Sermon on Ps. 139, preached on 5 Aug 2018.
Bible Readings: (OT) Psalm 139:1-24 / (NT) Hebrews 10:15-25
I. Hiding from the presence of God
II. Finding the presence of God
III. Seeking the guidance of God
Being Christians, we seek God and His presence with us always. We want to know His near presence. Not only that, but also do we desire to feel His presence with us. If possible, we want to hold His hand, listen to His voice, cling to Him as He embraces us in His mighty arms. Most of the time, we know that our Heavenly Father is with us. But, occasionally His near presence seems to be not real. In such a case, we pray and say, ‘Where are You, Lord? I need You, Father; so, answer me in Your mercy.’ Every Christian experiences it. One day, the Lord seems to be near, but next day, He seems to be gone far away. Interestingly and undeniably, it is the process of everyone’s spiritual growth. People learn from this a truth, that is, the Lord is always with us, no matter what we feel about His presence.
But some Christians struggle greatly in the process of learning this lesson of God’s near presence, in other word, His immanence. As their feeling or awareness of God’s presence fluctuate, they are confused, thus, question, ‘Is God with me or not?’ When this confusion persists in their hearts, it usually grows bigger and is gradually turned into an apathy toward God’s whereabouts. Then, they would think less and less about God’s presence, and by considering God’s presence less and less, they would gradually lose interest in deepening their relationship with God. They become less interested in knowing whether God is with them or away, thus, uninterested in being close to God or walking with Him. I wonder whether this is what Christians of our generation experience.
So, the subject of God’s near presence – His immanence, in other word – is truly important for both our spiritual growth and contentment with our Heavenly Father’s blessings. After all, this is why Christians rejoice in God, knowing that He is our helper, as we heard from last Sunday’s message from Ps. 121. The God who made heaven and earth is our keeper. Such is a great joy, isn’t it? But, what if He is far away? What if He is busy with dealing with problems on the other side of the earth? What if He is busy with something of another galaxy in the universe that is billions of lightyears away from us? Could He still be our help? So, when we profess that God is our helper, our profession of faith is about the Lord’s near presence. Moreover, our words would not be a profession of faith, if we don’t believe God’s presence with us. So, understanding God’s immanence is vital for our faith and our life in Him.
With this 139th psalm, I’d like to focus on this important subject, God’s immanence – His near presence with us – with these three points: one, ‘Hiding from the presence of God,’ second, ‘Finding the presence of God,’ and last, ‘Seeking the guidance of God.’
I. HIDING FROM THE PRESENCE OF GOD
Before dealing with what God’s near presence means to us, we need to be reminded of the general concern of man’s heart to this matter. Simply put, all men collectively reject the idea of God’s existence, let alone His near presence. They want God out of the picture. The unregenerate mind seeks God’s disappearance from his life. The world’s enmity toward God and Jesus is deep and bitter. Truth is that when it hates God, when people deny God, they in fact try to run away from God, they try to hide from the presence of God. They don’t want to think about God and anything that is related to His existence. People don’t want to think about things like death, God, judgment, sin or forgiveness; they reject God, thus, reject any reminder of God and Christ Jesus. They hide from the presence of God.
This hiding began from our first parents, Adam and Eve, in the Garden of Eden. As in Gen. 3, they ate the fruit and sinned against God, then, in v. 8, they heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden. What did our first parents do? They hid themselves from the eyes of God. The Apostle Paul’s term for this hiding is ‘the ungodly one’s suppression of the truth’ as recorded in Rom. 1:18. Our psalmist, David, used to hide from God, thus, he knew about running from the Lord; it was a natural part of his being and life, just like everyone else in the humankind. So he asks in v. 7 of this 139th psalm and says, “Where shall I go from Your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from Your presence?” He further talks about it in v. 11, saying, “Surely the darkness shall cover me, and the light about me be night.”
This is the point we must begin from in reading and meditating the words of Ps. 139. Although we’re now saved by grace through faith in Jesus, thus, seek the Lord, we used to belong to those others in the world whose hearts are unregenerate. Occasionally, if not often, we go back to our old sinful habit of hiding from the Lord’s presence and forget about the Lord’s nearness. Then, what follows? Our hearts become unrestful, anxious, sorrowful and unhappy. Furthermore, we’re emerged in discontent which brings complaints and disunity.
II. FINDING THE PRESENCE OF GOD
To this heart, our psalmist speaks and talks about ‘finding the presence of God.’ It is the voice of God to every heart to know and always remember that the Lord is near, never leaving His beloved. Being inspired by the Holy Spirit, the psalmist means that we must open our eyes, and see and find God who is always near us.
The first reason for this urge is given in vs. 1-5, beginning from v. 1, “O LORD, You have searched me and known me!” God’s search and knowledge of man is a completed action; it’s all done and completed, thus, the result is twofold. First, God knows exactly what we are. See v. 4, “Even before a word is on my tongue, behold O LORD, You know it altogether.” We’re nothing without God, and we’ll die out and return to dust while our souls would face God’s judgment. He knows how desperately we need Him, the God of grace and salvation. So, the second result – God never leaves us. V. 5 pictures God’s nearness to man in these words: “[God] hem me in, behind and before and lay Your hand upon me.” In a word, He covers man all around. So, God is with us always because He knows us completely and thoroughly.
The second reason for God’s near presence is more fundamental than the first reason. In other words, the second reason is the basis of the first one. That is, God knows us completely because He ‘formed’ us, formed our inward parts and ‘knitted’ us together in our mothers’ wombs as vs. 13 points out. God made us fearfully and wonderfully, as in v. 14. Because He created me out of nothing, He knows me inside out; He knows even before a word rises from the surface of our heart. That’s why the Lord is always near us, never leaving us alone.
Let me point out to you the story of the OT Israel to help you understand what this means. Their foundation was the Exodus. Having escaped from Egypt, the nation Israel was born in the wilderness, at the foot of Mt Sinai. Having God’s law as their constitution, they began and moved forward as a nation. To them, God spoke frequently and whenever He spoke, He introduced Himself to their ears as the God of their forefathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and as the One who brought them out of Egypt. What God means by that introduction is that He is the One who began the nation Israel – in other word, gave birth to Israel. Hear what the Lord says in Num. 15:41, “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt to be your God: I am the LORD your God.” By this, He means that He knows them all as a mother does with her child. Yet, although a human mother may leave her child, God will never leave Israel. I believe that the OT Israel existed and their story is recorded in the Bible to prove God’s willingness to be near His children and His unchanging love for them. He formed me and you, like the way He had formed Israel, and He will never leave us nor stay away, but be always with us. No wonder why He knows about us all.
Seeing this, David – our psalmist – is amazed and stunned in his soul, thus, says in v. 6, “Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high; I cannot attain it”! That’s exactly right; we cannot truly understand God’s determined will. How could He be with us human beings who is constantly capricious and unfaithful, always rebelling against Him? None of us could be like the father of the prodigal son, forgiving him with a perfect forgiveness. If I were him, it would’ve been a nightmare for my son. But, God will never leave us whom He has purchased through the shed blood of Jesus, His Son, to be His children! How can anyone understand this? It’s grace too high and deep, too wonderful for us to attain.
Our psalmist’s wonder deepens as shown in vs. 7-12, saying that even if he tried to flee from the Lord, no place would he ever find to go because God will always be near him even there. In v. 10, he points out in confidence that even in Sheol, God’s hand shall lead him and uphold him securely. So, the psalmist again exalts God and delights in Him in vs. 17-18: “How precious to me are Your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them! If I would count them, they are more than the sand. I awake, and I am still with you.”
This is the second point our psalmist urges us that we must see and find our Heavenly Father who is always with His children like you and me. Never forget His near presence; never consider He could be far away from you because He cannot and will not leave you. So, turning our eyes away from Him or trying to forget His nearness, His immanence, is a foolishness, a sin. Don’t you realise how firm and eternal His will for being with you is? He gave His own Son, Jesus Christ, to deliver you from death and make you His own through faith in Jesus. If He gave His only Son to save you and have you near Him, how strongly will He be also near you now and always? So, supposing even for a moment that the Heavenly Father might be away and not near you is false, wrong and blasphemous. He never, ever leaves you, children of God!
III. SEEKING THE GUIDANCE OF GOD
So, it is natural to have our next and last point for today with this 139th psalm is ‘Seeking the guidance of God.’ It’s a petition of the psalmist, representing all Christians like you and me. We seek the Lord’s guidance because we from time to time forget that the Lord is with us always. We cover our eyes and pretend that we don’t see God and God doesn’t see us because He is away, not near us. So, we need God’s guidance, His strong hand holding us firmly and keeping our eyes opened to see and find our Heavenly Father always.
Interestingly, however, our psalmist doesn’t begin with what I’ve just said as our general petition to God for His guidance. Instead, he talks about something that is far too advanced compared to our petition. I mean, he prays, as recorded in v. 19 and onward, for God’s vengeance on the wicked. V. 19 says, “Oh that You [God] would slay the wicked, O God! O men of blood, depart from me!” Then, he explains why in vs. 20-22, “They speak against You with malicious intent; Your enemies take Your name in vain. Do I not hate those who hate You, O LORD? And do I not loathe those who rise up against You? I hate them with complete hatred; I count them my enemies.”
In fact, this petition for vengeance on the wicked, the man of blood, and all those who follow him in sin is truly natural for anyone who deeply realises the Lord’s will for His children and experiences His near presence. If you know in your soul and feel in your heart that your Heavenly Father is always with you, no matter what, you would agree with David, our psalmist, and bring the same petition as his to God. Why? Because you would know that God’s kingdom is your kingdom too and His glory is your glory; so, you would seek your Father’s glory as the first priority of your heart and soul. Therefore, vengeance on the enemy of God will surely be the first point in your prayer. In the same way, anyone who speaks against your Father in heaven with malicious intent or anyone who takes your Father’s name in vain, you’ll hate them. As much as you love God, your hatred toward those who rise up against the Lord will become strong.
But, don’t get confused with this prayer of vengeance because this hatred is godly hatred. It is the same hatred Jesus our Lord showed toward Satan who tested Him in the wilderness, toward the Sadducees and the Pharisees who led many people astray, and toward the Prince of the power of the air who tries to persecute the church and devour God’s children. This is in other words, seeking first God’s kingdom and His righteousness. God’s concern becomes your concern; His interest becomes yours too. You imitate the Lord more and more with this.
Having sought the glory of God and His kingdom, then, seeks personal interests as shown in vs. 23-24. What does our psalmist pray in these verses? Firstly, a deeper sense of near presence, as in v. 23: “Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts!” God already knows about us thoroughly. But the psalmist and anyone who firmly believes and enjoys God’s immanence seek more of His near presence. Why? Because it’s good! Because it’s beautiful and joyful! Like a child follows his/her mum always and digs in his dad’s bosom, all who know this joy of walking with the Heavenly Father seek more of it!
Then, secondly, the psalmist seeks God’s grace, bringing his fallen humanity to God’s attention. He says here like, ‘Father, You know I’m but a man, sinful and vulnerable to temptations. So, please pardon all my sins!’ By seeking the same, we pray for our Lord’s grace through which we may always depend on God, rather than on ourselves.
My brothers and sisters in the Lord Jesus, living in this world, we cannot deny the fact that we from time to time forget about God’s near presence with us. But remember and remind each other of the truth that our Heavenly Father never leaves us, not even for a moment. He had a plan for each of us in His mind even before the creation of the world, then, He formed us according to His plan and when the fullness of His time came, He called us and made us His own and that through the blood of Jesus Christ. He never leaves us for this reason.
We heard from our Lord Jesus that the kingdom of heaven is like the hidden treasure or the pearl of great value. Anyone who finds it will buy it with all he has and rejoice. The same rule applies to God’s finding us and keeping us in His bosom. He rejoices with us, considering us as the treasures. After all, He purchased you and me with the blood of Jesus His Son, our Saviour and Lord! The Lord Jesus delights together with His Father for us being cleansed with His blood. The Holy Spirit rejoices together with the Father and the Son in our sanctification.
Thus, my fellow members of God’s household, let us rejoice for we’re the Lord’s and the Lord, the Triune God, is ours! Amen. ***