God is King: Remembering God’s Providence in Scary Times

Sermon by Ligon Duncan on March 15, 2020

Psalms 93

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If you have your Bibles, I’d invite you to turn with me to Psalm 93 as we face a unique time in our country and our culture; a time in which our fear is elevated and in which there is a great threat against our friends, our families, our neighbors and our nation. It’s important to turn to God and to His Word. And in this psalm we will see the psalmist address the issue of the peril of God’s people by pointing to the person of God. If I were to give this sermon a title, it would be, “God is King: Remembering God’s Providence in Scary Times.” And before we read God’s Word, let’s look to Him in prayer and ask for His help and blessing. Let’s pray.

Our Heavenly Father, we need You. We need Your Word more than we need food. So open our mouths, the mouths of our hearts, and fill it with the bread of Your Word. Open our eyes to behold wonderful things from Your Law. By Your Holy Spirit, enable us to understand, and in more than just understand, but to believe and obey the truth which You proclaim to us in Your Word. And we ask this in Jesus’ name, amen.

Our pastor has already read from this text, but let’s turn our attention there again and be on the lookout for three movements in this psalm. The first one you’ll see in verses 1 and 2. And verses 1 and 2 simply declare something that we need to know about the person of God, that God is King. And then, the scene shifts. When you look at verses 3 and 4, you will see a depiction of our peril, the circumstances that are causing fear to well up in our hearts. So we move from the person of God to the situation of peril. And then finally in verse 5, you move back to God again. So notice that this psalm really brackets our peril with two depictions of the person of God. It tells us something about His person in verses 1 and 2 and then it tells us something about His person in verse 4, and then it tells something about His person in verse 5. So the peril is bracketed with a declaration of the person of God, and that’s a very important principle in the Christian life. As believers, we want to read life in light of God, not God in light of life. 

So let’s look to the Lord’s Word and see what He has to say to us. This is the Word of God. 

Psalm 93, beginning in verse 1:

“The Lord reigns; he is robed in majesty; the Lord is robed; he has put on strength as his belt. Yes, the world is established; it shall never be moved. Your throne is established from of old; you are from everlasting.

The floods have lifted up, O Lord, the floods have lifted up their voice; the floods lift up their roaring. Mightier than the thunders of many waters, mightier than the waves of the sea, the Lord on high is mighty!

Your decrees are very trustworthy; holiness befits your house, O Lord, forevermore.”

Amen, and thus ends this reading of God’s holy, inspired, and inerrant Word. May He write its eternal truth upon all our hearts.

When we face great trials and perils in life, sometimes in our fear we ask the question, “Why? What’s going on? How am I to understand this?” Very recently, a friend of mine’s son went through a terrifying experience. And he said to his mother after that experience, “Why did this happen, mother?” It was a deeply disturbing experience, which had left him with perhaps a lingering trauma and he was trying to make sense of it. “Why is this happening?” And if we attempt to read who our God is out of the fear of our circumstances, we’ll go wrong. But if we’ll read our circumstances in light of who our God is, it will help us respond appropriately to the trials and the tribulations of our life. 

And I think this psalm helps us do that and I’d like to look at it with you tonight in three parts. The first part of the psalm, especially verses 1 and 2, points us to the might of God. That is, the psalm begins by reintroducing us to our God – who He is; reminding us of what He is like and especially reminding us of His power. Then, the second part of the psalm points to our life situation. It points to the peril in which we find ourselves. And then you see that especially in verse 3. But verses 3 and 4 we’re going to take together. The peril is responded to in verse 4 by a declaration about God’s power being greater than our peril. And finally, in the third section, we get to verse 5. The psalmist takes us back to the person of God, but this time the focus is not on God’s might; it’s about His character, it’s about His person. So the psalm begins with power, moves to peril, and then finally points us to a person. To say it another way, the psalm begins by showing us God’s might, then it moves to show us our situation and the scariness and the peril of our situation, and then finally it points us to God’s character. Let’s look at those things together tonight.

The Power of God 

First of all, I want you to see how this psalm shows us the might of God. And it does it in verses 1 and 2 and it does it in a very interesting way. It gives us a proclamation followed by two pictures. A proclamation followed by two pictures. Here’s the proclamation – “The Lord reigns!” this is a victory declaration. It’s a victory declaration a little bit like you get in Isaiah 52:7. You know that passage as a passage that says, “How beautiful are the feet of the one who brings good news.” Isaiah 52:7 is a picture of a messenger coming to give good news to the people about the battle of their king against their enemies. It’s a little bit like Pheidippides. The myth, you know that story, about the battle of Marathon when the Persians were invading and the army of Athens went out to meet the Persians in battle and they defeated the mighty Persian army. And Pheidippides, as the story goes, as the myth goes, requested that he be allowed to go back to Athens to tell them that the Athenian army had won. And he ran some twenty-six miles and he arrived and he said, “Nike! Victory!” Or something like, “Rejoice! We have conquered!” And then he fell down dead. And that’s where we get the modern marathon from. But the point of the story is he comes back as a messenger to give news of victory, and this is a victory declaration – “The Lord reigns!”

There’s a poignant story like that in Scripture, in 2 Samuel chapter 18. You remember when the forces of Absalom had rebelled against David, David was waiting with his people to hear news of whether his general, Joab, had won the battle against the forces of Absalom. And indeed, two messengers came in order to declare victory. Of course the second messenger also had to tell David that his son, Absalom, had died. The very picture that’s being pictured here, as that first messenger comes to David in 2 Samuel 18, he tells David, “We’ve won! You’re the king! Your forces have won! Those who had rebelled against you have been conquered!” He's bringing good news. And this opening word of the psalm is a declaration of God as King – “The Lord reigns!” 

And then immediately it goes to two pictures. The first picture you see, continuing there in verse 1, “he is robed in majesty; the Lord is robed; he has put on strength as his belt.” And you get this dynamic picture of the Lord girding himself for battle and the repetition helps build the dynamism of the description. He is robed. The Lord is robed in majesty. He’s robed. He has put on strength like a belt. So it’s a picture of the warrior King, girding Himself to do battle for whom? For you, His people! And the point is, the Lord is mighty. The Lord is dressed for battle. He is mighty and strong and He is defending you. He’s protecting you. 

And then the picture changes again and you’ll see especially at the end of verse 1 and the beginning of verse 2 a different picture. “The world is established; it shall never be moved. Your throne is established from of old; you are from everlasting.” Now that picture will contrast with the water images in the next verse. The next verse is going to take us to a picture of a roaring sea, but in this verse, the second picture is – the world is established; the earth is not going to be overwhelmed by this roaring sea, by this flood. The Lord is established. But the point is this. It’s because the Lord is everlasting and it’s because the Lord’s throne is established, that the earth is established, that the earth is not going to be overthrown by the sea; that the raging storm that’s going to be described in verse 3 is not going to overtake everything else. It’s not because the earth in and of itself inherently is going to prevail against the storm and the waves and the raging sea. It’s because the Lord’s throne is established. 

So you see the two pictures. He is a mighty warrior, clothed with strength, going out to battle for you. And His throne is established, and therefore the earth is going to stand. He is from everlasting. His throne is certain; therefore, our lives are not going to go to pieces. So the psalm begins by assuring you in your time of peril – what? Your God is in control. Your God is King. Your God is mighty. Your God is from everlasting. 

And have you ever noticed how often that happens in the Bible when God’s people are in very, very difficult situations. You remember when, in Genesis 17, when Abraham has now been waiting for fifty years to have a child and he still doesn’t have a child by Sarah, and God comes to meet him in Genesis 17. And what is the first thing that God says to him? “Abraham, I am God Almighty.” Now why does God introduce Himself to Abraham again? They have been walking together for half a century. Abraham knows that God is God Almighty. God called Himself something like that back in Genesis 15. Why would God say that to Abraham again? Because Abraham needed to know it and remember it and believe it. He needed to believe that His God was almighty, was all powerful, a God who could do anything, because Abraham was still waiting for God’s promise of a son to come to pass and it seemed fainter and fainter and fainter. And so he needed to be reminded of who God is. In our situations, no matter how scary they are, the first thing we need to address is who our God is and to remember His power. And that’s what this psalm does. It points us to the power of God. 

A Portrayal of Our Peril 

Then, if you’ll look with me at verses 3 and 4, now you’re going to see a portrayal of our peril. We move from this depiction of God’s power to this portrayal of our peril. And the scene is something that you’re familiar with. “The floods have lifted up, O Lord, the floods have lifted up their voice; the floods lift up their roaring.” We’ve just gone through floods in Jackson and it has displaced many hundreds of people in our city. We are still recovering from those floods. This is probably a depiction of a sea raging, the torrents of waters. And in the Bible, so often the depiction of peril of the people of God is painted in terms of the raging sea. If you could, in your mind perhaps, see videos you’ve seen of a raging sea, or maybe you’ve actually witnessed a raging sea with billows of massive walls of water, undulating in the ocean and threatening things that are in their way. This is what is being done here. Life is being depicted as storm-tossed and filled with danger. 

We don’t know exactly the circumstance of this psalm. It might have been a time when there was a national military threat against the children of Israel, and that threat it being depicted as a raging sea. But no matter what the particular peril was, we are familiar with this kind of image – the storm-tossed seas. And we find this, by the way, in our hymnody. This morning, our pastor quoted from William Cowper’s, “God Moves In A Mysterious Way.” And I love that line where Cowper says, “He plants His footsteps on the sea and rides upon the storm.” And what Cowper is saying is, when he says, “He plants His footsteps in the sea,” you can’t always follow the tracks of what God is doing. It’s like footsteps in the sea; they disappear right after He takes the next step. You don’t know exactly what’s going on. But then the next sign is much more hopeful – “He rides upon the storm.” He is sovereign. He is in control, even of the storm. 

But so much of our hymnody speaks in the same way. When you sing one of our favorite hymns, “It Is Well With My Soul,” one of the things you sing is, “When sorrows like sea billows roll, even then it is well with my soul.” Or when you sing, “My Hope Is Built On Nothing Less,” you sing, “In every high and stormy gale, my anchor holds within the veil. His oath, His covenant, His blood support me in the whelming flood.” When you sing, “Jesus! What a Friend For Sinners!” you sing, “Jesus, what a help in sorrow, while the billows o’er me roll.” Over and over in our hymnody, as in Scripture, the raging sea, the rolling sea billows, this undulating mass of water that threatens life, is one of the depictions of the perils we face in this life. 

And the good news is not that we don’t face perils. The good news is we have a God who is mightier than our perils. And that’s what the next verse says. Did you notice how it puts it? “Mightier than the thunders of many waters, mightier than the waves of the sea, the Lord on high is mighty!” So the answer is not, “Well, there really are not sea billows and storms and raging seas in life.” This isn’t sort of the, “I’m going to close my eyes and pretend like there aren’t any problems out there.” That’s not the answer. The answer is recognized that mightier than those things that threaten you is the God who is King, the God who is strong, the God who is robed for battle. He rides upon the storm. 

You know the scene in Mark 4 or in Luke 8, verses 24 and 25, when Jesus is on the Sea of Galilee and a raging storm arises and the disciples are afraid for their lives, Jesus is sleeping. And Jesus stands up and rebukes the waves. And all the disciples say, “Who is this? Who can command even the wind and the waves?” And of course that passage is identifying Jesus with the God who is mightier than the waters. And again, there’s a hymn that we sing that sings about that. When we sing, “Be Still My Soul,” as we often do in times of trouble and even death, we sing these words, “Be still my soul, the waves and winds still know His voice who ruled them when He dwelt below.” 

How often have you heard in the last week that the situation is fluid? I’ve heard that about a million times. And let me tell you, it is. As a person who has been having to make decisions about an institution and what we’re going to do to take care of our people and to pursue our mission, this situation is fluid. It is changing every second. The fluidity of this situation does not encourage me because I have no idea what’s coming next. Well, what we have depicted in verse 3 is a fluid situation. There is lots of fluid and the fluidity is not what gives me hope. It is the fact that God is in control, even of this. You see, the good news is not that we are in control or that we can find a way to get in control, but that God is in control. Some of you will follow the well-known hip hop artist, Lecrae. Recently he said this week, “We haven’t lost control of our lives; we’ve lost the allusion that we were ever in control.” Well, we’ve certainly, if we have our eyes open, we’ve lost the allusion that we are in control. But the good news for believers is, God is in control. God is mightier than these things that threaten us.

A Pronouncement About God’s Person

So the psalm moves from the power of God to our peril and then it reminds us that God is more powerful than our peril. But then, in verse 5, it takes us back to see one more thing. And in verse 5 we meet a pronouncement about God’s person; a pronouncement about God’s person. Look at verse 5. “Your decrees are very trustworthy; holiness befits your house, O Lord, forevermore.” In this verse, a pronouncement about God’s person is made – God is trustworthy, God is faithful, and God is holy. He is righteous. He is good. Let’s look at both parts of this pronouncement about God’s person. First, “Your decrees are very trustworthy.” That word “decrees” is the same word that often gets translated as “testimonies” and if you’ve read Psalm 119 recently you know that that psalm uses that word all the time to talk about Scripture. And so there is a real sense in which this particular passage is reminding again God’s people that His Word is trustworthy. His Word is trustworthy because His character is trustworthy and therefore His Word can be trusted. 

Derek Kidner says, “Scripture rests on the integrity of God who vouches for its statements, promises, warnings and commands.” And one thing that you need in time of trouble is somebody with a trustworthy word. Isn’t that for you one of the most disorienting things we’re going through right now? Because we’ve gotten to a point where we don’t trust a lot of the voices that are talking to us right now. We’re not sure – our discourse is so politicized – are people saying this because they’re trying to get at some particular political person or opinion or party? Are they telling me what’s true? I don’t know. I’m confused. And in the midst of this peril in Psalm 93, we’re told you can count on God’s Word. He will tell you the truth. What He says is trustworthy. Put your nose in the Word and He will not lie to you! He will tell you what is true! You can count on what He says! We need that in the confusion and the peril in which we find ourselves right now. We need a trustworthy word, and it’s right here in God’s Word. So in the extra hours that we have to ourselves in the days and weeks ahead, one way that we ought to spend at least some of that time is giving ourselves more to this Word, because this Word is more trustworthy than any word that you will hear anywhere else. 

And then, look at the second half of the verse. “Holiness befits Your house, O Lord.” The scene now is the temple of the Lord, the house of the Lord. And it is characterized as holy because God is holy. And a very interesting word is used. It says “holiness befits Your house.” That word is only used two other times in the Hebrew Bible. Interestingly, one of the times is in Isaiah 52:7, the verse that we just related to regarding the first verse of Psalm 93. And it literally means that God’s holiness “adorns” or is “the comeliness” of His house. To put it another way, one of the psalms says that we are to worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness because holiness is the beauty of God’s character. We have a culture that worships beauty, but the Bible views God’s holiness as beautiful, and therefore His house is described as adorned with the beauty of holiness. “Holiness adorns, it befits Your house, O Lord.” This again is pointing to God’s character. He’s trustworthy and He’s holy. And because He is holy, He has a purpose to make us like Himself so that we will be holy as He is holy. Because we are sinners, we can’t make ourselves holy, but Jesus Christ, who was the fullness of God in bodily form, perfect in holiness, died in our place that we might be holy in Him as we trust in Him alone for salvation as He is offered in the Gospel. So certainly one of the things that we learn in the trials and tribulations, the perils and the scary times of life, is to trust in God. And one of the things that we need to learn in order to thrive as believers is to focus our trust on Jesus, who Himself has experienced the trials and the tribulations of this life – in trust in God and in holiness. And His Word to us can be trusted. 

My friends, we don’t know what’s going to be coming in the days ahead. This situation is indeed fluid. There may be no good news in the situation at all, but there is always good news about the God who is in control of everything and who is working all things for good, for our good, according to His purpose. And we know that one of His purposes is to make us like Himself, to make us holy. So let’s determine, as we read His providence in the world right now and as we face, with perhaps some fear and trepidation the circumstances of our lives, that we learn Him again, that we trust His Word, and that we grow to be like Him in the way that we relate to our neighbors in the days ahead and the way we manifest a confidence that God is in control, even though we are not. 

Let’s pray.

Heavenly Father, we thank You for Your Word and we ask that You would work it deep into our hearts and that You would help us believe it right now and You would calm our fears, not because there is nothing to fear – there’s plenty to fear – but because You are greater than that which we fear. You ride upon the storm. You are mightier than the waves. And more than just being more powerful than what we fear, You are good. You are trustworthy. You are holy. Help us to believe that, to rejoice in Your control, and then make us like Yourself, even in these hard circumstances. We ask these things in Jesus’ name, amen.

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