The triumphant King - Psalm 118

This is a sermon by Nathan Buttery from the morning service on 15th July 2001.

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John Jadnanansing is a very fortunate man. Some months ago John was a homeless man living in Amsterdam, but now he is set to become a multi millionaire. He had slept rough for five years until he had the bright idea of applying for the rights to market a wide range of products bearing the name Teletubbies, the children’s TV series. A while ago John saw a niche in the market before Teletubbies went big and decided to apply for the rights. After all he had nothing to lose. He did it just a few months before the BBC could register their application. And a Dutch court has just ruled that John the homeless hobo from Amsterdam is the legal holder of the rights to market virtually all Teletubbies products. John’s lawyer said: "He is a clever and honest man with good ideas. He [simply] saw the opportunity before Teletubbies became popular in Britain." The decision of the court in John’s favour means that all the BBC have left is the rights to sell Teletubbies dairy products and Teletubbies children’s first aid plasters in Belgium and Luxembourg only.

Well I guess the reason that story makes us smile is that we love it when the underdog wins, as here a hopeless, homeless man from Holland takes on the might of the BBC and wins! And as we come to Psalm 118 this morning we find that we are reading about a victory against the odds, a hopeless situation turned into an incredible victory. But the difference with this psalm is that it is not the cunning of a lawyer or a determined homeless man that has conquered against the odds, it is God himself who has brought hope to the hopeless. And as a result we are reading a psalm of thanksgiving. It is a psalm of great joy after a victory won. Now as we read it through you may have been slightly baffled about its contents. Just what is going on in this psalm? Well we’re not told who wrote it, but it is very possible that this is another of David’s psalms. And it appears that David is looking back to the past and seeing how God has rescued him from danger. He is giving thanks to God for God’s rescue of him. It’s possible too that he is casting his mind back further to the rescue of God’s people from Egypt. The Jews used this psalm during their Passover festivals, when they remembered how God had brought them out of Egypt. And the King and his people would sing this Psalm as they went in a great procession at the festival time through the gates of the city to the Temple, remembering God’s past faithfulness, rather like victorious football teams parade through their cities showing off their trophies with their manager at the front. This is a victory parade led by the King himself rejoicing in God’s victory.

But whether it is psalm giving thanks for God’s victory over the Egyptians or in David’s personal life, yet there is an added dimension which we find in the NT. For over the last few months we have seen that whilst these psalms were first written for their own generation, yet they speak beyond it about someone far greater. And this Psalm is again no exception. For the NT, with 12 quotes from this Psalm, makes it clear that God has performed an even greater rescue for his people in Jesus Christ. The King in the psalm giving thanks to God for victory is not David only, but David’s greater descendant- Jesus himself. Even the Jews themselves recognised that this psalm was messianic. It looked forward beyond David to a greater King. God would bring about an even greater Exodus through his King Jesus. He would be the triumphant King who would lead his people in a joyful victory. So as we come to look at this psalm this morning we’ll discover four things which we Christians can thank God for, all of which he has done through his Son Jesus Christ.

 

1) A Limitless Love (vv 1-4)

2) A Remarkable Rescue (vv 5-16)

3) An Amazing Achievement (vv 17-21)

4) A Fabulous Future (vv 22-29)

 

 

1) A Limitless Love (vv 1-4)

So first, then, a limitless love. Verse 1: "Give thanks to the Lord for he is good; his love endures forever." This is the psalmist’s main theme which runs through the whole psalm and he ends up by saying the same thing at the end. Verse 29: "Give thanks to the Lord for he is good; his love endures forever." Thankfulness to the Lord runs throughout the psalm like a silver thread. And this phrase "his loves endures forever" was like a catch phrase for the Old Testament believers. It was a saying which they would say to each other as they met together. And so here the psalmist asks three different sections of the people to confess God’s limitless love- the people of Israel together, the priests and then everyone, all confessing God’s amazing enduring love. Of all the qualities of God that the psalmist wanted to proclaim, this was it- his love. God’s victory that the psalmist sings of with all the people is a mark of his incredible love. And the OT people of God knew this love very deeply. Time and again they had let God down, and yet he had shown his love to them faithfully and limitlessly down the years. Though they were like rebellious children, yet God’s love never waned. And the people rejoiced in that love.

And we Christians should be no less joyful about this incredible love of God. In fact, in many ways we should be even more amazed than these OT believers. For they looked forward to what we know. They hoped for the Messiah who would come and rescue them. We have heard him and know him, Jesus the rescuer King. And nothing shows more clearly the incredible love of God than the cross of Christ. We need not be in any doubt whatsoever of God’s enduring love for us, a love which is as limitless as eternity itself. Has it ever struck just what that love is like? It is a love which loves despite what we have done. It is a love which never falters or grows cold. It is as if God takes us to himself and swears to us that he will have us for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health. And he never breaks his word. Often I examine my own heart and think to myself: "What could God want with me, a sinful rebellious, evil human being that I am?" And yet I reminded that God says to me: "I love you because I love you." Do you know that love, not just in your mind, but in your heart. Do you truly know and rejoice that God loves you? He does! Believe it.

I read a story recently about a couple who spent years of their lives as foster parents rearing children. One time they were asked to foster two twin baby boys aged eighteen months. The first night the babies were with them they were put to bed and not a peep came out of room. The husband was curious and went up to the bedroom, only to find both boys wide awake, their pillows wet with tears, though not making a sound. It turned out that they had been beaten for crying in several of the homes they had stayed in before, and this house was their ninth. Testing showed that they were irreparably damaged emotionally and intellectually. But after two years with this loving couple the babies were said to be normal in terms of their emotional and intellectual status. All because they knew the love of kind foster parents. And it is only as we grow in the knowledge of God’s love that we will come to maturity as Christians in every way. "Give thanks to the Lord for he is good; his love endures forever." That’s the first thing we’re to thank God for: His limitless love.

 

2) A Remarkable Rescue (vv 5-16)

But the second reason to give thanks from this psalm is a remarkable rescue in verses 5-16. Now let’s notice first just what an impossible position our psalmist is in. Humanly speaking there is nothing that he could have done to help himself. Verse 5: "In my anguish I cried to the Lord." He was in anguish with nowhere else to turn. Verse 10: "All the nations surrounded me…" Verse 11: "They surrounded me on every side…." Verse 12: "They swarmed around me like bees…" Verse 13: "I was pushed back and about to fall….." There is no doubt that he was in difficulties. He could turn nowhere else. All was lost, or so it seemed. And yet where does the psalmist turn for help? It is to the Lord. Fourteen times verse 5-16 the Lord is mentioned. It is very clear that help comes from him alone. No-one else can provide the help the psalmist needs. And so throughout the verses we see the Lord answering in amazing ways. Verse 5: "The Lord answered me and set me free." Verses 10-12, it is in the name of the Lord that the psalmist defeated his enemies, and verse 13 makes it clear what that means: "The Lord helped me." So verse 14, he can conclude: "The Lord is my strength and song; he has become my salvation. So God alone can provide this remarkable rescue.

Now when we see these words fulfilled in the life of Jesus we see the same principles at work on the cross. Humanly speaking the cross is a hopeless disaster isn’t it? The whole thing looks ridiculous. People have always mocked Christians for believing that the cross is a victory. One of the earliest pieces of anti Christian graffiti is a picture of a man kneeling before a figure on a cross. The figure on the cross has the body of a man but the head of an ass. And the caption below the picture reads: "Alexamenos worships his God." And yet what happened? Was it all foolishness? No! Through the cross God brings about his great rescue plan. He brings his Son back to life and shows him to be the King over death and sin. In the weakness of the cross there is an incredible power. So King Jesus can say in the words of this psalm: "I was pushed back and about to fall, but the Lord helped me. The Lord is my strength and my song. He has become my salvation." We Christian people can shout out loud the words of verse 15: "The Lord’s right hand has done mighty things." This is God’s work. It is he who has performed an incredible, and remarkable rescue. And so we can now say: "In my anguish I called to the Lord, and he answered by setting me free."

So where must we turn for help? Well to God and his King, Jesus. He has provided a remarkable rescue for us. But before we move on, we need to remember that this principle of a remarkable rescue continues onwards in our Christian lives. It is not as if we receive the rescue and then gambol freely on our way like carefree lambs. No once we have turned to the Lord for help then we should always turn to him for help. Notice what the psalmist says in verse 8: "It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in man. It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in princes." We should not trust in ourselves. We should entrust ourselves to the Lord. He’s the one who will help us, not those who seem powerful and strong.

I’ve been reading the Chronicles of Narnia by CS Lewis these past few weeks. And throughout those books, CS Lewis paints the Lord Jesus is a very beautiful way as a strong lion called Aslan, fierce with his enemies and yet gentle with his friends. And one of the most moving of the scenes in the books is when one of the characters, Jill, is desperately thirsty and she comes across a stream, and yet lying between her and the stream is a large lion, Aslan. The story goes on: "Are you not thirsty?" said the Lion. "I’m dying of thirst," said Jill. "Then drink," said the Lion. "… [W]ould you mind going away while I do?" said Jill. The Lion answered this only by a look and very low growl….. "Will you promise not to- do anything to me, if I do come?" said Jill. "I make no promise," said the Lion. Jill was so thirsty now that, without noticing it, she had come a step nearer. "Do you eat girls?" "I have swallowed up girls and boys, women and men, kings and emperors, cities and realms," said the Lion. It didn’t say this as if it were boasting, nor if it were sorry, nor as if it were angry. It just said it. "I dare not come and drink," said Jill. "Then you will die of thirst," said the Lion. "Oh dear," said Jill.. "Then I suppose I must go and search for another stream." "There is no other stream," said the Lion. All too often we like Jill refuse to come to the only source of help and satisfaction. And yet there is no other place to come to for help and rescue, both to start the Christian life and to go on in the Christian life. Are you trusting yourself at the moment, or are you trusting the Lord who is your helper?

For he’s one who has provided a most remarkable rescue and he’s the one who always promises to be our helper. A remarkable rescue.

 

3)An Amazing Achievement (vv 17-21)

But then thirdly we discover the next reason to give thanks is for an amazing achievement. And the achievement of the remarkable rescue can be seen in verses 17-21. Now in its original context, David is rejoicing that through God’s rescue of him he has not seen death. Yes, the Lord may have disciplined him severely, yet ultimately God has rescued him. And then he has rejoiced at being able to go again into the Temple to meet with his God. And he says that only the righteous can enter this holy place. And it’s no wonder he rejoices. And yet this side of the death and resurrection of Jesus, we can see even greater blessings than a literal rescue and entering the Temple. First, we’re free from death. We can rejoice in the fact that we need not face spiritual death because someone else has died that death for us. We can rejoice that because of what Jesus has done. We can say: "I will not die but live." And that is one of the most amazing achievements of the cross. For the fact is that we must and should die for our sin. We deserve eternal punishment. Such is the horror of our sin to God. And yet on the cross Jesus took the punishment we deserved, dying where we should have been so we would not have to face the wrath of God. We saw that in much fuller detail when we looked at Psalm 22. There we saw that Jesus cried out "My God, my God why have you forsaken me?", all for us. And the result is that we don’t have to face that hell ourselves.

But secondly, we’re free to go in. In verse 20, the implication is that we who are declared righteous in God’s sight can go into the Temple. We have been cleaned up and justified, in the Bible’s language. Declared to be free from sin because of Jesus’ death on the cross. And the result is that we can now have access to God. The way to him is open. Someone has gone through the curtain separating us from God and torn it down. That’s the second amazing achievement of this remarkable rescue. And of course it is all too easy for us to be rather blasé about our privilege as Christians. The fact that we can have a relationship with God in the first place is an amazing gift of God himself. The fact we can pray is an awesome result of the cross. It would do us no harm at all to remember when we come to pray that the only reason we can do it and be heard is through Jesus’ death on the cross. For the barrier between us and God has been torn down and we can now enter the gate of the Lord because we’ve been declared righteous. So let’s use the privilege and rejoice in it.

Imagine for one moment that this week I get an invitation through the post, and it is from the Queen. And it is an invitation to come for tea at Buckingham Palace. She’s heard about my amazing skills on the football pitch and wants to meet me. And so I stop everything and drive to London. But when I get to the front of the Palace, there is a turnstile asking visitors to pay £10. So I start fishing in my wallet through all the cobwebs for a £10 note. But at that moment, the Queen comes out and says: "Nathan, what are you doing? You don’t need to pay. I’ve invited you in. Come and enjoy tea with me." You see, I’ve been given entry by the Queen herself. I don’t need to pay to get in, nor should I hesitate to go straight in. The way is open. Go in. And so it is with God. The way is open. We don’t need to pay to get in, nor should we hesitate. Rather we should rejoice that we have free access to God and can delight in his awesome friendship. An amazing achievement- free from death and free to go in.

 

4) A Fabulous Future (vv 22-27)

Then lastly, we have a fabulous future, verses 22-27. Its these verses which the NT writers uses to explain the work of Jesus and God’s rescue of him, but they also look forward to a great future. Verse 22 will be most familiar to us. "The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone." For David, it appears that the leaders of the land rejected him at some stage, and yet now God has appointed him as the King. But in Jesus we find it’s ultimate fulfilment. Jesus himself told a parable about his own death in Mark 12. There the point is that the leaders are the ones who have rejected the Messiah, Jesus. They did it literally when they put him to death. And yet the one mankind rejects, is the very one who becomes the capstone, the most important stone in the building. God’s rejected King becomes God’s triumphant King. So we read in verse 23 that "the Lord has done this and it is marvellous in our eyes. This is the day that the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it." It is indeed a great day. God has established Jesus as his triumphant King. He is alive and reigns forever. And how do the people respond in verse 25? Well they joyfully anticipate the coming of this great King. "Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord…" Verse 27: "The Lord is God and he has made his light to shine upon us." God’s people have a wonderful future to look forward with Jesus as their King. And of course in Jesus’ own day there was great rejoicing when Jesus entered Jerusalem and all the crowds were saying: "Hosanna, which means O Lord save us! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord." Sadly many of those people then turned against Jesus. But for those of us who know and love the King, then his return, when he comes back to us in glory will be a wonderful thing. We’ll be taken to be with him forever, and we’ll join in the great celebration that will begin for ever.

And yet there is a flip side to the triumphant King’s return. For the only time when Jesus uses verse 26 of himself is in the context of judgement. It comes in Matthew 23. Jesus has just condemned the leaders for hypocrisy. And at the end of this long denunciation he says: "I tell you, you will not see me again until you say: ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.’" The point Jesus is making is that his next return will not just be as the triumphant King gathering his people, but also as the just judge, who will judge those who have not accepted him. He’ll begin with the leaders, and work his way through everyone. Yes for those who trust in this great King Jesus there is a fabulous future. A future of delighting in our great King who died for us. And yet for others there will be the desperate realisation that they have missed the boat and that they rejected the King while there was still time. Well which camp are you in? Those who look forward to his coming, or those who will fear it? Today is a day in which to change camps and bow the knee before the triumphant King before it’s too late. And then you too can enjoy a fabulous future.

So, four reasons to give thanks this morning from this psalm. We can rejoice in a limitless love, we can delight in a remarkable rescue, we can enjoy an amazing achievement and we can look forward to a fabulous future. "Give thanks to the Lord for he is good: his love endures forever."

 


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