God's Gift of Forgiveness
The Lord is Enthroned Forever
A sermon based on Psalm 102
Sunday, March 17, 2013 – Lent 4
Forty isn't that old, right? At least, not for a tree. J What do you think? Is forty old? Some of you (over forty?) say, "No way!" And maybe you believe the new motto: "70 is the new 40." But others (who are younger than 40) are nodding their heads in agreement, "Yup! Forty's old."
As I get closer to 40 (it's still more than 5 years away) it still seems old to me. Already I'm noticing my metabolism slow down and my joints ache a little more than they used to. But at the same time, 40 doesn't really seem that old to me—at least, not as old as it used to.
But I think everyone here would agree that 40 is an early age to die.
King Hezekiah was 25 when he became King of Judah. He was one of the good kings who, after inheriting a spiritual and political mess from his dad, Ahaz, cleaned things up with God's help and by his grace. But then, at age 39, he got sick. And things were looking pretty bleak. It wasn't just the doctors who gave a grim diagnosis. It was God.
God sent Isaiah to tell Hezekiah, "Put your house in order, because you are going to die; you will not recover." (Isaiah 38:1, 2 Kings 20:1) His 39th birthday was his last. He wouldn't see his 40th . And I'm sure he would adamantly deny that 40 was old.
But do you remember how it turned out for Hezekiah? He prayed to God and his prayer was answered. God gave Hezekiah 15 more years to live on earth. And after he recovered, he wrote a Psalm. That Psalm is recorded for us in Isaiah 38. And it sounds very similar to the Psalm we'll examine this morning: Psalm 102. In fact, it sounds so similar many believe that Psalm 102 was also written by King Hezekiah. Here's how Psalm 102 begins…
1 Hear my prayer, O Lord; let my cry for help come to you. 2 Do not hide your face from me when I am in distress. Turn your ear to me; when I call, answer me quickly.
3 For my days vanish like smoke; my bones burn like glowing embers. 4 My heart is blighted and withered like grass; I forget to eat my food. 5 Because of my loud groaning I am reduced to skin and bones. 6 I am like a desert owl, like an owl among the ruins. 7 I lie awake; I have become like a bird alone on a roof. 8 All day long my enemies taunt me; those who rail against me use my name as a curse. 9 For I eat ashes as my food and mingle my drink with tears 10 because of your great wrath, for you have taken me up and thrown me aside. 11 My days are like the evening shadow; I wither away like grass.
I. Mortality by Immorality
The author of the Psalm (whoever he may be) is clearly distressed. And the cause is clear too. He's thinking about the reality of mortality. Whether he was 40 or 54 or 94, he knew he didn't really have that long to live on this earth. No one does. What's 100 years of life on this planet in the big scheme of things? Here today, gone tomorrow… or a few short thousand tomorrows. Each day of life is like a grain of sand passing through the hourglass of life. And each person's time is about to run out at any minute.
Perhaps it was thoughts of his mortality that caused King Hezekiah to pen these words in a gloom that seems much deeper than midlife crisis. He felt withered, reduced to skin and bones. He felt all alone, like an owl that only comes out when everyone else is gone, at home, asleep. He felt like a solitary bird, with no flock to keep him company.
But worst of all, he knew why he was all alone. He knew why he was going to die: Because he deserved it. He deserved to die because of his sin against God. No specific sin is mentioned, just sin in general—his general rebellion against God as he put his own desires ahead of God, as he grew proud in his accomplishments, refusing to give glory to God. "Because of your great wrath," he prayed to God, "…you have taken me up and thrown me aside."
And in contrast to his fleeting nature, was God's eternal nature: "But you, O Lord, sit enthroned forever; your renown endures through all generations." Because God is forever, his law is forever. Because God never changes, his law never changes. Just as it was for Adam and Eve—that they deserved death for their sin—so too, Hezekiah deserved death for his sin. For as then, so too now, "the wages of sin is death." (Romans 6:23) The reality of mortality is because of immorality.
And the same is true today. Let's face it. We humans are all frail and fleeting. Whether you're 40 or 54 or 94 or whether you're 24, 14 or only 4, we don't have long on this earth. "[Our] days vanish like smoke… [Our] days are like the evening shadow; [We all] wither away like grass."
Why are we so fleeting? Because we have sinned. God is still eternal. His law still stands. And the wages of sin is still death. I know I've sinned. I know you have too. And that's cut us off from more than just friends and family, parents or spouse. Our sin has cut us off from God. We deserve to wither away, to waste away to nothing but skin and bones. We deserve to be as lonely as the owl that only comes out at night, forever separated from God, with the unimaginable loneliness of hell. And unless Jesus returns first, we will die.
What a sad thought. None of deserve to live to 40, but we all deserve God's great wrath, to be taken up by him and thrown aside. The reality of our mortality is because of our immorality.
So what do we do? We as Hezekiah did, as the author of Psalm 102 did. We cry out to God for mercy. Psalm 102 continues…
II. Immortality by Christ's Morality
12 But you, O Lord, sit enthroned forever; your renown endures through all generations. 13 You will arise and have compassion on Zion, for it is time to show favor to her; the appointed time has come. 14 For her stones are dear to your servants; her very dust moves them to pity. 15 The nations will fear the name of the Lord, all the kings of the earth will revere your glory. 16 For the Lord will rebuild Zion and appear in his glory. 17 He will respond to the prayer of the destitute; he will not despise their plea.
Ah, what a blessing the suffering the psalmist endured was! How wonderful that he went through such trouble! "Really? Wonderful trouble?" you might ask. But really! The pain and problems the setbacks and sufferings that he faced made him think. It made him think about his mortality, about his death, about his guilt, about his great need for God's gift of forgiveness. And it make him cry out to God who sits enthroned forever.
You see, the psalmist knew that because God is forever, his law is forever. But that's not all that he knew. He also knew that because God is forever, his Gospel is forever! Because God never changes, his mercy never changes. Just as it was for Adam and Eve—that even though they deserved death for their sin, they received a promise of a Savior, though Eve's own descendant—so too, Hezekiah, though deserving of death for his sin, got not only 15 more years, but that same promise of a Savior through his own descendant. For as then, so too now, "the gift of God is eternal life [through] Jesus Christ our Lord." (Romans 6:23)
Jesus "has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin." (Hebrews 4:15) No one could ever prove Jesus guilty of committing even one sin ever (cf. John 8:46ff) because Jesus had no sin. (cf. 2 Corinthians 5:21) He was and is perfectly moral in every way. And by his morality he earned immortality.
And yet, Jesus didn't make it to his fortieth birthday. He mostly likely didn't live to see 34. He who was and is perfectly moral, he who was and is immortal, gave up his immortality in order to die that he might take our sin and give us his morality. "God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God." (2 Corinthians 5:21) And "you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich." (2 Corinthians 8:9) Now, the reality of immortality is ours by Christ's morality given to us.
And this Gospel—this good news—this incredibly wonderful reality!—will never go away. The "Lord, [still sits] enthroned forever; [his] renown endures through all generations… He will respond to the prayer of the destitute; he will not despise their plea."
This truth of immortality through Jesus' morality is true for you and for me, for our children and our grandchildren and for as many generations there are to come before Jesus returns. So let's get to work and share the message with our children and our grandchildren, that they too might share it with their children and their grandchildren. Let's keep the chain going! Let's pass it on!
Here's what the psalmist said…
18 Let this be written for a future generation, that a people not yet created may praise the Lord: 19 "The Lord looked down from his sanctuary on high, from heaven he viewed the earth, 20 to hear the groans of the prisoners and release those condemned to death." 21 So the name of the Lord will be declared in Zion and his praise in Jerusalem 22 when the peoples and the kingdoms assemble to worship the Lord.
23 In the course of my life he broke my strength; he cut short my days. 24 So I said: "Do not take me away, O my God, in the midst of my days; your years go on through all generations. 25 In the beginning you laid the foundations of the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands. 26 They will perish, but you remain; they will all wear out like a garment. Like clothing you will change them and they will be discarded. 27 But you remain the same, and your years will never end. 28 The children of your servants will live in your presence; their descendants will be established before you."
And when you face pain and problems, setbacks and sufferings don't view them as curses, but as blessings—as wonderful trouble meant to make you think: about your mortality and your death, about your guilt, and especially about God's great gift of forgiveness.
For God is still enthroned forever. He cannot change. So when you're feeling small and vulnerable, cling to him who is immovable. When you're feeling isolated and all alone, trust his promise that he will never leave you or forsake you. (Hebrews 13:5) For he gave up his morality to make you moral. He gave up his immortality to make you immortal. This is your reality: You have immortality by his morality. "[You] will not die but live… [Now] proclaim what the LORD has done." In his name, and by his great gift of forgiveness, amen!