I’m glad that you all came back. Some of you might not have been here last week. If that is the case we welcome you. But I know that some of you were here last week, and I was a little scared you might not return.
Last week we studied Psalm 1 and we saw how God promised to prosper those who fear him. It reinforced the teaching with the image of a lush and prosperous tree
But you might have been quite disappointed over the course of the week. You might have wondered, “Where’s my happiness?” And you might not have been inclined to come back, thinking I’m some charlatan.
Well, I’m glad you came back. Because this is where Psalm 2 comes in. Psalms 1 and 2 serve as the introduction to the whole Psalter. As you read through the Psalms, what you find is that the God fearing man struggles. He struggles a lot. That’s because there are wicked people in the world. And these wicked people are making life tough for him. Their sins impeding upon our happiness.
And a lot of our troubles come from oppression. Oftentimes our happiness is hindered because these wicked people are in positions of power. Since they hold these positions of power, they make life quite difficult for God’s people.
And that’s why Psalm 2 is a compliment to Psalm 1. This Psalm presents us with the absolute authority Jesus Christ has as the King of all the earth. This Psalm is considered a Messianic Psalm. That’s because it talks a lot about the Messiah. He is mentioned in verse 2. The word anointed is the word Messiah. Towards the end of the Psalm we are told to “kiss the Son lest he be angry.” That’s a reference to Christ, who is the Son of God.
So this Psalm is explicitly messianic and it is here to remind us of the sovereign rule of Christ over all the rulers of the earth.
And it is only appropriate that this be our text this Lord’s Day. This Tuesday we will be going to the polls to elect those we desire to be our governors. And it is good time for us to remember the rule of Jesus Christ is unbreakable, unbearable, and unbelievable.
I enticed you last week by saying that this Psalm is God’s word to Donald Trump. Well, it is actually God’s rule to every leader. It doesn’t matter if it is Trump, Hillary, Obama, or Pol Pot. This text is here to remind us that God is Sovereign and all the rulers of the earth need to know that His reign is unbreakable.
I. God’s rule is unbreakable [1-3]
Look at the first three verses of the Psalm Verses 1-3 tell us about how all the nations and kings of the earth are opposing God with the utmost vehemence. Look at the words that it uses. In verse 1 it says that the nations are raging against God. It also says they are actively plotting against him.
Verse 2 says that the kings of the earth set themselves against God and take counsel against him. The idea is that these kings are forming an alliance with one another in order to try and overthrow God. They are depicted as combining resources so as to mount a powerful and strategic attack.
Now, notice what this means. It implies that all the nations are bound to be God’s vassals. They are under God’s authority and therefore they must be subject to His law. They are to acknowledge His rule and they are to abide by His commands.
So this means that every nation of the earth is not allowed to make up their own laws and govern as they please. They are required to submit themselves to the rules and regulations spelled out in Scripture.
So President Obama isn’t allowed to do his own thing. And whoever comes into office next, be he Trump, Cruz, or Hillary, each of them is to govern this nation on the basis of Scriptural principles.
But, of course, this passage is saying that all the nations of the earth are not doing that. They are raging against God. So that means they are not living in submission to God’s law word. They are rebelling against His authority.
But look at the first word. The first word is key. It’s the word “Why?” It is put as a question. Why are you doing all this? Why are you making such a fuss? Do you really expect to accomplish anything? The word why reveals how utterly foolish and futile their alliances and strategies really are. It reminds us that God rules the earth and his rule cannot be broken.
I really like verse 3. In verse 3 the nations speak and say, “Let us burst their bonds and cast away their cords from us.” This is basically saying that God has all the rulers of the earth on a little leash.
If you have a dog, you are the master of that dog. You rule that dog. And one of the ways you show your ownership of that dog is by putting him on a leash. Now, the dog might not like you. He might lash and whip around. He might try to get away from you by wiggling out of that leash. But typically that doesn’t happen. When you have that leash on him you have mastery of that dog.
That’s the picture here. All the nations are writhing like mad dogs trying to shake loose God’s rule, but they can’t do it. God has them on his little leash and they can’t break it.
This is the passage by the way that the early church quoted in the book of Acts. You remember that Peter and John were put in prison for having preached the gospel. But they were eventually let go. And when the people heard this they quoted this passage. They knew that it was completely futile to try and oppose the name of Christ and the proclamation of his kingdom.
More than that, they went on to lump Herod and Pontius Pilate in with the religious leaders—the very guys who had Christ killed.
So think of that. At the very moment when the rage of the world was at its height—at the very moment they thought they were casting off the bonds of God, they were actually fulfilling God’s plan and doing what he wanted them to.
This just reminds us that God’s rule is unbreakable. My friends, remember that God is sovereign over every nation. Every nation is obligated to submit to King Jesus. Our presidential elections are upon us and God’s word to every candidate is that they are obligated to obey and enforce His law. They are not permitted to deviate from Scripture.
But you can also be assured that when they do not—when they rebel against His law and try to overthrow God’s authority—you can be assured that their efforts will be futile. Our God is completely sovereign over them and they are ever on his leash.
But notice that God’s rule is not just unbreakable, it is also unbearable.
II. God’s rule is unbearable [4-9]
Verses 4-9 tell us how God treats these wicked kings who are raging against him. And when you read these words you find that these kings suffer tremendously at the hand of a just & powerful God. The suffering that is described in verses 4-9 is simply unbearable.
You know one of the most scathing ways to treat someone is to mock them. Taunting someone can often be so unbearable, especially to proud people. It will simply drive them crazy. And that’s exactly what God does. Verse 4 tells us how God teases them.
A. The wicked are teased
It says, “He who sits in the heavens laughs; the Lord holds them in derision.”
When I was younger, I used to get very upset with my bigger brother. I used to get so mad that I’d go after him. I’d try to hit him and knock him out. But you know what he used to do to me? He’d simply put his hand out and stick it on my forehead. So there I’d be, swinging and fighting, but I couldn’t touch him. And you know what he’d do then? He’d laugh hysterically. And that only made me even more mad.
That’s the picture here. God sees these rulers ranging and fomenting with anger and he just laughs. He finds it downright comical.
I never knew what it meant when it says that God holds them in derision until this week. I got to study the word derision, and I found that it means “to stammer” and “to talk in a mocking way.” I think of it as taking your finger and rolling it back and forth over your lips. You know how you did that when you were kids? When your friend got mad at you and you taunted him like that.
God is up in heaven laughing and mocking these arrogant leaders. He knows that they are nothing in comparison to his sovereign might.
But he takes it one step further. Not only does he taunt them, but he also terrorizes them.
B. The wicked are terrorized
Look at verse 5. It says, “Then he will speak to them in his wrath and terrify them in his fury, saying, “As for me I have set my King on Zion, my holy hill.”
Yes God will make fun of them, but eventually a time will come when his anger will burst forth upon them. And when that does, they will be utterly frightened. The word I have translated “terrify” (some of you may have the word “vex”), but it means “to cause to tremble.” In other words, these people will be so scared that they will not be able to function because fear causes their muscular system to break into panicked spasms.
Why are they shaking? It is because Jesus sits upon the throne. They will break forth into a wild frenzied panic because Jesus is the King and ultimate ruler.
You remember when Jesus was at his most vulnerable moment in his earthly life. He was in the Garden of Gethsemene and the mob had come out to arrest him. The book of John tells us how that encounter went. The mob came forward asking for Jesus and Jesus responded by saying, “I am.” John tells us that the mob tumbled backward and fell to the ground. They were simply overwhelmed and could not even hold their ground for another second.
The presence and power of Christ, even in his hour of betrayal, was simply too much for them to handle. It was completely unbearable. And what you see there in that incident is just a microcosm of what happens every single day.
But look at what it says in the next couple of verses. Verse 7 says, “I will tell of the decree: The Lord said to me, “You are my Son; today I have begotten you. Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage, and the ends of the earth your possession. You shall break them with a rod of iron and dash them to pieces like a potter’s vessel.”
C. The wicked are terminated
It is not enough that these wicked nations are teased and terrorized. They are ultimately terminated. Christ destroys them. He breaks them to pieces like a piece of pottery.
Look at the history of the world. It is the story of Christ disposing of dictators and despots. The testimony of Scripture is this: Tyrants and tormentors eventually come to an end.
And the promise here is that, once they are removed, Christ will have full rule over the entirety of the earth.
But we cannot downplay what happens to these nations and rulers. When you consider everything that is said here you find that Jesus shows no mercy whatsoever. Those nations who continue to rise against Jesus Christ will not be treated kindly. They will feel the scepter of Christ come down upon their skulls and they will be laid to waste.
God is sovereign and those who opposed him will not only find that his rule is unbreakable, but they will also find it to be unbearable.
But I want you to notice one other thing about God’s rule. It is almost shocking how this passage ends. As a matter of fact, after all that has been said, it is downright unbelievable.
III. God’s rule is unbelievable [10-12]
In verses 10-12 the Lord addresses all the kings of the earth, and what you find is that he offers them a second chance.
Look at verses 10-11. It says, “Now therefore, O kings, be wise; be warned, O rulers of the earth. Serve the LORD with fear, and rejoice with trembling. Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and you perish in the way, for his wrath is quickly kindled. Blessed are all who take refuge in him.”
This is not what you would expect to hear after the first 9 verses of this Psalm. Any typical king, if there was a mutiny of this degree among his subjects, would have them all destroyed. And we see that’s exactly what he said he would do. Jesus was presented as ruthlessly smashing his enemies to smithereens.
So the last thing we may expect is his offering his enemies a chance to live. But that is what he does. In verses 10-12 God offers his enemies terms of peace.
Now granted, the terms of peace are nothing more than unconditional surrender. That’s what it amounts to when it says serve him, take joy in him, kiss him. Kissing him is a form of homage. It is recognizing him as your Lord—your authority. But they still get to live!
Not only do they get to live, but they get to rule!
It is unbelievable that he grants them life, but it is even more unbelievable that he allows them to continue in office.
You’ll notice that nothing is said here about their removal from office. As a matter of fact, God allows these leaders to “serve him.” They don’t have to step down or resign. They are not deposed from office, but instead, they are given the chance to be godly leaders. As long as they promise to bring themselves and their nation into subjection to Christ, they get to continue to serve.
There is one other thing that is worthy of notice. It is the very last line of the Psalm. It says, “blessed are all who take refuge in him.”
It is unbelievable that they get to live. It is unbelievable that he lets them continue to rule. But here’s another unbelievable things: He promises to bless them.
This, of course, is a reference back to Psalm 1. It is the idea of blessing (prosperity and happiness) that Psalm 1 spells out. The Lord says, “If turn from your evil ways and serve me, then I will have compassion on you. I will not destroy you. More than that, I promise to bless you and prosper you.”
This is why it is unbelievable. Every human institution puts countries in subjection in order to leach off of them and suck the life out of them. They impose heavy taxation and demand all kinds of tribute. But God doesn’t do that. He promises to bless them and prosper them.
You want to make America great again? This is how you do it. It is not by building a wall. It is by bowing before God and acknowledge Him as your only sovereign.
And here is the most unbelievable thing in it all: Jesus promises to be your refuge.
You know what a refuge is? It is a place you go when you are in trouble. It is a place where you are kept safe. So if there is a storm, you take refuge under a pavilion or in a house.
The fact that the Lord promises to be your refuge means you will be safe from all your enemies. Most of all, you will be safe from God himself.
That’s the most unbelievable things about this passage. It tells you that the sovereign Christ will be the one who shields you from his own wrath by taking it upon himself.
When Jesus was on earth, he was teased and taunted. They mocked him and laughed at him, wrapping him up in a robe and placing a crown of thorns on his head.
The terrorized him and vexed him as they beat and whipped him. Relentlessly and ruthlessly they dug into his flesh and caused his body to shake.
Then they crucified him and terminated his life.
And because he suffered and died, he now allows anyone who takes refuge in him the opportunity to experience the blessing of life.
The story goes that lightning briefly illuminated the primitive, rock-hewn landscape of Burrington Combe in Somerset, England. It was followed by a deep growl of thunder.
The rain then began to fall. It lashed mercilessly down, pouring bubbling streamlets down the craggy sides of the cliffs which rise up some 250ft.
While waiting for the storm to pass he began to muse on the idea of the “rock of faith” being a shelter from the “storms of life.” According to the legend some words for a hymn began to form in his mind. However he had no paper in his pocket to write them down. Looking down he saw a playing card. The thing was considered a sinful by the young cleric. Nevertheless, he picked it up and began to write the words we just sang:
Rock of ages, cleft for me,
Let me hide myself in thee.
We don’t know if that story is altogether true. Some say that it is more apocryphal. But there is no doubt that the words of the hymn are sound. The one who trusts in Christ has the most secure protection. The storms of life, no matter how torrential they may be—no matter how the gales of providence may blow—they will not be a threat to a Christian.
This is certainly what we find in the Psalm that is before us this morning. Psalm 91 is a fitting end to our series on persecution because it reminds us that faith filled followers possess absolute security in earthly troubles. And the reason this Psalm has been a beloved Psalm to so many is because it details for us the source and sum of our security. And it does so in some of the most beautiful ways literarily.
Our passage beings by pointing us to the source of our protection.
I. The source of our protection [1-2]
In the first two verses it says, “He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty. 2 I will say to the LORD, ‘My refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.’”
The idea of dwelling in the Most High, or abiding in him as some of your translations may say, is a metaphor for faith. It is, so to speak, to make your faith home in God. It is putting your trust in him. Just as Toplady put his faith in the crags of those cliffs and chose to dwell there in the storm, when we trust in Christ we are choosing to make God our Savior.
When you read this, you immediately notice that this verse the emphasis is not so much on the faith you have to muster. Rather it the emphasis is on the God in whom you are putting your faith. As a matter of fact, it refers to Him in 6 different ways. And the diversity of these titles or descriptions helps us understand that God is the source of our protection.
The first term that we meet with is “the Most High.” This is the Hebrew word Elyon. It refers God’s supremacy. It’s not just that he dwells in the heavens and is higher in terms of altitude. But he is so much greater by virtue of his sovereignty that no one can match him. And since there is not a person or god or being that can begin to compare with our God, are we not safe in him?
The second term that is employed is the word “Almighty.” This is a good compliment to Most High. If Most High refers to his supremacy of his being, Almighty refers to the supremacy of his power. And by employing this term he reminds you that God is a powerhouse no one can stop. And as a result the your security is 100% certain
Then in verse 2 we also see the word “LORD.” Capital L-O-R-D. Now this is a good compliment to the Most High and Almighty. Those were power words. But to call God LORD indicates that His power is favorable to us. The name LORD is that special name of God. It is sometimes called the “covenant” name of God because it is typically associated with God’s special, covenant relationship to his people. For instance, the first time it is used is in Genesis 2. In Genesis 1, when God creates all things, the author used the word God (Hebrew “Elohim”). But in Genesis 2, where God creates man and begins to relate to man, the author shifts and uses the word LORD (Hebrew “Yahweh”).
This was also the name that Moses was given when he was commissioned to go bring Israel out of Egypt. Remember that Moses asked, “Who should I say sent me?” And the Lord replied by saying, “Tell them ‘The LORD’ sent you!” So this was supposed to be that name that was special to Israel. It was the name that reminded them that they were in covenant (in relationship) with God.
My family recently enjoyed time at the lake. Every summer Elizabeth’s side of the family gets together for a week at the beach. This year was especially fun because her brother recently got married and his new bride was there with him. It was fun to see the newlyweds interact. They still have something of that puppy love for one another. But one of the things we noticed is that they have pet names for each other, as most married couples do. They went around calling each other “Babers.” “Hey Babers, can you get me a pillow.” “Where do you want to go, Babers?”
Now, it would be extremely awkward if I had said to my brother in law’s wife, “Hey Babers, do you mind watching the kids?” It would be even more awkward if I said it to my brother in law!
Why couldn’t I use that name? It is because they had a special relationship, and I was not part of it.
This is essentially what this name of God means for us. When we see here that he is “the LORD” we are to be reminded of the special relationship we have with Him. And because it is such a close knit relationship, we can be assured that the Most High will be our jealous protector.
You’ll notice then that the passage ties together a string of metaphors which serve as titles for God. It is something of a title wave of titles. He is “my refuge, my fortress, my God.” All of these terms are power words. Elohim is the word for God. As I just mentioned, it is the name used in Genesis 1 which indicates an all powerful creator. It emphasizes the “Godness” of God, you might say. He is the one who is able to bring everything into being from nothing. One who can tear continents apart and scatter stars in the sky like we would throw marbles or sprinkles on a cake.
This God is a fortress and refuge. In other words, he is impregnable. In the OT there were the “cities of refuge.” If you committed an accidental crime, you could flee there and find safety. The one seeking revenge could not touch you once you entered those gates. You were completely safe from your attacker.
And here it is saying that God is you refuge. Since you are in Christ, no one can lay a finger on you. There is nothing they can do to harm you, at least in the ultimate sense.
Doesn’t this remind you of what Paul says in Romans 8? “What can separate us from the love of God in Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? …37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Was Paul afraid of persecution? Absolutely not. Why? It is because he understood the nature of God.
And we must do so too. If we understand who our God is, then we will understand that there is nothing that can hurt us, at least not in an ultimate sense.
Our protection lies clearly in our God. But as we look at our text, we not only see how God is the source of our protection, we see the sum total of the protection that he offers us.
II. The sum of our protection [3-13]
Really, the rest of the Psalm is a commentary on the first two verses. We could very much stop at this point. But the psalm goes on to detail how God is our protection. It is almost as if it gives us a grand overview of what God’s protection is like.
In reading verses 3-10 what we find is that God’s protection is comprehensive.
A. God’s protection is comprehensive [3-10, 13]
Look at verse 3. He lists two things you are protected against in this verse. It says, “For he will deliver you from the snare of the fowler and from the deadly pestilence.” The fowler is bird. They would lay traps for it to catch it. This is essentially a metaphor for your enemies who are trying to capture & kill you. So you have your enemies and disease, the two major threats to life.
Those two things are repeated again in verses 5-6. It says “You will not fear the terror of the night, nor the arrow that flies by day, nor the pestilence that stalks in darkness, nor the destruction that wastes at noonday. 7 A thousand may fall at your side, ten thousand at your right hand, but it will not come near you. 8 You will only look with your eyes and see the recompense of the wicked. 9 Because you have made the LORD your dwelling place-- the Most High, who is my refuge—10 (here how comprehensive it is) no evil shall be allowed to befall you, no plague come near your tent.
Now, I know this is a series that deals with your enemies specifically. But it’s good to know that God has got your back on every side, right? God has you protected, not just from your enemies, but he has your back when it comes to disease and pestilence too!
We have been a bit sheltered from this kind of thing here in America. We don’t know how easily the outside world is threatened with plagues and diseases. These things are rabid in non western countries.
But we certainly are not immune. In the news the last few days we’ve heard about an Ebola outbreak in Africa. And CNN has reported that a couple Americans who had contracted the disease were being evacuated to America. Twitter was immediately abuzz with people wondering, “Why are they bringing them here?!” You can understand the concern. We don’t want the disease spreading through our ranks now, do we?
Here we have the promise that our God is watching out for us.
The same goes for our enemies. If they would march out against us, we may rest in knowing that our God will stave off their invasions. His normal way of working is to protect his people and allow them to remain safe through the persecutions.
Now, there have been some who have used this verse to say that no harm whatsoever will ever come upon you. They carry it around like a magic trinket, or an invincible steel armor. Perhaps you’ve even heard stories where bullets have been stopped by little Gideon bibles that soldiers have had in their chest pockets. I know one such story where soldiers were issued testaments. Then they marched into battle. At the end of the day one soldier found that he had been hit. The bullet actually stopped right at this verse.
But you understand that this verse is proverbial to some degree. We might say as some have in the past, “We are invincible until God calls us home.” But the truth of these verses should not escape us. In general, God has been the shelter and safety of his people. The norm is that the people of God are kept safe. And while we hear of martyrs and imprisonments and tortures, we should yet remember that many more have escaped the clutches of their enemies or somehow avoided capture.
But not only is God’s protection comprehensive; it is also personal.
B. Our protection is personalized [11-12]
To be sure, this psalm has been very personal throughout. But you see it more clearly, I think, in verses 11-13. It says, “For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways. 12 On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.”
Some of you might know that this is Satan’s verse. It’s the one he used in his temptation of Jesus. He told Jesus, “Throw yourself down off this pinnacle. The Bible says ‘He will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways.’ Surely, God won’t let you down.”
You know too how Jesus rebuked Satan and told him not to put the Lord to the test. In other words, we don’t throw caution to the wind and intentionally put ourselves in the place of peril when it is needless to do so. God’s not going to protect a fool.
But it is interesting how Satan realized just how personal God's protection is. And it is true, the Lord does demonstrate his personal care for us. So personal is his care that He has dispatched a squad of angels with the specific mission of watching out for us. God actually commands these celestial warriors to be our personal body guards.
Now, we've all probably heard stories about how we are to have a “guardian angel.” Unfortunately, thanks to “It’s a Wonderful Life” we think of our guardian angel as Clarence. But, if we reflect on what Scripture says, we find that to be a myth. It actually says we have more than one guardian angel. We have guardian angels (plural)!
Scripture tells us that God created myriads of angels. So that means we could possibly have a whole regiment all around us! Just think, there could be a whole company of angels in our presence today, perhaps forming a wall all around this building. (It might be better to think that they are keeping that bell tower from crashing down upon us. Derril and I were talking just yesterday about how once we move out of here we’ll hear how the Mifflin Lion’s Club building collapses.)
The point here though is that God has a special interest in each and every one of us. So particular is his care that he has assigned angels to watch our every move and protect us from God knows what.
The last few verses of the Psalm remind us that our protection isn’t just a comprehensive and personal, but it is 100% guaranteed.
C. Our protection is guaranteed [14-16]
It says, "Because he holds fast to me in love, I will deliver him; I will protect him, because he knows my name. 15 When he calls to me, I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble; I will rescue him and honor him. 16 With long life I will satisfy him and show him my salvation."
You see how the promises are compiled one on top of another. It is almost as if this Psalm ends with a grand finale. There are a barrage of confirmations which show how certain you may be that he will be your aid in times of trouble.
What is the Lord doing here? He’s doing nothing else than drilling it in your brain one last time. If you’ve been that dense and haven’t gotten it through the psalm to this point, here you go. All of these promises are to confirm to you that God will not let you down.
But take note of what it says in verse 14. Here we have a beautiful picture of why God protects us. It says, “Because he holds fast to me in love.” Another way of saying it might be “He clings to me in love.”
Now I ask you, “Is this not the true expression of faith?” Isn’t that what faith is? Holding on to him in love?
Joe and I have been doing evangelism out on the streets of Ashland and Mansfield. And we’ve come across many people who claim to be Christians and claim to be forgiven. But as you talk to them, you can tell they do not cling to him in love. Maybe they flirt with him. Maybe they give a vague acknowledgement of him or they tip their hat to Him.
But a true Christian clings to the Lord, and he does so in love. And it is this clinging that melts God’s heart and is part of the reason we can be assured that God will protect us.
Every once in a while I get separated from my family. They may go visit my in laws for a couple days and I’ll need to stay home and work (or something like that). And when I walk in, it is always a joy to have the girls come running and give me hugs. But the little ones tend to cling to me. She’ll wrap her arms around me and won’t let go. She’ll stay there with her arms wrapped tightly around me for 10, 15, even 20 minutes because she loves me.
I tell you, that melts my heart when she does that. And do you think for a moment that I would let anything happen to her when she’s there holding on to me like that? Not a chance.
If that is how any one of us would act with one of our children, how much more can we expect the Lord to protect his children when we demonstrate true faith by clinging to him in love?
One of the things that Christians are prone to do is engage in what is known as “hagiography.”
You probably know what a biography is. It is a writing about someone’s life. A hagiography is similar. It is a writing about someone’s life, the difference is in the way that writing takes shape. Hagios is the Greek word for saint. And in a hagiography, as you write about the person, you tends to idolize or idealize the person.
In a biography, you talk about someone as they are, even with all their flaws. In hagiography, you ignore people’s flaws and inflate their good qualities.
This is something that Christians sometimes do. We tend to engage in hagiography when it comes to our forefathers in the faith or the martyrs of the church.
For instance, we might do this with regard to Martin Luther. People will talk about Martin Luther as if he had the boldness of a lion. We think of him as one who has veins of steel. Like when he stood his ground at the Diet of Worms and making his famous profession, “Here I stand, I can do no other.”
But few actually know that this is not what he said at first. Luther appeared before the counsel twice. The first day he appeared, he was asked if the books that had been laid out came from his pen and if he was ready to recant them. He didn’t answer right away. Instead he asked for more time to deliberate. So the counsel was adjourned until the next day.
We don’t know what might have possessed Luther at that moment. I don’t doubt though that he might have been touched with a bit of fear. For to answer in a way that the Church didn’t like could likely mean death. Luther might have employed a stall tactic and may have seriously been questioning whether or not he should recant & spare his life.
But we don’t talk much about that. We like to focus on the second day where he made his bold declaration that he wouldn’t recant.
The same is true when it comes to things like “Foxe’s Book of Martyrs” or the stories that are put out by “Voice of the Martyrs.” They put forth stories about fearless men and women who stood courageously in the face of persecution.
The problem with this is that we hear of these bold stands for Christ and we begin to think that there is no room for fear among the believing. What we are going is engaging in hagiography; make men into angel like warriors in the face of persecution.
And we do a great injustice to many believers. We’d like it if it were true. We’d like to say that fear is something that isn’t a reality. But it simply isn’t the case. We need to admit and say, “Persecution can be scary.” While there may be some people who don’t blink an eye when faced with it, that isn’t the norm. Most people will experience some degree of fear. It could range from a slight alarm to outright terror.
Thankfully, the Bible doesn’t do hagiography. The Bible portrays man in all his weakness. They say that is one of proofs for the inspiration of Scripture; there is perhaps no other book that is so honest about how feeble and pathetic men can be.
As we come this morning to Psalm 56, we see one such text. Here in this passage David writes about his fear. There is no hagiography here. David is willing to give up his man card and say, “This situation is not good and I’m terrified.”
Look at verse 3. Verse 3 begins by saying, “When I am afraid.” Now I want to pause there and let that sink in. I think it is important that we acknowledge the fact that fear may very well come upon one’s faith.
I. The fear that may come upon one’s faith
I really appreciate David’s candor here. David may very well be a mighty warrior who demonstrates great valor. He goes into war, he fights his enemy in hand to hand combat. He’s a guy who has fought the lion and the bear and tangled with a 9 foot freak of nature named Goliath. He’s a guy who had extra-ordinary amounts of courage, but he was still a man. And there were times where even he had bouts of fear.
And on this occasion he admits that his emotional state is not altogether where it needs to be. His enemies have him in a bind. His life is threatened, and he is afraid.
What I want you to understand is that this is a valid reaction. We shouldn’t think that stoicism is some sort of Christian virtue and there is nothing inherently wrong with being afraid when a real threat to your life or job or reputation presents itself. Good Christian people can experience fits of fear.
Fear is simply that emotion that arises out of a sense of personal harm. It is typically the natural reaction one has to a situation where there is a real and present danger. And we should not think that this sensation is sinful.
As David admits his fear, we should be comforted in knowing that this is not in and of itself a bad thing. I say this because some people think that it is. Some people are actually afraid of being afraid because they think that this is somehow sinful or dishonoring to God. That’s not true though.
To be sure, there are situations where fear can become sinful. When fear escalates and turns into panic or gives way to sin, that’s when we have a problem.
In this regard we might think of Peter as good example of how fear gave way to faithlessness and evil. Remember how Peter was confronted by the little girl when Christ was taken captive and was being tried. She said, “Hey, you are a Galilean. You must be one of his disciples.” What happened to Peter? Peter was stricken with fear, wasn’t he? And that fear got the better part of him. He ended up denying Christ saying, “I have no idea what you are talking about.”
Now, that first moment of fear, was that altogether wrong? Not necessarily. But that fear dominated him. It became the controlling force driving peter’s reaction. In fear Peter chose self preservation over and against affiliation with Christ. That his fear gave way to panic, that was not right.
So, yes, fear can become sinful and it can result in sin, but the fear in and of itself does not necessarily have to be sinful.
As David shows us here, fear is an emotion that any God honoring Christian can experience. Even Jesus dealt with fear. I think that it is safe to say that when he was in the Garden of Gethsemane, he was dealing with a little bit of fear. He was terrified and overrun with fear because the fury of the wrath of God loomed over him. So much was his fright that blood formed on his brow. The blood vessels in his forehead burst because of the terror that had gripped him and the blood seeped from his pours.
Why do I point this out? Because I don’t want anyone here thinking that because they fear death or fear being put out by their persecutors, that they have committed a great sin. I want you to understand that is perfectly normal.
Some people can really beat themselves up over this. They’ll worry and fret because they are afraid and that’s all due to the fact that they think they are supposed to have veins of steel. They think that they are failing God because they think they are to have nothing but courage.
But that’s not true. Fear and faith are not mutually exclusive concepts (not necessarily, anyway).
Fear is an emotion that good Christians can have this side of heaven. There will come a time when all our fears will subside. When Christ comes again, we will bid these feelings farewell once and for all. But until then fear may come upon one’s faith.
But our text does not just show us how fear may come upon one’s faith. It goes on to show us how faith may rise out of one’s fear.
II. Fear’s faith
Look at the rest of verse 3. David does not say, “When I am afraid, I run and hide and cower and put my tail between my legs and a pillow over my head.” He doesn’t say that he shrinks back from my foes and ends up despairing and denying his faith. No. He says, “When I am afraid, I trust in you.”
His fear doesn’t consume him. Instead his fear leads him to greater faith. Even though the conditions are adverse—even though his enemies might very well take his life, he resolves to rely on God and trust that God’s way is best.
David is not like Cain and Peter, who we talked about just a second ago. David’s fear does not give way to faithlessness. Out of his fear springs forth faith a sure and true belief in God.
Sure, fear may come upon his faith, but faith comes forth from his fear.
And notice what motivates him to put his faith in God. In verse 3 he says, “When I am afraid, I trust in you. In God whose word I praise, will I trust.” Now, some of you may have something slightly different. This part of the verse can be translated differently. But the sum and substance of it is that God’s word is praiseworthy. God’s word is worthy of praise.
Why is david trusting in God? What makes him put his faith in God in the face of fear? It is because God’s word is praiseworthy.
Why is God’s word praiseworthy? It is because it is perfect in what it reveals.
Think about it this way: What makes for a praiseworthy apple? If I pulled out an apple that was rotten, would that be a praiseworthy apple? Of course not. How about if I pulled out an apple that was perfect on the outside, but had a worm on the inside. It’s only one worm, so it’s not that bad. Well, that’s not a praise worthy apple either, is it?
What makes for a praiseworthy apple? It’s an apple that is perfect.
That’s what I think David is saying here. I trust in God because he has given us a perfect revelation of truth. We have a perfect revelation of who God is, what we are to believe, and our hope for eternal life.
One of the reasons our faith can rise out of our fears is because Scrpture gives us a perfect revelation of who God is. God is revealed to be kind and mighty. He’s one who will be our defender. This Psalm shows us that.
Look at verse 8. It says that God has all our tears held up in a bottle. Isn’t that a picture of a God who cares deeply for us? It is a way of saying that God is one who loves us so much that he will take care of us.
But not only does scripture give us a perfect revelation of who God is, it gives us a perfect revelation of what we are to believe. The scripture is praiseworthy because it reveals a perfect system of belief.
Now, one of the things that Jim asked me to speak on this summer was the topic of apologetics. Apologetics is the art of defending your faith. God’s word calls us to give a reason for the hope within us. So we are called to defend our faith.
How do we do that though? Well, I think we have a tip right here. We defend the faith by showing off its “praiseworthiness.” If I might return to my apple analogy: We show how all the other faiths are flawed (i.e. they have worms all in them) and not worthy of praise.
Those who persecute you? They do not have the truth. They are living a lie. And we should expose that. Every other holy book and religious text is not praiseworthy because it does not give a sound, comprehensive revelation of the truth. Every other religion, being based on lies and false assumptions, will eventually contradict itself and reduce to absurdity.
So, one of the ways we prove Christianity to be true is by showing how it is the only religion that stands up under serious scrutiny!
Take atheism for example. Atheism is a major philosophy today. But atheism is completely illogical. It is nothing but foolishness. One of the main objections atheists have to Christianity is the so called “problem of evil.” They say, “If God is good, how can there be evil?” And they think that is just a hum dinger of a case against Christianity. But it is the silliest thing an atheist can say!
This is what we say, “As a Christian, we can believe that God is so great that he can ordain, permit, and use evil for his good purposes and still not be the author of it. Just because evil exists, doesn’t mean God isn’t good. As a matter of fact, you need God to even comprehend what evil is! As an atheist, how is it that you can even distinguish between what is good and what is evil? If you deny God, you erase any absolute standard for determining morality. If we are all just accidents of random chance and highly evolved germs, who’s to say what is right and wrong! Really, if I live my life by the motto ‘Survival of the fittest’ then any thought of what might be evil flies out the door!”
You see! God’s word is to be praised because it gives us a sure way of distinguishing between good and evil. It reveals the truth about God, reality, and ethics. It reveals that there are no other options out there when it comes to faith.
Scripture reveals a God who is true and it reveals a system of belief that is true. But there is another reason our faith should hold fast in persecution. It also reveals promises that are true.
God’s word is praiseworthy because it reveals the promise of eternal life.
Our verse goes on to say, “What can man do to me?” Well, the answer to that question is, “A lot of things.” As a matter of fact, verses 5-6 list a number of things: they can twist your words, plot harm, they can lurk around and watch you steps. And they can take your life!
But ultimately, they can’t do anything. Look at verse 13. It says, “You have delivered me from death.” Sure, God has the power to stop them in their tracts. But even if He doesn’t, He has promised us eternal life. Our persecutors do not have that luxury. They may live for a while, but justice will come to the earth. And in the end, we will stand because Christ has given us the promise of salvation.
In the end, you know that there is no hagiography. For there is nothing in us that is ultimately worthy of praise. The only thing that is truly worthy of praise is our God. Our faith in fear is not due to any great thing in us. It isn’t because of any courage that we can muster or boldness that dwells naturally in us. Our ability to face our fear is solely based on who our God is and what he has revealed to us in His word.
And, my friends, this is to be your comfort. Let us never think that we are required to be immune from any and all fear. Let us understand that fears may come. Fears can seize us, even as they fell upon our dear Lord. But may those fears turn us to the only place where we have refuge.
As a frightened child runs to his parents for solace, let us run to the only place that offers us relief. Let us run to the Scripture and to the God who is revealed therein.
One of the tenets of Reformed theology is the doctrine of eternal security. We often call it “the perseverance of the saints.” If you are familiar with the TULIP acronym which outline the 5 points of Calvinism, it is the “P.”
We believe that God elects those who would be saved from eternity past, and we also believe that he will bring them safely to heaven. No matter what trial or tribulation may assail us, God will preserve us and enable us to persevere unto the end.
In everything we are, as Paul says, “more than conquerors.” But we conquer because God sustains us every step of the way. And he sustains us by means of the truths he gives us in Scripture.
You might liken it to what Paul experienced when at sea in the book of Acts. A storm came upon them and threatened to take their lives. Paul had a vision where God said they would all persevere through the storm. But did they just sit back and have a smoke? Not at all, they worked diligently, using the means necessary to save their lives. They dumped the cargo. They put ropes around the haul of the ship. They held on to pieces of wood while adrift in the water. There were helps that God used all along the way to sustain them.
That is essentially what a lot of these Psalms are like. In these poems God lays out truths that help us persevere to the end. The Psalms we’ve been looking at are sort of like the “driftwood” that will help bring us to shore in times of persecution.
And in Psalm 37 we find several of these truths that aid us in our perseverance. In these words David helps fortify our faith by pointing us to the grand plan of God. He points us beyond our current situation to the fuller outworking of God’s providence.
And if we want to persevere through persecution, we would do well to reflect on the truths contained in this poem. And the best place to begin is with the focus of our faith.
As we prepare for persecution, we must make sure our faith is focused on what God will do down the road. The very first verse sets the tone by pushing the focus of our faith to the future.
I. Faith’s focus
It says, “Fret not yourself because of evildoers, be not envious of wrongdoers! For they will soon fade like the grass and wither like the green herb.”
Now think about your yard right now. We’ve come through spring and we’ve had a pretty good start to the summer. So it is probably nice and lush right now. But what’s going to happen in a few months. Come October or November, it is going to die off.
Tomato plants have always been kind of interesting to me. Tomato plants grow all through the summer. But as soon as the tomatoes ripen, they die. It is amazing how fast they brown over after the tomatoes are picked.
That’s what this verse says is going to happen to the unbelieving. Their reign isn’t going to last. The kingdoms of man and the powers of evil have no real sovereignty. And as a result, they are going to vanish rather quickly.
You can see this repeated throughout this psalm. In verse 9 it says that the “evildoers will be cut off.” And in verse 10 it says, “In just a little while, the wicked will be no more; though you look carefully at his place, he will not be there.”
I like how verses 12-13 puts it, “The wicked plots against the righteous and gnashes his teeth at him, but the Lord laughs at the wicked, for he sees that his day is coming.” All God has to do is look at the calendar. He can’t help but chuckle because the hours are counting down for his enemies.
Verses 14 and 15 give us another picture of the limited time that unbelieving people have in power. “The wicked draw the sword and bend their bows to bring down the poor and needy, to slay those whose way is upright; their sword shall enter their own heart, and their bows shall be broken.”
Last week we talked a little about how the wicked fall into their own schemes. The things that they plot not only cave in, but they end up trapping themselves. Here you see something of that same thing. One wonders if Saul is in view here. Saul had pointed his sword at David many a time and chased him often with it. But what happened in the end? Saul committed suicide by falling upon his own sword.
Finally, verse 20 tells us that the wicked are like smoke that quickly vanishes.
Young people, a lot of you went camping with us a few weeks ago. You saw the fire and the smoke that it produced, didn’t you? How long did that smoke linger? Not long, was it? It might have stung your eyes for a moment, but it quickly disappeared, didn’t it?
That’s what the Lord says about those who are unbelievers. Their power will soon fade away. Though their plans may succeed for a while and though they may have the upper hand for a time, it won’t be long until they are completely gone from this earth.
History backs this up. Who might have been the most wicked men on earth? How about Nero. Nero is sometimes touted as the most evil man who ever lived. He persecuted Christians with an intense hatred. It is said that he lit them like torches for his gardens and committed all kinds of atrocities against them.
But do you know how long Nero was the Roman Emperor? The way some people talk about him, it makes it seem that he was in power for a long time. But its not so. His rule lasted for only about 14 years. By comparison he wasn’t even a cloud of smoke. He barely rates as a small puff.
Or how about Mao Tse-tung? He was the chairman of the communist party in China. And there is no doubt that he was a wicked, evil man! Conservative estimates say that he is responsible for killing 50 million people. He was an atheist and a raging madman when it came to advancing the Marxian worldview. We don’t downplay the impact he had on the world (and especially China), but how long was he in power? Just over 25 years. He did a lot of horrid things in those 25 years, but in the grand scheme of things that’s not that long.
And the best part about it is that the Christian faith is exploding in China, despite the wishes of the communists. It is believed that it will not be long until there are more Christians than communists in the land. In all reality, we are on the precipice of seeing another revolution in China. This time a Christian revolution.
What’s more important though, is the eternal perspective that this passage gives us. This is not just saying that our enemies will be gone from power. But they will not have eternal life. That’s the other side of this point. God not only focuses our faith on the temporary nature of our tribulation, but he gives us an eternal focus. In time, the enemies of God will be no more and on top of that, verse 11 tells us that the meek will inherit the earth.
That’s, of course, talking about those of us who are Christians. To be meek is to be humble & submissive to God. As we are submissive to God and patiently endure the tribulations that come our way, we have the promise that we will have eternal life here on this earth.
Again, this focus is repeated throughout the passage. Verse 18 says, “The LORD knows the days of the blameless, and their heritage will remain forever;”
That is to be our focus. Part of what helps the body of Christ in times of persecution is the perspective that are given in the Scripture. We see the grand story. We see that trials and tribulations are ultimately just a passing wisp in comparison to eternity.
But, again, once our faith has this focus, our faith can express itself in the way it ought. Our belief system impacts our life system (i.e. our ethics). And in this passage you see the kind of faith that we are to have. It outlines for us the character of persevering faith.
II. Faith’s form
The first 11 verses contain about 8 exhortations, all of which define for us how we should be living before the Lord through these persecutions.
The first one is “fret not.” It is found in verse 1 and in verse 7. It literally means “to burn.” And it is basically saying, “Don’t let yourself get overheated.” Isn’t that what you do when you are afraid of something or you are overly worried? You get yourself all heated up. God’s telling you here, you don’t have to do that. You don’t have to worry. God’s got it all taken care of. To put it another way, you can be cool in the midst of persecution because the Lord is working out his plan.
The second thing he says is in verse 3. Trust in the Lord. Really this is the flip side of “fretting not,” isn’t it? Why do we get all in a tizzy? It’s because we do not trust the Lord. He says, “Just trust me and do good.” Stop your worrying and continue doing what you are supposed to do.
Verse 4 tells you to “delight yourself in the Lord.” Let God be your source of pleasure and take great joy in him. This is the way you express your faith. Just like Paul and Silas, as they were sitting in the jail. Were they grumbling and complaining? Nope. They were singing songs and worshipping the Lord.
I should add a quick little comment on this verse. Why does it say to delight yourself in the Lord? Because he will “give you the desires of you heart.” Now there are some people who take this as health and wealth gospel. Delight yourself in God and he will give you that 1 million dollars you want. That’s not true, of course. Others take it to mean that your will will conform to God’s will. That’s true, but I don’t know that that is what is being said here.
What is it that the Psalmist wants in this passage? It’s justice, isn’t it? He thinks its unfair that the wicked are succeeding and getting away with all this evil. He wants it to stop! That’s why David tells us to delight in the Lord. God’s going to give us that!
The passage goes on to tell us more about how our faith should be expressed. In verse 8 it says that we should cease from anger and forsake wrath. Now, this is talking about unrighteous anger of course. It is the anger that “tends towards evil” as it says. In other words, don’t get vengeful or don’t let anger cloud your mind so that you cannot love your enemies.
What is interesting to see is that this passage commends charity and being generous. Look at verse 21. It says, “The wicked borrows but does not pay back, but the righteous is generous and gives.” Then in verse 26 it says, “26 He is ever lending generously, and his children become a blessing.”
Now, there are certain cautions to take with this. We grant that there is a limited perspective here. David is speaking from his point of view. And he says that “he never sees the righteous begging bread.” Well, there are times when the righteous are reduced to begging, isn’t there. In times of war and persecution, that happens.
But I’ve witnessed that even in the most desperate times Christians still lend and give. When I was in seminary I had a classmate from India. He once scolded us Americans for being so tightfisted with our money. He said that in India, people have virtually nothing. Yet the Christians there always are sharing what they have with one another.
We might even look at Nang Taing, our missionary friend from Myanmar. How many children are they taking care of? 20? It’s not like they have a mansion that they are living in. Their house is a lot like one of our garages!
That’s something we should take note of. God wants us to remember that we should not be materialistic little Christians. What we have we are to be stewards of for his glory. And when desperate times come, we should still be willing to give.
There’s more we could say here. We’ve only touched on a few of the 10 of the traits that should characterize our faith. But I think you get the picture. God wants us to continue living a godly life and demonstrate Christ likeness.
But before we end, I want to stress one more thing. I want you to be sure to see how important each of you are to one another.
III. Faith’s friends
You’ll notice that David is the author of this psalm, but did you notice to whom he is writing. He’s writing it to other people. It’s not about David. A lot of the time david addresses God in his psalms. Or maybe he writes to himself; describing his situation. But he’s not doing that here. He’s writing to other people. He’s writing an exhortation to his brethren to help them keep their faith and persevere.
That’s really important to point out. That’s really something that we need to remember. If we are going to make it through persecution, we need each other. We need to have the mutual encouragement of one another so that we don’t lose sight of the future.
This reminds me of what it says in Hebrews 10:24-25. Sometimes we quote that verse which says, “Do not neglect meeting together, as is the habit of some. And we use that as a way of saying how important it is to be in the habit of coming to church each Sunday. But the context is really key. It says, “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.”
Why was worship and faithful attendance in church needed? In Hebrews its because you need the mutual encouragement that you get here. You stir one another up and encourage one another.
That’s exactly what David was doing here in this Psalm. David was used of God to minister to his friends. It is through his counsel and his exhortations that their faith was upheld.
Think of this church as a long line of freight cars on a train. Have you ever wondered how that one locomotive engine can move hundreds of freight cars loaded with cargo? Its because there is a little bit of slack in between each car. When the engine starts off, that slack allows the engine to give a sudden jerk to the car behind it. That blow creates some inertia to get every car moving.
That’s essentially how the church continues down the rails of faith. Each of us is like one of those freight cars in that we are all linked together. And you can think of persecution as the weight that bears down upon us. That load would be too much for us to bear on our own. But because we are linked together, we are able to bump each other down the road of faith. As we rub shoulders with each other from week to week we create spiritual inertia which enables us to persevere on in the faith.
It is so important to point that out in our day and age because it reminds us of our duty to covenant with one another. It reminds us how strong the bond that knits us together is to be. If we do not have a robust unity, we will not have a strong witness down the road.
Here is where Satan has really set things up well in our contemporary society. We might think that the American church has become nothing more than church hoppers. People who have not sought to cultivate deep relationships with other brothers and sisters will find themselves in a great deal of distress when the tides of persecution rise. They won’t have other brothers and sisters who can help bolster their faith.
The unity of this church is so important. We need one another. We need the encouragement that each one of you provides. And I want to encourage you to never forsake meeting together. Because church is not just about your needs or your personal religious experience. It primarily about the worship of God. And right behind that is the blessing you afford to those who sit around you.
You are a vital means to my perseverance. You are the seedbed for each other’s encouragement. As you sing and as you pray, you are providing the necessary resources that stir my faith. And as we grow in our relationship we are preparing the ground for our future faith together. When harder times arise the bond that we’ve created here and now will allow us to push each other on and to exhort one another to maintain a sound faith and faithful witness. We will be able to be like David, pointing each other to the glorious end that we expect and to the life that we ought to live in view of it
During China’s Boxer Rebellion of 1900, insurgents captured a mission station, blocked all the gates but one, and in front of that one gate placed a cross flat on the ground. Then the word was passed to those inside that any who trampled the cross underfoot would be permitted their freedom and life, but that any refusing would be shot. Terribly frightened, the first seven students trampled the cross under their feet and were allowed to go free.
But the eighth student, a young girl, refused to commit the sacrilegious act. Kneeling beside the cross in prayer for strength, she arose and moved carefully around the cross, and went out to face the firing squad. Strengthened by her example, every one of the remaining ninety-two students followed her to the firing squad.
How did those students persevere through the persecution? It was because one girl had her eyes fixed not on this life, but on the life to come. She understood that the Lord, through the cross, had given her a promise of eternal life. And because she had a future oriented faith, she was not only able to stand up to the threats of her persecutors but she was able to stir up the others to do the same.
May we too have that same attitude. May we focus our faith on the promises of God and the life we have through Him. And by doing so, may we be that which emboldens each other.
 Today in the Word, Feb. 89, p. 17
When I was young there would be times when my best friend and I would get into your run of the mill childhood spat. I’m sure you are all aware of those instances. They tend to occur quite frequently, even among the best of friends.
I remember one sunny summer afternoon we were sitting out on my friend’s play set and we began to quarrel. I don’t remember what set off this particular squabble, but I remember distinctly how he won it. The climactic moment came when he said, “I’ll tell my dad!”
It is funny to think about now. His dad is a rather small fellow. Back then though, everyone seemed like a giant.
But all I could think about was, “What if he told his dad?!” His dad would become angry. Then who knows what would happen. He’d likely hang me by my toes! He might yell at me. He might tell me to go home! He might call my parents! Who knows what might happen!
Being the little boy that I was, it was simply too much to bear that his father might be provoked and become mad at me.
For my friend though, the reaction was quite different. His father’s anger was nothing fearsome. Instead, it was a solace to him. On this occasion he took great joy in his father’s temper. Though it horrified me, it gave him the utmost peace.
That boyhood experience is something of the lesson that is taught in this Psalm. It is the lesson that we need to learn as we prepare for persecution. As we begin to tangle with the forces of evil and as they begin to attack us, we must find our peace in the red hot anger of our Father.
That is exactly what David does here. Notice how the passage starts out in verse 1. He describes those who are persecuting him as “pursuers.” He likens them to a lion who is ready to tear him to pieces. His enemies are coming down hard upon him. And in the midst of this dreadful predicament, he turns to God and it says that he “takes refuge” in him.
The very end of the Psalm also reveals how serene David is. In the last verse David is found strumming on his harp thanking God and singing praises to the Most High. It is the very picture of complete serenity. Fires are raging all around him, but he is perfectly tranquil in the midst of it all.
How is it that this can be so? It is because he refuge in the extreme severity of God’s righteous anger. And that’s what we must do too. If we are going to prepare for persecution, we must learn do the very same. We must learn to find our peace in the pungent indignation of our God.
And if we think about how God’s anger is described, inflamed, and unleashed—and if we really take these lessons to heart—then we will be more apt to maintain a Christian repose in the midst of the persecutions we face.
Perhaps the best place to begin is simply with how God’s anger is described in this passage.
I. How his anger is described
There are two words in this passage that are used to describe God’s anger. The first is found in verse 6. It says, “Arise, O LORD, in your anger; lift yourself up against the fury of my enemies.” The word anger here is actually the Hebrew word for one’s nose. Literally it reads, “Arise, O LORD, in your nose.” It doesn’t make sense to us, but it is a common way for the Hebrew people to talk. They associated anger with the nose because of the way it reacts to this emotion.
Maybe you’ve seen characters like this in the cartoons. You know, when Fog Horn Leghorn gets angry smoke starts billowing out his beak.
Perhaps you know what this is talking about on more personal level. When you get mad, I mean really mad, you can start breathing heavily. Your lips are pursed shut, so you’re breathing out your nose.
Your nostrils can flare & flex. Sometimes people’s noses start to look red because the heart gets charged up and starts pumping more blood. I’ve even heard of some people getting nose bleeds because their blood pressure skyrockets with their anger. And as a result blood starts seeping out of the weaker places in the nasal cavity.
So your nose reacts with anger—especially violent & raging anger. And that’s why the Hebrew people speak like this.
So, when David uses this idiom he’s describing the Lord as being so incensed at his enemies that he rises up with scalding hot wrath for his foes.
The other word is found in verse 11. In verse 11 it says, “God is a righteous judge, and a God who feels indignation every day.” Or, as the KJV puts it, “God is angry with the wicked every day.”
The word indignation describes God’s wrath in an even stronger way. This word literally means “to foam” or “to froth.” This is, of course, taken from the rabid animals that use to be common. Now that we have vaccinations, we don’t see this often. But a rabid animal roams around dazed and delirious. It seems mad because of its uncontrollable barking. He might even look a little wild eyed. But what really gets you is its frothing at the mouth. Because of its hysterics the drool turns to foam as he barks and gasps.
It doesn’t typically occur with people. But maybe you’ve seen someone so infuriated with someone that he starts spitting as he yells. I’ve seen some preachers like this!
That’s the way God is described here. He is rabidly mad at the wicked. He’s so mad he’s foaming at the mouth.
And it is not just sometimes. It is not just a here and there occurrence. It says that he is that furious every single day. There is a constant inferno rising in the heart of God because of the sin of unbelieving people. There is a righteous indignation that billows up within him because of their constant flow of evil.
If you ever want to experience full-fledged outrage, all you have to do is teach high school sophomores. I say this from my own experience. There was one class I had with a couple goofballs in it. They were already testing my limits. At one point in the class I turned to write on the blackboard and they did something disrespectful (I don’t remember what). But I do remember that I became simply enraged. I remember turning around and staring at each one of them—burning holes in them with my eyes. My heart was pounding in my chest because I was so angry. I could feel the muscles in my arms tightening. The students just watched, waiting for me to erupt. I was able to regain my composure without incident, but I lost my chalk in the midst of it all. I didn’t realize it at the time, but in my anger I ground the chalk to dust with my fingers.
Those boys knew that I was angry, and they knew that they were in danger for having slighted me.
We might say that this is how angry God is with those who slight him. The only differences is that his anger is like that every single day and it is a thousand times more furious.
Now, this is not the typical way we think of God. We’ve noted before how everyone paints God in a lovey-dovey kind of way who could never have an ounce of anger in him. And even those of us who know that God has a just anger, perhaps we don’t typically think of him as this irate.
And it may be that it brings a chill to your bones. Surely, if you have not turned from your life of sin and begun to live a life of holiness for Christ, it should make you uneasy. You should recognize that this is the way he feels towards you. And the only way to change that is to turn away from your sinful life and seek to honor Christ.
But if you are one of His people, you may rest in knowing that this anger is not pointed at you. It is directed to all your enemies. As you hear this anger described you should remember that it is like a hot pot of molten steel being tipped towards those who are intent on persecuting you.
And even though you may be facing the rage of men—even if you would be brought face to face with their fury, you can rest and be at peace because the rage of God towards them is infinitely greater.
But if you are going to enjoy david’s serentity, you must not only see how his anger is described. You must also understand how it is inflamed.
II. How His anger is inflamed
As you read this passage, it is almost as if God’s anger is being stoked like Nebuchadnezzar’s oven. You should see the flames growing higher and the heat becomes 1000 times greater.
Part of what gives David such peace is that he knows that God is provoked by the wrongs of the wicked. And the first half of this Psalm almost seems as if David is seeking to throw more kindling on the fires that are already stoked.
We already mentioned verses 1-2 and how he recounts the lion-like ferocity of his enemies. No doubt this makes God’s anger burn even more. We already said that God is angry with the wicked every day. The ordinary sins that they commit provoke him to wrath. But now their sin is directed specifically at David! There is an attack on one of his own people! This has to inflame his anger all the more.
But then in verse 3 David goes on to highlight his own innocence. He says, “If I had done any wrong, if I had repaid my friend with evil or plundered my foe without cause, I would deserve this. It would be perfectly just for You to let this happen to me, O God.” This is a tatic that David uses to boost his cause. If he had done these things, God shouldn’t be angry with his adversaries. But David hasn’t. He doesn’t deserve to be treated like this! This is a raw injustice, and so God should be downright torqued at this.
That is reiterated again in verse 8. Look at what he says there. He says, “The Lord judges the people, judge me, O Lord, according to my righteousness and according to the integrity that is in me.”
You see how he is building his case? God should be roused. He should be angry, and he should become even more inflamed because of the blatant wrongs that are being perpetrated against him.
Think of it this way. When you see injustice, it likely makes you mad. If perhaps you are watching the news and you see some outlandish atrocity being committed, that likely will make you mad. But if that same thing were to be committed against one of your own family members, how would you react? It would be different, wouldn’t it? If it happened to one you knew and deeply loved, that would take it to another level, wouldn’t it? It would make you even more inflamed. You might be so incensed that you might rise out of your chair and do a thing or two about it!
That’s essentially what is being said here. David is going to lengths to say, “God, I am one of your people and I am completely innocent here. Won’t you do something about it?”
We’ll see what he does in just a moment. But I’d like to flesh out this point. The wrath of God is inflamed because it is happening to you. This is not just any anger. It is an anger that rises out of love. God’s anger becomes even more intense because he has an intense love for you.
And I really think this needs to be pointed out because part of David’s serenity is the profession of faith that he so unabashedly makes throughout this psalm. Perhaps you didn’t see it, but David makes at least three explicit expressions of his love for God in this passage.
The first instance can be found in verses 1 and 3. Each of those lines begin with the phrase, “O LORD my God.” He combines two of the prominent names of God, LORD and God. And in doing so he claims the LORD as his God: O Lord my God.
You have another expression of faith in verse 10. David declares, “My shield is with God, who saves the upright.” It almost sounds as though this isn’t part of his prayer. It almost sounds like he breaks from his prayer and yells it out his window: Hey! My shield is with God!
Then down at the end of the passage, in verse 17, you have David singing praise and thanks to the Lord. It is another overt declaration of his faith in God.
Why do I point this out? It is because persecution typically makes you become less overt in your profession of faith! At the very time you need to be bold, you are tempted to shrink back and shut up. How is it then that you can make these bold faced claims of faith like david? How can you in the midst of a culture like ours that is ready to tear you up say without any hesitancy that the LORD is your God? It is only if you know how much God loves you and is inflamed when things happen to you.
To put it another way: The strength of your profession is directly related to the strength of His passion. And if you know that God is roused for you, you will be roused for Him.
This is why it is so important to have a right view of God’s anger. If you believe in a wishy washy, lovey dovey God—a god who loves everyone no matter what they do, you are not going to have courage to stand up for him. You are not going to even enter persecution, let alone stand strong through it. You’ll bend and fold because your god will do the same. Your god won’t stand up for you if that’s the kind of god you believe in.
But a god who is angry and who is inflamed, that is a God who will support you in your cause. That’s a God who will back you. And knowing that he will support you in your righteousness will embolden you in that hour when you need it.
But as you look at this psalm, you not only see how intense this anger is and how it can become inflamed. You also see how this anger is unleashed.
III. How His anger is unleashed
It wouldn’t give us much ease if God was all passion and no action. If he simply got all hopping made, but never did anything then he’d just be like a child having a temper tantrum. But that’s not the way God is at all. Our passage tells us that the ire that builds up within the Lord is unleased upon his enemies as he brings forth is just judgment.
Look at verse 12. God is depicted as a Special Forces warrior who comes down upon his enemies with unrelenting, Rambo-like vengeance. “If a man does not repent, God will whet (i.e. sharpen) his sword; he has bent and readied his bow; he has prepared for him his deadly weapons, making his arrows fiery shafts.”
You can kind of see the Lord going through his arsenal of weapons here. He’s got his sword, his arrows, his spear, all his artillery is being prepped. He’s getting each one ready to have a bath in blood.
This is a description in pictorial form, of course. But in the next three verses David tells us how his wrath is actually displayed. Verse 14 tells us that everything that these wicked people devise completely backfires on them. “Behold, the wicked man conceives evil and is pregnant with mischief and gives birth to lies. He makes a pit, digging it out, and falls into the hole that he has made. His mischief returns upon his own head and on his own skull his violence descends.”
This is the story of Wile E. Coyote. You may remember that Loony Tunes character from your youth. The coyote was always laying traps for the Road Runner, but every single time he’s the one who falls into it. The rock would fall on him. The rocket would shoot him up into the air. The plan would backfire and he would be the one running off, over the cliff.
That cartoon is an illustration of what happens to the foes of the church. Through the providence of God the events transpire so as to explode in the face of those who devised the evil in the first place.
One very clear bible example may be found in the book of Ester. The whole book is dedicated to how a foe of God fell into his own pit. Haman, that wicked fellow, sought to kill off all the Jews. He sought to hang the righteous Mordechai on a gallows made especially for him. What’s more, he sought to exalt himself in the presence of the King and the people. But what happened? Everything backfired. Instead of Mordechai being hanged, it was Haman. Instead of Mordechai’s people being slaughtered, Haman’s family was cut off. All of his wicked schemes not only fell through, but they ended up being dispensed upon himself!
Another great illustration comes from the life of the early church. In the 3rd century the Roman Emperor started an empire wide persecution of Christians. He wanted to destroy Christianity. But his plan backfired terribly. First of all, when you persecute Christians the end result is that you produce more Christians. As the saying goes, “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.” Christians inevitably spread out and take the gospel with them to the surrounding regions.
But not only did Christianity increase, but the persecutions actually worked to weaken Rome’s standing as an empire. At this time you have the barbarian nations standing at the borders of the empire. And with the emperors focusing his resources on Christians he ends up diverting these resources away from his boarders. So, a few years later, the Barbarians start marching in and taking over. Rome ends up falling to the Barbarians! So instead of ending Christianity, he actually puts Rome to death!
I’ve also heard recent reports that the persecutions in Iran are starting to backfire there too. When the Muslim clerics took over in the 1979 they promised the Iranian people a Muslim utopia. In order to accomplish that, of course, these radicals have to eradicate the Christians. However, there has been nothing but war and unrest in the land for the whole 30 years. And the house churches are growing in number. The more they persecute the Christians, the more this feeds the national unrest.
Muslim people are starting to get fed up with the rule that was ushered in by the Islamic Revolution. So we are seeing a revolution against the Muslim Revolution! Their plans are falling upon their own heads.
And, if the Lord would allow us to come into the same kind of persecution, we must remember this principle. We must remember that God’s anger will be roused and his indignation will be unleashed. We should be bold to stand because we know that in time these schemes will be reversed and our own foes will end up falling into their own trap.
You may remember that under the Bush administration we went and attacked Iraq. Our initial tactic was called “Shock and Awe.” The strategy was to break the Iraqi forces by using a paralyzing display of power. We bombarding them with bombs, and unleashed such an overwhelming barrage of artillery that it was a shock to their military status.
I remember hearing one report though, of how many Iraqi people would go up and sit on their housetops while we bombarded them. It’s odd, because you would think that they would run for cover. But instead they would sit out on their rooftops like they were watching the Fourth of July fireworks.
One reporter interviewed an Iraqi man on why he did this. He said that the United States hit their targets with such precision that he felt no danger at all. He knew that we were not out to kill off innocent Iraqis. So he felt perfectly safe when the air raids began, and he could come up and enjoy the show.
This feeling of perfect security should be what each and every one of us experiences when our foes rise against us. Though enemies surround us and seek to overwhelm us, we are perfectly safe in the hands of God. God’s anger is mounting, he is becoming more and more inflamed with each injustice that we experience.
In Judah God is known; his name is great in Israel.
His abode has been established in Salem, his dwelling place in Zion.
I am hesitant to speak today because of what is now occurring. I don’t take it lightly any given time I step up here to deliver a sermon. Yet, I want to confess to you my tentativeness. This is not something that I do flippantly. There are a variety of reasons for this. The main reason for my caution though, is the extreme weight of this moment that we are now encountering.
The significance of this time is much greater than what we might find, say on a Tuesday evening at Starbucks or on a Saturday afternoon in your back yard. We have entered a sacred hour; a time of profound power and intimacy with God. We might even say that this moment radically differs from the moments that we had just a half hour ago.
As soon as we recited the call to worship and formally entered into this service of worship something happened. Something changed. You might not have felt anything. It might not have seemed like anything occurred. Whether or not you were cognizant of it doesn’t really matter. The truth stands. The atmosphere was overwhelmingly altered. Again, we might not have felt anything. But if we had a barometer that could measure the spiritual weight of the air in this room, we could have seen a substantial discrepancy from the time before we began to the time after.
What I’m trying to communicate is that we are now having a unique encounter with God. And even now as I begin to deliver this message—God’s very word, the intimacy that we are experiencing with the very presence of God has leapt almost exponentially.
Hopefully you’ll better understand what I’m talking about—Why I feel this way—when you understand what is being said in the two verses that we just read.
What I want you to see is this:
The degree to which we experience God’s presence becomes more pronounced at certain points in our lives. The intimacy we have with him is markedly different on different occasions. Most particularly on this occasion, as we gather together for the corporate worship of God.
Let me explain what I mean.
As we look at this passage we can best understand it by means of three concentric circles. Think of the outermost circle as Israel. Then think of the middle circle as representing Judah. The innermost circle we’ll mark as Salem or Zion.
Let’s start with that outermost circle. You’ll notice that our passage says that God’s “name is great in Israel.” That is to say that God’s power, his authority, and his excellence of his divine being was evidenced in to all people in every territory in that nation. Every shop keeper, every blacksmith, every olive farmer recognized something of the greatness of God. If you were a Jew, you could not escape the fact that God was sovereign over you and powerfully working amidst his chosen people.
But you’ll notice that the passage also says that “God is known in Judah. So we are moving from the outer most rung to the one in the middle. And we see something a bit more personal.
Judah was one particular tribe in Israel. It was a special clan, holding a place above the other 11 tribes. You may remember that it was David’s clan; the tribe from which Christ would eventually come.
So you see a distinction is being made. This tribe is designated as having a particular status with God. Yes, there is a general knowledge of God’s character in Israel. You know his power and greatness. But in Judah He is known. We should not miss what is being communicated here. Remember what it means that Adam knew Eve. Biblically speaking, to know someone is to have an intimate and close, personal relationship with them.
There is something unique about being in Judah. Once you cross that boarder your experience of God’s personal presence becomes enhanced. The way God interacts with you in an even more intense and special way. The intimacy you have with him is augmented by several degrees.
You might say, “Boy, that is wonderful! What a great thing it must have been to be in Judah!” And you are right to say that. There was a greater advantage to being in Judah than in the outskirts of Israel. But that is nothing compared to being in Jerusalem.
In Jerusalem this relationship is amplified even more. Look at the passage again. You’ll see that it says that, yes God is great in Israel; yes, God is known in Judah. But it also says, “His abode has been established in Salem, his dwelling place is in Zion.”
Now Mt. Zion was where the city of Jerusalem was located. It was the place where the temple was built. And it was the place where God was said to live. “He took up residence” you might say in that particular spot. It was there that His presence was manifested in an even greater, more profound way.
Why was that? It was because it was there that God’s people were to assemble for worship. God’s home was where the people came together to pay tribute to him. It was there as they offered up their sacrifices that God moved among them in an even more unique way.
So hopefully you see by now the point that this passage is trying to make. The weight of certain places or times is heightened because God’s presence becomes more intense and more intimate. Even though God is omni-present—that is to say, even though God is presence everywhere, we don’t always experience his presence in the same way. There are times when his presence is qualitatively different. You might say that there are times when he draws even nearer to us.
This might be something that is new to you. So let me illustrate it from Scripture.
When we look into the Bible we find this truth being expressed in a number of places. Let me give you two examples. Perhaps the clearest example is found in the story where Israel was gathered at Mount Sinai. You remember that God had brought them up out of Egypt and they came to Mt. Sinai and camped there for several months before setting out to the land htat God had promised them.
When they were at that place you remember that Moses was called by God to go up the mountain to meet with him. Everyone else in Israel was to stay at the foot of the mountain. As a matter of fact, it was said that if they crossed a certain point they would be killed. But Moses was singled out and permitted to hike up the peak.
And what happened while he was there? He met with God. It was said that God spoke with him. We even have the story where Moses asked to see God and God, with great pomp and circumstance passed by him and showed him his back.
Now there is a perfect example of what Psalm 76 is talking about. God was with Israel. He was with them in a way that was radically different than he was with Egypt. But the way he met with Moses was even more distinct.
Let’s take a look at another passage. This one from the New Testament. It comes from Matthew 18. You don’t have to turn there because I suspect that most of you already know it. It is the passage where Jesus says, “Wherever two or three are gathered in my name, there am I.”
Now this is perhaps the most misquoted passage in all of Scripture. People quote this all the time, but I rarely ever hear it quoted in the way it was intended to be. The context is that of an excommunication! In Matthew 18 Jesus is talking about church discipline. And in that passage specifically he is talking about the most extreme form of Church discipline. He saying that wherever two or three are gathered to pronounce someone as expelled from the church, there am I. In other words, I am there in a special way to confirm that decision. It is as if Christ is there himself pronouncing that this person is expelled from the church and in danger of the fires of hell.
I once had the solemn opportunity to experience this very thing. I was at a presbytery meeting and a minister had been brought up on charges. In his rebellion though he failed to appear for his trial, which had been re-scheduled a number of times. In my denomination if you continuously fail to appear for your day in court you are convicted of what is called “contumacy,” and you are automatically excommunicated.
Again, this man was so obstinate that he failed to show up for his trial (and of course, failed to show any sort of repentance for his sin). So we had to excommunicate him for contumacy. And when we entered into that particular part of the presbytery meeting, the assembly took on a new solemnity. I still look back and am stupefied by how awesome it was. Now I’m not using the word awesome in its contemporary sense where we say, “That hotdog was awesome.” I’m using the word in its older sense, of being weighty and filled with transcendent awe.
As the words of excommunication were read from our church order everyone fell silent. You could not only feel the gravity of the moment, but you could sense the atmosphere change as Christ drew near to give his divine affirmation to what we were doing. Then when all was said and done, no one in that room moved. It was as if we all heard the gavel come down as Christ pronounced his judgment.
A man then broke the silence with a cry of anguish. He was so distraught by the event that he cried out, “Can we pray for this man?” And as the moderator led us in prayer the room’s atmosphere changed. We read in the OT how the glory cloud would lift from the tabernacle when the people of Israel were to set out from camp. That’s something of what we felt. That nearness of God that we experienced lifted as he made his exit from that sacred event.
Christ does draw nearer. At certain times and in certain places, His presence may be more intense and more intimate among his people.
But I want to draw your attention back to the passage at hand. Here in Psalm 76 we find that this is not something that happens on odd occasions or every once in a while. It is something that happens weekly. This Psalm tells us that it is a weekly occurrence. For this Psalm reminds us that it is when the people of God assemble for worship that God manifests this unique nearness.
You must understand that in this very moment we are communing with God in a different way than we were an hour ago. It is different than what we will experience an hour from now. You might not feel anything different. You don’t always have a heightened, physical awareness of it. Nevertheless, the spiritual temperature of this time is heightened due to God’s ministry among us. This time of worship is special because the Holy Spirit has descended upon us in a distinctive way. We even may use the word “sacred” because His presence is magnified. And so the Holy Spirit consecrates this time with a definite hallowedness.
This is one of several applications you need to take from this passage. I mention this because today our tendency is to flatten everything. We are quite fond of saying that God is with us all the time. Of course, this is true. But it is only a half truth.
God is with us all the time. But, as I’ve been trying to point out, God is not always with us in the same way. And we need to recognize that there is an ebb and flow to how God interacts with us. In worship, God draws near and is with us in a very intimate way. Our communion with him is much more personal.
To say that God is with us all the time, I think, lessens corporate worship. It subtracts something from our Sunday assemblies so that church becomes quite insignificant. If we say that God’s presence is the same everywhere all the time, it doesn’t matter if you go to church on Sunday or if you sit out on a park bench and feed the birds. It’s all the same.
I know some of you have had some interaction with what is called the “Emergent church movement.” For those of you who don’t know of it the emergent church movement says that we don’t really need the institutional church. They say you don’t need the church because you are the church. And they say that you can have church at Starbucks or out on the 9th hole at a golf course.
But I submit that this movement is wrongheaded because it misses this very thing about which we have been talking. They don’t understand God’s deep yearning for and love of corporate worship. They have flattened the notion of God’s dealing with his people, and so they end up robbing God of the unique communion he desires.
And that leads to the second application you ought to take home with you. God does desire this sacred communion. When CRF would gather for worship I would often remind them at the beginning of a service that this is God’s favorite day of the week. You most certainly have a favorite day of the week. Perhaps those Saturday mornings when you get to stay home and do special things with your family. You get to enjoy time with them that you do not usually get to have. The same is true for God. God has a favorite day of the week. It is today. This is not only his favorite day, but it is his favorite hour of the week. That’s because he communes with you in a way that he does not typically do in any other day of the week.
During worship God has the opportunity to stand among you in a way that he doesn’t on a Tuesday afternoon. He has opportunity to speak to you through the reading and preaching of his word. He has opportunity to sit and sup with you as you come to the Lord’s Table during Communion. These are all times when his presence is qualitatively different.
He loves Sunday’s because it is his special day with you.
And having said that, let me express just how important it is for you to take heed how you act during this time. If all that I have said is true, then we need to realize that our sin on Sunday (during or just after worship) will be even more scandalous in the sight of God.
The Westminster divines recognized this. And in their Catechism they talk about sins how some sins are more heinous in the sight of God than others. Some sins can be more aggravating to God by virtue of the circumstances in which they occur.
For instance, if you punch your friend, that’s not a good thing. But if you would walk up to Jim Deweese here and pop him in the nose, then that’s even worse because he is a judge and an elder in the church. The same sin all of a sudden became much more severe by virtue of its circumstance.
And the same is true for sins occurring before, during or just after worship. Due to God’s presense being so radically different during this time, your sin becomes much worse than if it were committed on any other day of the week.
Most of you are probably familiar with the famous sermon by Jonathan Edwards, “Sinners in the Hands of and Angry God.” Well, in that sermon he talks about the unbelievers sitting in that service. And he says that their being there inflames God to no end. They come into the presence of God and have no care that they mishandle his worship and flippantly go about the service.
So, as you listen to what Edwards says, you wonder if it is better for the unbeliever not to be there!
But the point is made quite clearly. Sins on Sunday, or sins committed in proximity to worship become more egregious to God because of God’s heightened presence. Think about it. If Moses were to come down from Mt. Sinai, after having met with God face to face—with his face shining brilliantly because of having been impacted with the brilliant splender of the Most High, would it be proper if he had joined in the blasphemies of the Israelites?
That’s why the Israelites’ idolatry with the golden calf seems so repugnant when you read it. Here these people have just been shown mighty displays of God’s power as He brought them up out of Egypt, but then they quickly forget him and start worshiping this image they fashioned out of gold. The foulness of that sin was multiplied exponentially due to their proximity to God!
Perhaps now you understand why I feel hesitant to stand in this pulpit and speak to you. To minister the word of God under these circumstances is a weighty thing, and I will be held more accountable for what I say because of it.
But you better grasp your position as a listener and participant in this service. God will not tolerate flippant attitudes. When those sacraments are administered, you ought to take heed that you are not disgracing them by blasphemous actions or thoughts. As you sing these songs, you ought to be doing your very best to give all glory and attention to God. When you come to this place you must see to it that any relationship that has been broken be repaired. We must seek to expunge any and every sin because its offense will only be enlarged as we participate in this time.
God’s glory and Presence ought to impact our conduct. Make us more circumspect about the way we act.
Perhaps that makes your soul quiver. To think that your sins are amplified because of what happens here. I would suspect that each of you feels the guilt because you know that you’ve fallen short in this regard.
Being that that is so, let me give you some words of comfort. This passage of Scripture should remind you of Christ’s redemptive love. It reminds us that God does draw near, and he does so willingly. He desires you. He takes pleasure in you. He testifies in this passage that he earnestly longs for this communion with you.
That is why this passage ultimately points us to Jesus. For he is the one who makes this holy communion possible. If it were not for his going to the cross and offering himself as our atoning sacrifice, we would have no part in this time. We would be cast far from God on account of our sins. But as it stands now, “you who were once far off, have been brought near by the blood of Christ.” So now we can say that God has sacrificed his Son not just that we can go to heaven, but so that He could fulfill His own desire, and have communion with us forever.
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Matt is blessed to be a husband, father, and pastor in Ashland, Ohio.