Thursday, March 19, 2009

Lent 3 Midweek Sermon -- Psalm 4 (LSB Lent 3H)

March 18, 2009 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran ChurchMechanicsburg, PA

“Answer me when I call, O God of my righteousness! You have given me relief when I was in distress. Be gracious to me and hear my prayer!”

The Psalmist prays for deliverance, confident that the Lord God will answer. He has been answered in the past, and he believes that it will be so again. But the words of the psalm describe a cycle of despair and hope; the need for help and the expectation that it will come. What David puts in poetic form is the depiction of the hills and valleys of earthly life.

The lot in life for the Lord God’s people is often terrible. That is what the Psalmist shows in his words: “O men, how long shall my honor be turned into shame? How long will you love vain words and seek after lies? . . . There are many who say, ‘Who will show us some good? Lift up the light of Your face upon us, O Lord!’” These are not the statements of one who is content, one who is pleased with his circumstances. But David is not alone in this. His experiences of loss and despair are not unique to him. This evening, you heard of two others who suffered as badly or worse: Jeremiah and Jesus.

Jeremiah’s lot in life was nothing less than miserable. From youth, he was chosen to be the Lord God’s prophet, an offer he couldn’t refuse. And not only was Jeremiah compelled to speak the Lord God’s words, the message was one of condemnation, a screed against the secular and religious leaders of Israel, the first jeremiad. And for Jeremiah’s trouble, he receives punishment, narrowly avoiding death by being cast into a muddy cistern.

Listen to what this prophet says: “The Lord sent me to prophesy against this house and this city all the words you heard. . . . Do with me as seems good and right to you. Only know for certain that if you put me to death, you will bring innocent blood upon yourselves and upon this city and its inhabitants, for in truth the Lord sent me to you to speak all these words in your ears.” Note what the prophet does. He makes known that he is a man of God and that his earthly fate cannot change that fact. He will receive the Lord God’s favor for trusting His word of command and keeping it regardless of the people’s actions.

The episode from Jesus’ life that you heard tonight is similar. You heard how Jesus had cast out a demon. But the response of the people was negative: “When the demon had gone out, the mute man spoke, and the people marveled. But some of them said, ‘He casts out demons by Beelzebul, the prince of demons,’ while others, to test Him, kept seeking from Him a sign from heaven.” Despite His gracious, divine work, Jesus is slandered by the crowd, linked to Satan. The Son of God is dismissed as an ally of the prince of demons.

But Jesus’ reaction is like Jeremiah’s. He does not consume the crowd in a fiery holocaust. He does not mete out divine vengeance. Rather, He speaks the truth to them: “Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and a divided household falls. And if Satan also is divided against himself, how will his kingdom stand? . . . Whoever is not with Me is against Me, and whoever does not gather with Me scatters.” The word of truth is spoken regardless of consequence, for Jesus believes and trusts what His Father has given Him to speak and do. And all who believe likewise will be saved: “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it!”

The trust that Jeremiah and Jesus had in the Lord God despite the negative settings of their earthly lives is very similar to David’s faith expressed in his psalm. There is a righteous lament over what they and you see in your lives. No prophet should be persecuted. The Christ should not be blasphemed. Kings of Israel should not be opposed. And you should not be tormented by sinful people or your own sinful desires. It’s not right, and you should not pretend that it is. But you are still called to embrace and hold fast to the unchangeable truth of the Lord God’s word, despite what transpires in your lives here on earth.

Like David, Jeremiah, and even Jesus, you have been set aside for much greater things than which occur day to day. A word of truth has been spoken to you: “You are My children, co-heirs of everlasting life with My Son. The strong man Satan who once had enslaved you has been overthrown and bound by My Son, so you are redeemed and freed. Believe this and you shall have salvation. And you may call on Me for deliverance, which may come in this age, but will certainly be given in the life of the world to come.”

That is what David confesses in his psalm: “But know that the Lord has set apart the godly for Himself; the Lord hears when I call to Him. Be angry, and do not sin; ponder in your own hearts on your beds, and be silent. Offer right sacrifices, and put your trust in the Lord.” The Psalmist recognizes what his true status and identity are. What happens in this life is not an accurate measure of how much the Lord God favors you. The good and evil receive daily bread, even without their asking. But sometimes the godly prosper and other times they are persecuted. The incidents in life can agitate you, and rightly so. But agitation should not lead to sin, especially the great sin of unbelief.

Like Jeremiah and Jesus, David knows what goodness is meant for him and all of the Lord God’s people, including you: “You have put more joy in my heart than they have when their grain and wine abound.” All the happiness that people receive from this world when their money, possessions, health, and fame abound will pale in comparison to what the Lord God will eternally provide. The salvation from sin, death, and Satan brings such joy, even a joy that needs revealing, because that freedom has no equal on earth.

So in confidence of what the Lord God provides, the Psalmist says: “In peace I will both lie down and sleep; for You alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety.” This He does for you also, for you will be eternally secure as you trust in the Lord God who died and rose to life for you. For He has redeemed you to be His own, the favored people of God.

T In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

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