Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Weakness

Weakness
 4/26/2020 for Remsen Bible Fellowship

Introduction:
I want to paint a picture for you. You’re walking through a garden, and it’s late. The night has a definite chill. You look over to your left, and there is a man, kneeling in prayer. Tears stream down his face and roll off his beard. His prayer seems almost feverish, and his stress eventually rises to a place where the capillaries near his skin begin bursting. He’s experiencing a condition known as hematidrosis: sweating blood. Does this strike you as a man full of strength, embracing the power of positive thinking, or claiming his best life now? Or does he come across as vulnerable, perhaps weak?

Many of you will, of course, recognize the man in our story. It’s Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane, just hours before he heads to the cross. Jesus is the one imploring the Father to change the circumstances he is about to face. Jesus is the one who needs God to send an angel to comfort him. And Jesus is the one, who after being comforted by an angel (Luke 22:43-44) is still in such a state that his sweat becomes blood. If you have a Bible, go ahead and grab it. We’re going to cover quite a bit of territory this morning, but I want to begin in Hebrews 4:14-16.
14 Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. 15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. 16 Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. 

I don’t intend to do a thorough examination of this passage. Rather, I want to fix our minds on one particular word within verse 15: weaknesses. Have you ever felt weak, helpless, or infirm? We’ve all had those moments that feel as if life were an 800 pound brown bear and you’re just a little salmon caught between its jaws. Where it seems circumstance and events outside of your control dominate and all you can do is ignore it, because ignorance is bliss; deny it, and pretend you are in control; or just give in and cry.

The topic of weakness is one which occupies much of Scripture, but this morning I want to limit our thinking to three principles of weakness from God’s word.


Principle #1: We Should Admit Our Weaknesses

What does our society think of weakness? Remember back to the presidential debates of 2015-16. Now before I make this reference, let’s be clear that I’m making a social point here rather than a political one. In those debates, now President Trump made it his bread and butter tactic to label opponents with derogatory nicknames. Think “Little Marco” or “Low Energy Jeb”. How do these insults function? They draw our attention to, and fix our minds upon, perceived weaknesses. And the reason he used this tactic was that it, by and large, worked. When we think of others as weak, we see ourselves as superior. Weakness is seen as something to be despised. Consider a couple of quotes: 

“Never apologize, mister. It’s a sign of weakness.” 
-John Wayne as Nathan Brittles

“What is good? All that heightens the feeling of power, the will to power, power itself. What is bad? All that is born of weakness. What is happiness? The feeling that power is growing, that resistance is overcome.” 
- Friedrich Nietzsche

Our world hates weakness, and devours it at every opportunity. Think about the weakness you see around you-how do you respond to it? It can be easy to pile on those we perceive as weak and to remove the attention from ourselves. Then, in contrast, we want to project an image of strength to those around us. 

And Christians are not exempt from this trap. We fall in just as easily. It’s possible to think of “believer” as synonymous with “strong” or “put together” or “never doubts or struggles.” But does the Bible agree with this assessment of our condition? Far from it. The Bible has absolutely zero illusions when it comes to human nature, including our lack of strength.

The Bible is full of weak “heros.” Let’s look at one of them. Matthew 11:11,
Truly, I say to you, among those born of women there has arisen no one greater than John the Baptist. Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.

That might be a familiar statement to you. Jesus calls John the greatest man ever born of a woman. And it makes sense, right? The dude is crazy dedicated to God, living in the wilderness, preaching about the need for repentance, baptizing and teaching followers, living on honey and locusts, doesn’t he just seem like the sort of holy guy that Jesus would call great? And his humility! When Jesus is gaining in popularity and John is shrinking in comparison, John’s followers are freaked out. And yet John says to them, he must increase, I must decrease (John 3:30). 

But what is the setting of Jesus’ comments about John? John, the very man who sent his own disciples toward Jesus and said, behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, who makes comments to Jesus such as, you should baptize me, this same John is now in prison. And in prison he hears reports of Jesus ministry. And it seems that rather than being overjoyed, he just doesn’t know what to believe. So he sends messengers to Jesus. Are you the one? Or should we look for someone else?

The Bible never shies away from human weakness, and neither should we.

It might be helpful here to distinguish the various categories of weakness we experience.
Finite creatureliness. Some of what we experience as weakness is simply the reality of life as a created being. We are finite. And often this feels weak. Is there anything weaker or more vulnerable than sleep? How often have you been frustrated by your body needing to eat or have water? Life aa a being who is not God, being a creature dependent both upon the Creator, and even other creatures is a form of weakness which is built into humanity. Some extent of weakness is intentionally built into us by God.
 Fallen sinfulness. Human beings have rebelled against God (see Gen 3), and in doing so have brought upon the world the curse of God. As a result of our rebellion the original human limits have been compounded by that most final of limits: death. As human beings who stand under God’s wrath, we will all face judgement for our sins. But before that we will often face earthly consequences for the sins we commit. And this often reminds us of, or even increases, our weakness. For example, if I were to wrong my wife and then argue with her about it, and I know in the middle of the argument that she is correct, there is a weakness and a vulnerability I feel in the midst of that situation. It’s so easy to think of our sin, our ability to choose “what we want” as a source of strength, or a demonstration of strength. And yet Jesus says in John 8 that “everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin.” Slavery is not a position of strength. Our weakness is compounded by our sinfulness.
Fractured brokenness. Living in a sin-riddled world, we not only experience death, but all of the weakness and brokenness that precedes it; sickness, the decay of our bodies. The man born blind in John chapter 9 wasn’t blind because of anyone’s particular sin. The disciples ask Jesus about this, was it his fault or his parents? To which Jesus replies, neither, wrong category. But while that blindness wasn’t the result of particular sin, it wouldn’t have existed were sin not in the world. The fact of sin in the world creates a general suffering that leads to and accentuates weakness. We also experience pain that is due to the sin of others. The rape victim is not suffering for her own sin. The sins of others can leave us feeling broken, helpless, and weak. We live in a world where we feel the impacts of sin’s presence.

We often respond to these various weaknesses in backward fashion. Those weaknesses for which we are culpable we tend to downplay. “Maybe I shouldn’t use cutting words, but I just can’t help speaking my mind.” We want to downplay our sin to the category of mistake or stupidity, or in the words of that great philosopher Lady Gaga, we’ll say, “I’m on the right track, baby, I was born this way.”

On the other hand, sometimes we feel guilty for those limits which simply are. Consider the busy mom, she has several kids running around, diapers to change, meals to cook, an infant to console, laundry piling up-and then she feels overwhelmed and guilty because she doesn’t have 37 hours in a day. But is the inability to accomplish literally everything a moral failing? Or think of the aging grandfather, whose health is failing. He feels like he’s letting people down when he can’t lift the feed sacks into the back of the pickup anymore. But is morally wrong to age? 

Psalm 103:14, For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust. 

God knows your frame. He knows your weakness. Therefore, we can and should admit these weaknesses to ourselves.


Principle #2: We Should Feel Our Weaknesses

There is a substantial difference between being forced to acknowledge a very obvious fact, and allowing ourselves to feel the weight of our frailty. But we should again ask, is the Bible as squeamish as we are?
We’ve been looking at the Psalms in recent weeks, and as you read the Psalms, it is striking how frequently the writer (typically David in the first part of the book) is quite blunt about his own feelings of weakness and questioning. Let’s take a sampling. 

Psalm 6:3-7, 3 My soul also is greatly troubled.  
But you, O LORD—how long?
4 Turn, O LORD, deliver my life; 
save me for the sake of your steadfast love. 
5 For in death there is no remembrance of you; 
in Sheol who will give you praise? 
6 I am weary with my moaning; every night I flood my bed with tears; 
I drench my couch with my weeping. 
7 My eye wastes away because of grief; 
it grows weak because of all my foes. 

Psalm 10:1, Why, O LORD, do you stand far away? 
  Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble? 

Psalm 13:1-4, How long, O LORD? Will you forget me forever? 
      How long will you hide your face from me? 
      2 How long must I take counsel in my soul 
      and have sorrow in my heart all the day? 
      How long shall my enemy be exalted over me? 
      3 Consider and answer me, O LORD my God; 
      light up my eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death, 
      4 lest my enemy say, “I have prevailed over him,” 
      lest my foes rejoice because I am shaken. 

I wonder how you would respond if someone in your Bible study started talking like that? Or if you were visiting a friend in the hospital and they were praying like that? What if they quoted Psalm 22:1? My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?

Ponder for a moment that the Psalms are not simply the record of individual prayers, or the soundtrack of the writer’s walk with God. The Psalms are actually intended to instruct us. They teach us how to pray. They also teach us how to feel. If we are clear eyed about the world around us-and inside of us-, then it is right to see the immense measure of suffering, pain, and sin and to then feel weak and helpless in response.

Let’s read Romans 8:19-26 together,
19 For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. 20 For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. 22 For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. 23 And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. 24 For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? 25 But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience. 
26 Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.

Christianity is not stoicism. We feel the weight of our weakness. Abraham felt that weakness, as did Moses. Gideon knew his insufficiency, and David did, too. Peter did, and Paul did. What makes this feeling distinctly Christian is where we turn with it. 

Principle #3: We Should Embrace Our Weaknesses

Is there any good news coming in this sermon? That’s how I felt reading over it. But while the New Testament is just as clear on our weaknesses as the Old Testament is, it also wraps a lot of good news around this. For whom did Jesus come to save? The weak.

Luke 19:10, For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.

1 Peter 2:25, For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls. 

Titus 3:3a, For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures...

Ephesians 2:4-5, But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ.

How does the New Testament refer to those who are in their sins? Lost, sheep, slaves, dead. Are any of these pictures of human power? Quite the contrary. This is so counterintuitive for us. We want to earn right-standing with God, we want to prove to him that we are worthy and valuable enough that he’d obviously want to have us in his family. Or perhaps we think we’re strong enough that we actually don’t need God at all. Karl Marx famously said that “Religion...is the opium of the people.” We want to think that we have a power and a goodness and a strength inside of us that either frees us of the need for God, or means that we have something to offer to him. But Jesus isn’t impressed. 

Luke 5:30-32, And the Pharisees and their scribes grumbled at his disciples, saying, “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?” 31 And Jesus answered them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. 32 I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.” 

What do the Pharisees miss here? They are upset with Jesus for hanging out with sinners-apparently not remembering their own Scriptures, such as Psalm 14:3, there is none that does good, not even one. That there are none who are righteous, there are none who are spiritually well. The only way to “qualify yourself” for forgiveness, for life with Christ, is to admit that you can’t qualify yourself. The only way to be healed by the Great Physician and access to the strength provided by the Holy Spirit’s presence in you is to confess that you don’t deserve it, but desperately need it. You bring nothing but weakness to the exchange. You’ll only be rescued if you realize you’re drowning.

Principle #4: We Must Walk in Weakness

How tempting it would be at this point to say, and in embracing our weakness and receiving the salvation Jesus offers we can then receive the gift of a victorious life! Lay your weakness down and pick up the strength offered through Jesus. Many people preach this message. But brothers and sisters-it isn’t the message of Christianity. We must not only embrace our weakness, but even in being saved by Jesus, we continue to walk in weakness. 

What I want to do in conclusion is to read three passages from Paul’s letters to the Corinthian church, and meditate briefly upon the last one. 

1 Corinthians 1:25-31, 25 For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men. 
26 For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. 27 But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; 28 God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, 29 so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. 30 And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, 31 so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” 

2 Corinthians 4:7-18, 7 But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. 8 We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; 9 persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; 10 always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. 11 For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. 12 So death is at work in us, but life in you. 
13 Since we have the same spirit of faith according to what has been written, “I believed, and so I spoke,” we also believe, and so we also speak, 14 knowing that he who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and bring us with you into his presence. 15 For it is all for your sake, so that as grace extends to more and more people it may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God. 
16 So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. 17 For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, 18 as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.

2 Corinthians 12:7-10, 7 So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. 8 Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. 9 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 10 For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong. 

Paul’s life is one that seems to have many human reasons for boasting. He had the best schooling, an impeccable religious pedigree, and came from God’s chosen people. After his conversion he had traveled far and wide proclaiming Jesus, received visions that earlier in 2 Corinthians 12 he relates as defying description. And yet what do we find here in verse 7? God has allowed Satan to give Paul a thorn in the flesh. God has deliberately allowed Paul’s weakness to be brought to his mind over and again. We aren’t told what this thorn is. A physical ailment, a struggle with a particular sin, an exceedingly difficult relationship? We don’t know. We do know that Paul begs to be relieved of this weakness. And God says, “my grace is sufficient for you.” Which is to say, when we are looking for God to solve our problems, to take away our struggles, he might say yes. Or he might not. He might let you walk in weakness. Why? Because that’s where God’s power is made perfect.

What does it mean that God’s power is made perfect? The idea of perfect in Scripture often has to do with completeness. And Christ’s power is demonstrated to be complete when we as his people live lives dependent upon his power rather than our own. 

“In a very real sense not one of us is qualified, but it seems that God continually chooses the most unqualified to do his work, to bear his glory. If we are qualified, we tend to think that we have done the job ourselves. If we are forced to accept our evident lack of qualification, then there's no danger that we will confuse God's work with our own, or God's glory with our own.”
― Madeleine L'Engle, Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art

This is surprisingly freeing. If I have to display my own strength, I am in a constant cycle of having to hide who I really am from those around me, trying to project an image that simply isn’t true. I will pull away from deep relationships, because if people can see in then they will see my sins, my flaws, my weaknesses. But if I know that I have a high priest who has passed through the heavens who can sympathize with my weaknesses, on whose account I have been made right with God, this frees me up. I don’t have to hide from people anymore, because instead of needing to portray my own strength, I can simply point to Jesus. I don’t have to be awesome. I know Someone who is. 

Conclusion: 

So how then ought we relate to our weaknesses as humans? We ought to admit them, remembering, as God does, that we are but dust. We should feel the weight of our weakness, realizing that we can’t ignore the importance of this part of our being. We should then embrace our weakness, and receive the forgiveness Christ offers to all of the weak and needy sinners who come to him. And finally, we continue to walk in weakness, displaying the marvelous power of God, who is happy to use frail jars of clay as the vessels of his glory on earth. Therefore I will boast all the more gladly because of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest on me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong. 

Sunday, April 19, 2020

Where Peace Comes From: Psalm 4

Psalm 4
Remsen Bible Fellowship, Online, 04/19/2020

Introduction
Good morning, and welcome to our second Youtube live sermon. I deeply, deeply, look forward to the day when we are meeting again in person, but until that time I trust the Lord will be using his word and these sermons to encourage and strengthen you. Let’s pray before we get rolling.

Father God, thank you for your word. Please speak through this poor stammering tongue, and work your word down deep into the hearts of your people. We are saved, not by perishable seed, but imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God. As that word, the Gospel, is preached this morning, transform hearts, Father. Make fretting hearts peaceful. Make rebels into children. Fix our eyes on Christ we pray. Amen.

Where do you look for peace? We tend to think of peace as an absence. The absence of conflict, of hostilities, of war. I’ve heard the history of the world described as the history of conflict temporarily interrupted by moments of pause, and we call those pauses peace. But is that what peace means in the Scriptures? In a sense, yes. The whole world longs for a peaceful existence as described in Revelation 22:4, He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away. Who doesn’t want that? Tears, pain, mourning, death-all gone.

Yet in this world that peace is a future hope, not a present reality. Jesus promises his disciples in John 16:33 that, In this world you will have tribulation (or trouble). So is peace just something we have to forget about? Paul didn’t think so. He wrote in Philippians 4:7 of the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding which will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. So Paul had a category for a peace that not only existed in the midst of pain and trial, but that actually could guard the people of God through those times. That’s the sort of peace I want to have. And it’s the sort of peace you need. We find a peace like that in Psalm 4. (Read the Psalm)

We don’t know the exact circumstances in which David wrote this Psalm. Unlike Psalm 3, where enemies are breathing down his neck, and his life is in danger, Psalm 4 seems to be a situation where the enemies are hurling insults, slander, or perhaps false accusations toward David. The tone of this Psalm is also fascinating. It opens with David pleading in prayer. It closes with him again praying, this time less from a sense urgency, and instead from a position of resting trust. But there is an interlude where David, at least for the purposes of his writing, interacts with his accusers. All three of these sections have application for us today, so let’s begin at the beginning.

Pleading in Prayer, v1
1 Answer me when I call, O God of my righteousness! 
How does this prayer open? A rather desperate sounding call. God, answer me! I’m calling, are you listening? Have you ever felt that way when you’ve prayed? That you’re calling and there is no one on the other end of the phone? David exclaims, God, I need you!

The place this immediately situates him, and us if we pray this way, is in a position of dependence. People who think they are strong, sufficient, or good enough on their own will not pray in this sort of desperate and dependent manner. Yet David knows he is none of those things. His righteousness, his character and honor are being called into question, and rather than immediately defending himself, he turns reflexively to God. His first reaction when faced with an accusation is to take it to the Lord in prayer. And how does he refer to God? O God of my righteousness. It could also be translated, God of my vindication. What court does David want to be vindicated in? The court of public opinion? No. He knows he needs to be clean, righteous, in God’s eyes. And that can only happen when God himself cleanses him and vindicates him. In Jeremiah 23:6 we read the prophet foretelling a day when God would be called by this name: the LORD is our righteousness. And if you’re familiar with the writings of Paul you might recall what he says in 2 Corinthians 5:21, For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. All those in Christ can look to God and know that we are clean in his sight, not because of what we’ve done, but because of what Christ has done on our behalf. Which gives us solid footing for approaching any circumstance.

 You have given me relief when I was in distress. David is pleading with God to show up, and he is doing so while remembering all those times when God has shown up before. The word distress in this sentence carries with it the idea of being shoved into a tight spot, we might say I was between a rock and a hard place, or the walls were closing in around me. But he remembers not only the difficulty, but the relief God brought. The rock gave way, the walls opened up. In the past I faced pressed difficulty that choked the air from my lungs-but God, you made it so that I could breathe again. You’ve saved me before, do it again! He grounds his present request in God’s prior faithfulness. And so we hear him pray at the end of verse 1, Be gracious to me and hear my prayer!

David’s reflex is to take this hard situation, and like the persistent widow in Luke 18, he’s just going to keep bringing it to God. Keep asking, keep seeking, keep knocking. But in the meantime, he has a few words for his adversaries.


Rebutting His Persecutors, v2-5
In verses two through five we have David addressing these foes. And we’re going to see his words to them come in two stages: The first is argument and the second is admonishment.

2 O men, how long shall my honor be turned into shame? 
How long will you love vain words and seek after lies? Selah 

Here’s where we learn the nature of David’s complaint. These people, these men, have been turning his honor or his glory to shame. This is where it would be fascinating to know the exact situation, but it’s not hard to imagine that a king would have people attacking and slandering him unjustly. Frankly, with David, there were times he gave them just reason to speak poorly of him. But that doesn’t seem to be the case here, because he asks how long with you love vain words and seek after lies? David doesn’t give any credence to what they are saying.

It’s interesting that the word translated as lies at the end of verse two can also mean false (or pagan) gods. David makes a link between the fact that they are seeking to steal the glory of the king with the fact that they are in hot pursuit of any lie or false god they can get their hands on. And he is not impressed.

He finishes this sentence with a word we find throughout the Psalms and we discussed a couple of weeks ago: Selah. Again, we don’t know exactly what this Hebrew word means, but it likely was a musical or liturgical term used to indicate a pause. And perhaps this is a good place for us to pause: are you chasing after lies? Are you seeking after gods which cannot satisfy? It’s so easy to read the Psalms and identify with the heroes, the protagonist: but what if you’re actually the bad guy? What if you have been chasing things which aren’t God and it’s jacking up your life, and the life of those around you?

3 But know that the LORD has set apart the godly for himself; the LORD hears when I call to him.

David has a firm confidence that the Lord hears when David prays. That seems a slight change of tune from the opening verse, doesn’t it? It’s as if the act of countering the errors of his accusers reminds David of what the truth is, and who is the One Person he can count on.

Here is the logical sequence David’s confidence in the Lord: 1, the Lord sets apart the godly; 2, I am among the godly (not godly as in perfectly sinless, but godly as in those who have received the forgiveness of God, and desire to be obedient to him); 3, therefore, if God sets apart the godly and I’m among them, the Lord will hear my prayer. Can the wicked have this sort of confidence? They are counting on the effectiveness of their slurs to bring David down. Yet he can rest assured that because he belongs to God, God will hear him, regardless of what is happening with and among other human beings. Do you live with that sort of assurance? That kind of rock solid confidence? God has set apart his people, he’s chosen them and I’m among them, therefore I know he’s listening. That’s the kind of confidence we need to navigate hard decisions, especially when they’re unpopular.

So here is David’s argument: you guys are obsessed with lies, and you need to give it up because you’re not scaring me or fooling God. In fact, God is listening to me and not you. So let’s flip the tables and instead of you mocking me, let me lay some facts before you. David now turns from argument to admonishment-it’s an almost paternal, or fatherly sort of move.

4 Be angry, and do not sin; ponder in your own hearts on your beds, and be silent. Selah There is an enormous amount of debate among scholars as to the meaning of verse four, especially the beginning, Be angry and do not sin. The idea of being angry could also be translated as trembling or standing in awe. And that would seem to make sense in the context. Give up your lies, and stand in awe of God. And trembling before him will drive you away from sin. As J.C. Ryle often says in his commentaries, that is good doctrine, but I don’t believe it’s the doctrine in this text. Why not? Because of how the apostle Paul quotes this verse in the book of Ephesians.

Ephesians 4:26, Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and verse 27 continues, and give no opportunity for the devil. Paul is clearly not speaking of a trembling or an awe before God (though he would agree you ought to have that!). He seems pretty plainly to be addressing how to deal with anger. Now put yourself back in the shoes of David’s enemies. How are they going to respond to what David is saying? Will they be thrilled, jumping up and down because he is rebuking them and reminding them that God listens to him and they are chasing after empty things? I would imagine, in that scenario, that I would be angry. And when you’re confronted with that sort of reproof you have two options: on the one hand, get angrier still. Lash out, or quietly plot how you can get even. Or simply allow that bitterness to bubble and rage. Which is precisely what Paul told the Ephesians not to do.

But the other option is to actually consider the rebuke. Ponder in your own hearts on your bed, and be silent. Lay in bed quietly before God and pray this prayer: to what extent is this rebuke true? How do I need to repent and to change?

Which brings us to verse 5, Offer right sacrifices, and put your trust in the LORD. What would be the proper consequence of considering and pondering this rebuke? Repentance, which in Davd’s time would have been expressed by the offering of sacrifice. But while that sounds pretty Old Testament-y, the fundamental sacrifice that God wants doesn’t ever change. David, after he was confronted by the prophet Nathan, pens these words in Psalm 51:17, The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise. 

When you are confronted by your sin-be that in reading the Bible, listening to teaching like this, through the loving rebuke of a friend, through the harsh words of an opponent, or simply through the working of your conscience-how should you respond? Honestly ponder and consider, repent where you have been wrong, and here is the final piece of David’s admonishment: Put your trust in the LORD. You can see your errors and try to white-knuckle your way to a better you. But that better you is still always going to fail. Your only hope is to place your trust in a help from outside. In the perfect work of Christ finished for you on the cross, on the basis of which he offers you grace. And not only the grace necessary to enter into his presence upon death, but the grace necessary to walk through each day. Put your [daily] trust in the LORD.

David’s rebuttal of his persecutors has a lot to teach us-because we need to hear the same message they did. But it also instructs us, in that his perspective was not to see them as irreconcilable enemies, but as those who potentially join him in coming before a gracious and peace-giving God. Which brings us to our final section, where David shifts his focus back to the Lord.

Praying in Peace
In this final section of the Psalm, David recalls how many people speak and pray, contrasts this with his own feelings toward God, and then closes with a final note of confidence.   

 6 There are many who say, “Who will show us some good? Lift up the light of your face upon us, O LORD!” 

There are plenty who will say, show yourself, God! And only trust when they see his provision laid out before them. When they ask God to lift up his face on them, they are asking to see tangible evidence of his blessing in their lives. And this is not a wrong prayer to pray, in and of itself. Aaron prays it over the people in Numbers 6:24-26, The LORD bless you and keep you; the LORD make his face shine upon you and be gracious to you; the LORD lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace. It is good to see the blessing of God! But brothers and sisters, when you have a God who moves in mysterious ways, you need a faith that moves beyond what you can see with your eyes.

7 You have put more joy in my heart than they have when their grain and wine abound. Here David draws his contrast. They are praying, show us some good! Let us see your blessings, God! And it’s almost as if, when you read their prayer, that they are searching for anyone who will come through for them, and as a last resort they turn and ask God. Like, if he’ll show up for us, then sure we’ll trust him. But if your confidence is in God himself, and not just the goodies he may or may not give, then you have a firm footing for your hope.

What’s wrong with putting your hope in blessings that come from God? Here David speaks of an abundance of grain and wine, which draws our minds to places like Ecclesiastes 9:7, Go, eat your bread with joy, and drink your wine with a merry heart, for God has already approved of what you do. To have an abundant harvest of grain, to have had sufficient wine-these would have been very legitimate reasons for rejoicing. But what happens when the locusts come and demolish the barley? Or the weather is wrong and the grape harvest fails? What then?

David says, you have put more joy in my heart than they have when their grain and wine abound. The joy David has in God, even in the midst of being persecuted and slandered, is a greater joy than their situationally dependent joy-even when their situation is great. The problem with a joy based on circumstance is that the other shoe is always going to drop. And if you live with any sort of realism, that will then taint and present joy, because you know less abundant times are coming. And what are you to do when things do go bad? But a joy based in an unchanging and eternal God who is always there for the good of those who love him is a joy that, in the midst of any circumstance, can be called inexpressible and filled with glory.

8 In peace I will both lie down and sleep; for you alone, O LORD, make me dwell in safety.

David has a joy in the LORD that isn’t situationally dependent. And it when your joy is in the LORD, when you’re trusting Jesus and vindicated by his righteousness rather than your own, you don’t have to lie awake at night in fear. The need to fret and worry about what others think is gone. The desire to prove yourself and show you really matter diminishes, because God himself values you, has chosen you, has sent his Son to die for you. You are chosen. You are loved. You are safe. None can snatch you from his almighty hand.

Where does an infant feel safest? I wonder if you’ve ever been at a concert or sporting event, something where there is tons of noise, all sorts of chaos, and seen a young child peacefully sleeping away in the arms of mom or dad. And here is where a child of God can rest-in the arms of your loving heavenly Father, the One who shelters, protects, and comforts you. This is a peace that isn’t dependent on a lack of outward conflict-it’s a peace that flows from being right with God. Do you know that peace this morning?

In peace I will both lie down and sleep-for you alone, O LORD, make me dwell in safety. He will give safety-all the safety you need. Trust in him.

Sunday, April 12, 2020

Oh Death, Where is Your Sting? 1 Corinthians 15

Oh death, Where is your sting? 
1 Corinthians 15
Easter Sunday, 4/12/2020, Remsen Bible Fellowship, Online Sermon


Why does the resurrection of Jesus matter? Why, year after year, decade after decade, century after century, for two millennia have people celebrated Jesus’ rising from the dead?

We face no fiercer or more menacing foe than death. It looms over us all, waiting to swallow us. Proverbs 27:20 tells us that Sheol and Abaddon [the grave and death] are never satisfied. Death is coming for me, and it’s coming for you. We can try to ignore this, we can distract ourselves from this truth, but Ecclesiastes 7 tells us that death is the end of all men, and the living will lay it to heart. We can’t live with wisdom while this truth: we are mortal. And this very mortality stands as a judgement upon us. We were created by God to live as his representatives here on earth-death was not meant for us. And yet here we are. What can be done?

Into this bleak reality burst the words of Paul in 1 Corinthians 15: Death is swallowed up in victory! O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?
What could be more glorious than this? The victory of death swallowed up by a greater victory. The pain of final loss removed by some greater truth. How can this be?

Paul’s words here are an immense comfort and joy to me, but to cling to them I need to know if they are true. And not just if they’re true, but why they are true. Thankfully, these words are the final piece of an argument in this portion of Scripture. So what we are going to do this morning is try and briefly trace Paul’s logic through 1 Corinthians 15. In doing so, we’ll see 4 truths about the Resurrection of Jesus that give us hope today.


Truth #1:  Jesus’ Resurrection is the Central Fact of Human History, v1-11
Where does Paul begin? 1st importance. (v3)
v1-2, He emphasizes the importance of this gospel, this good news, in how he refers to it: he [an apostle] has preached this gospel to them, they have received this gospel with joy, they stand in the power of this good news, and it is saving them-if they hold fast.
V3-4, Jesus did many amazing things, healing, miracles, casting out demons, giving authoritative and life-changing teaching: yet what does Paul consider essential to communicate? Death, burial, resurrection: in accordance with the Scriptures.
Perhaps the most prominent of those Scriptures is what we read in Isaiah 53, where it is prophesied that for our iniquities he would be crushed, our transgressions led to his piercing. And the wrath of God crushed him. For you. And for me. The Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. This is good news, because it means we can stand before God now as those who have been covered by the blood of the slain Lamb of God! And more than that, because he has been raised, we too have the promise of life.
Why would Paul linger in v5-8 on appearances of Jesus? None of this matters if it isn’t True.
V2, believed in vain. Paul has suggested that maybe if they are quick to let go of the truth of Jesus rising from the dead it is because they have believed in vain, or believed on scanty evidence. He belabors the point that the historical evidence is overwhelming, they are not making some sort of “blind leap of faith.”


Truth #2: Jesus’ Resurrection Re-Centers Our Hope, v12-28
What would happen if Jesus weren’t alive? What if this is all a lie? That’s what the Corinthians were being told. Some had come among them saying resurrections don’t happen, therefore Jesus couldn’t have been raised from the dead. (v12-13)
If they are right, if the many who use the same logic pattern today are right, then: preaching hope and having faith are in vain (v14), those who preach a resurrected Jesus lie about God (v15), we are all still in our sins (v17), and most devastating, those Christians who have died have perished forever (v18).
 Why are all these things true? Because a Jesus who was left in the grave by God is a Jesus whose sacrifice for sins was not accepted by the Father. Romans 1:4 tells us that God declared Jesus to be his Son not only through words, but through the Resurrection itself. If Jesus’ body lies buried in Palestine today, he is not the Son of God, he is not the Savior, and we have no hope. We are a pitiable lot (v19).
But! Christ has been raised! (v20) Through his resurrection life, all who trust in him are given resurrection life as well. (v21)
What does this do? Because the resurrection of Jesus is true, it re-centers our hope. V19 said that if in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied. But if he has been raised, there is hope beyond the grave. There is hope for eternity with God, there is hope, which in Paul’s usage means an expectation-filled certainty, for the kingdom of God in which death is conquered, Christ is reigning, and God is seen to be our all in all.
The hope that Christ gives in this life is important, and we’ll touch on it later. But it is only possible because this life is not all their is. Speaking of Abraham in Hebrews 11:10, the writer says, he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God.


Truth #3: Jesus’ Resurrection Guarantees us New Bodies, v35-49
Though this section is long, I just want us to zero in on three facts about the new bodies Paul promises:
They are real bodies. It could be easy to read something like v44 conclude that we will have bodies that aren’t bodies. What, after all, is a spiritual body? But the point of Paul’s analogy with the grain and wheat is that God has given us in creation a picture of the type of resurrection that we will have. Those who trust in Christ will one day be raised, and those bodies will be real bodies. But they will be fundamentally different. Think of the contrast between a caterpillar and a butterfly. A creepy, crawly, fuzzy thing wraps itself up like a burrito and a couple of days later emerges as one of the most beautiful creatures you’ve ever seen. So these weak bodies will one day lie down in the dust, only to be raised into a state that is more real than its present one, though we cannot see it now. Paul says in his second letter to the Corinthian church that the things we see are transient, it is those unseen things which are eternal. Again, unseen doesn’t mean airy or ghostlike or unreal: it means that in our current state of sinful mortality we don’t have the capacity to see realities of this weight. But one day we will.
It’s important that we start as dust. We are children of Adam, and thus we have Adam’s earthly, dusty, and now, because of sin, broken and decaying body. Jesus, though he was without sin, took on a human body just like ours. The Word became flesh, and dwelt among us. In the resurrection of this man who was like us in our weakness, we are now promised a life like his because of his work for us. So while we groan in our earthly bodies, and wait longingly for those new ones promised by God, we can also take hope in the nobility of these earthen vessels. Christ himself took on human flesh, and bore our sorrows in this frail body. First frailty. Then glory.
We are promised the glory, too. Note verse 49, Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven. God will give us new bodies, but he will do so for a purpose: that we might become like his Son: 1 John 3:2 says, Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is.  In this life God is progressively growing all those who trust in him, and conforming or molding their character, their spirit if you will, to be more in line with Jesus. That’s a key component of what it means to be a Christian, is a growing likeness to Christ. But one day the slow progress will be replaced: we will be fundamentally transformed into his image.


Truth #4: Jesus’ Resurrection Conquers Death, v50-57
Verse 50 reminds us of some terrifying truth: flesh and blood don’t inherit the kingdom of God. Our sinful selves are unfit to stand before a righteous and holy God. On our own, if Christ were to return, we would suffer the wrath of his fury against sin. The streets would be flowing with our blood, as it says in Revelation. But Christians don’t look to Christ’s return with fear, we look forward in joyful and expectant hope. What’s the difference? Because we know that his death has become our death, and thus his life is now our life. Death has been swallowed up by our Risen Savior! Where is it’s sting? Gone. It’s victory? Vanquished.
The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. Jesus has obeyed the law perfectly, hung on the cross bearing the weight of our law-breaking, and when he cries “It is finished” announces that the penalty for sin has been paid. The law is fulfilled, the power of sin is broken, and for those who trust in Christ we can look death square in the eye and say, where is your victory?
One thing you will notice is that in each case of someone being raised in Scripture, there is a prophet or apostle who is ministering the power of God to work that miracle. In Jesus’ case, he rises on his own authority. Jesus says in John 10:18, I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. By this same power he offers life to all who believe.


Conclusion: v58

This is worth celebrating, isn’t it? Paul goes on to say, Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.

Jesus is alive, and he has given life to all who trust in him. That means we can have a steadfast and immovable joy in this world, we can take comfort in every circumstance knowing that God is at work, we can labor with all our might to serve him diligently, and we know that all of these things are not folly. They make perfect sense because Jesus is alive, he is working, and one day he will call his children to a perfect home,to an eternal weight of glory, beyond all comparison. We can’t earn a hope and a joy like this, but we can gladly receive it from his nail scarred hands. 

Thursday, April 9, 2020

Glory Through Suffering, Psalm 22



Glory Through Suffering


Psalm 22; Remsen Bible Online; 04/10/2020





Good evening, loved ones. On this evening, which we traditionally call Good Friday, I want to open with a simple question: how can the day when we remember Jesus’ crucifixion be, in any sense, Good? For our answer, I would direct your attention to Psalm 22.





Psalm 22 was written by King David during a time of extreme duress in his life. While it obviously had application directly in his day, Christians ever since the time of Jesus-including Jesus on the cross-have recognized the ultimate fulfillment of this Psalm in the Son of David, Jesus, the Christ. This won’t be my normal sermon style. What I’ve done is broken Psalm 22 into chunks, and interlaced those sections with New Testament quotations. I won’t read the reference after each quotation as I normally would (if you want a full list I’ll post those on the church blog and put that link in the video notes). My aim for this good Friday teaching is to simply allow the weight of what Jesus did for us to lay heavy, and then to see the glory of what he accomplished.





We will close by reading Psalm 22 straight through, hopefully with a new appreciation for why Jesus quotes from this particular Psalm from the cross.





1 My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?


Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning?


2 O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer,


and by night, but I find no rest.





34 And at the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mk 15:34).





3 Yet you are holy,


enthroned on the praises of Israel.


4 In you our fathers trusted;


they trusted, and you delivered them.


5 To you they cried and were rescued;


in you they trusted and were not put to shame.





27 “Now is my soul troubled. And what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? But for this purpose I have come to this hour. 28 Father, glorify your name.” Then a voice came from heaven: “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.” (Jn 12:27–28).





6 But I am a worm and not a man,


scorned by mankind and despised by the people.


7 All who see me mock me;


they make mouths at me; they wag their heads;


8 “He trusts in the LORD; let him deliver him;


let him rescue him, for he delights in him!”





35 And the people stood by, watching, but the rulers scoffed at him, saying, “He saved others; let him save himself, if he is the Christ of God, his Chosen One!” 36 The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine 37 and saying, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” (Lk 23:35–37).





9 Yet you are he who took me from the womb;


you made me trust you at my mother’s breasts.


10 On you was I cast from my birth,


and from my mother’s womb you have been my God.


11 Be not far from me,


for trouble is near,


and there is none to help.





21 Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heavens were opened, 22 and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form, like a dove; and a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” (Lk 3:21–22).





And after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James, and John his brother, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. 2 And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became white as light. 3 And behold, there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. 4 And Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good that we are here. If you wish, I will make three tents here, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah.” 5 He was still speaking when, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.” (Mt 17:1–5).





41 And he withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, and knelt down and prayed, 42 saying, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.” 43 And there appeared to him an angel from heaven, strengthening him. 44 And being in agony he prayed more earnestly; and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground. (Lk 22:41–44).





12 Many bulls encompass me;


strong bulls of Bashan surround me;


13 they open wide their mouths at me,


like a ravening and roaring lion.





3 So Judas, having procured a band of soldiers and some officers from the chief priests and the Pharisees, went there with lanterns and torches and weapons. (Jn 18:2–3).





12 So the band of soldiers and their captain and the officers of the Jews arrested Jesus and bound him. (Jn 18:12).





Then Pilate took Jesus and flogged him. 2 And the soldiers twisted together a crown of thorns and put it on his head and arrayed him in a purple robe. 3 They came up to him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!” and struck him with their hands. (Jn 19:1–3).





14 I am poured out like water,


and all my bones are out of joint;


my heart is like wax;


it is melted within my breast;


15 my strength is dried up like a potsherd,


and my tongue sticks to my jaws;


you lay me in the dust of death.





28 After this, Jesus, knowing that all was now finished, said (to fulfill the Scripture), “I thirst.” 29 A jar full of sour wine stood there, so they put a sponge full of the sour wine on a hyssop branch and held it to his mouth. (Jn 19:28–29).





16 For dogs encompass me;


a company of evildoers encircles me;


they have pierced my hands and feet—


17 I can count all my bones—


they stare and gloat over me;


18 they divide my garments among them,


and for my clothing they cast lots.





32 Two others, who were criminals, were led away to be put to death with him. 33 And when they came to the place that is called The Skull, there they crucified him, and the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. 34 And Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” And they cast lots to divide his garments...39 One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” (Lk 23:32–34, 39).





And with him they crucified two robbers, one on his right and one on his left. 29 And those who passed by derided him, wagging their heads and saying, “Aha! You who would destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, 30 save yourself, and come down from the cross!” (Mk 15:27–30)





19 But you, O LORD, do not be far off!


O you my help, come quickly to my aid!


20 Deliver my soul from the sword,


my precious life from the power of the dog!


21 Save me from the mouth of the lion!


You have rescued me from the horns of the wild oxen!





44 It was now about the sixth hour, and there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour, 45 while the sun’s light failed. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two. 46 Then Jesus, calling out with a loud voice, said, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!” And having said this he breathed his last. (Lk 23:44–46).





22 I will tell of your name to my brothers;


in the midst of the congregation I will praise you:


23 You who fear the LORD, praise him!


All you offspring of Jacob, glorify him,


and stand in awe of him, all you offspring of Israel!


24 For he has not despised or abhorred


the affliction of the afflicted,


and he has not hidden his face from him,


but has heard, when he cried to him.





10 For it was fitting that he, for whom and by whom all things exist, in bringing many sons to glory, should make the founder of their salvation perfect through suffering. 11 For he who sanctifies and those who are sanctified all have one source. That is why he is not ashamed to call them brothers, 12 saying,


“I will tell of your name to my brothers;


in the midst of the congregation I will sing your praise.”


13 And again,


“I will put my trust in him.”


And again,


“Behold, I and the children God has given me.”


14 Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, 15 and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery. (Heb 2:10–15).





25 From you comes my praise in the great congregation;


my vows I will perform before those who fear him.


26 The afflicted shall eat and be satisfied;


those who seek him shall praise the LORD!


May your hearts live forever!





6 Then I heard what seemed to be the voice of a great multitude, like the roar of many waters and like the sound of mighty peals of thunder, crying out,


“Hallelujah!


For the Lord our God


the Almighty reigns.


7 Let us rejoice and exult


and give him the glory,


for the marriage of the Lamb has come,


and his Bride has made herself ready;


8 it was granted her to clothe herself


with fine linen, bright and pure”—


for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints.


9 And the angel said to me, “Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.” And he said to me, “These are the true words of God.” (Re 19:6–9).





27 All the ends of the earth shall remember


and turn to the LORD,


and all the families of the nations


shall worship before you.


28 For kingship belongs to the LORD,


and he rules over the nations.





“Worthy are you to take the scroll


and to open its seals,


for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God


from every tribe and language and people and nation,


10 and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God,


and they shall reign on the earth.”


11 Then I looked, and I heard around the throne and the living creatures and the elders the voice of many angels, numbering myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands, 12 saying with a loud voice,


“Worthy is the Lamb who was slain,


to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might


and honor and glory and blessing!”


13 And I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, saying,


“To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb


be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!” (Re 5:9–13).





29 All the prosperous of the earth eat and worship;


before him shall bow all who go down to the dust,


even the one who could not keep himself alive.


30 Posterity shall serve him;


it shall be told of the Lord to the coming generation;


31 they shall come and proclaim his righteousness to a people yet unborn,


that he has done it.





5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. 9 Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Php 2:5–11).





Read Psalm 22.




Jesus is God. But he is also the Savior. He became Savior by becoming a human being, taking on a mortal body, and laying that body down for you. Absorbing the all-consuming wrath of God due to you. He was forsaken, that we might be loved. He now reigns in glory, that we might have hope. That glory came through suffering. So why is Good Friday good? Because on that day the perfect Lamb of God was slain, that you might have life. Trust in Him, receive this gift.

Saturday, April 4, 2020

Where to Find Strength and Peace, Psalm 29


Where to Find Strength and Peace

Psalm 29; Remsen Bible Online, 04/05/2020

Introduction

Where do God’s people find peace? Where can you find the resources you need to build an inner resolve, a steadfast strength which is unshaken by the storms of life?

These are questions which are important, not only to us, but for God’s people throughout history. Of course, the short answer is that we find comfort, peace, and strength in God himself. But how helpful is that broad and general answer? If you think of God in the abstract, as some being who lives in a distant place of whom you know very little, then it probably isn’t helpful at all. But here again, the Psalms come to our aid. Because in the Psalms, God is thought of not as some abstract or ethereal sky-being, but as the God who wins battles, forms mountains, conquers foes, comforts the brokenhearted. He is pictured as light, a rock, a shepherd, the one who fashions stars with his fingers, and makes the earth his footstool. Concrete metaphor upon concrete metaphor, piled up to form our picture of just what this God is like.

As we look at Psalm 29 this morning, we will learn some terrifying truths about God. The focus of this Psalm is squarely upon God himself. 13 times we find the personal name of God, Yahweh, the LORD (all caps) in our English translation. Everything spoken herein refers to a specific God, not some vague God out there somewhere. David speaks of this God, the Great I Am, the God of the people of Israel. And we will also see that, rightly applied, these truths about Yahweh that may on one hand scare us can become the source of our strength and our peace. Read Psalm 29.


The Demands of Glory, v 1-2

The first thing that happens in this Psalm as a set of commands given in verses 1 & 2. Ascribe to the Lord, is repeated three times, and in the second half of verse 2 the verb changes to worship the Lord.

We should note who the recipients of this command are in verse 1. O heavenly beings. A literal rendering of the Hebrew would be O sons of God or O sons of might. This is most likely speaking of the angels, and who better to see and ascribe to God the greatness of his name than those who minister in his presence continually? What are they to say of him?

In verse one, they are to ascribe to the Lord glory and strength. The beginning of verse two repeats and expands part of that, Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name. I wonder if the idea of angels crying out and ascribing glory unto the Lord bring to mind anything you’ve read before?

Isaiah 6:1-3 reads, In the year that king Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple. And above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called to another and said:

“Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory.”

The seraphim, a particular order of angels, are seen in Isaiah’s vision as standing above the throne of God, and flying, crying out all the while, Holy, holy, holy! This threefold repetition of holiness draws our attention to this central fact about God: he is splendid, marvelous, and different from his creation. There is none who compares with him. Holiness speaks to who God is; what emanates out from such a splendid and holy being is the Hebrew word kavod. Glory. It literally means a weightiness. The whole earth, the Seraphim cry, is filled with the weightiness of Yahweh. This same glory is what the angels are commanded in Psalm 29 to ascribe to the LORD.

Have you ever been around someone who commands attention? Not in an annoying look at me type of way, but their simply being in the room draws eyes and ears to them. We speak of such a person as having presence. The being who has the ultimate presence is God himself. The glory, the weight, the value of his holy and powerful name do fill the earth in a real sense, the heavens declare the glory of God, and we are responsible as his creatures to see this. The role of angels is to praise him for it. But the praise should not be restricted to the heavenly beings.

If those who are perfect have reasons to glorify, to magnify, to stand in awe of such beauty and strength, how much more should we who are small, sinful, and earthly? As great as the contrast is between the angels and God, how much more the contrast between this sinner and God? Which could lead us to despair in verse two, worship the Lord in the splendor of holiness. The idea here seems to be of coming to the LORD dressed in holy garments, much as the angels would come arrayed in the garments which God himself prepared, or the Levitical priests who would work in the vestments for which God himself had prepared the patterns.

This splendid, holy, and majestic God demands that we come before him clothed appropriately for his presence. Yet you and I are so marked by sin that the prophet Isaiah says, We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment. (Isaiah 64:6). How can we come before God dressed like this?


The Power of His Voice, v 3-9
The first terrifying fact about God in this Psalm is that he demands that we approach him in the manner which he deserves. The reason that’s terrifying is that, because of sin, we can’t. We don’t come anywhere close to being splendid or holy enough to approach the living God. But maybe, just maybe, we could fool him. Is there any way we might be able to sneak in and put on a good performance such that he doesn’t notice our sin? Not once we encounter his powerful and revealing voice.

In verses 3-4 we read that, The voice of the LORD is over the waters; the God of glory thunders, the Lord over many waters. The voice of the LORD is powerful; the voice of the LORD is full of majesty. This is the God who speaks with authority over wind, water, and thunder-will you stand before him?

This is the God who hovered over the face of the deep in Genesis 1 and formed the earth. This is the God who split open the red sea so that the Isrealites could pass through, and then brought that same sea crashing down upon the Egyptian army. This is the Lord of the storm. I wonder if you remember the story from Matthew 8:23-27. This brief narrative picks up on our theme.

And when he got into the boat, his disciples followed him. And behold, there arose a great storm on the sea, so that the boat was being swamped by the waves; but he was asleep. And they went and woke him, saying, “Save us, Lord; we are perishing.” And he said to them, “Why are you afraid, O you of little faith?” Then he rose and rebuked the winds and the sea, and there was a great calm. And the men marveled, saying, “What sort of man is this, that even the winds and the sea obey him.”

Who is he? He is the God of glory, the God whose voice thunders. He is the Lord, the Lord over many waters. He is the Lord whose voice is powerful. He is the Lord whose voice is majestic. There is nothing in all of creation which matches this power, this beauty, this terror, this majesty.

Continuing on in verses 5-8 we read, the voice of the LORD breaks the cedars; the LORD breaks the cedars of Lebanon. He makes Lebanon to skip like a calf, and Sirion like a young wild ox. The voice of the LORD flashes forth flames of fire. The voice of the LORD shakes the wilderness; the LORD shakes the wilderness of Kadesh.

God’s voice can rip apart cedars. The cedars that grow in Lebanon are enormous trees, capable of reaching well over 100 feet in height and being very wide at the base. So when David says that the LORD breaks the cedars of Lebanon, he isn’t saying God’s voice gently ripples through the bushes. This is hurricane-like, tornado-like, destruction and desolation.

I carry mail for a living, and one of the things that I find most unnerving are those days when the wind is exceptionally gusty, say 40-50 mph, and I’m walking under trees in residential neighborhoods. My concern, even in genuinely high winds, is not that whole trees are going to start toppling on me. I’m worried about the occasional branch that could break off and fall. But that’s not what is happening here. The image is of God flattening mountainsides of massive and majestic evergreen trees. How? By the power of his voice. And this powerful presence of his voice is a powerful omnipresence: you cannot escape it. He speaks of Lebanon in the North, Sirion is another name for Mount Hermon at the very far northern tip of David’s kingdom. The wilderness of Kadesh, on the other hand, is in the very remotest southern edge. The whole of Israel is under the voice of Yahweh.

If we remember what verse 3 told us, that the God of glory thunders, then verse 7 is clarified, the voice of the LORD flashes forth flames of fire. Thunder, lightning, some of the most powerful forces in nature, flashing forth from his speech. In verse six where Lebanon is skipping like a wild calf and Sirion, or Hermon, is skipping like a young wild ox, we should not picture peaceful frolicking. Rather, we should imagine these herd animals, which are very spooky, taking off in fear when they hear the boom of thunder. The lightning terrifies them and they take off kicking and running for their lives.

Verse 9 carries forward this theme of terror: The voice of the LORD makes the deer give birth and strips the forests bare. The wildlife in the region enter into preterm labor, which may seem like an awful occurrence, except that all the forests have also been laid bare, so perhaps those fawns wouldn’t have had any cover for safety if they had survived birth.

The power of God’s voice is undoubtedly vivid in this imagery. What are we to do in response? Shudder? Cower in fear? In verse 9 we hear what those in his temple (likely the same angels addressed in verse 1) are crying out: Glory!

Glory. Beauty. Power. Majesty. He has told them to declare these things, and when they see him pour forth his voice, they have no choice but to proclaim what they see. Only a glorious God could exercise this level of power.

But again, this could leave us in despair. He has already demanded we approach in a holiness we do not have. Now we find out that his omnipotent voice will find us out, it will strip us bare and beat us down like so many toothpicks. How can we stand before him?


The Hope for God’s People, v 10-11

All this talk of God’s powerful voice, of his majestic glory, it leads in a clear direction: God sits enthroned over all. The LORD sits enthroned over the flood; the LORD sits enthroned as king forever. Who sits enthroned? The LORD, Yahweh. Even over the flood: Derek Kidner points out that this word for flood occurs only here and in Genesis chs 6-11, where God fully unleashed nature’s power for his purposes. Even in the most disastrous of all earthly circumstances, God sits on his throne. He is not fazed by any of it because he controls it all. Not one thing happens apart from the will of God, from beginning to end, from Hermon to Kadesh, the LORD sits enthroned forever.

And the Psalmist makes an interesting move here. He goes from rightly reveling in the power of God’s presence and voice, trembling with us before him, to taking comfort from this same God. May the LORD give strength to his people! May the LORD bless his people with peace! Again I will ask, how can God do this?

The ultimate answer is that he continues to do this through his voice, through his word. Most especially he does this through the Word made Flesh, the Voice who took Form. Jesus comes, and in the Gospels we see him demonstrate massive power over creation. He calms storms. He heals a man who had been a cripple for 38 years. He heals a man born blind. He turns water into wine. He prays over five barley loaves and two fish and they become sufficient food for 5,000 men, besides the women and the children. He speaks, and Lazarus walks forth from the tomb. Jesus’ voice is the Voice of the LORD, and he has power over all. And yet, with all of this power, he didn’t come and execute the judgement that we might expect as unclean sinners who approach God with unholy garments. We don’t receive the blasting furnace of God’s fierce words of wrath. Jesus came and was made a sacrifice for us.

He entered Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, with the crowds crying Hosanna! He went a few days later to a cross as they shouted crucify him! And instead of invoking his powerful voice, calling down angels or simply engulfing them in flames, he humbly took their scorn and on the cross he paid their debt. My debt. Your debt. Why did he do this? So that we who were once enemies of God could be made his friends. So that we who were clothed in our sin might instead be clothed in his righteousness. 2 Corinthians 5:21, For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. And Ephesians 1:3-4, Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him.

How do we stand before a holy God? Only in Christ. If your hope and trust are in Jesus Christ alone, not in who you are or in anything that you have done, God will take away your sin and cloth you in the splendor, the righteousness of Jesus himself. If you are in Christ, united to him by faith and clothed by his righteousness as a gift, God looks upon you as one holy and blameless. And it is in that circumstance, and that circumstance alone wherein we can take hope at the end of this Psalm. Because if we have been united to Jesus by faith, we are in fact part of the people of God. And the people of God can expect that he will in fact give them strength. He will in fact bless his people with peace. Because the God of glory and power, the God whom all creation ought to fear, is no longer against us: he is profoundly for us. For those in Christ, the voice of the Lord moves in power on your behalf. Not to do your bidding, but to work for your joy.


Conclusion

Where can God’s people find strength and peace? We find strength and peace knowing that in Jesus we have a relationship with the God who reigns. The God who sits enthroned over the flood, rules over my day with the kids. The God who sits enthroned forever, knows my financial needs. The God whose voice shakes mountains, speaks to me in his word. The God who has angels crying out day and night is glad when I add my feeble voice to theirs. Brothers and sisters, in view of this, let us join our voices with all those in his temple, where all cry: Glory!

1 Samuel 4, God's Not Your Puppet

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