Category Archives: Psalms

An Introduction to Psalm 4

Meditations on the Psalms

To the choirmaster: with stringed instruments. A Psalm of David. (Psalm 4:1 ESV)

David sings a song of joy to his relationship with God. His intent was to teach God’s people this Psalm to worship God, for the great things He had done. David wrote this song for the choirmaster, the Chief Musician, tasked with the responsibility of teaching others to sing in their worship. David’s song of worship is accompanied by stringed instruments.

From the morning, when David first arises and calls on the Name of the LORD, to the evening, as he prepares to sleep, David shows his confidence and trust in God. He knows God will answer him, though he is surrounded by many enemies, though his days are filled with stress and the command decisions of leadership. He also knows God will protect him from his enemies, giving him a peace to sleep while in the world and in God’s secure presence.

Though written by David, this Psalm is a prophecy of Jesus Christ, revealing the thinking of Jesus’ heart as He lives in a world in rebellion against God. Jesus knew God would listen to Him and answer Him when He called. Though surrounded by those who wished Him dead, and plotted to murder Him, His work and words reflect His complete trust in God.

We will examine the story of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead in relation to this Psalm. I am not suggesting this Psalm is a prophecy of Jesus’ acts and words found in this Gospel story but that some of the circumstances found in that story fit the words of this Psalm.

It is important we know the context of the story of the raising of Lazarus. John, the disciple, tells us this story beginning in John 11:1. However, the words, teachings and actions of Jesus, of those who witnessed the raising of Lazarus, and the response of the religious leaders who mapped out the premeditated murder of Jesus and of Lazarus, moves through John 12:50.

Though David wrote this Psalm almost a thousand years before Jesus’ birth, Jesus lived it out.

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Salvation

Meditations on the Psalms

Salvation belongs to the LORD; your blessing be on your people! (Psalm 3:8 ESV)

He who has been praying about His circumstance and passion now turns His attention to those for whom He has worked and taught and bled and died. He has asked God to save Him from those who murdered Him. He died and was resurrected. Through His agony and distress those who are His are irrevocably drawn into His kingdom. Those who identify with Him are so connected, not because of anything they have done, but everything He has done. Still, the citizen of the kingdom of heaven has the responsibility to obey God This is why they were created. Working for God by those redeemed by Jesus carries no merit but does result in eternal blessing.

Jesus’ death and resurrection are decreed and determined by God from eternity, from before the space-time creation of the universe and before Adam and Eve rebelled. “He was foreknown before the foundation of the world but was made manifest in the last times for the sake of you who through him are believers in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God” (1 Peter 1:20-21 ESV). Jesus prayed for those who are His before His passion, declaring His eternal purpose in bringing them to Him. “Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world” (John 17:24 ESV).

Jesus is our salvation. Salvation means deliverance, victory, welfare and prosperity. God’s blessing, His gift of peace with Him, is given to those who are His through the blood of Christ, the mercy seat, which hides the sin of the people from His sight. It is not that Christians stop sinning but that, because Christ took upon Himself the judgment of and sentence for our sin, they are declared righteous before God. “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21 ESV).

Our obedience to God is demanded and expected and carries no merit. We cannot work for that which God gives freely through Christ. Our freedom in Christ is not shown through the lazy and irresponsible thinking of our hearts and actions in the world but through steadfast devotion and obedience to Him who gives salvation. There are at least four things we must believe and do.

We must truthfully admit our rebellion against God, that sin is real and turns truth on its head, demanding a lie be acted upon as truth. We are the wicked and ungodly people who are trained and teach others to hate God as described in Psalm 1. Not, only are we commanded to admit sin, we are commanded to acknowledge God as Creator, the One who sustains creation, who gives us purpose and who is the governor of creation. He is God and there is no other and we are designed to serve and worship only Him. Thus, sin is walking away from God.

We are commanded to repent, which is turning away from sin in the thinking of our hearts and actions. Repentance demands we understand the truth of sin and then its consequences, which is separation from God for eternity and existence without that which sustains life. Knowing the magnitude of the consequences of sin, coupled with the drawing of God toward Himself, is enough for those who are His to hate sin because He hates sin. Repentance is turning away from sin.

Faith is turning toward God. Those who repent, who turn away from sin, must turn toward that which is not sin. Faith is the intellectual believing of the evidence of God’s work, the emotional trusting of Him who alone is able to deliver upon His promises, and the willful obedience to His commands. Faith involves the whole person. Remove an element, or make one element of more importance than the others, and faith ceases. This is only a brief summary of faith.

Even though obedience is part of faith it also is the fourth element of salvation. Those who sin, walking away from God, who then turn away from sin in repentance, who turn toward God in faith, must now walk toward God. Jesus calls walking toward God to “hunger and thirst for righteousness” (Matthew 5:6 ESV). This is not the simple obedience of faith, which is necessary, but the driven, insatiable delight to know God intimately. Instead of rote behavior, the obedient person abandons themselves to God, ceases living for the world and sets their eyes, and the thinking of their hearts, upon serving God in eternity, beginning now.

Those who are God’s are identified with Jesus Christ, His blessed Man, the Son, the King of kings, the One who gave Himself. Where He is, we are.

Stricken

Meditations on the Psalms

For you strike all my enemies on the cheek; you break the teeth of the wicked.(Psalm 3:7 ESV)

God develops a number of motifs in the Psalms. One of the patterns He gives in the first three Psalms is judgment of the wicked. Those who actively rebel against Him will experience the fury of His righteous decision.

Psalm 1 tells us the wicked fail in their rebellion. None of their works or words last “but are like chaff that the wind drives away” (Psalm 1:4 ESV). They will not stand before God when He sentences them but will be separated from the righteous (see Psalm 1:5) and will ultimately perish(Psalm 1:6). They will not disappear into nothingness but will continue to exist for eternity outside of God’s presence, never receiving that which sustains spiritual life.

Psalm 2 gives the evidence of the rebellion of the people and those who teach, train and lead the rebellion. When God gives Jesus, the Son (Psalm 2:7) ownership of creation, He will “break them with a rod of iron and dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel” (Psalm 2:9 ESV). People are to serve Jesus with fear and trembling. If they do not they will perish (Psalm 2:12). This word perishis the same word in both Psalm 1 and here. God speaks twice because He has firmly decided what will occur.

In Psalm 3 Jesus prays to His Father about His passion and the agony of being subject to the wrath and hatred of a people He created in His image for relationship with Him. He loves these people. They hate Him and want Him dead, so they murder Him. They justify their murderous intent by providing false evidence against Him while ignoring the truth of His life, words and works.

During the inquisition of Jesus before the High Priest, He faced questioning about His disciples and His teaching. Note that the position of High Priest at that time was shared by Caiaphas and his father-in-law, Annas (see John 18:13). Traditionally, there was only one High Priest. Caiaphas was the designated High Priest while Annas was the acting head of the religion, having been High Priest and most probably refusing to relinquish control to his son-in-law. Annas touted tradition and law while ignoring tradition and law. It was Annas who first questioned Jesus and responded to His answers.

Jesus answered him, “I have spoken openly to the world. I have always taught in synagogues and in the temple, where all Jews come together. I have said nothing in secret. Why do you ask me? Ask those who have heard me what I said to them; they know what I said.”

When he had said these things, one of the officers standing by struck Jesus with his hand, saying, “Is that how you answer the high priest?”

Jesus answered him, “If what I said is wrong, bear witness about the wrong; but if what I said is right, why do you strike me?” (John 18:20-23 ESV)

Jesus answered truthfully and was struck on the face. Annas, and the guards he controlled, mocked Jesus. They had no intention of looking critically or objectively at the evidence. They wanted Him dead and were willing to sacrifice their integrity and their relationship with God to murder Him.

Those who struck Jesus on the cheek, mocking Him and refusing to examine the evidence, speaking against Him and training others to do the same, will themselves be struck on the cheek. To strike is to hit, beat, slay and kill. Those who condemned Jesus are His enemies, both individual and personal opponents and corporate or national adversaries. They stand resolute against Him in every way conceivable. But God does not speak of His rendered judgment only once. This is a parallel statement because He will surely make it happen. He will break the teeth of those who speak against His Son. To break means to crush, to violently destroy, maim, cripple and rupture. Their words and actions, the thinking of their hearts, will condemn them, used as evidence and testimony against them when they stand before God’s judgment.

Yes, they murdered Jesus. But He rose from the dead and is now the prosecutions expert and only witness against all who rebel against God.

Arise, O LORD!

Meditations on the Psalms

Arise, O LORD! Save me, O my God!(Psalm 3:7 ESV)

This is the cry of a person in physical and emotional distress, whose hope and help remains only in God and is nowhere found in self or the world. They are desperate, for they have reached the end of their abilities, have exhausted their resources and have nothing left. They are hopeless and helpless, on the verge of depression and complete emotional breakdown.

Arisemeans to stand, to come upon the scene, and also means to confirm, ratify and establish. Again, the writer uses God’s proper name of because of their intimate relationship. He could be saying “Stand up, God, and impose Yourself. Show Yourself mighty and able to protect.” His cry is for God to save and liberate Him from those who hate and revile Him and give Him victory over their rebellion.

Jesus prayed in a garden on the night He was betrayed. He took with Him His closest friends, eleven of the disciples. Judas was not there for he left earlier to betray Jesus and gather those who would ultimately murder Him. Jesus asked His remaining disciples to stay awake and pray with Him. They did not stay awake and pray because they were sleepy. It was the middle of the night, the time to sleep. They did not have the discipline to stay awake even a short time. Plus, they were under spiritual attack. “And he came to the disciples and found them sleeping. And he said to Peter, ‘So, could you not watch with me one hour? Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak’” (Matthew 26:40-41 ESV; see Mark 14:7, Luke 22:45). His mild rebuke could not keep them awake for they fell asleep again as soon as He walked away to pray.

What was Jesus praying? Jesus felt anxiety as He faced crucifixion. From eternity, before Jesus’ incarnation, He knew this historical moment would come. He knew what He had already decided to do and its outcome.

And he withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, and knelt down and prayed, saying, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.” And there appeared to him an angel from heaven, strengthening him. And being in agony he prayed more earnestly; and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground.(Luke 22:41-44 ESV)

Jesus knew, in His nature as a true man, His servant nature, that He was going to be tortured to death. It is not death which causes fear but the manner in which a person dies. He felt agony,which is severe mental and emotional anguish, a struggle for victory, because He knew the cost. He sweated huge drops as He wrestled with the knowledge of emanate torture and death. Did He need more strength than He already had? Luke tells us an angel appeared from heaven to strengthen him. Jesus was truly Man the way God intended and God in flesh. He did not sin but experienced all of the emotional and moral tugs and pulls of the flesh.

Then Judas, the disciple and friend of Jesus, arrived with a band of soldiers to arrest Him.

Jesus was not afraid to walk to His death because He knew the resurrection followed. Jesus finished what He started because of His love for God and for those He created in His image.

For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father. (John 10:17-18 ESV)

Jesus cried out to God. Only He could save Him from absolute separation. Jesus carried the judgment and sentence of all so that all might be saved. His burden is heavy and beyond measure. Only He could bare such a weight.

 

 

Unafraid

Meditations on the Psalms

I will not be afraid of many thousands of people who have set themselves against me all around.(Psalm 3:6 ESV)

Jesus faced both great acclaim and heated opposition throughout His earthly ministry. Those who hated Him included the Deceiver, who did everything possible to frustrate, obstruct and stop His ministry, and the religious leaders of the nation. These religious leaders hated Jesus because He challenged their authority and position of leadership over the people. In addition, the Roman’s hated anyone, not particularly Jesus, who might incite the people under their dominion to rebel against Rome and the emperor.

Those who opposed Jesus were not just politically or religiously motivated. There were many who simply did not care about Him. Or, they cared about His words and ideas for a moment but when He confronted their covetous attitude toward what they considered their stuff, they would turn their backs upon Him and walk away. They cared more for their place in the world than their place in eternity.

God tells us to not be afraidof those who oppose Him because Jesus was not afraid of them. Afraid means to dread, fear, stand in awe, as well as to have reverence and to honor. To setthemselves against means to station, to take a stand, to lay waste, fix their mind in opposition to whatever Jesus represents or commands be done. Those who are hostile toward the authority of the King of kings, either actively fight against Him or passively ignore Him. In either case, their actions, or inactions, destroy the foundation of the relationship they have with God.

We have already seen those who mutiny against God will come to a physical and spiritual end. Their defiant words and works are judged and they are sentenced, then separated from God, the Giver of life. His judgment is a completed action from eternity, yet still works out in space-time history. For God it is done. For those living in the world it will be done but is not yet completed. Jesus was not afraid to stand before the religious leaders, Herod and Pilate, because He foreknew the outcome. He willingly endured the torture of crucifixion because He knew the final and absolute results brought the greatest glory to God.

During Jesus’ ministry, He chose and trained twelve disciples. These disciples, whom He also called apostles, were given responsibility to exercise authority in His name. “And he called to him his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal every disease and every affliction” (Matthew 10:1 ESV; see also Mark 3:13-15, Luke 6:12-16). As Jesus trained them He was forthright in telling them what they would face and endure. Their and our temptations and trials are myriad and used to test. God does not test anyone to discover what they know. He tests so we can discover what we do not know, especially about Him. Throughout our training we are His and there is no reason to fear.

So have no fear of them, for nothing is covered that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known. What I tell you in the dark, say in the light, and what you hear whispered, proclaim on the housetops. And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows. (Matthew 10:26-31 ESV; see Luke 12:4-7)

Jesus’ disciples, throughout history, whomever they are and whenever they live, stand before those in worldly authority and give testimony about Him. Instead of removing us from the world He leaves us to declare, through words and actions, the evidence of His grace in the gospel. He also leaves us in the world to train and fit us for eternity. Being a Christian in the world brings trails and persecutions. The thinking of our hearts is on full display before the world and before God as we face the same opposition Jesus endured.

Fear is both debilitating and freeing. When we fear we can see that which is in the thinking of our heart. Fearing the world tells us we do not trust God and want that which the world offers more than what God gives. When we fear God, by honoring Him as Creator, placing Him first, then nothing we encounter in this world can potentially or actually remove us from His presence.

To Sleep and Awake

Meditations on the Psalms

I lay down and slept; I woke again, for the LORD sustained me. (Psalm 3:5 ESV)

In the midst of a battle, a life and death struggle, the Psalmist knows of rest in the One He trust. He is under attack, facing death. His enemies taunt Him, saying God will not save Him, or cannot save Him. In His agony He cries out to God, who answers Him with rest.

When the Psalmist, who is Jesus speaking through King David, says “I lay down and slept”what does He mean? To lay down means just that, to be placed in a physically prone position. Sleptmay just be to sleep, as in taking a rest at night, to store up for the next day. Yet, the word is also a euphemism for death (see Psalm 13:3). When Moses was told he would die, God said “behold, you are about to lie down with your fathers” (Deuteronomy 31:16 ESV). Both Jesus and Paul refer to sleep as death (see John 11:11-14). “That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died (sleep)” (1 Corinthians 11:30 ESV).

Jesus did not swoon while on the cross. When He was laid in the tomb, He was not unconscious or resting in a coma. The physical trauma inflicted upon Him by the Roman soldiers ended His life. He died. Too many people who knew death saw Him dead and handled His dead body.

Joseph of Arimathea, a respected member of the council, who was also himself looking for the kingdom of God, took courage and went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. Pilate was surprised to hear that he should have already died. And summoning the centurion, he asked him whether he was already dead. And when he learned from the centurion that he was dead, he granted the corpse to Joseph. And Joseph bought a linen shroud, and taking him down, wrapped him in the linen shroud and laid him in a tomb that had been cut out of the rock. And he rolled a stone against the entrance of the tomb. (Mark 15:43-46 ESV)

Jesus did not stay dead. He spoke to His disciples beforehand about His death and about His resurrection. “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised”(Luke 9:22 ESV; see also Luke 18:34, see Mark 8:31, 9:32, 10:33-34, 16:21, Luke 24:7). Jesus’ death and resurrection did not surprise Him and should not have surprised His disciples.

After laying down to sleep, after dying, the Psalmist says I woke again, which means to rouse from sleep, to abruptly awaken, but is also a euphemism for the resurrection. Job uses the word woke, or awake, to show once death has taken hold there is no rousing from it. “As waters fail from a lake and a river wastes away and dries up, so a man lies down and rises not again; till the heavens are no more he will not awake or be roused out of his sleep”(Job 14:11-12 ESV). Daniel prophecies that those who sleep will awake (woke)to judgment. “And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt”(Daniel 12:2 ESV).

Jesus’ resurrection is foundational to faith for the Christian. It is reasonable, intellectually stimulating and sound, supported by substantial evidence, and shows the love of God for His people. For Jesus, the resurrection was accomplished from eternity. Nothing could hinder the Son of God from completing that which He decided from before the sin of Adam and before the creation of the world.

We need to understand God sustained Him throughout His earthly ministry and passion. The word sustained means to support, put, uphold, lean upon, brace oneself, refresh, revive. God kept Him for Himself and nothing the Deceiver would do, nothing the world could do, no temptation or torture would remove Him from God. Jesus knew intimately throughout His physical life, during the process of dying and in the tomb, that God sustained Him.

Here is the rub. That which God has done for His Son He will do for those who are in His Son, who are identified with Him because of His work. Faith is the conduit though which God delivers to the Christian that which the Christian needs to live for God in an ungodly world. The object of faith must be God and His Son. We rest in Him.

I Cried Aloud

Meditations on the Psalms

I cried aloud to the LORD, and he answered me from his holy hill. (Psalm 3:4 ESV)

Trust is an emotional response to a promise given by One fully capable of delivering upon that promise. In a world filled with people corrupted by sin, only God is trustworthy. It is to the only trustworthy God Jesus cries out, fully expecting an eternal, righteous, good and true answer.

To cryis to call out, to utter a loud sound, to proclaim, summon and invite. Thus, He cries out to God because He is surrounded by those who are trying to murder Him. All His adversaries consider Him incapable of ruling them and refuse to obey His commands. Instead, they conspire to kill Him, removing Him from authority over them, so they might rule themselves. His cry is for help from the One who has given Him dominion and ownership over the world and all it contains.

He who cries out expects an answer, knowing God hears and responds. Jesus is the only righteous One who lives, the blessed Man (Psalm 1:1). He acts and speaks with God’s full authority, being King over His kingdom. Jesus is God in the flesh and knows God will respond. God does answer, and His answer is eternal, fixed and finished.

Yet, the circumstances under which Jesus cries out to God look hopeless, final, showing a conclusion which seems to defeat the purposes of God. Even in the darkness, God is in control, working all things out according to His purpose and for His glory.

Jesus is on the cross, reviled and mocked by everyone. Then, darkness covers the face of the world as it appears God turns His back on His Son.

Now from the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land until the ninth hour. And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”(Matthew 27:45-46 ESV; see Mark 15:34).

Jesus hangs helplessly on the cross, appearing to all as forsaken by God. Upon His bleeding, hyperextended shoulders, with arms stretched out, the weight of His body borne on the nails in his arms and feet, God places the sentence of death due to all because all people sinned.

Jesus became the propitiation for sin. “He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world” (1 John 2:2 ESV). Paul uses the same word. “For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith”(Romans 3:22-25 ESV). The word translated propitiationin the New Testament means mercy seatin the Hebrew Scriptures (see Exodus 25:17-22, Hebrews 9:5). It was upon the mercy seat, the covering of the Ark of the Covenant, the priest poured out blood once a year to atone for the sins of the people. The blood poured out would cover the broken Law, the Ten Commandments, from God’s sight. Jesus, the Mercy Seat, poured out His own blood for the sins of the people. His blood covers those who are His. For those who are God’s, He no longer sees their sin but the blood of His Son.

Jesus knew why God turned His back on Him. There was no other way to bring sinful, rebellious people back into His eternal presence other than someone fulfilling His demand for justice. Because of sin, someone had to die both a physical and a spiritual death, as demanded by God in the Garden.

God answers Jesus from eternity, His dwelling place. When Jesus died He “cried out again with a loud voice and yielded up his spirit”(Matthew 27:50 ESV; see Mark 15:37). Luke tells us His cry. “Then Jesus, calling out with a loud voice, said, ‘Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!’ And having said this he breathed his last”(Luke 23:46 ESV). He intimately knew God, trusting Him to fulfill the purpose for which He was sent into the world. Jesus died, knowing death could not keep Him.

Jesus told His disciple beforehand all that would happen, including His death and resurrection. Nothing happened which was not ordained and decreed by God from eternity. Nothing can hinder the will of God.

In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence.(Hebrews 5:7 ESV)

We cannot ignore the anguish and suffering Jesus endured, both physically and emotionally, while in this world. His crucifixion and death is His passion, a Latin word, passionem, which means a short period of suffering and enduring. Jesus endured intense suffering. During His ministry, His suffering was emotional. During His passion, His suffering was physical, compounded by the emotional. He suffered for us. God answered His prayer given for us.