Other sermons in this series
One of the problems with the 21st century world it seems is there are not that many examples of love – that endures forever. Especially if you’re thinking of Hollywood.
HIS LOVE ENDURES FOREVER
I don’t know if you noticed it in the Psalm, but that’s where it starts. And that’s where it ends. Verse 1. Verse 29. “Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, his love endures forever.”
Although when you look at the Bible commentaries, turns out love is not quite a big enough word to translate the original Hebrew.
Because the original Hebrew packages together the huge ideas of faithfulness and covenant loyalty and a good dose of love all into three little Hebrew letters: hesed.
Covenant love. Reliability. Faithfulness.
The stuff that used to guarantee you could seal a million dollar business deal with just a handshake. Because there was that old fashioned common trust.
The kind of love in a marriage that wasn’t just Romantic love and following your heart. But a covenant commitment that ran all the way to the bone.
And you don’t see it much these days, do you?
Though a Calvin and Hobbes cartoon comes close. See if you can spot it.
Little Calvin says to his dad, he says hey dad, “I think it’s time we had a new dad around here. When does your term in office expire?” Very topical. In election season.
And his dad says, “Sorry Calvin, I was appointed dad for life.”
To which Calvin says, “For life? What about a recall vote. What about impeachment.” Or in our terms maybe, what about a double dissolution?
To which his dad says, “There are no provisions for either.”
Dad for life.
And little Calvin says, “Did you write this constitution yourself, or what?”
And Dad says, “Well, your mum helped a little too.”
Now that’s a bit obscure maybe. But it’s deep. Because there are plenty of kids who actually don’t get to have a dad who’s committed for life on the basis of a constitution or a contract that’s agreed with the mum. Maybe you’re one of them. And you know the pain of that.
Because these days so often either a mum and a dad won’t enter into that sort of binding lifetime agreement in the first place, or else they do, and they try, but that kind of long term faithfulness is just … too hard.
God’s hesed. His Covenent faithfulness. Is what the Psalm says is going to last for ever. God’s going to stick relentlessly to the covenant he made with Israel whether Israel does or not.
A promise to make a people for himself; who’ll be ruled by a righteous king in the line of David. Who’ll enjoy him forever.
We had our house painted last year with Taubmans endure. This is not a commercial. Because it’s early days. But we’ve got in our top drawer at home a contract from Taubmans that says if Taubmans endure doesn’t last for at least fifteen years, they’ll paint our house again for nothing.
Do you believe that? I haven’t checked the small print. But look, if Taubmans endure is engineered to last 15 years, God’s covenant faithfulness… is engineered to last forever.
Just read through the first four verses again and fill it out. That the love word is loaded with the whole bigger idea of a God who’s going to stick to his plan. Of an everlasting king in the line of David and a faithful people of his own.
1Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good;
his covenant faithfulness endures forever.
2Let Israel say:
“His covenant faithfulness endures forever.”
3Let the house of Aaron say: (Aaron’s the priest)…
“His covenant faithfulness endures forever.”
4Let those who fear the Lord say:
“His covenant faithfulness endures forever.”
Which as I said before then bookends the Psalm at the end in verse 29. Exactly the same words as verse 1…
Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good
his covenant faithfulness, [his “chesed”] endures forever.
He’s the dad who’s going to stay a dad; he’s the husband who’s going to stay a husband… because of a contract and a constitution, and not just a good feeling. Even when it’s put to the ultimate test. Even when it looks like the king in the line ofDavid has got his life on the line.
God. Is faithful. And look, from this point on, that’s what the Psalm is all about. With words from the lips of the king himself.
SING WITH JESUS
Before we dig in can I just remind you again we’re in a series called sing with Jesus; and what we’re doing is we’re looking at the Old Testament Book of Psalms, the song book of the nation of Israel. And we’re looking specifically at the songs that are quoted later on in the New Testament accounts of Jesus. Because Jesus himself makes the astonishing claim that “The Psalms are fulfilled by me.”
So once we’ve looked at the picture the Psalm’s painting… we’re going to look again. And read it in the light of Jesus.
And you’ll notice when we look closer, Psalm 118 paints for us a vivid picture of a king who in spite of hard times has absolute confidence that God’s covenant faithfulness… will see him through.
And sometimes, when you see him surrounded by enemies, that might seem like wishful thinking.
You can see it in verses 5 to 10; Israel’s king is so confident in the midst of hard times that he doesn’t ring triple zero in emergencies… he says in verse 5, when I was hard pressed, I cried to the Lord… and he brought me into a spacious place.
And it’s not his allies that he turns to for help.
And it’s not his enemies that he fears.
Have a look at verses 6 and 7. The Lord is with me, verse 6; the Lord is with me, verse 7; so I won’t be afraid. What can mortals do to me… when I’ve got the faithful covenant keeping God on my side? When God is my helper, I look in triumphon my enemies.
Look, we’re on the battlefield here. There are arrows whizzing past everywhere. Everyone. Wants to bring him down. And this King of Israel says in verses 8 and 9, there’s no better Shield, there’s no better refuge, there’s no better ally on thebattlefield, than the Lord himself. Who’s a far safer stronghold than the most powerful human princes.
And so in verse 10 to 12, though the nations are swarming like bees though the odds are stacked against him… he sweeps through them like a Ryobi brushcutter. In the name of the Lord. Verse 10:
All the nations surrounded me, but in the name of the Lord I cut them down.
And it’s the same in verse 11 and it’s the same in verse 12. In the name of the Lord. And against the odds. I cut them down.
Look, in battlefield terms this is a big win.
But it’s obviously the Lord who’s done the heavy lifting. Because he’s keeping his side of the covenant.
And it’s the Lord who gets the credit over and over again from verse 13 to verse 18; time after time.
I was pushed back and about to fall, but the Lord helped me.
The Lord is my strength and my defence, he’s become my salvation.
And the people are shouting in joy, the Lord’s right hand has done mighty things. The Lord’s right hand is lifted high. And one more time in case we missed it – verse 16 – “The Lord’s right hand has done mighty things.”
And so, says the King, I will not die but I’ll live, and will proclaim what the Lord has done. The Lord has chastened me severely. It was a close call. But he has not given me over to death. I was down but not out. Here I am. Alive. While myenemies have fallen. And it’s all because of the covenant faithfulness of the Lord to the faithful king in the line of David. Which endures forever.
So picture at this point, after a battle like that, the homecoming. You’ve been surrounded by enemies, you’ve fought hard, you’re coming home.
Imagine the celebrating crowds lining the footpath. Hoping for just a glimpse of their all conquering king as he leads the way in through the city gates.
When Apollo 11 landed safely in August 1969, New York City welcomed the Astronauts home with a huge parade.
It was a hero’s welcome. Motorcade, full police escort, flags everywhere; and showers of paper streamers and confetti that must have taken weeks to clean off the street.
The scene in the second half of the Psalm… Is like that. From verse 19, where the king comes back to the gates of Jerusalem, and the gates are thrown open in welcome.
The people are cheering.
Waving branches. As the priests in the temple hail him and bless him as the one who comes in the name of the Lord.
It’s the ultimate welcome home.
Look closer. Verse 20, the king calls out, “open for me the gates of the righteous; I will enter and give thanks to the Lord.”
I’ll come to the temple to give God thanks, because he’s answered me. Saved me. They thought they could throw me aside. But here I am; back at the top.
He puts it this way:
The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.
If you’d written him off, think again. Because this is the one from which everything else is going to be measured. And God in his covenant faithfulness really has… saved the king.
Which is why in verse 23 it’s marvellous and in verse 24 they’re rejoicing, and they priests are singing in verse 26 these words from the house of the Lord: their words echo out from the temple:
Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!
Because they’re excited. And they’re celebrating God’s covenant faithfulness. Here’s the king. And he’s welcomed. “From the house of the Lord we bless you.”
As they should. Because he’s king.
As they should. Because God’s given him a great victory.
As they should. Because the Lord is good, and his love endures for ever.
And so with boughs in hand; verse 27; everyone is urged to grab something to wave; to join the party. The festal procession up to the horns of the altar to give thanks and praise and exaltation to God. Because he is good. And his love enduresfor ever.
Look, it’s a happy picture, isn’t it? If you’re able to picture yourself for a minute as an ancient Israelite. Which I know isn’t all that easy.
But that’s the picture in the Psalm. Enemies from all the nations everywhere. But God is faithful. And so his king’s victorious. And here’s a great branch waving party to celebrate when the king comes marching home to Jerusalem, and up theroadway to the temple. As the priests and the people join in celebrating their king. And the faithfulness of their God.
Now that’s the Psalm. I wonder how long it is since you’ve tried one of those magazine competitions. Where you’ve got to pick the differences between two pictures.
Sometimes the differences are subtle. The smile is bigger on the left. Sometimes it’s glaringly obvious. The middle pearl on the necklace is black.
Can you spot the differences between two pictures?
That’s a question to keep in mind as we turn to the New Testament, and especially Luke’s gospel. And then Luke’s second book, the book of Acts. Where Luke directly quotes from Psalm 118 over and over again. And alludes to it even more.
But the place where all the hints and allusions come together most vividly is when Jesus… comes to Jerusalem. In Luke 19.
And you’ll notice it’s the same picture. But it’s different.
It’s the scene we commemorate on Palm Sunday. As crowds gather by the road and give Jesus a king’s welcome into Jerusalem. Waving their branches. Just like the Psalm.
It’s no surprise people are hailing Jesus as the conquering king. Because he’s been healing diseases. And he’s been feeding the hungry. And he’s done all kinds of astonishing miracles.
And in Luke 19 verse 37 as the road goes down the side of the Mount of Olives and then winds back up the hill to the gates of Jerusalem, the whole crowd of disciples is joyfully praising God in loud voices because of all the miracles they’ve seen. And they’re calling out the words of Psalm 118 verse 26.
Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord.
They’ve added the word king in there. Because they’ve decided, that’s who he is.
But there’s one big difference. When you compare it with the picture in the Psalm.
Watch what happens next.
If you haven’t turned to Luke 19 it’s probably worth flicking over.
Because instead of joining in the welcome, the priests and the Pharisees and the teachers of the law; the Pharisees spit out at him in verse 39, tell them to shut up.
Teacher, rebuke your disciples.
Because how dare they proclaim you as king. In the words of the Psalm.
From there it’s straight to the temple. Same picture as the Psalm. As the King comes through the gates.
Except different again. Because instead of words of blessing from the temple, he goes there. And finds it’s just a den of robbers. And he drives them out.
And as he teaches there day by day, verse 47, the chief priests and the teachers of the law and the leaders among the people… are trying to kill him.
This isn’t just a small difference in the picture, is it? It’s dramatic.
It’s the nations who are the enemies of God back in the Psalm; but now it’s a full scale turnaround. It’s the leaders of Israel. Which is a problem that’s been brewing for a while.
Which is why if you turn the page to Luke 20, Jesus tells a parable. About tenants in a vineyard. Who won’t pay the rent. And the owner sends his servants and they beat them; and verse 15, he sends his son, and they kill him.
He’s talking of course about the leaders of Israel. Who are plotting to kill him.
And what’s the owner going to do to them if they do? Verse 16. He’ll come and kill those tenants … and give the vineyard to others.
Now it’s a parable. But it’s saying, for Israel, if they want to walk away from the covenant keeping God; for Israel, the kingdom’s going to be over.
And the people listening say, “that’s terrible.”
To which Jesus says to them, what do you reckon it means, then… Back in Psalm 118. We’re in Luke 20 verse 17,
Jesus looked directly at them and asked, “Then what is the meaning of that which is written: ‘The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.'”
If Israel’s going to play the part of God’s enemies in the Psalm, Jesus is still going to trust him. And rely on God’s faithfulness to his covenant promises.
And in the end, he says, he’ll be vindicated.
Which is a pretty bold claim isn’t it? Given the forces that are circling around him. He’s saying in essence, Israel might reject me. But just watch. Because I’m going to be the cornerstone. And God’s going to be relentlessly faithful. In his promisesto protect and guard his king. Not just from death. But through death.
And if Israel wants to be the enemy instead of the beneficiary of that… well, it’s their loss. And others‘ gain.
Look, it’s one thing to have a confidence like that when you’re staring down the barrel of oblivion. It’s one thing to look your enemy in the eye like that and say God’s going to save me.
But over the next few days and weeks it all plays out; exactly like Jesus says it will.
The builders reject the stone. They arrest him, they have him tried on trumped up charges; they hand him over to the Romans to execute him.
But see, God’s faithful promise keeping love isn’t going to let go.
And on the Sunday morning, he’s back. Ready to rule over a kingdom that has no end, because the power of death has been overturned.
Which is why a few months later in the book of Acts the disciples Peter and John are supremely confident in the face of the same Sanhedrin Council that had just condemned Jesus. Same smug priests. Same self-satisfied Pharisees. Same elders and teachers of the law. Now sitting in judgment on Peter and John for disturbing the peace by healing a lame beggar and proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection of the dead.
And they’re questioning them and they say by what power or name did you do this.
And Peter goes straight to Psalm 118. And straight to verse 22.
And he says, know this, you and all the people of Israel… it is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead, that this man stands before you healed. Because Jesus is:
the stone you builders rejected
which has become the cornerstone.
And so because he’s the cornerstone, he’s supremely important. Because he’s the cornerstone, Peter says salvation is found in no one else. Because he’s the cornerstone, there’s no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved. Because he’s the cornerstone, everything measures from him. Which I know is these days incredibly divisive and politically incorrect. And even more so then.
But Peter and John don’t hesitate. Peter and John don’t flinch.
They’re just saying it. Because they’ve seen in played out.
The stone rejected. King Jesus crucified. But because of God’s faithfulness in the words of the Psalm, King Jesus resurrected. Made the most important stone of all that all the rest is built on.
Which means in terms of the Psalm, they really can say “The Lord is with me, I will not be afraid, what can mere mortals do to me.”
SINGING IT WITH JESUS
And we can say it as well. No matter what kind of opposition your facing for the name of Jesus. At work. Or at home. Or at school. No matter how hostile the tone is turning.
They really can say, “It’s better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in Princes.” Because they’ve seen it play out for Jesus.
And we can say it as well. And it means when our hard times come, we really can say, the Lord Jesus is my strength and my defence, he has become my salvation. Because indeed he has.
We’ve got a dear friend in her mid 30s. She spent all last week waiting for cancer tests. She’s spending all this weekend waiting for the results. And whichever way the results go, even she can say when hard pressed I cried to the Lord, and hebrought me into a spacious place.
And all of us… Can keep saying that right to our last breath. Knowing that the resurrection of Jesus makes that true for you and me too. Singing with Jesus in mind right to the end.