A Sermon for Immanuel Presbyterian Church, March 25, 2012
A young man is shot in a pointless and tragic confrontation and a firestorm is ignited that misses the simple loss of a young life. A couple of girls walking on a road and one ends up lifeless as a car speeds away – more seemingly pointless loss. Cancer comes calling when you least expect it; relational break downs disrupt family life and crush hopes; people you trust end up betraying you, friends – even marriages – fail.
We live . . . in a broken . . . and hurting . . . world – evidence is everywhere, and it is so easy to turn bitter and cynical in the face of it all. What is a person to do? Sometimes we revel in the goodness of God with peace and satisfaction, and sometimes, . . . we just want to give up. David captures both of these sentiments in Psalm 27 and he gives us direction as we move ahead through our days seeking to live faithfully. Rightly considered one of the more beloved of the psalms of Scripture, let’s see what light, direction, and hope we can find here in Psalm 27.
Before we dig in too deeply, we need to notice a couple of things that may help us see what David is saying. First, David begins this psalm with confident affirmations about God, referring to God in the third person (vv. 1-6). Then suddenly, the tone changes in vv. 7-12 – almost to a prayer of lament where David addresses God directly crying out to Him in the second person. But second, in both halves of the psalm, David focuses on the same two ideas. He begins with confidence in God and moves to seeking God’s face in His temple. And in the second half – the prayerful portion – he dwells on the same two points, but in reverse order. He says he seeks God’s face, and he ends by expressing confidence in God.
So let’s look at four aspects of the soul in these two parts of the psalm – actually three aspects or dispositions and a conclusion in the closing 2-3 verses.
1. Confidence of the Soul (Psa. 27:1-3)
1. The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear?
The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?
2 When evildoers assail me to eat up my flesh,
my adversaries and foes, it is they who stumble and fall.
3 Though an army encamp against me, my heart shall not fear;
though war arise against me, yet I will be confident.
David’s confidence in God is found in three things: Light, Salvation, and Stronghold.
Whenever we think of God, we often start with light, don’t we? Paul tells Timothy that God dwells in unapproachable light; Job speaks of heaven as the “abode of light”; and Psalm 104 says God wraps Himself in light like a garment. But it is worth noting this is the only OT reference to God being light. In the NT, Jesus proclaims Himself the light of the world; John says “God is light, in Him there is no darkness” and more. But this is the only place in the OT where God is light. Light is usually equated with “understanding” in the Bible. We pray for illumination as we read and hear Scripture. We need the light of understanding. But what did David mean by this? In this context, where enemies, evil doers, adversaries, and foes surround him, David is looking for the light to dispel fear. Where is darkness encroaching on you? What adversaries and foes surround you today? Can the light of God bring a confidence that can dispel fear? Sometimes in the darkness of depression or despair, we yearn for the light of dawn because everything looks different in the light.
Second, David’s confidence in God was rooted in the truth that God was his salvation. Charles Spurgeon, in his inimitable manner, said: “Salvation finds us in the dark, but does not leave us there. After conversion our God is in every sense our light. It is not said merely that the Lord gives light, but that He is light; nor that He gives salvation, but that He is salvation.” In this context again, salvation means “deliverance” from some threatening situation. We too often jump immediate to the salvation of our souls, but remember for David, the salvation of God also meant deliverance from evil – here and now – an existential reality, not merely a spiritual platitude.
I know that in a room this size, there are people who need to be delivered from evil things threatening your life. Place confidence in God, not merely for the future salvation of your soul, but in the saving of your life here and now.
Finally, God is David’s stronghold of life. Enemies can encamp around him, but his safety was found in God. Proverbs 18:10 echoes this truth: “The name of the Lord is a strong tower; the righteous run to it and are safe.” Strong towers! . . . Let’s face it, our reliance on human strong towers has been disappointing. We have seen strong towers fall.
So of course, I think of “The Lord of the Rings” where in one memorable scene they also relied upon towers built by men – Helms Deep – and it too failed. But there is a better metaphor Tolkien created – the mysterious tower of Orthanc. Not even the rock crushing Ents could make a dent in this solid, unbreakable, immovable tower of refuge. This is the type of tower David is talking about.
And while these were all military concepts for David (light, salvation, and stronghold), they are just as true for us in our battle with this world. John Stott summarizes well: “The Lord is my light, to guide me; my salvation, to deliver me; and the stronghold of my life, in whom I take refuge.”
So the Lord is the confidence of the soul. But now we see the soul’s desire.
2. Desire of the Soul (Psa. 27:4-6)
4 One thing have I asked of the Lord, that will I seek after:
that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life,
to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to inquire in his temple.
5 For he will hide me in his shelter in the day of trouble;
he will conceal me under the cover of his tent; he will lift me high upon a rock.
6 And now my head shall be lifted up above my enemies all around me,
and I will offer in his tent sacrifices with shouts of joy; I will sing and make melody to the Lord.
Having spoken to us of his confidence in the Lord, now David articulates his great desire of the soul – the “one thing” that he seeks. And interestingly, this one thing includes three verbs: to dwell, to gaze upon, and to inquire. When there are distracting fears and obstacles of life, sometimes we need to return to the fundamentals – God’s person and God’s will. And this is the essence of worship to behold the Lord in His beauty; and the essence of discipleship to inquire of Him as to how we should live.
One must be careful when referring to Hollywood movies, but I cannot help but remember a scene from a movie “City Slickers.” It was the story of three men pursuing adventure in fulfillment of life-long adolescence. They were never satisfied – always seeking the next thrill. On a cattle drive Billy Crystal’s character, having an authentic moment of mid-life angst, talks with the old cattleman – a guy who was centered and solid, content and at peace. So Billy Crystal asks him what his secret was, what was the answer to life? The old rugged cowboy says, “One thing.” . . . And you gotta find out what that “one thing” is.
What is that “one thing” that drives you? In our world we see so many people seeking that “one thing” in so many sad and profoundly unsatisfying ways. And this is the error in the movie of course. One is left with the impression that everyone has to find whatever that “one thing” is for them – “do your own thing.” But there is “one True thing” worth desiring. David makes it plain – gaze upon God’s beauty and inquire of Him in his Temple. This is the great desire of the soul. Any other substitute will not satisfy or bring peace in the midst of crisis, loss, frustration, and the boredom of life.
And here we must address a couple of cultural tensions, challenges we face in our modern condition. First, we live in a profoundly self-centered moment in our culture. We like the “prayer of Jabez” (rather self-centered) more than the “prayer of Jesus” (kingdom centered). John the Baptizer captures the right sentiment in John 3:30 when asked by his followers what to do. He said, “He [Jesus] must become greater, I must become less.” So we are assaulted by a self-centered message in our culture. But second, we have a notion that worship is also a personal thing. David uses all the possible language here to tell us he finds God’s beauty and presence in the Temple, the house, the tent, the shelter. In the OT, worship and finding God’s presence were synonymous with place and people. As “NT Christians,” too many of us immediately go to Jesus’ words to the Samaritan women: a time will come when we worship not on this mountain or that, but in Spirit and in Truth. But we err by going too far with this.
James Boice has said, rightly I think, that there is something to be experienced of God in church that cannot be experiences elsewhere. We can find teaching online, CD, mp3, and iPod downloads. We can find fellowship in home groups. But there is something about being in the pew, singing hymns, listening to the preached Word in person, tasting of the bread and wine that sets apart this experience of worship as a way we see the beauty of the Lord and inquire of Him.
As the writer of Hebrews reminds us, “Let us not give up the habit of meeting together, but let us encourage one another.” Let us strive to stoke the fire of that one thing we need to desire – gazing on God’s beauty and inquiring of Him in His Temple with His people.
3. Prayer of the Soul (Psa. 27:7-10)
7 Hear, O Lord, when I cry aloud; be gracious to me and answer me!
8 You have said, “Seek my face.” My heart says to you, “Your face, Lord, do I seek.”
9 Hide not your face from me. Turn not your servant away in anger, O you who have been my help. Cast me not off; forsake me not, O God of my salvation!
10 For my father and my mother have forsaken me, but the Lord will take me in.
Here is the major shift in the psalm. Seven times David uses personal names and second person reference to God here. And Seven times he uses imperative verbs of supplication. But we are naturally drawn in this section to verse 10. David again states in personal terms to God that he seeks His face, but then his plaintiff cry is that God would not abandon him – and here he turns to the idea of family. What relationship is more central than that of parent and child? And what loss is more poignant than to lose or be rejected by a parent?
Of course, far too common in our lives we experience disappointment with parents, even painfully abandonment or physical rejection by parents. And what a strong metaphor this this for God as our Father! What do we seek from parents but acceptance, guidance, and protection?
First, acceptance. We all crave acceptance – so did David. And all of us experience rejection. Parents reject children, children reject parents, husbands reject wives and visa versa, employers reject us, teams reject us, friends reject us. But God never rejects us. He knows our past and present failures, and still He loves us as His adopted children. Spurgeon again speaks truth when he says that “Many of the greatest saints have been cast out from their families.”
Some are troubled by this verse because we are not sure David’s parents ever actually rejected him. Personally, I think the Hebrew clause may be rendered as a hypothetical – even if my father and mother would reject me, still/even so the Lord would take me in.
Second, children look to parents for guidance. We can all remember stupid things we did as teens and young adults because we did not seek (or perhaps worse, did not follow) guidance from our parents. Wisdom is necessary for living well, and no offense to younger people (under 30!), but you just have not acquired it yet. Here is a formula I use with young people: Wisdom = Knowledge + Time + Experience + God. Time and experience are essential components of wisdom. It is impossible to be wise at the age of 17 or even at 27. And just as we need a parent’s guidance, how much more do we need God’s guidance as we are assaulted by the surprises of life in a broken world.
Finally, children look to parents for protection. And every parent knows how easy it is to fail our children at this point. Yes, there are bullies in the world and too often mom or dad is not there to protect. But God is always there. But of course, we all know times when God . . . did not . . . seem . . . to protect. Accidents do happen; hurt, pain, death do visit us. Is God otherwise occupied? Is He looking the other way at such times? No. . . . For those who are His, we know that the protection of God in the ultimate sense is sure and immovable. No matter what happens, no matter how evil the human intent may be against us, God will work such things – sooner or later – for His glory and for our good. And that is a comforting thought at the end of the day, isn’t it?
4. Prescription of the Soul (Psa. 27:11-14)
11 Teach me your way, O Lord,and lead me on a level path because of my enemies.
12 Give me not up to the will of my adversaries;for false witnesses have risen against me, and they breathe out violence.
13 I believe that I shall look upon the goodness of the Lordin the land of the living!
14 Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord!
So finally, we ask, “What do we do?” David gives us a prescription in these closing verses. David reminds us to ask for God’s teaching, to implore God to lead us onto level paths, and to give us faith to believe, to trust that we shall see what we desire: the goodness of God. So what do we do? Wait, be strong, take courage in heart, and wait. And God is worth waiting for. He is that “one thing” for which we desire.
The Gospel? We seek God’s face, His presence as did David. For David, this was in the Temple. For us, Jesus has come and we must trust in Him – with that biblical, deep, surrendering kind of trust. All redemptive history is a record of God re-establishing relationship and fellowship with man. What we had in the Garden, face-to-face fellowship, was lost in the Fall. The Tabernacle and the Temple were the first steps God took to restore His presence to His people, Jesus replaced these – God was once again, in human form, with us face-to-face. And now, in the church and in fellowship with believers, we are being built into a new Temple, the Body of Christ. We find Him, we see His face, in worship with God’s people. We can wait for that full and final presence of God in His Kingdom, and we are able to wait, because we are not alone. We admittedly live in a society of instant gratification. May God give us grace, may God teach us increasingly to desire and to wait for that thing which above all is worth waiting for. Amen!