Lenten Sermon: Psalm 19: Creation, Law, and Forgiveness

People of God, as we consider the world around us as Christians, one of the central distinctions we must keep in mind is the Creator/Creature distinction.[1] If we confuse this distinction we will enter into a very dangerous world. Though we are image bearers and though we reflect the God who created us, we are not God. Those who have attempted to bring together godhood and creature have departed from Christian orthodoxy into something darker and unnatural. The Apostle Paul saw several implications for this when he wrote in Romans that when the creature fails to worship God, they become foolish in their hearts[2] and they give themselves over to sinful desires.

The media and political world went into an uproar this past week over Kirk Cameron’s comments that homosexuality is “unnatural and ultimately destructive.”[3] The vast politically correct media wasted no time in condemning such remarks as divisive and outdated. But Paul says that the homosexual lifestyle exchanges the truth of God for a lie, and worships and serves created things rather than the Creator.[4] Cameron is right. Homosexual practice is unnatural in that it fails to keep the distinction in place. The Creator/Creature distinction has severe implications for ethics. If we think and act without understanding our role as creatures, we will think and act destructively. Creation is God’s gift to us, but creation reflects God’s Word to us. And this is important to grasp, because creation is not some isolated entity offering us another version of the gospel. Creation cannot offer us the gospel, unless it is pointing us to the Word of the Gospel.

As we briefly consider Psalm 19, keep in mind that creation is working for God, not in isolation from God.

This Psalm contains three central themes:

Verses 1-6 we see Creation’s Testimony to the Creator; Verses 7-10 we see The Incomparable Value of the Law of God; and in verses 11-13 we see Our Need for Forgiveness.

What is the purpose of this psalm? This Psalm is a song of meditation on these three themes: creation, the law, and forgiveness.

In verses 1-6, creation manifests the glory of its creator. “The heavens declare, or better yet, “The heavens are presently declaring the glory of God.” The psalmist is a poet who does not deal in propositions. The writer offers us a vision of poetic personification. What does this mean? The Bible often describes creation with the ability to manifest praise just like a congregation. The heavens are doing what we do in worship. The writer gives creation a lively image, so we may be able to understand its purpose. These verses give creation a personal, human character.[5] The psalmist gives life to creation as if it were able to speak like humans and share the praises of God. We see an example of this in verse two: “Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge.” Creation has a speech; a language; but look at verse three literally translated: “They have no speech, there are no words; no sound is heard from them.”[6] This is what we call a poetic paradox. What the psalmist is saying is that creation expresses a wordless speech. There is no speech, not word, or voice that is heard, yet their voice goes out into the whole world. It is “mysterious, but marvelous.”[7] This is an unending concert sung by the universe to the glory of God.

There is a caution when we consider this text. Some have wrongly concluded that creation possesses such authority to display God’s glory that it can rightly be viewed as an equally potent gospel presentation. In other words, the Word of God and Creation are equal in their authority. In the words of one scientist: “Science and the Bible are like a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.” They equally contribute to the sandwich; they cannot exist without the other. With this logic, many people have concluded that Genesis offers little to no data on how we are to understand the origins of the earth. In fact, there is a great deal of debate today within evangelicalism attempting to make a case that Adam and Eve were not historical figures, rather they were metaphors.[8] This is worthy of a lengthy discussion, but we affirm at Providence that Genesis and the chronology of Genesis are reliable; that Adam and Eve were real people made in the image of God; that the world was created in “the space of six days; all very good.”[9] The Reformers were right in affirming a young earth, and that science—though helpful—has proven to be a remarkably unreliable source for understanding salvation, creation, sexuality, and the majority of social issues of the day. Science is constantly changing,[10] but the Word of the Lord endures forever. Creation only echoes what the law of God already declares. Creation works in submission to the Word of God, not alongside the Word of God. There are all sorts of philosophical and speculative questions that arise. Can God use creation to tell his story to an unbeliever in some distant land? Certainly. Can we as Christians use scientific evidence to teach others about the God of Scriptures? Certainly. But this is not to be used as an end. In fact, this is not to be used as a start. Creation declares the glory of God, so that man is without excuse. Creation is submissive to the Creator; and it is submissive to the Word of the Creator. Creation is a testimony to the Creator, but it cannot be confused with the Creator and we must be cautious to place creation in proper submission to the authority of God’s Word.

Why does creation need to be in submission to the Word of God? One reason creation needs to be in submission to God’s Word is because of the nature of God’s Word in verses 7-10:

In this section, the law is referred to as “statutes,” “precepts,” “commands,” and “ordinances.” What is the nature of this law? It is perfect, revives the soul, trustworthy, makes wise the simple, they are right, gives joy to the heart, they are radiant, gives light to the eyes, pure, endures forever, altogether righteous, more precious than gold, and sweeter than honey.  The Bible never places the testimony of creation at the same level as the testimony of God’s word. Verses 7-10 speak of the incomparable value of the Word of God. This is not merely a reference to the Law of Moses, but the entirety of God’s revelation. Spurgeon said that “David had only but a small fragment of God’s revelation…how more than perfect is the book which contains the clearest possible display of divine love, and gives us an open vision of redeeming grace.”[11] Sometimes books and articles have a few lines of errata at the end. This a series of errors, corrections, and retractions. If you read St. Augustine’s Confessions, you know it was written as a series of Retractions. What about our lives? One Puritan said that (Our lives) might be a library of errors “if we had enough grace to be convinced of our mistakes and to confess them.”[12] The Word of the Lord contains no retractions. Spurgeon said it well about the role of the Bible: “It should be our mentor, our monitor…and the keeper of our conscience.”[13]

The law of the Lord is incomparable. When you hear in our culture such derogatory language about the Law of God, remember how David—speaking for the Bride—feels about the law of God. Why is this law so supremely radiant? Because it reflects the character of a righteous God.

Verses 11-13 reflects on the enormity of our sins, and in the necessity of God’s perfect mercy to keep us daily, hourly, and every minute from violating these sacred words:

Also — Thy servant is warned by them, `In keeping them [is] a great reward.'[14]

The Law leads us to Christ, but the law is also normative for the Christian life.[15] The law is given as a guide to direct our steps, as a model to direct our formation, and as a warning to teach us how far we can go. The law teaches us that by living faithfully to the commands of our Lord, we receive a reward. This is the reward of obedience. Those who obey our God live in the delights of our God. The reward of faithfulness is hearing the favor of God and receiving his words of approval. The Psalmist is not naïve to assume that he will always heed the warnings of the law. He says in verses 12, which literally reads: “Errors! Who can discern?” In other words, “I know my failure. I know where I have taken the opposite course, and further, I know that I have many hidden faults.” He knew that he sinned both consciously and unconsciously. This is why he prays that God would not allow him to be ruled by his sins, but rather that his actions would be ruled by that word, which is sweeter than honey.

What is the end of the matter for the psalmist? That creation testifies to the purity and grandeur of God; that the law testifies to the radiance and brightness of God; and that our lives testify to the faithfulness of God. Man’s problem is ethical and moral. When he fails to live as God designed him to live, all areas of life are disordered. But when he is living a life of confession, aware of faults, seeking to form and reform his life in light of God’s true Word, then his life and his environment are shaped after His Maker who made us in his image.

 

 

 

How Now Shall We Then Live?

St. Francis of Assissi summarized this section well: “Thou flowing water, pure and clear, Make music for thy Lord to hear, O praise Him! Alleluia!” Creation is made to be renewed by God, and so it can only manifest the glory of her Renewer. We are to love creation. Cherish creation. Enjoy creation. Give glory to God daily for the beauty of the earth. Be enthralled by our beaches. Take walks. Run. And in all this, see that God made this world very good, and that is renewing it before our very eyes. The one who hates earth is not fit for the New Heavens and the New Earth.

My sense is that if I were to interview evangelical Christians in downtown Pensacola about what their thoughts are about the Law of God, I would venture to say they would not have David’s perspective. How many Christians would say that the Law of the Lord is perfect and more precious than gold? We may be tempted—as some have—to equate God’s Laws with legalism. But it was Leviticus 19 who first says that we “are to love our neighbors.” Legalism is applying man’s laws and claiming it to be Christian. Biblical Law is the unfolding of God’s plans for how we are to live. Do not confuse the two. Love one and hate the other.

Finally, in this Lenten Season, we are afforded an extra measure of teaching and preaching and singing on the crucifixion of Jesus. And this causes us to meditate on our sins and how often we have strayed from our God. Jesus Christ endured his Lenten Journey to become the perfect sacrifice. He loved  us and redeemed us, so that we might not be led into temptation, but delivered from evil.

So may we live and pray as the psalmist: That the words of our mouths and the meditations of our hearts be pleasing in your sight. O Yahweh, Our Rock, and our Redeemer.

In The Name of God the Father, and God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. Amen.


[1] Van Til, and his disciple, Greg Bahnsen, explained this distinction well.

[2] Romans 1:21.

[4] Romans 1:24.

[5] James Luther Mays, Psalms: Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Preaching and Teaching.

[6] NIV Study Bible.

[7] Mays.

[8] Biologos.

[9] Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter IV.I.

[10] See James Jordan’s A Traditional Defense of Creation in Six Days.

[11] Treasure of David, Spurgeon.

[12] Spurgeon.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Young’s Literal Translation.


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About Uri Brito

I am the Pastor of Providence Church (CREC) in Pensacola, Fl.
This entry was posted in Psalms, Sermons/Lent. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Lenten Sermon: Psalm 19: Creation, Law, and Forgiveness

  1. Pingback: God of order « bummyla

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