Psalms for Lent: For the Dying
There probably aren’t many scarier sentences in the English language. Although: It’s fatal. You’re dying. Or you only have a few months left, may come in as close runner ups.
Maybe you’ve heard words like that.
Maybe you’ve haven’t.
But you’ve probably thought of death.
Today we’re taking a look at Psalm 16. It’s a Psalm for the Dying. It is a Psalm for those with terminal diagnoses and it is a Psalm for those of us in the latter years of our lives, but it is also a Psalm for all of us – because all of us are humans – and all of us are dying. That’s why we need to hear a psalm like this. A Psalm filled with hope. Before we begin, let’s say a prayer: Lord, strengthen us by the truth, your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see; open our ears to hear what you want us to hear; open our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. The Comfortlessness of “not gods”
Psalm 16 is written by King David. King David was someone that was constantly confronted with death. Whether at the hands of a lion, a bear, a 7 ½ foot warrior, the King of Israel and all of his angry men, or the Philistines, a neighboring country who place King David on their Most Wanted list – David knew what it was like to face death.
He knew where to put his hope and he knew where not to put his hope. Look at what he wrote:
1 Keep me safe, my God,
For in you I take refuge.
2 I say to the LORD, “You are my Lord;
Apart from you I have no good thing.”
4 Those who run after other gods
Will suffer more and more.
Pay close attention to verse 2. Notice it sounds very similar, I say to the LORD, “You are my Lord.” But that’s where the English translation is missing something very important. The first LORD there (it should be in all capital letters in whatever Bible you are using) is the Hebrew word YAHWEH. It means simply, “I am.” It’s the name that God identifies himself as. “I am.”
The second “Lord,” is not in all capital letters. That’s because this Lord simply means “master.” A hint of C.E.O. with a large portion of leader. It’s a name synonymous with God.
Listen to verse 2 again then, “I said to I AM,” specifically, “the God revealed to Old Testament Jews, worshipped by the Old Testament Jews and written about in the Old Testament,” I said to that LORD, “you are my Lord… my God. My Master. My Leader. And apart from you, I have no good thing.”
Because what happens if your comfort is not in the Great I Am?
The Great I AM is not the only “god” mentioned in the Old Testament. Other nations worshipped other gods. There was a god named Baal. He was a statue made of bronze that looked like a half man/half cow. There was a god named Dagon. He was a statue that looked like a fish man that the Philistines worshipped. There was a god named Ashtoreth. People made poles and had sex in front of them in order to worship them.
How do these gods hold up in the comfort department?
“I just got diagnosed with cancer. But…I baked some bread and placed it in front of my Baal statue so…it’s still there, but. I’m sure Ball will help.”
“My wife found out that she has six weeks to live. It’s ok though. I was praying in the Dagon sanctuary all night long. I think it worked too. I think I saw him wink at me!" (That or I’m really, really tired)
“Hey buddy…I heard you’re nervous about what might happen to you when you die. Put your faith in my Asherah pole. It cut it to regulation length and sanded it so that it’s smooth to the touch. If anything can grant you eternal life, it’s this 8-foot piece of dead tree.”
How do these gods hold up in the comfort department? They don’t. And neither do the ‘not-gods’ of today.
There is no comfort in Buddha, that, “you may be going through excruciating pain, but it will be worth it when you come back as a butterfly! Or…maybe a slug.”
There is no comfort in Allah, that, “you go ahead and explode in a fiery way and if Allah is pleased with the fireworks show then, you’ll be eating grapes forever.”
There is no comfort in the Jewish religion version of the Old Testament God that “if you do Jewish things, you’ll get to heaven. But if you accidentally mixed up your milk cooking pot with your meat cooking pot that one time --- you’re eternally cooked.”
There is no comfort in science that “I’ll go into the ground and bugs will eat my body, but hey…at least I did some good…sometimes…when I remember.”
There is no comfort in the most popular “not God” of modern America.
There is no comfort in you.
Have you ever noticed that most funerals people like to mention all the good things that people did, but never mentioned the bad things? They mention the charities, the kindnesses, and the goodness. But have you ever noticed that no one ever mentions the bad things?
The real things?
· “He was a good husband…except for the times when he yelled at me and I feared for my bodily welfare.”
· “She was a great wife. Except for the times when she called me every swear word that she could think of.”
· “He was a great coworker – when he wasn’t drunk.”
· “She was a great neighbor -- too much so. She did sleep with about every guy on the block.”
You know why we don’t mention those things? Because they aren’t comforting. Because those are bad things. Because those bad things deserve death.
Romans 1:32 says, “People know God’s righteous decree that those who do wrong things deserve death.” That’s justice. True Justice. If we are turning to ourselves and our own deeds and our own accomplishments to comfort us in death -- you won’t find comfort. It’s like trying to take a nap on a bed of nails! It’s not comforting at all!
Because when you look at your own accomplishments and your own life for comfort in death, you’re actually looking at the very thing that causes your death in the first place.
II. The Comfort of the One God
There is no comfort apart from the true God.
That’s what the town of Nain was discovering. A beloved widow – the kind who knew everyone’s name – the kind who baked muffins for your birthday – the kind who always gave you a hug – had just lost her son.
Her only son.
The entire town was out for the funeral procession. There weren’t any rousing speeches. There weren’t any words of comfort. There weren’t any songs of joy.
It was a sad affair. Cries mixed with wailing mixed with murmurs of curses at God.
He was the affair from afar.
He told his disciples to wait.
He walked through the crowd;
He passed right by the widow.
He smiled, reached up and touched the young man’s hand.
“Young man – live.”
Suddenly, Jesus brought a comfort that no one could bring that widow.
Jesus literally brought her son back to life.
This is why David tells us to find comfort in the One True God:
9 Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices;
My body also will rest secure,
10 because you will not abandon me o the realm of the dead,
Nor will you let your Holy One see decay.
Pay very close attention to the phrase in verse 10. You will not let your Holy One see decay. In a certain sense, David was talking about himself. He knew that he would not die. He knew that he would have eternal life because God had made him righteous by faith. For years, I’m sure that was the understanding of that passage.
But…fast forward a couple 800 some years.
Paul, a Christian teacher, is teaching about Jesus. He says, “Do ya’ll remember that passage from Psalm 16:10? Remember how confident David was that his body would not decay? Do you also remember that David’s body decayed? Literally – let’s go find his grave. Let’s dig it up. We won’t find anything but soil and worms.”
Because David wasn’t talking about himself. David was talking about Jesus.
Jesus who died on a cross.
Jesus who was buried.
Jesus who came back to life.
His body didn’t even decay! Two of his disciples prepared him for burial, wrapped him up and placed him in a tomb and before his body did not begin to rot before the white blood cells were detoxing his body yet again. His lungs didn’t begin to lose their shape, before they filled with air once more. His flesh did not begin to smell, before he was outdoors smelling the rose yet again!
Look at David’s confidence in this same Jesus: 11 You make known to me the path of life! You went through death. You came out alive. And you’ll lead me to do the same.
I remember once time in college I was short on cash and found an ad on the campus bulletin board for help needed raking leaves. $15 per bag! I was excited. So, my friend and I typed the address into MapQuest (this was before Smartphones – am I dating myself?) and started driving. We got into the countryside and farmland of small town MN, when the directions got very interesting.
Take HWY 17. Ok. Done.
Turn right onto County Road 18. Got it.
Turn left onto Unnamed Road.
God’s not like that. He doesn’t have some really difficult to follow directions. He won life for us and he made it so easy to attain. John 3:16 says simply this, “God so loved the world that he gave his One and Only Son, that’s Jesus, that whoever believes in him will not perish, but have eternal life.”
You know this is true because Jesus is the Great I AM.
Jesus is the God that David was talking about in Psalm 16.
Jesus is the author of Life.
Jesus is your life.
Jesus will not abandon you to the grave.
He won’t let you die in some hospital all alone.
He won’t shut you up in some Assisted Living Home and forget all about you.
He won’t put you on Hospice care and let others deal with you.
He will not abandon you on this side of the grave
Nor the other side.
III. What Now?
David said that’s what he was not going to do anymore: “I will not pour out libations of blood to such gods.”
Because back then one way you’d worship those “not gods” is by making a sacrifice, collecting the blood and pouring it out on the altar of a false god. That showed your allegiance to the false god. That showed trust in that false god. That showed you were a follower of that false god.
But if you trust in the true God, why do you need the false gods?
Now there aren’t any false gods that require blood sacrifices in 21st century America. But think about your actions – stop pouring out libations to them.
Do you give financial gifts to an organization that’s helps share the teaching of a false god? Stop it.
Do the Facebook posts you share support false teachings – which is a false view of God? Delete them.
Does your politically correct office talk give the impression that “It’s no big deal. God can be whoever you want him to be. If you want that coffee pot to be your god man, he’ll be your god. Cool. I’m sure you’re saved.” Stop talking in such a way.
Stop pouring out libations to “not gods.”
(2) Take Refuge in God
That’s what David started out with. In you, O LORD, I have taken refuge.
It’s like when a hurricane is coming. You want to find refuge in a good shelter. It’s not a great idea to go set up a tent and go camping. For a powerful hurricane, the more fortified the building the better. You want to be safe from rain, from wind and flying debris.
Finding refuge in ‘not gods’ is like preparing for a hurricane by covering up with a few newspapers.
Finding refuge in the God, Jesus Christ means that you will not die, but live.
And you’ll find hope as you face death. Hopes that lasts forever.
(3) Measure out Your Boundary Line
Of course, death can still be intimidating. Death can still be scary. If the doctor has had bad reports for you, then it can certainly leave you scared.
That’s when you need to measure out your boundary line.
I think that’s an interesting phrase in verse 6. The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; surely I have a delightful inheritance. You might think – that’s easy for David to say. He was King of Israel. He had a gorgeous palace. God expanded his empire while he was king.
Me? I’ve got a 1100 square foot ranch house. Plus, my neighbor and I have been arguing about whether or not that dogwood tree is mine or his for the past 3 years!
But this Psalm isn’t about David’s earthly inheritance.
This Psalm is about David’s eternal inheritance.
His eternal inheritance is the same is yours.
Do what David suggest. Take a moment – today, tomorrow – anytime you’re feeling intimidated by death – and gaze at your inheritance.
It’s a nice little bungalow.
There’s no sin there.
The flowers bloom eternally – they never die.
No need for an AC or a furnace because the weather is always perfect.
The area is pretty neat – there are eternal pleasures on every street corner.
Your next-door neighbor? He’s pretty cool.
It’s God himself.
One day – you will live by him. Amen.
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