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Author:Rev. Mark Chen
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Congregation:First Evangelical Reformed Church in Singapore
 Singapore
 ferc.org.sg
 
Title:The Despairing Saint Hopes in His Devoted Savior
Text:Psalms 42:1-11 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Lament
 
Preached:2022
Added:2022-10-17
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Trinity Hymnal Revised 1990, The Psalter 1912

Psalter 170 - A Celebration of Divine Grace
TH 662 - As the Hart Longs for Flowing Streams
TH 168 - I Greet Thee, Who My Sure Redeemer Art

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Mark Chen, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Sadness is a universal experience. Everyone gets sad. But sometimes, there’s extreme sadness - even despair. And despair can be so deep you feel helpless. That helplessness is seen in those who harm or kill themselves. This is the human condition. Other times despair causes people to commit atrocity. When the Uruguayan rugby team crash landed on the Andes, they resorted to cannibalism to survive. During World War I, the Anzac troops in Turkey were out of water. Their water bottles were empty, their water supply far from them, and the sun was hot. One soldier wrote – “Our heads ached, our eyes became bloodshot and dim in the blinding glare, our tongues began to swell, and our lips turned black.” They knew that if they didn’t gain ground over the Turks, they’d surely die. After reaching the Turkish regiment, they fought that day as men who fought for their lives, finally butchering their enemy to take their water. This was so that they could live. This is desperation. Christians not only experience sadness, but also desperation. Even our Lord was called a man of sorrows. But how he responded in desperation, and how we ought to respond in desperation is to hope in God. 

We’ve been talking much about praise in the evening service. We’ve seen a number of praise psalms. But we look at a lament Psalm today. We want to talk about how Christians should mourn and lament. And how we can respond to despair by fighting for hope - to fight to overcome and experience the grace of God. There are times for believers when hope seems far away. At those times we must hope in God our savior. The assurance we want to find at the end from this Psalm is that there’s assurance for those struggle -  our God is a good God. He knows our struggles - he allowed them. That’s why we look to him for help. Psalm 42 teaches us what we can do when we do fall into deep sadness or despair. It teaches us how to deal with our own seasons of sadness. Firstly, we want to see the extent of Christian despair. Secondly, the attitude of Christian hope.

So firstly, the extent of Christian despair. It’s clear that the Psalmist was experiencing despair. Verses 5, 6, and 11 say in almost the same words that his soul was cast down. In fact, this same phrase found in the last verse of Psalm 43. If taken chronologically, it means the Psalmist was in despair for some time. So 3 times in this Psalm alone, the Psalmist complained to God and himself that his soul was cast down. The word for cast down literally means “dissolved away.” Other translations have it as discouraged, dejected, despairing. Now, we don’t know the situation. We don’t even know who wrote this Psalm, or what was his specific cause of despair was. But we do know that they were caused by enemies, verse 3. They caused him despair. The Psalmist might be among the Jews led out of Israel to Babylon in exile. Alternatively, it was King David who was fleeing from his rebel son Absalom - running away to avoid capture. We’re not sure. But he was far away from the place of worship. He couldn’t come before God with his sacrifices. And so his soul thirsted after God. This word thirst could also parallel his literal thirsting as he travelled. And verse 6 speaks about his distance from Jerusalem. The Psalmist was in the region beyond the Jordan to the north and east, located around the Mount Hermon range of mountains. It seemed like he was on Mizar - meaning “little hill.” From there, he could see Jerusalem - he could see, but he couldn’t go. Either, as the Jews, he was being forced led away; or like David, running for his life.

So his source of despair was his enemies. And what they said especially affected him. Verse 3 speaks about how he was taunted - his enemies asked him “where is thy God?” These enemies were brutal. When the exiles were led away from Judah, their enemies taunted them and asked them to sing the songs of Zion. But how could they? When David was running away from Jerusalem, his enemy Shimei mocked and taunted him - calling him Belial - kicking rocks at him. Sometimes enemies can be very close. Job was going through great despair and it didn’t help that his wife was a hard woman. She accused him of being stupid. Why do you hold on to your integrity? Just curse God and die. He hasn’t helped you! He has afflicted you! Under such pressure, those who struggle started to believe these words. He was being taunted, far from Jerusalem, experiencing great struggle - and then the words came - where’s your God? Despair is no surprise. 

Verse 1 describes how bad the despair was. He couldn’t find relief in God. He was thirsting after it. And he used the example of a thirsty deer searching for a water source. In times of drought, the animals would die in the Judean wilderness. But when a deer finds an oasis - where there are streams of water - it will cast itself into the stream to drink. But this Psalmist couldn’t find God. He felt distant. He even wondered in verse 2, if he’d ever meet with God again at the temple. In fact, the internal turmoil got so bad that he was tempted to accuse God. He said in verse 9 - “I will say unto God my rock, Why hast thou forgotten me? Why go I mourning because of the oppression of the enemy?” It was so bad, his own heart was telling him what God had forgotten him. And the relief he sought after, he couldn’t find. He wanted water! He wanted God! But all he had were his troubles. In fact, verse 3 - “My tears have been my meat day and night” - meaning, the only water in abundance was his trouble. He was drinking his trouble instead of drinking deliverance. 

And he described further in verse 10 how it felt. What he was going through felt like a deadly wound - like a sword in his bones. This was not just a flesh wound, but it was a deep penetrating one. There are times when your despair is felt deep inside your heart - like a knife twisting in you, but left there in your gut where you can feel the weight and pain. That’s the turmoil the Psalmist felt. Verses 5 and 11 describes him as being disquieted. This is a word that speaks about the stirring of water - where the dirt or mud is stirred up. It can be translated as turmoil or as the NASB has it - restlessness. He couldn’t settle down. His thoughts and emotions were heightened. Verse 3 says he’d been crying day and night. There was constant and unrelieved grief. And it’s no surprise. Verse 7 says that he felt like he was drowning in all his problems - “all thy waves and thy billows are gone over me.” This was the extent of his despair. In summary, he was despairing, feeling far from God, because of his enemies; never finding relief but despair was his constant companion - digging daily into his heart with no break and no rest. This was the experience of this believer. Yes, even Christians can fall into deep sadness, to the point of despair, when our fears and troubles overwhelm us. Dearly beloved, it is neither sinful or unspiritual for a person to fall into such sadness. Even Christ himself - the perfect Son of God - said that his soul was exceedingly sorrowful even unto death. What more the believer?

Secondly, we see that in this state of despair, there ought to be the attitude of Christian hope. When people are in such despair, we can shut off. But the Psalmist fought to hope. Not to butcher others - but fought to hope in God. Verse 5 tells us that despite his despair he hoped continually in God - “Why art thou cast down, O my soul? and why art thou disquieted in me? hope thou in God: for I shall yet praise him for the help of his countenance.” His emotional condition was full of turmoil, but the Psalmist didn’t surrender to his despair. He fought back to praise. This phrase in verse 5 is repeated at the end of the Psalm. This means that the relief he hoped for still hadn’t come; but he was still hoping. Even at the end of Psalm 43, he hadn’t found relief - but he was still fighting for hope. This tells us one difficult thing - despair can be long drawn. But Christian hope must therefore be long drawn. As much as despair hangs over us, Christian hope underpins our perseverance. The New Testament word translated “endurance” or “patience” is the Greek word “hupomoné” which means to remain under trial - to continue hoping under the oppression of long-lasting despair.

Now, how did he fight to hope? He not only showed the attitude of hope, but also the actions that accompanied hope. He did not give into his despair, but he looked to God. We see 6 ways he demonstrated hope in the midst of despair. Firstly, he went to God and poured out his heart. He prayed. Verse 9 says, “I will say unto God my rock, Why hast thou forgotten me? why go I mourning because of the oppression of the enemy?” Yes, it was a complaint - a lament. A lament is not an expression of faithlessness, in fact, it’s an expression of faith - to turn to the God on whom you can rely. It’s like that phrase in the Lord’s Prayer - give us this day our daily bread. But God has already promised to provide us with daily sustenance if only we seek his kingdom and righteousness first. So if we’re doing that, why are we praying what he promised? Isn’t that faithlessness? No. We pray with boldness precisely because he has promised. So here, in his times of difficulty, he lamented because we lament to God. We need not come to God with sanitized words, but with loud cries of anguish. And the Psalmist said he’d ask why God had forgotten him. These seem like faithless words. But he was conflicted. Now, we know that the Psalmist didn’t ultimately believe God had forsaken him - because in verse 8 he said, “Yet the LORD will command his lovingkindness in the daytime, and in the night his song shall be with me.” In other words, he knew God was with him in the daytime and night. But he was lamenting because it seemed that God had forsaken him during this greatest moment of despair. Dearly beloved, there’s a time for lamenting. In times of despair, we come to God with our laments.

Secondly, he acknowledged God’s love for him despite the despair. In verse 7 he acknowledged that his troubles were sovereignly appointed - “Deep calleth unto deep at the noise of thy waterspouts: all thy waves and thy billows are gone over me.” His troubles were God-appointed. Sometimes they are sent as a chastening. The exiled Jews knew the judgment of God on them. David knew his troubles were brought on because God promised the sword would not leave his house. Other times not. Job said - the Lord giveth, the Lord taketh away, blessed be the name of the Lord. While he felt like waves and billows were drowning him, he acknowledged that it was God’s waves and billows. But he never stopped believing that God loved him. We saw this in verse 8 - God will command his love in the daytime, at night, his song is with me. Dearly beloved, some of us may be going through knife twisting in the heart events. It seems God has let us languish in our pain. But never stop believing in the absolutely sovereignty and deep love of God. All our troubles - God’s the one who sends them - he rules the winds and the waves. 

Thirdly, he worshipped God. Verse 8 says that at night, he’d sing. Now, this was not a happy song - it was a sad song, a song of pleading. A song at night when he couldn’t sleep. Perhaps it was Psalm 42 that he was singing. When Job went through all his troubles, he sat down and worshiped. When Jonah was in the belly of the whale, he knelt down and worshiped. That’s the expression of hope. Fourthly, he instructed himself. Verse 5 is where he spoke to himself and reminded himself of who God is - “hope thou in God: for I shall yet praise him for the help of his countenance.” Martin Lloyd-Jones has this to say - “Have you realized that most of your unhappiness in life is due to the fact that you are listening to yourself instead of talking to yourself? Take those thoughts that come to you the moment you wake up in the morning. You have not originated them but they are talking to you, they bring back the problems of yesterday, etc. Somebody is talking. Who is talking to you? Your self is talking to you. Now this man’s treatment [in Psalm 42] was this: instead of allowing this self to talk to him, he starts talking to himself. “Why art thou cast down, O my soul?” he asks. His soul had been depressing him, crushing him. So he stands up and says,: “Self, listen for moment, I will speak to you.”” We often believe the lies of our enemies, of the devil, of Job’s wife.

Fifthly, he remembered better times. Verse 4 speaks of the time when he was at the tabernacle, even if now he couldn’t be there, yet he yearned for those times - “When I remember these things, I pour out my soul in me: for I had gone with the multitude, I went with them to the house of God, with the voice of joy and praise, with a multitude that kept holyday.” Now, he was not being nostalgic - that could lead to greater despair. But he was confirming his faith, remembering that God was real. Sixthly, he yearned for God. Verses 1-2 say, “As the hart panteth after the water brooks, so panteth my soul after thee, O God. My soul thirsteth for God, for the living God: when shall I come and appear before God?” Now, we note that he was not yearning after relief from his enemies - he was thirsting for God. While it is not wrong to want relief and to pray against our enemies, but the chief goal of our lives is Christ - to be satisfied in him - to find comfort in him in life and in death.

Dearly beloved, what are lessons we can draw from this? God’s people have despair. This Psalm was written for the Sons of Korah - the keepers of the gate and also the musicians. Not all Psalms were written to be sung in the temple, but this one was definitely one of them - it was dedicated to temple singers. Why? As worshipers came to the temple - with sin struggles, trials of life, troubled consciences, despair - this Psalm sung during the offerings pointed them to look at God and to hope in him. They’d find assurance of forgiveness and help the Savior God would provide. And that’s the same message for us today who hear these words. All of us believers have struggles. We may even despair deeply at times. It could be the constant temptations and accusations of the devil, a challenging and unending trial, troubles at home, turmoil at work, or even a natural tendency to be morose. But the assurance to us is this - our Lord Jesus experienced such despair. There in the Garden of Gethsemane, he had to deal with the turmoil of his own heart - what he wished and what he knew his Father had willed. He told his disciples - “My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death: stay here, and watch with me.” But they would not. He was alone in his despair. And there at Calvary, his enemies mocked him - “He trusted in God; let him deliver him now, if he will have him: didn’t he say, “I am the Son of God?”” Not only did they mock him, but they pierced him - deep into his sinews and through his wrist and ankle bones. So painful and so excruciating was it - and so seemingly alone was he, that the man Jesus cried out in lament to God - “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” In fact, we’re told in Hebrews 5:7 that when Jesus was on earth, he offered up prayers and supplications with strong crying and tears to God. Why? Why to the God who seemed to have forsaken him? Because in the end, Jesus also knew that this God was able to save him from death. And Jesus was able to hope in God because he knew that his despair would not last forever. Remember, as Hebrews 5 says - it was for the joy that was set before him, that Jesus endured the cross. He knew he was returning back to heaven. He looked forward to better times. And there at the cross, he thirsted. But the moment he drank of that bitterness, he gave up the ghost. Into your hands do I commend my soul, he cried unto God. And there he, together with that forgiven thief, he was in the very presence of God, in paradise, where there was pleasure forevermore. 

Dearly beloved, because our Lord has gone through that despair and cried to God, those of us who despair can come to him. He knows our struggles and prays for us. And he will strengthen us and sustain us as we remain under that despair - “Seeing then that we have a great high priest, that is passed into the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our profession. For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.”

Sermon Outline:

1. The Extent of Christian Despair
2. The Attitude of Christian Hope




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Mark Chen, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2022, Rev. Mark Chen

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