RPM, Volume 19, Number 35 August 27 to September 2, 2017

Give Thanks

Psalm 103

By Dr. William Wymond

[Prayer: Mr. James Elkin]

Our Father, we know ourselves to be the most blessed people in the world. We know, too, that the God of heaven is our Redeemer. Our blessing from your hand astounds us. We thank You that the Creator of all the universe has loved us. We are startled. We know ourselves to be great sinners, we know ourselves to have no right before you to receive the blessing from the hand of God, and yet You chose to love us. We cannot imagine, but we're grateful.

This is a day of great thanksgiving. We're thankful for the food that You provide, for the health that You bring to us, for peace of life, for calmness. We thank You that this congregation is a home for us, giving us a sense of heaven. We are grateful that our anticipation is of much more glory and benefit than we know exists right here and now. We are a blessed people. We remember the blessing that You have brought to our ancestors, as we read this from the ancient days of Your glory and blessing being laid upon Your people in the Old Testament day, and in the New Testament day, and in the days in between. We're grateful that You have blessed us as a people, as a country, with freedom that is unmatched around the world: freedom to be here unmolested, unthreatened — and we're grateful.

Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless His holy name. The God of heaven is our God. The God of redemption is our God. The God of sanctification is our God. The God of our future glorification is our God. In Christ, we are the most blessed people who have ever existed.

We thank You for the preaching of the word this day. We thank you that You nurture, Spirit of God, our souls toward heaven. We pray for those in our midst who are afflicted—who are afflicted by maladies of one kind or another. We pray for those in this congregation who are experiencing the ravages of cancer and of other poor health; but we do remember that the afflictions of this life wean us away from the affections of this life. We know that this is not heaven, that You turn our mind's eye toward the glory that we shall experience of being with You.

The angels of heaven are eternally praising God. We pray that that would be our outlook as You mature us in the faith; that we would not simply have a day of thanksgiving, but that whatsoever we do, we would do heartily unto Your name and not unto men; that we would be not ceasing in our prayer, but praying at all occasions; that we would be experiencing fellowship with You because of the work of the Spirit of God. Enable us to work out our salvation with fear and trembling, for we know that it is You who is at work in us, causing us to will and do of Your good pleasure. Our heavenly Father, our Redeemer, the Lord Jesus Christ, and our Comforter, the Spirit: thank You for blessing us in ways that astound us, beyond our imagination.

We who are great sinners confess our sin, and by the mercies of God and the Lord Jesus Christ we ask that You forgive us afresh, that You give us the joy of Your salvation, that You cause us to be people who are more and more dedicated to Jesus in all we do.

We have gifts and offerings now to bring to You. We thank You for this small pleasure and privilege, too, and we ask that You would use this of Yours which we return to You for the name of Jesus Christ being exalted, here and in many places. Would You, our heavenly Father, hear our prayer. Grant Your blessing, because we come to You in Jesus' name. Amen.

I have put in the bulletin today the call to have Thanksgiving that President Bush issued, and I've also put on the back page some other calls for Thanksgivings — some proclamations — because you can see by them that even before our country was founded there were these calls for national thanksgiving. President Washington issued more than one call...and I've listed one there. But it was left to a lady whose name was Sarah Jones Hale, who steadily and patiently agitated to a magazine that she had, a women's magazine, to establish a permanent national Thanksgiving Day. And after many years (she began in 1846), President Lincoln, in October of 1863, issued a call for a national Thanksgiving which established the day every year. And he said that the reason he was calling for this national Thanksgiving, even though it was in the midst of the Civil War, is based on the fact that the crops were still being grown and they were still able to harvest, and that outside of the war zone there was peace and civil order.

Because Jackson was in the war zone, I doubt they celebrated this Thanksgiving service in 1863. If you know anything about our history, you know that that was when great tumult was happening in Jackson, and there were occupation troops here. There were four different battles, I understand, here in Jackson, and the citizens had to go hide sometimes just for protection. We have the diary of our minister during that time, and it's fascinating reading to see how he had to go hide over in Rankin County somewhere just for protection from the federal troops. As you know, everything was burned here, so it was a difficult time during Thanksgiving at that time.

But somewhere along the way, the church started observing Thanksgiving services in the morning, and the earliest bulletins I could find complete enough to let me know what they did on Thanksgiving was 1926, and it calls for a service at 7:00 a.m.! I can remember when I first came here that the services were at 7:30 and I thought that was pretty early, and I've never gotten a good explanation as to why those services were so early in the morning. Some people said it was so that people could get up and get going before they had to fix the dinner; other people told me it interrupted fixing the dinner; some tell me it was so that those who had to get on the road to visit relatives could still worship and then get on the road. But whatever it was, it was a nice way to begin the day, I think, and an appropriate one, and I'm glad that we do it, albeit that it's now at 8:30 in the morning!

I can remember a lot of Thanksgiving morning services here. I can remember sermons preached. I remember one that Dr. Miller did on Psalm 136, which we read together antiphonally. I remember another one that Dr. Patterson preached on Psalm 103, which is the Psalm that we're going to look at today. And I remember "Pilgrim", Dr. Baird! I remember that wonderful sermon which touched on our national heritage.

Nevertheless, I remember a lot of people who were in those early services who are now gone, and they're in a better place in a perpetual Thanksgiving service. It kind of sobered me to look at an early bulletin and to realize that everybody who was on the Session when I first came here is now in heaven, but I have fond memories of those services, and our Psalm today, which is Psalm 103. You may want to turn to that now. Our Psalm talks about remembering - the importance of remembering. I'm going to read that Psalm, but before I read that Psalm, let us look to the Lord in prayer.

O heavenly Father, You have promised that You will illumine our minds as we read the Scriptures, and You have promised that You will lead us into even the deep things of the Lord, and so we just ask that You would give us understanding today. At whatever age we are, we pray that You would help us to see what the word has to say for us, and we pray that You would also give us hearts that would be willing to do what the word tells us to do. And we ask this in Jesus' name. Amen.

Psalm 103:

Praise the Lord, O my soul;
All my inmost being, praise His holy name.
Praise the Lord, O my soul,
And forget not all His benefits;
Who forgives all of your sins
And heals all your diseases;
Who redeems your life from the pit;
And crowns you with love and compassion;
Who satisfies your desires with good things,
So that your youth is renewed like the eagle's.

The Lord works righteousness and justice for all the oppressed.
He made known His ways to Moses,
His deeds to the people of Israel.
The Lord is compassionate and gracious,
Slow to anger and abounding in love.
He will not always accuse, nor will He harbor His anger forever.
He does not treat us according to our sins, or repay us according to our iniquities.

For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
So great is His love for those who fear Him.
As far as the east is from the west,
So far has He removed our transgressions from us.
As a father has compassion on his children,
So the Lord has compassion on those who fear Him.
For He knows how we are formed;
He remembers that we are dust.

As for man, his days are like grass;
He flourishes like a flower of the field;
The wind blows over it, and it is gone.
Its place remembers it no more.
But from everlasting to everlasting the Lord's love is with those who fear Him,
And His righteousness with their children's children,
With those who keep His covenant and remember to obey His precepts.

The Lord has established His throne in the heavens,
And His kingdom rules over all.
Praise the Lord, you His angels,
You mighty ones who do His bidding,
Who obey His word!
Praise the Lord, all His heavenly hosts,
You, His servants who do His will.
Praise the Lord, all His works everywhere in His dominion.
Praise the Lord, O my soul!

So this song calls us to remember. It says first of all: "Praise the Lord, O my soul; all my inmost being, praise His holy name. Praise the Lord, and do not forget all of His benefits."

This Psalm is interesting because we find the psalmist talking to himself. It's sort of like a soliloquy, and he is saying, "Soul! Praise the Lord!" Do you ever talk to yourself? We all talk to ourselves, and most of the time it's innocent and it's OK to do, and it's especially OK if you are telling your soul to do what David is telling his soul here to do — to praise the Lord. And he's saying it's important not to forget. That theme runs all through this Psalm — the importance of remembering what the Lord has done for us.

He also says that he wants his whole inmost self to praise the Lord. The children of Israel thought that their soul resided in their liver and in their hearts, and in their organs, and so he's saying to all of his truncated self, "Remember...remember what the Lord has done for you."

I had a sort of interesting thing happen to me a couple of years ago. I was fortunate enough to take a trip to France, and I called it an official trip to look at pipe organs of a very famous builder, whose name was Aristide Cavaill?-Coll. He built the organ for Notre Dame and all the main churches of Paris, and a lot of other churches in France. They are wonderful pipe organs, and I wanted to see a little bit more about them so that maybe we could incorporate a little bit of his ideas in our new pipe organ. And so I caught one of these fast trains from Paris to Reims to hear one of these organs. That trip was supposed to take an hour, and if you know anything about those European trains, these rapid trains are luxurious, and they are fast!

So we were riding along in this train (and I was reading a book, I think), and we suddenly stopped in a station...and we weren't supposed to stop in this station. It was supposed to be a through trip. And we sat there for about ten minutes, and then finally they came on the train and they said, "There's something wrong with the train, and we had to stop here to get it fixed. We don't know how long it's going to be, so you're welcome to get off the train and do whatever you want. We'll let you know when it's going to start again." They said that it wouldn't start at least for two hours, and so I thought, "Well, I think I'll try to take advantage of this." And I looked up at the little station sign, and it said "Chateau-Thierry."

Now, most of you are too young to know what Chateau-Thierry was in history, and especially in the history of World War I, but that's where the American troops fought very important battles: the Battle of Belleau Wood was one of them, and so I thought, "Well, I think I'll just look at this little town." And it was fascinating to walk through the town, because the houses looked as though they'd been there from before World War I, and everything was centrally located. It was easy to look at the town.

And as I got into town center, I looked way up on the hills beyond and I saw this beautiful monument. And I read in the little guide that that was the monument that the Americans had placed there after World War I to remember their troops. And I looked in the square of the town, and there was a gorgeous church there that had been built by British troops who had fought there. It's a little Anglican church. And then I walked along the River Marne, which is where the battle was, that runs right through the town. And everywhere I looked there were these little plaques or small monuments to the memory of the men who had fought there. And I know that after World War I, many family members — brothers, sisters, mothers and fathers — made trips over to France and especially to this area where the Battle of the Marne — or, the Battles of the Marne were fought, and to see those places and to put up these markers and these monuments to their sons and to their brothers, and to their fellow soldiers. There were regular companies established for these people to plan these trips for these people, so they were constantly coming all during the 1920's and into the 1930's.

But there I was now, many, many years...nearly 90 years after that battle occurred there...those battles...and I was the only tourist I saw. I didn't see anybody else walking around looking at these. All the mothers and the fathers were gone. Most of the brothers and the sisters had passed away, so all the people who were remembering were no longer there. And so the memory fades.

And it's the same with us. It's so easy for we who were not there crossing the Jordan River or involved in the conquest of the land of Israel to forget the importance of this, and the ones who were there are long gone. And yet God tells generation after generation to remember what He did. And so we will talk about the things that He did as we look at the admonitions to remember here.

In this Psalm, he tells us about six things. Don't get worried — these are six quick things — six things that we are to remember about His dealings with us.

I. The first thing (he says in verse 3) is remember forgiveness.

Remember that I have forgiven your sins. He forgives all of our sins. I think it's really important to remind ourselves that the forgiveness of our sins is the central theme of the Bible. When we get together and we thank God for what He did for us, this is always the theme. It's the theme of the cross. It's the theme of redemption, of deliverance. The children of Israel were constantly reminded by God in the song book, in the Psalms, of His deliverance of Israel. You read it there in Psalm 136, it's in Psalm 105, Psalm 106, and it's scattered throughout the Psalms. Over and over again, he reminds them that He delivered them from the hand of the Egyptians. He saved them crossing the Jordan River. He gave them the promised land. (And that we call a type of the salvation of the death of the Lord Jesus Christ on the cross.) And so it was the central theme for the Israelites, and it's the central theme for us: we have been redeemed. And I think about that hymn that we sing sometimes, especially on Sunday nights: I Love to Tell the Story of Jesus and His love, and it's going to be my theme in glory, we say. It's not going to be a song that we forget. It's going to be the song that we sing in heaven. He saved us from our sins.

II. The second thing he tells us to remember is that He heals us.

It says here He heals all your diseases. Now that word all really is important, because it's not talking just about physical illness that He heals us from, but it's kind of a comprehensive thing. He heals all of our diseases. He heals our mental diseases. Yes, our physical diseases, but our spiritual diseases, too. It's a comprehensive word. When we are healed, in addition to all the wonderful modern medicine and machines, skilled physicians, and so on, it's always God who heals us, and we should never forget that. That means that prayer matters. We pray for our sick people all the time, and it matters. God uses that as part of His instrument and of His overall plan for our lives in our healing.

"He heals all of our diseases" does not mean that He heals all of our diseases, because sometimes He does not heal our diseases. Sometimes He has a better plan than to heal us from a certain sickness. That providence which may seem very dark to us in the time in our lives is also a good providence. God heals our diseases when it is the best thing for us. We in faith ask Him to do it, knowing, though, that He knows what is best.

III. The third thing that He does is to redeem us from the pit.

We've already talked about redemption, how He saves us, but this goes a little bit farther and elaborates on exactly what happens. He not only saves us from something, but He saves us to something. God has a wonderful plan for our lives as His children. There is a future for us. We are not left in the grave. He delivers us from the grave. Now, I wouldn't want to upset the people from Wright & Ferguson, but I would just say don't put too much money in on that coffin as though you think you're always going to be there, because it is a temporary resting place for your body — and that's a wonderful thing! One day those graves are going to open. We will be delivered from that grave, and that implies also eternal death. We will be delivered from that, and our souls and our bodies will be joined together again forever to live with the Lord. It's a wonderful promise that the grave cannot hold us.

Verse 5 tells us also that He satisfies our desires with good things, so that our youth is renewed like the eagle's. That's one of those wonderful promises that most of us have memorized. (It's such a beautiful promise that it's sung in many songs, by the way.) What it means here is that He truly satisfies us. It doesn't mean He gives us everything that we want. It means that He gives us ultimate satisfaction, our souls are satisfied; and if your soul is not satisfied, it doesn't matter what else He gives you, you're not going to be satisfied. Solomon tells us that. We know that he had everything and he was not satisfied. But when God satisfies us, we are invigorated. We are like an eagle who has molted and looks young again, and we are invigorated. We are young and new again in our souls and in our spirits.

IV. Next he tells us, in verse 6, that He works justice for us: "The Lord works righteousness and justice for all the oppressed."

This is a really important fact that silences the critic or the skeptic of God...the non-believer who says, "OK, if there really is a God in this world, what about this? Why didn't He do this?" That's especially mentioned in those huge tragedies like the loss of the six million Jews, or the loss of those 900,000 people in Rwanda in our own time; or the 20 million who were lost during the days of Stalin. This tells us that God does exercise justice. We may not have justice immediately in this life, but this is not a just world in which we live, and one day there will be justice. We don't have broken justice in heaven, and in that great Courtroom the legal system of God is more than adequate to take care of anything that happens, whether it be a mass tragedy where millions die, or just that one lone person whom we love who is taken by murder from us right here in Jackson. And nothing there is forgotten. Nothing is left un-dealt with.

VI. The sixth thing that is mentioned here in verse 8 is remembering the compassion of God.

I'm going to break this down into several different groups, but these verses here are probably the largest collection of verses that talk about the compassion of God anywhere in a concentrated way in the Bible. The compassion of God also means the mercy of God. Sometimes that beautiful Old English word the lovingkindness of God is used. It just takes a lot of words to try to describe the compassion of God as it's found here.

I'm going to go back up to verse 4 and just pick up one phrase. It says "He crowns you with love and compassion." You know, that's sort of a contradictory idea, if you think about it...crowning us with love and mercy. If you need mercy, it means that you have done something that needs God's mercy, needs God's love; and yet it says He crowns us, as it were; He honors us with love and compassion.

I don't want to demean this concept here, but I can't help but tell you about the funny thing I saw on the internet just yesterday. I think it came as a result of reading something on The New York Times site, but there was a Dutch department store very recently that filmed something they did. It started in their security office, and they were looking for the 10,000th person to be arrested for shoplifting. And so they had their cameras going all around the store, and finally they zeroed in on this young girl and she was seen shoplifting. This really happened! It was almost in real time, as we were watching it. And so we see her shoplifting and they send a security guard to get her, and then the people who are in the room all run out excitedly and they run through the store and they find the girl and they hang a sign on her: "The 10,000th person to be caught for shoplifting!" And then a band comes in and starts playing! And they actually had cheerleaders there, or high-steppers who were walking through the store, and they bring her a cake. You know, they give her this cake and they put a little dunce cap...they put a little cap on her. Here is this girl who is caught for shoplifting being given all these honors as she is crowned, as it were, with a dunce cap. And of course it's kind of interesting to see her reaction to all this. She walks away in shame.

But we don't walk away in shame, because this crown is a kind crown. Even though we don't deserve it, this crown of compassion. Spurgeon puts it this way:

"This crown is studded with the gems of grace, and lined with the velvet of lovingkindness. It is decked with the jewels of mercy, but made soft for the head to wear by a lining of tenderness."

Also concerning this compassion of the Lord, we read that the Lord is compassionate and gracious, and slow to anger, abounding in love. And I look especially at that phrase "Slow to anger...." This does not mean that the Lord just sits there fuming and finally, after He can't stand it any longer, bursts forth in anger. What it's really talking about here is not a tantrum that God has, but it's talking about a very fair, just, and measured way of dealing with our sin. He waits very patiently, urging us on to obey Him; but if we forever persist in rebellion, then there is this measured, just response. That's what that word anger there means.

And then it goes on to say that God does not hold a grudge. In His compassion, it says "He will not always accuse, or harbor His anger forever." What it means is that God is not vindictive of spirit. His arms truly are open with no reservations to receive us back in mercy and in love, and He just doesn't hold grudges. The Scripture verse that says "His mercies are new every morning" means just that: that He greets us, as it were, every day with mercy and love, and with His heavenly Fatherly smile, to begin the day with us and to help us throughout that day.

Also, this verse says about the compassion that He removes our sins. It says He does not treat our sins...or repay us according to our iniquities:

"For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is His love for those who fear Him. As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us."

Isn't that one of those verses that you claim, and perhaps you quote in prayer a lot? It's an important verse because it lets us know that God does not hang on to the guilt of our sin. And there are a lot of people who hang on to it when God has let it go. When we come in genuine confession, we should let that sin go and not let Satan keep accusing us with that sin...bringing that sin back up to us.

It's not that God dismisses the sin as though it didn't matter. No, He really dealt with it in a very dramatic way. That's what the cross is about. God sent His Son to die for that sin. That's why, the sin having been paid for, He can say to us 'OK. That sin is taken care of. I have taken care of the guilt of that sin. Don't dishonor me by carrying that sin in your memory and in the future.'

And finally, His compassion takes account of our flaws:

"As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear Him. For He knows how we are formed, and He remembers that we are dust."

I love that verse. I've always appreciated that verse.

There's a book that has been popular, and I think a movie has just come out about it, called Flags of Our Fathers. It talks about the raising of the flag at Iwo Jima and about the men who were there, and about their subsequent lives. As it turns out, after the raising of that flag two of those men were killed. And the Army was anxious to use that picture and that event to raise money for bonds, and so they brought back the men who were living to go on a tour of the country to raise the money. But it took them a while to figure out who was actually in the picture. They couldn't recognize some of the people, and especially they couldn't recognize one guy because his back was to the camera and nobody seemed to remember who it was—except for one fellow, the Indian who is in there. And he carried this memory of who it actually was, and made it his cause to go see the boy's mother. The boy's mother lived in Texas, and he just wanted to go and tell her something about her son. And so when he got there and he told her, yes, that was your son, she said, "I knew it. I always knew it, that that was my son. In fact, I told everybody! I told my other children—nobody believed me, but I knew that that was my son." She said, "I cared for that son all through his life, and even though I only saw a picture of the back of my son, I knew that that was my son." There was such an intimate acquaintance that that lady had, having raised that son, that she knew who it was.

And it is that picture of intimacy that we get here. God knows us through and through. There isn't anything that we've hidden from Him. He knows all of our weaknesses, He knows where we stumble, He knows where we fail Him, He knows where we're going to do all these things. He knows that we are dust, and yet He has redeemed, as it were, this dust through the death of His Son. And so He has compassion on us, and plans to have compassion on us for our failures in the past, our failures in the future—all those have been placed on the Lord Jesus Christ.

That does not give us warrant to continue to sin. We can't use that as an excuse: we use that as a wonderful word of comfort to ourselves when we are so chagrined that we have failed God once again.

In closing, this Psalm says:

"As for man, his days are like grass. He flourishes like a flower of the field. The wind blows over it and it is gone, and its place remembers it no more."

Our lives are short, in other words.

"But from everlasting to everlasting the Lord's love is with those who fear Him, and His righteousness with their children's children; with those who keep His covenant and remember to obey His precepts."

So today when you get together with your family or your friends and you have your Thanksgiving prayer, remember that it's for spiritual things that we are really gathered to thank God. Yes, we acknowledge, and He says, that He provides us all of our food and our clothes, and our houses and our toys. But when the Bible really gets serious directing our attention to what we ought to be thankful for, it's for these spiritual benefits: redemption; deliverance; mercy; forgiveness; patience; compassion. Make that the language of your prayer today as you have your Thanksgiving.

Let us pray.

Our heavenly Father, we do thank You for these spiritual riches that we see in the Psalm. We pray that You would help us to be truly grateful for these gifts — more than all the toys, the houses, the cars, all those things that we think that we need and all those things that we so value. We pray this in the name of the Lord Jesus. Amen.

The Psalm calls for all of the hosts, everything that is made to praise Him, and so let's do that through Hymn 715, Come, Ye Thankful People, Come.

©2013 First Presbyterian Church.

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