November 25, 2018
In 1997, the late Mr. Rogers received a golden globe award. In his comments after accepting the award he said, “So many people have helped me to come to this night. Some of you are here, some are far away. Some are even in heaven. All of us have special ones who have loved us into being…I would like to thank you all for encouraging me, allowing me, all these years to be your neighbor.”
Fred Rogers cultivated a thankful heart. It should not surprise us because Fred Rogers grounded his life and his work in his faith in Jesus Christ. That’s how it is with followers of Jesus. Today as we consider Ps.138 we see that followers of Jesus have thankful hearts.
I. WE GIVE THANKS FOR GOD’S FAITHFUL LOVE. Ps.138:1-3
David writes, “I give you thanks, O LORD, with my whole heart; before the gods I sing your praise; I bow down toward your holy temple and give thanks to your name for your steadfast love and your faithfulness, for you have exalted above all things your name and your word. On the day I called, you answered me; my strength of soul you increased.” This is a psalm of wholehearted praise and thanksgiving. Giving thanks was a priority in David’s life.
He says in v.1, “before the gods I sing your praise.” There is a difference of opinion as to what David is saying. The Greek translation of the Old Testament has the word, “angels.” It says, “before the angels I sing your praise.” Others think David is writing about human rulers. Still others think David is writing about false gods, idols. Preachers do not like these situations. It is very difficult to discern the meaning when the scholars disagree. I am suggesting that David is referring to idols. I say this because in v.4 David refers to earthly kings. Then in v.7 he refers to earthly problems. In each section it’s as if he moves from the context of this world to the goodness of God.
At one point during the time when King Saul was seeking to kill David, he came after David with 3,000 men. David learned where Saul’s camp was and he went there. In the night while Saul was sleeping, David and Abishai snuck into the camp and he took the spear that was standing in the ground by Saul’s head, along with a jar of water. No one saw this because it says, “a deep sleep from the LORD had fallen upon them.” When David got a safe distance away he called out and Saul woke up, recognizing David's voice. He said, “Is this your voice, my son David?" And David said, ‘It is my voice, my lord, O king.’ And he said, ‘Why does my lord pursue after his servant? For what have I done? What evil is on my hands? Now therefore let my lord the king hear the words of his servant. If it is the LORD who has stirred you up against me, may he accept an offering, but if it is men, may they be cursed before the LORD, for they have driven me out this day that I should have no share in the heritage of the LORD, saying, 'Go, serve other gods.”
Think about this. At that time every nation had its own gods. When a person moved into a new area it was normal to worship the gods that were local to that area. Saul was driving David out of Israel, that’s why David says, “for they have driven me out…saying, 'Go, serve other gods.” David would have none of that because he believed in the one, true God (Yahweh).
Why am I making a big deal about this? It’s because this world is filled with all kind of things that call out for our worship. In this last year I have read a bit about idolatry. The false gods that were worshiped were fickle. They were not trustworthy. They had to be appeased by sacrifices and offerings. You had to persuade them to act in your behalf. You had to worry that they might become angry with you out of the blue.
In Ps.16:4 David writes, “The sorrows of those who run after another god shall multiply;…I will not…take their names on my lips.” Instead David worships and praises God alone. According to v.2, the reason he worships God alone is because only God has steadfast love. Only God is completely faithful to his covenant promises. David says that you can count on God’s name. He has a good reputation. God’s word is his bond. In the face of those false gods, David says, “I sing your praise.” He had personal experience with this good God. In v.3, David says, “On the day I called, you answered me; my strength of soul you increased.”
In Rm.1:21-23 while describing unbelievers Paul says, “For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.” Thanking God is at the heart of worship. In Col.3:17 we read, “And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” In Rm.3:24 Paul says that we, “are justified by God’s grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.” Every good gift comes from the hand of God.
In the world it is common for people to take credit for the good things that come their way or they chalk it up to luck. Not us. We give thanks for God’s faithful love.
II. WE GIVE THANKS FOR GOD’S GRACIOUS LOVE. Ps.138:4-6
In v.4-6 we read, “All the kings of the earth shall give you thanks, O LORD, for they have heard the words of your mouth, and they shall sing of the ways of the LORD, for great is the glory of the LORD. For though the LORD is high, he regards the lowly, but the haughty he knows from afar.”
In this country we have no experience with having a king. In fact our country was founded on the idea that there would never be a king to rule over us. But king or no king, we all understand something about political power and posturing. It goes on all the time. The goal is to gain and keep power for yourself and your party. While many politicians like to promote themselves as coming from humble means, there is very little humility about them. I’m painting with a broad bush, but you all know what I mean. Power is not usually awarded to the meek. It is to the victors that the spoils of war belong.
But in this Psalm, David envisions a time when even the kings of the earth will give thanks to the Lord. Why? Well, David tell us that they will hear the words of the Lord and become familiar with the ways of the Lord, and see the greatness of his glory. There has never been a time when all the kings of the earth have given thanks to God. But that time is coming.
In Phil.2:5-11 Paul writes, “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” After Jesus rose from the dead, he said that all authority in heaven and earth had been given to him. Christ is Lord!
But I am especially drawn to v.6. What is it that calls for thanksgiving from the kings of the earth? It is the fact that our glorious God has regard for the lowly. Kings do not usually have much regard for the lowly, but God does. Consider your calling, brothers and sisters. “Not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God.” He saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy.
The time will come when the kings, the rulers of the earth will sing of the ways of the Lord. But for followers of Jesus, singing of the ways of the Lord is our daily joy. “And can it be that I should gain an int’rest in the Savior’s blood? Died He for me, who caused His pain, For me, who Him to death pursued? Amazing love! How can it be, That Thou, my God, shouldst die for me?
No condemnation now I dread; Jesus, and all in Him, is mine; Alive in Him, my living Head, And clothed in righteousness divine; Bold I approach th’ eternal throne, And claim the crown, through Christ my own.”
We give thanks for God’s gracious love. He saved the likes of even you and me. While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.
III. WE GIVE THANKS FOR GOD’S PRESENT LOVE. Ps.138:7-8
In v.7-8 we read, “Though I walk in the midst of trouble, you preserve my life; you stretch out your hand against the wrath of my enemies, and your right hand delivers me. The LORD will fulfill his purpose for me; your steadfast love, O LORD, endures forever. Do not forsake the work of your hands.”
We live in a world that is filled with trouble. Everyone experiences trouble in this world. Believers experience the normal troubles of the world in addition to the trouble that comes to us for the sake of Jesus.
No matter what kind of trouble we face in life, God is the one who preserves our life. No one and no thing can pluck us out of the hand of God. Even death itself cannot rob us of our life in Christ.
Most of us do not experience persecution for the cause of Christ. We do experience trouble in this world. All of us who know Christ can be thankful because Jesus preserves our life and delivers us. Sometimes he delivers us through death itself. Jesus made it clear that even death cannot rob us of life. His life that is in us is an indestructible life.
But more than that, David points out that God has purposes for our lives, purposes that he intends to fulfill. In Eph.2:10 we learn that, “…we are [God’s] workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” In Christ our purpose in life is to reflect his character, his goodness, his love in this world. We show the world what it looks like to be new creation. And in Phil.1:6, we are confident that “he who began a good work in [us] will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.”
In Isaiah God says, “Even to your old age and gray hairs I am he, I am he who will sustain you. I have made you and I will carry you; I will sustain you and I will rescue you.” Whatever you and I experience in this world, God’s steadfast love in Christ Jesus will uphold us. He will not forsake the work of his hands.
In his 2001 commencement speech at Marquette Univsersity in Milwaukee, WI, the late Fred Rogers said, “I believe that appreciation is a holy thing” Well, gratitude is a holy thing. Followers of Jesus have thankful hearts. Amen