In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good courage; I have overcome the world. -- John 16:33
Opening Prayer: Lord, I can't pretend to like the problems I've experienced, and I don't feel very courageous. Please show me how and why to keep trusting you.
There are some Scriptures that trouble me. They sound good. And I know they're true. But they sound very odd to me at times.
For example, Psalm 27 verse 4 says:One thing have I desired of the LORD, that will I seek after; that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the LORD, and to inquire in his temple.
King David tells us he wants to be hang around the Lord, at least as much as we want to be around some earthly loved one. Part of me says, "Yes! Right on!" But despite good intentions and occasional spiritual highs, it's difficult to keep my eyes on God as consistently as I should. Of course, YOU have it all together spiritually, and YOU live in a state of perfect bliss. Don't you? Oh. Then maybe we can both learn something as we go along here.
Hey, man, my kid is facing surgery tomorrow. Let God get me thru my problems today and maybe I'll be able to think about this "Seek His face" stuff.
On the contrary, you especially need to seek His face now. He may be the only person in the universe who truly understands and cares what you're going through. He certainly is the only person in the universe who has the power to help you get through this.
But who is this God? What possible reason would He have to grant any of our prayers? What is God like? How could He possibly relate to my problems?
Let's find out.
Let's start by listing some physical difficulties and problems you might have experienced:
- Lack of energy
- Loss of stamina
- Thirsty or hungry
- Physical injury or illness
- Property stolen or vandalized
- Life in danger
- Threats of violence
How about these mental/emotional issues:
- Low self-image
- Loss of courage
- Feeling trapped, without hope
- Knowledge of truth, BUT awareness of problems
- Lack of respect from peers
- Object of ridicule
- Object of cursing
Then there are spiritual issues:
- Uncertainty of relationship with God
- Uncertainty of God's will
- Perceived distance from God
So these problems that can hog our attention and keep our eyes away from the Lord. Let's see if Scripture gives us any hints on what to do.
Let's read Psalm 22, verses 1 & 2:1 My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me? Why art Thou so far from helping me, and from the words of my roaring? 2 O my God, I cry in the daytime, but Thou hearest not; and in the night season, and am not silent.
Does the first verse sound familiar?
Yes. The Gospel writers record that our Lord Jesus quoted this verse from the cross (Matthew 27 and Mark 15). If you haven't read them lately, you might want to study these chapters for homework. They're guaranteed to bring a Pity Party to a screeching halt.
Point: Who's talking here? David initially penned the words, but they were prophetic. God wanted to go on record, a thousand years in advance, that His Messiah would suffer this kind of agony. Jesus quoted this verse (and maybe other verses from Psalm 22) to make it clear that He had voluntarily suffered the agony of a Roman crucifixion on our behalf.
Do we know what circumstances were pressing in on King David at the time he wrote these lines?
No--but we do know that the Son of God chose to use these words to express His feelings.
What kind of problems do we see in verses 1 & 2?
We see some of the same types of problems outlined above:
- Uncertainty about relationship with God
- Uncertainty about God's will.
- Perceived distance from God.
- Doubts and fears.
- Desire for an answer or sign from God.
Sound familiar? Now let's look at verses 6-8:6 But I am a worm, and no man; a reproach of men, and despised of the people. 7 All they that see me laugh me to scorn: they shoot out the lip, they shake the head, saying, 8 He trusted on the LORD that He would deliver Him: let Him deliver Him, seeing He delighted in Him.
What types of problems do we see in these verses?
- Attacks on self-esteem
- Object of insults, ridicule
- Object of reproach
- Object of cursing
Now verses 11-13:11 Be not far from me; for trouble is near; for there is none to help. 12 Many bulls have compassed me: strong bulls of Bashan have beset me round. 13 They gaped upon me with their mouths, as a ravening and a roaring lion.
What problems do we see our Lord experiencing here?
- Immediate, pressing problems
- No apparent solutions or rescuers
- Physical intimidation
- Threats of violence
What problems do we see in verses 14-15?14 I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint: my heart is like wax; it is melted in the midst of my bowels. 15 My strength is dried up like a potsherd; and my tongue cleaveth to my jaws; and thou hast brought me into the dust of death.
- He is thirsty, and 'way past hunger
- His strength is gone
- Bones out of joint
- Courage depleted
- Physical death is very near.
Read verses 16-18:16 For dogs have compassed me: the assembly of the wicked have enclosed me: they pierced my hands and my feet. 17 I may tell all my bones: they look and stare upon me. 18 They part my garments among them, and cast lots upon my vesture.
Have you ever struggled with any shame issues? Look at verse 16, and ask yourself how dogs were regarded in the Middle East back then: were they the pampered and licensed pets like ours? Let me assure you they were definitely NOT pets. And without going into detail, let's just say they were omnivorous. Like 4-legged vultures. Jesus compared the non-believers to dogs in Revelation 22:15. Today, in certain countries in the Middle East, it's actually illegal -- against the law -- to have a dog as a pet.
Picture the scene: He was near death, body in searing agony all over, feeling deserted by His followers, ridiculed by the godless mob, bearing in His body the wrath of God for our sin, feeling in His heart the emptiness of separation from God that our sin causes, bearing in His body ALL our physical sickness and injuries. And as if this wasn't enough, He also had the shame of hanging there exposed physically, and having the dogs gather around Him as if He--the Son of God -- was a candidate for their dinner.
Hey, teacher! We didn't read all the verses in Psalm 22.
Very good! I'm glad you noticed. Our goal was to establish in your mind that:
- This Psalm is prophetic of our Lord's suffering on the cross,
- Our Lord suffered all these agonies voluntarily, on your behalf (and mine), and
- He can relate to your problems from personal experience.
Now let's look at the rest of the story. If our Lord quoted the above verses on the cross as part of His prayer to the Father, the in-between verses must also be part of His prayer.
Notice the focus of verses 3-5:3 But Thou art holy, O Thou that inhabits the praises of Israel. 4 Our fathers trusted in Thee: they trusted, and Thou didst deliver them. 5 They cried unto Thee, and were delivered: they trusted in Thee, and were not confounded.
After just two verses of relating His problems, there are three verses of praises to God. The psalmist points out that the Lord is holy and lives enthroned in the praises of His saints. Mark that verse in your Bible and study that principle in depth in your devotions tonight.
Now note verses 4 and 5: Our fathers trusted You -- they had faith in You -- and You delivered them. The obvious implication is, "OK, Lord, I trust You to deliver me, despite how the situation looks to me now."
Verses 9-10:9 But Thou art He that took me out of the womb: Thou didst make me hope when I was upon my mother's breasts. 10 I was cast upon Thee from the womb: Thou art my God from my mother's belly.
A modern translation: Lord, You're my God. You've taken care of me all my life. You even took care of me when I was a little kid, even before I got religion and even before I learned to trust You. Even before all that, You were trustworthy.
Now verses 22-24:22 I will declare Thy name unto my brethren: in the midst of the congregation will I praise Thee. 23 Ye that fear the LORD, praise Him; all ye the seed of Jacob, glorify Him; and fear Him, all ye the seed of Israel. 24 For He hath not despised nor abhorred the affliction of the afflicted; neither hath He hid His face from him; but when he cried unto Him, He heard.
This is a big shift from the surrounding verses, and comes at the very time when He is nearest death. He is already looking past the circumstances to the deliverance. No matter what the develops in the situation, even death, He is convinced that God is in charge and will bring a glorious outcome. Earlier verses looked at the past, and at the present distress. Now, in these verses He's looking ahead to the resurrection.
Verse 24 is especially challenging. God does not despise or abhor you or me because we have problems. BUT He does not PREVENT the problems, nor does He bring instant deliverance from the problems. But God is here, hearing, and feeling. And God will work things out His way in the end, in His own time.
Now let's take a step backward for perspective--Psalm 22 tells an incredible story, but only the first part of it. Jesus did come to earth, did suffer and bear our problems and our sins, and He did win the victory over both. He's already won. That's done and taken care of. So now what? What about those of us here today, two thousand years afterward? Who's minding the store today?
To answer this, we need to look at this psalm in its context, which includes Psalm 23 and Psalm 24. If you haven't already read the lesson on Psalm 23, click here.
Have you already read the lesson on Psalm 23? Good! Now let's continue.
All three of these Psalms talk about Jesus our Shepherd.
- In Psalm 22, we see the GOOD SHEPHERD who lays down His life for His sheep. We see the past sufferings that paid for the present and future blessings.
- In Psalm 23, we see the GREAT SHEPHERD, taking tender care of His sheep now and in the life to come.
- In Psalm 24, we see the CHIEF SHEPHERD, appearing as King of Glory to reward His sheep and claim His rightful kingdom.
Now let's look at the third part of the trilogy, Psalm 24, verses 1 and 2:The earth is the Lord's, and all its fullness, the world and those who dwell therein. 2 For He has founded it upon the seas, and established it upon the waters.
Simple message here: The earth is the Lord's and everything in it, because He made everything worthwhile in it. Maybe we've become dependent on our techno toys, and have become isolated from God's creation. But if any of the alarmist Y2K scenarios came true, we'd find ourselves competing strenuously to obtain food and water -- what God created -- and willing to give up any of our techno toys in order to survive.
God isn't asking us to give up our toys (yet). But He does want us to keep a lighter grip on what we consider to be ours. God says the goods are His, and those who think they own the goods are His, too. That's you and me.
Maybe you're one of those scientifically "enlightened" people who think that Mr. Darwin's theory (that matter intrinsically seeks to organize itself into higher forms) has higher priority than the Second Law of Thermodynamics (that matter intrinsically seeks to disorganize itself into less-complex forms). Maybe you're one of those people who believe (as I did, two decades ago) that God is Everything and Everything is God. Go ahead. Be God. Prove it. Create something from nothing -- like the Bible says God did, and as the Big Bang Theory postulates concerning the initial "Singularity."
Bottom line: Believe whatever makes you happy. Personally, I believe that intelligent design requires an Intelligent Designer. Frankly, I don't think the "collective wisdom of all life acting in concert in the supernatural plane of enlightenment" can get the job done. I want a God "with skin on" -- who cared enough to send His Son to pay the ultimate price for our shortcomings. The God of the Bible is a Person powerful enough to get the job done, and caring enough to enable us to reach Him, despite our shortcomings.
Verses 3-5 help us understand the need for His help reaching Him:Who may ascend unto the hill of the Lord? Or who may stand in His holy place? 4 He who has clean hands and a pure heart, who has not lifted up his soul to an idol, nor sworn deceitfully. 5 He shall receive blessing from the Lord, and righteousness from the God of his salvation.
The writer asks, "Who shall ascend into the hill of the Lord? Or who shall stand in His holy place?" Good question. Which of us have an absolutely pure conscience? Who among us has never sinned? The answer: Only Jesus fulfilled the perfect requirements for righteousness; the rest of us can only get up the hill by following the Good Shepherd, trusting in His merits rather than our own "righteousness."
Now verses 7-9:Lift up your heads, O you gates! And be lifted up, you everlasting doors! And the King of glory shall come in. 8 Who is this King of glory? The Lord strong and mighty, the Lord mighty in battle. 9 Lift up your heads, O you gates! Lift up, you everlasting doors! And the King of glory shall come in. 10 Who is this King of glory? The Lord of hosts, He is the King of glory.
What does it mean for gates to lift their heads and doors be lifted up?
Obviously it means to open up and let someone in.
Who's going to come in?
The King of Glory.
How does verse 8 describe this King?
Mighty in battle, but which battle? Did Jesus ever wear armor when He walked the earth? What battle could this be referring to?
You and I can't see it (mercifully), but there is a battle going on for your soul. The Enemy of your soul wants to poison your heart, make you bitter and alienated from your heavenly Father, and deprive you of the joy that COULD be yours. Sometimes that invisible battle spills over into the physical world, in ways that have become too familiar these days:
- When the Lunatic-of-the-Day (usually a demon-possessed person) guns down innocent kids and adults...
- When a drunk driver shatters a family...
- When an angry bully abuses his wife and children...
- When a young child is stricken with an untreatable illness.
When (not if) these happen to you or your friends, how will you respond? Will you make yourself a worse victim by blaming God for the consequences of sin? Or will you make the conscious (and often painful) choice to turn to God as our only hope against an invisible enemy? God gave you free choice, and He will bless you wonderfully if you make the right choices.
Isn't there another battle coming?
Yes. It is frequently called "The Battle of Armageddon." It hasn't happened yet. If you're reading this, that battle is still future.
Now let's re-read the last verse, verse 10:Who is this King of glory? The Lord of hosts, He is the King of glory.
The passage describes Jesus as "The Lord of hosts." What are these Hosts that He's Lord of? Other Bible passages tell us that a huge number of angels and saints will be riding back with Him at His second coming.
But teacher, when will you start publishing lessons on His second coming? Surely He's coming soon!
Click here to see the lessons on the Book of Revelation and Last-Days Prophecy. But today, you and I need to be sure we're following the right Shepherd, close enough to hear His voice. And if you have any doubts or concerns about what that means, please and express your concerns. I'll reply personally and confidentially.
Closing prayer: Father, some days I really feel the battle raging around me and inside me. Help me be restored to my Shepherd, and be fed and comforted by Him. Amen.