Times of Trouble
22/08/2010 at 6.30pm
Jesmond Parish Church
A sermon preached by Jonathan Pryke
Heavenly Father, through your living Word, prepare us to live our lives by faith in you, whatever comes our way. In Jesusí name. Amen.
Weíre working our way through the Psalms Ė the song book of the Bible Ė and this evening we reach Psalm 10. If thereís a Bible near you please turn that up and have it open in front of you. Youíll find it on p 547. Then youíll see from the outline on the back of the service sheet that my title is ĎTimes of Troubleí.
Thatís apt, because this is a Psalm for a spiritual antelope. Why do I say that? Itís because this Psalm reminds me of a wildlife programme I saw on TV recently. It was filmed on the plains of East Africa, and it tracked a predatory lion going about its business of finding its next meal. The lion prowled around on the edges of a great herd of antelope. When it saw an opportunity, it chased down a small, weak antelope on the fringes of the herd. The lion took the antelope by the throat, dragged it away, killed it and ate it. The situation that gives rise to Psalm 10 is that a wicked man is hunting down the helpless to destroy them for his own benefit.
So this is a Psalm for those who find themselves under attack from a wicked man Ė whatever the particular nature of that attack might be, whether itís physical or spiritual or both. Itís also a Psalm to prepare us for such times, if weíre not now under attack. What is more, it teaches us how to support those under attack among us and around the world. Any which way, every one of us needs this Psalm in our armoury if weíre going to survive and help our brothers and sisters in Christ to survive.
Now when we take a close look at it, there are five things that we see. Each of them is reflected in one of the headings that youíll find on the outline on the back of the service sheet. So first, there are honest questions for God. Secondly, there are close-up perspectives on a wicked man. Thirdly, there are heartfelt cries to God. Fourthly, you can see a faith-filled vision of God. And fifthly, we get a life-changing glimpse of Godís purpose. Letís get our noses into the Psalm and see where those things are to found.
First, HONEST QUESTIONS FOR GOD.
You can see these questions in verses 1 and 13. The Psalm begins with them, in this way:
1Why, O LORD, do you stand far off? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?These, then, are questions about God. They are the kind of questions that very easily press in on our minds when we find ourselves in times of deep trouble as believers. God seems miles away. It seems like heís deliberately hiding himself. So those questions really translate as: ďGod, just when I need you, why canít I see you? Why canít you see the trouble Iím in here? Why donít you hear us?Ē It seems God is so far away and so well hidden that we canít see him, and he can neither see nor hear us.
If that seems familiar to you from your own times of trouble, then simply note this. Here are these questions in the song book of the Bible. This is like Godís permission for us to ask them. Itís alright for us to ask God our hard, honest questions. If weíre directing them at God, then our angry, honest questions flow from faith.
In verse 1 the questions are about God. Down in verse 13 the questions are about the wicked man whoís attacking:
13Why does the wicked man revile God? Why does he say to himself, He won't call me to account?In other words, why does he hate you? Why canít he see you? Why is there evil at all? It doesnít make sense. We look for reasons. When we canít find them, it distresses us even further.
Andrew White is the Vicar of the only Anglican church in Baghdad. In a piece he wrote about the church he leads he said that the vast majority of their growing congregation of 1500 was women. Why? Was it because Christianity is regarded as womenís work? No. It was because almost all of the men had been killed.
Around the world Christians are literally being killed for their faith. And Christians come under attack in all kinds of other ways. Such attacks raise hard questions in our minds, both about God and about evil. What should we do with such questions? We should pour them out to God. This Psalm gives us that encouragement. God wants to hear our honest questions.
Secondly, CLOSE-UP PERSPECTIVES ON A WICKED MAN
This is the longest section of the Psalm, and it runs all the way through verses 2-11. So the bulk of the Psalm is taken up with this close-up examination of the ways of the wicked man. Itís as if the writer King David is saying: ďLord, I canít see you, but I certainly have no difficulty seeing the wicked man. Heís all over the place. Heís in my face. Heís hot on my heels and about to over-run me. His breath is on my neck and Iím staring into his evil eyes. I see him all too clearly. And I donít like what I see one bit.Ē
The image of the predatory lion is explicit here in verse 9:
He lies in wait like a lion in coverÖFrom a New Testament perspective thatís a reminder that when weíre dealing with a wicked man, then behind that man thereís Satan even if the wicked man has no idea of that himself. So the apostle Peter warns (this is 1 Peter 5.8):
Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.The wicked do Satanís work. What, then, does a wicked man look like close-up according to the Psalm? It describes his thoughts, his words and his deeds Ė what he thinks, what he says and what he does.
What does the wicked man think? Verses 3-6:
3He boasts of the cravings of his heart; he blesses the greedy and reviles the LORD.And verse 11:
11He says to himself, God has forgotten; he covers his face and never sees.His only thoughts about God are full of hate. He thinks God doesnít see him; that his evil is to his credit; that heís strong and invulnerable. Heís contemptuous of the Godly.
What does he say? Verse 7:
7His mouth is full of curses and lies and threats; trouble and evil are under his tongue.Again, who does that remind you of? In John 8.44 Jesus says about Satan:
ďHe was a murderer from the beginningÖ When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies.ĒThe wicked man curses Ė he wants to do harm. He lies Ė he tramples on the truth. He threatens Ė he wants to prevent good being done.
Thatís what he thinks and what he says. What does he do? Verse 2:
2In his arrogance the wicked man hunts down the weakVerses 8-10:
8He lies in wait near the villages; from ambush he murders the innocent, watching in secret for his victims.Notice that itís the weak he goes after, not the strong. That rather undermines his arrogant boasting. He hasnít got the guts to pick on someone his own size. He hunts the weak Ė he waits for them, catches them, drags them off and kills them. And, shockingly, he prospers. No wonder his vicious work throws up those hard questions.
The wicked man can dress himself up in sheepís clothing. Or a policemanís uniform come to that. Like the recent case that the Christian Institute helped fight of the street preacher who was prevented from preaching and arrested by the police on no legitimate grounds. This is the UK weíre talking about, not Iraq. That preacher wasnít crushed and didnít collapse under the pressure thank God. Perhaps he knows this Psalm well.
Where have we got to? The first thing we see here is honest questions for God. Secondly, there are close-up perspectives on a wicked man Ė what he thinks, says and does. Then:
Thirdly, HEARTFELT CRIES TO GOD
You can see those in verses 12:
12Arise, LORD! Lift up your hand, O God. Do not forget the helpless.And then again in verse 15:
15Break the arm of the wicked and evil man; call him to account for his wickedness that would not be found out.King David wants God to raise his arm on behalf of the helpless, and to break the arm of the evil man. The arm, of course, represents power and strength. In other words, this is a cry to the Lord not to stand aside but to use his power to destroy the power of the wicked man.
Faced with evil, of course thatís what we want, and we shouldnít be shy of asking God to act like that. Think of Hitler, his power broken, shut up in his bunker; or Saddam, his power lost for ever, cowering in his hole in the ground. What the world needs is for the power of evil to be broken, and only God can do that. We depend utterly on him. He wants us to express that by crying out to him to put his power to use. This Psalm models for us those heartfelt cries to God.
Then what do see next?
Fourthly, A FAITH-FILLED VISION OF GOD
For all his anguished questions and desperate cries as he stares evil in the face, King David has not lost his grip on God. This is a Psalm of faith, not of despair. If he sees the wicked man as like a predatory lion, he knows that the Lord his God is the all-powerful Lion of Judah. Take a look now at verse 14:
14But you, O God, do see trouble and grief; you consider it to take it in hand. The victim commits himself to you; you are the helper of the fatherless.And then also down to verses 16-18:
16The LORD is King for ever and ever; the nations will perish from his land.God is King. The wicked man may seem to be succeeding all around us. We may even find it impossible to see God at work. But, though we donít see him, he is here. He is the ruling power.
Do you see how those hard questions for God are answered here? We canít see you, Lord. You canít see us in our trouble. Youíre not hearing us crying out to you. Youíre a long way off. Youíre hiding yourself. Thatís what it feels like. But thatís not the reality. Thatís not whatís actually going on. In truth, God is near. God does see. God does hear. God does act. He sees our troubles. He hears our cries. He acts in defence of the weak.
Thatís faith. Thatís the vision of the Lion of Judah that we need. A young Christian man I heard about went through a time of great trouble. One of the things that he found helped him to get through it was to paint murals on the walls of his room. One of those murals was a massive head of Aslan Ė the lion king of C. S. Lewisís Narnia stories, who stands for Christ, the Lion of Judah. I saw that mural. It dominates the room, watching over its inhabitant. Itís a painted statement of faith in the midst of serious trouble. We all need our own equivalent of that mural in our minds, dominating our thoughts. Thatís what King David has:
But you, O God, do see trouble and grief; you consider it to take it in handÖ The Lord is King.
Thatís the faith-filled vision of God that this Psalm seeks to strengthen within each one of us.
And thereís one more very important thing here to which Iíd like to draw your attention.
Fifthly, A LIFE-CHANGING GLIMPSE OF GODíS PURPOSE
Why does our loving and powerful God deal with his people in this way, putting us in situations where it feels as if heís a long way off, hiding, not hearing us, taking no notice of us, while evil men prosper around us, doing all they can to destroy faith and smash the church? Why does he do that? Well we get a glimpse of his purpose in the last part of the last verse of Psalm 10. Take a look at the end of the Psalm. God acts as he does:
Ö in order that man, who is of the earth, may terrify no more.No doubt this is not the whole of the Lordís purpose, but itís a key part of it. Godís purpose is that weíll learn not to be afraid of the wicked man, because instead weíve learned to trust God in our troubles. We need to learn this because evil is strong and scary, and the human agents of evil very often seem strong and scary, and when weíre eyeball to eyeball with evil, we very easily get scared. But when we see Satan try to do his worst, and then we see God step in and Ďbreak his armí as the Psalm puts it, then we learn that we donít need to be afraid of the wicked man. We can trust God.
There are some things God says again and again to his people. One of them is this: ďDo not be afraid.Ē It runs right through the Bibleís account of Godís relationship with his people, and it is repeatedly on the lips of Jesus. Do not be afraid. Thereís a marvellous example of that in John 14-17, where Jesus is teaching his disciples just before he goes to the cross. Hereís what he says in the course of that:
ďDo not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraidÖ If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me firstÖ I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.Ē [John 14.27; 15.18; 16.33]Godís purpose is that weíll learn not to be afraid of anyone, however wicked Ė not because weíre strong, but because God is strong and we trust him in our troubles.
I was talking the other day to a church leader whoís under pressure to back off from his plans for mission and growth. Men who are, humanly speaking, more powerful than he is donít like what heís doing and would like to prevent him. But he is undeterred. Why? Because Godís purpose is being fulfilled in his life and heís learning not to be afraid. This Psalm gives us just that life-changing glimpse of Godís purpose that we all need.
So thereís Psalm 10. Letís learn from it. Letís be spurred on in our support of our brothers and sisters around the world who face much worse troubles than we do. And if and when we come under attack, hereís what to remember. Donít hesitate to ask those hard questions Ė but donít stop there. Donít be naÔve about what your enemy is like Ė know your enemy. Donít hold back from asking God to act Ė pray boldly for what you want. Donít believe that God has forgotten or doesnít see Ė after all, thatís what the wicked man thinks! Instead, by faith, fix your eyes on Jesus the Lion of Judah. And commit yourself to Godís purpose Ė trust him and fear no man.
Heavenly Father, we thank you for this marvellous Psalm and for the powerful help it is in equipping us to be faithful disciples of Christ in a hostile world. Lord, please drive its lessons deep into our souls, so that whoever or whatever you call us to face, we will trust you, and not be afraid. In Jesusí name. Amen.
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