Sermon / Sept 25, 2016 / Psalm 146 / As Long as I Live / Pastor Terry Defoe
5 Blessed are those whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the Lord their God. 6 He is the Maker of heaven and earth, the sea, and everything in them — he remains faithful forever. (N.I.V.)
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
Those who know me know I love the Psalms. I love the Psalms because they are down-to-earth descriptions of what real faith looks like in the real world. I love the Psalms because they are practical and pragmatic, relevant to the lives you and I live every day. The Psalms speak of life’s mountaintop experiences. And they also speak of times when God's people are in the valley of despair. In the 146th Psalm, the inspired writer reminds us that we have many reasons to praise God. I pray that God would richly bless the time we spend in His word this day.
Psalm 146, verses 1 and 2:
1 ... Praise the Lord, my soul. 2 I will praise the Lord all my life; I will sing praise to my God as long as I live. (N.I.V.)
According to the Psalmist, offering praise to God is a normal and natural part of a believer's daily life. Praise is a prominent characteristic of the believer's life from beginning to end. When you think about it, praising God is what brought us here this morning. We have come here to this holy house to worship our God. It is good to praise Him. It is good to hear His word proclaimed and explained. It's good to fellowship with His people. We are here to receive His forgiveness through the Sacrament of Holy Communion. We are here to have our hope strengthened. We know that we can leave our burdens and sins at the altar and begin a new week blessed, forgiven and refreshed.
Praising God isn’t dependent on the circumstances of our lives, which, as you well know, can change at the drop of a hat. Praising God is dependent on our ongoing relationship with our Heavenly Father, a relationship which, for most of us, began on the day of our baptism. That blessed relationship continues throughout this life, and accompanies us to heaven someday.
Psalm 146, verse 3:
Do not put your trust in princes, in people, who cannot save. (N.I.V.)
As God’s beloved children, we trust God more than we trust fellow human beings who can – and often do – disappoint us. That doesn’t mean we don’t trust others. We certainly do! But it does mean that our primary trust is directed to God. Here in Psalm 146, the trust the Psalmist is talking about is a very special kind of trust. It’s trusting God's ability to save, and by that I mean to rescue from the destruction caused by sin. According to Psalm 146, this rescue from sin isn't something fellow human beings can do for us. We don’t trust other people to save us from our sins. That’s because all people, in all generations, with the sole exception of our Savior Jesus Christ, are sinners, born with original sin.
Psalm 146, verse 4:
When their spirit departs, they return to the ground; on that very day their plans come to nothing. (N.I.V.)
Psalm 146 reminds us that human beings – rich or poor, famous or unknown, leaders or followers, are time-bound, temporal creatures. We are born. We live out our lives, which rush by far too quickly. And we die. We leave this world. We return to the dust from which we came. All of our plans come to an end on that day. As God’s beloved children, our goal, by God’s enabling, is to leave this world a little bit different – a little bit better – than it was when we arrived. In this life, by God’s enabling, we want our potential to be realized. We want to be able to discover the gifts and abilities the Lord has graciously granted to us, and we want to put them to use, for our good, for the benefit of others, but most of all for the glory of God.
Psalm 146, verse 5:
Blessed are those whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the Lord their God. (N.I.V.)
According to the Psalmist, those who trust God to save them are richly blessed. Their sins are forgiven. They experience a peace that guards their hearts and their minds. They enjoy an abundant life in the here and now. They receive God’s grace and they do their best to share it with others. According to the Psalmist, God is our help. It’s interesting that one of the words used in the New Testament to describe the Holy Spirit is the Greek word paraclete. The verb parakaleo means “to come alongside with assistance for someone who is in need.” In this life, God’s Holy Spirit comes alongside to minister to us. And, for that, we thank and praise God! And then, once we have been blessed, God wants us to do the same for others. He wants us to come alongside and offer them the assistance and the encouragement they need.
Have you ever watched the coverage of the Paralympic games? Have you seen the assistance that many athletes receive from others as they participate in their sports? I remember a race where the participants were blind. An assistant ran alongside each athlete, encouraging them all the way. That’s a wonderful illustration of what the Holy Spirit does for us. He’s there, right alongside us, all the way through this life, encouraging, strengthening, and supporting us. According to the Psalmist, God is our help and He's also the source of our hope.
Psalm 146, verse 6:
He is the Maker of heaven and earth, the sea, and everything in them — he remains faithful forever. (N.I.V.)
According to the Psalmist, we praise God because He is our Creator. And not just our Creator, but the Creator of the heaven and earth, the sea, and everything in them. As Christians, we believe that our God created this marvelous universe, with its billions of galaxies, its multitude of stars and the planets, the mysteries of which science is beginning to unravel. As Christians, we believe that God created this marvelous blue planet to be our home – our refuge – in this vast universe. Our little blue planet in the vastness of space is fine-tuned for life. As a matter of fact, scientists tell us that our universe is, too.
One wise Christian once said that God is the author of two amazing books – the first is the Book of God’s Words – we know that book as the Holy Scriptures. And the second is the book of God’s Works – in other words, the story of our world, the life it supports, and the vast universe around us. Both of these books – God’s Words and God’s Works – speak to us. Both reveal God to us – one directly, and the other, indirectly. In First Thessalonians, chapter 2, verse 13, the Apostle Paul says, with regard to the book of God’s Word:
13 And we also thank God continually because, when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as a human word, but as it actually is, the word of God, which is indeed at work in you who believe. (N.I.V.)
And Psalm 19 says this about the book of God’s Works. Verses 1 to 4:
1 The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
2 Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they reveal knowledge.
3 They have no speech, they use no words; no sound is heard from them.
4 Yet their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world. (N.I.V.)
Both of God's books speak to us. Both, rightly understood, proclaim the truth about God and his creative activity. If they don't match up, we are prompted to see if our science, or our interpretation of the Scriptures needs a course adjustment. Scientist Francis Bacon said that a person can never know too much about either the Book of God's Word or the Book of His Works. The Apostle Paul says, in his letter to the Romans, chapter 1 and verse 20:
For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities — his eternal power and divine nature — have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.
The creation teaches us about the Creator.
So God is our CREATOR. And He’s also our SUSTAINER. He marvelously created us, and all living things. He cares for us and for all his creatures. He upholds the universe by the power of His Word. Without His constant supervision of His creation, everything would return to chaos. God nurtures and sustains us, and all living creatures. And as human beings, God sustains us both physically and spiritually. And God cares, not just for the strong, but also for the weak. God sustains those who are oppressed, those who are taken advantage of, those who are harassed. And he expects us, His children, to graciously care for others as He cares for us. As the well-known Christian hymn says,
They will know we are Christians by our love.
We continue. Psalm 146, verses 7 & 8 says:
He upholds the cause of the oppressed and gives food to the hungry. The Lord sets prisoners free, the Lord gives sight to the blind, the Lord lifts up those who are bowed down, the Lord loves the righteous. (N.I.V.)
So, according to the Psalmist, God provides us with all the necessities of life, including our daily bread, as we pray in the Lords’ prayer. And then, He calls upon us to share with others what He has first given us. Psalm 146 reminds us of the many amazing things God does for us, but the most important is found in verse 7:
The Lord sets prisoners free.
So what kind of prison might that be? Not so much a physical prison with bars on the windows, and guards and wardens. The “prison” the Psalmist is describing here is different – but no less confining. The “prison” the Psalmist is describing is the prison of sin. It’s the prison of addictions. It’s the prison of anger, and conflict, of hatred and murder. The prison of sin is one we must be rescued from – we cannot hope to escape it on our own. And, if we are not rescued from this prison, we will surely die.
So how does the Lord set us free from this prison? That’s where the Gospel, the Good News, comes in. That’s why Jesus died on a cross for us. He died to set us free from sin and from death. Jesus died as our Substitute. He took upon Himself the punishment we deserve. He died so that we might live. And God raised Him from the dead to bring us victory over our last and greatest enemy, which is death.
In addition to setting us free from sin’s prison, God's Holy Spirit gives us eyes to see. Eyes to see His truth. Eyes to see His activity in this world, creating, sustaining, nurturing. Eyes to see His Law – which tells us what we must do for Him. And eyes to see the Gospel – which tells us what he has graciously done for us, in and through His Son, Jesus Christ.
In the Scriptures, sin is often described as a heavy burden. Sin’s crushing weight saps our strength. It erodes our hope. It brings us to the brink of despair. But, according to the Psalm before us, the Lord lifts up those who are bowed down… (v.8). In Christ, God removes the burden of our sin and sets us free! We are weak, as the well-known children’s hymn says, but He is strong!
Do you remember the story of the Apostle Peter, out on the lake of Galilee? It’s late at night. A powerful storm has blown in. And Jesus comes out - across the lake - to His disciples, walking on the water. Brash Peter asks if he might join the Lord, out there on the water. And, amazingly, Jesus says, “Come!” So Peter steps out of the boat. And, for a while, he’s fine. But as soon as he gets his eyes off the Lord Jesus and surveys his terrifying circumstances, he begins to sink. And he cries out in terror: “Lord, save me!” What happens then? A strong and loving hand reaches out to rescue him. That’s what salvation is! That's a perfect picture of salvation. That’s the reason why we praise God for what he has done for us!
When we are being crushed beneath a load of sin and shame, when we are sinking beneath the waves and need rescue, we, too, cry out, “Lord, save us!” And, in grace and love, He does just that. And, you know, from that moment on, we are different. Humble. Thankful. Full of praise. From that moment on, we know what salvation is all about because we’ve experienced it ourselves -- just like Peter.
We know from the Holy Scriptures that God loves not just the righteous, but that He loves all people and wants the best for them. We know from the Scriptures that God loves the saints. And He loves the sinners, too. He loves those who obey Him, and He also loves those who don’t. That love is the reason why He sent His Son to be our Savior and Lord. That love is available to everyone. Unfortunately, it doesn’t benefit everyone, because not everyone trusts Him, as the Holy Spirit wants to enable them to do.
Psalm 146, verse 9:
The Lord watches over the foreigner and sustains the fatherless and the widow, but he frustrates the ways of the wicked. (N.I.V.)
God cares for those who are outside of His blessings, looking in. He cares for those whose family supports are lacking or non-existent. He cares for those that society neglects – the weak, the forgotten, the sick, the unborn. God’s love is an amazing gracious love. As His people, in the time he grants us on this earth, we seek to do for others what He has already done for us. We look out for the marginalized and the oppressed. We share what we have with those who have less than us. Our goal is to live – and to act – in a Christ-like way.
Psalm 146 concludes with verse 10, which says:
The Lord reigns forever – your God, O Zion, for all generations. Praise the Lord. (N.I.V.)
You and I praise God because He is our King, and we are His subjects. He graciously rules over us. In Him, we are blessed in every way. As I mentioned earlier, I love the Psalms. They describe life as it really is -- with the good and the not-so-good as well. This morning, Psalm 146 has reminded us of the many reasons we have to praise and thank God. May God continue to bless us, as He has in the past. And may He enable us to be a blessing to others. Amen.
Let us pray: DEAR HEAVENLY FATHER – We praise You for all the wonderful things you have done – and continue to do – for us. But most of all, we praise you for Your Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior and our Lord. We thank you for His Cross and Empty Tomb. In His most holy and blessed name we pray. Amen!