Do you ever sit down and wonder why it is that God loves you? I know I wonder that question quite often. Many times in the Bible, it seems as if the writers asked that same type of question. “Why on earth does God love me?” I can say with great confidence that the mystery of God’s love for us is the single greatest mystery that the world has ever known. In fact, 1 Peter even says that the angels long to understand the mystery of God’s love for humanity. And while we may be able to come up with some partial answers to that question, in the end, we must simply throw up our hands and said, “I don’t know.” But when the day is over, we may not understand why God loves us, but what we must understand is that He does. It seems like every time I make this discovery anew, I am swept away by the awe-inspiring fact that I am loved by God. It appears that one of the Psalmists made that same discovery in Psalm 118, and it is from there that we will be studying God’s word tonight. We’ll be reading verses one through four together.
“Give thanks unto the LORD; for he is good: because His mercy endureth forever. Let Israel now say, that His mercy endureth forever. Let the house of Aaron now say, that His mercy endureth forever. Let them now that fear the LORD say, that His mercy endureth forever.”
Do you want to know an interesting thing about Psalm 118? There are 594 chapters before Psalm 118, and there are exactly 594 chapters that occur after Psalm 118. So Psalm 118 is the exact middle chapter of the entire Bible. Now, this fun fact doesn’t mean a whole lot, because we know that chapters and verses were added in by men after the fact, but it’s still a fun piece of trivia to know that we are studying the very “heart” of the Bible tonight. And all trivia aside, tonight we are really are looking at the “heart” of the Bible. The entire Bible is God’s love letter to man. It is all about God creating the human race to enjoy fellowship with Him, how mankind rebelled against Him, and how God has never ceased loving us and seeking to redeem us. And this is the message of Psalm 118.
Don’t you love the straightforward language of verse one of the text? Look one more time at what the psalmist says. “Give thanks unto the LORD; for He is good: because His mercy endureth forever.” The first thing I want you to notice about this verse is that the psalmist addresses “the LORD.” Any time our Bibles have the word LORD in all capital letters, they are referring to the Hebrew word “Yahweh,” or as some pronounce it, “Jehovah.” This is the name that God identified as His personal name to Moses from the burning bush in Exodus chapter three. So for the Jew, using the personal name of God reminded them of the special covenant that God had with them. So when the psalmist says to give thanks to the LORD, he wasn’t just saying to give thanks to some unknown supreme being, he was saying to give thanks to the God who has revealed Himself so many times in our history. Then, after the psalmist tells us to give thanks to the LORD, he tells us why to give thanks. He tells us to give thanks to the LORD, because He is good, and because His mercy endures forever. The word “mercy” in our Bibles is one of the most powerful words in the entire Hebrew language. As with so many words from the original languages that we’ve talked about, sometimes there is just no good way to express the original language into English. The Hebrew word that we translate as “mercy” is “hesed.” Hesed is very similar to the New Testament word “agape,” which means “unconditional love.” In the Old Testament, the word hesed always refers to God’s neverending loyalty to His promises. In fact, the word most closely associated with hesed in the word “covenant.” So just to recap verse one of our text, the psalmist tells us to give thanks to the LORD, because He is good; because His covenant loyalty to us endures forever.
Look at how the psalmist continues in verses two through four. “Let Israel now say, that His mercy endureth forever. Let the house of Aaron now say, that His mercy endureth forever. Let them now that fear the LORD say, that His mercy endureth forever.” You know that any time the Bible says the same thing more than once, it is because it really wants you to get the point. The psalmist in verses one through four says the same thing four times over. He says that “His mercy endures forever.” Since the psalmist tells the people to exclaim that with him, maybe it would be good for us to say it together tonight. Let’s say “His mercy endures forever” together. “His mercy endures forever!” What do those four little words mean for us here tonight? Do these words apply to us, even though we are not Israelites? Church, I tell you tonight that God has made a covenant with us that is much more powerful than His covenant with the Israelites.
At this point, I feel like I need to tell you about something that happened to me this past week. Now most of you know that I am going to Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary right now. I love the seminary, and I believe that it is a world-class institution. But you also know that there are some differences between Free Will Baptists and Southern Baptists, and since the school is run by Southern Baptists, there are going to be some things that the school believes that we would disagree with. And the main thing that we disagree about is whether or not it is possible to give up your salvation. We believe, along with the writer of Hebrews, that it is possible to give up your salvation, if you so choose. Now, anyone who would honestly do such a thing is crazy, but the point is that God is not holding a gun to our heads and forcing us to be Christians. He freely gave us the option to come, and He freely gives us the option to go. Now, Southern Baptists don’t believe that. They believe that once you have been saved, there is absolutely no way to stop being saved, even if you wanted to. Now in everyday discussion, that difference doesn’t come up very often, but it did come up Thursday.
In my church history class, we were talking about the influence of John Calvin in the Protestant Reformation. John Calvin is the one that popularized the notion that men do not have the free will to choose Christ or reject Him, but that God chooses for us. The man that opposed Calvin was named Jacobus Arminius. Arminius preached that God has given every human being a free will, and everyone can freely choose to accept or reject Christ. And while Arminius believed it was rare, he believed that any Christian could choose to give up his salvation if he wished. Because of this, Arminius is kind of the grandfather of Free Will Baptists. So anyone that agreed with Calvin’s theology was called a “Calvinist,” and anyone that followed Arminius’ theology was called an “Arminian.” And Calvinists developed five major doctrines to clarify their way of thinking, and these five doctrines are known by the acronym… does anybody remember what that acronym is? The acronym is TULIP. Now I’m not going to bore you right now with the details of what those five points are, but we are going to study these concepts more in depth in a couple of months on Sunday night, but for now suffice it to say that the Calvinists are known for believing in TULIP. And my professor said, “Now, do you know what flower the Arminians believe in?” And the professor, knowing that I am a Free Will Baptist, said “Josh, do you know what the Arminian flower is?” And I, knowing that he was probably setting me up for a joke, said, “I’m just waiting for your answer.” Then my professor said that the Arminian flower is the daisy. Then he explained by saying, “He loves me, He loves me not, He loves me, He loves me not.” Most of the class busted out laughing. Now, I wasn’t horribly offended, because I knew that my professor was just giving me a hard time, but is he right about what he said? Do we really believe that God’s love for us is somehow conditional on what we do? No, absolutely not! That is a gross misrepresentation about what this church believes. We agree with the psalmist that His mercy endures forever! Yes, we acknowledge that any Christian has the right to turn their back on God, but we can know without the shadow of a doubt that God will never turn His back on us! If this church’s theology is described by a daisy, it must be a special daisy that says “He loves me, He loves me, He loves me, He loves me!” I do not deserve it, but He loves me!
We concur with the writing of the hymn writer Thomas Chisholm, “Great is Thy faithfulness, O God my Father! There is no shadow of turning with Thee; Thou changest not, Thy compassions, they fail not: As Thou hast been Thou forever wilt be. Great is Thy faithfulness. Great is Thy faithfulness. Morning by morning new mercies I see; all I have needed Thy hand hath provided—Great is Thy faithfulness, Lord unto me! Amen.” And even more than that, we agree with the Apostle Paul in Romans chapter 8:38-39. Paul says “For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” I think we can say “Amen” to that!
Normally at the end of my devotions, I try to lay down a challenge to all of us to alter some part of our behavior. But tonight, the only challenge I have for you is to continually dwell on the mystery of God’s love for us. We do not know why God loves us, but we know that He does, and that love has radically changed our lives! As we spend more time in prayer this evening, may the praise of God constantly be on our lips! “Let them now that fear the LORD say, that His mercy endureth forever.” Let’s say it one more time together. “His mercy endures forever!”
Let’s pray together.
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