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Not One Jot, Not One Tittle
Be Strong, Stand Firm
What Price Human Life?
“I Can't Breathe”
Praise the Lord, O My Soul
The Blood of Jesus
You'll Never Walk Alone
How Changed Are We?
A Sunday Morning's Meditation on Psalm 24


(Sunday, 10 May 2020)
by Ong Kok Bin


To all mothers out there, HAPPY MOTHER'S DAY. This year we may have to miss out on the carnations due to the MCO. But we'll see if the MCO can be lifted sooner than later and perhaps we can have a great celebration of parents on the joint Parent's Day a few weeks down the road. In the meantime, we give praise and thanks to all mothers of the church for your devotion and hard work in bringing up your sons and daughters in the faith of Christ. Your children are a credit to you.

“Praise the Lord, O my soul; all my inmost being, praise his holy name,” exults the psalmist in Psalm 103:1. Psalm 103 stands in sharp contrast to Psalm 102. Whereas Psalm 103 is full of confident declarations and celebrative praise, its preceding psalm is a desperate prayer for help from the Lord.
     1Hear my prayer, LORD;
     let my cry for help come to you.
     2Do not hide your face from me
     when I am in distress.
     Turn your ear to me;
     when I call, answer me quickly.
     3For my days vanish like smoke;
     my bones burn like glowing embers.
     4My heart is blighted and withered like grass;
     I forget to eat my food.
     5In my distress I groan aloud
     and am reduced to skin and bones.
     6I am like a desert owl,
     like an owl among the ruins.
     7I lie awake; I have become
     like a bird alone on a roof.
     8All day long my enemies taunt me;
     those who rail against me use my name as a curse.
     9For I eat ashes as my food
     and mingle my drink with tears
     10because of your great wrath,
     for you have taken me up and thrown me aside.
     11My days are like the evening shadow;
     I wither away like grass.

The distress of the 102 psalmist is clear for all to see. He has some form of disease or affliction which is affecting his intake of food and he is being reduced to “skin and bones”. He is as lonely as a desert owl. His distress is compounded by the suspicion that he is under the judgment of the Lord's “great wrath” and that he is being “thrown aside”.

However, the lament of this 102 psalmist pivots itself on the adversarial “but”. “But” says there is hope still. There is a turning point.
     12But you, LORD, sit enthroned forever;
     your renown endures through all generations.
     13You will arise and have compassion …

The psalmist recalls the reign of the Lord – a reign which has a long history of compassionate interventions in the life of Israel and individuals. And because the Lord is a proven reliable compassionate Lord, he will once again look down from his high sanctuary and help those who are in distress and near death.
     19“The LORD looked down from his sanctuary on high,
     from heaven he viewed the earth,
     20to hear the groans of the prisoners
     and release those condemned to death.”

And when this has come to pass, the Lord will be praised, not only in Jerusalem, but throughout all kingdoms.
     21So the name of the LORD will be declared in Zion
     and his praise in Jerusalem
     22when the peoples and the kingdoms
     assemble to worship the LORD.

We leave Psalm 102 on this note of prophetic praise and worship to the Lord and return to Psalm 103. Psalm 103 is an expression of thankful praise to the Lord for his intervention in the life of the psalmist. There are four touchstones for the psalmist's elated praise:
     a) the Lord has healed him of his illness
     b) the Lord has shown him his love and compassion and forgiven him of his sins
     c) the Lord has blessed him with good things in life and has renewed his spirit
     d) the Lord works righteousness and justice for the oppressed.

In all these four touchstones it is the Lord's love and compassion that made them possible and come to pass. The psalmist recognises the Lord as “compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love” (v. 8). This love of God is expansively compared to the height of the skies above the earth. It knows no bounds. It prompts God to be magnanimous and gracious in dealing with human sin. Sin, by all accounts and knowledge, deserves to be punished. “The soul who sins is the one who will die,” declares the Lord God himself (Ezekiel 18:4c). Yet, it does not always have to be that way. The grace of God enables an alternative: a different way to dealing with sin. The psalmist understands this too well for he has just been a recipient of this magnanimous graciousness of God. He says of God:
     9He will not always accuse,
     nor will he harbour his anger forever;
     10he does not treat us as our sins deserve
     or repay us according to our iniquities.

How then does God deal with our sins? He removes them. He takes them away. He casts them so far away from us that they will never return to us again:
     12as far as the east is from the west,
     so far has he removed our transgressions from us.

Why does God do this? He loves us. He is like a father to his children. A father knows the strengths and weaknesses of his children. Because the father knows his children well enough, he is able to empathise with them and deal with their shortcomings and infractions with compassion, instead of abusive condemnation. God is our Father. He is the one who gives birth to us.
     14… he knows how we are formed,
     He remembers that we are dust.

As dust, we are weak. We crumble easily under the weight of temptation and desire. God knows this and so he deals with us gently, using the strength of his compassion to suppress his wrath to afford us a way of escape.

But sin is still sin and it needs to be dealt with. Where is this way of escape? How will it come about? The psalmist in his own time world might not have known it since he was talking about Moses and obeying the precepts of the covenant made on Sinai. But he knew the love and compassion of the Lord God. He believed that this love and compassion would prompt God to find a way to remove sin from the sinner “as far as the east is from the west”.

Years down the time tunnel this way of escape from sin would be revealed. In language similar to the psalmist's, the apostle Paul was to write: “We were dead in our transgressions. But God, because of his great love and who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ – it is by grace you have been saved” (Ephesians 2:4, 5; rearranged). There is one difference, though. The psalmist invoked the name of Moses; Paul mentioned Christ.

Yes, Jesus Christ is “the way and the truth and the life” (John 14:6). There is no other way. There is no other truth. There is no other person who can give life when “we were dead in our transgressions”. Only Jesus Christ can do this. It was all in the script. It was all in the mind and plan of God. God, per Paul (in Ephesians 1:4-8),
     “chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight.
     In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance
     with his pleasure and will – to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely
     given us in the One he loves. In him we have redemption through his blood,
     the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God's grace
     that he lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding.”

The blood of the Lord Jesus Christ is our way of escape from “the wages of sin”, which is death (Romans 6:23a). On the converse, “the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23b).
     “Praise the Lord, O my soul;
     all my inmost being, praise his holy name.
     Praise the Lord, you his angels,
     you mighty ones who do his bidding, who obey his word.
     Praise the Lord, all his heavenly hosts,
     you his servants who do his will.
     Praise the Lord, all his works
     everywhere in his dominion.
     Praise the Lord, O my soul.”
(Psalm 103:1, 20-22).


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