A sermon on Psalm 93

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Beloved Brothers and Sisters in our Lord Jesus Christ,

 There’s a famous photograph that has been published a number of times as a motivational poster that I’m sure many of you have seen – it’s a picture of a lighthouse being engulfed by thirty-metre waves. In the doorway of that lighthouse, with those waves crashing all around him, is the lighthouse-keeper. Surrounded by that wall of water, that lighthouse keeper looks absolutely tiny, and very vulnerable.

With all of the Photoshopped pictures that have been making the rounds on the Internet, I had assumed that this picture was a fake as well – but as it turns out, it’s not. In 1989, French photographer Jean Guichard took a series of photographs of a lighthouse off the North-west coast of France. That famous picture is one of them – and the lighthouse-keeper survived.

This photograph, and others like it, show us the awesome power of the sea. Pictures like this one, and movies like “The Perfect Storm,” may be the closest that many of us come to experiencing the awe-inspiring reality of the ocean’s might. With all of our technological advances protecting us from the power of the elements, we don’t fear them as much as people once did – but still, those waves have not been tamed, and they’re still a fearful thing to behold.

For people in the Ancient Near East, the sea was a scary place, and the power of the sea was taken very seriously. In Ancient Mesopotamia, there was a creation myth called the Enuma Elish. It was the story of Marduk, the storm god, defeating the goddess of the sea, Tiamat, in battle. After his victory, the other gods appoint Marduk king over all of them, and king over all creation, and build a palace temple for him in Babylon.

In Ancient Canaan, along the shores of the Mediterranean, there were different characters involved, but the creation myth remains very similar. In Syria and Palestine, the story was told about Baal, the storm god. It was said about Baal that he battled it out with Yam, the god of the sea, and ultimately won the victory over him. Just like the Mesopotamian gods were said to have acclaimed Marduk as king, the Canaanite story tells of the gods appointing Baal to the ultimate kingship, and building a royal palace for him in the heavens.

And every year, at the beginning of planting season, worshippers of Marduk and worshippers of Baal would recite the stories of their gods’ enthronement. This had to be done, or disaster would happen. Just like the Aztecs offered human sacrifices to empower the gods to keep the universe from collapsing, the Canaanites and the Mesopotamians enacted their religious rituals so that the order of the world wouldn’t come undone, so that the world wouldn’t descend into chaos, with the waters of the sea overwhelming the dry land. It was fear that drove their worship – fear that the gods would be unable to maintain the boundary that had been established between land and sea, that the terrifying power of the sea would overcome after all.

It was in this world that the 93rd Psalm was originally written and sung. In a world held in the grip of fear, a world in which the gods were placated and fed in order to convince them to maintain the order of things, but where that order was never really certain, Psalm 93 turns the false beliefs and fears of the nations on their head. Instead of reaching out to limited gods in fear, never quite knowing if those gods would be able to do what they were supposed to do, the people of Israel were led to an expression of absolute confidence. In this kingship song, they were led to declare the LORD’s majesty, His invincible power, and His steadfast, unshakeable faithfulness.

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And a new series begins!

So, having finished preaching on 1 Peter, I’ve gone back to the Old Testament, to the book of Psalms. I’m doing some work for a project on the Psalms, and since I’m studying them, I thought it would be a good idea to put that work to use in these sermons. This coming Sunday I hope to preach the fourth sermon in the series, on Psalm 97, but here are the links to two of the first three – the sermon on Psalm 93 didn’t get recorded, but I’ll post the text in my next post.

https://archive.org/details/16SermonPsalm95 - The kind of worship God deserves – Psalm 95.

https://archive.org/details/17SermonPsalm96 - The universal significance of our worship – Psalm 96.

 

 

Sermon Audio

Doing some catching up again – here are the links to the final sermons in the series I preached on 1 Peter:

First, on 1 Peter 4:8 – “The end of all things is at hand” – how shall we live in the light of this truth? https://archive.org/details/Sermon1Peter48

Second, on 1 Peter 4:12-19 – “It is time for judgment to begin with the household of God.” https://archive.org/details/Sermon1Peter41219

And finally,  on 1 Peter 5:1-14 – “Humility, Grace, and Glory” – https://archive.org/details/Sermon1Peter5114

Once again, when I finished this series of sermons, I was reminded of the incredible depth of God’s word. The first letter of Peter is shorter than any one of my sermons. I preached ten sermons on the book, many thousands of preachers have preached a whole lot more on it, and still we can only feel like we’re scratching the surface. Kind of reminds me of Romans 11:33 – “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God!”

Doctrine and Theology

theology-mattersDoctrine” – what does this word bring to mind? For some Christians, the only thoughts that the words “doctrine” and “theology” bring to mind are negative. “Doctrine” is divisive. It’s cold; it’s dry; it’s heartless; it’s stuffy and formal. “Doctrine” takes us outside of the realm of the “heart,” and moves us to the “head” – it’s an intellectual exercise, and it’s not what our faith should be about – because after all, it’s all about Jesus!

This issue was brought to my attention recently once again. And since I know that some of the people I had this discussion with do read this blog from time to time, I thought it would be worthwhile to post some thoughts on the issue. We Reformed Christians are sometimes accused of emphasizing doctrine, the intellectual side of the Christian life, while neglecting the heart. 

And I won’t deny that it is possible to separate doctrine from life; the fact that a person can be an accomplished Biblical scholar while remaining an unbeliever bears that out; and it is certainly possible to be very concerned with correct doctrine while at the same time not living it out. 

But the question I want to examine in this post is this: Is it possible to say, “We don’t talk about doctrine – we just talk about Jesus”?

First off, when we talk about doctrine, we have to define our terms. What is doctrine? “Doctrine” is “teaching,” and the simplest definition of the word is “a set of ideas or beliefs that are taught or believed to be true.” 

Now, with that definition under our belts, let’s begin with the assumption that, as someone recently told me, “the Christian faith is all about Jesus.” So, if our faith is about Jesus, and not doctrine, we have to begin with answering the question, “Who is Jesus?” This was a central question in the gospels – we see it repeated three times, in Matthew 16:15, Mark 8:29, and Luke 9:20. In these passages, we see Jesus asking His disciples this question: “But who do you say that I am?” And Peter answers with these words: “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” 

This is obviously an important issue – who is Jesus?

And Peter’s answer begins with these words: “You are the Christ.”

So what does that mean? What is “the Christ”? It’s the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew word “Messiah,” which means “the anointed one.” So what is a Messiah? What does it mean that Jesus Christ is “the anointed one”?

Then Peter goes on to add the phrase, “Son of the Living God”?

So Was Jesus a son of God in the same way that King David was a son of God? Or does that phrase, “son of God,” somehow tie in with Genesis 6:2, where “the sons of God saw that the daughters of men were attractive, and they tok as their wives any they chose”? Or does it have a greater significance? Does it mean something else entirely?

To understand the importance of this issue, let’s take a look at John 8:23-25, where Jesus says:

‘You are from below; I am from above. You are of this world; I am not of this world. I told you that you would die in your sins, for unless you believe that I am he you will die in your sins.’ So they said to Him, ‘Who are you?’ Jesus said to them, ‘Just what I have been telling you from the beginning.’”

Unless you believe that I am he you will die in your sins.” Clearly our correct identification of Jesus, a correct understanding of who He is, is essential to salvation. But what does Jesus mean when He says, “I am he”? We don’t want to die in our sins. We want to have our sins forgiven. So we need to examine, and understand, what Jesus is saying here.

So when people say that they don’t like theology, “doctrine,” that they don’t think it’s necessary to delve into theology and theological issues, and when they still want to speak about Jesus, they are contradicting themselves. Because in order to not die in our sins, we need to “do theology” – the very existence of Jesus, and our identification of Him, and the importance of that identification, makes doctrine a necessity; in order to believe in Him, we need to know who He is.

In order to know who He is, we have to search the Scriptures. And when we search the Scriptures, from the stories of the Old Testament, to the message of the Psalms and the prophets, to the gospels, to the letters of the New Testament, to the book of Revelation, we need to put everything together, to work with the message God has given us in His Word. And in doing that, we come up with “doctrine” – with teaching about the person of Jesus Christ.

Who was He? Why is He so important? What do His life, death, resurrection, and ascension into heaven mean for me? If the Christian faith is all about Jesus, the moment we seek to answer the question He asked, “Who do you say that I am?” we start delving into doctrine; we start “doing theology.”

The word theology itself comes from two words in Greek – Theos, which means God, and Logia, which means utterances, sayings, or oracles. In its most basic form, theology is the study of God – and from that beginning, theology branches out into a study of Christian teaching, based in God’s revelation. 

In John 17:3, Jesus said, “And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” One of our greatest desires in life must be to know God, and to know Him rightly. It takes work. It takes applying ourselves. It doesn’t come naturally, or seep into our consciences by osmosis. It takes diligent study and dedication, as the Apostle Paul told Timothy, in 2 Timothy 2:15, where he says, “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.”

Jesus, the same Jesus that some people will pit against “theology,” or “doctrine,” said in John 14 that in order to truly know God, we need to know Him. And in order for us to do that, we need to “do theology” – and the result is doctrine. Knowledge of God is a necessity for salvation, and it’s a necessity for those who want to live the Christian life.

This issue was brought close to home for me last week when I spoke to two representatives of the Church of Jesus Christ, Latter-Day Saints (the Mormons) last week. They were nice young men – clean-cut, friendly, personable, well-spoken – the kind of people who would make good neighbours. But in the end, when it comes to the ultimate issues, and the issue of salvation, none of that really matters. In the end, what matters, as the Lord Jesus Himself said, is our answer to the question, “Who do you say that I am?” That means doctrine matters; theology matters. It’s a life or death issue.

So we can’t pit theology and doctrine against Jesus. They go hand in hand. You can’t have one without the other. The Christian life is about the head, and the heart; it’s about the intellect, and the emotions. It’s about understanding, growing in knowledge of our God and our Saviour, and about living that understanding out. 

That’s why we care about doctrine. That’s why theology is so important to us. Because it makes all the difference in the world.