The God who is Unchanging - Psalm 102
I'd like to ask a question this evening: How do we deal with challenges & tough situations in the world & in our lives? (How do we face difficulties?)
Given the inevitability of hard times living in this broken world, these are questions everyone needs to ask.
Tragically for many today living simply for what can be seen & touched, there is very little to rely upon when life gets hard, there is no one adequate to turn to for security, stability & confidence.
When money can't get you what you want, when other people fail, many today have nowhere to go.
This evening as we conclude our series "Who is the true God?" we're going to see something of the difference it makes belonging to the true God & knowing what the true God is like.
To do that we're going to look at Psalm 102 (p604).
In this Psalm we find a man who was facing serious difficulty some 2to 3 K years ago. But also we find a person who knew where to turn or more significantly who to turn to & why when things in his life seemed to have gone pear shaped.
The problem; v 3-11
Now and again you hear of a person whose life seems to be full of trouble there's not just one question or issue that challenges them but a whole succession of problems seems to be their lot. Well, here is a man who is really going through it. Life feels very difficult indeed.
V 3 "For my days vanish like smoke; my bones burn like glowing embers" & v5 "Because of my loud groaning I am reduced to skin and bones." Whatever his problems they make him feel ill like he has a fever, as if he's undernourished.
The writer feels lonely like a solitary bird; v6 "I am like a desert owl, like an owl among the ruins. 7I lie awake; I have become like a bird alone on a roof."
What's more his situation makes him feel the darkness of depression.
Anyone who's been through times of what one psychiatrist has called the "masks of melancholy" must recognize the language of v4 "My heart is blighted and withered like grass; I forget to eat my food." (P)
Now it's not completely clear what's causing him to react like this; But what he tells us is that he has opponents; v8 "All day long my enemies taunt me; those who rail against me use my name as a curse."
And he feels like God is angry with him v9 "For I eat ashes as my food and mingle my drink with tears 10because of your great wrath,
for you have taken me up and thrown me aside."
The result is that he feels his life is passing away v11 "My days are like the evening shadow; I wither away like grass."
This is real, raw suffering! Here is a man painfully going through the mill! (P)
What we read here is a reminder that believers are not spared all hardship. That might seem obvious but there is a cruel & wrong teaching around in some church circles that Christians should always have a smooth path, always be comfortably off, always have all the possessions they need, always be in good health.
This idea has become quite popular, yet it is bizarre when you read the Bible.
Some people seem to forget that we are not in heaven yet! We have a great many blessings because we belong to Jesus, but this is still a broken world we can't expect all the promises to be fulfilled when Jesus returns, to be ours now.
If you're still in doubt think of the life of Jesus himself he never put a foot wrong but he was rejected, opposed, suffered & ended up being unjustly killed. Jesus' example & teaching, illustrated in Christian experience, shows the reality & inevitability of difficulty in the life of a believer not least here in Ps 102.
Difficulties & challenges then, will come to all of us. If we're not facing them now, we shall at some time.
Did you notice before the psalm itself, it has a title which is part of the original text; "A prayer of an afflicted man. When he is faint and pours out his lament before the LORD." So these lines give us words to use to help express our feelings when we're facing difficulty & also they can help us to empathize with others.
But what is the response of the psalm writer as a believer in the true God in his struggles?
1) Pray to the true God v1-2
v1 "Hear my prayer, O LORD; let my cry for help come to you. 2Do not hide your face from me when I am in distress. Turn your ear to me; when I call, answer me quickly."
Is that the first thing you do when problems come? How foolish not to? J
Often when we have a problem we try to talk to someone about it? Well, we can have the greatest listener who knows all about our situation the true & living God, the creator and rescuer of the world.
We need reminding to pray though, don't we? At one level prayer is, natural for the Christian, we want to talk with our heavenly Father, to pour out our hearts to him & express our relationship with him, but at the same time in our weakness it can seem like the very last thing we feel like doing.
We can easily get discouraged, so, as we plead with God in words like those of v1 "Hear my prayer, O LORD; let my cry for help come to you", the promise of v17 is great one to hold onto; "He will respond to the prayer of the destitute; he will not despise their plea."
When there is a genuine and open asking in prayer, God will hear.
It was William Temple the Archbishop of York in the middle of the last century who famously said, "when I pray coincidences happen; when I cease to pray coincidences don't!"
We may not get what we want, when we want it; but God's promise is that he will listen and act as he knows best.
We can ask for a swift answer if we think we need one, as the Psalm writer does in v2 "when I call, answer me quickly." But don't complain if God thinks it wiser to delay. CH Spurgeon, often thought of as the greatest Christian communicator of the 19th C, once said; In prayer "we have permission to request ... but no right to dictate."
So learning from this Psalm, when we're in difficulty we can & should pray, trusting in God's promises.
But also we see the need to;
2) Recall the truth of God's purposes.
Having expressed his own sense of weakness & honestly poured out his own thoughts & feelings the Psalm writer says v12 "But you, O LORD,"
His perspective deliberately turns to God, the LORD, the faithful, caring covenant God who sits "enthroned forever" whose renown will v13 "endure through all generations."
This believer illustrates one of the great spiritual secrets of living in this world; Don't focus on yourself, your weakness, your sin, your trouble, don't even focus on your qualities, your patience, your endurance, your faith, all these things will disappoint. Instead focus on the true God - for there in Him lies stability & encouragement in trouble.
That little 3 letter word is often a significant one in the Bible; "But". We hear the afflicted writer pour his heart out; "My heart is blighted", "I am reduced to skin & bones", I eat ashes as my food" "I wither away like grass" 12But you, O LORD, sit enthroned forever; your renown endures through all generations."
Now he needs this perspective because it seems part of the depression this man faced was due not just because of his own, private struggles but also because of the state of the people of God the Church if you like.
V 13 "You will arise and have compassion on Zion, for it is time to show favour to her; the appointed time has come. 14For her stones are dear to your servants; her very dust moves them to pity."
Zion, Jerusalem, the place where God was understood to dwell in a special way amongst his people, is not as it should be. The people were meant to show the reality of God to the world but they have failed to live up to their high calling. The City where they live had fallen in some way on hard times.
But the writer knows that because God is the LORD, because he is faithful to his special covenant agreement, v15 "The nations will fear the name of the LORD, all the kings of the earth will revere your glory. 16For the LORD will rebuild Zion and appear in his glory."
Despite appearances the future is bright (not orange!). It's bright because God has a purpose he will rebuild his people Zion & glory will go to the true God as is his right. (p)
And what's more, looking further ahead v21 "So the name of the LORD will be declared in Zion and his praise in Jerusalem 22when the peoples and the kingdoms assemble to worship the LORD."
Things may seem depressing now, God's people may not be what they should be, the world may look on in scorn or indifference at God's people but it will not always be so.
Here are words which look forward to what God was going to do centuries later & what even as we live in 2003AD, he is still going to do in the future.
These words were fulfilled partly as God's people were brought back to the land after a period of exile, but more significantly they are fulfilled in the coming of Jesus who thorough his death & resurrection has made a people for himself; a people made up of all kinds, all ages, all races, all backgrounds. Jesus who is rebuilding "Zion" God's people, to be a light to the world showing something of the reality of God to a world in need. Jesus on whose return, v22 all "the peoples and the kingdoms" will recognize the true God & will "assemble to worship the LORD".
This is the perspective to hold onto when things are tough when we are facing challenges, when God's people don't seem to be fulfilling their role it will not always be like this!
As we saw when we considered the truth that the living God is the God who restores from Rev 21 God will create a new community of his people centered on Jesus in a restored creation, all sharing a restored relationship with himself.
The true God has done something decisive in Jesus, he has begun to show the world his reality & one day that will be completely fulfilled. (P)
It has been said that "The Bible speaks to us, the psalms speak for us" The Psalms help put into words, our thoughts & God's truths that can help us when we are facing life's challenges & joys. What we see here in Ps 102 is honest, believing prayer & the hope that comes from focusing on God & the promises of his word rather than our own situations.
But this is not the end of the story with this ancient poetic prayer.
You see here is not just a man in trouble who prays & trusts God. We are to see him pointing to a unique believer who faced untold trouble & indeed suffered like no other. A unique man who prayed & trusted God, but who is actually the one who himself fulfils the promises & hope in these lines.
In the NT letter to the Hebrews (as we read) the writer encourages his readers to hold onto Jesus, as they face persecution & problems, because in a word he is the greatest! He quotes the words of this psalm to make his point. The writer has God the Father speaking to Jesus; God the Son v25-27 "In the beginning you laid the foundations of the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands. 26They will perish, but you remain; they will all wear out like a garment. Like clothing you will change them and they will be discarded. 27But you remain the same, and your years will never end."
Do you see the point? This Psalm is about Jesus. Jesus the one who through whom the world was made & who is eternal & changeless.
After his rising from the dead, Jesus had breakfast on the beach with his disciples & he said to them; Lk24:44 "This is what I told you while I was still with you; everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the prophets & the Psalms".
These words then are about Jesus. Jesus God's Kingly messiah, the exact representation of God as a human being, the one through whom all things were made & who holds all things together.
And in particular Jesus the one who had to suffer to bring forgiveness of sins, as is our focus as we share bread & wine in Communion this eve;
Look at v8 of Ps 102 v8 "All day long my enemies taunt me; those who rail against me use my name as a curse. 9For I eat ashes as my food and mingle my drink with tears" And ultimately dying; v10because of your (God's) great wrath, for you have taken me up and thrown me aside."
When Jesus died he was cut off from God by the rebellion & sin of human beings. He took in himself God's wrath (his right anger against sin) - that we might be free & know God.
"My God my God why have you forsaken me?" he shouted from the cross; for at that time, the sinless one became a sinner. He was forsaken in place of those who deserved forsaking. Jesus' death & then his rising again was so that those who trust him might live for ever with him; v27 (remember spoken in the NT about Jesus) "But you remain the same, and your years will never end. 28The children of your servants will live in your presence; their descendants will be established before you."
Who is the true God? He is as we have seen over these past weeks the one who creates, speaks, rules, and judges. He is the God who rescues, transforms & relates.
He is the God who makes himself known supremely in Jesus the Son, who cares for his rescued people & in his unchangeable faithfulness keeps offering his love;
As we face difficulties, challenges & tough
situations we may ask "Are we going to make it?" Well we belong to one who faced the most terrible suffering & yet remained faithful & who guarantees our final security.
We might ask "Is my sin too great for God to
forgive?" Well no, because Jesus is able to rescue for he suffered what we should suffer, he took in himself what would have been the punishment for our sins.
We might ask "Is there help with the temptations
& challenges that seem so strong,? Well yes indeed!
Let me finish with some words from the same letter to the Hebrews that helps interpret this Psalm. (Heb 4.15-16) & then we'll spend a few moments in quietness;
In our strugglesus hold firmly to the faith we profess for we do not have a high priest (Jesus) who is unable to sympathise with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are--yet was without sin. 16 Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need".
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