Moderator's Comments - Posted 1 February 2018
I engage in the strangest pursuits. On tour through Germany last year, in the old-town section of Worms, I counted roof-tiles, wondering how many I could see.
Back in 1521, Martin Luther was on his way to Worms to be tried by the Emperor and the Catholic bishops. Luther had been called to answer for his so-called heresies, and he’d been promised safe conduct on the long journey across the German states. Despite the promise, Luther’s friends feared for his life.
As Luther approached the city, a messenger arrived with a warning from his friends: “You are in peril, do not enter Worms!” Luther replied: “Tell my friends that even if there should be as many devils in Worms as tiles upon the housetops, still I will come.” Later, Luther said of this moment: “I was then undaunted. I feared nothing.”
And we say: “Oh, to feel undaunted, fearing nothing”. Where does such courage come from? Why did Luther feel so strong? Was it just Luther feeling good about himself, or was it based on something more reliable than feelings?
I suspect that Luther’s knowledge and experience of God led him into such confidence. I suspect also that King David knew what Luther knew. The psalmist David had his rooftop-tile experience. He feared 12,000 “devils” were against him – that’s how many fighting soldiers Absalom mustered to track down his father.
David reflects on this in his first psalm (Psalm 3). The third psalm is a psalm with historical context, which means it’s written experientially, about this terrible day when David heard of treason carried out by his son. It’s a Psalm riveted to the day of David’s humiliation and distress.
Psalm 3 slots in at 2 Samuel 15:14 “Come! We must flee, or none of us will escape from Absalom. We must leave immediately, or he will overtake us and bring us to ruin.”
Talk about humiliation. David knew what is was to be:
- taunted by people,
- pelted with stones,
- abused with curses.
True, he found refuge in the hills, but barefoot, exhausted and with much weeping. Where’s the kingly dignity of that?
Psalm 3 is a reflection on his day of humiliation. So, reflecting on this heartache, David can well ask: Where is God when you need him? Does faithfulness to God count for anything? That’s what he’s doing in this Psalm: reflecting on his suffering under Absalom’s act of treason, and telling us how humiliation feels.
In gospel ministry, we feel the pressure … as if there are devils around us perhaps as many as tiles on the rooftops. We’ve probably all experienced humiliation, misrepresentation, abuse and that stinging rebuke.
I think there might be many of you out there “in the trenches” doing it hard. It’s not easy being a pastor – it’s draining preaching week after week after week; it’s confronting preaching the gospel when there’s opposition to it; it’s discouraging to labour diligently when there are few positive responses to talk about when well-meaning colleagues ask, “How’s it going?” While, no doubt, throughout the PCA there are wonderful testimonies of God’s goodness and blessing, I suspect there are many of you in leadership doing it hard.
Don’t lose hope. Don’t give up. One place to look in God’s Word is the third psalm. This is David’s psalm when he was humiliated and completely outnumbered. This is a psalm to go to when you feel you’re at wits-end corner.
To address this, I leave you four pointers from this psalm that move us from fear to renewed confidence. Do you see the movement in the third Psalm: from fear to faith, refreshment and prayer?
1. FEAR - the reality of opposition (vs. 1,2)
Absalom had an alarming majority on his side. He’d persuaded all sorts of people to join his rebellion against God’s anointed - as many against him as tiles on rooftops. He’s overwhelmed by numbers.
But what’s worse is that his opponents misrepresent God: “Many are saying, ‘God will not deliver him’”. This is terrible anguish for a man who loved God. It’s bad enough to feel the weight of the world against you, but that’s NOTHING compared with the taunt that God will not save you! That’s crushing.
Sense David’s double anguish? Firstly, that he was pursued by 12,000 men, outnumbered 20:1; but secondly that he was being talked about as a nobody in God’s eyes. And worse, what they were saying about him touched the very honour of God’s name and the truth of God’s Word: “Your throne will endure forever” (2 Samuel 7), “I will make your name great”.
2. FAITH - confidence in God’s favour (vs. 3,4)
True courage is not easily quelled. God’s grace can give us courage even in the worst of times. So, David’s confidence in this second part of this psalm is in stark contrast to what David’s enemies have been saying. Can you see three great comforts that keep David afloat: “you are a shield … you bestow glory … he answers me”.
a) a shield to protect him
What a great picture of how God comes to the aid of his people. He’s like a shield that protects the soldier in battle. This is not just for David. This is not just an Old Testament thing. Paul reminds us: “Put on the full armour of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes” (Ephesians 6) “take up the shield of faith with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one.” Faith in Jesus is our shield.
b) favour to his name
David’s confidence in God is such that he knows, despite what people say, that God’s favour rests on him. That’s just so like God, this is thrilling. This is just what God does in justification: when the accusations of world suggest: “we’re nothing”, and even our own melancholic thoughts agree: “we’re failures”, and our conscience accuses: “we’ve sinned again!” … Christ Jesus declares: “Justified! No condemnation! Righteous!”
That’s the New Testament explanation of David’s experience of vs. 3, “you lift up my head”. At the cross, Christ Jesus lifts the head.
c) answers to his prayer
And all these blessings: how do they come? While David is crying: “Poor me”? While he’s in a self-pitying mood? While he’s flaying arms wildly in protest, saying: “This isn’t fair!” No, but rather while he is in prayer. He prays, God answers.
3. REFRESHMENT - fresh perspective each morning (vs. 5,6)
What I am enjoying, says David, is daily rest – that daily gift of God that refreshes: sleep. It’s a precious cycle: I lie down, I sleep, I wake.
It’s a basic human need. Without it we’re restless and angry. When God grants you sleep – it’s a wonderful reminder of his loving care for you. The preserving care over us while we sleep is amazing. He keeps us breathing even while we’re not conscious of it. We sleep, he restores and refreshes and gives us a chance to start again in the morning.
4. PRAYER – a prayer for deliverance (vs. 7,8)
See how David invites the Lord to arise and intervene in this dreadful civil war. “My Elohim, come”. In this closing prayer, there are three things he prays for, “deliver me … strike my enemies … blessing to the people.”
a) for his own rescue
He prays to be saved. His prayer is direct and immediate, “Lord, arise and deliver me from this mess”. David knew who God was and David knew who he was as a forgiven sinner. When we know the power of God and when we understand our position before God, we too can pray like David, “Lord, deliver me.”
b) for judgment to fall on the wicked
David knew that those who stood against him were evil and deserving of judgment. Here we read words that makes us feel uncomfortable, “break the teeth of the wicked”. It’s a prayer that means: “disempower their influence”. We should remember that God will judge all who do not believe in the goodness and purposes of God.
c) for blessing to come on all the faithful
David knew that deliverance was not just for him, but for all the covenant people of God. He prayed for all God’s covenant people to know the love and joy of God. This is a mark of true leadership – a man who can pray past his own troubles and focus on the needs of his people.
Romans 15:4 says: “For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.”
I pray that if you are feeling at a low point, discouraged or dispirited … that you’ll be encouraged by these words of Scripture and that you’ll feel the ministry of Jesus in the heart who has not come to snuff out the smouldering wick, nor to break the bruised reed.
I pray that you will have hope.
John P Wilson