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Hope in God

Growing in Grace / Doug Agnew
The Truth Network Radio
June 12, 2023 2:00 am

Hope in God

Growing in Grace / Doug Agnew

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June 12, 2023 2:00 am

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If you would please turn with me to the book of Psalms. I'd like for us to spend a few moments tonight meditating on Psalm 42 and 43, Psalms that are not unrelated to what we just sang about. Some scholars believe that these two adjacent Psalms belong together, that at one point they formed a single Psalm in the Psalter. And I'll explain the reasons for that as we go along, but first let's read these two Psalms in their entirety.

Psalm 42 and Psalm 43. To the choir master, a maskle of the sons of Korah. As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.

When shall I come and appear before God? My tears have been my food day and night, while they say to me all day long, where is your God? These things I remember as I pour out my soul. How I would go with the throng and lead them in procession to the house of God, with glad shouts and songs of praise, a multitude keeping festival. Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me?

Hope in God, for I shall again praise Him, my salvation and my God. My soul is cast down within me, therefore I remember you from the land of Jordan and of Hermon, from Mount Mazar. Deep calls to deep at the roar of your waterfalls.

All your breakers and your waves have gone over me. By day the Lord commands His steadfast love, and at night His song is with me, a prayer to the God of my life. I say to God, my rock, why have you forgotten me?

Why do I go mourning because of the oppression of the enemy? As with the deadly wound in my bones, my adversaries taunt me while they say to me all the day long, where is your God? Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God, for I shall again praise Him, my salvation and my God. Vindicate me, O God, and defend my cause against an ungodly people from the deceitful and unjust man, deliver me, for you are the God in whom I take refuge.

Why have you rejected me? Why do I go about mourning because of the oppression of the enemy? Send out your light and your truth. Let them lead me. Let them bring me to your holy hill and to your dwelling. Then I will go to the altar of God, to God my exceeding joy, and I will praise you with a lyre, O God, my God.

Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God, for I shall again praise Him, my salvation and my God. This is the word of the Lord.

Pray. Lord, we are a people prone to discouragement, and that discouragement often has an adverse effect on our faith and obedience, which in turn has an adverse effect on our witness, our ability to adequately portray your beauty and your power, the power of the gospel to a world that hates you and hates your gospel. Lord, thank you for psalms like the ones before us tonight that remind us that we're not alone in this battle for joy. Thank you that in these psalms we see the solution to our tendency toward discouragement. We find the cure for our unbelief. We find the pathway that restores to us the joy of our salvation. So, Lord, enable us now by the power of your Holy Spirit in us to avail ourselves fully of this divine word. Use it to teach us and reprove us, to correct us, and equip us for every good work. I pray in Jesus' name, amen.

You can be seated. Before we jump into these psalms tonight, I want to take just a brief moment to explain why we're combining these two psalms into one sermon. As I mentioned just a minute ago, several scholars believe that these two psalms are actually one psalm that at some point in history and for unknown reasons was divided into two separate psalms. The first evidence that these were at some point a single psalm is the fact that Psalm 43 lacks a heading, a title, as almost every other psalm in Book 2 of the Psalter has.

But the more persuasive piece of evidence in my opinion is the repetition of themes and even specific sentences that exist between Psalms 42 and 43. Both psalms deal with antagonistic enemies. Both express a sense of loss over being far removed from God's presence at the temple in Jerusalem. And most specifically, both contain a recurring refrain which says, why are you cast down on my soul? Why are you in turmoil within me?

Hope in God, for I shall again praise Him, my salvation and my God. This recurring refrain ties these two psalms together. Now, whether these two psalms were originally a single psalm or not doesn't really matter as far as their meaning is concerned. But it is helpful to recognize that they both address the same themes. And as a result, they present us with a fuller perspective on those themes than either one of them is able to do by itself.

So we're going to consider them together as one unit tonight. These psalms are categorized as psalms of lament. A psalm of lament is a psalm that expresses some sort of complaint or grief or sorrow to God because of a trial, a hardship that the psalmist is experiencing. And almost without exception, the psalms of lament, even for all the sadness they contain, always have some glimmer of hope in them somewhere in the psalm.

A reflection of God's past faithfulness or His present grace or His future promises. And so the purpose of these psalms of lament is to help the believer come to terms with the difficulties of life in a fallen world. Not by pretending that those difficulties don't exist, but by confronting them head on. And by realizing that even our worst enemies and worst circumstances are no match for the grace and the favor of God. 1 Samuel 30 verse 6 describes a particularly difficult time in the life of David and it tells how he coped with this difficulty. It says that David strengthened himself in the Lord his God.

And that's what we're going to do tonight. We're going to strengthen ourselves in the Lord our God. We're going to train ourselves to run to Him and His means of grace as a way of counteracting the discouragement and the disillusionment and all the sadness that is all too often a very regular part of life in a fallen world.

We're going to remind ourselves to do what that recurring refrain tells us to do. To hope in God because He truly is our salvation and our God. Well, we begin in Psalm 42 by discovering first the psalmist's condition in verses 1 through 4. And what we discover about the psalmist is that he's longing for something that he can't immediately have. His soul is thirsting for God and yet it seems God is far, far away.

Verse 3 captures the psalmist's sense of loss. He says, My tears have been my food day and night while they, the psalmist's enemies, while they say to me all day long, Where is your God? There's several clues throughout the psalm that would indicate that the psalmist is geographically removed from the promised land and more specifically from the temple in Jerusalem where God's presence at this particular time in redemptive history was most obviously made manifest. He recalls in verse 4 how he used to go with the throng of worshippers in procession to the house of God to keep festival. He asks in verse 3, When shall I come and appear before God? That is in God's presence at the temple in Jerusalem. In verse 6, the psalmist indicates that all he has to lean on at the moment are memories of a place far away a long time ago. He says, I remember you from the land of Jordan and of Herman from Mount Mazar.

These places were far to the north of Jerusalem, far removed from where the psalmist wanted to be. In verses 3 and 4 of Psalm 43, the psalmist is looking forward to the day when once again he'll be brought back to God's holy hill, Mount Zion, and to God's dwelling place, the temple on Mount Zion. He says, Then I will go to the altar of God, to God my exceeding joy, and I will praise you with the lyre, the harp, O God my God. Now, obviously, God is omnipresent, and he has always been omnipresent. He is everywhere all at once. Even when these psalms were written, God was omnipresent. But we need to recognize that these psalms were written at a time in the history of redemption when the presence of God was associated with the temple of God in Jerusalem. To be there was to be with God in a very unique and privileged and intensely personal sort of way. We could perhaps draw a parallel to our own day and say, yes, God is present everywhere at all times, but he is uniquely present, isn't he, where two or three are gathered in his name. He is uniquely present in the elements of the Lord's Supper.

He is uniquely present in the Word of God as it is read and proclaimed. So God is at the temple in Jerusalem, but the psalmist is far away, missing out on the festivities of worship and the fellowship of the saints and the sheer delight of being in the presence of God. We could speculate about who the psalmist is. The title of Psalm 42 indicates that this is a maskle of the sons of Korah. That doesn't necessarily mean that the sons of Korah wrote the psalm. Some believe that King David wrote the psalm during the time when he was on the run from Saul. He would be separated from Jerusalem, from the presence of God at the temple.

Others believe it was written from the perspective of an Israelite, perhaps during the exile in Assyria, which would also fit the details of being far to the north while the temple is still functioning in Jerusalem. At any rate, the psalmist is separated from his God, and it's causing him intense grief and sorrow. But notice also that compounding and amplifying his sorrow over being separated from God and the saints, and we love so much, there is this constant berating and mocking that he's having to endure. His enemies taught him in verse 3 by questioning, Where is your God? And again in verse 10, Where is your God? The very separation that he's grieving over is giving his enemies cause to call into question the existence of God. If your God is so desirable, so wonderfully present with his people, then where is he?

Why doesn't he come to your rescue? And this line of questioning reminds us of Christ on the cross when his tormentors said to him, He trusts in God, let God now save him. The world cannot scoff at our faith in God without also bringing shame and reproach upon God himself. And for the true believer, this reproaching of the God we love brings with it an intolerable sorrow.

It's one thing for them to mock us, but it brings an entirely new level of grief when they begin to mock our God. And so rightly so, the psalmist in verse 3 has lost all appetite, and he spends his days and nights weeping over the condition he finds himself in. Well, all he has left, verse 4, are memories of days gone by, and even those memories trigger a pouring out, a melting of his soul.

This is the condition in which the psalmist finds himself. Have you ever grieved like that? Have you ever been so full of sorrow that you can't eat, you can't drink? All you can do is weep and remember? I'm sure you've experienced a grief like that. If you've ever lost a family member or gone through a divorce or experienced the disintegration of a close friendship, a close relationship, grieved over the death of someone close to you. But have you ever grieved like the psalmist over spiritual loss? Have you ever wept over a sense that your relationship with God, your intimate knowledge of him has somehow diminished and isn't what it once was? Does that grieve our souls like it grieved the psalmist? And what's so amazing to me about this psalm is the intensity with which the psalmist longed for a sense of God's presence, the intensity with which he longed for proximity to the people of God and the public ordinances of God.

The thing he dreaded the most was missing out on those privileges and delights of worship. Do we think like that? Do we feel like that? Do we prioritize our lives around an insatiable desire to be with God? Do our souls pant for him as the deer pants for the brooks? I wonder sometimes if our souls aren't so stuffed with the snacks of this world that we have very little comprehension of what it means to truly thirst for the living God. It's one thing to want to worship and not be able to like the psalmist.

Folks, it's an entirely different thing to be able to worship and not want to. I suspect that for many of us before we can grieve the lack of a sense of the presence of God, we need to grieve the lack of a desire for the sense of the presence of God. Well, what did the psalmist do about this condition?

What was his solution? He brings us to verses 5 through 11 in which we see the psalmist's solution. The psalmist interrogates himself. Why are you cast down on my soul?

Why are you in turmoil within me? And I think it's worth noting who the psalmist addresses. Notice he doesn't address those naysayers who are bombarding him with questions about where his God is. He doesn't address the devil or demons for their oppression.

He doesn't address angels for their seeming lack of help. He addresses himself. Why are you cast down on my soul? In just a moment, he's going to command himself to hope in God and to remember God.

You see, even though the problem is coming from out there, the solution is in here. It's in the hearts, in the mind, in the affections of the believer. One pastor theologian said with regard to this verse, Doubtless, the best way to overcome Satan is not to focus the fight outside of ourselves, but to internally resist the faithless desires of our own hearts. The best way to fight is to resist the faithless desires of our own hearts. See, when trials come, it is so easy to blame the trial, to hate the hard circumstance, to accuse the difficult people, to cry out against all the things out there that are making life miserable, but the psalmist wisely and faithfully recognizes that his God is still in control and that none of the tribulation he's experiencing is outside of the governing hand of divine providence. And so rather than hurl curses at the Assyrians or spew hatred at the Babylonians, he says to his own soul, why are you cast down? Why are you in turmoil? A soul that is cast down is a discouraged soul, a soul that's lost its courage. A soul that is in turmoil is a complaining, murmuring soul, one that's lost its contentment. Yes, that loss of courage and contentment has been heightened by godless accusers and skeptics who mock God, but the solution in the mind of the psalmist is not first to eradicate the opposition, but rather to get his own soul in the right place. When we're discouraged and downtrodden, we need to be cautious about thinking that a change in our circumstances or a change in the people that we have to deal with is going to fix everything. What needs to be fixed, first and foremost, is my soul's response to those difficult people and to those undesirable circumstances and ultimately our soul's response to God.

How do we go about doing that? Well, how did the psalmist go about doing it? He demanded two things of himself. First, he hoped in God, verse 5, and secondly, he remembered God, verse 6. Hoping in God is a looking forward and confident faith to the future goodness of God. Remembering God is a looking back with thankfulness to the past faithfulness of God. John Calvin said that the soul of man serves the purpose, as it were, of a workshop to Satan in which to forge a thousand methods of despair.

In other words, we are really good at inventing ways to go discouraged and despondent, and that's precisely why we need to tell our souls, hey, soul, stop doing that. Hope in God. Realize that he will see us through to the end. Remember God, all the ways that he has provided for you and protected you and filled you with joy and freed you from bondage. Remember those things. Think about them.

Relish them in your mind. Stop fretting and complaining and start dwelling on God's faithfulness in the past and his promises for the future. Hope in God and remember God. Verse 7 is an interesting affirmation of the good intent behind difficult providences. Water in verse 7 is a metaphor for God's vengeance against our sin, or in the case of the believer, his fatherly hand of chastening us when we sin. Notice even as the psalmist is drowning in the waves, they are the Lord's waves.

The breakers are the Lord's breakers. And so even in the midst of those difficult providences, it is still God's providence that is governing my life. That means I can be confident that it will all end well. I can hope in God because I know that he is good. He's a faithful God, a purposeful God. Not only does God govern the good and the bad circumstances, he governs those circumstances at all times. Verse 8, by day the Lord commands his steadfast love, and at night his song is with me. There is not a time of day.

There is not a place on earth. There is not a circumstance, good, bad, or indifferent, over which God is not sovereign and in which God is not pouring out his love on his children. So hope in God and remember God because he's always faithful. Well, we know these things, and the psalmist knew them too, but that didn't prevent him from relapsing into despair. So right on the heels of his brief consultation with his soul, he begins to question God again. He says in verse 9, God, you're supposed to be the rock who never changes.

My rock, why then have you forgotten me? You're supposed to be my joy, why then do I go mourning? Essentially he's saying if verse 8 is true, why is verse 9 happening? And I think that's the question that every chastened Christian asks. It's a question that every child of God wonders about when he or she is going through a trial. It's a testing of one's faith.

The Christian life is like that, isn't it? It's a series of steps forward, then relapses, then more steps forward, then more relapses, and we're often, I think, discouraged by these relapses into doubt, as if we should have arrived already at full sanctification. And it encourages me to read about saints in the Bible and saints throughout history who clearly had a vibrant, genuine faith and yet who struggled with doubts and caved into temptation and lost their joy from time to time. It means those are legitimate experiences of legitimate believers. It doesn't justify our relapses into unbelief and disobedience, but it certainly does indicate that those relapses are quite possible and perhaps even common for genuine believers. In other words, our episodes of doubting and questioning and struggling don't need to be viewed as proof that we really don't belong to God at all. On the contrary, even the best of saints, even psalmists who are writing under the inspiration of Scripture experienced bouts with doubts. What we need to remember in those times of recurring doubt, however, is that the solution is always the same.

Verse 11 repeats what's already been affirmed in verse 5. Hope in God. Hope in God, for I shall again praise Him, my salvation and my God. Our doubts are only ever put to rest as we train ourselves to hope in God. Any other source of hope, any other distraction, any other confidence to which we affix our souls will fail. We need to learn to hope in God and God alone. Years ago, I remember Doug and I were sitting in the living room of a couple who had just found out that the wife had advanced stages of cancer and there was a good chance that she wouldn't survive. And as we sat there grieving with this shocked couple, I remember the husband saying to us, don't tell me that all things work together for good.

There's nothing good about this. If God meant to do us good, He wouldn't have allowed this to happen. Now, I know that that man was full of raw emotion and perhaps he didn't mean what he was saying.

Maybe he did mean what he was saying. But I remember thinking to myself as he said those words, what else can we say in the face of death and sin and despair? What else can we say when doubts creep in and test our confidence in God?

What else can we affirm when the enemies of God are mocking us and denying God's existence and laughing at the notion of God somehow being infinitely good and loving and gracious? When the world is running headlong into hell, what else can we say? The truth of the matter is we have no recourse besides the desperate and fully helpless act of throwing ourselves upon the sovereignty of an omnipotent God and trusting that He is not only sovereign but good, that He is not only holy but merciful, that though He is long-suffering even towards those who would oppress His own children, He will ultimately right all wrongs because He is just and the justifier of all who put their trust in Him. We have no other recourse.

We have no other hope. But friends, what a hope that is, hope in God. For I shall again praise Him, my salvation and my God. Very quickly then, let's consider Psalm 43, which, as I've already said, is just an extension of Psalm 42. First, we see the psalmist making a request of God, and his first request is for divine protection, divine protection. Verse 1, vindicate me, defend my cause, deliver me, for you are the God in whom I take refuge.

This is a prayer for protection from the Lord. By the way, why does the psalmist need vindicating? If we look back at what his oppressors had accused him of, we discover that they're accusing him of placing his confidence in an absentee God. The recurring question they incessantly ask him is, where is your God? This wonderfully gracious God you keep praising and longing for, where is He? And so the psalmist's request for vindication is ultimately a request for God to vindicate God. He's saying, Lord, these people think you aren't gracious or present or even real.

Show them that you're all those things. Defend my cause, because my cause is your glory. Defend my cause, because my cause is you. It's a prayer for divine protection, but a prayer that has the glory and honor of God as its chief concern. Secondly, though, he prays for divine guidance. Verse 3, send out your light and your truth. Let them lead me. Let them bring me to your holy hill and to your dwelling.

Look at that. Verse 3 is a prayer that God would take His word and lead the psalmist to appropriate acceptable worship. Send your truth and let them bring me to your presence. Church, he's talking about the means of grace. God has given us means through which we come to know His will and by which we come to desire Him. Those means are different and fuller for us than they would have been for this old covenant psalmist, but God's purpose in giving us those means has not changed. He wants us to know Him and worship Him, and to that end, He reveals Himself to us through His word and gives us access to His glorious presence through worship. In response to these gracious means, the psalmist says, verse 4, Then I will go to the altar of God, to God my exceeding joy, and I will praise you with the lyre, O God my God.

His joy erupts into musical praise to the living God. This cast-down soul that lay in turmoil would be rescued by God, vindicated and restored, and would eventually return to the sweet presence of God where he would once again enjoy the company of the saints and the songs of Zion, and most importantly, the manifest presence of God, His God. Verse 5 then repeats for a third time what has now become that glorious refrain for this suffering, discouraged and yet hopeful psalmist. Why are you cast down on my soul?

Why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God. For I shall yet praise Him, my salvation and my God. I want to close our time of reflection on these psalms by simply exhorting you with something to want, something to do, and something to know. First, there's something we should want above all else, and that something is God.

Another way to put it is this. We need to love God with all of our heart, all of our soul, and all of our might. We need to learn to yearn for the right things and grieve over the right things. The psalmist yearned for God and grieved the disrespect shown to God by the enemies of God.

He wasn't yearning for ease and leisure and self-respect and credibility. He wasn't grieving the loss of property or family or convenience, but rather the diminished experience of God's presence. Do we fellowship with God enough to be discouraged when circumstances threaten that fellowship? We need to want fellowship with God above all else.

Secondly, there's something we should do. We should obey God, particularly with regard to the means God has given us to experience him in worship. The psalmist was evidently exiled far away from where God most clearly demonstrated his presence on earth, and it grieved him.

He felt like he was missing out, and he was missing out. Now, things have changed with regard to how God reveals himself and how he invites his church to meet with him. We don't have to take a pilgrimage to Jerusalem three times a year to meet with God in a special way, but, church, God has given us instructions to follow by which we encounter God in worship. Our confession of faith refers to those divine instructions as the means of grace, and it identifies three ordinary means of grace. The reading and preaching and hearing of the Word of God, the observance of the sacraments, and prayer. The question is, are you doing the things God says will increase and deepen your knowledge of him and intimacy with him and enjoyment of him?

Are we doing these things? Now, sure, it's possible to do right things with the wrong heart and not benefit from the doing of them, but just because we sometimes obey from wrong motives doesn't nullify the importance and obligation of obedience to God. An old Puritan pastor once said, because the assemblies of the church are the places where God showeth himself to his people, lovers of God are also hearty lovers of the assembly and most desirous to frequent them for that cause.

There's nothing legalistic about wanting to be where God is with his people. So do you hear the Word of God with rapt attention when it's time to hear the Word of God? Do you pray fervently and heartily when it's time to pray?

Do you take these precious sacraments that Christ has given to his bride and receive them with anticipation and concentration and joy? We need to obey God by faithfully utilizing the means of grace that he has given. And finally, there's something for us to know, and I think this third exhortation is really the thrust of the application of these two Psalms. Over and over and over again, the psalmist returns to that same truth that our hope is in God, hope in God. You know, hope, I suppose, can be an emotion, a feeling, but for the Christian, hope is so much more than mere emotion because Christian hope is rooted and grounded in the truth that God is faithful, that he will keep every promise he makes, that if he says all things work together for the good of those who love him, they really will work together for good. To hope in God is to know that God never changes, that nothing is too difficult for him, that his love is an everlasting love, that he cannot break covenant with his children and that we are his children by virtue of the shed blood of Jesus Christ, his only begotten Son. Church, when everyone around us is saying, where is your God? It is on the basis of these truths that we hope in God, and it is from that foundation of hope that we call him my rock, my salvation, my God. Let's pray. Lord, may it be true of us, as it was true of the psalmist, that as the deer pants for flowing streams, so pants our souls for you. May we thirst for you, and may that thirst be frequently and abundantly quenched. In Jesus' name, amen.
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-06-11 20:42:28 / 2023-06-11 20:54:43 / 12

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