Order Of Worship (Liturgy)Psalm 19:1-3
Hymn 7:9 (after the law)
Reading: Philippians 2:1-11
Text: Psalm 131
Beloved congregation of the Lord Jesus,
I’ll bet it happened to you recently. You were driving down the road, lost in your thoughts -- and then all of a sudden, a car pulled right in front of you from a sidestreet or driveway. You were forced to slow down, your blood pressure went up and perhaps your mouth said some words that it shouldn't. Maybe you thought to yourself, "Now if I was in that car I wouldn't of done something so stupid and inconsiderate. Couldn't that guy just wait?" Road rage is just one of many things that cause people stress in our fast paced society. People everywhere are faced with ever increasing inner turmoil and anger. Thankfully, many people keep it bottled up inside, but we begin to see more and more outward expressions of it among all ages. There’s no doubt that we live in a time when many people are inwardly distressed.
Many recognize this problem. New age gurus promise inner peace through things such as yoga and vedic healing. Psychologists, counsellors and therapists have more than enough to do. Various cults will also try to bring you this inner peace -- a favourite question of Jehovah's Witnesses is whether you find peace in this world, whether you're concerned about it and so on. The Devil knows that the world is not at peace. He knows that we sense a problem. He offers solutions that really are no solutions -- they only make the problem much, much worse. No, we need solutions from above. We need guidance from God and His revelation to show us the true way of inner peace. A way which isn't a phantom solution or a mirage, but the real thing.
David gives us the real thing in our Psalm this morning. King David also knew about distress and turmoil. You only need to read some of his other psalms to see that. David struggled with sin and its effects in this world, also in his own heart -- just like us. However, God showed David the way of peace. David in turn, as the King of his people, he put these words into writing for his subjects. He did it in a psalm for those making their pilgrimage to Jerusalem for the appointed feasts, a Psalm of Ascents. In this Psalm, God shows us how to find peace in a world that struggles with inner turmoil. I preach God’s Word to you with this theme:
The humble King shows the way of inner peace
- The origin of this inner peace
- The content of this inner peace
- The outcome of this inner peace
1. The origin of this inner peace
David begins this Psalm by addressing God. He is speaking to Yahweh, you can see that in the fact that LORD is written here with all capital letters. As we’ve heard before, that indicates God's special covenant name, Yahweh. The pilgrims going up to Jerusalem for the appointed feasts were going to worship this faithful God. They were going to worship the God who delivered them from bondage in Egypt. He is Israel's Great Redeemer. He is also the sovereign God in David’s life. Were it not for God, David would never have become king over the people. All that David had and was, he owed to God.
David realizes that and that’s why he states that his heart is not proud and his eyes are not haughty. David is humble before God. He knows that he is where he is today through the grace and mercy of Yahweh rather than through any merit of his own. This recognition is evidence that God is working in him. David is not boasting in himself.
In spite of his royalty and greatness, David knew his place and position before God. He stood in the line of the promise, he received the reassurance of God's covenant in 2 Samuel 7. At the same time David knew that he was a sinner. He knew that he fell far short of the perfection which God demanded of his people. The humble king shows his subjects that their lives too should always be characterized by humility.
However, there’s more to this claim to humility than first meets the eye. David tells God about his heart and his eyes, but he also writes that he doesn't concern himself with great matters or things that are too wonderful for him. Is David saying here that he's satisfied with knowing as little as possible? What are these great matters? Does this have to do with theology or perhaps some other field of knowledge? Does David support those who are determined to remain ignorant when it comes to the deeper things of the faith, people who would rather not read and study?
To answer these questions, it's important that we pay attention to the context. There's a saying that a text without context is a pretext. Context is always critical when we try to understand Scripture. In the first part of verse 1, David speaks about humility, and when he speaks about concerning himself with great matters, he's continuing that same thought. You can’t break up verse 1. The term used here in the original for "great matters" is sometimes associated with haughtiness. What David is saying here is that he does not concern himself with matters of pride. He doesn't waste his time thinking about his greatness and power. This man, one of the most important figures in Israel's history, he doesn't keep himself busy with pride.
He carries this further when he says that he doesn't concern himself with things that are too wonderful for him. Here he humbly recognizes his limitations. David knows what's attainable and what isn't according to the way that God has created him. These things that are too wonderful are things concerning God and His nature, the way He works in history and creation, things that have not been revealed to David or us by God. We could also think of the working out of God's counsel and promises concerning the Messiah -- something David could not delve into -- he had to come to terms with that fact. No one is able to probe into the mind of God and find out what is there. That’s simply beyond us. You see, David does not arrogantly set himself over God and His work, also the working out of God's promises. He realizes that men have limitations placed on them because they are creatures and God is the creator.
It's this humility which is the origin of true inner peace. The Holy Spirit shows us that the way of inner peace begins with a humble heart before God. It means recognizing who you are: a mere sinner not worthy of receiving anything from the hand of God. A mere creature not capable of thoroughly comprehending the Creator. David knows who he is and by his example he’s teaching his subjects to look at themselves the same way.
Although he was the glorious king of Israel, David still knew that he fell far short of what God expected of him. David was humbled because he was sinful and he knew it. He was humbled because he was a mere creature who couldn't know God in a comprehensive way. But about a 1000 years later came David's greatest Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, David foreshadowed him, but he could not be him -- for David was a sinner and a mere man. Like David, the Lord Jesus was humble, but for much different reasons than his father David and all the time. He was sinless. And to meet the requirements of the law, he had to be humble. As we read together from Philippians 2, it was also a necessary part of his suffering and death for us. "He humbled Himself and became obedient to death -- even death on a cross!" Yes, Christ our King was perfectly humble and that's all to our benefit. Christ's humility brought reconciliation with God, it brought true peace between God and man, also inner peace, knowing that our sins are forgiven and that we are now justified before the Father. True inner peace originates with humility and for us it is ultimately the humility of Christ our king!
But there’s more to it than that. Of course, Christ the King also sends his Spirit into our hearts so that we too will humble ourselves, recognizing our sin. Our calling is to fight against sin and the devil in this life with free and good consciences and hereafter reign with Christ eternally. We too have been anointed as kings -- and Scripture clearly teaches that those who would reign as kings must first humble themselves. We must humble ourselves before God, regularly confessing our sins. We ought to think of ourselves as mere creatures who worship a God far bigger than we can imagine. But out of thankfulness for what God has given us in Christ, this humility also extends to our relationships with other people. There is absolutely and categorically no place for pride in the life of a Christian. This is a truth you can take with you in the car after church and with you to work tomorrow and everywhere else.
Humility is the essential and multifaceted origin of inner peace. The Lord Jesus Christ brought inner peace between us and God through His work of humbling himself. The Holy Spirit works faith in our hearts which brings this peace of Christ. He also makes us able and willing to start being humble before Him and our neighbours. The origin of this inner peace, even though we have a role and a responsibility, is all of God's work from first to last. Knowing that, we can now begin to consider the content of this inner peace.
2. The content of this inner peace
In verse 2, David begins by saying that he has stilled and quieted his soul. This means that he hasn’t lifted himself up or exalted himself. You could look back over David's life as it's described in Scripture and see abundant evidence of that. In his early days, after he was anointed, David left it up to God to remove both Saul and Ishbosheth. He allowed people such as Shimei to curse him in 2 Samuel 16. David rarely placed himself in the fore according to the picture painted for us in Scripture. Sure, he fell into sin also in this respect, but here in our psalm and elsewhere he foreshadows, albeit imperfectly, the Lord Jesus Christ. That's why he can say that his soul or his heart was not like a rising mountain, but rather like a level plain. That's the picture that the words used here in the original text portray. The idea of levelling, making flat is expressed with these words for 'still' and 'quiet.'
There’s a direct connection here between the origin of the inner peace and its content. The one leads right into the other. This becomes even clearer when we look closely at the next part of this verse. David says that he has stilled and quieted his soul and then he comes with a comparison between his soul and a weaned child. Of course, a weaned child is one who’s just been taken off a liquid diet (usually breast milk) and is now eating solid food.
David says that his soul is just like such a child with his mother. Now if you think about it for a minute, you might come to the conclusion that this comparison doesn't make a lot of sense. If you were to walk out of the church service right now and go to the nursery and take a look at the children who are weaned, I doubt that you would think of comparing your stilled and quieted soul to those children. Today, no one thinks of peace and quiet in connection with a weaned child. How then can David make this comparison?
Well, there is a great gap of time between us and David, about 3000 years, but also a great cultural distance. People in the Near East, also today, have many different practices in rearing their children than we do. We get children on to solid food as soon as possible, usually as soon as they're able. But in the Ancient Near East, children would often not be weaned until they're 3 years old or sometimes even more. There's a lot of difference between a 3 or 4 year old and a one year old. When this is brought into the picture, is it so hard to understand what David’s driving at? David is like the weaned child who no longer agitates for food from his mother's breast, he is like a child who can be calm and relaxed when with his mother, knowing that his mother loves him and cares for him and will provide for him. He has no need to get all excited, rather his soul is calmed and quieted, like the child with his mother. You see, there are no 30-foot high waves in David's soul, no soaring mountain peaks lifted by volcanic action. No, everything is calm and smooth.
This ties back into verse 1 and forms the heart of this psalm. In verse 1, David speaks about humility and then in this verse he speaks about calm and quiet. You see, God wants to show us that humility and calm and quiet belong together. The one leads into the other. Those who are humble have peace in their souls, they are not constantly agitating, trying to place themselves up higher on life's ladder. They’re contented, there is no flurrying, no effort to put themselves in the center.
So really, the content of this inner peace is contentedness. A quiet and peaceful state of mind and being. You can be satisfied with where God has placed you. You're then not constantly striving and pushing for more. You feel no need to put yourself in front of everybody else. You're happy with the things with which God has blessed you. You're content. You see brothers and sisters, this inner peace is being at rest in God. Being secure and comfortable knowing that He is God and you are His child for whom He cares. Just like that child with his mother, when you are with God, walking in humility with Him with faith in Christ, you can know this inner peace of which David speaks -- this sublime contentment.
I want to stress that this peace is only possible by the power of the Spirit. It’s completely by God's grace that we can know this peace. We get all this with faith in Christ, looking to Him for everything. By the power of the Spirit, out of thankfulness for God's free grace in Christ, we must also work on the humility which David and Christ both exemplified -- that humility which is also expected of us. Just think of the words of our Lord Jesus Christ in Matthew 18 where he commanded us to humble ourselves as little children. You see, because God saved us, we do have the beginnings of peace in our hearts. But yet God still places a responsibility on us to humble ourselves before him and one another. This will bring greater peace and contentment. We won't then be agitating in our lives for personal fame and ambition. Rather, as we'll see further in our third point, we'll always be looking to God for contentment rather than ourselves.
3. The outcome of this inner peace
God wants his people to read this Psalm, to see the attitude of their king and follow it. David has shown that he trusts in Yahweh, the God who made His covenant with him and also with the people. And so now he turns to the people and also addresses them directly. O people, don't look to yourselves, rather hope in Yahweh, now and forevermore. The king doesn't look to himself, he knows that he too is a sinner (and that's why a big part of why he has to be humble). He knows who he is before such a great God, and so should you. There’s no reason for pride, no reason to look to yourself for anything. In every way, David wants to direct the attention of his people upwards to their God.
David's reasoning goes something like this: since humility before God breeds contentedness, therefore you should hope in Yahweh. Since God is the source of this inner peace, since He gives all the meaning and depth to your contentedness, why would you look to yourself for anything at any time? Always and forever look to God and hope in Him.
We should take a closer look at what it means to hope in the LORD. When you hope for something, you're waiting for it and expecting it. What did that mean for the people of Israel? Their hope was directed towards deliverance from sin. They were waiting for the appearance of the Messiah who would make the final and definitive atonement. You could think of people like Simeon who Luke tells us was waiting for the consolation of Israel, eagerly waiting for the Lord's Christ. And Luke also tells us about Anna who after she met the Lord Jesus and His parents, went about telling everyone who was looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem. Those who were faithful in Israel heeded David's words, they hoped in the LORD, they looked to Him for the ultimate fulfillment of inner peace.
And what about us? What does our hope in Yahweh look like? Well, Christ has already appeared once on this earth, but he's going to return. Just as Simeon and Anna eagerly looked forward to the first appearance of the Messiah, we ought to look forward to His second appearance. We do that by recognizing our sinfulness more and more, humbling ourselves before God, crying out more and more for the final deliverance from sin and evil. We see so much of the effects of the fall into sin in our lives with illness and even death. The struggle continues and so we still must hope with our eyes focussed upwards. The ancient struggle will not come to an end by hoping in or trusting in ourselves. Our hope, our only help is in the LORD.
Psalm 131 would have been sung by pilgrims on their way to the appointed feasts in Jerusalem. However, this psalm is also a song of ascents for us. It's a reminder to us that we are pilgrims, drawing nearer to the heavenly Jerusalem. We live in this world, we drive down the streets and have our cars cut off like everyone else, but we are not of this world. We don't belong here. We have the beginnings of inner peace here in this life, but we know that the ultimate fullness of peace will be in the life to come for those who believe in Christ and live in him. Pilgrims. That's what we are. As pilgrims, we know the way of inner peace because our humble king has shown it to us. He has led the way and opened it up for us.
Yes, true inner peace is possible, but only through the great King. He showed us in the greatest possible way what true humility looks like. David could only show it imperfectly, but Christ showed it perfectly in his suffering and death. Now he works in us through His Spirit. When we humble ourselves before God, then we are on the way to true inner peace. We may not know the full measure of that peace yet here in this world -- but yet it is ours in principle. And when the great King, the Son of David, returns on the clouds of heaven, it will be ours in overflowing abundance. Eagerly looking forward to that day, let’s keep looking to our faithful God. Humble yourself before him, for he truly is the only source of peace in this world. The Spirit says to you in 1 Peter 5:5, "Clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because 'God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble'...Cast all your anxiety on him because He cares for you." AMEN.
* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service. Thank-you.
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