Psalm 118:14-24


There is an old story about a man and his wife who lived in a remote section of southern Appalachia. One day the woman found at their door a little leaflet left there by a traveling evangelist. In the leaflet there was a prediction about the end of the world. Greatly disturbed, the woman said to her husband, “John, it says here that God’s going to destroy the world.” “So, what,” drawled her husband. “It’s his’n ain’t it?”

There is something about this man’s calm and placid spirit that is attractive to us. Louis Valbrecht once wrote a book entitled Survival in the Rat Race. That title speaks to me. The bewildering pace and the calamitous events of our times, war in Middle East, unrest in the Arab world, world concern over economies of scale, terrorism everywhere we look, make us wonder whether we will survive. We who have an abiding faith in God feel that we have a better chance than other people at handling what H.L. Mencken called the “dizzy flywheel.” We have discovered a unique sturdiness among the people of faith.

In the book of Psalms, there is a marvelous sound of praise and thanksgiving. Here the author gives a joyful affirmation that he has come through impossible times. His song reflects some very primitive notions about God, but when you read his testimony carefully, you discover that some of his ideas are worthy of thought.

For one thing, the psalmist was grateful for adequate resources. Listen to the psalmist, “The Lord is on my side … the Lord is my strength.” People who believe that are always people of courage. Do you remember that the disciples fled in despair after the crucifixion? For three years they had listened to the promises of Jesus. They had believed what he said. Then came that terrible afternoon at Golgotha. When Jesus died, the hopes of the disciples died with him. The resurrection, however, gave the disciples the assurance that Jesus was still alive. With renewed courage they traveled the ancient world declaring, “Jesus Christ is Lord!”

Friends, never underestimate the strength God’s presence can bring to one’s life. Remember that beautiful story about a man whose hobby was growing roses. When he worked in his rose garden, he always whistled, often, it seemed, louder than needed. One day a new neighbor asked him why he always whistled. The man took the neighbor into his home to meet his wife. The woman was not only near invalid, but she was also totally blind. The man was whistling for her benefit. He wanted her to know that he was nearby, and she was not alone.

That story is a splendid commentary on the significance of Easter. The affirmation “He is risen” suggests that God is near. It reminds us that there is something stable and permanent in creation that does not yield to our evil designs. God stands behind the moral order, ready to back anything that is harmonized with its purposes. The psalmist must have had that in mind when he said, “The gates of the Lord are open to the righteous.”

Second, the courage of the psalmist was related to the life-giving strength of hope. “I shall not die, but live, and declare the works of the Lord.” These are words of a person with optimism and hope. There is a power in hope. Several years ago some students placed some mice in a maze that had no outlet. With no hope of escape, the mice quickly died. Other mice given a glimmer of hope, did not surrender, but kept working until they were free. The lesson here is clear: Life loses its meaning when all hope is eliminated.

It is precisely to this circumstance that the resurrection speaks. Life is not limited to the narrow confines of one little world. We have been freed from the frustration of annihilation. Death is not the master of life, but merely a servant that God uses on our behalf. In this faith, the people of God live and work and are not afraid.

Third, the psalmist was certain that the ultimate victory was in God’s hands. The Battle of New Orleans during the War of 1812 holds a unique place in the annals of military warfare: the battle was fought after the war was over. The agreement to end the conflict had been reached, but due to slow communications the military commanders were unable to reach Andrew Jackson to tell him that the war was over. Thus what seems to have been a useless battle was waged.

Beloved, some things have been decided no matter how the battle goes. Is that not the promise that Jesus made to his followers when he said, “My kingdom is forever, and nothing, not even the gates of hell, can prevail against it.”

Ian McPherson, the great Scottish preacher, once wrote a sermon entitled “What Jesus Made of the Cross.” In that sermon there is this striking sentence: “Jesus made the cross a throne from which he rules the ages.” Little did those soldiers know that, as they hammered the cross together, that they were building a throne for a king.

Long ago the psalmist declared: “I called upon the Lord in distress; the Lord answered me, and set me in a large place.” Centuries later, Jesus made a similar affirmation: “Be of good cheer; I have overcome the world” I take this to mean that the final word of history is in God’s hands. If we ever really hear the words “He is risen,” we have no reason to despair. That is what we believe … we who truly celebrate Easter day. The world is in good hands and surely will know a song of victory. After all it’s his’n ain’t it? Amen? Amen!!