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February 2013  •  Volume XIV, Issue 10


God’s Way Is in the Sanctuary (1)

In the opening half of Psalm 77, Asaph is grievously afflicted. What is it that troubles him? Is it some terrible illness or grievous sin? Is it the opposition of God’s enemies or the slandering of his name or the declension of the church?

If you read this Psalm, you will see that we are not told. It simply uses words like "trouble" or being "overwhelmed," but it does not specify the source of his distress. That the nature of Asaph’s trouble is not revealed might somewhat disappoint us, although it should not. Since our heavenly Father has not told us, we do not need to know. In fact, this is the very point: whatever our affliction, we can identify with the Psalmist and put ourselves in his place.

So what is the first thing Asaph does in his distress? He prays—the right thing to do! "In the day of my trouble I sought the Lord" (2). Verse 1 adds that Asaph "cried" out to God with his "voice." The word "voice" is used twice, emphasizing that this was not merely mental but oral prayer. Asaph’s passionate desires were spoken aloud to God.

What was the result of these fervent prayers? Asaph declares, "My soul refused to be comforted" (2). He received no consolation. He experienced no comfort in his heart and soul. Have you ever had this, beloved? No comfort! No comfort, even after many earnest prayers! Still distressed and downcast and dispirited in soul after seeking the Lord! This creates a second problem for the believer: "What is wrong with my prayers? Why does not God hear? Does He not care?"

This brings us to the next thing that Asaph tried: he thought upon God. The Psalmist reckoned that this would bring relief, and it does, if done in the right way and in the right spirit and in God’s good time. But what happened here? "I remembered God, and was troubled: I complained [i.e., meditated], and my spirit was overwhelmed" (3). Asaph remembered, mused and meditated upon the Lord, His character, His rule over all things, His purposes and ways.

The result? He was "troubled" (3) and further distressed! His situation was now worse! His "spirit was overwhelmed" (3), so that he was crushed and confused even more. Why was this? First, he was upset and distressed over his initial affliction. Then he was tired and disconsolate after his earnest "night" prayers brought no comfort (2). Now he has hard thoughts of God and a certain amount of bitterness towards the Almighty. In such circumstances, his meditations upon God are easily led astray by Satan and bring not relief but only further distress so that the Psalmist is overwhelmed. Have you ever felt like this? Your mind is in a turmoil. Your thoughts go round and round in circles. There seems no way out. Your spirit is overwhelmed.

Perhaps Asaph can find some relief through sleep? You know how it goes sometimes. You are upset for things are not going well, but after a good night’s sleep, things do not look half as bad. After becoming overwrought, rest restores us once again to sober, right-thinking. But poor Asaph exclaims, "Thou holdest mine eyes waking" (4). The eyelids are the watchmen or guardians of our eyes. They protect our eyes (and our whole bodies) by closing each night to give us sleep. But there was no sleep for Asaph, no rest for his weary body and no repose for his over-wrought mind. And it was God who was doing it! In His providence, which governs absolutely all things, God would not let him sleep. Asaph was so distressed and tormented with anguished thoughts that he could not fall asleep. And he knew that God was in sovereign control over this too!

This tiredness and mental stress made things worse. Asaph complains, "I am so troubled that I cannot speak" (4). Sometimes our weariness is so great that it is too much of an effort to talk, or perhaps it means that Asaph is so distressed that he did not want to speak with other people.

In desperation, the Psalmist tried to comfort himself by thinking of the church in the past: "I have considered the days of old, the years of ancient times" (5). He reflected upon the ancient church’s history: Israel, the patriarchs, the antediluvians. He went way back looking for wisdom from the past, but received no comfort.

Then Asaph recalled better days in his own personal history. "Maybe," he thought, "this will encourage me." "I call to remembrance my song in the night" (6), those good times with the Lord when the Psalmist went to bed singing His praises with joy and gladness. In itself, this is a good thing to do in times of distress, like many of the other things Asaph tried. But these things must not be done in a spirit of complaint or grumbling or out of self-pity (Ecc. 7:10).

Next, Asaph engaged in self-examination: "I commune with mine own heart: and my spirit made diligent search" (Ps. 77:6). But mixed in with Asaph’s cogitations and questions was a certain measure of doubting God: "Will the Lord cast off for ever? and will he be favourable no more? Is his mercy clean gone for ever? doth his promise fail for evermore? Hath God forgotten to be gracious? hath he in anger shut up his tender mercies?" (7-9). You see the mess into which the Psalmist has gotten himself? He is questioning God’s favour (7), mercy (8), grace (9) and tender mercies (9) and, thus, God’s covenant promise (8) so that he feels "cast off" (7).

But Asaph is not wholly unbelieving. The child of God never totally loses his faith. He may feel cast off in the present. Currently, he may not experience God’s covenant mercies but the Lord will always bring all of His sons and daughters back.

We are on dangerous ground if we question God’s gracious favour, because in God’s mercy and promise in Jesus Christ lies all our salvation. To cut ourselves off from these (totally and finally) is damnation. See how far the Psalmist has gone since his initial trouble? To echo Asaph from one of his earlier Psalms, "But as for me, my feet were almost gone; my steps had well nigh slipped" (73:2). "Almost gone"—almost, but not quite!

That "almost" (but not quite) is a testimony to Jehovah’s preservation of His saints, so that sometimes it is only by the skin of his teeth that the child of God hangs on. Believe God’s promises in Jesus Christ! Do not give way to your doubts and fears and worries and self-pity! Never start on that downward spiral, beloved!    Rev. Stewart

The King Preaching the Kingdom

Question: "In Luke 9:2, Christ sent His disciples to preach the kingdom of God, yet a few verses later He says, ‘Tell no man that thing,’ i.e., that He is the Christ. How do you square preaching the kingdom without telling folk who is the King? Was it a matter of telling them to repent and trust in a Messiah to come without actually identifying Him?"

The passage referred to reads as follows: "And he sent them to preach the kingdom of God, and to heal the sick" (2).

It is not clear to me to what passage the questioner refers when he adds, "Yet a few verses later He says, ‘Tell no man that thing,’ i.e., that He is the Christ." The closest I can come to the reference is in Luke 9:21. This command of Jesus was given under entirely different circumstances. Jesus and His disciples were in Caesarea Philippi; Jesus asked His disciples, "Whom say the people that I am?" (18). When the disciples told him that various people thought that He was John the Baptist or Elijah or a resurrected prophet (19), Jesus asked them, "But whom say ye that I am?" To this query Peter made his crucial confession as the spokesman of the disciples: "The Christ of God" (20).

It was in that connection that Jesus "straitly charged them, and commanded them to tell no man that thing" (21). But Jesus Himself explains the reason for this command: "The Son of man must suffer many things, and be rejected of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be slain, and be raised the third day" (22).

In other words, Jesus did not want the disciples telling others who He was because the time for His suffering and death had not yet come. Jesus knew that the end of His earthly life was to be on Golgotha and that He was to die for the sins of His people, but He also knew the time. The time was, as Jesus so often expressed it, His "hour." It was impossible that He die before that time.

Further, the ground on the basis of which He was killed by the Jews was exactly His claim that He was what Peter confessed Him to be. While Jesus had sovereign control over all things, including the time of His death, He did not want to provoke the Jews with His specific claim to be the Christ, the Son of the living God. When the time came to affirm that before the Sanhedrin, Jesus boldly confessed that He was indeed the Christ, God’s eternal Son (Matt. 26:63-64). But He could not yet make that public and from His own lips, for it would only aggravate the Jews and prompt them to capture and kill Him before His "hour" came, if they could.

Undoubtedly, the Jews suspected that He was the Christ, God’s own Son, but they ought not be unnecessarily provoked by Jesus’ own claim.

In passing, we may note that Peter’s confession was the heart of the issue between Jesus and the unbelieving Jews. They had no quarrel with Christ when He used the name, Jesus. They could even have tolerated His miracles—if His miracles had not won Him the favour of the people and deprived these wicked leaders of the honour they thought they had coming. But when Jesus insisted that His miracles, deeds and words revealed that He was the One sent by the Father, they took issue with Him. They knew full well that to be the promised Messiah, the Christ, meant also that He was the Son of God.

But I have not yet fully answered the question. I believe that the question alludes to the fact that Scripture records strange and unexpected commands Jesus made to those upon whom He had performed miracles that they should not tell anyone. Why not?

Commentators and students of Scripture have debated the answer to this question for many, many years. Perhaps there is no easy answer. In many instances, the people who were so commanded went out anyway and spread far and wide what Jesus had done for them. In other instances, Jesus specifically commanded those on whom He performed a miracle to spread the word abroad (Mark 5:18-20).

It is my opinion that Jesus commanded people to keep silence about who He was and what He had done, because many people, even those who experienced a miracle of healing, did not understand the true meaning of the miracle and did not understand the work of Christ in the establishment of His kingdom. Even the disciples, after the resurrection, misunderstood the nature of Christ’s kingdom. They were constantly thinking in terms of an earthly kingdom—something like the postmillennialists today (Acts 1:6). If the disciples did not understand until after Pentecost, we can hardly expect that the people understood before Pentecost.

So Jesus, who knew that the people would spread abroad a wrong conception of the kingdom, told them to keep quiet about it lest they propagate these incorrect ideas.

Jesus’ preaching that the kingdom was near could very well be done without entering into an elaborate description of the nature of that kingdom, specifically that it was heavenly. The true nature of the kingdom would be made clear after Pentecost when the Spirit was poured out.

It seems to me that people did know that Jesus was the King of the kingdom He preached. The triumphal entrance into Jerusalem proved it. But the nature of that kingdom was not fully understood, not even by the disciples. If people wanted to talk to others about the miracle that had been performed on them, and related that miracle with the fact that the kingdom was near, it was better that they did not do so rather than give a garbled idea of that kingdom.  Prof. Hanko

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