The following sermon was delivered at Lakeview Baptist Church, in Benton, KY on the 8th day of October 2017:¹
“A Psalm of David, when he fled from Absalom his son.
“O LORD, how many are my foes!
Many are rising against me;
2 many are saying of my soul,
“There is no salvation for him in God.” Selah
3 But you, O LORD, are a shield about me,
my glory, and the lifter of my head.
4 I cried aloud to the LORD,
and he answered me from his holy hill. Selah
5 I lay down and slept;
I woke again, for the LORD sustained me.
6 I will not be afraid of many thousands of people
who have set themselves against me all around.
7 Arise, O LORD!
Save me, O my God!
For you strike all my enemies on the cheek;
you break the teeth of the wicked.
8 Salvation belongs to the LORD;
your blessing be on your people! Selah” (Psalm 3).
Introduction: Sorry, But Rodney Atkins Was Wrong
There is a popular country song on the radio today that’s been around for a while, and I’ve got a bit of a bone to pick with its meaning. I know I’m overly critical of things in general, I know my wife can attest to that. I like country music myself, we listen to it all the time, so don’t get me wrong. However, the song If You’re Going Through Hell, by Rodney Atkins should have never been written. While it has some good themes and a good tune, it is the worst possible explanation for what is going on in the trials of life. I know its not meant to be a sermon on the trials of life, but what astonishes me is that many people have a theology of trials almost synonymous with the message of this song! I believe Rodney is seriously mistaken when he describes what’s going on in the trials of life and what to do about them. Here’s the chorus we all know:
If you’re going through Hell
Keep on going, don’t slow down
If you’re scared, don’t show it
You might get out
Before the devil even knows you’re there!
First of all, trials are not hell – not even close. Trials do not compare with the eternal wrath of God poured out on the nonelect. Though I know Rodney is using the term loosely, the fact is, some people actually believe that trials in life are hell on earth. Secondly, self-pride and self-strength are not the way to get through them. A lot of people think this way. Thirdly, if you are scared, it’s okay to show it. Don’t hide your fear of the unknown as many people do. Fourthly, most of the time you don’t get out of them. I’ll give Rodney credit here – he says you might get out. But for believers and nonbelievers alike, we will never been done with trials on this earth as long as we’re here. And finally, the devil isn’t always watching to see if you are in a trial. Though the devil is a crafty enemy, I think people give him way too much credit these days. He is rarely the direct cause of trials in life, and he is certainly not always watching you, though he does strike at moments of weakness which may happen during trials of life.
Rodney Atkins’ song is not what is happening in the trials of life, and that’s not the way to react to them either. But you know, just as worse sometimes is the way that we do react to trials. Sometimes we do have an outlook on trials like the one portrayed in the song, and sometimes our outlook is even worse! It has been my experience in speaking with people as a pastor, and in dealing with my own trials, that we as believers do not usually react to trials in the right way. We usually react with a desire to escape, or having great despair, suffering from anxiety, being depressed, or perhaps even being angry with God. If we always reacted rightly during trials, there certainly wouldn’t be a plethora of biblical commands concerning this very matter (John 16:33; Romans 12:12; James 1:2-4).
Whatever way that we tend to react to trials of life, it is certainly the teaching of Scripture that we should react to trials by trusting in the Lord. We could spend our entire time together proving that fact, but I’ll just note a few examples. Consider Joseph – he certainly trusted in the Lord during his troublesome times when he was sold into slavery by his own brothers. He had confidence in the Lord during the turmoil he faced along the way. He confessed at the end of that account in Genesis that he believed the Lord was doing what was good and right the entire time. Remember that he said, “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today” (Gen. 50:20). The book of Psalms themselves are each an expression in some way of trusting in the Lord during times of lament, sorrow, persecution, trials, and even joy. In fact, there isn’t one psalm that doesn’t have an underlying confidence in the Lord. It may not always be explicitly written, but it is always the thread which binds the verses together. James tells us in his letter that we should count our trials as joy because of knowing and trusting that the Lord, through the trial, is developing us into stronger believers (James 1:2-4).
And assuredly, David trusted in the Lord during the trial he faced as he was being pursued by Absalom his son. This entire psalm is an expression of trusting in the Lord during the time when David was fleeing his own son. That situation is what fostered the writing and praying of this psalm we have read, and we see clearly in this psalm that David trusted in the Lord in many ways. To give you some understanding as to his situation, look at the superscript above verse 1. It’s the smaller print above most of the psalms which will give you insight as to what spurned the writing of the psalm, or instructions regarding how to use the psalm. The whole narrative is in 2 Samuel 15-17, and we see there that David’s son, Absalom, conspired a revolt against David and his kingdom. Absalom wanted to be king, so David fled from Jerusalem in search of safety. Absalom would eventually pursue David to try to kill him.
The way David reacted is what we have recorded in Psalm 3, and it is easily recognizable that the way he reacted was by trusting in the Lord. He trusted in the Lord because he went immediately to the place of prayer. He trusted in the Lord because he knew who He was. He trusted in the Lord because he slept peacefully. And because he petitioned God for what he needed and believed in His promises, he trusted Him. The whole psalm is a beautiful call for all suffering believers to trust in the Lord during the trials they face in life. And because the psalms themselves model for us how we should pray, what we should believe, and how we should respond as the authors did to their various situations, we will see from this psalm that, like David we can and should trust in the Lord during our trials. We will learn from David’s prayer here exactly how we can trust in the Lord during our trials. We will look at each verse this morning and learn that we can trust God during trials if we will:
I. Lament in the Presence of God (3:1-2)
II. Reflect on the Person of God (3:3-4)
III. Gain Relief from the Peace of God (3:5-6)
IV. Express Petitions to God (3:7a)
V. Believe the Promises of God (3:7b-8)
Do you want to trust in the Lord during your trials? That’s something we should all want to attain, so let us look now at Psalm 3 to find out how we may do so.
I. Lament in the Presence of God (3:1-2)
The first thing we need to do in our trials is lament in the presence of God. We need to go immediately to the place of prayer. When the winds of trials are violently gusting upon our lives, we need to take cover in the place of prayer, and talk to the Lord about what is going on. We are by nature people who think we can handle problems by ourselves—we’ve been that way ever since Adam and Eve tried to cover up their sin and deal with it by themselves and without God (Genesis 3:7). But prayer reverses that tendency. Instead of handling trials and troubles with our own hands, going to the place of prayer puts trials and troubles in the hands of God. By prayer, we acknowledge our dependence upon the Lord for everything we need. And sometimes, the trial our trouble we’re going through is so extremely intense, we often need to pour out our hearts to God immediately—before we ask Him for anything or resolve to do anything about our trials.
And this is precisely what David did. David went immediately to the presence of God in prayer, and lamented about his situation to God. In vv. 1-2, David laments in the presence of God, expressing his situation to God. David lets the Lord know about the enemies he is facing because of Absalom’s rebellion. David laments to God regarding his enemies, noting that they are many in number and they taunt him, claiming that God is unable to deliver him. And it’s not because God doesn’t already know what’s going on—but it so that David can gain some relief from his distress—so that he can get some of these burdens off his shoulders. So what David does in the first part of this psalm is what we are to do when faced with extreme trials—we should lament in the presence of God. We should go immediately to the place of prayer, and talk with the Lord. Notice how David does this:
“O LORD, how many are my foes!
Many are rising against me;
2 many are saying of my soul,
“There is no salvation for him in God.”
The psalm begins with a lament, which is an expression of great sorrow. And this lament is divided up into two parts—David tells God about his enemies, and then about what they are doing to him. So first, David tells God about his many enemies: “O LORD, how many are my foes! Many are rising against me” (v. 1). David is pouring his heart out to God concerning his many enemies. David wants to be delivered from his many enemies, that is abundantly clear. His enemies are great in number, for notice the language, “O Lord, how many are my foes! Many are rising against me; many are saying of my soul.” It is not just Absalom who is pursuing David, but many other enemies which Absalom convinced to join him! The author of the account in 2 Samuel tells us this when it documents Absalom’s conspiracy against David. It wasn’t just Absalom and a few soldiers who were coming up against David, it was a great number of people. The author of that narrative describes it this way, that “Absalom stole the hearts of the men of Israel” (v. 6, 13). So, there was a great number of enemies who were pursuing David—that fact is only confirmed by David’s second lament: “Many are rising against me,” conveying a similar meaning that David is being surrounded by enemies all around.
That brings us to the second part of the lament, where David’s enemies taunted him by mocking his relationship to God. In verse 2, it gets interesting because we see that David’s enemies are concerned with much more than his physical life. They taunt David with an insult towards God. The second part of David’s lament is this: “Many are saying of my soul, “There is no salvation for him in God.” The taunt and insult that David’s enemies hurl at him is directed at his soul, not just his physical body. Their taunt is in regards to David’s relationship with God—they claim that God is unable to save David. They say, “God will not deliver you,” indicating that David’s enemies do not believe in the power of God to save. David’s enemies attack him in the area which is dearest to him—his relationship with God. They are saying, “There is no deliverance for him in God!” or “God can’t save him!” They taunt, “No deliverance shall be his as we pursue him, for his God cannot save him at all!”
David is expressing all of this to God in prayer through his lament. We see David lamenting in the presence of God through prayer here, and this is the first principle in learning how to trust the Lord during trials. It should be our default setting to run to the place of prayer as soon as we are afflicted with difficulties and trials. We should be in the constant mode of prayer anyway, regardless of facing trials and troubles (1 Thess. 5:17). But we should especially go to the place of prayer when facing extreme troubles. Now, we must be careful that we are not just talking at God—moping and soliciting, as it were, in His presence. That is, spending time there and not accomplishing anything. And we must not stay there in lament-mode, but move on in prayer to reflecting on the person of God, trusting in Him, bringing our petitions to Him, and believing His promises. But the point is, it is okay to begin your prayers as such—the point is that David responded to trials with prayer, and so should we. We need to tell the Lord about what is going on in our lives.
Now, why should we lament about a situation God already knows? Why tell Him what’s going on if He is all-knowing? Jesus does say in the Sermon on the Mount to consider this truth when praying: “Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him” (Matthew 6:8). Why am I speaking to God about a situation He already knows? Well, because we do not pray to inform God, but to conform ourselves to His will. We pray to get burdens off our shoulders. Prayer is a means God has provided for us to be changed and gain relief from our communion with Him. 1 Peter 5:7, though written first to all elders in the church, instructs all believers, “[cast] all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.”
We also pray in order to recognize that our trials aren’t as big a problem as we think. Sometimes we just need to vent, and as soon as we start describing the situation, we most of the time will realize that we may have exaggerated it and made it into something bigger than it is. But we can’t exaggerate to God—He knows the situation or trial we’re going through. Once we talk to Him honestly about it, it seems to shrink in size.
We pray also because it is simply obedient to do so. Scripture tells us to do so, and this verse implies that we should. It is what David first did, and it is what we must first do. During trials, we need to first lament in the presence of God. But we also need to reflect on the person of God.
II. Reflect on the Person of God (3:3-4)
As I noted earlier, let he who has ears to hear understand that it is a grave mistake and contradictory to the very nature of prayer to remain at the place of lament when praying about your trials. After we cry out to God in lament, we must reflect on who He is. In prayer, it is not enough to say, “Alright Lord, here’s what’s going on,” we must instead say, “Alright Lord, here’s what’s going on—but I trust in You because You’re a great and sovereign God.” We must reflect on the character and person of God during our trials—we must know who He is, and based off of knowing who He is, we should then trust Him.
That’s the second thing David does in this prayer. David expresses trust in the person of God, because he is reflecting on the person of God. In vv. 3-4, David refutes the taunt of his enemies by describing God’s character, and pointing to his relationship with God. Underlying what David says about God, and what David says about his relationship with God is a confident trust in Him that God will see him through. And we will see from these verses that, like David, we too must trust in the person and character of God during our trials. Listen to what David says in response to his enemies:
“3 But you, O LORD, are a shield about me,
my glory, and the lifter of my head.
4 I cried aloud to the LORD,
and he answered me from his holy hill. Selah”
First of all, observe here that David reflected on and was confident in God’s character. David refutes the taunt of his enemies, that God is unable to save. David’s enemies say, “There is no salvation for him in God,” and David replies by pointing to who God is, that He is indeed, a God who grants salvation to His people. David defends the fact that God saves in this part of the psalm—he destroys their staggeringly foolish taunt with proof that there is “salvation for [David] in God.” And it’s because of who He is. “God can’t save you,” says David’s enemies—and David replies, “But you, O LORD, are a shield about me, my glory, and the lifter of my head.” David describes God’s character in three ways:
God is a Shield. God is a king who protects—that’s what shields do, they protect. God is a shield of protection all around David, even when he sleeps. God has promised to protect His own and this is the first thing David points to in order to refute the claim of his enemies: “You, O LORD are a shield about me.” This is a repeated theme in the Psalms, the fact that God protects His people from physical and spiritual danger. God is described very often in the Psalms in terms of a protector. He is a refuge, protector, deliverer, a warrior, a keeper, the preserver, the rock, a fortress, a stronghold, a rescuer, a shepherd, and a king. You can learn all of that just from reading up to Psalm 23.
God is David’s Glory. God is also David’s glory, meaning here David’s “power.” God is the Glorious One who provides strength to His people, and especially to His kings. God is so glorious that He can marshal the angelic host to aid His children (Psalm 34:7; 91:11).
God Lifts David’s Head. This phrase means that God has raised David up. God raises the humble, and those with their heads down. While David may be down and afflicted, God is ultimately the one who raises him up again.
Now in v. 4, David gets more personal in reflecting on God’s character. Secondly, notice that David reflects on the person of God in terms of his relationship with him. David turns from reflecting on God’s character to reflecting on God’s relationship with him. And what’s interesting is that David uses answered prayer as the greatest display of his relationship with God: “I cried aloud to the LORD, and he answered me from his holy hill” (v. 4).
David explains that he prayed to the Lord, and God answered him. He cried aloud to the Lord, meaning he prayed. And God answered him from His holy place—where He sits high and lifted up. And by the way, David was not in Jerusalem when he prayed this prayer. Even when David was removed from the presence of God in Jerusalem, he knew that the Lord would answer him when he called. David understood that he didn’t have to be in Jerusalem for God to hear his prayer—and neither do we. We don’t have to be in church or even in some quiet room with Bible verses everywhere (as in the movie War Room). Anywhere we are, we can pray and God will hear us.
Here’s something else extremely important to notice about this part of the psalm. Consider the order of the verses here—David first reflects on God’s character, then he prays. David points to who God is as a protector and shield, and then he prays. David’s prayer comes after he has reflected for a time on who God is. The prayer of verse 4, comes after the reflection of v. 3. David first looks up to God and then he cries out for help. From this we see a great truth, which is worthy of imitation: David’s understanding of God is what lead him to pray and ask God for help. David’s reminiscing of the power and protection of God leads him to cry aloud to the Lord. And you want to know why we so rarely pray and trust the Lord during trials? Verily, it is often because we do not understand who He is. Often times, the reason why we do not immediately respond to trials by trusting in the Lord is because we don’t understand the character and person of God. David truly did, and it was only a few truths about God at that. David acknowledged a few key truths about God, and that is what lead him to the place of prayer. I mean, just consider this for a moment. Would you be more inclined to pray if you knew God “who began a good work in you will complete it until the day of Christ Jesus” (Phil. 1:6)? Would you be more inclined to pray if you knew, “Behold, I am the LORD, the God of all flesh. Is anything too hard for me?” (Jer. 32:27).
Maybe the reason why we don’t pray during afflictions is because we haven’t reflected on God’s character. Maybe if we knew more of God’s character, we might be more inclined to pray. If we stopped and remembered that God is “[working all things] together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Rom. 8:28), we may be more inclined to pray. This is the biblical order of prayer—reflecting on God’s character—who He is, and then expressing our needs in prayer (Matthew 6:9-13; Philippians 4:5b-7). That’s precisely what David did here. Now, the importance of doing this comes in the next section—why reflect on and trust in the person of God? Because of the benefits of doing so, and that we take up in the next two verses. We will see in the next section (vv. 5-6) why it is so important for us to reflect on and trust in God’s person and character during trials.
We need to reflect on the person of God during our trials. We must know who He is through His word, and in those times of trials, remember who He is. The only way to do that is to be saturated with the word of God—to be so much in the word so that life’s most difficult trials can’t get the word out of you.
III. Gain Relief From the Peace of God (3:5-6)
Trusting the Lord during trials requires for us to lament in His presence, and reflect on His person. And when we do, we will gain relief from the peace of God. Now, there is no command here in this section, neither is their stated anything we should do during trials. Rather, this is something which will happen if we respond to our trials the way David did. This is what God does in response to our lamenting to Him and reflecting on who He is, and thereby trusting in Him. You can observe here that David explains what God did in response to his prayer. Because David reflected on the person of God and therefore trusted in Him, he can sleep peacefully and have no fear of his enemies, even if there were more of them.
And this is what God will do if we will trust in Him. He will sustain us, and we can rest our weary head on the pillow of His sovereignty. God will give us “peace which surpasses all understanding,” says Paul the apostle, but we must first “let our requests be made known to God” (Phil. 4:6-7). That is, God will grant us peace in our trials but we must trust in Him and pray. We must rest in who He is as a sovereign God, and He will sustain us during our trials. C. H. Spurgeon preached once on this very thing, stressing the need and importance for us to trust in the Lord to sustain us during our trials. He said, “The sovereignty of God is the pillow upon which the child of God rests his head at night, giving perfect peace.” If we will understand the truth about God from Scripture, namely the sovereignty of God, we will trust in Him as David, and gain relief from the peace God will give us.
And to that point, David expresses two ways in which he gained relief from trusting in God. He can sleep because God sustains him, and he can have great courage in the face of his enemies. Listen to what he says,
“5 I lay down and slept;
I woke again, for the LORD sustained me.
6 I will not be afraid of many thousands of people
who have set themselves against me all around.”
David explains that he is able to sleep peacefully because God sustains Him: “I lay down and slept; I woke again, for the LORD sustained me.” After lamenting, after trusting in the Lord by reflecting on His character/person, he says that he went to sleep. Now, remember—David is in great danger at this time—his life is being sought after. Nothing has changed about his situation and his trial. But something has changed about his perspective. After reflecting on who God was and praying, he is so confident in God’s ability to deliver him that he prepares to go to sleep. Now that is what you call confidence. A king is either insane or truly protected to respond to war by going to sleep! But not only does he lay down to sleep—he does sleep (indicated by “slept”), and he wakes up again the next day! And David expresses trust once again in the person of God by telling us why he can sleep in the midst of trouble: “for [or because] the LORD sustained me.” So we get a picture of David no longer having fear of his enemies, so much so that he can lay down on his bed, go to sleep, and wake up the next day—all because God has sustained him. But notice too, not only does David have a great peace to come upon him because of how he has responded to his trial, but also he no longer has fear.
David expresses that he no longer has fear of his enemies: “I will not be afraid of many thousands of people who have set themselves against me all around” (v. 6). Notice again—David’s problem hasn’t changed at all. In fact, he expresses that he will have no fear even if it does—even if it gets much worse! Even if there were more enemies surrounding him, he would still have no fear. Compare v. 1 to v. 6—a lot has changed since v. 1! A lot has changed since David has lamented in God’s presence, reflected on the person of God. David’s problem hasn’t changed at all, but his perspective certainly has. Now there is a new perspective on the same problem. What a great change from simply reflecting on God’s character and praying!
Everything changed when David reflected on who God is. This experience of peaceful sleep and courage in the face of more enemies comes only after David brings his prayer to God and reflects on the person of God. That’s the central thrust of this psalm—David wants everyone who reads this psalm to understand that they too can have peaceful sleep and courage in the face of trials if only they will pray and understand who God is! We too can experience sustenance, peace, and courage in our trials if we will do what David did. Our problems may not change, and they may even get worse (and most of the time they do), but we can change our perspective! We can get through the trials we have in life when we pray and recognize who God is. Once we understand who God is, our perspective and attitude will change—we will trust the Lord.
And another thing too, note how brief David’s reflection of God’s character is—David only needs to understand a few key truths about God in order for him to gain confidence again. All he acknowledged about God was that God protects him, God answers his prayer, and God sustains him. This just goes to show you that the length of our prayers do not matter as much as their content! David’s brief description of God’s character, and his corresponding confidence shows us that you are closer on the road to peace and faith when you know who God is, than you are if you pray for 10 hours. And you know, something I have found to be astonishing in comparing our faith to the faith of characters in the Old Testament like David is this: Many characters of the Old Testament had a better understanding of God and a greater faith in God with less Bible than we do with the whole Bible! David had peace, joy, and courage again after reflecting on only three truths about God—but it was because he knew them. He had read them, known them, and been taught them. Let me tell you something—you’ll never have a faith like David’s and you will never have the peace, joy, and courage like he had until you understand truths about God which come from His word. And it is those truths which we must reflect on during our times of trouble.
This is especially important during trials in life, because there are all kinds of emotions we are dealing with—and emotions can be deceptive. You may feel distant from God, you may feel like God has abandoned you, you may even feel like God is “punishing you,” but you need to have your faith rooted in the objective, unchanging word of God because it doesn’t matter how you feel during your trials. What truly matters is what you know and what you do with it. Once we know who God is through His word, we can truly trust in the Lord during our trials.
For a while now, my parents have had a little Jack Russel Terrier named Charlie, and one thing that has been surprising to us about him is that he likes to take care rides. He’s the first dog we’ve ever had in the family that actually likes to take rides in the car. Our dog hasn’t always been so audacious—he used to be really timid and scared. But as long as he rides up in the front with you, he’s pretty calm. He usually puts half his body out of the driver side window, while burying his nails into your knee. But you know, I’ve noticed something about him. When he is hanging out the window while we’re going 45, or while we are driving on a curve, he will start to lose his footing. He gets freaked out and comes back inside the car for fear that he may drop out. So usually I hold on to his side or his back leg so he won’t go out the window when we turn on curves or are going too fast down the road. He is pretty fearless when you’re holding on to him—he has faith in me because he knows who I am. He knows I’m not going to drop him. He knows that if the ride gets rocky, too fast, or swings him around, he’s going to be just fine because I’m not letting him go. Charlie has no fear because he knows who I am.
Let me tell you something—we should have no fear of what might happen to us when we’re driving through life because we know that God isn’t letting us go. You may be suffering so much that you feel like you are being thrown out of the window. You may be in such a tumultuous situation that you feel like your life has crashed—but all you need to do is look over to the driver seat, my friend. God is there, and He is the one driving. He is holding on to you, and He won’t drop you—all you need to do is trust Him. Don’t trust your hold on Him, but trust His hold on you.
Once we lament in the presence of God, and reflect on the person of God by knowing and believing His word, we will gain relief from the peace of God—He will allow us to sleep peacefully and have courage.
IV. Express Petitions to God (3:7a)
Trusting in the Lord during trials begins by lamenting in the presence of God. We then must reflect on the person of God, and when we do, we will gain relief from His peace. Fourthly in this psalm, we see that we must express our petitions and requests to God. After all of these things in the psalm, David prays for what he needs. David petitions God for salvation and deliverance saying, “Arise, O LORD! Save me, O my God!” (v. 7a). David made mention in v. 4 of a prayer he prayed that God answered, and the first part of v. 7 contains that prayer. David wants for God to rise up and deliver him. Though many have arisen against him, David wants for God to rise against his enemies. He wants God to get up from His throne, and to come down and save him from his enemies. We won’t spend much time here in this point because there’s not much said in this part of the verse—but one thing we can glean from this for sure is that David petitioned God. And this too is an essential element to learning how to trust the Lord during our trials. Whatever it is that we need, we need to ask the Lord for it. We need to petition God as David did here. What is it that you need during your trial or difficulty? Ask the Lord for it. This is certainly included in Scripture’s teaching on responding to trials and anxieties (Phil. 4:7; Matthew 7:7-12; James 4:2).
V. Believe the Promises of God (3:7b-8)
Lament in God’s presence, reflect on God’s person, gain relief from God’s peace, express petitions to God, and finally we need to believe God’s promises. Finally, David expresses belief in the promises of God. Why does David have such a request as the one in v. 7a? Why does David believe that God will answer that petition/prayer? Because he believes in the promises of God. Listen to the way David explains this: “[Petition] Arise, O LORD! Save me, O my God! For [or because] you strike all my enemies on the cheek; you break the teeth of the wicked. Salvation belongs to the LORD; your blessing be on your people!” (vv. 7-8). David prayed because he rested in God’s promises—and these two statements in this section are two promises of God. One is a promise from God to His enemies, the other a promise from God to His people.
The first is a promise to God’s enemies (v. 7b). Now, this phrase may seem harsh to our ears, but it’s what this phrase conveys that is really important. David is resting in God’s promise that He will protect His covenant people by destroying their enemies. This was a promise from God to do this. God will strike the enemies of the king, and wipe them out.
The second is a promise to God’s people (v. 8). This was also a promise that David rested in. David knew that God had promised to deliver His people, and it was the only source of David’s confidence that God would answer his prayer for deliverance. God has promised to eradicate the wicked, and has said previously that salvation belongs to Him. And these promises are what gave David the confidence to pray such a thing as he did. These are promises David recalled which are specifically applicable to his situation. They speak directly to what he was going through. And because David rested and believed in these promises, he was able to pray confidently. He prays, “Arise and save me, for here is what You promise to the wicked, and here is what You promise to Your people.” These specific promises of God from His word are what gave David his confidence that God would hear His prayer and answer it. And let me just ask this morning, considering that these are promises specifically applicable to his situation—how many promises of God do you know which are specifically applicable to your situation? If we do not know the promises of God, we will have no rest nor confidence that God will answer our prayer or see us through. The promises of God are the blood flowing through our arms when we lift up our burdens to the throne of God. If we know what God says in His word about our troubles and trials, then we can rest in those promises. If we don’t know the promises, we will have no rest. How many promises of God do you know?
We need to believe the promises of God in order to trust the Lord during trials.
Conclusion: A Hymn With the Wrong Name
One of my favorite hymns is What a Friend We Have in Jesus because it conveys to us the importance of prayer in our pain. It explains to us what God will do when we pray. Really, I think this hymn has the wrong name. It only speaks of Jesus as a friend remotely—it’s main emphasis is how God works through prayer. I love this part of the song:
“What a Friend we have in Jesus,
All our sins and griefs to bear!
What a privilege to carry
Everything to God in prayer!
O what peace we often forfeit,
O what needless pain we bear,
All because we do not carry
Everything to God in prayer!”
We forfeit peace and bear needless pain when we do not carry our pain and burdens to the Lord in prayer. It’s what David did, and it is what we must do if we will learn to trust the Lord during our trials. We do not have to go through our trials without peace and bearing needless pain—if we will trust in the Lord, He will take care of the rest. We don’t have to act like we’re not scared during trials—but we should trust the Lord to calm our fears. Like our dog Charlie, we should not fear what will become of us because our Father holds us near Him.
As God enables us, may we trust in Him during our many trials by going to Him in prayer, reflecting on who He is, gaining relief from His peace, expressing our petitions to Him, and believing His promises.
- This sermon was also delivered at LaCenter First Baptist Church in LaCenter, KY; Ohio Valley Baptist Church in Barlow, KY; New Concord Baptist Church in Melber, KY; and Locust Grove Baptist Church in Murray, KY.
The following sermon audio was recorded at Locust Grove Baptist Church in Murray, KY:
This message was originally delivered at Ohio Valley Baptist Church on the 9th day of December 2015:
Christmas: A Christ-Celebration
Christmas is a pretty big deal. It’s the biggest celebration of the year with decorations of lights, Christmas trees, wreaths, garland, candles, ribbons, and much more. It is a time of buying, wrapping, and giving gifts. We have foods that celebrate Christmas and colors that celebrate Christmas. There is even an entire genre of music dedicated to celebrating Christmas. And while it is true that the majority of the celebratory elements of Christmas have pagan origins, it doesn’t mean Christians today can’t celebrate Christmas. John Piper said recently,
“So my counsel is to give all your efforts to making your children as happy as they can possibly be with every kind of surprise that is rooted in the true meaning of Christmas. Let your decorations point to Jesus. Let your food point to Jesus. Let your games point to Jesus. Let your singing point to Jesus. Out-rejoice the world, out-give the world, out-decorate the world, and let it all point to Jesus.”¹
In any case, we should celebrate during this Christmas season. What happened Christmas night has never happened before, and there will never be anything like it again. It was the day that Jesus entered into human history. Christmas at its epicenter is a celebration of Christ. In fact, that’s what the word Christmas actually means. It is made up of two words: Christ and Mass. Christ meaning Messiah, and mas or Mass meaning a celebration or festival. Christmas is a Christ celebration.
But why celebrate Christmas? Because Jesus entered into human history. We will see in our passage of Scripture for today exactly why we should celebrate. In this passage, the author of the third Gospel gives us a brief account of the day that Jesus entered the world. It is the Christmas story which is found in Luke’s Gospel, and it is cause for great rejoicing. We will see that the birth of Jesus was historic, messianic, and humble. And we will see the great implications this has for God’s plan of salvation. So let’s read the text:
The Text: Luke 2:1-7
“In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. 2 This was the first registration when Quirinius was governor of Syria. 3 And all went to be registered, each to his own town. 4 And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, 5 to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. 6 And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. 7 And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.”
I. The Birth of Jesus Was Historic (2:1-3)
First, we see that Jesus’ birth was historic. There were certain historical circumstances surrounding His birth and entrance into human history. There were actual events, also recorded in extrabiblical literature, which God brought about by His sovereignty. They were things which God orchestrated to ensure that Jesus would be born fulfilling the requirements for being the Messiah. Listen to vv. 1-3:
“In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration when Quirinius was governor of Syria. And all went to be registered, each to his own town.”
Luke is describing the historical circumstances surrounding Jesus’ birth. He says that Caesar Augustus issued a decree for all the world to be registered. This decree was for the purpose of assessing taxes. It was tax time, and Caesar decreed that everyone in the Roman world be registered for this taxation. This registration for taxes was for “all the world,” that is, all areas of the world under Roman rule. For the Israelites and the people of Jesus’ day, this was their whole world – Rome dominated most of the territory. The Romans were mighty in power then and they continued to be many centuries later of course. But God was mightier in power, and He used this decree for His own purposes (as we shall see later).
Apparently, this was the first taxation when a man named Quirinius was governor of Syria. According to history, he was an administrator and a soldier who was usually victorious in his battles. And in v. 3 we read that everyone was submissive to this taxation: “And all went to be registered, each to his own town.” This taxation required Jews to travel back to their ancestral homeland. They would have to go to their own city to be registered. So in order to obey the law, Jews would need to go back to their homelands where they were born and raised to register for the taxation. It is important to take note of this because Mary is about to give birth, and she is not in Bethlehem where Jesus was supposed to be born. Micah 5:2 promises that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem: “But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days.” If Mary gave birth to Jesus anywhere else, then Jesus couldn’t be the Messiah. He must fulfill what had been previously spoken about Him. You see, Mary was apparently in Nazareth with Joseph. Nazareth was her hometown: “In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David” (Luke 1:26-27a). Mary is about to give birth to the supposed Son of God, but they are in Nazareth. If her water breaks in Nazareth, then the Christmas story no longer exists, there can be no Messiah, and God’s promise would have failed; the people of Israel would need to keep waiting for the real Messiah. That’s why the taxation is so pressing for making sure that Jesus would be born in Bethlehem—Joseph would have gone to his hometown to register for the tax. And where would he need to travel in order to register for the tax? Bethlehem. That’s what we happening next. Joseph goes to Bethlehem with Mary right before she gives birth, and ends up giving birth to Jesus in the exact place where the Messiah was prophesied to be born.
So what we have in vv. 1-3 are the historical circumstances surrounding Jesus’ birth. He was born in real time just like any of us. We were all born at a certain year, when a certain president was in office, when certain things were taking place. If a baby were to have a biography written about his birth today, it might go something like this: “__________ was born when Barack H. Obama was president in 2016, nearing the end of his presidency because Donald Trump won the election.” Jesus was born in history. God was moving Caesar to issue that decree so that Jesus would be born in His prophesied birthplace. God was using history for His story.
II. The Birth of Jesus Was Messianic (2:4-5)
So we’ve seen that the birth of Jesus is historic (2:1-3), but secondly we see that Jesus’ birth was messianic. He was born under several circumstances that would make Him the Messiah. We see in vv. 4-5 that the baby in Mary’s womb would be the long-awaited Messiah who would save God’s people:
“And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child.”
Luke now focuses on the family of the child to be born: Mary and Joseph. They leave Nazareth and go to Bethlehem, because that was Joseph’s hometown. Joseph is compliant with the decree, and goes back to his ancestral hometown to register for this taxation. And he takes Mary with him on his trip. The mode of transportation is not stated—either they walked, rode donkeys, or took a caravan up to Bethlehem—but in any case, he and pregnant Mary went to Bethlehem.
It is interesting to see that Luke emphasizes messianic themes in describing their journey towards Bethlehem. They went to the “city of David,” and Joseph was “of the house and linage of David.” Why even point that out? Because somewhere down the line, Joseph is related to David. If you were in the lineage of David, it was considered royal—a privilege. David was Israel’s greatest king, and for those who knew the Old Testament, they would have known that the Messiah was prophesied to come from David’s family. He would be born in David’s royal lineage. The Messiah would be the seed of David, He would be David’s great grandson. Listen to these clear testimonies:
“And he said, “Hear then, O house of David! Is it too little for you to weary men, that you weary my God also? Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel” (Isaiah 7:13-14).
“For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given;
and the government shall be upon his shoulder,
and his name shall be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the increase of his government and of peace
there will be no end,
on the throne of David and over his kingdom,
to establish it and to uphold it
with justice and with righteousness
from this time forth and forevermore.
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this” (Isaiah 9:6-7).
“There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse,
and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit.
And the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him,
the Spirit of wisdom and understanding,
the Spirit of counsel and might,
the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord” (Isaiah 11:1-2).
“Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In his days Judah will be saved, and Israel will dwell securely. And this is the name by which he will be called: ‘The Lord is our righteousness.’” (Jer. 23:5-6).
It is palpable that this Messiah-Redeemer-Savior will be born in David’s royal lineage. And who would be Joseph’s son? Jesus. He wouldn’t be Joseph’s son by intimate conception, but he would be his son by divine conception. If Joseph marries Mary, then Jesus would be born in David’s royal lineage.
So, they leave Nazareth and are now in this place called Bethlehem, which is the city of David. They went because this was Joseph’s city—he was of the “house and lineage of David.” They still weren’t married, for Luke says that Joseph went with “Mary his betrothed.” Their marriage had not yet fully consummated. They were still only pledged to be married.
Now, she was not required to be registered with him, but she goes with him anyway. Of course, no couple would want to be separated at such a crucial point in their relationship. So they went together to the city of David to register for the census. Jesus’ birth was about to be messianic. If He was going to be born in Bethlehem, He would be the long awaited Savior who would suffer for sin and bring salvation to God’s people.
III. The Birth of Jesus Was Humble (2:6-7)
We have seen that the birth of Jesus was historic (2:1-3), and that the birth of Jesus was messianic (2:4-5), now finally we shall see that Jesus’ birth was humble. He was born under very humble conditions—as a helpless baby in a manger. Luke concludes the narrative of Jesus’ birth in this way:
“And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.”
When they arrived in Bethlehem, it was time for Mary to deliver. She was having contractions, and her water broke. They had better find a local hospital, or an inn (which was a public motel), or somewhere to give birth to the Son of God. They had better let everyone know what’s about to happen. They better roll out the red carpet. But they didn’t—none of that happens.
Jesus was born in very humble circumstances, as a helpless, crying baby in a manger. The time came for her to give birth, says Luke, and she gave birth to her firstborn. Jesus is called here her “firstborn son,” signaling that He would have all the benefits of an inheritance. The firstborn son was always given the family inheritance. That is yet another important detail suggesting that He would receive the benefits of Joseph’s royal lineage. It also indicates that she would have other children after Jesus was born (see Matthew 13:55-56).
Once He was born, Mary wrapped Him in swaddling cloths. These were pieces and strips of clothes bound together, believed to keep the limbs of a child straight. They were wrapped around newborns to help their limbs grow correctly. And she laid him in a manger because there was no room for them in the public motel, the inn. The manger, which was an animal feeding trough was the first King-size bed there ever was. This was not a bright and beautiful night, as depicted by many of our Christmas cards today. It would have been dark, smelly, and unsanitary. The birth of the Son of God doesn’t get any more humble than that.
If God has been sovereignly orchestrating the circumstances surrounding the entrance of Jesus into human history, then why didn’t He have a royal place for Jesus to be born? God was clearly working behind the scenes to get Caesar to issue a decree. He was obviously ensuring that Mary and Joseph would be in a relationship, and eventually go to Bethlehem – so why didn’t God prepare a royal throne upon which Jesus could be born? Because the manger was not outside of God’s sovereign decree.
God chose that manger as the place for Jesus to be born. It was a demonstration of His humility—God became a man and took on flesh. Though He was God, He took nothing for Himself—not even an appropriate birthplace. Paul expounds on this in Philippians when he writes,
“Though he [Jesus] was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Phil. 2:5-8).
The birth of Christ was historic, messianic, and humble. Just as God has been in control of this world since the beginning, God was in control of the circumstances surrounding His birth. The entrance of sin in the world didn’t throw off God’s plan of salvation – His plan to eradicate sin happened through the entrance of Jesus in the world. Rome’s crucifixion of Jesus didn’t throw off God’s plan of salvation – God’s plan of salvation in Jesus started with a decree issued from Rome. Having no royal place to be born didn’t thwart God’s plan of salvation – He was laid in a borrowed manger at His birth, and He was laid in a borrowed tomb at His death. In God’s sovereign plan, there was a time for Jesus to be born and there was a time for Jesus to die.
God came to earth that wonderful Christmas night so that He would grow up, live the perfect life, and die in our place on a cross, satisfying God’s wrath against us because sin. Then he would raise from the dead on the third day, and anyone who trusts in Him can be saved and have eternal life. Let us celebrate this historic, messianic, and humble Jesus this day. Let everything today be a Christ-celebration.
“Rethinking Santa,” article by Tony Reinke on December 13, 2013; accessed December 24, 2016. http://www.desiringgod.org/articles/rethinking-santa
The following message was delivered at Ohio Valley Baptist Church, November 16, 2014:
Great Rulers in History
There were a lot of great kings and rulers in our world’s history. Many of you who paid attention in history class know this well. Alexander the Great had conquered lands as far as the eye could see by age 30. He had very brutal and intelligent military tactics that he conquered much of the world by himself and sometimes made entire nations surrender to him without killing a single man. Some of his great military tactics are still practiced today in militaries across the world. Genghis Khan. He made an army by himself by uniting some nomadic tribes and trained them. He conquered a large number of dynasties within years. His invasions over countries includes massacres of many civilians. He was successful in conquering almost all parts of Central Asia and China. He was considered an unbeatable military man. Napoleon Bonaparte. He was a young military leader who conquered much of Europe—through his military strength he crowned himself Emperor of France, and he eventually conquered the Egyptian armies—all within a short time frame.
But you know what all these rulers have in common? They all died. Alexander the Great in 323 BC. Genghis Khan in 1227 AD. Napoleon Bonaparte in 1821. They were all human. They could not reign forever (it began at some point and ended at some point). They were not stronger than their chief opponent—death.
But there is a King who is mightier. There is a King who reigns forever because His reign is eternal. There is a King who has immeasurable strength. There is a King who is mighty! There is a King who reigns as a glorious, powerful, triumphant, truthful and holy King, and His name is the LORD according to our text today.
I don’t know what your idea of God is today. Regardless, you’ve got one. Whatever it is, I hope you don’t suffer from small thoughts about God. Many people suffer from small thoughts about God. In an effort to see Him as their friend, they have lost His immensity. In their desire to understand Him, they have sought to contain Him. But He cannot be contained. If you are suffering from small thoughts about God, then you probably haven’t seen God as a reigning King. If not, I hope that through this exposition of Psalm 93, the truths of God’s word would widen and deepen your understanding of this reigning King God.
Our psalmist today powerfully proclaims and portrays God as a majestic King who rules over His kingdom. And we’re going to unpack the implications of God being a King. That is, if God is a King, what else is true because of that? We’re going to see how God is a reigning King.
The Text: Psalm 93:1-5, ESV
“1 The LORD reigns; he is robed in majesty;
the LORD is robed; he has put on strength as his belt.
Yes, the world is established; it shall never be moved.
2 Your throne is established from of old;
you are from everlasting.
3 The floods have lifted up, O LORD,
the floods have lifted up their voice;
the floods lift up their roaring.
4 Mightier than the thunders of many waters,
mightier than the waves of the sea,
the LORD on high is mighty!
5 Your decrees are very trustworthy;
holiness befits your house,
O LORD, forevermore.”
I. The LORD Reigns Gloriously (v. 1a)
First, the psalmist writes, “The LORD reigns; he is robed in majesty.” The psalmist begins with a phrase that both summarizes the theme of this Psalm, and indicates what it is all about: The LORD reigns. From the outset, I want to ask: Do you hear doubt in the psalmist’s tone? I didn’t. God reigns. There is no question about it. The psalmist declares with forceful boldness: The Lord reigns! The original Hebrew meaning for “reigns” here is a verb that means to rule as a king. So here, God is depicted as a reigning King from the beginning of this psalm—and that is the word picture that the psalmist uses in this entire psalm (as we will see).
The same word is used when Israel rejected God from ruling over them during the time of Samuel:
“And the LORD said to Samuel, “Obey the voice of the people in all that they say to you, for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected me from being king over them” (1 Sam. 8:7).
The people of Israel demanded an earthly king (v. 6), and God said, “Okay, give them what they want, but just remember that they are rejecting me as their King.” Supporting the truth that God reigns, the psalmist begins to describe God in word picture depicting a great, powerful, majestic, conquering king. Without taking another breath, the psalmist says, “He is robed in majesty.” Kings are robed—so is God, but He is robed in glorious majesty. One day we will see Him as He is.
Some other psalmists describe this same thing:
“O LORD, our Lord,
how majestic is your name in all the earth!
You have set your glory above the heavens” (Psalm 8:9)
“Bless the LORD, O my soul! O LORD my God, you are very great! You are clothed with splendor and majesty, covering yourself with light as with a garment, stretching out the heavens like a tent” (Psalm 104:1-2).
“Who is like you, O LORD, among the gods? Who is like you, majestic in holiness, awesome in glorious deeds, doing wonders?” (Moses’ Song in Ex. 15:11).
God is a majestic King.
If God reigns gloriously, as a majestic King—then like a King, He deserves praise and service (v. 1a). Let all the people of His kingdom be praising and serving this King. He deserves praise because He is a King. Even if He did nothing for you, He would still deserve praise because He is God. But often times we only praise God for what He has done, without praising Him for who He is. Therefore, praise Him because of who He is (Psalm 150:2). It’s important, vital, and biblical to praise God for what He has done; but you are also commanded to praise God for who He is. How can you know who He is? How can you know what He is like? Pick up His self-revelation (the Bible) and start reading. This King is majestic—He is glorious, and He deserves praise.
Are you giving Him praise because He is a great King? You probably praise Him for what He’s done in your life, but when was the last time you reflected on who HE is? Did you praise Him for that too? Well, you can if you haven’t started already.
II. The LORD Reigns Powerfully (v. 1b)
God reigns gloriously, but the psalmist also writes that God reigns powerfully. Second, the psalmist writes, “the LORD is robed; he has put on strength as his belt. Yes, the world is established; it shall never be moved.” The psalmist describes God as having great strength and says something about the creation of the world. Not only is God clothed in majesty, but he is clothed in strength. Think about it: What good is any king without strength? A king can have riches—he can have a dominion from coast to coast; he can have royal robes—but a king with no army, and no strength is powerless. But you don’t have to worry about that with God—He has “put on strength as his belt!” God is a strong, reigning King! It’s a simple, yet immensely powerful truth: God is strong. But not only that, He established the world—He created it and sustains it; “it shall never be moved.” This is how God can be King over this universe—He created it.
God is omnipotent—He’s all-powerful. He’s more powerful than you are, He’s more powerful than your sin, He’s more powerful than your greatest fears, and your worst trials. If God reigns with great strength—that only He possesses, then nothing can thwart Him because of His great strength (v. 1a). That truth hits real life when you know that God is your Father also. He’s a great reigning King, with great strength, but He’s also your heavenly Father who cares for you. Nothing is too hard for Him (Jer. 32:17)—He is a King who will take care of the people of His kingdom (Psalm 91:1).
So what do you do when you fight battles? Battles of temptation to sin, battles of persecution for your faith, battles of sorrow and pain, battles of guilt? Do you try to fight them in your own strength, or in the strength of your King?
III. The LORD Reigns Eternally (v. 2)
Now the psalmist has been describing God as a great King. So far, he has established the fact that God reigns (v. 1a), that He is robed (v. 1a-b), and that He has great strength. But there is something about King God that sets Him apart from other earthly kings—He has reigned forever! Third, the psalmist writes, “Your throne is established from of old; you are from everlasting.”
God has been enthroned forever. Three psalms backward, the psalmist says, “Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever you had formed the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God” (Psalm 90:2). I love what Job has written about this: “Behold, God is great, and we know him not; the number of his years is unsearchable” (Job 36:26). If God reigns eternally—then He will continue to reign; He will always reign (v. 2); No one gave Him that throne, He gets that throne because this is His created world.
So however messed up this world gets, God will keep on reigning. There’s just something comforting about that thought. Maybe you’re deep in sin—God is still reigning. Maybe you’re doing good as a Christian—God is still reigning. Maybe you’re in a hard place in your life—God is still reigning. No matter how messed up your world gets, God is still reigning—and He is a compassionate King—He will listen to your cries.
IV. The LORD Reigns Triumphantly (vv. 3-4)
Not only does God reign gloriously, powerfully, and eternally, but God reigns triumphantly. Fourth, the psalmist writes, “The floods have lifted up, O LORD, the floods have lifted up their voice; the floods lift up their roaring. Mightier than the thunders of many waters, mightier than the waves of the sea, the LORD on high is mighty” (vv. 3-4). The psalmist uses a lot of watery language here. The floods are seen as threatening to God—they have “lifted up, the floods have lifted up their voice; the floods lift up their roaring.”
I think the psalmist’s point here is that anything that threatens God—God is greater. The psalmist pictures the world in a chaotic way. But, still mightier is God on high. The psalmist is making a comparison here: God is greater than the roar of many floods. God is mightier than anything that stands against Him. Before Christ, we were against Him—the flesh is against Him—the world is against Him. Satan is against Him.
God overcame our resistance to Him and became our King; When our flesh roars against God—He remains greater; When the world’s value system is against God—He remains greater (He will one day wipe it out). Satan will one day be cast into the lake of fire forever and ever (Rev. 20:10). If God reigns triumphantly—then He will always be victorious (vv. 3-4). The battles God fights, He always comes out as the victor. If God always wins, wouldn’t it make sense, then, in times of temptation and testing to use His strength? He promises to give it if you will ask. Fight with God’s strength to be victorious.
V. The LORD Reigns in Truth and Holiness (v. 5)
Finally, not only does God reign gloriously, powerfully, eternally, and triumphantly, but He reigns in truth and holiness. Fifth, and finally, the psalmist writes, “Your decrees are very trustworthy; holiness befits your house, O LORD, forevermore.” The Hebrew word for “decrees” here is a noun that means a testimony, or witness. It comes from a word that denotes permanence. So God’s decrees are permanent.
What are God’s decrees? They are the commands by which God governs the world. God is keeping this world together. God doesn’t act violently to subdue the roaring waves—He simply issues a decree. Science may try to tell you that the world is governed by natural laws and there is no need for God—but they couldn’t be more wrong. God established those natural laws—and if it wasn’t for God’s sustenance of this universe, it would be chaos. The Bible says that God holds the universe together by His word: “and he upholds the universe by the word of his power” (Heb. 1:3).
But besides just stating that God’s decrees are trustworthy, the psalmist backs up that claim by saying that God’s very dwelling is in holiness. He says that “holiness [suits] your house, O LORD, forevermore.” Another psalmist describes it this way, “The Lord is in his holy temple; the Lord’s throne is in heaven; his eyes see, his eyelids test the children of man” (Psalm 11:4). Also, “For all the gods of the peoples are worthless idols, but the Lord made the heavens. Splendor and majesty are before him; strength and beauty are in his sanctuary” (Psalm 96:5-6).
If God reigns truthfully, and His decrees are always trustworthy—then anything God decrees is right and good. You may not understand God’s ways all the time, but when you cannot understand God’s ways, you can trust His heart.
If God is King over this universe, then we are His servants—undoubtedly. We should serve Him as the King who reigns. If we serve Him or not, that will not change His kingship; He will remain Lord and Savior whether you make Him your Lord and Savior. I would like to read an excerpt from a great sermon titled, “That’s My King,” by S. M. Lockeridge:
“I wish I could describe Him to you:
I’m trying to tell you
The heaven of heavens cannot contain Him,
Let alone a man explain Him.
You can’t get Him out of your mind,
You can’t get Him off of your hands.
You can’t outlive Him,
And you can’t live without Him.
The Pharisees couldn’t stand Him,
but they found out they couldn’t stop Him,
Pilate couldn’t find any fault in Him.
The witnesses couldn’t get their testimonies to agree,
And Herod couldn’t kill Him,
Death couldn’t handle Him,
And the grave couldn’t hold Him.
That’s my King!
He always has been,
And He always will be.
I’m talking about
He had no predecessor,
and He’ll have no successor,
There was nobody before Him,
and there’ll be nobody after Him,
You can’t impeach Him,
and He’s not going to resign.
That’s my King!
Praise the Lord,
That’s my King! ¹
Is He your King today? He will be King whether or not you make Him your King—make Him King of your relationship, your job/occupation, your school life, your alone time, your entire life. If He is a sovereign King, then you can trust Him with anything. But are you trusting Him?
1. S. M. Lockeridge, That’s My King.
Jonah: Storm and Sacrifice (1:4-12)
“You can run but you cannot hide.”—American Boxer, Joe Louis.
Boxer Joe (not Joe Boxer) probably hadn’t read the story of Jonah, but what he said makes for a great summary statement about this passage of Scripture, and the book of Jonah as a whole. There is no escape from Almighty God.
In the previous section (1:1-3), the author set the tone of an interaction between God and Jonah. God called Jonah to preach to the Ninevites, and he boarded a ship to Tarshish to get away from “the presence of the LORD” (1:3). Now the author has set the tone for this part of the story by telling us about the sailors’ involvement with Jonah and his God.
“4 But the LORD hurled a great wind upon the sea, and there was a mighty tempest on the sea, so that the ship threatened to break up. 5 Then the mariners were afraid, and each cried out to his god. And they hurled the cargo that was in the ship into the sea to lighten it for them. But Jonah had gone down into the inner part of the ship and had lain down and was fast asleep. 6 So the captain came and said to him, “What do you mean, you sleeper? Arise, call out to your god! Perhaps the god will give a thought to us, that we may not perish.” 7 And they said to one another, “Come, let us cast lots, that we may know on whose account this evil has come upon us.” So they cast lots, and the lot fell on Jonah. 8 Then they said to him, “Tell us on whose account this evil has come upon us. What is your occupation? And where do you come from? What is your country? And of what people are you?” 9 And he said to them, “I am a Hebrew, and I fear the LORD, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land.” 10 Then the men were exceedingly afraid and said to him, “What is this that you have done!” For the men knew that he was fleeing from the presence of the Lord, because he had told them. 11 Then they said to him, “What shall we do to you, that the sea may quiet down for us?” For the sea grew more and more tempestuous. 12 He said to them, “Pick me up and hurl me into the sea; then the sea will quiet down for you, for I know it is because of me that this great tempest has come upon you.”
God Can Do That
Jonah had boarded this ship to get away from God’s presence, but “the LORD hurled a great wind upon the sea, and there was a mighty tempest on the sea, so that the ship threatened to break up” (v. 4). In this verse, you can almost hear the creaking of timbers as waves pound the sides of the ship. You can visualize a ship being tossed back and forth on sharp, unforgiving waves, while lightning strikes the sail. You can feel as if you are being tossed with Jonah and the crew.
So Jonah’s running from God has now caused problems for other people. He has put the sailors in a lot of danger. Now, while it is true that your disobedience to God can cause problems for those around you, there is a grander truth to be seen in this verse as it relates to the entire book. Note, God sent this storm. In fact, he “hurled a great wind upon the sea.” God can do that. And God used this storm to bring about His purposes—the salvation of the Ninevites, in this case. God sovereignly worked through this storm to bring about salvation for these sailors (1:16), Jonah’s repentance (chapter 2), and the salvation of the Ninevites (3:6-10). And so, the glorious truth to be observed here is the sovereignty of God.
The Sovereignty of God
What does it mean to say that God is sovereign? It means that God has unlimited rule of and control over His creation. He is free from outward restraint. Psalm 115 reads, “Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases” (v. 3). Job confesses, “I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted” (Job 42:2). Similarly, in Daniel the prophet says, “All the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, and he does according to his will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay his hand or say to him, “What have you done?”” (Daniel 4:35). And in the New Testament, “Which he will display at the proper time—he who is blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords” (1 Tim. 6:15). There are scores of other passages that affirm God’s sovereignty, but the point is, the Bible teaches the doctrine of the sovereignty of God.
God is sovereign over everything, but from this storm and the results, we can note two things that God is sovereign over:
1) Suffering. The storm they experienced brought them face to face with death. They were struggling to survive. God used this storm to bring about His own good purposes. Surely they didn’t think they were going to survive, but God was in control the whole time. Trials in our lives today happen unexpected, like this storm. The struggles we face today may make us feel like we aren’t going to survive, but “we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28).
In addition, sometimes we may suffer as a direct result of our sin. When we feel remorse, guilt, and shame after we sin, the suffering we are experiencing is what the Bible calls discipline. You think God was disciplining Jonah? Of course. One of the reasons God sent that storm was so Jonah could face his calling and be obedient to God. God disciplines us when we sin: “It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline?” (Hebrews 12:7).
2) Salvation. God was using not only the storm, but many other elements in creation to bring about salvation to the sailors and the Ninevites. Did they expect to be saved? No. But God brought salvation to them, and sovereignly. The New Testament teaches also that God is sovereign in your salvation:
- God initiates your salvation and plans for you to be saved in eternity past (Acts 13:48; Ephesians 1:4).
- God carries out your salvation. He sends Jesus to accomplish the mission (John 3:16; Romans 5:8).
- God applies your salvation through the Holy Spirit (John 6:44; Titus 3:5).
- God secures your salvation and keeps you to the end (John 10:29; Romans 8:30).
Now which one of those are you responsible for? None. That’s why God is sovereign. Because He is sovereign in our salvation, that takes away from us any right to take credit. God gets the credit and God gets the glory, because God makes all moves.
Jonah in a Dream State
The ship is threatening to fall apart because of the great storm, so we read “the mariners were afraid, and each cried out to his god. And they hurled the cargo that was in the ship into the sea to lighten it for them. But Jonah had gone down into the inner part of the ship and had lain down and was fast asleep” (v. 5). So all of those on board are searching for every possible way to end their deadly situation. . . except for Jonah. These sailors cry out to their gods. They throw the cargo overboard. The question I know you are asking is, “How can Jonah sleep through all this?” The captain asks the same question in the next verse. The author of the book of Jonah intends for you to ask that question. That’s the way the author crafted this book. Because asking that question reveals an important truth about Jonah’s character—he was careless. His deep sleep reveals his carelessness about his own life and the lives of others.
Like Jonah, sometimes we are careless about other people’s lives. Perhaps we are careless about their needs or their struggles. Perhaps we are careless about their salvation. Maybe you know someone living in deep sin, but do not believe they deserve God’s grace. You might think they are so wicked that they are beyond forgiveness, so you go your own way thinking that “God’s gonna get ’em one day!” It is right to understand that we will all face the judgment of God (Hebrews 9:27), but it is not right to be careless about someones salvation. “If you have no desire for others to be saved, then you are not saved yourself”—C. H. Spurgeon. And still, while it is true that no one deserves salvation, we shouldn’t be careless about their eternity if we truly care about them.
Jonah—Prophet in Disguise
Sleeping through a mighty storm is quite foolish, so we read in the next verse, “So the captain came and said to him, “What do you mean, you sleeper? Arise, call out to your god! Perhaps the god will give a thought to us, that we may not perish” (v. 6). You can hear the accusation language here: “How can you sleep at at time like this?” (NLT). The captain tells Jonah to call out to his god. For these sailors, one god is as good as any as long as it saves them. The captain hopes what Jonah already knows—that Jonah’s God is a God of compassion: “Perhaps the god will give a thought to us. . .” Even more, the literal rendition of this phrase really means, “It may be that haelohim will take notice.” Haelohim in Hebrew here means “the true God.” So the captain acknowledges the possibility that Jonah’s God is the true God.
Why doesn’t Jonah reply to this captain? Why doesn’t he say anything? He doesn’t even bother to help the crew until verse 9. The captain’s request for Jonah to pray to his god was an incredible opportunity for Jonah to give witness to God’s power, but he remains silent. Jonah knew God was sovereign. He knew that God was present. He knew God could have calmed the storm. But he keeps his mouth shut instead.
Making Much of God
Jonah swept this opportunity to glorify God right under the ship. Like Jonah, sometimes we do the same thing. God gives us situations every day where we have the opportunity to put in a good word for Jesus. Your house. Your workplace. Your classroom. Your gas station. Are you making much of God in those aspects of your life? Live in a way that makes much of God. Live and act in a way that draws peoples’ attention to Him. Don’t hide your faith like Jonah did here. Jesus talks about how ridiculous it is to keep your faith hidden: “Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Matt. 5:15-16).
Searching For a Solution
The sailors want to know who is responsible for this storm so, “they said to one another, “Come let us cast lots, that we may know on whose account this evil has come upon us.” So they cast lots and the lot fell on Jonah” (v. 7). Casting lots was a way of decision making in Bible times. This is similar to drawing straws or casting a pair of dice to determine who goes first, or what direction to follow. So these sailors cast lots, and the lot falls on Jonah. Did the lot just coincidentally fall on Jonah? Of course not! We know it was God’s sovereign hand in the process. The random process of casting lots. God would not let Jonah go. God has used the storm, these sailors, and now lot-casting, to expose Jonah to these sailors and bring him to face his calling as a prophet. All of these things are being used by God as agents for this purpose.
“Then they said to him, “Tell us on whose account this evil has come upon us. What is your occupation? And where do you come from? What is your country? And of what people are you?”” (v. 8). You can hear these rapid fire questions that the sailors are asking Jonah. They want to know more. Again, Jonah is given the chance to be a witness of faith to these sailors. First when the captain told him to cry out to his god. And here, he has another chance to be a witness of faith to the one true God. Jonah’s reply catches us by surprise: “And he said to them, “I am a Hebrew, and I fear the LORD, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land”” (v. 9). He confesses boldly. This confession itself is a fulfillment of his calling as a prophet. He testifies that God is.
However, it probably sounds a little absurd to these sailors. You fear the God who controls the sea, but you are on that sea running from that God? Jonah recognized the sovereignty of God and knew that He was the “God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land,” but still makes the choice to flee from Him. That sounds foolish because it is. But we do the same thing: we know God is watching our every move, but we like to think, “God can you turn Your head a minute, while I have premarital sex?” or “God close your eyes a second so I can watch this dirty movie” or “God can you look away while I hold back my tithe?” But we know that God is ever present but we continue to declare our independence by sinning. When we sin, we say to God’s face: “I don’t need You to satisfy me. What sin has to offer is greater. I am fine on my own.” But we know in reality that we need Him for our very existence; He is sustaining us, and giving us life every day. It is a struggle, but we must fight sin daily (Romans 7:15-25).
Death or Death Decision
“Then the men were exceedingly afraid and said to him, “What is this that you have done!” For the men knew that he was fleeing from the presence of the LORD, because he had told them”” (v. 10). Now that Jonah has told them who his God is, they are exceedingly afraid. This tremendous storm is the primary evidence that Jonah’s God is powerful. They then ask the equivalent of “Are you crazy!?” Who runs away from the God of the sea. . . on the sea? It’s like running from the cops on foot, while they are tracking you down in their squad cars. They’re going to catch you bro.
Now knowing that Jonah is responsible for this, and because the storm was getting worse, the crew asks Jonah, “What shall we do to you, that the sea may quiet down for us?” For the sea grew more and more tempestuous”” (v. 11). Jonah is now at an interesting point in this story: whatever happens, he will die. If he says nothing to these sailors, the storm will eventually kill them all (Jonah knows that he is responsible for this great storm). If he confesses, he knows that he alone will die. They will throw him overboard. God has done something amazing here. Jonah is again faced with the same decision he faced when God called him in the first place: Will your life/death save the lives of others? In the case of preaching to the Ninevites, Will you go to save their lives by preaching repentance? Jonah makes the decision to run. In the case of this storm and the deathly fate of these sailors, Will you sacrifice to save their lives? This question is put to him so close this time, that Jonah cannot help but notice. He knows this is God again. He knew God had called him to preach to the Ninevites. And he knows that this is the same God that is calling him to do the same thing—sacrifice himself to save others. Except this time, God doesn’t speak directly, but uses elements of creation to get His point across.
Jonah doesn’t have the will to jump himself, so “He said to them, “Pick me up and hurl me into the sea; then the sea will quiet down for you, for I know that it is because of me that this great tempest has come upon you”” (v. 12). Why doesn’t Jonah just seek forgiveness from God and ask Him to calm the storm? He could have made things right with God and committed himself to go to Nineveh. But he doesn’t. Maybe Jonah believes that he has messed up too much already—and forgiveness isn’t going to happen for him. Maybe he is not sure if God can forgive him. Jonah prefers to believe in a God who only judges. Not in a God who also forgives (that’s why he ran in the first place). He would rather die in the sea than to suggest to the sailors that they turn around and return him to Joppa so he can fulfill his call to Nineveh. Yet, Jonah does have compassion on the innocent sailors. He does not want them to die. He will accept death for them, not in obedience to God but, as it was—an act of heroism born from a desperate situation.
Maybe you are like Jonah. Maybe you believe that you have gone too far for God to forgive you. But God has something to say about that. “Come now, let us reason together, says the LORD: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool” (Isaiah 1:18). God’s love is not based on what you are, or what you have done. There is nothing you have done that makes God love you any less, and there is nothing you can do to make Him love you more than He already does. If you believe that God can forgive you, what should you do now? “Seek the LORD while he may be found; call upon him while he is near; 7 let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the LORD, that he may have compassion on him, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon” (Isaiah 55:6-7).