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As I mentioned yesterday, I’ve been down in Oxfordshire presenting some material to the fantastic new UCCF Staff Workers. I’d been asked to co-present some material on evangelism.

We started our session off by thinking about motivations for evangelism. We spoke about two: one being the joy of knowing Christ (based on a post Tim Chester wrote here). The other is compassion for the lost. Here’s a (slightly adapted) quote from Dave Earley’s book Evangelism Is…

What does it mean to be ‘lost’? A word study of lost (Greek apollymi) is sobering. The root word means to destroy. When referring to Zacchaeus, the word ‘lost’ refers to a man who is clearly ‘missing out.’ Those outside the kingdom of God like the wealthy yet corrupt tax collector are missing out on real life. In Luke 5:37, ‘lost’ speaks about a brittle old wineskin that is ruined by the influx and expansion of new wine. In Luke 15:4-6, ‘lost’ means disoriented, speaking of a sheep that is in serious danger having wandered away from the shepherd. In Luke 15:17, ‘lost’ is used for the son wasting his life and potential, because he was not in relationship with his father. In Luke 4:34, the word is used for eternal destruction, describing the state of destruction a demon wants to avoid at all costs.
Putting these usages of the term together paints a chilling picture of those who are lost. They are missing out on what God has for them, ruining themselves and others, wasting their God-given potential, are disoriented and confused in darkness, facing ultimate destruction. No wonder that Jesus said he came to seek and to save the lost.

 

You can download the powerpoint we used for the more ‘theoretical’ section here.

To be honest, I wasn’t feeling massively excited about my train journey from Oxford to Doncaster earlier today. As I slumped into coach D seat 24 on the 1707 service, I was compelled to spend more than three hours on the train after what had already been a full day at our orientation for new Staff Workers. Yet, through my grumpiness, I felt that I should at least be courteous and polite to the man sat in seat 23. And the Lord used this more than I could have known. I got to know Chris who, it soon emerged, is a fellow believer.

Chris revealed that he is experiencing a hard period at work. The organisation that he works for has just been taken over by a much larger one. He may face redundancy. Chris admitted at one point in the conversation that he’d woken up in the small hours of last night, only able to sleep again after his hotel Gideon Bible fell open at Psalm 42. As he got on the train, he was, in his own words, in need of encouragement. It’s very humbling to think that I was maybe the one sent by the Lord to encourage him.

The form of encouragement didn’t feel ‘special’ in many ways. We just chatted about different things: the beauty of the sunset to our left, the writing of Richard Wurmbrand, the need for sustainable patterns of global consumption and the use of films in evangelism, amongst other things. Chris showed me a new Internet programme he had recently written which visualises texts as they are spoken. He was thrilled to hear about the work of CUs – some of his children were recently involved in CUs, and he was involved in his own university CU many years ago. We discovered that we had a few mutual friends. And, through all of this, we both tasted the truth and the goodness of knowing Jesus once more, seeing his gospel worked out in all sorts of different situations. Two members of God’s family, who had never known each other before, were able to encourage the other.

As the train approached Chris’ station, a couple of stops before Doncaster, he remarked on how we might never have had our conversation if we’d only sat a row apart. He said he was looking forward to telling his wife about our conversation. And at that moment, we both recognised the Lord’s sovereignty. As the writer of Proverbs puts it, in his heart a person plans their steps, but the Lord directs their paths. I was able to encourage Chris, and he encouraged me.

I can’t wait to one day see more fully how the Lord uses these seemingly chance encounters to comfort weary saints, to sow gospel seeds and to lift eyes to Jesus once more. The encounter with Chris has made me think about my ministry with students. What a reminder of the need to pray! As I think about the conversation with Chris, I’m praying again that we’ll have plenty of these ‘chance’ encounters in Freshers’ Weeks and the weeks that follow; that we’ll catch a glimpse of the Lord using seemingly innocuous human decisions, like which seat to sit in, to build his kingdom.

Part 4 of 4 on my sermon on Psalm 21 (‘Why does the King’s rejoice?’) for South Doncaster Community Church.
MP3 to follow

Now let me make a couple of applications from what we have seen.

Firstly – the battle belongs to the LORD, so persevere. The big message from Psalm 21 is that, out of his unfailing love for us, the LORD has not left us to take on the enemies that face us by ourselves. Indeed, such is the nature of the enemies that we would not have a hope of beating them by ourselves. We cannot deal with our sin by ourselves – we need a saviour king. We cannot deal with our condemnation by ourselves – we need a saviour king. And the LORD has provided one in Jesus.

Our situation now is much like Israel who sang this song. The king has won the battle, but the war rages on. We are only too aware that there are still enemies in our broken and fallen Universe. The devil still is on the prowl looking for someone to devour. We still get sick, we suffer from depression, we are desperately lonely, injustice prevails. Our old sinful self still seems to rear its ugly hear too often. The last enemy, death, still has its vicious sting.

And yet, says Psalm 21, we are not without a saviour king. Jesus is coming. Do not despair. In his love, he will ensure that these enemies do not have the last word. History is heading towards a day when victory will come. It’s so easy for these enemies to seem to us to be giants – undefeatable, invincible and great. But David says: look to the LORD and look to his King. You cannot defeat these enemies by yourself, but you have a great Saviour King. Which brings us to our second point:

The battle belongs to the LORD, so sing. Remember – Psalm 21 is not a book of theology, it is not a series of bullet points, it is a song. It is for the director of music. It is designed to be sung!

In our sort of church culture, there’s a sort of nervousness about talking about singing. We’ve rightly held onto the truth that there’s more to worship than singing, but are in danger of missing the fact that singing should play an important part for God’s people. The longest book of the Bible is, lest we forget, a book of songs. And I believe this is so because of the role of singing for the Christian believer. The Reformer Martin Luther wrote this about singing:

Whether you wish to comfort the sad, to terrify the happy, to encourage the despairing, to humble the proud, to calm the passionate, or to appease those full of hate — and who could number all these masters of the human heart, namely, the emotions, inclinations, and affections that impel men to evil or good?—what more effective means than music could you find?

What Luther is saying is that songs have a unique ability to affect our hearts. When we sing some of the amazing words in our songs and hymns, we should be nailing these incredible truths to our hearts. Unfortunately, in many churches, these hymns and songs are sung as if they are death marches. Can you imagine Psalm 21 being sung in this way? We all show passion in different ways, but brothers and sisters, let us sing of King Jesus and his victory so that our hearts are moved to love and trust him. May our hearts be fortified and our vision focused on him as we sing.

As we close, let me tell you about a scene towards the beginning of the film Gladiator. You may have seen it. Maximus, played by Russell Crowe, is the aging Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius’ general, waging war against the barbaric Germans. In the words of what we’ve seen today, Maximus is a bit like the king. The lines are forming for battle. And Maximus rides up into the forest where the Roman cavalry await, his wolf running closely at his side. General Maximus stops and addresses the men, saying: “Fratres [brothers], three weeks from now I will be harvesting my crops. Imagine where you will be and it will be so. Only hold the lines, stay with me.”

“Hold the lines, stay with me.” That is what the Lord Jesus says to us today. Because of the LORD’s unfailing love, he was sent and has won the battle already. The war will be his too. And all of those who hold the line and stay with him will ultimately see him vanquish all our enemies, and he will welcome us into an eternal life with him forever. May that be our song.

Part 3 of 4 on my sermon on Psalm 21 (‘Why does the King’s rejoice?’) for South Doncaster Community Church.
MP3 to follow

We’ve seen then, in verses 1-7 that the people praise the LORD because he has brought them victory through his king. In verses 8-13, the focus switches from the victory of the past to the challenges of the future. And here’s the emphasis of these verses: the people go on praising the LORD because they know their king will one day do away with all their enemies.

Yes, there are still enemies for the people of Israel. But listen to how the people sing to their king about these remaining enemies:

8 Your hand will lay hold on all your enemies;
your right hand will seize your foes.
9 When you appear for battle,
you will burn them up as in a blazing furnace.
The LORD will swallow them up in his wrath,
and his fire will consume them.
10 You will destroy their descendants from the earth,
their posterity from the human race.
11 Though they plot evil against you
and devise wicked schemes, they cannot succeed.
12 You will make them turn their backs
when you aim at them with drawn bow.
13 Be exalted in your strength, LORD;
we will sing and praise your might.

The enemies are still a real threat, but the people of Israel are still praising the LORD. They’re still singing the psalm. How do they react to these enemies that would contend against them? They pray to the LORD about them, and then they don’t worry about them. They know the LORD and his king have it sorted.

In the light of the victory they’ve already seen the LORD give their king, the people know that their king will eventually triumph over these remaining enemies too. It’s not that they are delusional – they’re only too aware that their enemies really do exist and really do have the power to inflict harm – but they know the depth of the LORD’s love and power and strength exercised through their king. They know that the king wins, and so they don’t worry about the future. They know that, as verse 9 puts it, their enemies will one day be swallowed up by the LORD, through his king. He’ll have these enemies for breakfast. And they know the truth of verse 11: “Though they [that is, our enemies] plot evil against you and devise wicked schemes, they cannot succeed.”

The whole psalm builds to a joyful crescendo in verse 13. I should imagine that, if we sang this psalm today, this is where the key change would kick in! Look at verse 13: “Be exalted in your strength, LORD; we will sing and praise your might.” We will sing and praise your might. You have ensure that the victory belongs to the king, you abound in unfailing love, you have not left us without a saviour king, you will not let our enemies have the last say over us. Praise be to the LORD! The whole psalm was composed to help the people of Israel celebrate the LORD’s work through the king, and to pledge themselves to trust in them as future attacks came.

Now I want to help us to understand what this psalm means for us. What does it mean for us, living in 21st Century Doncaster, to sing this psalm? And to help us to do so, I want to pose a question: why was the LORD so concerned to work through the king? Why does the king figure so heavily in the LORD’s plans? After all, couldn’t the LORD have brought about military victories without a king, without David? Of course he could have! So why was the king so important to the LORD? Why does kingship feature so heavily in the life of Israel throughout the Old Testament?

Here’s the answer: it was to give us the categories and vocabulary to understand more of the work of the Lord Jesus, our Promised Messiah and King. David’s kingship was a model and pale imitation of Jesus’ kingship, which history was always heading towards.

And that means that Psalm 21 ultimately only makes sense when we understand that it is fulfilled by Jesus. There are some beautiful hints of this throughout the psalm. Perhaps the clearest hint of this comes in verse 4. David says that his victory has brought him ‘length of days, for ever and ever’. Of course, if that were only about David it would be patently untrue, at least literally speaking. As Peter tells the assembled crowd at Pentecost, David died and was buried in a tomb. And so people have speculated why David would have included a clause like in his psalm. Perhaps he was using the clause in the same way as people approached and saluted kings of the day, ‘May the king reign forever!’ Perhaps David considered himself to in some way live on through his ancestors. My hunch is that David himself knew enough about the promises of the Messiah that he was directing his people to look towards the Messiah’s ultimate victory even as they celebrated David’s own victory. We can’t know for sure. But the Holy Spirit has ensured that phrases like this one – ‘length of days, for ever and ever’ – have remained in the psalm. He has ensured that we keep looking forward to their fullest fulfilment. In a sense, the Holy Spirit has ensured that the psalms are a bit like the robes with which Israel draped each successive king of Israel at his coronation. Each time a new king is crowned, we wonder: is this the Messiah? And yet, king after king is crowned, but the psalms aren’t literally true about any of them. None of them, for example, has length of days forever and ever. It’s as if none of Israel’s king has shoulders that are broad enough to wear these robes of such lofty description. The psalms giant robes hang loosely until, in the fullness of time, King Jesus, the Messiah, comes. Here, at last, is a descendent of David who perfectly matches the words of the Psalms. Here is one who, as it were, has shoulders broad enough to wear these magnificent robes.

So Psalm 21 because is ultimately about Jesus, our Saviour King. Jesus’ battle was the cross. There Jesus trusted the LORD and took on our enemies: sin, death and the devil. And yet as he was raised by the Father on the third day, and later ascended to heaven, he has been given length of days for ever and ever. Because of his victory and vindication, Jesus’ glory is great. The Father has bestowed on him splendour and majesty. Jesus has been given the name that is above all other names. Jesus has been made the source of unending blessings for all of those who trust him. At the cross, Jesus ensured that the works of the enemy were undone, and one day the devil’s ugly influence would be no more.

Some of you will have heard this illustration before, but it fits perfectly in this context. On May 8, 1945, the official surrender of Germany was accepted by the Allies, and war in Europe was over. Thus ended a six-year war which cost around 60 million deaths. It was marked by Victory in Europe – or VE – Day. It witnessed dancing in the streets in numerous European cities, and celebrations around the world. It marked the end of the world’s most bloody conflict, and put a stop to Hitler’s wicked plans. But, in many ways, the ground was set for VE Day a year earlier, when D-Day was launched in June 6, 1944. This was the beginning of the end of Hitler’s murderous regime as the Allies brought a crushing defeat to the Nazis. From then on, it was a matter of time before Hitler finally fell.

For King Jesus, the cross was D-Day. There Jesus offered himself as a sacrifice for us, offering forgiveness and new life to all who will trust him. Jesus took on the condemnation for all who trust in him as their Warrior King – and the resurrection proved his triumph. And VE Day is on its way. History is heading towards a day when all of the enemies that rage against God – and all of their evil consequences – will be swallowed up once and for all. The enemy of condemnation is beaten. We look forward to the day when our King will finally do away with the devil himself, with all sin and all evil, with death, with disease, with brokenness and with injustice. Jesus is God’s King. He has won the battle. He will win the war, because of God’s unfailing love for his people. We are the champions, because he is the Champion.

Part 2 of 4 on my sermon on Psalm 21 (‘Why does the King’s rejoice?’) for South Doncaster Community Church.
MP3 to follow

So let’s look in more detail at the psalm. Firstly, notice from verses 1-7 that the people praise the LORD because he has brought them victory through his king.

Now, as we’ve noticed, the ‘you’ of these verses refers to the LORD. Just look at the number of times the words ‘you’ or ‘your’ are used in these verses. I reckon it’s nine times in these seven verses. It’s as if the psalm is saying, yes, King David may be commander of the army, but his Commander-in-Chief and Soldier-in-Chief is another: the LORD himself. David couldn’t make it much more explicit in these opening verses of his psalm. It is the LORD’s own action that has caused David and his Israelite troops have victory. The LORD was as committed to the cause of the battle as King David and his troops were.

We might have questions about exactly how the LORD brought about this victory through David. On this occasion, the psalm doesn’t really give details. We don’t know how David was so clearly able to see the hand of the LORD in bringing Israel to victory. We don’t know in what supernatural way the LORD contended for Israel.

Yet the pattern of the king being given victory by the LORD for his people is one throughout the Old Testament. Perhaps the most famous occasion was when David took on the fearsome giant Goliath. David had already been anointed to be king, although he had not yet officially taken up the post. And do you remember the story? There’s David, as a puny teenager. He’s so small that the armour he’s offered just hangs off him, and so he decides to go out with no armour at all. Not only does he go out with no armour, but he also goes out with just a sling and five stones.

My guess is that if you were camping in the Valley of Elah that day more than three thousand years ago, you could have got very long odds on David winning that fight. Half the size of Goliath, wearing no armour. Whilst Goliath tossed his massive iron spear from arm to arm, David had a slingshot and a handful of pebbles. Sometimes we hear about so-called ‘David vs. Goliath’ fixtures thrown up in the FA Cup, where a minnow is called to take on one of the strongest Premier League teams. But even that imagine doesn’t capture just how unequal the playing field was as David prepared to take on Goliath.

And yet David slew Goliath, miraculously. Let’s listen into the Biblical account: “Reaching into his bag and taking out a stone, David slung it and struck the Philistine on the forehead. The stone sank into his forehead, and he fell facedown on the ground.”

Now have you ever thought how unlikely it should be that a stone should hit someone in their forehead and cause them to die? It seems very unlikely. In fact, doctors have puzzled over exactly how one stone could have felled someone like Goliath. Some have speculated that Goliath must have had a tumour right between his eyes. Others have speculated that  the same genetic defect that gave Goliath his exaggerated height might also have caused a congenital weak spot in Goliath’s skull. Of course, there’s no way David could have known that. And yet the stone flies through the air, somehow finding it way to the only part of Goliath’s head that wouldn’t have been protected by his helmet and strikes him, dead. The whole episode clearly demonstrates how the LORD has chosen to win the victory through his anointed one, his king. He is, as we sometimes sing, great in battle.

And the LORD’s commitment to his people in providing a saving king for them demonstrates his love for them. The LORD had made a deep commitment to his people. He would show covenant love – translated in Psalm 21:7 as ‘unfailing love’ – and part of the demonstration of this love was to rescue them when they were in distress. David defeated Goliath single-handedly. More commonly the king triumphed as he led the army of Israel. But however he brought about the victory, the pattern was the same. Out of his deep covenant love – his ‘unfailing love’ – the LORD would bring the king victory and therefore bless Israel. And that had a wider focus. It would prove to the watching world and the countries that surrounded Israel that he really was the one true God, and that life trusting in him brought deep blessing.

It’s worth noting in passing that Israel was not guaranteed military victory under their king – they were only given victory when the king explicitly relied on the LORD for the victory. This is why in Deuteronomy we read that the king of Israel was forbidden from having many chariots. As the king led Israel against enemies that would wage war against them, he was to remember that the LORD would deliver his people, and to trust in him, rather than in military capabilities. Sadly the history of Israel is littered with occasions when the king refused to trust the LORD in battle, and so led his army to defeat. Far from saving his people, the king led them into a beating.

But Psalm 21 celebrates a happy occasion, where there has been victory. And so the king is full of joy, as verse 1 puts it. Verse 2 says that the LORD ‘has not withheld the request of the king’s lips’ – in other words, his prayers have been answered. That shows that David hasn’t got into battle trusting in his chariots, but having placed his confidence in the LORD. Verse 3 tells us that this latest victory has led him to have a crown of pure gold placed on his head – this doesn’t refer to a crown of coronation, but to a victor’s crown. David’s life has been preserved, even through the heat of the battle. And the victory has brought him great glory – look at verse 5 which says of David: ‘Through the you gave, his glory is great; you have bestowed on him splendour and majesty.’

And so we come to verse 6: “Surely you have granted him unending blessings and made him glad with the joy of your presence.” The victory the LORD has given the king has given him a treasure trove of blessings. Almost certainly this carries the thought that, not only is the king himself blessed, but his blessing means that other blessings pass on to his people. We’ve already thought about that a bit – as the king celebrates his victory, the people celebrate his victory knowing what it means for them. And so king and people alike can be glad with the joy of the LORD’s presence: he contends for them, he is with them, he loves them forever. It’s little surprise, then, that verse 7 follows: it’s the unfailing love of the Most High – there it is again – that means that the king will not be shaken and can trust him wholeheartedly.

Just put yourself in the shoes of one of the members of the people of Israel at the time. Enemies – perhaps the Philistines or the Ammonites – have been marauding at the borders of the nation. These are long-term enemies: they hate the LORD and they hate his people. You know that they will stop at nothing to destroy Israel in their zeal. Well, now imagine your relief as you hear that the king is coming. The king will contend for you. You don’t have to fight those enemies by yourself. He is your representative; he is your saviour. He will trust in the LORD and see that those enemies are defeated.

And defeated they were. No wonder that the people would have happily sung David’s psalm of joy as they reflected on the latest crushing defeat on their enemies by the LORD, through his king.

Part 1 of 4 on my sermon on Psalm 21 (‘Why does the King’s rejoice?’) for South Doncaster Community Church.
MP3 to follow

Many of us have songs that are particularly special to us. The words seem to be particularly deep as you hear them, and perhaps especially as you sing them. Perhaps it’s the words to the song that was the first dance when you got married. Perhaps there’s a song that reminds you of good times with friends. Perhaps there’s a song that gave you particular hope and courage during a testing time which helped see you through. Songs can have real emotional power over us. The genius of the song writer is when they can capture a feeling in people’s heart, so that it is somehow deepened when it is sung.

The song that we’re looking at today was composed by the king of Israel, King David. As well as being king and as well as having a background as a shepherd, he was a skilled composer and musician. Apart from the psalm’s title, which tells us so, it’s not obvious that David is its composer. In fact, David has written this psalm in the third person. And that’s key. He refers to himself throughout the psalm as ‘he’ or ‘him’. David could have written, “I rejoice in your strength, LORD. How great is my joy in the victories you give.” But by penning this psalm as he has, it’s as if David has given the nation of Israel suitable vocabulary – a suitable song to sing – as they think about David in his role as king and, in particular, the victory he has just had as their king and leader.

So that leads us to a question: why would King David think it suitable to write a song for his people to sing about the victory? It might seem quite narcissistic to write your people a song telling of how great a king you are, and how great the victory you have just achieved is.

And yet this would have been quite natural at the time to a king who was a skilled song-writer. And that’s because of a fact which might seem quite obscure to us, but which would have been quite self-evident to the people of the time.

It’s this: when the king wins, the whole of the king’s people win too. When we in the 21st Century about think kings and leaders, we tend to think about people who have the authority to boss others around. But most commonly, when the Bible writers speak of kings, they are referring to them in the sense that they are the ones who have the authority to influence the whole nation. The king was the one who led the nation. In particular, it was the king who led the people out into war when their enemies attacked. Time and again in the Bible we will read things like, “King So-and-so attacked Such-and-such.” Of course, they didn’t go attacking on their own. They represented and led their nations. And so here’s the principle. When the king wins, the whole nation benefits from his victory. When the king loses, the nation does too. And so, as a citizen of any nation at the time, it was essential for your own welfare that you had a good king.

We see this principle – of people representing and influencing others too – elsewhere in life. One of the highlights of supporting AFC Bournemouth was when we beat Lincoln City a few years ago in the play-off final at a sold-out Millennium Stadium. It was an incredible day – Bournemouth won 5-2. One of the goals scored – a beautiful passing move from the halfway line – was so good that it became Sky’s goal of the month. We absolutely annihilated Lincoln that day. And I can still remember singing out along with the stadium PA after the final whistle, with the remainder of the voice I had left, Queen’s song, We Are The Champions. Most literally, of course, it was the Bournemouth players on the pitch who were the champions of the match. Yet, as we sang, we knew that, in a sense, as supporters, we were the champions too. We were the champions because our representatives were the champions.

It’s a similar situation here in Psalm 21. David has, as verse 1 says, experienced a great victory. Verse 4 tells us that his life has been preserved in the battle, and this has led to significant plunder of his enemies (as we see in verse 3). And in his joy, David has composed this song to celebrate this victory. No doubt, the same song could be sung again in the future when the king won other similar victories. Verses 1-7 are addressed to the LORD. In verse 8, the focus changes: they are addressed to David and were probably for the assembly of the people to sing. Perhaps David and the people joined in together to sing verse 13, which are again addressed to the LORD. Together the king and his nation celebrate the victory that the LORD has given them.