Psalms 101-118

Psalms 101-115…Christ in the Old Testament.

“What do you think of the Christ?” In guiding the Jerusalem leaders to contemplate this question of eternal weight, Jesus turned to the authority of what is written “in the book of Psalms,” specifically Psalm 110 (Matt 22:41–46; Mark 12:35–37; Luke 20:40– 44), and asked a question childlike in both simplicity and profundity, the answer to which plunges one into the unfathomable wonder of the incarnation of God: How could David refer to his son as Lord? This probing question was but the application of what Jesus would later declare, that He Himself is the object of all the Scriptures of the Old Testament, summarizing their threefold division in Luke 24:44 as “the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms,” with the Psalms standing as the summary representative of the Writings.

That much of the Psalms concerns “the Christ” was (and is) commonly accepted; the New Testament’s glorious proclamation is that Jesus is this Christ, the long-expected “Anointed One” of whom these Scriptures speak. And so we read of Peter, who, after quoting two psalms, declared to the crowds gathered in Jerusalem for Pentecost: “God has made this Jesus whom you crucified both Lord and Christ” (Acts 2:36). We read of Paul, too, who reasoning from the Scriptures (again, the Old Testament), demonstrated that the Christ had to suffer and rise again, saying, “This Jesus, whom I preach to you, is the Christ” (Acts 17:2–3). The apostles, to be sure, drew heavily from the Psalms for their inspired testimony regarding the person and work of Christ. The book of Hebrews, for example, is woven together by psalms, showing us that Jesus is the “son of man” of Psalm 8 who was made “for a little while lower than the angels” through the incarnation but now has been crowned “with glory and honor” through His resurrection and ascension (Heb. 2:5–9). Matthew’s gospel unveils the Psalms as key to Jesus’ own self-understanding, Satan quoting Psalm 91 to Him in the wilderness (Matt. 4:6) and Jesus, upon the cross of agony, sifting His suffering through the sieve of Psalm 22: “My God, my God, why have You forsaken me?” (Matt. 27:46). That He meditated often on the Psalms, and upon what they spoke concerning Himself, is evident in how Jesus summarized His suffering and exaltation with the lines of Psalm 118:22: “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone” (Matt. 21:42; see also Mark 12:10; Luke 20:17; Acts 4:11; 1 Peter 2:7).

Thus, the New Testament continually uses the book of Psalms to fix our gaze upon the excellencies of Christ, upon the majesty, beauty, and glory of the One who through His humiliation and exaltation reigns over the nations, leading them to the heavenly Mount Zion so that, lost in wonder, love, and praise, they may proclaim eternally the glory of the triune God.

Psalms 76-100

Psalms 76-100…When people are big and God is small.

One of great tragedies associated with Christianity in the past 50-60 years is the rise of the prosperity gospel. If one simply thinks critically for a few minutes about how inconsistent this worldview really is with the bible, it is quite amazing how popular it has gotten among Christians (though in some cases it is clearly a barrier to understanding the true gospel). The idea that this life is about us, and that we can get what we want from God if we simply believe that our words will magically produce those results seems silly if you stop and think about it. However, we also know that Satan is constantly at work to deceive, and he uses teaching cloaked in “christian” language to draw people away from God.

When we make people big and God small (Ed Welch – When People Are Big and God is Small: Overcoming Peer Pressure, Codependency, and the Fear of Man ), it shouldn’t surprise us when a popular theology arises which emphasizes health and wealth in this life. There is nothing new under the sun though, and at its core, the prosperity gospel is a repeat of the idolatry seen in the Garden when Adam and Eve elevated their needs and wants above God. So, we need to gain a new appreciation for the greatness of the God we are privileged to love and worship. The writer of Psalm 97 helps to lift our vision to a new level with his description of a God before Whom the whole earth trembles.

The earth trembles because God controls the forces of nature. He can light up the earth with His lightning, and turn the mountains into wax (v. 5). No other god, no idol fashioned by the hand of man, has any claim that can match or surpass the one true God.

Yet the earth is also called to rejoice in the fact that our God reigns. Verse 2 suggests the reason. God is not a cruel despot or a whimsical tyrant who simply does as He pleases without regard for the consequences.

On the contrary, God’s throne is built on righteousness and justice (v. 2). And because He displays these characteristics to an infinitely perfect degree, those who seek to know and worship Him can have absolute confidence in His character. If we can see God as He truly is, it will take our worship and our entire Christian life to a new level. But sometimes there are other things–problems, habits, the needs and concerns of daily life–that block our vision and keep us from experiencing God as He desires. When our worldview is primarily about our needs, then these things will discourage us. But, when we truly believe that God is sovereign, and is using trials to make us more like His Son, we’ll trust Him and thereby glorify Him more.

Psalms 71-75

Psalms 71-75…God alone is perfect.

God alone does marvelous deeds (Psalm 72:18). He is perfect, and His perfect creation which was tainted by the Fall, will one day be restored to perfection. The human race has been dreaming of utopia from the beginning. But an ideal world requires a ruler who is perfect in wisdom, righteousness, justice, and mercy.

Only one person meets these qualifications–God’s sinless Son, Jesus, who has been made “both Lord and Christ” (Acts 2:36). The second half of Psalm 72 continues the exciting description of the justice, mercy, and prosperity that will prevail on earth when Christ takes His seat on David’s throne. It will be a kingdom of universal righteousness and blessing, and it’s in our future!

You probably have noticed by now that the Old Testament writers often focused on, and celebrated, Messiah’s future reign as universal King. But the idea of a suffering and crucified Christ, rejected by Israel and hanging in shame on a Roman cross, was a concept many devout followers of Christ simply could not grasp. Even Jesus’ disciples refused to believe His predictions of His impending death in Jerusalem. And after His resurrection, Jesus had to explain to the two disciples on the road to Emmaus that it was “necessary” for the Christ to suffer (Luke 24:26).

Even though we know there are no perfect people or situations in the world, sometimes we can begin to expect perfection from ourselves and others. Are you holding someone to an impossibly high standard? We often expect the most from the people we love the most. But demanding that other people be perfect can create frustration and strained relationships. Be humble, see your own sin objectively, and be ready to help or forgive others when they do stumble.

Psalms 66-70

Psalms 66-70…God’s holiness.

God’s holiness, and the massive separation from His creation as a result of sin is woven throughout these Psalms. In Psalm 66 we see that the only way we can be united with Him is by responding to His grace and mercy with repentance and faith.

As we consider God in whom there is no darkness, we begin to understand why Isaiah reacted to God’s holiness with an overwhelming sense of his own sinfulness (Isaiah 6:5). God’s moral perfection may make us wonder how He could ever hear our prayers, or even why He would want to.

Understanding God’s holiness should deepen our appreciation of the Holy Spirit whom the Father has sent in the name of His Son Jesus (John 14:26). The Spirit of Truth dwelling within us leads us into God’s truth and helps us to discern error and sin within and around us. The indwelling Spirit enables us to yearn for God’s holiness and to walk in His ways.

It’s not surprising that the Holy Spirit is integrally woven into New Testament passages on prayer. Spend some time today reflecting on the Holy Spirit’s role in prayer as revealed in John 14:15–27, 16:5–16, and Romans 8:1–39. What does Jesus promise the Spirit will do? How does the Spirit help us pray? Then ask the Holy Spirit to open your soul to His leading in holiness and to His prompting in prayer in new and deeper ways.

Psalms 62-65

Psalms 62-65…Unmerited grace.

Studying the book of Romans before his conversion, Martin Luther felt unable to find peace with God: “My situation was that, although an impeccable monk, I stood before God as a sinner troubled in conscience, and I had no confidence that my merit would assuage Him.” At last he found the answer. “I grasped that the justice of God is that righteousness by which through grace and sheer mercy God justifies us through faith. Thereupon I felt myself to be reborn and to have gone through open doors into paradise. The whole of Scripture took on a new meaning, and whereas before the ‘justice of God’ had filled me with hate, now it became to me inexpressibly sweet in greater love.” In short, Luther had finally understood that God forgives! Salvation is not about “merit” but mercy. His feelings–of being reborn or of entering paradise–parallel the psalmist’s in today’s reading.

Psalm 65 frames this psalm of praise, particularly in verses 1-2. Verses 5–8 describe God’s awesome power over nature and nations, and verses 9–13 conclude with images of God’s blessing. These references to fertility and abundance give people more reasons to worship, even as creation itself joins in.

Verses 3–4 speak directly to what Luther described. What’s the human condition? We’re overwhelmed by sin, unable to help ourselves. We’ve been defeated. What’s the solution? “You forgave our transgressions” or “You made atonement for our transgressions.” As we’ve seen throughout the Old Testament, God’s forgiving love comes to the rescue.

Since forgiveness is part of God’s nature, when He forgives, we experience His presence and rejoice in it. The psalmist used a metaphor of living in the Lord’s house (cf. Ps. 23:6; 84:1–4). To be forgiven means to be loved, or in other words chosen. We who have been chosen by God join His family. He’s personally present in our lives, filling them with good things. To be “filled” means to be saturated, that is, fully satisfied.

Psalms 61-81

Psalms 61-81…Church reformation.

The failure of Israel to hear the Word of God was rectified by God’s own Son. Jesus always heard and honored God’s Word. His Father delighted in Him for that reason: “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased” (Matt. 17:5). Jesus perfectly listened and followed so that His people would have a complete and perfect salvation. The Father continues to call His people to listen, now directing them to the words of His Son: “listen to him” (Matt. 17:5). The salvation and health of the church depend on it continuing to listen to God’s Word.

Psalm 81 seems to reflect the time of exile, when God punished Israel with the loss of the temple, its king, and the land of promise. It also reminds us of an earlier time, when Israel doubted God and grumbled about Him. At Meribah, Israel tested the Lord, doubting that He was with His people, so the Lord tested Israel and found her wanting. Similarly, we can look at the history of the church and see many times and ways in which the church failed to listen to the Word of the Lord.

The time of the Reformation, of course, was one of the greatest times in which the church returned to the Word of God. The Reformation of the church occurred because Christians began again to study the Bible carefully. The Reformers studied Greek and Hebrew, provided the church with new translations of the Bible, used the new technology of the printing press to print Bibles, and prepared some of the finest commentaries and theologies in the history of the church.

Again in our time, the church must be called to listen to the Word of God. The churches of America too often seem interested in following other voices than the voice of God. For decades, some churches have taught that the Bible is not fully and truly the Word of God. Other churches formally recognize the Bible, but seem to have lost confidence that preaching and teaching the Bible is what will convert unbelievers and build the church. Many Christians today seem to practically ignore the Bible, and as a result, they are as worldly as their unbelieving neighbors.

God says to us today, as He said to Israel of old and says to every generation of His people: “O Israel, if you would but listen to me!” Let us pray that the Holy Spirit will open ears in our churches and throughout our land. And let us listen carefully and believingly. Such listening is what the church most needs today.

Psalms 56-60

Psalms 56-60…Praying in anguish.

A person who is facing a crisis, not of war, but of intense spiritual turmoil, knows that situations like the ones outlined in Psalms 56-60 do in fact try our souls. And in times like these we learn the difference between being a “sunshine patriot” who shrinks back from trouble, and a soldier who stands strong during the conflict and experiences the joy of winning something of priceless value.

It’s safe to say that most people who have prayed consistently have had times of agonizing prayer. This is another side of prayer we need to explore. It’s much more exciting to talk about answered prayer and prayer that flows out of deep joy. But there is also power in the prayer that comes from an anguished heart, when it seems that God is far away and the problem is pressing us to our limits.

David was no stranger to trouble himself. He had real enemies with real weapons hounding him. Even though most of us haven’t faced that reality, who hasn’t expressed wishes like the ones David does in these Psalms? We believe that honest, trustful, tenacious prayer in times of pain provides us with that refuge. And we believe this because we know that our God is faithful and true.

Psalms 51-55

Psalms 51-55…The deception of sin.

Does the motive of a sin–its rationale, its reasons–make it any less a sin? Isn’t the betrayal of the sovereignty of the Lord in our lives always a sin, regardless of the factors that drove us to betray Him? Yes! Yet we habitually defend ourselves and diminish our fault by referring to reasons why we “had to” do it. We sinners are so backward that we try to justify ourselves by some condition which preceded the sin.

To rationalize sin is to justify oneself, protecting and holding onto sin. But to see sin as God does is to repent in brokenness of heart, allowing His forgiveness to cleanse us.

Psalm 51 is a great example of rightly humbling ourselves before the Lord. Where did David begin in his confession? He began with God. His confession showed great faith in God’s character: “Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions” (v. 1). He trusted in God’s power to forgive sin–to blot it out and wash the sinner clean. Hyssop symbolized ritual cleansing under the Law (v. 7). The king’s confession also demonstrated spiritual brokenness. He understood how much he offended God; in fact, he couldn’t forget it. He grieved deeply over what he’d done–it was as though his bones had been crushed. He acknowledged the justice of God’s punishment, which is no light statement considering that the penalty of his sin was the death of his baby son (v. 4). He also acknowledged his general sinful condition (v. 5).

Which of David’s attitudes did you find most convicting? Why? How can you apply these biblical truths to your life today?

Psalms 46-50

Psalms 46-50…God is our Fortress

These Psalms contain striking references to enemies and their destruction. Many psalmists often faced physical death, so it’s not surprising to find bold prayers for protection in the Psalms. We may not face such harrowing physical experiences, but our lives are filled with nonphysical enemies that plague us, such as depression, anger, lust, fear, and bitterness.

The stark portrayal of enemies and the confidence in the Lord’s deliverance make the Psalms a prayer book for those who seek protection, whether from physical dangers, emotional threats, or spiritual enemies.

The most effective prayers for protection need not be long. Often in the midst of extremely difficult circumstances a few words or phrases is all we can truly pray. In such times, the Lord’s promise “I will be with you always” (Matt. 28:20) is a profound assurance.

Psalms 31-45

Psalms 31-45…Prayers of repentance.

Confessing our sins before God is another type of prayer we should practice often. Psalm 38 is traditionally considered one of the seven “penitential psalms,” with the others being Psalms 6, 32, 51, 102, 130, and 143. The main point is found in verse 18: “I confess my iniquity; I am troubled by my sin.” Thus, when the psalmist asked the Lord to help him, we understand that he was talking primarily about forgiveness.

David’s soul was sick, and he described these feelings in intense bodily terms. He had no health, his bones were unsound, his back ached, his wounds festered, he was mute and deaf, he felt crushed and helpless. All these symptoms afflicted him because he knew he had offended God. God was disciplining His child, exercising holy wrath to bring him to the painful point of repentance. The physical imagery is so vivid here that some commentators actually think the psalmist had a life-threatening illness! Have you ever confessed your sins with this kind of spiritual intensity? In addition, because David was Israel’s king, God had made his sin and its consequences public. As a result, his friends had dropped away and his enemies were waiting to pounce.

As we see in Psalm 38, there’s nothing heavier than the burden of sin, and nothing sweeter than God’s forgiving love. 1 John 1:9 says: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” Ask the Spirit to search your heart and bring you into unhindered fellowship with the Lord. If there is unconfessed sin, as well, repent before the Lord. Renew your commitment to righteousness and enjoy even closer fellowship with Him!