Readings: Psalm 30:1-12 (text); John 16:20-24
July 26, 2015 * Download this sermon (PDF)
Dear Congregation of Christ: This last week my wife and I drove from Big Springs Community Church to Escondido and back, a total of 1,600 miles. A member of our church in Manila flew into San Francisco and we gave him a tour of California via I-5. He will start his studies at Westminster Seminary this Tuesday. Please pray that he will have diligence and perseverance to finish his studies in three years, and return to the Philippines to become the pastor of the church there.
For this trip, we had an intermediate stop in Los Angeles, where we stayed at our son’s place. On our way back up to Concord, we started as usual at 4:30 in the morning to beat the L.A. traffic. Obviously, there was no congestion, even though the freeway was already teeming with speeding cars. That is the only way to beat the traffic there. In 45 minutes we were clear of the dreaded metro L.A. congestion and climbing the Grapevine. As we climbed up the mountains, it was still quite dark, but as we neared the top, dawn started breaking.
I love driving towards dawn. In addition to beating traffic congestion, I always enjoy the light slowly breaking into the dark night. The light of day always conquers the darkness of night. And this is one of the pictures in our text today, Psalm 30.
The title says that it was written by King David as a psalm of praise and thanksgiving for the dedication of the temple. How can this be, since David died before the temple was even built? As well, the psalm is a thanksgiving to God for recovery from a grave illness, some are led to believe that the title was an add-on. But David started the preparations for this project, so he knew that his son Solomon would build it. Also, here the Hebrew word for “temple” is also used for an ordinary house, or the king’s house, or the tabernacle. David might have fallen gravely ill as he was preparing for this project, so the dedication might have been delayed.
The psalm is simply structured. There are three exclamations of praise and thanksgiving to the Lord (verses 1, 4, 12). In between these praises, the psalmist tells us why he praises God. So our theme today, then, is “Joy Comes With the Morning”: first, Because the Lord Restores Life; second, Because the Lord Removes Pride; and third, Because the Lord Turns Mourning into Dancing.
Because the Lord Restores Life
First, the psalmist gives thanks to the Lord for restoring him to life. In verse 3, he says, “O Lord, you have brought up my soul from Sheol; you restored me to life from among those who go down to the pit.” In the Old Testament, “Sheol” is the abode of the dead, but it can also mean death or grave. In Acts 13:35-36, the Apostle Paul used Psalm 16:10 as a prophecy about the resurrection of Christ, “For you will not abandon my soul to Sheol, or let your holy one see corruption.”
Does this mean that David is praising God that he was raised from the dead? By no means! In the Old Testament, the idea of the afterlife was not yet developed. But there is a connection between Sheol and the pit. In verse 1, David’s praise was, “I will extol you, O Lord, for you have drawn me up and have not let my foes rejoice over me” (Psa 30:1). The word “draw up” is used of drawing water up from a well, as when the daughters of Midian drew water from the well when Moses was there (Exo 2:16). The picture in David’s mind was that he was gravely ill and on the verge of death. The Lord rescued him from Sheol, the grave, or from the pit of death. In Psalm 88:3-4, the psalmist also uses this parallelism, “my life draws near to Sheol. I am counted among those who go down to the pit.”
David also gives thanks to the Lord not only for healing him from a deathly illness, but also for delivering him from his enemies. His enemies might have been plotting his overthrow while he was helpless on his sickbed. If he died, they will surely rejoice. But God healed him and restored his strength, so his enemies failed and were silenced.
When he was sick unto death, David cried to God for help, “To you, O Lord, I cry, and to the Lord I plead for mercy: What profit is there in my death, if I go down to the pit? Will the dust praise you? Will it tell of your faithfulness? Hear, O Lord, and be merciful to me! O Lord, be my helper!” He begged the Lord for mercy, to show him kindness in his great time of need. But his pleas for mercy and rescue from death was for a strange reason: if he died, he will not be able to praise God for his mercy and faithfulness. Because the New Testament has taught us about the resurrection, we put our hope in eternal life after death in times of great sufferings. This is a holy motivation.
But Paul, even when he longed for that day, had another noble reason for living, “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain… My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account” (Phil 1:21-24). He wanted to live longer so he may continue to preach and teach God’s Word to the Philippian church. Some of us, especially when faced with serious health problems, aging, or great difficulties, lose our motivation for living. It is difficult to get up in the morning and face another day. We want to depart and be with Christ, for that is the ultimate blessing. But until God takes our strength away, or brings us to our eternal home, we are to be in service to Christ and his church, in any small way we can. For this is our goal in living.
And when the time comes, we finally praise God for the last time, “I will extol you, O Lord, for you have restored me to life. Now I desire to depart and be with Christ.” This service-driven life and heavenward outlook removes pride from our hearts.
Because the Lord Removes Pride
In his prayer for help, David remembers an unpleasant memory when he was experiencing “prosperity.” The word “prosperity” here is related to the word shalom, which means more than peace. It means a general well-being, so David recalls the time of his life when he was healthy, wealthy, and powerful and secure in his military might. Although acknowledging that God made him secure and strong, he was proud of it, “As for me, I said in my prosperity, ‘I shall never be moved’” (verse 6). Like Mount Zion where God dwelt in the Ark of the Covenant, he was unmovable, “By your favor, O Lord, you made my mountain stand strong” (verse 7). In Psalm 122:7, David connects peace and prosperity or security of Jerusalem’s fortress, “Peace be within your walls and security within your towers!”
But then, disaster strikes! His own son, Absalom, rebelled against him, so he had to flee from his secure mountain. Since his “mountain” crumbled, he was not as unmovable as he thought. He lost his power, wealth, security and even his health. Instead of a mighty army, he had a ragtag militia of 600 hungry men. Instead of a palace, he lived in caves in the wilderness. He was in despair, in tears day and night, reduced to seeking favor and help from the Lord.
Because of this prosperity, his humility, gratitude, and trust in God were replaced with an independent pride in his own work and accomplishments. He was like the wicked who says in his heart, “I shall not be moved; throughout all generations I shall not meet adversity” (Psa 10:6).
But God hates and resists the proud like David, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble” (Jas 4:6; see also Prv 3:34). So in order to bring down the proud back to humility and trust in him, God disciplines them, “for the Lord reproves him whom he loves, as a father the son in whom he delights” (Prv 3:12). Often, but not always, when his children forget his commandments, our heavenly Father sends painful reminders in the form of trials and afflictions, “For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives” (Heb 12:5-6).
For David in verse 7, the Lord’s discipline is as if God has hid his face from him, “you hid your face; I was dismayed” (Psa 30:6-7). When God hides his face from us, it means he is angry (Psa 27:9). God’s grace and blessing upon his people is when he turns his shining face towards them, “May God be gracious to us and bless us and make his face to shine upon us” (Psa 67:1). His shining face also means his saving love is upon you, “Make your face shine on your servant; save me in your steadfast love!” (Psa 31:16).
Therefore, when God sends troubles in the form of job loss, broken relationships, rebelliousness, accidents, or serious illness, be mindful that they are all in God’s providence, whether testing, discipline or reminder. And even the deepest darkness and sorrow will in the end turn into the light of day and joy.
Because the Lord Turns Mourning into Dancing
After the Lord answers his prayers for deliverance from deathly illness and enemies, David experiences several reversals in his life. First, his pain turns into praise. In verse 1, he sings, “I will extol you, O Lord!” Then, in verse 4, he invites the whole congregation, “Sing praises to the Lord, O you his saints, and give thanks to his holy name.” Praise and thanksgiving is never complete without sharing it with friends, especially when we pray and sing as a congregation of the holy ones. Even the angels in heaven rejoiced together as a multitude at the good news of our Lord’s birth, and when one sinner is saved. So when you have good news, do not keep it to yourself, because the Lord himself tells us, “Rejoice with those who rejoice,” and, “If one member is honored, all rejoice together” (Rom 12:15; 1 Cor 12:26).
Second, God’s “anger is but for a moment, and his favor is for a lifetime” (verse 5a). In Psalm 13:1, David felt like God has forsaken him forever, “How long will you forget me forever?” Like David, when we are going through fiery trials, it seems that they will never end. Like a never-ending nightmare from which we can never wake up. But the Lord promises, “He will not always chide, nor will he keep his anger forever” (Psa 103:9). And his favor lasts a lifetime, nay, forever, because our salvation is for eternity. If you suffer for a day, a week, a month, even a year, it is nothing compared to a whole lifetime of God’s favor.
Third, the Lord turns our weeping into joy, “Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning” (Psa 30:5). As surely as the long, dark night gives way to a bright morning, so our weeping will surely turn into joy. A long, cold, dark winter always surrenders to a beautiful spring, summer and fall. Does you life seem to be a long, dark night? Do not despair, because it will surely give way, if not sooner, later, to a morning of joy!
Fourth, David praises the Lord, “You have turned for me my mourning into dancing” (verse 11a). His deep, deep grief over his deathly illness, his foes, and his overall situation turned into overflowing joy, so that he cannot help but dance. Remember when the Ark of the Covenant was being taken to the tabernacle in Jerusalem? David was so joyful that he “danced before the Lord with all his might” (2 Sam 6:14).
Mourning is often accompanied by weeping and wailing, as when we mourn the death of a beloved one. As Jesus approached the house of Jairus, whose daughter had died, he “saw a commotion, people weeping and wailing loudly” (Mark 5:38). This commotion customarily included professional mourners and flute players hired by the family for funerals (Mark 9:23). But we also mourn for a variety of other reasons. When the Persian king decreed the death of all Jews in the empire, they fasted, wept and wailed (Est 4:3). Persecution is also cause for mourning, as when Jesus says, “You will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice” (John 16:20a).
But for Christians, the greatest cause of mourning should not only be death, but sin. This is why Jesus said, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted” (Matt 5:4). He wasn’t referring to those who are mourning because of death, but to those who mourn over their sin, and then confess and repent. James confronts those who treat sin lightly, “Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom” (Jas 4:9). And repentance will turn into joy, as Jesus says, “You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy” (John 16:20b).
The fifth and last reversal is in verse 11b, where David says, “you have loosed my sackcloth and clothed me with gladness.” How one dresses is evidence of mourning or joy. In the Old Testament, the garment of mourning is the sackcloth. Again, when the king decreed the death of all Jews, they wore sackcloth. When Jacob was told that Joseph was dead, he tore his clothes and wore sackcloth in mourning (Gen 37:34). Sackcloth was also worn in times of repentance, as when Daniel prayed a prayer of repentance for Israel (Dan 9:3).
Why sackcloth? Sackcloth was usually made of camel or goat skin, so it is black, the color of death and darkness. When the world ends at the Second Coming of Christ, even the sun will become “black as sackcloth” (Rev 6:12; see also Isa 50:3). In the Philippines, there used to be a tradition of wearing black for a whole year after the death of a beloved one.
But when the Lord granted David’s cry for help, he figuratively transformed his sackcloth into gladness and joy. His garment of misery was replaced with a garment of celebration!
Beloved brothers and sisters, in Isaiah 61, we read of a beautiful transformation of God’s people who mourn because of their sin and misery. The Lord’s Anointed One came:
“to comfort all who mourn; to grant to those who mourn in Zion—to give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit; that they may be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that he may be glorified” (Isa 61:2-3).
Our Savior and Lord Jesus Christ is this Anointed One who came to suffer all kinds of afflictions, temptations, persecutions, and finally, death itself, for our sins. He did not suffer a deathly illness, but died a cruel death on the cross. And God brought him out of the grave, the pit of death, to turn God’s wrath away from us. Because of his perfect life, accursed death, and glorious resurrection, he turns our pain into praise, God’s anger into favor, weeping into joy, mourning into dancing, sackcloth into gladness. And when we put off our pride and independence, and put on faith and trust in Christ, he is our only Savior and Helper who draws us out of the pit of destruction.
He came to make our joy complete. So our sufferings in this world and in this age are not comparable to the glory that awaits us when he returns from heaven.
“For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison” (2 Cor 4:17).
“For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Rom 8:18).
Therefore, give thanks to God and praise him together with David and with all the congregation: “that my glory may sing your praise and not be silent. O Lord my God, I will give thanks to you forever!”