From This Time Forth and Forevermore

April 24, 2016
Psalm 115
Abraham Hong


Part 1: As We Wait

I begin this sermon with the big picture. I want to remind you of the time and place that we are in right now. We are in the last chapter of redemptive history. There is only one thing left that needs to happen, and that is the return of Christ. When Jesus returns, he will destroy this fading world and create a new heavens and a new earth. Jesus will be the king. There will be no more sin or death. There will be full worship and glory unto God. All of this will happen someday. And right now we are waiting for all of this to happen. We are pilgrims and exiles waiting for the return of Christ. This is the big picture.

During our wait, we are tempted and tried by things around us. As we look forward to Christ, we go through suffering and trials on this earth. The nation of Israel in the Old Testament went through the same kind of thing that we are all going through today. God rescued Israel from slavery in Egypt and brought her to the promised land of Canaan, just as we are going to heaven today. He showed her steadfast love and faithfulness. But Israel did not love God. She gradually drifted away from God and found suffering and ruin. Israel and God: the saddest relationship ever.

Why did Israel fall away from God? The answer is simple but deep. Israel fell in love with other gods. She saw the gods of other nations and thought that they were better and more powerful than God. So Israel worshipped these other gods and turned away from God. This is how Israel destroyed their relationship with God.

They were destroyed by idolatry.

Part 2: Sin and Dumbness

An idol is basically something that you make, like a statue, that represents the god that you worship. So when you bow down to an idol, you’re basically worshipping a god. That is idolatry. And that is what Israel did.

The Bible is clear about idolatry. It is sin. And it is a big deal. There are two reasons why that is so.

First, idolatry is like adultery. Israel and God were in a covenant relationship. Their relationship was basically like a marriage between a husband and wife. So when Israel worshipped idols, she was loving other gods. The Bible described that as spiritual adultery. And that is the first reason why idolatry is such a big deal.

But there is another reason why idolatry is so messed up. Idolatry comes from a failure to trust in God. Israel trusted other gods because she thought they were powerful and able to help them. Israel didn’t trust God. Not trusting in God, however, is one of the worst things that a human being can do. God is a God of truth. Therefore, if God says something to you or makes a promise to you, and you don’t trust his word or promise, then you are basically denying the truth of God. You are basically calling God a liar. That is the second reason why idolatry is such a big deal.

And so this brings us to Psalm 115.

The writer of today's psalm calls God’s people to trust in God. He says, “O Israel, trust in the Lord! You who fear the Lord, trust in the Lord!” This is a call and a command. And this is what I want you to do today. Trust God as we wait for our Lord to return. Trust in the Lord as pilgrims and exiles who wait to see Christ face to face.

Brothers and sisters, trust in God because idols and the gods behind them are… powerless. Power is ability. Power is control. Power is strength. But look at what the writer points out. He says that idols have mouths but cannot speak. They have eyes but cannot see. They have ears, but do not hear; noses, but do not smell. They have hands, but do not feel; feet, but do not walk; and they do not make a sound in their throat. Idols and the gods behind them are powerless.

How could Israel be so dumb and fall for such idols and false gods? Two reasons. The first reason was good, old-fashioned peer pressure. The foreign nations around Israel were not just worshipping other gods. They were trash talking against Israel’s God. Over and over again, Israel heard their neighbors say, “Where is your God? You God is weak. Join us. Our gods are better.” This spiritual peer pressure eventually broke Israel.

But there was another reason why Israel became so dumb. The writer of today’s psalm says in verse 8 that those who make idols and worship the gods behind them become like them! In other words, idolatry makes you dumb. This is very profound and super ironic. Idols and the gods behind them are deaf, mute, and blind. And so Israel too became spiritually deaf, mute, and blind. This is how Israel became dumb.

So Israel fell for idols because of peer pressure and because idolatry made them dumb. And Christians today can be distracted by idolatry.

But praise the Lord that Psalm 115 cuts through all the peer pressure and dumbness. The writer proclaims that God is powerful. In an almost counter trash-talking defiance, the writer says, “Why should the nations say, ‘Where is their God?’ Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases.” This is so true! Our God does whatever he plans to do, and no one can stop him. No one can beat him. No one is more powerful than our God. Enough with the peer pressure and dumbness. There is no one like our God.

Many of the saints of old knew this. One of them was the prophet Elijah. 

Part 3: A Prophet and His Swag

I like the story of Elijah in 1 Kings 18. There was a famine in the land, and the king at the time, king Ahab, sinned greatly against God. He was also against Elijah, who was a prophet of God. Ahad hated Elijah. Ahab said to Elijah, “Is it you, you troubler of Israel?” Elijah replied, “You’re the troublemaker of Israel, not me. You’re the one who abandoned God and followed Ba’al. You want to duke it out? Meet me at Mount Carmel. Bring all of Israel with you, especially your 450 prophets of Ba’al and your 400 prophets of Asherah.” So that’s 850 versus 1.

There were two altars. One for the false gods of Israel. The other for the true God of Elijah. There was a bull on each, but no fire. Each side would call on the one they worshipped. The one who answers by fire - he is the true God.

The Ba'al worshippers go first. From morning until noon, they cried out to Ba'al. But there was no voice, and no one answered. By noon they were limping around their altar. And I love this next part. At noon, Elijah mocked them, saying, and I’m not making this up at all, “Cry aloud, for he is a god. Either he is musing, or he is relieving himself, or he is on a journey, or perhaps he is asleep and must be awakened.” This is biblical trash talking at its best. So the Ba'al worshippers cried aloud even more, and they started to cut themselves with their swords and lances until their blood spilled everywhere. But the day continued. There was no voice. No one answered. No one paid attention.

So Elijah got up and says, “Come near me.” He took twelve stones to represent the twelve tribes of Israel and made his altar to the Lord. Then he made a gigantic trench or moat around and over the entire altar. He put the wood and the bull on top. Now remember, no matches or lighter fluid. The God who answers by fire - he is the true God. So to make it brutally obvious (because Israel at this point was dumber than ever before) Elijah said, “Fill four jars with water and pour it on the bull and the wood.” So they did that. Then Elijah says, “Do it again.” So they soaked the altar again with water. Then Elijah says, “Do it again.” So they drenched the altar again with water. The water ran around the altar and filled the trench also with water.

This next part comes directly from Scripture. Elijah the prophet came near and said, “O LORD, God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, let it be known this day that you are God in Israel, and that I am your servant, and that I have done all these things at your word. Answer me, O LORD, answer me, that this people may know that you, O LORD, are God, and that you have turned their hearts back.”

Then the fire of the LORD fell and consumed the burnt offering and the wood and the stones and the dust, and licked up the water that was in the trench. And when all the people saw it, they fell on their faces and said, “The LORD, he is God; the LORD, he is God.” And Elijah said to them, “Seize the prophets of Ba'al; let not one of them escape.” And they seized them. And Elijah brought them down to the brook Kishon and slaugthered them there.

Elijah had swag. He knew that there was no one like our God.

Part 4: True Power and True Glory

Brothers and sisters, if you struggle with idolatry, if you are worshipping other gods, then I want to tell you this. Our God is in the heavens, and he does all that he pleases. Our God is glorious and powerful.

God showed his power and glory when through the ten plagues he brought Egypt, then the mightest nation on earth, to its knees and completely demolished and embarassed Pharoah and his pathetic and puny kingdom. God showed his power and glory when he had David a small shepherd boy kill the mighty Philistine Goliath with one smooth stone from a sling and with no sword or armor. God showed his power and glory when he created the heavens and the earth with just his words. And God the Father showed his power and glory when he sent his Son Jesus Christ to die on the cross to forgive us of our sins and rise again to grant us eternal resurrection life. This is true power and real glory.

Remember how idols don’t have real eyes or ears or mouths? Isn’t it amazing that Jesus Christ, the second person of the Triune God, has real eyes, real ears, and a real mouth? It is truly heartwarming when you think about it. With his eyes, Jesus saw Zacchaeus in the sycamore tree. With his ears, Jesus heard the criminal on the cross ask him, “Remember me when you come into your kingdom.” With his hands, Jesus healed the sick and embraced the little children. With his mouth, Jesus told the waves to be still and they obeyed his voice. With his voice, Jesus told the paralytic that his sins were forgiven. And he told him to get up and walk. Our God was never deaf, mute, or blind in Israel’s time. Our God is not deaf, mute, or blind today. And when Jesus comes back with his kingdom, you will literally see him because Our Lord has real eyes, reals ears, real hands, and a real mouth.

This is what we need to remember in the last chapter of redemptive history. This is what we need to remember as we wait for Jesus to return and bring his kingdom. This is what we need to remember when we are bullied or when our house burns down to the ground. This is what we need to remember when we lose our jobs or lose a friend or face injustice or go home hungry or get pimples or bomb that exam. This is what we need to remember when we are lonely or heartbroken.

O Israel, trust in the Lord! He is their help and their shield.
You who fear the Lord, trust in the Lord! He is their help and their shield.

Part 5: The Dead Do Not Praise The LORD

A shield is meant to protect one who bears it. I think it is profound though that in the movies, in the great scenes of battle, pretty much every shield fails. Think about the Death Star in Star Wars or the Nova Corps fighters in Guardians of the Galaxy or Thorin Oakenshield in the Hobbit. I guess that shields fail often in the movies in order to create drama. But how about real life? In real life, there is no such thing as a perfect shield. There is no such thing as guaranteed protection on this earth right now.

Our medicine protects our bodies. Our military protects our nation. Our helmets protect our heads. Our insurance protects our possessions and livelihood. But what protects you from death? What can take away your sins? What can protect you from the covenant curse of God? For it is said in Scripture: “The dead do not praise the LORD, nor do any who go down into silence.”

The answer is this: there is a shield - a perfect shield - that comes from heaven. Psalm 115 says that God himself is a help and a shield. And that shield was fully materialized at Bethlehem. That shield was fully forged at Nazareth for three decades. That shield was fully anointed by John the Baptist. And that shield was fully battle-tested in forty days of wilderness. And then, one the most important day of all, that shield was fully used at Calvary. For when Jesus suffered on the cross and died, he shielded his people from the wrath of God for our sins. Our Lord and Savior perfectly protected us on that day. And what did he protect us with? He didn’t protect us with a wall like that of Jericho. He didn’t protect us with anything natural from creation or anything made by human hands. And he certainly didn’t protect us with just another passover lamb. At Calvary, Jesus shielded us with his body and his blood. He died for us, and in our place as a substitute for us. And so he took the bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, and said, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” And he took the cup, and said, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this in remembrance of me.” God himself is our help and our shield. The LORD has indeed blessed the true nation of Israel, which is the church. The Lord has indeed blessed the house of Aaron by providing the ultimate great high priest. The LORD has indeed blessed anyone who fears him and repents with faith in Christ the King. Therefore, let us trust in God and bless the Lord from this time forth and forevermore.