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"Mayday!"

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Hillside Baptist Church

 

Sermon; May 1, 1994

 

"Mayday!"  Psalm 44

 

I.          Introduction

            Today is May 1st and may be thought of by many as the traditional spring festival known as May Day.  When I was a child it was the custom to bring baskets of flowers or candy to a friend's home, knock on the door and quickly leave.  When the door was answered they found the present and wondered who it was from, reminding them presumably of spring blessings.

            But this May Day is not the reference for today's message.  I have in mind the international radiotelephonic signal for help, used by ships and aircraft in distress, called Mayday and taken from a French word, m'aidez, meaning "help me."

            You've all seen the old W.W.II movies with the mighty warship on the high seas either wounded by gunfire or battered by storm.  And the ship's radioman, under order from the captain, anxiously broadcasts over the radio to any other friendly vessel afloat, "Mayday, Mayday, U.S.S. Neverfaint failing fast.  We've taken a direct hit.  Location adrift on the sea of life.  Captain Suffering Servant requests urgent help.  About to go under."

            Today's message brings us to a similar situation with the people of God in Psalm 44, where they envision themselves as his servants suffering without cause.  I'm sure many of you can identify in your present life situations as you struggle with family, finances, work, health, life, death and God.

II.  Interpretive Summary   (Please turn with me in your Bibles to Psalm 44)

 

            Psalm 44 is called a Maskil (Maschil), usually taken to mean an instructive or meditative poem, evidently composed by or to be sung by the Sons of Korah who were a Levitical choir made up of the descendents of Korah appointed by David to serve in the temple worship.  This Psalm was a cry of despair in a time of national disaster when the army had been overwhelmingly defeated in a time when Israel was apparently living in relative obedience.  There appears to be no place in scripture where such a defeat as referred to in verses 17-22 is described except as a result of covenant unfaithfulness.  This lays the groundwork for an impassioned appeal for help before God as one of the "Psalm Types" known as a "National Lament."  Afflictions give instructions and sorrow of spirit opens the ear to them.


            Four major themes build successively upon themselves as the Psalm develops:

(1)        Praise to the Lord for past victories, vv. 1-8.

(2)        Description of present defeat and its

            consequences, vv. 9-16.

(3)        Plea of innocence and statement

            of submission, vv. 17-22.

(4)        Bold prayer of appeal asking, "Why?",

            and pleading action. vv. 23-26.

III.  Authorial Intent

            The intent of Psalm 44 is to appeal to God for future victory and deliverance based on acknowledgment and praise for past divine intervention in light of present innocence.  A vivid description is given relating present feelings of rejection with the question, "Why", looming large in the ending prayer in verse 24.  This question expresses the anguish of relief not yet granted and exhibits the boldness with which the psalmists wrestled with God on the basis of their relationship with him and their conviction concerning his righteousness.  God's past care for Israel stimulates the praise and confidence they bring before the Lord concerning their present defeat and petition for deliverance.

IV.  Read Passage and Make Comment

 

V.  The Question of Suffering

            The question of why seemingly godly and righteous people must endure suffering is universal.  In fact, why does a loving God allow it?  This leads some to question God's existence.  But it is this very existence of suffering that drives those who would be holy and righteous to the very throne of God in such an appeal because they know that he is the real answer to their need.  If we have come to the place in our lives where we can understand verse 22 (recite) and truly speak it from the heart, we may well be on our way to discovering that answer understood by the response of John Baptist in John 3:30, "He must become greater; I must become less."  In fact, Paul quotes Psalm 44:22 in Romans 8:36, making the point that suffering has always been part of the experience of God's people but that nothing will separate us from God's love or his presence.  Indeed, in the New Testament sense, we are to share in Christ's sufferings because he suffered for us, (Romans 8:17).  But the reward is that we will also share his glory.  Suffering can sometimes be seen as the price of loyalty to God in a world at war with him.  Hebrews 12:3 tells us to "Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men so that you will not grow weary and lose heart".  Indeed, we are to be co-laborers in identification with Christ.

            Illustration:  "But why is it that Christ was chastised for my peace?  How is it that the ground has to be wounded by spade and plow, and put, as it were, to the torture under harrows before it will produce any grain for us?  How is it that when the grain is produced, it must also be subjected to torture, (must be bruised under millstones, ground and reground), before it will make bread for us?  How is it that, even then, the bread is not committed to the stomach before it has been further bruised and mangled by the teeth?  How is it that plants, flowers, and fruits only yield their food value when bruised?  Why is vegetable life sacrificed for us?  Why is animal life slain for us?  Why does every creature come into the world through the gate of sorrow?  How is it that all things are hidden within chaff or skin or shell, and that violence must be done to chaff, skin, and shell in order to reach the hidden good inside?  Finding the answers to these questions will help to the opening of the higher question."  Pulsford.

Isaiah 55:8-9 says, "For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways," declares the Lord.  "As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts."

            But we are still left with the nagging question of "why".  First of all, I see we have no real firm ground to stand on in pleading innocence before God.  We are all sinful to the core.  We may be living more righteously than we had been, but are we exempt from the backlash of the world's sinful condition - some of which we helped cause?  We easily commemorate past success at victory and holiness only to grow complacent with the subsequent lack of spiritual challenge.  We presume upon God and take him for granted.  Then we rediscover our overwhelming need for maintaining a close and productive relationship.

            Illustration:  "Men seek an explanation of suffering in cause and effect.  They look backward for a connection between prior sin and present suffering.  But the Bible looks forward in hope and seeks explanations, not so much in origins as in goals.  The purpose of suffering is seen, not in its cause, but in its results.  The man (in John 9:3) was born blind so that the works of God could be displayed in him."  Francis I. Anderson.

            Is this the higher question? - That suffering can produce character and righteousness and bring glory to God?  That it can produce knowledge of God by bringing me into conformity with him?  That my infirmity gives way to Christ's wholeness?  It is hard to know the depth of another's situation until you have been there yourself.  But once you have been there (like Christ), you are then able to help another find their way.


            Illustration:  "If God had told me some time ago that he was about to make me as happy as I could be in this world, and then told me that he should begin by crippling me in arm or limb, and removing from me all my usual sources of enjoyment, I should have thought it a very strange way of accomplishing his purpose,  And yet, how is his wisdom evident even in this!  For if you should see a man shut up in a closed room, idolizing a set of lamps and rejoicing in their light, and you wished to make him truly happy, you would begin by blowing out all his lamps, and then throwing open the shutter to let in the light of heaven."  Samuel Rutherford.

            The light of a man's lamp casts a shadow and the light of many lamps casts many shadows.  But the light of God is true brilliance - an all encompassing radiance.

            Then, too, is the issue of God's sovereignty.  We would become pretty cock-sure of ourselves if the future were dead certain.  We must allow God to be God - in fact, we can't do otherwise.  Ecclesiastes 7:14 says, "When times are good be happy; but when times are bad, consider:  God has made the one as well as the other.  Therefore, a man cannot discover anything about his future."  The sum total of all this is that we need God.  We will always need God.  We desperately need God.  And if earthly suffering brings us to that conclusion, then praise God!  The author of Psalm 44 reached his own correct conclusion in verse 22, "Yet for your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered."  If verse 22 is true of our attitude, would we lament whatever use God would make of us?  Would we have a willing and humble obedience that yields self to God's divine purpose, whatever that is, even if we don't understand it?  Like an animal held fast by a trap, would we kick and scream and bite only to increase our own suffering as we struggle, instead of patiently waiting for him to release us to safety and freedom?

            The Psalmist then closes with three affirmations:

(1)        Yes, we may plead our case before God.       (And we today are eternally blessed with             the intercession of our High Priest and             Advocate, Jesus Christ.), vv. 23-24

            There is a place for boldness before God

            as long as it is overshadowed by humility

            and respect.

(2)        Yes, we must humble ourselves before           him, v. 25.  Or is it God who humbles?

                        (3)        Yes, there is redemption through God's

                                    unfailing love, v. 26.  The things of this life,

                                    as real as they are, are not the ultimate reality.

                                    It is the love of God that proves real.

VI.  Four Considerations in Suffering   (Optional)

 

            A.  Don't lose heart - eternal glory is the result.

                        2 Cor. 4:16-18

            B.  Persevere - it leads to maturity.

                        James 1:2-4

            C.  Do not fear - you are blessed.

                        1 Pet. 3:13-14

            D.  Be done with sin - it is God's will.

                        1 Pet. 4:1-3

VII.  Five Blessings in Suffering,  2 Cor. 1:3-11   (Optional)

 

            A.  (v. 3)       You get to know God better.

            B.  (vv. 4-6)  It enhances your ministry.

            C.  (vv. 8-9)  It develops your faith.

            D.  (v. 11a)   It stimulates prayer.

            E.  (v. 11b)   It brings glory to God in thankfulness

                        for answered prayer.

VIII.  Summary

 

            Dear friends, let us turn our Maydays into May Days.  Our distress signals will surely reach the ears of the One who said in Rev. 3:20, "Here I am,  I stand at the door and knock.  If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him and he with me."  This One who brings May baskets full of blessings to your door will not run away from you but will abide with you forever in eternal fellowship.  We may not always know the reason "why", but we can know the Comforter even if we don't always understand his ways.

IX.  Closing Hymn:  There Shall Be Showers of Blessing

 

X.  Benediction

 

            Romans 15:13

            May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that      you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.


Hillside Baptist Church - Bulletin Insert

 

Sermon; May 1, 1994; "Mayday!"

 

Psalm 44

 

Overview

            A.  Praise to the Lord for past victories, vv. 1-8.

            B.  Description of present defeat and its

                        consequences, vv. 9-16.

            C.  Plea of innocence and statement

                        of submission, vv. 17-22.

            D.  Bold prayer of appeal asking, "Why?", and

                        pleading action based on love. vv. 23-26.

 

Conclusions on Suffering

 

Four Considerations in Suffering

            A.  Don't lose heart - eternal glory is the result.

                        2 Cor. 4:16-18

            B.  Persevere - it leads to maturity.

                        James 1:2-4

            C.  Do not fear - you are blessed.

                        1 Pet. 3:13-14

            D.  Be done with sin - it is God's will.

                        1 Pet. 4:1-3

Five Blessings in Suffering,  2 Cor. 1:3-11

            A.  (v. 3)       You get to know God better.

            B.  (vv. 4-6)  It enhances your ministry.

            C.  (vv. 8-9)  It develops your faith.

            D.  (v. 11a)   It stimulates prayer.

            E.  (v. 11b)   It brings glory to God in thankfulness

                        for answered prayer.

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