Posted by: Bay Presbyterian Church | March 28, 2016

A Primer on Thankfulness from Psalm 118

Prayers, Praise and Passions: Cries of the Heart:


Prayers, Praise and Passions

By John Anderson


Bible Text:                    Psalm 118

Preached on:                 Monday, March 21, 2016


Bay Presbyterian Church
26911 South Bay Drive
Bonita Springs, FL 34134


Online Sermons:              

“This is my Psalm, my chosen Psalm. I love them all. I love all holy Scripture which is my consolation and my life, but this Psalm is nearest my heart. It has saved me from many a pressing danger from which not emperor nor king nor sages nor saints could save me. It is my friend, dear to me than all the honors and powers of the earth. Would to God that all men would claim this Psalm as especially theirs.” Martin Luther, 16th century.

Today we’re continuing in our study, “Prayers, Praise and Passions: Cries of the Heart,” and under consideration today is a Psalm of thanksgiving and the giving of thanks is a discipline of a righteous man as was other disciplines that we studied: happiness, meditation, repentance, worship, and prayer. We’ve considered those in previous weeks. The Psalm I’ve selected for this is Psalm 118. There is no other Psalm that stands as unique as Psalm 118. Did you know that Psalm 118 stands in the exact middle of the Bible? If you were to take your Bible and you were to ignore the table of contents, you would to ignore the introduction written by the translators, you were to ignore the maps at the end, you were to ignore the concordance that’s at the end of your Bible, and that if you ignored the notes at the bottom of the pages, if you just had the Bible and you opened it up halfway, you would come to Psalm 118. Five hundred and ninety-four chapters go before it, 594 chapters come after it. And if you went to Psalm 118:8, that is the exact, by many accountings, the exact middle of the Bible. There are some differences due to the way some Bibles were numbered in the translation but inconsequential. Psalm 118:8, the exact middle of the Bible, it says, “It is better to take refuge in the LORD than to trust in man.” Isn’t that good for an exact middle verse?

This Psalm was commonly sung at Passover and it’s the last of a group of six Psalms that’s called the Hallel or praise Psalms. Hallel is a word that means praise; it’s where we get the word “hallelujah” from. Psalm 118 is the sixth and last of the Hallel Psalms and in this Psalm David acknowledges three causes for his overflowing of thanksgiving to our great God and after he unpacks three causes for thanksgiving, he paints three pictures for which he’s thankful.

The first thing for which David says he is thankful is for the steadfast love of God. David, of all people, knew how important the steadfast love of God was. David was a bit roguish. He wandered from the reservation from time to time, yet God stayed with him. Now, I just point that out to you as an observation. I have no moral advantage on David. I wander off the reservation at times. You have no moral advantage over David. You wander off the reservation from time to time. Yet God pursues us and I think this is exactly what the Apostle John had in mind when he wrote, “in this is love, not that we have loved God but that he has loved us and given his Son as a propitiation, an atoning sacrifice, an appeasement of the wrath of God for our sins.” God’s steadfast love is a pursuing love and David, we by extension need that pursuit because our hearts struggle with fidelity towards the living and true God. The testimony of Scripture is that one of the hardest things that we will ever engage is the pursuit to understand the full extent of God’s love for us. David was passionate about the steadfast love of God and this is what he wrote in the first verse, “Oh give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; his steadfast love was forever!”

There is a second acknowledgment for which David is thankful and that is his freedom from distress. Verse 5 of Psalm 118, “Out of my distress I called on the LORD; the LORD answered and set me free.” This would be what we would call peace. We live in globally turbulent times; wars of aggression wage all around the globe: Kim Jong-un says he has a nuke that can hit New York City; Russia annexes undiplomatically the Crimea; ISIS or its proxies kidnap and kill; and yesterday I read an article that said the border patrol agents are now being equipped with radiation detection devices; China is claiming sovereignty over islands in the South China Sea in violation of generally accepted boundaries. Domestically in the United States, we are a mess. All of the attention on presidential candidates distract us from our awful financial condition; our national debt is 19 trillion dollars and growing. In fact, the national debt will have grown from the time that you set foot into this church today to the time that you leave this church, actually I’m going to go over so it’s going to be more than this, you will have incurred 180 million dollars more debt than when you first came in, and I could live on half of that. Domestic, within the families, tranquility is often elusive and there is a vague sense of chaos or unsettledness that folks often feel. Do you ever feel that? Do you ever go to bed at night and you just have this sense that your life is in chaos? It’s our of control and you wonder, “How am I going to get back control of this?” And you lie in bed at night and stare up at the ceiling and you think, “There’s no way this life is ever going to come back together again.” One of the most attractive elements of the Christian message is the promise that Jesus leaves with his followers as he is preparing to go himself to heaven and he said, “Peace I leave you. Not peace as the word, give I unto you, but my peace I leave to you. Do not fear, neither should you be afraid.” We have a sovereign a God, a God who is in charge who has everything under control and it frees us from distress and in its place it can give us peace. The degree to which we experience that peace is the degree to which we are followers of Jesus Christ. In verse 7 of Psalm 118 he says, “The LORD is on my side as my helper; I shall look in triumph on those who hate me.” God gives us peace in the storm.

The third thing that the Psalmist says as far as what he acknowledges to be sources of his thankfulness is helping with external threats. This final acknowledgment that David gives us has to do with malicious external threats. Psalm 118:10-11, “All nations surrounded me; in the name of the LORD I cut them off! They surrounded me, surrounded me on every side!” Why is it that he is concerned about nations surrounding him, after all, in the United States of America we have nations surrounding us? David had nations surrounding him all the time. It was because they sought to kill him. Death. Death is what he’s speaking of here. “All nations surrounded me; in the name of the LORD I cut them off! They surrounded me, surrounded me on every side!” You see, this means death and God has rescued us, preserved us from death.

Psalm 118:18, “he has not given me over to death.” Last Friday we said a last goodbye to Elaine Collins but one of the assurances that we’re given from Scripture comes in John 11. In John 11, Jesus said to Mary, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.” What a glorious promise this is. I think we shy away from fully embracing this lest we be accused of being pie-in-the-sky about life, but this was the truth that Jesus fully embraced and much of his ministry was centered around helping people understand that he was born that men may no more die. There will be times when you lie in bed at night and wonder what life is about. When I was a child, I used to cry myself to sleep at night thinking what the world would be like without me in it. You laugh, my guess is maybe without the tears that you’ve been there wondering what death is all about. Jesus’ glorious promise is, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live.” And one of the things that I pointed out last Friday at Elaine’s funeral, her memorial service, was that when the apostle talks about death, he won’t even dignify it with that term “death.” Do you know what he says? Sleep. “I do not want you to be unaware, my brethren, that those who have fallen asleep in the Lord.” He is mocking death. He is saying, “You are nothing.” Then later on in the book of 1 Corinthians, he says, “Death where is your sting?” He is mocking the institution of death. He says, “You are nothing.” And so it is.

Then David evokes three images concerning his thankfulness and the first has to do with entering the gates. In verse 19 of Psalm 118, incidentally it’s either up on the screen or it’s in your bulletin, we put it in both places. In Psalm 118:19, “Open to me the gates of righteousness, that I may enter through them and give thanks to the LORD.” Now, time doesn’t permit me to unpack the imagery here but suffice it to say what Jesus said, “I am the gate,” John 10:9-10, “whoever enters through me will be saved and he will come in and go out and find pasture. I have come that they may have life and they might have it to the full.” Fullness of life, Jesus is saying, comes in believing in me, the gate. Then the Psalmist, “Open to me the gates of righteousness, that I may enter through them.” David is thankful for the gate of righteousness that Jesus is.

The second image that Jesus gives, the builder’s cornerstone. Verse 22 of Psalm 118, “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.” Peter picks up on this same image in 1 Peter 2. He relates that cornerstone to Jesus Christ. Jesus was rejected by the religious establishment and crucified and by doing so, by succumbing as he did, Jesus became the key piece of the building, the church, the people of God. You see, it was by his crucifixion where God poured out his wrath and his hatred of sin, he poured out on Jesus, why? Because on the cross God took your sin, he took my sin, he placed it on Jesus and he judged him. Not because Jesus deserved it, he didn’t, he led a perfectly righteous life. He did it because I deserved it and you deserve it and Jesus stood in our place, thanks be to God.

A third image that he points out as being a source of his thankfulness is the picture of a king ascending to his throne and in Psalm 118:25-26 it says, “Save us, we pray, O LORD!” I went and looked it up and there are some things that I learned in seminary, some things I didn’t learn in seminary, some things I’ve forgotten since seminary. This is in the third category, I had to look it up. “Save us,” do you know what word that is? Hosanna. Hosena is the Hebrew technically. Hosanna. We pray, “Save us, O LORD! O LORD, we pray, give us success! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the LORD! We bless you from the house of the LORD.” David was told that his successor, the successor to the throne would come from his line and not only that, in 2 Samuel 7:12, the Bible says, “I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever.” Messiah. The King of kings would come from him.

Now this is prophetic literature. In the Bible when you have prophetic literature, it has two applications: one in the near term and one in the distant future. Here’s what it looked like in the near term for this prophetic statement and I go 1 Kings 1 for this and this has to do with the drama surrounding Solomon’s ascending to the throne following after David. This is what 1 Kings tells us, “So Zadok the priest, Nathan the prophet, and Benaiah the son of Jehoiada, and the Cherethites and the Pelethites went down and had Solomon ride on King David’s mule and brought him to Gihon.” This is 1,000 years before Jesus was born and Solomon got on a mule and he rose to Gihon. Do you know what? Gihon is, if you look at the map, it’s in present day Jerusalem. Solomon rode into Jerusalem on a mule. “There Zadok the priest took the horn of oil from the tent and anointed Solomon.” Do you know what the word “anointed” is in the Hebrew language? This one I remembered: mashiach, anointed one. Mashiach, it’s where we get the word “Messiah.” “Zadok the priest took the horn of oil from the tent and anointed” Mashiach, Messiah, “Solomon. Then they blew the trumpet, and all the people said, ‘Long live King Solomon!’ And all the people went up after him, playing on pipes, and rejoicing with great joy, so that the earth was split by their noise.” File that one.

Psalm 118:25-26. You see, we can be fairly certain that the people were probably singing the Hallel as they were rejoicing as Solomon took the throne and that would have included this, Psalm 118:25-26, “Save us,” Hosanna, “we pray, O LORD! O LORD, we pray, give us success! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the LORD!” Well, about 1,000 years later, this drama plays out again. We read it in the Gospel of Mark a little while ago. You see, the people in Jesus’ day as Jesus rode into Jerusalem, rode into Gihon on the donkey, the people understood that Jesus was the promised offspring of David. They saw the prophetic nature of that statement in 1 Kings and in Psalm 118 and that Jesus’ kingdom was eternal, at least at that moment that’s what they were thinking. And so it was that Jesus to the Hosannas of the crowd, even as his ancestor Solomon heard, rode the donkey to Gihon and with palm branches and cloaks, the King was welcomed to his throne in Jerusalem. Now, that’s the story of Psalm 118. It’s also the story of the triumphal entry 1,000 years before it happened.

What’s the takeaway from this? Oh yeah, well, you remember in 1 Kings the sound of the crowd split the rocks? You filed that away for me. It happened again. Matthew tells us about it. Matthew 27:50-51, “And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice and yielded up his spirit. And behold, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. And the earth shook, and the rocks were split,” at the second triumphal entry. Throughout the Bible, God spoke and the ground quaked. Exodus tells us, Exodus 19, “Then Moses brought the people out of the camp to meet God, and they stood at the foot of the mountain. Now Mount Sinai was all in smoke because the LORD had descended on it in fire and its smoke ascended like the smoke of a furnace, and the whole mountain quaked violently.” On Mount Sinai, God was giving the law, God’s moral standard, and it’s the law that points the finger and says, “You are guilty and you must pay.” And some have suggested that the earth quaking in Matthew 27 was Mount Calvary’s answering back to Mount Sinai. When the earth quaked in Matthew 27, the wrath of Sinai was hushed by the mercy of Calvary. Mount Sinai said, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Mount Sinai said, “There is none righteous, no not even one.” But Mount Calvary has said, “But now the righteousness of God has been revealed apart from the law, although the law and the prophets bear witness to it. This righteousness of God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe.” Mount Sinai says, “All have sinned”; Mount Calvary says, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, Jesus, that whosoever should believe in him.” That whosoever should believe in him. That whosoever should believe in him, “should not perish but have everlasting life.” The takeaway is believe in Jesus. He absorbed God’s wrath, his anger at sin, and he was the propitiation, the one who smoothed away.

Do you know what? I don’t know if you knew this or not but I was not the best student growing up and every now and then I would bring back a bad grade from school, mainly D’s, an occasional F. Okay, I’m done here. And when I did, my dad was the law, but I would always go for mercy and I would go to mom and I’d say, “Mom, I need a little help here. Can you help me with the law? I need a little grace.” And mom would pave the way for me; she would appease the wrath of my father. Jesus appeased the wrath of the Father for our sin by his own blood that whosoever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life.

That’s the first takeaway. The second takeaway: be a thankful people. You know, Jesus always placed a high value on thankfulness. He told the parable, well, actually it was not a parable, it was an historical event, the miracle of the healing of ten lepers. He healed ten lepers and as they were going on their way because he said, “Go show yourself to the priests,” which was necessary by the law, and as they were going, ten of them as they were going to see the priest, they realized that they had been healed. Nine of them kept going to the priest, one of them turned back to Jesus and said, “Oh, by the way, thank you for what you’ve done.” Jesus commended the one who returned to give him thanks. That’s what the Bible says. The Bible commends us to be thankful people. 1 Thessalonians 5:18, “In everything give thanks for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” What that means is, we don’t understand everything that goes on in our lives, but God says to be thankful for it. That’s hard to do. I can’t do that. The Bible says I should. That’s a struggle but, you see, my vision of what the future looks like is not what God’s vision of what the future looks like. God has infinite eyes. My eyes are only so good and they can’t see past a certain point and I certainly can’t see into the future. God knows. God knows.

“In everything give thanks for this is God’s will for you.” Review God’s blessings. That’s what the Psalmist does. If you read through that Psalm, he tells you why he’s giving thanks and then he tells you the things for which he gives thanks. Remind yourself, sit down at the dinner table when you’re having dinner next week, look at your spouse and says, “You know, here are the things that God has done. I don’t often talk about these things but here are the things that God has done for me over the years.” Remind yourself of those. It will help you with your TQ, your thankfulness quotient. Review God’s blessings. That’s what the Psalmist does.

Give up your rights and surrender to God. It will help you with your TQ. What does it mean to surrender to God? That means to let God know, “Okay, whatever it is, whatever it is that you want done with me, do it. I surrender to you, God.” If you are fighting God, you will not be a thankful person. Surrender to God. “God, whatever it is that you have for me.” Let me tell you something: he doesn’t need your permission. Surrender to God. It will help your TQ.

Finally, think of all the things for which you have been forgiven. That too will help your TQ, your thankfulness quotient. Jesus told a parable in Matthew 18 and it’s the parable of a king who goes to settle his debts and one of his servants owes him about 15 gazillion dollars which is somewhere north of 19 trillion. As he’s settling accounts, this servant who owes, I have no idea how he ended up that far in debt, but that servant says, “Give me more time and I will pay you back everything.” I don’t know how he expected to do that when every hour he was adding 180 million to his deficit or to his debt, but the point of Jesus’ parable is that we have been forgiven a gazillion sins and we don’t even know all the things for which Christ died for us. We have some idea but there are sins that are so deeply rooted into our soul and our spirit we don’t even recognize that we do it. You do that with your spouse; you do it with your friends. You’re flip or you’re coy with your friends and you say things that you shouldn’t say. I do, I did it this morning. I did it at the early service. I sin with my mouth. Yes, your preacher sinned in church. I said just a stupid thing. Remind yourself of everything for which Christ has died for you’ll find that that too will help your thankfulness quotient, your TQ.

Would you pray with me?

God, we thank you for Jesus. We thank you for the incredibly large debt for which he died for us that we might have eternal life; yes, eternal life for which we are eternally grateful. Help us in our TQ. Help us to be truly thankful and increasing in our capacity for thankfulness. God, we make our prayer in Jesus’ name. Amen.


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