One of the strange paradoxes about Jesus Christ is that, though He has been the subject of more books than any other person who has ever lived, He never left us a single written word from His hand. Others wrote down His sayings and recorded them for us, but He Himself left no written record of His life. Perhaps that is because, in some sense, the record had already been written. The Messianic psalms, those psalms that predict the coming of the Messiah, are often presented in the first person, where the Messiah Himself is speaking. That is the case in this fortieth Psalm, which is an account from the lips of the Messiah of His coming, His experiences, His reactions, and His motives in entering into this world to accomplish the work of redemption.
Like all of these psalms, this one arose out of a historic occasion. There was some local situation to which this psalm applied, and some experience of deliverance on the part of the psalmist. The Holy Spirit in a marvelous way spoke through this man as he recorded his own experiences and caused him to express truths that were beyond his experience. His language grew greater than the event he was trying to describe. The only ultimate fulfillment was to be in those coming days when the Messiah would appear among men in the flesh. This fortieth Psalm is, in a sense, our Lord's own autobiography. He Himself tells us why He came to earth, what was accomplished, and what His experiences were.
Now, as happens in some of the other psalms, this one begins with the conclusion. The writer gives us the position to which he comes, and then describes how he got there. Modern writers are learning this technique. Many people have gotten in the habit of reading the last chapter of a book first. Some of you do that because you cannot wait to find out how the story ends. So now writers have learned to put the last chapter first. They tell you how it turns out, and then they tell you how it happened, which holds your interest almost as well. That is what this psalm does.
It begins with a cry, a song of resurrection, as the Messiah here describes His experience in resurrection. Notice these first three verses:
I waited patiently for the Lord;
he inclined to me and heard my cry.
He drew me up from the desolate pit,
out of the miry bog,
and set my feet upon a rock,
making my steps secure.
He put a new song in my mouth,
a song of praise to our God.
Many will see and fear,
and put their trust in the Lord.
That is a description of resurrection.
He drew me up out of a deep and desolate pit or, as the Hebrew has it,
out of the pit of tumult, out of a terrible experience, out of a place
of desolation and despair and death.
His testimony begins, you will note, with a wait and a cry —
I waited patiently for the Lord. In terms of the experience of Jesus, this was a wait that occupied His entire life. At the age of 12, He came down from Nazareth to Jerusalem with His parents and went into the Temple to speak with the doctors and the scribes there and answer their questions. They were amazed at the answers He gave. When His parents missed Him and came and found Him at last in the Temple, He said, to them,
Do you not know that I must be about my Father's business? (see Luke 2:49). Jesus was saying,
I am operating on the program my Father is unfolding before me. I am waiting patiently for Him as He unfolds the program and I move along in it. Do you remember that many times during His ministry He said to His disciples,
My hour is not yet come. I am waiting for something. My hour is not yet come. All that waiting was an experience of tumult and of desolation and of death in the midst of life.
Life is often filled with death. Every experience that is opposite to what God has designed for us is an experience of death. Bitterness and shame and sorrow, hate and greed and loneliness, are all forms of death that come into our lives right now. That is what our Lord was experiencing. He understands these things because He has been through them Himself. Ultimately they led Him, as they will lead us, to that final moment when life ends and death is before us, the deep, dark, desolation of death. But, He says, the Lord drew me out of that. He lifted me up from a desolate pit, out of a miry bog, and set my feet upon a rock, and made my steps secure.
That is a beautiful description of the experience of resurrection. None of us has ever been resurrected, and nobody before Jesus had ever been resurrected. There is a great difference between what happened to Lazarus and what happened to Jesus. Lazarus was really resuscitated; he was restored to this life almost as though he had been given mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. But Jesus was raised to a higher level of life. He was resurrected. He was the first born from the dead. He stepped into a whole new experience of life that God had designed from the beginning for mankind, an experience in which the body would be equal to the demands of the spirit. That is what the Messiah is describing here. The result is,
He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God.
A new song describes a new experience. When God does something great for you, you do not sit down and recite a proverb or compose a paragraph or devise a recipe. You write a song because singing is one of the best ways we have of expressing what is happening to us. And so He has a new song to celebrate a new kind of living, resurrected life. The effect of that resurrection life, He tells us, is going to be widespread.
Many will see and fear, and put their trust in the Lord. The effect of the resurrection of Jesus was that the story of Christianity, the message of the Christian gospel, exploded in the Roman world as the church literally thrust out in every direction and shook the world of that day.
During Jesus' lifetime many of the Jews said to Him,
Show us a sign that you are the Messiah. Now that was ridiculous, because every day that He ministered was a sign that He was the Messiah; the lame were made to walk, the eyes of the blind were opened, the dead were being raised to life, the captives were being set free. Yet these people came and said to Him,
Show us a sign. Finally, He said to them,
There will be no sign given you except the sign of the prophet Jonah. What did He mean? He went on to explain,
As Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the whale, so the son of man shall be three days and three nights in the depths of the earth (see Matt 12:38-40). In other words,
You will not believe until you hear of the Resurrection. When you learn that I have been raised from the dead, then your unbelief will flee. Then you will know — then you will know that what I have said is true. Our whole Christian faith has been grounded upon that basic rock of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus.
You could put quotation marks around verses 4 and 5 in your Bible, because these are the words of the new song.
Blessed is the man who makes the Lord his trust,
who does not turn to the proud,
to those who go astray after
Thou hast multiplied, O Lord my God,
thy wondrous deeds and thy thoughts
toward us; none can compare with thee!
Were I to proclaim and tell of them,
they would be more than can
This song of resurrection has two elements that make it the new song. First is the secret of happiness. That word blessed is really the word happy.
Happy is the man, blessed is the man who makes the Lord his trust. One of the big lies of all history is the lie you hear on every side today: that man has hidden powers and abilities, which will be revealed if he just takes the right course or buys the right salve or uses the right cream. He will then be able to operate as he was intended to operate. That is a lie.
We were made to trust God, not ourselves. We were made to be dependent upon His activity in us. Blessed is the man who learns that secret:
Happy is the man or woman who allows God to work through him or her. That is putting it positively. And then the negative:
who does not turn to the proud, to those who go astray after false gods!
Oh, the lure of the false today! How many today are being drawn away from the truth by the false belief that you can find in yourself all you need for living.
Do your own thing! we are being told today.
Discover your own personality, was what I heard as I flicked on my car radio one day and a young female nightclub entertainer was being interviewed. The interviewer said to her
Are you interested in getting married? She said,
No, I'm not. He said,
Why not? This was her reply:
Because I don't wish to share my life; I wish to be what I am. My heart sank for her when I heard those words because that is the philosophy which leads to despair; that is the philosophy which, in December of 1968, caused a leading socialite of San Francisco, a lineal descendant of President John Adams with all the wealth, influence, and power he ever wanted at his command, to take his own life in despair. But the song of resurrection is the song of those who have learned to trust in God.
The second element of the song tells of the splendor of God's thoughts and His deeds toward man. As the writer says,
Thou has multiplied, O Lord my God, thy wondrous deeds and thy thoughts toward us; none can compare with thee! The quality of this life is simply incomparable. It will do for you what nothing else will do. It will bring you into a level of existence you did not dream you could experience. Those are not mere words. This is not so much theological twaddle. It is actual, it is real. The New Testament promises:
Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to do far more abundantly than all we ask or think. (Eph 3:20). That is what God invites you to discover. All that God offers is simply beyond man's capacity to explore fully:
Were I to proclaim and tell of them, they would be more than can be numbered.
I am often struck by what Dr. John McIntyre, Professor of Nuclear Physics at Texas A & M University, said about studying the Bible.
We physicists have discovered many tremendously intriguing truths about nature, and the result has been an explosion of knowledge such as the world has never seen. Ah, but everyone of us is aware that, in the words of Sir Isaac Newton, he said,
We're but dabbling in the shallows of a vast ocean of knowledge that stretches unexplored before us. And you know,
that's the way I feel about the Bible. It's a vast revelation, which I've only begun to explore. And I can say, after 30 years of Bible study, there are times when I am simply dumbfounded with amazement at how much is in this book and how little I know of it. How vast is this unexplored area which breaks upon my astonished gaze to tell me more about who I am as a man, who God is, and how I'm related to Him. That is the resurrection of life.
Now beginning with verse 6 there is a sudden change in this psalm. We have covered the conclusion, the resurrection, and the life to which it brings us, but now the writer begins to trace for us the pathway to this great experience. Looking back now, tracing the course of Christ's experience, the psalmist begins, not on earth as we might expect, but in heaven. Verses 6 through 8 represent the words of the Messiah before He came to earth. These words are quoted in the tenth chapter of Hebrews, beginning with verse 5, where we are told definitely that Christ spoke these words as He stood on the threshold of time, about to step from heaven to earth, to the manger at Bethlehem. This is what he said.
Sacrifice and offering thou dost not desire;
but thou hast given me an open ear.
Burnt offering and sin offering
thou hast not required.
Then I said, Lo, I come;
in the roll of the book it is written of me;
I delight to do thy will, O my God;
thy law is within my heart.
Have you ever thought of what was going on in heaven before the Lord Jesus was born on earth? Earth was wrapped in apathy and indifference. Nobody was ready for the coming of the King. A pagan emperor had sent forth a command for all the world to be enrolled. Men were busy with their own affairs, sunk in pagan darkness with very few gleams of light. But in heaven everything was aglow and abuzz with anticipation and excitement. The fullness of time had come. The angels understood. God was to bring forth His Son, born of a woman, made under the Law. In another part of Hebrews the writer tells us that when He brought His firstborn Son into the world, He cried,
Let all God's angels worship him (Heb. 1:6). What a tremendous scene there must have been in heaven before Jesus came to earth, when the vast uncounted multitudes of angels were gathered in adoring worship of the Son of God.
And why were they worshiping Him? Because of two things that He understood and was ready to fulfil. One, He knew something. He expresses it in these words:
Sacrifice and offering thou dost not desire. Put the next few words in parentheses and leave out the word but,
Thou hast given me an open ear. He goes on to say,
Burnt offering and sin offering thou hast not required.
Let me deal with the parenthetical phrase first. When He says,
Thou hast given me an open ear, He is referring to His readiness to hear, readiness to understand and learn. Isaiah gives us a beautiful picture of this same thing in the 50th chapter, another passage that points to the Messiah:
The Lord God has given me
the tongue of those who are taught,
that I may know how to sustain with a word him that is weary.
Morning by morning he wakens, he wakens my ear
to hear as those who are taught.
The Lord God has Opened my ear,
and I was not rebellious,
I turned not backward.
I gave my back to the smiters,
and my cheeks to those who pulled out the beard;
I hid not my face
from shame and spitting.
Isn't that beautiful? The Messiah came with the tongue of a learner that He might know how to sustain with a word those who were weary. You see, He understood something about humanity. He understood that God did not want sacrifices of lambs and bulls and goats, and all the blood offerings. That was not what He was really after.
Not all the blood of beasts On Jewish altars slain,
Could give the guilty conscience peace
Or wash away the stain.
(Isaac Watts, Public domain)
Jesus understood that God had given these sacrifices to teach men something.
Every time a man took a lamb and slit its throat so the warm blood ran out and the little lamb died so as to be offered on an altar as a sacrifice, God was saying something to humanity In very graphic terms, something that men ought not to have forgotten. He was telling us that the sickness that grips mankind, the awful power within that twists and distorts and wrecks and ruins our humanity cannot be dealt with lightly. It cannot be handled with but a few resolutions or with an earnest attempt to try to be better. It cannot be taken care of by some religious abracadabra. This sickness is deeper than that. It took the death of an Innocent substitute, One who was Himself part of mankind, to cure the rotten core of our humanity.
There are many analyses offered today of the problems we are facing, and in many cases, I think, the analyses are right. You can hear people telling us in loud and clamant terms that what we ought to do is to love one another. And they are right. We desperately need above everything else to act in love toward one another. But the problem of love can never be solved by a few slogans and placards and songs. It is one thing to know what to do; it is another thing to do it. And that is where the rub lies. How can you love when irritations come and selfishness arises and you find yourself caught up in a
me first philosophy. How do you love one another then?
The Lord Jesus understood that this problem could never be solved until the life of sin-bedeviled humanity was somehow poured out in death. And, understanding that, He said,
Lo, I have come to do thy will, O God, [to give up my life that humanity might be free] as it is written of me in the roll of the book [it has been predicted that I would come] (Heb 10:7; also see Isa 61:1-3). To this day there is no other solution to the problems that grip humanity. The only solution is in delighting to do the will of God. Jesus came fulfilling the Father's will; He came to make Himself wholly available to God to show mankind how it could be done. Throughout the record of those marvelous 33 years, Jesus was instantly and constantly available for the Father to express His life through the Son. There was never a moment when the Lord Jesus stepped out of that relationship.
The following words describe what happened after He came. First He gave a proclamation:
I have told the glad news of deliverance in the
lo, I have not restrained my lips,
as thou knowest, O Lord.
I have not hid thy saving help
within my heart,
I have spoken of thy faithfulness and
I have not concealed thy steadfast love
and thy faithfulness
from the great congregation.
What was the heart of His message? Why, it was the love of God! He came to tell men that, despite all their evil, all the strife, the sin, the agony, the filth, the despair, and the shame of which humanity was guilty, God loved this lost and struggling world. He came to tell men of a faithful love, a steadfast love and a saving help that could set men free. He came not only to speak these gracious words, but also to demonstrate God's love. As John tells us in the opening words of his Gospel,
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God ... And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth; we have beheld his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father (John 1:1,14).
Grace and truth are the two attributes reflected in this psalm. Watch the Lord Jesus and see the graciousness of His words. He teaches the disciples by setting a little child in their midst. He shows grace toward the afflicted, and toward those who were caught in the act of sin. Read through your New Testament and find one place where Jesus Christ ever spoke harshly to a man or woman caught in an act of sin. He spoke harshly to the hypocrites, those who would not acknowledge their guilt, but you will never find one occasion where He condemned the one who had been caught red-handed.
He also spoke words of truth. There is a hint in these last words of verse 10 that it was sometimes difficult for Him to speak the truth.
I have not concealed thy steadfast love and thy faithfulness ... He was under pressure to conceal it at times. He spoke the truth even when the truth hurt. There were some who hated Him and they took counsel together to put Him to death because He told them the truth about themselves. Nevertheless, He was always the faithful witness speaking words of grace and words of truth.
Then, beginning with verse 11 on through 17, we read the description of His suffering, the infinite character of His suffering. This passage, by the way, is the cry that He speaks of in verse 1, a cry that arose from the very edge of the grave.
Do not thou, O Lord, withhold thy mercy from me,
let thy steadfast love and thy faithfulness
ever preserve me!
For evils have encompassed me without number;
my iniquities have overtaken me,
till I cannot see;
they are more than the hairs of my head;
my heart fails me.
How could he say
my iniquities have overtaken me? He had no iniquities. It is true that these words, growing out of the historical situation, did apply originally to a man who was guilty of iniquity. But in the application to the Messiah these words become the confession of sins of which He Himself was not a part, but which He had made His own at the cross. We are dealing here with that mystery strange beyond any explanation. Paul described it in 2 Corinthians when he said,
For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God (2 Cor 5:21). And from Isaiah 53 come those amazing words:
But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed (KJV).
Then the Messiah goes on to pray for His enemies.
Remember how He prayed from the cross, Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do. (Luke 23:34). You get the elements of that prayer in verses 13 through 15:
Be pleased, O Lord, to deliver me! O Lord,
make haste to help me!
Let them be put to shame and confusion
altogether who seek to snatch away my life;
let them be turned back and brought
to dishonor who desire my hurt!
Let them be appalled because of their
shame who say to me,Aha, Aha!
Well, you say,
that doesn't sound like forgiveness to me. He's praying that they be put to shame, and that they be turned back and brought to dishonor. But think a minute. What is necessary to experience forgiveness? You must admit that you need to be forgiven, otherwise you cannot experience forgiveness. That is what our Lord is praying for here. He is asking that God will arrest His enemies in the progress of their evil.
Stop them, He says.
Bring them to shame and confusion so they will not go on any further. And then open their eyes to the reality of what they are doing. Make them in their shame, in their understanding of the terrible deed they are doing, become aware of their guilt and their folly. And then, Father, extend to them that forgiveness that awaits the confession of a guilty heart.
In verse 16 He is praying for His friends,
But may all who seek thee rejoice and be glad in thee;
may those who love thy salvation
say continually, Great is the Lord!.
The final verse is the cry of agony from His heart. The wheel has come full circle now, and when He has explained to us how He came at last to the place of resurrection, He cries out,
As for me, I am poor and needy;
but the Lord takes thought for me.
Thou art my help and my deliverer;
do not tarry, O my God!
That, He says, is the way I came to the place where I could sing,
He drew me up from the desolate pit, out of the miry bog,
and set my feet upon a rock,
making my steps secure.
He put a new song in my mouth,
a song of praise to our God.
There is the infinite mystery of the incarnation.
Isn't it marvelous that these words were written 1000 years before our Lord ever came to earth, yet they outline so clearly and so accurately the course that He would follow when He came. And today, 2000 years this side of the cross, we are faced with the marvel of the infinite God becoming a finite man. The Word that was with God, and was God, became flesh and dwelt among us in order to reveal what God was like. And the message of that revelation is unquestionable and clear today. There is no other hope for mankind but in Him.
You and I are living now in a day when men are afraid of what is coming to pass. The greatest thinkers of our time are looking forward, faced with the insuperable problems that this world has produced, and they are giving us little hope. They are saying,
If we don't find a way out of this mess soon, it's hopeless! We'll never solve the problems that are facing us now! They are telling us the problems that face the individual are beyond his ability to solve on his own — the bitterness, the boredom, the emptiness, the meaninglessness of life. All of this simply bears confirmation in our day and to our hearts personally that this psalm is telling us truth.
There is no other hope for mankind than the gospel of Jesus Christ.no way out of darkness. There is no way to break the power and the grip of this evil sickness that has seized our race. The gospel has no rivals; it is absolutely without peer. It is the one way by which we can find what God intended man to have. Hear these words of the nineteenth century poet Christina Rossetti:
None other Lamb! none other name!
None other hope in heaven, or earth, or sea!
None other hiding-place for sin and shame!
None beside Thee!
My faith burns low; my hope burns low;
Only my soul's deep need comes out in me
By the deep thunder of its wants and woe,
Calls out to Thee.
Lord, Thou art life though I be dead!
Love's Flame art Thou, however cold I be!
Nor heavens have I, nor place to lay my head,
Nor home, but Thee.
How we ought to give thanks, our Father, for this wonderful message. In the infinite mystery of your workings, He, who is greater than all the world, all of time, all of history, became a man in history, became a babe,
a tiny baby-thing that made a mother cry. Our Father, we pray that we may see that it was done deliberately, voluntarily with understanding, because He knew what we were facing and He knew there was no other way to work out our salvation.
For there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved (Acts 4:12, KJV) but Jesus' name. It was well said to Joseph and Mary,
Thou shalt call his name Jesus: for he shall save his people from their sins (Matt 1:21, KJY). We thank you, Father; in His name, Amen.