JEHOVAH’S HELP IN THE DAY OF TROUBLE.
New Year’s Day sermon by:
Rev. C. Pronk
PUBLISHED BY THE
FREE REFORMED CHURCHES OF NORTH AMERICA.
Psalter 247: 1, 2, 6
Scripture Reading: Psalm 20
Text: Psalm 20
Psalter 354: 1, 2, 6
Doxology: Psalter 420: 5
Like any other new year we have entered in the past, the year 2006 also stretches out before us as “terra incognito” or unknown territory, and we wonder what it will bring us. For the last few years the world has been in the grip of terrorism, coming mainly from radical Muslim groups. It is likely that the threat of terrorist attacks will continue and possibly increase this year. The war in Iraq shows no signs of ending any time soon. And if last year was any indication, natural disasters will probably take place this year as well. There is a great concern that the Asian bird flu will spread and possibly reach North America with potentially devastating consequences.
We can expect such disasters to occur, congregation. Scripture tells us that they will increase in frequency, intensity and extent as our Lord’s return is coming closer. Morally and spiritually, Western culture will no doubt continue its rapid decline. The liberal agenda concerning abortion, gay and freedom of speech rights--to mention only those--is being pursued relentlessly. It seems nothing can reverse the trend. Christians are increasingly being marginalized and held up for ridicule, especially in Canada. Add to this our own church concerns and personal worries and you will agree that also this year we have reasons to look to the future with some apprehension.
But while this is true, we should also realize that we are not the first generation of Christians to face the future with anxiety. There has never been a time since the Fall in paradise when God’s people were free from such fears. Scripture bears ample testimony to the fact that from the human perspective the world has never been a place from which much good could be expected, because it is a world that “lieth in wickedness” (1 John 5:19). But Scripture also provides the only solution to any fears we may have and offers real hope in an otherwise hopeless world. This morning I will speak on the theme:
Jehovah’s Help in the Day of Trouble
requested by faith
received with joy
resulting in trust
1. Requested By Faith
In Psalm 20 we find these encouraging words: “The Lord hear thee in the day of trouble; the name of the God of Jacob defend thee, send thee help from the sanctuary and strengthen thee out of Zion” (vv.1,2). These words are part of a song that the people of Israel sang when the king went forth to battle. Before he went out to face the peril and uncertainty of war, they sang this psalm as a prayer for his safety and victory. It was a genuine prayer, an expression of their faith, a song of trust in the power of the living God who would protect the king and his armies “amid the battle shock.”
According to Revelation 1: 6, Christ has made every believer in Him both a king and a priest. So when we read about the experiences of kings and priests in the Old Testament, Christians are justified in drawing valuable lessons from the record of their struggles, fears and deliverances the Lord gave them time and again in answer to their prayers. Their experiences are designed to teach us how kings ought to act and how priests ought to behave, and above all, from whence they derive their strength and encouragement as they serve the Lord.
The psalm opens on a rather ominous note: “The Lord hear thee in the day of trouble.” Right from the start, there is recognition that the king is headed for major trouble. Fighting the Lord’s battles is no easy matter. We are faced with many enemies and they are strong and resourceful. Paul says, “we wrestle not against flesh and blood but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places” (Eph. 6:12).
The year 2006 could prove to be very dangerous for all of us. War my break out. The economy could collapse. Death may strike down a loved one. Sickness may incapacitate us. It is quite possible that this year Christian-bashing will intensify. Days of trouble may lie ahead nationally, ecclesiastically and personally. How are we going to cope with these difficulties? Well, this psalm supplies the answer: The Lord hear [or answer] thee in the day of trouble! The name of the God of Jacob defend [protect] thee!
That’s where our refuge lies--in the name of the God of Jacob. Only God is strong and wise enough to cope with any situation that may come up. Only He knows what dangers lie ahead and He is able to steer a course through them all.
Why does the psalm refer to "the God of Jacob"? Because of what that name represents. Jacob means deceiver. As the story of his life unfolds, Rebecca’s favourite son turns out to be a schemer, manipulator, a wheeler-dealer, and a “big time operator.” He was what we call today “street-smart,” relying on his instincts to accomplish his goals. The result for people like that, however, is that they end up hurting themselves. The very thing they think they are securing, they end up destroying. They always find themselves coming out with the short-end of the bargain, because no man can ultimately succeed by using this worldly approach to life.
But God found a way to set Jacob free from that kind of strategy. After many painful lessons, Jacob’s God finally taught him to abandon that way of thinking, and to come at last to trust Him fully and to worship Him acceptably. At Peniel the Lord threw his hip out of joint and changed his name to Israel. And Hebrews 11 tells us that Jacob was one of the great heroes of faith, because he finally learned to lean on the top of his staff and to worship. By then he did not feel he had to arrange and manipulate everything; he could wait on God and worship, while God acted. That is why God is called here "the God of Jacob."
What do you and I do when we face a day of trouble? We tend to panic, don't we? We cast about for some kind of manoeuvre that will get us out of a bad situation. We start to manipulate people and events--just like Jacob did. Have we learned to confess this yet as our sin? Has the God of Jacob become our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble? (Psalm 46:1). It’s the only way to begin a new year.
In the second verse we have the procedure by which the help of the God of Jacob will come to us: [May he] “send thee help from the sanctuary, and strengthen thee out of Zion.” Isn’t that wonderful? "Help from the sanctuary"! In Scripture the sanctuary is the place where God meets with His people, above the mercy seat. In Israel the sanctuary was the tabernacle and later the temple. It was the place where the Israelite came to worship the Lord but also where he got his thoughts straightened out. In the sanctuary the Word of God was explained to him.
You will recall that in the 73rd Psalm the psalmist is deeply troubled by the prosperity of the wicked: “Why do the ungodly prosper, while the righteous seem to be afflicted all the time? Why do the wicked strut their way through the earth so that nothing ever seems to go wrong for them?” This had upset him until he finally went into the sanctuary. “Then understood I their end,” he testifies, “Surely Thou didst set them in slippery places: Thou castedst them down into destruction” (vv.17-18). In the sanctuary he heard the rest of the story, and his thinking was corrected.
For us the sanctuary is God’s house, the place where His Word is proclaimed. The Bible is our only reliable source of strength and help. The Holy Scriptures, applied by the Holy Spirit, illumine our minds so that we begin to see the world as it really is. Life is not the way it seems to be. Life is filled with illusion, with deceit. Things are not what they appear to be. There is only One who can clear things up for us: God speaking through His Word.
It is sad but true that we often fail to turn to the Scriptures when we are in trouble. If our freezer breaks down, what do we do? We call for the repairman, don’t we? We get him to come over right away so our frozen foods won’t thaw out. If our water pipes start to leak, what do we do? We send for the plumber. If we face legal action, we call a lawyer. If our tooth begins to ache, we make immediately make an appointment with the dentist. We seem to know instinctively what to do when physical things go wrong. But the amazing thing is that we can suffer heartache, depression, guilt feelings, fears and anxieties, without opening the Word! We don’t plead the wide assortment of promises, each one tailor-made for our particular situation and need. Sometimes we don’t even bother to read them. Instead, we desperately cast around for some kind of help, when the help already provided is ignored. How foolish that is and how sinful!
Help from the sanctuary, and strength from Zion is what is promised here. Zion is another name for Jerusalem, the capital of the kingdom, the nation’s headquarters. In Scripture it stands as a symbol of the invisible kingdom of God with which we are surrounded, made up of ministering angels sent forth to minister to those who are to be the heirs of salvation. In other words, all the invisible help that God can give you in the day of trouble, in the hour of need, is made available by prayer.
Remember that in the Garden in Gethsemane, as the Lord Jesus was praying and sweating drops of blood, at the height of His agony, an angel appeared and ministered to Him and strengthened Him. That angel was made visible to Him in order that we might be taught a lesson of what happens when we pray. You and I have never seen an angel, I’m sure, but I trust we have experienced the ministry of angels. Have you never gone into prayer depressed, downcast, discouraged and defeated, only to have your spirits lifted, changed, and strengthened? What happened? You received help from Zion, from the invisible kingdom of angels, waiting to minister to those who are going through a time of trouble.
In verse 3 we have the basis and the guarantee upon which this help rests: “[May he] remember all thy offerings, and accept thy burnt sacrifice; Selah.” The offerings of Israel were the meal offerings, the cereal offerings, and the sacrifices of bulls, goats, lambs, and other animals. What did they mean? Well, those sacrifices are pictures of the work of the Lord Jesus Christ. He is the great Sacrifice! And these offerings speak of the basis that He has laid, and of the guarantee that basis gives us--that our prayers will be answered!
How do you know that God will help you in the reading of Scripture and in prayer? Because of the sacrifice of the Son of God! He has given Himself in order to remove the things that plug up the channels of God’s grace and love toward us: our sin and guilt. By His sacrifice on the cross, the Lord Jesus has paid for all our transgressions and iniquities. As a result, God can now pour out His grace and loved upon us without restraint or limitation. That is wonderful! That is why the writer says, "Selah," at this point. It means, "Stop and think; pause for a moment and think about this." The apostle Paul puts it so beautifully in Romans 8:32: "He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things?"
Is that not encouraging? Child of God, here is your guarantee that God will be with you in the coming year. For when you come to God in prayer on that basis, you are praying in Jesus' name. That is what that means. "In Jesus' name" is not a little magic formula you tack on at the end of a prayer to make it work. "In Jesus' name" means that you are praying on the basis of Jesus’ sacrifice. You are resting on the finished work of the Lord Jesus Christ. That gives you the warrant for believing that God will answer your prayers. That is why the psalmist pleads: "May he remember those sacrifices!"
In verse 4 we have the extent to which this help is available: “[May he] grant thee according to thine own heart, and fulfil all thy counsel.” Literally, may He make all your desires and plans come true.
What are your desires for the coming year? Prosperity? Success in your business? Good health? Good grades in school? Good relations with your wife and children? These are worthy objectives. But do your desires not go higher than these? When God’s people are in the right place, they want only what God wants for them. And what does God want you to have? A holy walk; more devotion to Him and His cause; a growing sense of dependence on Him and His grace; peace and joy; and assurance of salvation.
Are these the things you also want? Here you can test yourself. Can you say with the hymn writer?
O for closer walk with God,
A calm and heavenly frame;
A light to shine upon the road
That leads me to the Lamb.
The dearest idol I have known,
Whate’er that idol be;
Help me to tear it from thy throne,
And worship only Thee.
2. Received With Joy
In verse 5 we hear the people of Israel anticipating the victory God will give to their king, and the joy they will experience as a result. “We will rejoice in thy salvation [or deliverance] and in the name of our God we will set up our banners: the Lord fulfill all thy petitions.
There is a solidarity between a king and his people, so that whatever happens to him affects them. If he is defeated in battle, the nation is sad. If he is victorious, there is joy. Here Israel looks forward to the victory God will give to their king. They will set up their banners in the Name of their God.
When people go to a sports stadium to watch an important football game, the fans of both teams often sit in different sections with their banners, pennants or pompons. By the way, did you know that the word “fans” is an abbreviation of fanatics? The spectators will wave their banners, displaying the name of their team with great excitement, shouting for joy every time their team scores a touchdown.
That is exactly what David is describing here. He knows that his subjects will be rooting for him as he goes into battle. He knows they will be overjoyed if he emerges victorious.
I can’t help but see a reference here to Christ, David’s great Son, who has obtained the all-important victory over Satan, sin and death, and the joy this victory brings to His people.
As we face another year and look with apprehension to the future, let us never forget that whatever happens, Christ rules supreme. He has already defeated Satan and all the enemies; therefore all things must work together for good to those who love God and who have been called according to His purposes.
Do we love God? Have we experienced the effectual call of the Gospel so that we are on God’s side and are “rooting” for His cause, not only as spectators but also as participants?
3. Resulting in Trust
In verses 6 to 8 we have the response of the king. It opens with this note of confidence: “Now I know that the Lord saves his anointed; he will hear him from his holy heaven with the saving strength of his right hand [or with mighty victories by his right hand].” The king has not even gone to battle yet, and here he is declaring with confidence what is going to happen!
That is the mark of a believer who understands the implications of his faith in God. Such a person is not afraid. “Now I know,” David says. You have reminded me of God’s promises, and now I know that the Lord will help his anointed. David is God’s anointed king. But if we are believers we are also anointed kings who according to Lord’s Day 12 of our Heidelberg Catechism fight against sin and Satan in this life, so that afterwards we may reign with Christ eternally, over all creatures.
This fight will continue in this new year also, but if we rely on God’s promises to help we may face the battle with great confidence. I’m reminded here of those wonderful words of Paul to his friends in Philippi. Here Paul was in prison, chained to a Roman guard, facing trial before Nero, without any real hope of being acquitted this time. Yet he writes, “I know that this shall turn to my salvation [deliverance] through your prayer and the supply of the Spirit of Jesus Christ. According to my earnest expectation and my hope, that in nothing I shall be ashamed, but that with all boldness, as always, so now also Christ shall be magnified in my body, whether it be by life or by death” (Phil 1:19-20).
David had the same confidence as Paul had. ”I don’t care what lies ahead,” he says, “for I know that whatever happens to me God will be honoured and glorified.” What a wonderful sense of confidence the king has! But now notice how along with the true confidence, he rejects the false: “Some trust in chariots, and some in horses; but we will remember the name of the Lord our God.” Such people are brought down and fall--they collapse--but we who believe are risen and stand upright.
The world has its sources of confidence, too. But they will not suffice. There is nothing wrong with them, as such, except that they are not up to the task. This psalmist knew that horses and chariots are needed in battle, but he also knew that if you trust in them alone, you will be sadly disappointed. Horses and chariots—provisions for doing battle--are not enough without the Lord of glory standing behind them. Making plans and preparations are not wrong—they are even essential—and are not to be omitted. But that is not where you should place your trust.
As you face 2006, what are you to trust in? What are you to rely upon? There are many modern equivalents to these horses and chariots. You could say, “Some trust in RSP’s and other so-called securities, but we shall rely upon the name of the Lord our God.”
"Some trust in their own strength and rely on their own wits; but as for me,” says a true servant of the King, “I will rely on the Lord my God for power." "Some trust in their own good works, but I will rely upon God’s dear Son and His finished work." Here is the note of faith, the quiet, confident expression of a person who has discovered where true power is located. And so he says, "I am not going to trust in anything secondary, but I will put my trust in the primary source of strength: the almighty gracious and faithful covenant Jehovah!
The psalm ends the same way it began: with a prayer of faith: “Save, Lord; let the king hear us when we call.” Actually, this is not the best translation of the Hebrew. It should read: “Give victory to the king, O Lord; answer us when we call.” Here Israel is saying, "Give victory to the king, as we keep calling upon Thee, O Lord." The implication is that they will continue to pray for their king.
Let us do the same, pray for the leaders of this country. Pray also for church leaders, your pastor, especially, and the elders and leaders in the church. They need your prayers, perhaps more than you realize. Your pastor prays for you, as do the elders and all who occupy positions of leadership in the church.
Pray for all the work and all the workers in God’s church and kingdom that the Gospel may triumph everywhere. Pray that here, at home, sinners may be converted, and our children and young people may seek the Lord and walk in His ways. Pray that our parents may be faithful in raising the children the Lord has placed in their care. Pray that God’s people may grow in knowledge and wisdom and increase in devotion and zeal for the Lord. But also worldwide, pray for missionaries to be faithful and strong in their Christian witness. Let us also pray for each other that the Lord may heal and comfort the sick and those with special needs and concerns.
If we continue to pray as the psalmist did, we have God’s promise that He will continue to help us cope with whatever problems, sorrows and dangers that may lie ahead.
If you but let the Father guide you
Relying on His faithfulness,
He will be evermore beside you
In all your sorrow and distress.
He who on God Most High depends
Builds not his house on shifting sands.
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