Wednesday Evening Prayer Meeting
March 31, 2010
The Reverend Dr. J. Ligon Duncan III
Now all of these things are examples of sins that are common to the human heart and thus they press home a great lesson. Of course this isn't the only picture the psalms give of human beings. If you turn back just a couple of pages in your Bibles to Psalm 8 there is this beautiful expression of what God has done in the creation of man. Psalm 8 verse 5 — “You have made him a little lower” depending on your translation, either “than God (than yourself)” or “than angels” depending on how you translate Elohim there. “You have crowned him with glory and majesty and made him to rule over all the works of Your hands and put all things under his feet” so there's a beautiful allusion to what God had done in the creation of man and woman in the beginning of the world and putting everything in dominion. And yet there's this very, very poignant declaration in verse 3 — “When I consider Your heavens and the work of Your fingers and the moon and the stars which You have ordained, what is man that You even take thought of him?”
We know today things that the psalmist doesn't know about the universe. We know today that the universe is 14 billion light years across and expanding. That means that if you left the planet earth moving at the speed of light it would take you 14 billion years to get to the edge of the universe. And we think of this massive universe and then you think of us on this tiny little planet — we seem very insignificant in that light. And yet in this psalm, we're told that God in His kindness, in His goodness, has crowned man with glory and so the Psalms tell us who people are and what they’re like. They address our sin but they also address us as created in God's image.
Third, the Psalms speak constantly of the physical creation's testimony to the glory of God. The Psalms speak constantly of the physical creation's testimony to God's glory. Next to the book of Genesis, the Psalms perhaps give us the chief repository of the Bible's teaching about the nature that God has created and the physical world that bears witness to His glory. And you know exactly where I'm going to turn to right now — Psalm 19. “The heavens declare the glory of God and their expanse is declaring the work of His hands. Day to day pours forth speech and night to night reveals knowledge. There is no speech nor are their words, their voice is not heard and yet their line has gone out through all the earth and their utterances to the end of the earth.” In other words, through God's creation and His glory displayed in creation, His glory has been displayed everywhere in the world and there is no one in this world that can escape the display of His glory in creation and the Psalms celebrate this and especially as you get to the end of the Psalter you pick up these themes again.
Fourth, the Psalms very powerfully address the nature and reality of sin and evil. Now again, if theologians were sitting around and they were labeling chapters in a systematic theology, they would call that doctrine Hamartiology — the doctrine of sin. What does the Bible teach about sin?
Well the Psalms teach us a lot about the nature and reality of sin and evil. Turn to Psalm 14. Psalm 14, themes of which are picked up by the apostle Paul in the book of Romans. “The fool has said in his heart, ‘There is no God.’ They are corrupt. They have committed abominable deeds. There is no one who does good. The Lord has looked down from heaven upon the sons of men to see if there are any who understand, who seek after God. They have all turned aside. Together they have become corrupt. There is no one who does good, not even one.” You won't find a more powerful declaration of the doctrine of the total depravity of humanity than in Psalm 14, but you see the same thing in the description of the wicked in Psalm 1. And so throughout the Psalms you have descriptions of the nature and reality of sin and evil.
And of course, the Psalms teach us how we are to worship God. Again, theologians might give that name to that doxology — the study and the right praise of God. The Psalms describe the acts and activities of worship and they embody attitudes and feelings of worship and reverence and joy. And perhaps one of the most famous psalms in that regard is Psalm 95. Turn with me there. You frequently hear this at First Presbyterian Church on Sunday mornings – “Come, let us worship and bow down, let us kneel before the Lord our Maker.” Those are expressions of what it means to worship.
What does it mean to worship? Well, you could go to psalms where we're told to “ascribe to the Lord glory and strength.” So what is worshipping God? It's ascribing to God the glory due His name. It's giving to God the glory due His name. But in this passage we're actually told that worship involved bowing down. Now that's not a nice, polite, Anglican kneeling at the kneeler. That's on your face before God. That's prostrate before Him. Now what's pictured in that act of worship is God is exceedingly great, and we are not only dwarfed by His presence, but we're humbled into the dust by the fact that there is a gulf between Him and us and that gulf is the gulf of holiness. He is holy and we are not and so we're prostrate before Him. And so when we're called to come and worship Him, we bow down, we kneel before the Lord our Maker. And so all of these doctrines are taught in the Psalms. We could look at hundreds more, but those are five doctrines that you find in the Psalms.
Well let's look at six themes that we find in the Psalms that are very helpful for the Christian life.
I. There is hope.
The first theme is this — there is hope. There is hope. Even Christians face experiences in life where we feel hopeless. The psalmist understood that. Turn with me to Psalm 30. And the psalmist says this — Psalm 30 verse 5 — “His anger is but for a moment, His favor is for a lifetime. Weeping may last for the night but joy comes in the morning.” What's the psalmist telling you there? The psalmist is saying, “Christian, there is hope. There is going to be joy in the morning. There will be…one way or the other. Sin and evil, hell and destruction will not have the last word in the life of the believer in the Lord Jesus Christ.”
II. The Lord's goodness.
Secondly, the Psalms constantly celebrate the Lord's goodness. Turn forward just a few psalms to Psalm 34 verse 8 and what does the psalmist ask you to do there? “Oh taste and see that the Lord is good.” Over and over the goodness of the Lord is pressed home in the Psalms. Why? Because we live in a world where there are so many bad things and we know that God is sovereign and many people are tempted to make this deduction — We live in a world where there are many evil things. That must mean that either God is not sovereign or God is not good. And the psalmist wants to say, “Neither of those things are true. God is both sovereign and God is also good. And therefore when you’re in the midst of difficult things, hard things, evil things, praise to the Lord, taste and see that He is good.”
III. God hears and answers His people.
The psalmist also wants to press home to us the truth that God hears and answers His people. That's the third of the six great themes that I want to see. First there is hope, second the Lord's goodness, third that God hears and answers His people. Turn to Psalm 72 verse 12. What does the psalmist say in Psalm 72:12? “God will rescue the poor when they cry to Him.” Don't think that God doesn't hear the prayers of His people. The prayers of His people are precious to Him and He will rescue the poor when they cry to Him. God hears and answers His people.
IV. God is amazing.
The fourth great theme — God is amazing. You know, as I look back on my life to this point, forty-nine years, thirty-nine years since I professed faith in Christ, at every great point forward along the way when I felt the Holy Spirit opening my eyes to my sin and to my Savior and to God's sovereign grace in salvation and I felt myself moving forward somewhat in the Christian life, attached to every one of those experiences was the experience of realizing that God was more amazing than I had ever realized before. God, you’re amazing. I can't even conceive how great You are. And the psalmist is pressing that home all the time. Look at Psalm 111 with me. Psalm 111, look at verse 2 — “Great are the words of the Lord.” In other words, the psalmist is saying, “Lord, the deeds that You do are amazing. You are amazing God.” And the psalmist is constantly pressing that home. It's one of his great themes.
V. We can speak to God any where and any time.
The fifth great theme I want you to see is this one — We can and should call on God anywhere. We can and should call on God anywhere. But what about when I'm in the pit? What does the psalmist say in Psalm 130 verse 1? “Out of the depths I cry O Lord to Thee.” Right when we're in the pit. Right when our feet are in the miry clay where standing there is none. Where do we call out? We call out to the Lord, “Out of the depths I cry to You, O Lord.” What's the psalmist telling you? We can and should call on God from anywhere.
VI. It is always time to worship.
And connected with that theme there's one other theme, a sixth theme that I want you to see. You’ll see this in Psalm 146 verse 2 and it's simply this — It is always time to worship. It is always time to worship. Peter teaches us this in 1 Peter 1 verses 3 to 5 – the people of God, those resident aliens in Asia Minor about to experience the Neronian persecution. Many of them are going to be killed. Many of them are going to be exiled. Many of them are going to be persecuted and lose their land, separated from their families. What does Peter want them to do? He wants them to praise God. So also the psalmist says, “I will praise the Lord as long as I live.” There's never a time when we ought not to worship. It's always time to worship.” So those are six great themes that we see in the Psalms.
But let me bring to your attention, finally, four great applications of the Psalms. There are literally thousands of applications to be derived from the Psalms, but let me just point you to four. They have to do with God, the religious affections, trials, and Christ. God, the religious affections, where our desires are set and where our religious feelings or how our religious feelings are expressed — God, the religious affections, trials, and Christ.
First God — the Psalms constantly press home this truth. God is at the center of everything, and therefore everything in our lives is meant to serve the praise of God. Think of it my friends, if you turn your Bibles to Psalm 88 you will find one of those passages in the Bible in which there is not a ray of hope. There is not a ray of hope. But that psalm is there because God wanted Christians who felt hopeless to have a psalm to sing to Him in the midst of their despair.
A friend of mine wrote an article called, “What Can Miserable Christians Sing?” And he was simply observing so many, most if not all of the songs that are written in this contemporary era for the people of God to sing are all about happy things. And he simply asked this question, “What am I supposed to sing if I'm a miserable Christian?” Well God had already thought of that question and He had already written Psalm 88 and other great psalms for believers who are in the midst of tremendous difficulties to sing. But what does that teach us? God is the center of everything. Even in our trials, God's the center of everything so He wants us to sing our trials back to Him because He's the center of everything and everything in life is meant to serve His praise.
Secondly, the religious affections. The Psalms teach us that our feelings are to be reckoned with in worship and they are to be expressed. Our feelings are to be reckoned with in worship and they are to be expressed. Listen to what Jased Lobaxter says about the Psalms — “The first great value of this book of Psalms is that it provides for our emotions and feelings the same kind of guidance as the other Scriptures provide for our faith and actions.” The book of Psalms provides for our emotions and feelings the same kind of guidance as the other Scriptures provide for our faith and actions. The Psalms tell us how to reckon with our affections and to express them in the worship of God.
And so the Psalms are important for keeping God at the center of our lives, they’re important for helping us know how to reckon with and express our affections in the worship of God, and
third they’re very important for our enduring the trials of life. Think of how many psalms record the specific trails of believers. David repeatedly records important trials of his life and puts them into lyrical poetry in the Psalms. Why? Let me let John Calvin give you the answer. Listen to what Calvin says — “Although the Psalms are replete with all the precepts which serve to frame our live to every part of holiness, piety, and righteousness” — in other words the Psalms are a great book to teach you how to live the Christian life. They give you the principles. They give you the precepts. How do you walk in the way of holiness? How do you walk in the way of piety? How do you walk in the way of righteousness? The Psalms will teach you. But listen to what Calvin says — “And yet the Psalms principally teach us” — now when Calvin says what the Psalms principally teach, all ears. Here we go — “The Psalms principally teach and train us to bear the cross.” The Psalms principally teach Christians how to bear the losses and crosses and trials and tribulations of life. You can't get much more practical than that friends.
Finally, not only do the Psalms teach us that God is at the center of everything, not only do the Psalms help us to reckon with our religious affections and express them in the worship of God, not only do the Psalms help us in the trials of life,
but fourth, the Psalms point us to Christ. Turn with me to Psalm 2, the second psalm. Lance, in his prayer, mentioned the Messianic psalms and this is one of them and we’ll quote one on the Lord's Day morning because it's long been a part of the tradition of the Reformed church to reference Psalm 110 on Resurrection Sundays and that too is a Messianic psalm but here's one right here in Psalm 2. And we read — “I will surely tell of the decree of the Lord. He has said to me, ‘Thou art My Son. Today I have begotten Thee. Ask of Me and I will surely give the nations as Your inheritance and the very ends of the earth as Your possession.’” And many a Christian missionary has gone out, many a pastor planting a new congregation has gone out, many an evangelist has gone out and that word of God to the Lord Jesus Christ has been their hope as they went into the white fields and proclaimed the Gospel knowing that God has given a harvest to the Savior of the nations – men and women and boys and girls from every tribe, tongue, people, and nation. It's just our job to go out and declare that and let Him, by His Spirit, draw them to Himself. But that's a promise to Christ and that's a promise about Christ.
Horatius Bonar wrote a devotional commentary on the book of Psalms that's simply called, Christ in the Psalms. And what he does is he goes through every psalm and he shows how Christ is found in that particular psalm. One of the great applications of the psalms is to show you that Jesus is the Messiah, He is the Savior, and He is our Lord. Let's pray.
Heavenly Father, we thank You for this great book and we ask that You would work its truths deep into our hearts so that when the trials of life come we believe and feel to the very joints and marrow of our bones the truth which You have instilled in our souls through Your inspired and inerrant revelation and have burned in the very sinews by Your Holy Spirit. And we ask O God that You would, in this, help us to walk the way of faith when there is no sight, to believe on You and to glorify You when we can't make sense of what's going on around us, and that You would get great glory in this and we would pour out great gratitude and praise from this day forth and all the way to the grand day of judgment and beyond for an everlasting, everlasting, everlasting, everlasting eternity. We ask this in Jesus' name. Amen.
Would you please stand and receive God's blessing? Now from the God of the Psalms, receive this benediction — Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.