Delightful deliverance - Psalm 116

This is a sermon by Lee McMunn from the morning service on 27th July 2008.

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Most of us laugh at national stereotypes. We know most of them are simply not true but they still provide the essential material for many a harmless joke. Have you heard the one about the Englishman, the Scotsman and the Irishman? I’m not going to tell you one of these jokes this morning but we all know how they work. They make use of national stereotypes. You know the ones I mean, where the Irish are always stupid, the Spanish are always lazy, the Germans never have a sense of humour, and where the Scots, well the Scots are Yorkshiremen with all the generosity sucked out of them.

This morning I don’t want to talk about national stereotypes which aren’t true but rather characteristics of a people which should be true. Our focus this morning is on the marks of a genuine Christian. How can we know who is and who is not an authentic follower of Jesus Christ? Many people profess to be Christians but how can we know for sure if what they say is really true? Well, the Bible says that Christians should behave in a certain way. Unlike national stereotypes which often aren’t true and in practice are rarely found, the Bible says that the followers of Jesus should be marked out by distinctive characteristics. And this morning as we delve into the riches of Psalm 116 we’ll focus on three of them: love, trust and service.

First of all, love. Look at how this Psalm begins.

Read verses 1 and 2.

What a beginning! Straight away we hear the language of love, of personal intimacy. There is no stiff-upper lip formalism for this individual. Wonderfully, this is not how he interacts with God. He is not a dispassionate creature with a vague connection to his creator. Do you know people like this? Yes they believe in God. Yes they acknowledge his existence but there is no intimacy. There is no personal communication. There is no warmth. There is no love. And yet straight away the writer of this Psalm acknowledges that he loves the LORD. And then he tells us why. Verse 1. Why does he love the LORD? Because he heard my voice. He cried out to God in heaven and verse 2, the God of heaven turned his ear to me. And so from this day onwards he makes a promise to keep the prayers going up, to call on him as long as he lives.

This makes perfect sense. Because for a personal relationship to blossom there must be two-way communication. It’s no good for one person to speak all the time. Both people must communicate with each other.

I don’t know what kind of relationship you think God offers to his creatures but what is being described here is not the distant formalism of so much organised religion but the personal intimacy of love. I love the LORD, for he heard my voice, he heard my cry for mercy.

In verse 3 we discover what prompted our writer to cry out to God in the first place. Look at what he says.

Read verses 3-6.

It was certainly a situation of great need. The cords of death entangled him. The picture language is very evocative. Like a rope around his neck. Close to death and the feelings associated with such a position. The sorrow and the anguish of the grave.

His situation was transformed when he called on the name of the LORD. Why is it phrased like this? Why not simply say that he called on God or on his all-powerful creator? Why does he say that he called on the name of the LORD? Well, this may be stating the obvious but let me say it anyway, names are very personal. If someone calls you mate… And when someone gives you their name they are inviting you into a more personal relationship as opposed to a more formal, distant kind of relationship.

It should not be taken for granted that in the OT God told his people his name. It was called Yahweh, which in our English Bibles is represented as LORD, LORD in capital letters. So every time you read LORD in your bibles it is a translation of God’s Hebrew name, Yahweh.

This should take our breath away. God is revealing to people what kind of relationship he wants. It is not distant and mystical but a relationship which is up close and personal.

So when our writer calls on the name of the LORD, that is when he says, “O LORD (Yahweh), save me!” he is speaking to his Creator on very intimate terms. And wonderfully for him Yahweh heard his voice and acted to save him from great danger.

The reason why Yahweh did this is provided in verses 5-6. Why would the LORD do this? Because the LORD is gracious and righteous. He is a God full of compassion. He loves to protect the simple-hearted, that is the humble person who comes to him for protection.

He is gracious. He loves to give us what we don’t deserve.

He is righteous. He loves to do right and keep his promises.

He is compassionate. He feels for us and is moved to act.

He protects the simple-hearted. The humble.

For our writer he was in great physical need. Within inches of death and he cried out for God to save him and he did. No wonder he loves him as a result.

We need to be careful how we apply this to our circumstances. We are dealing with the same God but we need to be sure of his promises before we claim them to be true.

Will the LORD always protect us from physical harm? No. He sometimes does and he sometimes does it in answer to the prayers of his people. He doesn’t promise this and we shouldn’t expect this as the norm.

You may be sitting here and the LORD has rescued you from the brink of death and you easily be able to relate to what we’ve just read this morning.

But even if we have not been rescued from the cords of physical death there is a way in which every Christian has been rescued from an even more horrific fate and which should inspire us to love the LORD will all our hearts.

It’s what the Bible calls eternal death. That eternal punishment in a place from the love of God where all rebels against his authority deserve to spend their destiny. And yet what is the Christian gospel? What is the good news at the heart of the Christian message? No simply that we need to wake up to reality, to see the danger we are in. But our creator has made a way to be saved from this eternal fate.

By dying on a cross Jesus has changed the eternity of all his followers.

It is surely this reason why true Christians are to be people marked by love.

It’s easy to understand why the Psalmist was so in love with his creator. He had been rescued from physical death.

But this morning what of us? Would we say that we love the LORD?

•    A new believer. You will know this joy.
•    You may be an old believer who has lost sight of the wonder of all of this. Rev 2 – the church of Ephesus had lost its first love. Take advantage this morning. Especially of communion.
•    It may be that you have never begun a personal relationship with God through Jesus and know nothing of this love. Why not start today?

Christians are to be recognised by their love of the LORD.

Secondly, they are to be recognised by their trust in the LORD. This is the big theme of verses 7-11.

Read verses 7-11.

I believed. Believed what? Goodness of the LORD. So he says to his God, why then am I in great distress? If you are so good then why does this happen? And he speaks to God about the liars. By contrast God is a God of truth.

To speak to God like this is not a sign of unbelief. Faith enables us to speak and ask God questions.

He is to live out the current troubles in the light of the past goodness of the LORD.

We too have the same responsibilities. The Christian life is not trouble free but we are to affirm the goodness of the LORD all the way through.

We can still be real with God as we cry out. But ultimately we trust that the good God is working out his good purposes for the children he loves.

How do we do this? We look back to the cross. How do I know God loves me when the situation of life is chaotic? The death of Jesus shows this to me.

Why is it happening? God is working out the good of our soul.

Christians are to be marked by their trust.

Thirdly, Christians are to be recognised by their service of the LORD. I think this is the big theme of verses 12-19.

Look at how this section begins.

Read verses 12-19.

Freed from the chains of death but he now puts himself in the service of the LORD.

The Christian life is marked by joyful service. All a response to the loving salvation of God.

Why should I help with the coffee? Not because we need help. But because Christ has died.

Why should I give money in the credit crunch? Not because the church needs to keep the heating on through the winter months and keep on employing its workers but because Christ has died for you.

Why should I help…Because Christ has died.

Notice the emphasis on where service will take place.

Verse 14, “I will fulfil my vows to the LORD in the presence of all his people.”

Verses 18, “I will fulfil my vows to the LORD in the presence of all his people, in the courts of the house of the LORD.”

A strong connection between the individual nd the community. We don’t have to go to Jerusalem but we belong to a local community and we serve. Still serve in the world but there is a need to serve in the church.

We are the body of Christ and we need each other.

The good of the individual. Spiritual fitness and fatness.

The good of everyone.

But let’s never forget why we should do it? Because Christ has died.

As we come forward to communion this morning let’s pray that we are struck again by the wonder of God’s mercy, that we love him, that we will trust him and that we will serve him joyfully for the rest of our lives.

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