preached on 29 July 2018 at Holy Cross Anglican Church in Baton Rouge, LA
Please pray with me.
May my heart’s affection, my mind’s attention, and my soul’s submission be to you, oh Lord, my Savior and my Redeemer. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
God is a God of great power. He is worthy of our praise and worthy of our trembling. The mere presence of the Lord has the power to change a thing’s nature; it makes water indeed run uphill, it parts seas, and it turns hearts of stone into hearts of flesh. God turns a foe into a friend; he turns a nation of rebels into his chosen Church.
Please turn in your Bible with me to Psalm 114. I would like to read again for us today’s passage, Psalm 114 (read it).
One of the great themes of Scripture is the theme of memory. Memory is necessary for all sorts of human functions: it is necessary for education, for driving, for brushing our teeth, for speaking, for all things. But there are certain functions of our memory we almost dread, and that is what we may call remembering the “bad ole’ days,” the days we were far from Christ, those seasons of our lives we were in denial or rebellion, those seasons of our marriage or our jobs that were not fruitful or enjoyable or bountiful. And if we don’t want to even think upon these times, we most certainly would never write them down and publish them. We wouldn’t give them to be published in our newspaper or spread widely throughout the global Church. But this is precisely what God in his Sacred Word has done time and again. It is precisely what one of the greatest saints of all time did. So what do we do with those memories we’d rather not remember? What truths do we apply to them? What good is there in even remembering and thinking upon these darker times? The answer is this: because time alone cannot wear out our sense of guilt, time along cannot wear out our sense of mercy. The great saint Augustine understood this. Scripture understands this, and it is necessary we get this right as well.
In his great work Confessions, Saint August is recalling his wreckless childhood up to his conversion as an adult when he was a college professor. Page after page he can’t help but think upon “the bad ole’ days.” The first lines of chapter two begins,
- “I intend to remind myself of my past foulness and carnal corruptions, not because I love them but so that I may love you, my God. It is from love of your love that I make the act of recollection. The recalling of my wicked ways is bitter in my memory, but I do it so that you may be sweet to me, a sweetness touched by no deception, a sweetness serene and content.” – Augustine, Confessions (II.i.1)
If you’ve read Saint Augustine’s Confessions, and then you read Psalm 114, you will see that Psalm 114 is Augustine’s Confessions in miniature. Why should we remember what God did for Israel? The answer is the same Augustine gave. With the psalmist we remember what God did for Israel so that we may see what God eventually did for Israel, so that we may all the more see the full power, glory and beauty of Jesus Christ. Because if Christ is the fulfillment of the Law, the lion of Judah, the second Adam, the perfect Son of God, we see that God’s work in Israel is but a shadow of what he has done for us in Christ.
- We remember Israel went out from Egypt, that they escaped the bondage of a strange and idolatrous people. But we have Christ Jesus, the perfect Israel, who has called us out of our own exiles, saving us from the bondage of our sin, pulling us from and changing our idolatrous natures.
- We remember that Judah became God’s sanctuary, that God set up his dominion in Israel. But we have Christ Jesus, in whom all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, (Col. 1:19) and he has written his laws in our inner man, that we would not only become the temple of the Living God, but that the Church would be his beloved bride, “not having spot, or wrinkly, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish.” (Eph. 5:25-28)
- We remember the Red Sea, that it was divided before Israel as they fled from Egypt. This was to both rescue Israel and destroy their enemies. And similar with the Jordan. Contrary to their natures, these two bodies of water obeyed the Lord, as he went before his people. His presence changed their nature and caused them to tremble and obey. But we have Christ Jesus, who in our Gospel reading today calmed the sea; he alone is the author and perfector of our faith. As Matthew Henry states, “…There is no sea, no Jordan, so deep, so broad, but, when God's time shall come for the redemption of his people, it shall be divided and driven back if it stand in their way. Apply this…To the work of grace in the heart. What turns the stream in a regenerate soul? What ails the lusts and corruptions, that they fly back, that the prejudices are removed and the whole man has become new? It is at the presence of God's Spirit that imaginations are cast down, (2Co_10:5).” – Matthew Henry
- Finally, in reading Psalm 114 we remember the mountains and the rocks, particularly the rock which Moses struck, from which flowed so rich a stream of water (Exod. 17:6; Numb. 20:11). But we have Christ Jesus, our Rock of Ages, the chief cornerstone, and from him comes the great fount of living water, greater than what satisfied Israel’s thirst.
When we remember all these, and we see Christ Jesus as the fulfilment of all Old Testament law and expectation, we see Christ Jesus as the fulfillment of our own personal and social expectations and delight, we too tremble. Greater than the earth, our stony hearts tremble. Our rocky hearts, which would put forth nothing but chunks of flint, now spring forth streams of living water, flowing from the true wellspring of life. Matthew Henry is again helpful: “Let us acknowledge God's power and goodness in what he did for Israel, applying it to that much greater work of wonder, our redemption by Christ; and encourage ourselves and others to trust in God in the greatest straits.”
So let us remember. Let us remember each morning when the sun comes up. Let us remember each evening as we gather with our families or friends in evening prayer. Let us remember each week as we gather with the people of God to partake of this table. The Lord’s Supper is called a memorial meal, and Psalm 114 has images of the Passover woven into each verse. Let us then take Psalm 114 with us today as we enjoy this memorial meal together. As Peter Leithart states, “When Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper, He called it His ‘memorial’ (Luke 22:19; 1 Cor. 11:24-25), and this should be understood in the same sense as Old Testament ‘memorials.’ Our meal is not designed in the first place to remind us of what Jesus has done, though it does and by doing that it constantly renews our memory of the cross and the empty tomb. Essentially, though, the Supper is not a meal to help us remember; it is a memorial meal. Like the Passover, it is directed to the Father, ‘reminding’ Him of the covenant sealed in the blood of His Son, calling on Him to draw near and act for us…Seeing the blood of the true Lamb, He renews his covenant and announces His forgiveness afresh. Seeing the blood of the Lamb, He passes over and carries out His judgments against Egypt.” (Leithart, The Lord’s Supper, 32-33)
Our entire faith is predicated on our remembering not just the “bad ole’ days” but the worst day ever, the day where God was crucified; it is in this table we remember. It is here we most clearly learn and remember, as our Ephesians reading stated today, “There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call—one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.” (Eph. 4:4-6).
Now hear, as we close our time, a poem from George Herbert titled “The Bunch of Grapes”
Joy, I did lock thee up: but some bad man
Hath let thee out again:
And now, methinks, I am where I began
Sev’n years ago: one vogue and vein,
One air of thoughts usurps my brain
I did towards Canaan draw; but now I am
Brought back to the Red sea, the sea of shame.
For as the Jews of old by God’s command
Travelled, and saw no town;
So now each Christian hath his journeys spanned:
Their story pens and sets us down.
A single deed is small renown.
God’s works are wide, and let in future times;
His ancient justice overflows our crimes.
Then have we too our guardian fires and clouds;
Our Scripture-dew drops fast:
We have our sands and serpents, tents and shrouds;
Alas! our murmurings come not last.
But where’s the cluster? where’s the taste
Of mine inheritance? Lord, if I must borrow,
Let me as well take up their joy, as sorrow.
But can he want the grape, who hath the wine?
I have their fruit and more.
Blessed be God, who prospered Noah’s vine,
And made it bring forth grapes good store.
But much more him I must adore,
Who of the Law’s sour juice sweet wine did make,
Ev’n God himself being pressed for my sake.