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A. Next week is the first Sunday of advent. The advent series I have planned for this year is on Isaiah 40, one of the great and most pivotal passages in the OT.
B. But today, I’m going to preach a THANKSGIVING SERMON.
C. Psalm 136 Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever. 2 Give thanks to the God of gods, for his steadfast love endures forever. 3 Give thanks to the Lord of lords, for his steadfast love endures forever; 4 to him who alone does great wonders, for his steadfast love endures forever; 5 to him who by understanding made the heavens, for his steadfast love endures forever; 6 to him who spread out the earth above the waters, for his steadfast love endures forever; 7 to him who made the great lights, for his steadfast love endures forever; 8 the sun to rule over the day, for his steadfast love endures forever; 9 the moon and stars to rule over the night, for his steadfast love endures forever; 10 to him who struck down the firstborn of Egypt, for his steadfast love endures forever; 11 and brought Israel out from among them, for his steadfast love endures forever; 12 with a strong hand and an outstretched arm, for his steadfast love endures forever; 13 to him who divided the Red Sea in two, for his steadfast love endures forever; 14 and made Israel pass through the midst of it, for his steadfast love endures forever; 15 but overthrew Pharaoh and his host in the Red Sea, for his steadfast love endures forever; 16 to him who led his people through the wilderness, for his steadfast love endures forever; 17 to him who struck down great kings, for his steadfast love endures forever; 18 and killed mighty kings, for his steadfast love endures forever; 19 Sihon, king of the Amorites, for his steadfast love endures forever; 20 and Og, king of Bashan, for his steadfast love endures forever; 21 and gave their land as a heritage, for his steadfast love endures forever; 22 a heritage to Israel his servant, for his steadfast love endures forever. 23 It is he who remembered us in our low estate, for his steadfast love endures forever; 24 and rescued us from our foes, for his steadfast love endures forever; 25 he who gives food to all flesh, for his steadfast love endures forever. 26 Give thanks to the God of heaven, for his steadfast love endures forever.
D. The Scriptures are so amazing!! So many unique facets. This psalm is one-of-a-kind.
II. What’s here?
A. INTRO & CREATION Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good. 2 Give thanks to the God of gods. 3 Give thanks to the Lord of lords; 4 to him who alone does great wonders; 5 to him who by understanding made the heavens; 6 to him who spread out the earth above the waters; 7 to him who made the great lights; 8 the sun to rule over the day; 9 the moon and stars to rule over the night;
1. The first four thing mentioned are general:
a. God’s goodness
b. God of gods: gods of the nations (what others esteem as the big things), rulers
c. Lord of lords: authorities, bosses, masters of slaves
d. alone does great wonders
2. The second batch of things have to do with the creation of the heavens and the earth:
a. by understanding made the heavens
b. spread out the earth above the waters
c. made the great lights
(1) the sun to rule over the day
(2) the moon and stars to rule over the night
B. EXODUS & WILDERNESS 10 to him who struck down the firstborn of Egypt; 11 and brought Israel out from among them; 12 with a strong hand and an outstretched arm; 13 to him who divided the Red Sea in two; 14 and made Israel pass through the midst of it; 15 but overthrew Pharaoh and his host in the Red Sea; 16 to him who led his people through the wilderness; 17 to him who struck down great kings; 18 and killed mighty kings; 19 Sihon, king of the Amorites; 20 and Og, king of Bashan; 21 and gave their land as a heritage; 22 a heritage to Israel his servant. 23 It is he who remembered us in our low estate; 24 and rescued us from our foes; 25 he who gives food to all flesh.
1. The Exodus is covered first.
a. struck down the firstborn of Egypt (at the Passover)
b. brought Israel out from among them with a strong hand and an outstretched arm (the 10 plagues)
c. divided the Red Sea in two (parting of the sea)
d. made Israel pass through the midst of it (so Israel could walk through on dry ground)
e. overthrew Pharaoh and his host in the Red Sea (when his soldiers followed them into the sea, and then God released the waters after the Israelites reached shore)
2. Then the wandering in the wilderness.
a. He led his people through the wilderness.
b. He struck down great kings and killed mighty kings.
(1) Sihon, king of the Amorites (Deut.2:30-37)
(2) Og, king of Bashan (Deut.3:1ff.)
c. And He gave their land as a heritage to Israel his servant.
3. Final reflections on the Exodus and wilderness
a. He remembered us in our low estate: slaves in Egypt (Exodus 3:7–8 “I have surely seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt and have heard their cry because of their taskmasters. I know their sufferings, 8 and I have come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land to a land flowing with milk and honey.”)
b. Rescued us from our Egyptian foes
c. Gave food in the wilderness: manna, quail
C. 26 Give thanks to the God of heaven.
III. It seems to me that there are a number of important messages for us in this psalm.
A. As we think through our past, we need to interpret it in light of the steadfast love of the Lord.
1. Some pretty scary things happened to the people of Israel.
a. When Moses showed up to deliver God’s people, things got worse before they got better: straw.
b. Pinned against the sea with Pharaoh’s army on the attack
c. Left in the desert with no water or food
d. Hostile attacks by two great nations
2. There was a lot of trauma, a lot of fear, a lot of anguish, and a lot of pain involved in these experiences. But now as the psalmist looks back at these experiences, he sees not so much the trauma, but the deliverance of God.
a. So past events, instead of being like ghosts which haunt the subconscious mind of the psalmist, form a stone wall of proof of the steadfast love of the Lord.
3. And it’s important, as we relate to our past, that we do the same thing.
a. So many people just try to forget about their past. And there are two problems with this:
(1) It’s a waste of pain.
(2) We miss Jesus. Refusing to face pain often means missing Jesus.
(a) Matt.5:4 “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.”
(b) Refusing to experience the mourning means you fail to experience the comfort.
(c) Jesus only gives rest to those who recognize that they are heavily burdened and come to Him (Matthew 11:28-30)
b. Remember Shasta’s amazing conversation with Aslan in The Horse & His Boy (C.S. Lewis)? Shasta has a whole sack of memories of painful things which had happened to him. And he began to dump them out on Aslan as they walked together. And one by one, Aslan explained them to Shasta, and showed him how each one, far from being a sign that he was helpless and hopeless, was actually a manifestation of God’s loving provision and guidance in his life.
c. Now, one day we will each have a conversation like this with Jesus.
d. But we can start right now. We can take our memories to Jesus and ask Him to help us understand them in light of His steadfast love for us. And He will! I’ve been doing this myself for the last few years, and I can’t express how important and wonderful it has been for me!
e. I found that many times I go through a hard experience, and when it’s over I just move on to the next thing, and so I don’t even notice how God delivered me, or how He helped me.
f. So, instead of a building block of faith, my memories just haunt me, usually in my subconscious.
g. So many times we think we need to protect ourselves from God, that He doesn’t love us enough for us to trust Him, because we’re not taking our painful experiences to Him and asking Him to help us see them in light of His steadfast love.
h. Your past ought to be a time line of God’s faithfulness, filled with demonstrations of God’s help and provision and rescue, filled with demonstrations of His steadfast love in times of need.
i. Then, like the psalmist here, you can periodically walk through this time line and reflect upon God’s faithfulness to you over and over again.
4. Like some of you, we rely on a fireplace to keep our house warm during the coldest parts of winter. But in order for that to work, I’ve got to cut and split enough wood to be ready to burn when the cold hits. It’s wonderful to have the wood there, seasoned by time and ready to make a lot of heat when we need it. But if I don’t do enough work, or I don’t do it early enough, we either are pretty chilled or we pay a lot to heat the house. Or both.
a. And so it is with life. The wise man builds his house upon the rock so that when the storm comes, the house will stand firm. But this is hard work, work which must be done before the storm hits. (Matt.7:24-27)
5. Some people are always mulling over the past. Others never do so; it’s the last thing they want to do. But what this psalm teaches us is not just to review the past, but to visit the past and find God’s steadfast love there.
6. Some of you have some work to do dealing with your past in light of the steadfast love of the Lord. And I’d be happy to help.
B. But now I’d like to hone in on the refrain which is repeated 26 times in this psalm: “His steadfast love endures forever.”
1. Only six syllables in Hebrew: To eternity: His CHESED
2. The woman who first introduced Mary Ann and I just had the word CHESED in Hebrew tattooed onto her arm – her first tattoo. What’s so powerful about this word?
3. Well, as I’ve told you before, CHESED is the great love word of the Hebrew OT. (Agape is the great love word of the Greek NT.)
4. CHESED (translated as ‘steadfast love’) is faithfulness to a covenant, the merging of two concepts in our language: love and commitment.
a. We have a number of couples in our church who are close to celebrating their 50th anniversaries. In order to remain married for 50 years, you have to have love and commitment.
b. Sometimes we drive each other crazy, but our love and commitment are enough to get us through.
c. Likewise, sometimes we grieve God by what we do, sometimes we even commit spiritual adultery. But God is in this for the long haul. He will never forsake His children.
5. Here is the most important truth in your life: His steadfast love endures forever.
a. There are so many things which are good to know, so many things which will really help you in life. But there is nothing more important to know than this: God’s steadfast love endures forever.
6. The prophet Jeremiah had a hard life. He is called the weeping prophet because he suffered so many heartbreaks. The people of God broke his heart. He loved them sacrificially, but in response they treated him brutally. He called them to submit to God and trust Him, but they just grew harder and defied Him more. He reached out to them and pleaded with them; they threw him in a mud pit so he couldn’t get out. What else could go wrong?
a. But something else did go wrong. The Babylonians attacked and not only captured many of the people, they laid Jerusalem to waste. They destroyed God’s temple; they smashed the walls; they demolished the houses and other buildings.
b. Jeremiah was so upset that he wrote many lamentations expressing his grief and the grief of his people. They form the book of Lamentations in the Bible. Let me read you a few lines:
c. 3:1 I am the man who has seen affliction under the rod of his wrath; 2 he has driven and brought me into darkness without any light; 3 surely against me he turns his hand again and again the whole day long. 4 He has made my flesh and my skin waste away; he has broken my bones; 5 he has besieged and enveloped me with bitterness and tribulation; 6 he has made me dwell in darkness like the dead. 7 He has walled me about so that I cannot escape; he has made my chains heavy; 8 though I call and cry for help, he shuts out my prayer; 9 he has blocked my ways with blocks of stones; he has made my paths crooked. 10 He is a bear lying in wait for me, a lion in hiding; 11 he tore me to pieces; 12 he bent his bow and set me as a target for his arrow. 13 He drove the arrows of his quiver into my kidneys; 14 I have become the laughingstock of all peoples, the object of their taunts all day long. 15 He has filled me with bitterness... 17 my soul is bereft of peace; I have forgotten what happiness is; 18 My endurance has perished; so has my hope.
d. That’s pretty intense! And that’s just one little taste of it.
e. So, how was Jeremiah able to endure this kind of pain? He actually tells us in Lam.3:22-23:
(1) But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases. His mercies never come to an end. They are new every morning. Great is Your faithfulness.”
f. (Repeat) If you know that the love of the Lord never ceases, you can withstand anything.
7. The knowledge of God’s steadfast love was enough for the psalmist and for Jeremiah to cling to. But we have one thing the psalmist didn’t have. We have one thing Jeremiah didn’t have.
a. We have the proof of the cross. We have the ultimate demonstration of the love of God in the giving of His Beloved Son to be the spotless sacrifice for our sins.
b. Paul makes the same point in Romans 8:32 “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?”
c. If God was faithful to us in the big things in the past, He can be trusted to be faithful to us in the little things of the present and future.
8. Satan is the accuser of the brethren (Rev.12:10). He tells us that we too dirty to be cleansed. He tells us that we’re too sinful to be forgiven. He tells us that we such failures that we can never succeed. He tells us that we are too unlovable to ever be loved. Those are his lies.
a. And the only way to defend ourselves against these lies is with the belt of God’s truth, the breastplate of Christ’s righteousness, the shield of faith, the helmet of Christ’s salvation, and the sword of the Spirit which is the word of God. (Ephesians 6:14–17)
b. And which truth do we need? There’s no truth we need more than the truth of God’s steadfast love.
9. We need to remember His steadfast love in our past, in our present circumstances, in what He asks us to do, in what He tells us is true.
a. God is good – all the time. All the time – God is good.
10. Maybe you’ve heard the statement, “Take ten looks at Christ for every look at your sin.”
a. Now there are other Scriptures which really hone in on our sin, because we need to see that too! In fact, we can’t really understand Christ’s love until we grasp the depths of our sins.
b. But Psalm 136 glories in how the steadfast love of the Lord endures forever – twenty-six times!
11. Love is not merely to be understood. It is designed to illicit a response. Love starts something. When I first told Mary Ann that I loved her, what if she had said, “I understand”?
a. This psalm is not a mere reflection on God’s love. This psalm is interactional. The psalmist is reacting to God’s love, and calling us to do the same. “Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever...26 Give thanks to the God of heaven, for his steadfast love endures forever.”