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Author:Dr. Wes Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Launceston, Tasmania
 Tasmania, Australia
Title:For how he delivers hungry and thirsty wanderers, thank God for his steadfast love
Text:Psalms 107:4-9 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Living in a sinful world

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Hymn 66

Hymn 11:9 (after the law of God)

Psalm 107:1,2

Psalm 107:3,4

Psalm 136:1,2,12,13

Scripture reading:  Mark 6:30-44

Text: Psalm 107:4-9 (begin reading at v.1)

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Beloved congregation of Christ,

I’ve now lived in Australia for several years.  Australia is a phenomenal country, one I’m so thankful to call home.  One of the things that makes it phenomenal is the geography.  There’s such a diversity of landscapes, both in my home state of Tasmania and on the mainland.  One of the most notable landscapes on the mainland are these vast expanses of the Outback, these huge desert areas.  These areas can be incredibly dangerous if you’re not prepared.

Reg Foggerdy found that out in Western Australia back in 2015.  He was out hunting camels in the Goldfields region.  Reg was a 60 year old diabetic with a history of heart troubles; he was only wearing a t-shirt, shorts, a cap, and flip-flops.    Due to the heat and exhaustion, he became lost in the Outback for six days.  He had no water or food with him, no matches, no knife.  Reg only survived by eating black ants.  Thankfully, a local Aboriginal man eventually tracked him down.  Many others haven’t had such a happy ending.

Getting lost isn’t a pleasant feeling, and getting lost and wandering in a dangerous place is even worse.  Our text from Psalm 107 speaks about wandering lost in a dangerous place.  It’s about being disoriented and dispossessed out in the wilderness.  It’s a terrible situation to be in.  Now because it’s poetry, this isn’t just talking about a physical experience like Reg Foggerdy had in the Goldfields region of WA.  Being lost and confused in a dangerous spot can happen in other ways, as we’ll see.  Our text is speaking about a certain type of trouble God’s people can experience, how he delivers them from it, and how they ought to respond.

Today we’ll look at closely at Psalm 107:4-9 and I’ve summarized the sermon with this theme:

For how he delivers hungry and thirsty wanderers, thank God for his steadfast love

We’ll consider:

  1. The desperate human plight
  2. God’s wondrous works of deliverance
  3. Our grateful response

When you read through Psalm 107, it’s not hard to figure out its overarching theme.  It’s all about God’s steadfast love and how we should thank him for it.  It’s right there in the first verse of the psalm, “Oh give thanks to the LORD, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever.”  And in the last verse of the psalm, “Whoever is wise, let him attend to these things; let them consider the steadfast love of the LORD.”  And it’s worked out in four sections where the various troubles are described. 

But what is God’s steadfast love?  In the first verse, it runs parallel to his goodness.  God shows steadfast love because he is good.  The word for steadfast love in Hebrew is chesed [spell it out].  This is a rich, multifaceted word in the Old Testament.  It refers to constant affection or steadfast love, but it also speaks of loyalty.  God’s loyalty to his people comes out of the covenant relationship he’s established with them, that special bond he has with them.  So it’s sometimes said that chesed means covenant loyalty.  God is good, so he is loyal to those with whom he has covenanted.  And God cares for those to whom he is loyal, he loves them steadfastly.  All these ideas are caught up in this one beautiful Hebrew word chesed.  It tells us of how awesome and impressive our God is. 

He appears all the more impressive against the background of human troubles.  One of those troubles is described in verses 4 and 5.  Some of God’s people have experienced wandering in desert wastes.  That could refer to the Exodus from Egypt and the wandering in the wilderness for 40 years.  Some think it could refer poetically to the exile to Babylon that took place much, much later.  The truth is:  the text doesn’t give any clue as to a particular historical moment.  It’s stated generally and so it should be taken generally.

These desert wanderers found no way to a city to dwell in.  “Finding no way” is another way of referring to having no sense of direction, being lost.  They were disoriented, confused about the right way to go.  Furthermore, they wished they could find “a city to dwell in.”  But because they were lost in the wilderness, that seemed impossible. 

Now when we hear the word “city,” we often think of a metropolis.  But in Old Testament times, many “cities” were just what we might call big towns, and sometimes even quite small towns.  This is why I think it may be better to understand city in verse 4 as referring to an “urban dwelling place.”  It’s referring to a built-up area with a concentration of people living together in fairly close quarters. 

Why are people attracted to such places?  Why do people want to be where other large numbers of people are living?  There’s safety in a city or town.  In the Old Testament, many cities and towns had fortifications, but they also had citizens who could bear arms.  You’re generally safer with more people around you.  There’s also more economic opportunity and often therefore more prosperity.  If you have more people, there’s more buying and selling and a bigger economy.  That ties into being able to put food on the table.  So cities or towns, urban dwelling places, they represent security and they represent well-being.  That’s why people continue to flock to cities and towns.  That’s also why the whole story-line of the Bible is working towards a city, the New Jerusalem.  The gospel promises that through Christ we’re heading for a place where there’ll be security and well-being forever.    

On the other hand, desert wastes are a place of insecurity and danger.  One of the biggest problems with getting lost in such areas has to do with food and water.  Think of Reg Foggerdy again.  He was able to find ants to eat in the desert, but he went the full six days without water.  That level of dehydration can easily kill you.  Similarly, Psalm 107:5 speaks about these people being hungry and thirsty to the point of fainting.  That’s some serious trouble to be in, life-threatening.

I wonder if any of you have ever been in a situation like that.  Have you ever been lost in a desert, wishing you could find a town, dying of hunger and thirst?  I doubt many of us have, maybe not even anyone.  But this psalm isn’t just speaking about that physical experience of being a hungry and thirsty lost wanderer in a physical, literal desert.  In the Bible, the desert wastes symbolize alienation from God.  Alienation means having a broken relationship, being divided or separated from God.  After the fall into sin, Adam and Eve were driven out of the Garden of Eden, into the wilderness.  When Jesus was tempted by Satan, he did so as the Second Adam.  The Second Adam wasn’t tempted in a comfortable Garden, but in the wilderness wastes.  Desert wastes have a spiritual meaning in Scripture.  And so does hunger and thirst.  For example, Jesus says in the Gospel of John that he is the fountain of living waters and that people should come to him to drink and live.  He says that he is the bread of life which people should eat so they can live. 

You see, there are different ways of being lost in the wilderness, starving and thirsty.  There can be different ways of being confused and adrift, lacking safety and well-being. One way is to be a covenant child, baptized and brought up in the church, raised in a Christian family, but not seeing the beauty and value of Christ.  You know, being a church member, but not really believing and living as a disciple of Christ.  Instead, you’re lost and wandering in the wilderness.  You’re in danger.  You’re at risk of being devoured by outside threats.  But you’re also at risk of dying from spiritual hunger and thirst.  Perhaps you sense the desperation.  If this is you, I pray that you do, that you do sense the danger you’re in.  If you know your plight and you long for “a city to dwell in,” if you long for safety and well-being, this Psalm shows you what to do.                       

It’s in verse 6.  The people described in this psalm cried out to God in their desperation.  They brought their troubles before him in prayer.  James 5:13 says, “Is anyone among you suffering?  Let him pray.”  If you’re in desperate trouble, lost in the wilderness, starving and thirsty, if you long for safety and well-being, then call out to God.  Call out, “Deliver me, O God, from my trouble.”  Because of Jesus and what he’s done and continues to do for us, the good and loving God stands ready to hear and answer you.

In this Psalm God did hear and answer.  He “delivered them from their distress,” says verse 6.  He demonstrated wondrous works of deliverance, says the second part of verse 8.  How did he do that?  Verse 7 says, “He led them by a straight way till they reached a city to dwell in.”  They were lost and disoriented.  Viewed from above, their path on the map was all squiggly lines and many circles.  But God took them and led them along a straight path, right to where they longed to go. He brought them to the urban dwelling place where they could find safety and well-being.  Within the city or town, they’d finally have a home where they could be safe and where they could raise their families with adequate food and water.  This was deliverance, salvation. 

Verse 9 speaks of how this deliverance included satisfaction for the longing or thirsty soul.  It speaks of how it included the hungry soul being filled with good things.  In the city or town, in the urban dwelling place, God provided everything needed for one’s well-being. 

In the New Testament all of that gets fulfilled in Jesus Christ.  One of the clearest places you can see it is in our reading from Mark 6.  There’s this crowd of over 5000 of God’s covenant people.  They “were like sheep without a shepherd,” says Jesus.  In other words, they were lost, directionless, disoriented.  And in verse 35, Jesus says, “This is a desolate place.”  Then he miraculously feeds the crowds.  Jesus shows himself to be the bread of life.  He supplies the food that people really need – that was the message this miracle was conveying.  In Christ, God has provided us with spiritual food and drink giving us eternal life.  There you see his chesed, his steadfast love, his covenant loyalty.  God made promises to do that throughout the Old Testament and he came through.  Because he is good in his very nature, God can be counted on to be loyal.  What happened when Jesus came proves it.  Jesus is how God really delivers hungry and thirsty wanderers.

And then he brings them to a city, so to speak.  In the New Testament, the church is called a city.  It's the heavenly Jerusalem.  Paul says in Galatians that this city is like our spiritual mother.  She protects us.  She provides for our well-being.  God’s blessings come to us through the church and its ministry of Word and sacrament.  God has brought us to his church here.  Loved ones, this is a good thing. 

It’s good because the church provides us with protection against external and internal threats through the preaching and teaching of God’s Word.  We have external threats, dangers from outside ourselves.  The world and Satan don’t stop attacking us.  But God gives us the preaching of his Word to show us the truth about things and to help us stand against what’s false.  We have internal threats.  We all have our own sin to deal with.  We have sin remaining in our hearts.  God gives us the preaching of his Word to suss out that sin and kill it.

It’s also good that God has brought us to this spiritual city, to the church, because through it God is providing us with the spiritual food and drink we desperately need.  He does that through the preaching of Christ in the gospel each week.  But he also does that through the sacraments, especially through the Lord’s Supper. In the Lord’s Supper we eat and drink Christ spiritually and so we have our faith strengthened in a powerful way.  See how God takes spiritually hungry and thirsty wanderers and he gives them a home where they can flourish.  The church is that home. 

In this world that home is imperfect and still struggling with sin.  The church isn’t what it should be yet in this age.  Every church is made up of sinners.  That means there can be times when even life in the church can feel confusing and disorienting.  It shouldn’t be that way, but that’s reality.  Nevertheless, God’s Word is always there and we have to keep going back to it to get straightened out and get the food and drink we need.

And as I mentioned a few moments ago, the gospel promises us something even better than what we have right now.  In Christ, the gospel promises us the New Jerusalem, a city unlike any other the world has ever seen.  There we’ll never be confused or disoriented.  There we’ll always be safe.  There we’ll always be satisfied, always content, never hungry, never thirsty, never wishing things were different.  There we’re going to be bringing the right response to God’s steadfast love forever and ever.

But that response ought to be coming from us now already too.  Verse 8 says, “Let them thank the LORD for his steadfast love, for his wondrous works to the children of man.”  There’s a sense in which you might say we shouldn’t have to be told to be grateful for God’s covenant loyalty, his deliverance of hungry and thirsty wanderers.  But here’s the problem:  it’s like I just mentioned a moment ago, we’re still sinful people.  The effects of sin on our minds means that sometimes we forget to bring God’s deliverance to mind and to respond in the right way.  We forget because our sinfulness leads us to distraction.  Instead of thinking about God and spiritual things, we get distracted by earthly things, become obsessed by them.  But it’s also that we’re weak creatures as well.  God is all-powerful, but we’re not.  We don’t have all-powerful minds that remember everything we’re supposed to do all the time.  Sometimes just through human weakness we forget things. 

So it’s good that the Holy Spirit reminds us:  thank the LORD for his steadfast love.  Don’t forget to express gratitude to God for his covenant loyalty, particularly in view of how he’s delivered you from wandering in the desert hungry and thirsty.  Don’t forget to be a grateful Christian before God’s face every day. 

But that raises another question:  how do you show your gratitude?  How do you thank the LORD?   Well, verse 2 tells us one obvious way:  “Let the redeemed of the LORD say so…”  Our gratitude to God should be expressed with words.  We can do that with our prayers.  We can do that with our songs.  We can also do that indirectly when we speak with each other.  If you ever find yourself reflecting with someone on how God has delivered you from wandering lost in the wilderness, tell that other person how grateful you are for God’s steadfast love, his covenant loyalty.                         

But don’t stop with your words.  Make gratitude a lifestyle.  In Romans 12 the Holy Spirit teaches us something important about that.  In view of God’s mercies, we should offer up our whole being, our whole life as a thank offering to God.  Because of God’s steadfast love, that beautiful covenant loyalty, we ought to thank God with a consecrated life.  What is a consecrated life?  It’s a life where we acknowledge God in all that we do.  We’re dedicated to living for God according to his will.  Not to earn his steadfast love, but to show how much we appreciate and value it.

Brothers and sisters, if you know life in Christ, you know God’s steadfast love.  If you’ve been delivered from wandering lost in the wilderness of sin, you know God’s steadfast love.  If you know what it’s like to be spiritually hungry and thirsty and then to have that hunger and thirst relieved in the gospel, you’ve experienced God’s steadfast love.  And if you have, then thank him for it.  Thank him for it today and thank him for it every day.  AMEN.


O God in heaven, our Father,

We thank you for your steadfast love, for your covenant loyalty.  We thank you for your wondrous works to the children of man.  We’re grateful that you’ve delivered us from wandering lost in the wilderness of sin.  When we were hungry and thirsty, you satisfied us with what the gospel offers.  You’ve given us life in Christ, a spiritual home today in the church, and the promise of the heavenly Jerusalem in the future.  Our Father God, we’re impressed by you and your love, your loyalty, your faithfulness.  We love you for who you are and what you do.  Please help us to be ever more grateful, both with our words and our lives.  Help us with your Holy Spirit so that we’d never take your deliverance for granted.  We do pray for those among us who may still be lost, wandering in the desert wastes, in grave danger.  We pray for the work of your Holy Spirit in their hearts.  O God, deliver all your people from wandering, and not just your people, but all the lost whom we care about.  We pray that we’d see more people delivered from wilderness wandering, so they too would praise your steadfast love with thanks.                                   

* 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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