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Author:Dr. Wes Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Launceston, Tasmania
 Tasmania, Australia
 
Preached At:Providence Canadian Reformed Church
 Hamilton, Ontario
 
Title:Give thanks to God for his steadfast love
Text:Psalms 107:17-22 (View)
Occasion:Thanksgiving
Topic:Thankfulness
 
Preached:2010
Added:2010-12-24
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Psalm 66:1,2,6
Hymn 62:3 (after the law)
Hymn 57
Psalm 107:1,7,8,17
Psalm 18:1,2,15,16

Reading: Psalm 107
Text: Psalm 107:17-22
* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Beloved in the Lord Jesus,

Once there were ten men.  These ten were not allowed into any city.  They were not allowed to have any contact with anybody outside of their group.  They were lepers and Luke tells us that they lived in a certain village.  One day Jesus came their way.  As he was entering the village near where they lived, they shouted out to him, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!”  The Lord Jesus saw them and ordered them to go and show themselves to the priests.  As they were going, they were miraculously healed of their leprosy.  Jesus healed all ten of them.  You might expect them all to be thankful to Jesus, but Luke tells us that only one returned and fell down at Jesus’ feet, glorifying God, and giving thanks to the Saviour.  Luke comments further and tells us that this one was a Samaritan, leaving Jesus to remark, “Were there not any found who returned to give glory to God except this foreigner?”  One out of ten, and the one was not even a Jew.  The other nine were presumably Jewish, they were God’s covenant people, and they didn’t think to give thanks to God. 

Doesn’t that expose a fundamental human problem?  Isn’t it true that real thankfulness is rare, especially when it comes to thankfulness to God?  Even the world talks about Thanksgiving, but to whom are they giving thanks?  And while it’s easy to point out the problems of the world, is it a lot better within the church?  Are we always and consistently a thankful people?  You and I both know that too often we’re in the 90% that forget to give thanks.  Even though we too are God’s covenant children, too often we’re so absorbed with ourselves and our own lives that we neglect to look upwards and acknowledge the gracious Giver of all good.     

On this Thanksgiving, it’s good that we’re reminded again to be a thankful people.  Not just now, not just on these couple of days, but always.  And this passage from Psalm 107 points us in that direction.  It exhorts us to give thanks to God for his steadfast love. 

It does so within a familiar framework:  sin, salvation, service.  If that’s familiar to you, I’m glad.  You should recognize it as the structure of the Heidelberg Catechism.  Perhaps you know it in different terms:  guilt, grace, gratitude.  Or maybe and less memorably:  sin & misery, deliverance, thankfulness.  But however you know it, the structure of our Catechism is not something that the authors invented.  They took it from the Bible.  It came from Romans.  The book of Romans starts off with human sin and misery, then in the middle section Paul speaks about justification and our deliverance, and then in the last chapters, from chapter 12 onwards, it’s all about sanctification and our thankfulness.  However, that structure is found elsewhere in the Bible too.  For instance, it’s found in some of Paul’s other letters to varying degrees.  Then it’s also found in the Old Testament and perhaps most clearly in the four middle stanzas of this psalm.  Now when I say “stanza,” I’m not talking about the stanzas as we have them in the Book of Praise.  We’re talking about the stanzas in the actual text of the Psalm in the Bible – the Psalm can be divided up into units we call stanzas.  And each stanza is made up of several verses.  

There’s an introductory stanza in verses 1-3 that sets the tone of the entire psalm.  This is a psalm for giving thanks – a psalm focussing on God’s goodness and his steadfast love.  This is a song to be on the lips of all of God’s redeemed people.  They’re the people who’ve been brought in from all over the place.  They were saved from the hand of enemies who were set on destroying them. 

The next stanza is the first of four that make up the heart of this psalm.  They all follow the same structure.  First, some one gets into trouble because of their sin.  They call out to God.  Next, he delivers them.  Finally, the Psalmist uses that deliverance as the basis for God’s people to thank him and praise him. 

Our passage, verses 17-22, is the third of those stanzas.  The stanza begins with the problem.  Verse 17, “Fools were afflicted because of their way of transgression and iniquity.”  The Old Testament often speaks of fools, especially in the book of Proverbs.  When it does, the word “fool” is usually not being used in the sense of someone with little intelligence.  Rather, the fool is someone who rebels against God.  In other words, it’s a matter of morals and ethics, not a matter of intelligence.  You could find a smart fool.  Let’s briefly review some of what the Bible tells us about fools from the book of Proverbs.

Fools are those who despise wisdom and instruction (1:7).  Fools hate knowledge (1:22), particularly the knowledge that pertains to God and godliness.  The complacency of fools will destroy them (1:32).  Fools bring grief to their mothers (10:1).  The mouth of a fool is near destruction (10:14).  Doing evil is like fun and games for a fool (10:23).  Fools mock at sin (14:9).  A fool has a bad temper (14:16-17).  Any fool can start a quarrel (20:3).  Fools repeat their folly like dogs returning to eat their vomit (26:11).  And so we could go on.  Basically, the fool doesn’t give a rip about God and his Word.  The fool goes his own way and does his own thing.  And invariably his own thing is a sinful thing.

Now the psalmist says that the foolishness of God’s people doesn’t escape his notice.  God sees the rebellious ways and iniquities of a fool.  And not only does he see, he also acts.  For a time, he might let the fool go his own way.  But in due time, God brings discipline to the fool.  Verse 17 in the NIV says that they “suffered affliction.”  A more literal translation would say, “they were afflicted.”  Who did the afflicting?  God!  God was the one who brought suffering upon them in an effort to get them to see their sin and return to him.  This is what we call chastisement.  It’s discipline administered out of love.  It’s suffering brought upon somebody as a wake-up call to get them to see the wrong path they’re on and get them to come back. 

The question is:  how did God afflict them here in this part of the psalm?  Verse 18 gives us a clue by telling us that this affliction resulted in a loss of appetite.  What this means then is that the fools described here were afflicted with some kind of illness.  God brought something on them that made them lose interest in food and then, to make matters worse, it brought them to the brink of death. 

There are several examples of this in the Old Testament.  Let’s just take one.  In Numbers 16 we read about the rebellion of Korah, Dathan and Abiram.  These three were swallowed up by the earth for their wickedness.  Later in that chapter, the people of Israel again complained about Moses and Aaron – they  said, “You have killed the people of the LORD.”  They were referring to Korah, Dathan and Abiram.  This rebellious attitude stirred up God’s wrath and a plague came upon the Israelites.  Moses and Aaron intervened and interceded, and God stopped the plague in short order.  But nevertheless, 14,700 people were killed.  Many had drawn near to the gates of death and some had even gone beyond. 

More than once in times past, God has brought sickness upon his people who were rebelling against him.  He did it in the New Testament too – think again of the Corinthians who were profaning the Lord’s Supper.  Paul said that their sin was the reason why many among them were weak and sick and some of them had even died.  Then, of course, the question sometimes gets raised:  if someone gets seriously ill today, is it because of some sin they committed?  In some instances, we have to say “yes.”  These are the obvious cases.  The promiscuous person who gets a sexually-transmitted disease.  The alcoholic whose liver is wasting away because of cirrhosis.  The smoker who gets lung cancer.  The illegal drug user who gets psychosis or other mental health issues.  But in many other cases, things are not so obvious and we need to be careful.  Even in the obvious cases, we ought to be careful.  After all, the sin of pride may be more respectable before men, but it is still ugly in God’s eyes, just like fornication or addiction.  Don’t kid yourself:  an unrepentant prideful person is also living in sin.  The story of Job and his friends is instructive in this respect. 

You see loved ones, it’s not our calling when someone is ill to go to that person and tell them, “Well you know, the reason why you are ill is because you sinned.  You must have done something wrong”  However, I would say that each person when they are seriously ill, should be asking themselves, “Is God perhaps chastising me?  Is he, in his mercy, trying to get my attention?  Is there some sin in my life that I’m still living in, for which I have not repented?  Do I have a pet sin that I’m still cherishing and holding on to?”  Now it could be that God is not using your illness to chastise you, but he still does mean to work through it to bring you closer to him.  Our illnesses are never empty and meaningless.  He intends to teach us and shape us.  He wants us to call out to him and rely on his grace and mercy.

That’s what happens in verse 19.  The people described here were brought to their knees, calling to God in the midst of their trouble.  They cried out to Yahweh “and he saved them from their distress.”  God does not ignore his people.  When they call for his attention, he hears them and he acts.  In this instance here in Psalm 107, he acted by saving them.  Verse 20 says that he sent forth his word and healed them, rescuing them from the grave.  He is the God of salvation.

The salvation that’s described here is of the physical variety.  God saved some people who had physical illnesses that were bringing them to the brink of death.  Again, we can think of Numbers 16 and the salvation that came to the people of Israel there.  When his people cried out to him, he saved them from the plague that had taken down many others. 

However, we also read these words in the light of the redemptive work of Christ.  We think of the lepers crying out for mercy to the Lord Jesus.  He sends forth his Word and he heals them.  We think of his many other healing miracles.  We think of his miracles where he brought people back from the dead.  For instance, he literally rescued Lazarus from the grave.

But all of those miracles were signs, they were meant to point to something far greater.  They were meant to point to the healing power of our Lord Jesus over all of our life.  Those signs were meant to point to his power to save us from the eternal death of body and soul.  As our eyes are more and more opened to our sin and misery and our need, we are to cry out to him in our trouble:  Lord Jesus, have mercy upon us.  He then sends forth his Word, the promises of the gospel, to heal us, to assure us, and to restore us. 

The Word that he sends is powerful and effective.  That’s the way God’s Word always is.  It was powerful in creation – by his Word he created heaven and earth and everything in them, out of nothing.  He just spoke and it came to be.  And here in Psalm 107 we find that he speaks and his people are healed.  For us through Christ, the promises of the gospel are spoken and, for those who believe, they are powerful and right away effective.  So, for instance, when we hear the assurance of pardon in our worship service after our confession of sin, we can truly be assured.  God is sending forth his Word to heal us, to bind up that which is broken.  We can come away from the worship service knowing that our Father truly does love us and accept us because we are his through Christ.                       

And the recognition of our God’s love for us is meant to stir up something within us.  That something is found in verses 21 and 22 of Psalm 107.  God has shown his people unfailing, steadfast love.  The Hebrew word there is chesed [pronounced 'kesed'].  We spell it “c-h-e-s-e-d,” and if you saw that you might say “chesed,” but the “ch” is not like an English “ch” sound.  Hebrew doesn’t have a “ch” sound like in English “church” or “chariot.”  So, it’s chesed.  Like shalom, amen, or Hallelujah, chesed is a good Hebrew word to know.  It’s an important word in the Old Testament, and it’s often used in reference to God and how he relates to his people.  In older translations chesed was sometimes “steadfast love,” but the NIV usually gives “unfailing love,” or sometimes (as in verse 1) simply “love.”  It refers to the affection that God has for his people that cannot be shaken – it cannot be shaken because of his promises.  It cannot be shaken because of his intrinsic goodness.  God does not just do good, he is good.  Goodness is defined by who God is and what he does.  And his goodness includes faithfulness to everything he has promised.  His covenant promises will never be forsaken, and therefore we can speak about his chesed, his loyal, enduring, steadfast love and mercy for his people.

Brothers and sisters, your God’s love for you is not fickle.  It doesn’t waver.  Because it is grounded in Jesus Christ, it does not hang on your performance as a Christian, your law-keeping.  Your God’s love for you is richer than you can grasp. 

That thought is meant to leave you in awe.  Not only in awe, but also with a deep sense of gratitude.  We’re children of a great Father who loves us so deeply – the children who recognize this respond with love and with thankfulness. 

They do also when they recognize the wonderful ways in which that love has been shown.  The psalmist speaks in the end of verse 21 about “his wonderful deeds for men.”  The wonderful deeds in view are the healings that God provided through his Word.  And if those deeds were wonderful to the psalmist, how much more wonderful should be the healing and deliverance that God has provided for us through Christ!  When the Lord Jesus came to earth to live perfectly for us, that was a wonderful deed for men.  When the Lord Jesus suffered and died to pay for our sins, that was a wonderful deed for men.  When the Lord Jesus rose again victorious over sin and death, how wonderful!  When he ascended into heaven for our benefit, to intercede for us, wow.  We could go on with all the benefits of Christ for quite some time.  If you can imagine that the psalmist had a single sheet with reasons for giving thanks to God, then imagine us with ten sheets full! 

Verse 22 concludes this stanza with another exhortation and this has to do with sacrifices.  He calls on God’s people to bring thank offerings to him.  In the Old Testament context, this is speaking of the thank offerings of the ceremonial law.  The thank offering was a special kind of peace offering.  It was to be a head of cattle, or a sheep, or a goat.  The animal had to be without blemish, without any defect. 

Of course, we know that the Old Testament ceremonial laws have been fulfilled in Christ.  We no longer bring sacrifices of cattle, sheep and goats with us to church.  Nevertheless, there is one sacrifice that still remains for New Testament believers.  It is essentially the sacrifice from here in Psalm 107:22.  We know that because of what Paul says in Romans 12:1,2.  Paul says that thank offerings are still in order.  And the thank offerings of New Testament believers are not made up of dead animals, but of living creatures.  We are the thank offerings that are to be made!  Our lives are to be dedicated to the service of God in thanksgiving.  Everything about us is to be about thankfulness to our heavenly Father.

And moreover, that’s something we can’t keep quiet about.  That’s where the last line of this stanza leads us too:  “tell of his works with songs of joy!”  We can’t be shy and retiring, quiet, when it comes to God’s works.  Instead, we are to “tell,” to declare, to proclaim.  We’re to testify, to speak.  Anything but keep quiet.  And it’s all coming in the context of cries of jubilation.  You see, loved ones, God’s people are not callous or cavalier about what he’s done.  What God has done grabs their hearts and their emotions, it creates joy and singing in them.  And others around them will notice their gladness and hopefully their curiosity will be piqued:  what are you so happy about?  What gives you such joy in life?  Tell me more about why you’re different, why you’re so thankful.

Brothers and sisters, thankfulness is a defining characteristic of a Christian.  An unthankful Christian is an oxymoron, a contradiction in terms.  Christians have been saved through Christ.  They recognize the great love of God for them in Christ and they respond with love.  Their love fuels their gratitude, a gratitude that expresses itself with an attitude, with words, and with deeds.                             

Psalm 107 is an appropriate psalm for Thanksgiving.  You know, it’s long been recognized as such.  In fact, the celebration of Thanksgiving in North America goes back to the Pilgrim Fathers who got off the Mayflower at Plymouth Rock in Massachusetts in 1620.  Psalm 107 has been described as “their” psalm.  They often referred to it as a summary of all their hardships and struggles, but also as a sort of North Star in the darkness of their lives, directing them the right way, to gratitude.  Through all the difficulties, God’s Word led those pilgrim to be a thankful people as they made their way in a harsh new environment.  You can be sure that they read Psalm 107 at their first thanksgiving celebration in 1621.  They had much to be thankful for.  So do we.  AMEN.

Prayer:

O Yahweh our God,

We give thanks to you for you are good.  Your steadfast love endures forever.  Your promises are firm and we can rely on you.  You never ignore us.  When we stray, we can be confident that you will give chase.  Help us Father to see your discipline and to be humble and teachable.  Please help us to call to you for deliverance.  And as we experience your ongoing love and care for us in Christ, please help us above all to be a thankful people.  With your Spirit, we pray that you would fill our hearts with love for you, so that we may always give thanks with our whole being, and everything about us.

Father, we give you our thanks for blessings received. 

Above all, we thank you for the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.

We thank you for calling us your children and for loving us and revealing that love to us.

We thank you for taking care of us as your children.

We thank you for our daily food and drink. 

We thank you for our health.

We thank you for homes in which to live.

We thank you for providing us with all the necessities of life.

We thank you for our families, for our spouses, for our children, for our parents, for our grandparents.

We thank you for Christian education.

We thank you for one another in this communion of saints. 

We thank you for a country of freedom.

Father, we have so much to be thankful for and we praise you! 

 




* 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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