That is what you must do with your sermons, make them red-hot; never mind if men do say you are too enthusiastic, or even too fanatical, give them red-hot shot. There is nothing else half as good for the purpose you have in view. We do not go out snow-balling on Sundays, we go fire-balling; we ought to hurl grenades into the enemy’s ranks.—C.H. Spurgeon, The Soul Winner: How to Lead Sinners to the Saviour; Fleming H. Revel edition, 69.
“The king is not saved by his great army; a warrior is not delivered by his great strength. The war horse is a false hope for salvation,
and by its great might it cannot rescue.” Ps 33:16-17
A few years ago I had the opportunity to walk through the National Museum of the US Air Force in Dayton, OH. Moving from one hangar to the next I saw the evolution of aircraft from the Wright brother’s first plane to the modern surveillance drones of today.
It isn’t hard to be in a place like that and not have an overwhelming sense of patriotism as I see the military defense weapons and aircraft that our nation has used in the defense of our country and many other countries all around the world. Seeing these beautiful machines and their sheer size made me feel a little sorry for anyone that stood against them in a battle.
It makes me think about how Pharaoh felt about his horses and chariots, and the king of Babylon about his weapons of war. The same can be said about the Medo-Persians, Greeks, and Romans at different parts of world history. Whether the weapons are spears, swords, arrows, or chariots, tanks, and airplanes, our hearts can become fooled into thinking that it is the weapon and strategies that win the war. Sometimes we think we can simply outnumber the enemy with more soldiers, more money, more missiles, and more technologies. This is heady stuff and it can divert the attention of a nation away from their inherent weakness and need for God.
In Psalm 33, the unnamed psalmist recognized this prideful blindspot and seeks to refocus the attention of the worshippers of Yahweh. The king, he writes, is not saved by his army-no matter how great. A read through the Chronicles and any history book will give credence to this reality. Kings are overthrown, betrayed, killed in battle, poisoned, and even killed by their own sons in a grab of power. King David himself survived an attempted coup by his own son. Some rulers are better than others, but no ruler can exist without God’s help. The Lord puts the man on the throne or behind the desk, but it is God alone who keeps him there, and it is God who removes him.
The psalmist also recognized that the same is true about those warriors that seem unbeatable in battle. We laud those warriors that fight valiantly and bring to our nation victory over the enemy. Stories are told of campaigns where all hope was lost and then the hero emerged and snatched victory out of the jaws of defeat. But even the greatest hero among our warriors should not be hoped upon more than our God. Do not forget men like the mighty Goliath who boasted in his mighty size and ability to defeat Israel, even defying the Lord with mockery. That warrior’s great strength could not deliver him when a boy with a sling brought him to his death on the battlefield.
The warhorse was a great advantage to any ancient kingdom that sought to be a military powerhouse. The war horse was large, brave, and strong. He could charge into a mob of warriors with courage and bowl over those in his path, allowing his rider to swing his longsword or thrust his spear into the melee while remaining out of reach by the foot soldier. Any army that had a cavalry was an almost unstoppable force. Almost.
Knowing the confidence that men put in warhorses, he commanded that the kings of Israel were not to amass large numbers of them knowing that it would easily allow the king to seek confidence in his cavalry and not place his trust in the Lord. In modern weaponry, confidence is placed in ships, drones, fighter jets, missiles, and many other weapons that can unleash “shock and awe” in our enemies.
The writer of Psalm 33:16-17 should be heard. Anything we place our confidence in outside of God can and will fail. It is inevitable. As a matter of fact, it is worse than failure. These things that we place above our trust in God are an affront to Him, and they will not only fail but they will also be brought low as they have become a challenge to God for supremacy in our hearts. He will not allow anything else in His place.
“I will extol you, O Lord, for you have drawn me up and have not let my foes rejoice over me. O Lord my God, I cried to you for help, and you have healed me. O Lord, you have brought up my soul from Sheol; you restored me to life from among those who go down to the pit. Sing praises to the Lord, O you his saints, and give thanks to his holy name. For his anger is but for a moment, and his favor is for a lifetime. Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning.” (Psalm 30:1–5, ESV)
Beautiful sculptures like Michelangelo’s “David” or “Pieta” which look like living marble. When asked how he did it, said that he simply chiseled away everything that didn’t look like David.
Similarly, God is at work in us, chiseling away everything that is not part of his desire for us to look and act like children of God.
And as living pieces of God’s work, it is painful when the hammer and chisel of God remove the rough edges and carve out of hardened marble a beautiful masterpiece. But it is necessary in order to make us beautiful, so that the Master Artist’s skill and grace can be put on display through us.
The reason for David needing to be rescued from his foes, being the Lord’s “drawing up” in Psalm 30:1 is unclear, but it seems to correspond to a time in David’s life when he was very near to death (see also Pss. 71:20; 130:1), and quite possibly because of some sin in his life since he speaks about the Lord’s anger being only momentary. Like water drawn out of a deep dark well, so the Lord has lifted David out of a deep hole when he faced a severe trial, which was possibly self-inflicted through his own sin.
Because of these problems David faced, he knew that his enemies would gloat over the illness that he faced (see also Ps. 35:19, 24-27). David says that it was the Lord that healed him in response to his cries for help. His sickness was so severe that he feared that he surely would face death (Sheol). In death, the Lord would have been delivering divine justice upon David, but instead he received mercy and grace.
The New Testament reminds us that God is serious about sin in his children. He sometimes acts against those who have been unrepentant and have brought about shame to the name of Christ. It is true that there is no more condemnation for those in Christ Jesus, but that does not mean that the Lord does not bring about temporal consequences for our sin that might be used as a means to our sanctification. In this psalms we can see that very effect whereby David learned in a deeper way of the love and care of the Lord.
Not only did David praise God for saving him, but he used the opportunity to encourage others to praise God also. David learned that with the Lord, forgiveness comes along with the chastening; and with our weeping comes a joy that our Father had never stopped loving us.
The hymn “Amazing Grace” closes with the lines, “When we’ve been there ten thousand years, Bright shining as the sun, We’ve no less days to sing God’s praise Than when we first begun.” Our days in heaven will be filled with praise because our Savior is worthy, and because we will more clearly see how much we do not deserve the “amazing grace” that has been bestowed upon all of God’s children. So remember the next time you face the chastening hand of God and come out of it with a heart filled with praise for the lessons God has taught you about who He is, and who we are.
“Therefore I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all, for I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God. Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood. I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them.” (Acts 20:26–30, ESV)
Why would the Apostle Paul consider himself “innocent of the blood of all?” Was it because he faithfully taught the whole counsel of God to the church in Ephesus? That is a worthy question to be answered. To Paul, spiritual oversight and teaching is a grave responsibility and if those responsibilities are not faithfully discharged, there is a very real danger.
Why would Paul use this kind of language? I think that it goes beyond just the serious nature of preaching and teaching. Paul connects the faithful teaching of the whole counsel of God (the fullness of Bible and doctrine) with the coming of fierce wolves. The wolves will come no matter what, Paul writes, but as their pastor, he has armed them with the Sword of the Spirit. His equipping would help them ward off the evil and blood-thirsty teachers that would try to invite the flock and drag away the naive and immature sheep among them. Was Paul being dramatic? I don’t think so. Which is worse, a murderer who kills our temporary body, or a false teacher that damns the eternal soul?
Paul knows that beyond the truth of Scripture taught, comprehended, and live out that the church is powerless in the face of the enemy. And he also knew that without the weapon of the Word, these wolves would “draw away the disciples after them.” To the elders who were now to be the primary protectors and overseers of the flock Paul is essentially saying, “My job is done. I equipped you with everything you need to ward off the enemy’s attacks and live a life pleasing to the Father. My hands are innocent if you fail to do your job. Stay vigilant!”
As we look at the big picture within our church’s programs and future plans, we cannot fail to see the equipping of the Saints with the whole counsel of God as a major and necessary component. Are we seeking to train up and equip the church with the necessary weapons to stand firm in the day of attack? Hobby horse doctrines, a regular diet of topical sermons, and picking and choosing to teach on the popular texts while avoiding controversial ones–all of these will produce an anemic church, and it will leave the pastor of that church with blood on his hands.
May every man who has been called by God to lead God’s people take this task seriously.
I need to take a break from writing here to focus on our IFCA Annual Convention and Board meetings for the next couple of weeks and to take some time off with my family. I will return to writing on July 12, Lord willing.
If you’d be interested in viewing the Convention General Session speakers via Livestream, you can find out more information and register for the convention at the link below. Your prayers are appreciated!
Virtual Convention Registration: https://www.ifca.org/page/2021-annual-convention-virtual-version