I’m a bit slammed right now. I have several posts coming, but can’t finish any of them now. Here’s a “devotional” filler from the past.
Psalms 113 to 118 form what is known as the “Hallel”; a set of Psalms that have for millennia been sung at the Feast of the Passover and other festivals. At the Passover Psalms 113 and 114 were sung before the meal and Psalms 115 through 118 were sung after it. Thus, in the Gospels we read that at the Last Supper, “after they had sung a hymn they went out to the Mount of Olives.” (Matt. 26:30). This means that this text was on the lips of our Lord just prior to His arrest and Passion!
1. The Testimony of a Child of God
At one time or another most Christians have dealt with folks who were quite indignant about the Christian claim to actually know their sins are forgiven and that they are safe for all eternity.
To make such a statement – to believe that one may have perfect assurance about going to heaven when we die, strikes some people as presumptuous in the extreme. Their experience of life tells them that nothing is for certain – not in this life, so how can we be sure of what will be in the next life (if there is one)? How could any rational person say with the Apostle Paul, “For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.”? “No” they say, “that is just in that old book, you can’t believe what that book says.”
Now, if their contention is true, or if it has any grounds, then I would have to admit that we Christians can’t really know what we profess to know. We cannot know for sure that when we die we shall enter into new life; that we shall, as it were, be released from the grip of death and shall step out of this life and into eternal bliss with our God and our Redeemer. If they are correct, they need not listen to the Gospel. The Gospel, in fact, would not be worth the preaching!
Self-evidently, I am not in agreement with such a view. But what makes me disagree? What is it that makes me so sure? What is it that compels me to want to tell people this Good News? Why do I want to see men and women and children join me in coming to Jesus Christ?
Is it because I want them to join my religious club? That I would feel better if there were more who believed as I do? Is it because I have an unwholesome desire to get an audience to hear me wax eloquent about my pet dogma?
What is it about Christians anyway? Why do they risk suspicion and ridicule by telling others about Jesus?
The answer is simple. It is this: They have met Jesus! They have come to Him, claiming His promise that “as many who come to Me I will never cast away” (Jn. 6:37). They have changed their minds about Him and believed Him and have gone away transformed! They have come to Him with the sentence of death in them and the gnawing sense that their is a judgment at the end of this life (cf. Rom. 1:32), but they have been given “newness of life” as a gift and they know it! Not at all because they are “good” or “religious” but because they have been inwardly, rationally and emotionally convinced that the Gospel is true – that it is a message from an offended God who would still be reconciled. That it has power behind it – the power of the Spirit of God! Now they cannot but testify of the hope He has put within them.
Here in our text is one such testimony: “I shall not die, but live, and declare the works of the Lord.”
In the context it is clear that the Psalmist was referring to his deliverance from those who were seeking his imminent destruction (as is made plain in the Psalm), but as the older writers saw, the note of hope transcends the present life (verses 19-23 convince me that this is so) and reaches through to grasp the immortal life which is the right of the child of God, one who has been cleansed of sin by the blood of Christ crucified in their place. As the Christian reads this verse it immediately provokes the soul’s response.
2. Three Exclamations of Faith
Our text includes within it three separate yet connected exclamations. These express the faith of the writer in the midst of his troubles. We see:
a. A Note of Triumph
b. A Note of Joy
c. A Note of Purpose
It is not unusual to find more than one level in a person’s assertion of belief. Often the personal element involved, the relationship which the speaker has with God, produces a mixture of things like self-reflection, anticipation, and joyous proclamation or testimony. There are three expressions of faith in this great verse.
a. A Note of Triumph
“I shall not die!” – It is almost trendy nowadays to say that “when you’re dead you’re dead.” In this dismal outlook physical death is the brick wall which wipes out our individual existences. Of course, this implies that the only significance to our lives must be found in this life. And this belief is only a thin disguise for the fear which death produces in the human heart. But such wrong-headed emptiness as this is foreign to the faith of the child of God.
For believers the sting of death has been removed. Death has been swallowed up by life. Death is not a wall, but a hurdle, which the angels will help us over (Lk. 16:22). Death is a defeated adversary, it has already been overpowered by the Son of Man, who has gone on ahead of us to prepare a wonderful place for us.
b. A Note of Joy
No wonder then that the Psalmist speaks of joy. For he who has trusted in the Author of life (Jn. 1:4) has more than enough cause to rejoice. For he has returned to the Creator and to the will of the Creator, a Creator who has appointed everlasting truth and gladness for His own.
c. A Note of Purpose
How lost this world is! It meanders through its existence without ever knowing where it is going or why it is here. How true are the Savior’s words (Matt. 7:24f.).
We have found our purpose. We are not accidents. The Universe is not finally impersonal. We are part of a Grand Scheme, intentionally placed on the canvass that God has planned and is painting. We know whom we have believed and are persuaded…
We have the assurance of New Life! I shall not die, but live, and declare the works of the Lord!