Online Text Sermon - God's Pity, Psalm 103 vv.13-18
|Preacher||Rev. Maurice Roberts, Inverness|
|Sermon Title||God's Pity|
|Text||Psalm 103 vv.13-18 |
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"Like as a father pitieth his children, so the Lord pitieth them that fear him. For he knoweth our frame; he remembereth that we are dust. As for man, his days are as grass: as a flower of the field, so he flourisheth. For the wind passeth over it, and it is gone; and the place thereof shall know it no more. But the mercy of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting upon them that fear him, and his righteousness unto children's children; To such as keep his covenant, and to those that remember his commandments to do them" (Psalm 103, 13-18).
I can tell you what is being spoken about here in one single word; it is the subject of religion. What does religion mean? Religion means this: It is God and man having a contact, one with the other; God in touch with man, and man in touch with God. That's what is meant by religion. True religion makes it possible for man to have this fellowship with God. The Christian religion, being the only true religion, always brings us to have this fellowship and communion and relationship with God, when we believe it. False religion - whatever religion we are talking about - but all false religions fail to bring man into a right relationship with God. Not all religions give us this communion and fellowship with God, but true religion does. That is why Christ came into the world, to give us right religion; to bring us into a condition in which we could know God, and enjoy God. So these words show us how it happens. Let's look at some of the things that are being talked about in these words.
The first thing we notice as we read these words is this: the Bible's way of talking about human beings. This is what it says: "As for man [meaning of course man or woman, the Bible often uses man in a sense of a human being], his days are as grass, as a flower of the field so he flourishes. The wind passes over it and it is gone; and the place thereof shall know it no more. The Lord remembers that we are but dust" (text). That must strike us as a very humbling thing to have to hear; it's not at all the way that people talk about themselves, usually. It does not matter whether you are talking about the Prime Minister, or his Cabinet, or the Government, or important people in this world, in Britain or America or wherever it may be; they don't usually talk about themselves in this way. We have an expression which is becoming increasingly popular, that you ought to 'sell yourself', that is the idea; we are to promote ourselves; we are to make something of ourselves; we are to have self-esteem - and of course up to a point there is some truth in all of that, up to a point only. But that is not the way the Bible begins with us. The Bible tells us that we are all like dust. That is the way God puts it. "He knows our frame" - that means our body; "He knows our frame, he remembers that we are dust" (text).
My very dear friends, that is the way the Bible begins to talk about men and women. It's not the way the world talks about men and women, but it's the way God, who made us, talks about it. You know in this life, people are always showing off their bodies, and they have photographs taken of themselves, and they show themselves off, and they make themselves out to be something important. But that is not the way of true religion; it's not the way of the Bible; it's not the way of God. God begins by telling us this: that in His sight we are so much dust - that is all I am, 5 or 6 feet of dust; that is all you are. Now, that is not to deny that we have an immortal soul that lives in this house of dust, and that soul is extremely precious. That is why we need to have God and true religion, because the soul that lives in this house of clay is going to have to live somewhere else after we die. So, when the Bible says we are dust, it doesn't for a minute mean that we are dust and nothing more; it means that our body, our frail body, is just like dust. That idea is taken, of course, from the Bible itself. When God made our body, in Genesis 2, we are told that God took a handful of clay, or dust, from the ground, and with His great power He shaped it into a human body, a head and arms and legs; and all the wonderful things that go on inside us to digest our food; and the muscles, and the brain, and everything else. But God made it, not out of some wonderful thing in the sky, not from something from the stars; He made us from the dust of the earth. That is the way the Bible always refers to us. When Adam and Eve displeased God, God said to them both, "You are dust, and to dust you will return." That is what happens to us when we die; that is what we mean by death. It means that something happens to us and our body begins, slowly, to decompose and become dust again.
Listen to the wonderful words of the prophet Isaiah. He said, "All flesh is grass, and all the goodliness thereof is as the flower of the field...The grass withereth, the flower fadeth: but the word of our God [that is true religion, the Bible] shall stand for ever" (Isaiah 40, 6/8). So, we have the second word used by God concerning our weakness. The first one is dust, but the second word that he uses is found here in this section, at verse 15, "As for man, his days are as grass: as a flower of the field, so he flourisheth. For the wind passeth over it, and it is gone; and the place thereof shall know it no more" (text).
What does God mean by telling us we are like a flower or like grass? Well, he means to tell us that we are not strong; none of us is really strong, even the strongest man. I remember years ago as a young Christian, I was walking about in London when I was doing some studying of the Bible, and as I walked along a street, I saw a man pushing a wheelchair, and in the wheelchair was some poor wretched man, all shrunk in his body. As I walked behind them, watching, the fit man, who was doing the pushing, took out a cigarette and he had to screw it into the mouth of the man who was in the wheelchair, then he lit a match and put the match to the cigarette and the man puffed on it, and on they went. When I caught up with them, which of course I could easily do because I was walking faster, I said to the man pushing, I said, "I am very sorry that your friend is so disabled." The man stopped, "Ooh", he said, "this man, this man in the wheelchair?" He said, "He was a champion boxer in Europe - one of the best boxers, and it was the punches to his head that damaged his body and his mind." Even the strongest men, these men who say, when they are boxing and when they are doing their wonderful things, "I am the greatest!" Well really, they are very weak. If the truth were told, they are very weak; so weak, says God, that in his opinion and judgment we are just like flowers in a field. We all see flowers growing in the fields just now; it's a lovely time of the year, springtime. If you think back for three or four weeks, these flowers are just so tiny, just a bud, just a little bit of bud was showing; and then two weeks ago, the flower opened out; and then one week ago, it began to look a bit sad. There was a wind came, and some of the petals were blown away, and by tomorrow morning there will hardly be any petals left - the wind has blown them away. It's only lasted a few days! That is the way we are, says God: like the grass that is cut down, like the flower that fades and is gone - soon forgotten - because the wind passes over it. You say to me, what's this wind? The wind is sickness, or accident, or sudden calamity of some kind, some tragedy that affects us. You could be walking out of church like this, and then suddenly collapse. It could easily happen to any one of us. You may have heard, sadly, that yesterday on the big road leading from Edinburgh, up north to Inverness, what we refer to as the A9, there was an accident. Two cars - or vehicles anyway - bumped into one another; two, or was it three, people died. You see that is the way we are; the wind passes over us all the time; the wind of God's providence, His control of all things, is blowing over us all. You never know the day; you never know what illness is going to come. This is not to be depressing, this is to be realistic.
One of the best preachers the Free Church ever had was one of my beloved predecessors. His name was the Reverend Calum Matheson - an excellent preacher, an excellent man, an excellent Christian. Many of you knew him and loved him, as I also did. He was at a General Assembly, just a few years ago - I don't know for sure, maybe ten years ago - he and I and others were talking freely. We were taking a lunch together at a table, "Ooh," he said, "I have got such a pain in my toe." He was never a complainer for anything - he suffered in silence - but, "Ooh," he said, "this pain, I must get it seen to when I get back to Inverness." Many of you know, he didn't live very long after that. He was such a strong man, such a physically fit man in many ways. Then, our dear friend the Reverend Innes McRae, just two or three years ago, he retired from his work in the ministry, and came and sat here in these seats where you are now; one of the best of men, one of the finest of preachers that we had - a godly man, improving, if I may say, all the time; a man galloping towards heaven in his spiritual life. I was hoping, as many of you were, that we would have him with us to help in preaching, and in every other way. But, like the flower he was cut down, and like the grass he was mown away; his soul was taken to glory and his body in the grave.
My friends, that is what real religion tells us first. Well, you say, it's very sad; I am almost in tears, how much more of this are you going to give us tonight? Dear friends, relax. There is more, much more, to be said but we have got to begin there. Young men and young women, I know life looks full of a thousand things; I know that you are raring to go; you are dying to get going in life. Like a speed car, you want to be off and away and over the hill. But I am telling you, this is the right attitude to life. This is God's view of life. We have got to begin with this: that our life is short and uncertain.
Secondly, this passage of the Bible tells us of the great kindness and love of God towards frail men and women like us. Where do we get that? Well, let me show you where we get it in this section. We get here: "Let me read this wonderful passage, "But the mercy of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting, upon them that fear him; and his righteousness unto children's children" (text). I am going to repeat those words because they are extremely good - wonderful words, "But the mercy of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting, upon them that fear him; and his righteousness unto children's children." What we have here is the next point in true religion. The next point is the love of God, the mercy of God. That's wonderful because God is so great you would hardly think He would bother with such tiny specks of dust as you and I are. If you want an illustration: supposing there's a lady; it's springtime and she goes into the garage. The garage hadn't been tidied out for six months or more, so she gets the broom and she goes into the garage and she sweeps around and oh dear! everywhere, spiders' webs and beetles crawling about. She doesn't spend all that long watching a tiny beetle crawling away to get out of the way of her broom, she doesn't spend all day with her eye on this little beetle. It's not that important, she's got other things to do - children to feed and a husband to look after - a car to drive and shopping to get and washing to do, and all the things that ladies do so kindly. She doesn't spend all day watching a tiny little ant crawling up the wall or something. But that's what we are in the sight of God! Just like a tiny ant in the sight of the great, lofty, glorious God. You know every day, pretty well, that I live - and the more I live, the more I feel it - it's a great wonder that God has stooped down to notice my existence or yours; that God has even noticed that we are here at all. It's a great wonder, a great mystery. But God tells us here, that though we are but dust and ashes and nothing more, the mercy of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting upon them that fear Him. He knows our frame; that we are but dust - He knows it.
In a wonderful way, that's very comforting isn't it? Christian, here is a lesson for you: look after your body, especially when you are young; don't overdo it; make sure you have rest; make sure you keep the Sabbath day carefully; we have got to rest our body. This body we are living in, it's only dust; don't expect too much of it. Don't drive it, and overdrive it, and destroy it. It is easy to do that, just as it's easy to overdrive a vehicle and ruin the engine. Don't do that. Look after it. He knows our frame; that we are but dust. He knows how little stress and strain, and labour and toil, our body can endure. He knows that, He understands that, we don't need to tell God that we quickly get tired and we can't do any more - He knows full well. Not only does He know it because He knows all things, but He knows it from the experience of His own dear Son Jesus Christ. You know, that's a very tender and beautiful passage in the Gospels, where the disciples were rowing across the Sea of Galilee - you remember it? They were crossing from one side to the other, and our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, He was lying in the stern of the boat with His head on a cushion and He was sleeping. Even He, even that great God-man, even the Lord from heaven, when He took our body, He was quickly tired. The same thing occurs when you get the story about Jesus speaking to the Samaritan woman in John 4, "...being weary, he sat on the well." Our Lord got tired. His body, like our body, was frail.
So the Lord tells us He knows our frame. "Like as a father pities his children, so the Lord pities those who fear him." I must explain what this fear means. To fear God in the Bible doesn't mean that we try to keep out of His way because we are scared stiff of Him; that's not the kind of fear that is meant here. It's not the fear that the criminal has of a policeman, that when he hears the police car coming up he runs round the corner into the dark alleyway in case he should be recognised. No, no that is not the fear mentioned here. That kind of fear is wrong. We must never run away from God, or hide from God; that's stupidity. You can't hide from God anyway - He sees you wherever you are. The fear of the Lord mentioned here is another way of saying love for God: the fear of displeasing Him, the fear of annoying Him, the fear of losing Him; it's the fear of love. It's the kind of fear that there is between two people who fall in love. A young woman in her beauty, a young man in his strength, they meet, they are not yet married but they love one another - very natural, very beautiful. But now they are each afraid in case they may upset the other person. It's so easy to do that - we are all such fools; we open our mouth and say the wrong thing. We are so guilty of that, all of us. And so, in this life, there's this kind of fear. We may say the wrong thing and hurt the one we love. That is the fear here - fear of hurting the one we love; we don't want to upset Him, we don't want to grieve Him, we don't want to drive Him away. That is the fear of the Lord; it's the same as love.
The Bible tells us that God is a Father to those who fear Him in that way: "As a father pities his children, so the Lord pities those who fear him" (text). That is what I read from the parable of the prodigal son for this very reason. What a story! Oh what a story the parable of the prodigal son is! The young man goes away and spends his money in sin and pleasure. He was forgetting the first rule of true religion, which is that we are but dust; he forgot that. He saw the world as a wonderful place, like a fairground, with all these amusements to enjoy. So he had a pot of money and off he went, and he soon got through it and then he had nothing and had to go into the fields to feed pigs. What a humiliation, what a wretched stinking animal a pig is. You don't have to go far along the road towards the eastern part of Scotland from here before you see all these piggeries, and the smell is nauseous. Who on earth would want to feed pigs? That's what he had to do to make a living, to save himself from death by starvation; he had to feed these wretched animals. He was so hungry he would nearly have stuffed this food of the pigs into his own stomach; he was dying of hunger. That is where sin brings us to - poverty, rags, misery. But the young man remembered his father. Isn't it beautiful? He remembered he had a father somewhere along the way. What beautiful words he had! He said, "I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and before thee, and am not worthy to be called your son anymore: just make me a servant. I'll do the dirty jobs around the house and around the garden, chopping the sticks and tidying up the hedgerows; everything which nobody else enjoys doing, I'll do it because you are my father and I want a place in your home, even though I am unworthy of it." That is the way he thought isn't it? But look at this father's heart. The heart of the father is a deep mystery. Every father knows it. There's a love for our children that we cannot describe. A true father would die for his son, or for his daughter. So the prodigal came on his journey, and when he was yet a great way off his father saw him and ran and had compassion and fell on his neck and kissed him, and put the very best of everything on him. You see, my friends, God is a Heavenly Father to His people.
I am always touched when I think of David the king, when David's son Absalom died. It's a sad story. Absalom rebelled against his father, King David, and he was riding upon a beast and he had long, long hair; he was full of himself, full of his pride; his hair was like a woman's hair, glorifying himself. As he went along on an ass or some other animal - his hair got caught up in the branches of a tree, blown up by the wind into the tree. He was dangling by his own hair and he couldn't extricate himself. The animal went on and left him there, hanging, and David's soldiers killed him. When David heard of it, do you remember what David as a father said? "O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! would God I had died for thee, O Absalom, my son, my son!" (2 Samuel 18, 33). David loved him even though he had been a poor son. And we have been very poor children to God, very poor. We are not worthy to enter the Heavenly Father's house. But, this parable of the prodigal son shows us how welcome we are. Young man, you have possibly been brought up in a godly home, with a father who loves you, and a mother who has taught you from your earliest youth the things of God. I am here to say to you tonight, there is a Heavenly Father who desires that you will return from the world. I know the world looks a wonderful place - I was there once too; I once thought this world was going to be such a glorious place of pleasure and happiness. I can understand what you think, that when you get away from home you are going to enjoy life to the full. Let me tell you now, it's all a lie. There's nothing out there really; just a lot of sound and wind.
The real life - I'll tell you where to get it - the real life is in true religion. It's in knowing God, and loving God, and having him as your Father; that's the real life, to enjoy this Heavenly Father's love for yourself. Ask any Christian here or anywhere in the world, it doesn't matter whether they come from Africa or China or anywhere else; every true Christian will tell you that they didn't begin to live till they began to live with God, and to know the Heavenly Father. Well, you say to me, that sounds all right, that sounds good; but how long does this kindness of God last? Well, we are told how long it lasts. Look at these words of the text: "But the mercy of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting upon them that fear him; and his righteousness unto children's children" (text). There's a good bargain. If you go to the car showrooms, and you are prepared to spend a lot of money, you can get a car with a really good guarantee. If you buy a cheap car, as most of us do, you get a year's guarantee and then it stops. If you pay a lot more, you get a three year guarantee, maybe even a five year guarantee, so that whatever goes wrong, in you go and it's done at the garage's expense; otherwise you pay for it yourself. It is only five or six years at best.
But look... look at this: 'from everlasting to everlasting'. You can have the love of God today and tomorrow and the next day, and all your days, and the mercy of the Lord all your life. Yes, and in death, and in eternity! From everlasting to everlasting - there's no end to it! That must be a wonderful piece of news for anyone who feels tired of their own sins. See, you have got to begin with your own sins. That's the trouble with us - we are wicked, evil men and women, we are sinners by nature and practice; we have sinned against God; we have annoyed Him, we have vexed Him, we have displeased Him; we are all lovers of ourselves more than lovers of God. But if you are to enjoy the loving favour of God, here is this gracious offer made to us - the mercy of the Lord from everlasting to everlasting.
All right, let me go on to tell you, thirdly and briefly, that this is not simply offered to you casually. You know sometimes people sort of throw out an idea - here's a good offer for you. No, no, this is absolutely certain, and I am going to show you how I know it is, at verse 18: "For such as keep his covenant and to those that remember his commandments, to do them" (text). Here's a difficult word, this word 'covenant'. It's a religious word. The covenant means the Gospel; it means true religion; it means the relationship between God and those that love Him. Let me define this word covenant. It's really quite simple when I put it in these words. The covenant of God is His promise, strengthened by His oath or His sworn vow. When you go to courts of law, you have to make a vow, or swear on oath. You put your hand on the Bible, or you used to have to do - whether you still do, I don't know - you put your hand on the Bible and you know what comes next. You have to say these words after the person who is in charge of the court. You say, "I swear by Almighty God, to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help me God." You are swearing on oath. Now, a covenant is God's promise, strengthened by His own oath. Yes, God swears on oath. You say: but why does He need to? The answer is, He doesn't need to. God cannot lie any more than He can die. God couldn't tell a fib, it's impossible. Every word of God is solid gold but... He does it to comfort us, He knows that we don't take Him very seriously, so He gives a promise, and He strengthens His promise with an oath, and then He strengthens both of these with the blood of Jesus Christ which was shed on the cross - that is the blood of the "everlasting covenant, ordered in all things, and sure" (2 Samuel 23, 5), and it means this; that God will look after you all the days of your life. He will care for you, and provide for you, and He will do even more than that; He will forgive all your sins, and He will blot out all the things that you do that are wrong, and He will give you fellowship with himself through Jesus Christ. Then, when you die, He will give you eternal life in heaven, and you will see God for yourself. In the last day your body will be raised again from the grave. In the judgment day, God will say to you, "Not guilty, enter into glory."
All of that is in the covenant, the promise, strengthened by the guaranteed oath of God. I am going to ask you this question. If you are interested - of course if you are not that is your choice; you don't have to be interested in these things, if you would rather live for motorbikes and pop music and so on, that is your choice - but if you are interested in these things, if you would like to know, I am going to close my sermon by telling you how to begin with all of this, because you have got to begin somewhere, you have got to get into the house, as it were, by going through the door. So, the question is: What's the door to get into all of these blessings of the Gospel? You find this in verse 18, at the end, "To such as keep his covenant, and to those that remember his commandments, to do them" (text). Ah, you say, surely minister you've gone wrong here; you can't be saved by keeping the Ten Commandments. You are quite right, you can't. But you know there is another commandment apart from the Ten Commandments. Shall I remind you what it is? The commandment is this. Jesus said, "This is the work of God, that ye believe on him whom he hath sent" (John 6, 29). That's the door. To believe on Jesus Christ - that's the door. That's how you get into the house of blessing. That's how you get all these mercies of the covenant of God. That's how you get an experience of the pity of God, the mercy of God, the love of God. That is what this prodigal son did; he went home to his father, and he confessed his sin to his father, and he found forgiveness.
I heard, some years ago now, of a very rich woman in America. She hated life. She had lived a life in which she had been disappointed - I dare say her husband had let her down or something - and she had many, many grudges. So this is what she did to get her spite out of life, as people put it. She had a very expensive house built, but it was a crazy house. She had staircases that led to nothing but a blank wall; she had doors that opened into nothing. It was a crazy house. That's like this world - a crazy house. It leads to nowhere - nowhere good that is. But the God of heaven has built a house of blessing, for His children to live in forever, "In my Father's house," says Jesus, "are many mansions" (John 14, 2). I want you, every one of you, to get into that house. How do you do it? You do it by going home and saying to God on your knees, "Lord, I have been very wicked and very evil, but I so much want to get into the house of blessing. Show me how to put my trust in Jesus Christ; and show me how to get into the place in which I shall know the mercy of the Lord, from everlasting to everlasting." I can promise you, if you are honest with God, He will show you the way.
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