‘Powerful, Wise, Good’ – Psalm 33 – August 2nd

If you would please turn with me to Psalm 33. The Psalmist says:

Rejoice in the Lord, you righteous ones;
praise from the upright is beautiful.
Praise the Lord with the lyre;
make music to Him with a ten-stringed harp.
Sing a new song to Him;
play skillfully on the strings, with a joyful shout.

For the word of the Lord is right,
and all His work is trustworthy.
He loves righteousness and justice;
the earth is full of the Lord’s unfailing love.

The heavens were made by the word of the Lord,
and all the stars, by the breath of His mouth.
He gathers the waters of the sea into a heap;
He puts the depths into storehouses.
Let the whole earth tremble before the Lord;
let all the inhabitants of the world stand in awe of Him.
For He spoke, and it came into being;
He commanded, and it came into existence.

10 The Lord frustrates the counsel of the nations;
He thwarts the plans of the peoples.
11 The counsel of the Lord stands forever,
the plans of His heart from generation to generation.
12 Happy is the nation whose God is Yahweh—
the people He has chosen to be His own possession!

13 The Lord looks down from heaven;
He observes everyone.
14 He gazes on all the inhabitants of the earth
from His dwelling place.
15 He alone shapes their hearts;
He considers all their works.
16 A king is not saved by a large army;
a warrior will not be delivered by great strength.
17 The horse is a false hope for safety;
it provides no escape by its great power.

18 Now the eye of the Lord is on those who fear Him—
those who depend on His faithful love
19 to deliver them from death
and to keep them alive in famine.

20 We wait for Yahweh;
He is our help and shield.
21 For our hearts rejoice in Him
because we trust in His holy name.
22 May Your faithful love rest on us, Yahweh,
for we put our hope in You.

This is the word of the Lord. Let’s pray:

Father we thank you that even as we are temporarily forced to change some of what we do because of COVID-19, you are greater than COVID-19. Not one of us wouldn’t rather be inside that building, sitting in the pews, catching up with the folks who usually sit next us face-to-face instead of simply over the phone. And yet, You are greater than our inconvenience. We thank you for the way that you are with us even in the midst of our social distancing, that you are near us even in the midst of our isolation, and that even as we try to serve our neighbors by distancing ourselves to try and mitigate the spread of the virus, you have given us the profound blessing of being able to look closely at your word together, to learn from it, to be changed by it, and be edified through it.

We pray these things in Jesus’s name, Amen.

*

Well, we are continuing our short break from the Gospel of John this morning to take a look at another Psalm, this time Psalm 33.

Like last week, our passage this morning gives us the luxury of having three fairly simple points that lead into one fairly simple application.

And thank God, right?

Like, I love the Gospel of John, but some weeks it makes my head hurt reading it, and then it makes my head hurt preaching it, so I can only imagine that it would make my head hurt hearing it.

That just comes with the territory of John’s gospel. But the Psalms consistently display a straightforwardness and a simplicity that we desperately need sometimes. The same is true of the Proverbs.

Don’t get me wrong. Life is complicated. The universe is complicated. Just about everything in the world is unbelievably complicated. That’s a fact. And yet, for exactly that reason, we need simplicity.

If all you ever do is float around in the endless complexity of everything, you will find yourself wildly disoriented and confused and perpetually agitated and hopeless and scared and angry. Right?

That is a significant part of why people my age tend to be the way that we are. A lot of people like to lean back and wistfully say, “I grew up in a simpler time.” And that’s great. But people my age did not.

We have grown up in a time in which the overwhelming complicated-ness of everything is always screaming in our faces from every single direction at every single moment, and absolutely nobody provided us with the tools to deal with that.

And because of that, quite a few folks my age have developed in really unhealthy ways.

But the truth is that it’s not just a generational thing. Right? Like, whether you’re 25 or 75, the world is unbelievably complicated and difficult and confusing, and there is no manual, but you have to exist here whether you like it or not. And because that is the case, we desperately need simplicity. We need clarity. We need straightforwardness.

We need it.

Now, that doesn’t mean we need people to lie to us. That’s one of the reasons misinformation spread so quickly, right? That’s one of the reasons that wild and impossible-to-verify stories spread around Facebook and the internet and everywhere, because those are simpler, and therefore they are attractive to us.

The world is extremely complicated and extreme conspiracy theories are simpler.

It is so much simpler to believe but there is one billionaire funding everything in the world and that he is the obvious bad guy and if we could just deal with him, everything would be fine. Right? That’s probably not true, but it’s comforting, in a way, to believe that because that is so much simpler than the truth, which very complicated.

In the same way, it is so much simpler to believe that one specific president is the root of all of our problems, so if we can just get rid of him, everything would be fine. You ever met somebody who thought that all our problems would go away if we could just get rid of Donald Trump, or Barack Obama, or George Bush, and so forth. That’s probably not true, but it’s comforting to believe that because that is so much simpler than the truth.

It is so much simpler to believe that there are secret societies meeting underneath the airport in Denver, Colorado, and that they make all the real decisions in the world, so if we can just get rid of them, everything will be fine. You heard that one? That’s probably not true, but it’s comforting to believe that because that is so much simpler than the truth, and therefore we are drawn to it.

But the problem is that that is a false simplicity.

That is simplicity-through-deception.

And what we need is not to be deceived. What we need is to be told the truth. But we need to be told simple truths.

We need someone, somewhere, to tell us the truth in terms that are so simple we cannot possibly misunderstand them. And that is part of what the Psalms do. And that is part of what the Proverbs do. And it is part of what the Gospels do.

Even if you don’t understand everything you read in them, the Proverbs give you simple wisdom for existing in a world that makes absolutely no sense 90% of the time.

The gospels give you a simple model that you can follow as you try to be faithful to the Lord in a world that is perpetually opposed to his good will and his good design.

And the Psalms give you a simple image of how the world really works, who’s really steering the ship. The Psalms very simply peek behind the curtain and show you that no matter how nauseatingly strange and confusing and difficult and frightening the world that you live in is, behind everything, God is working to accomplish his mission.

To bring all of this back into goodness.

To bring everything back into his will.

To turn everything that is bad good again.

To turn everything that is broken fixed again.

To turn everything that is lacking complete again.

The Psalms show you that. And we desperately need that. Right?

At least I do. I desperately need that simple clarity that the Psalms give us. I need it every day. And I need that right this moment.

So we are going to walk through Psalm 33 and allow Psalm 33 to move us, comfort us, and then mobilize us with its simple clarity about the God of the universe. 

And so, looking at Psalm 33, the first thing that we find is that God is gloriously powerful.

Like I said, painfully simple.

God is gloriously powerful.

How powerful?

According to the psalmist, he is create-the-universe-by-the-power-of-His-word powerful. That’s how powerful.

The Psalmist says that “The heavens were made by the word of the Lord, and all the stars by the breath of his mouth.”

I don’t know about you, but I can’t create anything by my words, except maybe confusion. Occasionally nervous laughter. Right? I can make you uncomfortable. I cannot create worlds.

Because I am not gloriously powerful. I am not the God of the universe.

But the Psalmist says that “The heavens were made by the word of the Lord, and all the stars by the breath of his mouth.”

That should affect the way that we think about God.

Because that means that God’s creativity is also God’s power. God’s word is powerful. So powerful that when God speaks, things that didn’t exist start existing. God speaks and things happen. God authoritatively tells the universe to start existing and it does. He’s not asking.

So you can think of God the way you would think of a woodworker. Or a carpenter – which is a really obvious one to reach for because of Jesus, right?

Think of God in the garage building a chair out of the wood from a tree that he cut down from the forest in his backyard.

God is a powerful craftsman. God is a powerful carpenter. God is a powerful woodworker. He speaks with authority. He speaks power. He speaks and every molecule in the universe obeys.

And so the Psalmist says that “he gathers the waters of the sea into a heap, he puts the depths into storehouses.” Therefore, he says “Let the whole earth tremble before the Lord, let all the inhabitants of the world stand in awe of him, for he spoke, and it came into being, he commanded, and it came into existence.”

The Lord is gloriously powerful.

And there is nowhere that we see his glorious power more clearly than in the fact that he created the universe when there was nothing.

Like, think about that!

Nothing obeyed him and became something.

Nonexistence obeyed his powerful word and became existence.

You exist because God called you into existence. He called you out nothingness to become somethingness. He commanded you to have flesh and bone and blood and soul and spirit and life, and you did. You exist because God is gloriously powerful, and your every move, your every breath, your every thought is held up and sustained and protected by his glorious power.

That’s the first thing that we learn about God from our passage this morning. God is gloriously powerful./

But that’s not the only thing that we learn.

Because our Psalmist also tells us in no uncertain terms that the same God he just described as gloriously powerful is also gloriously wise.

He says, and I quote, “The Lord looks down from heaven, he observes everyone, he gazes on all the inhabitants of the Earth from his Dwelling Place, he alone shapes their hearts, he considers all their works.”

And again, he says, “The eye of the Lord is on those who fear Him, those who depend on his faithful love to deliver them from Death to keep them alive in the famine.”

God is gloriously wise.

Not only did he create you, he also knows you. The Lord sees you with clear vision. The gloriously powerful God of the universe is also gloriously familiar with you. He shaped your heart. He considers your works. He observes you from heaven.

Whether you know God or not, he knows you. And he knows you well.

He knows you better than your wife or your husband knows you today and better than they will ever know you tomorrow. You could even say he knows you better than you know you.

One of my favorite quotes is from a British author named Francis Spufford, and he says that “To be known by God is like being known from the inside, but without all of my delusions.”

God knows me for who I really am, not just for who I tell myself I am. God knows me without all of the lies that I tell myself.

You know what I’m talking about?

That’s important, because we lie to ourselves like nobody’s business. Right?

If you pay close attention to your own heart over a long period of time, one of the things that you will notice is it we are always telling ourselves stories about ourselves.

We are always telling ourselves stories about ourselves.

And when we tell ourselves those stories, usually we fudge the details just a little bit.

We don’t really notice that we’re doing it most of the time, but we are. We’ll take the story of our own lives and then we’ll trim off some of the edges to fit into a straightforward story that props up the identity that we wish we had.

I’m gonna say that again another way, because that’s kind of a strange sentence: Without even knowing it, we lie to ourselves to try and fit ourselves into the identities that we want.  

Like, take Young Me, for example. If you’re like Young Me, you try to convince yourself that you’re a real “Prophet”-type.

The story you tell yourself is that you “stand outside the system” and you point to all the ways that it’s lost its way. That’s the story that you tell yourself. And because that is the story that you tell yourself, you lie to yourself about the things that happen to you to fit that narrative.

So if you have a nasty argument with somebody at work, you lie to yourself and tell yourself that the folks at your workplace just don’t understand. That they don’t have the vision you have. That seeps out into every corner of your life. Your parents just don’t understand. Your teachers just don’t understand. The people you go to church with just don’t understand. Not like you do. You know what I’m talking about?

That’s how I used to see myself. And you know what? I was wrong. I wasn’t a powerful prophetic voice. I wasn’t a modern-day Jeremiah. I was jerk. And not even a very smart one. I had a smug sense of superiority and a bunch way-too-strong opinions and very little spiritual maturity. That was me.

But that’s just one of the false identities that people try to fit themselves into.

Yours may be totally different. Maybe you try to convince yourself that you are the glue that holds your family together. That if you stop trying to control your adult children, they would spin off the rails. That if you stop trying to control your spouse, they’d have no idea what to do with themselves. That if you stop trying to control your parents, they would waste away into nothing. And so you tell yourself a story that makes you feel much better about your controlling behavior, the list goes on.

Or, maybe you see yourself as everybody’s maidservant. So you tell yourself a story that makes you feel better about allowing other people to trample on you. You tell yourself that you are always there for everybody. That even when people take advantage of it, that’s okay, because that’s just who you are. You’ve got a special mission from God to meet everybody’s needs all the time even if your own needs never get met. And so person after person will use you and then discard you. You get chewed up and then spit back out again and again and again, and even though something deep down in you knows that’s wrong, you continue to let people do it because the story that you tell yourself numbs the pain that comes with it.

We could do this all day.

The point is that we are always “trying on” identities. We are always reaching for false identities that make us feel strong or powerful or important or self-sufficient or worthy. But God sees through all of those. God sees you as you really are. God sees the you that actually exists, minus all of your self-deception.

And as stern as all of this sounds, the truth is that this is good news, not bad news.

Because you don’t need those identities. You don’t need to lie to yourself. You don’t need to tell yourself a flattering-but-fake story that makes you look like the hero, or the prophet, or the glue that holds your family together, because the truth is that you are already important.

You are already of infinite value in the eyes of God./

Now, usually when I’m listening to a sermon, this is about the part where I start rolling my eyes, because I am not touchy-feely. I’m just not. But don’t tune me out here. Stay with me.

You don’t need those false-identities because you are already of infinite value in the eyes of God.

Don’t get me wrong, there are things that God expects from you, and he’s not asking. But God has already treated you as worthy. God has already accepted you as good enough. God has already declared you to be perfect. He has already judged your debt to be paid in full, because of the cross. Jesus took all of the ways that you cannot measure up and he nailed them to the cross, Colossians 2:14 says. He canceled your record of debt. He raised you up from the ash heap. He drank away all of your wrath. He lived up to everything that you couldn’t, and then he turned around and declared you worthy, too.

You matter deeply, infinitely, and unchangeably because you exist, because God has created you with his powerful word, and you matter deeply, infinitely, and unchangeably because Christ has purchased you with his blood.

Nothing in the world can change that. Nothing can overturn that. Nothing can overshadow that. Nothing can nullify that.

That is the truth about God, and that is the truth about you.

And so you do not have to lie to yourself. You do not have to white knuckle your way into an identity that makes you feel worthy, because you are already worthy in Jesus Christ. Because he knows you from the inside, but without all your delusions. And the you that God knows, the you had actually exists, has been welcomed into the Glorious Kingdom of the gloriously powerful and gloriously wise God of the universe.

Once again: That is the truth about God, and that is the truth about you. 

But there’s one last thing that our passage tells us very clearly about God. And that is that God is gloriously good.

You can see how that would be important, right?

The Psalmist tells us that the God of the universe is gloriously powerful, gloriously wise, and gloriously good.

God is good.

The Psalmist says, “The word of the Lord is right, and all his work is trustworthy. He loves righteousness and justice, and the earth is full of the Lord’s unfailing love.”

So we’ve seen that the Lord is gloriously powerful, and we’ve seen that the Lord is gloriously wise. But with that glorious power and glorious wisdom, what does the Lord choose to fill the earth with?

Unfailing love, the Psalmist says.

What does a gloriously powerful and gloriously wise God long for?

Righteousness and justice, the psalmist says.

He says the gloriously powerful and gloriously wise God of the universe is “trustworthy.” /

But, why?

He doesn’t owe us anything. That’s the truth. We don’t have a leg to stand on. And even if we did, what could we do about it? We have absolutely no power or authority over God. His fate is not in our hands. And yet the God who owes us absolutely nothing, and has never owed us anything, and will never owe us a single thing in the universe deals with us exactly one way: Honestly. Justly. Fairly.

He says, “The word of the Lord is right, and all his work is trustworthy. He loves righteousness and justice. The Earth is full of the Lord’s unfailing love.”

This is the God that you worship.

The God of the universe holds out to you a love he does not owe you. He holds out to you a justice he does not owe you. He holds out to you a righteousness he does not owe you. He is trustworthy towards you with absolutely nothing to gain from it. The gloriously powerful and gloriously wise God of the universe is also gloriously good.

And we see that glorious goodness in action starting in verse 10. The psalmist says that “the Lord frustrates the counsel of the nations. He thwarts the plans of the peoples. The counsel of the Lord stands forever, the plans of his heart from generation to generation.” Therefore “happy is the nation whose God is Yahweh. The people he has chosen to be his own possession.”

In other words, the goodness of God revolts against the wickedness that we see in the world. And the goodness of God revolt against the wickedness that we find in ourselves.

What is the Lord’s response to injustice? He frustrates it.

What is the Lord’s response to the crooked plans that we make? He thwarts them.

Without a doubt, we’d probably like to see that more often, right?

We’d like to see God pull an Acts 11 on the folks we see actively working against God’s will in the world today. Remember Acts 11? In the middle of a speech, God strikes King Herod with worms that eat him alive. We’d probably like to see that more often.

Or we’d like to God Ananias and Sapphira the folks who are actively working against God’s will in the world. Remember Ananias and Sapphira? God makes them drop dead at the feet of Peter, Acts 5.

And when that doesn’t come, sometimes we wonder out loud whether God even cares about what’s happening, whether he’s paying attention, whether our suffering matters to him, whether there is really any hope for the world after all.

But into that fear and doubt and hopelessness, the Psalmist reminds us that “the counsel of the Lord stands forever,” and “the plans of his heart from generation to generation.”

Behind all of this, in ways we can’t see, in ways we don’t feel, in ways we may only recognize once in a blue moon, the Lord is working. The Lord is working out his will. The Lord is bringing all of this around to the only conclusion any of this can ever possibly lead to, and that is that Christ is returning. He’s returning to heal the world, to overcome the darkness, to break every last chain, to conquer every last stronghold that the devil has taken, to “turn every sad thing untrue,” to quote one dead British guy.

That is where this is headed, “from generation to generation.” And so the Psalmist says, “Happy is the nation whose God is Yahweh, the people he has chosen to be his own possession.” /

That’s a good verse.

When the Psalmist was writing, that applied to a specific nation that you can find on a map. At that time he was talking about Israel. As we move into the New Testament, the geographical nation of Israel becomes a thing of the past, as God shifts into inviting people into his kingdom all over the world, “from every tribe and tongue and nation,” as Revelation says.

But even though the nation of Israel is a thing of the past, the Psalmist’s words are still true, because one day this will be true of every nation. One day every tribe and tongue and nation will be happy because their God will be Yahweh. One day the gloriously powerful, gloriously wise, and gloriously good God of the universe will bless every tribe, tongue and nation with his glory, and everything will be exactly the way it’s supposed to be./

That’s where this is headed. All of it. No matter what you see happening around you and how much it may scare you, this is where all of this is headed, period./

And that leads us to the Psalmist’s very clear and very simple application point. And that is that, in light of all of this, the Lord is entitled to our worship. The Lord is entitled to our worship because he is gloriously powerful, gloriously wise, and gloriously good.

We see that in the opening verses, he says, “Rejoice in the Lord, you righteous ones; praise from the upright is beautiful. Praise the Lord with the lyre; make music to Him with a ten-stringed harp. Sing a new song to Him; play skillfully on the strings, with a joyful shout.”

The correct response to the glory of God should be worship. The Lord is entitled to your worship.

And in the same way, he is entitled to your trust. We see that in verses 20-22. He says, “We wait for Yahweh; He is our help and shield. 21 For our hearts rejoice in Him because we trust in His holy name. 22 May Your faithful love rest on us, Yahweh, for we put our hope in You.”

If you are like me, you are probably anxious these days. There’s plenty to be anxious about. Whether it’s the pandemic, or it’s the unrest we’ve seen in the streets, or it’s any of the ten thousand other things that might be robbing you of sleep nowadays, not to mention the difficulties that you might be facing in your personal life, you are probably anxious about something.

And into that anxiety, we’re invited to be comforted and strengthened by the fact that we are protected and empowered by a gloriously powerful, gloriously wise, and gloriously good God.

That’s why the Psalmist reminds himself in verses 16-17 that “A king is not saved by a large army” and “a warrior will not be delivered by great strength.” “The horse is a false hope for safety that “provides no escape by its great power.” Because true security comes from the Lord. True strength comes from the Lord. You can have everything stacked in your favor and it will not protect you from the Lord’s will, or you could be beat down and trampled on by nearly everyone you know and it will not prevent you from being lifted up by God’s power, wisdom, and goodness.

Put your trust in this God. Draw your strength from this God. Bury your fears in this God. Find your rest in the God Psalm 33 rejoices in.

This is the point in the service where, typically, I would give something that we refer to as an “altar call,” but that’s not quite possible this morning, for obvious reasons. What we’re doing instead, is that as we respond to the Lord through song, we invite you to text or email me with your prayer requests, or decisions, or burdens, and we can set a time to sit down over the phone sometime the week and talk or pray through whatever is on your heart.

Let’s pray.

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