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Long Live the King

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Jesus Christ, the King who was delivered through distress, lives forever to lead us in the praise of God’s name through our distress.

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Psalm 61:1–8 ESV
1 Hear my cry, O God, listen to my prayer; 2 from the end of the earth I call to you when my heart is faint. Lead me to the rock that is higher than I, 3 for you have been my refuge, a strong tower against the enemy. 4 Let me dwell in your tent forever! Let me take refuge under the shelter of your wings! Selah 5 For you, O God, have heard my vows; you have given me the heritage of those who fear your name. 6 Prolong the life of the king; may his years endure to all generations! 7 May he be enthroned forever before God; appoint steadfast love and faithfulness to watch over him! 8 So will I ever sing praises to your name, as I perform my vows day after day.
PS61

Introduction

Twelve years ago the movie Superman Returns came out. It might actually be the best of all the Superman movies. Superman has disappeared from the scene for five years. He left Lois Lane and all of earth to search for his proper place in the universe. Lois, for her part, attempted to heal from the disappointment of Superman’s leaving by writing an essay for which she has won a Pulitzer Prize. The essay’s title is Why the World Doesn’t Need Superman. Of course, Superman returns because he realizes that his proper place is right here on earth. And, of course, he ends up spending some time with Lois. When they get the opportunity to talk Lois quotes from her essay and says to him, “The world doesn’t need a savior.” And for good measure she adds, “and neither do I.” Then he takes her on a ride as only Superman can, high above the clouds looking down over the earth and he asks her, “What do you hear?” She says, “I don’t hear anything.” He responds, “I hear everything.” And you get a glimpse into what it’s like to have Superman’s hearing. You hear the sound of sirens and screams and violence. Then he says the most powerful words in the movie. He says, “You wrote that the world doesn’t need a savior, but everyday I hear people crying out for one.”
Twelve years ago the movie Superman Returns came out. It might actually be the best of all the Superman movies. Superman has disappeared from the scene for five years. He left Lois Lane and all of earth to search for his proper place in the universe. Lois, for her part, attempted to heal from the disappointment of Superman’s leaving by writing an essay for which she has won a Pulitzer Prize. The essay’s title is Why the World Doesn’t Need Superman. Of course, Superman returns because he realizes that his proper place is right here on earth. And, of course, he ends up spending some time with Lois. When they get the opportunity to talk Lois quotes from her essay and says to him, “The world doesn’t need a savior.” And for good measure she adds, “and neither do I.” Then he takes her on a ride as only Superman can, high above the clouds looking down over the earth and he asks her, “What do you hear?” She says, “I don’t hear anything.” He responds, “I hear everything.” And you get a glimpse into what it’s like to have Superman’s hearing. You hear the sound of sirens and screams and violence. Then he says the most powerful words in the movie. He says, “You wrote that the world doesn’t need a savior, but everyday I hear people crying out for one.”
Superman has disappeared from the scene for five years. He left Lois Lane and all of earth to search for his proper place in the universe. Lois, for her part, attempted to heal from the disappointment of Superman’s leaving by writing an essay for which she has won a Pulitzer Prize. The essay’s title is Why the World Doesn’t Need Superman. Of course, Superman returns because he realizes that his proper place is right here on earth. And, of course, he ends up spending some time with Lois. When they get the opportunity to talk Lois quotes from her essay and says to him, “The world doesn’t need a savior.” And for good measure she adds, “and neither do I.” Then he takes her on a ride as only Superman can, high above the clouds looking down over the earth and he asks her, “What do you hear?” She says, “I don’t hear anything.” He responds, “I hear everything.” And you get a glimpse into what it’s like to have Superman’s hearing. You hear the sound of sirens and screams and violence. Then he says the most powerful words in the movie. He says, “You wrote that the world doesn’t need a savior, but everyday I hear people crying out for one.”
I don’t know if the script writer knew how profound he was in that line, but every human heart in some way or another is crying out for a savior. That is so often the case because there is so much that is lamentable in this world; so much cause for lamentation. That’s why I love this psalm. Stress, distress, grief, sorrow, feeling overwhelmed are woven into the fabric of our lives. You cannot live in this world and not experience these things. And they bring with them a sense of desperation. The question is how will we respond to the desperate times?
Matthew 5:13 ESV
13 “You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet.
I don’t know if the script writer knew how profound he was in that line, but every human heart in some way or another is crying out for a savior. That is so often the case because there is so much that is lamentable in this world; so much cause for lamentation. That’s why I love this psalm. Stress, distress, grief, sorrow, feeling overwhelmed are woven into the fabric of our lives. You cannot live in this world and not experience these things. And they bring with them a sense of desperation. The question is how will we respond to the desperate times?
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I plucked this sermon title, Long Live the King, from David’s words in v. 6. This title is meant to be a declaration of praise from us to God for the eternal King, Jesus Christ. As this psalm moves from distress to praise, we can find ourselves taking that same journey because Jesus Christ has taken it for us. We’ll look at this psalm under these three headings, Song of Lament, Singing for Shelter & Security, and the Song of Praise.

Song of Lament

The life situation under which this psalm was written can be found in . Particularly in . David is on the run again. He had been on the run before when Samuel had anointed him king and king Saul was trying to kill him. But now he is fleeing for his life from his own son Absalom. God had delivered him from the hand of Saul and established his throne. And at the high point of his kingdom, God made a covenantal promise that he would always have a son on the throne. He must be wondering, “Surely, the Lord did not mean for it to take place like this? Here I am in exile, in Mahanaim, while my son sits on the throne and is trying to kill me.”
The life situation under which this psalm was written can be found in . Particularly in . David is on the run again. He had been on the run before when Samuel had anointed him king and king Saul was trying to kill him. But now he is fleeing for his life from his own son Absalom. God had delivered him from the hand of Saul and established his throne. And at the high point of his kingdom, God made a covenantal promise that he would always have a son on the throne. Surely the Lord did not mean for it to take place like this? Here I am in exile, in Mahanaim, while my son sits on the throne and is trying to kill me.
He is far away from home and the place of security. He says he is at the end of the earth. He is under duress and the situation seems unbearable. He says that his heart is faint. This is a vivid picture of his suffering. Displaced and lacking control over the situation; lacking the ability to alter the circumstances. His suffering is a double whammy, both displaced and helpless. That is what’s so awful about suffering. Whether we are physically removed from our place of security, or we are only mentally and emotionally dislodged from the place of peace, we suffer pain and become frightfully aware of the fact that we lack control. This makes our hearts faint. It brings grief upon us.
Yesterday, on the flight out here I was reading Nicholas Wolterstorff’s book, Lament for a Son. It was written over 30 years ago, but it’s timeless. He published the lamentations he wrote after the tragic death of his 25 year old son, Eric. He wrote,
I did not grieve as one who has no hope. Yet Eric is gone, here and now he is gone; now I cannot talk with him, now I cannot hug him, now I cannot hear of his plans for the future. That is my sorrow. A friend said, “Remember, he’s in good hands.” I was deeply moved. But that reality does not put Eric back in my hands now. That’s my grief. For that grief, what consolation can there be other than having him back?
When I read those words, my mind began to think of the deep pain I’ve experienced in loss. I began to think of close friends of my wife and I who had to bury their daughter last year. And I began to cry on the plane. I wanted to close the book and stop reading because the words were hurting me. But that’s the point! We share in the experience of suffering. I want us to realize that David is inviting us into that shared experience of human suffering because everything is jacked up! Don’t just gloss over his words here, poetic and brief as they are.
A few years back we hosted a conference in Baltimore and Dr. Diane Langberg spoke to us on The Journey of Grief… David is grieving. Grief is defined as intense emotional suffering caused by loss, misfortune, injury or evil of any kind. Dr. Langberg says, “Grief oppresses, it pushes down on a life.” And the question becomes, “How can you trust the one who could’ve prevented your grief?” Here’s the one thing you don’t know when you’re in the middle of it. You don’t know how long it’s going to last. You have no answer to the question why, and you have no answer to the question, how long.
But incredibly, in the midst of the grief and the suffering, David cries out to the very one who could’ve prevented it. “Hear my cry O God, pay attention to my prayer.” Is he naive? No. In his lamenting that he’s at the end of the earth and his heart is faint, is the awareness that he needs God. He needs God to do what he cannot do. He prays, “Lead me to the rock that is higher than I.” The rock is a refuge. The rock is a place of safety. It is a place of protection. But it is impossible for him to get there on his own. What he leans upon is the fact that he has experienced God’s protection and deliverance in the past. “You have been my refuge, a strong tower against the enemy.” “I don’t feel so protected right now. I’m suffering, and I don’t know what the outcome of this is going to be, but I do know you Lord.”
I don’t want to be flippant and make it sound like this is easy. What I’m not trying to do is make the journey out of distress into a formula that we can dogmatically apply. It’s not that simple. What I am trying to highlight is the need for lamentation in the suffering. Because suffering is real, because grief is real, lamentation is necessary. It doesn’t matter how much money we have. It doesn’t matter how many degrees we have. Every effort that we make to insulate ourselves from the undesirable things that lead to lamentation is fruitless. David was, after all, the king. If lament is never a part of our song, then something is wrong. Lamenting isn’t the end of the song, but it’s there. Grief and lamentation are actually signs of life. And when we are in that place of lament, sometimes the fact that our king has sung this song already is our only lifeline. Knowing that the king is a refuge, knowing that he is a strong tower, having had evidence of it in the past is a lifeline in suffering and grief. Don’t avoid singing the song of lamentation. The way of faith is not toughing it out. These words of David, and so many other psalms give us freedom to lament, and to bring that lament before God.

Singing for Shelter and Security

Shelter & security is what David is praying for when he says,
Shelter & security is what David is praying for when he says,
“lead me to the rock that is higher than I, for you have been my refuge, a strong tower against the enemy,”
Shelter & security is what is he is praying for when he says,
“Let me dwell in your tent forever! Let me take refuge in the shelter of your wings!”
What we find out is that his prayer is not just for physical shelter and security. It’s not simply, “Lord get me out of this situation, deliver me from these circumstances or conditions.” It is a prayer for spiritual shelter and security. To be at the end of the earth, far from home, was to be far away not only from Jerusalem, but from the tabernacle. That’s the tent he wants to dwell in forever. It is the central place of Israel’s worship. He remembers the tabernacle. This is clearly poetic, metaphoric language. He doesn’t want to set up his home in the tabernacle. Yes, he wants to be physically near the tabernacle, but he wants to live securely in God’s presence. He wants to know that he is forever safe and secure in the presence of God in worship.
To take refuge under the shelter of God’s wings may be a reference to the arc of the covenant that was in the most holy place within the tabernacle. Where the wings of the cherubim were spread upward and overshadowed the top of the arc. However, David isn’t talking about the wings of angels, he’s talking about the wings of God.
There is a request for spiritual protection and safety regardless of the location.
David loves to picture the sight of mother birds protecting their young, giving them shelter and security from the elements, covering them with her wings; he loves to use that imagery for the kind of security he desires from God.
Psalm 17:8 ESV
8 Keep me as the apple of your eye; hide me in the shadow of your wings,
Psalm 36:7 ESV
7 How precious is your steadfast love, O God! The children of mankind take refuge in the shadow of your wings.
Keep me as the apple of your eye; hide me in the shadow of your wings,
Psalm 57:1 ESV
1 Be merciful to me, O God, be merciful to me, for in you my soul takes refuge; in the shadow of your wings I will take refuge, till the storms of destruction pass by.
Psalm 63:7 ESV
7 for you have been my help, and in the shadow of your wings I will sing for joy.
PS
Keep me as the apple of your eye; hide me in the shadow of your wings,
How precious is your steadfast love, O God! The children of mankind take refuge in the shadow of your wings. ( ESV)
Be merciful to me, O God, be merciful to me, for in you my soul takes refuge; in the shadow of your wings I will take refuge, till the storms of destruction pass by. ( ESV)
for you have been my help, and in the shadow of your wings I will sing for joy. ( ESV)
Jesus even uses this imagery for himself in the gospels,
Luke 13:34 ESV
34 O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!
The distress and the disorientation that comes from loss, whatever the loss may be, whether it’s physical death or something else that causes loss, it makes us feel separated from God. The feeling of having been abandoned by God can be palpable. If you are a Christian, it’s not true that you’re separated from God. “I will never leave you nor forsake you,” is God’s promise to his people, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that we feel that way.
O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! ( ESV)
The distress and the disorientation that comes from loss, whatever the loss may be, whether it’s physical death or something else that causes loss, it makes us feel separated from God. The feeling of having been abandoned by God can be palpable. If you are a Christian, it’s not true that you’re separated from God. “I will never leave you nor forsake you,” is God’s promise to his people, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that we feel that way.
David is praying for intimacy with God. Let me dwell in your tent forever, let me take refuge under the shelter of your wings. Let me grow closer and closer to you Lord. Let me know your presence. What the word of God makes clear is that knowing God is not simply a matter of giving mental ascent to some theological or doctrinal propositions about him. The people of God want intimacy with God. The Christian life is a life of intimacy with God. We desire it. We are desperate for it. We know when we don’t feel it, and it grieves us not to feel that sense of intimacy. Do you hunger for the presence and assurance of God himself? You might know the promise of his presence, but do you hunger for it? He satisfies the longing soul, and he fills the hungry soul with good things (). Sometimes what distress does is make us hungry.

Song of Praise

There is likely a change in David’s situation between verses 4 & 5. We have the musical term there at the end of v. 4… This helps to divide the psalm, but more than that we hear David say in v. 5…
“For you, O God, have heard my vows; you have given me the heritage of those who fear your name.”
Eric Lane remarks in his commentary about this verse,
In verse 1 he asked God to hear and listen; now he knows God has done so… So he laid hold of the promise God had given him, that is, the heritage of those who fear your name, meaning the land and people God had entrusted to David in his covenant with him ().”
se God had given him, that is, the heritage of those who fear your name, meaning the land and people God had entrusted to David in his covenant with him ().”
God had heard his prayer, he responded to his vow. David returns to Jerusalem and is reestablished as the king. So a shift is taking place. The lamentation is transitioning to a song of praise. The distress and the suffering, the feeling of abandonment and desire for security and safety, are now the song of praise. (read vv. 6-8)
Psalm 61:6–8 ESV
6 Prolong the life of the king; may his years endure to all generations! 7 May he be enthroned forever before God; appoint steadfast love and faithfulness to watch over him! 8 So will I ever sing praises to your name, as I perform my vows day after day.
He is praying for himself and the generations to follow him. He has, in a way, received a new lease on life. God has spared him, and so he prays for the continuation of his dynasty. Lord, prolong my reign for generations, David is praying. Keep my lineage from enduring the abandonment I’ve known. Enthrone them forever before you. Guard them with steadfast love and faithfulness.
“Prolong the life of the king; may his years endure to all generations! May he be enthroned forever before God; appoint steadfast love and faithfulness to watch over him! So will I ever sing praises to your name, as I perform my vows day after day” ().
He is praying for himself and the generations to follow him. He has, in a way, received a new lease on life. God has spared him, and so he prays for the continuation of his dynasty. Lord, prolong my reign for generations, David is praying. Keep my lineage from enduring the abandonment I’ve known. Enthrone them forever before you. Guard them with steadfast love and faithfulness.
Did David know the implications of what he was praying? I don’t know, but the Holy Spirit knew. He put these words in David’s mouth, knowing that there would indeed be a king from the lineage of David who would live forever before God. There would indeed be a king whose years would endure to all generations, who would be guarded by the steadfast love and faithfulness of God himself. This king who lives forever is Christ. This king is Jesus. He endured the crucible of being abandoned by God like no one else had ever or could ever endure. Yet he now sits enthroned at the right hand of the majesty on high. And his people don’t have to pray, “May the king live forever.” We pray, “Long live the King!”
Because he sits enthroned, he is our Rock. He is the Rock of Ages, cleft for us. He is the tent in whom we dwell forever. He is our refuge, our shelter in the time of storm. It is under his wings that we find safety and security. No one sings a song of praise to God like him. So he leads us through this song of praise through lamentation and distress.
“Sometimes we need to feel we are at “the ends of the earth” before we can discover how wonderful Jesus is.”
Make no mistake about it, lamentation is necessary because suffering is real. And sometimes, as JM Boice says, we need to feel we are at the ends of the earth before we can discover how wonderful Jesus is. Superman is right, the world does cry out for a Savior. And God has provided one in Jesus Christ. Through faith in him we know that God hears our cry and attends to our prayer, provides us the shelter and security of his presence through every distress. So, the final song in the life of the Christian is not the song of lamentation. The final song is the song of praise.
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