The Lord is my Helper

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Which song, written hundreds of years ago by unknown author has been covered by The Beatles, Jimmy Hendrix and Madness? (And was sung no less than thirty one times at the London Olympics?) Our national anthem – 'God Save The Queen'. Well this evening we're going to be looking at what is arguably the national anthem of Israel in Psalm 20. And it bares striking resemblance to our own. It's summarised in its final verse: "O Lord, save the king! Answer us when we call!"

So while right at the top, it is attributed to David. That means it was written by David but this Psalm is to be sung by the people to their monarch. It was written by King David to be sung to King David.

The big idea of the Psalm is 'Being under the protection of the King'. What this Psalm makes obvious is that the fortune and well-being of the people is very much tied up with the fortune and well-being of their King. He is the nation personified. He is their representative – there is a very close identity connection between king and people.

We're going to break the Psalm down under three headings: We Need Help We Have A Joyous Salvation So Trust Your King

1. We Need Help

OK, let's dive right in read together from verse one:

1 May the Lord answer you when you are in distress; may the name of the God of Jacob protect you. 2 May he send you help from the sanctuary and grant you support from Zion. 3 May he remember all your sacrifices and accept your burnt offerings.

So why is this prayer being prayed? Well there's a problem, just look as verse 1: "May the Lord answer you when you are in distress". David is in distress.

We don't know the precise historical context for this particular psalm but what we glean from the text is that the nation of Israel is under some sort of military threat from one of the surrounding nations. And this is song is prayed or sung by the people on behalf of their King for all of their combined interests. It's not very easy for us to get our heads around military threats really because at least most of us have never faced one in our lifetime.

So just take a minute to think about this. Imagine is France became an Islamic state and tried to invade the United Kingdom. What is under threat? Is it just the threat of losing a battle or the risk to the soldiers lives? Or would it be more than that? What would happen to you and your family? What about your job? Your language? Your culture? Church? Freedom to be a Christian?

It will have been exactly the same for the Israelites under military threat. It wasn't just a battle, it was everything. Everything was under threat and so they needed help.

But notice also in these verses just how close God is to his people – how closely he is identified with them, verse 1: "may the name of the God of Jacob protect you". Here the Psalmist is referring back to the patriarch Jacob, the Israelite's ancestor. "May God answer you. The God of your forefathers - your God.

And not just closely identified with them – actually close to them. Verse 2 "May he send you help from the sanctuary and grant you support from Zion." The 'sanctuary' can't be referring to the temple (as it hadn't been built yet) but possibly the Ark of the Covenant. In any case, it's a very special place where God is with his people. Similarly 'Zion', referred to the city of Jerusalem but is also particularly evocative of God being with his people.

However, there is a problem even in this. Verse 3: "May he remember all your sacrifices and accept your burnt offerings." God is with his people but only on the condition of sacrifices being made. These verses show a profound closeness and separation. God is with his people is on the condition of acceptable sacrifices.

God's people, it would seem, are under threat from without and from within. From without neighbouring nations are closing in and from within sin threatens to distance them from their own God. And the outward threat can only be met when the inward problem is also dealt with. So the people pray that the sacrifices and offerings would be effective.

God's dwelling with his people and his protection of his people is on condition of an effective sacrifice. They needed help. And so do we. Our earlier reading started with these words:

sin entered the world through one man [Adam], and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned

Adam, as the first man, is our representative because he was the first man. And so, when he sinned for that first time, in one sense, we all sinned collectively. The human race fell out of right relationship with God because the first man, as our representative, almost as our king, sinned and rebelled from God. That is why we are all born with an orientation towards sin. "sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned."

The other day someone online was trying to construct a comprehensive study into the compatibility of characters (as in letters, numbers, symbols) across different devices and browsers. And what he had done was to make a big spreadsheet on Google Docs. The idea was that anyone could contribute to the spreadsheet and record what they were looking at the spreadsheet on and which characters they could correctly see. For those interested in this kind of thing it had the potential to be really rather useful.

And of course this is the internet at its best isn't it? All coming together to make something really good we couldn't do by ourselves. Beautiful. Unfortunately not.

The poor fella tweeted a link to the spreadsheet saying anyone could contribute, that was then retweeted by someone with a following of 600,000 people.

Now as it happens I was one of the first people to click on the link and see the lovely spreadsheet and then watch in real time as complete chaos ensued. The original spreadsheet lasted about 5 seconds before someone had deleted it entirely. People then started to compete over who could make the biggest 'LOL', with others just using the spreadsheet as a chat room. What could have been something quite impressive and helpful was utterly ruined, in seconds.

But of course that was just a spreadsheet. We manage make a mess of all sorts of things far more significant than that. We live in a town full of alcoholics, drug addicts and broken families. Those are real lives utterly ripped to pieces by sin. But of course the problem is not just out there, with other people. It's in here with us. The Bible says we all have a problem with sin and of all the problems we face in the world this is the biggest because it's the root of all the others.

And we cannot fix it ourselves. "Must try harder" does not work, it certainly hasn't in my experience. Education doesn't work. Politics and government cannot fix it. Democracy can't fix it (because the problem is with us, the voters). We cannot fix it – we need help, outside help. Which takes me to my second point:

2. We Have a Joyous Salvation

Let's keep reading from verse 4:

4 May he give you the desire of your heart and make all your plans succeed. 5 We will shout for joy when you are victorious and will lift up our banners in the name of our God. May the Lord grant all your requests.

6 Now I know that the Lord saves his anointed; he answers him from his holy heaven with the saving power of his right hand.

Now isn't verse four just great? "May he give you the desire of your heart and make all your plans succeed." What a verse. That is my kind of verse. I could really do with hearing that feel-good scripture everyday. Just have it on constant repeat on my mp3 player. Print it out on a really big poster and put it up in my house. "May he give you the desire of your heart and make all your plans succeed."

Sadly my 'desires' are not always good and my 'plans' are often selfish. After a Sunday morning service my desire to is to eat all the tasty treats and my plan is to keep the pesky children away.

And remember the context. This Psalm was to be sung to the king. The Israelites were to sing this to King David, so the 'you' is not the Israelites but the king. The 'you' is not you!

What verse four is, is a prayer on behalf of the king that God would prosper his good and commendable plans and desires. Now verse five:

5 We will shout for joy when you are victorious and will lift up our banners in the name of our God. May the Lord grant all your requests.

These verses talk of great confidence in God's power to save them and they rejoice in just that. When God delivers them they will 'shout for joy', they 'lift up banners' glorifying their God. And listen to their confidence in verse six "Now I know that the Lord saves". I would suggest to you their joy was as a result of two things: They knew God was able to save them. They knew the peril they were in. You see you are only really grateful to be saved if you think you need saving.

Imagine a child running out into a busy road after a ball. Their parent instantly stops what they're doing, runs out after them, grabs them and gets them back to path. But the child is pretty miffed that he's been rudely stopped from getting his ball and throws an almighty tantrum. Absolutely no rejoicing.

The Israelites rejoiced in their salvation because they knew peril they were in and that God could save them.

The Bible tells us that we no longer need to offer sacrifices because Jesus was the perfect, eternal sacrifice on the cross. So we rejoice, we 'shout for joy'. Don't we? If we don't I would suggest it's either because (1) we don't think God can really save us from our sin or (2) we don't know how serious sin is – in either case we don't get the gospel.

We cannot sort this mess out ourselves – we need help from outside. That is why God sent his son Jesus as outside help. And yet Jesus was like us in everyway – he was fully God and fully man, and so could represent us, be our King, and die in our place. The Bible says in Hebrews that "he is able to save completely those who come to God through him". He able to 'save completely' – that means there is no sin too horrible from which you cannot be saved.

May be you're not a Christian because you think you're beyond saving – that's not true, he is able to save you completely, from every sin. The greatest sin anyone can commit is rejecting God's rightful rule over our lives, and every person in this room has committed that sin.

May be you're a Christian and you know all this but you're a long way from knowing the joy spoken of in this Psalm. If that's so, can I encourage you to think about what you've saved from and what you've been saved to. This week, spend some time purposefully meditating on the cross.

Read through the accounts in the gospels of Jesus' suffering and death. A lot is often made of Jesus physical suffering – which was by no means at all insignificant. But far more horrific is the weight of God's wrath that was poured out on him. A theologian called Wayne Grudem says this:

"As Jesus bore the guilt of our sins alone, God the Father, the might Creator, the Lord of the universe, poured out on Jesus the fury of his wrath: Jesus became the object of intense hatred of sin and vengeance against sin which God had patiently stored up since the beginning of the world."

Jesus he suffered the judgement we deserved. So much so that he was actually cut off from God the Father. Just two Psalms away, 22, starts with the words that Jesus then repeats on the cross: "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" Jesus was forsaken, cut off, for us.

But read with me verse six of the Psalm we're looking at tonight:

6 Now I know that the Lord saves his anointed; he answers him from his holy heaven with the saving power of his right hand.

This verse speaks of King Jesus – the Lord's anointed. Jesus did not stay forsaken or cut off, instead he rose from the dead and ascended into heaven sat down at God's right-hand – he was vindicated and glorified.

We find our protection, our saving, not in King David but in King Jesus – who himself saves. We are his people, and he is our representative, our King. So as we read of the cross we should be immensely sobered that that is our sin but rejoice that not only did Jesus suffer for it but even conquered it and death. Paul puts it much better than I can:

For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God's abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ.

3. So Trust your King

Let's read together verses 6 to 8:

6 Now I know that the Lord saves his anointed; he answers him from his holy heaven with the saving power of his right hand. 7 Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God. 8 They are brought to their knees and fall, but we rise up and stand firm.

The first half of the Psalm, verses 1 to 5, were the people making their request to God. In verses six through to eight we see their response. My understanding of these verses is that they were written and sung still prior to the military threat being resolved, in other words, the battle was still to be fought. Yet notice the certainty of their faith: "Now I know that the Lord saves…".

(As a side-note, Psalm 20 and 21 are a pair of royal of Psalms which mirror each other – the first praying for God's deliverance and second thanking God for his deliverance. So do come back next week to hear the second instalment.)

This Psalm, which starts as a prayer for help ends as a declaration of faith, of trust in God. Verse 7: "Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God." What a great verse.

Chariots and horses were the military heavyweights of the day. It was no small thing to relegate them underneath the sovereignty of God.

We were at the Sunderland Airshow a few weeks ago and it was all very pleasant until the new Eurofigher Jet turned up. If you were anywhere behind it when it put it's afterburners on it actually felt like the skin was getting ripped off your face. It was pretty scary and it was just performing for us. So what would it be like if you were it's military target – if you were in it's crosshairs?

I imagine the Israelites could have felt similarly intimidated by an onslaught of thousands Egyptian or Assyrian chariots. But they don't cower they say "Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God."

The reference to chariots and horses is probably also reference to God's miraculous rescue of the Israelites from Egypt when the Egyptian army of chariots is consumed by the Red Sea. Which probably in turn sheds some light on verse eight:

"They [God's enemies] are brought to their knees and fall, but we rise up and stand firm."

The nation of Israel has a mixed record in the Old Testament and they probably got it wrong more often than not. But when they got it right it wasn't due to better military strategy, advancements in ancient technology, a successful political system or a robust economy. It was because they trusted in the name of the Lord their God. And it was obvious.

It was announced earlier this week that Kevin Pieterson has not been selected for England's upcoming international cricket fixtures. This follows the scandalous revelations that he sent text messages to the opposition team, among other things, ridiculing his own captain. So, as a result, one of the best batsmen in history has been dropped from the team. When you don't trust your captain it doesn't go well. But when you do it's obvious, and if the captain knows what he's doing, it tends to be characterised by success.

When it comes to our caption or leader or king, we really don't need to worry – because it's Jesus who is sinless – he's perfect. This Psalm could probably be more accurately title as 'Under the protection of God' because God is the real protector not King David. But of course, Jesus is the king we can trust because he himself is God. He is the one in whom we trust and it should be obvious. We should be able to say that:

"Some trust in money, some in feel-good psychology, some in their friends, some in their pay-grade, some in sport, some in education and some in Eurofighters but we trust in the name of the Lord our God."

So the big idea of Psalm 20 is finding yourself under the protection of the king, which is King  Jesus. Very briefly some practical next steps: We Need Help: Listen to Rod's sermon on the reality of Hell from a couple of week's ago. It's not easy listening, but it what we all need to hear – to be reminded of the seriousness of sin. We Have A Joyous Salvation: As I mentioned earlier, read through one of the gospel accounts of the cross and resurrection. As you read think about the fact that Jesus knew what he was doing and that he did it for you. So Trust Your King: Write down on a piece of paper what you do on a typical week for each day: morning, afternoon and evening. (If you work obviously they'll be some repetition from day to day but do it all the same.) Then think through each of those items and ask yourself how, when you're doing that particular thing, it reflects your trust in God. You may find you need to prayerfully rethink how you are undertaking particular activities or whether your time would be better spent in other ways.

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