This coming Sunday, being the 15th of November, 2016 – I will be ministering at St Andrews by the Sea Community Church in Whitianga.
This is a local church to whom I have not been before, and was asked if I would take the opportunity to minister there in the absence a regular pastor/minister.
That being the case, I’ve decided to do something a bit different to my usual 30-40 minute sermon: A “sermon” in 4 parts. Or: “A guided tour through Psalm 136”.
Here is my manuscript:
Give thanks to the LORD.
Have you ever noticed that this LORD is in capital letters?
This isn’t just because it’s important, but rather, behind this capitalisation of God’s title sits His name.
When you read LORD, in capital letters, it’s referring to God’s proper name: Yahweh.
God’s name is Yahweh.
His name means “I AM” and Exodus chapter 3 gives us insight into that meaning.
In Exodus chapter 3 God appears to Moses in the burning bush, telling him to represent Him before Pharaoh, so that the people of Israel might be let go.
“The Moses said to God ‘If I come to the people of Israel and say to them, The God of your fathers has sent me to you and they ask What is his name? what shall I say to them?’ God said to Moses ‘I AM WHO I AM” and he said, ‘Say to this people of Israel, I AM has sent me to you’”
So God says to Moses “I AM WHO I AM” and tells Moses to tell the Israelites “I AM has sent me to you”
In this, God says something about who He is.
I AM and I will always be.
I AM and I exist by my own power.
I AM and independent of all things, I need no more than what I AM.
And so, we give thanks to God because of who God is, as the I AM – the God who is, who exists by His own power, and has need of nothing.
So, in Scripture, God’s name has meaning.
Did you know that the name Jesus means “Yahweh saves”?
In and through the person and work of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who is God in the flesh, Yahweh saves by His own power. It was on His own initiative that God sent His Son into the world, to become like us, to seek us out, to save us, to die in our place, to shed His blood for the remission of our sins.
Next we are told that God is good.
We give thanks to God for He is good.
God is good by His very nature. He is good, that is what He is like.
God is good and not evil, or bad, or sinful, or corrupt, or corruptible – and so we give Him thanks.
God is good, lacking nothing, being totally sufficient, totally complete – and so we give Him thanks.
Throughout this Psalm we repeat the refrain “For His steadfast love endures forever”.
There is a lot that could be said here, but it is in and through the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ that the steadfast love of God is most clearly and powerfully demonstrated.
John 3:16 “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.
The love that God has for His children in Jesus Christ is a love that endures forever, a love from which they can never, ever be separated, a love that will never, ever cease.
For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 8:38-39.
In this part of the psalm we read of our God who does great wonders.
When you hear or read “great wonders” what comes to mind?
Here the psalmist is using the term great wonders to express the sense of something loud and impossible and big.
What kinds of loud and impossible and big things has God done?
The Psalm divides the work of God into two categories: creation, and salvation.
This section focuses on God’s great, loud, impossible, and big works in creation.
The WSC tells us “The work of creation is, God’s making all things of nothing, but the word of His power, in the space of six days, and all very good.”
Remember that God’s name is Yahweh and that Yahweh means that God is totally self-existent and that He needs nothing?
In the beginning there was nothing, and yet out of nothing and into nothing, God made all things, God created all things.
He designed and planned and brought into existence all things.
He did so by the word of His power, by speaking.
He did so in six days.
After each day God saw that what He had made was good. At the end of the sixth day, God saw all that He had made and declared that it was all very good.
The work of God in creation is great and loud and impossible and good.
But lest we have a notion of a vague creator away out there, the Bible is clear that it is Jesus Christ, as the Second Person of the Trinity is God the Creator as well as God the Redeemer.
John 1:1-3 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.
Colossians 1:16 For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities–all things were created through him and for him.
Hebrews 1:1-2 Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, 2 but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world.
Hebrews 11:3 By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible.
The Psalmist goes on to tell us that God made the heavens by His understanding; that God spread out the earth above the waters; that God made the great lights, the sun to rule the day, the moon and stars to rule the night.
And again, that refrain – for His steadfast love endures forever.
How does God’s love relate to His work of creation?
Ultimately, creation is an expression of God’s love.
Creation is a gift from a loving Father to His much loved children.
There is a simple song we teach our children but is worth pondering, even as adults:
My God loves me
And all the wonders I see
The rainbow shines through my window
My God loves me.
There is an alternative set of lyrics that are sometimes used, and I think are more fitting in light of this psalm.
My God loves me.
And all the wonders I see,
Are all small signs of the love,
My God has for me.
The only change I would make to those lyrics is that the wonders that we see are big, loud, great signs of the love my God, and your God, has for me, and you!
Remember that part one of this Psalm talks about who God is?
And that part two of this Psalm talks about God’s work in creation?
This third part talks about God’s work in salvation.
The Psalmist introduces us to God’s work in salvation by reminding us of an event that took place in the history of Israel: The Exodus.
In the Exodus Israel is delivered from slavery in Egypt, by God, across a dry sea floor, through the wilderness, and into the land that God had promised Abraham centuries earlier.
But rather than this Exodus being an isolated event in the history of Israel – what God does in the Exodus of Israel from Egypt prefigures what He does in Jesus Christ.
You see, no matter where you go in the Bible – it is impossible to escape a word about Jesus. The Bible is about Him.
Every event recorded in the Old Testament is but a shadow of what God does in Jesus Christ.
And what God does in Jesus Christ is His ultimate work of salvation.
And yet, for Israel, their Exodus from Egypt was very real. It happened. Millions of Israelites were set free from bondage to slavery in Egypt. Yahweh, their God, acted decisively to set them free from cruel, oppressive, and unjust task-masters.
It is this Exodus that the Psalmist reminds the people of God about.
God struck down the first born of Egypt.
This was the climax to the 10 Plagues that God poured out on Egypt as their Pharaoh refused to listen to our God’s command.
In the 10 Plagues our God demonstrated His power, authority, and superiority over every sphere of creation, and over every Egyptian deity.
In the 10 Plagues our God demonstrated Himself God of gods, Lord of lords – He demonstrated that He is the God of everything, not just of one or two areas of creation.
Verse 11 of the Psalm reminds us that it was our God who brought Israel out from multi-generational slavery in Egypt with a strong and outstretched arm.
Verse 12 reminds us again that our God is the Lord of heaven and earth, that He is very real, present, and powerful. He is the one who divides the Red Sea in two.
I work for a construction company. We deal in concrete. Recently I had started taking responsibility for cleaning some of the machinery. I use a high pressure water baster that not only removes built up concrete from machines, but would remove skin from my body if I had contact with it.
If I needed to stop the blasting water from coming out of the blasting wand, the last thing I would use would be my body.
Yet to do so would make about as much sense as the Egyptians thinking that they could keep the walls of water at bay. And so, in another act of God’s power, He brings the walls of water crashing down on Pharaoh and his army. In His conquest over their enemies, our God is rescuing His people Israel. In rescuing His people Israel, God demonstrates His love for His people.
Verse 16 reminds us of God’s love, demonstrated in His leading His people through wilderness.
From Cairo in Egypt to Jerusalem in Israel its 527km. It would take a month to walk. If that sounds like a long time, it would take Israel 480 months, or 40 years before they crossed the Jordan River into the land promised to Abraham centuries earlier.
But why so long? And how was this an expression of God’s steadfast love?
For Israel, the wilderness was a period of preparation. A period of time where they would learn what it meant for them to be God’s people. For them, this was preparation for the land that God had promised Abraham.
It was a period of training and discipline by a loving God towards His much loved, but hard hearted people.
As a parent, I train and discipline Benjamin because I love him, because he is my son, because I want to prepare him for what God has promised Him in the gospel.
It is said that Israel wandered around in the desert for 40 years. But the Psalm tells us that they were being led, led by a God who love them.
During those 40 years, God was preparing His people for the land.
But He was also preparing the land of His people.
That’s what is being retold in verses 17-20.
In order to prepare the land for Israel’s arrival, it’s present occupants, who were enemies of both Israel and God, had to be dealt with in a series of divinely initiated and sustained military victories.
While it is violet, it is an act of love on God’s part as He lovingly prepares the land for a people He loves.
What does all that have to do with us?
What does all that have to do with our salvation?
After all, God does not promise Christians real estate. For us, salvation is not a matter of getting access to a piece of land in the middle east flowing with milk and honey.
Rather, God’s promise to us in salvation is that we become His children, we are given the Holy Spirit, we are blessed with every spiritual blessing in heavenly places, being united by faith to Jesus Christ the Son of God.
It is true that one day we will possess new heavens and a new earth and that this will be our ultimate inheritance.
Through plague and military conquest, God deals with the enemies of His people.
It is in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ that God deals with enemies greater than Pharaoh of Egypt; greater than Sihon, king of the Amorites; greater than Og, king of Bashan.
Sin is our greatest enemy. Sin separates us from all of God’s goodness. Sin alienates us from true Christian community. Sin enslaves. Sin binds. Sin kills. Sin destroys.
In the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, God kills sin. He nails it to the cross and Jesus dies for it. Jesus Christ conquers sin for us, an enemy we could never defeat, for the sake of our freedom.
There is another enemy of the people of God. The devil, satan, the prince of darkness, the father of lies, he who was a murderer from the beginning.
Pharaoh represented satan in the story of the Exodus as a ruler who opposed God, who enslaves people – and that’s what satan does to people.
And yet in the cross of Jesus Christ, satan is dealt a decisive, fatal would. Satan receives a decisive blow to the head that results in his having to surrender all those who belong to Jesus Christ.
God deals with our enemies because He loves us.
I come here this morning, having had only brief email conversations with Julie and Dorothy.
Apart from that, I do not know you.
You might be a Christian, you might not be.
You might have been attending this church for a long time, or you may be visiting for the first time, like me.
I don’t know what your beliefs are, what your religious or spiritual experiences have been.
But I know that we all face two powerful enemies – sin and satan.
I know that these enemies seek to separate you from the promises of God in Jesus Christ, promises of being His children, promises of having His Holy Spirit, promises of being blessed with every spiritual blessing in heavenly places through union with Jesus Christ.
I know that Jesus has come into the world, to defeat these enemies, to give you life, life that is in Him. For whoever believes has eternal life. For he who has the Son has life. For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son that whosoever believes in Him shall not perish but have everlasting life.
I want you to know some things this morning.
I want you to know that in Jesus Christ God has done everything for your salvation, in defeating sin and satan, in dying in your place, for your sins, paying in full your debt – for the wages of sin is death but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Know that in Jesus Christ, God continues to defeat your enemies, forgiving your sin, and bringing you to a growing sense of freedom from sin and satan’s power.
Wherever you are at, however sin is tempting you, however satan is trying you, whatever struggles you face, however limiting or restricting or binding or oppressive they might seem, know that if the Son of God has set you free, you are free indeed.
For God did not give us a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear but He has given us the Spirit of Adoption whereby we cry “Abba, Father”.
I wonder, do you know the love of God this morning?
Do you know Abba, Father this morning?
I don’t promise an easy life. I don’t promise fewer temptations or harassment by sin and satan.
What I am promising is that neither sin nor satan, nor anything else in all creation can separate you from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus.
For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 8:38-39
This is the message of the Bible. This is the message of God’s salvation in Jesus Christ.
That, dear people of St Andrews by the Sea – is the message of the gospel.
While we have one more section of the psalm to recite, I want to give you the gospel this morning. In the final section, I want to encourage you in practical terms, give you some points of application – but more important is the gospel – the gospel that in Jesus Christ, God deals with our enemies, and liberates us from their power and influence.
There are things in your life as an individual, as a family, as a couple, or as a church that are potential sources of discouragement.
The things that discourage us can often lay us low, humbling us.
But more than that, these sources of discouragement can position us to receive abundant and amazing grace from God.
Ultimately, that’s what He does in salvation. He looks on us in our low estate, in our helplessness, and He has mercy, and compassion, and grace.
But even in everyday life.
Things happen. People die. We lose mobility and we become forgetful. Our circle of friends isn’t as big as it once was. We grieve our losses and we’re laid low by them.
No matter how we get there, God remembers us in our low estate.
There He gives us grace.
God gives grace to the humble.
So when discouragement comes, when life lays you low – I urge you – look to God to receive grace in Jesus Christ.
Jesus Christ is full of grace and truth.
What’s more, Jesus is the only one from whom we can find and receive God’s grace.
John 1:17 “…grace and truth came through Jesus Christ”.
So when you are discouraged – look to Jesus.
When life lays you low – look to Jesus.
Look to Jesus in prayer, cast your cares on Him – He loves you, He cares for you, and no matter what you are going through, you cannot be separated from Him or His love.
Look to Jesus in His Word – as all the Scriptures point to Him.
Look to Jesus in creation – as He is the one by whom, through whom, and for whom all things were created and are sustained.
Look to Jesus and do not stop looking.
Look to Jesus.
Turn your eyes upon Jesus.
Look full in His wonderful face.
Then the things of earth will grow strangely dim.
In the light of His glory and grace.