Sermon June 30th, 2013 -- Psalm 16 -- Safe and Secure
1Keep me safe, my God,
for in you I take refuge.
5Lord, you alone are my portion and my cup;
you make my lot secure.
8I keep my eyes always on the Lord.
With him at my right hand, I will not be shaken.
11You make known to me the path of life;
you will fill me with joy in your presence,
with eternal pleasures at your right hand.
Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.®
I begin my message this morning with a question. What does the Christian life look like when it's lived out every day? What difference does it make whether someone is a Christian or not? Or to put it another way, how would your life or mine be different if we were not disciples of the Lord Jesus? It seems to me, as the old quote goes, that the Christian life is as the Christian life does – in other words, the way we live our daily lives is a clear indication of the true influence that our faith has on us. So what do you think? Are we different from those who are not believers? These questions find answers in Psalm 16. I pray that God would bless our consideration of his holy Word this day!
Psalm 16 is a Psalm of trust -- trust in the Lord. To trust in the Lord is to completely yield our will to His will. To trust him is to put him before everything else in our lives. The writer of Psalm 16 says, "I have set the Lord always before me." His faith is the lens through which he views everything in the world. Psalm 16 begins with a brief prayer to God asking for His protection. This short prayer is then followed by a beautiful description of what a life of faith looks like. The author of this Psalm is not writing about abstract ideas – he's writing about things he has personally experienced.
The author of Psalm 16 finds refuge in the Lord. God stands at his right hand. God is the source of his strength. In the New Testament, the apostle Paul expressed a similar thought when he said, "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me." (Philippians 4:13) The Psalm-writer, like the Apostle Paul, finds strength in the Lord. Because the Lord is with him, his fears are manageable. As God's people travel the journey of faith, and as they let God work in their hearts and minds by his Spirit, their fears do not control them. Because of his faith, the Psalm-writer can face adversity without being shaken.
Consider for a moment the story of Elijah – which is part of our Old Testament text this morning. Elijah went from a high point in his life to a low point in a very short time. Elijah had just been to the mountaintop – he had just overcome the prophets of a false god. But everything fell to pieces when his life was threatened by Queen Jezebel, the wife of evil King Ahab. After that, Elijah descended into a serious depression. He got his eyes off the Lord and onto himself and onto his own troubles and, when that happened, things began to fall apart. At one point, Elijah sat alone under a broom tree and told the Lord that he wanted to die. He complained that he was the only one in all of Israel who was serving the Lord. That's when the Lord told him was that there were 7000 other people in Israel who were still serving him. Can you see what had happened to Elijah? He lost his sense of perspective. Sometimes, our troubles press in on us with so much force that we forget to look up. We forget that above the dark clouds of life, the bright sun of God's grace in Christ continues to shine.
Of course, in our multicultural and politically-correct world, such comments are rejected as out of date and insensitive. But that doesn’t make them any less true. The Psalm-writer says that the sorrows of those who follow false gods are multiplied. As one Bible scholar says, the number of sorrows isn’t merely a matter of addition, but rather of multiplication. The God of the Holy Scriptures wants to be close to his people. He wants to be present with them. He wants to stand at their right hand. He wants to protect them. The Psalm-writer knows that God has assigned him his portion and his cup – in other words, the circumstances of his life. The Psalm-writer’s “allotted portion” is his share of material blessings like land, or property or food. The “cup” he speaks of here refers to the practice of passing the wine to a guest at a feast or a meal. For Christians, of course, speaking of the cup reminds us of the cup of the Lord in holy Communion. For us, this cup is the presentation of divine grace. We are thankful that God has assigned this cup to us. The Psalm-writer enjoys his share of material blessings – but he considers them to be secondary to the spiritual blessings he’s been given. This individual has been richly blessed – and he knows it. He wants his hearers to experience the same thing.
According to the Psalm-writer, God lays out the boundaries for human behavior. The Lord shows his people how to find the path of life and then, for the rest of their lives, he guides them along that path. These are not oppressive boundaries. They are given for our own good. Honoring them brings freedom, not bondage. The Psalm-writer describes how God counsels him. By means of his word, in the quiet, thoughtful moments of daily life, God guides his servant.
Like the Psalm-writer of so long ago, God wants to speak to us, too. We can hear him most clearly in those moments when the TV is shut off, when the radio is not playing, and when no one is speaking. God speaks to us through our morning devotion. He speaks to us through an evening Bible reading. He speaks to us in worship – on Sunday or midweek; he speaks to us in a sermon; he speaks to us in a Bible class or a discussion group. We hear him best when the distractions are at a minimum.
Having experienced all these blessings, the Psalm-writer now takes every opportunity to praise to his God. Because of his faith in the Lord, his heart is glad. Because of his faith in the Lord, his tongue rejoices. His words are words of praise. His actions give clear evidence of the faith that dwells in his heart. After telling us what his life is like, the Psalm-writer tells us what he looks forward to in the future. He says, "Surely I have a delightful inheritance.” We need to remember that, for Old Testament people, the idea of heaven wasn’t as clear for them as it is for us. We need to remember that Jesus added a lot of detail to these Old Testament concepts. The Psalm-writer looks forward to his inheritance from the Lord. And so do we!
The Psalm-writer knew that the Lord would not abandon him to the grave. In other words, even after death, he believed that his relationship with the Lord would not be broken. Do you remember the words of the apostle Paul where he said that neither death nor life... nor anything else in all creation … can separate us from the love of God as it so clearly expressed in and through Jesus Christ? (Romans 8:38) The Psalm-writer joins all believers in looking forward to eternal blessings at God's right hand. For us, that means the promise of heaven. It means the promise of eternal life – lived out in God's holy presence.
Let me summarize the basic themes expressed here in Psalm 16. The Psalm-writer speaks of the present joy of those who follow the Lord. And he describes their expectation of what the future will bring. Looking back over his life, the author realizes – with gratitude in his heart – that God's wise counsel has continually guided him. In the silence of the night, when the bustle of the day died down, he clearly hears God’s voice speaking in his heart. The Psalm-writer had a wonderful positive outlook on life. When you think about it, biblical faith is a positive faith. Our faith begins with trust. That trust leads to hope. We know that God will always be with us. He is our refuge and strength and a very present help in time of trouble.
All of this means that you and I have every reason to be joyful and optimistic. In a world with so much bad news – so much violence – so much trouble – so much misunderstanding – so much plain ignorance – we have reason for hope. The basis of our hope is the life and death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. In Christ, we have life – in this world and in the next. In Christ, we have light. That light overcomes the darkness. In Christ, we have hope. And that hope overcomes despair.
As I was working on this sermon this past week, I began thinking about my favorite part of the Scriptures. The Gospels are very important to me – because they tell me the story of Jesus. And the New Testament writings of the apostle Paul are also important because they explain the basis of my beliefs. But, to me, there's something special about the Psalms. To me, there's something down to earth about them – something refreshingly honest – something true to life. And so I'd have to say this morning what I’ve said before – that the Psalms are my favorite part of the Bible.
Now, don’t get me wrong. This life isn't always what we would like it to be. There are – it’s true – tough times and tough situations and tough people to deal with. There are times when our faith is challenged. There are times when the devil laughs at us. But at times like that, we turn to God's Word and remember that we are not the first people to experience these things. These things are part of the human condition. This morning, I pray that the joy of the Lord would be your strength. I pray that, because of your faith in God, you can look to the future with joy and with hope. Why is that? Because, when it comes right down to it, we are privileged people. We are living the abundant life that Jesus promised to his people in John chapter 10 verse 10. We have the blessed hope of heaven someday. I pray that God would enable us to fully enjoy our blessings. And not just enjoy them, but also share them. May he prepare many hearts to hear the message we proclaim in Jesus’ name. May God grant that. Amen.
Let's Pray: Dear Heavenly Father – It's true that we are richly blessed. You stand at our right hand to protect us from our enemies. Your Son has gone to the cross as the ultimate sacrifice for our sin. By the enabling of your Holy Spirit, we trust your son as Savior and Lord. As your people, we do live an abundant life. And we have hope for the future – because Jesus was raised from the dead. We ask that You would bless us and keep us in the very center of your will. In Your Son’s name we pray. Amen.