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Author:Dr. Wes Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Launceston, Tasmania
 Tasmania, Australia
Preached At:Langley Canadian Reformed Church
 Langley, B.C.
Title:The Anguish of Chastisement
Text:Psalms 39 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Church Discipline

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Psalm 98:1-4
Hymn 47:8 (after the Law)
Psalm 39:1-3
Psalm 39:4-6
Hymn 42:1-8

Reading: Psalm 38
Text: Psalm 39
* 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 the Lord Jesus Christ,

I can’t say I find them helpful, but once in a while I’ll check out these sermon illustration websites. For this sermon, I looked up the topic “chastisement.” I couldn’t find a single site that had anything on this. Even though it’s in the Bible, it seems that modern believers don’t give it any attention. So, I thought I’d go a little further back. I went to this beautiful book called “A Puritan Golden Treasury.” It’s a book of quotes from the Puritans – and sure enough, there is a section of quotes on chastisement. William Gurnall says, “God’s wounds cure, sin’s kisses kill.” John Trapp writes, “Better be pruned to grow than cut up to burn.” And there are many more such vivid and pithy quotes.

Why is it that we have to go to the Puritans to find anything about chastisement in Christian literature? It’s a topic that’s probably foreign to our lives. Many people think that chastisement is something which belonged to the Old Testament. It’s something we don’t see today anymore. However, we find chastisement, the Lord’s discipline, also in the New Testament. Think only of what happened to the church in Corinth when they profaned the Lord’s Supper. Paul said in 1 Corinthians 11 that their profanation of the table was “why many among you are weak and sick and a number of you have fallen asleep.” Why did this happen? He goes on, “When we are judged by the Lord, we are being disciplined so that we will not be condemned with the world.” The Corinthians were chastised by the Lord – is there any reason to believe that this could not also happen today?

So, it could very well happen that God will chastise us at some point in our lives, either individually or even as a congregation. When he does so, it is because he loves us as a father loves his children and so disciplines them. We read it in Revelation 3:19, “Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline.” That was addressed to the church at Laodicea. A New Testament congregation of Christ.

Of course, God also disciplined and rebuked, chastised his people in the Old Testament. That’s what our text this morning is about. David committed some sin – we’re not told what the sin was. It was some sin which had been unconfessed, some sin which caused God to discipline the man after His own heart. God laid His hand upon David in an effort to bring him to his knees in confession and repentance. This Psalm shows that God succeeded.

This was not an easy experience for King David. He speaks in this psalm about pain and anguish. He underwent turmoil and he felt intense emotions. In his anguish, feeling the heavy hand of God’s chastising wrath, he cried out to the only one who could deliver him. In all of this, God shows us the proper response to His chastisement. So, I preach to you God’s Word with this theme:

A sinner cries out in the anguish of God’s chastisement

We will consider:

  1. His initial approach to the problem
  2. His increased understanding of humanity
  3. His prayer for deliverance

1. His initial approach to the problem.

Our Psalm starts in a rather interesting way. David begins by letting us in on a conversation he had with himself. What did he say? He said he was going to be careful about how he spoke as long as wicked men were around him. There is only a hint of a problem here. What would David say if the wicked were not there? What’s on his mind? We only come to understand that by looking further ahead in the psalm. In verses 10 and 11, we read about God’s scourge or plague upon David. We find that David is being rebuked and disciplined by God for some sin in his life.

Why would this cause David to keep his mouth shut in front of the wicked? We have to do some careful thinking here. An illustration may help. When you younger brothers and sisters are disciplined by your parents, do you go around bragging to your friends how loving your parents are because they punished you for what you did wrong? “My Mom and Dad love me so much that they won’t let me out of my room for a week, except to go to church. Aren’t my Mom and Dad great?” No, of course you don’t talk like that. Your reaction at first is to say and think some pretty nasty things about your parents. Maybe you get over it later in life and then realize that Mom and Dad really were showing their love for you. But that’s not the way it is at the moment.

That’s what David is going through. If he wasn’t keeping his mouth shut, he would probably be saying some nasty things about God for what He is doing to him at this moment. Even though David is frustrated, and perhaps even angry with God, he was not going to let his feelings about the situation allow wicked people to dishonour God. You see, even in his chastisement, he still cared about God and His honour. Even though he was in anguish, he didn’t want God to be blasphemed because of him. So, David kept his mouth shut.

David didn’t even say anything good. He could have been witnessing to God’s love and concern for him, but he was consistent in his silence. He said nothing good or bad. The man after God’s own heart was caught in a web of his own making. He didn’t want to blaspheme God, but at the same time he also didn’t want to come right out and say good about Him either. This Psalm shows us human existence as it really is. Our lives are complex and complicated. We get ourselves in these situations where there is no option which appeals to us. The reason is our sinfulness.

The great Son of David, our Lord Jesus Christ presents a way out of this web. For He was silent at the right times and spoke at the right times. He had no sinfulness, no bitterness or frustration, that would keep Him from doing the right thing at the right moment. A life of perfect obedience. This Psalm points to Him as the answer, as the way out of the complex web we get ourselves tangled in because of our sins. We’ll hear more about how that works out as we proceed through this psalm. For now, keep Christ in mind – God wants us to see not only David and ourselves, He wants us to direct our attention to Christ as we read and seek to understand Psalm 39.

What happened to David as he took this initial approach? He says that his anguish increased. He bottled it up inside and it festered and fermented into the devil’s brew. His pain didn’t get any better. Being silent didn’t help. His heart grew hot within him, the fire burned. That’s a poetic way of saying that he was experiencing some intense emotions. The text doesn’t really tell us exactly what he was feeling, whether it was anger with God or himself or whether he was frustrated. The text doesn’t tell us. Nor does it really matter. What does matter is that David didn’t get any comfort, any benefit from keeping quiet about his chastisement. It’s not that he had to speak about this with the wicked. But he definitely had to say something to someone. Who was that someone? In his chastisement, he was neglecting to speak to the one who had brought this on him. It’s like he was giving God the silent treatment. But that’s exactly to whom he had to turn in order to find relief from his anguish. He had to cry out to the one who was chastising him. We don’t know how long it took for David to realize it. But for ourselves, we have the testimony of Psalm 39 imploring us to get on our knees as soon as we can.

When you experience any trouble in your life, and it doesn’t matter if it’s clear that it’s the chastisement of the LORD, when anything goes in a sour direction, then you have to be on your knees. Silence will only make your pain and anguish worse. Think again of the Lord Jesus. Think of how often the Scriptures witness to the fact that He spent much of His time with the Father in prayer. He was never silent as far as communication with His Father went. Even in the deepest pit of His suffering, He was still crying out to the Lord, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” When you suffer a blow in your life, it matters not what the reason might be, you have to be on your knees crying out to Father. That is not the time for Chicken Soup for the whatever. That is the time for prayer. Speak with your tongue – cry out for understanding! You may also experience intense emotions – but you must not keep silent. Why? Because your Saviour was not silent for you. He spoke for you, He claimed you for His own. He spoke for you, now He wants you to speak to Him and His Father. He also wants you to search for understanding of who we are in relation to God. That’s what we’ll see in our second point this morning:

2. David’s increased understanding of humanity.

So, when David spoke, it was in prayer. What was the content of that prayer? He asked Yahweh, the LORD, to teach him. David wanted to learn about how short and brief his life really is. At first glance, this appears to be completely out of place. We would expect David to begin with a confession of his sin. We would like to know exactly what the sin was that led to this. We’re a bit nosy, aren’t we? But that’s not the route David takes. Why not? Part of the reason may be the connection between this Psalm and the one preceding. There are a lot of similarities between these two psalms and it is possible that they were originally intended to be read together. They may describe the same time in David’s life. There is a clear confession of sin in Psalm 38 – that’s also why we read this Psalm.

Another reason why there is no explicit confession of sin is that it just didn’t fit with the intentions of David. He’s writing poetry here and not history. A historical narrative or story might tell us all those kind of details, but poetry is selective. So, this being the case, David takes it for granted that we would know that he had confessed his sin. After all, Scripture tells us elsewhere that he was the man after God’s own heart – wouldn’t you expect such a man to be quick in confession of sin? Part of David’s problem may be that he confessed his sin and repented, and yet the chastisement was ongoing. Perhaps he didn’t understand why God would continue to chastise him after David thought the sin had been addressed.

At any rate, no one can read this psalm and reach the conclusion that confessing your sin to the LORD is not really a necessary part of the Christian life. But now we’re still left with the question of what the vanity and transitoriness of life has to do with David being chastised for his sin. Why doesn’t he ask God to teach him not to fall into the sin which led to this situation? But we should see brothers and sisters that this is exactly what David is asking God – although in an indirect way. Sin is the reason why life is so short and fleeting. Humanity, human existence is vain and empty, it is like vapour or breath, because of sin. We weren’t created to be this way. “Each man’s life is but a breath,” said the Spirit through David. That’s not the way it’s supposed to be! Man’s hustling and bustling about was not meant to be in vain. God created us to be creatures with meaning and purpose. He created us to live with Him forever in perfect blessedness. Life is short and fleeting because our commitment to God is short and fleeting, in fact, without the work of the Spirit, it is as breath. It is really nothing.

When we realize that life is like that, then we are more careful in how we live. The one who understands how transient he is, he’s going to take care to live life here on earth to the fullest. He’s not going to go on living in sin, living unrepentantly, because he knows that there is only one life and though this life is brief, it counts for eternity. Think about that, brothers and sisters! Everything you do, everything you say, everything you think – make it meaningful! David asked to know this. In fact, in this Psalm he showed that he already did know it. God had taught him this point and now he is passing it on to the people of God.

God had also taught him an important distinction. You know, distinctions are one of the most important things in theology. One of the most important distinctions in the theology taught us by Scripture is that between the Creator and His Creatures. The Creator-Creature distinction. David illustrates that distinction in verse 5. He contrasts God with himself. David’s days were the mere width of a hand. God has existed and will exist for eternity. David is a creature, but God is the eternal Creator. Every man falls in the same category as David.

What does this distinction have to do with David’s anguished cry in his chastisement? David knows that he is going to die – perhaps he will even die because of his sin – he simply doesn’t know. That’s why in the last verse he asks God to turn away from him, turn away his wrath, before he dies. David learned that he was a creature destined for the grave. In this manner, he was humbled before God. He came to know what humanity is really like. At the same time, this realization, this understanding, was a cry for the Messiah. Death is a fact of our humanity. But in Jesus Christ, the Son of David, our death is not like the death of unbelievers. Our death is an entrance into eternal life. And what’s more, our lives here are relieved of their vanity and transitoriness. We know that Jesus Christ has redeemed our existence here – He has brought meaning and purpose into our lives. When we suffer, again for whatever reason, it’s to Him that we have to look. We cry out to God in our pain so that He will show us what we’re really like – so that He will show us our need for the Lord Jesus. It’s in Him that we find deliverance. That leads us to our last point…

3. His prayer for deliverance.

Verse 7 is a turning point in this psalm. David goes from reflecting on the character of humanity in general, to the very real problem of his relationship with the Lord. He actually comes to a confession of his faith. Even though he is being chastised for his sins, he can still say that his hope is in God. God is the one to whom he looks, God is the one who he is waiting for. What is he looking and waiting for from God? That becomes clear in verse 8 – it’s salvation from his transgressions.

His transgressions, his sins have created a breach in his relationship with God. He asks God to rescue him from them. Notice that David doesn’t speak about a single transgression, but “all my transgressions.” David knows that all of his sins are offensive to God, not just the one for which he is being chastised. David’s problem is all his sins and the alienation those sins bring about.

David also asks God to keep him from being the scorn or mockery of fools. What leads David to say this? Is there some pride lingering in David’s heart? Is he still in need of more work in the humility department? It’s tempting to look at those words in that way – as if it was David’s own personal reputation that he was concerned about. What we have to remember is that David was the king. He was a special king – in certain instances, he even acted as a prophet and priest. In certain ways, he represented God to the people of Israel and possibly also to others. When people put down the king, they were also putting down God who had given them the king. When fools mocked and scorned the king, they were also mocking and scorning God. So, there is much more at stake here than David’s own honour. David desires deliverance, not for his own sake, but for the honour of God. What about us, brothers and sisters? What is the reason for which we desire salvation? Is it for our own personal benefit (what we can get out of it), or is our ultimate concern the honour and glory of God? Think about that…

The honour of God is also in view in verse 9. David repeats what he said earlier in the Psalm about keeping silent. What is his reason? “For you are the one who has done this.” “This” is the chastisement David is experiencing and which he describes in verses 10 and 11. The chastisement which is like getting a blow from God. Like having everything you value eaten by a giant moth. The chastisement which humbles one into realizing what he is really like – breath. David’s chastisement comes from God. That’s why he was originally silent – he wanted to uphold God’s honour.

Not only that, but he wanted a restored relationship with Yahweh, his God. That’s really what’s at stake in the last verses of this psalm. Because of his sin, David is not living in fellowship and communion with his creator. Sin does that to us. We sin and sin, going on in sin. Maybe we even try to imagine or pretend for a while that we’re not Christians – just for a few minutes (how heinous!). Before we know it, there is no more fellowship with God. What we imagined or pretended has become a reality, a living hell. God still looks upon us, but now in His wrath and anger. That’s what happened to David. He knew that he was still living with God, but now in a different way, just like being an unbeliever. He didn’t have fellowship and close communion with God.

It’s like a nightmare that perhaps some of you have had. If you had a normal family life (I know that perhaps not all of us can relate), then you have or had a relatively good relationship with your father. In this nightmare, you are in a crowded place with all sorts of people you don’t know. In the crowd you see your Dad. You run up to him and he looks at you and says “I have no clue who you are and now please leave me alone.” That’s what was happening with David only worse – his God not only did that, but was also pouring out His wrath on Him. This was worse than a nightmare.

That’s why David cries out in his pain and anguish. He can’t stand this disfellowship and alienation. It hurts him and causes him grief. He is asking God to hear him, to listen to his cry for help, to hear his weeping. Weeping! He is tired of having his sin stand in the way of a good relationship with God.

Again brothers and sisters, David’s cry for help is a cry for his own Son, our Lord Jesus. He is the one who can heal the breach in every broken relationship with God. When we sin, there is a way back to the Father. The way is Jesus Christ. The way is crying for help to Him. Our sins, when we are unrepentant, may bring us chastisement from God. But this chastisement, in whatever form it comes, is meant to lead you to Jesus Christ. Psalm 39 is meant to point you to Him.

When sin breaks your fellowship with God, God’s plan is to have you humbled, to get you on your knees confessing your sin and holding to the Lord Jesus in faith. He wants you to be weeping over your sins (have you ever shed a tear over your sins?). He will use different ways to bring you to that point. But the end result is the same: He wants you to live with Him like a child with His Father in a loving relationship. God will not chastise us because He hates us and has it in for us. He wants us to be close to Him, to have fellowship with Him. The question left for you is: do you want that? Or do you want the vanity and emptiness of a living hell on earth, anticipating an eternal hell hereafter? Brothers and sisters, we are a congregation of Jesus Christ. We know in whom we have our hope and salvation. Jesus Christ, the great Son of David, it is He to whom David pointed. David did so with all his own imperfections and weaknesses. He did that in the midst of his own chastisement for sin. He did that so that we, God’s people, would know true joy through our Lord Jesus in this life and the life to come. AMEN.

* 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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