This will be the fifth sermon I’ve preached on the Psalms. It started out with Psalm 23 in which I wanted to show that familiar Bible passages can be full of glory that we’ve never seen before, simply because we read over them too quickly. The other three sermons have been from Psalm 16, 42 and 130. I plan to continue preaching from the Psalms as much as I can for several reasons, but there is one compelling reason that rises to the top.
The Psalms are 150 poems that express a wide range of emotions in difficult circumstances, that are meant to help us conform our emotions to the truth of God. The Psalms don’t merely express emotion, they seek to help shape emotion. That goes very much against the worldly thinking of today that creeps into the church. That thinking being that if I feel it, it must be right and valid. No. There are bad emotions that result from bad thinking and bad responses.
Grace Church we are a people that love expository preaching. We love books and read them in our Discipleship Groups. We attend seminars and conferences. We are a church characterized by study of the Bible. This is all right and good and one of the reasons I came to this church in 2010. Yet I fear a disconnect.
I fear a disconnect happens from what we hear on Sunday morning and live and feel out on Monday morning. A disconnect from what we talk about and discuss during the week in our DGs and then live out and feel on Friday evening. It’s a disconnect I am increasingly aware of in my own heart and of Christians around me. It is a disconnect between what we know and what we feel. The disconnect occurs when we fail to press in to a sermon or book with the aim to have it shape our very emotions.
Husband, are you seeking to delight in loving your wife even the she’s hard to love? Wife, are you seeking to love to honor your husband even when he is not honorable? Children, are you seeking to delight to obey your parents even when it is hard? Mother, are you seeking to love to share the gospel with your kids even when you’d like to drop them off at the county jail? Father, are you striving to love to gather your family around God’s Word in the evening and lead them in worship? Employee, are you seeking to love to bear the reproach of Christ by opening your mouth to share the gospel and count the reproach of Christ greater treasure than the praise of man? Giver, do you love giving your money away to the church and to missions, choosing to have a smaller house and older car so you can free up more money for the spread of the gospel?
All these are commands we are given in the Bible, but we ought not to see them only as commands. We ought to see them as things we can delight in. The Psalms are a rubber-meets-the-road type of tool to help us when we don’t love God and his commands as should. This is where I live and where I want to see so much more growth.
A few weeks ago I had one of the worst days I’ve had in the past year. I was mad. I was sorrowful. I was frustrated. I wanted to have my emotions conform to great truths from the Bible but wrong emotions were raging against that. I opened up Psalm 18 and read through 50 verses of David praying to God to deliver him and to be his salvation, deliverer, rock and victor. My emotions didn’t change immediately, but over the next couple days, slowly they began to change and by God’s grace my heart was brought back into alignment. I had to apologize to Johanna. I had to repent to God. That is where the rubber meets the road in our life in applying the truths we hear on Sunday morning.
The book of Psalms is a tremendous gift from God to us as a church. The uniqueness of these 150 chapters is that it talks about a range of emotions that we experience as humans. The psalmists write about joy and sorrow, peace and turmoil, life and death, loneliness and friendship, anger and love, guilt and forgiveness, hope and being downcast, and on and on. To be human is to have emotions. While some experience more intense emotions than others, we all experience them on some level and to some degree. Emotions can be really good or really destructive.
The uniqueness of the Psalms though is that it deals with the volatility and power of human emotions within the constancy of God’s sovereignty and his truth. The psalmists never treat human emotions as the ultimate truth that allows them to do whatever they want to. The Psalmists describe how they feel and then remind the reader of the truth of who God is and what he will do for his people. How we need this.
The Bible has much to say about our emotions which are the motivations for our actions. Emotions are a factor into why we make certain decisions (good or bad). When I respond to a 911 call it is always because someone is making a bad decision based on emotions that are running like electricity through their body. They aren’t making logical, well thought out decisions on how they are going to break the law. Their emotions are almost completely driving the situation.
Emotions can be used for great good or great evil. Proper, God-exalting feelings find their roots in powerful, God-revealed truths. When those are synced together, it becomes a powerful motivation for obedience. Sustained, intense, ever-increasing obedience doesn’t come from a sense of doing what you ought to do (duty). Sustained, intense, ever-increasing obedience comes from the emotions of love, joy and hope in God.
That is why the Psalms are so needed for your life. They are meant to not only help you see truths. They are meant to help you conform and shape your emotions towards seeing the truth, loving the truth, and then walking in the truth.
AN INTRODUCTION TO THE PSALMS
The ESV Study Bible describes the Psalms in this way: “By expressing the emotional heights, and depths in human response to God, the Psalms provide a permanent treasure for God’s people to use to express their needs and their praises, both corporately and individually. Christ as representative man experienced our human condition, yet without sin, and so the Psalms become his prayers to God. The Psalms are thus to be seen as his words, and through our union with him they become ours.”
These 150 poems are a treasure. We are going to take an introductory look into the Psalms as a way to help us see more clearly just what kind of treasure this is and how we are to use this treasure in our lives.
The Psalms are one book amidst 5 others in the Old Testament that are referred to as the poetic books of the Bible. The others being Job, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs, and Lamentations. These 150 poems express a wide variety of emotions that include love, worship of God, sorrow over sin, dependence on God in desperate circumstances, battling fear, trust, thankfulness for God’s care, love for the Word, and confidence in God’s eventual victory over his enemies. The people that wrote these psalms are writing in a poetic way about their faith in God colliding head-on with really hard circumstances and show what they do in response.
David is identified as the author of 73 psalms and the New Testament identifies him as the author of two more (Acts 4:25 for Psalm 2 and Hebrews 4:7 for Psalm 95). Other authors include the Sons of Korah, Asaph, Solomon and Moses. Some of the Sons of Korah, including Asaph, were charged with the “service of song in the house of the Lord” (I Chron. 6:31). Others were charged with “serving in the sanctuary” (I Chron. 9:19). Solomon, while known primarily for his wisdom, also wrote psalms as did Moses for the assembly of Israel.
The psalms span from Moses’ songs in the 15th century to David and Solomon’s in the 10th century. These Psalms provide a window into the lives of ancient saints who struggled as we do. Their faith was tested and they went through trials. They don’t write as if life is simple and easy to understand. They wrestled with the question of where is God when the righteous suffer and the wicked prosper. They deal with the feelings of seeming as if God has abandoned them.
Within this hymnbook the 150 psalms are broken up into 5 different sections.
Psalms 1-41 (Book 1) consist mostly of all psalms written by David. Many of these Psalms have to do with prayers for help in a specific situation and proclaim confidence in God’s faithfulness.
Psalms 42-72 (Book 2) have themes of lament and distress that take a more congregational approach.
Psalms 73-89 (Book 3) take a predominantly darker tone, questioning God’s justice. It is bleak but occasionally shows rays of hope piercing through the darkness.
Psalms 90-106 (Book 4) can be seen as a response to the problems raised in the third book and reminds the reader of God’s work for Israel in the past.
Psalms 107-150 (Book 5) has Psalms of hallelujah, psalms that affirm that God’s promises are true for David, and also has the longest Psalm delighting in the value of God’s law. It also contains 15 psalms of ascent that were used by pilgrims as they made their way to Jerusalem.
These individual songs were compiled by editors who put them together into the book of Psalms for the people of God to worship, and have been included in the canon of Scripture. This is the “hymnbook of the people of God at worship” as the introduction in the ESV Study Bible puts it.
These are 150 poems broken into 5 different sections. We can also see that the psalms can be categorized into different themes.
Laments are psalms in which the writer is facing a very difficult circumstance and is asking God for help.
“Consider and answer me, O Lord my God; light up my eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death, lest my enemy say, ‘I have prevailed over him,’ lest my foes rejoice because I am shaken.” Psalm 13:3-4
Hymns of praise are Psalms that are calling you to worship and exult God’s great power and might works.
“When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him? Psalm 8:3-4
Hymns of thanksgiving are ones thanking God for his answer to prayer.
“You have turned for me my mourning into dancing; you have loosed my sackcloth and clothed me with gladness, that my glory may sing your praise and not be silent. O Lord my God, I will give thanks to you forever.” Psalm 30:11-12
Hymns celebrating God’s law are one’s that rejoice in God’s law and express a desire to obey it more.
“If your law had not been my delight I would have perished in my affliction.” Psalm 119:92
Wisdom psalms are those that take themes from the wisdom books (like Proverbs) and make a song out of them.
“Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers.” Psalm 1:1
Songs of confidence are psalms that aim to help you deepen your trust in God in all kinds of hard circumstances.
“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your road and your staff they comfort me.” Psalm 23:4
Royal psalms are those that show the monarchy of King David is the way in which God will give his blessings to the people of God. All of these psalms point to Jesus who is the ultimate king and whose kingdom will never see an end.
“O Lord, save the king! May he answer us when we call.” Psalm 20:9
Historical psalms take specific instances in Israel’s history as a way to teach a lesson from it.
“He established a testimony in Jacob and appointed a law in Israel, which he commanded our fathers to teach to their children, that the next generation might know them, and the children yet unborn.” Psalm 78:5-6
Prophetic psalms have similar themes to that which is found in the prophetic books of the Old Testament. This mainly has to do with a call for the people of God to covenant with God in faithfulness to him.
“Oh, that my people would listen to me, that Israel would walk in my ways!” Psalm 81:11
THE PSALMS ARE FOR US TODAY
How do we know these promises in the Old Testament are true for us when they were written for Israel under the old covenant? The writers of the Psalms lived in the time of the Old Testament and during the reign of David as king over Israel. These Psalms were written for the people of Israel. How do we know that the promises in this book can be held as truth for us today?
We can claim these Psalms as true for us because 2 Corinthians 1:20 says that “For all the promises of God find their Yes in him. That is why it is through him that we utter our Amen to God for his glory.” The promises of the Old Testament are true for us because of our union with Jesus. We are now the true Israel which is spiritual, not physical. We are grafted into Israel spiritually through Jesus life, death, and resurrection.
There is also a continuity between the Psalms and the New Testament. Jesus and the disciples loved the Psalms and the New Testament references them often. The Psalms were used to give clarity and reveal truth about Jesus’ ministry and his resurrection. Jesus and the Apostles are often quoting from it, so you can go back to the Psalms and see where they are citing specific verses.
For example, Jesus told the disciples in Luke 24:44, “Then he said to them, ‘These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” We see here that there are things written in the Psalms that were pointers to a coming Messiah and Jesus fulfilled all of them. That has direct bearing for us in the Psalms.
Let’s look at one example of this in action from Acts 4:26. This verse shows how the Anointed one talked about in Psalm 2:1-2 is Jesus Christ. Psalm 2 reads, “Why do the nations rage, and the people plot in vain? The kings of the earth set themselves and the rulers take counsel together, against the Lord and against his Anointed.”
Now Acts 4:26 says, “Why did the Gentiles rage, and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the east set themselves and the rulers were gathered together, against the Lord and against his Anointed…for truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the people of Israel, to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place.”
The phrase “kings of the earth” in Psalm 2 is connected in Acts 4:26 to Herod and Pontius Pilate. And the Anointed in Psalm 2 is pointing towards Jesus Christ. This happens all over the New Testament. If you look, regularly you will see Jesus and the Apostles making connections back to the Psalms.
Finally, Psalm 18:50 and Isaiah 55:3 show that we can claim the promises of the Psalms for us. Psalm 18 is a very personal psalm in which David is recounting what God has done for him and what God is for him. That’s great for David, but is that true for us too? We see from this psalm that God is a fortress, rock, deliverer, and salvation for David. Is that also true for us or do we need to go the New Testament to find these promises? The last verse in Psalm 18 says, “Great salvation he brings to his king, and shows steadfast love to his anointed, to David and his offspring forever.” To David and his offspring forever. Who are David’s offspring? Are his offspring only his family lineage? Are they only the kings of Israel that come after David?
In Isaiah 55 we can find the answer. In verse 1 we read, “Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat!” So this is a call to anyone who desires to know God and have God supply all his needs. Anyone who thirsts and hungers for God can come to God. This is not a call to those who are Israelites alone. This is a call to anyone who desires God.
Now listen to verse 3 of Isaiah 55. “Incline your ear, and come to me; hear, that your soul may live; I will make with you an everlasting covenant, my steadfast, sure love for David.” Here’s our answer. God shows his everlasting covenant that he made with David to those who thirst for God and desire to hear his voice. David’s offspring are those who long to be the children of God.
So we can know that the promises of the Psalms are for us because through union with Jesus Christ that happens in salvation, we have been grafted into the covenant that God made with David. All the promises of God find their yes in Jesus Christ. The Psalms are for us today.
PSALM 1: THE BLESSED LIFE
With that stage set let’s turn our attention to Psalm 1 and see how this is the gateway into the rest of the 149 poems we find in Psalms. Let’s look at verses 1 and 2. “Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night.”
I want to point out something in verse 1 that happens throughout the Psalms, and that is parallelism. The use of lines in poems to express ideas. In verse 1 we have synonymous parallelism in which the lines of a verse express the same idea, but in a different way. You can see how David is using three different lines to say the same thing.
David is saying you are blessed, or happy, if you don’t walk, stand or sit in sin. Don’t go that way! That is not the path to knowing God and finding delight in him. The greatest joy you can have in this life and in the next is not walking in sin but rather delighting in God. And the way in which we know how to delight in God is by delighting in his law- his instruction. God has given us a war manual for how to live this life and take delight in him through the revelation of his will in the Bible. How happy we should be for this. If you’re lost, the greatest thing you can have is someone who can lead you in the direction you should go!
We were not made for sin. Sin deludes us into thinking it can satisfy us. Explosive anger feels good in the moment. Lust seems delightful as an escape. In the end they bight like a snake. They can’t bring lasting fulfillment. Sin is suicide but it tempts us to think that it is the medication we need to feel better in the moment. David is saying that our delight should be in the sustaining, everlasting, truth of God’s Word which we should be meditating on day and night.
The word mediation does not relegate the Bible to being preached on Sunday mornings or talked about at Discipleship Group. Meditating on God’s Word is a command to have the law of God permeate your life Monday morning and Tuesday night and Thursday afternoon. Your life ought to be marked by thinking about God’s Word throughout the normal rhythms of your day.
I don’t know how you can obey this joyful command without memorizing God’s Word. For when you do it’s like putting bullets in your gun to do battle against sin throughout your day. When you have engrained a promise of the Bible into your memory you can pull it out from the back of your mind when trouble hits, and turn it into a prayer, and go on offense against sin. This is how you aim at delighting in God and restoring the disconnect between knowing about God and actually knowing and delighting in God. Memorize the Bible!
In the early mornings of the day or at night before you go to bed, are you meditating on God’s Word? Do you see it not as a time to check off a Bible reading list or to just say you did it, but do you see it as a time to meet the living God and seek to have your emotions conformed to God’s truth? If you are, happy are you! This is how you get to know God and be transformed by him. Make war on sin by stockpiling the bullets of God’s promises so you’ll be ready when temptation comes to shoot it dead.
Look at verse 3 now. “He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does he prospers.” What is the result of living a life called for in verses 1 and 2? Fruit-bearing.
You are the tree. Your life and your obedience bear fruit. Where does this fruit-bearing get its source? From the water of God’s Word. When your life is planted near the streams of God’s Word and you are drawing life and energy and joy from it, you will bear fruit. Through the work of the Holy Spirit as you drink from the water of God’s Word you grow in love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
Just as a tree grows slowly, so will the growth in this fruit be slow. It’s painful to me how slow my growth is in these areas of fruit-bearing. But I see fruit happening over the course of years. Our fruit-bearing is not marked by days and months but by years and decades. So keep drinking. Keep delighting. Keep praying.
There will be times of increased fruitfulness in your life and seasons of bareness. The fruit-bearing will come in seasons. But in each season our call is to continue drinking from the water of God’s Word with a desperation to be satisfied by God. So ponder your life by looking at a tree in your yard and ask God to satisfy you with the Word the way a tree is satisfied by water. Don’t go through your day disengaged from God. Press in through meditation on God’s Word and ask God to show you how what you are dealing with in front of you relates to the Word. How can your marriage, your parenting, and your work be shaped by the Bible? As you ask these questions, get answers from the Bible, meditate on them, and pray through them, your emotions will become conformed to delighting and taking joy in God. This is the rubber meeting the road. This is where real life happens and fruit is made.
Verse 4. “The wicked are not so, but are like chaff that the wind drives away.” While the godly bear fruit, the wicked bear nothing. The fruit of sin is husks of corn or chopped up hay. Nothing. You can’t do much with it. It’s only good for burning up. A tree stands when the winds and storms hit. The chaff gets blown away. Sin robs us of fruit-bearing.
By the grace of God may our lives not be like chaff. May they not be wasted. We live in a country that worships at the altar of ease and convenience. Sinful emotions want to have personal needs met rather than going low to serve others. This is a hard country to be a Christian in. Will we choose a life of easy chaff, or a life of hard fruit-bearing that will delight in God and not comfort? Don’t be chaff. Don’t choose easiness. Choose hard things that require you to draw deeply from the water of God’s Word for strength and life and joy and delight.
Finally, the conclusion of this gateway psalm is in verses 5 and 6. “Therefore the wicked will not stand in judgement, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous; for the Lord knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish.”
Where is all of this headed? Where does it find its conclusion? For the wicked, God’s judgement will be devastating. His wind of judgement will blow them away like a piece of tin in a hurricane. They will be rejected by God at the judgement for not delighting in him but choosing a delight that glorified themselves instead of God.
For the righteous, the tree will stand in the judgement. What will cause it to stand? It’s righteousness. God knows the righteous and loves the righteous because God and his ways are righteous. Does this mean our righteousness is based on how well we drink from the water of God’s Word? Are we declared righteous by working hard on growing our tree and bearing fruit?
No, our righteousness produces the growth in the tree and the bearing of fruit. Our righteousness comes from Christ who is the one that gave us life in the first place. Philippians 3:9 declares, “and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness of God that depends on faith.” Faith in Jesus’ work on the cross grafts us into the covenant God made with David. From there the seed is planted, the tree begins to grow, and the heart starts drawing life from the water of God’s Word. Only then can the tree grow, fruit be born, and delight happen.
Psalm 1 sets the stage. Which life will you choose? There are two ways a life can go. A life can take joy in sin or it can take joy in God. Choose life. Choose to delight in the glory of Christ’s righteousness being applied to you through faith in him. Turn from your sin and put your hope in God.
And begin seeking to meditate on God’s Word with the desire to have your emotions conformed to him. When life is hard you can really delight in God. This is not a superficial happiness I speak of. It is a type of rejoicing in sorrow because God is sovereign. Meditation on God’s Word and a delighting in him produces a life of endurance, steadfastness, maturity, and growth that leads to fruitfulness. And it will find its climax of joy when we see Jesus face to face and he says well done good and faithful servant. Now enter into the joy of your master.
This is where I want to live. I want to not only know about God through listening to sermons and reading books. I want to know God. I want to go farther up and further in through meditation on God’s Word. That won’t happen unless you meditate on God’s Word as you go through hard and good times in your week, taking the Scripture and turning it into prayers, and asking God to give you joy in him.
That’s where I was a few weeks ago when I had one of the worst days I’ve had in the past year. I was mad. I was sorrowful. I was frustrated. I wanted to have my emotions conform to great truths from the Bible but my emotions were raging against that. I opened up Psalm 18 and read through 50 verses of David praying to God to deliver him from his enemies. My emotions didn’t change immediately, but over the next couple days, slowly they began to change and by God’s grace my heart was brought back into alignment. That is where the rubber meets the road in our life in applying the truths we hear on Sunday morning.
Now as I look back at that situation from a few weeks ago I can see how God sustained me through it. There will be more days like that. In each of them I am being changed a little bit more to delight in God. My heart is learning to cast off sin and be changed from one degree of glory into the next. I pray you will do the same and not have a disconnect between knowing about God and knowing God. I pray that by the power of the Holy Spirt we will make the connection between knowing truth about God and knowing God. May God-revealed truths produce in you God-exalting feelings that would be a powerful motivation for knowing God and obeying God.