These are my notes from my ladies’ Sunday School class this morning. I’ll be posting the notes from my class here each week. Click here for last week’s lesson.
Through the Bible in 2014 ~ Week 17 ~ Apr. 20-26
Psalm 121, 123-125, 128-130, 6, 8-10, 14, 16, 19, 21, 43, 45, 49, 84-85, 87, 73, 77-78,
2 Samuel 1-4, 1 Chronicles 1-5
Looking Into the Mirror of Christ
What is the purpose of a mirror? It’s for seeing what we look like on the outside. As women, we often look in the mirror to make sure our hair is behaving, to see that our make up is straight, to find out how we look in a certain outfit. But we also look into “mirrors” to see what we look like on the inside. Often, the mirrors we turn to in times of trouble or use to measure our self worth—how many friends we have, what others say or think about us, what we think about ourselves, whether people feel sorry for us or compliment us, even the number of “likes” we get on a Facebook status—are like the mirrors in an amusement park fun house. We never get a true reflection of who we are on the inside because the mirror itself is distorted. The only way to get a true reflection is to take our eyes off the distorted mirrors and put them on the perfect mirror of Christ and His word.
We usually think of the book of Psalms as having been written by David, but, in fact, of the 150 psalms, David wrote 73, 50 are anonymous (some possibly written by David), and the others were written by other authors. Psalms was the “hymnal” of biblical times, and, indeed, there are churches even today whose only worship songs are psalms set to music. As with our own worship music, Psalms covers a variety of topics from creation to the attributes and mighty works of God to laments and requests from God. Today, we’re going to take a look at some of the more personal psalms from different authors in which the psalmist is crying out to God about his own situation.
Psalm 121, 123
What kind of mirror does the psalmist hold up? (121:1-2, 123:1-2)
When we look into a regular mirror, we see ourselves reflected back. When we look into one of those fun house mirrors I mentioned, we see a distorted image of ourselves reflected back. But there’s another kind of mirror we can look into. Have you ever been on the “Haunted Mansion” ride at Disney World? At one point in the ride, you find yourself facing a mirror, but what you see reflected back is a hologram (a “ghost”) of one of the people who used to live there.
Where does the psalmist direct us to look in these two passages? To the Lord. Where do we find the Lord? In the mirror of His word. When we look into the mirror of the Word, what do we see? Ourselves? No. Kind of like that “Haunted Mansion” mirror, we see the Lord reflected back in all of His goodness and glory. Our eyes are not to be on ourselves – whether we measure up, whether we’re important enough or good enough or worthwhile human beings— but on the Lord.
What do we notice about the Lord’s reflection?
The Lord is sufficient in all things (121:2-4, 123:1)
He made heaven and earth (121:2), so He is all powerful (omnipotent) and capable of rightly handling all situations. He neither sleeps nor slumbers (121:3-4), so He is all knowing (omniscient). He is aware of and involved in every aspect of life. He is “enthroned in the heavens” (123:1). What is the rank of someone who is “enthroned”? A king. A king has sovereign jurisdiction over every inch of his kingdom. He has the final word in all things, and no one outranks him. What comprises God’s kingdom? The universe. He has perfect, final, and sovereign jurisdiction over every inch of the universe, and no one outranks Him. He is complete and sufficient. This is why we need only look to Him for all things, including a right view of ourselves.
Because He is sufficient in all things, the Lord is our help, stability, protection, provider, and mercy for the needs of our souls (121:1, 3, Psalm 62:2, 121:5-8, 123:2-4)
The Lord is our help (121:1). Notice that the psalmist does not qualify that statement. It is blanket, all encompassing. The Lord is our help in all situations. Others may turn away or be incapable when we need help. He will not.
The Lord is our stability (121:3). While the storms of life may rage around us and try to blow us over, He holds us firmly to Himself, the rock of our salvation (62:2). People are not stable. They can let us down and fail to be there for us. God will not.
The Lord is our eternal protector (121:5-8). He keeps us through the difficult times. Notice that the psalmist does not say that God will do away with the sun, the moon, evil, or even death, but that God will be our shade, he will protect from destruction by the sun and moon, and that He will keep our lives. He will keep our going out and coming in – every step we take—from this time forth and forever more. People are not capable of preserving us in this way, but God is.
The Lord is our provider (123:2). Just as an earthly slave would look to his master to provide everything: food, shelter, clothing, health care, etc., we are to look to and depend on our kind and gracious Master who never fails to provide us with all we need. It is not the job of friends or family to provide us with self worth or fulfill our need for emotional support. That is God’s job, and He does it perfectly. That is why we look to Him for those things.
The Lord is our mercy (123:2-4). God sees all aspects of our lives, and He alone is able to provide us with merciful relief from difficult situations, or merciful grace to see us through those situations. And He’s not only capable of doing so, He will do so. Notice (2) that the psalmist doesn’t say “our eyes look to the Lord…hoping, perchance, that He might have mercy,” but “till He has mercy.” The psalmist is confident that it is God’s intention to show mercy. People cannot alleviate our circumstances or carry us through them, nor would they always be willing to do so even if they could, in fact, sometimes the people we would look to in difficult times can actually be the cause of those difficult times (4). Only God can mercifully take away or see us through tough situations.
As we can see, people are often undependable or incapable of giving us what we need emotionally, and completely unable to provide for our spiritual needs. This is why God’s word never directs us to look to the mirror of ourselves or to others for our inner needs or fulfillment, but rather to the mirror of His word and the reflection of Christ. Only God is capable of being, and wants to be, our sufficiency in all areas of life. We must look to God and depend on Him for these things.
In times of trouble, we look back to the mighty deeds of God in the past.
The first nine verses of this psalm are a lament. Asaph doesn’t explain exactly what’s going on in his life—and maybe that’s beneficial to us because we can all relate to what he’s feeling here regardless of the specific circumstances—but he’s going through a really gut-wrenching time.
Where does Asaph turn? He starts out determined to cry out to the Lord over his situation. He knows in his mind that the Lord “will hear me” (1), but as he begins to pray, he takes his eyes off the Lord, begins to focus on the problems themselves (3- I moan…my spirit faints), and gets overwhelmed. Notice that when he looks back to the mirror of better circumstances (5) or happier times (6- “my song in the night”) or looks to himself (6- let me meditate in my heart) for the solution to his troubles, he only despairs more (7-9).
Finally, Asaph realizes that the only thing that will help is to focus on the Lord Himself (9- His hand), His power (9- “Right hand” is a metaphor for strength), and His deliverance in years gone by (9- the years). He looks into the mirror of God’s steadfast faithfulness.
Asaph doesn’t just recount the details (11- deeds) of what God has done in the past, he also recalls that God’s works evoke a sense of wonder (11,14) for both those who witnessed them and those who think back on them. And Asaph doesn’t merely recall and regurgitate the details of these deeds, he ponders them. He meditates on them (12). He turns them over and over in his mind, considering how they reflect God’s might (12, 14), His holiness, greatness, and superiority to other gods (13). Asaph thinks about how God redeemed His people (15) and would redeem him from his troubles, God’s power over nature (16-18) and His power over Asaph’s situation. And even though Israel couldn’t see God Himself, He still led them (19-20), the same way he would lead Asaph, though unseen. If God was powerful enough to redeem Israel, have power over nature, and lead Israel, He was powerful enough to handle Asaph’s situation.
When we face difficult times, Asaph sets a great example for us. We look not to ourselves, others, or circumstances, we look to God, determined to cry out to Him. We ponder His wonder, holiness, power, and greatness. We look at what He has done in the past in His word and in our own lives, knowing that if He was powerful enough to handle those situations, He is powerful enough to handle the present one. We remember that as God has been faithful in the past, He will continue to be faithful in the future.
There is hope in the Lord (1 John 1:9)
Finally, we turn to the Lord, because in Him, and in no other, is hope.
There is hope of His forgiveness (2-4). When we cry out to God for mercy, He has promised to forgive us (1 John). With Christ, we do not have to stand hopeless and condemned in our sin.
There is hope in His word (5). Not only can we find hope in God’s great and mighty deeds from the past in His word, but we can also find hope in the attributes of God described by the Bible (His goodness, holiness, mercy, compassion, etc.), and in the promises He has made in His word (He will provide, He hears our prayers, He will never leave us, etc.), because we know He will never break them. We cannot find this kind of perfect hope in others.
There is hope because the Lord is trustworthy (5-6). “I wait,” the psalmist says, “more than the watchmen for the morning.” The watchmen knew the morning was coming. How much more does the psalmist know that the Lord will answer him with hope?
There is hope in God’s steadfast love and His plentiful redemption (7-8). The psalmist wasn’t hoping for fleeting things like riches or temporary happiness. He was looking at the big picture. The spiritual picture: God’s eternal love and His redemption from sin. This is our hope as well.
As we face difficult times, like the psalmist, we must keep our eyes focused on the Lord as He is reflected in the mirror of His word, not on our own reflection or the way others reflect us. The Lord is the only one powerful enough to give us the help, stability, protection, provision, and mercy to meet the needs of our souls. Others will let us down, but as we look to God’s faithfulness in the past, we find hope for the present and the future.