The Sunday after New Year January 7, 2001
119, 123, 552, 29
Nevertheless I am continually with thee: thou hast holden me by my right hand. Thou shalt guide me with thy counsel, and afterward receive me to glory. Whom have I in heaven but thee? and there is none upon earth that I desire beside thee. My flesh and my heart faileth: but God is the strength of my heart, and my portion for ever. For, lo, they that are far from thee shall perish: thou hast destroyed all them that go a whoring from thee. But it is good for me to draw near to God: I have put my trust in the Lord GOD, that I may declare all thy works. Thus far our text.
In the Name of Jesus Christ, Our Help in ages past and our Hope for years to come, Dear Fellow Redeemed,
Welcome to the 21st Century! Yesterday we passed from the old millenium to the new. The milestone was most notably marked not by the things that did happen, but by the things that didn’t happen. No airplanes fell from the sky. No nuclear weapons were launched by accident. The power grid did not fail and gangs did not take over the streets of our major cities. We still have lights and heat and water in our homes. It appears that all the doomsayers’ fears were groundless.
There are still uncertainties, of course. Some say the Y2K bug may still cause disruptions weeks and months from now. Personally, I think it’s unlikely. But there are far more troublesome fears that face us as we enter the new millenium. Uncertainties about what the future may hold for us and our families. We here at Ascension are dealing with some uncertainties at the moment—will our congregation grow or shrink? Will we be building a church this summer, or will we again have to wait? Worst of all are the fears that plague each Christian from time to time—is my faith growing or shrinking? Is the Lord pleased or angry with me? Will the Holy Spirit maintain control in my life, or will my sinful flesh win out? If these things worry you, too, then I have very good news for you! Listen to God’s Word for today and rest assured that,
Psalm 73 is interesting in that it bears a striking similarity to another familiar psalm. If you like, you can compare the two when you get home from church today. And you won’t have any trouble remembering which psalm the other one is—all you have to do is reverse the numbers! The 37th and the 73rd Psalms both deal with the same problem—the apparent prosperity of the wicked. In the 37th Psalm we read, I have seen the wicked in great power, and spreading himself like a green bay tree. Psa 37:35. How do you explain the fact that (in our world of today especially) the unbelievers so often seem to do well, while the Christians seem to suffer? In the verses preceding our text, the Psalmist complains, Behold, these are the ungodly, who prosper in the world; they increase in riches. Verily I have cleansed my heart in vain, and washed my hands in innocency. Psa 73:12-13. But at the same time, the writer confesses how sinful it is to question God’s mercy: So foolish was I, and ignorant: I was as a beast before thee. Psa 73:22. Why is it foolish? Because he knows the answer to his question even before he asks it. Nevertheless, he says, I am continually with thee: thou hast holden me by my right hand. The psalmist knows, and he assures you today, that you’ve got something with which to face the new year that no unbeliever will ever have: as you enter the new millenium, GOD IS HOLDING YOUR HAND.
When was the last time someone held your hand? For most of us, it’s been so long ago that we may have forgotten what a comforting feeling it can be. When a parent holds a child’s hand, it’s because he loves him. Someone holds your hand when they want to guide you, to comfort you, to show you that no matter what dangers threaten, they are prepared to protect you. The touch of a hand is meant to encourage the fearful and strengthen the weak. My Christian friends, as you look toward the future that’s exactly what God wants to do for you! The psalmist says, thou hast holden me by my right hand… My flesh and my heart faileth: but God is the strength of my heart, and my portion for ever. Take comfort from the fact that God is holding your hand. When your heart is weak, His touch will give you strength.
One problem, of course, is that a lot of people don’t like their hand held! They don’t feel they are weak. They don’t feel they need to be guided or protected. And often we may feel that way ourselves. That’s why we so often rely on our own resources to deal with the troubles that come our way. But eventually, our flesh and our heart faileth. We use up all the resources we have. We try every device we know to provide our own security and comfort, and we come up short. That’s why the Bible says, Thus says the LORD: “Cursed is the man who trusts in man And makes flesh his strength, Whose heart departs from the LORD. Jer 17:5.
Yes, very often our hearts are weak. And far too often our sinful flesh has its way with us. But remember, GOD IS HOLDING YOUR HAND. When your heart is weak, His touch will give you strength. How blessed you will be when you finally come to realize that your own flesh will always fail, but that God’s strength can never fail!
We will be talking about our building plans again this morning at our annual meeting. A while back one council member remarked that it’s too bad that our budget will force us to put up a wood-frame building. “Cellulose-based structures,” he said, “are always doomed in our rainy Northwest. It’s just a matter of time!” Well, what if we had no budget to worry about? What would you build our church out of if money were no object and you could choose any material you wanted? Bricks, maybe? Or some kind of masonry product? I know what I’d choose—rock! You know, there’s a reason all those medieval cathedrals are still standing in Europe—it’s because they’re made out of rock, and rock is impervious to the elements. Rock stands forever. Well, when our text says, God is the strength of my heart, it’s using a figurative translation of the Hebrew word there. The literal translation is “Rock”. God is the Rock of my heart is what this passage really says!
So often in Scripture our faithful God is pictured as a Rock, steadfast, firm and immovable. In the 18th Psalm we read, The LORD is my rock, and my fortress, and my deliverer; my God, my strength, in whom I will trust; my buckler, and the horn of my salvation, and my high tower. Psa 18:2. And again in Psalm 67, In God is my salvation and my glory: the rock of my strength. Someone aptly said that a Christian is like an ivy plant—it can’t stand up by itself, it must cling to the rock. Yes your heart may be weak. Yes, you may have fears and doubts. But God has taken hold of your hand. He has replaced your weakness with strength. He has given you a ROCK to cling to, and upon which to build your life. No matter what happens tomorrow or next week or next year, your Rock will be there. It doesn’t matter what happens with Y2K, or the stock market, or the economy. Your Rock will continue to provide for all your wants and needs, as He always has in the past. Far more importantly, it doesn’t matter what sins you have committed in the past, nor does it matter what weakness your flesh exhibits in the future: the Rock of your salvation will not change. He will be there to offer you the comfort of sins freely forgiven, of pardon sought and granted, of rescue hoped for and accomplished. When your sins rise up to torment you, your gracious God will say, as He has ever said, Do not fear, nor be afraid; Have I not told you from that time, and declared it? You are My witnesses. Is there a God besides Me? Indeed there is no other Rock; I know not one.’” Isa 44:8.
But what of those who stray from the true God? And hasn’t it happened that believers, too, have been lost by reason of their own wickedness and unfaithfulness? Certainly. Our text says, For, lo, they that are far from thee shall perish: thou hast destroyed all them that go a whoring from thee. Scripture uses very explicit language, doesn’t it, to describe the activities of those who stray from God. To “go a whoring” means to be unfaithful to the true God. It means to seek somewhere else what can only come from God, to give to others what only belongs to God.
We certainly see plenty of that in the world around us. On Friday we watched as Buddhist priests in Japan rang huge bells, calling upon their idol to bless the new year. In the Arab world, Muslims bowed toward the east and prayed to the false god Allah. Millions of people the world over were seeking help and reassurance where none could be found, giving their praise to gods who cannot hear them, because they do not exist. God says in Isaiah, I am the LORD: that is my name: and my glory will I not give to another, neither my praise to graven images. Isa 42:8.
And what about you and me? Does the new century find us steadfast and faithful to our true God, or are we tempted to stray? Does our confidence for the future really lie in the Triune God? Or are we tempted rather to transfer that confidence to bank accounts, to IRA’s, to insurance policies? Is our highest love and allegiance reserved for the true God alone? Or have we been tempted rather to transfer that allegiance to our possessions—our homes, our money, our things. Are we tempted love our things more than we love our God? The temptation to stray is there, for all of us—let’s be honest! And let’s take seriously our God’s warning concerning these modern-day idols when He says, Thou shalt not bow down thyself unto them, nor serve them: for I the LORD thy God am a jealous God. Deu 5:9.
But even here we find a blessed reassurance. The psalmist goes on, But it is good for me to draw near to God: I have put my trust in the Lord GOD, that I may declare all thy works. If you’re daunted by tremendous temptation that this world lays before you, remember: God is holding your hand. And when you are tempted to stray, His touch will draw you near.
What a blessing to be able to draw near to God! By nature we had no such ability. By nature we were God’s enemies, far away from God and inclined to go farther away still. That’s why God sent Jesus to earth that first cold Christmas Eve. Paul told the Ephesian Christians, At that time you were without Christ…having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. Eph 2:12-13. With the blood your Savior shed on Calvary, He has allowed you to draw near to God, to approach the throne of grace and find, not a stern judge, but a loving father. With His sacrifice, Christ has cancelled your debt of sin and written your name in the Book of Life. Amid all this world’s uncertainties, you already know what your future holds. Like the psalmist, you can say with confidence, Thou shalt guide me with thy counsel, and afterward receive me into glory!
This week in my reading I came across an ancient Christian proverb. “I said to the man at the gate of the New Year, ‘Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown,’ and he replied, ‘Go out into the darkness and put your hand into the hand of God. That shall be to you better than a light and safer than a known way.” Indeed, the future may be dark to us, but it is not dark to our God. The One who has redeemed us by His Son is that same Rock of salvation who will guide us and protect us in this new year, and in all the years to come. When your heart is weak, His touch will give you strength. When you are tempted to stray, His touch will draw you near. So as you enter the new millenium, lift up your head with courage, and with a proper Christian confidence. Remember: God is holding your hand. AMEN.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the King James Version.