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September 6 - Psalm 41 - "You Can't Keep a Good Man Down"
MPC 6th September 2009.
I don't know if you've been keeping an eye on New South Wales politics over the last few weeks, and I certainly can't blame you if you've been ignoring it on purpose. But of course, some of use have come from there in the past, and just can't help noticing from a distance.
There's more intrigue in Macquarie Street than there is on Ramsay Street in a week's worth of Neighbours. Because premier Nathan Rees seems to be dead in the water. It's like he can't put a foot right. And his enemies are sharpening their knives. There are strategic leaks from the cabinet room. There are hushed meetings in the corridors of power. There are friends in his own party conspiring to get rid of him. Kicking him while he's down.
That's the world of politics. And there's one certain rule. If you're a leader, don't show your weakness. If you're a leader, you've got to be strong and alert at every point. Because there's always someone waiting... to take you down. Show any sign of weakness, and before you know it you'll be gone.
It was of course much the same 3000 years ago in the royal court of Israel. If you take the time to read the life story of King David, which runs through the books of 1 and 2 Samuel, you'll be very aware that for him, life was no bed of roses. He's remembered as Israel's greatest king. He's the original messiah, the King anointed by God. And yet his rise to the throne and his reign were tortured by the sort of political intrigue and moral failure and family fracture that makes you wonder how he didn't just give up.
All of which is reflected in this Psalm. Psalm 41, a psalm of David. Because instead of keeping a blog, David wrote songs. Kind of a diary of a king. So everyone could see what it was like.
And the fascinating thing we'll see is, as it was for David, so it was for Jesus. And the glimpse of what David went through is in many ways a glimpse of what Jesus went through 1000 years later. As the greater son of David. In some ways the echoes are uncanny. As Jesus fills out, fills up... not that he's fulfilling what were predictions by David, but filling full what David only lives out in part. Which we'll see shortly.
So the first question I want to ask you this morning, is how you regard the weak. See, in politics you look for chinks in the armour so you can put the knife in. You look for signs of weakness so you can exploit it and bring down the king.
And maybe at work or even as you relate to people you're in the habit of doing that. Making yourself look bigger by making other people look smaller.
Take a look at David's first words in Psalm 41. Because we're going to see he's got a word for those who have regard for the weak. And a word for those who don't. And then a word from verse 10 about God's regard for the weak.
You'll notice verses 1 to 3 are all in the third person. It's in the abstract, it's kept at a distance. Which changes in verse 4 to 9, where David's going to say this is about me.
And verse 1 says "Blessed is he who has regard for the weak."
Because you see, most people don't. Even if you're not playing it for your own personal advantage, you'll be tempted to see the weak and ignore them. There's a temptation, isn't there, to maybe see people in hard times and even critique them. Because they've some how brought it on themselves. Which is exactly what happens in the book of Job.
Now because we know where this Psalm is heading, and because we know David's talking about himself, you can read verse 1 this way. Blessed is he who has regard for the weak king.
David's writing at a time when his life is at a low ebb. In some of the Psalms there's a little preface that explains exactly what's been happening as he writes. But this time you're left guessing. Maybe it's the time when he's totally messed up and committed adultery with the beautiful Bathsheba. Which led to the birth of a child that got sick and died. And king David in his grief lay sick on his bed for days. Maybe it's something else.
But here's what he says. He says never be tempted to write off God's king. No matter how weak he might be looking.
Blessed is he who has regard for the weak, verse 1. Because there's going to be a comeback. The Lord delivers him in times of trouble.
The Lord will protect him, and preserve his life, verse 2, he will bless him in the land and not surrender him to the desire of his foes.
David might be looking like a spent force. You might think God's King has had his day. But you can't keep a good man down.
The Lord will sustain him on his sickbed, verse 3, and restore him from his bed of illness.
So whatever you do - don't look down on the weak king. Because God's got a great reputation for comebacks.
Now it's from verse 4 as I said that King David makes it personal. He's been talking in the abstract so far. The theory. The Lord will protect his life, bless him, not surrender him.
But from verse 4, him becomes me. And stays that way for the rest of the Psalm.
I said, "Oh Lord have mercy on me, help me, for I have sinned against you."
My enemies say of me in malice... when will he die and his name perish?
His enemies, do you notice, have no regard for the weak at all. Even if it happens to be God's king; King David. His enemies can't wait 'til he's dead. Hurry up and get it over with. How long's he going to linger on?
And they put rumours around to say things are worse than they are.
In 1897 the New York Sun published an obituary for the author Mark Twain, who actually wasn't dead at all. To which Mark Twain responded with a famous letter to the editor which simply said, "Dear Sir, Rumours of my death have been greatly exaggerated. Yours faithfully, Mark Twain."
Well, they're the sort of rumours being spread about David. Whenever one comes to see me, verse 6, he speaks falsely, while his heart gathers slander, then he goes out and spreads it about. You should see how bad he is. He's not going to last beyond tomorrow.
All my enemies whisper together against me, they imagine the worst for me, saying, a vile disease has beset him, he will never get up from the place where he lies.
In other words, time for a new king. He's done for. David was okay, but it's time for new leadership.
And it's not just his enemies. Even his friends. Who he trusted.
I mean, what kind of betrayal is this? At the time when friendship is most needed. He finds betrayal.
Look at verse 9. Because these words are going to resonate for thousands of years. These words are going to be played out in a new way. With another King in the future. He says,
Even my close friend, whom I trusted... he who shared my bread... has lifted up his heel against me.
He's walked all over me when I'm down. King David knows how it feels to have one of his closest friends turn against him. To be sharing bread together in fellowship. And then feel the scorn of betrayal.
Here's how the Psalm has been moving. Part A. Blessed is he who has regard for the weak. Because the Lord will sustain him on his sickbed.
Part B. David's enemies have no regard for him in his weakness. Even his friend turns against him.
And now Part C. A prayer that God will have regard for his weakness. And turn things round.
Take a look from verse 10. Because it's a bold prayer, isn't it? David says,
But you O Lord, have mercy on me. raise me up so that I may repay them.
They think I'm a spent force. But raise me so I can turn the tables. He says,
I know that you're pleased with me, for my enemy does not triumph over me. In my integrity, you uphold me and set me in your presence forever.
It's an optimistic ending, isn't it? King David, absolutely confident that his saving God will turn things around. That in spite of betrayal, in spite of slander and abuse, in spite of the fact that he's so far down it looks like he'll never get up, that God will raise him up and set him in his presence forever. Because David is God's anointed king.
And so he says "Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel, from everlasting to everlasting, Amen and Amen."
You know, one thing I'm often left with when I read the Psalms is the question, to what extent was David left disappointed? I mean, you read his life story, and it's kind of a disaster. And you're thinking when he says in my integrity you uphold me, you're thinking you must be joking. Because here's the King whose integrity so often was left in tatters. Sleeping with another guy's wife then sending him to the front lines to get slaughtered. Taking whatever he wanted. Whenever he wanted. Ultimately, his life in the end was just a pale shadow of the picture he's painting in Psalm 41. And yet he's absolutely confident, isn't he, that God will back his anointed king.
Even when he's betrayed by a friend.
Even when he looks like he's breathing his last breath.
Even when he's down for the count. Confident that God will raise him up. And uphold him. And set him in his presence forever.
Which is I think why Jesus goes to the cross with such confidence. And why things seem prearranged by God to bring to mind echoes of the words of this Psalm. Because here at last is an anointed king with absolute integrity.
And I guess it's no surprise as God's anointed King that he'll face opposition. And I guess it's no surprise he'll find hardship and he'll find abuse and he'll find no end of people who'll wish that he's dead. And I guess it's not even any real surprise that one of his closest friends will betray him. Which is the point where in John's gospel, Jesus quotes the words of this psalm. And you might like to turn over and find it, John chapter 13.
It's the Passover. The night Jesus knows he'll be betrayed. And he's just washed the feet of his disciples. Knowing full well which of them was going to betray him. He says to them, I've set you an example by washing your feet. I've shown you how to serve. And now that you know these things, you'll be blessed if you do them. But he says, I'm not referring to all of you. I know those I have chosen. We're in John 13 at verse 18.
"But this is to fulfill the scripture: 'He who shares my bread has lifted up his heel against me,'" quoting Psalm 41 verse 9.
After he had said this Jesus was troubled in spirit and testified, "I tell you the truth, one of you is going to betray me." His disciples stared at one another, at a loss to know which of them he meant. One of them, the disciple whom Jesus loved, was reclining next to him. Simon Peter motioned to this disciple and said, "Ask him which one he means." Leaning back against Jesus, he asked him, "Lord, who is it?" Jesus answered, "It is the one to whom I will give this piece of bread when I have dipped it in the dish." Then, dipping the piece of bread, he gave it to Judas Iscariot, son of Simon. As soon as Judas took the bread, Satan entered into him. "What you are about to do, do quickly," Jesus told him, but no one at the meal understood why Jesus said this to him. Since Judas had charge of the money, some thought Jesus was telling him to buy what was needed for the Feast, or to give something to the poor. As soon as Judas had taken the bread, he went out. and it was night.
Indeed it was. And so Jesus is betrayed by a friend he shared bread with. And handed over to be crucified.
Interesting, Jesus says to the disciples, I'm telling you this before it happens so you will know that I am he. That I'm the one David was talking about. I'm the anointed one full of integrity.
And so he goes to the cross trusting in God as David did in his despair. That in spite of what happens, in spite of appearances... that God will raise him up. And vindicate him. That in spite of appearances his enemies will not triumph over him. In fact, they'll be repaid. That in spite of appearances, the one whipped and abused and crucified will be upheld. And set in God's presence forever.
And all the promises of this Psalm of David, all David's confidence ... is going to be paid forward to this greater anointed King, Christ Jesus.
And so three days later, it should come as no surprise that the crucified Jesus is risen. And that not long after that, he ascends to sit at God's right hand. To sit in ultimate judgment on every person on the planet.
So some take home implications. What's Psalm 41 saying to us?
First and foremost, from Psalm 41 verse 1, blessed is he who has regard for the weak is ultimately talking about the regard you have for the weak and humiliated crucified messiah.
It is extremely odd isn't it? that if you're a Christian you're actually fundamentally committed to worshipping a guy who hangs on a cross in blood covered rags.
And incredibly, our blessing from God comes to us as we honour his crucified son. We do that every time we share the Lord's Supper together. As we will in a moment. As we share bread with him, not as his betrayer did, but as those who highly regard him. Even in weakness. The Apostle Paul puts it this way in 1 Corinthians 1... he says, verse 22,
Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than man's wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man's strength. Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things - and the things that are not - to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him.
Which is then a fundamental lesson about the life of faith. That I suspect we never finish learning. See, the promise of those books like Joel Osteen's Your Best Life Now, the promise of the super Christians you see on TV, the promise of some branches of Pentecostal teaching is that faith brings prosperity. That trusting God is guaranteed to make you healthy and wealthy and wise. When King David groans on his sickbed. And Jesus groans on his cross.
And again, the apostle Paul, he says, I've got this agonizing pain, this thorn in the flesh that just won't go away. I've prayed to be healed. But I'm not. Listen what he says about it. 2 Corinthians 12:8...
Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ's sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
Can you see the point? If things are tough for you, remember Jesus.
If you're feeling weak and run down and life's getting on top of you... remember Jesus.
If you're feeling unimpressive and you're insulted and it feels like everything is going wrong, if you're being persecuted and laughed at for your faith, if you can't even start to count the difficulties you're going through... remember Jesus. And keep looking in faith to the Father who raised him up.
Because our strength is there.
We so easily want to boast in how impressive we are, don't we? And give the appearance that we've got it all together. If you're thinking that, if you're feeling strong... let me tell you it's a passing illusion. Paul says boast about your weaknesses instead. Because it's there that he says you'll find God's grace is sufficient for you. Made perfect in your weakness. It's there that he says Christ's power will rest on you. Even just the power to keep going.
So friends, don't despise weakness. Not your own. Not your friends'. And most especially not the weakness of the Lord Jesus on the cross. Delight in your difficulties. Because when you are weak if you keep trusting the Father, then you are most truly strong.