Sermon on November 1, 1998 (p.m.)
in Loveland, Colorado
Rev. Gise VanBaren
Scripture reading: Psalm 48
This psalm is one that has comforted and encouraged saints of God throughout the ages. It speaks of God-God above all else-and of His mighty work in gathering a church and preserving her in the midst of this earth. It differs radically from many of the superficial, wishy-washy hymns of our day that speak too often of man and seldom of God.
This Psalm presents the truth that God is God. "Great is the Lord," says the psalmist. Today man sings of his own greatness, his own willingness, his own cooperation with God. The psalmist, in this word of God, does no such thing. The psalm speaks of God, as does all of Scripture. And it emphasizes the central and glorious fact that He is great.
That has to be our comfort and assurance, too. We have been commemorating, in the past week especially, the forty years of our existence as a congregation. Surely there is one thing that we must say in connection with that: God has been our God; and He has been our guide.
But there is more. Not only do we confess the fact that He has been such in the past-and who of us here would debate or deny that-but we see Him tonight, and we ought to see Him, as our God forever and ever. He will be our Guide even unto death.
How long will it be before our Lord Jesus Christ returns on the clouds of glory? We do not know. But this we can see: the time rapidly approaches. Whatever befalls, whatever trials there may be, whatever the persecution, we as the church of Jesus Christ have this assurance, that in our pathway, in our pilgrimage, we have our God and we have our Guide who will be with us unto death.
That is something we have to remember, too, in our self-examination this week. The Lord willing, next Sunday we sit about the table of our Lord Jesus Christ. We partake of the bread and the wine pointing us to the shed blood and the broken body of our Redeemer. But we come there not as those who are careless or profane. Nor, on the other hand, do we come there (as the Form points out) as those who are sinless and perfect. But we who have rightly examined ourselves come as sinners, saved by grace, sinners delivered from the bondage of death and sin, and adopted as sons of His. Do you believe that?
Then you confess, too, that, for Jesus' sake, God is our God and our guide.
To that, I call your attention tonight:
He Is the Great Jehovah
The psalmist begins, in the very first verse: "Great is the Lord." What more beautiful way could you begin any song that that way: "Great is Jehovah!"
Man scoffs at that today. Many have their idols, gods to whom they pray, who are not this great Jehovah.
Israel of old saw those gods among the heathen. The Philistines had their gods. The Canaanites did. Dagon, Baal, Ashtaroth. These looked appealing to the children of Israel oftentimes. And far too often they willingly submitted themselves to the idol and bowed down before it and prayed for its care and preservation and guidance.
But those idolaters remain still today. There are, of course, the Hindus, and the Muslims. But there are those, too, who make gods of their imaginations, gods fashioned after the thoughts of what man thinks his deity must be. He wants his god to look like a woman. He wants his god not to be triune. He wants his god to be weak and helpless, dependent upon the will of man. It is an idol. And man prides himself in being able to participate with this idol unto his own salvation.
The psalmist, however, speaks a different language. And that must be ours too. I said that the first verse sets the tone of the whole psalm and, in fact, emphasizes what is the thrust of the whole of holy Scripture: Great is Jehovah! As so often in the Word of God, there is emphasis here upon His name Jehovah. LORD refers to His name Jehovah. He is the unchangeable God, the God who gives His promise and establishes His covenant with His people and never retracts.
He is great. Great is the Lord!
We see that greatness of God in many different ways. The psalmist expresses the heart of it when he points to Jerusalem and to the church, and in essence then to Christ. This great Jehovah, infinitely above anything that is called god, is the Creator of the heavens and the earth. He formed and fashioned the myriads of stars, and He directs them in their courses. He sustains and directs all of His creation, including that which we see and can observe here on this earth. He has formed the creature and directs it in its way. He governs, He sustains, He directs, so that always His purpose may be fulfilled. That is part of the confession of the church. It is no wonder the psalmist says: Great is Jehovah! Nothing about man or his power or his wisdom or his cleverness. It is God. Great is Jehovah.
But, I said more particularly, the psalmist emphasizes throughout the psalm the fact that God is the God of His people, of His church. And that, too, you find already in the first verse of the Psalm. "Greatly to be praised." Where? "In the city of our God, in the mountain of his holiness." And the psalmist goes on to describe the beauty of Mount Zion and the glory of Jerusalem. Verse 3: "God is known in her palaces for a refuge." Verse 9: "We have thought of thy lovingkindness, O God, in the midst of thy temple." Verse 10: "According to thy name, O God, so is thy praise unto the ends of the earth: thy right hand is full of righteousness. Let Mount Zion rejoice, let the daughters of Judah be glad."
What a work God has performed in the church. It was He who spoke about the establishment of His name in the city of His choice in the land of Canaan. It was He who gave to David the city Jerusalem. It was He who gave to Israel the temple under Solomon. It was He who prescribed through Moses the sacrifices and offerings and prescribed the tithes that must be given. It was He who gave the feast days in which Israel could commemorate the wonder of God's greatness and glory and anticipate the fulfillment of His Word in the sending of His only begotten Son into our flesh. Of all of these things the psalmist speaks. That is a wonder attributed not to man, but to God.
There are many other passages, of course, that speak to the same truth. Passages that we have often reviewed which remind us of how God works in gathering His church. We have the fact of His eternal election of His people (Eph. 1:4), "According as he hath chosen us in him (Christ) before the foundation of the world, that (in order that) we should be holy and without blame before him." In John 6:37 Jesus said, "All that the Father giveth to me (that is, His church, His Jerusalem, His Mount Zion) shall come to me; and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out." John 6:44 speaks of God drawing His own. Or, again, in Acts 16:14, concerning Lydia, whose "heart the Lord opened." No, it is not man who chooses and elects, but God.
Is it any wonder that the psalmist begins as he does: "Great is the LORD!" Let me say this: if you have any other thought or confession than that, you have no right to come to the table of the Lord. Our confession has to be the greatness of God. And our desire to partake of that table is a desire which shows that we believe He is that great Jehovah who provided salvation through His Son.
But there is another side to that coin. The psalmist alludes to that in the earlier verses. He speaks of an enemy. "The kings were assembled, they passed by together. They saw it (Jerusalem - Mount Zion), and so they marveled; they were troubled, and hasted away. Fear took hold upon them there, and pain, as of a woman in travail. Thou breakest the ships of Tarshish with an east wind." Think of it. That great Jehovah not only preserves and keeps His church, but destroys the enemy, brings to nought all of their evil designs. They may strive to fight against God's church, but they cannot succeed. Jesus said that no man can snatch His people from His hands, or from God's hand - no man. God will destroy the enemy who seeks to swallow up His church. God will prevent its ships from meeting success, from landing its armies, so that Jerusalem might be overwhelmed. God always preserved Jerusalem. He always defended His church of the Old Testament age. Where God dwelt in Jerusalem, His people were secure. And in the way of faithfulness, they enjoyed that security. But the enemy perished.
The psalmist does not use the word "reprobation," but certainly it is implied there. Not only has God preserved His people, but He destroys the enemy who approaches. He causes fear to strike their hearts and He drives them away. Again, many other passages speak specifically of that work of God manifested here in time and finally in eternity in hell. I Peter 2:8 speaks of Christ, the stone of stumbling to the reprobate: " and a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense, even to them which stumble at the word, being disobedient: whereunto also they were appointed." What a God we have! This God is a God who appoints some in His own inscrutable wisdom to destruction. They are fitted to destruction, according to Romans 9:22: "Vessels of wrath fitted to destruction." And in verse 13 of Romans 9: "But Esau have I hated," and in verse 11: "being not yet born, neither having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works, but of him that calleth." The psalmist speaks of that.
We have portrayed for us, then, a picture of God. One cannot make pictures of God, obviously. Yet Scripture, in its description, presents to us the glorious majesty of the Most High. That majesty of the Most High is seen centrally, in the midst of this earth and throughout the ages, in the gathering and preservation of God's church.
God determined that, in the Old Testament, Jerusalem would be the center where His name might be set forth in its beauty and glory. And within Jerusalem there would be the temple, built on Mount Zion, where His name might be set forth in beauty and glory. There were offered the sacrifices so that all who came up to Jerusalem, and up to the temple, might declare, as the psalmist so clearly does, Great is Jehovah!
That same Jehovah continues to preserve His church and people. We celebrate forty years of preservation. But that is really actually only a small portion of time, is it not? Forty years many of us are much older than that. But, throughout the ages, in the Old Testament but also in the New, God has preserved the church. And He has preserved that church in the line of generations. That is why the psalmist also says, "Walk about Zion. Go round about her. Tell the towers thereof. Consider her palaces. Mark ye well her bulwarks." See what God has done in His church! And tell it to the generations following. God's church is comprised of the gathering of His people and their spiritual seed.
That is why the psalmist begins as he does: Great is Jehovah! He does not say that you were such wise parents, who so carefully instructed your children, that you saved the church. Or saved our seed. God used the means of the instruction you and I give. But He saves, and in the line of generations. Look at His work. The God is Jehovah!
He Is Our God
"This God"-that is what our text says. This God of whom we speak, this God of whom the psalmist declares His majesty and glory, this God is our God. And that is the comfort. We are not speaking about theology as such and studying abstract doctrine (though we certainly must study doctrine). But we are speaking of the truths of God's Word as they apply to us. This God of whom we have been talking, "this God is our God."
That is a remarkable confession. Not only is He our God, but forever and ever! Quite a confession. It is certainly true that we oftentimes speak of many things as belonging to us. We can say, "That's my home, that's my car, that's my bank account." But when we speak of those things, we are speaking of things that are transitory. They pass away. Your house in which you might pride yourself can burn down tonight. Or the wind can come, a tornado, and wipe it off the face of the earth. Then where is your house? It is gone. The bank account which is going to take care of you in your old age can suddenly dissolve just like that! Recession, depression, revolution can wipe out everything you have. You can say, "It's mine!" But you cannot, you do not dare to say, "It's mine forever and ever," do you?
You can speak of friends. You have your friends, you have them in church. But how often is it not true that the very friends of whom we say, "They're ours," become enemies? David had that. Christ did. Judas Iscariot, who pretended to be a follower, a disciple of Christ, betrays Him. We can speak of friends, we can speak of our friends. But do we dare to say they are our friends forever and ever? It would be pretty hard to say that and to believe it from the heart.
But of God, that great God of whom the psalmist speaks, Creator of the heavens and the earth, the Gatherer and Preserver of His church whom He has chosen from eternity, that great God, says the psalmist, is our God forever and ever.
That is a bold confession. One would almost say, "How dare the man speak thus? How dare he say that that great God is his God?"
The sovereignty of God, the power of God, the glory of God-you know that, you confess it. You see it in all of His creation not only, you see it in the cross. You see it in His Word. Such a great God!
And what are we? Sinners. We have to examine ourselves this week. Are we going to find in ourselves that we are pretty good, perhaps, that God did well in seeking us? Or do we examine ourselves and see what sinners we are, how we have transgressed in thought and word and deed? Then do you dare to come next week and say, "This God, this great God, is our God"? So great is He that He controls the falling of the sparrow from the sky and the hair from the head. And we dare to say, "He is our God forever and ever"?
But, you see, that is exactly our confession. That is the confession not only of the psalmist, but of the church throughout all of the ages. He is our God. That is a bold confession-almost, I would say, a confession that is impossible to make. But we do it. And we cannot come to the table of our Lord Jesus Christ except we do that. This God, that great God, is our God. Again, we said that for forty years, did we not? Not I personally. I have only been here a short time. But many of you have seen that through all of the forty years. This God was your God. Otherwise you do not belong here. Otherwise you do not belong at the table of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is only because that God is your God that you are still here, that you desire to worship Him and praise Him.
That is our confession. There is no doubt, no question. He is our God!
It is the cross, then, you see. For without it, He is not our God. Without Calvary there would be no hope. Unless He sends His only begotten Son, we cannot be saved. The psalmist, too, expresses it: truly His right hand is full of righteousness. That right hand of God would consume us unless there is that way of deliverance: the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. And every child of God who makes the bold confession that this great God is our God, is the child of God who clings to the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. He sees his sin and he acknowledges the deliverance through the cross. And, by grace, he determines to walk in a new, godly life. God is his God.
It is a comforting confession. Forty years have gone by since we were organized as a congregation. How long yet until Christ returns? What will our pilgrimage be in the days and perhaps years ahead? What kind of persecution might we have to face? The dark clouds are already on the horizon. There are many opportunities already for the world not only to mock, but also to persecute. We must confess that, no matter what the situation might be, our God is there at our side, preserving, keeping us, and through His Word directing us always to His Son, our Savior.
That has to be a very personal confession of the child of God. We do not and may not say, "I am an elect so it really doesn't matter what I do or what I say. I'm an elect so no matter what I do I will be brought to glory." The child of God cannot, does not, say, "I live as does the world, but He is still my God." That is nonsense. The child of God cannot speak that way. There is a personal relationship expressed in the psalm and in our text. "He is our God forever and ever." And when the child of God expresses that, he acknowledges first of all the unity of the body of our Lord Jesus Christ: Our God - not just mine. He is ours. And He is ours because God saves His people as the church and as the body of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Yet he who says that God is our God acknowledges thereby that He is my God. I have to stand before His face day after day. I have to read His Word. If He is my God and He has given His Word, I have to read that day after day. If He is my God, mine, I have to come to Him and pray to Him and ask His blessing and the fulfillment of His promise. If He is my God, I am deeply aware of the fact that He is the God of our seed, our children.
That is the great confession of the child of God. He sees His God as that strong tower into which he can run and always be safe.
He Is Our Guide
That is why the psalmist also concludes, "He is my Guide, our Guide, even unto death."
It is an interesting, comforting thought. Our God? Well, in a sense, I guess, that seems to make Him a bit remote. We are creatures, He is God. We are little, He is infinite. But the psalmist speaks here of His ever-presence with us. Our Guide!
That there is a guide, of course, clearly reminds us of the fact that the way is difficult, humanly speaking impossible. Why do you need a guide? Try to climb a big mountain - Mount Everest - would any of you dare to tackle that on your own? You probably could not do it even with a guide, I suppose. But surely, if you were going to try that, you would have a guide to show you the path and warn you of the dangers. You would need a guide along the treacherous way.
Or, you go through a dark, threatening jungle which you have never seen before. Now you have to traverse it. Alone? You would not dare. You would need a guide when the way is impossible, difficult, hopeless. You have to be led.
That is also true spiritually. You need a guide. We believed, we confessed, that we have had that Guide for forty years here. But we look ahead. There is that narrow way that leads to life. It is treacherous. The dangers along the way are many. There is the world that seems to encompass us along that way, sitting there almost as lions waiting for their prey. There is Satan, whom we cannot see, who nevertheless uses all of his devilish plans and devices to mislead, undermine, and destroy. And along the way we drag this old sinful flesh, that old man.
Do you dare to go that way, do you dare to walk that way when you know that perhaps there may be imprisonment, there may be the destruction of all of your possessions, there may be even the taking of your life? Do you dare to walk that way? Do we dare to go that way as a congregation, when increasingly the opposition to God's Word is seen.
You see, you need a guide. You can say, "We have elders." "We have a preacher." Well, God uses these means of leadership, too. But in the final analysis it is this God who preserved Jerusalem, who kept the temple, who encompassed Jerusalem as the mountains that surrounded that city. He is the One who has to guide, preserve, encourage, strengthen.
You can find no better guide. In fact, anything else would be false. You can find no better guide than He. Is He not the One who created all things? Is He not the God who directs and governs all events? Is He not the God who plans our lives in their minutest detail? Is He not the One who has chosen His people (and we confess, then, chosen us) from before the foundation of the world? Is it not He who has promised that all things work together for good to them that love God, who are the called according to His purpose? Is it not He who has testified in His Word that our light affliction which is but for a moment worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory? There is no accident, no chance (though we sometimes speak that way), that can really befall us in our pilgrimage on this earth. All things take place according to His determinate purpose.
That was seen at the Cross. Wicked hands took our Lord Jesus Christ and crucified Him according to His determinate counsel and foreknowledge.
What a Guide to have. He knows the dangers. He has determined the purpose of these dangers in our way. He knows the difficulty of the path. And He has provided everything that we need to fight the battle of faith, till the victory is ours. He has given us His Word, has He not? That Word is the armor of God: the sword of the Spirit, the helmet of salvation, and all of the rest of the panoply of salvation. He has given us that. And He directs us by His Spirit, through His Word, so that we are never alone.
That is the thought that the psalmist expresses when he says that this God is our Guide, even unto death. The idea is not just that He is our Guide until we have to face that last enemy and then He is gone. He is our Guide over death. The last enemy is the one, perhaps, that frightens us most of all because we have never gone through that yet. But to have a Guide even unto, or over, death is to have everything. The wicked are frightened by death. They can curse God as death approaches. Then can use all of their science and medicine to avoid death as long as possible. But the child of God says, my Guide direct even over death. Whatever befalls, trying circumstances, troubles, persecution, even finally death, He is my Guide to take me by the hand, to direct me in the way, so that nothing can take me from His hand.
We have to be assured of that truth in the days ahead. We must not think that life is going to be easy and the congregation will have no problems, no trouble, no trials in the future. But we must know we have a guide who is the God over all.
And that is how we come to the table of our Lord Jesus Christ. Deny that truth, and do not come here. Hold fast to it, confess it from the heart, and that is where you belong: to partake of the broken bread and the poured out wine, speaking to us of that wonderwork of Calvary, deliverance through the shed blood of the Lamb. Amen.
Lord our God, we thank Thee for Thy Word. We pray that Thou wilt guide us even as we have heard from Scripture that Thou wilt be not just the great God, but our great God, and that Thou wilt provide that we might fellowship with Thee through our Lord Jesus Christ, and that we may come before Thee with our seed to praise Thy name, to acknowledge Thy greatness, to behold Thy work, and to sing Thy praise. Dismiss us now with Thy blessing. Bless us further in this evening as we assemble again to sing songs which speak of Thy greatness and of Thy glory and of the work Thou hast performed. Hear our prayer, for Jesus' sake, Amen.
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