Sunday, April 20, 2008

Psalm 123.

Psalm 123 is a very short one, only four verses, but it addresses a problem for the modern Christian. That problem is the ridicule and contempt of the world. It is not a new problem. Think of the Apostle Paul preaching on Mars Hill. His sermon is an example of his vow to know nothing but Jesus Christ and him crucified, but although some of his audience wanted to hear more, others sneered at the mention of the resurrection from the dead.

Or think of Jesus on the cross. As he was dying, the people watching mocked, "He saved others, but he can't save himself. He trusts God. Let God rescue him." The soldiers also mocked him as they pretended to worship him. The robbers crucified with him heaped insults upon him.

Remember who we are. If they abused Him, they will surely abuse us. The public have flocked to read books by Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens and Sam Harris, that insult Christians and lie about the Church. They show films and television programs that mock our God and offend Christians. No-one cares that film scripts are littered with the name of Jesus Christ used as an expletive.

All through history true Christians have been the butt of abuse. Think of the Lollards, the evangelistic preachers of the fourteenth century sent out by John Wycliffe. The very name 'lollard' was a term of abuse. The Hebrew word translated 'ridicule' in the Psalm meant babble in baby talk - very like the Greek term 'barbarian'. Someone whose words went "Ba, ba, ba or lo,lo,lo" like a baby. It meant that people aped them with baby talk, implying that they were talking nonsense. The Puritans, Pietists and Methodists all received their names as terms of abuse. The Salvation Army in the nineteenth century were mocked by the established church. The other word used in this Psalm is 'contempt'. The Hebrew word refers to that which is trodden underfoot as we might stamp on a bug. In 1914 the British Expeditionary Force was holding up the Kaiser's march on Paris.The Kaiser referred to them a "Sir John French's contemptible little army". Thereafter, the British Army, which performed heroically in the First World War, referred to itself as the 'Old Contemptibles'. The term was to rebound on the Kaiser.

How should we respond to this mocking and ridicule?

First, verse 1: Remember who God is. God is not mocked. He is the Master of the Universe who sits on the throne of heaven. The earth is his footstool.He holds kings in the palm of his hand. He made us and He will judge us.

Second, verse 2: Let's keep ourselves in respective. We are servants. We look to God as a slave does to his master or a maid to her mistress. We are being mocked because of the God we serve and He can take care of himself.

In verses 3 and 4 we are shown our proper response.

We should pray. We might want revenge and punch the mocker on the nose. But we should pray. We might want to sue him for justice in the courts. But we should pray. We should pray for mercy. The word for mercy here is not the word for grace. It is not the word for salvation. We have our salvation; by grace we have our saviour. No, it is the word for help and succor. We pray for relief from our suffering.

Vengeance belongs to the Lord. Justice will come in the last days. But today is a time of mercy.

As we pray, the Lord might wreak vengeance, but we should not pray for it. I remember an old lady lividly angry at one of the decisions of the church. When visited by an elder she exclaimed in high dudgeon, "May God strike me down if this ever happens in this church!" As the elder turned his back she slipped and fractured her hip.

On one occasion in my professional life I was being attacked by a colleague in an unfair and underhand way. He was telling lies about me. Alone in a hotel bed in London, I could not sleep. I prayed to God, "Please release me from these attacks". The next day my attacker slipped on some leaves and was put out of action for several months. Be careful what you pray for.

Sometimes God will say, "My grace is sufficient for you," and we must endure, but we have the example of Christ.

This is a day of mercy. There is still time, even for the mocker. Jesus tells us to pray for our enemies. Remember that Paul held the coats of those who stoned Stephen. Suppose Richard Dawkins put his talents at the disposal of Christ. Suppose Christopher Hitchens were converted and put his energy into telling others of the gospel.

Anthony Flew was one of the world's most famous atheists. When about to debate with a Christian over the existence of God he suddenly had a change of heart. The evidence convinced him. There must be a God. There is no other explanation.

Pray for enemies. Miracles really do happen. Would you rejoice to see Dawkins destroyed and Hitchens in hell? The Word tells us that God is not willing that anyone should perish and that the angels rejoice over a single sinner saved. Don't damn Dawkins; pray for him.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

It is difficult to sit still and let attacks continue.

"Scientific American" is a publication which offers detailed and comprehensive articles about matters of, obviously, science, including medicine. It's an interesting magazine. However, the magazine has increasingly become anti-Christian.

I've canceled my subscription. Surely it isn't an inappropriate thing to do, to refuse to do business with, or associate with, one's enemies.