You are the Lord and giver of life. You are the one by whom we live and move and have our being. You have numbered our days, and by Your decree the sparrows fall, the deer give birth, the forests sway, the mountains melt. Indeed, because You are sovereign over all, we find profound comfort when You ordain circumstances that bring great grief and sorrow. We come now, by Your providence and purpose, to mourn the death of our brother & friend, Andrew. This sorrow has brought us low, and so we pray that by the comfort of Your Word You would raise us up to the joy of Your Presence, which will never leave us nor forsake us. Because we are Your covenant people, Your mercy follows us all the days of our lives, even days of grief and mourning. Grant us faith, even as grief besets us, that we might take hope and refuge in the everlasting arms of Your almighty power and love. And so bring us all, at last, by the Resurrection power of Jesus Christ, to our eternal home.
So God Almighty, the defender of widows and orphans, we worship You now through Jesus Christ Your Son, who is the Resurrection & the Life, and the Holy Spirit, One God, world without end, Amen.
18 The LORD is nigh unto them that are of a broken heart; and saveth such as be of a contrite spirit. 19 Many are the afflictions of the righteous: but the LORD delivereth him out of them all. 20 He keepeth all his bones: not one of them is broken. 21 Evil shall slay the wicked: and they that hate the righteous shall be desolate. 22 The LORD redeemeth the soul of his servants: and none of them that trust in him shall be desolate.Psalms 34:18-22
Our Various Afflictions
David gives us a godly example of how God’s people should face afflictions. He does not deny their presence. Nor does he sugarcoat them. He stares them down with the bold certainty of evangelical faith.
Many are the afflictions of the righteous. There are minor afflictions which we all face each day. Most of our afflictions go unnoticed by those around us. But our hearts are often afflicted with invisible trials of the soul, our bodies are beset with unseen strains upon our physical strength, and our minds are riddled with various temptations. Then there are great afflictions which cannot be hidden. They are out in the open. Their public nature even adds, in some part, to the weight of the affliction. These great afflictions might be seen in financial ruin, severe suffering in our physical health, and that greatest affliction which we know: the death of someone beloved by us.
Here we are gathered due to that last sort of suffering. It is an affliction. We live in a good world, made by God’s gracious hand. Yet still the scar tissue of Sin is seen all around us. Death is a bitter foe, and its bitterness is compounded when the death brings with it a whole catalogue of unanswered questions.
The Lord our Redeemer
But there is bedrock beneath us, if we have the eyes to see it. Underneath all the sorrow and sighings, there is a bright glory, for as the Psalmist intimates, God is not far off. He is not a deity who cannot be found, or is aloof, or is so lofty so as to not be concerned with our tears. We’re told elsewhere he puts the tears of His saints in a bottle (Ps. 56:8). He is the God who took on flesh in order to sympathize with us in the sorrows of our fallen humanity.
Andrew, who was baptized into Christ and professed faith in Christ, was an afflicted saint. His final affliction might seem to our eyes to have swallowed him up entirely. But our earthly eyes are often nearsighted. The Psalmist here brings us an eagle-eyed word of glory. Yes, the righteous endure great afflictions, afflictions which may even appear to devour them whole. But what does our Lord declare? “But the LORD delivereth him out of them all.” This word, this word of everlasting comfort, is the cornerstone of your faith.
God delivers the righteous out of all their afflictions. So then, the only deliverance from our afflictions is found by being counted by God as righteous. But does the term righteous describe any of us? You and I stand before God filthy, defiled, stained by our sins, entirely unrighteous. We bear the scars of sins we’ve inflicted on others and which others have inflicted upon us. Our hearts accuse us. Our conscience bears witness that we have transgressed God’s Holy Law up one side and down the other. Our soul may even be tormented by dark despair. But the Apostle John states, “For if our heart condemn us, God is greater than our heart, and knoweth all things (1 John 3:20).”
Our heart & conscience may accuse us of our unrighteousness. But God is greater. And how does He display that greatness? He takes unrighteous men & women, and by grace through faith, reckons them righteous. The only way He does this is by clothing you in Christ. So, for you to know the complete deliverance which David describes, you must be clothed with Another’s righteousness. This means that we must be, in David’s words, of a contrite spirit and of a broken heart.
In other words, God brings us low, He humbles us, He brings us to see the futility of our good works that we might cling to Christ alone. This is the answer key which guides us out of the maze of our many afflictions. It isn’t by turning away from the ugliness of our afflictions. Rather, it is by seeing that the transcendent God came near to us by sending His Son, in the likeness of human flesh, to bear our infirmities, to carry the sorrows of all that it means to be human, to suffer all the pangs of death, that He might restore to us the abundant life which He had intended for us in the Garden.
God is near the brokenhearted (v18), because He has opened their eyes to see their own brokenness. God saves the contrite in spirit (v18), because He has revealed to them their need for contrition. The proud will not taste the sweetness of deliverance from their afflictions (v21).
Hidden in plain sight in this Psalm is a prophecy that in Christ’s crucifixion His bones were not broken (v20). The Gospel writers cite this Psalm as a proof that Christ was indeed the Righteous One of God. He endured all the wrath of God upon sin, all the despair of the curse which our sin had brought down on our heads, and yet, by the power of God, His bones were not broken. The Son was stricken and afflicted, brought down to the grave; and yet He emerged bright with the everlasting life of His resurrection. He endured the greatest affliction, that He might deliver the saints from all of their afflictions. He now gives this life freely to all who come to Him. The Eternal Son descended down into the depths of our human despair, and He emerged triumphant from that battle, and we by faith share in that victory. And we can trust that Andrew, by his faith in Christ, shared in that same victory. For the only hope for our despair is the Righteous Despair of Christ upon the tree.
Desolate No More
Finally, note that in this Psalm, those who hate the righteous are made desolate, while those who trust in the Lord will not be left desolate. All the ways in which our afflictions empty us out, God, by His mercy fills us up, loads our arms full, crowns us with His own glory and everlasting joy.
This is the sure word of the Gospel: those who trust in Christ will not be left desolate. Here, in the Word made flesh, in the One who once died and was buried, but now lives forevermore, is fullness. Indeed, this is how the Apostle Paul describes our Lord Jesus: “The fullness of Him that filleth all in all.” So, for all those who are afflicted, in Christ & by Christ, desolation is not your lot. Instead, the fullness of the potent grace of God is your eternal inheritance.
In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. Amen.