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O Lord - Be Not Far From Me - Psalm 38 Sermon From November Prayer Service

O Lord - Be Not Far From Me - Psalm 38 Sermon From November Prayer Service

"O Lord - Be Not Far From Me" / Mount Olive Lutheran Church / Rev. Ted A. Giese / Wed November 5th 2014: Season of Pentecost, Psalm 38.

          O LORD, rebuke me not in Your anger,

                   nor discipline me in Your wrath!

          For Your arrows have sunk into me,

                   and Your hand has come down on me.

          There is no soundness in my flesh

                   because of Your indignation;

          there is no health in my bones

                   because of my sin.

          For my iniquities have gone over my head;

                   like a heavy burden, they are too heavy for me.

          My wounds stink and fester

                   because of my foolishness,

          I am utterly bowed down and prostrate;

                   all the day I go about mourning.

          For my sides are filled with burning,

                   and there is no soundness in my flesh.

          I am feeble and crushed;

                   I groan because of the tumult of my heart.

          O Lord, all my longing is before You;

                   my sighing is not hidden from You.

          My heart throbs; my strength fails me,

                   and the light of my eyes—it also has gone from me.

          My friends and companions stand aloof from my plague,

                   and my nearest kin stand far off.

          Those who seek my life lay their snares;

                   those who seek my hurt speak of ruin

                   and meditate treachery all day long.

          But I am like a deaf man; I do not hear,

                   like a mute man who does not open his mouth.

          I have become like a man who does not hear,

                   and in whose mouth are no rebukes.

          But for You, O LORD, do I wait;

                   it is You, O Lord my God, who will answer.

          For I said, “Only let them not rejoice over me,

                   who boast against me when my foot slips!”

          For I am ready to fall,

                   and my pain is ever before me.

          I confess my iniquity;

                   I am sorry for my sin.

          But my foes are vigorous, they are mighty,

                   and many are those who hate me wrongfully.

          Those who render me evil for good

                   accuse me because I follow after good.

          Do not forsake me, O LORD!

                   O my God, be not far from me!

          Make haste to help me,

                   O Lord, my salvation!

(Psalm 38 ESV)

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. Psalm 38 is a hard Psalm. It's an open wound, a deep cut, in danger of infection: It's a mix of painful internal anguish yet along it's ugly lesion the promise of stitches appears - hopeful strands of confidence in the mercy of God. Like the wincing pain of a laceration Psalm 38 hits the hearer's ears with words of realism, words that ring harder in the ear than expected, words that tell just how much sin hurts.

People unfamiliar with Scripture generally expect the Bible to be filled with upbeat aphorisms, spooned over with positive thinking, a sort of imbecilic simpleness disconnected from the rigors of true trouble; they don't often expect Scripture to be filled with frank talk about deep personal distress over sickness and sin, and its impact on a person's relationship with the LORD. Sure there's some stuff in the Bible about Jesus' suffering - people unfamiliar with Scripture remember hearing about that from when that Mel Gibson movie came out years ago - and there's that stuff about Job - the guy who needed so much patience in his trouble - but that's about it right? Psalm 38 is no baby blister or minor cut in need of some Polysporin and a Band-Aid. Psalm 38 is deadly serious.

There are times when a person is very sick and needs to go to the emergency room and they say, 'It's ok, I don't need to go." Then someone close to them needs to say, 'No, this is bad, you're going, I'm calling 911.' Left on their own the person would die, Psalm 38 is a prayer from the 'back of the ambulance on the way to the hospital.' King David is the man in the back of the ambulance: David is suffering physical‪‎ and spiritual anguish over his sin as he prays to the LORD. With his eyes opened to his situation, in the midst of his trouble David keeps praying to God, he doesn't give up praying it's as though the sirens are blaring and the lights are flashing, and the wheels are speeding down the road and he's praying. He knows the seriousness of sin, he knows it brings forth death. In his advanced years he is thinking back on his times of trial and troubles, thinking back on dark moments of deep trouble and pain. That's where he is writing this Psalm from, latter in his life, but - in part - thinking back on a specific moment.

The effects of sin in our lives come either as a result of our own actions or as a result of someone else's. In Psalm 38 David is meditating on his own actions. Commonly sickness and death come because of Adam and Eves original sin that caused all of creation to fall into disorder - this is why men, women and children all suffer from the ravages of sin, death and the devil in the world seemingly indiscriminately, while at one and the same time there are other people who suffer directly from their sin like the man who selfishly smokes himself into lung cancer or the woman who gets arrested for stealing from the cash register at work.   

In Psalm 38 David knows his sin when he prays "There is no soundness in my flesh because of Your indignation;" Whose indignation? The indignation of God. David is acknowledging God's displeasure levelled against David's unjust actions, his offensive and insulting behaviour. Following David's adultery with Bathsheba Nathan the Prophet is sent to David and Nathan delivers the righteous displeasure of the LORD to David when Nathan speaking for God says to David, "‘I anointed you king over Israel, and I delivered you out of the hand of [king] Saul. And I gave you your master's house and your master's wives into your arms and gave you the house of Israel and of Judah. And if this were too little, I would add to you as much more. Why have you despised the word of the LORD, to do what is evil in His sight? You have struck down Uriah the Hittite with the sword and have taken his wife to be your wife and have killed him with the sword of the Ammonites. Now therefore the sword shall never depart from your house, because you have despised Me and have taken the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your wife.’"[1] Nathan is the one God is using to say to David 'No, this is bad, you're going to the emergency room, I'm calling 911. you're bleeding everywhere and you're going to die if we don't get you help.' David could say no, but instead he says “I have sinned against the LORD.”[2]

In our Psalm today David prays "There is no soundness in my flesh because of Your indignation;" these are words of repentance David is saying to God, "I a poor miserable sinner confess all my sins and iniquities to You and justly deserve Your temporal and eternal punishment." In Psalm 38 David prays "there is no health in my bones because of my sin, my wounds stink and fester because of my foolishness." With Bathsheba David didn't just wound her with adultery and murder her husband, in his foolishness he also wounded himself murdered himself with his sin, St. Paul says, "Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body."[3] When he saw Bathsheba bathing on the roof-top it would have been better for David to have instantly repented of the thing he planned to do and then to have ridden out to meet Uriah on the battlefield, to flee from sin and to flee to Uriah, to fight alongside him against the Ammonites which was the very spot David was supposed to be in the first place ... but this David did not do, no David sinned.

In the aftermath David sits pleased with himself, yet Uriah's body lays dead, Bathsheba's child produced in adultery with David will die, and David has deeply and foolishly wounded himself. With his beautiful eyes and handsome features[4] David is the picture of health, never the less he sits there with a gruesome horrifying wound, this wound is invisible to the spiritually blind, it's a wound festering with infection, a wound that left untreated would bring forth death. In his spiritual blindness David couldn't even see the wound he'd inflicted on himself until Nathan came and pointed out his sad scene, the selfishness, the adultery, the murder. Nathan came to David with the mirror of the law, the 10 Commandments that David had not kept. With His sin pointed out to him the wound begins to smart and then the pain of it ramps up until finally in the midst of his trouble, his self-made trouble David prays, "for You, O LORD, do I wait; it is You, O Lord my God, who will answer." David needs his wound to be stitched up, he needs the infection to be cleaned away, he waits for the Lord to come and bind up his wound, he waits for the Lord to heal him, to make him whole.

At the end of the Psalm David prays, "Do not forsake me, O LORD! O my God, be not far from me! Make haste to help me, O Lord, my salvation!" This is like the continuation of that confession of sin in Setting Three,[5] after laying bare our sin we say, "I am heartily sorry for them [my sin, my iniquities, my foolishness] and sincerely repent of them, and I pray You of Your boundless mercy," to have mercy. When David prays, "Make haste to help me, O Lord, my Salvation!" David is praying for the coming of Jesus, the coming of the Christ, the coming of his salvation. It's like David is saying "Come quickly Jesus and help me! Save me! Save me from myself, save me from my sickness, save me from my enemies! Save me!" In our confession we say to God our Father, "[have mercy] for the sake of the holy, innocent, bitter sufferings and death of Your beloved Son, Jesus Christ, ... be gracious and merciful to me, a poor, sinful being."  

Wounded in his sin David prays in desperation, "I am feeble and crushed; I groan because of the tumult of my heart." In the epistle of 1 John words of comfort emerge for the one who is crushed because of the tumult of their heart, words of comfort emerge for you when you are crushed, St. John writes, "whenever our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and He knows everything."[6] This reflects, in part, the next bit of David's prayer when David prays, "O Lord, all my longing is before You; my sighing is not hidden from You." And the LORD says to David, the LORD says to you, 'I hear your longing, I hear your sighing and I Am greater than your heart.' You say, " My heart throbs; my strength fails me, and the light of my eyes—it also has gone from me." And the LORD says, 'I Am greater than your heart. I Am your strength, your shield,[7] I am the rock of your salvation, your fortress, your deliverer,'[8] Jesus says, “I Am the light of the world. Whoever follows Me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”[9]

When Nathan confronts David's sin, when he points out David's deadly wound and David responds, “I have sinned against the LORD.” what does Nathan then say? Does Nathan say straighten up a fly right and then maybe God will come take care of that wound? Does he hand him the needle and thread and say stitch it up yourself? No, Nathan says to David, “The LORD also has put away your sin; you shall not die."[10] The cross of Christ, with Jesus dead upon it, stands between David's plea, “I have sinned against the LORD,” and Nathan's words, "The LORD also has put away your sin; you shall not die." It is at the cross where the Lord puts away David's sin, where the Lord puts away your sin. At the cross the Lord threads the needle and by the pierced hands and feet of Jesus the Lord stitches up your wound, by the shed innocent blood of Christ the infection of your sin is washed away, as Jesus dies your life of death dies with Jesus and you are given life, you are given Jesus' perfect life in place of your own. In His death you die, in Jesus' resurrection from the dead you are promised everlasting life and it is yours in Christ. Psalm 38 is a sober look at the problem of sin, it is a confession of sin and a hope for forgiveness, a trust in the coming salvation of the Lord revealed in and accomplished by Christ Jesus.    

At the cross, at the empty tomb and ultimately on the Last Day in the resurrection of the dead David's prayer is answered, it is answered in Jesus. On That Day because of Jesus David's foot will not slip, and no one will rejoice over him, the sword will never come to his house again, and his wounds will be healed forever, sin shall be no more, death shall be no more.[11] This is for you too. Jesus is the help that comes for David, Jesus is the help that came for you, that comes daily for you, the help that comes from outside of David, the help that comes from outside of you - Psalm 38 is a prayer which teaches us that David was not saved by the courageous moments in life, he was not shown mercy because of his swagger when things were going well, he was not saved because of his handsomeness, rather King David, like you and I was, is, and ever shall be saved by Jesus - saved by Jesus who Holy Scripture tells us "has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows;" Jesus who was "smitten by God, and afflicted" for us, the One who truly took the Lord's rebuke, and indignation on our behalf, the One who received the discipline of God's full wrath on our behalf, the one who innocently took the nails that sunk into His hands and feet, those arrows that sunk into His flesh on our behalf, Jesus who Scripture says was, "pierced for our transgressions; ... was crushed for our iniquities; [and] upon Him was the chastisement that brought us peace, [and] with His wounds we are healed."[12] This Jesus is not far from you! He has made haste to help you, He is David's Salvation, He is your Salvation, He forgives all your sin! He is the answer to David's prayer. He is the answer to yours. 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.


[1] 2 Samuel 12:7-10

[2] 2 Samuel 12:13

[3] 1 Corinthians 6:18

[4] 1 Samuel 16:12

[5] Divine Service Setting Three, Lutheran Service Book, Concordia Publishing House 2006, pg 184.

[6] 1 John 3:20

[7] Psalm 28:7a, "The LORD is my strength and my shield; in Him my heart trusts, and I am helped;"

[8] Psalm 18:2, "The LORD is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer, my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge,"

[9] John 8:12

[10] 2 Samuel 12:13

[11] Revelation 21:4 "He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”

[12] Isaiah 53:4-5