“Why Are You Downcast, O My Soul? Hope in God.” Part 3

Preached: August 25, 2013

Hope Praises our God Now and Forever
Psalm 43:1-5

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Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. The word from God through which the Holy Spirit shines into our hearts his Psalm 43

Judge me, O God, and plead my case against an ungodly nation. Deliver me from the deceitful and unjust. For you are God, my Stronghold. Why have you rejected me? Why do I go around mourning, oppressed by the enemy? Send your light and your truth. Let them lead me. Let them bring me to your holy hill, to where you dwell. I will go to your altar of God, to God, my greatest Joy. I will praise you with the harp, O God, my God. Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why do you moan within me? Hope in God, for I will praise him, my Savior and my God. (Psalm 43:1-5).

This is the word of our Lord.

Dear friends in Christ, fellow saints washed clean in the blood of our risen Savior:

“I walk in danger all the way” (Christian Worship: A Lutheran Hymnal 431:1), we sang in the last hymn. How true that is! Although we have moments of happiness, grief always lurks in the shadows. Think of the Israelites as Moses led them through the barren lands between Egypt and Canaan. Yes, they had times of celebration, such as after the Lord parted the Red Sea rescuing them from the Egyptian army. But they continued to have the daily stress of living on the road. They were open to unexpected attacks from marauding forces. They had to find water. And even after the Lord gave them daily manna for food, they couldn't store it up. They had to depend on God to regularly send it. How worrisome that is for us who want to be self-reliant! And what about the spiritual enemies lurking in their souls, tempting them to doubt God's promises, to complain about his care, and to imagine they were better off in the good ol' days back in Egypt as slaves? They walked in danger all the way.

As we come to the close of this three part series on the double Psalm 42 and 43, we hear joy in the Psalmists words, but the struggle is still there. He still feels the heavy hand of his enemies pressing down on him. At times God seems so far away, as if God rejected him. His soul still struggles, feeling downcast and disturbed. There is no heaven on earth, no Utopian paradise. His joy isn't because things are going well for him. They aren't. Rather, dear friends, his joy comes from his hope, and his hope flows from God's light and truth. His hope looks forward to praising God at his altar, on his holy hill, where God dwells. He walks in danger all the way but his walk is heavenward. And so is yours, dear Christian.

That's why hope, our hope, praises God even now, as we walk in danger with things not always going well, and we will praise him forever in his heaven. This hope, real hope, only comes from God's truth and light. Hope praises our God now and forever. That's the theme. Hope praises him because his truth reveals his justice and because his light leads us to his dwelling place.

A. Because his truth reveals his justice

The Psalmist writes, “Vindicate me, O God, and plead my cause against an ungodly nation” (Psalm 43:1). He's asking God to judge him and declare him innocent, vindicate him. What do you think of God's justice?

God's justice is something we can't really figure out. At times his justice seems so far away or even blind to the wrongs around us. An ungodly nation and deceitful, wicked men plagued the Psalmist. Do you feel that at times? Where is God's justice? We see certain forms of wickedness promoted in our country. We feel the temptation to accept it or at least not say anything about it so that others don't think we're unloving. Where is God's justice? Crimes are committed and the guilty go free. Is that justice?

But then we examine our own hearts. How well do you and I measure up under God's law? Do we ever do anything that our conscience finds questionable? Have we ever ignored our conscience when it urged us to do something good? What have we loved more than God? How have we been selfish toward others? Oh, you probably can come up with excuses to explain away your guilt. But do those excuses stand up under the scrutiny from your own conscience? How could you or I ever stand under the scrutiny of the holy God in his courtroom? He reads our inmost motives and knows all our thoughts? Where is God's justice against us? How could the Psalmist pray: Judge me, vindicate me, plead my case?

Notice where his heart is focused. He's focused on the Lord's altar. “Then will I go to the altar of God, to God, my joy and my delight” (Psalm 43:4 NIV). What did the altar mean to the Old Testament believer? It meant bloody sacrifice, but not his own blood, rather the blood of another, the blood of a lamb, goat, dove, pigeon, or bull. Where is God's justice? Come to his altar, and see the truth of his justice pictured.

What's the truth behind this picture? You and I know that truth because God's Word reveals it, and the Holy Spirit has brought us to believe it. Otherwise we'd be lost in the guilt of our conscience or hardened in the self-righteousness of thinking that we're not as bad as others. We would've never accepted the truth of God's justice.

So what is that truth? First, all sin must be paid for by blood — no exceptions. The Old Testament believer brought those animals to the altar to remind him how serious sin was. Sin is deadly. But that Old Testament believer, just like you and me, well knew that animal blood in itself couldn't pay for human sin or satisfy divine justice.

This brings us to the greater truth, the truth that only the Bible reveals, the truth that sounds like foolishness until the Holy Spirit changes our hearts and minds. What is this greatest truth about God's justice pictured by the altar? Here it is, dear friend, here it is: God himself provided the bloody sacrifice that truly pays for all sins. God the Son, Jesus Christ, sacrificed himself on the altar of the cross. As the Lamb of God, he took our place under God's righteous anger. His holy blood satisfied God's justice. His precious blood redeemed you. The Old Testament bloody animal sacrifices for sin foreshadowed his once-and-for-all sacrifice for you and me and all sinners of all time. Where is God's justice. Come to the cross and be amazed at what God's justice has done to rescue you.

No wonder the Psalmist longed for the Lord's altar. It was his joy and delight, just as the cross of Christ is our joy and delight. What hope the altar of the cross brings our downcast soul, even on the darkest day! This hope praises God right here and now for his justice that declares us righteous based on Jesus' bloody sacrifice.

Like the psalmist, we praise him as we pray: “Judge me. Vindicate me. Plead my case, O God -- but not based on my own merit, but rather based on the merits of your Son, Jesus Christ, and his sacrifice. How far your justice transcends my understanding! Let Christ's cross be my joy and delight. When an ungodly nation oppresses me, when the deceitful and wicked leave me walking around in dark mourning, when my soul is downcast because it seems as if you have rejected me, bring me to the foot of the cross. Let me ponder the your justice, the truth that you justify me through Christ's sacrifice. Let me cherish his holy, precious blood, shed for me.”

Hope praises our God now and forever, as we delight in the truth of his justice revealed in the cross and as we rejoice in the light that leads us to his dwelling place.

B. Because his light leads us to his dwelling place

“Send forth your light and your truth, let them guide me; let them bring me to your holy mountain, to the place where you dwell” (Psalm 43:3 NIV84). Now maybe the Psalm writer was first of all hoping to soon visit the temple in Jerusalem and worship with his fellow believers on earth. But don't those words also lead us to think of the heavenly Jerusalem, God's eternal dwelling place? Still today, as we gather together with God's people around his word and sacraments in his house here to worship him, isn't this an anticipation of the day when we with all of God's people from all of time and every place gather before the heavenly throne to worship the Lamb who was slain but now reigns forever and ever?

We pray with the Psalmist, “Send forth your light and your truth, let them guide me” (Psalm 43:3 NIV84). Only God's Word guides us into all truth, for only his word in the Scriptures and the Sacraments shine forth with the light of Jesus. And Jesus alone is the true, genuine Light that shatters our darkness (John 1:5, 9). Jesus alone is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. No one comes to the Father or his heavenly home, except through Jesus (John 14:6). Notice that Jesus doesn't show us the way, as if we could get there by following his example. He IS the Way. Faith believes that Jesus alone has opened heaven for us sinners. He alone has paid for our sin, which barred the heaven's gates and locked us out. That's he came down from heaven and returned back to heaven, risen from the dead. Any other kind of faith, no matter how sincere, devoted, or fervent, is only darkness and damnation. Only the light of Jesus kindles the fire of true faith within us. Only his Word and sacraments shine with his light. “Send forth your light and your truth.”

What hope await us as we walk in his light! Listen to that description of heaven you heard in the Second Lesson, Hebrews 12: “But you have come to Mount Zion, to the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the judge of all men, to the spirits of righteous men made perfect, to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel” (Hebrews 12:22-24 NIV84). That's the inheritance that belongs to you right now through faith in Jesus. And if on this earth you keep walking in his light, you will enjoy that heavenly home, praising God for all eternity. What hope! What hope to enlighten our downcast souls!

As they journeyed to the Promise Land, the Israelites were led by a pillar of fire at night and a pillar of cloud by day. God's word shines with his light and truth as our pillar of fire and pillar of cloud leading us through this barren land. In this life we walk in danger all the way. But don't lose heart, no matter how downcast your soul may feel, or how triumphant the wicked appear. Hope in God. Pray: “Send forth your light and your truth; let them guide me.” Then let God answer that prayer, by you daily turning to his Word for his light and his truth. Then hope overflows in praise because God's truth reveals his justice in the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the altar of cross in our place and because God's light leads us to his dwelling place, our heavenly Promise Land. Hope praises God now and forever.

The peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Pastor Gregg Bitter

St. John's Evangelical Lutheran Church
859 5th Street
Hancock, MN 56244
(320) 392-5313