Who Can Show Us Any Good, Psalm 4, Second Sunday in Lent, March 17, 2019
Imagine this scene with me, you are gathered in a home, really the courtyard of a home, in the second century Roman Empire, somewhere in what is today Turkey, then called Asia Minor. The house is not likely a permanent residence for anyone, but the wealthy and Christian owner of the home has donated it for this purpose. It was common for wealthy folks to own multiple homes. It is effectively a church, but outwardly it is still a house.
On the raised platform on the one end, where normally the meal would be taken, sits a man, a catechist, your teacher. He is there to teach you, and prepare you for your baptism in a few weeks. You are one of the catechumens, soon to be baptized, and this class is part of introducing you to the mysteries of the Church. You have attended the proclamation services for some time now but, when it came time to celebrate the Eucharist, you were always asked to leave. That mystery is only for the baptized. You are not allowed even to watch the Eucharist being celebrated.
As part of your preparation for baptism you have spent time learning the songs which are sung at the Eucharist and having them explained to you. Now you are listening to what is, for all intensive purposes, a lecture. You have been in a long process leading up to this day. Only recently you were enrolled in the list of catechumens. Prior to that, the congregation put you through something called the “scrutinies”. They sent members of the fellowship around to your neighbors to ask questions about your character, your manner of life, what sort of a person you were. (Today we would call it a background check.)
Last Sunday you heard about the victory which Christ won over Satan, the head of all the evil spirits that inhabit this world, and you and I both know there are many of those. We may even shudder at the thought and memory of our encounters with them. Perhaps you left last Sunday feeling a bit optimistic. After all, to be on the winning side is a good thing. To see one’s champion prevail, is like our country’s athletes winning the laurel wreath at the Olympic Games. It just fills one with pride and joy.
Today’s lesson is not nearly so upbeat. The catechist is talking about a cross, the Lord Jesus’ cross, yes, but now it is a cross which applies to your life and mine as well. He speaks of hard realities. Christ’s victory does not mean that we will win every encounter with the evil one. In fact, he tells us, that brothers and sisters in Christ have paid for this confession with their very lives. Eleven of the twelve witnesses of Christ were martyred.
It’s easy for governors to finger Christians as a threat, and declare open season on them. Recently in neighboring province there was an earthquake and the people rioted, demanding that the Christians be delivered up to appease the angry gods. Because the emperor has declared ours an unlawful religion, there is no legal recourse and scores died that day.
Why is our catechist telling us these things? Does he want to discourage us? Does he really think, that we think, if we offer ourselves to the cause, it will be easy? Does he know the sacrifices that might be asked of us?
Maybe, just maybe, he does not really want to discourage us, but knows we need to hear this, lest someone does think it’s easy. We are privileged to suffer with Christ. What a glory, that the work of God’s kingdom goes through us, in every way, even in suffering.
David faced suffering. In Psalm 4, David is taunted by enemies who think that he will get no help from God. The taunts of David’s enemies remind us of the taunts of Jesus’ enemies when He was dragged onto the cross. David speaks some very appropriate words about this situation for relief from his afflictions.
He begins by turning to God in prayer in verse one. He has been accused of some crime or sin, and feels the accusations unjust. He knows himself innocent, of that particular iniquity, and all he can do is turn to God. He has no particular request, other than for God to hear him and grant him some peace of mind.
With verses two and three he warns his enemies against the foolishness of opposing God’s plans and attacking God’s anointed king. David warns them, that victory of God’s people is certain; therefore they should turn from their wicked ways before it’s too late.
In verses four and five, David admonishes his loyal followers not to become bitter or resentful against their enemies, or against God because of the hardships they are suffering. If they remain patient and trust the Lord, He will deliver them in His good time.
Finally in verse six David encourages the fainthearted among his followers. There despairing question, “Who can show us any good?” suggest that some of David’s friends were losing heart and concluding that their cause was lost. But David says: “Don’t give up! Do not despair! Your question has an answer. ‘Who can show us any good?’ The Lord will show us good. He will let the light of His face shine upon us. He will give us relief.”
In verses seven and eight David concludes with another simple prayer that express his confidence in the Lord and the peace of mind that flows from such confidence.
If you ever feel your situation is hopeless, if you ever ask yourself, “What’s the use of being a Christian?” or if you ever look at the world around us and say “Who can show us any good?” you can remember this beautiful prayer of David. Even in the dark night of suffering, the light of God’s face will shine upon you and the goodness of His grace. He will deliver you in His due time.
God, the Heavenly Father desires that you trust Him, in season and out of season. When times are good, and when times are bad, that is the time we can turn to Him. We turn to Him with Thanksgiving even when our heart is heavy. This is the steadfast trust you and I have.
“But I’m not always so steadfast,” you think, “I cannot display such trust in the Lord.” It’s true, we are in dire need of forgiveness. For us, too often, have put ourselves first, and broken the first commandment. In our pride, we have trusted ourselves before trusting the Lord!
First off, do not despair over sin. David says, “Be angry, and do not sin; ponder in your own hearts on your beds, and be silent. Offer right sacrifices, and put your trust in the Lord.” (4-5)
Do not passively let sin have its way with you, be angry and fight back! You’re a Child of God and in your baptism stand against evil! You’re a soldier in the army of the Lord and your Captain is Christ Jesus.
Secondly remember, Jesus fights for you. Jesus squares off against the giant that is your pride, against the giant that is your vanity, against the giant that is your sin. Jesus takes aim against the lies of the world. In perfect righteousness Jesus extends His mighty arms and destroys sin forever, landing His lethal shot. He does all this for you and me as He hangs nailed on a cross. He is the life who conquers death; He is the truth that defeats all lies, He is the way upon whose road no vanity or pride is found.
Jesus is able to save those who draw near to God, through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them. In loneliness, in distress, in danger, in peace, in joy, in happiness. Christ has entered, not just into holy places made with hands, but into heaven itself, to appear in the presence of God on your behalf. When your trust is in Jesus, you know that God the Father will hear you when you call.
David in the midst of trouble trusts in God: and because of his trust he knows that in peace he will lie down and sleep. David prays with confidence in the face of trouble, “for you alone, O LORD, make me dwell in safety,” (8).
From looking at the account of David’s life we would be hard pressed to say that his life was one of safety, and there were many nights when David went to sleep with a serious and eminent threat upon his head, nevertheless, this is how he prays, even in the midst of violence and hardship.
If you’ve still got your hymnals open flip over to hymn 724. The peace David found in God, and which He shows in the words of Psalm 4, reminds me of the words of this hymn, written in 1607. Verse one says “If God Himself be for me, I may a host defy; for when I pray, before me my foes, confounded fly. If Christ, my head and master, Befriend me from above, what foe or what disaster can drive me from His love?”
Verse eight “No danger, thirst, or hunger, no pain or poverty, no earthly tyrant’s anger shall ever vanquish me. Though earth should break asunder, my fortress You shall be; no fire or sword or thunder shall sever You from me.”
Let’s go back to that picture of our second century Christian gathering for a moment. You’ve now completed your catechesis and have been baptized. The baptismal formula was recently changed from the name of Jesus Christ, to the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. You now remain as the dismissal occurs for all but the baptized believers.
The prayer leader announces the topic and you pray silently for a while. Then he sums up the petitions with his own spoken prayer. Then he does the same pattern again with a new topic. You stand in the typical posture of prayer looking heavenward, with arms outstretched and palms up.
Now it’s time for the Lord’s Supper. The bishop begins with a greeting, and you respond with the congregation. You share in the “kiss of peace” (men to men, women to women). Someone has brought a small loaf of bread and flask of wine from home. These are spread out upon the Lord’s Table. The flask of wine is emptied into one large silver cup. The bishop leads you in prayer; and breaks the bread and distributes the cup. You receive the elements and then hear the words of the Benediction, “Depart in peace”.
You then close your eyes and silently pray as David did. “Who can show us any good? … You have put more joy in my heart than they have when their grain and wine abound. In peace I will both lie down and sleep; for you alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety.” (6-8) Amen.