Today is Palm Sunday. As we have heard in the third Suffering Servant Song (five of them: Isaiah 42:1-4; Isaiah 49:1-6; Isaiah 50:4-7; Isaiah 52:13-53:12; 63:1-3), we hear the Suffering Servant sing: 6 I gave my back to those who strike, and my cheeks to those who pull out the beard; I hid not my face from disgrace and spitting. 7 But the Lord GOD helps me; therefore I have not been disgraced; therefore I have set my face like a flint, and I know that I shall not be put to shame. And we see Jesus intent on going to the hill of his crucifixion. We see the King of the World riding on the colt of a donkey. Why not a horse? A donkey symbolized peace. So he comes to usher in peace. But it will be by his death.
In trying to figure out the best way to structure this sermon, I kept coming back to the idea that it is full of conversation. Two voices. But these two voices are different in the experience of the one crying out. That is, we see here that we can know something with our mind. Even believe it in our heart. But it’s when we’re confronted by real choices in life that reveals what we really believe in our guts. As we end our time in this season of Lent, you and I are confronted with these two voices we hear. They encircle us and talk to us to confront us and to comfort us.
Two Voices. Crying. Silent.
Have you ever felt like there was an iron ceiling between you and God? You have prayed and asked and begged and pleaded…and it feels like all your prayers were unheard. That’s a difficult place to be. // But a more difficult place to be is where you know someone hears you and they do nothing about it. This is the situation David finds himself in. “I know you hear my pleas…but you do not answer.”
This is why I love the Psalms. It’s easy to hear people talking about a victorious Christian life, but that’s not the kind of reality we find ourselves in. And the comfort you find is that intimacy with God requires silence. Lasting maturity depends on silence. // What do I mean by that? My children ask me for many things. Your children ask you for many things. I try to give them what I can. Those are good days. But the hard days come when I have to say “No.” Or when I don’t respond in the way they want me to. What I am doing as a loving father is putting them in a place where they don’t get everything they want…even the good things.
You and I too often put walls around God’s love for us. We pray and ask God for a relationship. For healing. For comfort. For a job. And he doesn’t answer us. And so we assume that he doesn’t care. The fact is that we have a backwards view of prayer. The main intention of prayer is not to change God’s mind, but to change ours! We box God’s love in in such a way that we want him to respond in a certain way. // What happens when I don’t answer my children in the way they want me to answer? Definitely disappointment. Frustration. But maturity. If I were to continue to treat my 20-year old daughter like I treat my 3-year-old daughter, I would be doing more harm than good. So it is with God. He is silent because he cares. He is shaping you. He is drawing you into himself. Into a fullness that can only be received when your expectations are emptied from your heart.
(2) Two Voices. Belief. Experience.
David knew what God did on behalf of his people. “Our fathers trusted, and you delivered. They cried. You rescued. They trusted and were not shamed.” He knew the answers in Sunday school. You and I know the answers. We read of deliverance and healing and resurrection. But…
V.6-8: Experience: Taunting
Our experience is very different from what we often read in the Bible. We trust…no deliverance. We delight…no rescue.
At least not in the way we want God to deliver us. We want him to ride on a white horse and swoop us out of the pain and suffering.
But God’s deliverance is in the everyday and simple stuff of life. The things we take for granted everyday. It’s easy to forget that you have two legs to walk on. There’s tons of people who would love to have your two legs. We can see. We can hear. You have a job. Quite simply David looks back at his life and sees God’s nearness at every step. He contrasts —>
Vv.9-11: Experience: God’s goodness.
Even when I didn’t acknowledge your goodness, you were good to me. You sustained my life, though I had no clue it was you! He wants to be near to God. The friends. Pleasant conversation. Rebuking conversation. These are all God’s nearness to you.
Vv.12-18: Experience: People’s meanness.
We have seen and are walking toward the light. And friends will not like that you’re changing. Doing things differently. They’re not friends. They’re enablers. They’re not wanting the best for you. They want to make themselves feel better. They encircle David like lions seeking to devour him. Like mangy dogs looking for a scrap of meat.
Your difficulties in life—Anxiety that you’re not the best parent. Condemnation when you realize you aren’t. Fear that you might fail. Condemnation that comes when you realize you do fail. Struggles with the same sins of fear, worry, anger, control, lust. Condemnation when you give in yet again. All of these difficulties are not simply on the horizontal plane. Every one of them has the vertical element. What you do to someone else, you are doing to God.
V.15: “You lay me in the dust of death.” All these difficulties and struggles come from God’s sternness. More than that. His great desire for you to be be starved of all your hopes and dreams that you cling so tightly to, so that you can simply have more of God.
The condemning voice inside you is the voice of God that you have broken his holy law. And you need that same voice from heaven to give you forgiveness. Our last set of voices —>
Two Voices. Judgment. Love. Even though David looks around and sees all this turmoil in his life…he goes to the only one who can rescue him.
We’ve seen, a true sign of maturity in our relationship with God comes when we continue to cry out even there’s silence on the other end. What is more, when we see the pain and suffering as God’s answer to us. Children don’t like to be rebuked. They don’t like to be corrected. You and I don’t like to be rebuked or corrected. People and situations are simply God dealing with us. “You lay me in the dust.” But we see it again in this verse: “You have rescued me from the horns of the wild oxen.” If you see that little footnote in your Bibles, it gives you the literal word for “rescued” is actually “answered.” How does God answer us from the horns of the wild oxen. Sometimes he delivers us from them. Sometimes the horns of judgement many times are his answer.
God is not far. God is not silent. He is nearer than your self-condemnation. He is louder than the dogs that surround you.
//It’s at this point that David turns. He begins to understand that all this suffering is in light of God’s greatness and goodness. God is not good because he gives you what you want. He is good because he does what is best. He does what is more glorious. Our problem is that our gods of comfort and victory are too small.
Once David comes to that realization, he praises God and invites others to praise God with him. He realizes that his joy and purpose in life is under a larger umbrella of the magnificence of God. The greatness of God.
Vv.22-31: The High Point of Our Passage True we struggle. Anything being built will have struggle. Ultimately seen in Jesus. The very thing we are after is a Joy that will not fade. A City that cannot be shaken. And here we see that Jesus came to usher in this Kingdom by dying. We are familiar with Jesus quoting the beginning of this psalm on the cross when he cried out: “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” As one author put it:
“Jesus Christ is our mediator, who entered in the presence of God who is a consuming fire and we see that judgement and fire upon the cross. But from the cross too there comes the voice of amazing love: the voice of incredible love and mercy and pardon right in the heart of judgment—that is why it is such incredible love”
He does not wait for us…but has entered into our weakness and frailty and stands on our side.
In the cross, God shows that he was never far from your suffering. He entered into our suffering on the cross. He enters into our suffering everyday. And he whispers words of love to you. We’ve focused a lot on suffering during this season of Lent.
But we need to see that Jesus goes to this psalm one more time on the cross. How does Christ give us the unshakeable hope and city and kingdom we all long for? A place of true rest and acceptance and love? V.31: “Future generations shall come and proclaim his righteousness to a people yet unborn that he has done it.”
Or as Jesus said on the cross: It. Is. Finished.