Monday, February 27, 2017

Ps 119.58

I entreated your favor with my whole heart; be merciful to me according to your word. Ps 119.58

Oh, I love mercy. The mercy of God will be my song forever. Were it not for his tender mercy, he would not have looked down on me, seen my pathetic and helpless state, and reached out to save me. He heard my plaintive wails and came looking for me, a lost waif in need of salvation. He found me in the poverty of my world and the filth of my sin, and moved by the depths of his steadfast love, he rescued me. He cleaned me up, which has taken years and still isn’t finished, and is preparing me to reign with him in eternity. How quickly he responds when I “entreat his favor,” especially “wth my whole heart!” No wonder, then, that from my youngest days as a Christian I loved Lam 3.22: Through the Lord’s kindness we are not consumed, because his mercies never fail.

Little known fact: The Hebrew for mercy is related to the word for womb.
Think about that.
The place where life incubates until it’s ready for birth.
Mercy is a womb for spiritual life.
What a beautiful picture of how God waits patiently for us to come to repentance, when we can finally be born again. Only then can we begin to walk and talk and live and breathe as children of the King.

How far short I fall of my own expectations, let alone the righteous requirements of a perfect God. Yet this failure has never, from the day I first met him, stood between us. God has graciously forgiven and restored me time after time. Sometimes I think, What if this is the last time? What if I’ve gone too far?
But so far, no.
The longer I walk with him, the more certain I become that the river of his mercy will never run dry.
Never.
Never.
NEVER.

Mercy is that thing in God that looks at someone’s misery and does what it can to help. Because God is good and kind by nature, creating peace and joy with his presence, he does not resist the movement of his heart to take away burdens and supply all that is needed to heal and bless.
Then why, you ask, is there so much suffering still in the world?

The short answer is this: Suffering remains despite God’s mercy because he sends his people to do good in his name, and we don’t always go.
The long answer: Because the way God helps is by coming near. He himself is our comfort. His own dear presence soothes our wounds and satisfies our longings.
The problem is, our God is a consuming fire. He will not burn up a bush, but evil will be devoured in the blazing wrath of his holy righteousness.
So God does not come near sinful humans.

Didn’t the Lord refuse to accompany rebellious Israel from Mt Sinai, until Moses interceded?
Didn’t Isaiah tell Israel that their sin had separated them from their God?
Didn’t Micah warn them that God would hide his face because of the evil they had done?

God came near Sodom and Gomorrah and blew them so far off the planet that no archaeological trace can be found. The remains of his holy collision with their sin-infested culture looked like fire and brimstone raining down from heaven. Believe me, sin in us will be devoured as surely as a twig in a furnace.

But even in our sin God’s heart of mercy still beats for us. Jesus pleaded for mercy on the cross, for his crucifiers, for us all.
When we were dead in our transgressions, God made us alive together with Christ.
While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.
Mercy triumphs over judgment, because God takes no pleasure in the death of anyone.
Indeed, in wrath he remembers mercy, and oh how glad I am that this is so.

To quote an old bard,
“The quality of mercy is not strained. It drops as a gentle rain from heaven.
Earthly power shows most like God’s when mercy seasons justice.
In the course of justice, none of us would see salvation: we do pray for mercy; and that same prayer teaches us all to render the deeds of mercy.”

Oh I love mercy.
Sweetly, the more I walk with my Father, the more merciful I become.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Ps 119.57

The Lord is my portion; I have said that I would keep Your words. Ps 119.57

To claim the Lord as your portion is to renounce every other resource and to trust that God will provide for his own. It is to seek him first and to settle for nothing else. It is to live in his presence and find your deepest joy in being his.

One Old Testament group in particular demonstrated this dependence on the Lord in ancient Israel.

The last wonder God worked in Egypt was to take the firstborn of all the living—humans and animals. Egypt’s firstborn died. God reserved Israel’s firstborn for himself, and eventually exchanged them for the entire tribe of Levi (Nu 3.12).
When the people finally arrived in the Promised Land, Joshua assigned territory to all the tribes except the Levites. Instead of territory, whatever was offered to the Lord belonged to them.

Who were the Levites? Descendants of Jacob’s third son, Levi, whose name means attached. God gave the sons who became patriarchs, knowing this child’s offspring would one day be attached to him and his service in a unique way.

How did the Levites get to be his special ministers?
Moses and Aaron were from the family line of Levi. They were chosen by God to mediate between himself and the people, Moses as prophet/judge and Aaron as high priest. The Levites—their clan—were the ones who came to Moses at the foot of Mt Sinai, when Israel crafted a golden calf to worship. Moses descended the mountain and called to himself any who were still on the Lord’s side. The tribe of Levi came, and he sent them out to kill the idolators. Three thousand died that day—instead of the entire nation that would have perished had Moses not intercepted God’s judgment. Because they rallied to the Lord, God accepted the Levites in exchange for the firstborn, and granted them to minister before him on behalf of the people.

In ancient societies, priests like the Levites were the first specialists—they did not have to produce their own food but lived off the gifts of the people. Thus they became a kind of aristocracy, as we see in the days of Jesus when the religious rulers were wealthy priests and scribes— the Levites.

Religiously, the priests were set apart by ceremonial consecration. They alone had access into the Holy Place, where no other Israelites could go. Only the high priest, from the family line of Aaron, was granted more personal access to the Lord in the Holy of Holies.

But in David’s day, there was no temple; the ark of the covenant was supposed to dwell in the Tabernacle built by Moses in the wilderness at Sinai. Unfortunately, in the last days of the judges, Eli allowed the army to take the ark of the covenant out of the Tabernacle and bring it to the battlefield. The army was defeated by the Philistines and the ark was captured. It was eventually returned to the Israelites but not brought back to the Tabernacle. Not until David had established Jerusalem as his capital, did the ark move, not back to the Tabernacle but to a tent he built for it near his palace.

This created a unique opportunity for David. He preserved the Tabernacle as the national center of religious activity but kept the ark in its own tent as the center of his personal worship. He established singers but did not conduct sacrifices. He himself went in and sat before the ark—God’s own presence, whereas only the High Priest could enter the Holy of Holies. It’s hard to imagine that he had the courage to do such a thing, but such was his love for God that he found a way to be with him.

 I think that’s why God called David a man after his own heart. He chased the God he loved. He did not let proscriptions stand in the way of a personal relationship with God. He found comfort and strength and wisdom in God’s presence, and refused to rule God’s people without them. God honored this. God did not forbid his confiscating the ark for his personal worship, nor even rebuke it.

David insisted that God was his portion. He did not want land or riches or any other blessings, only the presence of God. He did whatever was necessary to get to God, and to keep God with him.

But this pursuit was not a private thing only. David publicly declared that he would keep God’s word. This has a double meaning, both to do what it says, and to guard or preserve it. David did both. When he sinned, he sought forgiveness. And when others violated commands, he punished them.

How desperate are you to be with God? Are you willing to find a way to make it happen?
I’m telling you that this will not come easily to you. You may have to defy tradition. You’ll never be able to design your own worship in the context of formal religion. You have to find a place of your own, close to your heart’s home, where you can sing praises and pray. Personal time alone with God is the only way to realize the portion of grace and love and power that God has for you. No church setting is going to give that to you or equip you to administer it.

But the effort involved in crafting your own (personal) worship space is worth it.
God will meet you there.
He will instruct you and guide you.
He will teach you his ways through his Word and his Spirit.
He will be present with you as never before.

Your flesh and you heart may fail.
But may God be the strength of your heart and your portion forever.

Friday, February 24, 2017

Ps 119.56

This has become mine, because I kept your precepts. Ps 119.56

What had become David’s? Grammatically he refers to the name of the Lord.
In so saying, David claimed to share the character of God. Not his nature or essence, just his character.
This is a logical necessity because to keep God’s precepts is to incorporate his words and ways into the fabric of our being. Because God’s word does whatever he sends it to do, it transforms everything it encounters into what God intends it to be. In the case of people, that means a godly character.

David’s claim is significant.
The Old Testament portrays the Messiah as an heir of David whose kingdom would be modeled on David’s—freedom from enemies, grace to live peacefully and prosperously, unity among the tribes, devotion to the true God, and so forth. So the Messiah would inherit David’s character, which, as David here states, is God’s own.

David did not know about the cross, despite his many prophecies fulfilled in it. He had no concept that the resurrected Christ would pour out his Spirit on all flesh. All David had, which we Christians also have, is the presence of God through his Word and the anointing he had received. Yet these were enough.

David was able to acknowledge his integrity before God. He did his best with a sincere heart. He did not deny his sin—far from it. The most beautiful psalms of confession (32 and 51) were penned by David. He did not claim to be better than he was. He acknowledged the grace and power of God for all the good that he was able to achieve. “Who am I, O Lord God? And what is my house, that You have brought me this far?” He dreaded the loss of God’s Spirit and he caused all Israel to worship the one true God.

David may have been king but in many ways, he remained the little boy who knew a shepherd’s heart. You can tell this by the way he fought for his people and risked himself for their good.
He did it when he defeated Goliath.
He did it when he “killed his tens of thousands” of Israel’s enemies.
He did it when he welcomed the other tribes to join with Judah in one nation.
He did it when he liberated Jerusalem and turned Zion into his capital.
He did it when he brought the Ark of the Covenant home.
He did it when he trusted God for mercy rather than punish the people for their sins at the threshing floor.

There was a moment when David almost lost his kingdom. His spoiled and godless son Absalom turned many hearts away from their anointed ruler. But even in his near-defeat, fleeing the city for his life, David remembered that the true king of Israel was not he but God. As hard as it was for David to do so, he left the Ark of the Covenant behind. It belonged in the capital. God would not be dethroned on David’s watch.

Of all the magnificent words David wrote and spoke, for me, the most poignant might be his instructions to Zadok the priest just before he ascended the Mount of Olives (not coincidentally, where Gethsemane is) on his way out of Jerusalem.
“Carry the ark of God back into the city.” How it must have crushed him to be parted from the place of God’s presence.
“If I find favor in the eyes of Yahweh—” The trouble among David’s sons was due to his sin with Bathsheba (2Sa 12.11). It’s not surprising that he viewed this situation as from a lack of divine favor. 
“—he will bring me back and show me both it and His dwelling place. But if He says thus: ‘I have no delight in you,’— ” For one as sensitive as David, whose whole delight was in the Lord, I can only imagine how heartbreaking it would be to anticipate that God might say this to him.
“—here I am, let Him do to me as seems good to Him.” He not only resigned himself to what might come, he presented himself to God. Once again, as had always been David’s way, he trusted in the name of the Lord and relied on his God. Whatever happened, it would come through the hands of a good God. David would receive it as such.

Such is the character that the Messiah, generations and centuries later, received from King David.
As a man, Jesus looked at David’s heart for God, his obedience in leadership of the nation, and learned what it meant to be a king.
Doesn’t that give you chills? That our heavenly King first learned what it means to sacrifice his own needs and desires for the sake of his people, through an ordinary boy who grew up to be king?

Can you imagine what was in his heart when he asked the self-righteous rulers of the Jews in his day, “What about the Messiah? Whose son is he?”
Immediately, “David’s.”
Of course they knew. Everybody knew. The Messiah would reestablish the kingdom created by David.
“Then let me ask you this,” Jesus shot back at their pride-infested response. “How is it that by the Spirit David called him ‘Lord’? How is he his son?”
These men feigned leadership by occupying positions of authority. Jesus earned the name that is above every name. How? Like David before him, the right to rule came from willingly sacrificing his position and privilege when the good of his people was at stake.

Think about this.
Maybe Jesus left the Passover meal and went out to the Garden of Gethsemane precisely because that is the path David followed when the nation rebelled against its anointed king.
Maybe Jesus took comfort from David’s example.
Maybe it helped him shore up his confidence that just as David returned in triumph, so he too would return victorious over the final enemy of God’s people.
Maybe he wrestled in the garden to make King David’s choice his own.
Surely his prayer, “Not as I will but as you will” sounds a lot like David’s, “Let him do to me as seems good to him.”

Please God, form this kind of character in me as well.

Ps 119.55

I remember your name in the night, O Lord, and I keep your law. Ps 119.55

Remembering God’s name is not like remembering the name of your third grade teacher.
Frankly, while people’s names are eminently forgettable, the Name of the Lord is not.

Biblically, one’s name refers not so much to an identifier as to one’s character. Of course, we’d all like to think we are known by character, but it’s not always so. He’s a [surname] through and through, or You’d never know he’s a [surname].

The Lord’s name is like that. It tells us right off what he is like. I say this because of the way he revealed himself to Moses before they set off from Sinai for the promised land.

We have no way of knowing how God introduced himself—perhaps as God Most High (Ge 14.18-22)—when he first called Abraham (Gen 12.1-3). But that call is the foundation of God’s relationship to every single person in the line of Abraham. The promise of nationhood, in terms of both land and people, is repeated to every patriarch and the substance of their exodus and the giving of law at Sinai. Even David continued to live under the promise—fulfilled in his day but ever the principal element in Israel’s relationship to God Most High.

Whenever God again approached him, he revealed new dimensions of his character.
Things like, I am your shield and very great reward.
I am the Lord who brought you out of Ur.
I am God Almighty, walk before me and be blameless.
Thus God established who he was, that is, he identified himself by “name,” to this original patriarch, creating a relationship of revelation leading to faith. This faith-righteousness of Abraham—established before Isaac was conceived (very important timing, read it in Gen 15.6)—made it possible for God to address any and all of Abraham’s descendants on the basis of faith-righteousness, which culminates, as Paul says, in Christians (Gal 3.6-14). But I digress.

From that point on, God referred to himself as the God of Abraham when addressing Abraham’s descendants, starting with Isaac. That means, “What I have been to Abraham, I’m still that to you. You have the same potential relationship with me as he had. You will inherit the land. You will have many descendants through whom the world will be saved.” But each time he also added something more. To Isaac, “Do not fear, I am with you” (Ge 26.24).

Thus he introduced himself to Jacob at Bethel, “I am the Lord God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac.” Meaning, You have what they had. Then he added, “I will keep you wherever you go and will bring you back to this land (given to Abraham and Isaac), for I will not leave you until I have done all that I have spoken to you” (Ge 28.15).
Twenty years go by and God reminds Jacob, “Remember me? I’m the God you talked to at Bethel. It’s time to go back to your land because that’s part of who we are”(Ge 31.13). He confirmed this “come back” both by wrestling through the night (he did not name himself at that time, curiously enough Ge 32.29) and by restating the promise after changing the name on the document (read: covenant) from Jacob to Israel. (No kidding. Ge 35.9-13.)

Not until Jacob is a very old man does God again approach him. Once more his reason for speaking has to do with their relationship—who he and Jacob are together. As the last times they spoke God told him to dwell in the land, it’s reasonable for Jacob to need reassurance that it was okay to leave the land. Taking his family away might seem like disobedience. So God answered the question, but without revealing more of his character, just more of his plan. “I am the God of your father, do not fear to go out of the land because Egypt’s where I’ll make your descendants into a great nation” (Ge 46.2-3).

For 400 years, God did not speak (biblically) to any of them. Not until he showed up in a burning bush on the slopes of Mt. Sinai in Midian. And how did he introduce himself to this fugitive son of Israel?
“I am the God of your father—the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob” (Ex 3.4).

Can you see by now what that sounded like to Moses? Alone in the wilderness, tending sheep instead of people, serving his father-in-law instead of the God of his fathers. And who should appear but “the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob” (v.6).

The story reads as though all this were a little overwhelming to Moses. Being raised in Pharaoh’s household, he was cut off from his own people. He grew up without the benefit of daily identification with others in the same relationship to their God. Even if he didn’t feel isolated during his upbringing, he was certainly cut off from them now.

So God came looking for him. Over the next year or so, God did some pretty amazing things—ten wonders in Egypt, culminating in the nation crossing the sea on dry ground, followed by miraculous provisions of food and water in the wilderness, and the giving of the law on this same mountain. Where once only a bush had been set aflame, now the whole mountain trembled and blazed. No one could even touch it without dying, yet Moses went up into it and spent weeks, coming down with his face also aglow.

At the end of that time, Moses asked God to go with them to the land of their fathers. God’s response was to grant that wish, because Moses had found favor in his sight. God straight-up did it for Moses, whom he “knew by name” (Ex 33.17).
Instantly, Moses asked to see God’s glory, “Show me more of who you are.”
God’s reply? “I will make all My goodness pass before you, and I will proclaim the name of Yahweh before you.”
God’s words as he passed by Moses hidden in a cleft of mountain rock has become the Judeo-Christian name of God—“The LORD, the LORD God, merciful and gracious, long-suffering, and abounding in goodness and truth,  keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, by no means clearing the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children and the children’s children to the third and the fourth generation.”

You may think I have strayed far from my point, but this is exactly my point.
David remembered the name of the Lord at night and it made him keep the law.
I just spent an hour or two “remembering the name of the Lord” here and it led me to Mt. Sinai where the law was given. The law and the Name are linked, because relating to God is 100% dependent on who HE IS, the terms of relationship laid down by God for those he had chosen as his own.

As a Christian, I have experienced the fulfillment of that law in terms of Christ as the perfect Lamb who atoned for the sin of all mankind, thereby setting the old covenant aside. I’ve also experienced the righteousness imparted to me (unlike that of Abraham, which only accounts it) by faith.
I continue to keep “the Law,” now put into my mind and written on my heart by the transforming work of the Spirit. God will do this for all who enter relationship with him through Christ.

The name of the Lord, we’re told, is a strong tower. The righteous run to it and are safe (Pr 18.10).
Watching through the night, in danger of his life, no wonder David remembered it.

I encourage you, when fears abound, to remember the name of the Lord.
Run to it and be saved.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Ps 119.54

Your statutes have been my songs in the house of my sojourning. Ps 119.54 

Or as the Hebrew has it,   זְמִרֹות הָֽיוּ־לִי חֻקֶּיךָ בְּבֵית מְגוּרָֽי׃
(Don’t forget, the sentence starts on the right.)

You know what that means, right?
Keep the worship music on at home, every day of your life!
Only one caveat is included. Your statutes means the lyrics are to be Scriptural.

David is well known for his songs, biblically credited with writing more than half the Psalms, and the most-likely author of more. He had a lyrical heart, a poet’s view of the world, that saw and expressed truth in beautiful words. His works are not philosophical only, or even primarily. Rather, he poured out his emotions in verse and prose. In many ways, his psalms are his journal, a record of how his soul worked out what it means to live with God in this world.

One of the most appealing aspects of Psalms is how well they capture the reality of living through all kinds of moments. Countless times I’ve run up against the exact expression of my own feelings in them. Mind you, I didn’t always appreciate that.

I was only a teen when I came to Christ, but I had a lot of heart-sickness even then. (Don’t we all?!) From a dysfunctional family, I never learned to name what I was feeling. Therefore I wasn’t very good at identifying what was happening inside. You can imagine that reading the emotional turmoil recorded in Psalms was a challenge. Believing they were lessons, not songs, I found the author a little out of control.
One minute he’s exalting God, the next he’s terrified for his life.
A moment of rapture in creation is followed by a prayer to dash his enemies children against the stones.
God is his refuge and rock, who keeps him waiting endlessly.
He thirsts like a deer running for its life or he drinks from streams of rejoicing in the household of God.
Frankly, such capricious emotionalism terrified me.

I look back now and all I see is David’s transparency.

I don’t suppose they called it that in his day, though.
Do you remember the story when David brought the ark of the covenant up to Jerusalem? With many reasons to celebrate, he danced all the way home.
The ark itself was coming home.
It would be placed in a tent near his palace.
A big crowd of people accompanied the parade of priests carrying it.
But it was the nearness of the Lord with them on the road that released his feet and his heart in joyful movement. David abandoned himself to joy in God’s presence, completely indifferent to how that made him look. I doubt he was even aware that others watched; he wouldn’t have cared anyway.

His wife—daughter of the late King Saul—saw them coming, the queen too dignified to be out in public. She was horrified at the king’s scandalous exhibitionism. Cavorting half-naked in the streets with commoners, ogled at by every girl out there! Surely the king ought to behave better than that.
[A word of warning to all who can relate to Michal’s perspective on worship. God so disapproved of it that she never bore children. Take care lest that happen to you spiritually.]

I too am learning to worship like David. My nature is not as expressive, but my soul is as deep. I’m so captivated by God’s nearness when I worship that I easily forget propriety in the freedom of loving and being loved by so glorious a Person. Someone who loves me like he does and knows me from the inside out and is devoted to my good. How can I help but run and fling myself in his arms, twirling around the room (or street in David’s case) with him?

This abandonment is the goal of worship. To lose ourselves in the presence of our Father the King. Eyes and ears and heart focused only on the beauty of his holiness. Held captive to his joy. Eager for his words. You do know that he rejoices over us with singing, don’t you? ( Zep 3.17)
The exuberant joy of finding and being found by this One shouldn’t have to fit into formalized expressions dictated by time constraints or public opinion. Shame on any of us who get in the way of another’s experience of God in worship by demanding that the accessories of song choice and instrumentation and performance match our own preferences.

David told his wife that he’d have gone even further before God, with all humility. And so he did, once he got the ark home. Because song-filled praise was so integral to David’s relationship with God, he recruited singers and instrumentalists among the Levites and established music as part of their daily service in the sanctuary.
Did you realize that worship as God required it through Moses did not involve music? It was David who added this element. To this day, we can thank this man’s unbounded expression of loving delight for centuries of glorious Christian music.

I write today validating his claim that maidservants would hold him in honor. The most broken times of my life were healed through worship. Because of David’s example, the legacy of his journaling in song, and his commitment to help others exalt and experience the Lord personally in the midst of corporate ceremonies, I too have learned to abandon myself in the presence of the Lord.

Ps 119.53

Indignation has taken hold of me because of the wicked, who forsake your law. Ps 119.53 

Indignation is a tame translation of David’s word for how wickedness makes him feel. It more properly describes white hot, burning rage. You can see why he says it “has taken hold of him.” That kind of anger is so powerful it can be scary. 

Anger is a tricky thing in the Bible. Be angry, Paul instructs, but don’t sin. Man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life God requires. While Christians should be slow to get angry, God seems always to be carrying out wrathful judgments against all and sundry.

So what is the right way to handle anger? Bad temper, of course, is evidence of poor self-control. Rein it in. Such behavior is not only immature but selfish and hurtful and inexcusable.

There is a kind of anger, though, that is not only good, it is necessary. It’s the anger described here by David, a righteous response to what the wicked do. These things ought not to be, and while they are antithetical to the milder aspects of love, such as kindness and grace, love must take action to end them. This is where wrath takes over.
When we see wrongs being done, and determine to do something about them, we need the force of outrage to carry it through.

That’s what David is saying here. Isn’t that how he reacted to the story Nathan told him, in which a rich man took a poor man’s only lamb? King David’s anger burned hotly. As the Lord lives, he decreed, the man who has done this shall surely die!

Once before David’s temper almost got the better of him. While running from Saul those many years, David and his mighty men kept the Israelites in the south of Judah safe. He asked for help one day and was turned down. His anger flared in an instant and off he went to kill every male in Nabal’s household. But for the wise and gracious intervention of Abigail, he might have sinned in his anger.

Both perpetrators were rich men. The difference between the two stories lies in the victim. In the former case, the king’s anger was roused at injustice toward a poor man. In the latter, David’s men were insulted.
Both provoked his wrath, but only one response was righteous, because only one was a violation of law.

Surprisingly, this goes to the nature of sin. To steal is to transgress a commandment, but disdain and self-centeredness manifest iniquity. And while people are capable of keeping themselves from transgression, they can do nothing about their inherent iniquity. For this we need a Savior.

Jesus’s death at Calvary was the penalty for our transgression. His resurrection did away with our iniquity.
In Christ we are able to exercise righteous and godly anger against sin without sinning. For those of us who as preChristians struggled with rage and other expressions of anger, this is good news indeed. Anger itself isn’t wrong. We just need to be careful what we do with this strong emotion.

The next time you find yourself getting angry, take a second to ask what’s really causing it.
If you’re responding to wickedness that violates God’s law, then turn your anger into a force to set things right.
If you’re just put out by inconvenience or annoyance, I suggest counting to ten.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Ps 119.52

I remembered your judgments of old, O Lord, and have comforted myself. Ps 119.52 

I don’t remember the world feeling quite so broken when I was a child.
Don’t get me wrong, I knew a lot of hardship as one of nine children who experienced the shame and tyranny of farm life. We rarely owned anything that wasn’t a hand-me-down. Thank God for the generosity of his churches, or there would have been no Christmas or Thanksgiving some years.

But despite the wretchedness of poverty, there was a measure of comfort in learning how the world worked. We knew the rules. We could count on getting in trouble if we broke them. We knew what was right and what was wrong, or at least, we found it out the hard way. What comforted me, in a bizarre sense, was knowing that there were consequences to disobedience. If things went wrong, someone had to pay for it. And someone had to make it right again.

Which brings us full circle, in a way, to today’s verse. If the brokenness of my childhood world required comfort, how much more does the present world? The atrocities and catastrophes we hear about from morning through night around the globe have created an overwhelmingly stressful psychological climate. The world is not safe, and moment by moment news programs report its unpredictability, its menace.

Where can we turn now as we did as children? Who will pay for the harm that is done? Who will make things right again?

Isn’t that the cry of our hearts when we wake in the night? Isn’t the chaos of our world—global or personal—what keeps us awake in the first place?

As Isaiah put it over 2700 years ago, we all like sheep have gone astray, and God has laid on [his servant the Messiah] the iniquity of us all. Think of it. All the wrong that had ever been done, or that ever would be done, had to be atoned for. Someone had to pay the price. That someone was the Christ.

Paying is one thing, you say, but what about making it right? This too is the work of God. It is mine to avenge. I will repay, he told Moses.

It’s hard to believe that with no telecommunication media to inform him of global events, David still saw the need to rely on God’s judgments of old—his righteous decrees, his precepts and statutes—in order to find comfort for his soul at the heartache and evil in the world around him. Yet he did.
When he hid his family in Moab and went on the run from Saul.
When he bid goodbye to his kindred soul, Jonathan.
When his baby boy died because of his sins against Bathsheba and Uriah.
When his son raped his daughter. And her brother killed him for it.
When friends and counselors betrayed him. When his misdeeds brought God’s wrath on the nation. When he abandoned the Ark of the Covenant to flee before Absalom’s rebellion.
The list goes on and on.

David turned with every step toward the ancient way, recorded in God’s word. He had no other hope. He knew himself to be fallible. He knew people to be treacherous. He knew not to count on anything in this world except this alone: You, oh Lord, have been our refuge. Your name is a strong tower. The righteous run to it and are safe.

That’s how David ruled his kingdom. And because he did, he was promised an eternal heritage. One of his descendants would sit on his throne forever. The Son of David finally came. Laid down his life to pay for the world’s wrong. And took it up again to restore all things. Now he reigns in righteousness through endless days.

Don’t be deceived by the state of the world. God’s judgments from of old do not change. What he has promised he will fulfill. Jesus is already Lord. He is already the King of Kings. All authority in heaven and on earth has already been given to him. He has already been exalted to the highest place and received the Name that is above every name. Every knee has not yet bowed, perhaps, but they will.

What comfort to us who long for his appearing. Even so, come Lord Jesus. Come.