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Psalms is Telling a Story

Here is some food for thought as we begin to study the book of Psalms. Psalms is a collection of prayers that are telling a story. One of the more amazing things I've learned about Psalms is called the "canonical" view of the psalter. It goes like this:

There are five books in Psalms:
 
  • Book 1 (Psalm 1-41)
  • Book 2 (Psalm 42-72)
  • Book 3 (Psalm 73-89)
  • Book 4 (Psalm 90-106)
  • Book 5 (Psalm 107-150)
These books were arranged deliberately. Each book is telling part of a larger story. I don't have space to lay this out in detail but here's a broad picture.

Books 1-3 show us the rise and fall of the messianic kingdom of God in Israel. Book 1 is introduced by Psalm 1. It is the prologue to the story, calling us to focus our mental powers on the Word of God. Then, in Psalm 2, we see the announcement and anointing of God's King. From there, the King faces problem after problem, attack after attack.

The King's kingdom hits a dramatic low point at the end of Book 3 in Psalm 89. The psalmist recounts God's promises to David that he would never lack a son to sit on the throne. But now Israel is facing exile: "But now you have cast off and rejected; you are full of wrath against your anointed. You have renounced the covenant with your servant; you have defiled his crown in the dust" (vv. 38-39). It appears the crown is falling off the King's head.

In Book 4, beginning in Psalm 90, God's people are in exile. The kingdom is in shambles. In a surprising turn, Psalm 90 is written by Moses, the key figure of exile and wandering in the Old Testament. He says, "O Lord, you have been our dwelling place in all generations" (v. 1). He reminds God's people that no matter where they are—at home, in exile, in Egypt, or in Babylon—their true home is found in God Himself. They will never be homeless even if they don't have a roof over their heads.

Book 5 is a book of praise. Very early in the book we have the Psalms of Ascent (120-134). These were songs that pilgrims sang as they made their way back to the holy city of Jerusalem. Exile is over; God's people return to the land to offer Him sacrifices of praise.

Put this together and the structure of Psalms shows us a picture: God anoints His King. His King and kingdom suffer attack. His people go into exile. Then they return home with triumphant songs of praise. This is a canonical view of the psalter. And it is good news.

Martin Luther called Psalms a "little Bible." Indeed, it is, because it summarizes the message of God's saving work. Jesus Christ must wear the crown of thorns before He wears the crown of gold. He must go homeless so that we can find a true home in Him (Luke 9:58). He must be cast off and exiled so that we can be brought near to God. He must ascend Mount Calvary so that we can ascend Mount Zion with triumphant songs of praise.

God's kingdom may appear to be in shambles from time to time. But return always follows exile. Joy always follows sadness. And resurrection always follows death. Here we have no lasting city, but we will cross the Jordan with triumphant songs in our ascent to the Promised Land.

As you look at the hills around Stephens Valley this coming Lord's Day, remember the words of Psalm 121: "I lift my eyes to the hills. Where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth."

Let everything that has breath praise the Lord.
Posted by Heath Cross

Summer in the Psalms: Bringing Our Emotions to God

This Lord's Day we are beginning a new sermon series. We are spending our summer working through various chapters in the book of Psalms. It's fitting, considering the tumultuous times we find ourselves in.

There's so much I could say about the Psalms. Bring it up to me in conversation some time and I'll tell you all kinds of things I learned in seminary. For now, I'll emphasize something one of my professors used to say as he encouraged us to sing from the psalter regularly. The book of Psalms is God's hymn book. And in this hymn book, God's people are called to express every possible emotion.

There is joy, sorrow, anger, delight, and everything in between in Psalms. Therefore, as we read (or sing) the Psalms, we are encouraged to understand and express our own emotions. Let me emphasize that we get to express those emotions to God. The old hymn "What a Friend We Have in Jesus" remind us, 

O what peace we often forfeit,
O what needless pain we bear.


Why?

All because we do not carry
Everything to God in prayer.

When emotions are cut off from God, disorder ensues. We lose peace and we bear pain.

Psalm 2 comes to mind. In it we see the nations raging. They're angrily conspiring against God, His Messiah, and His kingdom. What if they had taken their concerns to God Himself instead of trying to figure things out themselves? What if they had voiced their rage to God instead of meeting together and fanning one another's rage?

You can take your anger, frustration, and confusion up the ladder. You can go to God Himself. He's big enough to handle it, trust me. Isn't that what we see in the gospel anyway? In the gospel we see mankind - individuals, the church, and the government - collectively forming a raging mob against God Himself. They're shouting, "Crucify him!" But Jesus steps into the angry mob. You're not going to shock Him by telling Him you're confused and angry. He's seen the worst of human confusion and anger. He's tasted the worst of human confusion and anger.

If you're healthy and happy, thank God. If you're lonely and confused, tell God. Express your emotions to Him. It will help you through things. He's not called the "Wonderful Counselor" for nothing.

Posted by Heath Cross

Crown Him the Lord of Years

I will continue providing some video meditations on the book of Ecclesiastes in the coming weeks. My purpose in doing this is to encourage you to stay in God's Word. And to encourage you in general. I think we all need some encouragement right now. You are still in my thoughts and prayers. I am mindful that at the moment some of you are working harder than you have ever worked in your life while others of you are feeling alone and isolated and bored, just wondering when life will get back to normal.

I am seeing a lot of references online to the movie Groundhog Day lately. It's a favorite of mine. In that movie, Bill Murray's character is stuck in the same exact day on an infinite loop. He wakes up every day hoping that February 2nd will be over so that he can move on with his life. We get to watch him go through the five stages of grief as he copes with reality: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.

For many of us, life feels like Groundhog Day right now. You wake up each day hoping for change. For a new day. For some good news. For all the sad things to become untrue.

Part of the good news the Bible proclaims to us is that we are not on an infinite loop. In Ecclesiastes 1, the Bible acknowledges that life can appear this way sometimes. From one perspective, it looks like life is a big circle that only ends when we breathe our last. But God shatters that circle by telling us that He is the Lord of time: "Crown Him the Lord of years, the Potentate of time." That He is sovereign over our days. That He will fulfill all His holy purpose. And that when we do breathe our last, we will be ushered into the presence, and joy, of our Master.

Life, like time, is not happening to us. It is happening for us, to get us into the presence of Christ. For Jesus Christ entered this world of time, and bled and died and resurrected in this world of time, to assure us that no matter how cyclical life may feel, Christ has blazed a straight line into the joy of heaven. This means for the Christian that death gives way to resurrection and sorrow gives way to joy. Sorrow may last for the night, but joy comes with the morning (Psalm 30:5). Practically, the death and resurrection of Christ shows us that, for the believer, sudden reversals and happy endings are not only possible, but inevitable.

Join me in praying for a happy ending, this side of heaven, for the Covid-19 pandemic. And plead Christ's resurrection as the reason for believing, and knowing, it is possible. And thank God that Jesus is the Lord of our years.

Posted by Heath Cross

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