Sunday, August 26, 2007

Sermon on Psalm 21

Here's the rough text. I'll try to put the audio on tomorrow...

If our lives are less than we want, it is most likely either because we do not see Jesus clearly enough or because we ignore what we do see of him.

If our lives are less than we want, it is most likely either because we do not see Jesus clearly enough or because we ignore what we do see of him.

Let us pray....

This might come as a surprise to you, and it would certainly come as a surprise to some of my lecturers, but the Psalms weren't just stuck together randomly, which is one of the reasons it's such a good idea to work through them in order. We're in Psalm 21 tonight, which is part of a big group of Psalms which are about God's king – David. That's why it says at the top “A Psalm of David”. It won't surprise you to know that Psalm 21 comes just after Psalm 20, and just before Psalm 22. That might sound like the most stupidly, mind-numbingly obvious thing you've ever heard, but it's important and it's easy to miss. We'll come back to it.

So this is a Psalm about God's king, David, and by the looks of it, it's about David just after a battle.

O Lord, the king rejoices in your strength. How great is his joy in the victories you give.

There's loads of stuff in this Psalm we could look at, but we're just going to focus on two things tonight. First, God's king wins because he prays. God's king wins because he prays. Maybe you noticed that. Verses 1-2

O Lord, the king rejoices in your strength. How great is his joy in the victories you give! You have granted him the desire of his heart, and have not withheld the request of his lips.

God's king wins because he prays. He doesn't win because he has the best army, though 1 Chronicles goes on and on about what an impressive army David had. He doesn't win because of his superior wisdom or tactics. He doesn't win because his enemies are weak or stupid. God's king wins because he prays, and because God gives him the victory.

I said that Psalm 21 comes after Psalm 20. Last week, you looked at Psalm 20, and it is obviously set just before a battle.

Psalm 20:4 May he give you the desire of your heart and make all your plans succeed. We will shout for joy when you are victorious, and will lift up our banners in the name of our God. May the Lord grant all your requests. Now I know that the Lord saves his anointed – that's the king again – he answers him from his holy heaven with the saving power of his right hand. Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the LORD our God.

Psalm 20 is before the battle. Psalm 21 is afterwards. In 20:4 they pray that God would give the king the desire of his heart. In 21:2 God has given it to him. In 20:7 they are saying they will stand firm because they trust in the name of the LORD. In 21:7, the king has stood firm because he trusts in the LORD. God's king wins because he prays.

Now I could try to apply this to us, and say that if we pray, we will win. But it's not that simple. We aren't God's king, so we can't just rip this passage out of context and say straight away that it applies to us.

But Jesus is God's king, and this passage is about him.

Something I find really striking about prayer is Jesus and Peter in the garden of Gethsemane. Flick to Mark 14 if you want – we're not going to be there long.

It's the night before Jesus dies. He knows he is going to be betrayed and arrested and killed, and he tells the disciples. Peter says to him v31 “even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you”. Then Jesus goes to Gethsemane and prays. Peter goes with him, but he can't stay awake. Jesus says v38 “watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” Peter falls asleep again Jesus gets arrested. Peter follows him. Jesus keeps going through his trial and execution. Peter doesn't. Peter denies he even knows Jesus. Jesus prayed. Jesus kept going. Peter didn't pray. Peter dropped out. God's king wins because he prays.

But we don't just see it there. The Resurrection happened because Jesus prayed. Hebrews 5:7 – you don't need to turn to it.

During the days of Jesus' life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears to the one who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission.

The resurrection happened because Jesus prayed. God's king wins because he prays. And you know what? That is a great reason for us to be encouraged. Jesus prays. Jesus wins because he prays. God gives him victory. God gives him the desire of his heart and does not withhold the request of his lips. And do you know what Jesus is praying for right now?


Romans 8, from v31.

What, then, shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all – how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who is he that condemns? Christ Jesus, who died – more than that, who was raised to life – is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. Jesus is praying for us. He is praying that those who trust in him will not be condemned, that we will be forgiven and that we will not be separated from his love.

It has been a great encouragement to me over this last year to have some of you folks praying for me. I know the week or so after I send out a prayer letter, I am always hugely encouraged and really want to know God much more.

But how much more of an encouragement should it be to me that Jesus Christ, God's anointed king over the whole universe, that Jesus Christ is praying for me. And God's king wins, because he prays.

If you are a Christian here tonight, be very encouraged because Jesus Christ is praying for you. It doesn't matter what situation you are in, or how bad things are. Jesus is still praying for you, and Jesus wins because he prays.

Of course, if Jesus wins because he prays, that is really challenging to me because I don't pray anywhere near enough. And prayer is one of those things it's really easy to get into an unhealthy guilt trip about, so I'm not going to spend a lot of time on it; I'm just going to share with you something that happened to me the other day. It was the week after I'd sent out my prayer letter, so this isn't to my credit at all. This is because you guys were praying for me. It was about 10 o'clock at night. I was in bed, and I wasn't feeling very tired. And I was reminded of how important prayer is, and I was starting to think about this sermon, so I decided to pray for a bit. To start with I aimed for 11pm, but I ended up going on past midnight. I prayed through the passage, through difficult issues in my life, for friends who I knew were having a hard time. And that night was so encouraging, and helped me so much, but I'm so rubbish at getting down to prayer that I haven't done that again since.

If we want to spend time in prayer, we need to make time for prayer. I don't know what your prayer lives are like – I imagine some of you are much better at it than me, and some of you are still learning. But why don't we all agree, between us and God, and if you've got an accountability partner or a husband or wife or something, agree with them too to spend more time in prayer. Lets all agree to set aside more time every day for prayer. Maybe first thing in the morning or last thing at night, because those don't tend to get pushed as much. Maybe during the lunch break. Maybe agreeing to spend an hour a week in prayer with a friend. Maybe making sure you pray through your day before checking your e-mail in the morning. When I was in 6th form, I quit my morning paper round because it was making me too tired, but that time was great for reading the Bible and praying. But whatever it is, we desperately need to pray more, so set aside time to do it.

God's king wins because he prays. So we should be confident because God's king Jesus is praying for us and we should pray because prayer matters.

Secondly, God's king wins, so he rejoices.

O Lord, the king rejoices in your strength. How great is his joy in the victories you give. You have granted him the desire of his heart and have not withheld the request of his lips. You welcomed him with rich blessings, and placed a crown of pure gold upon his head. He asked you for life and you gave it to him – length of days for ever and ever. Through the victories you gave, his glory is great; you have bestowed on him splendour and majesty. Surely you have granted him eternal blessings and made him glad with the joy of your presence.

I don't know about you, but the way I think of Jesus is often messed up. I think of him as a guy who walked around Israel healing people and teaching, which he was, or as God who died on the cross for my sins, then rose again, which is true because he is. Or as the one who is in heaven, praying for me and so I can come into God's presence and speak to God. And that's amazing, and that's true.

But when I think of Jesus, I tend to think of him as a man of sorrows, which he was. I don't think of him as rejoicing. I was chatting about this to a friend the other day, and she said that Jesus is the happiest guy she knows. Isn't that striking? Right now, Jesus is rejoicing in the victory he has won, the victory over sin and over death and over the devil, the victory that is being worked out in our lives and that means if we trust Jesus, we will be in glory with him. Listen to Hebrews 12:2.

Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.

Jesus went through the cross because of the joy set before him. It's like if you know there's a really exciting ride at a theme park, it's worth queuing for. If there's a really nice place to go on holiday, it's worth being stuck on a plane with your face in someone else's armpit and a baby vomiting all over you for a few hours to get there. It's like with Jacob and Rachel in Genesis. Genesis 29:20

So Jacob served 7 years to get Rachel, but they seemed like only a few days to him, because of his love for her.

It's like that with Jesus – because he knew how much joy there was in the victory, he was willing to go through the cross to get there.

Right now, Jesus is rejoicing in the victory he has won. He doesn't mind what it cost – it is worth it. And what it cost him was betrayal, humiliation, shame, suffering and dying a horrible death under God's judgement.

We're looking at Psalm 21. Psalm 20 – God's king prays for victory. Psalm 21 – God's king rejoices in the victory. Psalm 22 – the Psalm Jesus quoted as he was dying – God's king dies on the way to victory.

But what makes this victory so joyful? Lets look at Psalm 21 in more detail.

verse 1 – the king rejoices in God's strength, and in the victory he gives. Verse 2 because God answers prayer. Verse 3 because God welcomes the king and places a crown of pure gold on his head – that's a symbol of victory here. Verse 4 – more answered prayer. Verse 5 – victory, glory, splendour, majesty.

Verse 6.

Surely you have granted him eternal blessings and made him glad with the joy of your presence.

The key factor in all this joy is that it is the joy of God's presence. It is the joy not just of knowing about God – that God is strong, that God is victorious, not just the joy of knowing God, but of being with God. It is the joy of being welcomed by God, the creator of the universe, the one who alone gives the victory, the mighty God over everything. Imagine the most amazing, the most wonderful person you possibly can, and they don't even come close If you're in love with someone, you really enjoy spending time with them. But God is far more wonderful than anyone you have ever loved.

Being welcomed by him, knowing the joy of his presence, enjoying being with God. That is the joy that was set before David here. That was the joy that was set before Jesus, but not just the joy of him being with God, because he had that from the beginning, but the joy of us sharing in being with God and rejoicing in God too.

God's king wins, so he rejoices.

So if Jesus went through humiliation, through suffering and through death because of this amazing joy that was set before him, if right now he is rejoicing in being with God and because we can be with God too and we can share in his joy and in his victory, that raises one big question in my mind.

Why on earth are we so miserable?

I mean, I'm not saying we should always walk around with plastic smiles on our faces or something. And yes, things go wrong, and yes, Jesus has gone through suffering and death to glory and joy, but we're following and in a sense we're not there yet because we've still got suffering and we've still got to die and although we can see the end, there's still a bit of a way to go, but why aren't we excited about it?

Little kids are great, because they are useless at hiding what they feel. You see a kid about to go on a ride they are really looking forwards to, and they're jumping all over the place and they're really excited, and they can't stop talking about it or asking “are we nearly there yet”. Why aren't we like that?

As far as I can see, either it is because we aren't that excited at the greatest news that anyone has ever heard or because we've got very good at hiding it. And both of those alternatives are pointless and stupid, and I think with most of us it's a bit of both. So spend time thinking about how amazing God's victory is, how amazing God is and how wonderful it is that we can be with him. Spend time enjoying God's presence. And don't be embarrassed about being excited about what God has done. Look, if there is anything in the whole history of the entire universe that is worth getting excited about, it is this. (I give you permission to get excited about being with God.)

I mean – what could be better? God, the most amazing person in the whole universe, has made it so that we can be with him. It's much better than meeting your favourite celebrity, or even getting to know them as a friend or live with them. This is God we're talking about here!

When I lived round here, I used to go to the monthly church prayer meetings. And they are really important, and it was great that the numbers kept on going up, and there was loads that was good about them.

There was one thing that always upset me though, and that was how little time we actually spent praying. If we had 30 minutes to pray about a topic, someone would stand up and speak for 20 minutes and then we'd pray for 10 minutes, which I always thought suggested that they liked hearing the sound of their own voice twice as much as they liked praying to God.

But looking back, I was wrong. What should have upset me more was that when we just had a time where we weren't told what to pray for except to praise God, that so few people prayed. We saw praying to God for stuff as more important than rejoicing in who God is and what he has done. And sometimes, yes, we can be so overwhelmed with stuff in our minds that we need to commit it to God first.

But surely rejoicing in who God is and what he has done is the main point. I mean, if God is the kind of trustworthy God it's worth praying to, and he is, then surely he's worth praising too! And it is when we spend time praising God and rejoicing in his presence and telling others how amazing he is that our attitudes are right so that we pray properly.

Look at the people in the Psalm – not the king, the normal people, the people singing it. Actually, their situation is a lot like ours. They aren't there yet either. They still have a whole load of enemies to deal with. Just look at verses 8-12.

But they're still praising God. They're singing this Psalm. How do they react to these enemies? They pray to God about them, and they don't worry about them at all. They know God has got it sorted.

Your hand will lay hold on all your enemies, your right hand will seize your foes. At the time of your appearing, you will make them like a firey furnace. In his wrath, the Lord will swallow them up, and his fire will consume them. You will destroy their descendants from the earth, their posterity from mankind. Though they plot evil against you, and devise wicked schemes, they cannot succeed; for you will make them turn their backs when you aim at them with drawn bow.

These people have seen God's victory. They have seen that God's king wins, so they don't worry about the future.

What do they do? They sing and praise God's might. They rejoice.

God's king wins, so God's people trust him, we pray to him and we rejoice in him.

I've been to quite a few services at St Mary's over the years. And they mostly end the same way. There's a final hymn, we say a short prayer, the guy who led and the preacher walk over to that door. Then some people, usually the people who are here because they're getting married soon or something, try to make a quick exit before anyone talks to them. We're not actually that scary, you know! Everyone else stays really quiet for about a minute, then starts chatting to someone sitting near them about football, or the week, or the weather, or exam results, or something like that. It's a lot better than some of the churches I've been to, where people just chat to people they already know well, because then it's really hard to feel like anything except an outsider. But that's not how I want us to do it tonight, because it's really easy if God's been speaking to you or challenging you just to forget about it and not let it affect your life. So what I'm going to suggest is that at the end of the service, if you've got to leave in a hurry, that's fine. But I guess that some people here tonight feel that God has been speaking to them. Maybe you're not a Christian, and you've realised that actually if Christianity is that exciting, you'd like to do something about it. Maybe you are a Christian and God has been challenging you about something in your life, and you know that you don't want to let it go without changing. Maybe you've been reminded of what an awesome God we serve, of what he has done for us, and you just want to praise God and recommit yourself to follow him. If that's you - I'd like you to pray about it with someone, or get them to pray for you. It could be your husband or your wife, it could be a good friend who's a Christian, it could be me or one of the prayer team who are going to be over there after the service. We're happy to pray for anyone who wants praying for.

So if you're wanting to catch up with a friend after the service, ask if you can pray for them first, because it might be that God has been really challenging them and they need someone to pray with. If you don't want to pray with anyone, that's fine too, but I'd ask that you give people who do want to pray the space to do that before you grab them to chat about the footie. God's king wins, because he prays. David won because he prayed. Jesus kept going through suffering and death because he prayed. Jesus rose from the dead because he prayed. Now he is praying for us, so we can be very confident in God, and we can see something of how important prayer is.

God's king wins, so he rejoices. He rejoices in God's presence, in how amazing God is, and because we can share in God's presence and in his joy too. Shouldn't we rejoice and praise God?

Lets just have a short time of silence, then I'll pray and we'll do some rejoicing and praising God by singing our final hymn...


Daniel Hill said...

Great sermon, John, though I was a bit disappointed that there was one word from the psalm that you didn't comment on. . . .

John said...

If I've only got 25 minutes or so, my preaching is application-driven, so I don't tend to include discussions of Selah and so on. I'd have been happy to answer questions on it at the time, but no-one asked them.

Daniel Hill said...

Well done! You guessed what it was! (Since it wasn't included in the reading I doubt many others missed it.)

What do you think 'selah' means?

John said...

I asked for it to be marked by a pause in the reading...

I don't think we have enough information to say exactly what it means, and Psalm 21 is one of the times when it doesn't obviously mark a thematic shift (as it sometimes does).

My best guess would be "musical interlude" or something of that ilk.

Jackie Bledsoe, Jr. (@jbledsoejr) said...

This was great! I felt God was leading me to read Psalm 21 this morning, so I did. but did not know much.about the background, or have an understanding. so I searched and came across this post. thank you for a great and clear word.