Free Reformed Church of Kelmscott
THE LORD'S LOVINGKINDNESS AND TENDER MERCY ARE REVEALED IN THE FACT THAT DAVID HAS LIFE AND HEALTH.
Singing: (Psalms and Hymns are from the "Book of Praise"
Anglo Genevan Psalter)
Psalm 103:4 (Psalm 103:7)
Beloved Congregation of the Lord Jesus Christ!
We experience the brokenness of life in such profound ways. The multiple handicaps of the child which the Lord in His wisdom entrusted to a br & sr in the congregation is a striking example of this brokenness. Our brother and sister, and their other children too, receive a difficult task in caring for this special child of the covenant - a child so touched by the brokenness of this life. The fact that God has placed this child in our midst as congregation confronts all of us, in one way or another, with the brokenness of life.
Others of us experience the brokenness of life in different ways. Persistent headaches, tensions with other persons - the examples are numerous of how the brokenness of life confronts us.
Such brokenness can discourage. In fact, it does discourage. There come the times when we get tired of the burdens of this life, wish with all our heart that it would be over, over.... How we'd welcome relief.
It is with this in mind that I want to set before us today the words of David in Ps 103. For those words sound to us rather unrealistic. In the midst of the brokenness of life, how, we wonder, can one honestly sing the words of vs 1: "Bless the Lord, O my soul; and all that is within me, bless His holy Name!"?And certainly the words of our text don't ring very accurate to us: God "crowns [us] with lovingkindness and tender mercy"? Maybe it's something He will do on the last day, but in this vale of tears -we're sure- God doesn't do it at all. "Crown us"? No....
The Lord our God, brothers and sisters, comes to us with His Word, tells us in that Word what He does. God insists: what He does is: "He crowns [us] with lovingkindness and tender mercy." And that's a fact irrespective of how we feel or what we experience in our families.
In the midst of the brokenness of this life, I preach to you the gospel of God's lovingkindness and tender mercy.
I summarise the text with these words:
THE LORD'S LOVINGKINDNESS AND TENDER MERCY ARE REVEALED IN THE FACT THAT DAVID HAS LIFE AND HEALTH.
I ask your attention for
1. the cause of David's healing
2. the crown on David's healing.
1. Ps 103 is certainly no unknown psalm to us. Especially the verses 8-13 are well known; these words are echoed in the Lord's Supper Form, they speak of the rich and total forgiveness of all our sins. Possibly these familiar words about forgiveness determine also how we understand the words of our text; we understand David's reference to lovingkindness and tender mercy as a reference to forgiveness.
As it turns out though, beloved, there is more in this psalm than a reference to forgiveness as such. David mentions forgiveness, but does that in a specific context. For us to appreciate this psalm, then, we are first to understand the circumstances in which David wrote this poem. The words of our text follow immediately upon David's statement that God heals diseases and redeems one's life from destruction; that's what David had said in the end of vs 3 and in the beginning of vs 4. That reference to diseases is not a general truth that happens to cross David's mind as he sings this song. No, David evidently speaks from experience; he had himself been sick. And David's sickness had not been a 24 hour flu; he had been critically ill, he was at the point of death, he had stood at the doors of the Pit, Destruction.
When it was that David was so sick, we do not know. Nor do we have to. What we do know, and what is important, is that this sick man received restoration of health. What looked like a death bed turned out to be not so; God gave him life again. That's why David can say in vs 5 that God "satisfies...with good things So that your youth is renewed like the eagle's." On his sick-bed, David looked so old and he felt so old, but God changed all that; David's youth was restored so that he felt strong and fit again. It's in that context of renewed life that David writes this psalm. In fact, this psalm is David's response to the renewed life he received. After his healing, David did not just thank God and continue with his life; no, David sat back to think about this recovery, to meditate on it. And what's the conclusion of his thinking? The end result is that he sees his healing in the light of Israel's entire history, he sees it in the light of the redemption that must come through Jesus Christ. That understanding drives David to pick up his pen and write this poem, a song from which we can learn so much.
Observe how David writes his first stanza, the vss 1-5. He has mentioned in vs 3 that his disease was healed, in the first line of vs 4 that he was redeemed from destruction, from the Pit, from death. That healing is referred to again in vs 5: David is given all kinds of good; in fact, his youth is renewed, his vitality restored. Those, brothers and sisters, are all references to sickness and healing. But sandwiched in between these references to sickness and healing are the words of our text; the LORD "crowns you with lovingkindness and tender mercy." The implication is that the healing, the restoration from sickness, is a display of steadfast love and mercy!
may in itself not sound too profound. After all, we'll say it
too: if God heals us, it's His mercy, His grace. So together
we pray and thank God for the grace given in healing. Yet, brothers
and sisters, David says a lot more than that with these words.
For what is this "lovingkindness and tender mercy"?
David tells us what he means with these terms. For after he's told us in his first stanza about his conviction that his healing is a display of God's lovingkindness and tender mercies, David writes more stanzas. In the second stanza of his poem, the vss 6-13, David describes what he means by the term 'tender mercies' and in the third stanza, the vss 14-18, he explains the word 'lovingkindness'. We turn our attention, then, to David's second stanza, and try to grasp what David meant by the term 'tender mercies'.
'Tender mercies.' David's understanding of the word is determined by an event that happened long ago in Israel's history. David speaks of what God had revealed about His way to Moses, vs 7. Then in vs 8 David quotes from the writings of Moses; says he: "the LORD is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in mercy". Those words come essentially from Ex 34, from that history of the golden calf.
You know what happened. Scarcely had God delivered Israel from bondage in Egypt, scarcely had He made with this nation His covenant at Mt Sinai, when Israel made for themselves a golden calf. In His covenant stipulations God had said to Israel categorically that they were not to make for themselves any graven images, or any likeness of anything that was in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters under the earth; nor was Israel to bow down to them. But in short order Israel did exactly that; they made for themselves a graven image, a likeness of a creature found on the earth, and they bowed down to it. That was outright disobedience; here was covenant breaking.
That act of covenant breaking meant that Israel deserved the full wrath of their offended covenant God. It was not for this that God had delivered this people from slavery in Egypt! Israel deserved exactly what God said to Moses: "Let Me alone, that My wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them" (Ex 32:10).
But what was it that happens? Yes, there was wrath; some 3000 people died at the hand of the Levites. But those deaths were but a token of what the nation deserved; everyone deserved to die, the whole nation of a million and some individuals. Yet only some 3000 died. The fact that not more were put to death is evidence of grace; that they were spared was not deserved. So the whole episode becomes testimony of God's mercy. It's as God said to Moses: I am "the LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness..., forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin..." (34:6f). That's 'tender mercies': sins are not punished according to what is deserved; they are instead forgiven. 'Tender mercies': that is as David says it in vs 10: God "has not dealt with us according to our sins, nor punished us according to our iniquities." Tender mercy: that is that God removes our transgressions from us as far as east from west extends (vs 12). Tender mercies: David knows that it's tied to forgiveness out of grace.
David's health is restored. And he himself sees that this restoration is not simply because God is nice to the weak; no, this restoration flows out of the forgiveness that David has. Good health is mercy, because health is tied to forgiveness of sins.
This same message comes out also in that other word David uses here: lovingkindness. That term was also used in the episode of the golden calf. That God did not destroy Israel was mercy, yes; it was also expression of 'lovingkindness'. For God is a covenant God and the term 'lovingkindness' is a covenant term. Within the framework of the covenant it implies that the Lord is a Father who deals loyally and faithfully with His children. So Israel's entire sojourn through the desert, those 40 long years, was evidence of lovingkindness; all their needs were supplied day by day - while Israel did not deserve it. They sinned, and yet there was manna. They rebelled, and yet there was water, clothing, protection. God dealt loyally day by day, because God forgave sins day by day.
Then man may be dust, and as the flower of the field he may perish overnight (vs 15). David knew how finite man was; he had himself been so very sick. But even in the face of that mortality, God's lovingkindness, His loyalty, His covenant faithfulness remains; says David in vs 17: "the mercy of the LORD is from everlasting to everlasting." David, a finite, mortal man: he's preserved, spared from destruction, from death, from the Pit, because God is the LORD, Yahweh, full of steadfast love and mercy. David has life because the Lord is a God who does not give what is deserved; He instead forgives iniquity. So David ties it all together: renewed health, forgiveness of sins, God's lovingkindness, God's tender mercy - it's all of one piece. To David's mind they're inseparable.
It leaves us with a question. How is it possible
for David to make this connection between his renewed health on
the one hand, and the steadfast love and mercy of God, forgiveness,
on the other? Why can David tie these all together?
He can, beloved, because he knows that he is as sinful as his fathers when they danced around the golden calf. David knows himself to be a man, a mortal; more, David knows himself to be a sinner. There is a reason why David mentions forgiveness in vs 3, even before his healing in vs 4; he mentions forgiveness first because he knows that his sinfulness is his root problem. He is depraved, and as such deserves God's punishment; he deserves sickness and not health, he deserves handicap and not strength of mind and body, he deserves death and not life. When he says that God crowns him with lovingkindness and tender mercy, then David is actually saying that God does not deal with him according to what he deserves. His sinfulness demands his death (for "the wages of sin is death"); that he instead receives life is evidence of God's lovingkindness and tender mercy toward him, evidence that God forgives sins.
For our part, we know that forgiveness can come only from the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross. Ultimately, it was because of this coming sacrifice that Israel was spared in the event of the golden calf; it was because of this same coming sacrifice that David was spared from Death, was given new life. Granted, Christ had not yet died in David's time. But forgiveness from God in David's day -just like today- was dependent on the success of Christ on the cross, and all the sacrifices in the tabernacle foreshadowed that success; they drew God's attention to the satisfaction coming on Calvary. It is because of Calvary that David is forgiven; it is because of Calvary that David is healed. So David's healing is evidence of the fact that Christ came not just to forgive sins as such; David's healing is evidence of the fact that Christ came to restore life in its entirety. As the Saviour said in the synagogue of Nazareth: "The Spirit of the Lord...has sent Me to proclaim release to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord" (Lu 4:18f). David's healing is evidence that Christ came to "take away the cause of our eternal hunger and misery, which is sin." David's healing is a foretaste of what Christ would later do: He not only forgave sins, but also healed the sick. Yes, and before He healed the sick, He first forgave their sins. You see: those two, healing and forgiveness, belong together!
But if those two belong together, beloved, then it follows that David's whole existence flows out of the coming victory of Christ; stronger, David's whole existence is evidence of the coming victory of Christ. What David sees around himself, in terms of health, life and existence, is possible only because Jesus Christ would pay for sins. So is David's health, yes, and David's life itself too, all point to the cross; without that cross there could be no forgiveness and there could therefore be no tender mercies and no lovingkindness either, and therefore, ultimately, no health and no life at all.
But now think on it, brothers and sisters. If David's very life is dependent on God's mercy in Jesus Christ, on God's lovingkindness, then David does not need an abundance of life in order to thank God or bless Him. Nor does he need a life that is free of the bitter consequences of our fall into sin, a life free of aches and pains, of frustrations and concerns, of handicaps and dependence on others. By the grace of God David may know his life itself to be a miracle of God's grace, an evidence of Calvary. That's why David can tell himself to "bless the LORD, O my soul; and all that is within me, bless His holy Name!" (vs 1). After all, this God "satisfies your mouth with good things" (vs 5). For God "crowns you with lovingkindness and tender mercies."
2. "Crowns", says David to himself, "God crowns you with lovingkindness and tender mercy." It's a remarkable verb that David chooses to use here: crown. David could just as well have choses the word 'displays'; the Lord displays His love and mercy. Or the word 'leads'; the Lord leads us with His lovingkindness and tender mercy. But David doesn't; he chooses instead that word "crowns".
That's no accident, brothers and sisters. For the crown, we know, is considered the best; it's the climax. And that's exactly what David says here: the lovingkindness and tender mercy of God is the best in his life. Not health itself is for David the most treasured element in his life. Nor is it material well-being. Far more valuable to David is this lovingkindness and tender mercy of the LORD. That's the crown of his life because that's the cause of his life. Everything else is secondary, everything else flows out of that love and mercy of the God of the covenant. Here is the same as what the Lord implied in that answer to the rich Pharisee: go, sell what you have and give it to the poor and come, follow Me. Following God, belonging to God, enjoying His forgiving grace: that's life, that's happiness, that's cause for thanksgiving.
But that being so, David's life from here on in can only get better. It may be true that David was this time rescued from sickness, but tomorrow he can get sick again. Yes, for all David knows at this point in his life, he may himself one day die of some disease. But sins are forgiven, and God always shows lovingkindness and tender mercy, and so even dying from illness can be no negative thing for David; even then God shall redeem him from Destruction, from the Pit. He shall face Death one day, but death shall be no enemy; it shall be the door to Life, Life with God without any of the aches and pains that now may plague the child of God. The crown of steadfast love and mercy with which David is now surrounded shall grow into a crown of righteousness; after David has fought the good fight, has finished the race, has kept the faith and must close his eyes of flesh for the last time and enter the grave, then that grave is not the Pit or Sheol; for the child of God, the grave is the bosom of father Abraham. As such, the door of Death is the gateway to the crown of righteousness which awaits every child of God in the New Jerusalem. Now God crowns David with lovingkindness and mercy; David is dependent on God's grace. Then David shall receive another crown, one of righteousness so that he shall be declared innocent before God, not a sinner at all. Now David needs forgiveness; then David shall be perfect, righteous in God's eyes. Now he sees God's steadfast love and mercy but dimly; then he shall see it in all its glory. He'll be crowned with righteousness because his Saviour was crowned with thorns. David will be accepted into the courts of God, because Christ was rejected from the courts of God. Now David has life, health - we don't know how comfortable. Then David shall have life, health - and we do know how comfortable; there shall be no more mourning or crying or pain any more, for the former things have passed away. That crown of steadfast love and mercy that David now has is but the foretaste of the glorious crown of love and mercy to be revealed on the last day!
David has his life, his health, has it because of the LORD's lovingkindness and tender mercy. So he can thank God, can bless His LORD day by day. We of the New Testament dispensation can join in David's praise, yes, can out-do him in songs of adoration for this God of steadfast love and mercy, this God of forgiveness, of life: "O you His angels, ...His ministers that do His will: bless the Lord, bless the Lord!" (vss 20ff).
What's left, then, of today's broken life? Ah yes, that brokenness is still there. Jonathan's handicap remains so very real, and the family -and we all- shall need to help our little brother and each other so very much. But the edge is off the aches and pains, is off the frustrations and concerns. For God is Jonathan's Father in Jesus Christ, is the God who daily crowns Jonathan -and us all- with His lovingkindness and tender mercies. Amen.