Worship and Suffering Pt 2; Psalm 42 and 43

{Sermon Audio File}
Worship and Suffering-2
Psalm 42 and 43
{Lord Jesus, who suffered deeply on behalf of your people’s sins, and was raised for our justification so that you might bring us to the Father; help us to see that our “Image-of-God-occupation” is to be worshippers – even in the midst of suffering. Amen.}

Several years back I did a conference at a church called “Worship and Suffering”. Strange title, to be sure, but I was tackling the knee-jerk reaction of our hearts that when we’re suffering we want to cut ourselves off from Worship and Church, become the “feel-sorry-woe-is-me” people who think that we are the only ones to ever suffer this or that. / This series actually began with my first sermon on Ruth – Naomi (and so, if you want the full impact, go listen to that one – it’s on sermon audio).

Early on Psalm 42 and 43 appear to have been one Psalm. There are repeated statements and phrases: 42.9 and 43.2; as well as 42.5, 11 and 43.5. Though there is value in the two Psalms having been separated (Psalm 43 is more manageable for memorization) I am going to present them together.

Psalm 42
Longing (1-3): It’s interesting that the pious Psalm-writer is very vocal about desiring God when he is destitute, dry, and dejected (Moses-Ex.33; Psalmists [63]; Jesus on the Cross). And it’s in the weary, withering wasteland, that we are cast onto our own resources and find that all of our haughtiness, high-mindedness, know-how-ness melts into helplessness and we long for resolution->God! But also there, in the howling, scorching winds blowing across our shriveling souls we hear voices – many voices taunting us and laughing at our once resilient faith. In v. 3 the Psalmist’s own tears tauntingly ask: “Where is your God?” That is probably the most painful moment of our predicament. Just as when Christ cried out, Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani!

Missing Worship (4): Here the worshiping believer finds a 2 edged sword. He remembers the days when he once was close to the place of God’s enthronement, the Temple…..But this joyful memory can also launch into self-pity. For the Psalmist the public worship of God was the place to join in the fellowship of God: both with God and God’s fellows. But now he is cut off, cast out, thrust out into exile.

Refrain (5): Suddenly, surprisingly, the Singer stops short and does the unexpected. He grabs himself by the shirt collar, punches his finger into his chest, and talks to himself in the gray cloud of this blue funk. As Martyn Lloyd-Jones once put it: “You have to take yourself in hand, you have to address yourself, preach to yourself, question yourself. You must say to your soul: ‘Why art thou cast down’ - what business have you to be disquieted?” / You must take yourself in hand and say “Hope in God” instead of repeating the mantra of gloom and despair. Remind yourself who God is, what has done and what has pledged Himself to do. And then defy yourself, defy your tears, defy the voices wafting on the winds blowing through your withering self!

Distance and Assurance (6-8): Then the Sacred Singer turns to God, encouraged by this inspired self-talk, and bares his withered soul to God, telling God the depth of his desertion. Sometimes we lie to God trying to paint honey over the putrefying wounds as if we’re sure God has a fragile ego and will be shattered if we’re honest with Him. \\ The Psalmist describes his location; he is up north where the Jordan flows out of the Hermon mountain area. This was probably penned sometime after Israel was split in 2, and the northern Israelites had embraced the half-breed religion of Jeroboam and were sliding into outright paganism. A time and place when those who longed to be loyal to God were quickly becoming the minority. His gloom and sense of forsakenness resounds with verbatim language from Jonah (2.7 etc). Yet while meditating on the creation around him, the sacred-singer is drawn up into God’s assurances-the 24/7/365 God!

Oppression (9-10): The repeated taunt: “Where is your God” comes now from the surrounding enemies. Their nagging voices echo with his tears... Christ and His detractors: “And those who passed by derided him, wagging their heads and saying, "You who would destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, save yourself! If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross." So also the chief priests, with the scribes and elders, mocked him, saying, "He saved others; he cannot save himself. He is the King of Israel; let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him. He trusts in God; let God deliver him now, if he desires him. For he said, 'I am the Son of God.'" And the robbers who were crucified with him also reviled him in the same way” (Matthew 27.39-44).

Refrain (11): So he stops to take a breath and preach the Gospel to himself again!

Psalm 43
Request and Deliberation (1-2): Now the sacred-singer begins to break free and resolution starts to dawn over the edge of his desert.

Ambition in Anguish: Public Worship (3-4): And where does he envision that God’s deliverance will take him? Not further away but visually closer to God, into the public worship of God at his gathering place.

Faithful Refrain (5)! Finally, the twice repeated refrain comes forth with faith and certainty.

1st-You’re not the only one who has gone through the valley of the shadow of death.

2nd-Quit this silly nonsense of trying to save God’s ego. Don’t be irreverent, flippant and stupid; but quit lying. As Derek Kidner in his commentary on the Psalms wrote….””The very presence of such prayers in Scripture is a witness to His understanding. He knows how men speak when they are desperate” (Vol. 1, 157). Therefore, genuine prayer is the ‘disburdening of the heart before God. It is a pouring-out of the soul with its complaints into His bosom’ (Ronald Wallace, Calvin’s Doctrine of the Christian Life, 281).

3rd-Our public worship should be our ambition in the midst of the anguish. Why? It’s because of who this God is (42.8b, 9a, 43.2a, 4).

4th-Along with this, public worship needs to be real-a place and space where grievers and mourners and people at the breaking point know they can come and disburden their souls into God‘s bosom. Not a place of pretending that this is a giddy High School Pep Rally or a Tupperware party with a cross. Our songs, preaching and use of the sacrament must portray the reality that at the cross God has entered once and for all into our grief and agony, and that He has triumphed over death, devil and doom in His resurrection.

5th-This package of Psalms (42 and 43) is all about Christ (grief, death, resurrection, ascension, High Priest)…..and so I close with the words of John Calvin, “We do not die apart, but along with Christ, that we may afterwards have life in common with Him.”


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