This morning we looked verse by verse at Psalm 118:1-29 TNIV, a psalm of rejoicing and victory.
The psalm (Martin Luther’s favourite, apparently!) deals with important themes of thanksgiving, telling us several times (at the beginning and the end for emphasis) to ‘give thanks to the Lord, for He is good: His love endures forever.’ (Ps 118:1, 2, 3, 4, 29 TNIV) Apart from thanksgiving, the psalm looks at God’s deliverance, presence and help, all of which become additional reasons to give thanks. When we feel hard pressed and in despair, God is able to step in and turn the tide. He is our helper (Ps 118:6, 7 TNIV) and our refuge and because of this we are able to cut down our enemies. This theme of deliverance is often sung by Paul. To the Romans he said ‘Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!’ (Rom 7:25 TNIV). To the Corinthians, he said ‘But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.’ (1 Cor 15:57 TNIV) Later on he says ‘But thanks be to God, who always leads us as captives in Christ’s triumphal procession and uses us to spread the aroma of the knowledge of him everywhere.’ (2 Cor 2:14 TNIV) Often, we feel pushed back and about to fall (Ps 118:13 TNIV), rather like Asaph did when he saw the prosperity of the wicked (Ps 73), but God helps us and will not let us be tempted beyond ourselves (1 Cor 10:13 TNIV) and will keep us from falling (Jude 1:24 TNIV).
God’s help, love and grace are with us throughout every situation: as Matt Redman writes,
‘It’s there in the newborn cry, there in the light of every sunrise, there in the shadows of this life…
There on the mountain top, there in the everyday and the mundane, there in the sorrow and the dancing…
It’s there on the wedding day, there in the weeping by the graveside, there in the very breath we breathe… There in the darkest night of the soul, there in the sweetest songs of victory..Your grace finds me.’ (‘Your Grace Finds Me’, Matt Redman)
It is precisely because of God’s help and strength that we do not despair and can testify to all God has done: ‘I will not die but live, and will proclaim what the LORD has done.’ (Ps 118:17 TNIV) We now have access to God’s presence and can enter through the gates of righteousness.
The psalm moves then into Messianic prophecy, with verses 22-24 being quoted in 1 Peter 2:4-8 TNIV, referring to how Jesus has become the cornerstone on which all men must stumble, for He does not do the things the way that people expect. Ps 118:26-27 TNIV looks ahead to Palm Sunday (Matt 21:1-7 TNIV) and the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem. It is no coincidence that celebration and stumbling are linked together, for whilst these are two completely separate experiences in our eyes, so often in God’s kingdom we find these things linked. Our Saviour came into the world in obscurity, and the means of His victory looked like defeat as He hung on the cross. Nonetheless, the darkest hour became the setting for the greatest triumph, and we can now celebrate with banners, balloons and any other creative means we can find, for He has become our God! Praise is the overflow of a thankful heart, and how can we help but be thankful when we realise that we, who were once far off, have been brought near to God by the blood of Christ? There is so much to give thanks for!