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Our Glorious God!

May 31, 2020 Speaker: Brian Wilbur Series: Covid-19 Talks

Topic: Christian Life Basics Passage: Psalm 115:1–115:18

OUR GLORIOUS GOD

An Exposition of Psalm 115

By Pastor Brian Wilbur

Date:   May 31, 2020

Series: Covid-19 Talks

Note:   Scripture quotations are from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard   Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

 

INTRODUCTION

The last time we gathered together for Sunday morning worship was on March 15 – eleven weeks ago! It would be an understatement to say that much has happened these past three months.

In my March 15 sermon, I indicated that as of mid-March there were known to be over 150,000 coronavirus cases worldwide, with around 6,000 deaths. Eleven weeks later – and as of this morning May 31 – there is now known to be over 6 million coronavirus cases worldwide, with around 370,000 deaths.[1] All the various interpretive measures notwithstanding, these numbers represent a lot of people, a lot of families, a lot of neighborhoods, and a lot of heartache all around the world.

In response to this pandemic, governments all over the place shut down their economies and directed people to stay at home. Whether or not these policies constituted an overreach of governmental authority and whether or not all these decisions were wise, the social and economic effects of the shutdown have been devastating. People are suffering – for some the suffering is mild, for some it is severe. People’s mental and emotional health has been pushed toward the breaking point. Countless plans have been profoundly altered. Visiting with members of your extended family is difficult to pull off, especially if they are in a different state. Some businesses and schools have permanently closed their doors. Many jobs have been lost, as indicated by the staggering 40 million unemployment claims that have been filed in the United States these past few months. What is at stake isn’t just paychecks and livelihoods, but the dignity of doing the work that God commissioned His image-bearers to do in Genesis 1-2.

In March, people did not flock to arenas – or turn on their televisions – to watch ‘March Madness’.

In April, people did not congregate in church buildings for Good Friday and Resurrection Sunday.

In May, people were unable to celebrate Mother’s Day and observe Memorial Day in the customary ways.

In recent days, tensions are high – and some people are burning with anger in Minneapolis, Louisville, Atlanta, and many other cities – because of what appears to have been a senseless act of police brutality. The pandemic and our management of it, has changed many features of daily life – but it hasn’t uprooted the sin that dwells in our hearts, and it hasn’t uprooted the sin patterns that are embedded in our society. Racial enmity and racial injustice are real offenses against God’s image, which is present in every single human being. It is right to be angry about it. And yet, when anger turns into unrighteousness and riotousness and violence, or when opportunists show up in order to take advantage of the situation and terrorize these communities, we are reminded of how much we need God’s grace to rescue us out of the mess that we have made for ourselves.

There is only One who can wash away our sins and make us whole again. There is only One who can bring people together into a global family characterized by stability and trust. There is only One who can redeem the wasted years and restore what the locusts have eaten. There is only One who can accomplish good through the burdens and heartaches of this suffering world. There is only One who is able to make all things new – and the day is coming when He will!

Another significant thing happened in May – at least within the global Christian community. Twelve days ago, the faithful Christian evangelist Ravi Zacharias went home to be with the Lord. I have great affection for Ravi, and great is my indebtedness to him and to his ministry. As I was growing up in the Lord in my twenties – and some of those years were tumultuous ones for me – he helped me to see the beauty and richness of biblical truth. In his book Can Man Live Without God?, Ravi wrote: “When man lives apart from God, chaos is the norm. When man lives with God, as revealed in the incarnation of Jesus Christ, the hungers of the mind and heart find their fulfillment.”[2] There is a lot of chaos around us, isn’t there? Ravi’s statement highlights the great question that faces America in this crucial hour: will we endeavor to live with God, or will we attempt to continue living apart from Him?

It is in the here and now of this present hour where we need to experience God’s grace afresh and anew. We need to behold our God and be reminded what it means to live with Him.

What I would like to do this morning is walk through Psalm 115 and let it encourage us to glorify and trust the living God. As we turn our attention to this psalm, may God speak to us and strengthen us through His Word.

I will read the whole psalm – but instead of reading it all at once, I will read it one verse or portion at a time as we walk through it.

GOD’S PEOPLE WANT GOD TO GLORIFY HIS NAME (v. 1)

The first thing I want you to see is that God’s people want God to glorify His name. Look at verse 1:

“Not to us, O LORD, not to us, but to your name give glory, for the sake of your steadfast love and your faithfulness.” (Psalm 115:1)

The very nature of sin is the attempt to steal glory from God and claim it for ourselves. If we are operating with a sinful mindset, we think much of ourselves, but we think little of God; we think that we are magnificent, but we think that God, if He is there at all, is a minor player. Such sinful pride was evident in King Nebuchadnezzar when “he was walking on the roof of [his] royal palace… and said, “Is not this great Babylon, which I have built by my mighty power as a royal residence and for the glory of my majesty?”” (Daniel 4:29-30) Such sinful pride is also evident in a recent comment by New York Governor Andrew Cuomo. Several weeks ago as the coronavirus numbers were looking more favorable, he drew an analogy to weight loss and emphasized how the numbers – the weight loss numbers in the analogy, the coronavirus numbers in the real-life context – are “a direct result of what we do.” He said: “The number is down [again, the weight loss number in the analogy, the coronavirus number in the real-life context] because we brought the number down. God did not do that. Fate did not do that. Destiny did not do that. A lot of pain and suffering did that.”[3] While we don’t expect theological nuance from our political leaders, the statement “God did not do that” is a stunning statement that publicly robs God of His sovereign authority over every detail in the universe.[4] 

When God redeems us from the realm of sin, He gives us a new heart. And with this new heart we recognize that God alone is worthy of glory. He is the Creator, King, Governor, and Savior, and He is the infinite source of all that is good and true and beautiful. We want God to magnify His name, exalt His worth, vindicate His honor, and display His excellence. We do not want finite creatures to be exalted. We do not want false gods or foolish ideas to be exalted. We want the infinite, true, all-wise and weighty Lord God Almighty to be exalted. Therefore we pray: Lord, glorify your name; give honor to your name; let your name be recognized as awesome and holy throughout all the earth.

When we recognize that it is the Lord, and not us, who deserves glory and honor, we ask Him to glorify His name. Think about the significance of the word ‘name’. A person’s ‘name’ refers to that person’s reputation and character. When we ask God to glorify His name, we are asking Him to display His character – and His character is good news for us who trust Him. As you can see in verse 1, we ask the Lord to “[give glory to your name], for the sake of your steadfast love and your faithfulness.” Verse 1 is full of covenantal language. The psalmist refers to God’s covenant name ‘Yahweh’ or ‘Jehovah’ – indicated in our English translations by the name “LORD” with all letters capitalized. To speak of God’s covenant name is to speak of the name by which He has revealed Himself to His covenant people. And God’s characteristic way of treating His covenant people is with “steadfast love,” with “faithfulness,” with covenant fidelity. What all this means is that God’s covenant people, who know and love God’s covenant name, want the Lord to glorify His name as ‘the God who loves’, ‘the God who is faithful’, ‘the God who is patient’, ‘the God who forgives’, ‘the God who provides’, ‘the God who delivers’, ‘the God who fulfills His promises to us’, ‘the God who keeps covenant’! So when the Lord glorifies His gracious and faithful name, what happens? Grace and mercy, and love and faithfulness, get poured out upon us.

Brothers and sisters, this is what we need. If we glorify ourselves and bank on our own resources, we’re finished! But if God glorifies His name in our midst, then He will see to it that His infinite resources supply all that we need and satisfy our hearts forever. The greatness of God is displayed over a people who are beneficiaries of His grace!

OUR GOD IS SO MUCH BETTER THAN THE IDOLS OF UNBELIEVERS (v. 2-8)

The second thing I want you to see is that our God is so much better than the idols of unbelievers. In verse 2 the psalmist asks a question:

“Why should the nations say, “Where is their God?” (Psalm 115:2)

Looking back to verse 1, one of the reasons that we want God to publicly and visibly glorify His name is so that the nations see Him and turn to Him. We don’t want the skeptical question “Where is [our] God?” to have any apparent plausibility in their minds. However, one of the tragedies of sin is that sin is utterly blinding – and if you are spiritually blind, then you are unable to see the glory of God even if is right there in front of you.

That said, the question “Where is [our] God?” deserves an answer, and the psalmist proclaims the truth in verse 3:

“Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases.” (Psalm 115:3)

Our God is not a tangible physical object that you can see and touch with your physical senses. Our God dwells in unapproachable light! He is not bound by earthly or geographic limitations: He lives in the heavens in unbounded and uncontained sovereignty. In fact, our God is not bound by anything at all: “he does all that he pleases” (italics added). By contrast, we cannot do all that we please – and if perchance we did do all that we pleased to do, we would wreck the ship! But God “does all that he pleases” – His purposes cannot be thwarted, His plans cannot fail – and “all that he pleases to do” is consistent with His steadfast love and faithfulness.

Our God is the living God, the sovereign God, the God who performs all His will. This is the God we are invited to trust when all around us is chaotic!

Our God is so very different from the idols of the nations, the false gods that unbelievers serve. Look at how these idols are described in verses 4-7:

“Their idols are silver and gold, the work of human hands.

They have mouths, but do not speak;

eyes, but do not see.

They have ears, but do not hear;

noses, but do not smell.

They have hands, but do not feel;

feet, but do not walk;

and they do not make a sound in their throat.” (Psalm 115:4-7)

Do you see the difference between God and idols? God does (v. 3), and idols don’t (v. 4-7)! Our God is alive and active: “he does” – “he does” things – “he does all that he pleases.” Their idols are lifeless fabrications that don’t do anything: they “do not speak” (they cannot communicate truth), they “do not see” (they cannot understand the world), they “do not hear” (they cannot listen to your cry for help), they “do not smell” (they cannot detect and then warn of the dangers that lie ahead), they “do not feel” (they cannot convey warmth or fatherly love), and they “do not walk” (they cannot lead you anywhere). Our God is the Creator, but their idols are manufactured by men’s hands and made out of metal. Verses 4-7 are referring, of course, to physical man-made objects or statues that were supposed to represent the supernatural world, but the Bible calls it a sham.

Ultimately, an idol is anything that man puts in God’s place. Wherever we place our ultimate trust, wherever we go for ultimate comfort, wherever we look for ultimate salvation – that object or thing or person or idea is our idol, our substitute god, our pretend deity.

Over and over again throughout human history, one of the frequently occurring idols is the idol of governmental power: the emperor of the empire, or the king of the kingdom, or the pharaoh of the nation is deified. High-ranking governmental figures are only too happy to be regarded as ‘protectors’ and ‘saviors’, and the people are only too happy to have it so. Of course, in their God-appointed role as servants, the governing authorities have a valuable role to play – and we should be thankful. But in their self-appointed role as lords, they do not merit our confidence. The Bible exhorts us:

“Put not your trust in princes, in a son of man, in whom there is no salvation. When his breath departs, he returns to the earth; on that very day his plans perish. Blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the LORD his God, who made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, who keeps faith forever” (Psalm 146:3-6).

Where is your confidence?

Even though idols cannot deliver the goods, they will wreck your life. After describing these powerless idols in verses 4-7, the psalmist issues a sober assessment of people who trust in idols:

“Those who make them [idols] become like them; so do all who trust in them.” (Psalm 115:8)

The living God, who “does all that he pleases,” nourishes and sustains life in His creatures. But what do lifeless idols do? They don’t do anything, and for that very reason they suck the life out of people. If you a trust in a pseudo-god that can’t speak, can’t see, can’t hear, can’t smell, can’t feel, can’t walk, and can’t save, then before you know it, you’ll becomes just as lifeless and as unresponsive and as dead as they are. God leads His people on the way of life. Idols ‘lead’ their people on the way of death.

THEREFORE, TRUST THE LIVING GOD (v. 9-15)

Which means, leading to the third point, that it is our distinct privilege to trust in the Lord! We don’t have to trust in lifeless idols, vain ideologies, and futile hopes. Physical idols, political idols, philosophical idols, and idols of pleasure – they are all going to come crashing down. But we get to trust in the free and unbounded and infinitely resourceful King of heaven who “does all that he pleases.”

What does the Lord God do for His people? He shows steadfast love and faithfulness (v. 1). Unlike idols, He speaks His Word to His people, He hears and answers the prayers of His people, and He walks before us in the good paths of righteousness (v. 5-7). And now in verses 9-15 we learn that the sovereign Lord helps us, shields us, remembers us, blesses us, and gives us increase.

In verses 9-11, there is a threefold invitation to trust in the Lord. In verses 12-13, there is a threefold promise of blessing to those who trust Him. And in verses 14-15, blessing is pronounced on God’s people. As I read it, let the repeated phrases sink into your heart. Verses 9-15 say:

“O Israel, trust in the LORD! He is their help and their shield.

O house of Aaron, trust in the LORD! He is their help and their shield.

You who fear the LORD, trust in the LORD! He is their help and their shield.

“The LORD has remembered us; he will bless us; he will bless the house of Israel; he will bless the house of Aaron; he will bless those who fear the LORD, both the small and the great.

“May the LORD give you increase, you and your children!

May you be blessed by the LORD, who made heaven and earth!” (Psalm 115:9-15)

How many people, facing these difficult and uncertain days, look to worldly idols (“the work of human hands”, v. 4) or to worldly ideas (the vain imagination of human minds)! By contrast, it is our distinct privilege to trust the One “who made heaven and earth”. He is a big God! He delights to come through for His people! He looks for opportunities “to give strong support” to those people whose hearts are with Him and who trust Him (2 Chronicles 16:9) He loves to act on behalf of those who wait for Him (Isaiah 64:4)! He finds joy in leveraging His strength for our good! “He provides food for those who fear him” (Psalm 111:5). “He raises the poor from the dust and lifts the needy from the ash heap” (Psalm 113:7). “He gives the barren woman a home” (Psalm 113:9). Psalm 116 begins: “I love the LORD, because he has heard my voice and my pleas for mercy.” (Psalm 116:1) Our God hears and answers!

Our God remembered us supremely – not when we were slaves down in the land of Egypt, but – when we were slaves down in the land of sin, and He sent His Son to make peace through the blood of His cross (Colossians 1:20). Our Lord Jesus Christ, the perfect image of the Father, did what no idol can do: He laid down His life for traitors, lifted us up and carried us back home to the Father.   

Therefore, let us depend on Him to provide for us, protect us, and prosper us as He sees fit – in His time, and in His way.

PRAISE THE LORD! (v. 16-18)

Finally, as we come to the conclusion of the psalm, we recognize that we have a holy obligation upon this earth to render honor and praise to the Lord of heaven, and to do so for as long as we have breath. We must praise the Lord all our days! Verses 16-18 say:

“The heavens are the LORD’s heavens, but the earth he has given to the children of man.

The dead do not praise the LORD, nor do any who go down into silence.

But we will bless the LORD from this time forth and forevermore.

Praise the LORD!” (Psalm 115:16-18)

It is the privilege and responsibility of human beings to fill the earth with praise for our God. Unbelievers can’t do it, because they are preoccupied with their unimpressive idols. The dead can’t do it – including dead saints – because they are not alive upon the earth. Dead saints can praise God in heaven, and all the saints will praise God forever in the new heaven and the new earth. But the point of verses 16-18 is that it is the responsibility of the saints who are still alive upon the earth – which means it is our responsibility! – to fill the earth with the knowledge of God and to declare His praises among the nations.

We want God to glorify His name (v. 1), but we also must endeavor to glorify and praise His name (v. 18). We want the blessing of God to descend upon us in the form of help and protection (v. 9-15), but we must make sure that we return blessing to God in the form of thanksgiving (v. 18).

Dear friends, our world today is full of bad news and dead ends. It is our sacred duty to fill this world with the sound of good news, and with the praises of our heavenly King.

If the peoples around us say, “Where is [our] God?”, may it be clear to them that our great and gracious God has indeed remembered us, that His love and faithfulness is reaching down into our lives, that He is near us, and that therefore we cannot be silent. Instead we must speak and sing and pray, always lifting up our heart and voice to praise the Lord! 

Brothers and sisters, praise the Lord!

 

 

ENDNOTES

[1] The May 31 information was taken from the online COVID-19 Dashboard by the Center for Systems Science and Engineering (CSSE) at Johns Hopkins University. Available here: https://coronavirus.jhu.edu/map.html.

[2] Ravi Zacharias, Can Man Live Without God?. Dallas: Word Publishing, 1994: p. 179.

[3] Go here to read the transcript of Governor Andrew Cuomo’s Coronavirus Briefing, April 13, 2020: https://www.rev.com/blog/transcripts/governor-andrew-cuomo-new-york-coronavirus-briefing-transcript-april-13. For the quotes and their immediate context, read the transcript following the 37:36 (thirty-seven minutes, thirty-six seconds) mark, the 37:51 mark, and the 39:17 mark.

[4] My point here is not to offer overall theological analysis of Governor Cuomo’s comments. The statement “God did not do that” is, all by itself, a stunning and wrongheaded statement. However, for those who might like to dig a little deeper, I would add that Governor Cuomo’s claim that “we brought the number down” and that “[a] lot of pain and suffering did that” are reasonable statements. The Governor’s affirmation that human effort and human suffering brought about progress in this matter is appropriate; what is inappropriate is the Governor’s refusal to acknowledge God’s active providential management of all things. We can labor to build a family, but we should understand that our building effort is vain unless God is building through and over us (see Psalm 127:1a). We can work to protect a city, but we should understand that our vigilance is futile unless God is granting protection through and over us (see Psalm 127:1b). We must affirm both human responsibility and God’s sovereignty, with the humble awareness that God’s sovereignty is decisive.