Sermon \ February 8th, 2015 \ Pastor Terry Defoe \ Psalm 147 \ Unfailing Love
How good it is to sing praises to our God, how pleasant and fitting to praise him! The Lord builds up Jerusalem; he gathers the exiles of Israel. He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds. The Lord sustains the humble but casts the wicked to the ground. The Lord delights in those who fear him, who put their hope in his unfailing love. (N.I.V.)
As you just have heard, Psalm 147 calls upon God’s people to praise Him. What you may not know is that when this Psalm was written, many of the people of Israel had just returned from 70 years of exile in Babylon. At the time this Psalm was written, Jewish refugees were returning to their homeland. Some were living in tents; some were rebuilding their houses; others were repairing the city walls. And still others were rebuilding the temple in Jerusalem. Imagine what it would’ve been like to return home after such a long time. On their 800-mile journey home, the people of Israel would have faced bandits, and obstacles, and pitfalls of many kinds. And yet, the Psalm-writer asks them to praise God. May God bless our consideration of this important part of His Holy Word this day.
So, I’ve got a question for you as we begin this morning. Why would God’s people want to praise Him, even in difficult circumstances? Well, first of all, according to the Psalm before us this morning, God’s people praise Him because of His power. This psalm describes several “active” attributes of God. There are eight of them:
God builds. He gathers his people together. He heals and binds up. He counts and calls by name He understands. And finally, He lifts up.
But that’s not all. Further on in the Psalm, we’re told that God does seven more things:
He covers the heavens with clouds. He sends rain which makes the grass grow. He gives food to man and beast alike. He grants protection to his people. He blesses their children, and finally, He provides His people with a safe place to live.
When you look at things this way, you realize why it is that God’s people have many reasons to praise the Lord.
In Psalm 147, God’s power is shown forth in what he does, both in the furthest reaches of the heavens and also on the earth. But the place where God’s power is most clearly seen is in human lives. We’ll talk about that in a moment.
So God’s power, first of all, is seen in the heavens. His power is seen in the universe which he created by the power of his Word. We need to remember that Psalm 147 was written in pre-scientific days – long before the discovery of telescopes and the people’s knowledge of these things was limited to what the human eye could see – or to what God chose to reveal to them. The Psalm-writer told the people of Israel that God’s power can be seen in the stars which he flung out into space. The Psalm-writer says that God has a name for each one! One Christian writer says:
In Psalm 147, we read that God determines the number of stars and calls them by name. Scientists tell us that there are more stars in the universe than there are grains of sand found on every beach and desert on the earth! God is truly worthy of our praise!
But the universe isn’t the only place where God’s power is displayed. God’s power is also seen right here on this earth. God’s power, according to the Psalm-writer can be seen in natural phenomena like the thunderclouds and in the rain. We need to remember that rain is especially critical in a dry climate like that of Palestine. The rains brought grass to the fields, the grass provided food for the cattle and the wild animals. So, no matter how you look at it, in many and varied ways, God looks after the physical needs of His creatures.
The Psalm-writer reminded the people of Israel that God isn’t impressed with human strength. A few years ago, I saw what was called “The World’s Strongest Man” contest on T.V. I saw men pulling a 45-ton aircraft with a rope. They had to pull that massive weight about 50 feet. I saw men lifting stones (7 of them, one after the other!) that weighed 350 pounds each, lifting each one onto on a stand 4 feet off the ground, and doing all of that in about 20 seconds. Now, we may be impressed with physical strength like that, but God is not.
What impresses God is those who fear – show respect for – him. What impresses God is those who put their hope in his unfailing love. The word for “unfailing love” in the Old Testament is the Hebrew word “Hesed.” And the word carries with it the idea of a person “stooping down, like a parent stooping down to pick up and carry a child.” And that’s exactly what God did for his people, Israel. He stooped down and carried His people through the wilderness, through years of exile, and back to their homeland. Despite what God did for his people, however, it was never very long before they forgot what he had done for them. It wasn’t long before they forgot to say “thank you.”
I’m reminded of the story of what happened to a young boy who came home from a birthday party. His mother asked him,
“Did you say, ‘Thank you?’”
He replied, “I was going to do that, but the girl ahead of me said, ‘Thank you.’ And the lady told her, ‘Don’t mention it.’
So I didn’t.”
One pastor describes a woman who fell into a black hole of depression at one point in her life. One day, she said a small “thank you” to God. And, when she did that, a ray of sunshine broke into the darkness of her life. She began to find other reasons to praise God. Her depression began to lift. As God’s people, you and I take comfort in knowing that when our physical strength fades away, our spiritual strength carries on – undiminished. That strength of spirit is God’s gracious gift to us. We receive it through God’s Word and the Sacraments. Psalm 147 reminds us that the very same God who works so powerfully in this great universe, and who works so wonderfully on this earth, also works in your life and mine. And for that, along with the people of Israel so long ago, we thank and praise Him!
According to Psalm 147, this gracious God we’ve been describing builds up the city of Jerusalem, a city that had been destroyed by its enemies. As we’ve heard already this morning, when this Psalm was being written, Israel’s 70 years of exile was coming to an end. When this Psalm was being written, the people of Israel were heading back to their homeland from Babylon. You know, God is still building his people up, today. Today, by means of His Son’s death and resurrection, God is building up lives destroyed by sin. He’s building up lives paralyzed by despair. By His Word and Sacrament, He’s building up and strengthening up his church, and the gates of hell cannot prevail against it. In Psalm 147, God was bringing tired exiles home from foreign lands. Today, He’s bringing prodigal sons and daughters back from the “far country” of sin.
Psalm 147 says that God heals the brokenhearted. And today, as we submit to Him, enabled by the Holy Spirit, He brings healing into our lives as well. He steps into our lives when things aren’t going right. He binds up the wounds caused by sin. His forgiveness overcomes conflict and alienation. In a sermon titled “On Healing,” well-known Christian theologian Paul Tillich wants to know:
How do we paint Jesus the Christ?
This is his answer. He says:
“It does not matter whether He is painted in lines and colors, as the great Christian painters in all periods have done or whether we paint Him in sermons, as the Christian preachers have done Sunday after Sunday, or whether we paint Him in learned books, in Biblical or systematic theology, or whether we paint Him in our hearts, in devotion, imagination and love.
In each case, we must answer the question: How do we paint Jesus the Christ?”
“The Gospels … [he says] add a color, an expression, a trait of great intensity, they paint Him as the healer: It’s astonishing that this color, this vivid expression of His nature, this powerful trait of His character, has more and more been lost in our time. The Gospels abound in stories of healing. Jesus makes whole and sane what is broken and insane, in body and mind. The woman who encountered Him was made whole, the demoniac who met Him was liberated… Those who are disrupted, disintegrated, are healed by Him.
This power has appeared on earth, the Kingdom of God has come upon us; this is the answer Jesus gives to the Pharisees when they discuss His power of healing the possessed; this is the answer He gives to the Baptist to overcome his doubts; this is the order He gives to His disciples when He sends them to the towns of Israel.
"And as ye go, preach, saying, the kingdom of God is at hand. Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons."
So how then do we “paint” Jesus Christ?” We paint Him as healer. As Isaiah says, in chapter 53 and verse 5:
5 But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.
As New Testament Christians, we know that God has brought us healing through the cross and the empty tomb. God’s Son, Jesus Christ, brought us healing at the cross where He died for our sins. He brought us healing through an empty tomb where death was overcome and the gates of heaven opened wide.
Our gracious God, according to Psalm 147, sustains the humble. But he casts the wicked to the ground. The word “humble” here means “meek.” In our world, we often think of meekness as being the same as weakness – in other words, it’s commonly thought that to be meek is to be a doormat. The Bible calls Moses meek, and yet Moses took on Pharaoh in the power of the Lord. Through Moses, God lifted Israel out of the pit of slavery and drowned Pharaoh’s army in the Red Sea. One pastor says that meekness is power under control, like a stallion under bit and bridle. Jesus was meek and mild, yet he defeated sin, death, and the devil for us. Our security isn’t found in material things. It’s found at the cross and the empty tomb. God supports His people going when times get tough. On the other hand, He casts the wicked to the ground and their plans come to nothing.
Let’s take a moment review what we’ve been discussing so far this morning. Psalm 147 describes the majesty of the Creator God – the God who knows the stars by name, the God who controls the weather, the God whose powerful word makes water flow and energizes the breezes. Psalm 147 describes the majesty of the Creator God who forms the clouds and gives rain to the grass; providing food for the cattle and the raven. Psalm 147 makes the important point – and I want to emphasize this – that this Creator God is not a remote and impersonal God. He brings healing and restoration to the brokenhearted – to those who fear Him and put their trust in His unfailing love. One Christian writer says that it’s difficult for us to understand and appreciate a Supernatural Being so powerful, so beautiful, and so majestic, who made all things, but at the same time also loves you and me, to the point of sending his own Son to die for us.
Psalm 147 tells us that this God understands human beings far better than they understand themselves! In his Word, he tells us what we need. More than that, by means of his Word and the Sacraments, he offers us what we need. By these means, He provides us with spiritual strength. Psalm 147 shows us that those things human beings see as powerful and important are sure to let us down. It reminds us that God is both our Creator and our Redeemer. Our God is a God Who cares. He’s not the Great Divine Clockmaker who made the world, wound it up, and then left it to its own devices. No, Our God sends rain in due season, He causes the grass to grow and He gives food to bird and beast alike. He blesses His people. As Jesus said, in the Sermon on the Mount,
"Look at the birds of the air, for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns; yet your Heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?"
As we’ve seen this morning, the power that’s behind these acts of nature is not an impersonal force. It reminds me of a boy who got the words of the Lord’s Prayer confused. He prayed,
“Our Father who art in heaven, how’d ya know my name?”
Psalm 147 says that, out of the billions of people in our world, God knows us by name! Our names are written on the palms of Jesus’ hands through the nail-marks of the cross! Psalm 147 teaches us that the power who made the stars, the power who controls the snow and the frost, the wind and the waves, is the one who builds us up in Christ. He gathers us together into His church. He heals the brokenhearted and He binds up their wounds. I close with Isaiah’s words, words from our Old Testament text this morning, He says.
28 Do you not know? Have you not heard? The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. 30 Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; 31 but those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint. (T.N.I.V.)
Our God – through His Son, Jesus Christ – has done for us what we could never have done for ourselves. That’s why we praise Him. Amen.
Let’s pray: DEAR HEAVENLY FATHER – Remind us often of your incredible power – power evident in the cosmos, in our world, and in our lives. Bless us, heal us, and forgive us, through Your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. Strengthen us so that we may face whatever comes our way. When this life comes to an end, gather us into your everlasting Kingdom. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.