Psalm 11, "Faith Without Reservation"
Two weeks ago I spent 6 days at Sunnybrae with a couple of our young men as a cabin leader. Cabin leader basically means you do everything the teens do. It’s great in theory, until you actually try to do it. The problem arises when you finally realize that you’re not a teenager and that all the predictions finally came true, you got old. My injury inventory alone is testament to that. By Monday evening I had viral pink eye, a black eye, a twisted ankle, throbbing feet, aching legs, cuts and scrapes and bruises that were too numerous to keep track of. “But the show must go on”. Things kept rolling on, so I limped along from one activity to the next. And every year there will inevitably be some variation of the game “Capture the Flag”. The rules are very simple. The campers are divided into two teams with one large line dividing the camp into two sides. Each team is trying to retrieve a flag from the opposition’s side. So you’re safe on your side of the line, but cross that line you become vulnerable to be captured and taken out of play.
There’s a reason that Sunnybrae and almost every camp everywhere keeps playing this game or some dressed up variation of it every year. It’s a classic. It pits your intellect, speed, and stealth against someone else in a very simple and straight forward way. As the game begins, both teams usually approach the line and size up each other and then chaos ensues. This year I noticed something different. Particularly I noticed something different about myself. Not long ago, I approached this dividing line with excitement, strategy, and confidence. Not so this year. After running around with these young men and women for a couple of days, they seemed much faster than previous years. Or rather, I was acutely aware of how much slower I was. As I approached the line with my aches and pains and limps, my confidence and excitement and strategy disappeared. I didn’t soar across the line into enemy territory because I knew I wouldn’t make it back. So that put me hovering at the line, waiting to see what other people would do. And I noticed a lot of people I hadn’t before. People who hovered and crowded the line with their own fears. There we were, all hovering together and thereby declaring our own defeat in essence because you could not win without crossing over to capture the flag. Whether we’re playing an age old game, or trying to face the challenges that will stare us in the face tomorrow morning, or wrestling with the worries that keep us awake at night, there are countless challenges that we will face either with confidence and determination or fear and hesitation. We’re going to encounter that difficult decision in our text this evening as we look at Psalm 11. [READ PSALM 11]
This Psalm starts out with a declaration; “In the LORD I take refuge”. This phrase serves as the thesis statement for this song as we see an argument unfold between himself and another believer. “Flee like a bird to your mountain, for behold, the wicked bend the bow;” The person making this plea to David aligns himself with David and makes a distinction between themselves and the wicked. It is likely that this was a close confidant of David, perhaps a friend, soldier, or advisor. We don’t know, but this is obviously a person that’s in a position to give counsel to David in a time of trial. David recalls this advice with an objection, “how can you say to my soul”. How can you say this?! How can you believe this?! Though both of these people would claim that they take refuge in the Lord, David is defending to this man what a genuine faith in the Lord should look like. This man’s counsel reflects not a pure trusting in the Lord, but rather a flowing with the waves of oppression and persecution.
“Flee like a bird to your mountain, for behold, the wicked bend the bow; they have fitted their arrow to the string to shoot in the dark at the upright in heart; if the foundations are destroyed, what can the righteous do?” David, we have to run. We need to hide. Your enemies are about to drop the hammer and they’re not plying by the rules. They have the power and the upper hand. Their aiming to trap and ambush us, we to leave the game, just get out of town. The foundations are destroyed, what can we do? We live in a broken world. The rules of honor and integrity and righteousness are meaningless. Those are limitations to us that they will ignore and defeat us with.
Let’s be honest, this guy doesn’t exactly sound off his rocker. How many of us have said or at least thought something that resembles these words, or at least certain parts? If we were truly honest, I would expect almost every hand to go up. We can certainly identify with the situation. Things easily seem to be ruined beyond repair. Every where you turn you see another news story or article or protest that attacks Christians and tries to nullify our faith as misguided, ancient, and hateful. If we obey God, we’re going to miss out on opportunities, or job promotions, or even relationships. Our obedience is going to make others feel uncomfortable, and in this day where subjective feelings reign supreme, you’ll lose people for that. Friends, family members, significant others. I know this personally. I’ve gone years at a time without speaking to some of my siblings because they’re afraid that I’ll confront them on something that they’re doing that they know is wrong. The holy grail of political correctness seems to fire one arrow after another to cut our legs out from under us. The world is trying to make it an agreed upon fact that the church does not in fact help but hurt. Shooting arrow at us under the cover darkness, I would say so.
The foundations are destroyed. Now I’m not entirely sure as to the context from which this man spoke this phrase. It could have been in reference to a specific circumstance, but either way, this is a true statement. We see evidence of that everywhere, most of all in our own sinful hearts. The foundations are destroyed. Something has gone terribly terribly wrong. Sin has infected every single heart. Sin brings death. Death is everywhere. There is a prince of this world. He is a dark prince. The goal of his reign is make sure that everyone on this earth will suffer eternal death. How can we defeat him? We can’t. We must run and hide and wait till it’s all over.
In verse 4 we see David’s response, the defense to his initial claim. “In the Lord I take refuge... BECAUSE the Lord is in His holy temple; the Lord’s throne is in heaven;” Let’s unpack that statement just a bit. The Lord is in His holy temple. The temple was God’s dwelling place, where he could be worshipped and encountered. That was the system under which Israel worshipped God. But this was written in a time in which there was no temple Israel. This is a Psalm of David, and as we know David wanted to build a temple but God told David no, that it would be his son Solomon who would build the temple. So what is this temple that David is referring to? God does not dwell within the confines of a mere building. He is in His pure and holy temple, where He is worshipped, where his throne is from which He rules and reigns and that place is not in a mere room on this earth. He sits on His throne in heaven and reigns over all, including the prince of this world because God is no mere prince, but King. The Kings of ALL Kings.
How can you tell me to flee like a nervous bird? You’re not seeing the picture. The wicked prince is not our prince. We serve the good King. And the prince will ultimately cower to the King. So don’t be so easily frightened as a bird, but endure and worship him fully. God tells us to endure, which means that there will inevitably be terrible circumstances that are not a joy to experience but in fact something terrible that must be suffered with trust and patience. Turn with me to Matthew 10:16. [READ Matt. 10:16-25] Notice vs 24-25, 22. But the one who endures to the end will be saved.
Two years ago at Bridge Baptist, we were walking through this very text. It was a time in our church in which a lot of people were plugging away at so many different areas of service. There were a lot of different difficulties and we didn’t seem to be seeing the fruit we had hoped for. Consequently, whispers of burnout started spreading like an infection. In the midst of those whispers we came face to face with this text. We brought every family in our church a dinner, something they didn’t have to make, and a small little picture frame with this verse printed on it. Don’t endure until you burn out. Don’t endure until you need a break. Endure to the end. God says to endure to the end in bearing persecution and trusting Him enough to obey in everything. Endure to the end, or don’t endure at all. The one who endures to the end will be saved. We don’t get to flee when we get tired. We don’t get to flee when we get scared. We don’t get to check out when there’s one to many obstacles or threats or dangers. How can we get burnt out if we’re truly walking in the power and strength of the limitless and all-powerful God? What or who is there to be afraid of when you’re trusting the one who’s in control over all? The answers to those questions is we can’t, and no one, nothing. This is the reason for David’s question, “How can you say this to me?” This is not what trusting God looks like. You’re forgetting who He is and what serving Him requires. If we only trust Him with certain things, then we’re not really trusting Him. You’re still wanting to be the hero of the story and let God fill in a few of your holes.
Back to Psalm 11. [READ vs 5-7] Thinking back to another occurrence from a few years ago, Pastor Joshua, Dustin, and myself got into a theological debate. We were discussing the question of which was the most fundamental of God’s attributes. My answer at that time came from a theology text book I was working through which argued God’s immutability, or rather the fact that God was unchanging because as good and perfect as He is, if He changed, then that perfect holiness would be momentary and essentially meaningless. Joshua was surprised by my answer and argued it God’s love. After a bit of back and forth he called Dustin in for backup only to be surprised again to hear a third answer arguing God’s holiness. The three of us went round and round. Ultimately I think we all came to agreement that God’s love was essential, but ultimately that love is understood and also held together in light of His mercy, justice, and holiness. We understand God’s love through the lengths He goes to to show His mercy and yet satisfy justice and maintain His perfect holiness. He went so far as to provide His own son as the sacrifice for all man and all his sin. We understand God’s mercy in light of the depth of our guilt and the seemingly impenetrable wall of separation created by our sin. And we understand God’s justice and holiness through the hypostatic union. Big word meaning that Jesus was both fully God and fully man. He was able to satisfy God’s justice in bearing the full weight of God’s wrath for sin along with abandonment from the holy Father, yet being fully God, the holiness of the Godhead was never compromised in that it was never broken. Justice was satisfied. Holiness was maintained. Love and mercy reached to the furthest extent.
So when we read these closing verses of Psalm 11 that God is righteous/ just and tests the righteous an punishes the wicked, we understand His justice in light of and simultaneously with His holiness, mercy, and love. So we don’t simply understand one attribute alone, but His character as a whole. When we understand that, then that gives weight and meaning to statements of His sovereignty. And that brings us back to David’s initial statement. “In the Lord I take refuge”. He does so because he knows that he can. David knows that God is the only real refuge one can have.
[READ Colossians 2:8-15] I want to point out two things from this passage. First, how the fact that God’s justice and holiness was satisfied not because I say so but because God says so. God raised Christ from the dead and saw his sacrifice as worthy payment. Second, we are only justified and declared innocent if we are actually united with Christ, and that comes through faith and faith alone. As we’ve already seen, that faith is exercised through patient endurance to the end. We must trust Him enough to obey Him until the end; no matter how weary we are, no matter how many rumors and signs of certain destruction we hear, no matter how many arrows we’re struck with. We can endure because we know beyond all doubt that God is who He says He is. He is Yahweh. I am who I am. The great I AM who was and is and will always be. He sees everything. He executes perfect justice. Nothing escapes His eye and nothing goes unpunished, and yet He promises that “the upright shall behold His face.” What a promise that is. There is nothing that should give us such hope and peace as that promise. The upright will behold His perfection, His beauty, His glory, His love, His mercy, His holiness. We shall behold it with no obstruction of sin or death. We will behold it and praise Him.
I’ve mentioned two examples this evening about people showing reservations. One was a game in which I lacked the energy to attempt to capture the flag. The other was a situation in which people didn’t think they had the energy and stamina to continue serving our church and sharing the gospel. Two very different circumstances which have a lot in common. I mentioned enduring to the end, but I want to draw out that we cannot endure on our own efforts. This is not a matter of manning up and dealing with things and keeping quiet. This is a matter of taking refuge in Christ in the midst of trials. We take refuge by trusting that even if one of the enemies drawn arrows pierces OUR heart, the GOD is not defeated. And not only that, but trials, pain, persecution, and death are not the end of God’s plan and purpose for us. We must not fear death because we must fully trust that Christ conquered it! That is how we take refuge, by obeying him up to and even through death. We put our faith in Christ and Christ alone by trusting Him with no reservations and keeping nothing for ourselves.