God With Us
13/08/2000 at 6.30pm
Jesmond Parish Church
A sermon preached by Simon Price
The alarm would go off and the day had arrived. He would be out of the house and meeting his friends at the train station. All of them would be wearing red jerseys and when it finally arrived, practically everybody else on the train was too. Almost all the way to the city songs would fill the carriages, remembering what had happened in the past, the great exploits of JPR Williams, Gareth Edwards; the victories that had been won and this all the way to the Stadium, to Cardiff Arms Park.
As we look at this Psalm this evening we are going to read a song of praise, written so that a nation could remember what had happened in their history and why it had happened to them. And as we read it we will also be remembering for ourselves, because as followers of Jesus Christ, their history is our history too. So what is it that this Psalm remembers? Heading number one:
First, REMEMBER WHEN THE ISRAELITES LEFT EGYPT AND ENTERED CANAAN (verses 1-4)
First some background to the events that this Psalm is recalling; The Bible begins with an account of God's creation of the world and humanity's subsequent rejection of God. It continues by describing how God chooses a man called Abraham from whom a family, then tribe derive, called Israelites. This tribe of people end up in Egypt where they are eventually made slaves of the Egyptians. However the Israelites escape from slavery, and go to a land called Canaan. And here they become the nation of Israel. The Psalm begins by remembering these events which were both historical and miraculous. So first point under this heading;
a. What happened is historical reality. (verses 1-2)
Look at verses 1 and 2
When Israel came out of Egypt, (Israel standing for the Israelites);Now the Psalm continues with detail about how this happened. What were the circumstances that saw them leave Egypt and enter Canaan?
b. How it happened was a miraculous reality. (verses 3-4)
The sea looked and fled,What is being described here? Well, the history of how the Israelites leave Egypt and enter the land of Canaan is marked by many miraculous events. And the writer of this Psalm chooses to draw attention to them by highlighting two similar incidents. One is at the beginning of the journey as they escape from the Egyptians, and the other at the end of the journey as they enter Canaan.
'The sea looked and fled,' here the psalmist recalls the crossing of the Red Sea that is recorded in Exodus chapter fourteen. With the Red Sea as a barrier before them, it is miraculously parted and the Israelites cross on dry ground.
'The sea looked and fled,' and 'the Jordan turned back'. Here an incident that we read about in Judges chapter three is recalled. Now the Israelites are on the borders of Canaan yet the river Jordan is in the way. How will they cross it? Another historical miraculous event happens. The Jordan is turned back and the Israelites pass through on solid ground.
The Psalm continues 'the mountains skipped like rams, the hills like lambs.' With poetic imagery, the reception for the Israelites into Canaan is described. The Bible depicts the land of Canaan as a good land 'flowing in valleys and hills', 'a land of mountains and valleys that drinks rain from heaven'. The Psalm speaks poetically; these mountains skip like rams, these hills skip like lambs, welcoming the Israelites arrival.
In a few days time, some friends from Newcastle will come down to see us in Wales, to my Dad and Mum's house. I'm nervous in one respect because of the odd pictures and photographs around the house. They depict holidays, family times together, myself in strange haircuts and even stranger clothes. One question about them will bring my Mum to the fore, "Oh yes, that was when Simon went to a fancy dress party as Noddy".
Well what we have in the opening part of this Psalm is something like a verbal photograph album. It recalls in vivid detail what has happened in Israel's history. What was the purpose of doing this and what does it mean for us? Two reasons:
From our vantage point we can see the whole of the Bible plot line. We know that this Psalm is re-calling events that are part of God's plan to save rebellious humanity, which climaxes in the sending of His Son, Jesus Christ.
And it is all too easy for us to forget. The influences of a world that is against God can tempt us to trust in its ways, priorities, values. We can so easily become sucked into its philosophies that we forget the truth. Our own feelings can often make us question what God has done and we can become so absorbed in what we feel and desire, that we forget who we are in Jesus and loose our identity as his followers. Busy lives can squeeze out time spent with God. L
et me ask you this question; how often do you spend reading and reflecting on God's word? For yourself? With your husband or wife? With a close friend of yours? With your house mates? With your family, your children? What about in comparison to watching the television? Yet we must regularly spend time with God, reflect on his gracious revelation in history. For it is on these events that our faith, our identity stands. As we meet together, we reflect on who God is and what he has done. As we share in Communion together, we remember all that the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ achieved for us. A friend recently related that he has structured his quiet times so that part of it is spent reflecting on what Jesus accomplished on the cross. Dearest friends, let us daily remember all that God has done for us in Christ. Because it is in what God has done for us alone that our faith rests.
Secondly the Israelites were to remember the historical realityof what happened. The Psalm is depicting historical truth, not make believe or some kind of fairy tale. It is accounting for real events. This wonderful rescue, this miraculous rescue, after many years would have become so easy to doubt and question. This Psalm tells of the certainty of these events. Witnessed by a whole nation, remembered, written down. Ours is an historical faith, based on events in time and history, witnessed and documented. We read about the historical Jesus, God become man, who lived, and died on a real cross and was buried in a real tomb and rose again in a real body. This is not make believe, it is historical, it happened, it is true. And we need to remember that and be assured of it.
Now there might be some here tonight for whom this question of the historical reliability of the Bible is one you are asking, and can I say that is a good question. There is a pamphlet on the Welcome Desk at the back of church called 'Why trust them?' that looks at the accounts of the life of Jesus and examines whether or not we can trust them as historical documents. Feel free to take one. But there is a question that needs answering in this Psalm. Why did the Israelites flee from the Egyptians and settle in the promised land? How did they manage to accomplish this. Why did the Red Sea and the Jordan open up before them? The answer serves as the climax to our Psalm, so:
Secondly, REMEMBER WHY THE ISRAELITES LEFT EGYPT AND ENTERED CANAAN (verses 5-8).
That question which we have just asked about why and how these events took place the Psalmist himself rhetorically asks. Look at verses 5 &6;
Why was it, O sea, that you fled, O Jordan that you turned back, you mountains, that you skipped like rams, you hills like lambs?What was the reason, the purpose behind these incredible events? Who was orchestrating history, who had complete control over creation, the lives of the nations, the rivers and the seas? Well that's our first point under this heading why the Israelites left Egypt and entered Canaan;
a. It revealed God's presence (verse 7)
Tremble, O earth, at the presence of the Lord, at the presence of the God of Jacob…It was God who accomplished all these things. The only God, creator and sustainer of the universe. He rescued the Israelites from Egypt, at His appearing the sea looked and fled, at His command the Jordan turned back, as He brings the people into a land that He has prepared for them, the mountains skip like rams, the hills like lambs.
Think of going to the cinema. Epic events are portrayed - massive ships sink; people jump from helicopters into ventilation shafts; men battle in a coliseum with lions and chariots. Now what is intriguing is reading about the directors of these films, people like Cameron, Woo. That is because we are meeting the men who have made the film. They are the ones who are responsible for everything that we see, how it happens, what we witness on the screen. They direct the chain of events. It is this perspective that the Psalmist is showing us here.
Tremble, O earth, at the presence of the Lord, at the presence of the God of Jacob.The Psalm reminds those singing it that God has graciously revealed Himself and that it was his presence with the Israelites , and His presence alone that enabled all that they remember to take place. How does the Psalm say we should respond? It speaks of two responses; With trembling before God, and with witness to his name.
The people of Israel are called to tremble, to reverence and fear (for that is what this word tremble means), the living God. This speaks about a state of life, a heart that acknowledges God, and treats him as he is to be treated. With awe and wonder, in fear of a God of holiness, perfection, goodness. Yet 'Tremble, O earth, at the presence of the Lord, at the presence of the God of Jacob,' is also a proud declaration by the people of Israel to the whole earth. For they are God's witnesses on earth. It is through what God has done for them that the whole earth is called to acknowledge God. Israel is his people, remember (verse 2):
Judah became God's sanctuary, Israel God's dominionGod dwells amongst the Israelites, a people separated for himself, that is his sanctuary. They are his dominion, the place where he has established a visible kingdom here on earth, though he is sovereign over all the earth. This is the confident witness of the Israelites to the whole earth, for the only God, their God, has made himself known. Now how much more can we proclaim 'Tremble, O earth at the presence of the Lord, for God has 'become flesh and dwelt amongst us,' we know the focal point of God's revelation, Jesus Christ: his life, death and resurrection. How shall we respond to this?
You see that is the pivotal question for us. How shall we respond to God's perfect and ultimate revelation of himself in his Son, Jesus Christ? The Bible tells us that we should respond by repenting of our rebellion against God and putting our faith in Jesus Christ. The only other option is to reject Jesus. How are you responding? And for those of us here who do profess to follow Christ, do we with reverent fear? In what we say and do in the present, how we plan and prepare for the future, how we remember the past do our lives portray this reverent fear and humble confidence in Christ Jesus? Further, just as the Israelites witnessed to the presence of God though them, do we witness to the work of Christ in us? Do we proclaim, to all the earth, what God has done for us?
But what is it that God has done? That's the final point under this heading. We are to remember why the Israelites left Egypt and entered Canaan because;
b. It revealed God's purposes (verse 8)
Look at verse 8, which still speaking about God, says;
who turned the rock into a pool, the hard rock into springs of water.The writer of this Psalm ends with another reference to some events that took place while the Israelites were travelling to Canaan. You can read about them in Exodus chapter seventeen and in Numbers chapter twenty. You see the Israelites spent many decades travelling to Canaan, because they so often rebelled against God. This is typified by these two 'water from rock' incidents referred to in our Psalm. With no water to drink, they grumble and doubt who God is and what he is doing. It is in the face of such rebellion that God shows himself to be merciful to his people, miraculously bringing water from a rock to meet their needs.
As we have read of the presence of God revealed, so now we read about the purposes of God revealed. And God's purpose is to save.
You see the Israelites constant rebellion is significant, because it is representative of the universal human condition of rebellion against God. There is no difference, all have turned their backs on God, all go their own way and it is to deal with this problem that God has acted in history. As we read on in the Bible we see that the problem of rebellion against God is not resolved by the people of Israel. Though they know God and his ways, yet still they rebel as the rest of their history shows. It is the nature of the individual that must be changed, and because God is just, it is the wrongs of that nature that must be dealt with. How does God deal with the problem of Israel's rebellion? Well the Israelites remember here the examples in the water from rock. God does not give them what they deserve, He is merciful, and He gives them what they don't deserve, He is a God of grace. That is what these moaning, grumbling Israelites receive, water from a rock.
Moreover we remember how God's purposes continued forward to the ultimate revelation of Himself, the goal of his saving purpose, His Son Jesus Christ. His death on the cross was, from the beginning of time, God's plan of dealing with our rebellious nature and the wrongs that we have committed. Through trusting in what Jesus has done on the cross in taking our rebellion on himself and taking the punishment for it, in following him, we are able to be made right with God, our wrongs are forgiven and our natures changed. That is what grumbling, rebellious creatures like me and you can know, mercy and grace though Jesus Christ our Lord. So the purpose of God is gloriously typified in this Psalm. Do you remember that reading from first Corinthians chapter ten, earlier in the service? There Paul is warning his readers about forgetting what God has done and turning from Him. He does that by using examples from the Israelite's history, who knew God and his purposes; Paul says;
They ate the same spiritual food and drank the same spiritual drink, for they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ. (1 Corinthians 10.4)The Israelites experienced grace and mercy from God and in a way which looked forward to Christ. We can know God's grace and mercy fully revealed in Christ. So,
Tremble O earth at the presence of the Lord, at the presence of the God of Jacob, who turned the rock into a pool, the hard rock into springs of water.How shall we respond to this? Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. How God has graciously worked for humanity, to rescue wretches such as us and bring us to himself. Do we see all that God has done for us?
How deep the Father's love for us, How vast beyond all measure, That he should give his only Son, To make a wretch his treasure.The Bible says that all this was planned before the creation of the world - Praise his holy name. Dearest friends; we have read of the historical truth, the miraculous reality that God has revealed himself and for a purpose. What will you do, will you tremble before him in fear and wonder, or will you turn from him in arrogance and disdain?
For more sermon transcripts visit http://www.church.org.uk