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Our Story

Series: Psalms Book 4

Sermon by J. Ligon Duncan on Nov 30, 2008

Psalm 106:1-48

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Amen. If you have your Bibles, I’d invite you to turn with me to Psalm 106. Today we come to the end of our study of the Fourth Book of the Psalms, the Psalms that run from Psalm 90 to Psalm 106, and we come to a great long Psalm which majors on repentance. Lord willing, we will be together in the Gospel of Luke next Sunday morning, but today we turn our attention to this Psalm which teaches us so much about repentance, and so much about the gospel. As we’ve already said this morning, it records for us not simply the story of an ancient people that lived on the shores of the Mediterranean, it records our story. These are our people. This is our story; and their story as recorded to that point in the history of redemption remains our story today, and thus there are things that we can learn from it as Christian disciples. And so let’s give our attention to God’s word, first looking to Him in prayer and asking His blessing on our reading and hearing of the word of God. Let’s pray.

Our Lord, this is Your word. We know that You mean it for our edification, for all Scripture is given by inspiration and is profitable. It’s given to us for our reproof and our correction and for our training up in righteousness, that we might be equipped for every good work in Your service. So by Your Spirit today, equip those who are Your children by Your word and draw those who are not Your children to yourself by faith in Jesus Christ, in whose name we pray. Amen.

Hear the word of God from Psalm 106:

“Praise the Lord!

Oh give thanks to the Lord, for He is good,

For His steadfast love endures forever!

Who can utter the mighty deeds of the Lord,

Or declare all His praise?

Blessed are they who observe justice,

Who do righteousness at all times!

“Remember me, O Lord, when You show favor to Your people;

Help me when You save them,

That I may look upon the prosperity of Your chosen ones,

That I may rejoice in the gladness of Your nation,

That I may glory with Your inheritance.

“Both we and our fathers have sinned;

We have committed iniquity; we have done wickedness.

Our fathers, when they were in Egypt, did not consider Your wondrous works;

They did not remember the abundance of Your steadfast love,

But rebelled by the sea, at the Red Sea.

Yet He saved them for His name’s sake, that He might make known His mighty power. He rebuked the Red  Sea, and it became dry,

And He led them through the deep as through a desert.

So He saved them from the hand of the foe

And redeemed them from the power of the enemy.

And the waters covered their adversaries; not one of them was left.

Then they believed His words; they sang His praise.

“But they soon forgot His works;

They did not wait for His counsel.

But they had a wanton craving in the wilderness,

And put God to the test in the desert;

He gave them what they asked,

But sent a wasting disease among them.

“When men in the camp were jealous of Moses and Aaron, the holy one of the Lord,

The earth opened and swallowed up Dathan,

And covered the company of Abiram.

Fire also broke out in their company; the flame burned up the wicked.

“They made a calf in Horeb and worshiped a metal image.

They exchanged the glory of God for the image of an ox that eats grass.

They forgot God, their Savior,

Who had cone great things in Egypt, wondrous works in the land of Ham,

And awesome deeds by the Red Sea.

Therefore He said He would destroy them—

Had not Moses, His chosen one,

Stood in the breach before Him, to turn away His wrath from destroying them.

“Then they despised the pleasant land, having no faith in His promise.

They murmured in their tents,

And did not obey the voice of the Lord.

Therefore He raised His hand and swore to them

That He would make them fall in the wilderness,

And would make their offspring fall among the nations,

Scattering them among the lands.

“Then they yoked themselves to the Baal of Peor,

And ate sacrifices offered to the dead;

They provoked the Lord to anger with their deeds,

And a plague broke out among them.

Then Phinehas stood up and intervened, and the plague was stayed.

And that was counted to him as righteousness

From generation to generation forever.

They angered Him at the waters of Meribah,

And it went ill with Moses on their account,

For they made his spirit bitter, and he spoke rashly with his lips.

“They did not destroy the people, as the Lord commanded them,

But they mixed with the nations and learned to do as they did.

They served their idols, which became a snare to them.

They sacrificed their sons and their daughters to the demons;

They poured out innocent blood,

The blood of their sons and daughters, whom they sacrificed to the idols of Canaan,

And the land was polluted with blood.

Thus they became unclean by their acts, and played the whore in their deeds.

“Then the anger of the Lord was kindled against His people,

And He abhorred His heritage;

He gave them into the hand of the nations,

So that those who hated them ruled over them.

Their enemies oppressed them,

And they were brought into subjection under their power.

Many times He delivered them, but they were rebellious in their purposes

And were brought low through their iniquity.

“Nevertheless, He looked upon their distress, when He heard their cry.

For their sake He remembered His covenant,

And relented according to the abundance of His steadfast love.

He caused them to be pitied by all those who held them captive.

“Save us, O Lord our God,

And gather us from among the nations,

That we may give thanks to Your holy name and glory in Your praise.

Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel, from everlasting to everlasting!

And let all the people say, ‘Amen!’ Praise the Lord!”

Amen. And thus ends this reading of God’s holy, inspired, and inerrant word. May He write its eternal truth upon all our hearts.

Christians, when they are saved by the grace of God, come to know Christ and trust on Him by faith, become disciples in a family. They become a part of a community. They are joined to the people of God. And because they are joined to the people of God, because they are enfolded into the family of  God, their story becomes the story of God’s dealings with His people—that story that He has planned from before the foundation of the world and that He’s been working out in history, and so much of which He’s recorded in the Bible—so that when you’re brought into the family of God, the story of the family of God becomes your story, and the destiny of the family of God becomes your destiny because God has a story, and that story is going somewhere. And this Psalm is interested in placing us right in the midst of that story and that purpose, and it’s interested in us understanding as Christian disciples where we fit in that great story and in that great purpose of God.

There’s so much that we won’t have time to look at in this Psalm, but I do want to draw your attention to four things in particular that this Psalm teaches us about being disciples that are a part of the people of God who have inherited this grand story and are looking forward to this future purpose and destiny.

I. True disciples worship God with their lives and not just with their lips.

The first thing I want you to see about those kinds of disciples is how they worship the Lord with their lives and not just with their lips, and you see this in the first three verses of the Psalm. The psalmist begins with:

“Praise the Lord! Oh give thanks to the Lord, for He is good,

For His steadfast love endures forever!”

 And then listen to the question that it asks. Here’s the question of verse 2:

“Who can utter the mighty deeds of the Lord,

Or declare all His praise?”

It’s a good question, isn’t it? The question is essentially who can worship God. Who is the person who has the privilege to worship the living God with integrity in spirit and in truth? It’s a question that’s asked a number of times in the Bible. You remember back in Psalm 15 that same question is asked in different language:

“Who may ascend the hill of the Lord,

And who may dwell in His holy place?”

And do you remember how Psalm 15 answers that?

            “He who has clean hands and a pure heart….”

It’s all about the integrity of that person. What’s the point of Psalm 15? That you can’t worship God with your lips when your life cries out that you’re worshiping yourself or you’re worshiping someone else. There’s got to be integrity between your lips and your lives, and that’s exactly how the psalmist answers here in 106. Look at verse 3. After asking the question, “Who can utter the mighty deeds of the Lord, or declare all His praise?” the psalmist answers,

“Blessed are they who observe justice

Who do righteousness at all times!”

Now, do you remember the verse that Derek told you to look for in Isaiah 16? Verse 5, where you would find Jesus. You remember how Jesus is described in Isaiah 16:5? He is one who does justice and righteousness. In His reign He is going to do justice and righteousness, and the psalmist’s point is simply this: when God saves you, He saves you so that you will bear the image in which He originally created you and fulfill the purpose for which He originally created you. And as we are saved through faith in Jesus Christ, one of the delights and pleasures of the Christian life is that God by His grace begins to make us be like Jesus. He doesn’t save us by making us be like Jesus, or else we’re all going to hell. He saves us by grace, but He saves us by grace so that we will become like the Lord Jesus, so that we will image something of His righteousness and justice in His life. And the psalmist here is saying, “Who is it who can utter the mighty deeds of the Lord and declare His praise?” In other words, he’s asking who can worship the Lord. And his answer is those who walk their talk. That’s who worships the Lord –  those who walk their talk.

Disciples worship the Lord with their lives, and thus they worship the Lord with their lips. It’s one thing that disciples learn from this Psalm. You worship the Lord with the whole of your life. Sometimes you worship the Lord by doing things that you would rather not do, but you do them not only because you love your families or because you love your friends, but because you love God and you want to worship Him.

I’ve told you before about a friend of mine in Yazoo City who has a little plaque above her kitchen sink, and it says “Divine worship held here three times daily.” Now, she has that plaque there not because she enjoys washing dishes. She doesn’t. She has it there to remind herself that when she’s washing dishes (which she doesn’t enjoy) for her family, she’s not only serving her family, she’s worshiping the living God. And the psalmist here, you see, is saying, “Who can worship the Lord? The one who has readied his heart/her heart to worship God, sometimes by doing things that we don’t like to do.

Sometimes you worship the Lord by extending forgiveness in relationships, or repairing relationships by asking for forgiveness. Have you ever had children or grandchildren who have gotten crosswise with their siblings and you’ve had to call one on the carpet? And the criminal has been called to account, and he’s been called upon to confess his sin to the victim, and you get this very unwilling “I’m sorry.” Well, Jesus says that if you’re on your way to worship and you remember that somebody has something against you, stop and go be reconciled to your brother, and then go to worship. You see, one way you can ready yourself to worship is by forgiving one another. That’s why Peter says to husbands, ‘Husbands, be loving in the way you treat and speak to your wives, or else your prayers will not be heard.’ What’s the point? The way you live your life measurably affects your capacity to worship the living God.

It occurred to me, thinking yesterday and this morning about this passage, that one of the reasons that I so often came to church as a teenager and sat under what was no doubt some of the best and most faithful exposition of the word that could have been heard at that time and profited so little from it, is not only did I come and think about other things, and not only did I come with so little expectancy of meeting the living God or so little sense of the privilege that I had for sitting under the preaching that I was going to hear, but I had spent the rest of the week thinking and doing other stuff. It wasn’t that I was out committing axe murders all week long; it was just that I was thinking and doing other stuff. I wasn’t living my life deliberately as an act of worship, and consequently it hindered my worship of God when the saints were gathered to worship Him. And the psalmist is telling us here that those who worship the Lord are those who walk their talk. With their lives and with their lips, they worship God.

II. True disciples see themselves as part of God’s larger story.

The second thing we learn from this Psalm we learn from verses 4-5, and that second truth that all disciples understand is this: Disciples understand that the story of God’s people is going somewhere, and they see themselves as part of that larger story. Disciples understand that the story of God’s people is going somewhere, and they see themselves as part of something bigger than their own life. They see themselves as part of that larger story. Look at verses 4 and 5.

I love the way the psalmist puts it:

            “Remember me, O Lord, when You show favor to Your people.”

Now notice that that’s a personal prayer – “remember me.” But it’s set in the context of what God is doing for all of His people: “Remember me when You show favor to Your people.” The psalmist wants to have a personal part of the blessings of God, but he sees his part in the blessings of God as being incorporated into – enfolded into – God’s purposes for all His people.

Do you remember at the end of Hebrews 11, that great passage that we often call “the Hall of Faith” or “the Hall of Fame of Faith,” where the story of Abraham through some of the later prophets is recorded? And the author of Hebrews reminds us that they were seeking for a city which has foundations, whose architect and maker is God, but they didn’t find that city on earth. They were still awaiting the fulfillment of God’s purposes, so that they were brought into the enjoyment of the promised city of God and the blessings of God. Do you remember that at the end of Hebrews 11 it tells you why they didn’t get to receive the fullness of the promise in their own lifetimes? Do you remember what the author of Hebrews tells you? He says that it was God’s purpose that they would not enjoy the fulfillment of His promises until all of us together enjoyed the fulfillment of His promises.

In other words, the fulfillment of God’s promises to Abraham is not going to come to pass until Jesus comes again. And when Jesus comes again and those who are dead in Christ rise again from the dead, and we’re all caught up in the air, and when we all together gather around the throne of God to live and reign and to glorify and enjoy God forever, then all the fulfillment of God’s purposes will come to pass and all of God’s people together will enjoy them.

Even the saints in heaven now have not experienced the fullness of the glory that will come on that great day. No saint will taste that joy and that glory until all of us taste it together, and this psalmist understands that:

            “Remember me, O Lord, when You show favor to Your people.”

 You know, if you turn on your television and you look at the majority of the diet of what passes for Christian teaching today on television, you would get the idea that the main purpose of God in this world is to bless individuals – to make you healthier, or handsomer or prettier, or wealthier, or happier in some way. But if you asked the question, “Well, how does your personal happiness relate to the blessing and the happiness of the people of God?” you wouldn’t really get an answer from the teaching and preaching that you hear on television. In other words, we are fundamentally individualistic in the way that we approach religion, and how God blesses the other people of God is of lesser concern to us. Mostly we want to know how He’s going to bless “me.” I love the way the psalmist puts it, though. The psalmist’s enjoyment of the blessings of God is set squarely in the context of God’s blessings for all His people.

My friends, disciples – Christian disciples – care about the Lord’s plan for His whole people, and they see their salvation as a part of a larger plan that God is accomplishing. This story that is unfolding in God’s redeeming history of His people is our story, and the story is going somewhere, and we’re a part of that story. And that means that we care about what God is doing for all His people in all places in all times, and not just for ourselves. We want to be personally part of that story. We come to God personally and even individually by faith in Jesus Christ, but when we do so we come into a great family. And one of the marks of disciples that understand that the story that is theirs is God’s story for all His people is that they care about other believers.

I was watching a press conference from a coach, an SEC coach who had lost a rivalry game yesterday. And one of the things that he was saying was that those players on his team who were more interested about the NFL draft than they were playing for his team could just go home and sit out the rest of December. He was going to put players on the field in their bowl game who cared about their team. Now what was he saying? Basically he was saying, ‘I’m not taking anybody to our bowl game who was thinking more about themselves and about their future than they were thinking about the well-being of this team.’ Because many of those players had played like they were thinking only of themselves during their game, and consequently they had been beaten.

Well, my friends, that is a problem that does not exist just on football teams. That is a problem that exists in the family of God. How often in our own families does thinking about ourselves rather than about the well-being of our family bring about tension and dissention in our lives? Extend that to the family of God. How often does thinking about ourselves rather than thinking about our brothers and sisters in Christ bring about tension and dissension in the family of God? The psalmist here sees his blessing as personally and individually received and experienced within the context of what God is doing with all His people, and therefore he cares about all of God’s people and he knows that that story is going somewhere: to the time when God will bring about the fulfillment of all of his promises. He wants to be a part of that.

III. True disciples understand grace.

Third…and I think this is the main thing that this Psalm is about. It certainly spends the most time on this point. Disciples not only understand that you worship the Lord with your lives and your lips; disciples not only understand that they are a part of something bigger than their own life, and that God’s story is going somewhere: disciples understand grace. 

Isn’t that what we find out from verse 6 all the way down to verse 43? I mean, isn’t that whole sad account of the unfaithfulness of God’s people, of the sinfulness and rebelliousness of God’s people, and God’s nevertheless being faithful and patient and forgiving towards them, and His often sending mediators to intercede for them…isn’t that whole long story of the unfaithfulness of the people of God from Psalm 106:6 all the way down to verse 43 in essence an expression of repentance and confession of sin? Isn’t the psalmist essentially saying, ‘Lord, I am coming to You to confess my sin and the sin of my people’?

Look at verse 6:

“Both we and our fathers have sinned;

We have committed iniquity; we have done wickedness.”

That announcement precedes a painfully long and detailed catalogue of specifically how the people of God have sinned and entered into wickedness and rebellion against the living God. And what’s the point? The point is it is very obvious from this story that the people of God are not entitled to God’s mercy. No one can stand up before God and say, ‘Look, buddy, you owe me mercy.’ No one. God owes us judgment. If you get what you deserve, it’s not going to be mercy. The whole point of this catalogue of sin of the unfaithfulness of the people of God is to remind us of grace. We’re not entitled to God’s mercy, so when God shows us mercy it’s not what we deserve; it’s because of His great love and goodness and lovingkindness, and faithfulness and commitment to His people by His promises.  This whole passage reminds us of the grace of God. Of course it also reminds us of the importance of repenting of our specific sins – specifically.

By the way, this is one of those passages in the Bible that proves to me that this is God’s word, because if you and I were writing the history of our people it would not be a history of the catalogue of all our sins and failures, I promise you! You pick up any church history that’s been written, and I promise you it will not be a catalogue of all the sins of that church. It will be a catalogue of all the great things that have happened in that church over the years, all the great ways that those people have served the Lord. Well, here’s the church history of Israel written in Psalm 106, and it is a catalogue of failures. Go find in any other religion in the world a catalogue of the failures of that people and of that religion. The very fact that this catalogue of sin is here and it’s recorded as the story of Israel  proves to me that God inspired this, because nobody in their right mind would write their family history this way! We’d tell the good things. We’d skim over the bad things. We’d candy-coat them.

Have you ever been in a small group, even of close friends who were believers and studying the Bible together…and you’ve been particularly convicted by sin, and you want to share that because you want to confess your sin and you want to confess how the Lord has forgiven you? But when it comes time, even in that small group…it’s safe and secure, they love you, they care for you, you care about them; you know that they’re not going to look down on you or judge you when your confess yourself…but when the time comes for you to confess your sin, you just have a hard time getting it all out from the heart and through the throat and through the lips because you’re embarrassed. You want to be general. You don’t want to be specific because you’re afraid: “If they know what I’m like in my heart, if they know the sins that I commit, they won’t trust me anymore. They won’t love me anymore. They won’t respect me anymore. I’ll be embarrassed in front of them.”

Isn’t it amazing how incredibly detailed the psalmist here is when he catalogues the sin? Just go back this afternoon and look from verses 7-43 at how specific he is in detailing the rebellion and sin of God’s people.

Let’s go back to that scene again. You remember the guilty sibling has been caught in his petty crime, and he’s been called upon to confess his sin to the victim. And very often what happens?

“What do you want to say?”

I’m sorry."

“‘I’m sorry’? Sorry for what?”

I’m just sorry.”

It’s hard getting it out, isn’t it? It’s hard to confess, “Forgive me for [doing this],” because it’s hard to admit that you’ve done [this].  The psalmist in excruciating detail catalogues exactly what he and his forebears have done in sinning against God.

 Now it’s just possible that this may lead someone in this room to think, “You know, that’s the problem with you Christians. You are fixated on sin. You are just always thinking about sin. You’ve got a miserable-sinner religion.” It’s possible that somebody’s thinking that here. I want to say two things about that.

The first thing is this psalmist, who has from verse 6 to verse 43 catalogued his and his people’s sins, is happier than you are. He’s a happier man than you are! Because he has looked his sin in the eye and he’s owned it, and he’s realized that God’s grace is greater than all his sin. And the very reason that he’s cataloguing his sin is because every step of the way he can testify, “Though I am the worst sinner that I know, God’s grace is greater than I ever dared dream that it would be.” And so this man who has catalogued his sins and the sins of his people is not a miserable sinner: he’s a happy, forgiven sinner.

It’s just possible that you’re here today and you’re thinking, “Huh-huh! Ligon, I’ve had sins that are just too great to be forgiven.” My friends, look at the catalogue! Is there anyone in here who can match this catalogue of sins? I dare you. Anyone in here sacrificed your child alive to demons? Some of the children of Israel did. And did God because of that fail to be merciful to His people? The psalmist says no. Grace was greater than all their sins.

And that leads me to my second thing…it’s simply this. Do you realize that this whole catalogue of sins is a witness to the gospel? It is a witness that God’s forgiveness is not based on our faithfulness, it’s based on His lovingkindness. God’s forgiveness to us is not based on the fact that we earned it. God’s forgiveness is not based upon the fact that we’ve not deserved His judgment. It’s based on His love, His grace, His mercy, His lovingkindness, His compassion. It’s all about Him. It’s not about us. Isn’t that one of the great lessons of this Psalm?

And, my friends, have you ever thought that it is precisely when you sin, and when you sin at your worst, that God has the greatest opportunity to display grace to the whole world around you?

You know, in every other religion – in every other religion, including atheism! – the system goes like this: those who do right will be rewarded. And every time when you’re in the deepest depth of your woe and sin that you cry out with the psalmist like the children of Israel of old and say, “Lord God, save me! Not because I deserve it, but because of Your mercy!” you get to testify to everybody else in the world who thinks that you get what you deserve that it doesn’t work that way in God’s economy. God doesn’t give you what you deserve, and He gives you what you don’t deserve, by His mercy. It has nothing to do with what you’ve done; it has everything to do with what the Lord Jesus Christ has done on the cross, because as Derek has already told us this morning, by God’s grace we get what He deserved, and He got what we deserved. And every time in the deepest woe of your sin that you cry out to God by faith and say, “Lord God, forgive me because of Christ, forgive me because of Your grace,” you get to bear witness to what? To the gospel! To a watching world!

Do you think that the fundamental principle of religious economy is if you do good you get a reward? You see, you’ve already realized that if that’s the way it works, then none of us are going to get a reward because none of us has done good. And so you get to witness to the gospel. That’s what this long catalogue of sins is all about. It’s all about the gospel. It’s all about the principle that God’s forgiveness is not based on our faithfulness, but on His lovingkindness. And, my friends, the people that understand that are not “miserable sinners.” They’re freed, happy, blessed, forgiven sinners whose lives have been turned inside out because they’ve realized that God’s grace is greater than all their sins.

IV. True disciples understand the purposes of God’s grace.

One last thing. Look at verses 47-48. These disciples not only understand grace, they understand the purposes of God’s grace. What’s the purpose of God’s grace? God’s glory.

“Save us, O Lord our God,

And gather us from among the nations,

That we may give thanks to Your holy name

And glory in Your praise.”

Why save us, O Lord? Because we want to give You the glory. Save us so that we can give You the glory. Save us in the nations, from among the nations, so that we can give You glory, and the nations will see us giving you glory, and the nations will come to give You glory! These disciples are saved from among the nations so that God’s glory is declared to the nations.

Oh, my friends, disciples worship the Lord with their lives and their lips. Disciples realize that they’re part of a story that’s bigger than their own life, and that story is going somewhere. Disciples understand God’s grace, and disciples know that God’s grace has a purpose in their life: to turn them from living for themselves to living for God’s glory.

Let’s pray.

Heavenly Father, we are prone to wander. Lord, we feel it. We’re prone to leave the God we love. That’s the story of our people. But the story of Your grace is that Your grace is greater than all our sins. So grant, O God, that we would turn from that sin and turn to Your grace and mercy and cry out to You, and that You would change us, and that You would forgive us by Jesus Christ; and then You would take our hearts and seal them for Your courts above, because You’ve given us a story of grace that has a destiny and a future, and we want to be a part of that future. Receive this prayer in Jesus’ name. Amen.

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