We lament everyday. Facebook has become an atmosphere of lament. We watch the news and lament about our society. A biblical practice of lament goes beyond voicing one’s concerns over the state of our culture. Biblical lament was very personal. Something was happening in the life of the psalmist (laments are most often found in the Psalms), and God needed to hear about it. One author says that protest is a better description than lament or complaint, because lament suggests an acceptance of victim status.
Protests do not accept. Protests are addressed to someone, meant to get him to do something about it. We respond to the violence of this world not by agnosticism—unsure of whether God even exists or wants to do something about our situation—but by “protest theism,” belief in God who can and does intervene. We don’t give up, but add the concept of protest to our vocabulary.
Prayers of lament are the most common form of prayer in the psalms. People tell God all about the bad stuff going on in their lives all the time. There are six basic elements to a psalm of lament that appear in almost all of them.
- Address. The psalmist identifies God as the one he is praying to.
- Complaint. The psalmist pours out an honest and forceful complaint. He identifies the trouble and why he needs the Lord.
- Trust. The psalmist tells God he trusts Him. His trust extends to letting God answer the prayer however God sees fit.
- Deliverance. The psalmist asks God to rescue him from the situation.
- Assurance. The psalmist says that he knows God will rescue him.
- Praise. The psalmist praises God for his blessings, whether past, present or future.
Psalm 3 is one example.
Address (v. 1a)
1Lord, how many are my foes!
Complaint (vv. 1b-2)
How many rise up against me!
2Many are saying of me,
“God will not deliver him.”
Trust (vv. 3-6)
3But you, Lord, are a shield around me,
my glory, the one who lifts my head high.
4I call out to the Lord,
and he answers me from his holy mountain.
5I lie down and sleep;
I wake again, because the Lord sustains me.
6I will not fear though tens of thousands
assail me on every side.
Deliverance (v. 7a)
Deliver me, my God!
Assurance (v. 7b)
Strike all my enemies on the jaw;
break the teeth of the wicked.
Praise (v. 8)
8From the Lord comes deliverance.
May your blessing be on your people.
What might a healthy place for lament do for us spiritually?
- It might cause us to stop gossiping. We don’t need to tell a third party about what so-and-so did if we’re always telling God.
- It might cause us to stop worrying. Why worry about the troubles of life if God is ready to help?
- It might give us hope instead of despair. If we tell God, we trust He will do something.
- It might give us justice. We no longer need to defend our names or honor. We don’t have to get revenge. We let God handle it and go through the mud with Him.
I am convinced that this form of prayer is desperately needed today. May we begin to tell God what’s wrong, ask Him for deliverance and change, and then trust Him to act and give us wisdom for how to respond.
Thanksgiving is one of the most common forms of prayer I hear in the church today. We thank God often. We thank Him because we feel that He has done something for us. Thanksgiving is both a relational word and a transactional word. We can say “thank you” to a cashier at the store who has rung up our groceries for us, to a carpenter who has built something for us, or to the person who cuts our hair when they are done. In these contexts, thanksgiving is not so much about continuing a lasting relationship as it is appreciation for what the person did for me. In these contexts, if we’re not careful, thanksgiving becomes either a cultural duty (i.e., we are expected to say it and everyone else does, so we do too) or a matter of selfishness (i.e., I got what I wanted, I said thanks, and now I can get on with my day).
This form of thanksgiving can easily, unknowingly, seep into our prayers. A look at how the psalmists prayed in thanksgiving can help us correct this view and replace it.
There are 13 psalms of thanksgiving. Less than 10 percent of them. They are Psalms 18, 30, 65, 66, 67, 75, 105, 106, 108, 116, 135, 136, 138. The main elements of these kind of psalms are:
- Introduction. The psalmist gives testimony of how God has helped.
- Distress. The psalmist describes the situation God acted in.
- Appeal. The psalmist recalls the appeal that he made to God.
- Deliverance. The psalmist describes how God rescued him.
- Testimony. A word of praise for God’s mercy is given.
Psalm 138 is one example.
Introduction (vv. 1-2)
1I will praise you, Lord, with all my heart;
before the “gods” I will sing your praise.
2I will bow down toward your holy temple
and will praise your name
for your unfailing love and your faithfulness,
for you have so exalted your solemn decree
that it surpasses your fame.
Distress, unspecified in this psalm, and Appeal (v. 3)
3When I called, you answered me;
you greatly emboldened me.
Testimony (vv. 4-5, 8)
4May all the kings of the earth praise you, Lord,
when they hear what you have decreed.
5May they sing of the ways of the Lord,
for the glory of the Lord is great.
Deliverance (vv. 6-7)
6Though the Lord is exalted, he looks kindly on the lowly,
but he takes notice of the proud from afar.
7Though I walk in the midst of trouble,
you preserve my life.
You stretch out your hand against the anger of my foes;
with your right hand you save me.
8The Lord will vindicate me;
your love, Lord, endures forever—
do not abandon the works of your hands.
The psalms of thanksgiving have their setting in a person’s deliverance from trouble. They are very much like the psalms of lament. Thanksgiving does not come only in the good times. It comes after reflection on how God has acted at all times. For the psalmist, God answered when he called. He saves him with his right hand and will vindicate him. Notice how the psalmist does not use the word “thanks” at all, but instead his language is of praise—his own personal praise and the praise of the kings of the earth.
Jesus provides us with an example of a prayer of thanksgiving. Matthew 11:25-26 says, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants; yes, Father, for such was your glorious will.” Jesus prays this after John the Baptist’s disciples ask Him if Jesus is the Messiah and after calling out towns who did not repent after witnessing his miracles. The person who understood Jesus best misunderstood Him. And the towns he did a majority of his ministry in—Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum, filled with people who knew Jesus best, did not know Him. So he prayed in thanksgiving that God had hidden His true identity from them and instead revealed it to little children.
The prayer of thanksgiving is not really a form of prayer but speaks to the content of the prayer. Like children, we must learn adoration. It does not come naturally. And how do we learn to adore and thank God? One way is to stop long enough to enjoy the simple things of life. The next time an ant makes its way into your kitchen, before you get rid of it, get down low and watch it work. The next time you see a flower growing, dip down to smell it, to see the intricate parts, and to thank God for the flower. The next time you see your spouse, ponder all the ways God made him/her unique.
Spend an entire day living in gratitude. Give thanks to God for as much as you possibly can. When there is something you are frustrated about, give thanks for three more things. And eventually, as you practice gratitude and adoration, you begin to magnify God. Richard Foster says that we can never say too much about God’s goodness or love. It will always be greater than our imaginations. But we can magnify His name and exalt Him to His rightful place in our prayers.
1My heart is not proud, Lord,
my eyes are not haughty;
I do not concern myself with great matters
or things too wonderful for me.
2But I have calmed myself
and quieted my ambitions.
I am like a weaned child with its mother;
like a weaned child I am content.
3Israel, put your hope in the Lord
both now and forevermore.
The discipline of silence unnerves us at first. Several years ago, our small group started our evenings with one minute, then two, then three minutes of silence. In time, we all began to look forward to those moments. The discipline of silence teaches us when to speak and when to listen, how to control our tongues, and how to hear the voice of God. We all know how to talk. But disciplined people know how to say the right things when it is necessary.
Have you ever been in a situation where you knew what you should say but kept quiet? Or in a situation where no one spoke up about the glaring problems a group was facing? Or a time when someone was speaking needlessly, or speaking ill toward another? When we practice silence at home, away from others, we are better able to practice silence when we’re with others. When we’ve heard God speak to us in moments of silence, we are better able to speak for God when it is needed with others.
Ecclesiastes 5:1-2 says, “Guard your steps when you go to the house of God. Go near to listen rather than to offer the sacrifice of fools, who do not know that they do wrong. Do not be quick with your mouth, do not be hasty in your heart to utter anything before God. God is in heaven and you are on earth, so let your words be few.” The sacrifice of fools is hasty speech, words that don’t really matter at all in the place of listening for God. These verses apply just as easily to our personal times of prayer as they did for the author of Ecclesiastes. When we enter the presence of God, we begin with silence.
We are not quick to speak, as if the first thing we do is tell God what we want. Who of us enjoys getting a phone call from a telemarketer? No one. Why? Because the only reason they call is to ask you for something. But who among us enjoys getting a call from a best friend? We all do, because we can be ourselves around them without worrying about demands for more of our stuff. Prayer is the same.
Richard Foster says that when we practice silence, in time we will enter what St. John of the Cross calls “the dark night of the soul.” It is not a bad thing, but something we should welcome as part of our spiritual formation. We may have a sense of dryness, loneliness, or even lostness, but not due to sin. We may feel that all our Bible reading or study or sermons have no effect on us. The joy other Christians have becomes dreadful to us.
The temptation in this is to look for something that will get us out of the dark night—a better church, repeating an old experience with God where we felt good, a new devotional pattern, etc. Foster cautions, “This is a serious mistake. Recognize the dark night for what it is. Be grateful that God is lovingly drawing you away from every distraction so that you can see him clearly. Rather than chafing and fighting, be still and wait.” In essence, we are to continue in our times of disciplined silence rather than avoiding them because they are hard. It is far more eternally necessary for us to go through the dark night and be conformed to the image of Jesus than to feel better.
It’s been a year since I last wrote here. Not that anyone is still reading. My plan is to update this once a week, mostly with thoughts that come from devotionals with the Psalms. So here goes.
Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of mockers. But his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither. Whatever he does prospers.
Not so the wicked! They are like chaff that the wind blows away. Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous. For the LORD watches over the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish.
This psalm is the first (duh), and I wonder why it was put first. Probably not because it was written first. I think it was important for those who worshiped Yahweh to see from the get-go that they were not as strong as they thought they were. They could be one of two people: righteous or wicked. They could be influenced by the Torah, God’s Word, or by other wicked people. No one was immune to becoming like chaff that blew away in the wind.
They needed to know that digging deep into God’s Word was the only way they would be righteous. Odds are this psalm was written during or after Israel’s exile to Babylon, around the time the synagogue was starting. The synagogue was THE place to hear the words of God, and also the place to sing some of the other psalms. This psalm was a call to worship, to participate in the communal praise of Yahweh. Get this and you get the rest of the psalms.
I think this psalm also is supposed to put an end to any doubts of those Jews who may have wondered if following Yahweh was the best way. They were living in a foreign land with foreign people worshiping foreign gods. And all these people seemed to be doing better than them. Yet this psalm says whatever the righteous do will prosper, and the way of the wicked will perish (vv. 3, 6). Its saying that even though things seem to be just the opposite, walking in the ways of God is still worth it. Not just worth it, but its the best way and the ONLY way to live. Not really a message that preaches well in today’s culture.
So the next question logically for me is, What is Yahweh’s way? Where else does the Bible speak of God’s “way”? A question for next time.
Who thought you could preach an entire message about the benediction? While our church doesn’t speak or sing it at the end of services, many churches in our area do. Perhaps your church does. The goal of this sermon is for us to hear the benediction and be reminded of why we have been blessed.
Text: Numbers 6:22-27; Psalm 67
(I played the IWU Chorale singing “The Lord Bless You and Keep You” to start out.)
“The LORD bless you and keep you; the LORD make his face shine upon you and be gracious to you; the LORD turn his face toward you and give you peace.” Many of us have heard that before. It’s “The Benediction.” It’s what we hear at the end of a church service.
I have two questions for you. First, what do you feel when you hear it? And second, why do we say it at the end of a service? I’m going to make a few guesses as to your answers to those questions. My guess is you feel good. You feel like the service is over, you’ve just heard a good message, and you’re ready to leave. It just seems right to end the service that way. You probably focus on one word: bless. You feel glad that God wants to bless you. That could be how you feel. And the reason why we say it at the end? Well, we’ve always done it that way. It’s tradition.
As we look at Scripture, you’ll find that both of those answers are wrong. The benediction is about much more than that. Turn with me to Numbers 6:22-27.
Then the LORD said to Moses, “Tell Aaron and his sons, ‘This is how you are to bless the Israelites. Say to them: ‘“The LORD bless you and keep you; the LORD make his face shine upon you and be gracious to you; the LORD turn his face toward you and give you peace.”’ So they will put my name on the Israelites and I will bless them.”
God tells Moses to tell Aaron and his sons, “This is how you should bless Israel.” Say these words to them. And in doing this, they put the name Yahweh on the nation of Israel. In Scripture, a name is an expression of the nature of its bearer. When God says the priests will put His name on Israel, He is saying, “Israel is mine. It is to have the same characteristics as I have. It is to be like me.”
So saying these words we know as the benediction serves as a reminder that we are God’s and that being God’s means following His commands. It also means that if others want to find out who God is, they should look at His people. God has given us His name, and that’s a huge responsibility.
There are two types of gifts. The first is the type we give to one another, like at birthdays or Christmas. We give gifts to ones we love with the intent that they keep them and use them. We don’t expect to receive anything in return, and we especially don’t expect to receive the gift back. The second is the type God gives to us. These gifts could be things like our children and spouses, our talents, the money we have, and His Son Jesus. God doesn’t expect us to keep these. He expects us to give them back, to share them with others. The gift of God’s name is the same thing. He expected Israel and now expects you and me to bear His name and share it with others.
The writer of Psalm 67 understood this concept. He was on to something when he wrote. So if you have your Bibles, let’s look there and see what this giving looks like.
May God be gracious to us and bless us and make his face shine upon us, that your ways may be known on earth, your salvation among all nations. May the peoples praise you, O God; may all the peoples praise you. May the nations be glad and sing for joy, for you rule the peoples justly and guide the nations of the earth. May the peoples praise you, O God; may all the peoples praise you. Then the land will yield its harvest, and God, our God, will bless us. God will bless us, and all the ends of the earth will fear him.
Does the first verse sound at all familiar? That’s right. It’s meant to make you think of Aaron’s blessing in Numbers 6. The psalmist has taken those few verses and added to them. His emphasis is not on the blessing, but on what the blessing produces: salvation among the nations.
He shows us that the reason you and I are given gifts by God is so we can be a blessing to the rest of the world. When this psalm was written, the nations, the peoples, and the ends of the earth referred to people living without Yahweh as God. They were the pagans. In our day, the nations are those who are living without Jesus Christ as Lord.
Three things I notice about the gifts:
1. God gave them to US. Not once do I see a “me” or “I.” These blessings are given to a people. That means that the guy sitting in the pew across the aisle that you hold a grudge against gets the same blessing you do. That means the woman who’s just accepted Christ as Savior and become a part of the people of God gets the same gift you do. It’s not about tenure or popularity or any other standard we use when we give gifts. The only factor involved is being a part of God’s people.
So, here’s a stupid comment. You have to participate with the people of God in order to receive the blessings of the people of God. In the Old Testament, that meant going to the temple, offering sacrifices, obeying the Law of Moses. In the New Testament and now, that means attending a church, following after Jesus. God never called us to “Lone Ranger” Christianity. He called us to be a part of a larger group of believers who worship Him together. It’s as a group that we are blessed.
We’re camping out at Devil’s Lake this week and our campsite is surrounded by trees. It hasn’t rained yet, but they’re calling for rain this week. When it rains, every one of those trees is going to get wet. Maybe the shorter ones won’t get as much rain, but they’ll still get wet. What would happen if I chopped one down and burnt it in my campfire? Don’t worry, I’m not going to. That tree would no longer get the rain the others got. It’s the same way in the church. If you remove yourself from the people of God, you remove yourself from His blessings.
Have you been blessed by God? Yes. And I’m sure you’ve heard others share testimonies of how God blessed them individually. He does that. But His primary way of blessing so that the whole earth will come to know Him is through His people, the church.
2. God expects our gifts to be used so the peoples praise Him. Like we said earlier, God’s gifts are to be used. The psalmist speaks of the God’s salvation being known among all nations. He’s not talking about salvation like we think of salvation: getting saved, accepting Christ as Savior. He’s speaking more of deliverance from trouble. This word is used in Isaiah 33:2: “O Lord, be gracious to us; we long for you. Be our strength every morning, our salvation in time of distress.” It’s also used in Psalm 3:2: “O Lord, how many are my foes! How many rise up against me! Many are saying of me, ‘God will not deliver him.’ But you are a shield around me, O Lord; you bestow glory on me and lift up my head.”
The same way that God delivered His people from Egypt’s hand, the hope is that He will deliver the nations.
And this is for all people. In these verses, we see “peoples” and “nations.” In Hebrew, the psalmist uses 3 different words, all meaning a group of people of similar culture or nation. He’s trying to emphasize that this salvation is for everyone. That’s kind of crazy considering Israel is this tiny plot of land and people didn’t even know America existed back then. Yet somehow this man’s prayer was that all nations—even the ones who were Israel’s enemies; even the ones he’d never been to—would praise God.
His desire is that they would be glad and sing for joy because God judges them justly and guides them. Remember, judgment in that day was a good thing. It meant God pointed out their wrongdoing and gave them a course-correction so they wouldn’t harm others or spread the disease of sin. God ruling the peoples justly is a good thing, and for that reason they would praise him.
So the gifts God gives us—his blessings and favor—are meant so other people who don’t know Him will come to praise Him. We as a church need to recognize that and take part. Right now we’re going through the process of transforming our building. Why? Because God has given us a building to worship in and we want to draw as many people as possible to Him. Not because we don’t like pews, not because we desire to turn everything upside down, but because our building ought to be a good gift we can give to others.
3. God gives more gifts when we use the first ones properly. Verses 6-7 begin with “then.” It’s like saying, “We’ve been a blessing to others and been faithful with God’s blessing and His name—now He’s blessing us again.”
Remember one of the parables Jesus told. In Matthew 25:14-30 he tells the parable of the talents. One man receives 5 talents, another 2, another 1. The first two double their money, the third just buries his. Their master returns and says to the first two, “You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things.” That’s the sense I get from the last two verses of Psalm 67.
So what happens if you and I decide to keep God’s name for ourselves. We’ve been blessed, and God has put his name on us. We are supposed to now represent Him and be a blessing to others, but we choose not to. That’s like rejecting God. James says faith without works is dead. In the same token, being blessed without blessing others is worthless. Odds are the future blessings of verses 6-7 aren’t going to come to us. Odds are God will find another group of Christians, another church, to use for His kingdom.
So, do we have the answers to those first two questions?
What do you feel when you hear the benediction, and why is it at the end? You feel happy, yes, but you also have a sense of responsibility, knowing that you must be a blessing as well. And you know it’s at the end as a reminder of all this. Like some churches post signs, “You are now entering the mission field,” allow the benediction to remind you of that.
With no church Feb. 25th because of snow, I skipped preaching about Jesus’ prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane. On to a three-part miniseries on salvation. The idea is taken from Brian McLaren’s A Generous Orthodoxy. The book stretched me, and though I don’t agree with everything McLaren says, I like his way of putting a few keys words to God’s saving us.
The three words are judgment, forgiveness, and teaching. Here’s the sermon.
Text: Psalm 97
Introduction: A Broader, Fuller Understanding of Salvation
Salvation. What comes to your mind when you hear that word? Perhaps the day you accepted Christ as Savior. Maybe you think of forgiveness of sins and being able to go to heaven. Easter is coming up. The time when most of us are reminded of what Jesus did so we could be saved. Jesus died on the cross so we wouldn’t have to.
In Western Christianity, our tendency is to look at salvation as accepting or acknowledging Jesus’ death on the cross. In a moment in time, we cross over from death to life by accepting Christ as Savior. I affirm that. There is a time in each Christian’s life when he or she decides to follow Jesus. When I was five years old my parents knelt beside me at my bed and I prayed to accept Christ as Savior. I had a “born again” experience. I’m sure most of you can attest to the time you were saved.
But too often we look at our salvation experience, we hold it high in the air, like waving a championship trophy around, and we remember that day as the “day” God saved us. In doing that, we disregard what God had been doing prior to that. Maybe you were invited to church by a friend, and you had never been to church. You came for three months before accepting Christ. And during those three months your dad passed away. People of the church came to your family with meals and helped you out. Also during those three months, you saw how those people lived and acted differently, and you were convicted of sin. You had thought that all Christians were hypocrites and had judged them. You asked God to forgive you for that. And then one Sunday, you came to an altar of prayer. The tendency for us is to focus on the altar experience and forget the rest. God was saving you before you even knew it.
And too often we look at salvation as being salvation from hell and a pass into heaven. Salvation in the Bible never explicitly means this. Not once. Salvation simply means “rescue” or “deliver from destruction” or “get out of trouble.” That trouble could be war, famine, an enemy, poverty or something else. God repeatedly delivers His people from these types of things, like when He leads them out of Egypt to the Promised Land, or when an angel frees Peter from prison. God intervenes in order to rescue them from whatever it is. Sometimes He intervenes to save them from themselves, as He allows the Assyrians and Babylonians to carry Israel and Judah off to exile.
It’s like a story I read on cnn.com yesterday. A man snowmobiling in Montana came to an area where an avalanche was starting. He tried to beat it driving 80 mph but couldn’t. He tumbled off his snowmobile and laid face up in four feet of snow. He passed out thinking he would die. Eight hours later, his cousin finally found him. He made it out alive. This is the kind of rescue we’re talking about.
This doesn’t mean that salvation isn’t about going to heaven. That’s a sure thing. Jesus says to the thief that he will be in paradise, and at the Last Supper says He will drink the wine again with His disciples in His Father’s kingdom. Salvation is about going to heaven when you die. But that’s not the whole story.
Today marks the beginning of a miniseries of sermons about how God saves us. So we won’t necessarily be looking at things like putting our faith in Christ. Instead, we’ll see what God is doing for us to rescue us. Our goal is to get beyond relishing the moment of salvation to living the life of the saved.
Saved by Judgment
Brian McLaren, in his book A Generous Orthodoxy, says that God saves us primarily through three things. The first of those is judgment.
The first thing that most people think of when they hear “judgment” in church is hellfire and brimstone. Or they think of God damning all the sinners. Judgment to most people is seen as a negative thing. Our perception of God’s judgment is colored by the judgment we’ve received from others. I’m sure all of us can think back on moments when we’ve been judged. I remember first getting to Baraboo and hearing countless times (not from you) that I was so young to be a pastor. Most people didn’t mean anything by it, but I could sense that some were thinking, “He’s not only so young, he’s too young. And incapable and naïve and good luck.” These were Christians and non-Christians. I was being judged and it hurt.
I bet all of us, if we’re truly honest, can think of times we’ve misjudged other people. So the cycle goes on and on. We are judged and we misjudge. When God speaks to us about judgment, what is our natural reaction? Aagh! Flip the page. I’d rather read Song of Songs than that!
God says that judgment is not only necessary as part of this rescue process…it’s also a good thing. If you don’t believe me, turn to Psalm 97. We’ll see what judgment really is.
Psalm 97: “The LORD reigns, let the earth be glad; let the distant shores rejoice. Clouds and thick darkness surround him; righteousness and justice are the foundation of his throne. Fire goes before him and consumes his foes on every side. His lightning lights up the world; the earth sees and trembles. The mountains melt like wax before the LORD, before the LORD of all the earth. The heavens proclaim his righteousness, and all peoples will see his glory. All who worship images are put to shame, those who boast in idols—worship him, all you gods! Zion hears and rejoices and the villages of Judah are glad because of your judgments, O LORD. For you, O LORD, are the Most High over all the earth; you are exalted far above all gods. Let those who love the LORD hate evil, for he guards the lives of his faithful ones and delivers them from the hand of the wicked. Light is shed upon the righteous and joy on the upright in heart. Rejoice in the LORD, you who are righteous, and praise his holy name.”
Judgment—A Good Thing
God’s judgment is a good thing. Just count how many times you see the word rejoice or be glad. I count five times. Two in verse 1, two in verse 8, and one in verse 12. Verse one says that the earth should be glad, and the distant shores rejoice. Both the earth and the distant shores are words referring to people of other nations. The Gentiles, the people who don’t know God, are supposed to rejoice. Why? Because the LORD reigns. The LORD is king, that’s what he’s saying. As a king reigns over his people, God reigns over all the earth. God’s reign is marked by two things: righteousness and justice. We see in verse three that they are the foundation of his throne.
God is righteous. Righteousness means knowing the way to walk and walking in it. It means knowing right from wrong and always choosing right. God is the One who holds the righteous standard. He’s always right and never wrong. He’s fair.
God is also just, a word also translated judgment. McLaren says, and this is printed in your bulletin, “But in the biblical context, judgment is generally a good thing. It means the coming of truth and justice into our deceived and oppressed world. If some bad and dishonest people are out to deceive or oppress others, God brings justice by bringing judgment—the natural consequences of their bad actions—on the evildoers so they are incapacitated and can’t fulfill the additional evil they intended.
If others are misjudging you, God comes as your vindicator, your justifier. God tells the truth, which exposes the lies of your misjudgers. Over and over again, biblical writers anticipate the day when God will come to judge evil, to expose it and permanently incapacitate it while vindicating good. They speak of this as a profound and joyful kind of salvation.”
Judgment is a good thing. God’s judgment is not like ours. It’s a way to stop those who are misjudging, who are oppressing, from doing more evil. And in this passage, it’s a way to stop people from worshiping idols. All the imagery about clouds and thick darkness, about fire and lightning and mountains melting is from Deuteronomy 4. In Deuteronomy 4, Moses recalls the days Israel was at Mount Horeb, standing at the foot of the mountain while Moses went up to hear from God. And Moses says the mountain blazed with fire to the very heavens, with black clouds and deep darkness. The LORD spoke to Israel out of the fire. They heard Him, but did not see a form. Moses then tells them that because they didn’t see a form, they should watch themselves carefully so they don’t make idols when they enter the Promised Land.
Idol worship ended up being Israel’s chief sin. Over and over we hear of kings worshiping Baal. We even see Israel make a golden calf at Mount Sinai. God had come to them in the darkness of the cloud telling them not to worship idols, and they did.
And so the second time he comes like this is for judgment: to stop them from doing this, from committing more evil acts, from oppressing their neighbors and neglecting the poor. All of the imagery from this psalm is used in the prophets to speak of God’s judgment on Israel and the nations for worshiping idols. They are put to shame, and the idols they worship are commanded to worship the LORD.
Again, before you start thinking this is a bad thing, look at verses 7-8.
All who worship images are put to shame, those who boast in idols—worship him, all you gods! Zion hears and rejoices and the villages of Judah are glad because of your judgments, O LORD.
Here’s the result of God coming in judgment. Rejoicing. Judgment is a good thing. ALL PEOPLES see the glory of the LORD, for God is exalted above all gods. His judgment results in not only Israel praising Him, but also the nations of the world praising Him. All these people stuck in sin worshiping false gods are saved from this as God intervenes to rescue them.
I’ve told you this story before, and it’s worth telling again. My dad was working construction and fell off a roof, causing brain damage. He’s not the same dad I knew before. But what I haven’t told you is that before this accident, dad hadn’t been to church in years. He had a business deal go sour with a man from our church, a man who did not pay dad for work he did, and dad’s bitterness kept him from attending church. After the accident my dad renewed his commitment to Christ and has been faithful in church attendance. It makes him proud to see me pastoring.
I feel like God used my dad’s accident as a way of judgment. Through that, it caused my dad to see the truth, to quit holding the grudge, and to go back to church. Was it a bad situation? Yes. But a bad situation that rescued my dad from what could have been a total slide away from God.
Earlier, I mentioned reasons why we misunderstand what judgment is all about, or reasons why we de-emphasize it. I left one reason out. And that’s because God sent His Son to “be judged” for our sin. So we focus on the cross and on the forgiveness offered to us through it. But we mustn’t forget that judgment had to come first. Jesus was judged so we could be forgiven. Isaiah 53:4-5 says, “Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.”
God intervened through His Son to rescue us. And Jesus sent the Holy Spirit who judges us. His judgment is called conviction of sin. Without it, there can be no salvation, no forgiveness, no rescue.
So…judgment is a good thing. Ask yourself now, “What could God be judging me/convicting me of? Are there any idols in my life? Did I not listen to His voice from the think clouds of darkness the first time? Am I allowing Him to rule as King with righteousness and justice?”
Take this time to pray and ask God to convict you.
Now go with God, rejoicing in His saving judgment.
I preached this sermon on the 14th. Now that I look back on it, I wish I wouldn’t have read so many Scriptures at the end. Perhaps reading one passage over and over, asking questions of it (Lectio Divina) would have been better. Anyway, this is a sermon emphasizing general and specific revelation without using those terms. How has God been speaking to you? Are you listening?
Main Text: Psalm 19
Throughout the centuries, Christians have believed that we cannot speak to God without Him first speaking to us. There is no way for humanity to reach out to God unless He first reaches down to us. And we also believe that God has. Christians have believed that God is active in our lives, and that He has revealed Himself to us. Both by His creation and His Scripture, God has met us as and “showed up.” And not only that, He speaks to us through each other, as He used prophets to correct Israel in their apostasy. God shows up in signs and visions; some of you have seen visions of God. God spoke to Elijah not in the wind, the earthquake or the fire, but in the still small voice.
God speaks to us. It is easy for you and me to forget that. We assume that because God doesn’t audibly speak or because we haven’t seen someone raised from the dead that God has only given us His Scripture to speak to us. And we almost downplay the role of Scripture, like saying it’s second-best to actually hearing or seeing God. In reality, Scripture is the best picture of God imaginable, the clearest form of communication we could have.
Psalm 19 is a psalm that talks about how God speaks to us, and what our response ought to be. Let me read it to you.
The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge. Thy have no speech, there are no words; no sound is heard from them. Their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world. In the heavens he has pitched a tent for the sun, which is like a bridegroom coming forth from his pavilion, like a champion rejoicing to run his course. It rises at one end of the heavens and makes its circuit to the other; nothing is hidden from its heat.
The law of the LORD is perfect, reviving the soul. The statutes of the LORD are trustworthy, making wise the simple. The precepts of the LORD are right, giving joy to the heart. The commands of the LORD are radiant, giving light to the eyes. The fear of the LORD is pure, enduring forever. The ordinances of the LORD are sure and altogether righteous. They are more precious than gold, than much pure gold; they are sweeter than honey, than honey from the comb. By them your servant is warned; in keeping them there is great reward.
Who can discern his errors? Forgive my hidden faults. Keep your servant also from willful sins; may they not rule over me. Then will I be blameless, innocent of great transgression. May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be pleasing in your sight, O LORD, my Rock and my Redeemer.
Verses 1-6 are about how God’s heavens proclaim His glory. God speaks to us through His creation. Yet creation doesn’t really have a voice. We can see the sun and stars and moon, and some of us will rejoice and praise God. And some people could care less about the heavens. They are able to explain away creation as God’s masterpiece. Some in the psalmist’s time even tried worshiping the sun. One commentator puts it this way: “But the knowledge of God that is revealed in creation is only very limited. Beyond the awareness of the Creator, the instruction of nature tells us little about the ways of God or what our response to God should be. Therefore, the psalmist turns to the instruction of God’s Torah. And so God speaks even clearer to us.” Verses 7-11 talk about God’s law, His teaching.
God’s law, statutes, commands, etc. are all synonyms, meaning the words God has given us. And the psalmist says that God’s words are perfect, trustworthy, right, radiant, pure, sure and altogether righteous. They have power to revive us, make us wise, to give us joy, to give light to the eyes (a metaphor for giving us understanding about the ways of God). They have power to warn us.
God speaks to us through the Scripture we have in our hands. There is no mistaking it. And the easiest and best way to hear God speak is…catch this…by listening. So that’s what we’re going to do today. Listen.
I’m going to read several passages of Scripture, and I want you to listen. Don’t read along, don’t look at your bulletin or your neighbor or your watch. Just listen. And think, “What is God saying to me right now?”
“The time is coming,” declares the Lord, “when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah. It will not be like the covenant I made with their forefathers when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they broke my covenant, though I was a husband to them,” declares the Lord. “This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after that time,” declares the Lord. “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. No longer will a man teach his neighbor, or a man his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest,” declares the Lord. “For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.” This is what the Lord says, he who appoints the sun to shine by day, who decrees the moon and stars to shine by night, who stirs up the sea so that its waves roar— the Lord Almighty is his name: “Only if these decrees vanish from my sight,” declares the Lord, “will the descendants of Israel ever cease to be a nation before me.” This is what the Lord says: “Only if the heavens above can be measured and the foundations of the earth below be searched out will I reject all the descendants of Israel because of all they have done,” declares the Lord.
Now Moses was tending the flock of Jethro his father-in-law, the priest of Midian, and he led the flock to the far side of the desert and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in flames of fire from within a bush. Moses saw that though the bush was on fire it did not burn up. So Moses thought, “I will go over and see this strange sight—why the bush does not burn up.” When the Lord saw that he had gone over to look, God called to him from within the bush, “Moses! Moses!” And Moses said, “Here I am.”
“Do not come any closer,” God said. “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.” Then he said, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.” At this, Moses hid his face, because he was afraid to look at God. The Lord said, “I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt. I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering. So I have come down to rescue them from the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land into a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey—the home of the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites. And now the cry of the Israelites has reached me, and I have seen the way the Egyptians are oppressing them. So now, go. I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt.”
But Moses said to God, “Who am I, that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?” And God said, “I will be with you. And this will be the sign to you that it is I who have sent you: When you have brought the people out of Egypt, you will worship God on this mountain.” Moses said to God, “Suppose I go to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ Then what shall I tell them?”
God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I AM has sent me to you.’” God also said to Moses, “Say to the Israelites, ‘The Lord, the God of your fathers—the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob—has sent me to you.’ This is my name forever, the name by which I am to be remembered from generation to generation.
“Go, assemble the elders of Israel and say to them, ‘The Lord, the God of your fathers—the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob— appeared to me and said: I have watched over you and have seen what has been done to you in Egypt. And I have promised to bring you up out of your misery in Egypt into the land of the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites—a land flowing with milk and honey.’
“The elders of Israel will listen to you. Then you and the elders are to go to the king of Egypt and say to him, ‘The Lord, the God of the Hebrews, has met with us. Let us take a three-day journey into the desert to offer sacrifices to the Lord our God.’ But I know that the king of Egypt will not let you go unless a mighty hand compels him. So I will stretch out my hand and strike the Egyptians with all the wonders that I will perform among them. After that, he will let you go.
“And I will make the Egyptians favorably disposed toward this people, so that when you leave you will not go empty-handed. Every woman is to ask her neighbor and any woman living in her house for articles of silver and gold and for clothing, which you will put on your sons and daughters. And so you will plunder the Egyptians.”
“I tell you the truth, the man who does not enter the sheep pen by the gate, but climbs in by some other way, is a thief and a robber. The man who enters by the gate is the shepherd of his sheep. The watchman opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice. But they will never follow a stranger; in fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognize a stranger’s voice.” Jesus used this figure of speech, but they did not understand what he was telling them.
Therefore Jesus said again, “I tell you the truth, I am the gate for the sheep. All who ever came before me were thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. He will come in and go out, and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.
“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The hired hand is not the shepherd who owns the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it. The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep.
“I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me—just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep. I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd. The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life—only to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father.”
At these words the Jews were again divided. Many of them said, “He is demon-possessed and raving mad. Why listen to him?” But others said, “These are not the sayings of a man possessed by a demon. Can a demon open the eyes of the blind?”
Then came the Feast of Dedication at Jerusalem. It was winter, and Jesus was in the temple area walking in Solomon’s Colonnade. The Jews gathered around him, saying, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly.”
Jesus answered, “I did tell you, but you do not believe. The miracles I do in my Father’s name speak for me, but you do not believe because you are not my sheep. My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.”
About noon the following day as they were on their journey and approaching the city, Peter went up on the roof to pray. He became hungry and wanted something to eat, and while the meal was being prepared, he fell into a trance. He saw heaven opened and something like a large sheet being let down to earth by its four corners. It contained all kinds of four-footed animals, as well as reptiles of the earth and birds of the air. Then a voice told him, “Get up, Peter. Kill and eat.”
“Surely not, Lord!” Peter replied. “I have never eaten anything impure or unclean.” The voice spoke to him a second time, “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.” This happened three times, and immediately the sheet was taken back to heaven.
1 Kings 19:1-17
Now Ahab told Jezebel everything Elijah had done and how he had killed all the prophets with the sword. So Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah to say, “May the gods deal with me, be it ever so severely, if by this time tomorrow I do not make your life like that of one of them.”
Elijah was afraid and ran for his life. When he came to Beersheba in Judah, he left his servant there, while he himself went a day’s journey into the desert. He came to a broom tree, sat down under it and prayed that he might die. “I have had enough, Lord,” he said. “Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors.” Then he lay down under the tree and fell asleep.
All at once an angel touched him and said, “Get up and eat.” He looked around, and there by his head was a cake of bread baked over hot coals, and a jar of water. He ate and drank and then lay down again.
The angel of the Lord came back a second time and touched him and said, “Get up and eat, for the journey is too much for you.” So he got up and ate and drank. Strengthened by that food, he traveled forty days and forty nights until he reached Horeb, the mountain of God. There he went into a cave and spent the night. And the word of the Lord came to him: “What are you doing here, Elijah?”
He replied, “I have been very zealous for the Lord God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, broken down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too.” The Lord said, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.”
Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave. Then a voice said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”
He replied, “I have been very zealous for the Lord God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, broken down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too.”
The Lord said to him, “Go back the way you came, and go to the Desert of Damascus. When you get there, anoint Hazael king over Aram. Also, anoint Jehu son of Nimshi king over Israel, and anoint Elisha son of Shaphat from Abel Meholah to succeed you as prophet. Jehu will put to death any who escape the sword of Hazael, and Elisha will put to death any who escape the sword of Jehu. Yet I reserve seven thousand in Israel—all whose knees have not bowed down to Baal and all whose mouths have not kissed him.”
Again Jesus began to teach by the lake. The crowd that gathered around him was so large that he got into a boat and sat in it out on the lake, while all the people were along the shore at the water’s edge. He taught them many things by parables, and in his teaching said: “Listen! A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants, so that they did not bear grain. Still other seed fell on good soil. It came up, grew and produced a crop, multiplying thirty, sixty, or even a hundred times.”
Then Jesus said, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”
When he was alone, the Twelve and the others around him asked him about the parables. He told them, “The secret of the kingdom of God has been given to you. But to those on the outside everything is said in parables so that, “‘they may be ever seeing but never perceiving, and ever hearing but never understanding; otherwise they might turn and be forgiven!”
Then Jesus said to them, “Don’t you understand this parable? How then will you understand any parable? The farmer sows the word. Some people are like seed along the path, where the word is sown. As soon as they hear it, Satan comes and takes away the word that was sown in them. Others, like seed sown on rocky places, hear the word and at once receive it with joy. But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away. Still others, like seed sown among thorns, hear the word; but the worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for other things come in and choke the word, making it unfruitful. Others, like seed sown on good soil, hear the word, accept it, and produce a crop—thirty, sixty or even a hundred times what was sown.”
Returning back to Psalm 19, the psalmist now responds to God’s voice. He asks God to forgive him for hidden sins. And the word he uses is the same word in verse 6 describing how nothing is hidden from the sun’s heat. He knows he cannot always see his sins, but God can. Just as the sun’s rays cover the whole earth, God and his word can see all of him. And his desire is for God to forgive him of those hidden sins.
Then he hopes that his words would be pleasing to the LORD. “The ‘words’ of verse 14 repeats the Hebrew word translated as ‘speech’ in verses 2-3. This final verse is the psalmist’s prayer that his life be in tune with the music of the spheres, the very structure of the universe, which praises God.
So what should our response be to hearing God speak to us? The same as the psalmist: forgive us of our hidden sins (perhaps we don’t take time to listen), keep us from willful sin (perhaps we hear God and ignore Him), and we want to be pleasing to you (may we give you glory as we listen to your voice), just as your creation is.