Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Lent 1 Midweek Sermon -- Psalm 118:1-13 (LSB 1H)

March 16, 2011 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran Church – Mechanicsburg, PA

“The Lord is on my side; I will not fear. What can man do to me? The Lord is on my side as a helper; I shall look in triumph on those who hate me.”

In tonight’s readings, we were presented with two contests. One serves as a type, a pattern, for the other. The first was between David and Goliath. It is a narrative familiar to nearly all of us. We tell the account to our children, the story of a youth who takes on an adversary of greater skill. The shepherd boy goes out to meet the warrior with little arsenal: “Then [David] took his staff in his hand and chose five smooth stones from the brook and put them in his shepherd’s pouch. His sling was in his hand, and he approached the Philistine.”

Such an opponent receives taunting from the Champion of the Philistines: “And then the Philistine looked and saw David, he disdained him, for he was but a youth, ruddy and handsome in appearance. And the Philistine said to David, ‘Am I a dog, that you come to me with sticks?’ And the Philistine cursed David by his gods. The Philistine said to David, ‘Come to me, and I will give your flesh to the birds of the air and to the beasts of the field.’” The mismatch is evident. David’s fate should be dire; the Philistine’s sword should strike him down with ease.

But how does David respond to the taunting and curse that come from Goliath’s mouth? “You come to me with a sword and with a spear and with a javelin, but I come to you in the name of the Lord of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. This day the Lord will deliver you into my hand, and I will strike you down and cut off your head. And I will give the dead bodies of the host of the Philistines this day to the birds of the air and to the wild beasts of the earth, that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel, and that all this assembly may know that the Lord saves not with sword and spear. For the battle is the Lord’s, and He will give you into our hand.” The youth’s great statement shows that his trust is not in his own skill or weaponry. No, it is in the Lord who has decreed victory for David and the rest of His people. The stones will be enough, for the Lord has ordained it to be so.

What the Lord decreed comes to pass: “David put his hand in his bag and took out a stone and slung it and struck the Philistine on his forehead. The stone sank into his forehead, and he fell on his face to the ground. So David prevailed over the Philistine with a sling and with a stone, and struck the Philistine and killed him.” David is given victory over Goliath. The event takes place consonantly with the Great Hallel psalm that we prayed this evening: “The Lord is on my side; I will not fear. What can man do to me? The Lord is on my side as a helper; I shall look in triumph on those who hate me.”

David’s conquest over Goliath is similar to the confrontation between Jesus and Satan. Centuries later, David’s Descendant takes on the Champion of those aligned against the Lord and His will. He goes forth not with any armor of bronze or steel. Instead, Jesus strives against Satan with an arsenal that looks meager. But the words of the Lord can be used as skillfully as David’s stones. It is just as the Apostle John would see in the Risen Jesus: “In His right hand He held seven stars, from His mouth came a sharp two-edged sword, and His face was like the sun shining in full strength.” The two-edged sword that comes from Jesus’ mouth is the Lord’s word. And He wields it effectively against His enemy, Satan.

So is recorded in the Temptation Narrative. Satan’s deception and lies are ineffective. But Jesus is victorious when He says over and over: “It is written. . . . It is written. . . . It is written. . . .” The weapon in which He trusts is not of this world. No, its origin is much greater. Its use is as effective and greater than the stones of David’s sling. The Tempter may speak taunts and curses, but when faced with what comes from the Lord’s mouth, he must yield. Jesus’ command: “Be gone, Satan!” must be heeded. For what Jesus says is true: “For it is written: ‘You shall worship the Lord your God and Him only shall you serve.’” Even the fallen angel Satan must obey the Lord. For he is a creature, and his Creator dismisses him with His decree.

In this, the Psalmist’s statement is confirmed: “The Lord is on my side; I will not fear. What can man do to me? The Lord is on my side as a helper; I shall look in triumph on those who hate me.” The triumph is not given because of the Psalmist’s strength or skill. No, it is given because of whom he is allied with. Like David and Jesus, the Psalmist is not left alone to face a superior enemy. He is supported by a Helper greater than all earthly aides: “The Lord is on my side.” The Psalmist declares the truth about this ally: “It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in man. It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in princes.”

The Lord’s steadfast love is shown to be trustworthy in both contests that we heard this evening. But this steadfast love is not an item of the past; it is what the Lord shows to you, as He has called you to be His people. It is shown in the greatest way by what Jesus accomplishes for you in His earthly ministry. His redemptive work delivers you from Satan’s grasp. It frees you from sin’s bondage. He acts to make the grave no more than a stop that you will pass through. The Psalmist’s statement becomes your own confession of the truth: “Out of my distress I called on the Lord; the Lord answered me and set me free.”

Now as you travel on your pilgrimage in the wilderness of this world to the promise of a Paradise restored, you are faced with enemies. Satan still lingers. He has many allied with him, those who are like Goliath, taunting and cursing you. Your own hearts and minds are faced with doubt. But in this life, the Lord’s steadfast love is still with you. Assaulted by Satan, you say: “The Lord is on my side as a helper; I shall look in triumph on those who hate me.” When the majority in this world opposes you and your identity as Christ’s people, you say: “They surrounded me, surrounded me on every side; in the name of the Lord I cut them off!” In the times you are tempted to forsake the faith and your calling, you say: “I was pushed hard, so that I was falling, but the Lord helped me.”

This is what the Lord brings you, as you do not trust in your own ability or your own arsenal. Trusting in the Lord’s decrees—that you are His people, that your sins have been forgiven, that your great enemy has been vanquished, that you have the inheritance of everlasting life—you will prevail in your life’s contest. His Word of Promise has become your two-edged sword.

The struggle will not be easy. Defeat may appear likely. You may feel like one feebly armed with stones. But precisely in those moments, you have an ally in the Lord and what He has promised to you. Know that with Him as your Champion you ultimately will prevail, so that you may “give thanks to the Lord, for He is good; for His steadfast love endures forever!”

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

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