Psalm Eighteen (Part Two)

Psalm 18:1-3

For the director of music. Of David the servant of the Lord. He sang to the Lord the words of this song when the Lord delivered him from the hand of all his enemies and from the hand of Saul. He said: I love you, Lord, my strength. The Lord is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold. I called to the Lord, who is worthy of praise, and I have been saved from my enemies (NIV).

David spoke God’s words to his people. He let them know the truth about their covenant Lord, the living God. In this song (always remember that the psalms were intended to be sung), he also wants them to feel the greatness of their God. He wants them to delight in the reality of all that God had made known to them. Too often believers have heard the poor counsel, “You shouldn’t be feeling that way. Now stop emoting like that and do this list of actions.” That is not how the Father in heaven speaks to us in his word. Listen to what the Spirit led David to write.

David related to God in an intensely, special way. He used the word “my” nine times about God in these three verses. We do this about people we love constantly: my father, my mother, my brother, my sister, my child, my grandchild, and my friend. We claim them as ours. Love naturally “hugs” those that we love. David was not ashamed to interact with God personally, even when writing a worship song. Hopefully, the point is obvious, but in case it’s not, when we sing in public worship, we reach out to claim our special relationship with God. Be bold; God likes it when we’re bold (Hebrews 4:16).

David expanded on previous revelation about God. The Lord in his word reveals himself in a progressive manner, building upon what he has already said in the past. Some people try to “find the whole Bible” in Genesis 1-12, or they say that “this passage is the Bible in miniature”. Never is correct. In the Scriptures, God made himself known bit by bit, carefully building on what he previously declared, until the fullness of his revelation in Christ as made known in the New Testament Scriptures. For example, God gave types and shadows of the Messiah in the writings before he came, which the writings after his death and resurrection explain more fully. In this psalm, David calls God his “Rock” a few times. This name from God comes from three texts in the Torah (Gen 49:24; Deuteronomy 32:4, 31). The best known opens the Song of Moses, which Christians today should know much better than we do (cf. Revelation 15:3). The Rock, his work is perfect, for all his ways are justice. A God of faithfulness and without iniquity, just and upright is he (Deuteronomy 32:4 ESV). When we are familiar with this verse, we can see that David works this text out through the remainder of this psalm. In other words, part of what David sings is his meditation on Moses’ song. Ponder Colossians 3:16 in this context about what we ought to be doing when we sing in church. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalm s and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God (Colossians 3:16 ESV, my emphasis).

David’s descriptive names of the Lord flow out from his experience of God and his protection during his years of trial and suffering. God is his strength, fortress, deliverer, refuge, shield, horn of salvation, and stronghold. Read through David’s life in 1 and 2 Samuel up to this point, and listen to various psalms that he wrote about his troubles, and you will discover these concepts coming out from what he lived. Using what God has made known about his name, we likewise can speak of our God in this way. Though our life situations will be different from David’s, yet we can see, for example, that he has been our deliverer in many ways. We can sing to the Lord our experience of who he has been in our lives. As we read God’s word, these ideas will begin to pop out in our praise. Develop your relationship with God, as David modeled it in this psalm.

Grace and peace, David

A Lesson in Praise (Part One)

Psalm 145:1-3

I will exalt you, my God the King; I will praise your name for ever and ever. Every day I will praise you and extol your name for ever and ever. Great is the Lord and most worthy of praise; his greatness no one can fathom (NIV).

Have you ever thought about everything our ancestors had to do to survive? A trip to Old Sturbridge Village or Plimouth Plantation can remind us of how much of their lives was dedicated to survival. Think of all that they had to make by hand. Except in museums and among survivalists, their skills are basically a lost art. Except on Thanksgiving Day, their praise and worship of God has been lost also.

As long as our higher technology endures, it doesn’t matter if we are ignorant of their basic survival skills in physical matters. It is nice to know about the past, but we don’t need to live in it. Yet we must realize that there is another area of life, the spiritual, in which our technological achievements provide us no help. We can operate things we have made: automobiles, automatic dishwashers and vacuums, online banking, entertainment devices, microwave ovens, and computers. The Pilgrims would be at a complete loss about what to do with them. But we do not know how to relate to the God who created us. We need a lesson in praise.

In the Bible the Holy Spirit has told us how we can know God and relate to him. He used men like David, the man after God’s own heart, to write about the way to praise God. In this psalm, David praises God for his glory and fame (1-7), his goodness (8-10), his kingdom (11-13), his providence (14-16), and his saving mercy (17-21). Let us listen attentively to what has been written about praising God for his glory and fame.

Proper worship requires full personal involvement (145:1-2). It begins with entering into a personal relationship with the living God. It is the wonder of being known by God and knowing God. We hear his voice in the Scriptures, and respond to him through faith by the Holy Spirit.

The foundation of this relationship is our union with Christ, in whom we are right with God by grace through faith. David understood it and gloried in it. However, to the one who does not work but trusts God who justifies the ungodly, their faith is credited as righteousness. David says the same thing when he speaks of the blessedness of the one to whom God credits righteousness apart from works: “Blessed are those whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. Blessed is the one whose sin the Lord will never count against them” (Romans 4:5-8 NIV). Since his sins were forgiven, he could call the Lord my God the King. The fountain of praise bubbles with the joy of justification. David understood his place in this relationship. Though he was king of Israel, he knew that he had a King, the Lord God Almighty. The forgiven soul likes to kneel before the Throne of Grace and worship the King of grace.

Since he had a relationship with the living God, David acted as such a one should. We know that a husband and wife should treat each other with love and respect. They pledge these things to each other in the marriage covenant. In the context of this psalm, how does David teach us to treat God? He committed himself to praise forever. A new master plan is in place for the rest of his existence. He also committed himself to praise daily. A new, happy routine or habit was added to his life. The first commitment is the big picture. The second is each stroke of the paintbrush. An artist doesn’t usually paint the whole picture at one time. He or she consistently works toward the larger goal. So it is with our life with God. We walk with him daily, always grateful, while growing in gratitude.

Evaluate your own commitment to praise. Is there one? How well are you doing? To use the illustration, how consistently have you worked on the painting? Do your brushes need cleaned? Do you need to add some new colors?

Grace and peace, David

Nearness

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Ephesians 2:13

But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ (ESV)

When the Lord saves us, we experience many spiritual changes. Some are objective and concern our position and are not felt. Others are subjective, and we and others can discern changes in our attitudes, words, and actions. However, the changes in our spiritual position ought to affect our spiritual condition. For example, you may have heard some teacher say, “Be what you are in Christ.”

In the words before our text, Christ’s apostle described our hopeless situation before the Lord saved us. Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called “the uncircumcision” by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands—remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world (Ephesians 2:11-12 ESV). We were separated from God, Christ, the covenants that established a relationship with God, and from the people of God.

The words “but now” signal a complete change in our situation. The separation and alienation came to an end by the blood of Christ. His life was poured out in a violent death as the sacrifice of the new covenant. It brought us near. What did it bring us near to? The sacrificial death of the Messiah brought us near to God, to Christ himself, to the covenants that establish an unending relationship with God, and to the people of God.

Usually, American Christians think of this verse in an individualistic way: “I myself know God through Christ and have a personal relationship with God, and I’m a member of the church.” It is certainly right to rejoice in one’s changed relationship with God and his people. But not to the exclusion of sharing in these blessings with other followers of Christ. What do I mean? Through many years of being a pastor, I have heard individual believers express their own desire to feel near to God. The question is, “How can I feel close to God?” And the answer is given by the ‘experts’ in individualistic ways, like “learn how to have a quiet time, to mediate, to journal” and so on. This type of approach is to ignore the very corporate nature of this passage. (Please read Ephesians 2:1-22 slowly. Can you see people from your small and big groups in it? Would you have thought that way if I had not suggested it?)

Instead, what happened is that the Lord Jesus brought us near by his shed blood. Yes, we are personally near to God, but the point in context is that we are near to God. This is a position that we share together. When we gather in our small and big groups, we ought to act according to the truth that we are near to God. Our Father is not far away.

Since this is true, we should communicate it in our meetings. I do not mean that we need to say it every time we meet, but it should be part of the ‘DNA’ of who we are. “We are the people who have been brought near by Christ’s blood. We are a gathering of the Father’s family, of followers of Jesus on a journey together.”

Nearness to the covenants of promise ought to form the basis of our covenanting together in the mission of Christ and the good news. We then accept each other as close to God. Too often this kind of acceptance is only allowed to those in the inner circles of leadership. Others are assumed to be farther away and are looked at that way. However, if we start with the correct idea that all Christ’s people are near to God, we will highly value the contributions of everyone. This produces a welcoming atmosphere in all our gatherings. We then never need to tell anyone, “Please make visitors feel welcome,” because visitors will automatically sense that God is near and his people welcome them.

Since we know that we are near to God, we will feel confident about drawing near to God in worship together. The truth of James 4:8a (Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you) will occur constantly. Then we will experience what Paul wrote to the Corinthians when new ones are among us when the word is proclaimed. They will worship God and declare that God is really among you (1 Corinthians 14:24b ESV).

I want this for all the gatherings of Christ’s people. May yours start to be what you are in Christ this weekend!

Grace and peace, David

The Triumph of God’s Plan

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Isaiah 42:9

God reminds people of what he had done already. Often we see this in the Scriptures, as in the Psalms of salvation history (Psalms 78, 105, 106, etc.) God retells his story, so that we can have confidence in him during our present trials. Since we are his people also, we can meditate on his mighty works and his purpose in them and live in our situations with a godly perspective. Whatever has happened to God’s people previously happened because of his prophetic word, precious promises, and solemn covenants.

Now, in this Servant Song, Yahweh leads them into the future, into what he will accomplish in and through his Son, who is his Servant. He tells them this before these things happen, so that they can recognize that this is the word of the Lord (Isaiah 44:6-8; 45:20-23; 46:9-10). God announces that new events will occur. These are the events of Christ and his new and better covenant that he has just declared (42:6-7). And so God’s people can expect greater things. This is what happened when Jesus Christ came, lived among people, taught us, died for sinners on the cross, was buried, was raised to life on the third day, ascended into heaven, and poured out the Holy Spirit on all who believe. The newness includes God’s ultimate triumph when he makes all things new (Revelation 21:5).

God’s announcement of these new events is intended to lift up the Lord Jesus Christ before us in our thoughts and ideas. God wants us to have a radical change of mind about the Lord Christ and to trust in him for the light and liberation of salvation. He wants us to have Christ as the center point of our relationship with him, instead of spiritual experiences, performance of rituals, activity in church programs, or obedience to commands. Christ is our covenant. For this reason the Father asserts his glory, the glory of the One who chose and sent the Servant, that we might have a higher view of the Lord Jesus Christ. Are you among those who have repented and believed? How does this glorify God? He is greatly praised in the salvation of his chosen people (Ephesians 1:3-14). God is also glorified when his people live in conformity with his plan rather than human opinions. Is Christ your functional covenant in the way you relate to God? Strangely, too many seem to prefer to relate to God through rituals or rules or some other supposed path of spirituality. The Lord Jesus is our great high priest and mediator (Hebrews 4:14; 9:15) and he is our covenant, and so the Father wants us to draw near to him through his Son (Ephesians 2:18). Don’t miss God’s way, because you’re too involved with what other people tell you.

Grace and peace, David

Christ Our Covenant (Part 2)

E67272F0-E623-42C4-92EC-1864B7C445DDGod explains his mission for his Servant (Isaiah 42:6b). The Father called his Servant to be a covenant for the people. A Biblical covenant that God makes is a solemn agreement between God and people to provide rescue for them and/or a relationship with them. The core of the covenant varies according to the covenant made. The core of the covenants made with Noah, Abraham, and David were God’s promises to each one. The first two had signs—something that testified to the reality of the covenant. The covenant with Noah had the sign of the rainbow and the one with Abraham had the sign of circumcision. The core of the law or old covenant was the law written on tablets of stone, the Ten Commandments. Its sign was the Sabbath (Exodus 31:12-18).

The core of the new or better covenant is a Person, the Lord Jesus Christ. Note carefully that Christ is the covenant (cf. Isaiah 49:8) as well as its Messenger (Malachi 3:1) and Mediator (Hebrews 9:15). Messiah, the Servant of the Lord, himself is the fulfillment of all that comes before him, and so we read here that he himself is the covenant. “In Christ alone my hope is found, He is my light, my strength, my song, This Cornerstone, this solid ground Firm through the fiercest drought and storm…” (Getty and Townend). The sign or evidence that a person is in the new covenant is the reception of the Holy Spirit when he or she believes in Jesus Christ (Acts 2:38).

God also called his Son to be a light for the nations (Gentiles). Notice carefully that not only does Christ bring light (Ephesians 5:13-14), but that he himself is the light (John 8:12; 9:5), as he is the covenant. Some have balked at the idea that Christ is the covenant. But that should give them no more concern than the truth that Jesus is the light for the nations. “Light” is a figurative way of saying “salvation” (Isaiah 49:6b). Matthew points this out in the ministry of Jesus (Matthew 4:16-17). Christ’s mission has a worldwide significance: “to the nations”. The people who are in covenant (“in Christ”) will include not only the believing Jews but believers from all nations (Ephesians 2:11-22; etc.) Read Jesus’ words (Luke 24:44-47).

Since Christ is our covenant and light, we have salvation in him. We have our relationship with God in him and through him. How can we be sure that we can draw near to God? Christ is our covenant relationship with God. How can we be certain of salvation? Christ is our light. If you are struggling about your relationship with God or with assurance of your salvation, refocus on Christ our covenant and light (cf. Hebrews 12:1-2).

Grace and peace, David