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Fifth Midweek in Lent

Psalm 102

James T. Batchelor

Fifth Midweek in Lent
Good Shepherd Lutheran Church  
Hoopeston, IL

view DOC file

Wed, Mar 18, 2015 

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Based on the Sermon Series:

Psalms of the Penitent by Rev. John C. Wohlrabe Jr.

Concordia Pulpit Resources: Volume 25, Part 2, Series B, February 22–May 24, 2015

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Up until this evening, all the psalms we’ve considered have been psalms of David.  The title ascribed to Psalm 102 says it is “A prayer of one afflicted, when he is faint and pours out his complaint before the Lord.” Although its style is similar to psalms written by Moses and King Hezekiah, we don’t really know who wrote it.  Regardless of who wrote it, this psalm shows that the Penitent Finds Hope in the Midst of Affliction in the Eternal Faithfulness of the Lord.

When the psalmist is acknowledged the vanity of life, he joined Moses: “From everlasting to everlasting you are God. You return man to dust and say, ‘Return, O children of man!’ For a thousand years in your sight are but as yesterday when it is past, or as a watch in the night. You sweep them away as with a flood; they are like a dream, like grass that is renewed in the morning: in the morning it flourishes and is renewed; in the evening it fades and withers” (Ps 90:2–6).  Solomon also wrote: “Vanity of vanities! All is vanity” (Eccl 1:2). The penitent recognizes that one’s days are short and full of trouble. (Job 14:1)

If this life is all that there is, then it is like a puff of smoke or grass that soon withers and fades.  Life seems so short, and the older we get, the more quickly the time seems to pass.  Age often brings physical afflictions and anxiety that rob us of even the simple pleasures of life such as eating, drinking, and sleeping.  The psalmist has lost his appetite, so that his food tastes like ash, and he weeps in his cup while he drinks.  In his grief and pain, he feels all alone.  He is as lonely as a desert bird, an owl, or a lone bird on a rooftop.  Martin Luther observes: “Blessed are they who realize that this earthly life is only vain because of Adam’s sin, as we read in Ps 78:33: ‘Their days vanish like a breath,’ that is, like smoke; for nothing of it remains that is of any use in yonder life” (AE 14:179).

Enemies cause the penitent further grief.  The psalmist complains: “All the day my enemies taunt me; those who deride me use my name for a curse” (v 8).  Penitent Christians can and do know what it is to be ridiculed by people of the world.  Some may ridicule us for trusting in God in the face of our troubles and afflictions.  Some may ridicule us for not pursuing worldly pleasures and ambitions as they do. And as we struggle with the temptations of the world, our flesh, and the devil, we may become further frustrated when worldly people seem to prosper while we face hardships.

The psalmist cries out to God in his affliction, believing it is a result of God’s “indignation and anger” (v 10).  In all afflictions, the penitent recognizes that troubles in the world are a consequence of God’s just indignation over sin.  The penitent may even feel that the troubles are a result of God’s wrath over personal sin.  The penitent may even feel that God is seeking to shorten his days.  Yet the penitent persists in crying out to God, trusting that he is eternally faithful, merciful, and gracious.

Martin Luther wrote: “For this psalm, like the other Penitential Psalms, first describes the inner suffering which the saints bear because of their sins in a penitent spirit, then also the persecution by others on account of this same crucified life” (AE 14:179).

No one can pray this prayer except one who is poor in spirit, one who realizes the vanity of the world and longs for spiritual blessings.  In his first lectures on the Psalms, Luther states, “Therefore this psalm is properly esteemed as one to be prayed for the penitent that, as often as they have fallen, they might grieve and say: Behold, I have again been smitten and become dry. And again my days have vanished like smoke, again my bones have dried up like firewood. For, behold, the fire of anger, luxury, gluttony, greed, pride, etc., has again fried me, because I have forgotten to eat my bread (God’s Word). But You, O Lord, do not turn Your face from me. Hear my prayer. And because I often fall and forget, ‘in whatever day I shall call upon You, hear me speedily’ ” (AE 11:303).

The shortness of the psalmist’s life contrasts sharply with the endlessness of God’s reign. He cries out “But you, O Lord, are enthroned forever” (v 12).  This is a cry of trust in God’s eternal faithfulness.  It is a dramatic turning point from distress to triumph.  The Lord’s eternal attributes are the solution to the psalmist’s distress.  The penitent finds hope and comfort only in God’s eternal faithfulness.  The penitent trusts God will hear and deliver in mercy and not deal with him in wrath or judgment.

The concern for Zion suggests that the psalm was written at a time when Jerusalem was in danger.  The psalmist prayed not only for himself but also for the city and people.  He is confident that God will preserve his people so that they can continue to worship him.  The psalmist is confident that God will be there for his children.

Yet this is not just deliverance from immediate, physical danger; even more, this is the promise of a Savior.  The promise would lead the nations to praise God for generations to come: “Nations will fear the name of the Lord, and all the kings of the earth will fear your glory. For the Lord builds up Zion; he appears in his glory; he regards the prayer of the destitute and does not despise their prayer. Let this be recorded for a generation to come, so that a people yet to be created may praise the Lord” (vv 15–18).  The promise included the setting free of captives and prisoners (v 20).  Jesus Himself would enter the synagogue in Nazareth and read similar words from the scroll of Isaiah and then say to them, ‘Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing’ ” (Lk 4:16–21).

Concerning this portion of Psalm 102, Luther wrote: “I cannot come to Thee. Therefore, O Lord, arise (v 13), come to me, and take me to Thyself. The arising refers to the very sweet and gracious coming of God into the flesh. At that time Jerusalem was prosperous; therefore such doleful crying and begging should be understood as referring, not to temporal help but to Christ and His kingdom. He came to us that He might raise us to Himself. He had pity on Zion, namely, His people. . . . The time of grace and, as St. Paul says, the fullness of time (Gal 4:4)” (AE 14:183).

Jesus Christ brings the promised eternal deliverance of God. Jesus is the eternal Word made flesh: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him. . . . And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth” (Jn 1:1–3, 14). The penitent psalmist proclaims: “Of old you laid the foundation of the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands. They will perish, but you will remain; they will all wear out like a garment. You will change them like a robe, and they will pass away, but you are the same, and your years have no end” (vv 25–27). The author of Hebrews cites this as speaking of Jesus Christ, God’s only begotten Son (Heb 1:10–12).

During this penitential season of Lent, we remember that the Son of God experienced shortened days for us. His days were filled with trouble and sorrow for us.  He bore our sin and God’s full indignation over our sin as he went to the cross of Calvary.  And when Jesus said, “It is finished,” God’s just wrath over sin was appeased.  Three days later, Jesus rose from the grave and then ascended on high, where he now lives and reigns to all eternity.  The psalmist proclaims this wonderful truth: “But you are the same, and your years have no end” (v 27). “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever” (Heb 13:8).

Because of God’s eternal faithfulness, the penitent psalmist concludes his prayer in confident faith.  Despite his torments, suffering, and pain, he knows that “the children of your servants shall dwell secure; their offspring shall be established before you” (v 28). Martin Luther wrote: “These are the same children, the believers in Christ. They are a spiritual posterity and heirs, yes joint heirs with their fathers, prepared eternally before God, although rejected in time before the world. Christ’s kingdom has no end” (AE 14:187).

Luther also wrote: “This is the way it goes in Christ’s kingdom according to the outer man. He breaks, punishes, and humbles His beloved saints and permits them to be tortured here in time that they may be strong and powerful, not outwardly, but inwardly. The world, however, which He raises up and strengthens in its way here in time, He will humble in the end. Therefore the prophet and the spiritual people comfort themselves with the thought that they are oppressed with Christ temporally here on earth, but not at the Last Day” (AE 14:186).

Through Jesus Christ, we know that although we face suffering and sorrow here in this vale of tears, we are spiritual heirs of his heavenly kingdom, which has no end. Therefore, the afflicted penitent hopes in the eternal Lord!  Amen

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