This is the Day the Lord Has Made!
A sermon based on Psalm 118
Sunday, November 11, 2012
Psalm 118 was Luther's favorite Psalm. He wrote of it, "This is my own beloved psalm. Although the entire Psalter and all of Holy Scripture are dear to me as my only comfort and source of life, I fell in love with this psalm especially. Therefore I call it my own. When emperors and kings, the wise and the learned, and even saints could not aid me, this psalm proved a friend and helped me out of many great troubles. As a result, it is clearer to me than all the wealth, honor, and power of the pope, the Turk, and the emperor. I would be most unwilling to trade this psalm for all of it."
Psalm 118 is the last of what are called the six hallel psalms sung during the Feast of the Tabernacles. Psalm 118 was the last of the psalms sung at the conclusion of the Passover meal. (And therefore likely the last Psalm Jesus sung before his crucifixion.) Jesus quoted part of this psalm, pointing out that he was the fulfillment of it. And on that first Palm Sunday, they sang part of this Psalm to Jesus praising him as he rode in to Jerusalem.
This morning as we look at this widely used Psalm, we see Jesus, proclaiming "This is the Day the Lord Has Made!" As the Israelites celebrated the day of their deliverance from Egypt at the Passover, as the people of Jerusalem celebrated the arrival of the Savior on Palm Sunday, so we too rejoice in the deliverance our Savior brings by his suffering and death, by his resurrection, and by his Word! We give thanks to God that he has opened the gates of heaven through Jesus' work for us and that we will soon be the saints triumphant in paradise. This is the day the Lord has made! Let us rejoice and be glad in it. Psalm 118 begins…
1 Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever. 2 Let Israel say: "His love endures forever." 3 Let the house of Aaron say: "His love endures forever." 4 Let those who fear the Lord say: "His love endures forever."
The Psalmist invites all who will listen to give thanks to God. Why? For God's love; his free and faithful grace that embraces undeserving people; his mercy and love that will never change. How did he display such love? The Psalmist continues…
5 In my anguish I cried to the Lord, and he answered by setting me free. 6 The Lord is with me; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me? 7 The Lord is with me; he is my helper. I will look in triumph on my enemies. 8 It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in man. 9 It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in princes. 10 All the nations surrounded me, but in the name of the Lord I cut them off. 11 They surrounded me on every side, but in the name of the Lord I cut them off. 12 They swarmed around me like bees, but they died out as quickly as burning thorns; in the name of the Lord I cut them off. 13 I was pushed back and about to fall, but the Lord helped me. 14 The Lord is my strength and my song; he has become my salvation.
I. A Day Won by the Savior's Sacrifice
When you read through this Psalm it's easy to see why the Israelites would sing this particular Psalm as they celebrated God's deliverance from Egypt at the Passover. When God's people were captive to Egyptian kings, forced to hard labor as slaves, oppressed and beaten, with their freedoms stripped away, they recognized that they could never be free by their own might or strength, but only by divine intervention. So they finally did what they should have done all along. They cried out to God.
And God answered demonstrating that he was clearly the one was really in charge! God sent his angel of death to kill every firstborn son in Egypt. And when God's people put their trust in him and slaughtered the Passover lamb, painting its blood on the frames of their doors, the angel passed over that house, sparing the firstborn (thus the name "Passover"). When the angel of death reached the palace of Pharaoh and killed his eldest son, Pharaoh commanded that the Israelites leave Egypt immediately taking their deadly God with them.
And since God was with them, the Israelites didn't need to fear Pharaoh or his army. They would look in triumph on their enemies. When Pharaoh changed his mind and chased after them with his army, when they were pushed back and about to fall, God rescued his people again. He brought them safely through the Red Sea cutting off their enemies as quickly as dry weeds burn in the fire. No wonder the Israelites sang this Psalm when they commemorated the Passover and God's deliverance from Egypt throughout the centuries to follow. No wonder they sang, "The Lord is my strength and my song; he has become my salvation."
Now, 1400 years later, as Jesus entered Jerusalem, those pilgrims who had come to celebrate the Passover in the Holy City sang that familiar hymn once more. The Passover was only four days away and this time they not only sang in celebration of God's deliverance out of Egypt in the past, but they rejoiced at God's present deliverance through Jesus the Messiah.
The children of Israel were enslaved once more, at least in a certain sense. They weren't forced to make bricks without straw, but they were subject to Roman rule. It was obvious to many that this Jesus was the promised Messiah. Who else could raise a man back to life like he did Lazarus so recently? Hopeful that the Messiah would deliver them from the Romans and bring them political peace and prosperity, they sang this Psalm of praise to their conquering hero. But they misunderstood why the Messiah had come…
While Jesus was indeed the promised Messiah, the one the Passover lamb had pointed to, he was not the political ruler they had hoped for. He would not end the burdensome taxes they were forced to pay. He would not give the wealth and prosperity they hoped to have. He would not provide physical health care that would prolong their earthly lives. He would bring about a spiritual deliverance. He cared less about the people being slaves to Rome than about them being slaves to sin. Jesus was the Passover Lamb; the Lamb of God who had come to take away the sins of the world; to take their anguish of hell on himself. And that deliverance would come through a cross…
Christ, unlike the Israelites, had a perfect trust in God. He had perfect confidence in God's deliverance even as he rode into Jerusalem to be captured, tortured and crucified. He took refuge in the Lord and not in man, not in soldiers, not in princes, for there was no one but God to help him. Even his own disciples—his own party—betrayed him, denied him, and deserted him when he needed them the most. Surrounded by only enemies he was condemned to die.
In verse 10 the Psalmist wrote, "All the nations surrounded me." But what was hyperbole to the author was reality to Christ. Literally all the nations surrounded Jesus. The sin and the guilt and the punishment due all people of every nation for their pride, for their greed, for their laziness, for their rebellion, disrespect, and slander, every sin of every person of every time was all dumped on Jesus as he suffered on the cross.
Yet, in spite of the hell he had to face, he continued to trust in God! And in the name of the Lord his enemies were cut off! In his death on the cross, what looked like defeat became a great victory! For there he defeated Satan. He defeated sin and the hell it deserves. He cut off our enemies for us.
You see, we were once enslaved to sin and helpless to save ourselves, for we were included in that "all nations" who surrounded Christ, who were his enemies, who hated him. "Not me," you say, "I never hated Christ." But what else do you call it when we know something is a sin (like whining and complaining, like showing disrespect to the government that God has not just allowed, but established, or failing to put our trust in him in all things), but do those sins anyway, knowing full well that Christ suffered hell for that sin? What else do you call it when in sinful pride we think we know better than God and that what we really need is more money, or more earthly security, and not a Savior from sin?
We were hopeless. Deliverance could only come through divine intervention, because man's best ideas are to work to earn God's favor when he demands perfection, or to ignore the problem all together as if God would ignore our sin. But in the end those schemes will only lead to death. How true it is then, that "It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in man." Trust in Christ and his suffering and death and be confident—not in yourself, but in the Lord's deliverance. Then, no matter what takes place in our nation or in our lives, we can say with conviction, "The Lord is with me; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?" And we'll be moved to give thanks for what he's done in Easter, conquering our final enemy of death. The Psalmist continues…
15 Shouts of joy and victory resound in the tents of the righteous: "The Lord's right hand has done mighty things! 16 The Lord's right hand is lifted high; the Lord's right hand has done mighty things!" 17 I will not die but live, and will proclaim what the Lord has done. 18 The Lord has chastened me severely, but he has not given me over to death. 19 Open for me the gates of righteousness; I will enter and give thanks to the Lord. 20 This is the gate of the Lord through which the righteous may enter. 21 I will give you thanks, for you answered me; you have become my salvation. 22 The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone; 23 the Lord has done this, and it is marvelous in our eyes. 24 This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it. 25 O Lord, save us; O Lord, grant us success. 26 Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. From the house of the Lord we bless you. 27 The Lord is God, and he has made his light shine upon us. With boughs in hand, join in the festal procession up to the horns of the altar. 28 You are my God, and I will give you thanks; you are my God, and I will exalt you. 29 Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever.
II. A Day Won by the Savior's Victory
When God miraculously delivered the Israelites out of Egypt and destroyed Pharaoh's army after they had crossed through the Red Sea in safety, God's people couldn't help but sing for joy in thanksgiving to God for rescuing them from being captive for 400 years. This afternoon, go home and read Exodus 15 and see how similar the song they sang there is to Psalm 118. They rejoiced because though they were chastened by God for a while in Egypt, they would not die at the hand of the Egyptians. They would live to proclaim what the Lord had done for them. He had delivered his people and he had preserved the line of the Savior.
And year after year God's people continued to proclaim what he had done as they celebrated that Passover meal; as they sang Psalm 118. They sang their songs of thanks to God who had delivered them in the past, hopeful that he would deliver them once again. As they entered the gates of Jerusalem, sometimes referred to as the gates of the righteous, they sang their praise to Jesus, the Messiah. They said, "Hosanna!" which is a transliteration of the beginning of verse 25, "Save us!" They sang verse 26, "Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!" Some have even suggested that they were prompted by verse 27 to wave the Palm branches and lay them at Jesus' feet: "With boughs in hand, join in the festal procession up to the horns of the altar." And how fitting it was to rejoice! Though they were only thinking of political freedom he had come to bring so much more! He set them free from all of their sins! Free from the hell they rightfully deserved! Free from death itself!
And Christ himself would rejoice in the victory! Though he died on the cross for our sins, death could not contain him. He could declare, "I will not die but live, and will proclaim what the Lord has done." And Easter morning Christ was exalted and rose from the dead! Later he ascended into heaven and received full glory and honor there.
Though he was the stone the people rejected, now, by his resurrection, he established himself as the capstone. Christ pointed that out himself in Matthew 21(:42), Mark 12(:10–11), and Luke 20(:17). But what exactly does that mean, that he's the capstone? What is a capstone? When an arch is built there are supports in place holding up all of the stones until the last stone can be placed at the top center. The stones on either side of the arch lean in toward the center stone and the supports below can be removed; the arch stands complete. But if you pull that center stone, that capstone, out of place, the entire arch will topple to the ground.
Without Christ, God's whole plan of salvation would topple. It's all about Jesus, because on our own we are doomed to hell. But thank God that he did come. Thank God that he can never be pulled out of place. Easter morning establishes him firmly. Death cannot undo what he did—neither his death, nor ours. No matter what the next four year—or the next four centuries!—bring, our salvation stands sure. Of that we can be certain. And for that we can give him our endless thanks, because Christ's words become our own. We can echo what he said and apply those words to ourselves…
Though we might be chastened at times, though we may be confronted by suffering and trials and pain, though we might at times wonder "Where is God when it hurts?" he has not given us over to death. Death itself has been defeated. We can declare with Jesus, "I will not die but live, and will proclaim what the Lord has done." And we can join in the festal procession, right now, today, shouting "This is the day the Lord has made!" We can rejoice and be glad in it! The gates of righteousness are now open to us! In Christ the gates of heaven are open! Though only the righteous can expect to enter there, we sinners have been made righteous through him and heaven itself is ours! He is our strength and our song; he has become our salvation!
In thanksgiving, proclaim what he has done! Give him thanks and exalt him! "This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it!" "Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever." Amen.