This sermon is offered by the CRCNA as part of our Reading Sermons series.
Scripture: Psalms 103:1-22
Sermon by Rev. Dr. Jack DeVries of Bethel CRC, Listowel, Ontario
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
Elephants never forget. This is true. Apparently elephants never forget their exact place of birth! No matter how old they become, no matter how many things they’ve gone through in life, no matter now many places they’ve plodded to and thru, they never forget where they were born. The only sad part about this is that an elephant makes the pilgrimage back to his birthplace when he is about to die! He ends his life where life was first given to him. Sad, but true!
Elephants never forget. That is why circuses love to use elephants. They have an amazing ability to memorize a large number of commands given by the trainers. Since they live for 50 or 60 years – they have a long memory. Elephants never forget.
Perhaps there are things that you cannot seem to forget. You remember the tsunami tears that were shed by those whose countries were wiped out by the waves that crashed along Asian coastlines just after Christmas in the year 2004. More than two hundred and thirty thousand (230,000) people lost their lives. Homes were destroyed. Entire cities were wiped out. Families were displaced.
You cannot forget the pictures you’ve seen of waters that flooded whole neighbourhoods in the wake of the many hurricanes that hit North American coastlines. Ivan, Wilma, Rita, and Katrina are not just names – they have become symbols of tragedy. And you remember the thousands of lives that have been affected by these hurricanes and floods.
Etched deep in your memory are the war cries of those whose lives have been ruined by the hostility in Iraq, the terrorist attacks in Indonesia, London, and New York City. You hear the numbers 9/11 and you remember the day of terror as the twin towers fell in New York. You remember our service men and women who have died fighting for peace on earth. You can’t seem to forget.
Perhaps a little closer to home – you can’t forget the pinch you’ve felt because of an unstable economy – rising prices and lowering wages. There are the health problems you’ve struggled with, the deaths of loved ones, the hurt that someone has caused you – you can’t seem to forget. In many ways we are like elephants – we have a long memory when it comes to our hurts, our sorrows, our burdens – the pain and suffering in this world. But we have a very short memory when it comes to remembering how good God is.
David also had this problem. In our Scripture reading from Psalm 103 he gives himself a personal reminder. David calls upon his soul to be like an elephant when it comes to remembering how good God is. He says: “O my soul ... O my soul...” (1, 2) “O my soul – do not forget all his benefits.” (verse 2) Remember and do not forget.
This is a personal reminder that everyone of us should take to heart. Do not forget all God’s benefits. Etch these benefits deep within your memory. Remember, and do not forget. Never, no never forget all the benefits that God has for you.
What benefits? Well, look at the list in verse 3-5. David mentions five benefits. God forgives all your sins. At the top of the list we find our greatest need – the forgiveness of all our sins. As I journey along in my life, from the time of my birth to the time of my death, I need to remember the fact that I am a sinner and I have sinned. For as long as I live on this earth – I am now and ever guilty of sin. I need to remember that “there is no one who does good, no not one.” (Romans 3:12) Not you! Not me!
But I also need to remember that God forgives all of my sins. The LORD takes our sins and puts them away from Him forever. He did this through the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. Jesus did “away with sin by the sacrifice of himself.” (Hebrews 9:26) God “blots out our transgressions” (Isaiah 43:25). The prophet Micah put it like this: “Who is a God like you, who pardons sin and forgives transgressions .... You will tread our sins underfoot and hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea.” (Micah 7:18-19) Think of that image: God taking your sins under his feet, he tramples over them, they become like dust. These sins are then thrust into the deep, deep ocean. Or as the prophet Jeremiah put it: “For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.” (Jeremiah 31:34)
Yes, remember that God forgives ALL of your sins. Not just some of them – but ALL of them. Notice that the word “forgives”, along with all 5 of the verbs in these 3 verses, is in the present tense. This simply means that God not only has forgiven the sins of the sins of the past, the sins of yesteryear, but he continually forgives your sins in the present, and He will continue to forgive your sins in the future. He takes your sins and casts all of them into the sea of forgetfulness. And as someone once added: “God puts up a sign that says, ‘No fishing!’” The sins are gone forever.
As I remember that God forgives all of my sins what can I but say: “Praise the LORD, O my soul; all my inmost being, praise his holy name.”
God not only forgives all your sins; he also heals all your diseases. (verse 2) Already in the Old Testament God revealed himself in this way: “I am the LORD, who heals you.” (Exodus 15:26) When Jesus lived on earth the gospels tell us that “Jesus went ... healing every disease and sickness among the people.” (Matthew 4:23; Mark 1:34)
Some people read this benefit and conclude that it is always God’s will to heal us from all of our physical diseases. If you are not healed then you simply do not have enough faith. But this is not what this verse is saying. We know from the message of the Bible that we will continue to struggle with sickness and disease until Jesus returns and makes all things new. Sometimes it is God’s will that through our sickness or disease he works a greater good in our life or in the lives of those around us. Sometimes our health fails us so that God can take us home.
But the benefit is still ours. Today God continues to heal all our diseases. Sometimes Jesus works a miracle of healing. Our sick bodies are touched by the Master, and we are healed. Other times Jesus heals us through the wonders of medicine and the knowledge and skills of science, doctors, and nurses. But behind every healing is the LORD. It might be medicine or a miracle – but the cure comes from our Creator. That is the message of verse 3. God is the great Physician. Earth has no sickness that heaven cannot cure. And when I remember how God heals all my diseases what can I but say: “Praise the LORD, O my soul; all my inmost being, praise his holy name.”
God also redeems your life from the pit (verse 4). The pit refers to death and hell. Because of Jesus our Redeemer – we are redeemed from death and hell. Because of sin – the sin we are born with and the sins we commit – we are like slaves chained, not free. But there is a Redeemer, his name is Jesus. The redemption price that sets us free has been paid – the precious blood our LORD and Saviour Jesus. This is what the apostle Peter said: “For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed … but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect.” (I Peter 1:18-19) Through faith in Jesus and what he did for us on the cross, our chains fall off, and we are redeemed, set free from the penalty and power of sin. And having been redeemed, one day we will home, at last.
And when I remember how God redeems my life from the pit what can I but say: “Praise the LORD, O my soul; all my inmost being, praise his holy name.”
But the list is not finished. David continues with his personal reminder. O my soul, do not forget the benefit that God crowns you with love and compassion (4). God gives us the blessings of forgiveness, healing, and eternal life not because we are so good and deserve them. Quite the opposite. Our track record of sin makes us deserving of God’s anger and punishment. God only gives us all these blessings out of his love and compassion. The LORD is motivated purely out of his great love for you and me. The crown we receive from God is the crown of grace.
Look at verses 8-12:”The LORD is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love. He will not always accuse, nor will he harbor his anger forever; he does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.”
Have you ever tried to measure how high the heavens are above the earth? How far into outer space could you go? There is no end, is there? So it is with God’s love for you and me. It is forever and always! That is why he forgives all yours sins, heals all your diseases, and redeems your life so that you have a home in heaven. It is all because of the tender mercies of our God. And as Jeremiah reminds us: God’s “compassions never fail. They are new every morning.” (Lamentations 3:22, 23) God’s mercy and love are new every day – forever and always.
Have your ever tried to measure the distance between the east and the west? You can’t can you? The distance is never ending. So far has God removed your sins from you. The blessing of forgiveness and all the other blessings God gives us – he gives them to us purely out of his great love and compassion.
As I remember God’s great love and compassion, what can I but say: “Praise the LORD, O my soul; all my inmost being, praise his holy name.”
There is one more benefit mentioned: God satisfies your desires with good things so that your youth is renewed like the eagles.”(verse 5) God is good and God is good all the time. All the time. The LORD does not always give us what we want, but he always gives us what is good. We may not always see the good in what the LORD gives us. Things might happen in our lifetime for which we have no explanation. At those times we might conclude that God doesn’t really love us. But then we need to remember more than ever that “in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28) With the Psalmist we can say: “Surely God is good.” (Psalms73:1)
In all things – God is good and he satisfies us with good things. We are satisfied in a way that parallels what happens with eagles. As an eagle molts and receives new feathers – it receives renewed strength to live for many more years. So too with each and every blessing we receive from God, our strength is renewed until the LORD calls us home or until the day our Lord Jesus returns.
These blessings of God’s grace and mercy are forever and always. Our time on earth is very short. We are frail human beings. We are nothing more than dust. Our days are like the grass and the flowers of the field – here one day and gone tomorrow. Our life on earth is really very short. The older we get the years seem to move faster and faster. Soon the question will be asked, “Where have all the flowers gone?” Soon we will be forgotten. There will be a time when nobody knows who we are or what we wanted or why we did anything. As David reflects: “Its place remembers it no more.”(verse 16)
But not so with the blessings of God! “From everlasting to everlasting the LORD’s love is with those who fear him, and his righteousness with their children’s children.” (17) Yes, God’s mercy and grace are forever and always. They are there for you. They are there for me. They will be there for your children. And they will also be there for your grandchildren. The blessings of God will there forever and always!
Perhaps there are some things in life you ought to forget. Perhaps you ought to forget your past mistakes, your sins of yesterday. With David you say to God, “Remember not the sins of my youth and my rebellious ways.”(Psalms 25:7) Perhaps like God we ought to forget our sins of the past. They are forgiven. With the apostle Paul you focus on “forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead.” (Philippians 3:13).
But we can also learn a few things from an elephant, can’t we? They never forget. So also, there are some things you should never forget. Forget not all of God’s benefits – the LORD forgives all your sins, heals all your diseases, redeems your life from the pit, crowns you with love and compassion, and satisfies your desires with good things so that your strength is renewed like that of a eagle. All of this is a gift of God’s amazing love and grace – blessings that will last forever and always.
And as I remember all of his benefits what can I but say: “Praise the LORD, O my soul; all my inmost being, praise his holy name.”
Prayer of Application
Yes, LORD God, we praise your holy name and join all of creation offering our thanks for all the benefits you give us. We pray now for the grace to believe what we have heard and to live in ways that continue to bless your holy name. May we take this message of your amazing love and share it in word and deed with others. Through Christ, our Lord. Amen.
Welcome and Announcements
Opening Hymn PH 475:1-3
Call to Worship Psalm 103:20-22
Response PH 629
Hymn PH 461
Call to Confession II John 1-6
Response PH 424
Prayers of God’s People
Offertory Prayer/Prayer for the Word
Scripture Reading Psalm 103
Message: “Forever and Always”
Prayer of Application
Song of Response PH 267
Call to Rededication Exodus 20:1-17
Song of Dedication PH 544
Closing Song PH 637