Thursday, March 14, 2013
Sermon on Psalm 69, for Lent 5 Midweek, "Zealous Love"
· Prayed first by David, but amplified and fulfilled in Jesus. Quoted multiple times in NT, in reference to Christ: the hatred of Jesus without cause, His zeal in cleansing the Temple, the sour wine to drink in crucifixion, His betrayal by Judas, and Judas’ desolation afterward; Paul speaking about the hardening of Israel when they do not receive Christ.
· Like Psalm 22, a portrait of the crucifixion—Jesus drowning in the waters, losing His foothold on life as He’s surrounded and attacked by those who hate Him and lie about Him. Describes His weariness and thirst, His longing for God’s help while facing apparent silence from God, the alienation and rejection from His own brothers. He laments the mockery and dishonor He’s faced, and His distress at the hiddenness of God’s face. He appeals for God’s vengeance against malicious enemies, that they would suffer God’s wrath and punishment, and not be counted among the righteous. He recounts His affliction and His pain, and appeals for God to rescue Him. The final verses of the Psalm take on a hopeful note as He praises God and remembers God’s faithfulness to the prayer of the needy and His ultimate deliverance of Zion, and the people of God.
· Also may strike us as troubling: v. 4b-5 “What I did not steal, must I now restore? O God, you know my folly; the wrongs I have done are not hidden from you.” How can this Psalm be a prayer of Jesus if He’s confessing sins and wrongs? Or what about the prayer for vengeance against His enemies? Did not Jesus pray from the cross to forgive His enemies?
· Bonhoeffer replies: David confesses his own guilt here, but Jesus confesses the guilt of all the world, for which He suffered the wrath of the Father. “The true man Jesus Christ prays in this Psalm and includes us in his prayer”. Really this passage gives us a window into what it meant for Jesus to suffer for our sin. As we heard last Sunday from 2 Cor. 5:21, “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” Jesus so fully became one with us, that He bore all the folly of our sins and was made to restore what He did not steal. He made restitution for all our wrongs.
· But what about the prayers for vengeance here and in many other psalms (the so-called “imprecatory psalms)? Bonhoeffer is again helpful here: never personal conflict that is at focus, only as they are enemies of God and God’s cause; revenge is never taken in one’s own hands, but the vengeance and it’s outcome is always left to God in His justice to deal out (and only God rightfully holds and distributes vengeance). Furthermore, that the “prayer for the vengeance of God is the prayer for the execution of his righteousness in the judgment of sin…I myself, with my sin, belong under this judgment.” But, “God’s vengeance did not strike the sinners, but the one sinless man who stood in the sinners’ place, namely God’s own Son. Jesus Christ bore the wrath of God, for the execution of which the psalm prays. He stilled God’s wrath toward sin and prayed in the hour of the execution of the divine judgment: “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do!” No other than he, who himself bore the wrath of God, could pray in this way. That was the end of all phony thoughts about the love of God which do not take sin seriously. God hates and redirects his enemies to the only righteous one, and this one asks forgiveness for them. Only in the cross of Jesus Christ is the love of God to be found.” (Bonhoeffer, Psalms the Prayer Book of the Bible, 56-58).
· So, in a sublime and holy paradox, Jesus prayed for the very fulfillment of God’s justice and judgment against sin and God’s enemies, and simultaneously stood under that judgment in the sinners’ place and for the sinner, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God. So outside of Christ there stands only the severest judgment against sin, a snare, a trap, the outpouring of God’s anger against sin, punishment upon punishment with no acquittal—but inside Christ there is forgiveness and righteousness. There is a sure and certain refuge for His people. And this is how Bonhoeffer can say that “God hates and redirects his enemies to the only righteous one, and this one asks forgiveness for them. Only in the cross of Jesus Christ is the love of God to be found.” We’re reminded that we too were once enemies of God, and are only brought near by His reconciling love.
· It’s a reconciling love, and it’s a zealous love—and I think that’s what we have so much trouble understanding. “Zeal for your house will consume me.” Luther: Zeal is the hatred or displeasure of “evil or vice in what we love.” So you can only be zealous if you first love something—and zeal and love are directed to the same object. “Love is that which loves and promotes the good in the object, while zeal is that which hates and removes the evil in it. Therefore Christ is called a zealous God in the prophets (Ex. 20:5; 34:14), because He especially loves righteousness and hates wickedness in His believers…Thus God is zealous for His saints while He imposes the world’s ills upon them, so that the evils of the spirit may not harm them. For that reason the world loves and hates destructively and in a way opposite to that in which God loves and hates.” (Luther's works, vol. 10 : First Lectures on the Psalms I: Psalms 1-75 (J. J. Pelikan, H. C. Oswald & H. T. Lehmann, Ed.) This is what is so hard to understand, but is expressed for us in this Psalm, and lived out in the actions of Jesus in cleansing the Temple, in confronting hypocrisy, and in His suffering and death in the place of sinners: it is God’s zealous love—God who alone can perfectly hate sin and every evil, but love us with a perfect love. And it’s precisely in Jesus’ death on the cross that He performs this radical and life-saving surgery, where He cuts our sins free from us and dies for them, and grafts us into Christ’s life of righteousness. Thus in every way, our fate is blessedly tied to Christ. His death is our death, His life is our life, the hatred of the world for Him is also hatred of the world for us—but the love of the Father for Him is also the love of the Father for us. Truly our life is hidden with Christ in God, and in Him we have the righteousness of God.