Your Right Hand - Psalm 74 Sermon April Prayer Service
Mount Olive Lutheran Church / Pr. Ted A. Giese / Wednesday April 4th 2018: Season of the church year / Psalm 74 "Your Right Hand."
O God, why do You cast us off forever?
Why does Your anger smoke against the sheep of Your pasture?
Remember Your congregation, which You have purchased of old,
which You have redeemed to be the tribe of Your heritage!
Remember Mount Zion, where You have dwelt.
Direct Your steps to the perpetual ruins;
the enemy has destroyed everything in the sanctuary!
Your foes have roared in the midst of Your meeting place;
they set up their own signs for signs.
They were like those who swing axes
in a forest of trees.
And all its carved wood
they broke down with hatchets and hammers.
They set Your sanctuary on fire;
they profaned the dwelling place of Your name,
bringing it down to the ground.
They said to themselves, “We will utterly subdue them”;
they burned all the meeting places of God in the land.
We do not see our signs;
there is no longer any prophet,
and there is none among us who knows how long.
How long, O God, is the foe to scoff?
Is the enemy to revile Your name forever?
Why do You hold back Your hand, Your right hand?
Take it from the fold of Your garment and destroy them!
Yet God my King is from of old,
working salvation in the midst of the earth.
You divided the sea by Your might;
You broke the heads of the sea monsters on the waters.
You crushed the heads of Leviathan;
You gave him as food for the creatures of the wilderness.
You split open springs and brooks;
You dried up ever-flowing streams.
Yours is the day, Yours also the night;
You have established the heavenly lights and the sun.
You have fixed all the boundaries of the earth;
You have made summer and winter.
Remember this, O LORD, how the enemy scoffs,
and a foolish people reviles Your name.
Do not deliver the soul of your dove to the wild beasts;
do not forget the life of Your poor forever.
Have regard for the covenant,
for the dark places of the land are full of
the habitations of violence.
Let not the downtrodden turn back in shame;
let the poor and needy praise Your name.
Arise, O God, defend Your cause;
remember how the foolish scoff at you all the day!
Do not forget the clamor of Your foes,
the uproar of those who rise against You,
which goes up continually!
Let us pray: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in Your sight O Lord. Amen.
Grace peace and mercy to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Good Christian Friends. Torn apart, every last bit of it, every copper wire ripped out, every wall and door and floor board hacked to pieces with axes and hammers, windows smashed to pieces, nothing left but a pile of burning rubbish, a gaping hole in the ground where your house once stood and the men who did it not only get away with it but they scoff at you and your God and drag you off to work for them as slaves. And you are left to pray, to cry out to God saying, “How long until You do something about all of this!?” This is the vision of Psalm 74 … but there is more to it than just that. It holds both a warning of dread doom and a promise.
We have in our hymnal a hymn called “Built of the Rock” and the opening line of the hymn often strikes people as peculiar, “Built of the Rock the Church shall stand even when steeples are falling.” We sing it from time to time and yet the steeple of our House of Worship, the spire of our church home with its white cross stands alight in the dark. It has not fallen and we don’t expect it to fall any time soon … do we? Some churches even sing it at the dedication of a new church building … which can seem even stranger at first. It seems like singing a hymn with such words would be a bit dour. Of course, like Psalm 74, there more to that hymn than the grim ominous bits.
Psalm 74, like that much more recent hymn, “Built of the Rock,” likewise uses some poetic Scriptural language to talk about Jesus. The hymn calls Jesus “the Rock,” Scripture does too; both in Psalm 19 and also in 78. Psalm 78 says, “They remembered that God was their Rock, the Most High God their Redeemer.” The poetic language for Jesus in Psalm 74 tonight is, “Your hand, Your Right Hand.” This kind of language shows up repeatedly both inside and outside the book of Psalms. For instance outside the Psalms in the Song of Moses after the crossing of the Red Sea on dry Ground and the defeat of the Egyptians who had enslaved the Children of Israel Moses speaks of the Right Hand of God when Moses sings, “Your Right Hand, O LORD, glorious in power, Your Right Hand, O LORD, shatters the enemy.” Then outside the Psalms in the New Testament before His crucifixion we hear this phrase when Jesus was being questioned by the Chief Priest and the Scribes and the Pharisees, on that night surrounded by men who wanted Him dead Jesus said, “from now on the Son of Man shall be seated at the Right Hand of the power of God.” Then at the end of the Gospel of St. Mark in the account of the Ascension there in that Gospel we hear these words, “So then the Lord Jesus, after He had spoken to them, was taken up into heaven and sat down at the right hand of God.” The right hand of God is a location yes but not just that, it is a way of talking about Jesus the Christ: Even in our modern colloquial talk we sometimes use the term or phrase “Right Hand Man,” to talk about the guy who gets things done. The “Right Hand Man” goes out and does things and returns and then goes out again.
We believe, teach and confess with the Historic Church since time immemorial that this Psalm, Psalm 74 is a prophetic Psalm, written by Asaph who was a contemporary of Kind David’s, whose life overlapped King David and King Solomon. In the early years of Asaph’s life the Ark of the Covenant sat in the Tabernacle Tent and then in the last part of Asaph’s life the Ark of the Covenant, the mercy seat of God where God promised to be present with His people, would have resided in Jerusalem in the ornate and beautiful Temple built by King Solomon David’s son. The Temple itself and Mount Zion, the location of the City of Jerusalem, were all considered to be the dwelling place of God, hence Aspah says “Remember Mount Zion, where You have dwelt.” The Psalm is both a warning to the proud and a Word of Prophecy for the future of the Children of Israel.
Like a piece of fruit Psalm 74 also holds in its heart a stone, a pit, a seed of Truth, that will spring forth when the flesh of the fruit is long gone. When this Psalm is first put before the people it’s not talking of some past tragic event but of an almost unimaginable future tragic event. How odd to think that in that beautiful Temple with its gold and bronze and copper, with its stone walls and its ornate wooden carvings that a Psalm like this Psalm, spelling out its doom, would be sung. How bitter and sour those words must have tasted in the mouths of some of those people as they sang them. Much in the same way that it seems odd to sing that Hymn “Built of the Rock” at the dedication of a new church on a day full of optimism and joy or in a thriving church building full of people eagerly worshipping and serving God and neighbour: To sing of doom and destruction when things are going well … to sing of the need of God to Remember His people when God seems to be so close at hand by human reckoning. But so it is. Perhaps it’s not so strange. There is some precedent for this, even regarding the Temple, there is you see a preceding passage that explains a lot when looking at Psalm 74.
In the book of 1 Kings we hear that, “As soon as Solomon had finished building the house of the LORD and the king's house and all that Solomon desired to build, the LORD appeared to Solomon a second time, as he had appeared to him at Gibeon. And the LORD said to him, “I have heard your prayer and your plea, which you have made before Me. I have consecrated this house that you have built, by putting My name there forever. My eyes and My heart will be there for all time. And as for you, if you will walk before Me, as David your father walked, with integrity of heart and uprightness, doing according to all that I have commanded you, and keeping My statutes and My rules, then I will establish your royal throne over Israel forever, as I promised David your father, saying, ‘You shall not lack a man on the throne of Israel.’ But if you turn aside from following Me, you or your children, and do not keep My commandments and My statutes that I have set before you, but go and serve other gods and worship them, then I will cut off Israel from the land that I have given them, and the house that I have consecrated for My name I will cast out of My sight, and Israel will become a proverb and a byword among all peoples. And this house will become a heap of ruins. Everyone passing by it will be astonished and will hiss, and they will say, ‘Why has the LORD done thus to this land and to this house?’ Then they will say, ‘Because they abandoned the LORD their God who brought their fathers out of the land of Egypt and laid hold on other gods and worshiped them and served them. Therefore the LORD has brought all this disaster on them.’” Both this passage from 1 Kings and this Psalm are prophetic warnings to the people to remain faithful. Did Asaph see this destruction in his lifetime? Did the people who first sang it see the terror to come? No. Psalm 74 was written by Asaph hundreds of years before the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem by the Babylonians in 586 B.C. when God’s long patience had come to an end and He withdrew His protection from the building of the Temple and from Jerusalem and from the land of Judah, knowing that He would one day bring His people home and then eventually after that He would send His Son.
In 2 Kings 25 we are told that, “In the fifth month, on the seventh day of the month—that was the nineteenth year of King Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon—Nebuzaradan, the captain of the bodyguard, a servant of the king of Babylon, came to Jerusalem. And he burned the house of the LORD and the king's house and all the houses of Jerusalem; every great house he burned down.” … “And the pillars of bronze that were in the house of the LORD, and the stands and the bronze sea that were in the house of the LORD, the Chaldeans [subjects under King Nebuchadnezzar] broke in pieces and [they] carried the bronze to Babylon.” Looted and destroyed, by the time the captive Judeans could return from Babylon to rebuild the Temple and the walls and the city of Jerusalem, that “dwelling place of God” there was no more than a heap of picked over rubble left where the Temple had stood, where people had sung the Psalms, had sung Psalm 74.
So then this brings everything around to us. We are fortunate to have this church building, and we have a responsibility to maintain it as a place where God’s Word is read, studied, and preached, where the Sacraments are administered. This is a convenience for spreading the Gospel and taking care of God’s Children, so that while spires may have crumbled in every land here in this place, “bells still are chiming and calling, calling the young the old to rest, but above all the soul distressed longing for rest everlasting” that in all of that Christ Jesus, poetically called the Right Hand of God, Who sits at the right hand of God is proclaimed. But there was a danger when the Temple was first built, that danger remained when it was rebuilt and it is a danger that lurks in the walls, windows, floors of every modern church building, in every nail and stick of wood, every pain of glass and bit of copper wiring. The danger is pride and in that pride losing sight of God and His Word, of preaching and teaching something, someone other than Christ Jesus and the Grace and Mercy of God found in Jesus.
The destruction of the Temple that Aseph prophetically speaks of in the Psalm comes about because Solomon and his children did what God warned them not to do. They fell away from trusting in God, they fell away from keeping the commandments and statutes that God had set before them, because they had in the end ended up serving other gods and worship them. We have a couple of generations of people right now who should know better themselves and are likewise transgressing God’s Law, they are falling away, and one day when they seek after this place in a time of distress they may find it gone or in ruins and in that day they may, if they somehow were able to keep their faith - by the grace of the Holy Spirit - find themselves crying out for God asking, “remember me!” … “Help me!” At such a time they will need to know that the church, the bride of Christ has been saved in Christ alone at the cross in the midst of suffering. That there in that place, at Golgotha, the ultimate rescue has already happened. That was the place where The Right Hand of God, Jesus, was taken from the fold of God’s garment and revealed to the nations once for all, where Jesus with His innocent blood shed by wicked men destroyed the true enemies of mankind: Sin, Death, the Devil, the World and even our obstinate willful souls which was by nature in rebellion to God.
If they know that and return to it, if you know that and hold fast to it, if we have faith in this Jesus, the Right Hand of God who is our very Rock and Redeemer then as painful as it might be to see men hack away at this church building or any church building as if they were men swing axes in a forest of trees, we can have hope. As sickening as it might be to see such men break churches down with hatchets and hammers and set the Lord’s sanctuary on fire we will be able to stand firm on Christ knowing that the Church stands and falls not on a building but one a Man, on Christ Jesus, who in His resurrection stands forever and will never fall again. He is the vindication of the persecuted, of the downtrodden and the poor; He is the arbiter and judge of those who would harm the physical and spiritual life of His people. He remembers you, He remembers all those who belong to Him even when they have forgotten Him, He is faithful to the end even when we falter in our faithfulness, He is the one who does not come at you with axe and hammer in hand to destroy you but with love and forgiveness in His hand to bring you peace and life eternal.
Asaph looked to future trouble, to a great falling away that brought ruin on the visible kingdom of God on Earth, yet in his yearning Asaph also looked forward to Jesus the Christ the one who saves. We in all honesty know that there is trouble ahead too, the visible ruin of the kingdom of God on earth may well come to us here in this place - maybe not in our lifetime let us pray - yet even still we know that the messiah Asaph hoped in, Jesus the Christ has in fact come, He has conquered, and He will come again, now we today look even further ahead past where Asaph looked and we pray, “come Lord Jesus, come quickly,” trusting what He has told us in the book of Revelation when Jesus said, “Surely I am coming soon.” And we now say, “Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!”
Until That Day we remember that the Church is more than one building, more than one congregation, more than any one of us alone, it is not ours to avenge that is God’s work not ours, as He says “vengeance is mine,” and while we (or our brothers and sisters in Christ in some other cornier of the world) may sift through a burning heap of rubble the Church bells will ring out again in that place and are ringing still in some other part of the Kingdom of God and always will. And for that reason we can pray both Psalm 74 as our prayer and we can pray as the last verse of the Hymn “Built of the Rock” when it prays, “Grant, then, O God, Your will be done, that, when the church bells are ringing, Many in saving faith may come Where Christ His message is bringing, “I know my Own my Own know Me. You, not the World My face will see. My Peace I leave with you. Amen.”
Let us pray:
Lord have mercy on us, Christ have mercy on us, Lord have mercy on us, “take our minds and think through them, take our lips and speak through them, take our hearts and set them on fire; for the sake of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, Amen.
 “Built of the Rock” Lutheran Service Book, Concordia Publishing House 2006, Hymn # 645 verse 1
 Psalm 19:14, “Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in Your sight, O LORD, my rock and my redeemer.”
 Psalm 78:35
 Exodus 15:6
 Luke 22:69
 Mark 16:19
 1 Kings 9:1–9
 2 Kings 25:8–9
 2 Kings 25:13
 LSB, Hymn # 645 verse 1
 Revelation 22:20
 Deuteronomy 32:35
 LSB, Hymn # 645 verse 5