Our Lord’s Glad News

 

Our song of grief in the midst of suffering is to turn into a new song of praise after God pulls us out of the muddy pit. This is why the Psalms often speak of “a new song,” not because the Psalmist composes a new song in place of old, boring songs. But because his life has turned from singing a song of grief to a song of joy, from destruction to salvation, from “mourning to dancing.”

A Sermon on Psalm 40:1-10
Scripture Readings: Psalm 40:1-17; Hebrews 10:1-14

Sermon preached at Escondido United Reformed Church, April 15, 2007

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Samuel Anoints David by Raphael

Samuel Anoints David by Raphael, 16th century (click to enlarge)

As he lay awake deep in the night, unable to sleep, in a dark, damp cave in the wilderness, David wrestled with his thoughts. It seemed so long ago when, as a young man, the prophet Samuel anointed him to be next king of Israel. King of Israel? How can he be a king now, a fugitive for many years, running from place to place trying to escape the sword of King Saul? His throne is a rock in this cold, dark cave, his kingdom a ragtag band of hungry men. Once, he had been a loyal servant of the king, playing music for him, fighting his battles, adored by the people. “Saul has struck down his thousands, and David his ten thousands,” the people sang. Now, after many long years of running for his life, David prays to God for rescue from his enemies, “Be pleased, O Lord, to deliver me! O Lord, make haste to help me!”

This is just one of many scenes in David’s life where he could have cried out those words to God. After all, his life seemed to be a life of continuous struggle; a life of persecution and distress before and after he ascended to the kingship of Israel. As an outlaw pursued by a jealous king, he fled from one hiding place to the next. As a king himself, his first son with Bathsheba died as penalty for his adulterous and murderous relationship with her. Later, his own beloved son Absalom forced him to flee from his throne in Jerusalem to live once more as a fugitive.

Any of these occasions, in which God rescued David when his life hung by a thread through sword, hunger, or sickness, could have been the occasion for this prayer. He prays for deliverance not only from his enemies, but also from sin and misery, “For evils have encompassed me beyond number; my sins have overtaken me, and I cannot see.”

As he prays for deliverance, he remembers how God was faithful and righteous in his wondrous works in the past. So David’s prayer in Psalm 40 is also a prayer of thanksgiving to God for deliverance from his enemies, and from his sin and misery. And as a thanksgiving, he vows to proclaim God’s wondrous works, faithfulness, and righteousness to others, to “the great assembly.” He promises to God that he will live an obedient life; that he desires to do God’s will; that he will keep God’s law in his heart.

Hebrews 10:5-7 says that Psalm 40:6-7 are the words of Christ. How can this be? When we read Psalm 40, the words are attributed to David, not to Jesus. And there is one other issue in this quotation in Hebrews 10 that we will briefly discuss later. This is true for many of the Psalms. In fact, former Westminster Seminary professor Dr. Mark Futato says that all the Psalms are both “the word spoken about Christ” and “the word spoken by Christ”! This is extremely significant because Jesus himself said that the Law of Moses, the Prophets, and the Writings speak about Him. All Holy Scripture speak about Christ!

The words of Psalm 40 are the words of both David and of Christ. But the words of the Psalms can also be spoken and prayed by us, God’s people. All of our “griefs, sorrows, fears, doubts, hopes, cares, [and] perplexities,” as John Calvin says, are found in the Psalms. They are words of God’s people in the Old Testament and in the New Testament; and the words of Christ Himself.

Today, this is “Our Lord’s Glad News”:

1. Of Deliverance from Sin and Misery
2. Of His Wondrous Salvation
3. Its Proclamation to the Great Assembly

Of Deliverance from Sin and Misery
David’s slimy pit is double-trouble for him: “evils have encompassed me”; and “my sins have overtaken me.” Evil men were plotting against him; and he has many sins in his life.

Deliverance from Misery
David is not the only Biblical example of a man of God thrown into a “slimy pit,” “mud and mire,” of despair and suffering. Joseph, Jacob’s favored son, was thrown into a pit and then sold to slavery in Egypt. Jeremiah was also cast into a muddy pit, because of his prophecy against Jerusalem.

"Jeremiah" by Chagall. Original color lithograph, 1956. Click to enlarge.

"Jeremiah" by Marc Chagall. Color lithograph, 1956. Click to enlarge.

But David often portrays going down to the pit not only as pain and suffering, but also as death (Psa. 30:3). So David cries out to God and waits patiently for the Lord to deliver him from enemies who want him dead.

Like David’s life, our lives are also rollercoasters of joy and sadness, success and frustration, health and sickness. We all have been in the pit of suffering, despair, and disappointment.

Deliverance from Sin
When we think of David, we think of all his successes: his defeat of Goliath and the Philistines; his crowning as Israel’s king; his recovery of the Ark of the Covenant. He is “a man after God’s own heart.”

But David is not just a model of success and godliness. He also committed grievous sins. He had an adulterous affair with Bathsheba. To cover his sin, he had her husband killed in battle. He also disobeyed God’s command not to conduct a military census, resulting in the death of 70,000 of his own people.

So he was in the muddy and miry pit not just because of suffering from the hands of his enemies, but also as a result of sin in his life.

Think of the muddy pit as quicksand: the more you struggle to get out of it, the deeper you sink into it. You cannot extract yourself from the miry pit of sin. You need to be rescued from it! When you find yourself sinking in the muddy pit of sin, you struggle against it like Paul did in Romans 7:15, “I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.”

Sometimes we compound sin with sin. And then it is extremely hard to extract ourselves from the mud into which we put ourselves. This is what happened to David in his sinful relationship with Bathsheba. He tried to cover up his sin, but when he did, the result was even more sin – murder. And so, he cries out to God to rescue him from the muddy pit of sin into which he put himself.

But the world is different from us, and we are to be different from them. Unbelievers do not cry out to God in their struggle against sin. Mostly, they like being in the muddy pit. They wallow in it. They do not want to be rescued from it. In the Philippines, there are great, big animals called water buffaloes that are used to plow the fields. After they are done with their work, they love wallowing in the mud to cool their bodies.

And so it is with the world.

Paul says that the unbeliever suppresses God’s truth. He does not worship and thank God. Instead, He worships himself and his prosperity (Rom. 1:25). And not only does he practice ungodliness and unrighteousness, he encourages others to do the same! (Rom. 1:32) This is what we see all around us today: the unbeliever mocks God and His people, and openly displays his evil deeds on TV, movies and newspapers. Unbelievers wallow in their muddy pit of sin!

In the garden of Gethsemane, Christ felt the same sorrow and pain that David felt. Figuratively, he was going down to the bottom of the pit. He knew the physical and spiritual suffering that awaited Him as He sacrificed his life for His people. But unlike David, His suffering was not for His own sin. David says in verse 12, “my sins have overtaken me, and I cannot see.” Since these are also the words of Christ, these sins are not His sins, but they are pointing to the sin of His people. This is so because Christ had no sin, although He was tempted in all ways like us. He lived a perfect, obedient life all the way to the cross.

How different it is with the Christian! He deals with suffering and sin in a different way. In sorrow and pain, the Christian cries out to God, and waits patiently for God’s deliverance. He trusts in God’s lovingkindness. He knows his suffering is part of God refining and shaping him to be more like Christ. When he sins, the Christian cries out to God for forgiveness. He trusts in God’s mercy. He accepts God’s justice for his sin. And he asks God to help him avoid and resist sin.

Like Jonah in the belly of the big fish, David prayed for deliverance even while he was still in the pit. So should we. While we suffer in this vale of tears, we are to cry out to God to deliver us from sin and suffering.

Of His Wondrous Salvation
And how does deliverance come? Not through our own efforts, but through the death of God’s only-begotten Son as a sacrifice for our sin. God is the one who pulled David out of the “pit of destruction.” This is why Paul exclaims in joy: “Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God, through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Rom. 7:24-25) And when God’s deliverance comes, our night of weeping turns into a morning of joy!

On Solid Rock
In the slimy mire, David slipped and slid, not having any stable traction. When God’s deliverance comes, He not only pulls David out of the muddy pit, but He also sets him on solid footing.

David and Saul in the Cave by James Tissot, 1886-94 (click to enlarge)

David and Saul in the Cave by James Tissot, 1886-94 (click to enlarge)

The Psalmist contrasts the slippery mud from solid rock. A person on solid rock cannot be moved. Even a big earthquake does not usually move a big rock. And the person standing on a rock remains secure.

And so when we are in the midst of life’s storms of suffering, we might suffer for a while. But God, the Rock of our salvation, our fortress, has set our feet on Him, and we will not be moved. This Rock is our hiding place, and He preserves us from trouble. We stand on the Solid Rock, and not on sinking sand. So that when the rains fall, when the floods come, and when the wind blows, we do not fall.

As we travel in this world as pilgrims and strangers, God not only secures our footing. He directs our steps. We do not walk in the counsel of wicked. Our steps are established by the Lord – when we meditate on His word day and night, and when we delight walking in his way.

A New Song
Not only does God set our feet on solid ground; He also puts a new song in our hearts.

If you read the Psalms, you will notice that many of them start out with a lament, a cry for help, or a plea for forgiveness. But then there is a shift to praise and thanksgiving to God for his deliverance and forgiveness. For example, in Psalm 13:1-2, 5-6, David’s lament turns into a song of joy for God’s salvation.

Our song of grief in the midst of suffering is to turn into a new song of praise after God pulls us out of the muddy pit. This is why the Psalms often speak of “a new song.” Not because the Psalmist composes a new song in place of old, boring songs. But because his life has turned from singing a song of grief to a song of joy, from destruction to salvation, from “mourning to dancing.” And notice that God himself is the one who put the song of praise in David’s mouth.

Our Lord Jesus Christ himself had a new song after His sacrificial death on the cross. In Isaiah 53:10-11, we read that God “has put Him to grief.” But after His sacrifice, “the will of the Lord shall prosper in His hand. Out of the anguish of His soul He shall see and be satisfied.”

When God rescues us, He sets our feet on solid rock. He also turns our grief into joy. And finally, God’s deliverance causes us to proclaim His wondrous deeds to others.

Its Proclamation to the Great Assembly
In verse 3, when others see our salvation, and the joy that we have in our lives, “many will see and fear, and put their trust in the Lord.” Then David says in verse 5 that he “will proclaim and tell of God’s wondrous deeds.” When God delivers us, we remember all His wondrous deeds for us. We cannot count all of them.

Our mouths are to proclaim God’s salvation. We were chosen by God “to proclaim his excellencies” (1 Pet. 2:9). David says in Psalm 51:13-14 that God’s forgiveness will cause him to “teach sinners [God's] ways” and “sing aloud of [God's] righteousness.” Christ appointed ministers to “go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation” (Mark 16:15).

This is why our church has sent and supported church planters and missionaries all over the globe – in San Diego, North America, Latin America, and Asia. Because the proclamation of God’s glad news of deliverance is the result of being rescued from the muddy pit of sin and destruction. No one will hear the good news if there is no preacher of the good news. And the preacher is sent by God through the church.

We are not to restrain our lips from proclaiming the gospel to others. We are not to hide God’s deliverance within our hearts. We are to speak of God’s faithfulness, salvation, and steadfast love to others – in Escondido, and in all nations.

David vows to proclaim God’s glad news of righteousness. But David’s words are also our words. And as I mentioned earlier, David’s words are also Christ’s words.

The writer of Hebrews says that when Christ came into this world, he spoke the words of verses 6-8 of Psalm 40. But notice that the quotation in Hebrews 10:5-7 is not exactly as written in the original Psalm. Did the writer misquote or maybe even change the words?

  • Psalm 40:6a: “Sacrifice and offering you have not desired, but you have given me an open ear.”
  • Hebrews 10:5b: “Sacrifice and offering you have not desired, but a body have you prepared for me.”

What happened here? One scholar believes that this is probably an error in copying by the scribe. But the writer of Hebrews was actually quoting the Septuagint (Greek) translation of Psalm 40. The Septuagint translated the Hebrew words “you have given me an open ear” into a more understandable “a body have you prepared for me.” The Hebrew words used for “open ear” means “digging or “hollowing” the ear. And often in Scriptures, an “open” or “hollowed out” ear refers to a person who listens intently with understanding and obedience. Proverbs 22:17-18 says this, “Incline your ear, and hear the words of the wise, and apply your heart to my knowledge, for it will be pleasant if you keep them within you…”

Believers hear, understand, and obey God’s words. But unbelievers cannot hear, cannot understand, and cannot obey God. So for the Greek translator, digging the ear is equivalent to fashioning and preparing the body to do God’s will.

These verses harmonize very well with the rest of Hebrews 10. In verse 11, the writer says that “we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once and for all.” In verse 7, it says that Christ has come to do God’s will perfectly, as it is written in Scripture.

God prepared a body for Christ – a body that will obey God’s will, and a body that will be offered as a perfect sacrifice. Christ came not to abolish the Law, but to fulfill it. He offered Himself as a bloody sacrifice for forgiveness of sins that the blood of bulls and goats cannot take away. His once for all sacrifice did away with all the Old Testament sacrifices, thereby “[perfecting] for all time those who are being sanctified” – and that’s us, His people.

In the Old Testament, God has always intended that bloody sacrifices be accompanied by repentant hearts. Psalm 51:17: “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.” It is not that God did not accept His people’s sacrifices in the Old Testament. But they were acceptable only when offered with hearts that are right before God.

And this is true for us today. The Lord is not pleased when we simply go through the motions during Sunday worship services. Do you worship on the Lord’s Day with hearts full of songs and prayers of repentance, praise and thanksgiving? Do you come to the Lord’s Table worthy of the body and blood of Christ? Do you listen to the preaching of the Word with the intention to know God’s will and to obey it? Do you offer yourself daily as a living sacrifice to God, with minds that are renewed by God’s word?

Conclusion
Beloved people of God, like David and like Paul, we fail time after time after time. But remember that the words of Psalm 40 are not only David’s words, but also Christ’s and yours. When you find yourselves deep in the muddy pit of sin, misery and suffering, cry out to God for mercy and deliverance.

Then he will incline his ear to you. He will teach you what His will is for you. And He will teach you how to obey His will. Then you will remember all the wondrous deeds He has done for you. He forgave you of your sins. He saved you from your enemies. He is merciful and faithful to you. And this is only possible because of Christ’s wondrous work of obedience.

Because everything that you desire to do – and fail to do – as a Christian, Christ has done perfectly. You want to obey God’s will – Christ obeyed His will perfectly. You long to keep God’s law in your heart – Christ kept it perfectly. Your goal is to triumph over your enemies – Christ has complete victory over His ultimate enemy, Satan. You want to proclaim the glad news of deliverance – Christ preached it faithfully and boldly to everyone He met.

And as we proclaim our Lord’s glad news of deliverance from sin and suffering, we can sing a new song of praise to the Lamb with all the saints in heaven:

“Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals,
for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God
from every tribe and language and people and nation,
and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God,
and they shall reign on the earth.”

And with the hymnwriter, we can sing:

He calls His chosen from afar;
They all at Zion’s gates arrive;
Those who were dead in sin before
By sovereign grace are made alive. (“Shout, for the Blessed Jesus Reigns”)

Amen.

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