Sunday, 16 April 2017

The Risen Saviour (Psalm 16:9-11)

If it had not been for Peter’s reference to this psalm in his sermon on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2:25-28) we would have assumed that the psalm was only an expression of David’s dedication to the Lord. Peter tells us, however, that the speaker in the psalm, at least in its closing verses, is Jesus, which means that this is the main way in which we are meant to read the psalm.

Of course, we may wonder how Peter, so soon after objecting to the death of Jesus and then denying him, could have such amazing insight. It may be that the Holy Spirit illumined his mind while he was thinking about the psalm. Or maybe the two on the way to Emmaus, who had this psalm explained to them by the Stranger who spoke to them concerning what the law, prophets and psalms said about the Messiah, had passed on this detail to the other believers. Or maybe he heard Jesus himself use the psalm during the forty days he was with them after his resurrection because it does detail how he felt as he died, what happened to him in the tomb, and where he would be after his resurrection. 

Is this psalm about David in the sense that he is talking about his own personal life experiences? It cannot be, because while David has experienced death, his death was not like the death described in the closing verses of the psalm. Nor has David experienced the resurrection yet, although he will do one day when believers will be raised by Jesus. Instead, here we have another example of David functioning as a prophet, just as he does in Psalms 22 and 110, which describe features of the experience of Jesus that are unique to him.

The confidence of Jesus (v. 9)

In verse 9, the speaker in the psalm expresses his confidence in the prospect of death. We could read his comments as describing his general outlook or they could describe what he felt as he knew that death was drawing near. Why did he have such confidence? We are told it is connected to two features. One is that he listened to the Lord’s counsel which he received day and night as part of his fellowship. The other is that he dedicated himself to the Lord’s service and sensed the powerful presence of the Lord with him as he followed the calling he had received.

We know from the Gospels that both these matters were true of Jesus. He rejoiced in his regular, almost constant interaction with his Father – it looks as if the only time he was not engaged in this activity was when he was asleep. From his Father, he received insight and encouragement as he made his way through life. We can think briefly of a couple of occasions when this is referred to.

On one occasion, he said to his disciples that the reason he was going to lay down his life was because he had received a command from his Father to do so. The command also included the authority to take up his life again. Probably Jesus is referring to a command he received from his Father before he was born. His obedience to walk towards this destiny pleased his Father. Jesus said about it, ‘For this reason does my Father love me because I lay down my life for the sheep’ (John 12:). We are not surprised that he had such confidence after experiencing this kind of approval.

The other occasion that we can think about is what happened to Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration. Jesus there was glorified in the Father’s presence and the Father sent two heavenly representatives to speak to his Son. Amazingly, in the midst of such splendour, the topic they discussed was the death that he would accomplish in Jerusalem. It is not surprising that Jesus should set his face like a flint and take strides to fulfil this task placed into his hands by the Father.

We should note how this confidence is expressed in verse 9. Elsewhere we are told that Jesus was the man of sorrows and there were many things that made him sad, especially the sins and their consequences that he saw all around him. Yet there were other things that made him glad and one of them was his trust in the Father. Even in us, faith has its fruits, one of which is joy. How much more was this the case with regard to the One who had perfect faith! Indeed, we are told by the author of Hebrews that thinking about the joy that was ahead of him that helped Jesus to persevere through the experience of the cross when he was enduring the Father’s wrath against the sins of his people.

The death of Jesus (v. 10)

There are different ways of describing the death of Jesus. We can look at it theologically and see what benefits it has brought to us. Or we can consider it devotionally and respond with heartfelt determination to serve him. Or we might consider it sympathetically as we focus on the way he was betrayed by Judas, denied by his disciples, mistreated by rulers, and condemned for a crime he had not committed. But here in the psalm we are able to look at the death of Jesus from his perspective. What did he think?

Jesus refers to both his soul and his body. He says of his soul that it will not be left in the place of the dead by the Father and he says of his body that the Father would not let him see corruption. Of course, the question arises as to why the prospect of abandonment was mentioned in this context. Is it because he knew that he would sense abandonment before he died, when he cried out on the cross about being forsaken by the Father. Yet that period of abandonment, while terrible, was brief. And so was the time that his soul would be away from the land of the living.

Of course, the soul of Jesus had gone to heaven when he died. We read in the Gospels of his sweet and simple expression as he died, ‘Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.’ But his soul and body were separated and his body was put in the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea for three days. While it was there, the Father would not let it experience corruption. Recall what was said about Lazarus when he had been dead for four days. His family told Jesus on the fourth day that if they opened the tomb they would smell the corrupting process. But if one had gone into the tomb of Jesus there would not be such a smell.

Why? We get the answer to that question in the name by which Jesus calls himself in verse 10. He is the Father’s holy one. There is a depth in that title that could be explored for a long time. Sufficient to say at the moment that it reveals to us the sinlessness of the Saviour. He did not die because he was a sinner. Instead, he died to defeat death by rising in power over it. Although he died, his body was preserved from all corruption. This, in itself, was a statement of great honour bestowed on the One who was in the process of conquering death.

The risen experience of Jesus (v. 11)

In the psalm, we are conveyed by Jesus to the next stage of his experience, which begins with his resurrection, but does not stop there. He describes the resurrection as the moment when the Father made known to him the path of life. Of course, he knew about it through omniscience and information before the moment came. But then the moment did come, and what an incredible moment it was when the risen Saviour took his first steps on the path of life. It is good to remind ourselves today that he is still walking on the path of life.

In the Gospels, we are told a little about the first steps that he took. They were to speak to Mary Magdalene by calling her by her name. Then he went and spoke to the other women who had come to the tomb in order to tell them that all was well. Then he went along the path of life with the two on the way to Emmaus and what life he brought into their souls as their hearts burned within them. At some stage on the first Easter Sunday, he met up with Peter on the path of life and restored him. Later he went to where his frightened disciples were gathered and informed them that he wanted to give them peace. They were the first steps on the path of life.

The initial steps of this path were on earth, but forty days later the path took him higher into the presence of God. He could have said many things about that presence, but the detail that he highlights is that there is the fullness of joy. No doubt, that fullness is the joy that was set before him. And he did describe the reward of heaven as entering into the joy of the Lord.

The path of life took him to the entrance of heaven and who can describe the scenes as he entered into the world of glory. Luke does say that the eleven disciples at Bethany saw him enter heaven (the cloud of glory), but they did not see into heaven. Thankfully, we are told about his entrance into glory in Revelation 5 as the Lamb takes his place at the Father’s right hand, the place of highest honour.

In this verse of the psalm, Jesus says to the Father that at his right hand there are pleasures forevermore. We could summarise them first as pleasure connected to the place, which would remind us of the joy he knows from being with the Father and the Holy Spirit. Because he is God, there will be aspects of the pleasures that will be unique to the Trinity.

Second, we could summarise the pleasures as connected to the divine purpose in which Jesus will be engaged, which is to gather his people to himself. We know that in this life some tasks that were once enjoyable become tedious because of repetition. But that can never be said of the activity of Jesus as he draws each of his people to himself by the cords of love. The divine purpose will involve many other things after the new heavens and new earth come.

Third, we can summarise the pleasures as connected to people. We have already mentioned how Jesus rules in providence so to bring each of his people to himself by the gospel. He said that when this happens, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over each sinner that repents. But what will it be like when each of them reaches heaven and sense the joy caused by their arrival. And what will it be like when all the redeemed are gathered into his presence. We do know that when he sees the results of the travail of his soul he will be satisfied.

Today is Easter Sunday, an annual occasion when we can think about Jesus and his resurrection. Of course, in reality there has only been one real Easter Sunday, the day on which Jesus rose from the dead and experienced the beginning of the path of life. Keeping to the illustration, we can say that he has now walked many miles along this amazing path, and we know that he will walk along it endlessly. It is good for us if we are walking on it with him now, but it will be much better if we walk along with him in the world to come.
Preached on 16/4/2017

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