Online Text Sermon - God Delivering the Fathers, Psalm 22 vv.3-5
|Preacher||Rev. Maurice Roberts, Inverness|
|Sermon Title||God Delivering the Fathers|
|Text||Psalm 22 vv.3-5 |
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My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? why art thou so far from helping me, and from the words of my roaring? O my God, I cry in the daytime, but thou hearest not; and in the night season, and am not silent. But thou art holy, O thou that inhabitest the praises of Israel. Our fathers trusted in thee: they trusted, and thou didst deliver them. They cried unto thee, and were delivered: they trusted in thee, and were not confounded" (Psalm 22, 1-5).
I must explain for the benefit of visitors, that we have been conducting a study in this Psalm 22. We are at an early stage of looking at the words of this great and famous Psalm, which was quoted, of course, by Christ on the cross. We have observed that this Psalm is prophetical: it described in vivid detail many of the intense sufferings and agonies of our blessed and holy Saviour, Jesus Christ, on the cross as He suffered pain and shame for us. What ought to be our reaction to reading about these sufferings of Christ that are described here? One of our reactions must surely be to realise that Christ had to go through terrible experiences to bring us to God. The work of saving the world was a great work, indeed, the greatest work of all history. God has done many things in history; He created the world, as we know from Scripture, and did so by His sheer sovereign power. God has since then been ruling the world by that same power. He has been raising and crushing nations and ordering all things according to His will. Nevertheless, of all the works that God has done, nothing in all history resembles the greatness of the work of His beloved Son upon the cross. The work of saving sinners is the greatest of all God's works and He intended it to be. Redemption stands on a far, far higher platform than does creation or even judgement. Therefore, to read this Psalm with understanding is a painful experience. You couldn't possibly read this Psalm, as someone who understood it, without understanding also the deep sufferings of Christ.
My point in saying this, partly, is to draw attention to the fact that the Christian life also is a painful thing. Just as Christ's work was painful in saving us, so the Christian life as a whole is painful. This is one reason why the Psalms are far superior to hymns - there is very little agony in the hymnbooks, but there is intense agony in the Psalms. The Psalms reflect this aspect of the Christian's life - it is a life of trial, temptation, struggle, wrestling and striving. My friends, I have to point out that this element in the Christian's life is the one we don't like. We would far rather that the Christian life were simple, plain sailing. I am not only speaking of you but of myself as well. We are all the same; we would far rather the Christian life were easygoing, drifting along with nothing to fight against. You hear Christians sometimes, sadly, giving themselves away: they don't like divisions, they say, or splits. They don't like this fighting element; they want to be at peace. We must not as Christians put peace above truth. Neither must we put our own comfort ahead of the glory of God and the prosperity of God's kingdom here below. If Christ had done so, where would we be? If our Lord had come into the world saying He didn't like suffering, pain or the sight of blood, then, friends, we would all be in hell. It was because He gave Himself - the blood and sweat and tears, some of that you saw in the reading of Luke 22 - that you and I have any hope at all of being delivered from the wrath to come. I say it again, it is a wrong conception of the Christian life to leave out of it this element of wrestling, struggling, agonising, contending, fighting for God and for truth and for righteousness. Whenever you meet a Christian or a Christian church that has lost its desire to struggle and even to suffer for His Name's sake, then, I'm afraid, you have met a Christian or a church that is moving in the direction of Laodicea, sad to say. If you and I lose a desire to fight for Christ, then we have drifted down the stream with the rest and we are on our way to Laodicea.
Spiritual victory only comes as a consequence of spiritual conflict. This Psalm 22 is divisible into two. You have the first twenty-two verses which speak about the sufferings of Christ, and then from verse twenty-two to the end we have the glory which will follow; that is the clear division. Notice, it comes in that order: Christ must needs suffer first. There is the blood and the sweat, the agony and the tears, the praying and the wrestling first, but then it has a blessed outcome and outflow: it is the salvation of the church, the redemption of an innumerable multitude of immortal souls for whom Christ's blood becomes effectual. Many are called not only from the Jews but also from all the ends of the world; they shall remember, He says, and turn unto the Lord. They shall come by an effectual call because redemption has been accomplished in Christ and so redemption will be applied by the Spirit. This is the order - it is the order of Christ and it is the order for the Christian life. There is no growth in grace, no prospering spiritually, if we are not prepared to go through the divinely appointed exercises of suffering, of trial, of temptation and of struggle here below. I am not suggesting, of course, for a moment, that our struggle can in any way be compared to Christ's. Still less am I suggesting that there is any merit in our sufferings, which can in some way enhance the merits of Christ; God forbid! What I am saying is there is analogy and similarity: as Christ suffered and overcame so the Christian must go through the same pattern of suffering and overcoming. "To him that overcometh," says Christ, "I will grant to sit with me in my throne" (Revelation 3, 21)"; they shall walk with me in white" (Revelation 3, 4); "I give to eat of the tree of life" (Revelation 2, 7). What sort of man and woman is going to eat of the tree of life and sit with Christ on the throne - "to him that overcometh". There is the struggle of the Christian life.
Listen to the apostle Paul; he says, "I die daily" (1 Corinthians 15, 31). Did you ever stop to meditate on what he means? Is that not absurd - no one dies daily. He means that he goes through such experiences of body and of soul that it is as though he was dieing every day. Every day to the apostle was a day of struggle. When we read the Acts of the Apostles, we can see that. He was stoned, beaten, shipwrecked. We can read the great catalogue of all his sorrows and trials in 2 Corinthians 11-12. "I die daily" - so does every Christian when he is walking closely with Christ. He is dying daily to himself, to his own desires and comforts. He is learning to take up the cross of Christ and to follow Him. Take another text. Listen to this one. The apostle says, "We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; Persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed" (2 Corinthians 4, 8-9). He means not simply the apostles but all Christians. We are counted as sheep for the slaughter. "Nay," he says, "in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us" (Romans 8, 37). That is the triune God - the blessed Father, the blessed Son and the blessed Holy Spirit. We are more than conquerors but in this life, he says, we are killed all the day long.
My dear friends, I have put these things to you because this is an intensely unpopular theme. In some congregations, I would never expect to be invited back if I were to be so bold as to introduce the theme that I am now setting before you. I am only bold enough to do this because I am absolutely convinced this is an appropriate theme for our time and because it is absolutely spiritual.
Let me come back to the Psalms for a moment. You can't sing many Psalms before you have this element of suffering coming in. Take Psalm 31 that we were singing a moment ago. The Psalmist confesses his enemies, his trials: "I am like a broken vessel," he says, "For I have heard the slander of many: fear was on every side: while they took counsel together against me, they devised to take away my life" (Psalm 31, 12-13). That, of course, was Christ but it was also David in his day and it is us in our day. There is this element in the Christian life and we must never seek to avoid it; we mustn't try to evade divine discipline and disappointment, trial, sorrow and struggling - it is the way to heaven. Those who are not struggling and striving, no matter what they say, they are not on the way to heaven. The way to heaven is the way of thorns; it is an uphill route. Those who are coasting along are going somewhere and one hopes they are going to the right place - but one sometimes wonders. It stands to reason that if Christ in redeeming us went through such blood and sweat and oceans of sorrows, you and I must expect something similar in this world. The world hasn't changed; the world that hated Him hates us. Jesus said so: "If ye were of the world, the world would love his own: but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you" (John 15, 19). You can't have it both ways. We can't have the love of Christ and the love of the world - we must make a choice. Those of you who want the world's love and flattery, say farewell to Christ and heaven because you will never get there. If you want to get Christ's love more and more then be prepared to do the courageous thing: live by His Word; live by the principles of Scripture. You will soon see that people will move away from you and that their smile will freeze into a cold disaffection. However, you will lose neither Christ, nor heaven nor the approbation of God.
In the passing, there is a very practical point that I can make. My friends - be kind to one another. You have no idea, have you, what the person sitting next to you is suffering just now? They may be going through intense struggles and temptations, trials of the mind or of the body or of the soul. Be kind, therefore, one to another - look out for those people who are more lonely than others; make a point of being exceptionally kind to them - you never know, it may make all the difference to their state of mind and heart.
We move on to something we touched on last week. God does not necessarily answer our prayers all at once: "O my God, I cry in the daytime, but thou hearest not; and in the night season, and am not silent" (verse 2). Here is Christ upon the cross and He is complaining to God that His prayer is not being heard. My general point is this - God does not always hear prayer at once and yet we are to pray and pray on. Here is one of the great secrets of the Christian life - we must pray and pray and continue praying. If an illustration helps you then think of a team of men digging the Channel Tunnel - more than twenty miles - they had machinery underground moving thousands upon thousands of tons of soil and rocks. It took a long time: they were under there tunnelling for many months. So it is with the church in prayer - we, as it were, go underground in prayer. We know very well we need the Holy Spirit to revive our nation. We see the sins of the society in which we live; we see the state of the world. Even governments now are bringing in laws that criminalize Christians in the way they bring up their children; worse will come unless God intervenes. Persecution days are not far from us in all likelihood as society goes on in decline. We must continue, as it were, in the tunnel pleading with God. We may not see anything- it may seem dark in the tunnel but one of these days God will hear our prayers and do something wonderful for us. We shall come out the other side just as the Covenanters did. They went through a long tunnel of twenty or more years of persecution but they came out at the other side. The church was preserved and the Kingdom of God was advancing. We must do so today.
Christ tells us two things about the subject of prayer. First, God loves to hear the prayers of Christians and God answers the prayers of Christians. He puts it like this: "If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask him?"(Matthew 7, 11). If a child in your family asks you for a piece of bread, you would never give him a stone says Christ. If they ask for a fish, you wouldn't give them a serpent. If they ask you for an egg, you wouldn't give them a scorpion. If you then who are sinners know how to give good things to your children, how much more shall your heavenly Father give good things to them that ask Him. The lesson is very clear - God loves to hear and answer prayer. That is a very clear lesson from the teaching of the Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ.
There is another strand in His teaching about prayer: God may wait long before He answers our prayers. Where do we get this teaching? We get it in Luke 18 where the Lord speaks of the importunate widow. Remember the parable? There was this widow - she had an enemy who was oppressing her. What did she do? She went to the judge and he was an unrighteous man. He confessed so himself - he said, I neither fear God nor regard man. He was a self-interested man and this woman, with her complaint, kept on knocking at this man's door. He won't listen for quite some time. Eventually, he decides to give her what she wants just to get rid of her because she has pestered and annoyed him so much. Christ uses that as an illustration of God's attitude to His people's prayers. Christ makes this application: "And shall not God avenge his own elect, which cry day and night unto him, though he bear long with them? I tell you he will avenge them speedily" (Luke 18, 7-8). You see this other strand in the teaching about prayers of our Lord in which He says that God's way to deal with His children is that He does not necessarily answer their prayers all at once.
My friends, that is something we learn from this Psalm. I want to bring before you now some reasons why God doesn't answer our prayers at once. The question now is: why does God keep us waiting in prayer? Why does He not answer our prayers all at once? Why do we have to go on digging in the tunnel week after week, year after year? Are our prayers a mere formality? Do we have Prayer Meetings simply and solely for our own good? Do we never expect to have great answers to our prayers? Shame on us if we pray without faith. God keeps us waiting for five reasons.
First of all, it is good for us as Christians to learn to wait for God; that in itself is a great lesson. Patience for the Christian is a great virtue. Christ and His apostles spoke about these things in their writing: "Ye have need of patience" (Hebrews 10, 36). So we do - we are an impatient lot, all of us. We want to click our fingers and have the answer come down at once but it would not be good for us. It is good for us to have to wait for God to answer our prayers. However, we don't stop asking: we don't give up asking. We continue knocking at His door like the importunate widow. Morning, noon and night we need to come to God, knock on His door and tell Him what we need. We know very well He wont answer until it is good for us, but He will answer us in the end - of that we have no doubt.
The second benefit that comes to us from waiting for answer to prayer: it's good for the soul to learn to cry to God. The difference between one Christian in prayer and another Christian in prayer is very easy to detect. Some people are all struggling in prayer, others, you know at once - they go straight to the door and knock upon it. Some have great difficulty in expressing themselves in prayer; others are so familiar with the activity of prayer you can tell at once. What makes the difference between one and another in prayer? This very thing: to have a soul that has been long in the school of prayer and the school of prayer is God keeping us waiting until we have knocked and knocked and knocked again. He will answer in due time. Meanwhile our souls are getting the good - we are learning godliness in the very exercise.
The third benefit I give you is this: it makes you more spiritual. When we pray for things and God doesn't give them to us and we go on asking, we are becoming more mature, more advanced; we are making progress, spiritual progress. When in Wales a few days ago at a conference I was listening to a faithful man who said something profitable, which I will repeat to you now. He was quoting somebody else and this is what the old Christian had said. "Churches," he said, "are like this, first generation, second generation, third generation. Now," he said, "the first generation of any church is always spiritual. The second generation is learned. The third generation is worldly." That is terribly true. You look at any church and you can see the graph of every church begins high and finishes low - every church in the world. The first generation is spiritual. How does it become spiritual? Wrestling with God in prayer, that is what makes a man spiritual.
I give you a fourth benefit. This exercise of prayer is a sanctifying thing: it prunes and purifies the tree of life within the Christian soul. It takes away the dead wood. Wrestling with the angel of God is good for the soul, good for the spiritual life, sanctifying. Let me give you a text with that. The apostle Paul puts it like this: "Exercise thyself rather unto godliness" (1 Timothy 4, 7). If you are an athlete, a footballer or a sportsman of any kind, of course, you have to exercise. If you are a runner or a jumper, you have to keep running or jumping every day to keep your body in trim. There is no way a footballer can expect to be in the first team if he neglects his exercise. He has got to have athletic exercise otherwise his body deteriorates. So with the soul: "Exercise thyself rather unto godliness" (1 Timothy 4, 7). What is "exercising thyself unto godliness"? It is very largely wrestling with God. That He would do us good, bless us and send down showers of heavenly benediction upon us.
I give you a fifth benefit: it is to make us long for heaven. Sometimes you meet Christians and they seem to be so settled in this life it is as though they are not looking to heaven at all. They are already happy enough. That is atrocious, absolutely atrocious. That is not biblical religion at all. If people are happy in this life, if in every sense of the word they are settled down in this world and they have all they want and they don't really want to die at all - then they are not in the right place before God. No, no! Biblical religion teaches us thirst for heaven and glory. We would rather be absent from the body and present with the Lord - that is biblical religion; that is the religion which our Lord has taught us to strive after in His Word. Whilst then we wait for an answer to our prayers, are there any things that comfort us? It is a difficult thing to be praying to God and not to see answers. I have prayed for forty years or so for revival in this country. I love this country and I shed tears over the state of society. What a nation we used to be: a great empire, although there were sins all over it. What I mean is that some of our forefathers and women too, went all over the world bringing Gospel light to Africa, India, Burma, Australia, New Zealand and America, which was originally one of the colonies of this land. I say these things, not in the interests of patriotism but because this was a great nation based upon the Bible - the Word of God. See how we have declined.
God has not answered this prayer for revival that so many of you, worthier and better people than I, have been praying over these years. We have not seen it, have we? We can't pretend; there is no revival. Let's not deceive ourselves and pretend that things are what they are not. We have seen no answer to the prayers we have prayed these many years. Great and good Mr. McRae of Stornoway, a faithful and worthy warrior of Christ, who died in the 1960's, said at the end of his life, "All my life I have seen the tide go out and I do not yet see it return." What would that faithful man say if he came back to Scotland today? "Tide gone out" - why we have mud flats all around us. Does that mean then we have no comforts because our prayers have not been answered?
I want to give you as I close, three comforts from this passage of Scripture. "But thou art holy, O thou that inhabitest the praises of Israel." Here is the first comfort when our prayers are not apparently answered. God is holy - that is to say, God is jealous for His own glory. God loves His own glory more than everything else - that is His holiness. God's character is unchanged and unchanging. God cannot deny Himself - thank God; He cannot break His promise. I may not see the revival I prayed for, nor may you, but of this we are absolutely convinced, it will come and our prayers will all be answered one day. Take that dear, good man, Arthur W. Pink. He died in Stornoway in the 1950s if I remember correctly. Most, or much, of his life as a Christian minister he just lived in a little room in Stornoway. There he used to write magazines - Studies in the Scriptures; a thousand of these would be done by his wife and himself and they were sent all over the world where people were reading them. He lived on his own there - isolated and lacking friends, many a day overworked and tired, seeing very little and tempted, I am sure, to think that his work was a waste of time. However, hardly had A.W. Pink dropped into his grave when all over the world his books, which were made up of the writings in the magazine, became a profound influence. Thousands of young men and women in Singapore, Hong Kong, India and every other place you can think of are being influenced by his books. Do you see what I am saying? God is holy. He will not suffer the faithfulness of those that are faithful to be lost. We may not get our reward in this life but if we are faithful to Christ, you and I, our labours will be acknowledged by God some day and will be blessed to some generation, if not ours then to another's. There is the comfort, my friend, for you: if you are faithful to Christ and have suffered for His sake - suffered losses and crosses and trials - I say to you, remember that God is holy; you will get your reward for being true and faithful to Him.
The second reward is in verse three again: "O thou that inhabitest the praises of Israel." What does that mean? It means God loves only the worship of those who are His true people. There is a lot of mealy-mouthed talk these days about God accepting the worship of all religions; that is not the teaching of the Word of God. We might wish it was but it is not. God only inhabits the praises of Israel. He only inhabits the praises of those who are in Christ. The Christian religion is the only true religion - let us be assured of that. This unique religion is the religion where God's approval rests and will rest.
The third comfort is this: "Our fathers trusted in thee: they trusted, and thou didst deliver them. They cried unto thee, and were delivered: they trusted in thee, and were not confounded" (verses 4-5). What does this comfort amount to? God has never in the past forsaken His own dear, true, faithful people. Never! Read the Bible and you will see God never forsook those that cried unto Him and laboured for Him and suffered with Him. Take Daniel and his three friends, and the apostles as perfect examples; the Lord never forsook them. They were in terrible straits and difficulties - persecutions and fires and torments - but the Lord was always faithful to them. Take the Covenanters of Scotland: the Lord was with them; they came out of their trials.
My beloved friends, faithful men and women who serve Christ will come out of their trials. "Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye stedfast, unmovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord" (1 Corinthians 15, 58).
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