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David, harassed by enemies around him, sets aside the warlike imagery of the previous psalm.  In Psalm 4, the distress of the godly flies away, because the Lord hears the prayers of His people.  God is not far from His own.

For the first time, David seems to give specific instructions regarding the psalm’s use.  The word often translated “choirmaster” can also mean “to supervise” or “inspect,” as it does in Ezra 3:8-9, 2 Chronicles 2:2, and 2 Chronicles 34:12.  It is used in 1 Chronicles 15:21 in connection with the temple music.  Therefore, the common understanding is a musical supervisor, i.e. a director.  However, this is not certain, and the ancient translations of the Septuagint and the Vulgate rendered it as “to the end,” though probably by taking it as a different word altogether.  Regardless, the inscription is clearly meant to give some sort of direction, especially since it is coupled with “stringed instruments.”

“Answer me in my calling, God of my righteousness.  In my narrowness you have made me wide.  Show favor to me and listen to my prayer.”  David thus begins the psalm by crying out to God in the midst of trouble.  It is not a cry of despair, because the godly man who cries out entrusts himself to God.   The silent man regards God as not being able or willing to help, and therefore his nonexistent prayers show the state of his heart.  Even a prayer of anger still recognizes that all things come from God.  David recognizes this.  God has taken him out of a tight spot and widened him, gave him room of relief.

“Sons of men, how long [will] my glory [be turned] to an insult?  Will you love vanity?  Will you seek falsehood?  Know that the Lord treats the godly specially for Himself.  The Lord hears in my calling to him.”  David’s persecutors seem to mock his godliness.  As they will go on to say later in the psalm, they insult the goodness of the Lord, and consequently also call into question the glory or honor of David.   Against these lies, David rebukes his accusers for their pursuit of vanity and falsehood.  God has in fact answered David’s prayers.  He has an unmistakable proof before him, not in subjective emotions, but a concrete example.  Such an example shows these lies for what they are, and thus persisting in them is folly.

“Tremble and do not sin.  Speak in your hearts on your beds and be silent.  Sacrifice a sacrifice of righteousness and trust in the Lord.”  David continues his speech to his detractors by calling them to repentance.  A living fear of the Lord would cause us to tremble before Him, for no one living is righteous in His sight!  Like the tax collector who humbled himself and called upon God in a way only audible to himself (Luke 18:13), repentance does not seek attention.  Where else would one be more alone than in one’s bed in the dark watches of the night (Matthew 6:6)?  Then one will offer a righteous sacrifice, the sacrifice of a broken spirit (Psalm 51:17).

“Many who say, ‘Who will show us some good?  Lift up over us the light of your face, Lord.’”  However, it seems that David’s rebuke has not been taken to heart.  His detractors continue to mock him and God alike.  The sense of the verse is likely negative.  Show us your face, Lord!  Then we will believe in you.  Then we will turn to you.  But not until then.  “He saved others; he cannot save himself.  He is the King of Israel; let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him” (Matthew 27:42).

“You give [more] joy in my heart than when their grain and their must increase.  In peace I will both lie down and sleep, for You alone, Lord, cause me to lie down in safety.”  Yet it ultimately does not matter.  Even if the riches of the wicked increase, the godly have a still greater treasure.  The coming of the harvest is an occasion for joy, certainly.  The labor of a year has come to its fruition.  Must, the juice of unfermented wine, contains the promises of still greater joys to come.  Yet all of these are nothing in comparison to the peace which surpasses understanding.  David’s detractors will not find peace when they go to rest.  The anxiety and cares of this world often take their peace from them, for these things which they have, whose will they be (Luke 12:20)?  “It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil, for He gives to His beloved sleep” (Psalm 127:2).

Christians can pray this Psalm confidently, knowing that the Lord hears and answers prayer.  Even when others mock them and utter all kinds of evils against them, the Lord shows forth His favor in His own Son.  Christ is proof that the Lord answers the prayers of His people.  Answer evil with good.  “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:44).  Even if those detractors still pursue vanity, the Lord remains the certain and sure reward of His people.

Date: January 8, 1931?

Then Simon Peter answered Him, Lord, to whom shall we go? Thou hast the words of eternal life. And we believe and are sure that Thou art that Christ, the Son of the living God.John 6:68-69

ONLY one life to live—that, my dear friends, is the sum total of our earthly existence, your destiny and mine. Only one life to live! And what a short and fluctuating existence it is! In spite of the extravagant claims of those who would lengthen the span of modern life, we are told that only one out of every five hundred human beings ever becomes ninety years old and that only one out of every one hundred thousand touches the century mark. Stop for a moment to look back over your past years and to look forward to the normal expectancy of life that may be yours, and you will agree with me when I say that at best our existence is but a shadow that flits across a short expanse in the ocean of time.

It is a depressing thought, this meditation upon the frailty and the weakness of the human race, this disquieting realization of all the change and the flux, of all the problematical and uncertain issues of life. We can understand how throughout the ages, blind, groping humanity, held and swayed by fear and doubt, has yearned with a deep and sighing longing for something fast and firm, for something positive and definite, for something unchangeable and unending. We can understand, too, why today, in spite of all our modern advances, men are mobilizing the resources of human ingenuity, restlessly dedicating the best of their efforts to find certainty in the midst of this consuming uncertainty; to discover light in this enshrouding gloom; to secure trust amid the surroundings of this disappointing speculation,—dissatisfied, disillusioned, distracted men, crying out the question of our text, “To whom shall we go?”

THE TRAGIC GROPING OF BLINDED MORTALS.

And what tragic mistakes men make in this quest! They take the dollar, and they actually believe that it is the “almighty dollar” that can solve all human problems. But put them into a crisis moment, let them be brought face to face with serious social problems, with disheartening family troubles, or with threatening physical disasters, and how much peace of mind can they purchase, say, with 100,000 of these “almighty dollars”? Let them be confronted with imminent death, and how many more moments than their allotted time can they buy, say, with 1,000,000 of these “almighty dollars”?

Others, again, have tried to take refuge in the attainments of the human mind. Here, in the assured results of scientific investigation or in the philosophies of the great minds of the ages, they hope to find something provable and demonstrable, something real and lasting. But after all, there are very few absolute verities. Basic theories which were accepted yesterday are ruthlessly swept aside in the modern advance of today. And when a man is confronted with a soul problem, there is no system of human learning that can soothe that inner pain and restore soul happiness. When the Grim Reaper swings his scythe, the philosopher is cut down with the peasant, and the scholar of the most brilliant distinction is laid to decay in the same dust that covers the remains of a doddering illiterate.

Finally, most men drift into some kind of religion in this desperate craving for an unmistakable answer to the insistent question, “To whom shall we go?” They have adopted extremes of worship and sacrifice which are hardly compatible with human intelligence, limited as it is. They have worshiped snakes; they have sacrificed their own children; they have turned their eyes toward India’s scorching sun until they have become hopelessly blind; they have misled themselves into believing lying spirits and fraudulent spiritist manifestations, crystal-gazers, or fortune-tellers; they have adopted eccentricities in their physical appearance, their clothing, their food, their language, and their habits; they whirl about in dizzy circles until they collapse in unconscious exhaustion; they scream at the top of their voices until they are bereft of their senses; they beat their backs until the blood streams down in crimson courses. And the answer? The same dull, despairing vacuum of hope that greeted the priests of Baal on Mount Carmel when for an entire day they shrieked and lacerated themselves before the hopeless silence of their lifeless god.

So, too, when people today ask themselves, “To whom shall we go?” and turn from the shifting quicksand of one theory to the engulfing failure of another, the answer they find is not essentially different from the answer with which the stolid Buddhists of India resign themselves to the inevitability of life. They tell us that our existence is comparable to a man who is pursued up a steep mountainside by a lion. As the voracious animal gains ground and it seems that all is lost, the terrified runner spies a precipice that protrudes over a yawning chasm many thousands of feet below; and to his great joy and relief he grasps the immense roots of a nearby tree hanging over the edge, beyond the lion’s reach. He is about to congratulate himself upon his escape, when he looks up and realizes to his horror that there are two rats (one black and the other white, signifying the relentless flow of night and day), which begin the ominous gnawing at the two roots which have kept him from falling into the jagged rocks of the abyss below.

But is there no better answer to the hopelessness of all that is human than such despair of defeat? Does the one life that we live offer no happier response to this age-old question, “To whom shall we go?” Let me give this assurance tonight to you who have problems of body and soul: Amid the ebb and flow of hope and despair, tossed about as you are on the raging seas of doubt and distrust, there is an Anchor which will hold you fast and keep you safe from the rocks of destruction. In the deep darkness with which sin and wrong have engulfed your life, groping as you do on the brink of yawning chasms and bottomless pits, there gleams from on high a bright Beacon-light to guide you ever onward and upward. When you sink in the raging conflict of the fleeting years, overcome by utter weakness and helplessness, crying, as you must, for deliverance and strength, there is a Power to raise us up and to give us the courage of victory.

ONLY CHRIST HAS DIVINE POWER.

This Anchor, this Light, this Power, is the assurance that is ours when we ask ourselves this question, “To whom shall we go?”and answer in the immortal words of St. Peter’s confident confession of faith, “Thou hast the words of eternal life, and we believe and are sure that Thou art that Christ, the Son of the living God.”

Our answer to this question of supreme importance, “To whom shall we go?” must likewise be, “To Christ”; for He, and He alone, as “the Son of the living God,” has the divine power and the divine love that you and I so sorely need to fortify ourselves in the superhuman issues of life. Tonight I want you to see in this divine Christ, the Only-begotten of the Father, the greatest Friend humanity has ever known, the greatest Love the world has ever witnessed, the greatest Power that has ever asserted itself on this earth, “the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world.” Let me stop for a moment to tell you again what I have told you before and what, pray God, we shall incessantly continue to repeat as long as we use the facilities of this marvelous Gospel-messenger, and that is that you are listening to the representative of a Church which bases all its preaching on this glorious, victorious truth, so often misunderstood, so unfairly misrepresented, and so systematically denied, namely, that Jesus Christ is not a mere human being as you and I are, that He is not merely the greatest man, the most exalted hero, the most stupendous mind of which history knows, but that He is, beyond all possibility of doubt and hesitation, what St. Peter declares Him to be,—“the Son of the living God.” I want to thank the Christians outside of our communion who have assured us of their appreciation of this nationwide effort to exalt Jesus Christ as the everlasting God and who have helped us with prayer and unsolicited financial support. I want to thank those pastors of other denominations who love the free and unrestricted preaching of this blessed Savior and who have expressed the desire to come into our Church and join in this crusade for Christ.

Remember, it is only a divine Christ who can help; it is only He who can say, “All power is given to Me in heaven and in earth,” and who so abundantly proved His possession of this power, who can extend to you and to me that forgiveness, that faith, that guidance, which leads us to life in the full and beautiful sense of that term.

ONLY CHRIST HAS WORDS OF ETERNAL LIFE.

For this divine Christ, the Son of the living God, and He alone, to continue in the confession of St. Peter, “has the words of eternal life.” I often wonder whether we fully realize the power and the force that lies in words as we speak and write them. Think of the devastating power of human words when men with fiery eloquence inflame the human passions and drench the world with bloodshed or when misguided demagogs enkindle the flames of dissatisfaction and strife and hatred that smolder in the human breast and promote untold misery and suffering. Or again, think of the ennobling and uplifting words that men have used to enrich the happiness of the human family and to lead men on to the higher and better things of life,—these words that impress themselves deeply into our vivid consciousness. Think of David Livingstone facing the terrors of unmapped Africa with the determination, “Any place with Christ, if only forward!” Think of the Friar of Wittenberg and the undying words he uttered in that crisis moment of history when he challenged the combined forces of the Church and the State, “Here I stand; I cannot do otherwise. God help me! Amen.” Think of the words that make up the Declaration of Independence and that helped to create our magnificent nation; the words of the Emancipation Proclamation, which gave liberty and the pursuit of happiness to millions of a downtrodden race and to their unnumbered descendants. Think of this, and you will agree with me when I say that there is a tremendous and startling potency that lies even in human words.

But so immeasurably greater that there cannot be any approach to comparison are the words that the divine Christ has left us and that have been recorded in the gospels. St. Peter calls them “words of eternal life”; and indeed, if there is to be any source of life, any power to raise us up above the fear of death, this can be found only in the life-giving, life-sustaining promises of our divine Savior. Listen to some of these “words of eternal life”: “Whosoever liveth and believeth in Me shall never die.” “I go to prepare a place for you.” “Where I am, there ye shall be also.” “He that believeth on the Son hath eternal life.” “In My Father’s house are many mansions.” Here is hope. Here is happiness. Here is heaven.

Never was there an age which more sorely needed these “words of eternal life.” We look out into this sin-soaked world, and “change and decay in all around we see.” We behold the rampant evils in this modern day that drag men down to death; man’s inhumanity to man; the selfishness that is responsible for the tragic industrial unrest in our country and the widening chasm between wealth and poverty; the spirit of modern indifference and stolid materialism which bids the masses eat and drink and he merry, for tomorrow they may he dead; the ravages of lust and impurity that are wrecking our homes, making American children legal orphans and desecrating the holiness of matrimony and the blessings of family life; and, as reluctantly as we may admit this, our own shortcomings and our own special sins.—In this melee of morals we find ourselves tied with the cords of men’s favorite follies, earth-bound and earth-centered. And then, great and loving Savior that He is, when we cry for deliverance and forgiveness, for life instead of death, He brings us these “words of eternal life” that reecho above all the thunder of God’s wrath, “The Son of Man is come to seek and to save that which was lost.” If the high and holy authority of the inerrant Word of God lays down this inevitable sentence, “The wages of sin is death,” then the greater grace of Christ, whose holy body was offered as a living sacrifice for all human iniquity, gives us this surpassing pardon, “Where sin abounded, grace did much more abound,” and with this forgiveness the definite conviction that these words of eternal life, and these alone, actually lead to the blessed eternity with Christ.

OURS MUST BE A POSITIVE FAITH AND CONVICTION.

Let me remind you that I call this a definite conviction; for what else is this double statement of St. Peter, this twofold ring of unshaken faith, “We believe and are sure”? There is nothing vague or indefinite about this “We believe and are sure,” no feeling of happy sentimentality, no hazy “getting religion,” no conceding that possibly Jesus may be right, no half-hearted acknowledgment of His truth and love, no believing today and doubting tomorrow. But this “We believe and are sure” expresses the unhesitating, unswerving, unquestioning faith that in and through Jesus Christ, the Son of the living God, there is granted to every one of us who believes and who is sure, without money and without price, the release from the punishment of our sins and the heaven-born assurance of the undying love and unending mercy of a forgiving Savior.

So I ask you tonight, Do you believe and are you sure? And if some of you tell me, “Well, how can we believe when there is so much unbelief and infidelity in the theological and scientific circles of the world?” then I answer, “Not only have some of the greatest scientific minds of all ages reverently believed in this Son of the living God and in His ‘words of eternal life,’ but in your life also, if you will but give this Word a chance in your heart and take it for what it claims to be and what it has proved itself to he, the opposition of unbelief and skepticism will not be able to shake the eternal Rock of Ages on which your faith is founded.”

Again I ask, Do you believe and are you sure? and if you admit that your faith is weak and wavering, if you confess that you used to believe, but that you have drifted away from the Church and thought more of your perishable body than of your imperishable soul; if you tell me that you never believed, but that you want to believe now, and if you ask, “To whom shall we go?” what better can I do than to point you to the outstretched arms of your Savior, to direct you to His “words of eternal life,” and to pray that you, too, may learn life’s happiest lesson, to “believe and be sure” that He is “that Christ, the Son of the living God”? Amen.

Published with the permission of The Maier Center, Concordia University, Ann Arbor, Michigan 48105.