Preached at Northwest Christian Church
David P. Kautt
Sunday Morning, June 5, 2011
Psalm 48:1-14, “Great is the LORD, and greatly to be praised in the city of our God,in His holy mountain. Beautiful in elevation, the joy of the whole earth, is Mount Zion on the sides of the north, the city of the great King. God is in her palaces; He is known as her refuge. For behold, the kings assembled, they passed by together. They saw it, and so they marveled; they were troubled, they hastened away. Fear took hold of them there, and pain, as of a woman in birth pangs, as when You break the ships of Tarshish with an east wind. As we have heard, so we have seen in the city of the LORD of hosts, in the city of our God: God will establish it forever. Selah. We have thought, O God, on Your lovingkindness, in the midst of Your temple. According to Your name, O God, so is Your praise to the ends of the earth; Your right hand is full of righteousness. Let Mount Zion rejoice, let the daughters of Judah be glad, because of Your judgments. Walk about Zion, and go all around her. Count her towers; mark well her bulwarks; consider her palaces; that you may tell it to the generation following. For this is God, our God forever and ever; He will be our guide even to death.”
There's nothing quite like a funeral to get you to thinking about the things that really matter in life. You know how it is, don't you? We plod along in life, living it day-by-day, sometimes even minute-by-minute, and often, we get caught up in the necessities of life, maybe even the urgencies of life. But until something like a funeral comes along, we don't stop, perhaps won't stop, to consider, to wrestle with, to face the things that really matter in life.
You know our tendency, don't you? We awaken in the morning, and almost before both feet hit the floor, we're thinking about what we've got to do today! The list is long with the necessities of life, fix a meal, fold the laundry, pay the bills, punch the time clock, fight the traffic, purchase the groceries, cut the grass. Makes you tired just thinking about it, doesn't it? But, then along comes the flat tire, the trip to the emergency room with the sprained ankle, the burst water pipe, the hail damage to our roof or our car, and suddenly, we're faced with a list of urgencies also, to go along with all those necessities.
Then comes the call, or perhaps the notification by way of an obituary in the paper or a message that comes to your email inbox, that so-and-so has died, and all of the sudden, as if someone is jamming on the brakes of your run away train life, you're forced to stop and think. Forced to consider what really matters in this world, not things that moth and rust can destroy or objects that thieves can break through and steal, but what has more lasting value. Forced even to ask, “where is God in all of this?” Or, even, “have I even stopped to ASK HIM to be at work in all of my necessities, urgencies and crises?”
I was thumbing through a little devotional book my brother bought for me in Germany over 25 years ago, and again came across these verses that, along with the funerals, pulled me up short. Listen to them with me, would you please? Psalm 48:14, the last verse of the passage I read at the outset, declares it this way: “For this God is our God, forever and ever, He will be our guide even unto death.” And, then, along with that verse from Psalms, was set this verse from 2 Corinthians 12 (verse 9): “And He said to me...” Here's the Lord Jesus giving His gracious counsel to the apostle Paul in a time of great 'thorn-in-the-flesh' testing Paul was struggling to endure, to this discouraged, yes, even distressed, servant of God, the Lord Jesus speaks these words of counsel and comfort, “My grace is sufficient for you; for power [Christ's power] is made perfect in weakness [in our weakness].”
There's a lot to chew on in just those two short and simple verses, isn't there? And, I encourage you to spend sometime chewing on them. But, while you're doing that, allow me to remind you, maybe even to confront you, with a thought or two that we'd probably rather not have to deal with.
Here goes: As I said, there's nothing quite like a funeral to bring issues back on to the 'radar screen' of our lives, is there? And, so, here are the reminders, the 'blips' on our lives' radar screen that we would much rather ignore.
Mom and Dad are gone, I mean they are laying in that cemetery across town or across the country from where you are, your spouse is gone also, even though the two of you enjoyed life together for 40, 50, maybe even 60 years, your siblings, the freckled-faced, curly-headed, mischievous youngsters you grew up with, their hair turned gray, then silver, then white and the freckles gave way to wrinkles and guess what? Now they're gone too! And, yes, for some, in God's mysterious plan, even the children, your own flesh and blood offspring, are gone, too. And you find yourself all alone. One day, something like that, a situation similar to all of that, will be your situation - what then? To whom will you go, then? On whom will you lean, then?
Psalm 48:14 – Look at that verse a little more closely with me now, will you, please?
The verse simply says: “This God...” the psalmist is talking there about the God of Israel, the One, True Living God of the Bible, not one of those 'gods' that we often make up or pursue, when we're zeroing in on the necessities of life, and the urgencies of life, and certainly not one of the 'gods', made up by the minds of sinful man, made in his own image, in man's image, in order to fashion out of it a 'religion', a false religion meant to suit his tastes and desires.
No, the psalmist, or perhaps I should say, the psalmists, the Son of Korah, when they pen the words, “This God...” they are talking about the God who had repeatedly secured and kept and blessed a nation, a people, and, in particular, a city, to the extent that they could say of that city, and of the Lord and God of that city: “Great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised in the city of our God,in His holy mountain. Beautiful in elevation, the joy of the whole earth, is Mount Zion on the sides of the north, the city of the great King. God is in her palaces; He is known as her refuge.”
When your parents are gone, for some of us, long gone, when our spouse is gone, our siblings are gone, perhaps even our children are gone, what then? Who will be there for you, then?
Psalm 48:14 - Are you beginning to get the picture as to why I love this verse? Read it with me, please. “This God is our God forever and ever, He will be our guide even unto death...”
Recently, at our home, we have been reading through the Book of Daniel in the Old Testament, during our family devotional time at the breakfast table. And, reading through it, I have been reminded of dramatic, gripping accounts of Bible heroes I have looked up to since I was 4, 5, 6 years old. Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, Adednego. And folks like Nebuchadnezzar, Belshazzar, Cyrus and Darius, whose lives and authority over their lives, serve as the backdrop for an amazing series of accounts that illustrate this verse from the psalms. You think about those four Hebrew young men, those four young Israelites, Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. Dust off your Bible memory, and think again with me, will you?
Those 4 young Jewish men, when King Nebuchadnezzar and his army took those fellows away from their homes and families, as his captives and transported them to his country, hundreds of miles away from their homeland, they were just teenagers, 15, 16, 17 years of age. Imagine that happening to your son or daughter or grandchildren...
There they are, young teenagers, torn away from everything they knew, uprooted, replanted and, it was every bit Nebuchadnezzar's intention to reprogram them through a 3-year long period of educational indoctrination so as to re-make them into good pagans, good Babylonians - and what happens?
Do you remember the accounts of these 4 young Hebrews recorded there in Daniel, from all those years ago in Sunday School or VBS? Torn away from all you know and love and are acquainted with, force-fed with a new language, culture, customs, and even a new religion, as captives, in a foreign land, and in training to serve, and even worship the king of that foreign land – what would you do? Most 15, 16, 17 year-olds I know would melt, they would just fall in line, and become good Babylonians. Incidentally, so would a lot of 50, 60 and 70 year-olds I know, too! But not Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. And not Daniel!
Why no? I mean, it's a choice between bowing to the king's 90 foot tall golden image, or burning in his fiery furnace? Which would you choose? I mean, it's a choice between hiding your prayer life, so that no one knows that you worship and serve the God of heaven, avoiding a den of hungry lions, or throwing back the curtains and shades and letting the whole world know Whose child you are – hungry lions or not. Which would you choose? I mean, it's a choice between pacifying an angry, capricious ruler with a phony interpretation of the handwriting on the wall, and perhaps keeping your job - or your head - or telling him the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, and letting the chips fall where they may. Which would you choose?
I mean, it's even a choice, for Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, it was a choice, some might say a simply, easy, 'no-brainer' kind of choice, I mean, just blend in, eat the king's food, drink his wine, never mind the spiritual implications of the fact that those things have been dedicated to the king's 'god', eat them anyway, conform, blend in, when in Babylon, do as the Babylonians do, and you'll make it alright. 'No brainer' - right? Not for those 4 young Hebrews! No, that was a choice with very deep and very, very serious spiritual implications; what did they do? What would you do, if you had to face any or all of these difficult choices and dilemmas?
“This God is our God forever and ever, He will be our guide even until death!”
When you're lacking wisdom, needing direction in life, at one of those 'crossroads' we all come to along life's road, when you're even having to venture into uncharted waters, like Joshua leading his people into the Promised Land, like Peter stepping out of the boat – what do you need to know? “This God is our God – my God – forever and ever, He will be our guide even unto death...” When you're alone, so very, very alone, like young Joseph was in Pharaoh's dungeon, falsely accused, turned against by those whom you have loved and served, what keeps you going? This God is our God forever and ever, He will guide us even unto death...”
When you're devastated, I mean your life is in shambles, like Job's was, like the people of Joplin - who can put it all together, who can help you deal with the loss? “This God is our God forever and ever, He will guide us even unto death...”
When you're tempted, like Adam and Eve were, to eat of the forbidden fruit, like Jacob and his mother were, to deceive and get your way, like Peter was, to deny your Savior and King - is there a way of escape? Any help available to overcome? “This God is our God forever and ever, He will guide us even unto death...”
When you're sick, as Epaphroditus was – sick – nigh unto death, and Paul's hands can't effect a healing, there's a Great Physician! Oh, do you know Him, my Friends? “He is God, our God forever and ever! He will guide us even unto death...”
Yes, when you're facing death, as Mary and Martha did at that little cemetery outside of Bethany, as Eileen Spearman's family is, as the Apostle Paul did, when he struggled with a terrible thorn in the flesh, and later, when he received word from the Emperor that he had been found guilty, and was going to be executed – how are you going to do? Who will be there to help you?
“This God is our God forever and ever, He will be our guide even unto death...”
Then one more, and most important of them all; when you're lost, I mean, like the Ethiopians Eunach was, like the Philippians jailer was, like the people on the Day of Pentecost were, when you're powerless, ungodly, sinful, even God's enemy, with out hope, without God in the world, an object of God's righteous wrath – what then?
This God, the God we read and learn about in this Book (the Bible), this God, through His Son, Jesus Christ, has made a way for Him to become your God, your Guide even unto death, and a way – Hallelujah! - an everlasting, path of righteousness for His names sake, the Way, the Truth and the Life, that you might be His child forever and ever!