly, it’s only found in Psalms that can be broken up into three sections. Which I guess this one can. (The PROBLEM, God, the SOLUTION).

“Selah” probably means something like “musical interlude” or “lead guitar solo.” And while the instruments play, it’s the opportunity for us to reflect on the idea in the verse before. In this case, the terrible situation David’s in, outnumbered and threatened by many enemies on every side.

Do YOU sometimes feel like that? What do YOU do?

But you Lord (3-4)

And then we come to the SECOND section. But YOU LORD. God’s the subject in this middle part.

“But YOU”. The little phrase that changes everything.

A hopeless situation (for King David). Many enemies on every side. BUT YOU, O Lord. God makes all the difference.

3 BUT YOU are a shield around me, O LORD; you bestow glory on me and lift up my head. 4 To the LORD I cry aloud, and he ANSWERS me from his holy hill.

Exactly the OPPOSITE of what the many foes taunted. God DOES hear. He IS interested.

Many enemies might be attacking from every angle. But God’s a SHIELD around David. Protecting on EVERY side.

Emotional, physical and spiritual. SHIELDED

Personal, family and community. SHIELDED

work, study and church. SHIELDED

Health, relationships and finances. SHIELDED

The second part of v3 says literally, “MY GLORY and the lifter of my head.” MY glory. He’s David’s PERSONAL God in the best sense of that.

David COULD mean that God restores the esteem and recognition David used to have. But I wonder if David’s not thinking about GLORY as God’s personal presence. He’s David’s personal, protecting, guiding presence. Just like God’s glory lead and protected Israel as they travelled through the wilderness.

And he’s also THE LIFTER OF DAVID’S HEAD. Once again, that could mean he restores David’s honour – (David can hold his head high among his enemies. The enemies have RISEN UP against him. But God has lifted up David EVEN HIGHER.)

But there’s ANOTHER idea I like. Since the context is about David SLEEPING, I like the idea of God’s GENTLE SUPPORT of David. As he sleeps, God’s hand is his pillow. Protecting and comforting. He’s the lifter of David’s head.

And the SOLUTION is like the PROBLEM. V4. The enemies spoke out their insults. So David speaks out his prayer – ALOUD he cried to Yahweh. That’s the right response. Not to abuse those who abuse you. But to direct your words to God instead.

And then, in response, God SPEAKS out his answer. Spoken words from everyone.

And God answers FROM HIS HOLY HILL. From the temple that represents his heavenly throne. He speaks with the kingly authority of being Creator and Sustainer. Who SPEAKS and his words come to PASS. They have self-authenticating power. He SPEAKS, and the prayer is answered.

And we come to the SECOND “Selah”. The divider that separates part 2 from part 3.

And we’re encouraged to stop and consider a God like THAT. While the instruments play. A God like THAT!

Intimately caring and protecting.

MY glory – my personal presence, and the One whose hand supports my head like a pillow.

But the mighty King who SPEAKS with power over everything.

And if King David can gain comfort from his knowledge about God, how much more should WE be comforted? We who see God’s power and care and presence so much more clearly in the Lord Jesus.

The solution (5-8)

And so we move onto the SOLUTION. David’s prayed. And reminded himself of God’s character and care. And look at what happens. V5.

5 I lie down and SLEEP; I WAKE again, because the LORD sustains me. 6 I will not fear the tens of thousands drawn up against me on every side.

The “I” is emphatic. For MY part, I lie down, and hand it all over to God.

It contrasts with the start of the LAST section. Back at the start of v3. “But YOU, GOD.” He does the SHIELDING. I do the lying down.

And when I’ve done MY part – when I’ve prayed and handed it all over to God. Then the result is I SLEEP. The sleep of faith. The sleep of contentment and peace.

But more than that, WHILE I sleep, I’m HELPLESS. Enemies come PROWLING, looking for the opportunity to do me harm.

God’s not just looking after David’s peace of MIND. He’s looking after his physical safety. (Working internally and externally.) And so David WAKES again. He’s not murdered in his bed.

And David recognises it’s ALL OF GOD. He wakes in the morning “because the LORD sustains me.”

Some people have wondered why God designed us to need sleep. After all, Just imagine how much more efficient we’d be. We’d get so much more DONE if we didn’t sleep.

But perhaps that’s the point. God’s DESIGNED us to sleep, partly to help us recognise that we’re HELPLESS and LIMITED and FRAIL. That we DO need his protection, and re-energising. That there are some things, and times, when we’re NOT in control.

You just HAVE to leave things with God while you sleep.

So REJOICE in sleep. Because it’s an expression of your dependence on God. On your need to TRUST him.

And as David heads out into his day, v6, even though he’s outnumbered. He WON’T FEAR. The same God who protected him while he SLEPT/ will keep him safe against the thousands who threaten while he’s AWAKE.

And as he goes, he PRAYS. V7.

7 Arise, O LORD! Deliver me, O my God! Strike all my enemies on the jaw; break the teeth of the wicked.

The FOES are rising up against David (back in v1). So he wants GOD to rise up even HIGHER in his defence.

David’s request sounds fairly violent. That God would deliver a knockout blow to the jaw of his enemy, and smash their teeth out. And we want to apologise for it, and skip over it.

But there’s at least five things to remember.

Firstly, notice it’s their MOUTHS which are the weapons. They’ve ridiculed David, as well as God, VERBALLY. And so David’s request is that God SILENCE their words. Attack the source of the insults.

Secondly David’s being chased around the countryside by AN ARMY. Who want to KILL him. This isn’t just people TEASING him. So the DEFENCE needs to be proportionate with the ATTACK.

A third point to mention is that King David was God’s chosen leader of his people. There was more than just his PERSONAL safety at stake here. The fate of the NATION needed enemies to be DEFEATED, not just for David to escape.

And a fourth point to note is that these aren’t just DAVID’S enemies. They’re GOD’S enemies TOO. Back in v2, they’ve insulted God, saying he CAN’T save. So David’s asking God to vindicate himself. To show them what he’s REALLY like. To reveal his true character and power.

And a fifth point that flows from this is that David’s asking GOD to bring the justice. It’s not bloodthirsty, personal revenge. It’s a plea for GOD to make things right in HIS way, and in his TIMING.

It’s a specific situation. One we’re not likely to be involved in. So, there’s no warrant here for us to pray similar things for the human enemies who may be after US.

Although, if we’re to take ANYTHING from this prayer, it’s that we SHOULD be praying for the complete defeat of SPIRITUAL forces. There’s plenty of THOSE that battle against God and his people today. The media, politically-correct anti-Christian forces. False religions and idolatries. It’s RIGHT to pray that THEY might be completely defeated and destroyed and robbed of their power.

And so we come to the FINAL verse of the Psalm, v8. And in Hebrew, it’s beautifully brief: “To Yahweh – salvation. To your people – your blessing. Selah”

The enemies have teased, back in v2, “There’s NO salvation for him in God.” But David’s answer, instead, is that “To God IS salvation.”

It’s HIS speciality. HIS work. No one else’s.

It’s this verse that keeps David’s prayer, in v7, from being hateful, personal vengeance. It’s GOD who brings deliverance. HE delivers justice. And so we don’t HAVE to. We have freedom to forgive and turn the other cheek, because it’s GOD who brings the salvation. Who tears down our enemies.

It’s such a different mind-set to the way the world thinks.

A newspaper opinion piece by Sam de Brito a few weeks ago was titled “Mock Christians, get LAUGHS. Mock Muslims, get BULLETS”

He described a stand up comedian, Joel Creasey, who mocked members of Hillsong church, and people LAUGHED. Then he compared it to Nathan Abela, of the anti-Islamic Australian defence league, whose Youtube rant mocked Muslims. A week later, his home was sprayed with eight bullets in a revenge attack.

Now, de Brito is far from being a supporter of Christianity. But even he acknowledges that the fact the comedian can openly make fun of Christianity says something GOOD about the free, rational society we live in. Something Islam doesn’t sit comfortably in.

And I want to add it says something good about CHRISTIANS. Who are free to let God take his OWN action against those who ridicule us. We’re free to follow Romans 12:19:

19 Do not take revenge, my friends, but LEAVE ROOM for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord.

We may not LIKE it when people offend us, and insult God. But we don’t need to stand up for God. He can stand up for himself.

Because, as David says here, deliverance belongs to GOD. It’s not our domain. Our domain, says v8, is to receive his BLESSING because we’re his people.

He SAVES. We get BLESSED. That’s not a bad deal!

Blessing and salvation. And notice, it’s not blessing that says everything will always turn out perfectly. David’s BLESSED – even while many enemies surround him. Or as he describes life in Psalm 23, The LORD is his shepherd even though he passes through the valley of the shadow of death. Because God is WITH him, and he LEADS him THROUGH it.

That’s blessing!

You ARE blessed at the moment. It may not FEEL like it. With enemies and pressures on every side. But search for God’s hand in things. Be thankful. And you’ll begin to see blessings. REST in his power and protection. And SLEEP.

And so we come to the final “Selah.” To Yahweh – salvation. To your people – your BLESSING. SELAH.

And as the instruments play, there’s the chance to reflect once more on the nature of our wonderful God. Who despite overwhelming pressures ENABLES US TO TRUST HIM. Who gives us SLEEP, who PROTECTS AND SHIELDS us, whose presence is WITH us. And to whom belongs SALVATION.

CH Spurgeon comments (eloquently and not to mention alphabetically), O the love of God! The “divine, discriminating, distinguishing, eternal, infinite, immutable love is a subject for constant adoration.”

Let’s adore him, and rest in him!

 

Psalm 133: One

MessyFridgeI had to clean up a big mess the other day. Someone had spilt maple syrup in the fridge. The bottle had tipped over, and it poured out everywhere. It ran along the top shelf, then down the back of the fridge, across the other shelves, and then down into the vegetable drawer at the bottom. It went everywhere. And since I found it, I had to clean it up. It took a long time.

A mess isn’t good. A mess isn’t pleasant. But that’s how Psalm 133 describes a mess. Oil poured all over the head of Aaron the high priest flows through his hair, and down his beard, and then down onto his clothes. He’d be scrubbing it away for a long time! But according to this Psalm it’s a GOOD THING. See it there from v1?*

When God’s people live together in UNITY. When they AGREE. When they work together FOR A COMMON PURPOSE. That’s GOOD And PLEASANT. Just like oil pouring on Aaron’s head that runs down his beard and onto his robes.

It’s probably not the way WE would choose to describe something good and pleasant. WE might say, “How good and pleasant it is when brothers live together in unity. It’s like a refreshing swim in the ocean on a hot summer day. Or it’s like a wonderful Yum Cha meal with friends. Or it’s like a tasty Bulgogi Korean BBQ with family.But for the Jewish people who sang this song 3000 years ago, living together in unity was a pleasant thing – just like precious oil dripping everywhere on the High Priest. Let’s find out WHY.

The Psalm is one of a collection of songs that the Jewish people would sing as they travelled to Jerusalem. As they came to the temple for the different feasts, like Passover. They’re TRAVELLING songs. Simple songs about the everyday things of life. Of families and enemies and danger and trusting God for the things we need. And THIS one is about brothers living together in UNITY. All living AS ONE.

You can imagine the scene. Faithful Jews meeting on the road as they travel. All of them joyful and thankful for God’s provision. They’re all looking forward to the festival – to the food and the celebration. And they SING as they walk. It’s a good thing for people from different areas of life to join together to celebrate something. It’s TRUE AND RIGHT to praise GOD because he’s the One who’s given us everything. And that’s what we’re doing THIS MORNING.

But it’s not just unity AT FESTIVALS and CELEBRATIONS. V1 says God’s people LIVING together in unity is good and pleasant. That’s ALL OF LIFE. All the time. And that’s what we are trying to do here at Ashfield Presbyterian Church. Many different groups working together to serve God. In all the different things that we do. That’s the best thing we can united together FOR.

And this Psalm says that when God’s people work together for a common purpose. Then EVERYONE benefits. From the TOP of society to the BOTTOM. From the LEADERS to the FOLLOWERS. From the head to the feet. That’s the meaning of the oil dripping everywhere. When the high priest Aaron was ordained, he was anointed with oil. It was poured on his HEAD. That’s where it STARTED. But it didn’t STAY there. After that, it begins to flow down his face, and drip through his beard. And after that it would drip onto his clothes. From top to bottom covered with precious oil.

And the OIL is a sign of God’s HOLY SPIRIT.  Poured out on the priest to help him with his task. Blessing him. Completely soaking him, from top to bottom.

And then in v3,* there’s ANOTHER picture that makes the same point. Brothers living together in unity: 3 It is as if the dew of Hermon were falling on Mount Zion. For there the LORD bestows his blessing, even life forevermore.

Mt Hermon is a high mountain in the far north of Israel. 2800m high. It was SO high that dew would fall THERE when everywhere else was dry. On the other hand, Mt Zion is in Jerusalem. Where the temple is. And it’s hardly a mountain at all. A bit like Dulwich HILL, or MOUNT Druitt. And the point is the same as v2. Dew falls on the TOP, and flows all the way to THE BOTTOM. When brothers live together in unity, God blesses EVERYONE. The refreshing dew of his blessing falls on the TOP of society. Mt Hermon, and then it flows all the way down to the LOWLY. Mt Zion, refreshing EVERYTHING.

And that’s how UNITY affects God’s people. God thoroughly saturates them with his blessing. Everyone is affected. From the leaders to the followers.

And notice that it’s unity AROUND GOD that he blesses. Focussed on HIM. That’s what makes it so GOOD. Look at how the Psalm FINISHES. (Mount Zion) For THERE the LORD bestows his blessing, even life forevermore. Mt Zion wasn’t just ANY little hill. It was in Jerusalem. And on top of Mt Zion was where God had chosen to build his temple. The focus of Jewish society. Where God’s THRONE was. Where the people would gather to MEET WITH GOD. God pours out his blessings. Like oil, or like dew. When HIS people gather AROUND HIM. Focussed on HIM. That’s what the Psalm is saying.

So HOW does unity around God / bring his blessings? This is how it worked for Israel. When the LEADERS start LIVING GOD’S WAY. When they emphasise justice and mercy. When they make God’s laws the basis for society. Then those principles flow down to bless every part of society. Like oil down Aaron’s beard. Or dew down from Mt Hermon.

When everyone chooses to trust and obey God, rather than looking for revenge or dishonest gain, society as a whole benefits. It’s more stable. There’s more trust and contentment and peace and justice.

But not just PEOPLE. God blesses the WHOLE LAND. All the covenant blessings of God begin to flow as people obey him. Every area of life. Health and crops and children and peace. Wine and grass and flocks and herds. All flowing down from top to bottom as brothers and sisters live together in unity. Dew falling everywhere. Oil running everywhere. Good and pleasant.

Now

That was the wonderful picture for Israel as a nation about 3000 years ago. No wonder they SANG about it. But what about US? Is it STILL true that brothers united around God are blessed? Many things have changed. We don’t pour oil over the head of the high priest, for starters. And we’re not in Israel. In lots of ways, it’s much HARDER to be united these days. We’re made up of many different sorts of people. With different languages and culture. We think differently, and do things differently. But there’s one way in which we CAN be one. The very BEST sort of unity. And it’s been God’s plan for the whole world since the very start. That EVERYONE follow his Son Jesus. That’s the MOST IMPORTANT unity. Every nationality. Every age. Every job and income. Every culture and personality and class. All honouring and loving and serving Jesus. It’s God’s plan for his Universe. Listen to Ephesians 1 v9 and 10.*

9 And God made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, 10 to be put into effect when the times will have reached their fulfillment-TO BRING ALL things in heaven and on earth TOGETHER UNDER ONE HEAD, EVEN CHRIST.

What’s the meaning of life? Why do we exist? Where’s the world headed? To live TOGETHER/ with Jesus as our head. Our king. Our ruler. Obeying and serving him as our top priority.  All humanity UNITED by the common purpose of seeing Jesus HONOURED and EXALTED and RECOGNISED and LOVED. That’s God’s great plan. And the whole world is headed towards a day when everything will come together underneath Jesus’ RULE. When everything bows before his throne. When everything will be JUDGED by God on the basis of how they treated his Son Jesus.

We’re not there yet, but that’s the final destination. Complete unity. A common focus and purpose that goes beyond language and culture and class and colour. Revelation 7* gives us a vision of what that future will be like. Revelation 7:9. Here’s what John saw: “I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb (that’s Jesus). They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. 10 And they cried out in a loud voice: “Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.”

Everything together under one head. Jesus. Just like Ephesians 1 said.

And, since that’s God’s PLAN, our job as Christians is to MOVE PEOPLE TOWARDS THAT. To LIVE OUT TODAY what that future LOOKS LIKE. To show what it means to have Jesus as our number one priority. Our king. And Jesus wants us WORKING TOGETHER to do that. To be UNITED. He even PRAYED that we’d be ONE. John 17, V20 20 …I pray for those who will believe in me … 21 that ALL OF THEM MAY BE ONE, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. Out of all the things Jesus could pray about for his followers. ONE OF THE MOST IMPORTANT was UNITY. And then he describes what the FOUNDATION for that unity is. V22. HOW Christians are united together. 22 I have given them the glory that you gave me, that THEY may be ONE as WE are one: 23 I IN THEM and you in me.

Our unity is because we’re ALL JOINED TO JESUS. He’s the LORD OF US ALL. So we’re all joined to each other.

And if Jesus is everyone’s LORD, that means we’ll all be united for the same PURPOSE. Letting people know how glorious Jesus is. Look at v23. May they be brought to COMPLETE UNITY / TO LET THE WORLD KNOW THAT YOU SENT ME AND HAVE LOVED THEM even as you have loved me.

Our single united purpose is that the world will see who Jesus is. Which means we’re not to get distracted with OTHER things. Less  IMPORTANT things. We’re not to let trivial things DIVIDE us. Like what sort of music to sing. Or when people should get baptised. Or what version of the Bible to read. We’re not to let things like money, or ordination, or untidy kitchens, or double-bookings for the hall distract us from our single united purpose.

It doesn’t mean we all need to do things THE SAME WAY. But that we all do our different jobs FOR THE SAME GOAL. All working in different ways, reaching different sorts of people. And it means SUPPORTING and ENCOURAGING EACH OTHER as we do it. Our unity and oneness will be shown in PRACTICAL WAYS as we LIVE with each other. As we LOVE each other. That’s when it really WILL be good and pleasant when brothers dwell together in unity.

Let’s think about one last passage to do with UNITY. Philippians chapter 2.* It describes a group of people who are ALL UNITED WITH CHRIST. Which means something PRACTICAL about HOW THEY RELATE TO EACH OTHER. 2:1 If you have any encouragement from BEING UNITED WITH CHRIST, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, 2 then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having THE SAME LOVE, being ONE IN SPIRIT AND PURPOSE.

It’s our relationship with JESUS that motivates our relationships with HIS PEOPLE. As we grow more like Jesus, that SHOWS ITSELF in UNITY. In THINKING about the same things as his people. In LOVING the same things they do. Having the same PURPOSE and the same MOTIVATION as them. And that unity will show itself in OTHER WAYS, TOO. V3 continues.* 3 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than (or ahead of) yourselves. 4 Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. 5 Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:

That’s what UNITY looks like. Selflessly and humbly putting the needs of others before your own needs. Because of the love that Jesus has shown you. Because you want to see Jesus HONOURED. That’s why it’s good and pleasant when brothers live in together in unity like that. How are we DOING at that? Be honest. As a church. As THREE churches. How do we measure up to that? And how are YOU helping to do that INDIVIDUALLY? How are you, practically, putting the needs of others before yourself? Let’s commit to WORKING at that. To being ONE IN SPIRIT and PURPOSE.  To living our lives together AROUND Jesus AS OUR KING. Having the same mind. The same LOVE. To see Jesus HONOURED.

“How good and pleasant it is when brothers live together in unity… For there the LORD bestows his blessing, even life forevermore.”

Psalm 128: Happy Families

Everyone wants to be happy. Everyone wants a full and satisfying and joyful life. A life without pain or fear or worry or loneliness. No one wants to be MISERABLE. In fact that desire to be happy motivates almost everything we do. We’re ALL searching for it. Whether Christian or NON-Christian.

Non-Christians look for it WITHOUT God. Doing things their OWN way. They search for it by upgrading their cars or friends or houses or wives or jobs or clothes or phones. They look for it in power or people or purpose or position or prominence or place or promotion or possessions or popularity.

And when it comes to Christians, unfortunately, many of us go searching for happiness in exactly the same way. In exactly the same PLACES. WITHOUT any reference to God, or how HE wants us to live. We don’t look any different from the people around us. It’s a path that only ends up in frustration and disappointment.

It might surprise you to know, though, that the message of the Bible is that God WANTS us to be happy. He’s not the cosmic killjoy who wants to DESTROY happiness. For example, Psalm 1 starts like this.

BLESSED is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of mockers. 2 But his DELIGHT is in the law of the LORD,

Happiness in life BEGINS with doing things God’s way. Making HIM your foundation.

Or in the New Testament. The very first public sermon Jesus ever gave was, among other things, about HOW TO BE HAPPY. The Sermon on the Mount. How does it begin? Matthew 5:3

3 “BLESSED are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 4 Blessed are those who MOURN, for they will be COMFORTED. Some translations say “HAPPY are the poor in spirit.”

And the Apostle Paul joins in the happy chorus. From his prison cell he writes these words to the Philippian church. Philippians 4:4. “Rejoice in the Lord ALWAYS. I’ll say it again… REJOICE.” That’s a COMMAND!

Or his prayer for the Roman church. Romans 15:13. He prayed that God would fill them with all JOY and PEACE as they trusted in him. And as he summed up the Christian life in Romans 14:17, he said 17 For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, PEACE AND JOY in the Holy Spirit

We could go on and on. The consistent message of the Bible is that God promises joy and peace and HAPPINESS to those who repent of their sin. And who follow the Lord Jesus. Who direct their lives according to HIM.

And that’s the key. Rejoicing IN THE LORD. Finding joy IN THE Holy Spirit. Feelings (an internal attitude) that flow from OUR RELATIONSHIP WITH OUR CREATOR. All the earthly things that make us happy. They’re not necessarily wrong in themselves. But the KEY to happiness is found IN GOD. In God, as we meet him in his Son Jesus.

And happiness, contentment and joy are found as we do all those things HIS way. WITH him. With HIS priorities and attitudes. And finding our joy IN HIM.

And that’s what we’ll see as we look at Psalm 128 this morning. It’s a Psalm that puts things very simply. There’s not a lot of complicated theology. It’s a simple message. It describes a simple, happy life. A life of BLESSING. And it tells us how to EXPERIENCE it.

We can break it up into three parts.

Requirements of God’s blessings (1)

First, the REQUIREMENTS of God’s blessings. The CONDITION we’re to BE IN to be blessed by God. To be HAPPY in him. V1. Blessed are all who FEAR the LORD, who WALK in his ways.

Blessing from God – his good outcomes – comes to people who are CONNECTED to him, and who do things HIS WAY. That’s where happiness is found. That’s the big idea of the Psalm.

Like most Hebrew poetry the two halves of the verse are saying a similar thing. Another way of describing those who fear the Lord is that they’re walking in his ways. But there’s also A PROGRESSION. To fear the Lord is the correct ATTITUDE to have towards God. It’s only when we have the right ATTITUDE that we’ll THEN walk in his ways. Right ATTITUDE results in right ACTION. Fearing God RESULTS IN walking in his ways. You can’t fear God and NOT walk in his ways.

If someone ISN’T walking in God’s ways. If they’re not living a life that’s pleasing to God. Then you have to ask the question whether they really FEAR him.

So what is it to FEAR GOD? Verse 1 almost sounds like an oxymoron. A contradiction. Like RAP/ MUSIC. Or ARMY / INTELLIGENCE. Or known unknowns. “BLESSED/ are all who FEAR the Lord.” Isn’t fear a BAD thing? How can it be GOOD to be scared?

To fear God is a MIXTURE OF REVERENCE, RESPECT, PLEASURE, JOY AND AWE. The feelings we experience when we realise who God is and what he has done for us.

It’s like our attitude to the OCEAN. You can enjoy it and dive right in. You can live around it and in it. You can appreciate its beauty. But at the same time, it’s good to have a healthy RESPECT for it. And even, at times, to be OVERWHELMED by it. The people who are SAFEST in the ocean are those who KNOW IT BEST. And that’s something like what it means for God’s people to FEAR him. Knowing and REVERENTLY RESPECTING him.

But it’s different for those who don’t KNOW God. Specifically, as he’s revealed himself to us in JESUS. When NON-Christians fear God, it’s FEAR OF THE UNKNOWN. Fear of JUDGMENT.

But for Christians, it’s DIFFERENT. True fear of God moves us TOWARDS him rather than AWAY from him. True fear of God comes from KNOWLEDGE rather than IGNORANCE. And we know God best when we understand and believe THE GOSPEL. That God made us for himself. But that we sin. That we deserve God’s judgment. But that God loved us so much he sent Jesus to die in our place. And that he makes us right with himself. And guarantees us eternity with him. That’s where godly FEAR comes from. And when we have THAT attitude towards him, it’s not hard to see how that is worked out in right ACTION. In obedience. In WALKING God’s WAY.

James Montgomery Boice says. ‘God must be taken seriously. He must not be trifled with. He must be, as he actually is, THE CENTRE OF EVERYTHING WE ARE, THINK, OR ASPIRE TO DO. He must be the starting point for every project, the strength we seek for every valuable endeavour, the one we earnestly desire to please and honour as our goal.”

Does that describe YOU? Is that YOUR motivation and attitude? If you want to be HAPPY, then it’s vital you can answer YES to that question.

Do you want to be JOYFUL? To be BLESSED? Do you want to get the MOST out of this life? To make it the richest, most satisfying life you can live? Then the Bible’s solution is to FEAR THE LORD. The happiest moments of your life are when you’re most treasuring God. When God’s in HIS rightful place, and you’re in YOURS. Because happiness is found in A PERSON, not A PLACE, or a CIRCUMSTANCE.

“BLESSED are all who FEAR the Lord, who walk in his ways”. That’s the declaration of the promise. (What’s REQUIRED for blessing, or happiness.)

Realms of God’s blessings (2-4)

Next we look at how that WORKS ITSELF OUT. The REALMS of God’s blessings. The second section of the Psalm. Verses 2-4.

And the FIRST thing we notice is the SHEER ORDINARINESS of how God shows his blessings. We might expect God’s blessings to be seen in Bellevue Hill and Double Bay. But, instead, this is a picture of EVERY MAN. It’s Penrith and Blacktown and Dapto and Broken Hill.

Blessing doesn’t just come to the spiritually elite. To those with a theological degree, or missionaries, or those with special gifts of faith or evangelism. And it doesn’t just come to the SOCIALLY elite. (The richest, or best educated, or most well-connected). V1 says blessed are ALL who fear the Lord. No special entrance requirements.

And the blessings are seen at THE CORE OF LIFE. In the HOME. Blessings to do with WORK and FAMILY. Look at v2. You will eat the fruit of your labor; blessings and prosperity will be yours.

In other words when you fear God and walk in his ways, your work will ACHIEVE something. Something you can ENJOY. There’ll be the satisfaction of getting to the end of the day, and sitting down to enjoy what you’ve WORKED at. It LITERALLY might be fruit you’ve grown. Or grain you’ve harvested. Or eggs you’ve gathered. It might be a house you’ve built, children you’ve raised, a car you’ve paid off, or a table you’ve restored.kerrigans-the-castle

The picture is of Daryl Kerrigan from the Aussie movie The Castle. A simple man, not wealthy. But his family had love and food and shelter. And that meant he was CONTENT. As far as Daryl was concerned, life couldn’t get any better. “Ah, the SERENITY!” he’d say.

The emphasis here isn’t on the promise of riches and affluence. But on SATISFACTION. The SATISFACTION of consuming something you’ve EARNED. And the enjoyment that comes from that. Right back at the fall. With Adam and Eve, God said work would be FRUSTRATING and DIFFICULT. That the ground would be CURSED. That it would yield its food BEGRUDGINGLY. And we’d SLAVE at it. But here God’s saying that when we walk in his ways, there’ll be BLESSING, INSTEAD of curse. The work might be HARD, but we’ll at least ENJOY the BENEFITS of it.

And as we sit down to enjoy the fruit of our labour, (v3), God’s blessing means we’ll have family to enjoy it WITH. 3 Your WIFE will be like a fruitful vine within your house; your SONS will be like olive shoots around your table. 4 Thus is the man blessed who fears the LORD.

When a husband and father fears the Lord, as a general rule, his FAMILY reaps the benefits. The wife will be like a fruitful vine. It COULD mean she has CHILDREN. Fruitful in the sense of FERTILE. But in the culture a grape vine was much more than a source of FOOD. It was a source of shade and rest for the family, of fragrance, of WINE TO ENJOY as well as grapes to eat. Families rested and partied under it. What a wonderful picture that is of the BLESSING wives can be! The source of life and joy and rest for the family. The centre of family life. Who organises parties and family get-togethers. Who remembers birthdays and bakes cakes. Who nurtures and comforts and laughs and supports. What a blessing!

And blessing will mean your sons will be like olive shoots. You may not know this, but the olive tree is incredibly long-lasting. It sends up shoots from its roots, and when the original trunk gets old and withered, the new shoots can grow up and surround the old trunk, protecting it.olive-tree

What it means in practice is olive trees can live for THOUSANDS of YEARS growing thicker and thicker, with new trunks continually growing around the old trunk.

What a great image of children and family! Growing healthy because they’ve learned from a Father who’s walking in God’s ways. As HE gets old, they grow bigger and stronger, eventually protecting and continuing his task of producing fruit. ESPECIALLY fruit of God’s kingdom. Making disciples. Is there any greater joy than THAT?!

Is that something YOU want to see? Then make sure you’re FEARING THE LORD. Make sure you’re WALKING IN HIS WAYS.

Request for God’s blessings (5-6)

The third part of the Psalm is the REQUEST for God’s blessings. Possibly prayed by the priest for the congregation. V5. May the LORD bless you from Zion all the days of your life; may you see the prosperity of Jerusalem, 6 and may you live to see your children’s children. Peace be upon Israel.

It reminds us of TWO things. First, that all we have comes from God. “May THE LORD bless you”. We’re not to sit back drinking tea on our verandah CONGRATULATING OURSELVES. Proud of how much WE’VE achieved. How CLEVER we are to be in such a privileged position.

No! We deserve NOTHING from God. Yet he blesses us with MORE than we need. James 1:16-17 says 16 Don’t be deceived, my dear brothers. 17 EVERY GOOD AND PERFECT GIFT IS FROM ABOVE, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights , who does not change like shifting shadows.

PRAY for God’s blessings in those areas. For work and family and enjoyment of relationships. PRAY for your kids. All sorts of things you can do to encourage them to grow in Jesus. But it’s GOD who gives the growth. So PRAY.

The SECOND thing this prayer does is remind us that we’re not God’s people IN ISOLATION. We walk in his ways AS PART OF A COMMUNITY. “May you see the prosperity of JERUSALEM.”

In the Old Testament God’s community was ISRAEL. Or Jerusalem. For US TODAY, it’s THE CHURCH. The NEW Jerusalem. Part of God’s blessing for walking in his ways is to see the prosperity of THAT Jerusalem. The group of God’s people gathered around Jesus. The prosperity of the church. Prosperity that means far more than financial security, but GROWTH AND MATURITY. Prosperity that means PEACE. Peace in relationships, peace in a quality of our shared life together. Peace and prosperity in our interaction with the people around us. All of it going on with Jesus at the centre.

That’s the picture of blessing – of true happiness. It’s A RESULT that comes from a very simple CAUSE. Back there in v1. Happiness comes from FEARING THE LORD, and then WALKING IN HIS WAYS.

What if this isn’t my experience?

But let me ask a question that, perhaps, has been nagging you. What if this ISN’T your experience? What if you’re family life ISN’T rosy like this? If you’re kids have gone off the rails? Or if family meals just seem to be one argument after another? Or your family is INCOMPLETE in some way? And what if work is one frustrating agonising day after another? Or you can’t even FIND work? What if you NEVER get to enjoy what you’ve worked for? Unexpected bills gobble up every dollar. Or someone else at work takes the credit for your initiative.

The reality is, for SOME of you, this Psalm WON’T be the picture of your life. You might be fearing the Lord and walking in his ways as best you can. But it almost seems CRUEL to hold up this as what comes for faithful Christians. What do we make of this Psalm THEN?

Let me suggest three ways forward.

  1. This is an example of WISDOM LITERATURE. Like Proverbs. Wisdom looks at things from an earthly point of view. It makes observations. It says, AS A GENERAL RULE, this is the way things work. Proverbs says AS A GENERAL RULE, train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he won’t depart from it. Sometimes, it doesn’t hold true. Proverbs says AS A GENERAL RULE, a gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger. Sometimes, it doesn’t hold true. Same thing here. As a general rule, those who walk in God’s ways will experience blessing in their work and family life. But sometimes it doesn’t hold true. That’s the first point.
  2. A second point we can make is that these are part of God’s OLD COVENANT blessings. PARTICULARLY for Israel. When the people were about to enter the Promised Land, Moses laid out the options. Obedience or disobedience? Blessings or curses? Life or death? So, for example, in Deuteronomy 28 Moses said 28:1 If you fully obey the LORD your God and carefully follow all his commands I give you today, the LORD your God will set you high above all the nations on earth. 2 All these blessings will come upon you and accompany you if you obey the LORD your God: 3 You will be blessed in the city and blessed in the country. 4 The fruit of your womb will be blessed, and the crops of your land and the young of your livestock–the calves of your herds and the lambs of your flocks. 5 Your basket and your kneading trough will be blessed.

Which is just what’s being described in Psalm 128. The blessings of family and food that come from walking in God’s ways. And so there’s an aspect of these blessings that FINISHED with the Old Covenant. Once Jesus came. Once God’s people included EVERY nation, God’s blessings became something DIFFERENT. The life of faith became one of LOOKING FORWARD. Looking for the HEAVENLY Jerusalem. Looking for the prosperity and inheritance THERE. God PROMISES it for us. He WON it for us in Jesus, and he’s given us his Holy Spirit as A DOWN-PAYMENT of it.

The reality is the life described in this Psalm MIGHT look good. Idyllic. But God has promised us a BETTER family. A BETTER city. A better feast. Better blessing and better happiness. So long FOR THAT.

  1. A THIRD point to make about these promises is that God calls us to keep walking in his ways even if we DON’T see the material blessings like this Psalm. Obey DESPITE appearances.

To keep trusting that his ways are best. That our greatest happiness is found in obedience. Walking HIS way, not OURS. And seeking the attitude of gratitude and contentment and acceptance WHATEVER God brings our way.

Happiness is not about CHANGING OUR CIRCUMSTANCES, but about learning from Jesus the attitude of joy DESPITE circumstances. About INTERNAL ATTITUDE rather than EXTERNAL SITUATION. It’s a secret the Apostle Paul wrote about to the Philippians. The same Paul who commanded us to REJOICE ALWAYS. Philippians 4:12

12 I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have LEARNED THE SECRET OF BEING CONTENT IN ANY AND EVERY SITUATION, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. 13 I can do EVERYTHING through him who gives me strength.

The reality is/ we can experience FAR GREATER happiness than those Old Testament saints. Because we understand God much better. We know more completely the love he has for us. We’ve seen HOW MUCH he loved us. He sent Jesus to die. We know with greater certainty that our sins are forgiven and that our future is secure.

Let me finish with the words of Jesus himself who backs up the lesson of this Psalm. Blessing and happiness comes from walking in God’s ways. And in John 15:10-11, Jesus said THIS

10 If you OBEY MY COMMANDS, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father’s commands and remain in his love. 11 I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that YOUR JOY MAY BE COMPLETE.

That’s God’s PROMISE to US. So keep FEARING GOD, and keep walking in his ways. And your joy will be complete.

 

 

Psalm 22: Why?

On February 15, 1947 Glenn Chambers, a young man from New York, boarded a plane for Quito, Ecuador. It had been his lifelong ambition to work for God in South America. Finally, he was off to work with “Voice of the Andes” missionary broadcasting team.

 

But the plane never arrived. It crashed into a 14,000 foot high Columbian mountain called El Tabloza, not far from Bogota, and then dropped into a ravine hundreds of metres below.

 

Glenn Chambers died instantly, along with everyone on the flight.

 

At the airport on the day of his departure he’d been desperate to send a final note to his mother. So he looked for a piece of paper, and found a scrap on the floor. It was an advertisement ripped from a magazine, with a single word “Why?” in the middle.

 

So Glenn scribbled his note to his mother around the word in the middle, stuffed it in an envelope, and put it in the post-box.

 

And while Glenn never arrived, his letter DID. A few days later, Glenn’s grieving mother receives the note. And the first thing she saw when she opened the note was that single word, written in large, bold letters. “Why?”.

 

The very question she would have been asking herself. Why?

 

When Di and Dean think about Di’s mum who’s been left with little ability to do anything after brain aneurism years ago, that’s the question they ask. Why?

 

And when they think about why God hasn’t taken her home yet. They ask the same question. Why?

 

Or when Peter and Caro Williamson found that Caro’s breast cancer had reappeared.

Or Judy’s brother Bill found out his cancer had returned. Why?

 

And while MANY people ask the question to NOBODY IN PARTICULAR. Or ask it in DESPAIR. At least CHRISTIANS ask the RIGHT PERSON. God. To the only one who can give them an answer. To the one who HAS got a plan and a purpose.

 

Someone once asked C.S. Lewis, “Why do Christians suffer?” “Why not?” he replied. “They’re the only ones who can take it.”

 

It’s not wrong to be asking the question. Because the VERY ACT OF ASKING God is an expression of TRUST in him. Trust that even though you don’t SEE his hand, it’s still there. That His plans and purposes are behind everything.

 

One of the great things about Psalms like this is that they give us PERMISSION TO QUESTION. It’s okay to DOUBT. To seek God’s answers. As long as you turn to HIM.

 

Over and over, it’s the PSALMS that comfort people going through tough times. The so-called positive, encouraging passages just seem EMPTY. Words on a page.

 

But it’s the depth, and emotion, and grief, and confusion behind words like these which RESONATE with people. And give them the encouragement to KEEP seeking God’s answers and plans and comfort.

 

It was certainly a Psalm which resonated with Jesus. The very first words, ones he used on the cross. “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?”

 

And while there are many points of similarity between this Psalm, and Jesus’ experience. It wasn’t originally written describing Jesus.

 

The heading of the Psalm tells us that it was a Psalm of DAVID. And while we don’t know the EXACT situation, there were probably plenty of times when David felt like God was nowhere to be found.

 

Whether it was early in his career, being chased around the countryside by King Saul. Or later on, describing some of his battles. Or perhaps describing the consequences of his adultery with Bathsheba – when his son died.

 

But in the end it doesn’t matter. Because it’s the GENERAL situation that we’re interested in anyway.

 

Whatever it is, something TERRIBLE has happened. And David wants deliverance. He wants God to change his situation. But God’s not answering. And David can’t understand it.

 

“Why are you SO FAR AWAY? I cry out, but you don’t answer.

Why aren’t you ANSWERING? Where ARE you?

 

But at the end of v2, there’s A CHANGE OF TONE. The first of several through the first half of the Psalm. You can see the structure there in the outline.

 

And it’s marked with a “YET”. EVEN THOUGH. DESPITE. Even though PRESENT circumstances look bad, it hasn’t ALWAYS been like that! V3.

(Psa 22:3-5 NIV)  YET you are enthroned as the Holy One; you are the praise of ISRAEL. {4} In you OUR FATHERS put their trust; they trusted and you delivered them. {5} They cried to you and were saved; in you they trusted and were not disappointed.

 

What’s he saying? He’s reminding himself of God’s actions through history. They’re what give David the confidence to KEEP asking God the question. Otherwise he would have given up ages ago.

 

It’s one of the great reasons to keep studying the Old Testament. Many churches hardly TOUCH IT. But how else can we be reminded of God’s faithfulness THROUGH HISTORY? That’s what gives us the confidence to keep trusting in the present and future.

 

And so, we’ll keep studying it. At least one term a year. We’re doing the second half of Isaiah next term. And then Daniel in term 4. Hard work, but WORTH IT. Because “in God OUR FATHERS put their trust, and HE DELIVERED THEM”.

 

And WE need to KNOW that! Because sometimes it’s hard to see it in OUR LIVES.

 

At v6, we get another change. Signaled by a “But”. Just when we think David might just be able to see light at the end of the tunnel, he loses sight of HISTORY, and catches a glimpse of himself in the mirror.

 

It’s like he KNOWS what God’s like with HIS HEAD. He knows THE THEOLOGY. But the PRACTICE is a different thing.

 

It reminds me of that scene in the Lord of the Rings movie. Where Gollum is having a conversation with himself. There’s GOOD Smeagol who wants redemption and release and friendship. And then there’s EVIL GOLLUM, who’s consumed with lust for the RING. And will do anything to get it back. And the two personalities have a conversation with each other. Debating what course of action to take.

 

And it’s a similar situation here. BAD David speaks in v1 and 2. Where ARE you? Then GOOD David takes over. V3-5.  “Yet, our fathers trusted you and you delivered them!”

 

But look at how BAD David comes back. V6. He’s snuck a peek in the mirror.

(Psa 22:6-8 NIV)  But I am a WORM and not a man, scorned by men and despised by the people. {7} All who see me mock me; they hurl insults, shaking their heads: {8} “He trusts in the LORD; let the LORD rescue him. Let him deliver him, since he delights in him.”

 

Everything else seems so overpowering and awesome. Circumstances sweep him up, and throw him along. Everyone ELSE seems to take the lead. Have the answers. Hurl the insults. And David seems so SMALL. Insignificant. A WORM.

 

That’s often when we’re at our LOWEST. When we lose perspective. When everyone else has it better than US. When no-one experiences things as tough as WE do.

 

And that’s when God seems most distant.

 

But then GOOD David remembers. V9. Another YET.

(Psa 22:9-10 NIV)  Yet you brought me out of the womb; you made me trust in you even at my mother’s breast. {10} From birth I was cast upon you; from my mother’s womb you have been my God.

 

Once again, he’s turning the clock BACKWARD. Not all the way back to his forefathers. But to how God’s already acted FOR HIM. At least his memories now are PERSONAL ones. They’ve moved from the ACADEMIC to the PRACTICAL.

 

In other words, “It hasn’t always been like this. God HAS been working in my life.”

 

I’ve been a Christian for about 30 years now. I grew up knowing nothing else. There was never a time when I didn’t know the TRUTH of God.

 

But, growing up, whenever I heard a radical testimony. From someone who came to Jesus LATER in life. I was tempted to wish I had a story like that. OF DRAMATIC CHANGE. Of how I was orphaned, on the streets, stealing, dealing drugs. Until God found me. And RADICALLY turned my life around.

 

It seemed a more POWERFUL and DRAMATIC story.

 

But I’ve changed my mind. I realise what a wonderful PRIVILEGE it is to be able to look back over my life, and see God’s faithfulness and guidance and protection at various steps along the way. MUCH better. Much more beneficial for my faith in God in the present and future.

 

It means I’m much more able to TRUST God when tough times come along. Because I’ve EXPERIENCED his faithfulness BEFORE. It may not seem so obvious AT THE MOMENT. But I know it’s real, because he’s acted faithfully BEFORE.

 

Same with King David. God brought him from the womb. HE trusted God even at his mother’s breast. And so he can make his plea in v11.

(Psa 22:11 NIV)  DO NOT BE FAR FROM ME, for trouble is near and there is no one to help.

 

The thought of the enemies resurfaces. And the hopelessness of the situation. And so, David’s thoughts turn once again to the ENEMIES. To the PROBLEM. And BAD David takes over.

 

If David felt like a WORM, then his enemies are at the OPPOSITE end of the animal kingdom. The most POWERFUL and DANGEROUS animals. V12.

(Psa 22:12-13 NIV)  Many bulls surround me; strong bulls of Bashan encircle me. {13} Roaring lions tearing their prey open their mouths wide against me.

 

And then all the way down to v18, we seen the sort of effect it has on David. Bones out of joint. Heart melted in fear like wax. Dehydration. Weakness. Hands and feet pierced.

 

His enemies gloating, surrounding him. Ganging up on him. So little are they concerned for David’s future, his CLOTHES are worth more to them than HIM.

 

All things that ANOTHER king from David’s line experienced. Great King David’s GREATER son – Jesus. Who ALSO had enemies gloating, surrounding him.

 

And when it came to writing about Jesus’ death, the Gospel writers recognised the connections between David and Jesus. Between this Psalm, and what Jesus suffered. Physical pain, dehydration, gloating, casting lots for his clothing.

 

And so they make sure they mention these details when they write their accounts.

 

Like I said earlier, we don’t really know DAVID’S situation. Perhaps battle wounds are the closest we can imagine. But maybe it’s all poetic. Like the worm and bulls and lions and dogs.

 

I’m sure there are some of you who can understand the emotions behind the imagery. Times when you’ve felt like a WORM. And your enemies like lions and dogs and bulls.

 

Whether poetic or real wounds, God is nowhere to be found. Until GOOD David butts in again. V19. Another plea. “Be near.” Echoing the plea of v11.

(Psa 22:19-21 NIV)  But you, O LORD, BE NOT FAR OFF; O my Strength, COME QUICKLY to help me. {20} DELIVER MY LIFE from the sword, my precious life from the power of the dogs. {21} RESCUE ME from the mouth of the lions;

 

The plea that only comes from confidence in the GOODNESS of God. And confidence in the POWER of God to change the situation.

 

And it’s here that we get to the crucial turning point of the Psalm.

 

And you can see the BEST translation for v21 down there in the footnotes. Other translations pick it up well. But for some reason the NIV DOESN’T. Here’s what v20 and 21 LITERALLY say.

Deliver from the sword, my soul;

and from the power of the dogs, my precious life.

Save me from the mouth of the lions,

from the horns of the wild oxen…..

YOU HAVE ANSWERED ME!!!

 

After all David’s pleading, God answers. It might have seemed SLOW to David. Like God had turned the phone off. Gone on holidays.

 

But it was PERFECT TIMING from God’s point of view. The MOMENT, and the METHOD, he’d chosen all along.

 

And that’s a great comfort to some of us who’ve been praying for things for YEARS. Who are STILL praying.

 

God’s answers are ALWAYS perfect timing.

 

And in David’s case, we don’t know the specifics. But that’s not the point, is it? Because God can answer us in ALL SORTS OF WAYS for all sorts of SITUATIONS.

 

And when the good news arrives, David just CAN’T WAIT to share it. V22.

(Psa 22:22 NIV)  I will declare your name to my brothers; in the congregation I will praise you.

 

A joy SHARED is a joy DOUBLED. When you’re favourite team scores a try, it makes the occasion so much better to SHARE it with a fellow fan – even if you’ve never met them before.

 

How MUCH MORE special to share things with the brothers and sisters of your church family. What answered prayer can YOU be sharing with us? How have you seen God working in your life? Share it, so WE can be encouraged TOO.

 

But David doesn’t just PROMISE it, he actually DOES IT. V23. Talking to his congregation.

(Psa 22:23 NIV)  You who fear the LORD, praise him! All you descendants of Jacob, honor him! Revere him, all you descendants of Israel!

 

And then the reason. V24. His personal testimony.

(Psa 22:24 NIV)  For he has not despised or disdained the suffering of the afflicted one; he has not hidden his face from him but has listened to his cry for help.

 

And with that, David’s thoughts move forward. To the future. In v26 he mentions a community feast. Lev 7: 11-27 describe a festival of praise. A FEAST where God’s goodness is CELEBRATED. A fellowship meal – a bit like the Lord’s Supper.

 

And just like the Lord’s Supper, this community feast for David and his people looks forward to a much GREATER feast. One that will fill the earth. When God’s salvation will be seen – not just for one person. Or one family. Or one congregation. Or one nation.

 

But for the whole world. When he winds this world up. And brings in his NEW HEAVENS and NEW EARTH.

 

A time of PERFECT feasting and relationships and work and worship. When NO-ONE will need to ask “Why?” Because there’ll be no more pain or suffering or tears. V27.

(Psa 22:27-29 NIV)  All the ends of the earth will remember and turn to the LORD, and all the families of the nations will bow down before him, {28} for dominion belongs to the LORD and he rules over the nations. {29} All the rich of the earth will feast and worship; all who go down to the dust will kneel before him– those who cannot keep themselves alive.

 

And what is it that gives David the confidence to long for this day?

 

His experience of God in the present. His faithfulness TODAY guarantees his promises for the future. V31

(Psa 22:31 NIV)  They will proclaim his righteousness to a people yet unborn– FOR HE HAS DONE IT.

 

And it’s this LONG-TERM perspective WE need to keep. In the face of OUR questions. “Why have you forsaken me? Where are you?”. In the middle of stuff when we struggle to see beyond the struggles.

 

God MAY answer us – like he did David, and bring RELIEF in the actual situation.

 

OR he may answer in a different way. He might have a GREATER purpose in the suffering than to deliver you NOW.  If we think about JESUS. What was God’s answer to HIS question, “My God why have you forsaken me?”

 

Isaiah 53 tells us that it was the Father’s PLEASURE to crush his Son. He was pierced for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities. And his punishment brought us PEACE.

 

“My God why have you forsaken me?”

To bring LIFE to the world through Jesus’ DEATH. To bring HEALING to the world through Jesus’ SUFFERING.

 

God USED that pain and abandonment and ridicule for HIS GREATER PURPOSES.

 

And when that had been achieved. The father ANSWERED his Son. And raised him from death. As a recognition of the success  of the task. Sin HAD been paid for. Death HAD been defeated.

 

Jesus’ question HAD been answered.

 

And as we read the accounts of Jesus – his suffering AND his exaltation – we can be encouraged in OUR difficult times. Because we see God’s hand in Jesus’ situation. And so can trust him in OURS.

 

Even if sometimes OUR questions are only answered in the LONG-TERM.

 

I found a post-script to the story of Glenn Chambers, the missionary killed in Colombia.

 

His mother had asked the question “Why?” God doesn’t ALWAYS give us the answer. But he did in this occasion. Years later, a missionary in South America visited a REMOTE village in Colombia with an unusually LARGE number of believers.

 

She was puzzled. She hadn’t heard of any missionaries who’d spent much time there before. “Who brought you the gospel?” she asked.

 

The people brought out an old, charred briefcase and a Spanish Bible from an air crash. She opened the Bible. Inside the cover were written the words “Presented to our dear brother, Glenn Chambers.”

 

The people of the village had FOUND the Bible, READ it. And God’s powerful word had done its work. And people had become Christians.

 

God had an answer to the question of WHY. Glenn Chambers death DID have a purpose. People came into the kingdom because of that terrible accident.

 

And God had an answer to JESUS’ question of why. Jesus’ death had a purpose. To bring men and women into an eternity spent with God.

 

And God has an answer to YOUR questions of why. You may never find it out. But you can be sure that he DOES. I know because of how he’s acted down through history. To our fathers. I know because of how he’s acted towards ME and YOU in the past.

 

And I know because of Jesus. Let’s remember THAT this Easter.