Never forget - Psalm 103
An audio recording of this sermon is available.
This week I came across the true story of a young man called George. George was brought up in rural Kenya on the East coast of Africa, and came from a loving but not particularly well off family. Georgeís parents had worked very hard for him and tried their very best to get him a good education. They scraped and saved, and George was able to go to school, and eventually to university in the capital city Nairobi. He was actually very bright and did very well. And all the way through school and college his parents battled to balance their very tight budget. There were bills to pay, uniform to buy, books to supply. All from a family which struggled to make a living. On top of that, Georgeís parents were getting increasingly frail and they could barely make a living on their farm which they had to look after manually since they could not afford tools and equipment. But needless to say, Georgeís parents felt no resentment at their sacrifice. In fact they did not consider it a sacrifice at all. It was a privilege to have such a gifted child, of whom they were very proud. Well at last, the day arrived when George would graduate from university, and Georgeís parents were full of pride as they looked forward to the wonderful day. Their best clothes were ill fitting and old fashioned, but they put them on, caught the rickety old bus up to the capital and went to see their son get his degree. They could think of no greater honour than to stand beside their son in his academic gown and be introduced as his parents. But George had changed since his time at the university. Heíd made a lot of friends who came from rich and influential families in Kenyan society. And when he saw his parents amid the assembled crowd, shabbily dressed behind his wealthy friends, he was embarrassed. He turned his back on them and walked away, as if heíd never known them.
Well if there is one sin that is hardest for someone to be on the end of, then surely itís ingratitude. We perhaps invest huge amounts of time in a friend or a relative only for it to be ignored or perhaps received without a word of gratitude. We do something for someone that takes great effort and costs us large amounts of time and energy or even money, and itís met with barely a smile. Yes, ingratitude is very hard to take, even for the most thick skinned of us. And if that is true in every day life, then it is all the more true in the Christian life. To be a thankless Christian is virtually a contradiction in terms, and at the very least is extremely dangerous. The apostle Paul in his letter to the Romans says that ingratitude to God for all his good gifts ultimately leads to rejecting God. If we are not grateful, failing to give God the glory and if we forget what God has done for us and continues to do for us every day, then it will lead to a hard heart and ultimately slipping away from God.
And thatís why a psalm like Psalm 103 is so important for us to come back to time and again. Because itís a psalm which reminds us of the importance of counting our blessings and giving thanks to God. Itís a psalm written by King David, and itís possible that he has just been through a tough time of testing in his life. Itís a psalm where he reflects on the goodness of God and tells his soul not to forget any of the Lordís benefits. So have a look from verse 1: ďPraise the LORD, O my soul; all my inmost being, praise his holy name. Praise the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits; who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit and crowns you with love and compassion, who satisfies your desires with good things so that your youth is renewed like the eagle's.Ē Clearly God has done wonderful things in Davidís life, and he pauses to give thanks to God for those many benefits. And the rest of the psalm is really a catalogue of many of the best things that God has done for David.
And as we glance over Davidís shoulder this morning as he writes this psalm, there are good things for us to hear. Because we too should not forget the Lordís benefits. We too need to be men and women, who if we love the Lord and claim to be his followers, must cultivate an attitude of thankfulness. Because it is all too easy to reflect on the hard things we are going through, or to focus on the negatives, while all along we are forgetting that it is God who is sustaining us and keeping us and giving us many things we have long since forgotten. But by remembering, then we are guarding our souls from complacency and keeping ourselves dependant on our great God and king. And whether we have been Christians five days or five decades, a psalm like this is so invaluable to our Christian lives because it focuses away from ourselves and onto the God who has saved us. So as we look at this psalm, weíll see three things which we need to remember and which we can experience far more deeply than even David could imagine.
1) Never forget Godís mercy to you (Vv 8-12)
2) Never forget Godís love for you (Vv 13-18)
3) Never forget Godís rule over you (V 19)
1) Never forget Godís mercy to you (Vv 8-12)
So first then, never forget Godís mercy to you. And we see that in Davidís life in verses 8-12. Now one of the things that David knew was the character of God. And the reason he knew it was because God had revealed his character to Moses back on Mount Sinai. So in Exodus 34, God had said to Moses that he was a ďcompassionate and gracious God, slow to anger and abounding in love.Ē As David says in verse 7 of his psalm, ďGod made known his ways to Moses, his deeds to the people of Israel.Ē These characteristics and deeds of God were something the people of Israel knew. And David also knew what God was like. And in verses 8-10, David says that he has come to know that theoretical truth about God for real in his own life. David has experienced himself something of the compassion and mercy of God: ďThe LORD is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love. He will not always accuse, nor will he harbour his anger forever; he does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities.Ē Now if you think about it, this really is an incredible truth. That God is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and that he will not treat us as our sins deserve. Because to be quite frank, human beings are notoriously bad at ignoring God and breaking his laws. God must have amazing patience to deal with people like us. For so often we are ungrateful and unloving ourselves. Just think for a moment of the people of Israel. If you read through the stories of their history, then time and again you read of rebellion and complaints against God, of rejection of him and sinning against him. And time and again, God patiently withheld his justice. Time and time again he has compassion on his people. And if you consider the life of David, then again his life is a catalogue of failure. Again and again he sins against God, sometimes in the most dramatic and terrible ways, as when he committed adultery with Bathsheba and murdered her husband Uriah. What does that sin deserve? No less than death. Indeed, Godís verdict for any wrongdoing against him is death. And what about our own lives? We are hardly paragons of virtues are we? We too have hearts which are naturally opposed to God, hearts which are hateful and cold. And yet, says David, God is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger.
And then David goes a step further in verse 10. Because not only does he say that God does not treat us as our sins deserve, but he goes on to say that God actually deals with sin once and for all. Verse 11: ďFor as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.Ē Not only does God withhold his justice from us and show us mercy. But he also positively deals with our wrongdoing. In Davidís language he puts it away from us as far as the east is from the west. Itís as far as you can get. If youíve ever been up in a plane or a very high mountain, then youíll know that you can see for miles around you. Debbie and I once climbed the World Trade Centre in New York in 1997, before it was destroyed in 2001. And as we got to the top on a beautifully clear day, you could see for miles around. In fact we were told that you could see for about 70 miles all around. But you could not look at the east and west at the same time, because the horizon was so vast. And David is saying that God has removed our sins from us as far as the east is from the west. That is God has totally dealt with our sin.
Now if David knew the reality of Godís forgiveness, and itís clear that he did, then you and I have the immense privilege of living the other side of the event when God totally and fully dealt with all our guilt and wrongdoing. Because it was on the cross that all our wrongdoing, all our guilt and shame was paid for. You see our problem is not so much that we have committed sins. That is true. Itís rather that we are suffering from a terrible disease called sin. Sin and sins are different. Sins are the symptoms of a much more serious problem called sin. And sin is the problem of every human being. That is we do not want God as King over our lives. We want to live life as if we were the boss. And that is our problem. And for such treason against the rightful King, who is God, the penalty is death. But David says God is merciful and compassionate. He will not treat us as our sins deserve. In others, he will not punish us as we deserve. Instead he provides a way for us to be forgiven and washed clean. He provides a way for our hearts to be cleaned up and our sin to be dealt with. And it was on the cross that Jesus took all our guilt and shame and the ultimate penalty of a life lived in opposition to God. That is mercy. Not giving us what we do deserve, which is separation from God. And grace positively gives us what we donít deserve. Forgiveness.
John Newton was a man who knew these truths only too well. I guess many of us will be familiar with the story of Newton, but his testimony deserves to be retold because itís a wonderful example of the grace of God at work in a manís life. Newton lived in the eighteenth century and by his own admission was the lowest of the low, a wretch of a man hating God and everything to do with him. He was a slave trader, and a cruel, blasphemous one at that. He lived a life of debauchery, raping black woman and girls at his leisure. ďMy whole lifeĒ, he said later, ďwas a course of most horrid impiety and profaneness.Ē Not only did he deny God and the truth of the gospels, but he actively encouraged others to do so. Even by eighteenth century standards Newton was a terrible person. And yet, one night during the most ferocious storm of his sea faring life, he cried out to God for mercy. He surprised himself that he could utter such a desperate prayer, and doubted that God, if he did exist, would ever think of forgiving such a foul person as him. But gradually in that storm tossed boat, John Newtonís blindness began to be healed. ďI needed an Almighty Saviour who would step in and take my sins awayÖ. I saw that because of the sufferings of Jesus, he took away my sins so that I might be forgiven.Ē Later John Newton wrote these words: ďAmazing grace how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost, but now am found, was blind but now I see.Ē And yet Newton would not leave it there. Later on in his life he would take up the challenge of living Christís way and risk everything to put an end to the horrific trade of black slaves in which he had been so deeply immersed. And so he continued: ďThrough many dangers toils and snares I have already come; Ďtis grace hath brought me safe thus far, and grace will lead me home.Ē John Newton had come to discover that forgiveness and continuing as a Christian is a gracious and amazing gift from God. The Lord is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love.
I want to ask us very simply this morning if we are grateful with all our hearts for this mercy of God in withholding his right judgement upon us and his grace in forgiving us through Jesus. We might well know it in our heads. We perhaps know the facts of the story. But have we received the forgiveness of Jesus ourselves? Is it something our souls rejoice in? And if we have accepted it, then have we grown complacent of that incredible gift that God has given to us in Jesus? If we have then why not commit yourself afresh to the Lord this morning and thank him from the bottom of your heart for his rich mercy and love. For dead is the soul that has ceased to be amazed at the love of God shown in the cross of Christ. Do not forget the Lordís benefits says David. And one of his most precious benefits is his mercy to us in Jesus. So never forget Godís mercy to you.
2) Never forget Godís love for you (Vv 13-18)
But the second benefit and blessing that David urges us not to forget is never forget Godís love for you. And David tells us about Godís love in verses 13-18. David says that Godís love is like a fatherís love for his son. Verse 13: ďAs a father has compassion on his children, so the LORD has compassion on those who fear him.Ē Thatís the kind of love that God shows to his people. Heís like a devoted father. And what is more, he loves us despite our fragility and weaknesses. Verse 14: ďFor he knows how we are formed, he remembers that we are dust. As for man, his days are like grass, he flourishes like a flower of the field; the wind blows over it and it is gone, and its place remembers it no more.Ē These verses are a painful reminder that life is very short and fragile. We are but dust, and our days are numbered. Weíre like the flowers of the field- here today and gone tomorrow. In the big scheme of things we are very small. And even if you do something very significant in your life, chances are that people wonít remember unless youíre very lucky. I came across an old photo the other month which was a photo of my family from the 1920ís, as they all attended a family wedding in London. Itís actually quite sobering looking at it. My grandfather is there, as a very young man, and so are all the rest of the family. But none of my present family knows who many of these people are. And yet at the time, there would have been much happiness and joy, and everyone would have known each other and everything about one another. Those people had lives of equal significance to our own. But now nothing is known of them even by their own family. Life is very fragile, and it seems so insignificant sometimes. Who will care what we did in fifty or a hundred years time?
But there is one who does care. Despite the fact that we human beings are weak and fragile, there is one who cares. And that is the living God. Because David goes on to say in verse 17: ďBut from everlasting to everlasting the Lord's love is with those who fear him, and his righteousness with their children's children- with those who keep his covenant and remember to obey his precepts.Ē Do you see Davidís point. Heís just said that we human beings are very fragile. But in spite of that, says David, God loves his people, those who fear him. He loves those who keep his commands. Whilst the world may forget us and ignore us, yet God does not. Whilst we may feel insignificant and unloved, yet we are loved by the very one who matters. The one who made us, God himself. And that is a crucial lesson for us to take to heart.
You see so often it is very easy to forget just how precious we are in Godís eyes. Perhaps some of us struggle with past guilt and have, if we are honest, a low opinion of ourselves. We struggle to see any good in ourselves. Maybe we feel lonely and neglected. Perhaps weíre tempted to try and live the Christian life through guilt. We feel we need to keep God on side, to keep in his good books. And more often than not, we feel we have let him and we beat ourselves up about it. Well the wonderful truth that David is reminding us of here is that if we are trusting in Jesus today, if we are Christians who love the Lord, then we can be sure of Godís everlasting love for us. He loves us far more than we can ever imagine. He loves us far more deeply than we can fathom. And he will never ever give us up. His love will not run out. Itís everlasting love, according to David. Itís the love that we see in the cross of Jesus as Jesus dies for us even when we have not deserved his mercy and grace. Thatís love. And one of the key areas that the Christian needs to grow in, is an understanding of the love of God. Because as we grow more assured of his love, then we will grow more mature and strong in the faith, not trusting ourselves, but in the one who loves us so much.
Richard Wurmbrand was a pastor in Romania during the communist dictatorship who spent fourteen years in prison for his faith. He was severely beaten in jail and he had the scars to prove it. He was sentenced to solitary confinement for three years when no-one would speak to him. The cell was underground with no windows,, little food and little air, and the only person he had contact with was his torturer. And yet he confessed that during that time there were periods when he was simply overwhelmed with joy and his knowledge of the love of God. He would stand up in his weakened state and dance round his cell, rejoicing in his God. He had nothing outwardly to rejoice in. But his joy was in the Lord because he knew he was deeply loved. Time and again many Christians have testified that in the toughest of situations the thing that has brought them through is a knowledge of the love of God. And itís as we grow in understanding of the love of God for us that we will mature more and spiritually. So let me ask you if you know this love of God. Or have you forgotten how much God loves you? From everlasting to everlasting, the Lordís love is with those who fear him. David says do not forget the Lordís benefits. And one of those is his precious love for us. So never forget Godís love for you.
3) Never forget Godís rule over you (V 19)
But thereís one final blessing that David rejoices in. And itís our third. Never forget Godís rule over you. And we see this in verse 19: ďThe LORD has established his throne in heaven, and his kingdom rules over all.Ē And actually this is a very reassuring blessing. Because itís easy to think as we look at our world, that no-one is in charge. It seems as if chaos reins, perhaps even as if the evil one is triumphing. But the Bible constantly reminds us that there is one who sits on the throne. The living God rules and he is in control. The fact that we live in an ordered and structured world is a mark of his grace. The fact that there is not complete and utter anarchy is a mark of his grace. And the fact that the gospel of Jesus continues to flourish in this world is a mark of his grace. He is in charge and his plan is being carried out. ďThe LORD has established his throne in heaven, and his kingdom rules over all.Ē
Now in the all the ups and downs of our personal lives and of the world at large, it is vital to have this perspective. That God is on his throne. Because unless we do, we will despair and give up. But we neednít, because we know God is on his throne and he is in charge. No we might not understand everything that happens to us or our loved ones. We might not be able to grasp why things happen as they do. But God has the bigger perspective. And his purposes and his plans can never be defeated. His promises can not be undone and they are certain. ďThe LORD has established his throne in heaven, and his kingdom rules over all.Ē
One man who knew the reality of this truth was Isaac Watts. Isaac Watts was a hymn writer who lived through the turbulent reign of Queen Anne at the beginning of the 18th century. She was a Queen who had a reputation for persecuting men and women who believed the gospel and who preached it. On the 1st August 1714 an Act known as the Schism Act was due to be brought in which would effectively mean the renewed persecution upon the believing church. But on that very day, Queen Anne died, and Christians rejoiced in Godís sovereign providence, because the law would never be passed. And as a result of that divine deliverance, Isaac Watts wrote this hymn: ďOur God our help in ages past, our help for years to come; our shelter from the stormy blast and our eternal home. Beneath the shadow of thy throne, thy saints have dwelt secure; sufficient is thine arm alone and our defence is sure.Ē In the midst of the ups and downs of life, God is in control, even over kings and queens, and God can be trusted. Both in the big affairs of the world, and in our personal lives too. The only question is will we believe what is written here. Never forget Godís rule over you.
Well David could teach us many more things from this psalm, but weíve seen just three wonderful blessings. And all too often itís easy to forget, to become ungrateful and bitter, never giving thanks and never remembering all the many good things God has done for us. And to head down that slope is to go down a path to turning away from God which none of us wants to do. But David urges us not to. He urges us to remember, even in the midst of trouble, the many good things from Godís hand. Instead with David we must say: ďPraise the Lord O my soul, and forget not all the Lordís benefits.Ē
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