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 | Alexandria, Louisiana
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Fight the Good Fight
PERMANENT NOTICE
Posted by: Grace Presbyterian Church | more..
15,250+ views | 100+ clicks
BLOG ON: SERMON Standing on the Promises, 3
Grace Presbyterian Church
Bob Vincent
I have been preaching through the book of Hebrews for several years. That may seem to be a long time, but think about what is in chapter 11 alone: well over a year's worth of preaching from the Old Testament, as character after character responds to God's Word in faith and sees the power of God manifested in life's circumstances. On Sunday morning, February 12, 2006, I came to Hebrews 13:6, 'So that we may boldly say, "The Lord is my helper, and I will not fear what man shall do to me."'

In the weeks that led up to my preaching from this text, I was impressed with the significance of where its quotation came: Psalm 118, the last Psalm in the Great Hallel. Psalms 113-118 are sometimes called the Egyptian Hallel. These Psalms were to be used on the evening of the Passover, so when the gospel writers mention that Jesus and his disciples sang a hymn at the end of the last Passover, (Matthew 26:30; Mark 14:26) they are referring to this collection that ends with Psalm 118. How significant that they would sing these words on the evening before the Lord Jesus was nailed to that Roman cross for our sins:

"The sorrows of death compassed me, and the pains of hell got hold upon me: I found trouble and sorrow. Then called I upon the name of the LORD; O LORD, I beseech thee, deliver my soul." (Psalm 116:3, 4) "I will take the cup of salvation, and call upon the name of the LORD. . . Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of his saints. O LORD, truly I am thy servant; I am thy servant, and the son of thine handmaid: thou hast loosed my bonds" (Psalm 116:13-16).

"The stone which the builders refused is become the head stone of the corner. This is the LORD'S doing; it is marvellous in our eyes. This is the day which the LORD hath made; we will rejoice and be glad in it. Save now, I beseech thee, O LORD: O LORD, I beseech thee, send now prosperity. Blessed be he that cometh in the name of the LORD. . . bind the sacrifice with cords, even unto the horns of the altar" (Psalm 118:22-27).

Clearly Psalm 118 is a Messianic Psalm. The Lord Jesus is the Stone rejected by the builders (Psalm 118:22; Matthew 21:42; Mark 12:10-11; Luke 20:17; Acts 4:11; Ephesians 2:20; 1 Peter 2:7). He is the ultimate and final sacrifice bound to the altar; his blood was shed once for all time, obtaining eternal redemption(Hebrews 9:12-15, 23-28; 10:1-18).

The writer of Hebrews applies this Messianic Psalm to us. Because we are "in Christ," this Psalm is ours, as well. Its promises are our promises, "For all the promises of God in him are yea, and in him Amen, unto the glory of God by us" (2 Corinthians 1:20). And because King David is "in Christ," this Psalm is his Psalm, too, a Psalm that had its origins in terrible conflicts from which our Lord God delivered David.

"In Christ," David is also the stone rejected by the builders, often despised and overlooked, as when the Prophet Samuel came to Bethlehem to anoint King Saul's successor. 'Jesse made seven of his sons to pass before Samuel. And Samuel said unto Jesse, "The LORD hath not chosen these. And Samuel said unto Jesse, "Are here all thy children?" And he said, "There remaineth yet the youngest, and, behold, he keepeth the sheep."' (1 Samuel 16:10, 11)

People were often against him. His own father-in-law repeatedly plotted his death, but God was always with David to deliver him, and David celebrates these wonderful deliverances in Psalm 118. As I analyzed each word in the Hebrew text, I was impressed with the significance of the triplet in verses 10-12:

  • All nations surrounded me, but in Yahweh's name indeed I cut off their foreskins.
  • They surrounded me, surrounded me completely, but in Yahweh's name indeed I cut off their foreskins.
  • They surrounded me like bees, they crackled like a fire of thorns, but in Yahweh's name indeed I cut off their foreskins. (Psalm 118:10-12; in Mitchell Dahood, Psalms III, 101-150, Anchor Bible, Vol 17, [New York, 1970], p. 154. Supporting Dahood's translation is Brown-Driver-Briggs, Hebrew and English Lexicon of the Old Testament [Oxford, 1968], p. 558: "Psalm 118:10; 118:11; 118:12 in the name of y_, yea I will make them to be circumcised {enemies, by force of arms. . .}).

1 Samuel 18 records one example of this kind of violent circumcision of David's enemies: 'And Saul said, "Thus shall ye say to David, 'The king desireth not any dowry, but an hundred foreskins of the Philistines, to be avenged of the king's enemies.'"' (1 Samuel 18:25) King Saul's plan was that David would be killed by these "uncircumcised Philistines," but the Lord was with David and delivered him in battle so that David brought, not one hundred, but two hundred of these Philistine "scalps" (1 Samuel 18:27) and won Michal, King Saul's daughter.

How often must David have been in violent battles, surrounded by deadly enemies: "They surrounded me like bees, they crackled like a fire of thorns . . ." Again and again, the Lord delivered David: "but in Yahweh's name indeed I cut off their foreskins." (Psalm 118:12)

David celebrates the victory of God over his enemies in Psalm 118, and as we sing this ancient hymn of praise, we are reminded that the truth of the Sovereignty of God is not about fatalistic, passive acquiescence to some horrible thing that we fearfully imagine is God's predestined end for us. It is about fighting the good fight of faith, confident that as we go into battle, the Lord is with us -- as Moses teaches us to sing: "The LORD is a man of war: the LORD is his name." (Exodus 15:3)

As believers living under the New Testament, we are called to battle every bit as much as David. But unlike David, our weapons are not sword and bow. "For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war after the flesh: (For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds;) Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ." (2 Corinthians 10:3-5)

The Christian must never look at dark circumstances and assume that God has foreordained some dreadful thing for us and those we love. On the contrary, we are called to pray and fight; we are called to plead the promises of God, trusting in our Sovereign God to deliver us from the malice of Satan as we resist the evil one, firm in our faith. We are just as much in battle as David ever was, with a most deadly foe. "For still our ancient foe doth seek to work us woe. His craft and power are great and armed with cruel hate. On earth is not his equal." (Martin Luther's paraphrastic hymn of Psalm 46, "A Mighty Fortress Is our God.")

Given the secularistic prejudice that has numbed the minds even of many Bible-believing Christians, we must beware that we do not rule out the evil supernatural forces that are pitted against us in the ordinary circumstances of life. God is sovereign over all of life, to be sure, but underneath God's sovereign purpose, a real battle is still raging between Christ and Satan. We face three real and deadly enemies: the world, the flesh and the devil. And as we live our lives in this world, we must take seriously the real power of Satan. This is explored in a sermon that I preached the Sunday after Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans, right after returning from there with my wife, "A Trip to Job's House." But the Bible takes natural circumstances seriously as well as the supernatural battle going on for our planet, even though all things are under God's sovereignty.

When we encounter dreadful things, we must fight them using the Spiritual weapons God has given us. (2 Corinthians 10:3-5) We must pray and take our stand. If we have loved ones who have gone astray, turning their backs on the Lord Jesus, we should never adopt a fatalistic attitude, twisting the teaching about God's sovereignty into some heartless fatalism: "God if it be thy will, save my child." What nonsense! Scripture reveals God's revealed will, and God's revealed will is the salvation of our loved ones. God's sovereignty is never revealed so that we adopt an attitude of stoical resignation; it is so that we will fight, confident that the Lord is beside us: "The LORD is a man of war: the LORD is his name." (Exodus 15:3)

The Bible reveals God's will. We should always take our stand on what the Bible tells us pleases God: God's will is life and health and strength and enough of this world's goods to take care of those for whom we are responsible and have enough left over to give to others in need. God's will is salvation: "Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest." (Matthew 11:28) "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house." (Acts 16:31)

When our Lord Jesus faced the most frightful and painful event in the history of the world, he earnestly prayed against it, and did not rest until he had God's good purpose clearly set before him: "Abba, Father, all things are possible unto thee; take away this cup from me: nevertheless not what I will, but what thou wilt." (Mark 14:36) At least four things stand out in Mark 14:36:

  1. Jesus rests in the love of God. God is his Father and his stance toward his child is one of affection and delight: "Abba, Father."
  2. Jesus rests in the absolute sovereignty of God: "All things are possible unto thee."
  3. Jesus really prays: "Take away this cup from me."
  4. Having prayed, Jesus rests in submission to God's good purpose: "Nevertheless not what I will, but what thou wilt."

Too often Christians fail to pray through a matter until they truly have the mind of the Lord. The Apostle Paul prayed earnestly to be delivered from his painful, demonic thorn in the flesh, and he did not rest until he was assured by the Lord himself that he had something better in mind than merely being delivered from a vexing problem: "For this thing I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me. And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me." (2 Corinthians 12:8, 9)

Living as we do when Christian Theology is no longer the Queen of the Sciences, we are apt to receive bad news as if it is a revelation of the will of God. Physicians, driven by fear of litigation and the rising cost of malpractice insurance, lay out all of the negative possibilities to their patients, and hurting people sometimes hear these words as if they are a divine decree. They hear the doctor say, "Some people who undergo this treatment may die." They think, "Oh, no, I'm going to die!" Without really wrestling in prayer, without following the biblical instruction of James 5:13-16, they simply pray for grace to accept the inevitable. How foolish! How shortsighted! How unbiblical! Such thinking fails to come to grips that the world is governed by more than an observable nexus of natural phenomena. Behind every natural phenomenon is something greater, something beyond the observation of the natural man. God is sovereign: "Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing? and one of them shall not fall on the ground without your Father." (Matthew 10:29)

Beyond natural phenomena is something else, too, the manipulation of Satan. His hateful hand can sometimes be traced in the physical afflictions that we often face. Had we been present at the synagogue that day when Jesus healed the crippled woman (Luke 13:11-17), perhaps we could have offered a purely natural explanation for her malady. But Luke tells us that there was something sinister that lay behind her natural problem: she "had a spirit of infirmity" (Luke 13:11). The Lord Jesus puts it this way: "This woman, being a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan has bound--think about it--these eighteen years" (Luke 13:16).

Until Jesus returns, everybody is going to die (Hebrews 9:27). But we need to consider the fact that not every sickness is "unto death" (John 11:4.) Furthermore, we need to embrace the concept that it is normally God's will that we be in sufficiently good health to go about the business of doing what God has called us to do. And we need to see the real advantage Satan and his demons take through human sickness. These times of pain and affliction become exacerbated by demonic whispers in our souls: "You're going to die, and there's nothing that anybody can do about it. You are a failure. God doesn't love you. His promises are not for you." This is one reason that we should not only pray for the sick, but also visit them and pray with them. They need words of encouragement. We need to go and speak God's Word to them to put life into them, to put the fight back into them.

Yes, of course, it isn't always God's will to heal everybody of every disease. But so often we may miss the blessing of seeing someone wonderfully delivered and the testimony of that deliverance resulting in lost people coming to the Lord Jesus. May we fight the good fight of faith, remembering that Psalm 118 was not written with a passive faith in mind, but a warring faith--a faith that boldly runs into the battle of the ages, joining the ranks of other warriors in the Lord's army. In such an active faith, as we boldly do what we could never do without the promises of God, we may stand secure, bolding shouting the promise: "The Lord is my helper, and I will not fear what man shall do to me."

Bob Vincent

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