Well if you were with us last Lord's Day, you will recall that I announced that today we would begin to consider the message of the prophet, Micah. However, that was before I was reminded that today would be Mother's Day. Micah chapter 1, as you'll know if you had a chance to look at Micah as I urged you to do during the week last week, is a message of divine judgment. And while nothing says happy Mother's Day quite like a sermon on the wrath and curse of God, I've resolved mainly in the interest of self-preservation, to leave Micah chapter 1 to next week, and instead to look with you at a passage that speaks about the many and varied blessings of God on His people, one of which we celebrate today – the gift of our mothers.
But if you're like me, earthly joys, sweet, precious joys like celebrating Mother's Day, are fleeting things, and it's not uncommon after the moment has passed to find the reality of our emptiness haunting us. We need a deeper joy that doesn't ebb and flow and we need to know where to find it. Psalm 103 can help us to count our blessings, to "forget not all His benefits," as verse 2 urges us to do. And that includes the blessing and benefit of earthly mothers but all His benefits have to be understood as flowing from the throne of God to us by His rich grace. And this psalm helps us to see where enduring joy can be found.
So do open your Bibles there to page 502 and let me say a few words by way of preface before we read it together and consider its message. You’ll notice there’s not a single word of prayer in Psalm 103. Psalm 103 is not addressed to God. To whom is this psalm addressed? Verse 1, you’ll see actually it begins and ends the same way, verse 1, “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me bless His holy name. Bless the Lord, O my soul.” Verse 20, “Bless the Lord, O you His angels, you mighty ones who do His word, obeying the voice of His word. Bless the Lord all His hosts, His ministers who do His will. Bless the Lord all His works, in all places of His dominion, and bless the Lord, O my soul.” So this is not a prayer; this is a sermon that David is preaching to himself as he wrangles his heart into a place where it can give thanks to God and bless Him for more, not less than, but for more than fleeting and earthly blessings.
And so the duty is clear. Right? The duty David calls upon himself and actually all creation to participate in is very clear – to bless the Lord. Who is to do it? Well, he is to do it. "O my soul," he says. The angels in heaven, variously called here "mighty ones" and God's "hosts" and God's "ministers" – angels are to bless Him. And all His works and all places of His dominion are to bless Him and I am to bless Him – "Bless the Lord, O my soul."
But then the question comes, “Well why? Why should we bless the Lord?” And to that, David gives the answer of verse 2. “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all His benefits.” Count your blessings, name them one by one. List the ways in which God displays His steadfast love and the marvels of His grace. Count them out. Bring them to remembrance. Fuel. Stoke the fires of praise to God, of God-exalting joy in your heart by the duty of careful remembrance and of preaching God’s grace to yourself. And verses 3 through 19, the body of the psalm, do exactly that. They list for us, they provide for us the dimensions and the details of God’s abundant grace and steadfast love. And that’s where we’re going to spend the bulk of our time together this morning.
We're going to explore these verses by asking four questions of the text. First, in verses 3 through 5, we'll ask, "How wide does God's grace go?" Here, we're really asking about the reach of grace. "How wide does it go?" Then 6 through 9, "How deep does God's grace go?" Now we're thinking about the roots of grace. In what is its source? Upon what is it founded? Where does it come from? Then 10 through 12 in the third place, "How far does God's grace go?" This time we're thinking about the results of grace, what it issues in, what its outcomes are. And then finally, 13 through 19, "How long does God's grace last?" The reliability of grace. You can depend upon it. It's not a fickle thing but it is constant and sure. So, "How wide?" – the reach of grace. "How deep?" – the roots of grace. "How far?" – the results of grace. "How long?" – the reliability of grace.
Before we ask those questions of the text, let’s bow our heads once again and ask God first to help us as we study His Word. Let us pray.
O Lord, would You hear our cries now as Your hungry children longing to be fed the pure, spiritual milk of Your Word. Hear us. We hunger and thirst for righteousness. Fill us, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.
Psalm 103. This is the Word of Almighty God:
Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name! Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits, who forgives all your iniquity, who heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit, who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy, who satisfies you with good so that your youth is renewed like the eagle's.
The Lord works righteousness and justice for all who are oppressed. He made known his ways to Moses, his acts to the people of Israel. The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. He will not always chide, nor will he keep his anger forever. He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us. As a father shows compassion to his children, so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him. For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust.
As for man, his days are like grass; he flourishes like a flower of the field; for the wind passes over it, and it is gone, and its place knows it no more. But the steadfast love of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear him, and his righteousness to children's children, to those who keep his covenant and remember to do his commandments. The Lord has established his throne in the heavens, and his kingdom rules over all.
Bless the Lord, O you his angels, you mighty ones who do his word, obeying the voice of his word! Bless the Lord, all his hosts, his ministers, who do his will! Bless the Lord, all his works, in all places of his dominion. Bless the Lord, O my soul!”
Amen, and we praise God for His holy Word.
How can we fill up and round out our joy that God has given to us and the gift that God has given to us this Mother’s Day? And how can we rejoice who have longed to be mothers but are not? And then where is our joy who have lost mothers, for whom Mother’s Day is not a day of celebration but sadness? And what about the mothers who, when they survey their own parenting, are filled mainly with regret over countless missed opportunities and words left unspoken? And what about the children now grown who, looking back, trace the scars of abuse or neglect from mothers who failed to mother them as they ought? Just asking those questions reminds us that Mother’s Day joy is a much more complicated thing than at first we’re inclined to recognize. Actually, joy itself, whatever the source or of whatever kind, is a much more complicated thing than we are usually inclined to recognize. Joy is something that we need to fight for and work at and there are many things that threaten to rob us of it.
And that is where Psalm 103 comes in, can be so very useful. Psalm 103 shows us where to go to find joy that is not fleeting and is not temporary but is solid and sure and God-exalting and lasting. You'll notice that David calls us not to forget all His benefits. He wants to trace with us the many multifaceted ways in which God showers His grace upon us. And as I said a moment ago, we're going to interrogate the passage with four questions to help us see some of those faces of God's grace.
The Reach of Grace
The first question we want to ask of the question so that we forget not His benefits but rehearse them again for the joy of our hearts, the first question is, “How wide does God’s grace go?” So we’re thinking about the reach of grace. Look with me at verses 3 through 5. Actually, back up to verse 2. Did you notice the helpful repetition of the word “all” that runs through verses 2 and 3? “Forget not all His benefits…who forgives all your iniquity…who heals all your diseases.” Or think about the scope of the blessings in view in verses 4 and 5. There’s forgiveness and healing. Grace deals with sin and sickness both. There’s life and death. “He redeems your life from the pit.” That’s talking about death. “He crowns you with steadfast love and mercy and He satisfies you with good so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.” Life and death – all are within the scope, the purview of God’s grace. How wide does grace go? How far does grace reach? All His benefits. He forgives all your iniquity. He heals all your diseases. Sin and sickness, death and life, all fall within the scope of God’s rich grace. Grace, we might say, in our lives is like water on rock. It finds every crack and pour and fissure and seam and fills them.
The grace of God is comprehensive and full. Your need cannot exhaust the provision of God's grace. Your sin is never so great that His grace cannot cleanse it. Your sickness is not too severe that His grace cannot sustain you in it or deliver you from it as God wills. And when you face death, if you face it in the grip of grace, death need hold for you no fear. And all the demands of life that threaten sometimes so often to overwhelm, they cannot, they cannot overwhelm because God's grace will sustain you. God, as Paul puts it, "will supply all your needs, according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus." There is no risk involved in trusting yourself wholly to God's grace. He will save you, He will forgive you, He will cleanse you, He will guide you, He will sustain you, He will deliver you, He will heal you, He will bring you home to glory in the end. Death will not hold you and life will not overcome you. A life lived in the grip of grace is a life filled with reasons to bless the Lord and to give Him praise. Why in the world would you ever even try to live any other way than in the grip of God's grace? Do you see how wide God's grace goes? The reach of grace, David says, goes all the way to deal with your sin and your sickness, with your life and your death. There's more grace in Him than need in you.
The Roots of Grace
And secondly, we should ask, "How deep does God's grace go?" What about the roots of grace – where does it come from? In what is its source? Look with me at verses 6 through 9, please. The roots of grace; verses 6 through 9. "The Lord works righteousness and justice for all who are oppressed. He made known His ways to Moses and His acts to the children of Israel. The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. He will not always chide, nor will He keep His anger forever." David is reflecting in this part of the psalm on Israel's history and specifically on the great work of God in rescuing His people from the oppression they endured in Egyptian slavery. In verses 6 and 7, he reminds himself of how God acted in righteousness and justice during the exodus on behalf of His oppressed people. And there, he says "He showed His ways to Moses, His acts to the children of Israel" when He brought them out by His mighty right hand from Egyptian bondage and slavery.
Faithfulness of God
And in the story of Exodus, God explains to Moses in the context of His covenant why He would do that. Why is it that He rescues them from bondage in the great paradigmatic act of deliverance and redemption in salvation in the Old Testament scriptures in the exodus. Exodus 34 verse 6, God explains why He acts to save. David is quoting Exodus 34:6 in verses 8 and 9. “The Lord is merciful and gracious, abounding in steadfast love.” He is a God who loves to save, you see. That’s who He is and that’s why He does what He does. The exodus deliverance of the people of God is the fruit of the faithfulness of God and the love of God and the grace of God.
If you were to ask a catechism question, “What is God?” of a believer in the old covenant period, they wouldn’t give you the Shorter Catechism answer, “God is a spirit, infinite, eternal and unchangeable in His being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness and truth.” What a great answer. But if you were to ask an old covenant believer, “What is God?” they would say, “God is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.” That’s a great answer. It is the root of grace. It is the source of salvation. The reason God rescued His people in the exodus is because He is this God and David rehearses for himself the redeeming work of God and he traces it back to its source in the character of God so as to remind himself who God is and what he has done for the joy of his heart that he might praise Him.
And we need to do the same. Of course, we get to look back on a greater deliverance than deliverance from Egyptian bondage, don’t we? God’s mighty right hand is beared in the redemption of His people in a far more glorious way at the cross of Jesus Christ. There, the Lamb of God, our Passover Lamb, was slain. The Lamb who takes away the sin of the world. There at Calvary, the chains of sin were broken and every believer in Christ was set free. Why? Why does God provide redemption for sinners who deserve His wrath and curse by means of the blood of His own Son? The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. “God so loved the world that He gave His Son, His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him might not perish but have everlasting life.” Do you see how David is thinking, how he is fighting? He’s wrangling his heart, his unruly heart, so that in whatever circumstances he may be he is able to bless the Lord and give Him praise. He starts with the redemption that God has provided and He goes back behind it to its roots, its reason, in the love of God and he says, “See what God has done! This is who He is and He is still such a God to this day! The God who saved is a Savior yet. The God who was slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love is slow to anger still and His steadfast love continues to abound toward me.”
We need to do that, don’t we? We need to preach the Gospel -that’s what this is; it’s the Gospel. We need to preach the good news to our hearts, especially when the dark clouds roll in and there are endless reasons we can see in our circumstances for sorrow and melancholy and grumbling. “Bless the Lord, O my soul.” How do you do that under a dark cloud? You do it by preaching the good news to your heart – God has acted in deliverance, in grace, in the gift of His Son to set you free from slavery to sin because He loves you. You are beloved. And He loves you still. I wonder if you’ve lost sight of the character of God. David is preaching the exodus to himself because there He sees the love of God. We need to preach the cross to ourselves. “The cross,” someone once said, “is the pulpit of the Father’s love.” If you wonder, “Does God love me? Could God love a wretch like me? Look at me! I feel so unlovely. How could He possibly love me, want me?” go look at the cross, go look at the cross. There He preaches His love. This is how much He loves you. Come back to Calvary, will you, and see from His heads, His hands, His side, sorrow and love flow mingled down. Come back and survey the wondrous cross on which the Prince of glory died. There you’ll see love on display. The Father loves you and gave His Son for you. And rekindle joy in His infinite lovingkindness and grace.
Maybe you’ve been keeping your distance from God. You’ve been around church and around Christian things for some time and you’re interested but you’re not yet committed. Why would you hang back any more? This is your God! Do you see what He’s like? How He loves you? What He has done for sinners like me and like you in the gift of His Son? Why resist? Why hold Him at arm’s length? Why not run to Him? He is a God of such love. Do you see now not just the reach of grace but the deep roots of grace sourced in the heart of God Himself. This is who He is. This is what He’s like. There’s no reason to run from Him and every reason to run to Him.
The Results of Grace
Then thirdly we should ask, “How far does God’s grace go?” Here we’re really asking about the results of grace. What does it issue in? What’s its effect and outcome? Look at verses 10 through 12. “He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us.” How far does the steadfast love of God go? What’s David’s answer? “As high as the heavens are above the earth; as far as east is from the west.” That’s how far His love will go.
And the target here, particularly in this section of the psalm, is our sin. Did you notice the synonyms that David piles up for sin? He talks about, “He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities. So far does He remove our transgressions from us.” Sins of all sorts; sin in all its dimensions. Sin of every description can find pardon in this God and in His grace. David is saying here’s how you can measure the love of God. Get your measuring tape out and measure the distance between the east and the west, measure the distance between earth and heaven. What’s his point? The love of God is immense and vast. It is unsearchable, limitless, and beyond tracing out.
You may remember actually Paul in Romans 5 does something very similar to this. He offers another measurement by which we can assess the dimensions of the love of God. David suggests infinite distance to make the point that the love of God has no limits. Paul, in Romans chapter 5 suggests, infinite cost, infinite worth. You remember what he says in Romans 5? “God demonstrates His love for us in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” How do you measure the love of God for rebel sinners like me? As far as the east is from the west, as high as the heavens are above the earth. You measure it ultimately by the dimensions of the cross. This is how far love will go. This is what God will provide in order to take a sinner and make him a saint, in order to take the guilty and make them clean, in order to atone for sin that we might be reconciled to Him.
David is saying there is no one so guilty, there is no sin so severe, there is nowhere to which you can wander away from which God cannot bring you home. No sin for which God cannot provide cleansing. No guilt, no guilt that may press down upon you like a weight that God cannot lift and take away forever by His infinite grace. He has provided atonement in His Son. Jesus said, “It is finished. It is finished.” That means He bore the weight that you may never bear it again – the weight of guilt lifted. Some of you, some of you live under a weight of shame and guilt. Here’s what to do with it. Do you see? He is abounding in steadfast love. He has made demonstration and proof of it by the cross. There, sin is washed away. Come to the cross, come to Jesus, acknowledge your sin, acknowledge your need and He will make you clean. You can lift up your head. You are pardoned and accepted now and forever.
Guilt and Shame
Some of you are believers today, you've come to Christ, you trust in Him, you've repented of your sin and still, you wander around with a burden of guilt and shame. It may be because you've somehow come in your twisted thinking – if you'll forgive me for being so blunt. Dear guilty brother or sister in your twisted thinking, you've come to believe that you ought not to feel forgiven until you have sufficiently wallowed in misery. "Unless I can really, really, really feel ashamed then I have no right to really, really believe I'm forgiven." Brother or sister, listen, you're not repenting anymore; you're doing penance and God nowhere asks us to do penance. God nowhere asks us to somehow try to qualify for grace, to somehow make ourselves acceptable, somehow do something of our own, feel something in our hearts to win acceptance with God. That's what we're doing. Stop it! Believe the Gospel not the subtle lies of your heart. There's torture you're putting yourself through that you need not feel. Listen, if you're living a life of rebellion against God, you should feel shame. Guilt is a gift of grace in those moments. But once you run with your guilt and shame to the cross, your burden is gone. Leave it there, won't you. Go to Calvary. Cast your sin on Christ and leave it there. You are forgiven. You are clean. You are pardoned. Here's reason for joy, surely. Here is reason for joy. At the cross, our burdens roll away. At the cross, our conscience is made clean. At the cross, we are forgiven and reconciled to God. Get yourself to the cross and get clean.
The Reliability of Grace
How wide does God’s grace go? The reach of grace is comprehensive. How deep does it go? Well, the roots of grace lie in the cross and back of the cross in the love of God for you. How far does it go? The results of grace are forgiveness, full and free and forever. Then finally, “How long will God’s grace last?” Is it a fickle thing, temporary, fleeting? Is it something to which you attain and then lose at any moment? What about the reliability of grace? Look at verses 13 through 19. “As a father shows compassion to his children, so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him. For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust. As for man, his days are like grass; he flourishes like a flower of the field; for the wind passes over it, and it is gone, and its place knows it no more.” Stop right there for a moment. He starts with the compassion of God. He is an ideal, a perfect Father; not like earthly fathers. Even the best of fathers are filled with inconsistencies and failures but not our Father in heaven, a perfect Father, full of compassion.
Why does he start there? Because he’s about to highlight our fragility, how fleeting our lives really are. What good news that God is a God of compassion because the objects of His compassion he characterizes as dust, verse 14, grass, verse 15 – “a flower of the field.” All it takes is a scorching wind at the height of summer and the flower withers and dies. That’s us. That’s what David is saying. That’s your life. The very epitome of impermanence and fragility, the sense we have especially when we’re younger that nothing can touch us, that we’re going to last forever, live forever, that all our best days are yet to come – certainly the idea that we will go on and endure forever, that is an illusion David says that will soon evaporate for every one of us in the grim light of death’s inevitability. You are going to die. Me too.
“But,” verse 17, “But the steadfast love of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear Him and His righteousness to children’s children to those who keep His covenant and remember to do His commandments. The Lord established His throne in the heavens and His kingdom rules over all.” Our lives are fleeting things, to be sure – dust, grass, a flower, a summer bloom that soon withers. That’s right. But the steadfast love of the Lord blazes from eternity and it never ceases to shine. It is from everlasting to everlasting. His throne is in the heavens. His kingdom rules over all and from His throne, from His established dominion, flows a river of love and grace to every one of His children that is never quenched, never ceases to flow.
So yeah, you should make the most of every opportunity David is saying, and he’s right to say. You may not have all the time you think you do. Rejoice. Celebrate with your mothers the great gift God has given you in them. Take every opportunity to be sure. But as you do, will you make sure, make sure that your life finds its security and its deepest joy not in any earthly blessing you may have, however cherished, but in the everlasting steadfast love of God in the solid rock of unending grace. Time is short. All flesh is as grass. The wind passes over it and it is gone. Only grace endures. Only steadfast love is from everlasting to everlasting, flowing out from His throne. Come and bend the knee to the One who is seated there. As David puts it in Psalm 2, “Kiss the Son lest He become angry and you perish in the way. Blessed is the one who takes refuge in Him.” Come and bow before King Jesus. That’s where you will find steadfast love and grace upon grace. Nowhere else, nowhere else, but it’s freely available to you in Him.
His steadfast love never fails, never stops, never ends. He will never let you go. He will never relinquish His grip. He will never withdraw His grace, not ever. The grace of God is utterly, unendingly reliable. You can depend on it. Depend on it. Depend on it. So David wants us to fight for a deeper joy by preaching the Gospel to our hearts. We need to learn the lesson this psalm teaches us, don’t we? I certainly do – to preach good news, to build a pulpit in my heart and thunder away, pound away, “Remember the Gospel! Remember what God has done for you in Jesus! See how much you are loved in Christ – ransomed, healed, restored, forgiven.” And give thanks and sing with the psalmist, “Bless the Lord, O my soul!”
How wide is God's grace? All the way to the limits of your need and beyond. How deep is God's grace? Its roots lie in the cross and back of that in the love of the Father for you. How far does God's grace go? As far as the east is from the west, as high as the heavens are above the earth, as far as the cross. How long will it last? It will never fail. It is utterly reliable. Depend on it. Depend on it. Let's pray.
O Lord, forgive us for not repenting but doing penance, for feeling like the only way we can allow ourselves to believe the Gospel is to feel sufficiently wretched. Forgive us for wallowing in our guilt and shame in the hopes that if we could feel guilty enough we will never return to our transgressions, and all the time we’ve neglected Calvary, where our burden can be lifted and our conscience made clean. Help us to run back there. And as we see sorrow and love flow mingled down from His head, His hands, His side, as we think again about the cross of our dear Savior and we see and hear Your love proclaimed to us in it, would You rekindle in our hearts joy that we too may join the psalmist and say, “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all His benefits.” For we ask it in Jesus’ name, amen.
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