Thursday, December 06, 2012

Sermon on Psalm 25, for Advent Midweek 1, "Teach Me Your Paths"

This year for Advent Midweek services, I am preaching on "Psalms for Advent", using selected Psalms that I've chosen, reflecting the Advent themes of repentance, waiting, and expectation of the Messiah, the King of Israel. The order will be Psalm 25, 72, 146, and then 98 for Christmas Eve, while also making references to other Psalms throughout. 

“During Advent, our season of preparation, we’re asked to look at how well we accept God's guidance; along what paths are we walking?”  Psalm 25 is a prayer to God that He would teach us His paths, make known His ways. Are we willing to listen, or will we turn to our own paths? Psalm 1 contrasts the way of the righteous and the way of the wicked. There is the path to sin and destruction, or the path to righteousness and life. Firmness, fruitfulness, life and blessing comes from one path, instability, unfruitfulness, judgment and death come from the other path. Similarly, the prophet Micah describes how all the people walk in the way of their own god. Everyone seeks out their own path, following their own god. Noticeably, he does not conclude that all paths lead to the same God. Rather, he states that we’ll walk in the name of the Lord our God for ever and ever. Sin and destruction are like so many rabbit trails and dead ends that lead off the path that leads to life. By contrast, “All the paths of the Lord are steadfast love and faithfulness, for those who keep His covenant and His testimonies.” (Ps. 25:10)

When hiking a certain trail up to the “Tabletop” in the center of Iao Valley, there are numerous small trails that veer off the main course, and can lead you astray from the destination—the crown of a hill with a beautiful panoramic view of the Valley and mountains. Since none of the trails are marked, the instructions I’ve often given to friends who would hike it, are that they should stay to the main, ascending trail. Some short paths climb steeply to a ridge top, but stop well short of the destination. Other trails meander slowly downhill to end lost in the brush. Likewise, the numerous side trails that lead away from the Lord’s way, His path, are too many to count, name, or mark off. Some promise a short cut to God, but can never reach Him, and leave one disappointed. Others seem at first to be headed in the right direction, but gradually turn out to be dead ends, leaving one lost, or forced to “repent” or turn back to the right path.

So how do we recognize the “ascending path”—the path of God’s truth and salvation? It is the path illuminated for us by God’s Word. God’s Word is a lamp to our feet and a light to our path. With God’s Word, we can see clearly to know the truth from error, to be wise in our steps, and to keep to the true path. David continues in Psalm 25 to lament his sins and transgressions—the times he had wandered far from the path. We pray also that God would forgive our sins, and not hold our guilt against us. We can pray this with confidence because of the mercy of God. We know that because of our stubbornness and willfulness, we’ve often turned aside from God’s path. Though we were shown was is right, we rebelliously turned away from it. We pursued wrong paths, even becoming so lost and tangled in the brush, that like a lost sheep, we needed Jesus, our Good Shepherd to rescue us and return us to His path. God is good and upright, and He instructs sinners in the way when we are straying. Repentance, is like a GPS recalculating when you’ve gone off track, He turns you back to the right path, and instructs you in the way. How are our feet kept on the right path? As we heard recently in a sermon on the book of Jude, Jesus alone keeps our feet from stumbling, and present us blameless before God. It’s only by His grace and mercy that our feet are kept on the path and set back on solid ground when we’ve strayed, or our feet have fallen into the net laid by the devil.

He leads the humble in what is right, and teaches the humble His way. Our stubbornness and pride need to be broken by repentance. Sometimes it’s through repeatedly going down the wrong path and getting stuck, that our pride is finally broken. Sometimes it’s the fear of being so lost we have nowhere else to turn than to cry out for help. Our guilt is great before God, and we cry out for pardon. Once we have been humbled, and repented from our sin, He teaches us His way. But the Good News is that the way of salvation is not like God sending you out into an unexplored wilderness, with a map (or even without one), and just giving you a pat on the back and saying, “Good luck kid! Hope you find your way home!” It’s not a matter of following rather vague directions along an unclear path, like my instructions to the would-be hiker. Rather, Jesus says He Himself is the “Way, the Truth and the Life.” Instead of an obstacle course or a maze or an unmarked trail, the Way that we follow is the person of Jesus Christ. He is both path and guide. His Spirit accompanies us along the way, and leads us always into His truth.

When John the Baptist came crying out in the wilderness, “prepare the way of the Lord”—he called sinners to prepare the way in their hearts to receive the Lord Jesus, who was coming. Jesus came as the exemplary, blessed man of Psalm 1, “who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night” (Ps. 1:1). Jesus is the true embodiment of those words, and He alone resolutely avoided sin His whole life through, and took true delight in God’s law, meditating on it day and night. Jesus Christ alone is the truly Blessed Man, and because of His perfect life and for His name’s sake, we can be pardoned of all our great guilt. God looks upon Jesus’ life as the perfect, faithful substitute for our sin and great guilt.

As David in Psalm 25 considers the dangers along the path, he is wary not only his enemies who stand against him and mock him, but also the internal struggles of his distresses and the trouble of his heart. We too must be wary that the sufferings, wrestling over our faith, all the loneliness and affliction—that we endure along the path, do not snatch faith away from us. So we pray for God’s deliverance, forgiveness and grace from these assaults of the devil.

As the hymn we’ll sing shortly describes, we “walk in danger all the way” (LSB 716). The devil is constantly watching to harm us, so we must watch and pray for God’s deliverance. But trials, sins, and illness are crosses we bear along the way, and these work patience in us and drive us to the cross of Christ. Jesus is able to work for our good even amidst these crosses. And Christ remains our constant companion, the One who opened up this new and living way for us in His flesh. He endured all the struggles and trials, and most importantly His own cross—so that He could secure our safe passage on the way that leads to everlasting life. We walk with Jesus all the way, His guidance never fails. Our walk is heav’nward all the way…our walk is on the ascending path that leads to heaven. It’s the path that leads us not merely to a glorious vista, but to enter the full joys of heaven, to remain on the mountaintop with all the redeemed of Israel, with all those who have been redeemed by God out of all their troubles. We will stand in that redemption, purchased and won for us by Jesus, the Way, the Truth, and the Life. In His Name, Amen.

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