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Friends, good evening. What a great privilege it is to be with you this evening. Let me just pick up on something there before we turn to God’s Word that Pastor Tom prayed for us, thinking of us as interns. I know I can speak on behalf of all of us pastoral interns here, really to affirm what Pastor Tom prayed and say what a great privilege it is for us to serve here. It is a wonderful joy for all of us to serve and to be among you, so thank you for all that you do to encourage us and to help us to learn and train and grow as we seek to be servants and ministers of God’s Word.
So as we come to God’s Word then, let’s pray.
Dear heavenly Father, let the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in Your sight, O Lord, our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen.
Please turn in your Bibles then, if you’ve not already done so, to the Songs of Ascents, the books of Psalms. I will do my best with the psalms this evening. If I was in Scotland, I’d say we’re in the Psalms, okay? So we don’t have the “L” in it, the Psalms, okay? So I will do my best with that this evening. I do just want to tell you right at the start this evening, in my sermon I’m not planning to talk about anyone or refer to anyone called “Sam.” Okay? So we’re in the psalter, we’re in the psalms, and we’re in Psalm 131. Psalm 131.
Charles Spurgeon says of Psalm 131 that although it is the shortest of the Songs of Ascents, it is the one that perhaps takes the longest to learn. I think as we go through the psalm this evening, we’ll see a bit of that.
So Psalm 131. That’s on page 519 if you have one of the church Bibles.
Psalm 131. A Songs of Ascents of David.
“O Lord, my heart is not lifted up;
my eyes are not raised too high;
I do not occupy myself with things
too great and too marvelous for me.
But I have calmed and quieted my soul,
like a weaned child with its mother;
like a weaned child is my soul within me.
O Israel, hope in the Lord
from this time forth and forevermore.”
Friends, I want to start this evening by asking you what I think you will find to be a really profound question at the close of this Lord’s Day, and that is the question, if you were here this morning, as Pastor Kevin referred to the survey, the survey that was given to some Brits and some Americans about how they would feel about taking on or defeating or wrestling with wild animals without any tools, as he went through that survey this morning, I wonder, were you doing it along with him? Were you like me? Sitting there thinking, yes, I know I could defeat a cat. But I’m really not sure about the elephant. Was that like you?
Well, if you weren’t here this morning, then let me give you a little bit of context. Pastor Kevin waved around a survey this morning where it asked some Brits and some Americans this survey that you can never quite believe that these surveys are really done, but anyway, there we are. Could you take on, could you defeat or wrestle with or whatever, take on a wild animal but without any tools to do so? And it went from rat and cat all the way down to lion and grizzly bear, an elephant, something like that. As the survey went on, we saw that some our U.S. friends felt that they could, yes, take on a grizzly bear bare-handed, empty-handed, and some of our British friends, like myself, realized you could never do that, so I think we can all agree that the Brits won the survey. I think you can agree that we got it right.
Well, let me ask you a strange question then. Let me ask you a strange question. Imagine if on that survey the survey had asked those people who are answering it about all those animals, imagine if they’d asked the question, “Well, what about a child?” Imagine if on this survey it said, “Could you defeat a child?” Perhaps a young child, 2 or 3 years old. Now you’re thinking, Ben, that is a really odd thing to put on the list. That’s a really odd thing. But here’s the surprising thing, the surprising thing that’s going to take us to the heart of this Psalm. For the Christian, the way to strength and the way to maturity is childlikeness, is childlikeness. To be strong as Christians, okay, not physically strong but spiritually strong, mature, to grow, is to be childlike.
I hope you’ve seen that from some of what we’ve sung and certainly some of what we’ve read this evening. It was particularly highlighted in Matthew 18, wasn’t it? Do you remember? The disciples were squabbling about who is the greatest, and as they asked Jesus, what does Jesus do to illustrate to them? He brings in a child, and He says you need to humble yourself like this child.
And it’s shocking, it’s surprising. Childlike? Really, Jesus? Have you been over to my house? Have you seen what it’s like at the dinner table? Have you seen what it’s like first thing in the morning? Last thing at night? Really?
Why does Jesus do that? It is because a child is a picture of dependence, a picture of trust.
Now right at the start here we need to carefully distinguish childlikeness from childishness. It’s not to be childlike in every way. No, there’s a childishness that we’re certainly not to have. There’s a childishness that is self-centered, that’s prideful, that wants to get my way all the time.
Paul has strong words, doesn’t he, later on in the Gospel. We see that across the Bible. Paul has strong words to the church in Corinth about childish thinking and childish behavior. No, we’re to move in maturity in our faith and walking and growing in knowledge, growing in knowledge and love of the Lord Jesus, and the way to do that is childlikeness, but not childishness. The childishness that’s like those seagulls in Finding Nemo that fly around all the time going “me me me me me,” that puts us at the center. No, it’s not that.
But it is a childlike trust, satisfaction, delight, longing to be in God, resting in God.
That is where we’ve begun because that is right at the heart of Psalm 131. That is the illustration right at the heart of this Psalm. You see it there in verse 2. Look at verse 2 again with me. David repeats it twice. What does he say? “I’ve calmed and quieted my soul.” And here’s the illustration, “like a weaned child with its mother, like a weaned child is my soul within me.” David says his soul, his, if you like, his affections, his emotions, his inner life is like a weaned child.
So what does that really mean? What is David telling us here? What is David, if you like, weaned from? If we think about what he’s weaned from, I think it gets us right to the heart of this. Well, I think there are two answers to that, and I think it’s both/and rather than either/or.
First of all, I think David has weaned his soul from the world, from temporal pleasures and goals. We don’t know when David wrote this psalm. We don’t know if he was king yet or not, but either way he’s saying, “I’m not going to live to acquire the wealth, the prestige, all the trappings of power that will come with being king.” He knows that one day he won’t be able to spend all his dollars he’s accumulated as king, so he’s weaned himself from the world.
So this evening it’s worth asking ourselves – have we weaned ourself from the world? Have you? Have I? Are we weaned yet from this world?
Remember, these Songs of Ascents were to be sung by God’s people as they journeyed up to Jerusalem three times a year for festivals. These are the psalms, if you like, that they loaded onto their Spotify playlist, or their Apple music, or perhaps they still burned them onto a CD. Perhaps if they were really feeling old-fashioned they put them on a mixed tape, you know, on a tape, a cassette tape. If you’re not sure what it is, you can speak to me afterwards. I still remember them. I remember getting a pencil and winding it back and recording it. These were the psalms, if you like, that they put on there. They got their AirPods or their Sony Walkman and that is that they sung as they journeyed up to Jerusalem. Jerusalem was before them, and that was to shape everything.
As Christians now, we don’t do physical pilgrimages to Jerusalem, do we? Three times a year? No. But we are strangers, aliens, exiles on this earth, journeying to heaven. Heaven is our home. To new heavens, new earth, to the new Jerusalem that God will bring down at the return of Christ.
Jerusalem is meant to be before our eyes, and the destination shapes the journey. If you were heading to Buffalo, New York for Thanksgiving, you probably had to invest heavily in the biggest tractor that we had here in America, the biggest snowplow, as you tried to get yourself up there through all the snow they had. If you were heading down to Florida, you could get the convertible out, lower the sunroof, and off you go. We are heading to Jerusalem, to heaven, and that should do the same things for us. We are citizens of there. That is where we’re heading. So we look to wean ourselves from here.
But I think there’s another angle on this as well, and that is that David has weaned himself from a merely transactional relationship with God, a relationship with God that says unless I get exactly what I want from you in exactly the way that I want it, I’m going to throw all my toys out of the stroller, or out of the pram for our British friends here, and I’m going to go to my room off in a sulk, or off in a huff. We are prone to do that spiritually. We’re prone to do it.
Think about Saul. David would have seen Saul. What did King Saul do? He didn’t get his own way. He disobeyed God and off he went in a sulk. Think about the rich young ruler, walked away from Jesus. What does Luke tell us? He walked away from Jesus sad. That has always stayed with me that he walked away sad. Why? He wasn’t weaned from the world. His relationship with God is such as he thought it would be merely transactional, you scratch my back, Jesus, and I’ll scratch yours.
It wasn’t enough for the rich young ruler or for Saul or many other people in the Bible we can read of to say that to be with God, that is enough. Because that then is the illustration of a weaned child, isn’t it? A weaned child is a picture of trust, trust in mum and here’s the rub – even when I don’t get from mum what I once demanded from her. Trust in mum even when I don’t get what I once demanded from her.
Listen to Alec Motyer on this. I don’t think I can do better than this. He says this – It is the art of parenthood to guide and shape babyhood into toddlerhood, and when it happens it’s lovely to see. Mum is no longer there to meet demand. It is enough now that she is there. Not now the breast to feed but the hand to hold, the cuddle that assures, the kiss that makes better. It is the picture of the toddler who every so often puts down the toys or the book and looks around the corner just to see that mum is there, to see that mum is there. That is all that’s needed, that is enough. To be with mum, near mum, that is all that’s needed. It is a picture of childlike trust.
And David is saying here that for us the picture of a mature, growing Christian is a picture of one whose soul is weaned and they long and they delight and they are satisfied to be with God. That is all that’s needed. It is developing a reflex like what we’ve just sung there that says, “I need You, I need You every hour, and that is enough, that You are with me.”
I love reading Christian biographies, often missionary biographies, and sometimes as you read them, as you read these stories, you think how did these Christians live their lives like that? This past year I was reading of Corrie ten Boom. How is that Corrie ten Boom could hide Jews in Nazi-occupied Holland? And when arrested watch her dad die, her sister die, suffer profoundly?
It is what David says there in verse 2, isn’t it? It is a calmed and quieted soul that is weaned from the world and from a relationship with God that says I must get my own way in this life. It is a relationship with God that says I know You are with me and that is enough.
How is it that Eric Liddell can give up a running career that carried more fame at the time than LeBron or Aaron Rodgers or Tom Brady or Cristiano Ronaldo or ___ or whatever sport star it is? How does he give that all up and head off to China? There to die in a concentration camp. How does he do it? It is a weaned soul.
But one of the things that you read in Christian biographies is often true of many of us, many untold stories of just ordinary Christians, the countless stories that are here in this room, those of us who have sat by hospital bedsides, by bedsides, gravesides, by those suffering greatly in this world, and pointed to Jesus and said, “It is enough that He is with me in this hour of great need, in this darkest valley.” A picture of a calmed and quieted soul. That is the picture that David says he has here, weaned. He is with God and that is enough.
You know, dear friends, it is a wonderful witness to the world, is it not? It’s a wonderful witness to the world, down through the ages ___ here in Matthews, in this day of a calmed and quieted soul, weaned from the world, one that looks at God and trusts Him in all that we do. People will look on and say in this age, ours is an age of listlessness, restlessness, of not quieted soul, of uncalmed souls. What a witness to look onto believers and see that in this age of fear and anxiety and all that’s going on, people will say to us, “How can you live like that?” You say, “Oh, because I’ve trusted the Lord Jesus.” Ours is an age of restlessness.
Just one illustration to that end is I saw a tweet once by a Wall Street journalist, a Wall Street journalist. He was up in New York and this was a few years ago. This tweet went viral. He tweeted this – There’s a guy in this coffee shop and he’s sitting at a table and he’s not on his phone and he’s not on his laptop. He’s just drinking coffee. Psychopath.
Right? That’s what the tweet says. Why does he say that? Because ours is a restless age. It is a listless age. We must always be on something, doing something, on the infinite scroll, looking to the next thing, always and forever. That is what our age is, unsettled. In an age where belief in God is waning, we’ll see more and more of this. What a witness for us in our neighborhoods and in our workplaces, in an age of anxiety and fear, where people will look to us and say, “How in this moment,” a cultural moment or a personal moment, “how are you still standing?” “I’ve calmed and quieted my soul because I know that God is with me and that is enough. That is enough.”
Augustin famously wrote these words – You have made for us yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.
So friends, let me ask you this evening – Are you resting in God this evening? Are you resting in God this evening? If you are not a Christian, then my call to you this evening is similar to that of this morning, and that is to come to rest in the Lord Jesus for your salvation. It is His to give utterly, rest, receive, believe, in all that Christ has done for you this Christmastime. There is no rest for our sin outside of Him. No rest. No rest from self, no rest from sin, and there will be no rest even in death.
But for those of us who are Christians, this psalm is a call, a reminder, that the maturing Christian is the one who’s growing more and more in childlike trust of the Lord Jesus.
So as we go on from here then, the question is how has David cultivated this? How can he say in verse 2 he’s calmed and quieted his soul? How has he got there?
Well, there’s two points. We see two things here, and these are our two points to go forward.
David tells us two things. Firstly, he’s resolved not to be something. Firstly, he’s resolved not to be something, and that’s in verse 1. Then in verse 2 we can see another point of something he’s resolved to do.
So firstly he’s resolved not to be something. Verse 1. What has David resolved not to be? He’s resolved not to be prideful. He’s resolved not to be prideful. Pride is deadly and it is deadly to contentment in and with God. It’s deadly to maturity in our faith because it looks to raise ourselves up above God.
Look at verse 1. Look at all the language there.
O Lord, my heart is not lifted up. My eyes are not raised too high. I do not occupy myself with things too great, too marvelous for me.
Do you see how the language there is all spatial? My heart is not lifted high, my eyes are not raised too high.
We could use in our kind of language, it’s I’m not looking down my nose at you or at others. The picture of pride is one who lifts themselves high, high above others. I see myself better than those people, or perhaps even yes, I see myself as better than God.
Now I’m not talking here about the kind of pride as we might use that language of a child when they’ve done something at school and they’re really pleased and the teacher says, “Oh, I’m really proud of you for doing that work.” I’m not talking about that. Or perhaps the pride we might have if we actually manage to fight off a grizzly bear, with our bare hands, and we live to tell the tale. Okay, I’m not talking about that. Or the kind of pride you might have had on Thursday when you made probably what you would say is the best sweet potato casserole in the Carolinas, which I like to think that mine maybe was. I’m not talking about that.
There is an attitude that can say rightly under God I’m pleased with that. That’s not what we have here. David is talking about a haughtiness, a loftiness, that says “I am better and know better than God.” Of course, there’s no better place, really, for us to look to think about what that looks like than to go straight back to Eden, to see how deadly pride is. How deadly pride is in our contentment with God. Right back there in Eden, Adam and Eve take the fruit.
Now we could say it’s many things. It’s unbelief, certainly, but it is also pride. It’s pride.
Someone once put it to me like this – Infanticide is the killing of children. Fratricide is the killing of a brother. Regicide is the killing of a king. Pride? Well, pride is deicide. Deicide. It’s wanting to kill God.
It’s devastating, isn’t it? It’s devastating. We see it with Adam and Eve. They take the fruit and eat and, well, the rest as they say is history. We know out of the garden, distance, enmity between man and God.
But we see pride, don’t we? Not just with Adam and Eve, it’s right through the Old Testament. Think of the other kings. Think of David writing this. The king that came before him, think of Saul. It was Saul’s pride and folly that thought he could perform the priestly duty that was only Samuel’s. Think about after David. Think of the pride of Solomon, ignoring God’s Word, taking to himself military might and wives and concubines and turning after other gods, told that the kingdom will be torn in two. Think of Rehoboam, think of Hezekiah, many others who at the end of the day thought what? Thought they knew better than God.
Dear friends, where are you tempted to pride? Where are you tempted to pride towards God? Where in your life do you think you know better than God? Where in your life are you pretending His Word doesn’t really kind of mean what it says? Is it that bit about gossip? Is it that bit about sex before marriage? Lust? Gluttony? Forgiveness? Being at church? Whatever it is, where do we think we know better than God?
Dear friends, ask God by His Spirit to shine light on those dark places and ask the Lord Jesus to mortify those things, to mortify those things, to be rid of them, for where they grow up they will be like weeds, choking the life out of your satisfaction in God, and they will make us childish, not childlike.
But before we move to the next thing, I think there’s another aspect to this. I think there’s another aspect to this. I think pride is also not letting God be God not just in moral aspects or areas of our life, but also in His providential care of it. What does David say there at the end of verse 1? “I do not occupy myself with things too great, too marvelous for me.” In other words, David understands he is not all knowing, he is not omniscient. That is, there are times in our lives when we have to let God be God and trust His fatherly hand in our life.
That is why we read Deuteronomy 29:29. It’s why we read those beautiful words of the Heidelberg Catechism Lord’s Day 10. There are things in this life outside of our control – health, sickness, the rain to bring harvest, the ability to have children, the ability to save our children, the rise and fall of nations. Those things that happen in our lives that make us cry, “How long, O Lord?” Confusing things, perplexing things, hard things for us to come to.
I think David here is saying that the road to being satisfied in God this side of glory is saying I do not have the answers to all these things in my life. I do not have the answers to all the questions in my life, but God does and I trust Him, I trust Him.
Now this is not a kind of anti-intellectualism or anything like that. It’s just saying that because we are creatures, there is an end to our knowing. Our knowing has a fence. It has a hedge around it. Where we were in Aberdeen in Scotland before moving here we’d often get fog off the sea and you call it haar, the haar would come in. You just can’t see through it when it’s there. It’s thick. Our knowing has a fence, a hedge, a haar there that we can’t see past, but that is not the case for God.
In David’s saying, “I do not occupy myself with things too great and too marvelous for me,” he’s remembering he is a creature and he’s trusting in the One who’s the Creator.
So friends, let me put this another way. Let me put this another way. Friends, take great comfort this evening in the knowledge that God does not learn. God does not learn. He does not learn. He does not need to learn. He simply does not need to. God knows everything and He knows it effortlessly, limitlessly. It’s not just that God is cleverer than having five Ph.D.s, ten Ph.D.s, I don’t know what number you want to put there, or getting 10/10 on the Thanksgiving Day family quiz. No. It’s not only that God is greatly knowledgeable. He is omniscient, all knowing. He does not learn. Nothing surprises Him. God need not discover anything and that should be a great comfort to us, a great comfort to us.
David says, “I do not occupy myself with things too great and too marvelous for me, but I know that God knows all and He is my heavenly Father so I trust Him, I trust Him in His care and His knowledge of my life.”
Friends, think about it. Think about it. The end of verse 1. What happens when we try and push into that? When we don’t see limits on our own knowledge? What happens there? I would put it to you that it’s anxiety, fear. We turn in ourselves. Think of our phones, Facebook, instant news, notifications, life updates, emails, messages. We cease to function. Trying to know everything denies our humanity, but trusting that God knows everything honors God as God and should give us real comfort in whatever it is we are facing this evening.
Dear friends, this evening give those painful burdens to God tonight. Those trials that are waking you up at 2:00 a.m. every morning. God knows and sees our pain and says, “Come, come,” like the parent who sees their child fall on the gravel outside the house, they skin their knees, they’re bleeding. The child runs and the parent says to them, “What’s wrong?” knowing full well what’s wrong, but says “What’s wrong?” and they come. It is pride that sends the child running the other way, and it is pride that makes us think we can know everything. No, we say no to that. We rest knowing that God knows everything, and in His providential care watches over us and guides us.
Now, friends, that’s hard, isn’t it? It’s hard going through times of affliction and trial which our journey to Jerusalem? It’s not easy. It’s not easy to quieten our souls, verse 2. It’s not easy.
Spurgeon says that it’s easier to tame a tiger than to quieten our souls in a time of affliction. Maybe he did the survey that we mentioned at the start and he knew from experience. It is easier to tame a tiger than to quieten our souls in a time of affliction.
But David says that is what we are to do. Those things outside of our power, control, foresight, planning. We rest assured they’re not outside of His knowledge, His control, His providential care of our lives.
So rather than pushing God aside and wanting to get above our station, the best thing we can do is trust Him, trust Him like the weaned child who looks around the corner or turns in the highchair, sees that their parent’s there and that is the assurance. That is the assurance to put our hand inside God’s transcendent, cosmic hand and to feel its squeeze. He knows. He knows. And He is with you.
David then moves from saying no to pride to saying what he won’t do to saying what he will do. What will he do? Well, in verse 2, we could put it this way – he resolves, he resolves to be humble. So he says no to pride, I resolve not to be something, not to be prideful, and I resolve to do something, to be humble.
I use the language of “resolve” because in verse 2 here we actually in the Hebrew have a Hebrew oath formula, a Hebrew oath formula. So it’s stronger than a kind of New Year’s resolution that for me I think my record is probably something like 12 days. It’s probably more like a marriage vow. I’m committed to this, Lord, I want to walk this way, to be humble. I’ve set my heart to it. I’ve quieted my soul to resolve humbly and to trust You.
So we are to walk this pilgrim’s road humbly, humbly, not in pride, but with humility.
How do we know what that looks like? How do we know what that looks like? How do we walk humbly to Jerusalem?
Well, for us, we look to the Lord Jesus. We look to the Lord Jesus. There’s no better example, is there, than the Lord Jesus. That’s why we read Philippians 2 earlier, isn’t it? Paul tells the church in Philippi consider Christ Jesus and we would do well to do the same. Christ, the eternally begotten of the Father, humbling Himself to take on flesh.
On this first Sunday of Advent right through this Advent season, it’ll serve us well, it’ll serve us well to reflect on Christ’s humility, His humility, as we walk this pilgrim’s road behind Him.
So how do we see Christ’s humility? Well, even just think what we see this Christmastime. We see He that holds up the world, the whole cosmos, the universe, by the word of His power at that first Christmas came to be held up by a manger. We saw He who has no body coming to take on a body. We see He who is infinite, in His humanity now being found in a locality in time and space. We see He who is high and mighty and lifted up, surrounded by all heaven’s glory and angelic beings, being made low and surrounded by sinners. We see He who is in need of nothing, our God is utterly self-sufficient, He who is in need of nothing, utterly self-sufficient, the Lord Jesus coming to do what? To feed at a mother’s breast. We see He who knows everything as we just thought about. He who knows everything.
What does Luke tell us in 2:52? Luke chapter 2:52 says that Jesus had to increase in His humanity, increase in wisdom. Utter humility.
And what of later in Christ’s life and ministry? Think of the garden. Think of Christ in Gethsemane. Do we not see Psalm 131, verse 2a there, in action? In the garden, Christ sweating drops of blood. What would Christ do? He would calm and quieten His soul and say to His Father, “Not My will but Yours.” Not My will but Yours. And He would go to the cross, the cross, to win our salvation.
Dear friends, in this sermon and in these few verses, I think we can see these two gardens side by side. Look what was born of Adam’s pride in Eden – sin and death. Look what was born of Christ, the second Adam’s humility in Gethsemane, forgiveness of sin, life everlasting through Christ’s life.
So friends, humility is how we walk this pilgrim’s road. In verse 3 there you see David turns from himself as the subject of the psalm. You see he speaks of himself in the first person and he turns to Israel, “O Israel, hope in the Lord,” hope in the Lord. A more literal translation might be “to wait,” or “to tarry.” Wait or tarry in the Lord from this time forth and evermore.
Waiting or tarrying carries this idea forward well. How do we wait for God? How do we live this Christian life? Walking to Jerusalem as we wait for God, to meet the King there? We walk by saying no to pride and yes to humility. Saying no to demanding from God and yes to being with God in whatever it is we face today. Saying no to me as king and yes to following the King. Saying no to think I can know everything and trusting the One who does know everything.
It’s knowing that as I wake every morning and take my head from the pillow, and as I go to rest at night and put my head on the pillow, it’s saying I now that the Lord is with me and that is enough. That is enough. His presence is the comfort I need. The way of humility means knowing there will be a cross before the crown, in this life, as it was for Christ.
Humility is knowing that new heaven and new earth, world without end, awaits us. That’s what we’re living for. That’s what we’re living for. That’s where we’re going.
So, dear friends, let us ready ourselves for that day by walking, waiting, in faith, trust, hope, childlike dependence on God, both now and forever. Amen.
Let’s pray. Almighty God, our heavenly Father, we do pray indeed that by the power of Your Spirit and with our eyes looking to Christ, that with David we could say You have calmed and quieted our souls, that to be with You, to look to You, to hope in You, that is enough, that we long to be with You, that we delight to be with You. Be our joy and satisfaction. We pray, O dear God, our heavenly Father, where there is pride in our hearts in our life, take it from us, we pray. Put it to death and may we increase in childlike humility, dependence on You, as we seek to grow to be more like You, Lord Jesus. It’s in Your name we ask because Yours is the kingdom, the power, and the glory forever. Amen.