Psalm 118: Enduring love

Who loves you the most?

You can probably think of people who care about you but they all have one thing in common: they are imperfect and will let you down sooner or later in big and small ways.  Even the very best marriage, someone once said, is made up of two imperfect people who refuse to give up on each other.   We all need people to love and to love us in return.  And sooner or later that love gets tested, we let each other down and forgiveness is needed.  And sometimes we find that people give up loving us.  They leave us.  Or they stay physically but leave emotionally.  They check out.

God's love on the other hand is perfect.  Only he will never let us down.  Only he will keep every promise and never fail us.  Only he can love us with what the Jesus Storybook Bible calls "a never stopping, never giving up, unbreaking, always and forever love".

This psalmist knows that God is the One who loves him the most.  The One whose love endures through the best and the worst of times.  The One who can be trusted to keep his promises through the best and the worst of times.  The One who is with us through the best and the worst of times.  And the One we can be with forever when the worst times are over and done with.

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good;
    his love endures forever.

Let Israel say:
    “His love endures forever.”
Let the house of Aaron say:
    “His love endures forever.”
Let those who fear the Lord say:
    “His love endures forever.”

How about YOU?  Do you "fear the Lord"?  This isn't about being afraid of God necessarily.  It's about a healthy fear or respect of God.  Like a healthy fear of the sea.  It's glorious but at the same time it has the power to kill us after all.  Do you have a rational, healthy fear and respect for God?

If so, the psalmist tells us all to say, "His love endures forever!"  He loves us.  So, (ironically) for those who fear him, there's no need to be afraid.  

With God in our lives we can outlast the worst of times... 

When hard pressed, I cried to the Lord;
    he brought me into a spacious place.
The Lord is with me; I will not be afraid.
    What can mere mortals do to me?
The Lord is with me; he is my helper.
    I look in triumph on my enemies.

Are you feeling "hard-pressed" or in a "spacious place" at the moment?

We watched Star Wars with the girls recently and one of their favourite bits is where Leia, Han, Chewy and Luke are stuck in the trash compactor and the walls are closing in.  Life can feel like this sometimes.  "Hard pressed".

In the New Testament, Paul (who definitely knew what it was to be hard-pressed!), writes:

2 Corinthians 4:7-10
But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. 10 We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body.

It is better to take refuge in the Lord
    than to trust in humans.
It is better to take refuge in the Lord
    than to trust in princes.
10 All the nations surrounded me,
    but in the name of the Lord I cut them down.
11 They surrounded me on every side,
    but in the name of the Lord I cut them down.
12 They swarmed around me like bees,
    but they were consumed as quickly as burning thorns;
    in the name of the Lord I cut them down.
13 I was pushed back and about to fall,
    but the Lord helped me.
14 The Lord is my strength and my defense;
    he has become my salvation.

In his day and in that culture, victory was mostly understood in terms of physical or even military victory in battle against enemy nations.  We could have lots of questions about the morality of some of this stuff in the Bible and fair enough...

2 things very quickly:

1. God has the right to decide when and how people will die.  And he also has the right (and the might) to decide what happens to people next.  Remember we're supposed to have a healthy FEAR of God but also to remember that he LOVES us and so we don't need to be afraid. 

2. The stories we read in the Bible are sometimes PRESCRIPTIVE (examples for us to follow) and sometimes DESCRIPTIVE (telling us what went on but it wasn't all good!) and very often it's a mixture.  So we need to ask what God is doing and saying when we read these stories.

These are important questions to ask when trying to understand what God wants to say when we read the Bible but let's not miss the point here in this psalm: This guy knows that God has HELPED him overcome his enemies and be ALIVE instead of DEAD.  To feel STRONG instead of WEAK.  To be SAFE instead of LOST.

We need this just as much today I think.  And we may not be starting wars and killing enemy soldiers, but we may well be just as morally questionable and involved in other kinds of battles every day.  We still need to God to keep us ALIVE, STRONG and SAFE.  

15 Shouts of joy and victory
    resound in the tents of the righteous:
“The Lord’s right hand has done mighty things!
16     The Lord’s right hand is lifted high;
    the Lord’s right hand has done mighty things!”
17 I will not die but live,
    and will proclaim what the Lord has done.
18 The Lord has chastened me severely,
    but he has not given me over to death.
19 Open for me the gates of the righteous;
    I will enter and give thanks to the Lord.
20 This is the gate of the Lord
    through which the righteous may enter.
21 I will give you thanks, for you answered me;
    you have become my salvation.

Life wasn't straight-forward for the psalmist.  He's not simply praising God because he's had it easy.  Far from it.  Here we see a glimpse of some of the tough times he had gone through and he was grateful to God to still be alive.

I love this line: "Open for me the gates of righteousness; I will enter and give thanks to the Lord."

Years later, Jesus said:

I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved (John 10:9). 

This is not the only pointer to Jesus in this psalm... 

22 The stone the builders rejected
    has become the cornerstone;
23 the Lord has done this,
    and it is marvelous in our eyes.
24 The Lord has done it this very day;
    let us rejoice today and be glad.

Jesus later on quoted this verse (Matthew 21:42) and made it about himself and people rejecting him.

And later in the New Testament, Peter does the same...

Now to you who believe, this stone is precious. But to those who do not believe,
“The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone,” (1 Peter 2:7)

Jesus is the cornerstone.  The first stone to be laid, against which all the others are to be aligned.  The idea is this: Start with Jesus and build your life on him, and your life (the house) will be strong.  Miss Jesus out, and your life will be vulnerable.

Jesus told a story about a wise builder and a foolish builder, which makes the same point even clearer about the need to start with him and his words.  You can find it in Matthew 7:24-29.  

25 Lord, save us!
    Lord, grant us success! 

26 Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.
    From the house of the Lord we bless you.
27 The Lord is God,
    and he has made his light shine on us.
With boughs in hand, join in the festal procession
    up to the horns of the altar. 

28 You are my God, and I will praise you;
    you are my God, and I will exalt you. 

29 Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good;
    his love endures forever.