Lent5b (Third in a three part series on Psalm 25: Our Heartfelt Prayer)
Preached: March 25, 2012
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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 stirs our heart to pray is the last portion of Psalm 25
Turn to me and be gracious to me, for I am alone and lowly. Relieve the troubles of my heart, and release me from my stresses. See my lowliness and my labor, and lift away all my sins. See my enemies, for they increase and hate me with cruel hatred. Preserve my soul and rescue me. Do not let me be put to shame, for I take refuge in you. Integrity and uprightness will guard me, for I hope in you. Redeem Israel, O God, from all its troubles. (Psalm 25:16-22).
This is the word of our Lord.
In case of emergency. That’s why we have fire departments, first responders, ambulances, paramedics, police, and various rescue squads. Most days you or I don’t need them at all. But on that day that we do, they can make the difference between life and death. After the emergency life goes on. We may have an opportunity to thank them but we may not see them again. They’ve done their job.
How different our God! We need him to rescue us not just long ago on the cross, not just on the day we were baptized, not just during a bad time, not just on our death bed -- not just in case of emergency. We need his rescue continually, whether we realize it or not. The hymn writer expressed it like this: “I need thy presence ev’ry passing hour. What but thy grace can foil the tempter’s power” (Christian Worship: A Lutheran Hymnal 588:5, “Abide with Me”).
So today once again we join David in praying Psalm 25. “Rescue me, O Redeemer.” That’s our continually prayer, not just in case of emergency. Rescue me, O Redeemer. How I need you every moment! -- part one. Rescue me, O Redeemer. You alone are my eternal refuge -- part two.
Listen as David’s expresses how much he needs the Lord. “Turn to me and be gracious to me, for I am lonely and afflicted. The troubles of my heart have multiplied; free me from my anguish. Look upon my affliction and my distress and take away all my sins. See how my enemies have increased and how fiercely they hate me!” (Psalm 25: 16-19 NIV1984).
Did he write these words during a time of emergency? We don’t know. Some Psalms have headings that tell us the circumstances under which they were written. For example, the heading of Psalm 3 says that David wrote it when he fled for his life from Absalom. But the heading of Psalm 25 only tells us that it’s by David. It could have been written at any time. And when you view the life of a believer through spiritual eyes, these words can be, and should be, prayed at all times, not just in case of emergency.
Which enemy hates you the most, with that cruel, fierce, violent hatred? Satan, of course -- and he and his legions of hell don’t take coffee breaks. Whether it’s during the silent hours of the night or the quiet rest of a day-off, whether during the busyness of family or the stresses of work -- Satan and his evil angels are scheming against you. He doesn’t need an emergency to drive you away from God. He often works best when life goes well for us and we forget how much we need our God.
This brings to mind an incident from David’s later life. After he was well established as king and had defeated the enemy nations around Israel, we’re told in 1 Chronicles 21: “Satan rose up against Israel and incited David to take a census of Israel” (1 Chronicles 21:1 NIV1984). What’s wrong with a census? Nothing in itself, but I think you can guess at the motives in David’s heart. Do you see pride there? “Look at what I’ve accomplished with my armies so that I’ve established peace and prosperity.” Do you see a false trust there, relying on the size of his army for security rather than on the Lord? He forgot how much he needed the Lord. He needed the Lord not only in case of emergency but every moment, especially when life was going well.
So also, dear Christian, pray continually in good times and bad: “Rescue me, O Redeemer. How I need you every moment!” For we not only have that archenemy Satan attacking from without, but what about our own sin on the inside? For it’s my sin that cuts me off from God leaving me isolated and alone. It’s my sin that afflicts my conscience and troubles my heart. It’s my sin that drives me to toil in anguish, pressed down and cornered in. I cannot rise to God. I cannot atone for my sin, no payment is enough. I cannot escape the punishment I’ve earned day after day; no ransom I can pay will free me. I need the Lord’s grace every passing hour. Call out with David, “Turn to me and be gracious to me for I am lonely and afflicted. The troubles of my heart have multiplied; free me from my anguish. Look upon my affliction and my distress and take away all my sins” (Psalm 25:12-18 NIV1984). Rescue me, O Redeemer. How I need you every moment!
How does Jesus answer your cry for rescue? “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls” (Matthew 11:28, 29 NIV1984). As the burden of sin weighs heavy on your soul, Jesus brings you rest. He rescues you, for he has lifted that burden up onto his own back. He has carried it to the cross in your place. He is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. His blood atones for all sins. His blood ransoms you. It’s the only payment that can. For he’s your divine Redeemer and mine. “How I need you, O my Redeemer! How I need you every moment, every passing hour! Rescue me!”
David concludes the Psalm: “Guard my life and rescue me; let me not be put to shame, for I take refuge in you. May integrity and uprightness protect me, because my hope is in you. Redeem Israel, O God, from all their troubles!” (Psalm 25:20-22 NIV1984). You, O Redeemer, are my eternal refuge.
As we call out to the Lord, as David did here -- as we call out depending on him as our refuge, waiting for his rescue, our hope is in him. Yet earthly life shouts at us, “God’s not guarding or rescuing you. He’s no eternal refuge. He’s no safe haven. Look, you Christians suffer just like anyone else. You have to work and toil in life. When droughts, floods, storms, or tornadoes come, they don’t skip over your home, farm, or community. You Christians get sick and injured. You even die just like everyone else. In fact, don’t a lot of those out there who don’t follow God’s ways get a lot more out of life than you do, you foolish Christians?” Yes, that’s what it seems to be on the surface.
In fact, Christians suffer even more because they follow Christ. Did you hear of the American teacher, Joel Shrun, who was killed in Yemen last Sunday because someone thought he was telling Muslims about Jesus? And don’t we miss out on things because we set aside time for hearing God’s Word and because we give a proportion of our income to his work, money we could’ve spent otherwise? Friends can abandon us if we let our faith shine too brightly. Sometimes doing the right thing costs us. It’s tempting to think that if we place all our hope in the Lord we’ll be left feeling disappointed and ashamed. Can we trust him too much? How tempting it can be at times to imagine that. No wonder David prays: “Guard my life and rescue me; let me not be put to shame, for I take refuge in you” (Psalm 25:20 NIV1984).
Now the reason we struggle with such doubts and fears is that we forget how he answers this prayer for rescue. We forget he is our eternal refuge.
Think about the Lord’s Prayer when we pray: But deliver us from evil. How does he deliver us? How does he rescue us? He can keep evil away from us. The very fact that we are alive means that he has kept countless evils away. He has rescued us more than we could ever imagine.
But he doesn’t keep all evils away from us, does he? We’ve already talked about the bad that happens. But he works an even greater deliverance. He rescues us by making the evil work out for good. Remember in the first part we talked about how when things are well we easily forget that we need God every moment? Times of trouble drive us back to him, to take refuge in him. That’s a good thing. Another good he works out of evil is that he strengthens our faith through his word and sacraments to bear up underneath the adversity trusting in his strength, not ours. He alone is our fortress and refuge. Those are ways that he answers our prayer: “Deliver us from evil. Rescue me, O Redeemer.”
But the ultimate way he rescues us is by delivering us safely to heaven. The world sees death as the ultimate defeat. But for you, dear Christian, God has taken that greatest evil, namely death and the hell that follows, and turned it into good for you, for through death he brings you to the eternal refuge of heaven -- paradise instead of perdition, salvation instead of damnation. Until that day when he sends you death, we live for him. We serve him. We glorify him. We cherish his Word. We encourage one another in the faith, building each other up with the Gospel, bond together in Christian love. We live in peace and share Christ’s peace. We never take our death into our own hands as if we were God. “My times are in your hands, O Lord.” But when he does send death, see it as the ultimate answer to your prayer: “But deliver us from evil. Rescue me, O Redeemer.”
For dear friend, he has redeemed you. He has paid the price of his holy, precious blood. He has ransomed you with his own life sacrificed on the cross instead of you. He will not abandon you, whom he has already paid such a great price for.
A few months ago, I bought something online from Walmart. To save shipping costs, I had it sent to the store. So even though it was bought and paid for, I still had to go and pick it up. When Jesus was teaching his disciples about his coming in power and great glory on the Last Day, he says, “When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near” (Luke 21:28 NIV1984). The price has been paid, all that’s left is for Jesus to come and pick you up, whether that’s on the Last Day or the before then on the day of your death.
So lift up your head, dear Christian, you will not be left in shame. Your hope in Christ will not prove false. He has already paid the greatest price of all to redeem you. How we need him every moment! For he alone is our eternal refuge. He is coming to bring you safely there. What a rescue! Amen.
The peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.