Sunday, April 5, 2020

THE PASSOVER KING: Palm Sunday 2020 - John 12:12-16

[For the third Sunday, in the midst of this COVID-19 pandemic, we are not meeting together physically at Boothbay Baptist Church. This study will be given this morning in video format via facebook and later made available on the church website. These days are unprecedented in the modern age, but Jesus is the same yesterday, today, and forever. Let's celebrate Him today!  SN]

THE PASSOVER KING:  Palm Sunday 2020
John 12:12-16
Introduction: This is Pastor Steve, coming to you once again, for now the third Sunday, from the office of Boothbay Baptist Church. Our government authorities have urged us to extend our “social distancing” for another month during this Corona-virus crisis outbreak. And so, we meet again “virtually.” We want to do our part as good citizens to end this pandemic.
       During this important season on the church calendar, today we remember, Palm Sunday, which leads into the Passion week, and next week, Resurrection Sunday. It is so strange not to be together as we celebrate! I hope and trust that before too long God will make that possible. Thank God we have the technology today to have these “online” meetings. Please send me any prayer needs by PM, email, text, or telephone. The elders and other leaders are committed to be there to help, as we are able, with the situation we are facing together. If you are staying home, this is a great time to develop and deepen good habits of prayer and Bible reading.  I would also invite you to send me your e-mail address if you are interested in participating in our Wednesday night prayer and praise meeting this week. On Wednesday past, at 6:30 PM, we had our first “Zoom” prayer meeting, and I think it went pretty well!
       We were reminded the last two Sundays, as we looked at a couple of psalms, about the importance of sound theology. The God who is, the Creator and Sustainer of the universe, has spoken. He has revealed himself to us in the Bible. At the same time, we live in a fallen world… and believers are not exempt from suffering. This pandemic has left us isolated, some of us alone. We feel uncertain about the coming days, and maybe even fearful about how things will develop, concerned for our loved ones. Know this: God is bigger than this crisis. He created the universe, and it was “good.” Human sin brought death and suffering. Pandemics are a part of that. Don’t let the news scare you, let it remind you, that is why Jesus came. God gave hope from the beginning that a Rescuer would come. And in the fullness of time, He sent forth His Son. He did not come to simply visit us; He came to redeem us. He came to satisfy the righteous wrath of God against sin. He came to lay down His life for His sheep. He is Lord, He is the Son and King described in Psalm 2. He is also the rejected and suffering King of Psalm 22 and Psalm 69, the righteous sufferer of Isaiah 53, the Passover Lamb whose blood would be shed so that we could live. Today is Palm Sunday, but we have to read this account in the light of what will unfold in the coming week
       I decided to go to John’s account of the Triumphal Entry today, and focus on his telling of the story of that first Palm Sunday.  The Gospel writers had different emphases, but they all want us to know Jesus, to understand who He is and why He came. So today (before returning to our series in I Thessalonians) I want to look at the story of the Triumphal Entry of Christ in it’s context in John 12:12-16. Let’s read the text…
12 The next day the large crowd that had come to the feast heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem.  13 So they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him, crying out, "Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!"  14 And Jesus found a young donkey and sat on it, just as it is written,  15 "Fear not, daughter of Zion; behold, your king is coming, sitting on a donkey's colt!"  16 His disciples did not understand these things at first, but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things had been written about him and had been done to him.
       On the one hand, we want to join with the revelers celebrating Jesus, the coming King. But we celebrate Him from a different perspective than the Jerusalem crowd that day, almost 2000 years ago. We have the whole story... we know what had to happen that week, what they did not yet understand: the King was also the Lamb, He was both Sovereign and Sacrifice. It is Palm Sunday, and Jesus is hailed as King. But Good Friday is just days away, when he’ll be rejected, handed over to the Romans, and crucified. But he would be delivered by the plan and foreknowledge of God. Through His suffering and death, He would open the way for us to enter the Kingdom as citizens and sons! He is the sovereign Lord, no one could take His life. It was His plan to lay down His life for His sheep.
       John especially, among the gospels, wants us to celebrate the deity of Christ, and to worship Him. He wants us to marvel at the love shown in the Cross, and to love Him in return. He invites us to believe in Him, to entrust ourselves to Him, and to submit to His Lordship.  In the Bible we see hundreds of prophecies that were made about the Messiah fulfilled in the life, ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus.  God had a plan, that plan was revealed, in part, in advance, in the Scriptures, yet most people, including the disciples, did not yet understand. Palm Sunday leads us into the last week of Jesus’ life before the Cross. The story unfolds as God had planned —confirming Jesus’ identity, inviting us to respond in faith.   
Context:  Let me remind you how this passage fits into John’s Gospel. After the raising of Lazarus in John 11, the Jewish leadership conspired to put Jesus to death. Unwittingly, at the end of that chapter, the High Priest even prophesied the substitutionary death of Jesus (11:49-51).  Chapter twelve begins with a reminder that Passover was only days away.  Since the very first chapter the reader of the Gospel has had to struggle with the idea that Jesus is both God’s Messiah (1:41) and “the Lamb of God” (1:29,36).  How could this be?  What did the approach of Passover portend?  Both the anointing of Jesus by Mary “for his burial” (12:1-8) and the plot by the leaders to also kill Lazarus (12:9-11) sound an ominous note as the story unfolds.   The contrast with what is about to happen here, at the triumphal entry, is an example of Johannine irony.  The crowds, even the disciples, did not understand the fully the meaning of what was happening, what it really would involve for Jesus to fulfill His role as the “King of the Jews” (see 12:16).  So, we’ll see…
The Maine* Idea: In the context of the Passion Week, the triumphal entry invites us to worship the Passover King, the Lamb upon the throne, and calls us to love Him, trust Him, and obey Him.
I. Jesus is the King, and most people still don't understand! (12:12-13). 
12 The next day the large crowd that had come to the feast heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem.  13 So they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him, crying out, "Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!"
       As John tells us the story of Jesus, there is a lot of irony in how it unfolds. The Jews were expecting a Messiah, a King, a greater Son of David who would restore the kingdom to Israel.  They had somehow lost sight of the truth that the coming King was also to be the Suffering Servant.  The title “King” doesn’t show up frequently in John’s Gospel, until chapters 18, 19 when in Jesus’ trial and crucifixion it is the charge for which He is executed. But the few times it does appear are clues that John gives his reader early on about the nature of His kingship…
       The first time Jesus is called “King” in this Gospel occurs in the first chapter, the confession of Nathaniel: John 1:49,   “Nathanael answered and said to Him, ‘Rabbi, You are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!’" Before this confession however, the reader has heard John the Baptist, twice, calling Jesus God’s Lamb: in John 1:29 we read  "Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!”; then again in John 1:36 …And looking at Jesus as He walked, he said, ‘Behold the Lamb of God!’" We read that and take it for granted, we’ve heard this language applied to Jesus in church.  But imagine the disciples when they first heard it. Imagine John’s readers when they first read this Gospel: for a Jew in the first century, “Lamb” whatever else it might mean, implied sacrifice. Lamb and King? Both Sovereign, and Sacrifice? How could it be?
       The second time in John’s Gospel that the word “King” appears, is in Chapter 6, and comes in response to Jesus miraculously feeding the 5,000 with 5 small loaves of bread and a couple of fish. John 6:14-15 says,  
Then those men, when they had seen the sign that Jesus did, said, “This is truly the Prophet who is to come into the world.” Therefore when Jesus perceived that they were about to come and take Him by force to make Him king, He departed again to the mountain by Himself alone.” 
In response to this miraculous provision, they wanted to make him king by force. Jesus knew their thoughts, what they intended to do, and went away. It wasn’t time for the king to be revealed.  John had just reminded the reader of the Gospel, a few verses earlier: “Now the Passover, a feast of the Jews, was near” (John 6:4).  After hearing John call Jesus “the Lamb,” the reader of the Gospel has a clue as to what is coming – the disciples still don’t understand. He is the King – but also the Lamb.
       The third use of “king” in John’s Gospel comes that first Palm Sunday, in the triumphal entry. The crowd quotes from Ps 118:25-26, which says,  
 Save now [Heb. hosanna], I pray, O LORD; O LORD, I pray, send now prosperity.  26 Blessed is he who comes in the name of the LORD! We have blessed you from the house of the LORD.” 
Notice that they add something to the text, they “…took branches of palm trees and went out to meet Him, and cried out: "Hosanna! 'Blessed is He who comes in the name of the LORD!' The King of Israel!" (Jn 12:13). They understand the coming One to be the King. What they said was correct, and this time Jesus allows it, even though there is little doubt the crowd was still clueless as to what it meant, what was about to happen, what had to happen.  The reader of the Gospel, has had several clues…
     1. Passover was coming in a few days; the Lamb would soon be sacrificed, “Six days before the Passover, Jesus therefore came to Bethany…” (12:1).
     2. Mary had just anointed Jesus, and he said it was “for his burial” that she had done so (cf. John 12:2-8).
     3. The chief priests were plotting to kill Lazarus, because his being raised from the dead was irrefutable proof that Jesus was from God, and they wouldn’t hear it (12:9-11). Even raising a man from the dead could not convince them! Their minds were made up, they would not consider the evidence that Jesus was the Messiah (see Peter’s word in Acts 2:22).
       Part of the irony here is that the crowd, in quoting from Psalm 118 had forgotten part of the context: “The stone which the builders rejected Has become the chief cornerstone...” (Ps 118:22). That rejection would reach its climax in just a few days when the leaders insist: “We’ll not have this man to be our king! …We have no king but Caesar!”   They, like their fathers before them, were looking for a king like the nations around them.  Jesus is King, much more so than any merely human king.  He is the Lord of all creation, our Sovereign Creator and Redeemer.  A merely human king can demand our obedience, but not our heart.  Jesus is the Passover King who would lay down His life for his sheep.  God showed us his love, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.  Palm Sunday invites us to celebrate Jesus, the Passover King, the Lamb on the throne, and calls us to worship, love, and obey Him.
II. He is the King, and He came in fulfillment of the Scriptures (12:14-15). John takes us from the shouts of the crowd, which were ironically true, even though they didn’t understand correctly who Jesus was, to the actions of Jesus, taken in deliberate fulfillment of Scripture:
 Then Jesus, when He had found a young donkey, sat on it; as it is written:  15 "Fear not, daughter of Zion; Behold, your King is coming, Sitting on a donkey's colt." 
      John is saying that Jesus’ actions were a fulfillment of the words of Zechariah 9:9, written 500 years earlier… The main point is that God had a plan, and the plan was revealed in the Scriptures. Every action of Jesus was taken in submission to and in fulfillment of the Father’s will. This week would lead to Calvary, to the cross. Yet the cross was not a failure, it was not an accident, it wasn’t “plan B.”  Peter would say on Pentecost that Jesus was delivered up by the predetermined purpose and foreknowledge of God (Acts 2:23). That Is how much God loves us.  He planned the Cross, He gave the Son to die for us (cf. I Jn 4:9; Rom 5:8)!
       This prophetic fulfillment also speaks to the reliability of His Word. The Scripture, written centuries before Jesus’ birth, was fulfilled precisely: He is the Lord of History!  All four of the Gospel writers point out the fulfillment of prophecies in Jesus’ life and death, Scriptures written centuries before His birth. These fulfilled prophecies are one more testimony, another witness to the messianic identity of Jesus. Ironically, even as He was rejected by the leaders of the Jews, their very rejection of Him vindicated His messianic claim, it fulfilled their own Scriptures! Remember, after the resurrection, when Jesus appeared to the disciples on the road to Emmaus? As they recounted to this “stranger” what had happened in Jerusalem, and revealed their confusion and shattered hopes, Jesus said,
"O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken!  26 Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?"  27 And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.
They needed to understand God’s plan: the Messiah is King, He is also our Passover who was sacrificed for us.  John doesn’t emphasize Jesus’ humility in the same way as the other gospels. He was emphasizing Jesus’ power and control, His sovereignty and glory. He is the King of Kings!  Jesus is in control. Later, when they come to arrest Him in the Garden, remember that they couldn’t even touch Him unless He allowed it (Jn 18:5-8). This King, the Sovereign who created and rules the universe, chose to give himself as the Lamb, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.  Palm Sunday invites us to worship Jesus, the Passover King, the Lamb on the throne, and calls us to obey Him. And so…
III. He is the King, the Passover King, both Sovereign and Sacrifice (12:16).
16 His disciples did not understand these things at first, but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things had been written about him and had been done to him.
       John steps back for a moment and explains from his position years later what he and the other disciples were thinking at this point in the story, it was only when ...Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things...”  The disciples didn’t understand at first what all of this meant.  Even though he had repeatedly, explicitly told them about the necessity of his death and resurrection, they couldn’t grasp it. It was only “…when Jesus was glorified then they remembered…”  When was He glorified? In John, it is especially on the cross that Jesus is glorified (see John 3:14,15).  The cross was his lifting up, his exaltation, his glorification, because it proved who he is, fulfilling the Scriptures, and it accomplishing what he came to do, giving his life for our sins (Lk 24:44).
       Notice a little further down in the near context, John 12:27-28, 
"…Now My soul has become troubled; and what shall I say, 'Father, save Me from this hour? But for this purpose I came to this hour. Father, glorify Your name…"
       Later in the Gospel, speaking to Pilate, Jesus referred to the nature of His kingship in John 18:36,37:
“My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, then My servants would be fighting so that I would not be handed over to the Jews; but as it is, My kingdom is not of this realm.Therefore Pilate said to Him, “So You are a king?” Jesus answered, "You say correctly that I am a king. For this I have been born, and for this I have come into the world, to testify to the truth…” 
You see, He is the King, but not like the kings of this world. He is the Passover-King. That is truth. How will we respond?
What is God saying to me in this passage? Palm Sunday invites us to worship Jesus, the Passover King, the Lamb upon the throne, and calls us to love Him and obey Him.   What the crowds said on Palm Sunday was true, but they didn’t grasp the full import of their own words. Jesus was not a victim. He was in control. And as Sovereign, he fulfilled the Scriptures, and He gave His life as a ransom for many.   
       In Revelation 1:5 He is “…the ruler over the kings of the earth… [He] who loved us and washed us from our sins in His own blood…” In chapter five, John in his vision sees One “…in the middle of the throne as a lamb that had been slain…” (Rev 5:6). The Passover King, exalted, on the throne of heaven, worthy to open the scroll and loosen its seals (Rev 5:7, 22:1-3.  Worthy is the Lamb that was slain.  The One who was, who is, and who is to come.
What would he have me to do in response to these truths?  Our response can only be to stand in awe of the matchless grace of God, to love the One who so loved us. Maybe you’ve been housebound lately, and “just by chance” came across this message. Or perhaps you went looking for “church” in some form today simply because it’s what you always do on Palm Sunday. Could it be that God has directed your steps, and he desired you to come across this study today? Does the Word ring true? Do you feel hope welling up in your heart? It may be that God, who so loved you that He gave His only begotten Son, is, by His kindness, drawing you to repentance and faith. Jesus said, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give to them eternal life and they shall never perish.” Worthy is the Lamb who was slain! He is the Passover King, who gave His life, so that we could have life. Praise him for his indescribable gift. Trust Him, receive Him. All hail King Jesus! 
       And if we believe who He is, we must also recognize His authority. Later in this Gospel He will tell his disciples: “As the Father sent me, so send I you…” At the outset of His ministry He warned them, “If anyone would be my disciple, he must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me…”  That means loving God, and entrusting yourself to Him. And then it means loving your neighbor so much, that it becomes your life mission to show them Jesus, to point them to the truth. Will you love the King who so loves you? Will you obey Him?  Is there someone in your sphere of influence you can encourage this week?  Don’t despair as you hear of the contagion spreading around our world.  God is still on the throne. Jesus came so that we could have life, and have it more abundantly! Trust Him, consider His word, worship Him this week.   AMEN.

Sunday, March 29, 2020

Shelter in a Time of Storm - Psalm 46

Shelter in a Time of Storm

Psalm 46

Introduction: Day by day the situation is changing, and a lot of uncertainty still exists about how current events are going to unfold.  I am looking forward to when we get back together, I miss the fellowship! I am also looking forward to getting back to our series in I Thessalonians, and I do believe that that passage will speak to our current situation. That letter is about encouragement and hope, and I would encourage you to read through it this week if you can. However, I’ll wait at least another week before resuming that study. I got an email from a friend this week that made reference to remembering Psalm 46. As I looked back at that passage, I found comfort welling up in my own heart, and so I thought it good to share that passage with you.
      Last week we looked at Psalm 3, a lament psalm, a prayer of David in the midst of crisis. The focus of the laments is the transition from confusion and pain, to confidence and hope. Psalm 46, is a psalm of confidence. In this psalm, and those of this genre, the writer is expressing his assurance, his confident hope, in the face of uncertainty and tribulation. We need that! The confidence he expresses is rooted in trust in God, and in the assurance that God always acts consistently with His character. So, it is not mere wishful thinking, confidence that is rooted in truth, grounded in good theology. We don’t know what tomorrow may bring, “BUT GOD…” That changes everything! Right doctrine has a way of calming our fears and giving us hope. Do you remember this exchange between that famous theologian, Linus, and his friend, Lucy, in a Peanuts cartoon? They were looking out the window at a driving rainstorm
Lucy: “Boy, look at that rain! What if it floods the whole world?”
Linus: “It will never do that… In the ninth chapter of Genesis, God promised Noah that would never happen again, and the sign of his promise is the rainbow.”
Lucy: [Smiling] “You’ve taken a great load off my mind…”
Linus: “Sound theology has a way of doing that!”
The Psalms reflect sound theology, right doctrine, in the prayers and songs of Israel. Psalm 46 is a song that speaks to us in a time of storm and invites us to find comfort in God. Let’s read the psalm and then pray for God’s help in hearing its message…
TO THE CHOIRMASTER. OF THE SONS OF KORAH. ACCORDING TO ALAMOTH. A SONG. 1 God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.  2 Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea,  3 though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble at its swelling. Selah  4 There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy habitation of the Most High.  5 God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved; God will help her when morning dawns.  6 The nations rage, the kingdoms totter; he utters his voice, the earth melts.  7 The LORD of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress. Selah  8 Come, behold the works of the LORD, how he has brought desolations on the earth.  9 He makes wars cease to the end of the earth; he breaks the bow and shatters the spear; he burns the chariots with fire.  10 "Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!"  11 The LORD of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress. Selah  
      Psalm 46 reminds us that assurance of God’s presence brings peace in the midst of crises, in those moments when we are prone to discouragement or even tempted to despair. You might feel that right now.  Jesus said, “In the world you will have tribulation…” (John 16:33). This virus has circled the globe, and is effecting more than health concerns. Some may feel isolated, alone. Now the “pause button” is suddenly pushed on our economy, with some saying unemployment may surge to 20-30 percent, there are many suddenly out of work, and apparently more to come. There is much uncertainly surrounding the spread of COVID-19, and much concern for loved ones who would be most vulnerable to this disease… We can have confidence in the midst of all of it, and this psalm can help steady our hearts and minds in the storm… This Psalm will affirm that God understands, he can sympathize with us, he cares about our struggle. That points to…
The Maine* Idea: His presence can bring peace in the crises that come with life in this fallen world.
I. The presence of God is the answer to fear: We can be assured that we are not alone in our trials (1-3).  Because God is with us, we needn’t be afraid when crises come.
1 God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.  2 Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea,  3 though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble at its swelling. Selah 
       The Psalm begins with a very positive affirmation: In times of trouble and crisis, God is our refuge and our strength. I don’t need to ask how many of you have gone through or are now going through times of trouble. We’re together in this, right? What is it that brings fear to your heart? Is it the virus reaching you, or maybe worse, someone you love? Losing work, being unable to make rent or mortgage payments?  The social disruption and uncertainty? Whatever we are facing, we are not alone! Yes, we are together in this, but most importantly, God is our...
       Refuge” implies a place of security, a place we can go when danger threatens, and find security.  In the Ancient Near-East the cities were generally constructed with high, thick walls around them.  The people could withdraw to within the city gates in times of crisis or danger and know that they were in a place of relative safety, a refuge. Many of us are spending more time at home these days, hoping to help stop the spread of this virus. Home is safe, a place of refuge. The psalmist is saying that for the believer in Jesus, God is our refuge and strength. He is our shelter, our place of security. I’ve quoted Peanuts, let me quote Martin Luther who was reflecting on this psalm when he wrote the famous hymn, A Mighty Fortress is our God… Let me read a couple of lines to you…
A mighty fortress is our God, a bulwark never failing; Our helper He amid the flood of mortal ills prevailing; For still our ancient foe, doth seek to work us woe; His craft and power are great and armed with cruel hate, on earth is not his equal.
Did we in our own strength confide, our striving would be losing; were not the right Man on our side, the Man of God’s own choosing; Dost ask who that may be? Christ Jesus it is He; Lord Sabaoth His name, from age to age the same, and He must win the battle.
       Luther reflects the hope of the Psalmist: God is our refuge, He is our hiding place, in Him we are secure no matter what the world may be saying to the contrary, our refuge, “…and our strength…”  You remember Paul’s experience with a “thorn in the flesh.”  God showed him his need, and Paul learned that when he was weak, then he was strong, because then he trusted in God’s power and presence. We like to be self-reliant, independent. But when we see our weakness, we look up, we let God work, we entrust ourselves to Him, we see his power and presence. 
       “…a very present help in trouble…” Whatever the storm might be that we are facing, we are not alone. We don’t have to wonder if God knows what is going on, we don’t need to wonder if he cares. Jesus promised, “I am with you always…” and, “I will never leave you or forsake you.” He is present, a “very present help,” he cares, he is alert and aware, a very present help in time of trouble.  
       “…though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble at its swelling.” V.3 describes the crisis in the poetic language of storm and sea, stability disrupted, chaos threatening to undo creation, life and limb in jeopardy!  Out of what was formless and void, God brought ordered creation. In the ancient world, many pagan nations feared and worshipped the storm god… It seems to some scholars that some of the poems of the Old Testament use this language polemically, to show that only Yahweh, the one true God, is really sovereign over storm and sea. You remember when in the midst of the storm the pagan sailors on the boat with Jonah asked him about who he was and from whence he came. He answered in Jonah 1:9,  "I am a Hebrew, and I fear the LORD, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land." God is sovereign over His creation. In the NT we have this image applied to Jesus himself (Matt 8:23s; 14:22f).  As the disciples struggled in the stormy sea Jesus but speaks and the waves are stilled.  What manner of man is this? Only God can rule over creation!
       Wherever we are, the promise still holds: He is with us always, even to the end of the age. And all authority has been given to Him in heaven on earth. C. Swindoll, “Nothing touches us that has not first passed through the hands of our loving heavenly Father. Nothing.”  Assurance of God’s presence brings peace in our crises… The “selah” here is like a sigh, a deep breath, and a transition. We rest in His presence and trust in…
II. The Provision of God: We can be encouraged because God is the source of our life and blessing and security (46:4-7).  Though everything else around us may seem unstable, God is our rock, our anchor, he never changes.
 4 There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy habitation of the Most High.  5 God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved; God will help her when morning dawns.  6 The nations rage, the kingdoms totter; he utters his voice, the earth melts.  7 The LORD of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress. Selah 
      There is a river…”  We see another very different application of the image of water.  In the stormy sea it symbolizes chaos and disorder. Here we see a gently flowing river that irrigates the land and brings life-giving water.  It is the source of life and blessing.  In an agrarian society, in a rather arid part of the world, the arrival of rain in the right season, the streams that supplied water for daily living were essential.  It really can be a matter of life and death. Remember the “blessed man” of Psalm 1 – he is like a “tree planted by the river…”? Water brings life, fruitfulness. Charles Spurgeon put this beautifully in The Treasury of David
Divine grace, like a smoothly flowing, fertilizing, full, and never-failing river, yields refreshment and consolation for believers. This is the river of the water of life, of which the church above as well as the church below partakes evermore. It is no boisterous ocean, but a placid stream, it is not stayed in its course by earthquakes or crumbling mountains, it follows its serene course without disturbance. Happy are they who know from their own experience that there is such a river of God…
       We read in Genesis 2:8-14 – the description of Eden, before the fall. In Gen 2:10 it says that , “A river flowed out of Eden to water the garden, and there it divided and became four rivers.” Abundant, life-giving water. The way life should be!  That life was disrupted by the Fall. But finally, at the end of the Bible we read in Revelation 22:1-3,
Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb  2 through the middle of the street of the city; also, on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.  3 No longer will there be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him.
Abundant life restored! But that is not all future. Look again at Psalm 46:4,5,
There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy habitation of the Most High.  5 God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved; God will help her when morning dawns.
       There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God… Historically we know that Jerusalem is the chosen City, the place where God chose that His name would dwell, where He ordained the temple to be built, where God would be present in the midst of His people.  We have seen this theme of the “House of God” in the Bible. In the Tabernacle and then later the Temple God was present among His people. When Jesus came, God incarnate, John tells us he “tabernacled” for a while among us… He spoke of His own body as the Temple: Tear down this Temple, and in three days I will raise it up… Later Paul speaks of the church corporately as the Body of Christ, and as the Temple of God. “Do you not know that you are the Temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?” (I Cor 3,6).  In an eschatological sense it takes us to the end of Revelation and the New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven. God’s people in God’s presence! Until that day, “…you are the Temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you…”!  The psalmist says in v.5, “God is in the midst of her…”  In the context of the great commission Jesus promised, “Lo, I am with you always…” If GOD is with us, who can stand against us? If you know Him, you can trust Him, rest in Him, walk with Him.  
       God will help, just at the right time (5b). “When the morning dawns…” Or as another psalm says, “Weeping lasts for a night, but joy comes in the morning!”
       6 “The nations rage, the kingdoms totter; he utters his voice, the earth melts. It seems to me v.6 looks backward, and draws comfort from God’s mighty acts in history, while anticipating the victory He will ultimately bring. Remember what God has done in the past, trust in the present crisis, hope in the future. Then in v.7 we see a kind of summary statement: “The Lord of Hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge…”  God is pictured like a warrior who defeats the enemy, and also like a fortress that preserves the faithful. No matter what is happening around us, know this: you are not alone! GOD is with you! He is present, He is the source of our life and blessing, therefore we find comfort in…
III. The Plan of God: We can be encouraged because ultimate victory is assured: the same God who has proven himself in the past, will save in the present crisis.  We have victory in Jesus! That’s the two-word summary of the book of Revelation: “Jesus wins!” The Psalmist says…
8 Come, behold the works of the LORD, how he has brought desolations on the earth.  9 He makes wars cease to the end of the earth; he breaks the bow and shatters the spear; he burns the chariots with fire.  10 "Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!"  11 The LORD of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.
       Although v.8 is translated in the present tense, in view of the context, it seems to me in the context to be an invitation, to remind the reader of what God has done in ages past, and then to encourage them to trust in Him, and to see what God can do in the present situation, and will ultimately do, as He works out His plan in history of our good and for His glory. V. 9 anticipates another, future day when we will really experience eschatological peace.  When Satan will be judged and peace will finally reign.  Isaiah (11) uses the image, of the wolf laying down with the lamb, the leopard with the kid, the lion and the young fatling together. The Psalm uses the image of God himself destroying the instruments of war.
       V.10 is an oracle, God himself speaking: “Be still and know that I am God, I will be exalted among the nations…” Reminiscent of the Jews at the Red Sea (Exod 14:13). The God who was there, who saved Israel, is with us. Comfort for us, but a warning to those who don’t know God.
       V.11 repeats word for word v.7.  The assurance of God’s presence, the promise of His protection can bring peace in uncertain times.
What is God saying to me in this passage?  The presence of God, the provision of God, the plan of God… Though change can be disorienting and confusing, though trials can tempt us to be discouraged or even to despair, we can know that the God of the universe is the source of our life and blessing and he has promised to be with us, and to bring us through the present crisis.  Though everything else may change, he is constant, he is in control, and he loves us so much that He gave His Son.
What would God have me to do in response to this passage? This moment is unprecedented in many ways. I won’t minimize it, I know it is difficult, but look up, be still and know that He is God, the Lord of hosts is with you, the God of Jacob is your refuge.  We don’t know how things will develop in the coming days.  We can’t control the situation… But God… Jesus, the same yesterday, today, and forever. He is the great I AM, the God of Israel, the Lord of Creation. And He knows your name. We can trust Him. The suffering in this world reminds us why He came. Jesus was forsaken on the cross, He endured the punishment we deserved, so that we would never be forsaken. He is with you always, if you know him, He is your refuge and strength (Mt 28:20). Rev 21:1, says in that day, “…the sea will be no more…” The day will come when chaos and terror, weeping and death, will be no more…
     I’ve already quoted Peanuts… and Martin Luther… let me quote here from the Heidelberg Cathecism, Question and answer 1,
Question: What is your only comfort in life and in death? 
Answer: That I am not my own, but belong—body and soul, in life and in death—to my faithful Savior, Jesus Christ.
He has fully paid for all my sins with his precious blood, and has set me free from the tyranny of the devil.  He also watches over me in such a way that not a hair can fall from my head without the will of my Father in heaven; in fact, all things must work together for my salvation.
Because I belong to him, Christ, by his Holy Spirit, assures me of eternal life and makes me wholeheartedly willing and ready from now on to live for him.
That is the perspective of Psalm 46… that was Martin Luther’s perspective, and it expresses sound theology.
       Though the oceans foam and the mountains quake, though the virus sweep through the land, God is still on the throne, let’s trust Him, “Be still, and know that He is God…” Let’s take the proper precautions, let’s seize opportunities to love our neighbors, to help where we can, and let us stay faithful, trusting God to accomplish His purpose during these uncertain days. He is Lord, and He will work all things together for our good, and for His glory.  AMEN.

Monday, March 23, 2020

Crisis, Christ, and Confidence - Psalm 3

[Boothbay Baptist Church, like many other churches around the country, has temporarily suspended public service in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis. For the next couple of weeks, I will be doing my messages as an informal Bible lesson from the church office, streamed live on FaceBook. If you look me up on facebook, or go to the church's facebook page, you will be able to follow the recordings. I will have an audio recording of the message posted to the church website as well. The study below is the basis of the teaching, but not a transcript]. 

Crisis, Christ, and Confidence
Psalm 3
       For our first remote message during this challenging moment, I decided to step away from our current series in I Thessalonians for a week, and to look together at a passage I recently preached while visiting our daughter and her family down in NJ, Psalm 3. I decided to turn to this text this week, because it seems to speak to faithful living in a time of crisis. I’ve borrowed the title from the posting from Westminster Seminary on my Facebook page, “Crisis, Christ, and Confidence,” as it states well the reality of our situation, and our sure hope in Christ. The psalms are the prayers of Israel in the face of the challenges of living in a fallen world. The consequences of the Fall are all around us – God created a world that was “good,” but human sin brought death and the curse. Plagues and pandemics have hit the world in times past. The question is, how do we respond? Psalm 3 gives us a model of faith in a time of crisis.
       Psalm 3 is the first of the the biggest category of psalms in the Psalter, the laments – the songs in which the psalmist is crying out in a situation where it seems they are alone, when it may appear that the promises of God are failing. Whether it is natural disasters like a pandemic, or a personal trial that strikes us or our family, believers are not exempt from suffering…  Through the years I’ve had many people ask me, “What did I do to deserve this?” In many cases the best I can do is quote Romans 5:12… and say you were born into this fallen world. Jesus said, “In the world you will have tribulation… The question is, how do we respond when trials come? Our prayer list tells the story, we have people who are sick, a couple who is having to transition to assisted living, all of us facing the uncertainty of how this virus is going to impact our family and our community and our world. We are reminded that we live as pilgrims in a fallen world.
       Psalm 3 addresses the question of how to find confidence in God in the midst of a life-shaking, faith-testing crisis.  Are we there yet? This Psalm will show us that abundant life doesn’t mean life without problems – rather it is a life that rises above the chaos and finds hope. Because of our position in Christ, because of the promise of victory in Jesus, we can stand firm through it all. Psalm 3 is the first psalm with a heading…
That ancient heading gives us the Historical Context: David’s world was falling apart around him and it was no doubt one of the most painful, heart-wrenching times of his life.  The heading alludes to the story we have in 2 Samuel 15:13-16…
13 And a messenger came to David, saying, "The hearts of the men of Israel have gone after Absalom."  14 Then David said to all his servants who were with him at Jerusalem, "Arise, and let us flee, or else there will be no escape for us from Absalom. Go quickly, lest he overtake us quickly and bring down ruin on us and strike the city with the edge of the sword."  15 And the king's servants said to the king, "Behold, your servants are ready to do whatever my lord the king decides."  16 So the king went out, and all his household after him...
To be betrayed by one of your own people would have been difficult enough, but this rebellion was fomented by David’s own son, his own flesh and blood. This is the son who, when he was finally killed at the end of this rebellion, David mourned so intensely, “Absalom, Absalom, my son, my son, would that I had died instead of you…”  What parent would not willingly lay down their life for their child? And then to be betrayed by one that you so loved, what could be worse?
       As we watch the news reports, whether it is storms, like the tornadoes that devastated some areas in Tennessee, wild fires last year in CA, or this virus that is sweeping around the planet, we see Christians suffering as well as unbelievers…  Believers are not exempt from pain and trials in this life.  What do we do when the bottom drops out?  Do we respond to disaster and suffering, to trials in life, or to our lives and our livelihood being disrupted by a spreading virus, differently than those who don’t know God?  We take the prescribed precautions, but our trust is in God.
 I. LOOK UP! Look to God, prayer is our response to crises (Psalm 3:1,2). 
O LORD, how many are my foes! Many are rising against me;  2 many are saying of my soul, there is no salvation for him in God. Selah   
       David could perhaps imagine what his enemies were saying, maybe the reports had gotten to his ears: “Where is you God now?”  Let’s understand that David struggled against physical enemies, his own son leading an insurrection. It is important to know the enemy: our battle is not against flesh and blood, but against “principalities, against powers… against the spiritual forces of wickedness in high places…” We are in the world, on a mission. And people are not our enemies. They are our mission field!  We are in a spiritual battle. Satan is liar, in times of trial he’ll tempt us to doubt either God’s goodness, or to question God’s power, his ability to help us in our time of need… Since Genesis 3 we can see the pattern established – the enemy knows us, he knows our weaknesses, and he will use his lies to cause us to begin to doubt God. It is nothing new, it started in the Garden, putting questions in Eve’s ear… “Did God really say…” 
       And if it isn’t what God’s Word that he questions, it will be to cause us to have doubts about God’s goodness. Many times I have heard people ask, “Don’t I have a right to be happy?  Or, “I know that is a general principle, but this situation is different…” Different? Really? No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man… God’s word is truth, and it is best, always. Will we take Him at His word?
        Not only in the process of temptation, but it’s sometimes when we stumble that the enemy talks the loudest… “look at what you’ve done, how could God forgive someone like you, how could he love you?” Look to the Lord, don’t listen to the enemy! Our sin is why Jesus came, and his mercies are new every morning… If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
         That is where David starts in Psalm 3, he cries out to God in the midst of his crisis, he looks in the right direction, he looks up to the Lord. N.B. the word “LORD” that begins this psalm, the very first word, “Yahweh,” Jehovah God, the Great I AM.  In fact six times in eight verses David uses the divine name to speak of God. He is the God who created us and who chose to enter into a covenant relationship with us. The God who spoke to Moses from the burning bush. The God who has spoken through the prophets and revealed himself in history. The God who keeps his promises.  In another psalm we read; Psalm 121:1-2, “I will lift up my eyes to the hills -- From whence comes my help?  2 My help comes from the LORD, Who made heaven and earth.” When crises come, and they will, believers can look up, and know that God is there, He never changes, He is faithful!  When trials come, don’t despair, rather, look to the Lord, remember His faithfulness, trust in His goodness.. We look up, and then we can…
II. Look back, and Remember all He has done (Psalm 3:3-5)!
3 But you, O LORD, are a shield about me, my glory, and the lifter of my head.  4 I cried aloud to the LORD, and he answered me from his holy hill. Selah  5 I lay down and slept; I woke again, for the LORD sustained me.
        Again, notice how it is that David addresses God in these verses… “But you O LORD.” written in all capital letters, “YHWH”. 6 times in 8 verses he specifically uses this name that is connected with God’s covenant promises in the OT.   One other time, when he uses “Elohim”, he specifically says “my God” and it is parallel with “LORD” (v.7).   David is addressing the God he knows, with whom he has a relationship.  The God who speaks and who acts in human history.  In the midst of his crisis David cries out to the true God in his pain.  I really believe that God wants that kind of honesty…
        But you o Lord…” This is what the world is saying, these are the charges of the enemy, this is the pain I am feeling and the questions that burden me, BUT YOU, YAHWEH…” There is already hope in David’s words as he looks back and begins to reflect on who God is and what he has done in his life…
        You are “My shield, my Glory, the Lifter of my head…” David had a history with God, he could look back and remember how God had protected him and given him victories in impossible situations.  He could remember his encounter with the Giant Goliath, “The battle is the Lord’s and he will deliver you into our hands…” That was an impossible, almost ludicrous mismatch from a human perspective… David could recall how God had preserved him from the evil intentions of Saul… How could he possibly hope to escape the king’s wrath? Yet David trusted God, and even when opportunities came, he refused to lift his hand against the Lord’s anointed king. David knew the truth the apostle Paul would later express: “If God is for us, who can stand against us?  He who did not spare his own son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with Him also freely give us all things?” (Rom 8:32).
       With my voice I call to the Lord, and He answers me…”  David knew the reality of answered prayer.  The connection between the verbs is emphatic, in the Hebrew text they are together: “I call, and he answers me…” Our God is a God who hears and answers the prayers of His people. David in his present crisis could look back and remember how God had heard and answered his prayers. Have you experienced answered prayers?  Notice the psalm tells us God answered, “…from his holy hill…” David wasn’t writing this in Jerusalem.  Every indication is that this was his prayer in the midst of the crisis: in the wilderness, far from Jerusalem, the “city of peace,” the place that God had chosen for his name to dwell, the place where one day the temple would be built.  David knew it was not only on the holy hill that God could hear, but even in the deepest of the valleys, God is present, and He hears. And friends, we can know that it is not only in those moments of blessing and smooth sailing, even in the storms, in the deepest valleys of life, God is there, and He is good, we can trust Him.
       And so, David could say, “I lay down and sleep, I awake, for the Lord sustains me…” David knew that Yahweh was his protector, even when he was asleep, even when he was most vulnerable.  Kings were considered to be mighty men, powerful warriors, but even warriors were completely vulnerable as they slept. We see that in the story of Sisera, in Judges 4:15-21…
15 And the LORD routed Sisera and all his chariots and all his army before Barak by the edge of the sword. And Sisera got down from his chariot and fled away on foot.  16 And Barak pursued the chariots and the army… and all the army of Sisera fell by the edge of the sword; not a man was left.  17 But Sisera fled away on foot to the tent of Jael, the wife of Heber the Kenite...  18 And Jael came out to meet Sisera and said to him, "Turn aside, my lord; turn aside to me; do not be afraid." So he turned aside to her into the tent, and she covered him with a rug.  19 And he said to her, "Please give me a little water to drink, for I am thirsty." So she opened a skin of milk and gave him a drink and covered him.  20 And he said to her, "Stand at the opening of the tent, and if any man comes and asks you, 'Is anyone here?' say, 'No.'"  21 But Jael the wife of Heber took a tent peg, and took a hammer in her hand. Then she went softly to him and drove the peg into his temple until it went down into the ground while he was lying fast asleep... So he died.
A mighty man of war, slain by a woman as he lay sleeping, completely vulnerable. We know that King Saul was head and shoulders over the men of Israel… Likewise a mighty leader and warrior, but look at the scene in 1 Samuel 26:6-12,
Then David said… "Who will go down with me into the camp to Saul?" And Abishai said, "I will go down with you."  7 So David and Abishai went to the army by night. And there lay Saul sleeping within the encampment, with his spear stuck in the ground at his head, and Abner and the army lay around him.  8 Then said Abishai to David, "God has given your enemy into your hand this day. Now please let me pin him to the earth with one stroke of the spear, and I will not strike him twice."  9 But David said to Abishai, "Do not destroy him, for who can put out his hand against the LORD's anointed and be guiltless?"  10 And David said, "As the LORD lives, the LORD will strike him, or his day will come to die, or he will go down into battle and perish.  11 The LORD forbid that I should put out my hand against the LORD's anointed..." 
Even a King as mighty as Saul, was completely vulnerable. *A child asked: Mommy, are you sure God never sleeps? That’s right dear…” Listen, When trials come, don’t despair, rather, look to the Lord, remember His faithfulness, trust in His goodness… These are uncertain times, but whatever we’re facing, God has got this!
III. LOOK AHEAD, Rest in the Promise of his Coming (3:6-8). David recognized the enemy’s lies, and he remembered how God had saved him and always been with him.  He then looks ahead in faith. Our series in 1 Thessalonians will pick up on this idea!
6 I will not be afraid of many thousands of people who have set themselves against me all around.  7 Arise, O LORD! Save me, O my God! For you strike all my enemies on the cheek; you break the teeth of the wicked.  8 Salvation belongs to the LORD; your blessing be on your people! Selah
       I will not be afraid of ten thousands of people who have set themselves against me…” It is astounding to see this sudden change in attitude, yet it’s something we frequently see in the psalms of lament: confidence in God that seems to come from nowhere, a peace that passes all understanding.  What was really different? The crisis had not gone away, David was still in the wilderness, and Absalom was still leading the insurrection… What was different was David’s perspective. Look at 2 Kings 6:15-17,  
When the servant of the man of God rose early in the morning and went out, behold, an army with horses and chariots was all around the city. And the servant said, "Alas, my master! What shall we do?" He said, "Do not be afraid, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them." Then Elisha prayed and said, "O LORD, please open his eyes that he may see." So the LORD opened the eyes of the young man, and he saw, and behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha.
 If God is for us who can stand against us?” A little perspective helps! Psalm 3:7 could be paraphrased,  Save me Lord, for you are the God who saves!  David prays to the God who had delivered him in the past to save him in this present crisis… The Big Picture…   God is in control… We have more information than even David… Jesus wins! Salvation belongs to the LORD! Your blessing be upon your people. Jesus took the curse, he drank the cup of wrath, so that we could so that we could drink the cup of blessing. So…
What is God saying to me here?  When trials come, don’t despair, rather, look to the Lord, remember His faithfulness, trust in His goodness. He is your sure hope!
What would God have me to do in response to this passage?  This COVID-19 situation has brought tension and uncertainty into our lives. Some of you may be facing other crises as well.  Be assured that God is good, he is present, and he still loves you.  God is not surprised by anything we face. This pandemic did not surprise Him. He wants us to come to Him, to express our confusion and pain, but to trust Him in the midst of it, and even grow through it. It is a chance to show our faith by our works. To love one another, and to love our neighbor. God never changes, he’s the same yesterday, today and forever.  Trust Him. He loves you, he’ll never leave you or forsake you. 
       Remember the story of Horatio Spafford, who in the face of tragedy made the ocean crossing to meet his grieving wife. He sailed near the place where his four daughters had drowned. There, in the midst of his sorrow, he wrote:
     When peace, like a river, attendeth my way, When sorrows like sea billows roll,
     Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say, It is well, it is well, with my soul.
     Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come, Let this blessed assurance control,
     That Christ hath regarded my helpless estate, And hath shed His own blood for my soul.

     My sin, O the bliss of this glorious thought, my sin, not in part, but the whole, Is nailed
     to the cross, and I bear it no more, praise the Lord! Praise the Lord O my soul!   
We are pilgrims in a fallen world. We don’t know what tomorrow may bring. Things may get worse before they get better. But God is still on the throne. He is bigger than COVID-19.  He is with us. And we know the end of the story: Jesus wins! And the best is yet to come! Amen.