Strength through trust

Scripture: Psalm 125

Title: Strength through trust

 Structure:

  • Introduction
  • Psalm 125
  • Daniel 6
  • Conclusion

 

Introduction:

Trust is the foundation

–         In the same way that a good foundation gives strength to the building trust gives strength to relationships, to the community and to the individual

 

Today we continue our series on the Songs of Ascents – which we know as Psalms 120 to 134

 

The word ‘Ascent’ has to do with moving upward

–         The temple in Jerusalem was on a hill

–         On their way to religious festivals Jewish pilgrims might sing these songs as they ascended the hill to the temple

 

The 15 Songs of Ascents, then, are about being on a journey – not just a physical journey to Jerusalem but also a spiritual journey, drawing closer to God

–         We are exploring these Songs of Ascents as we journey toward Easter

–         This morning we take a closer look at psalm 125

–         This song is about the strength that comes from trusting God

–         It is the strength of righteousness or integrity

–         The strength to do the right thing under pressure

–         From the New Revised Standard Version we read…

 

Those who trust in the Lord are like Mount Zion,     which cannot be moved, but abides forever. As the mountains surround Jerusalem,     so the Lord surrounds his people,     from this time on and forevermore.

For the sceptre of wickedness shall not rest     on the land allotted to the righteous, so that the righteous might not stretch out     their hands to do wrong.

Do good, O Lord, to those who are good,     and to those who are upright in their hearts. But those who turn aside to their own crooked ways     the Lord will lead away with evildoers.     Peace be upon Israel!

 

May the Spirit of Jesus illuminate this song for us

 

At a glance, psalm 125 begins with trust and ends with peace

–         While the terrain in between is righteousness

–         But the road to peace is not smooth and the trust is tested for the righteous must stand strong against the wicked

 

Psalm 125:

In 2004 Viktor Yushchenko stood for the presidency of the Ukraine.

–         As an informal leader of the Ukrainian opposition coalition, he was one of the two main candidates

–         The ruling party at the time vehemently opposed Yushchenko

–         During the election campaign Yushchenko was mysteriously poisoned

–         He almost lost his life and his face was disfigured as a consequence

–         This did not deter him from standing for the presidency though

 

On the day of the election Yushchenko was comfortably in the lead

–         However, the ruling party tampered with the results.

–         The state-run television station reported…

–         “Ladies and gentlemen, we announce that the challenger, Victor Yushchenko, has been decisively defeated.”

 

In the lower right-hand corner of the screen a woman by the name of Natalia Dmitruk was providing a translation service for the deaf community.

–         As the news presenter regurgitated the lies of the regime, Natalia Dmitruk refused to translate them.

–         “I’m addressing all the deaf citizens of Ukraine” she signed.

–         “They are lying and I’m ashamed to translate those lies. Yushchenko is our president.”

 

The deaf community sprang into gear. They text messaged their friends about the fraudulent result

–         As news spread of Dmitruk’s act of defiance increasing numbers of journalists were inspired to tell the truth.

 

Over the coming weeks the “Orange Revolution” occurred as a million people wearing orange made their way to the capital city of Kiev demanding a new election.

–         The government was forced to meet their demands, and a new election was held with Victor Yushchenko becoming president.

 

This is a true story (from recent history) of people who had the strength, the courage and the integrity to stand for what was right, even under pressure

 

Psalm 125 begins with the words…

 

Those who trust in the Lord are like Mount Zion,     which cannot be moved, but abides forever.

Mount Zion is the hill (or the foundation) on which Jerusalem is built

–         It is a symbol of enduring strength

–         Those who trust in the Lord, therefore, have an enduring strength

–         They are able to stand their ground and not be compromised

 

They abide forever

–         Abiding is a lovely word

–         Abiding is about living in peace – not merely existing, but actually living

 

Verse 2 goes on to say…

 

As the mountains surround Jerusalem,     so the Lord surrounds his people,     from this time on and forevermore.

 

Here the mountains are a symbol of strength and protection

–         The psalmist does not imagine himself surrounded by enemies, or problems or people he can’t trust

–         He doesn’t imagine himself trapped with nowhere to turn

–         He imagines himself surrounded by the Lord God, protected, embraced by grace, free from anxiety

 

What might not be obvious to us is that the mountains surrounding Jerusalem are actually taller than Mount Zion itself [1]

–         So the idea here is that God is bigger, stronger & more exalted than Zion

–         In other words, the foundation (or trust) of God’s people is supported (or guaranteed) by God himself – God is the ground of our being

 

Because God is stronger and greater than I the psalmist’s trust is well founded

–         It is trust in God’s goodness, his righteousness, his faithfulness, which gives us strength to abide

 

After that lovely affirming start, evil raises its ugly head in verse 3, with mention of the wicked…

 

For the sceptre of wickedness shall not rest     on the land allotted to the righteous, so that the righteous might not stretch out     their hands to do wrong.

 

A sceptre is a fancy stick with a little crown on the end, like this one on the wall

–         It resembles a mace or a bomby knocker

–         It is a symbol of a ruler’s power and authority to reign

–         A king or queen might carry a sceptre as a sign to show they are in charge

 

Apparently the wicked have been allowed to get into power but God will not allow them to continue to rule over the righteous

–         God doesn’t prevent tyrants from getting into places of authority but he does limit their term

–         Unlike those who trust in the Lord, the wicked do not abide forever

–         Unlike the righteous the wicked don’t have a firm foundation

 

And one reason God limits the reign of the wicked is so that the righteous are not tempted to compromise and do evil themselves

–         It appears the Lord did not allow the sceptre of wickedness to remain over the Ukraine, at least in 2004 and 2005

 

Verse 4 is a prayer to God…

 

Do good, O Lord, to those who are good,     and to those who are upright in their hearts.

The psalmist can pray this prayer with confidence because he knows it is what God wants to do anyway

–         He is not so much telling God what to do

–         Rather he is saying, ‘Your will be done Lord’

–         ‘Be yourself and do justly’

 

Two things we note here:

 

Firstly, goodness (in verse 4) is related to trust in the Lord (in verse 1)

–         So there is a relationship between trusting God and being good

–         Those who trust in the Lord are good

–         Or as the apostle Paul would say: ‘Righteousness is by faith’

 

Secondly, goodness is a state of being related to uprightness of heart

–         The heart is a symbol of a person’s inner life

–         God looks on the heart – he sees what we are like on the inside

–         In the Bible the heart is the seat of the will

–         In other words it is the inner sanctum of a person’s soul where decisions are made

–         A person’s words and actions flow down-stream from the heart

–         If our heart is pure then our words and actions will be also

 

So the kind of goodness that is in view here is not a false goodness where people do certain things to make themselves appear good in the eyes of others

–         It’s not painting over rotten timber

–         It’s not pouring concrete without using reinforcing steel

–         It’s not building on a false foundation

–         It is a genuine, authentic kind of goodness, from the inside out

 

When I think of uprightness of heart I am reminded of A.B. DeVilliers

–         In the recent one day series against South Africa Ross Taylor nicked a ball to the keeper (Quintin DeKock)

–         DeKock genuinely thought he had taken the catch cleanly and appealed convincingly

–         Ross Taylor must have felt the ball on the bottom of his bat because he began to walk off the field without contesting the umpire’s decision

 

But before Taylor had left the field the South African captain (DeVilliers) suggested the on-field umpire go upstairs to check with the third umpire

–         DeVilliers used to be a keeper and from where he was standing it looked like the ball might not have carried all the way to the keeper’s gloves

–         A.B. has pretty good eyes and it appears he is upright in heart too

–         The slow motion replay showed the ball had touched the ground just short of DeKock

–         The umpires reversed their decision and Taylor played on

 

I have no idea whether A.B. DeVilliers believes in Jesus or not but I admire his integrity – not claiming the wicket when the catch was doubtful

–         It’s not just skill which makes him one of the best cricketers in the world

 

Having prayed for God to do good to those who are good the psalmist then describes the consequences for those who turn aside to their own crooked ways

–         The Lord will lead them away with evil doers

 

In other words, it doesn’t pay to try and get by with cheating

–         God sees the whole truth and there is no escaping him

 

Fortunately the wicked don’t get the last word. As Derek Kidner notes…

–         “The final words of the psalm have arrived at peace, not by compromise but by the only road that leads to [peace]: the way of righteousness” [2]

 

Daniel 6:

Psalm 125 is about the strength (or integrity) of the righteous

–         It is a strength which comes from trusting God

–         It is a strength to do the right thing – to resist evil, remaining true to who we are & who God is

–         And, ultimately, it is a strength which leads to peace for God’s people

 

The classic Biblical story of the strength (or integrity) of one righteous man is the story of Daniel in the lions’ den

–         Daniel is a type of Christ figure – he points to Jesus

–         Daniel’s strength came from trusting God

–         It was a strength to resist evil and stay true to himself & to the Lord God

–         Through his trust and righteousness Daniel ultimately gained peace

 

Daniel, as many of you know, was a Jewish exile

–         He had been carried away from his homeland, in Israel, to Babylon by king Nebuchadnezzar

 

Daniel served in the Babylonian empire as a civil servant with administrative authority

–         Eventually Darius, the Mede, seized royal power

–         King Darius chose Daniel and two others to supervise the 120 governors of the empire and to look after the king’s interests

 

Daniel soon showed he could do better work than anyone else and Darius (the king) was thinking about putting him in charge of the whole empire

–         This made the other supervisors and governors jealous so they tried to find something wrong with Daniel in order to accuse him to the king and get rid of him

–         But they couldn’t fault Daniel, because he was reliable and did not do anything wrong or dishonest

–         Daniel was righteous and upright in heart, in other words

 

So Daniel’s adversaries tried to set Daniel up

–         They went to king Darius and said, ‘All of us who administer your empire have agreed that your majesty should issue an order and enforce it strictly

–         Give orders that for 30 days no one be permitted to pray to any god or any man except your majesty

–         Anyone who violates this order is to be thrown into a pit filled with lions’

 

In saying this the governors had tricked the king

–         By saying no one could pray to any god or man except the king, they were essentially putting king Darius in the place of God

–         Perhaps Darius hadn’t realised the implications at the time

–         In any case the king signed the order

–         This was a strict order of the Medes and Persians – an order that could not be changed even by the king himself

 

When Daniel learnt that the order had been signed he went home and in an upstairs room with a window open (where anyone could see) he knelt down to pray to the Lord God as he always did, three times a day

–         Trust in God was Daniel’s foundation and prayer was how Daniel remained on the foundation

 

Daniel prayed in direct violation of the king’s order

–         He knew the risk and yet he placed his trust in the Lord his God

–         Daniel was a thoughtful man

–         He knew that not praying to the Lord would be like agreeing that Darius was in the place of God

–         To not pray would be a denial of God – it would be colluding with a lie

–         Daniel couldn’t give into fear of man

–         He would rather face death than serve the purpose of the wicked

 

When Daniel’s enemies saw him praying to God all of them together went to the king to accuse Daniel

 

The king was very upset by this and did his best to find some way to rescue Daniel – not unlike Pontius Pilate who went out of his way to try and free Jesus

–         But there was nothing the king could do

–         Ironically his very power had rendered him powerless

 

Reluctantly king Darius gave the order for Daniel to be arrested and thrown into the pit of lions

–         The king said to Daniel, “May your God, whom you serve so loyally, rescue you.”

 

A stone was put over the mouth of the pit and the king placed his royal seal on the stone so that no man could pull Daniel out of the pit

–         Imagine that for a moment

–         Daniel is in a hole in the ground surrounded by wild beasts

–         Once the stone is rolled over the top of the pit it would be completely dark inside – it would be terrifying

 

The stone sealing the pit shut reminds us of Jesus whose body was laid in a tomb with a stone rolled across the entrance and a seal placed on the stone so no one could take Jesus’ body away

 

After Daniel had been thrown into the pit the king returned to the palace and spent a sleepless night without food or entertainment

–         The king denied himself in solidarity with Daniel

 

At dawn the king got up and hurried to the pit

–         Kings in the East don’t normally hurry anywhere – it is undignified

–         And yet Darius was more concerned for Daniel’s well-being than he was his own reputation

 

Once again we are reminded of the women who got up early and rushed to Jesus’ tomb on the first Easter Sunday, only these women weren’t hoping for a miracle like king Darius was – they were simply hoping to care for Jesus’ corpse

 

The king called out anxiously…

–         “Daniel, servant of the living God! Was the God you serve so loyally able to save you from the lions?”

–         Apparently it wasn’t just Daniel who trusted God

–         It appears king Darius had his own faith in the Lord as well, such was the witness of Daniel’s goodness and uprightness of heart

 

Daniel answered…

–         “May your majesty live forever. God sent his angel to shut the mouths of the lions so that they would not hurt me. He did this because he knew that I was innocent and because I have not wronged you, your majesty.”

 

Daniel does not hold anything against Darius – he remains respectful of the king

–         At the same time Daniel gives credit to God – he points out that God has vindicated him by saving him

–         Now the king can set Daniel free without losing face

 

The king was overjoyed and gave orders for Daniel to be lifted out of the pit

–         So they pulled him up and saw that he had not been hurt at all, for he trusted God (verse 23 tells us)

 

At this point we notice a distinction between Daniel and Jesus

–         Unlike Daniel, Jesus had been severely hurt and killed

–         Daniel emerged from the pit of lions without a scratch

–         Jesus, on the other hand, rose from the pit of death still bearing his scars

 

Returning to Daniel’s story, by this stage it was obvious to everyone that the other governors and supervisors had tricked the king

–         Clearly Darius could not trust them and so he acted with swift justice, ordering the men who accused Daniel to be thrown into the very same pit they had prepared for Daniel

–         Before Daniel’s enemies had even reached the bottom, the lions pounced on them and broke all their bones

 

Then king Darius wrote to the people of all nations, races and languages…

 

Greetings! I command that throughout my empire everyone should fear and respect Daniel’s God. He is a living God and he will rule forever. His kingdom will never be destroyed and his power will never come to an end. He saves and rescues; he performs wonders and miracles in heaven and on earth. He saved Daniel from being killed by the lions.

 

In saying this king Darius put things right

–         Not only did Darius submit himself to God, he essentially admitted he was wrong to issue the decree against praying to God in the first place

–         Darius had been humbled by God’s grace

 

Daniel prospered (he enjoyed peace) during the reign of Darius and the reign of Cyrus the Persian

–         Daniel was indeed as strong and steadfast as Mount Zion – surrounded by the Lord God

 

Conclusion:

What pressures and temptations do you face – in your work, at home, at school or university?

–         What does doing the right thing mean for you?

 

As I’ve already alluded to Daniel points to Jesus

–         Jesus was truly righteous and good from the inside out

–         He was upright in heart, trusting God (his Father) even to death on a cross

–         And God vindicated Jesus by raising Jesus from the dead to eternal life

 

We too can share in Jesus’ strength, righteousness & peace when we place our trust in him

 

Let us pray…

 

Lord God, help us to trust Jesus

That we will have strength to do what is right in all circumstances

Keep us from temptation and deliver us from evil

And grant us your peace.

In Jesus’ name we pray,

Amen

 

https://soundcloud.com/tawabaptist/12-march-2017-strength-through-trust

 

 

 

[1] Michael Wilcock, Psalms 73-150, page 230

[2] Derek Kidner, Psalms 73-150, page 474.

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