Help and Hope in the Lord (Psalm 146)

 
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Sermon by: Robert Austell; April 22, 2018 - Psalm 146

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::: Scripture and Music ::
Choir: Forever Praise (Martin)
Glorious Things of Thee are Spoken (AUSTRIAN HYMN)
Meet with Me (Ten Shekel Shirt)
Bless the Lord (Andre Crouch)
You Have Shown Us (Gloworks: Baloche, Chapman, et al.)
:: Sermon Manuscript (pdf) ::
This "manuscript" represents an early draft of the sermon. Some weeks the spoken version varies more than others from the early manuscript. Nevertheless, if you'd prefer to read than to listen, this is provided for that purpose.
Have you ever been in way over your head? Way beyond your skill set and your capability? It has been said that there are no foxhole atheists. I don’t know if that is completely true, but I do know that it is very common, perhaps even very instinctual to call out to God when we are really in need. It may be the short prayer, “Help me, God!” or even more to this point the exclamation, “Oh, God!” But I believe there is some innate, created impulse to reach out for HELP when we are in desperate need. And there is often also a thought, a desire, a HOPE, beyond ourselves – that help will come.
We are continuing in the series, “Raised for a Reason,” looking at some of the direct results of the new life we have because of the Easter Resurrection of Jesus. Today we are turning to the Hebrew hymnal of Psalms, in which God’s people sang praises because of God’s sure promise of help and hope to those in need. That promise of help and hope have been fully kept in Jesus Christ, in whose name we gather and worship this morning. Today we look at Psalm 146, which is organized in several pretty clear sections. It begins with praise, then a warning about where not to seek help, then the lengthiest part describing why God IS where we should hope and seek help, then a final return to praise because we know this God. I want to look at all that with you and then consider how Jesus IS the very hope and help of God described in this Psalm.
PRAISE! (vv.1-2)
Psalm 146 begins with whole-hearted praise:
1 Praise the Lord!
Praise the Lord, O my soul!
2 I will praise the Lord while I live;
I will sing praises to my God while I have my being.

Praise may seem hard to define, but we know what it is from everyday usage. We praise people for what they do or who they are when we approve of those things. Praise of God is related, but also of a higher order, because what God does and who He is always worthy of praise. If we know God, if we see what God is doing or has done, then we will praise God because He is good. While praise of God is always appropriate, it is fitting in this Psalm because the middle section will detail a number of the things God has done as well as the character of God that stands behind those actions. We will see, too, that after the details of who God is and what God has done, that the Psalm will conclude with more praise.

TRUST NOT (vv.3-4)

In verses 3-4, before getting to the positive description of who God is and what God has done, the Psalmist takes a brief moment to set up a counter-point. It is natural for human beings to look to earthly power for help and hope, but the introductory warning is: “Do not trust in princes.” (v.3)
3 Do not trust in princes,
[Do not trust] In mortal man,
in whom there is no salvation.
4 His spirit departs, he returns to the earth;
In that very day his thoughts perish.

Princes are but mortal men and verse 4 goes on to further describe the mortal limitations of even the powerful people of this world. They, too, die and return to dust, their influence waning. While we may be drawn to their visible earthly power in the here and now, there is no salvation in them – no lasting help or hope.
The modern application is not difficult to make. We seek help and put our hope in any number of earthly powers and promises, from politicians (our version of ‘princes’) to medicine to money to fix-it-quick advice on TV or the Internet. This Psalm does not deny that some temporary and real help may be found in some of those things, but its warning is to not put our TRUST in those things. Trust and hope are intimately related and are only truly lasting if tethered to an eternal, wise, and good God. So, don’t hear me or this scripture steering you away from doctors or voting or working to support yourself and family; rather, it is exhortation to recognize the limitations of such things and the greater hope that is to be found in God alone.

HOPE and HELP (vv.5-9)

So verses 5-9 dive deep into a description of this greater hope. The first two verses (5-6) focus on the character and power of God as Creator, using the words HELP and HOPE from which I named the sermon. I also could have gone with “How Blessed!” to describe those who look to God for help and hope. I did a whole series on blessing last year if you wanted to dig back into that. Remember that being blessed is not only experiencing “God’s good” in your life, but describes being aligned with God’s will and purpose. So if you are seeking help and hope from God, then you are putting yourself in line with God; no wonder that is described as “how blessed!” In contrast with the limited power of mortal princes, God’s far greater power and character is held up here as Creator and as the one who “keeps faith forever.” God is eternally powerful and faithful!
5 How blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob,
[How blessed is he] Whose hope is in the Lord his God,
6 Who made heaven and earth,
The sea and all that is in them;
Who keeps faith forever;

Verses 7-9 offer a representative list of how God’s character is demonstrated in the needy places and to the needy people of this world. I say representative rather than exhaustive on purpose. It’s a long list, but not to say that these are all the ways and the only ways God offers help, but to say that God’s help is expansive and broad, not just limited to one or two forms of help. Listen again to the breadth of help described here. Perhaps you hear your own cries for help answered in some way…
7 [The Lord] executes justice for the oppressed;
[The Lord] gives food to the hungry.
The Lord sets the prisoners free.
8 The Lord opens the eyes of the blind;
The Lord raises up those who are bowed down;
The Lord loves the righteous;
9 The Lord protects the strangers;
He supports the fatherless and the widow,
But He thwarts the way of the wicked.

Justice, provision, deliverance, healing, dignity, love, protection, support… what is clear is that God stands on the side of those who need help and hope! And while I’m not speaking to each line, don’t miss the last one; God also stands AGAINST wickedness.
So, the Psalm says, while not neglecting earthly helps, look first to God for help and hope in all these needs and more, for God is not only powerful, but eternal and faithful. This Psalm declares that our HELP and HOPE are in the Lord. But that’s not the end of scripture.
WHEN GOD SHOWED UP
The claim of the New Testament is that Jesus was God in the flesh, the Messiah, the fulfilment of God’s great promises to His people and to the whole world. As I read this Psalm and the description of the help and hope found in God alone, I was instantly reminded of another passage from the Gospel of Luke. It would be enough for me to know that Jesus is the help God sent and the hope of the world. But there is more that makes that connection much more explicit and direct.
As Jesus began his earthly ministry as an adult, Luke records in Luke 4 that Jesus went to the synagogue in his hometown of Nazareth. As was the practice, he stood up to read and he was given the scroll of Isaiah the prophet to read. He opened it to Isaiah 61 and read the scripture there. Listen to those words from Luke 4, imagining Jesus reading them in the synagogue, and remember the description of God’s promised HELP and HOPE from Psalm 146.
18 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me,
Because He anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor.
He has sent Me to proclaim release to the captives,
And recovery of sight to the blind,
To set free those who are oppressed,
19 To proclaim the favorable year of the Lord.”

After reading that Jesus returned the scroll to the attendant, sat down, and said, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” (Luke 4:20-21)
Did you hear the overlap with Psalm 146? Jesus was not only claiming to be the fulfilment of God’s promises to His people through the Prophet, but also claiming to be the very HELP and HOPE of God in and for this world.
So run all that I’ve said regarding Psalm 146 through that revelation! Not only are we to look to God over earthly powers for our help and hope, but we find it specifically in the person and work of Jesus Christ. And not only does Jesus embody that help and hope for the world, the Bible goes on to describe Jesus as the head and the Church as His body. So, see where this is going? Not only do you and I find the help and hope we need in Jesus Christ, we also are part of how God embodies that help and hope through Jesus to the world.
That is why it is so important for Church not to think about itself as “what’s in here” but in terms of participating in what God is already doing through Christ out there and all around us. You and I are a part of that. That is why Jesus talked so much about neighbors and about the arrival of the Kingdom of God.
It is precisely God’s design that we bear the hope of Christ because we have the hope of Christ. It is precisely God’s design that we bear the help of Christ because we have experienced the help of Christ.
And it all begins with what this Psalm teaches: to look to God as the first and lasting source of our HELP and HOPE.

PRAISE! (v.10)

Finally, the Psalm returns in verse 10 to praise. In great contrast to the reign and limited power of the mortal princes of v.3, the Psalmist declares:
10 The Lord will reign forever,
Your God, O Zion, to all generations.
Praise the Lord!

God’s power is eternal and His reign forever. He is God to Zion – to the people of Israel – to all generations. And so the Psalm ends where it began: Praise the Lord!
Indeed, we have good reason to say it with the Psalmist. Would you say it with me? Praise the Lord!

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