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Author:Pastor Keith Davis
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Congregation:Bethel United Reformed Church
 Calgary, Alberta
Title:The Attributes of God:
Text:Psalms 102; Belgic Confession Article 0 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Pastor Keith Davis, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Beloved congregation of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we contemplate the attributes of God – such as God’s Eternity, God’s Incomprehensibility, and God’s Invisibility—we see how each attribute highlights the fact that the Lord our God is altogether unlike us. God is infinitely greater than we are in every way imaginable.


While this is true of every attribute – one could argue that it is especially true of the attribute that is before us today: God’s immutability. One of the best chapters to read on God’s Immutability is from JI Packer’s book Knowing God. He explains, God’s Life does not change – He is eternal. God does not grow old or weak or feeble and frail. He does not lose power, nor does He gain in power. He does not improve or get better with age. If He did, He would not be God.


Likewise, God’s character does not change – God does not grow kinder or softer over the years nor can he become more edgy or bitter over the years. Being immutable also means that God’s truth does not change. The grass withers, the flowers fade but the Word of the Lord endures forever. Likewise, God’s Ways do not change. God’s law, God’s righteousness, God’s justice does not change or alter or become more or less lenient depending on the current generation.   


God’s promises do not change. “God is not a man that he should change his mind.” While Scripture occasionally speak of God relenting or changing his mind, like when God said he was going to destroy Israel, but then Moses intervened, those passages are showing us that in spite of the fact that God’s people deserved to be destroyed, God was gracious and He relented. Not because he changed his mind, but because God was faithful to His promises.


This is Good News for us because we live in a world of constant change. While not every change is necessarily bad, we would also agree with the hymn writer who wrote: “change and decay in all around I see.” Everything and everyone in this world lies beneath the curse of sin. Creation itself is subject to the process of change, death and decay.  So, there’s that.


But there’s also this: living in a world of change brings about instability and insecurity. Metaphorically speaking, the ground is constantly shifting beneath our feet. Nations rise and fall. Generations come and go. In our own lifetime we’ve seen how quickly things can go from stability, peace, and prosperity, to pandemic, lockdowns, wars, and economic hardship.  


And we ourselves are subject to change. We can be wildly unpredictable – even from moment to moment. We can be fickle, moody, erratic, and unreasonable. Sometimes depending on how we feel, we can change our decisions, our affections, our allegiances.


Sometimes we see this tragedy unfold in our family or in our church. A loved one or friend gets older, they begin to lose their Biblical convictions, they fall into temptation, they leave the church, walk out on their spouse and children – and everyone is left to wonder: “What happened? What got into them”? We don’t always have an answer other than: “They changed…for the worse”


So the truth is, by nature, we’re unreliable. We’re not altogether trustworthy. The point I want you to see is this: it’s a good thing that God is not like us. If God was like me, or if God was like you, then what hope, what confidence could we have? All would be lost.


In reflecting on this, I thought of the words from this Hymn: All Glory Be to Thee Most High. The second stanza goes like this: We praise, we worship thee, we trust, and give Thee thanks forever… O Father, for thy rule is just and wise, and changes never; thy hand almighty o’er us reigns, thou doest what thy will ordains; ’tis well for us thou rulest.


Tis well for us that God is God. Otherwise, we would have no hope, no help, no sure reliance in this world of change. That is the clear message conveyed in Psalm 102. Here we believers Confess that our Hope, our Salvation Relies Upon our Immutable/Unchangeable God. 

1. The Psalmist’s Penitential Plea

2. The Psalmist’s Abiding Comfort


1. The Psalmist’s Penitential Plea

Psalm 102 is what is known as a Penitential Psalm or a Psalm of Lament. It is one of 7 Penitential Psalms that are often read during the season of Lent, as God’s people acknowledge and confess their sins and cry out to God for His forgiveness (6, 32, 38, 51, 102, 130, 143).


You may have heard of the Penitential Cry of the Psalmist – that’s what we hear in the opening two verses of this Psalm. “Hear my prayer, O LORD; let my cry for help come to you. Do not hide your face from me when I am in distress. Turn your ear to me; when I call, answer me quickly.”


There is an urgency about these words, isn’t there. We may even detect a hint of desperation – this is not the only time he has cried out to the Lord like this. This is a plea that has been lifted up again and again: “O Lord, my God, please give ear to me. May this be the day you answer me! Please do not turn away from me! Please do not delay in answering me”


Who wrote this Psalm? And, under what circumstances? John Calvin believed that this Psalm was written during the exile, while God’s people languished in Babylonian captivity for 70 years. I think there’s a lot of textual evidence to support that argument.  


However, this Psalm applies to God’s people, to Christ’s church (to Zion) in every age, and in every circumstance. The setting of the Psalm can help us understand it better, but the single most important aspect of any Psalm is the grace, comfort and promise that God conveys to us in His Word.


I said earlier, there is a lot of textual evidence to support the argument that this Psalm was written during the exile. In Babylon, God’s people suffered greatly. They felt like they were wilting and withering beneath the hand of God’s wrath. They had no joy; no appetite; no sleep; no rest. They felt isolated and cut off; they felt as if God Himself had forgotten them and forsaken them.  


Look at vv. 6-8: “I am like a desert owl, like an owl among the ruins. I lie awake; I have become like a bird alone on a roof. All day long my enemies taunt me; those who rail against me use my name as a curse.

That taunting and teasing of the enemy is noted in another Psalm that was written during the Babylonian captivity, Psalm 137. If you turn there a moment, you see that the Psalm describes how God’s people sat by the rivers and wept when they remembered Zion – which was their homeland, home to the temple, to the worship of God, and the gathering of God’s people and the singing of the psalms of Zion!


The Psalmist wrote: here in Babylon we hung our harps on the branches of the poplar tree. For their Babylonian captors would come and mock them and tease them saying: “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!” But how can we sing the songs of the Lord while in a foreign land.”


With aching hearts and downcast souls, they longed for their homeland, they longed for the restoration of Jerusalem, the city of God, which was their highest joy and glory, because Jerusalem is where God was pleased to dwell with His people.


You see, when God’s people turned their hearts away from God, when they worshipped idols and no longer obeyed His commandments, that’s when God removed his presence from His people. That when the glory of the Lord left the temple, and he brought enemy nations against them to chastise them. Instead of God’s glorious presence, they felt God’s wrath against their sins.  


All of that is being echoed here in Psalm 102 as well. The reason for all their suffering and sadness and heartache is revealed in verses 9-10: For I eat ashes as my food and mingle my drink with tears because of your great wrath, for you have taken me up and thrown me aside.”


Although the opening words of this Psalm paint a very dark and bleak picture, and although it appears that they are teetering on the brink of total despair, yet their lament, their plea to the Lord is a sign of hope. It’s the first step on the road to deliverance, to restoration and salvation!  The reference to ashes and tears means there is sorrow and repentance for their sins! 


As we ourselves should know, the only way that anyone can cry out to God for salvation, the only way that we can ask for God’s forgiveness and grace is if we first come face to face with the reality of our own sin and misery – and of God’s judgment and wrath and condemnation upon us for all our sinfulness and unbelief.


In the Heidelberg Catechism, right after we are asked to identify what is our only comfort for body and soul, in life and in death, the catechism asks: How many things must you know to live and die in the joy of this comfort? Do you recall the first thing mentioned in the answer? It says: I must know how great my sin and misery are.


That is the only thing that will brings us to Christ. Before we can ever experience God’s grace, we must first of all see the greatness of our sins, and our need for our great Savior, Jesus Christ. And that is why there is great hope even when we are broken and weeping over our sins and failures.  


It means that God’s Holy Spirit is working within us, pricking our conscience, showing us our sin, breaking down those walls of pride and strips us bare – stripping away the arrogance and conceit of self-righteousness. Simply put, God’s Holy Spirit breaks us.


He breaks our human pride so that we are no longer like the Pharisee who can only see the sins of others. Instead, the Spirit makes us like the Publican, where we can only see our sin and our need for the Savior, Jesus Christ. May God work within each one of us, by His Holy Spirit, to bring us to this point, not once in our life, but every day.


We sin against God every day, so we need to implore God for His grace and mercy every day -- and praying these Psalms, making the Penitential Psalms our own, is a wonderful way to do that.    


2. The Psalmist’s Abiding Comfort

So that is the Psalmist’s Penitential Plea. Next, we consider his Abiding Comfort. Verse 12 serves as a transitional verse in this Psalm. Verse 12-15: “But you, O LORD, sit enthroned forever; your renown endures through all generations. You will arise and have compassion on Zion, for it is time to show favor to her; the appointed time has come. For her stones are dear to your servants; her very dust moves them to pity. The nations will fear the name of the LORD, all the kings of the earth will revere your glory.”

What is the Psalmist getting at? Why would he say such things and express such hope? It’s because he knows, he is calling to mind the promises and the prophesies of God. The Psalmist is trusting that what the Lord has said, that He will do.


He is calling to mind the covenant promises God made to Abraham, to give him seed as numerous as the stars in the sky and the sand on the seashore, to make his name great, to bless all nations through him.


God promised his people that He would dwell within them and be their God! and while God also promised to bring about judgment and curses for disobedience, the Lord also promised (in 2 Chronicles 7:14) if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.   


So here the Psalmist finds his hope, his comfort, his salvation in the knowledge of God’s eternal, unchanging nature and character. God is immutable, His character does not change. His Truth does not change. His promises do not change – they, like God are forever firm and secure.    


John Calvin’s commentary on this Psalm offers some great insight. I’m going to paraphrase him here – but essentially Calvin says: “for his own encouragement, (the Psalmist) sets before himself the eternity of God. It seems, at first sight, to be a far-fetched consolation; for what benefit will accrue to us (what comfort can we derive) from the fact that God sits immutable (unchanging) on his heavenly throne, when, at the same time, we continue to suffer and perish more and more each day? … although there is no stability in the heavens and the earth, yet the Church shall continue steadfast forever, because she is upheld by the eternal truth of God...”


I found that remark by John Calvin to be so practical, so wise. We ask those same kinds of questions, don’t we? “What good does it do for us to know the attributes of God? What possible benefit can there be in my life to know that God is incomprehensible and immutable?” 


It’s of immense, immeasurable comfort and benefit in this life because knowing who our God is, knowing God’s unchanging character, His unchanging love and faithfulness and mercy and kindness toward us, it equips, it empowers us, it strengthens us, it give us unending courage and hope no matter how desperate we are.


We or a loved one may be diagnosed with terminal cancer tomorrow; we may be facing a losing battle with dementia, we may be de dealing with chronic pain and there’s no cure; we may be dealing with the heartache of a broken marriage, children who don’t walk with the Lord, a life of singleness when we want to get married, infertility when we wan children, or countless other hardships and afflictions and disabilities. (some of which only you may know).


But what is your hope? Where is your comfort? In spite of all that we are going through here below, in spite of heartache and danger, and sorrow and sickness and disappointment, my God never stops loving me, my God has never once forsaken me or overlooked my heartache.


My God has written my name in the Lamb’s Book of Life, I know I belong to Him, I am precious in His sight. And even though I might suffer here for a little while, it will only press me and draw me nearer to his side, and my sufferings in this life, will only increase my love for my Savior, and intensify my longing to be with my Lord in glory – where all my sufferings will be over, and where my heartache will be turned to pure joy.  


I believe that; we believe that; because God has promised this to us. And, God has sealed His promises to us in the precious blood of His Son, Jesus Christ. In His suffering, death and resurrection all our sins are forgiven, our offenses are removed, and the promises of God are fulfilled and we are made heirs to the kingdom of heaven.


That is why the gospel calls us to come to Jesus, to have faith in Jesus Christ – because without Christ we have nothing. Without Christ, we can lay claim to nothing. We have no claim on God or on the promises of God. But if we believe God’s Word, and trust in God’s promises, and put our faith in Jesus Christ, then we can know that we are His, and He is ours.

And then, do you know what that makes us? It makes us invincible. It makes us indestructible, unshakable, more than conquerors, as Paul put it in Romans 8! I just read a quote from Puritan preacher Thomas Watson the other day. He said: “Christianity is not the removal of suffering, but it is the addition of grace to endure suffering triumphantly."


That is the great encouragement, power, and promise that comes with the Gospel of grace – and the glorious truth that our God is immutable. And how wonderful, how amazing it is that we find our abiding comfort in our immutable, unchanging God, through God’s Son, who is both unchangeable and changeable.


In his wonderful book entitled God Is, author Mark Jones took note of this. He said, “The unchangeable Son of God took on changeable humanity (mutability) in order that we mutable humans might enter a state of immutability”.


Hebrews 1:10-12 quotes this very Psalm, Psalm 102:25-27 "In the beginning, O Lord, you laid the foundations of the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands. They will perish, but you remain; they will all wear out like a garment. You will roll them up like a robe; like a garment they will be changed. But you remain the same, and your years will never end."


These words were quoted by the author of Hebrews as he was arguing for the superiority of Jesus over the angels, and over the previous Old Covenant administration of Prophets, Priests and Kings and over all the sacrifices which could never take away sins. They all perish, but you remain!


Later it says in Hebrews 13:8 Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever! Every other prophet priest and king has come and gone – but only Jesus remains. He is the only one we need. As the catechism puts it: Jesus is our Chief Prophet, our Only High Priest and our Eternal King.


With the risen and exalted Jesus sitting at God’s right hand, we have complete assurance that God, through Christ, will hear our prayers; he will hear and answer our penitential pleas; he will give to us mercy and grace in our time of need and the courage and confidence to call upon Him.


Because God’s Son is our Savior, because He is our righteousness, we have great hope, we need never despair. For even though our love for God waxes and wanes, and can even grow cold at times, even we though can be faithful one day, yet fall the next, even though we can keep our promises one moment, but break our word the next – God, because of Jesus Christ His Son, does not stop loving us, nor will He cease to be faithful, nor will he ever break His promises which he made to us. We are faithless, yet God will remain faithful.


I close with these words of Psalm 102 vs. 18. It’s a verse written with you and me in mind, and a verse which proves that God did hear the Penitential Plea of the Psalmist. He heard, he delivered, He saved and restored His people that they would once more, and forever more sing his praises: Let this be written for a future generation, that a people not yet created my praise the Lord!  


Let us praise the Name of the Lord for He is immutable. Amen.

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Pastor Keith Davis, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
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