March 4, 2012

Second Sunday in Lent Sermon

God Our Saviour
I Thessalonians 4:1-8, Matthew 15:21-28, Psalm 86
Second Sunday in Lent
March 4, 2012

"Blessed Lord, who hast caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning; Grant that we may in such wise hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that by patience and comfort of thy holy Word, we may embrace, and ever hold fast, the blessed hope of everlasting life, which thou hast given us in our Saviour Jesus Christ." In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

As we begin and close each day in Morning and Evening Prayer, we pray the Lord's Prayer as He Himself taught us to do. And in this prayer are the important words, "deliver us from evil." The Bible readings for this morning show God answering that prayer. The passages were chosen to teach us to continually look to God as our Deliverer. The Collect for today, a prayer that has been said by the people of God for more than 1600 years, asks God to "keep us, both outwardly in our bodies, and inwardly in our souls; that we may be defended from all adversities." "Keep" here means to defend us, to protect us, or to deliver us. To put this in a New Testament term, it asks and trusts God to save us, and the real point we are trying to make today is, God is our Saviour.

1 Thessalonians 4 encourages us to avoid the sins of the flesh, which are far more deadly than any disease or injury to the body. Asking God to keep us outwardly in our bodies is, at least in part, to request Him to keep our fleshly desires under control so we will possess our "vessels," our bodies, in "sanctification and honour" rather than in "the lust of concupiscence." Matthew 15:21-28 shows Christ delivering the soul from the attacks and oppression of the devil as He casts the demon out of the woman's daughter.

Psalm 86 continues this theme. Here the Old Testament Israel is threatened by enemies. It usually was, wasn't it? It was not easy for Israel to survive, let alone live in peace. There were always enemies around. Sometimes they were the small Canaanite tribes, sometimes they were the large empires of the Mediterranean area, and, of course, there was the constant presence of temptation and sin. There were always enemies, just like today. I think one the worst of the contemporary heresies is the one that teaches that being a Christian and "walking in the center of God's will" means we will not have to fight the good fight as those before us have done. We will not face enemies, or persecution, or financial problems, or spiritual depression, or have to fight to subdue our own fleshly desires and weaknesses to the will of God. Rather than having to fight the good fight we will be "carried to the skies on flowery beds of ease" because God is going to work miracles for us to make us rich and healthy and live lives of ease and indulgence. In reality, God doesn't usually work that way. Rather than saving us from the fight, He usually saves us through the fight. That's why Isaac Watts' famous hymn I quoted a few moments ago also says,

Sure I must fight if I would reign:
Increase my courage Lord:
I'll bear the cross, endure the pain,
Supported by thy word.

It is why Paul said in Timothy 6:12, which we read as part of evening prayer last night, "fight the good fight."

Psalm 86 expresses our absolute dependence on God. It is He who wins the battle. I think it is important for us to see that David did not mean to give the impression that he was righteous, therefore God owed him protection and deliverance. When he says, "Preserve thou my soul, for I am holy" (vs. 2), he is not bragging about his own righteousness. David was very much aware of his own sin and unworthiness before God. "I acknowledge my faults, and my sin is ever before me," he wrote in the second verse of Psalm 51. He knew his only hope to escape the penalty of his sin was God's forgiveness, and he knew his only hope for becoming righteous was to be cleansed from sin by God. Thus he wrote, "Wash me throughly from my wickedness, and cleanse me from my sin" (Ps. 51:2). So David is not saying here, "God I am righteous, therefore You owe me the reward of saving me from my enemies." He is saying, "I am consecrated to You. I belong to you. I am set aside and reserved for Your service. And I know I am completely dependent upon Your grace. Therefore, please be my Help and Saviour in this uncertain and troubled world, and in the world to come."

David can ask God's help because he knows something about God. David knows God is a God of grandeur and compassion. Look at what he wrote in verses 8-10.

"Among all the gods there is none like unto thee, O Lord; there is not one that can do as thou doest."

All nations whom thou hast made shall come and worship thee , O Lord; and shall glorify thy Name.

For thou art great, and doest wondrous things: thou art God alone."

Here is what this Psalm is saying. God of Israel, You are the Lord. You are the creator and owner of all things. Your works are wondrous and miraculous. If the imaginary gods of the pagans existed, they would still be immeasurably inferior to You. You are the only God, and the only Being worthy to be called "God." All people owe You loving worship and obedience. You are also kind and generous. You condescend to hear our prayers. You are perfect in Your goodness, magnificent in Your gracious dealings with fallen humanity, unbounded in the mercy You give freely to all who call upon You, and the Saviour of those who put their trust in thee.

Because David knows this about God he will lift up his soul in prayer and call daily upon the God of his salvation. Can we do less? Will not the God who heard the prayers of David also hear our prayers? Will not the One who kept Israel by His grace also keep us if we put our trust in Him? Will not the One who delivered the soul of David from the nethermost hell also save our souls from everlasting damnation if we call upon Him in faith?

There is something very important in that last statement. It is based on verse 13 and it reminds us that our greatest enemy is our sin and our greatest need is to be delivered from its penalty, hell. It profits us nothing if God showers us with material things in this life, but allows our souls to fall into hell forever. Conversely, those whose sins are forgiven and whose souls are bound for the Mansions of Heaven are rich already, even if they are persecuted, hungry, and homeless in this world. Yet we are powerless to save ourselves from our enemy or its consequences. God alone can save, and He has accomplished our salvation in the redeeming work of Christ.

Let us pray.

"Almighty God, who seest that we have no power of ourselves to help ourselves; Keep us both outwardly in our bodies, and inwardly in our souls; that we may be defended from all adversities which may happen to the body, and from all evil thoughts which may assault and hurt the soul; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

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