August 5, 2018 A+D
In the Name of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Psalm 55 serves as the Introit today. It foretells the pain of the Messiah over the betrayal of Judas, the slander and punishment He unjustly suffers on our behalf, and His crying to His Father for a mercy which He is denied. The Psalm, of course, isn’t only about that. It doesn’t belong exclusively to Christ. In fact, it is likely that it was first prayed by David and reflects the sad events in his life surrounding the rebellion of Absalom.
Even as it was prayed by David, it is also given to us. We should pray Psalm 55 in our sorrow and pain, especially when we’ve been betrayed. It teaches us to recognize that the lord of darkness, who was once an angel of light, has an entire army arrayed against us. He hates with a deep hatred that is beyond all reason. He uses human agents to carry out his wicked plans. Psalm 55 helps us give voice to our pain. It also teaches us to hand over justice to God rather than taking it up for ourselves. “Vengeance is mine,” says the Lord. It is His, not ours. We wait for Him to enact it, and as we wait, we pray.
The cry for help and near despair is modulated in the Psalm by the Messiah’s confidence that the Lord hears Him and will deliver Him. Jesus never wavers in this. Because of this, because of His faithfulness, we can also pray and be unafraid to let our frustrations and sorrow be given voice. We know the Lord loves us and hears us and will deliver us in the end.
So we can say with Christ and David: “Give ear to my prayer, O God; And hide not thyself from my supplication.” The Lord never forsakes those baptized into Him, who, by grace, confess His Name, but He does hide from them. He hides to draw them out. He chastises them that they would learn to abhor evil and love good, that they would learn that their treasures are not on earth but in heaven, that there is no peace, no joy, no hope apart from Him, and that they would become blessedly dependent upon Him in the weakness that is true strength.
Part of His hiding is that He often says “no” to the prayers of Christians even as He said “no” in Gethsemane. This is not because He is cruel. Nor does He desire to punish His children. Rather His negative response comes but because Christians often do not know what they ask. They come as children to their Father, not as experts in how to live or what is good. Some Christians in Jerusalem surely prayed for relief during the horrific siege of Titus in 70 AD. They got relief, but not in quite they asked. It was not good that they be spared that sorrow. It was good instead that they endure it and through it come to the reward of faith. How this can be is beyond our reason. We do not need to, and we dare not, explain it. We need only to confess it. God is good. He works all things together for good for those who love Him. How can He who gave His only Son for us not also give us all things? The victory is ours, we are His, but for the time being it often appears to the world, and to our fallen reason, that we are defeated and belong to death.
Thus do we pray, again with the Messiah: “My heart is sore pained within me: And the terrors of death are fallen upon me. Fearfulness and trembling are come upon me, And horror hath overwhelmed me.”
This is not hyperbole. What the Messiah endured, His disciples endure. You endure. For you are not above your Master and you cannot avoid the cross. You cannot love God and mammon. You will love one and hate the other. If you hate mammon, it will hate you back. You will suffer. But if God loves you, so also you will love Him, and so you do, and you pick up your cross and turn your back on mammon.
This is painful. Terrors fall upon you. You have made an enemy of Satan. At times, horror overwhelms you. The saints in Jerusalem at the siege of Titus were overwhelmed with horror. So were the martyrs and their families. So were the Christians in Auschwitz and Dachau and the World Trade Towers. So were the Christians forced to fight in Korea, Vietnam, and now Iraq and Afghanistan. Those are not light things that are easily shrugged off because of faith. They are horrors that overwhelm.
How can the Lord allow, or even cause, such terrible things to His children? Again: He does it for their good and for the good of the Church. We can’t quite see, even in hindsight, how it is good. But what we cannot see we confess by faith. We trust God’s word. He is good. He looks after His children. He sees them through. This world is not all there is. Its horrors, the evil of Hell, the wickedness of men, will pass away. The horror overwhelms us but it does not confound us.
While we cannot perfectly explain the evil and sorrows of this world, there is a Christological reality that is played out in the life of the Christian. It is not exactly the same. In the first place, the singular agony which Christ suffered for us can never be suffered again. He endured a Hell that cannot in fairness be compared to our sorrows. The pain, misery, and shame which came upon the Word made Flesh is a mystery. He endured it as a Man, one of us, with all the uncertainty that we endure, and yet He is very God of very God and did not sin or falter. He endured it without bitterness, willingly. In this way, He sanctified our sorrows. He gave purpose to what we suffer. Our suffering does not purify us, for we are already pure and declared holy in His absolution and gifts, yet in that He suffered for us, in our place, and took our punishment, He now brings us into His suffering. Our suffering works out our salvation. They purify us. Not by merit but by conforming us to Him, by teaching us to live by faith and teaching us what is real and lasts.
His suffering is worse than ours, fuller. He is more aware of the horrors. Insofar as He is God, He knew that He must suffer many things of the Jews and the third day rise again. But He was also a Man and still had to live by faith. He had to wait. But worse of all is that Christ, Our Lord, was overwhelmed with a horrible dread of His guilt and shame. Thus He sweated blood and cried in pain and prayed the Psalter on the cross as One forsaken by God.
This was the atonement itself. The cost of our rebellion. The ransom needed to redeem us and make us His again. It was itself a horror but not the worst. The horror that overwhelmed Him was His righteous Soul knew the pain and shame of all the sinful thoughts and words and deeds that have been since man gave heed to the Tempter in the garden and He was counted as guilty for all of them. He suffered the pain and shame and guilt of every one of our sins. He knew the regret and sorrow that accompanies sin. He was the betrayer, the cheater, the liar. He was the pervert, the raper, the kidnapper. He was the one who tortured and abused women and children and also who hid in cowardice while they did terrible things to those He should have protected.
He who knew no sin became sin. He was declared guilty that we would be declared innocent. And there was no escape for Him, no way to rationalize or look away, no pretending that it didn’t happen. That is the horror that overwhelmed Him and caused Him to be forsaken, hated by His Father. All this so that sin itself could and would come to an end at His return on the Last Day.
We too cry out in real pain. We taste something of His sorrow, including slander and poverty and death. We too might be overwhelmed by the horror of what we have done, what we have caused, but we shall not be confounded. For if He was guilty, then we are innocent. If He truly suffered, then there is no more to pay, no one left to accuse us. And if He lives, then He truly is the Son of God for us who has told the truth, who is trustworthy, and whose sacrifice has been accepted as payment in full, the horror ended.
If Jesus lives then His hiding is a thin charade. He lives to be with us and for us. In Him we can turn aside from self-loathing., We can know that we will never be forsaken. We can trust that we truly have been and are being cleansed and purified.
We pray Psalm 55 not as the guilty who deserve what they are suffering, but as the truly innocent. We are the righteous who will not be moved. That is what He said. What He has declared us to be and He does not lie. Thus we can and must be bold in our cries that God vindicate us , that He destroy the demonic forces arrayed against us, and that He make good on His promise to keep us as His children and deliver us from this body of death. Jesus does live. The horror is ended. The sacrifice has been accepted.
That is why Psalm 55 has more than the anguish of betrayal. It has the loyalty of the Messiah and it as the confidence that He lives. We also pray with David and with Jesus: “As for me, I will call upon God; And the Lord shall save me. Evening, and morning, and at noon, will I pray, and cry aloud: And he shall hear my voice. He hath delivered my soul in peace from the battle that was against me: For there were many with me. Cast thy burden upon the Lord, and he shall sustain thee: He shall never suffer the righteous to be moved.”
If that means that Jerusalem be destroyed, that Berlin and Wittenberg be destroyed, that Ft. Wayne and St. Louis and Frankenmuth be destroyed, sobeit. Our hope is with the Lord. He takes our burdens. He has delivered our souls in peace from the battle what was against us. What can man do to us? Horrors may surround us, even overwhelm us, but we will not be confounded, forgotten, or forsaken. Jesus lives. We will be raised, vindicated, glorified.
In +Jesus’ Name. Amen.
 Parts the paragraph above and below modified from J. M. Neale and R. F. Littledale, eds., A Commentary on the Psalms from Primitive and Mediæval Writers: Psalm 39 to Psalm 80, vol. 2 (London; New York: Joseph Masters; Pott and Amery, 1868), 194–195.