Taste the truth - Psalm 34
An audio recording of this sermon is available.
19TH JUNE 2005
Did you know that 8 out of 10 cats prefer Whiskas? Did you know that happiness is a cigar called Hamlet? Did you know that hands that wash dishes are as soft as can be with mild green Fairy Liquid? Well of course you did and the reason you know is that the advertising for these products has been very successful. Advertising now is big business and if you want your product to sell, then you will employ the best advertisers money can buy. And if you are the biggest and best, you'll probably go for Saatchi and Saatchi, because they could sell freezers to Eskimos. And nowadays advertising is everywhere. It's on the TV, on the radio, on the internet, and on every billboard and bus you care to look at. Advertising is everywhere! In fact someone has worked out that the average person in Britain sees or hears about 2000 adverts a day. But of course the trouble with all this advertising is that today's adult has become rather hardened to the effects of advertising. So we're very sceptical when we're told that new Daz gets your clothes whiter than ever, or that Greshon 2000 will cause you to look ten years younger. We've become wary of the advertisers' ploys. And the interesting thing is that this scepticism has affected other areas of life as well. So when it comes to politics, then we've become wary of politicians' promises because they have broken them so many times. And in the area of religion, then again there is a scepticism of the preacher offering all sorts of spiritual delights, because we fear that like the advertiser wanting you to buy his products and the politician wanting you to vote for him, the preacher just wants you to come to his church and accept his religion. There is the feeling that the world is full of con men, the religious sort included, who want you to do something for them.
But there's one way to interest and entice people which continues to have a deep impact even in our very sceptical age. This way will induce you to buy and use a particular product. This way might even get you to change your mind about a politician. And, as all the statistics show, this way is one of the most significant ways of interesting people about the Christian faith. What is it? It's the personal recommendation. It's the power of personal testimony. So a friend has just started using Whizzo in their washing machine, and it really does bring their whites whiter than ever, and next time you are in Tescos you buy Whizzo, because your friend says it's great. And when it comes to the Christian faith, then time and again, it's seen that a friend's encouragement and their personal testimony of what God has done for them has huge power to draw people to investigating the Christian faith. So in a poll taken in 2001 in America, 75% of people interviewed said that there was one person who was very significant in inviting them to church and urging them to investigate the Christian faith. Genuine personal recommendation of how your life has been changed by the living God has a very persuasive appeal in these sceptical days in which we live.
And it's a personal recommendation that King David is giving us in Psalm 34. David has found himself in a very dangerous situation and he's been rescued by God. And this psalm is the result. And it's a psalm that is full of joy, which is even seen in the way David has structured his psalm. Because this psalm is written in Hebrew and each line of the psalm begins with a different letter of the Hebrew alphabet. So he begins with the Hebrew equivalent of A and ends at the equivalent of Z, with all twenty two letters of the Hebrew alphabet covered, which is why there are twenty two verses! It's like the game you play as children on long car journeys where you go through the alphabet and take turns thinking of animals beginning with A to Z, and then you go on to football teams, and so on until you get to your destination or the game descends into to a fight with your brother. And this psalm is the same. It would have been great fun for David to write it. Because in it David is giving a personal testimony of how God has rescued him. And his challenge to you and me is to taste and see for ourselves that the Lord is good. He's encouraging us to follow in his footsteps and to see how good God is to those who trust in him. He's challenging us to be the sort of people who live authentic Christian lives.
And you and I would do well to listen to David's testimony. For if we are to be authentic witnesses of the living and true God to the watching world around us, then we like David will need to practice an authentic faith which will attract people to investigate. And it is particularly in this area of difficulties and suffering where our authenticity as believers is tested. In our very darkest moments our faith is truly seen for what it is. The fires of suffering reveal our spiritual mettle. And the way David stands firm trusting in his God to rescue him in a very difficult time in his life, is a great encouragement and challenge to us to be faithful when we go through tough times. Because people can spot a phoney product when it comes to items we want to buy. And they can spot a phoney product when it comes to the spiritual realm too. But when they see faith in action, even in the very testing times of life, then that is a powerful witness to the reality of God's grace and mercy. For whilst we might cynically reject all the advertising that comes our way, yet nothing quite works like the power of a personal testimony. So let's look at David's story and we'll discover these three lessons for us this morning.
1) Rejoice in the Rescue (Vv 1-8)
2) Live the Life (Vv 9-14)
3) Practice the Perspective (Vv 15-22)
1) Rejoice in the Rescue(Vv 1-8)
So the first lesson we learn is to rejoice in the rescue, or as David might put it, rejoice with me. Because David has a wonderful rescue to tell of. See how he puts it in verse 1-3: "I will extol the LORD at all times; his praise will always be on my lips. My soul will boast in the LORD; let the afflicted hear and rejoice. Glorify the LORD with me; let us exalt his name together." Glorify the Lord with me, he says! Let's rejoice together! So why does he want us to rejoice with him? Well verse 4 shows that David was in some sort of trouble: "I sought the LORD, and he answered me; he delivered me from all my fears." And in verse 6 he elaborates a bit more: "This poor man called, and the LORD heard him; he saved him out of all his troubles." Clearly David was in great trouble. He was greatly afraid. But what was this trouble? Well unlike many of the psalms, with this psalm we're told what the trouble was in the title of the psalm. You'll see it there at the top of the psalm. "Of David. When he pretended to be insane before Abimelech, who drove him away, and he left."
Now this story is told for us in 1 Samuel 21. And it represents one of the most terrifying passages of David's life. Just a little while before this story took place, David had risen to great fame as the young man who killed the Philistine soldier Goliath with his sling shot. And he has become something of a celebrity in Israel. He'd become a very famous general in King Saul's army, who was king at the time. And David had led the way in destroying a vast amount of the Philistine army. And there was even a pop song about David's exploits which would have gone straight to No. 1 if they had pop charts in those days. And the song compared King Saul's exploits with his more famous and successful general David's exploits. It went like this: "Saul has slain his thousands, and David his tens of thousands!" And gradually because of David's fame and success, King Saul got more and more angry. In fact so angry and jealous and paranoid did Saul get that he tried to kill David on several occasions, and David was forced to flee the country. At first he went to the Temple of the Lord and was given some food and a sword which happened to be Goliath's own sword that David himself had captured when he'd killed Goliath. And then David ran for his life. And where did he run to? Well think of the very last place you'd run to if you'd just killed off most of the Philistine army. He actually ran to Philistia and the court of the king of the Philistines, a man called Abimelech, or as he is called in 1 Samuel, Achish. It just goes to show how desperate David was. He couldn't stay in Israel because he was facing certain death! So he went to his other arch enemy, the Philistines! And worse than that he was carrying the sword of their great hero Goliath! Can you imagine anything so suicidal as that! He must have been on his knees and at his very lowest ebb to walk right into the court of the man whose army he's decimated carrying the sword of their greatest ever hero! It would be like an American soldier walking into the Shi'ite area of Baghdad carrying Saddam Hussein's personally engraved rifle and asking for a cup of tea and a place to stay! What madness! Think of all the Philistine widows baying for his blood! And we're told in 1 Samuel that David was very much afraid! No wonder he was. In fact Psalm 56 gives us another take on this story, because Psalm 56 was written at this time and shows us David's feelings in Philistia before he was rescued! He hadn't been rescued when he wrote that psalm. So listen to what David says there: "All day long my enemies twist my words. They are always plotting to harm me. They conspire, they lurk, they are eager to take my life." David was quite literally expecting to die at the hands of the Philistines! So what does he do? Well he decides to play at being insane. He drops all his dignity and self worth and plumbs the depths of depravity by pretending he is mentally deranged. The writer of 1 Samuel puts it like this: "While David was in their hands, he acted like a madman, making marks on the doors of the gate and letting saliva run down his beard." He'd made himself to look an utter fool and a pitiable wreck. And what does the King of the Philistines do? He says: "I've got enough mad men in my court! Get rid of him." So they let David go! They actually had pity on him instead of killing him! And what is David's response? It's not: "What a clever guy I am for thinking up this cunning escape plan!" He doesn't pat himself on the back. Rather he says in Psalm 34 verse 4: "I sought the LORD, and he answered me; he delivered me from all my fears." It was God who rescued him. It was God who delivered him. And that is what David rejoices in! David was in the very bear pit staring death in the face, and God saved him. And what is even more staggering in Psalm 56, in a psalm where he doesn't know the outcome, David can say: "In God I trust. I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?" He was totally confident that God would be there for him and rescue him. And that is precisely what God did. So verse 7 of our psalm: "The angel of the LORD encamps around those who fear him, and he delivers them." David is quite simply overjoyed that God should choose to rescue him from this situation. And what is his challenge to you and me? Verse 8: "Taste and see that the LORD is good; blessed is the man who takes refuge in him." He urges us to taste and see that the Lord is good. Because God promises to rescue those who trust in him! He wants as many as possible to experience the saving hand of God as he did. Not just to know it in their heads, but to know that rescue in their own experience. Taste and see, he says. Because he knows, verse 5, that "those who look to God are radiant; their faces are never covered with shame." David really does rejoice in the rescue God provides for him!
And that is a great encouragement and challenge to us to be as joyful, if not more so, than David over our rescue. Because whilst God rescued David from a terrible position of facing death at the hands of his enemies, we know that spiritually we are in a far worse position. We are naturally sinful and rebellious towards our maker and we deserve not just physical death but spiritual death, to be cast from God for all eternity for the way we have treated him. And yet when Jesus died on the cross in our place, he was taking all of our guilt and shame and wrong doing on himself. So that those who look to him are radiant. They can be forgiven and their faces need no longer be covered with shame! If David received a great rescue, then you and I because of Jesus Christ have received the greatest rescue ever. And we as Christians should be shouting from the rooftops the amazing rescue we have received!
Now of course many of us here will know this in our heads and hearts, but it is very easy as we go on the Christian life to fall into the trap of complacency and ingratitude. Perhaps we've lost that joy we first had when we became Christians. We've forgotten what it felt like to know we were thoroughly sinful and yet to be washed clean and set free. We're no longer quite as thrilled to know that God has rescued us in Christ. The whole rescue has become somewhat familiar and pedestrian over the years. And it's at that point that you and I need to be very careful. Because the road of complacency is a very dangerous road to travel. Because if we fail to thank God and give him the praise that is due his name, then it can lead to us taking him for granted, and then slowly but surely we begin to ignore him and slip away from him. Because, as Paul argues in Romans 1, not giving thanks to God as our creator and rescuer, leads to self sufficiency and sin, and in its worst form, a total denial of God altogether.
Many years ago, as the story is told, a devout king was disturbed by the ingratitude of his royal court. He prepared a large banquet for them. When the king and his royal guests were seated, by prearrangement, a beggar shuffled into the hall, sat down at the king's table, and gorged himself with food. Without saying a word, he then left the room. The guests were furious and asked permission to seize the tramp and tear him limb from limb for his ingratitude. The king replied, "That beggar has done only once to an earthly king what each of you does three times each day to God. You sit there at the table and eat until you are satisfied. Then you walk away without recognizing God, or expressing one word of thanks to Him."
And that is a danger not just for the non Christian, but also for us as Christians too, not giving thanks to God as we should for all his good gifts. And David says if you have tasted and seen that the Lord is good, then rejoice in that truth. And if our hearts have gone cold, then is it any wonder if our witness is not being taken seriously? For if we do not rejoice and delight in the great rescue of God, then why should we expect others to believe our message? We need to come back to the cross in humility and ask God to show us our sin and remind us again of the staggering truth that God in his love should want to rescue you and me. Because in Christ we have an amazing Saviour. We all need to seek the Lord that he might save us and refresh us with the joy of his salvation. And if you have heard this many times, and you know it in your head, then I want to ask you if you know it in your heart? Being a Christian is not just about knowing certain truths. It's not just saying Jesus died on the cross. It's about being able to say with all your heart, Jesus died for me. Because then we can hold out this word of life to others and cry out "taste and see that the Lord is good. I know it to be true." Rejoice in the rescue.
2) Live the Life (Vv 9-14)
But David does not leave his testimony there. Because he goes on secondly to tell us to live the life, or as he might put it, live with me in verses 9-14! Rejoicing in the rescue does not mean we then sit back and enjoy the ride. It means having a commitment to God and his ways, living in the light of that rescue. And for David it means two things:
a) A Profound Respect for God's Person- It means first a profound respect for God's person. So verse 9: "Fear the LORD, you his saints, for those who fear him lack nothing.
The lions may grow weak and hungry, but those who seek the LORD lack no good thing." Now what is interesting in this psalm is that David has already told us that he had other fears back in verse 4. He was afraid when he was in the hands of the Philistines. So what was the answer to those fears? Well strangely it's fear. Fear of Someone else. The answer to the fears that we might have of this world and what others can do to us is to fear God. And what does it mean to fear God? Well it certainly does not mean to be afraid of him. As Christians we know he is our loving heavenly Father. Why should we fear him? Rather in the Bible fear of God is a profound respect and awe for the one who made us and saved us. It's being able to realise that this is both the God who sent his one and only Son to die for us but also the God who could quite justly cast us into hell. It's a right understanding of his awesome character and deeds, knowing the fact that he is the one we answer to. So the question for us is who do we really fear? Is it the people around us who hold some sway over us? Your employer who is making your life a misery at the moment? Your relative who is putting you under huge pressure because of your commitment to Christ? Your creditor who is constantly hassling you to pay up? Your doctor who might give you bad news? Who do you fear, asks David? Well David says that in order to deal with our fears of others and difficult situations we need to have a healthy fear of God. He is the one we answer to ultimately. It's him and his ways we are to follow. For by comparison all other fears pale into significance when we fear the One who should be feared. So David can say in verse 9: "Fear him, you saints, for those who fear him lack nothing." We are strengthened for the battle when we fear the one who should be feared! And what will it mean in practice?
b) A Sincere Commitment to God's Standards- It will mean a sincere commitment to God's standards. If we truly fear the Lord, then you and I will do what he says rather than being towed along by what everyone else wants us to do. So see what David says in verses 11 and following: "Come, my children, listen to me; I will teach you the fear of the LORD. Whoever of you loves life and desires to see many good days, keep your tongue from evil and your lips from speaking lies. Turn from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it." David sees fearing God affecting every area of our life, from what we do to the way we speak. That is what it means to fear God in the Bible. It is a practical outworking in our lives. We might say we fear and love God. But unless we do it in practice that those words count for nothing.
And that is what David challenges us to do. To live the life. There must be no gap between who we say we fear and how we live our lives. Our priorities, our language, our actions, all will be shaped by fear of God. We'll want to please him in everything. And when that is happening in a Christian's life, then it is a wonderful testimony to the grace and mercy of God. We're are saying "taste and see that the Lord is good" with our lips and we are living it with our lives. And it's very attractive. But the challenge for us in this intolerant liberal world in which we live is that fearing God, living for him, will be costly. It will cost us to be authentic fearers of God. Because going against the tide is always painful.
I came across a true story this week of a group of about 60 Christians who were meeting in secret in the depths of a Russian forest. It was before the Berlin Wall came down and before there was much more freedom, in the days when it was very dangerous to be a Christian in Russia. And all of a sudden some soldiers burst in to the meeting. And they said: "Real Christians, up against the wall with your hands up now! The rest, you may leave." So about 15 went to the wall and put their hands above their head, and the others sidled away. But when they had all gone, the soldiers said to the remaining 15: "Don't worry. We only want to pray with real Christians." And David's concern is that you and I, if we claim to follow Christ, be real, authentic Christians. Those who say no to fearing others, and yes to fearing God. It will mean fearing God and being committed to his ways. Because that is the only way to live this life we have been given. Live the life.
3) Practice the Perspective (Vv 15-22)
But there's one final lesson we need to hear from David this morning and that is to practice the perspective. Or as David might say, hope with me. There is a right perspective in life that you and I need to have if we are to survive the ups and downs of life and the struggles in this sinful world, as David had in this psalm. And what is that perspective? Well it's the total confidence that God will never ever leave us or forsake us both in this life and the next! So verse 17: "The righteous cry out, and the LORD hears them; he delivers them from all their troubles. The LORD is close to the broken-hearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit." Now it's important for us to see that for the person who trusts in God there is no promise of an easy life. And if anyone comes along promising such a thing, then they have not read the Bible. So what does David say in verse 19? "A righteous man may have many troubles." We, as much as anyone else in the world, must face many troubles, and often more, because following Christ is very costly. But there is the promise of God's never failing presence and help in times of trouble. So what does the second half of verse 19 say? "But the LORD delivers him from them all." The Lord is able to save us from our troubles. Now that doesn't necessarily mean he will take away the situation or take us out of the situation we're in. He may well do so, as he did for David in this situation in Psalm 34. But not always. In fact there were many times in David's life where God didn't take him immediately out of the situation. Instead in the midst of difficulties God's promise is that he will sustain us in the situation. And many of us know the reality of that promise.
So if you are in the midst of great pain and suffering in whatever way at the moment, then hear again the wonderful promise of verse 18: "The LORD is close to the broken-hearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit." If you are feeling broken-hearted and crushed in spirit, then be assured of God's promise to never leave you or forsake you. He is not going to ditch you, and he will sustain you through it. Yes, it may look like a long dark tunnel ahead, yes it may be very painful and feel totally over whelming, as it did for David, but he hears your prayers and he knows your heart. So again verse 15: "The eyes of the LORD are on the righteous and his ears are attentive to their cry." And actually one of the best places to go when we are feeling hard pressed and low is the psalms. Because time and again, we find the saints of the past experiencing similar things to us, and sometimes crying out to God in anger and pain, yet finding their strength and hope in God alone. Again and again God has proved himself to be trustworthy in the midst of people's difficulties.
And not only is there the assurance that God keeps us in the present, but there is the guarantee that our pain will not last forever. He will bring us safely through to the end, where there will be no more suffering and no more tears and no more pain. The injustices of the world will be righted and those who trust in him will be saved. So verse 21: "Evil will slay the wicked; the foes of the righteous will be condemned. The LORD redeems his servants; no one will be condemned who takes refuge in him." You see that's the perspective that we are to have. That God will keep us and sustain us and he will bring us safely to the end, to heaven itself. And that is the knowledge and assurance and hope that will keep us going in the toughest of times. So the challenge for us, however hard it is, is to trust him. Like David in Psalm 56, in the midst of this life threatening situation, he could say: "In God I trust; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?"
And how do we know God will keep his promise? Is God like the advertisers offering something beyond our wildest dreams which proves to be just that? Is he a politician promising more than he can deliver? Well no, because God has already proved he can do it. He has already shown in this world that he can sustain the righteous through suffering and finally bring them to heaven, because he's done it already in Jesus Christ. Because Jesus is the fulfilment of this psalm of David. He is The Righteous one, the anointed King, as David was the forerunner. King Jesus was despised and rejected, he suffered unjustly at the hands of evil men. He was thrust into the very darkest night of the soul. And yet God kept his promise and sustained him and saved him. He protected his servant and not one of his bones was broken. And then on the third day he rose again defeating death, triumphant and victorious. For the Lord redeems his servants; no-one will be condemned who takes refuge in him. And as we follow in the footsteps of our Lord Jesus, our Saviour and our example, we too can have absolute confidence that God will never ever leave us or forsake us. And when we have tasted and seen that truth for ourselves in our own experience then truly with David we will say "my soul will boast in the Lord." And that is a very powerful testimony in a sceptical world.
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