This sermon was preached at Peace Hill Christian Fellowship on February 20th, 2005. There is no audio available.
This Second Sunday in Lent, we pray for God to be with us in times of trial and darkness, and express our confidence in Him.
Psalm 116 is the testimony of a person who was in great trouble – and who despaired of God’s goodness – but whom God then delivered. The tendency of those who have had this experience is to believe that their faith has been a failure. But Psalm 116 reinterprets this experience. Rather than feeling guilt, the Psalmist recognizes this experience as a great blessing – and shows us how to respond to it.
This Psalm is written backwards – or at least sideways. The psalmist begins by telling us about the goodness of God in delivering him before he ever mentions that he had a problem or a need for deliverance. It is not written in a logical orderly manner – but sounds more like an excited, joyful report that we would hear from someone who had just experienced the greatness of God – this is probably purposeful. In reading this Psalm, we are meant to feel the rush of joy, and the overwhelmed excitement of the writer.
Listen to the Testimony of God’s Faithfulness!
God Hears Us: “I love the Lord for he heard my voice, he heard my cry for mercy. Because he turned his ear to me, I will call on him as long as I live.”
Why does the Psalmist love God? Why do you love God? Why should we love God? Not because it is noble – or even because it is right – but because He is someone – someone who loves us and is responsive to us.
This is the testimony of the Psalmist – I love the Lord – not because I am so noble – not because in my intelligence I figured out that this was the best thing to do – but because he heard my crying – because he turned to me. What a powerful testimony – God heard me! God loved me, that’s why I love the Lord – that’s why I will call on him as long as I live.
We are not told exactly what the Psalmist was going through. We only know that he was facing some kind of death – maybe physical, maybe not. The anguish of the grave – of death was on him, and he was troubled and heartbroken, maybe depressed. We are not told because this Psalm is not only for one kind of trouble – it is for those who are in distress – have been in distress.
What is the Psalmist telling us? Not God will hear you, but that God does hear you. This is the point – God hears you even in the midst of your distress when you think he does not.
God is Good: Look at what the Psalmist says about God…
- The Lord is gracious and righteous – in other words – he is good and kinder to us than we deserve.
- Our God is full of compassion – he is responsive to us and will not leave us alone.
- The Lord protects the simple hearted – he even takes care of those who are too foolish to recognize what is going on in trials or spiritual attack.
- The Lord is powerful – he is able to save us even when we are in great need.
Why is the Psalmist saying this – are these good theological statements to make about God? Well, yes… But the point is that these are the things he doubted during his time of trial. He’ not just coming up with good things to say about God – he has been converted to a new way of thinking. He doubted the Lord’s compassion! He doubted the Lord’s graciousness! He thought God was blasting him because he had been simple! He questioned God’s power to save! These statements are new confessions of faith. Before his dark trial he may have believed them as theological statements – now he has experienced them as truths. God is good! The testimony is that he used to believe this as a general statement, but now he knows it is specifically true – God is good to me!
Therefore, Be at Rest, O My Soul! “Be at rest once more, O my soul, for the Lord has been good to you. For you O Lord have delivered my soul from death, my eyes from tears, my feet from stumbling, that I may walk before the Lord in the land of the living.”
This is the statement – the testimony of someone who has come to believe in the goodness of God – who has come to have true Confidence in God. He can rest – He can relax – everything is all right because God is good. He has been good to me!
I think that this is what we are all after – what we all want – this confidence. This is the Gospel – God has been good to me – and you can see the new life it has produced in the Psalmist. See how he changes the form of address – from “the Lord” to “You”. He uses the voice of someone who has come to know God personally – “You, O Lord, have delivered my soul from death…”.
Listen to the Testimony of Man’s Failure!
How did the Psalmist come to have such a powerful, life- giving testimony? He failed, he fell!
He Believed: “I believed; therefore I said, ‘I am greatly afflicted’” This is important: He didn’t fall apart because of unbelief. He wasn’t cynical, he didn’t fall apart because of his weak faith. He fell apart precisely because he believed! He believed God was good. He believed God watches over his children. That’s the problem – something happened that shook him. One of those things we are afraid even to think about happened to this man. Some kind of death. The loss of a child? a beloved friend? some loss or illness or tragedy that was too much. How could a good God allow this to happen? How could he not protect?
He was Shaken: “In my dismay I said, ‘All men are liars.’” He could not believe. All men, and all the things they say about God – is false. I can’t believe it anymore. How could God be good and powerful and compassionate and gracious – and allow this to happen?
This is his testimony – he failed – he fell. The trial was too much for him and all that he had believed of God fell away – even as he was calling on the name of the Lord. The strain of living in a fallen and evil world was too much.
And God Saved Him: But he has already told us – God delivered him. And this is the Gospel that I believe brought this Psalmist to life. God delivered him after he failed and fell into unbelief. That is why it is so desperately joyful and powerful. He might have despaired and said – “What use is my faith? I have failed!” But instead of looking at his failure, he looks at God’s goodness. “I failed, but God was Good to me!”
And God Freed Him: There is something else here in vs.15ff – something the Psalmist has learned. “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints.” What is this statement saying? That even in death, God does not abandon his children. Death does not mean abandonment – this is what the Psalmist has learned – which is why it seems to me that the Psalmist had lost someone close to him. His wife, a family member, a dear friend, went through the very thing he feared – the thing that looked like God’s abandonment to him. Somehow God delivered him. And in delivering him, God freed him from a chain – a fear that had bound him probably all his life. And he affirms his faith – “O Lord, truly I am your servant. I am your servant…”.
Learn from the Response of the Psalmist.
“How can I repay the Lord for all His goodness to me?” The answer is simple – he can’t. What God seeks is the responsiveness of a heart that has seen His goodness – and that responsiveness always comes out in action…
I Will Talk About God’s Goodness: “I will lift up the cup of salvation”. What does he mean? He means he will do what he is doing in this Psalm – give testimony. He will hold up the salvation God has shown him and tell other people about it. He will tell people about his failure and God’s goodness – isn’t this the Gospel? He says it again at the end of the Psalm – he will do this in the courts of the house of the Lord – in the midst of Jerusalem – where people can hear and see and take heart.
I Will Trust You From Now On: “I will call on the name of the Lord” It isn’t that he did not call on the name of the Lord before – but now he will call on the name of the Lord with a new confidence because of what God has done. God has been gracious. He will not despair and say – I blew it so my faith is meaningless. He will not presume and say, “I failed before and God came through so it doesn’t really matter whether I believe or not.” He will, with renewed confidence, actively call on the name of the Lord.
I Will Return to Serving the Lord: “I will fulfill my vows to the Lord in the presence of all his people.” This is a man who was serving the Lord before all this happened. Perhaps, in the midst of his sorrow and falling, he ceased to fulfill his duties, his vows of obedience to the Lord. Now he will return to them. He has not been disqualified – his experience has qualified him – more fully – to serve the Lord.