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Author:Rev. Mark Chen
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Congregation:First Evangelical Reformed Church in Singapore
 Singapore
 ferc.org.sg
 
Title:God’s Intimate and Loving Knowledge of His People
Text:Psalms 139:1-24 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:God's Mercy
 
Preached:2022
Added:2022-10-17
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Trinity Hymnal Revised 1990, The Psalter 1912

Psalter 424 - Sing, Sing a New Song to Jehovah
Psalter 382 - A Vision of God
TH 536 - Searcher of Hearts, from Mine Erase

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


Many children and teens say that their parents don’t understand them. It can be true. There’s a disconnect. Parents like to use the phrase - “back in my day.” This can turn children off. Children will say things like - they don’t really know me. They’ve never been in my shoes. But parents often say their children won’t talk to them. It’s true - and not because parents don’t understand, but because children just don’t talk. They say it’s ingratitude and just rude. And it turns parents off. They say things like - I’ve spent so much time and energy to raise my children because I love them and yet they don’t understand my love and care for them.

As you can see, it’s the same for both parents and children. We think others don’t know us like we know ourselves. If they did, they won’t respond this way. But what we don’t realize is this - we don’t know ourselves. We don’t know the depths of our souls. But there’s one who does. God knows us completely. He’s the loving God who knows everything about us. And even when we don’t talk - or tell him things - he knows them already. He knows even better than we do. And the reason he knows us is because he’s the one who created us. Psalm 139 speaks of this intimate knowledge that God has of us. And he cares for us because he knows us. 

There are three lessons we can draw from this Psalm. Firstly, God knows his people intimately. Secondly, God cares for his people lovingly. And thirdly, God judges the wicked perfectly.

Firstly, God knows his people intimately (vv 1-6). Now, to what extent does God know? Verse 1 - “O LORD, thou hast searched me, and known me.” God has searched and known. We don’t exactly know why David says this. As we read this Psalm, we notice David speaking about enemies at the end. It could be that he faced a false accusation and everyone seemed to be against him. It could be that he was misunderstood - no one else trusted him. Jeremiah said the same thing when he was falsely accused. We remember that Jeremiah would be sent out as a prophet to a people who would not listen to him, nor heed his call to repentance. They called him a false prophet. And so he said in Jeremiah 12:3 - “But thou, O LORD, knowest me: thou hast seen me, and tried mine heart toward thee.” The word “search” in the Hebrew means to dig deep. It is usually used to describe digging for precious metals and stones. Like Job 28:1-3 says, “Surely there is a vein for the silver, and a place for gold where they fine it. Iron is taken out of the earth, and brass is molten out of the stone. He setteth an end to darkness, and searcheth out all perfection: the stones of darkness, and the shadow of death.” And the one that knows is God alone. David knows that God has dug into his heart and gone right down. And after having dug, God knows. Now in the Hebrew, there’s is no “me” after known - so in other words, God you have searched me and known! There is an intimate and deep knowledge.

But what are the areas that God knows? Now, he knows all things. But here, David lists 4 areas that were pertinent for him. Verse 2 says, “Thou knowest my downsitting and mine uprising, thou understandest my thought afar off.” God knows our movements. He knows when we sit and he knows when we get up. Now, this does not mean that God is a camera with movement detection capabilities. It has to do with comprehensiveness. When you sit down - it means you are done for the day. When you rise up, it has to do with you getting on with your day. God knows everything about what we do. He knows our activities - during the day and the night. He also understand our thoughts afar off. Meaning, he knows what we think even though we are far away from him. The word for “thoughts” means an association of ideas, aims, and purpose. It’s not just that God knows that we rise up and sit down - but he also knows why we do it. What is our purpose and intentions. He knows the reasons for why we do certain things. We may deceive ourselves and others - like David may have said - I’m only taking a walk on my roof garden. But the intention behind it was a lot more sinister. You know, we can all say we suspect people of doing the things that they do - but God knows the real reason why people do the things they do. Why? Because God has made us. 

And that’s why in verse 3, he knows all our actions. “Thou compassest my path and my lying down, and art acquainted with all my ways.” Or as the NKJV says - “You comprehend my path and my lying down.” The path refers to travel, and lying down refers to rest. One commentator has suggested that this differs from uprising and sitting down because it has to do with public and private actions. God knows all that we do. And verse 4 says that God knows all our words - “For there is not a word in my tongue, but, lo, O LORD, thou knowest it altogether.” God knows what we will say before we say it, and God knows how we are going to say it. This essentially tells us that nothing is concealed before God - the good or the bad. And that’s why Jesus warned even the believers, not only will our works as Christians be judged, but every idle word will also be - because it’s out of the abundance of the heart that the mouth speaks. Article 37 of the Belgic Confession says - “Indeed, all people will give account for every careless word they speak, which the world regards as mere jest and amusement. The secrets and hypocrisy of men will then be publicly uncovered in the sight of all. Thus for good reason the thought of this judgment is horrible and dreadful to the wicked and evildoers but it is a great joy and comfort to the righteous and elect.” God knows and will judge. The evil will react with dread, but the saved with comfort.

And this is seen in David’s reaction to God’s intimate knowledge. Verses 5-6 - “Thou hast beset me behind and before, and laid thine hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high, I cannot attain unto it.” He understand firstly that there is no danger. Thou hast beset me behind and before. David is hemmed in - he’s protected on all sides. The Hebrew word is often used of a military siege or fortification. David is guarded like a valuable object. He knows he’s in the hands of an all-knowing God. Despite what God knows of him, he’s protected. The thought that God knows all can be very intimidating - especially to those who aren’t right with God. But it was comforting to David. “Thou has laid thine hand upon me.” God’s hand of mercy was on him. That hand brings judgment on the wicked, but comfort to God’s people. Jesus promised that God will keep us safe in his hands. This is in spite of God knowing what David was like. That’s why he also reacts with wonder. “Such a knowledge is too wonderful and high!” The millions of thoughts, the motives, the depths of our soul, God knows. David himself can’t attain it - he doesn’t know himself as God knows him. God knows you - that’s a scary thing - but it also isn’t - it’s a comforting thing. To you that don’t trust in Jesus to save you, this should be a scary thing. All your thoughts and motivations, God will not overlook. That merciful hand upon believers is a heavy hand on you. But this is the wonder and the mercy - those who confess their sins are forgiven - they are loved.

That leads us to the second lesson - God cares for his people lovingly. In verses 7-8, he says, “Whither shall I go from thy spirit? or whither shall I flee from thy presence? If I ascend up into heaven, thou art there: if I make my bed in hell, behold, thou art there.” This speaks of God’s constant presence. In Israel, when the people thought of ways to escape, they looked to the mountains and then to the depths. This has always been a pattern in history. Elijah escaped to Mount Hebron. The Essenes escaped to the Dead Sea region. But David knows that neither heaven (the highest heights) and hell (the lowest depths) would not provide an escape from God - he is there. Now, to be sure, David is not talking about wanting to escape God - he’s merely talking about how far God’s tender care extends. So even if he was the greatest depths or despair, God would be there. And even if he was on the mountain top, God is also there. Again, we’re not sure what David’s predicament was. But he knew that God not only knew him, but he knew that God was near. 

And David used the analogy again of movement and action - going up and going down. But God is there. And the reason is simple. God is a spirit. He’s not bound physically. He’s not an idol. The question is what David means by being in in heaven or hell. What does it mean to ascend to heaven? Can David do that? What does it mean to make his bed in hell? We are reminded that the Psalms are poetry. The point here is to show God’s presence - vertically - from the highest to the lowest point. And yes, God is present in hell in all of his righteousness. The unrighteous can’t escape his judgment. So in that sense, God is present vertically. But God is also present horizontally. Verse 9 - “If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there shall thy hand lead me, and thy right hand shall hold me.” The wings here refer to the pinions - the outer part of a bird’s wings that include the flight feathers. So when a bird stretches out its wings, it’s the tip. So the wings of the dawn refers to the sun rays furthest from the sun. The moment the sun peaks out of the horizon, it’s rays extend even to the uttermost parts of the sea. And God is present even when he doesn’t seem present. Verses 11-12 have an interesting expression. Even when that light is not present, and all is darkness - that darkness itself is light. Night shines like day. Why? Because darkness and light are the same.

God’s presence is always with his people - we can’t escape his tender care. Why? Because we are his creation, and he is responsible for us. Verses 13-14 - “For thou hast possessed my reins: thou hast covered me in my mother's womb. I will praise thee; for I am fearfully and wonderfully made: marvellous are thy works; and that my soul knoweth right well.” God has possessed my reins - in other words, he has formed our inward parts. We are fearfully and wonderfully made. We are reminded here that God has covered us in the womb. The word cover means to construct a fence -- to link all the parts together. So God has constructed us in the our mother’s womb. So while our mothers are the ones that hold us for 9 months, who give birth to us, God is the one that constructs us - from the time of conception and fertilized egg, to a embryo, to fetus, to birth - God is shows his loving care. His oversight. Verse 14 describes the care he took to form us. This either means the way we were made was fearfully wonderful, or the God who made us is fearfully wonderful. Whichever it is, this is something David knows. Yes, the way we are made is fearfully wonderful because the God who made us is fearfully wonderful. Our substance, or bones were known to God even though we were constructed in the depths of the womb, verse 15. God saw us when we were not yet completely formed - he knew how we were to be formed, verse 16. So how we look, our height, our looks, our hair, everything - this is what God intended. And that’s very liberating. Today, we are all molded by the beauty standards of the world. Knowing that God has formed us and loves us should free us from that kind of slavery. The world is trying to mold us into something else - but God has molded us first. And we see in verse 17-18, the awe we should have to his care. We learn that his thoughts toward us are precious. The word precious means rare, therefore exclusive. But it is plenteous - great in number. So how can it be rare? This means that he is always thinking about us and no one else. He thinks about us 24/7 for an eternity. He had us in mind since eternity past. This is why they can’t be counted. But they are directed at us. So while his eyes are on the sparrow, and he sends the rain on the unjust - his care for the Christian is special.

As much as God knows his people intimately, as much as he cares for them lovingly - with an eternal love - there is a contrast here. God loves all his people - the elect - those who would believe. He is patient with all. But there is an eternal displeasure and thorough displeasure with the wicked. That’s the third lesson. God judges the wicked perfectly. He knows who the wicked are, and his response toward them is not one of care, but judgment. 

Now, folks to be clear - God shows patience to those who are wicked, but who will repent. He knows them. He knows all things from the beginning to the end - vertically, horizontally, deeply - from past to future - he knows. He knows all the wicked who will call on him and believe in him. He will care for them. But he also knows those that will not, those that will never. God justly punishes the wicked? Verse 19 says, “Surely thou wilt slay the wicked, O God: depart from me therefore, ye bloody men. For they speak against thee wickedly, and thine enemies take thy name in vain.” They are called the wicked. They are men of blood. They speak against God. They are enemies who think lightly of God among other things. Verse 21 describe them as those who hate God and those who rise up against God - meaning, they rebel against his ways. They will not bow down - or submit, but rise up - or demonstrate insurrection. Folks, God is not a push over. He loves with an everlasting love. He forgives those who sin against him but who seek his forgiveness. God is plenteous in mercy. Even though he knows all about us - all the sins we have committed - the secrets that we have - he will forgive when we repent. But is it such a surprise that God will not hold guiltless those who hang on to their guilt? Why would he forgive those who hate him, think evil of him, speak evil of him, and do evilly against him and have no intention to repent? He will surely slay these wicked. Romans 2:6,8-9 says that God “will render to every man according to his deeds…unto them that are contentious, and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, indignation and wrath, tribulation and anguish, upon every soul of man that doeth evil…”

But notice carefully, that it’s God’s prerogative to slay. What is the response of the believer? At first glance it seems quite incongruent. But the one who knows God loves what God loves, and would also hate what God hates. While they don’t slay, they do not give their love, loyalty, affection to those who are truly enemies of God. Even Lot was greatly distressed by the evil conduct of the wicked around him. But when we talk about those that God hates, we must know that God is not a God of passions. He does not have the human emotions of volatile anger and hatred. His divine hatred is different. It is pure. It is extreme. But it is holy.

While God’s is holy, ours is not. And while the righteous may hate we may not do so perfectly. It is then no surprise that David guards his heart in verses 23-24 - “Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts: and see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” David submitted himself to the God who judges him perfectly. While God judges the wicked to destroy them; he judges the righteous to restore them. There’s comfort in God’s judgment in our lives as believers - because God forgives and leads us.

Dearly beloved who come with all your sins - you can’t hide. Why would you want to? God loves you and knows you thoroughly. He knows that you have sin - and some of you have it grievously, scandalously, and you are hurt by your sin. And when you come with all your brokenness, he forgives. He restores. For friends here who do not know this God, he is loving and forgiving. He knows you and will forgive you, if you call upon him, and believe him and turn to him in repentance. He knows your sins and you can’t escape. But those of you who will not come to him, who will not receive his provision of a Savior, and think lightly of him, continuing in your sins - God will pour out his anger and hatred on you. He hates you and will destroy you for your sins. Turn from your sins and come to him. You can either have him as a conquering king who rescues you, his people, from evil; or you can have him as a conquering king who destroys you because you are evil. May God have mercy on you, as he has mercy on us sinners.

Sermon Outline:

1. God Knows His People Intimately

2. God Cares for His People Lovingly

3. God Judges the Wicked Perfectly




* 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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