At Last! The Psalms!
October 7, 2016
This Sunday we begin a multi-year sermon series on the book of Psalms. If our Lord is willing, over something like 75 sermons, we’ll cover the entire book from “Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked” (Psalm 1:1) to “Let everything that has breath praise the Lord! Praise the Lord!” (Psalm 150:5). Most weeks, as on October 9, we’ll consider more than one psalm. We’ll also break up the series into groups of about 15 sermons, returning to Romans to complete that series after the first set of psalms, and interspersing other New Testament series with the remaining psalms.
Why the book of Psalms?
At one level, it’s about time to consider it! While we read Scripture from this book almost every Sunday, only a handful sermons at DGCC have taken any of the psalms as their text.
At another level, the book of Psalms fits well with where we are in our preaching. Both Fred and I have focused in the past several months on key doctrines of the faith – who is God, what is man? How are we not condemned before Him? Where is the world headed? The psalms help us to see and to live out what must follow from such doctrines – the emotions, the affections, the praise, the crying out – as we live life in a sinful, fallen world.
Furthermore, when you read the psalms – personally, in your family, or in corporate worship – you are linking yourself with followers of God over the last three thousand years. Over centuries and millennia, these psalms have expressed and shaped the affections and emotions of God’s people. We pray that God will do the same with us – that our prayers might be shaped by these psalms and our attitudes might become more consistent with biblical doctrine as we hear and speak and live out these psalms.
Let’s look at seven forms that this expressing and shaping of emotions takes (modified from Mark Dever’s similar list in The Message of the Old Testament):
Praise: We proclaim the greatness of our God to all peoples and, indeed, to all creation, citing who He has proclaimed Himself to be:
Oh sing to the LORD a new song; sing to the LORD, all the earth!
Sing to the LORD, bless his name; tell of his salvation from day to day.
Declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous works among all the peoples!
For great is the LORD, and greatly to be praised; he is to be feared above all gods.
For all the gods of the peoples are worthless idols, but the LORD made the heavens.
Splendor and majesty are before him; strength and beauty are in his sanctuary.
Ascribe to the LORD, O families of the peoples, ascribe to the LORD glory and strength!
Remembering: We remind ourselves of God’s faithfulness to His covenant, especially as shown in the history of His people:
When the waters saw you, O God, when the waters saw you, they were afraid;
indeed, the deep trembled.
The clouds poured out water; the skies gave forth thunder;
your arrows flashed on every side.
The crash of your thunder was in the whirlwind; your lightnings lighted up the world;
the earth trembled and shook.
Your way was through the sea, your path through the great waters;
yet your footprints were unseen.
You led your people like a flock by the hand of Moses and Aaron.
Thanksgiving: Giving thanks in the psalms is not private, between an individual and God. Rather, thanksgiving in the psalms is always a form of public praise. Whether the psalmist is thanking God for assisting him personally or for helping the people, the thanksgiving praises God for such acts:
Some were fools through their sinful ways, and because of their iniquities suffered affliction;
they loathed any kind of food, and they drew near to the gates of death.
Then they cried to the LORD in their trouble, and he delivered them from their distress.
He sent out his word and healed them, and delivered them from their destruction.
Let them thank the LORD for his steadfast love, for his wondrous works to the children of man!
And let them offer sacrifices of thanksgiving, and tell of his deeds in songs of joy!
Trust: Praising God for who He is, remembering His covenant love and faithful deeds, and thanking Him for His work on our behalf all serve to deepen our trust in Him. So the psalms call upon us to trust Him always, especially in the midst of trials and difficulties:
Now I know that the LORD saves his anointed;
he will answer him from his holy heaven with the saving might of his right hand.
Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the LORD our God.
They collapse and fall, but we rise and stand upright.
Honest Lament: Yet while we are in such trials and difficulties, God often seems distant and confusing. We cry out and don’t see an answer; we ask God to intervene, and don’t understand how He is at work. Many psalms reflect this confusion, this darkness; indeed, more than one-third of the psalms contain a lament. One author says there is so much lament in the psalms to “show that the experience of anguish and puzzlement in the life of faith is not a sign of deficient faith, something to be outgrown or put behind one, but rather is intrinsic to the very nature of faith” (R.W.L. Moberly, as quoted by B Waltke et al, The Psalms as Christian Lament, p. 1). Often these laments sound similar to Job’s cries:
O LORD, why do you cast my soul away? Why do you hide your face from me?
Afflicted and close to death from my youth up, I suffer your terrors; I am helpless.
Your wrath has swept over me; your dreadful assaults destroy me.
They surround me like a flood all day long; they close in on me together.
You have caused my beloved and my friend to shun me; my companions have become darkness.
Love for and Obedience to God’s Law: We delight in God’s revelation of His character in His Law, and strive to follow it by His grace, knowing that in following Him we find true life, true joy.
Oh how I love your law! It is my meditation all the day.
Your commandment makes me wiser than my enemies, for it is ever with me.
I have more understanding than all my teachers, for your testimonies are my meditation.
I understand more than the aged, for I keep your precepts.
I hold back my feet from every evil way, in order to keep your word.
I do not turn aside from your rules, for you have taught me.
How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth!
Through your precepts I get understanding; therefore I hate every false way.
Repentance: Though we love His Law and strive to follow it, we often fall short. So we turn from our sin, confessing that God rightly condemns us and seeking forgiveness by His grace and mercy.
Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love;
according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions.
Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin!
For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me.
Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight,
so that you may be justified in your words and blameless in your judgment.
May God be pleased to express and shape our affections and emotions through this great book, and so continue to transform us into His people who live to His glory among all the nations.