Psalm 21 is about the relationship between God and a godly king. Vs. 1-7 are addressed to God. They praise Him for the way He blesses and establishes the king. By contrast, vs. 8-12 are addressed to the king. They predict that the king will find success in fighting and defeating his enemies because of God’s help. The psalm includes with more praise directed toward God in v. 13. Though the psalm is not quoted nor alluded to in the New Testament, all these sentiments certainly apply to our King today, Jesus.
Psalm 22 is arguably the most prominent prophetic psalm in the entire book. Even though it is David’s lamentation over his own sufferings, its words prefigure the suffering of Christ. The first half of the psalm (vs. 1-21) is made up of alternating sections of complaint and praise. David complains about his predicament and God’s apparent failure to help him, but he always returns to his faith that God will come to his aid. In this section are some of the most specific prophecies in existence about the crucifixion: that Jesus’ enemies would mock Him (vs. 6-7), pierce His hands and His feet (v. 16), and cast lots for His clothing (v. 18).
By contrast, the tone of the second half of the psalm is much more optimistic. David explores the good results that will come when God saves him, including a worldwide turning to God (v. 27). These things were fulfilled as a result of Jesus’ resurrection.
Psalm 23 is the most well-known psalm. It is widely memorized, and our hymn “The Lord’s My Shepherd” is a paraphrase of it. It compares God to a shepherd and David (and all the rest of us!) to a sheep. Like a good shepherd, God provides for us (vs. 1-3) and protects us from our enemies (vs. 4-5). V. 6 sets out the result: we will enjoy lifelong blessing and dwell with God forever.
Psalm 24 was probably used in religious processions. It has three main parts. The first (vs. 1-2) asserts God’s ownership of the world because He created it. The second asks who can ascend the hill of the Lord (probably the literal Mt. Zion) and enter His holy place. Such people have good behavior and honest hearts, and they can expect God to bless them. The final portion of the psalm is addressed to the gates of Jerusalem, urging them to open before God, who is the King of glory.
Psalm 25 is another appeal for God’s help in time of trouble. Vs. 1, 2, and 7 are quoted in our praise song “Unto Thee, O Lord”. In this particular case, David asks for God’s protection from his enemies even though he is conscious of his own imperfections. He relies on God’s response to his faith, even though he knows he has sinned (v. 7) and needs further instruction (vs. 4-5). According to vs. 8-10, his hope is founded in God’s steadfast love. Vs. 11-15 describe the benefits that come to those who fear God: forgiveness, instruction, stability, friendship, and protection. The psalm concludes with a final plea for God’s presence and redemption.
I maintain that Leviticus is the Rodney Dangerfield of the Pentateuch. It gets no respect. Despite its reputation as the mostest boringest book in the Bible, I find that every year, I come away with something new from reading through it.
Today, for instance, I was struck by Leviticus 19:14, which reads, “You shall not curse the deaf or put a stumbling block before the blind, but you shall fear your God: I am the Lord.” On its face, this appears to be an instruction not to engage in boorish frat-boy behavior with disabled people: “Look! I can cuss him out, and he can’t hear me! Hur hur hur!”
It is certainly that, but I think there’s a lot more under the surface. Fundamentally, this is a passage about taking advantage of others. You curse the deaf because you can do it and get away with it. You put a stumbling block before the blind because you can do it and get away with it. You’re in a privileged position, and you’re using your privilege to exploit others for your own satisfaction. You do something to somebody because you can, not because you should.
That has a distinctly modern ring to it, doesn’t it? Isn’t this, after all, what the #MeToo scandals are about? You’ve got somebody, usually a man, who is in a position of power and oppresses others for his sexual enjoyment. From Harvey Weinstein to Larry Nassar to legions of predatory clergy, you’ve got evil men who are putting a particular kind of stumbling block before a particular kind of blind person.
Why not abuse the weak and vulnerable? Who’s going to stop you? Them?
Of course, you don’t have to be a criminal to do similar things. How about the mortgage brokers 10 years ago (if indeed the practice has stopped) who were quoting higher rates to minority borrowers than they were to white borrowers? “They don’t know! They’re too dumb to figure it out! Ca-ching!”
How about the Christians who will happily gossip about a brother or sister in Christ? To too many brethren, building yourself up while tearing somebody else down looks like a win-win.
Similar examples abound. As the passage points out, though, such behavior can only come from those who do not fear God. After all, God is in the position of greatest power and advantage. He could use and abuse all of us for His amusement, and there’s nothing we could do about it.
However, God’s very nature is opposed to such exploitation. He seeks our good, not His pleasure. He continually exerts His power for us, not Himself. Rather than taking what we have, He gave us the most precious thing He had.
We don’t have to imagine how He feels about those who do differently. Read through this lens, the parable of the unforgiving servant in Matthew 18 is about a man who seeks mercy from great power, then uses his slight power to oppress someone else. He acted as he did because he did not fear the king. Not enough.
In our dealings with others, we always must remember that God is watching. If we have a measure of power, it is because He has given it to us. If we are in a place of advantage, it is because He has put us there.
However, He remains the God of both the hearing and the deaf, both the sighted and the blind. If we take advantage of the lowly, He will balance the scale, and we will not enjoy it. If we will not fear Him now, He will reveal why we should have been afraid.
A couple of weeks ago, I paraphrased Psalm 94. It was certainly a journey into the darker side of Psalms. If the first line of the psalm is, “O Lord, God of vengeance,” you pretty well know how the rest is going to go! Indeed, Psalm 94 is a powerful prayer to God to punish the wicked, particularly those who use the machinery of the law for wicked ends.
This is something God did 2500+ years ago, and it’s still something He does today. He brings every act to judgment, whether good or evil. Of course, the scope of the day of judgment is universal, but even before then, a high percentage of the wicked are going to suffer for their wickedness in this life. It’s true of individuals, and it’s true of nations, which is why many Christians are gravely concerned about the future of the United States.
God certainly punishes unrighteousness, but are Christians allowed to ask Him to do that? There’s certainly plenty of Scriptural evidence that says, “No.” Most notably, in Luke 6:28, Jesus says, “Bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.” By this, Jesus does not mean praying, “O God, please turn the people who abuse me into grease spots!” We are supposed to pray for their good.
However, neither does that mean praying, “O God, please give these evil people many years of life and prosperity, so that they can continue to treat others as shamefully as they have treated me!” Continued evil isn’t good for anybody. It isn’t good for the victim, and it isn’t even good for the practitioner. What we really want is for that evil not to continue.
This should begin with prayer for God to forgive our tormentors. My favorite New-Testament example of this appears in Acts 7:60. Fascinatingly, among Stephen’s murderers was the young Saul of Tarsus. Stephen’s prayer for Saul was answered in Acts 9:18 when Saul was baptized. We should likewise want everyone who troubles us to repent so that they can be forgiven.
Sadly, many evildoers never repent. In such cases, we may well echo the cry of the martyrs under the altar in Revelation 6:10. Even though we often use it generically, the cry, “Lord, how long?” is not generic. Instead, it is specific, asking how long God will take to avenge the blood of the righteous. In Romans 12:19, God promises us, “Vengeance is Mine; I will repay.” As with all His other promises, we have the right to ask Him to keep that one.
Some might see this as inconsistent with our calling to love our enemies. However, even though it can be, I don’t think it necessarily is. After all, God’s perfect love is consistent with His judgment of the wicked. It follows, then, that our love can be consistent with an appeal for that judgment.
God doesn’t want anyone to perish. Neither should we. Prayers for the salvation of the souls of the wicked should always be our Plan A, and we should sincerely desire to see them saved. However, those who reject the mercy of God have only His justice left. If someone who has wronged us will not repent (and God knows whether they will or not), we have the right to ask Him to balance the scales, and we can leave the matter in His hands.
Hear my righteous cause, O Lord!
Give attention to my cries;
From Your presence, send my help;
Keep my plight before Your eyes.
Test me, and find nothing wrong,
For my mouth does not transgress;
Taught according to Your word,
I have walked in righteousness.
Saving God, incline Your ear;
Hear my pleading when I speak;
Wondrous in Your steadfast love,
Grant the refuge that I seek.
As the apple of Your eye,
Hide me with Your wings outspread
From the violence of the foes
Who surround my soul with dread.
Pitiless, they close their hearts,
Swift as lions to the strife;
Keep me from such men, O Lord,
Who delight in earthly life.
Wealth and children are their hope,
And You offer these with grace,
Yet I will be satisfied
Waking to behold Your face.
A few weeks ago, I realized something interesting about my preaching. Growing up, I heard many sermons about the authority of the Bible. Today, I frequently preach about the authority of Jesus.
I think this is a significant switch. The justification for the first tends to be, “Follow the rules ‘cause they’re the rules.” Frankly, that leaves me a little cold. By nature, I’m not a rule-follower. I gain no satisfaction from doing something because the rules said I should do it.
On the other hand, doing something because Jesus said to do it is very different to me. Jesus loved me before I ever existed. He left the glories of heaven to come to earth and shed His blood for me. Without my Savior, I would be dead in my sins. I owe Him everything, and that makes me want to honor Him in everything. Every little scrap of Bible that tells me anything to do that would make Jesus happy, that’s what I want to do. That’s what the authority of King Jesus means to me.
Lots of people claim they honor Jesus like that. I hope everyone here would make that claim. However, the way we handle the Scriptures and order our lives reveals the truth about us. With a tip of the cap to my wife, who came up with the title for this one, let’s consider whether we’re honoring King Me or King Jesus.
The first step in this analysis is to ask whether we are TWISTING THE SCRIPTURES OR SEEKING THE TRUTH. Consider what Peter says about this in 2 Peter 3:16-18. I think it’s kind of funny that Peter starts out by saying something about the writing of Paul that most of us would agree with—some of it’s hard to understand! Some will take those hard parts of Paul’s writing and twist and distort them. They get something out of them that the Holy Spirit didn’t put in. However, the result of this twisting process is not salvation but destruction.
We certainly see examples of this in the denominational world. One of the most glaring is the way that many handle 1 Peter 3:21. The verse says, “Baptism now saves you,” but by the time they’re done twisting it, the verse comes out meaning, “Baptism does not now save you.” That’s a lie, and everyone who believes that lie will lose their souls over it.
We must be aware, though, that we ourselves can twist the Scriptures in ways that are every bit as dangerous. I think the key question is this: When we come to the word, do we come in wanting to find something and then finding it? Or, instead, do we come to the Bible with silence in our hearts, eager to do whatever Jesus wants, desiring only to figure out what that is?
Let me tell you: If you want to lie to yourself about what the Bible says, if you want to slide around the hard truths of Scripture, the devil will be delighted to help you do it. He’ll feed you those sweet, sweet lies about marriage, divorce, and remarriage, the practice of homosexuality, women’s roles in the church, and so on. Believing those lies might reassure us, but it will not give us eternal life. For that, only the truth will do.
Second, we must ask ourselves whether we are FOLLOWING TRADITION OR HONORING THE WORD. We see this distinction in the words of the Lord Himself, in Matthew 15:7-9. Some brethren read this passage as saying that human traditions are bad. That’s not true. There is nothing wrong with traditions per se. We have human traditions in this church right now, and we always will. That’s not the problem.
The problem is when we elevate human tradition to the same level as the word of God. Again, there are obvious examples of this in other religious groups. Every church out there that’s got a catechism or a creed book, guess what they’re doing? They’re teaching as doctrine the commandments of men!
We don’t have any creed books here, but that does not mean that we have dodged the problem. Let me tell you what I’m afraid of. I’m afraid that too many members of churches of Christ do not honor the word of Christ. Instead, they follow “Church of Christ” traditions.
Let me explain. Brethren like this, they don’t know much at all about the word. If you handed them a Bible and asked them to explain the first-century pattern of worship, they couldn’t do it.
Instead, they come to church and follow that pattern not because they understand it, but because it’s what they’ve always done. If that’s all they know—that the right way to do things is what they see—they won’t be able to distinguish between tradition and the word. If the traditions of the church change so that the word of Christ is no longer honored, the religion of these Christians will change right along with the tradition.
Brethren, ignorance and tradition-following is a breeding ground for apostasy. Sheep who can no longer distinguish the voice of the Shepherd are going to go astray. The only way for us to avoid the problem is to continually seek Jesus in His word. We must love Him enough that we can tell His will for us from anything else.
Finally, the truth about our relationship with King Jesus will be revealed by our GIVING UP SOME OR SURRENDERING ALL. Let’s look here at 2 Corinthians 10:4-5. Paul doesn’t say here that his work is to take some or even most thoughts captive to obey Christ. Instead, it is to take every thought captive. King Jesus wants everything in our minds and in our lives to belong to Him.
Of course, all of us know people outside these walls whose every thought has not been taken captive by Jesus. On the one hand, they spend a lot of time crying out, “Lord, Lord!” On the other, though, they live however they want. Really, they serve themselves, not Him.
The problem is that this sad story can be about us too. We must beware the temptation of shunning only the sins we don’t care for. For instance, I myself never have drunk a drop of alcohol, and I’m not likely ever to do so. It’s no temptation to me.
Does that mean, though, that I’m righteous? Not hardly. I can go through my life never having had any alcohol, much less getting drunk, and still go straight to hell! I can give the sins I don’t care about to Jesus while keeping the sins I do care about for myself, and that is not surrendering to Him.
If we want to know the truth about how we feel about our Lord, all we have to do is look at our performance in the areas where we are tempted. How am I doing when it comes to gossip? How about loving my unlovable brother in Christ? How about generosity to the poor? We don’t have to be winning all the time in those difficult areas, but we need to be fighting. If we aren’t trying to surrender everything to Jesus, it shows that we already have surrendered to the devil.