The Lord who remembers - Psalm 132
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The writer C S Lewis is well known for many great literary works. His Narnia Chronicles, his Christian apologetic books, and even works of science fiction. He was a brilliant defender and public speaker for the Christian faith in the years after his conversion. But not many know that before his conversion, C S Lewis served in the First World War on the battlefields of Europe. And it was there that one of the most amazing marks of his character was discovered. He was a man who was determined never to break a promise. And it was during that First World War that this characteristic was sorely tested. For Lewis had made a promise to a fellow soldier. This friend was worried about the care of his wife and small daughter if he should be killed in battle. So Lewis assured him that if that were to happen he would look after them. And as the war dragged on, the man was killed. And true to his word, Lewis took care of his friend's family. Yet no matter how helpful he tried to be, the woman was ungrateful, rude, arrogant, and domineering. But through it all, Lewis kept forgiving her. He refused to let her actions become an excuse to go back on his promise. He was a man who kept his word despite every pressure to give up.
Now it's sad to say that in today's world, promise keeping is a dying art. It happens in every level in society. On the international level, as nations break their promises to other nations. In our own country, as politicians are well known for not keeping their word. Business deals are no longer conducted with a handshake and a promise guaranteed by a person's word. And it happens on the personal level, as promises are broken within friendships and marriages, and often too in churches. But today we're looking at a psalm which is all about promise making and promise keeping. And two people in this psalm make promises to each other. First David makes a promise to God and then second God makes a promise to David. And in both cases we find that both parties keep their promises.
But before we see what this psalm has to teach us today, we need to go on a walk in the mountains. Because in order to understand this psalm properly, we need to realise that it operates on a number of different levels. By way of illustration, imagine that you are wanting to climb a particular mountain, and so you set off after a healthy breakfast and estimate, having looked at your Ordinance Survey map that you'll be able to have lunch on the top. The weather is bright and sunny and things couldn't be better. And about coffee time you are nearing what you think is the summit. But when you get to the top, you realise that actually it is only the top of the foothills of the mountain you want to climb, and in fact the peak is still some way off. So you revise your lunchtime and set off again. Well a few hours later you finally get to what you think is the summit, but again you are amazed to find that there is still a further peak to climb which you didn't see before. And so you set off again having eaten your pork pie and scotch egg and this time around tea time you finally reach what really is the summit. And the view is the best of all, because the other two peaks were really mini summits on the way up to the top.
Now in this psalm, the first peak is the life of king David. The first half of the psalm, as we'll see in more detail in a moment, speaks of David's desire to bring the ark of the covenant to the city of Jerusalem. Now if you've seen Raiders of the Lost Ark with Harrison Ford, then you'll have a pretty good idea of what this ark was like. It was the symbol of God's presence with his people, and David wanted to give a permanent resting place for God among his people, to build a Temple for God in God's city, Jerusalem. So David was the one who established God's city, and it was he who brought the ark, the symbol of God's presence, to the new capital. But that's not the end of the story. Because years later, the people of Israel would re-enact this bringing of the ark by David to Jerusalem in a festival. And that's the second level of the psalm, the second peak so to speak. The people would process all the way through Jerusalem from the gates of the city to the Temple itself. And they would sing various psalms called the Psalms of Ascent. And Psalms 120-134 are the Psalms of Ascent, songs which were sung by the people during this re-enactment festival, hundreds of years after the actual events described in Psalm 130 happened. And as the people sang the songs they would be reminded of the great promises of God, as we will see. But there is a third peak to come, and that is the psalm's fulfilment for the Christian. Because the promises of God that the psalm talks about don't find their full fulfilment until the coming of Jesus. And the final peak, the mountain top, so to speak, will be when the Lord Jesus Christ returns and brings his people to his new kingdom. So we now sing this song, trusting the promises, having seen the promises partially fulfilled in Jesus, and thus waiting for the final fulfilment, when he returns. So, to use the mountain illustration, we're on the final slope, but we're not there yet. So there are three levels- first in the life of David, second in the life of the Jewish pilgrim and then third for us as Christians. And at each stage the promises are more fully fulfilled, all leading to the final mountain peak in heaven.
So what lessons then does this psalm have for us? Is it just an historical psalm to teach us about David and God's promises to him, or what songs to sing when you're going to Jerusalem on holiday? Well no. Because like David, and like the Jews performing their festivals, we too are on a journey. We are the beneficiaries of these amazing promises, and we have seen their partial fulfilment in Jesus Christ. But there is more to come, and there is more journeying for us to do. And as we seek to walk ever onward in our Christian lives, we too, like David and the Jews before us, need to keep trusting the perfect promises of God, the one who never breaks his word. Because like our spiritual predecessors, there is so much to discourage us and so much to deflect us from the path of faith. So let's join this procession as it makes it's way towards the Temple, and we'll discover two challenges as we do so which are vital for us to take to heart if we are to keep going towards that final peak of heaven. The challenge to have:
1) Total Commitment to God's Cause (Vv 1-10)
2) Total Trust in God's Promises (Vv 11-18)
1) Total Commitment to God's Cause (Vv 1-10)
So first, then, there is the challenge to have total commitment to God's cause. And that is what David has in this psalm. Because the first half of the psalm in verses 1-10 are David's promise to God. Now if you notice in verse 1, the writer prays to God that he would remember David's hardships. "O Lord, remember David and all the hardships he endured." And these aren't the hardships of suffering for God which he faced in his early life when Saul was trying to kill him. These are the hardships he faced when he was trying to bring the ark of God to Jerusalem. And verse 2 shows what David was thinking at this time: "He swore an oath to the Lord and made a vow to the Mighty One of Jacob: 'I will not enter my house or go to my bed. I will allow no sleep to my eyes, no slumber to my eyelids, till I find a place for the Lord, a dwelling for the Mighty One of Jacob.'" Now if you know the story from 2 Samuel about David trying to bring the ark to Jerusalem, then you'll know it was a journey fraught with danger. And one episode in particular caused David a great amount of sorrow. It concerned a man called Uzzah who was escorting the ark along the road as it was being carried on a cart pulled by cows. But the cows stumbled and the ark was about to fall off the cart, when Uzzah stuck out his hand to steady the ark on the cart. But as soon as his hand touched the side of the ark, he was instantly killed. Because God had said that the ark symbolised his presence, and on no account were men and women to go near it, let alone touch it, apart from under the very strictest of instructions. And so after this tragedy which affected David deeply, the ark rested in the house of a man called Obed Edom, and David did nothing for three months.
Now if you were David, then you could have been tempted to give up at this point. Why bother with this ark? Clearly it's very dangerous to have the ark of the Lord in your possession. But this ark was not just a dangerous box of tricks. It symbolised the very presence of God. And so David made this vow: "I will not enter my house or go to my bed. I will allow no sleep to my eyes, no slumber to my eyelids, till I find a place for the Lord, a dwelling for the Mighty One of Jacob." Now why did David say that? Why was he so committed to bringing this ark to Jerusalem? Because he had a passionate concern for the glory of God. He wanted God to have a permanent dwelling place in the city. To place this ark safely in a Temple would be a symbolic act, as a way of showing that God was dwelling with his people. And for David, the fact that the ark was not in a Temple in God's city with his people, was deeply troubling to him. Because his concern was for God's honour and glory. It wasn't selfish political reasons he did this for. He didn't want to be the first to build the Temple for his own glory. No, it was because he was so passionate about God's glory and God's name that he wanted to do this for God. He thought it was dreadful that the symbol of God's presence, this ark, should dwell in a tent. It demeaned God's honour and name. And he would not rest until he had done this for the Lord. Now as it happens, God will later tell him that it's not David's job to say what he'll do for God. But the fact remains that David is a man who is totally committed to the glory of God. He is totally devoted to God's cause. And as God himself said of David: "He is a man after God's own heart." And if you notice in verse 7, that same attitude could be said of the people of God in this psalm: "Let us go to his dwelling place; let us worship at his footstool. Arise, O Lord, and come to your resting place, you and the ark of your might. May your priests be clothed with righteousness; may your saints sing for joy." They too, like David, long to worship and be with their God. They too have a devoted commitment to the Lord's cause.
Now, if David was so gripped by the glory and honour of God's name, if he was so committed to the Lord's cause, even though he never saw the fulfilment of the promises, then how much more should we be. Because we have seen the fulfilment of the promises. We have seen all the promises of God come to fruition. We know that God does not dwell in a Temple made by human hands, but that he came and dwelt amongst us as a man. David, if you like, saw things spiritually speaking in black and white. Whereas we can see in full Technicolor as God has revealed himself fully and finally in Jesus. And yet can we honestly say that we have David's zeal and passion for the cause of the Lord? Do we throw ourselves wholeheartedly into the Lord's work as David did? Are we so passionately committed to his cause that we would be willing to suffer hardships as David did? So often our temptation to is to be far more wrapped up in our own worries and fears. So the glory of God's name and a passion for his cause comes a very far second behind our own interests. All too often we meddle with mediocrity when it comes to things of God. And where does that mediocrity come in spiritual things? Well surely it comes when we fail to see who it is that we serve and worship. Notice the names that God uses for God in these verses. He's the Lord, the Mighty One of Jacob in verse 2, and again in verse 5. He's the Lord in capital letters, which means Yahweh, the covenant keeping God. And when you have such a deep relationship with the living God such as David did, then lack of zeal and mediocrity are just blown away. We'll weep over our friends and family who don't know Christ. We'll detest besetting sins that we struggle with. We'll delight to share our love and gifts with God's family, not worrying about the cost or what we get out of it. And we'll pray with passion longing to bring our requests and petitions before our great God. That's what happens when a man or woman is totally committed to God's cause. It was the evangelist D L Moody who said: "The world has yet to see what the Lord will do with one person totally devoted to his cause." And Moody went on to say: "By God's grace I will be that person!" Could we honestly say that of ourselves?
Well one man that could, although he never did, was a man called William Grimshaw. Grimshaw was one of the key preachers during the eighteenth century English revival during which the Wesleys and George Whitfield become famous. Grimshaw was a pastor in tiny Yorkshire village of Haworth, later made famous for the home of the Brontes. But back then it was an out of the way place which was off the beaten track in every way, including spiritually. But Grimshaw plugged away in Haworth for year after year. And the thing that drove Grimshaw on was his passionate concern for the glory of God. He once said this: "I expect my stay on earth will be short but I will endeavour to make the best of my short life, and to devote my soul to God so that I do not just creep over the line to heaven." John Wesley said of Grimshaw: "I have been with Grimshaw but a few days. He is truly a man of God. Even a few like him would make the nation tremble. He carries fire wherever he goes." Certainly Grimshaw was quite a character. He was so passionate that his congregation follow God's ways as he did, that sometimes he would go to bizarre lengths to make sure they were putting their faith into practice. One time he heard that an old couple were being very miserly with their wealth. So one cold and wet night, Grimshaw dressed himself up in a beggar's outfit with a shabby cap on his head. And he appeared hammering on the couple's door asking for shelter and food. The couple refused and told the disguised Grimshaw to go away. But Grimshaw pleaded his destitution and said he'd die if not given food. When they still refused, Grimshaw removed his disguise quick as a flash and said: "It is I." And then promptly gave them a lecture on covetousness and hard heartedness. So next time a beggar comes to your door, beware. It could be the vicar!
Sometimes we hear about these men and women so passionate for God and we think: "That can never be me". But there was nothing unusual about Grimshaw, apart from that he was slightly batty and liked dressing up! No, what drove Grimshaw on in his ministry was his passionate zeal for the glory of God. Like David he was totally committed to the cause of Christ. He loved his Saviour and he served him passionately and with total devotion. And that's the challenge for us as we head on our journey to heaven. The challenge to have total commitment to God's cause.
2) Total Trust in God's Promises (Vv 11-18)
But secondly, this psalm teaches us that we are to have total trust in God's promises. Because we might say: "OK. I know I'm to serve God wholeheartedly. But why? Is he trustworthy? Am I committing myself to a cause that is reliable?" Many of us know the pain of burnt fingers when we've given our all to something only to find we've been painfully let down! Will that happen with God's cause? Well there is absolutely no doubt that the cause of God is reliable, because his promises are totally trustworthy. And as we head to heaven nothing could be better for us to know than that what God promises will happen, because he is the one who has promised it. And so whereas David made a promise to God to build a Temple for him and bring the ark to Jerusalem, now God makes three promises to David which find their fulfilment ultimately in Jesus. There is the promise of a king, a city and a victory.
a) The Promised King (Vv 11-12)- First there is the promised king in verses 11-12: "The Lord swore an oath to David, a sure oath that he will not revoke: 'One of your own descendants I will place on your throne; if your sons keep my covenant and the statutes I teach them, then their sons will sit on your throne for ever and ever.'" Now after David had brought the ark into the city, David said he would love to build a Temple for God. But God said to him: "You're not going to be the one who is going to build a house for me. Instead I'm going to build you a house." It wasn't of course a literal house but a dynasty of kings who would reign on David's throne. And so it happened. Kings ruled on David's throne for centuries to come. But the trouble was they didn't fulfil their side of the bargain. You see God required in verse 12 faithfulness to the covenant. But time and again these kings from David's line mucked up. They failed. So was that the end of the promises? Did God say: "That's all. I've had enough!" No, because there came one last king who was faithful and who kept God's covenant. Jesus the Christ, The anointed King. And he is the one who will rule on David's throne for ever. And the fact that he is the faithful king is actually one of the biggest reasons for us to be faithful as Christians. Because although David stands as a model for us to be passionate about God's cause, yet the real example to us is David's greater Son, The Anointed one himself. For in Jesus we see someone who is faithful even unto death, one who is totally devoted to the Father's cause. And if we claim to be followers of this Christ then we will be faithful and zealous for Christ's cause too. For he is the Promised King who is faithful unto death.
b) The Promised City (Vv 13-15)- There's another promise though in verses 13-15. And that is of a promised city. Verse 13: "For the Lord has chosen Zion, he has desired it for his dwelling: 'This is my resting place for ever and ever; here I will sit enthroned, for I have desired it; I will bless her with abundant provisions; her poor will I satisfy with food. I will clothe her priests with salvation, and her saints will ever sing for joy." Once again God is giving another staggering promise. God is saying that he has chosen Zion as his dwelling place. Now as far as the first peak of fulfilment is concerned, for David this meant Jerusalem. God was with his people in the literal city of God. That was where God's rest and his dwelling place was to be found. But with the coming of Jesus, we climb the various peaks and discover that there is a much more amazing fulfilment to come. For in Jesus we find true rest and through him we can come to God's promised land, that is his restored kingdom of heaven. So ultimately we are looking forward here to when God brings history to a close and gathers all his people around him, a people gathered through the work of God's King Jesus. And with King Jesus in his amazing kingdom that we will enjoy total satisfaction and true joy. That's what God is promising to us who believe in him!
c) The Promised Victory (Vv 17-18)- And then finally there is the promised victory in verses 17-18. Verse 17: "Here I will make a horn grow for David and set up a lamp for my anointed one. I will clothe his enemies with shame, but the crown on his head will be resplendent." David would eventually see his enemies put to shame. But in Jesus, The Anointed One, The perfect King on David's throne, we see one in whom there will one day be final victory. The horn is a picture of power and victory, and the crown is a picture of dominion and kingship. And already we know that that victory has been attained. Because when Jesus died and rose again, the victory was achieved. And when Jesus returns in glory he will final crush for ever his enemies and his people will reign with him for ever.
So here are three great promises of God. Of the promised King, the promised City where God's people will be with him, and the promised victory. And the question for us is are we willing to trust those promises as we journey on in our Christian life? You see, so often we feel as if those promises are a long way from being fulfilled. Sometimes the Christian life seems incredibly hard and long. It's seems as if the promises of God will never be fulfilled. Sometimes I'm tempted to think "why bother?" Everything just seems so hard and difficult. It maybe that you feel totally overwhelmed at the moment, and you do feel like chucking it in. But the challenge for us in the many ups and downs of life is to keep trusting those promises. Because already we can see that God has kept his word and will one day complete the story he began. He will keep his promises. You see, we are so much further up the mountain than David. We have seen the promised King come. We've seen how in Jesus we can have rest with God. We have a taste of the victory to come because of the cross and resurrection of Jesus Christ. So this psalm says to us: "Keep trusting! Keep going! Yes, one day those promises will be totally fulfilled and we will experience the total joy of being with God forever in his kingdom enjoying him forever with his King Jesus." And nothing can take that from us. And that's why in this present life, we are to be totally committed to the cause of God's glory. Because there is nothing else worth living for. And there are no greater promises than these to look forward to.
One of my favourite books is Pilgrim's Progress by John Bunyan. The book is a story about a man called Christian who is seeking to get to the Celestial City, which is heaven, and it is written in the form of a dream that Bunyan had, a parable of the Christian life. Much of the journey for the pilgrim is hard and difficult. And yet God has kept him going right to the end. And then in the final paragraphs of the book, Bunyan talks about death and the hope of overcoming it and so entering heaven. This is what Bunyan wrote: "Between the travellers and the gate of the city was a deep river, dark and cold, but there was no bridge. At the sight of the river the pilgrims turned pale and silent. The two angels said: "You must go through, or you will never get to the gate." Then they accepted the inevitable. Entering the water, Christian began to sink. He cried to his good friend Hopeful: "I'm sinking in deep water"Be of good cheer," said Hopeful. "I feel the bottom and it is good."Soon Christian found ground to stand on, and the rest of the river was shallow. So the pilgrims sped on towards the gateThe pilgrims gave their certificates to the gatekeeper and were admitted into the Celestial CityJust as the gate opened to let them in, I got a glimpse of the inner glory of heaven. The whole city blazed like the Sun. The streets were paved with gold, and the clothes of those who walked the streets shone with a lightness I had never seen before. And they wore crowns as kings. And just as they began to praise God saying "Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God Almighty," the gate closed."
Well that is the hope that we are looking forward to. For David and the pilgrims in Jerusalem who sang this song on their journey towards the Temple, they had only reached the first peak. But we are marching towards the final peak, our ultimate destination. To be with God forever in his kingdom. So as you journey on, will you take up the challenge of this psalm? To have total commitment to God's cause and to have total trust in his promises.
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