Saturday, February 14, 2015

The Glory of God's Word in Psalm 119

Earlier in the week, I wanted to spend the morning talking about a rationale for doing what we’re doing in the current series. Right now, we’re going through the Ten Commandments. We’re studying the Law of God. That is so basic. It answers a few very important questions: How has God ordered the universe? What is it that God requires of us? How does he want us to live in relation to him and in relation to one another? Another question our study on the law answers—and this is perhaps more central—is who is this God we worship, anyway? That’s really what Gordon has been wanting us to focus on when he points out the covenant and how God is not only our Lord, he’s also our husband, in that sense. So that’s the central question we’re answering. What is God’s character?

I wanted to give a rationale for this series that would prepare us for the next few teaching series we’re planning, but this week I was personally convicted about two things. First, I was convicted about how I think about the Law of God, myself. Sometimes when I see a command in the Bible, I say to myself, “Well, Okay. Let’s get to it.” Then I roll up my sleeves and try to do it. For one thing that doesn't work for long. When you try to bootstrap the Law of God, eventually you’ll come to the end of your ability and you’ll do one of two things. You’ll either completely crash, or you’ll readjust your standards so that you can say you’re keeping the Law when you’re not, really.

But then second, I was convicted about how I talk about the Law of God. Since I have this tendency to approach the Law as something that I can just do, then what I look for is some kind of mental trigger, some kind of trick to it, or some kind of better technique so that I can more faithfully keep this law. With that in mind, my approach to teaching the law can so quickly become “do better, pray more, try harder.” On the one hand, that doesn’t sound so bad. The Law tells us what God wants from us, right? Of course it does. But when you think about it, there’s not too much hope in it when that’s the way you see it—when you depend on yourself. Is keeping the Sabbath hard? Yes. Well, there’s always next week. Honor your parents? Well, you can always try harder.

I don’t think that’s uncommon either. In fact, it’s probably one of the most common ways of understanding religion in the world. Work harder, and maybe things will turn out okay. Of course the Bible doesn’t let us do that. We know true religion is about faith in God. True religion leads to good works, but it doesn’t start there.

In the story about the Rich Young Man in Mark 10, a young man runs up to Jesus and asks him what he should do to be saved. Jesus responds by listing out commandments “Don’t murder, don’t commit adultery, don’t steal, don’t give false testimony, don’t defraud, honor your parents.” Then the man says he’s kept all of those. Then Mark writes,
“Jesus looked at him and loved him.”
After that, Jesus tells him he lacks one thing: Sell everything you have and give to the poor. Then the man walked away disappointed because he was very wealthy. We’ll come back to this story a bit later.

This is a very common—but very wrong—way to look at the law of God. It was the mistake the Pharisees made. Jesus tells them in John 5, “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life.”

There is a way to look at the scriptures and miss the point. There is life to be found in the scriptures. There is hope to be found in the Law.

The topic today is the Law, of course. We’ve been going through the Law in our current series and my goal is to look for the hope. Gordon has been taking us there every week. When we see that God says “You shall have no other Gods” and “You shall not make idols,” we find that God offers us true freedom and true security in himself. When he tells us “You shall not misuse my name” and “Remember the Sabbath,” we find a God who offers us a true identity and a true rest. Last week, when we heard God say “Honor your parents” we find a God who offers himself as a true and better authority, a true and ultimate parent. There is hope to be found in the Law of the Lord, and I want us to take a little time just to stare at it today.

Our text for today is Psalm 119. It’s the longest chapter in the Bible. One writer said you can spend your whole life getting familiar with the Psalms, but allow a little extra time for Psalm 119.

Just a few things to notice about the Psalm before we start: It’s an acrostic poem in 22 stanzas, each with eight verses. Each stanza is assigned a letter in the Hebrew alphabet, and each verse in that stanza begins with that letter. That’s why your bible probably has the Hebrew letter written at the top of each stanza: aleph, bet, gimel, etc.

That shows you a little bit about what the psalmist is after. This is an elaborate poem in which the psalmist very carefully applied a rigid structure so that verse by verse by verse, you would see what he or she sees in God’s word. Leland and Phillip Ryken wrote this about Psalm 119;
The overall effect of the poem is like turning a prism in the light: as we progress through the psalm, we contemplate various facets of God’s revealed word. The rhetorical format involves continuous address to God, which lends an aura of prayer to the entire collection of individual poems.
Today, we’re going to read this psalm together by dividing into four groups and each group will get a section. At your tables, I’d like you to assign one or two readers and three or four scribes. To the readers, I want you just to read through your section. To the scribes, at each table I want one of you to note what the psalmist says about God—Who he is, what’s his character; I want one to note what the psalmist says about his own character; and I want one two write down what the psalmist says about what the law is; and if you have a fourth scribe, I want the fourth to write down what the law does. If you don’t have four scribes, you can combine the last two. Take note that the psalmist uses about eight different synonyms for law: 1) law, 2) testimonies, 3) precepts, 4) statutes, 5) commandments, 6) judgments, 7) word, and 8) ordinances.

As you read through Psalm 119, you might notice that the verses are kind of like proverbs. You may have noticed common themes, but all in all each stanza, and in many cases each verse could stand on its own.

If you want to take notes today, this is what I want you to take away today. I want you to see Jesus. I want you to see his character. I want you to remember his teachings. I want you to see the way he makes up for your inadequacies. I want you to see the promises the Father makes to you, fulfills in Jesus, and seals to you in the Holy Spirit. These will be my points…
  1. God’s word shows us the path to true happiness
  2. God’s word illustrates our inadequacy
  3. God’s Word demonstrates God’s glory.
  4. God’s Word points us to Christ
  5. God’s Word sanctifies us.
  6. God’s Word invites our response
1. God’s Word shows us the path to true happiness.

God’s Word shows us the path to true happiness. Verses 1-3 tell us “Blessed are those whose way is blameless, who walk in the law of the Lord! Blessed are those who keep his testimonies, who seek him with their whole heart, who also do no wrong but walk in his ways.” Another way to say that is Happy. “Happy are those whose way is blameless,” and so on. The word there means happy, but it’s really stronger than that. It’s a true and ultimate happiness. It’s similar to the kind of happiness you feel when everything is exactly as it should be. Maybe you’ve experienced that. You may have experienced that at summer camp, growing up. Maybe you had that kind of feeling when you graduated from school. Or when you first started at the job you wanted. Ultimately, this is the kind of happiness that everyone who knows the Lord will experience on the last day when we are finally united with him forever in heaven.

What does it say brings about this state of true happiness? Walking in a way that is blameless. Walking in the Law of the Lord. Keeping his testimonies, seeking him with our whole heart. Doing no wrong but walking in his ways.

This brings to mind a few other passages. Psalm 1 tells us “Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked, nor stand in the way of sinners, nor sit 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 am also reminded of Matthew 5, in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus gives the beatitudes. Blessed are the poor in spirit. Blessed are those who mourn. Blessed are the meek. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness. The merciful. The pure in heart. The peacemakers. Those who are persecuted for Christ’s sake.

In either case, why are these the ones who are called truly happy? I imagine some of you may be thinking, well, if that’s the case I’m out of luck. It’s a tall order, true, but let me tell you why these are the truly happy ones. They’re happy because they can see very clearly that God is the one who meets their needs. The person in Psalm 1 is happy because he or she purposes in their heart to delight in God. Psalm 37 says delight yourself in the lord and he will give you the desires of your heart.

People who mourn or who are persecuted are not happy because of the mourning or because of the persecution, but because of how God comes through for them. In our passage again, the happy ones are the ones who find God. How do they look for him? In his word. They look for his character. They look for his ways. They walk in them so that they will know God; and God answers their prayer.

One more thing before we move on. Look at how important this blessedness, or this true happiness really is. Psalm 119 starts by talking about the way to true happiness. The entire book of psalms starts by talking about the way to true happiness. Our Lord himself begins his Sermon talking about the path to true happiness. This is the ultimate reward. True happiness is found when we are united with God in Jesus. The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the Love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit. The narrow way is worth pursuing because true happiness in God is what’s at the end of it. And pursuing this end or this goal glorifies God. IN pursuing this goal, we imitate Jesus, who according to Hebrews 12, “for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” God’s word shows us the path to true happiness.

2. God's Word illustrates our inadequacy

If you’re thinking, that still sounds like a tall order, you’re right. It is. The second point is that God’s word illustrates our inadequacy. Like I said a moment ago you know that if you've ever simply tried to keep the law in your own power, you’ll either crash and burn, or you’ll redefine what it means to quote-unquote “keep the law,” so that you’re satisfied with yourself. The psalmist knows for a fact that God’s law is way above him. That’s why at several points along the way, the psalmist prays for God’s help.
  • In verse 5, the psalmist cries, “Oh that my ways may be steadfast in keeping your statutes!” He knows that he’s not an example of perfect obedience. He knows what’s at stake. He knows the path to blessedness. He also knows that he misses the mark.
  • In verse 18, the psalmist prays “Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of your law.”
  • In verse 27, the psalmist pleads, “make me understand the way of your precepts and I will meditate on your wondrous works."
  • Verse 36. “Incline my heart to your testimonies.”
The psalmist knows that he misses the mark. He knows that all have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory. He is well aware that in his own power he cannot faithfully keep God’s laws. As he prays, you start to see that he has to rely on God at every point.

Without God’s help we are unable to see the wonderful things in his word. Without his help we cannot understand the Lord’s ways. Without his help, the truth is we cannot even want to understand it. The prayer in verse 36 is “incline my heart.” O Lord, give me the right desires. Without God’s help, my heart will naturally be turned inward. Apart from the help of the Holy Spirit, my heart will shout “no way!” to mourning, or meekness, or lowliness, or persecution. Maybe my a sinner will be compelled to keep some laws outwardly if it makes him or her look good to people, but not under the threat of persecution. No way! Know this: if your heart inclines toward the Lord, that’s a gift from God. Make no mistake about it. This psalm clearly demonstrates our need. Of course this standard is way above our ability. St. Augustine, the great early church father, prayed this way. “Lord, command whatever you will, and grant what you command.” God’s word illustrates our inadequacy.

3. God’s Word demonstrates God’s glory

Third, God’s Word demonstrates God’s glory. Glory can be defined as high renown or honor; or magnificence and great beauty. This fact is true of God in every sense. God is the first and greatest being. He created the universe and everything in it. He defines the laws of natures and holds them together moment by moment. The psalmist recognizes this and just exults in it. Let me read to you from Psalm 119...
9 How can a young man keep his way pure? By guarding it according to your word. 10 With my whole heart I seek you; let me not wander from your commandments! 11 I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you. 12 Blessed are you, O LORD; teach me your statutes! 13 With my lips I declare all the rules of your mouth. 14 In the way of your testimonies I delight as much as in all riches. 15 I will meditate on your precepts and fix my eyes on your ways. 16 I will delight in your statutes; I will not forget your word.
The truth of God has so affected the psalmist that he or she devotes their whole heart to seeking God. The LORD is the Blessed (read truly happy) one. There is something about this truly happy God that has made the psalmist realize that in God, he has more value than all riches. All riches! All the wealth in the world amounts to the pennies that collect in the cup in the console of my car, when compared with God. The psalmist continues…
51 You are near, O LORD, and all your commandments are true.

89 Forever, O LORD, your word is firmly fixed in the heavens. 90 Your faithfulness endures to all generations; you have established the earth, and it stands fast.

129 Your testimonies are wonderful; therefore my soul keeps them. 130 The unfolding of your words gives light; it imparts understanding to the simple. 131 I open my mouth and pant, because I long for your commandments.
God is true. His word is fixed. His faithfulness endures. His testimonies make people wise. The glory of God causes people to pant because they long for his word. If you know God, you can’t get enough. God’s Word demonstrates God’s glory.

4. God's Word points us to Christ

Fourth, God’s Word points us to Christ. Here is a principle to remember when you’re studying the Bible. The Old Testament and the New Testament are united in their message. They have one single message. St. Augustine has a helpful little rhyme: “The new is in the old concealed; the old is in the new revealed.” R.C. Sproul explains,
This famous statement by Saint Augustine expresses the remarkable way in which the two testaments of the Bible are so closely interrelated with each other. The key to understanding the New Testament in its fullest is to see in it the fulfillment of those things that were revealed in the background of the Old Testament. The Old Testament points forward in time, preparing God’s people for the work of Christ in the New Testament.
Luke writes it this way in Luke chapter 24. “Beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, Jesus interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.”

When the psalmist writes
  • 22 Take away from me scorn and contempt for I have kept your testimonies
  • 51 I do not turn away from your law
  • 110 I do not stray from your precepts,
The psalmist is not only indicating is own resolve toward following God’s ways, he’s also pointing forward to the one who will walk with God perfectly in every way.

In some of those same verses, the psalmist says
  • 51 The insolent utterly deride me
  • 53 Hot indignation seizes me because of the wicked
  • 109 I hold my life in my hand continually
  • 110 The wicked have laid a snare for me
In his own suffering the psalmist is foreshadowing the one who would suffer unjustly at the hands of the whole world, for the sake of the world, and for the sake of his people.

Because of Jesus Christ we know for a fact that all of the Lord’s words are fixed in the heavens and all of the Lord’s commands are true. Jesus Christ is the answer to the promise of salvation. In Jesus God fulfills the Law. God’s word points us to Christ.

5. God's Word sanctifies us

Fifth, God’s Word sanctifies us. In John 14-16, Jesus promises to send a helper, the Holy Spirit, to be with us forever, and teach us all things. In Acts 1, Jesus says that the Holy Spirit will give us power. In one sense John gives us a job description for the helper in 15:26 “The Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father… will bear witness about me.” The Holy Spirit testifies to the truth of God’s word, and he points to Christ. Everyone who is found in Jesus—a true Christ-follower—has the holy spirit as a guarantee of their inheritance. As Christians, we can know that these promises are true:
  • Palm 119:9 How can a young man keep his way pure? By guarding it according to your word.
  • 11 I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.
  • 105 Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.
  • 130 The unfolding of your words gives light; it imparts understanding to the simple.
This is how we keep the law. Not by rolling up our sleeves. Not (entirely) by New Year’s resolutions. Not by forcing ourselves to do better.

We talked earlier about our own inadequacy. We cannot keep the law on our own. But the truth is because of the new birth, and because of the Holy Spirit, we are new creatures. We have new, living hearts. Our minds are enlightened. Our wills, as slaves to Christ, are more truly free than they've ever been. In light of that reality, we no longer need to wallow in our inability.

Romans 6 makes it clear that we were buried with Christ in his death and raised with him to new life. And given that new life, Paul writes, “Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions (verse 12).” Then in verse 13, instead, “present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and you members to God as instruments for righteousness.” Romans 8:13, “For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.”

Now I imagine some of you will feel intimidated even by this point. Remember 1 John 2 “My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.” Please don’t get this out of order. Sanctification—the process of making you more and more holy—only begins at the new birth. John writing here, doesn't want you to sin any more, but he knows you will. Remember you have an advocate in Jesus, and the fact that your conscience drives you to the cross should be a degree of comfort to you. Let the Holy Spirit drive you to the cross as often as possible. That’s how sanctification works. God’s word sanctifies us.

6. God's Word invites our response

Then finally, God’s Word invites our response. The first response it leads us to is to pray. The whole psalm is a prayer. I don’t know what the Lord is calling you to deal with today. I know how he’s dealing with me. In a moment I’m going to take a few moments of silence before we pray. Take that time and share your heart with God.

Warren Wiersbe notes several other ways from Psalm 119 that we can respond to God's word. We can...
  • Love it (vv. 97, 159)
  • Prize it (vv. 72, 128)
  • Study it (vv. 7, 12, 18, 26-27)
  • Memorize it (v. 11)
  • Meditate on it (vv. 15, 23, 48, 78, 97, 99, 148)
  • Trust it (v. 42)
  • Obey it (vv. 1-8)
  • Declare it (vv. 13, 26)

In the story about the Rich Young Man in Mark 10, I want you to notice two things. First Mark writes that Jesus loved him. Jesus looked on the man with compassion. When Jesus followed up by telling him the one thing he lacked—to sell what he had and give to the poor—he was revealing the man’s heart. He told the man he would have treasure in heaven. He called the man to follow him. The man was disheartened and walked away because he valued his treasure, his great possessions more than the promised treasure in heaven. He didn't see.

How easy it can be to approach the Law like this man did. O, how I hope you've seen a measure of the glory of God today.
  1. God’s word shows us the path to true happiness
  2. God’s word illustrates our inadequacy
  3. God’s Word demonstrates God’s glory.
  4. God’s Word points us to Christ
  5. God’s Word sanctifies us.
  6. God’s Word invites our response
Let's take a moment to pray silently, and I'll close.

Date: 8 February 2015
Text: Psalm 119
Location: Church at the Mall, GAP Connect Group
Series: The 10 Commandments

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