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Sermon January 6, 2019

Princeton Presbyterian Church (EPC) Sermon # 1379

January 6, 2019 Psalm 81

Rev. Dr. Ed Pettus

(This is an extended outline, not a verbatim transcript.)

 

Just Listen!”

 

  • Central to the Psalter/Central to Faith

 

I came across a teaching on Psalm 81 that excited me for the new year. I think it is one of the greatest joys to see something in Scripture not seen before or seeing something from a different angle. Scripture is like that, we can sometimes come at it from a new point, like looking at a work of art. Sometimes art brings up something in us when viewed from different perspectives. What excited me about Psalm 81 was something I have known about biblical writing but not particularly about this Psalm. You see, the Psalms and the Bible on the whole is a work of art. It is poetic in its expression and certainly the Good News of Jesus Christ brings us the most beautiful and wondrous revelation we can ever hear and see.

Robert Godfrey teaches that Psalm 81 is the center of the Psalter. Now, if you know the number of Psalms in the Bible, 150, how in the world can 81 be at the center of 150. Well, it isn’t! But, yes, Psalm 81 is the center of the Psalms. As he tells it, the Psalms are divided into five books. If you look in most, if not all, Bibles, you will see before Psalm one the title Book One. Psalm 42 begins Book Two, Psalm 73, Book Three, and so on. At the end of each book there is a doxology, a blessing to the Lord. Go ahead later today and check it out!

So how is Psalm 81 the center? The center of the five books is book three. The center of book three which has 17 Psalms is the ninth Psalm in book three, Psalm 81. In Hebrew literature and in many things the center is the best part. The center of the Watermelon was the first center that came to my mind. The center of the center is Psalm 81:8b.

 

O Israel, if you would but listen to me!

 

Here is the center of Israel’s problem, but also, here is the center of God’s desire.

 

O Israel, if you would but listen to me!

O Church, if you would but listen to me!

O (insert your own name here), if you would but listen to me!

 

This is the central concern of the Psalter and one might argue the central concern of the faith. Just listen!

 

  • Listen and Obey

 

Biblical listening is not just hearing, not just an audible sound in the ear or a word to the eye. It includes with it the discipline of obedience. It is a part of the understanding of Shema. The Great Shema Dueteronomy 6.4-5,

“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.”

Hear, listen, and obey. That meant for Israel that hearing would lead to loving God with all their heart, soul, and might. If they failed to love God, they did not hear, did not listen. We think this way as well. We tell someone the best way to do something and when he fails to do it and everything goes haywire, we say, “He didn’t listen to me.” God is saying if you would but listen, it will go well with you. Adam and Eve failed to listen. Israel failed over and over to listen. We too often fail to listen. All because they and we do not do what God commands.

There is another text, among many, where we are told to listen. Matthew 17.5, the three disciples are with Jesus on the mountain…

 

And after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James, and John his brother, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. 2 And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became white as light. 3 And behold, there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. 4 And Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good that we are here. If you wish, I will make three tents here, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah.” 5 He was still speaking when, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.”

 

Jesus implies listening when he tells us to abide in His word. It is in His word and the whole of the Bible where we listen. But it is more than hearing or reading, but responding in obedience.

 

  • Failure to Listen and Obey

 

At the center of the Psalms is this crisis of not listening. Israel has failed to obey God. The Psalm begins with a call to worship.

Sing aloud to God our strength; shout for joy to the God of Jacob!
2 Raise a song; sound the tambourine, the sweet lyre with the harp.
3 Blow the trumpet at the new moon, at the full moon, on our feast day.

 

Israel has a worship problem. What they have not done properly is sing, shout, raise a song, sound the tambourine, or play the harp. So they must come back to celebrate with the trumpet. Blow the trumpet at the new moon, full moon, and feast day. These are the central worship times for Israel, the new year, the day of atonement, and the feast of tabernacles.

Get back to what God has called you to do, worship the Lord your God. But what Israel has done is not just not worship God, they have worshiped other Gods. They have not listened to God’s commandments to have not other gods.

 

9 There shall be no strange god among you; you shall not bow down to a foreign god.

 

Because Israel did not listen, because they broke commandment, God gave them up to their own stubbornness.

 

11 “But my people did not listen to my voice; Israel would not submit to me.
12 So I gave them over to their stubborn hearts, to follow their own counsels.

This may be one of the most frightening judgments against a people. Imagine God giving us up to our own thinking, God giving us up to our own stubbornness.

 

But there is hope yet for Israel, Psalm 81:13-16,

 

13 Oh, that my people would listen to me, that Israel would walk in my ways!
14 I would soon subdue their enemies and turn my hand against their foes.
15 Those who hate the Lord would cringe toward him, and their fate would last forever.
16 But he would feed you with the finest of the wheat, and with honey from the rock I would satisfy you.”

 

A second time – the plea to listen and to obey (walk in my ways). God would deliver again if Israel would but listen.

 

  • Three Problems

 

Israel has three problems in this Psalm.

1. Food - verse 10, I am the Lord your God, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt. Open your mouth wide, and I will fill it.

Verse 16, But he would feed you with the finest of the wheat, and with honey from the rock I would satisfy you.

 

It is God who feeds us our daily bread.

 

2. Power – verse 10, I am the Lord your God, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt.

Verse 14, I would soon subdue their enemies and turn my hand against their foes.

 

Israel has no power apart from God. No power to deliver, no power to subdue their enemies apart from God.

 

3. Worship – verse 1-3, Sing aloud to God our strength; shout for joy to the God of Jacob!
2 Raise a song; sound the tambourine, the sweet lyre with the harp.
3 Blow the trumpet at the new moon, at the full moon, on our feast day.

Verse 9, There shall be no strange god among you; you shall not bow down to a foreign god.

 

Israel failed to worship their God and worse yet, worshiped other false gods.

 

Psalm 78 is a long recounting of all these failures of Israel. Psalm 80 is a prayer for God to deliver again. And Psalm 81 is an answer to that prayer, O Israel, if you would but listen to me!

 

  • Where Israel Failed, Jesus Prevailed

 

Israel failed to trust God for food, for power, and to worship. But where Israel failed, Jesus prevailed. These are the same three temptations Jesus faced in the wilderness. Jesus listened to God and obeyed.

 

Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. 2 And after fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. 3 And the tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” 4 But he answered, “It is written,

“‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”

 

Jesus prevails on the issue of food. He knows that we must listen to every word from God.

 

5 Then the devil took him to the holy city and set him on the pinnacle of the temple 6 and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down, for it is written,

“‘He will command his angels concerning you,’

and

“‘On their hands they will bear you up,
lest you strike your foot against a stone.’”

7 Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’”

 

Jesus prevails by not tempting the power of God.

 

8 Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. 9 And he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” 10 Then Jesus said to him, “Be gone, Satan! For it is written,

“‘You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.’”

11 Then the devil left him, and behold, angels came and were ministering to him.

 

Jesus prevails here in both power, not being tempted to rule with the devil, and in worship, worship God alone.

Notice that Jesus listened to the word of God. He quotes and obeys what God has said.

 

  • Just Listen!

 

This is what God desires of His people, listen and obey. Hear, O Israel, hear, O Christian, hear, O Church, if you would but listen to me!

 

We listen to God first and foremost through the Word we have in the Bible. God has said all we need to know and do within these Words. These are the Words of life, the Words of worship, the Words of power, the Words of food! God gave us the finest wheat in the One who is the Bread of Life. God has given us the Honey of his Word – even sweeter than honey (Ps 19.10). All we must do is listen. All we must do is obey, submit, yield our lives over to living by this Word. What was it that Israel must hear?

 

Ps 81:6-7, 10 “I [God] relieved your shoulder of the burden; your hands were freed from the basket. In distress you called, and I delivered you...I am the Lord your God, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt.”

The Word to hear is one of deliverance from bondage. It is the Word of remembrance for the Exodus was God’s work of salvation. We hear the same Word in Jesus Christ who has delivered us.

The Word to hear is one of worship, one of power, and one of food, for God is the One to worship, He alone. God is the One powerful to deliver. God is the One who provides our daily bread and our eternal bread.

 

Think about starting this new year with the words of Psalm 81 echoing in your heart and the refrain of 81:8b as a call to center our lives on listening to God’s Word. If you would but listen to me! Just listen...and obey! Amen.

 

 

*Thanks to Dr. Robery Godfrey on his teaching in Psalm 81, Ligonier Ministries.