Monday, March 2, 2015

Psalm 31 - Wait Expectantly

For your Creator will be your husband;
the LORD of Heaven's Armies is His name!
He is your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel,
the God of all the earth.
Isaiah 54:5
1O LORD, I have come to You for protection;
don’t let me be disgraced.
Save me, for You do what is right.
2Turn Your ear to listen to me;
rescue me quickly.
Be my rock of protection,
a fortress where I will be safe.
3You are my rock and my fortress.
For the honor of Your name, lead me out of this danger.
4Pull me from the trap my enemies set for me,
for I find protection in You alone.
5I entrust my spirit into Your hand.
Rescue me, LORD, for You are a faithful God.
6I hate those who worship worthless idols.
I trust in the LORD.
7I will be glad and rejoice in Your unfailing love,
for You have seen my troubles,
and You care about the anguish of my soul.
8You have not handed me over to my enemies
but have set me in a safe place.
9Have mercy on me, LORD, for I am in distress.
Tears blur my eyes.
My body and soul are withering away.
10I am dying from grief;
my years are shortened by sadness.
Sin has drained my strength;
I am wasting away from within.
11I am scorned by all my enemies
and despised by my neighbors—
even my friends are afraid to come near me.
When they see me on the street,
they run the other way.
12I am ignored as if I were dead,
as if I were a broken pot.
13I have heard the many rumors about me,
and I am surrounded by terror.
My enemies conspire against me,
plotting to take my life.
14But I am trusting You, O LORD,
saying, “You are my God!”
15My future is in Your hands.
Rescue me from those who hunt me down relentlessly.
16Let Your favor shine on Your servant.
In Your unfailing love, rescue me.
17Don’t let me be disgraced, O LORD,
for I call out to You for help.
Let the wicked be disgraced;
let them lie silent in the grave.a
18Silence their lying lips—
those proud and arrogant lips that accuse the godly.
19How great is the goodness
You have stored up for those who fear You.
You lavish it on those who come to You for protection,
blessing them before the watching world.
20You hide them in the shelter of Your presence,
safe from those who conspire against them.
You shelter them in Your presence,
far from accusing tongues.
21Praise the LORD,
for He has shown me the wonders of His unfailing love.
He kept me safe when my city was under attack.
22In panic I cried out,
“I am cut off from the LORD!”
But You heard my cry for mercy
and answered my call for help.
23Love the LORD, all You godly ones!
For the LORD protects those who are loyal to Him,
but He harshly punishes the arrogant.
24So be strong and courageous, all You who put your hope in the LORD!  

In many ways, the book of Psalms is essentially the liturgy of ancient Israel. The book forms the basis of the New Testament. As much as any other book, the Psalms guided the interpretation and even writing of the New Testament authors. When it comes to Jesus’ last week, and particularly the presentation and interpretation of his “passion,” his suffering, Psalm 22 along with Isaiah 53 provide the backdrop.

Beyond mere interpretation, the early church came to see the psalms as prophecies, predictions of what Christ would experience. There is some value in this approach, but what I also value is the original experience of the psalm authors. Their life writings parallel my present day experience as I read the psalms.

Psalm 31 is one of those “whole story” psalms—including a crisis, prayer, deliverance by God, and subsequent praise. When I am in the crisis, when I find it hard to pray, when I am awaiting God’s deliverance, it helps to realize I am only a part of a larger story. This perspective is what guided Jesus and the New Testament writers through his last week. And it can guide me also.

During Holy Week, the church commemorates the last week of Jesus’ life. Psalm 31 helps me understand how the New Testament viewed Jesus, and invites me into the same faith Jesus had. Here is what might be the essence of faith in verses 4-5: “Pull me from the trap my enemies set for me, for I find protection in You alone. I entrust my spirit into Your hand. Rescue me, LORD, for You are a faithful God.” 

In 1 Peter 5:8, I am told that God’s Adversary prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. God’s people are always under surveillance and potential attack regarding our faithfulness. Thus when Jesus quotes Psalm 31:5 according to Luke 23:46, He expresses the universal and fundamental truth of faith.

Jesus was tested during His final week much like that attested to psalmist in Psalm 31:11-14. Like the psalmist, Jesus had been abandoned by his closest friends. The week started with adoring crowds and expectant disciples. But by Friday morning Jesus was alone, and the words of Psalm 31:11 apply: “I am scorned by all my enemies and despised by my neighbors—even my friends are afraid to come near me. When they see me on the street, they run the other way.” 

n response to this verse, John Calvin observes that people avoid those who suffer for fear of the “contagion of their misery.” Jesus was alone because others sought to avoid His fate. As in the psalm, Jesus was conspired against by the powerful. Verse 13 says, “I hear many whispering, ‘Terror on every side!’ They conspire against me and plot to take my life.” 

In Jesus’ day, it was the Jewish religious and Roman political authorities. In Jeremiah’s day, it was a priest named Pashhur. Jeremiah was the prophet who spoke of the destruction of Jerusalem in the 6th century before Christ. No one wanted to hear that bad news, especially the priests. So Jeremiah reports, “I hear many whispering: ‘Terror is all around! Denounce him! Let us denounce him!’ All my close friends are watching for me to stumble” (Jeremiah 20:12). As with Jeremiah, so with Psalm 31, so with Jesus, and so sometimes with me when I am following in the path of faithfulness.

The response in Psalm 31:14 was also Jesus’ response, and may it be mine as well: “But I trust in You, LORD; I say, ‘You are my God.’” When I am utterly alone, which is where suffering and misery often leaves me, trusting in God is the most difficult. It is the time when I say privately, inwardly, and intimately with Jesus in the words of Psalm 31, “I trust in You.”

Two verses later I catch another glimpse of the kind of faith Jesus had. In verse 16 the psalm pray, “Let Your favor shine on Your servant. In Your unfailing love, rescue me.” Like the sun in the clouds or in the darkness of night, God’s unfailing love persists even when I can’t see it. It is this reality that saves me—that God is faithful even when I do not experience it. And it is this faith that sustained Jesus and will save me in a time of trial.

Sometimes all I can do is pray, and I sometimes feel like my faith is less because of that. But Jesus’ life exemplified the model in Psalm 31:22, “In panic I cried out, “I am cut off from the LORD!” But You heard my cry for mercy and answered my call for help.” 

Calvin encourages prayer despite doubt because, “Saints often wrestle with their distrust. But the weakness of the flesh, even when they are almost overthrown, does not hinder them from showing that they are unwearied and invincible champions before God.”

Psalm 31 ends with these words: “Love the LORD, all You godly ones! For the LORD protects those who are loyal to Him, but He harshly punishes the arrogant. So be strong and courageous, all You who put your hope in the LORD!” 

Jesus ended his life on the cross with the words of Psalm 31:5.  But His story did not end there - it ends with these final verses of the psalm. God did deliver Jesus from His persecutors, and even delivered Him from death. And this seems to me to be a major point of Jesus’ life: to demonstrate God’s faithfulness and to awaken my faith.

For when Jesus quoted Psalm 31:5 from the cross, one of the Roman soldiers who had participated in His crucifixion realized and testified that Jesus was indeed a righteous man. And Luke tells us also that others who knew Jesus, particularly the women, were standing by and watching. That final week lets me recognize in Jesus’ death that His is the righteous example I am called to follow. And let me pray and wait expectantly as others may be watching - for I surely know the risen Christ and God’s deliverance in my life.