Reading: Psalm 111
This wonderful psalm is an “acrostic” poem: its 22 lines start with successive letters of the Hebrew alphabet. So it is not a systematic arrangement of topics or themes. One commentator describes the psalm as like “a string of unmatched pearls”. I thought of bringing some pearls along today; but (as you know) Sue is away and I don’t dare to rifle through her jewellery! Instead, I’ve brought a string of unmatched “Polly Pockets”!
Although the psalm is not arranged into topics, I was struck by the repeated mention of “the works of God”. v2 “Great are the works of the Lord”. v3 “Glorious and majestic are his works”. v4 “He has caused his wondrous works to be remembered”. v6 “He has shown his people the power of his works”. v7 “The works of his hands are faithful and just”. So the title of this psalm could well be “God at Work”.
Psalm 111 opens with the words “Praise the Lord”, which in Hebrew is “Hallelujah”. Several years ago I remember sometimes seeing signs: “DANGER! Men at Work”. I think the sign for this psalm is: “HALLELUJAH! God at Work”.
The main theme of the psalm is the goodness of God, seen in his works. God’s goodness is practical. The Bible reveals the God who acts.
But what are God’s works? The psalm points us to three major aspects of his work.
God is the Creator of everything and everyone. v2 “Great are the works of the Lord, pondered (studied, explored) by all who delight in them.”
One of the most important and famous science laboratories in the world is the Cavendish Laboratory in Cambridge. Several of the most significant discoveries and innovations in physics in the last 150 years have taken place here – for example, the discovery of the electron by JJ Thomson, and the pioneering work on nuclear fission by Ernest Rutherford. The Laboratory was opened in 1874, under the direction of James Clerk Maxwell, who was the university’s first professor of Experimental Physics. Maxwell caused Psalm 111 v2 to be carved on the gate of the Cavendish Laboratory: “Great are the works of the Lord, studied by all who delight in them.”
Science, as well as art, is God-given. Science means studying and exploring the Lord’s works. I describe it as “thinking God’s thoughts after him”.
A few months ago I saw a TV programme which featured the discovery of dinosaur footprints in rocks on a beach near Swansea. Science has been described as “Finding God’s footprints in his works.”
“Great are the works of the Lord”. Just think of the huge variety of sciences – including biology, zoology, physics, chemistry, geography, anthropology, geology; and theology (“the queen of the sciences”).
Of course, like all of God’s gifts, science can be mis-used or abused. Many scientists are people of faith. But all scientists, like us, are fallible sinners. Some are arrogant. Some try to twist evidence. Some try to claim that science “disproves the existence of God”. But thank God for his gift of science: v2. Praise the Lord for his creation.
The 2nd major aspect of God’s work, in this psalm, is his
God is the Provider of everything. v3 “Glorious and majestic are his deeds”: this refers to God’s providential acts. As John of Damascus wrote in the 8th century, “Providence is the care God takes of all existing things.”
In Deuteronomy 32 we read the “Song of Moses”, celebrating God’s faithful provision for the Israelites. He cared for them, he rescued them from Egypt, he protected them, led them, fed them, he gave them his instructions, he guided them to the Promised Land. This morning we have sung words based on vv3-4: “Praise the greatness of our God! He is the Rock, his works are perfect, and all his ways are just.”
Psalm 111 refers to one aspect of God’s provision, in v5: “He provides food for those who fear him; he remembers his covenant for ever.” Perhaps the psalmist was thinking of God’s covenant with Noah and with all living creatures, after the devastating flood. God promised “As long as the earth endures, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night will never cease” (Gen.8:22).
We depend totally on God’s merciful provision to sustain us: “Give us today our daily bread” (Matt.6:11). And not just physical food, but the gift of life, friends, family, love, strength, work, purpose. God provides good gifts for all, not just for believers. As the banner on the church wall reminds us “God richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment” (1 Tim.6:17).
Praise the Lord for his providence.
The 3rd major aspect of God’s work in this psalm is his
God is the Redeemer. v9 “He provided redemption for his people”. Last Sunday we read in Psalm 130:7-8, “…with the Lord is full redemption. He himself will redeem Israel from all their sins.”
In v4 the psalmist writes that God “has caused his wondrous works to be remembered”. God’s great saving actions are to be commemorated. Looking back to what the Lord has done is vital for the psalmist, for the Israelites, and for Christians – for all God’s people.
a) The Psalmist looks back to God’s redemption of the Israelites from cruel oppression in Egypt. Through Moses, God led them out from slavery to freedom – the Exodus. The great commemoration of that was focussed in the Passover celebration – to be remembered every year. Through Moses, God told the Israelites “Celebrate the Passover of the Lord your God, because…he brought you out of Egypt…For seven days eat unleavened bread, the bread of affliction, because you left Egypt in haste – so that all the days of your life you may remember the time of your departure from Egypt.” (Deut.16:1,3)
So the Israelites looked back to the time of Moses as the supreme demonstration of God’s grace and compassion. v4.
b) Christians look back to the greatest Exodus – God’s redemption through the Lord Jesus Christ. He is our “Passover Lamb” (1 Cor.5:7), who was put to death for us. We are redeemed – set free – through his blood. “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus” (Romans 3:23-24).
The psalmist writes that God “has caused his wondrous works to be remembered”. We have far greater reason to remember: “The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.”
Of course, that points us to the importance of Holy Communion in reminding us what Jesus has done. But not only when we gather to break bread. Every day we should remember with thankfulness God’s wonderful work of redemption, that new covenant in Christ.
What will help us to remember? Maybe a knot in our handkerchief! Or perhaps better, a small wooden “holding cross” in our pocket? Or maybe we can get into a habit of remembering when we go through a particular doorway, or at a particular time of day.
God provided redemption for his people. His wondrous works are to be remembered.
Psalm 111 has shown us these three mighty works of God:- his creation, his provision, his redemption. v7 “The works of his hands are faithful and just; all his precepts are trustworthy.” God’s works and his word are totally dependable. They are the only utterly secure foundation for our life.
So what is to be our response? v10 describes it as “The fear of the Lord”, which is the beginning of wisdom.” That means our reverence and delight in the Lord, our gratitude, our trust and obedience. It means worshipping the Lord with our whole life.
For to Him belongs eternal praise.
Category: Sermons , The Bridge