A Better Day

Sermon by Billy Dempsey on Jul 3, 2016

Psalm 84

Let me invite you to open your copies of God’s Word, or the Bible, from the pew rack in front of you to Psalm 84. We will be walking through Psalm 84 this morning and during the month of July on Sunday mornings, several of our assistant ministers will be taking us through some of the psalms. In preparation for that or in introduction of that, let me quote our young adult intern, Joe Johnson, from a recent Wednesday evening prayer meeting sermon also on the Psalms. Joe said this, “The Psalter gives attention to the full emotional range of God’s people.” It’s not a hundred fifty psalms telling us that life is great and needs to be happy. The Psalms speak of despair, fear, loneliness, and even doubt. It includes both joy and sorrow, times of celebration and times of mourning. Psalm 22, with that awful quote, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” followed by the sweetness of Psalm 23, “The Lord is my shepherd. I shall not want.” That’s why John Calvin called the Psalms “the anatomy of the soul.” The Psalms know us better than we do. They never leave us hopeless. In everyone, they point us to a true hope, our true hope. They always point us back to our Rock and our Redeemer. And on this side of the cross, we can say that they always point us to Jesus. To quote Tim Keller, “They are very much the songs of Jesus.”

So let’s turn and give our attention to Psalm 84 and before we read it together, let’s pray!

Our Father, thank You for Your Word that speaks so plainly and so clearly to us about our need and about Your sufficiency. So bless our attentions now to Your Word. Speak to us. Feed us. Help us indeed to cast aside every stray thought and every distraction to hear from You because You are the Lord and giver of life. Hear us, as we make our prayer in Jesus’ name and for His sake. Amen.

Psalm 84 verse 1:

“How lovely is your dwelling place, O LORD of hosts! My soul longs, yes, faints for the courts of the LORD; my heart and flesh sing for joy to the living God. Even the sparrow finds a home, and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may lay her young, at your altars, O LORD of hosts, my King and my God. Blessed are those who dwell in your house, ever singing your praise!

 

Blessed are those whose strength is in you, in whose heart are the highways to Zion. As they go through the Valley of Baca they make it a place of springs; the early rain also covers it with pools. They go from strength to strength; each one appears before God in Zion.

 

O LORD God of hosts, hear my prayer; give ear, O God of Jacob! Behold our shield, O God; look on the face of your anointed!

 

For a day in your courts is better than a thousand elsewhere. I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of wickedness. For the LORD God is a sun and shield; the LORD bestows favor and honor. No good thing does he withhold from those who walk uprightly. O LORD of hosts, blessed is the one who trusts in you!”

All men are like grass and all their glory is like the flower of the field. The grass withers and the flower fades, but the Word of our God stands forever.

I think there’s a helpful way to understand what’s happening here in Psalm 84. All of the scholars don’t agree that this is the setting. It seems to make sense to me, and since I’m the scholar you’ve got here in the pulpit this morning, that’s how we’re going to go with it! Others will differ with me, but I’m the only one you’ve got here this morning! I think Psalm 84, best understood as the superscription tells us, is from the sons of Korah and is set in the time when David is in flight from Jerusalem in the midst of Absalom’s rebellion. If you go back and read the history of David’s reign, you’ll find that David had to flee from Jerusalem and those who were loyal with him from the army and from his court and leading members of the population went with him into exile, across the Jordan, while Absalom laid claim to David’s kingdom and all David’s possessions. It was a brutal, miserable, deep, dark time. It’s out of that time that this prayer flows. You and I can recognize deep, dark, hard times in our lives from time to time and sometimes they come in waves, sometimes they come in seasons, sometimes it seems that they will never let up. And what happens here with the sons of Korah and their expression of confidence in God and trust in God, their expression of God’s satisfaction of their need is helpful to us as we sometimes endure either personally or as citizens of a nation undergoing vast change, vast cultural change, a nation that flees away from God and His commands and His presence. We undergo those kinds of travails also.

Yearning for Worship

What do we learn from the sons of Korah? Especially, what do we see God giving from His sanctuary to His people for their good? That’s really the way to cast this, I believe. What comes from the sanctuary where God is present that sustains His people in their trial? That’s what we see, I believe, here with the sons of Korah. That’s what they express for us. And they begin with a declaration that I think is important. Verses 1 and 2, “How lovely is your dwelling place.” Interesting, if my context is correct, they fled home and comfort and hearth. They fled wealth, they fled security. And yet they’re saying, “How lovely is your dwelling place.” They’ve also fled the tabernacle. Remember we’re talking old covenant worship. Wherever they are they can praise God, wherever they are they can pray to God, wherever they are they can write psalms of prayer and praise and melody. They can contemplate and meditate on God’s Word, but they can’t worship. They can’t worship because in the old covenant system worship is bounded by sacrifice and sacrifice is offered at the tabernacle. If they fled the tabernacle, they fled worship. They can’t worship God with the rites and the rituals, the means of grace, or as Calvin calls “the ladder steps to heaven” that are required, they can’t worship God. And so they’re yearning for worship.

It’s interesting – what do we yearn for? These men are saying, “How lovely,” not, “is my home,” not, “is my comfort,” how lovely not, “is my financial security,” not “How lovely is my peace.” “How lovely are Your courts, Your dwelling place, because that’s where You are in Your fullness. That’s where You’ve placed Your name. That’s where the ark of the covenant is. That’s where You hover between the cherubim. That’s where I worship You. How lovely are Your courts.” Loss, it seems, has become a great microscope by which they observe what’s truly important in life and what’s truly valuable. And in a season of loss, they’re recognizing what’s valuable is the worship of God, gathering with the people of God in the place that God has set apart for Himself. “How lovely are Your courts,” and all that happens there. “My soul longs, yes faints, for the courts of the Lord.” That’s the language of thirst. And think how when you are thirsty you long to slake your thirst. You can’t find a glass big enough to hold the water you want to drink when you are thirsty from hard exertion on a hot day outside. That’s the language they’re using – the language of thirst, slaking, quenching my thirst.

The Security in God’s Sanctuary

“My heart and my flesh,” catch this language, “sing for joy to the living God.” Why do they sing for joy if their setting is as I had described and their language is to be interpreted as I’ve done so, so far, that yearning, that longing, that thirsting for the courts of God? Well obviously God is helping them. God is helping them endure the trial that they’re enduring and there are several things as we walk our way through this psalm that God is giving that I think they’re describing for us. One is a security, a sense of security that they identify especially as they reflect on the tabernacle itself. And what do they reflect on? What do their minds fall on? Of all the odd things, look at verse 3, “even the sparrow finds a home.” They think about the birds that buzz around through the courts of the tabernacle. “Even the sparrow finds a home, a swallow a nest where she may lay her young.” They want to be like those birds. And they are in the sense that they are secure. “Even in the midst of their trial, they enjoy a sense of security. “I’m not at the tabernacle. I envy the birds who are able to build their nest in the pillars of the tabernacle, but I am safe. I am safe. God brings me security from His sanctuary even if I’m not in His sanctuary where He is, God brings me security.”

Look at what they say. “Blessed are those who get to stay home. Blessed are those who get to keep life as they know it to be every day”? “Blessed are those who dwell in your house.” Full, happy, rich, satisfied – that’s the Hebrew understanding of that word “blessed.” Full, happy, fulfilled, enriched, satisfied. “Blessed are those who dwell in your house.” They’re free to worship You. They’re free to sing Your praise. They’re secure even in their wandering, even in their exile. Camping and living in the open with a King out of favor with His people, they find themselves secure because what do they call Him? Look at the end of verse 3, “O Lord of hosts.” That’s the second time they refer to God as “the Lord of hosts.” Yahweh Sabaoth, the host of heaven. Why are they secure? They’re secure because God sends all His gathered might to care for and strengthen and provide for them.

Remember Gehazi, Elisha’s servant, Gehazi? The armies of the king had surrounded the city of Dothan where Elisha was and he was going to capture the prophet of God and Gehazi is having the quivers and he said, “O Elisha, look! We’re doomed! We’re doomed!” And Elisha says very simply, “O God, open his eyes.” And Gehazi blinks and sees the vast, uncountable host of heaven surrounding and protecting the man of God and his witless servant. And it’s Elisha who says, “We have more with us than they have with them.” That’s the security, even in exile, even living in the open, even away from the tabernacle of God where they can worship God freely, which they long to do, they’re safe, they’re secure because of Yahweh Sabaoth, the Lord of hosts, surrounding, undergirding, keeping, protecting. He’s not neutral. He’s not neutral in their struggle. He’s not neutral in their circumstances. He will accomplish all that He intends. Even in their difficult spot at the moment they can be secure.

You and I likewise can enjoy security coming from God’s sanctuary, coming from the throne of God where all things affecting us fall out from His hand and He accomplishes all His holy will regarding us. We don’t like sometimes where we are, but we can be secure knowing that we’re in the grip of, the hand of the Lord of hosts. Nothing can stop or sway Him. Nothing will go undone that He intends to have done. We’re secure. We’re safe.

Yahweh is Our Strength

There’s another thing that comes to the sons of Korah as they think through their situation and take stock of where they are and yet also take stock of what God does for them. Look at verse 5, “Blessed are those whose strength is in you, in whose hearts are the highways to Zion. As they go through the Valley of Baca, they make it a place of springs; the early rain also covers it with pools.” What are they talking about? They’re talking about strength. They’re talking about strength. What comes to the people of God in the places where God has put them, even the hard places, strength. Blessed, happy, fulfilled, enriched, satisfied. Again, that full Hebrew sense of the word “blessed” are those whose strength is in You. Where does the strength of the sons of Korah come from to deal with life as they face it right now? Where does your strength come from to deal with life as you face it right now? And sometimes in some very difficult circumstances, perhaps in business, perhaps in family, perhaps in our own health, perhaps as we watch the news and we see our culture falling apart around us, where does our strength come to endure those times, to think in terms of the way God helps us think and helps us understand in these times? It comes from Yahweh; it doesn’t come from us. It doesn’t originate with us. Our strength is in Yahweh. We trust in Him.

How do we gather strength from Yahweh? We learn to think about ourselves and the life we live in the world that God has placed us from how God has said we think about life and ourselves and the world in which He has placed us. We gather our strength from understanding our life and our world from His point of view, from leaning on Him, from trusting Him. The beautiful Proverbs chapter 3, “Trust the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him and He will make your path straight.” That’s those who find their strength in Yahweh. He makes this business of the “highways of Zion.” What is that? What a strange sentence! It is, maybe so maybe not better translated in the NIV, “those whose hearts are on pilgrimage,” those who are recognizing, “I’m on my way through here. This is not it for me. This is not home for me. This is not the place where I root. I am passing through and much good comes to me. I gather much good and God does much good for me and God in this place fits me for where the world that is to come where my home really is. I’m on pilgrimage through here. I’m gathering an understanding of God. I’m gathering an understanding of His Word that I’ll never gather elsewhere. I’m gathering an understanding of what it is to be connected to the body of Christ and what the family of God looks like. I gather that here so that I can appreciate it and rejoice in it there, but I’m gathering on my way through. I’m not setting down roots. I’m not living here.” Maybe that’s some of our understanding, some of the reason from time to time we find ourselves so bothered and so discontent and so upset with life here because maybe we want more than this world can give us. Maybe we’re looking for more than this world is designed to give us. This world is designed to give us certain things and certainly provide us many things but in a sense of passing through to something better.

Sometimes those ways through which we travel through are very difficult ways, aren’t they? The sons of Korah speak about the “Valley of Baca.” From all that the scholars say, the wording would indicate a dry and inhospitable, difficult, desert place. Have you ever been there? I’ll bet you have. I’ll bet you’ve been to the Valley of Baca if you’ve never left Jackson. God pulls us through those places sometimes, doesn’t He? There’s a Valley of Baca that you’ve been through. If you haven’t been through yet, back your bags; you’re going. You’re going to a hard, dry, difficult, inhospitable place. And when we’re there sometimes we feel like, “I’ll never get out of this place.”

Let me tell you about Al-Baber. Al-Baber was the father of several women in the first church I pastored in Missouri. He was not a member of our church but a man whom I visited many times. Al-Baber had run a business in north St. Louis. He was an avid woodcarver. He was a camper. Al-Baber lost both his legs to diabetes and had to learn in his late seventies to navigate life on two prosthetic limbs. I went to Al-Baber and I thought, “This is going to be hard.” But I found a man who was delightful. I found a man who was delightful in his company and delightful in his faith. And he was delightful in such a way that he turned a dry desert into a flower garden for his family. And I said to him, “Al, why are you happy when you’ve lost so much?” And he said to me, “Why am I going to be sad and crestfallen over what God has taken from me? He still left me with so much. And why should I make my children miserable with my misery? I need to praise God because He’s been so good.” You see, he sweetened, he turned the Valley of Baca into a region covered with pools.

It’s interesting that the last phrase of that verse, “the early rains also covered with pools.” What does that mean? It means that Al-Baber didn’t manufacture praise out of nothing; that God helped him. God gave him a reason to praise. As he remembered the truth of God’s Word, as he took stock of his life and saw, indeed, he had so much, he had lost a great deal but he had so much. You see, God gave him what he needed to praise. You and I, as we find ourselves in our own Valley of Baca, God gives us what we need to praise. We find it in His Word. We find it as we take stock of our experience with Him. And if He’s taken from us, we find it in what He’s left us with. And ultimately we find it in knowing Him best. Al-Baber knew Jesus better because Al-Baber had to depend on Him in a different way than he ever had before, every day, and it made Jesus sweeter to him and it made Jesus more near to him. I think if Al-Baber could vote over whether to have his legs or to know Jesus better, he’d vote to give up the legs to know Jesus better because that’s what happened in his life.

That’s how it is that in the Valley of Baca the people in whose hearts are the highways to Zion who are on pilgrimage, they make the place of desolation sweet and they make it a flower garden. You’ve seen it in loved ones in your family who have fought debilitating disease and never lost sight of the goodness of God in the midst of their pain and agony. You’ve seen the Valley of Baca become a flower garden. You’ve seen God cover it with pools as He enriched them and enabled them to praise. In fact, something so counterintuitive as people going from strength to strength is what the sons of Korah describe. We’re accustomed to strain producing weakness, but for those whose hearts are set on pilgrimage, those in whose hearts are the highways to Zion, they go from strength to strength not from strength to weakness because God is bringing them to Himself. God is bringing us to Himself and events that we think are stripping us out are actually by God’s grace and by His work making us stronger. How do we know that? Because we have the strength to take the next step. How do we know that? We have the strength to take the next step. We see that in those whose hearts are set on pilgrimage. They have the strength to do the next thing. Why? Because God is making them strong. They are going from strength to strength. God has a goal and God has a purpose and it is for all of His people to be before Him in Zion, all of His people, and He intends to bring us there.

Gods Attentiveness to Our Prayer

There’s another fantastic benefit that comes to the people of God from His sanctuary as He keeps His covenant promise to them and it is the fact that He is attentive. He is attentive to his prayer. This next section where the sons of Korah are saying, “O Lord God of hosts, hear my prayer. Give ear, O God of Jacob. Behold your shield. Look on the face of your anointed.” They’re not saying that because, “God, You’re prone to forget my prayers. You’re prone to be slow. I don’t have any confidence that You’re remembering me down here in the Valley of Baca.” That’s not the point. That’s not what they’re doing. They’re not motivated by God’s forgetfulness; they’re motivated by His faithfulness. They know that God is faithful and they can appeal to Him in earnestness, “Lord, do Your work. Hear my prayer. Look on me. Look on me.” That’s why they’re praying that and that’s why you and I can pray that way. We can pray with that kind of earnestness. “Lord God of Jacob” – what a great image. What does “Lord God of Jacob” show us but brokenness and loss become richness and fullness, a crooked man through whom God draws straight lines. What does God show us out of His relationship and His covenant keeping to Jacob but the kind of faithful God who carries us as we find ourselves in those dark, dry, dreadful places that we would not choose to be?

Assurance of Gods Attentiveness

“Hear my prayer; behold, our shield, O God.” What are they saying? “Look on the face of your anointed.” It would sound like they are praying in David’s name, just like you and I pray in Jesus’ name. “We’re going to pray this prayer in David’s name.” And there’s reason for that because David is the covenant representative. As the king, he’s the covenant representative of the people to God and he’s the covenant representative of God’s rule and reign to His people. But David’s a symbol of a far greater representative. David’s a symbol of a greater son. David’s a symbol of a fulfillment of that foreshadowing that we see in him. They’re really praying in Jesus’ name – Jesus as the fulfillment that’s promised in David’s rule and David’s role. Where’s their satisfaction? Where’s the guarantee that their prayers are being heard? It’s in Jesus. Just like your prayers are guaranteed to be heard if you belong to God through the blood of His Son, you may feel like your prayers are bouncing off the ceiling; they’re being heard in God’s heaven because of Jesus. He is our shield. He is the anointed. And we say to God, “God, look on the face of my Anointed. He’s seated at Your right hand. He’s representing me to You. He’s representing my needs to You. He’s my shield and my buckler and my very great reward. Hear Him on my behalf.” How do we pray that way? We pray that way because God is faithful, not because He’s forgetful. There’s an assurance there, an assurance of God’s attentiveness.

Satisfaction in God

Finally, one more thing. There’s a satisfaction. Notice this; notice verse 10. “For a day in your courts is better than a thousand elsewhere. I’d rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of wickedness.” Let me stop right here for a second. Hear what they’re saying. “Better is a day in your courts than a thousand elsewhere.” To build on that pilgrimage idea just a bit more, we’re passing through, and as we’re passing through we’re accumulating, aren’t we? We’re accumulating things we need. We need a house; we need cars to get around. We need jobs; we need income. We’re accumulating those things and God, in His grace and goodness giving those things to us and using our labor as His servant to bring to us what He would have us to have and have us to enjoy, we enjoy great blessings. What’s better? Hear the sons of Korah say, “A day in your house is better than a thousand elsewhere.” Let’s not get confused about what’s better. Let’s not get confused about this world being better or the things I can accumulate in this world or the places I can go or the things that I can achieve or the things that my family can do or the things that I can make happen in this world. Let’s not be confused about what’s better. “A day in your courts is better than a thousand days elsewhere.” Let’s not be confused about what’s better. Let’s let the sons of Korah recreate our value system. The world messes it up every day of the week we’re out there in the world. We forget why we’re doing what we’re doing. Let’s not forget that a day in Your courts is better. It’s better. Better.

What’s better? Let’s look at life, let’s look at our lives, let’s look at the way we live life. What’s better? What’s better? The sons of Korah say, “I’d rather be a doorkeeper.” Guess where the doorkeeper’s spot was? The doorkeeper’s spot was on the porch. “I’d rather be a doorkeeper than live in the house, the tents of wickedness.” Let’s not be confused, let’s not be tempted, let’s not be misguided. Let’s enjoy everything God has for us here, but let’s not be confused about what’s better and what’s richer and fuller, what we were made for; what we were made for. We’re not made for here; we’re made for better. Let’s not lose sight of that.

Finally, just a last look at verse 11 and verse 12. It says some marvelous things about God we can’t unpack right now. “The Lord God is a sun and a shield. The Lord God bestows favor and honor. No good thing does he withhold from those who walk uprightly. The Lord of hosts blesses the one who trusts in you.” How do we walk uprightly? Is this how I gig us? Oh yeah, I’m going to gig us and talk to us about keeping the rules, I’m going to gig us and talk to us about obeying the law, I’m going to gig us and talk to us about all the list of things we need to be doing. Who walks uprightly? Those who have been bought by the Son. Those whose lives, whose characters, whose hearts have been changed. Who walks uprightly? Those whose heart is new and different. Who walks uprightly? Those who have been transferred from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of the Son He loves. Let’s not forget that. This is not about keeping the rules. This is not about something you and I can do. This is about something God gives. This is about something God gives and God sent a Redeemer to change our characters from those who are transgressors to those who walk uprightly. “No good thing does He withhold from those who walk uprightly.”

Do you trust Christ? Do you trust in the remedy that God has given for the sin that’s broken our fellowship with Him? Do we trust the One who can transform us from transgressing to walking uprightly? Those are the ones to whom God withholds no good thing. Better. Better a day. Better to be in the sanctuary of God than anywhere else. Let’s pray!

Father, thank You for this time in Your Word this day. Bury Your Word deep in our hearts. Bury Your value system deep in our hearts. Help us to think like You. Draw near to us and go with us as we leave, our Father, in Jesus’ name. Amen.

©2016 First Presbyterian Church.

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