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June 2, 2019

Sermon Psalm 103 . ..  “Bible songs:  As far as the east is from the west”

“Bible songs:  As far as the east is from the west”

Psalm 103

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus.

With a population of just over a half a million, the city of Leipzig is one of the oldest and largest cities in all of Germany.  Today, it’s a rich center of music, culture, and learning.  According to a German market research group, it’s the most livable city in all of Germany.  If you’re a good history buff, you might even remember it’s where Johann Sebastian Bach once lived and worked.

But while Leipzig might be important to many people for many different reasons--it’s important to us because of what happened there in July of 1519.

You see, two years before, in October of 1517, a monk named Martin Luther posted 95 theses, 95 statements of debate, on the Castle Church door in Wittenberg, Germany.  He said:  “The true treasure of the church isn’t indulgences.  It’s the most holy gospel of the glory and the grace of God.”  He said there was no such thing as purgatory, and the highest authority isn’t the church.  It’s the Bible!  Within months, that small spark soon blazed all across Europe.

That’s why, two years later, he was summoned to the city of Leipzig to answer for his statements of faith.  Would he remain a good monk or would he be condemned as a heretic?

And there at Leipzig he was ordered to stand before a man named Johann Eck, a Roman Catholic master debater, what some called the best debater in all of Europe.  Andreas Carlstadt, an eyewitness, tells us what happened next.  

He said:  “Martin is of middle height, emaciated from care and study, so that you can almost count his bones through his skin.  He knows Scripture like the back of his hand and a perfect forest of words and ideas stand at his command.”  And he wrote:  “Eck is a heavy, square set fellow with a full German voice.  His whole face reminds one more of a butcher than a theologian.”

When the debate was finally over, two months later (!),  most everyone there said Eck had won and Luther was a heretic.

But there was one funny thing.  That long discussion was overheard by a young man.  In fact, the young man was Eck’s secretary.  His name was Johann Graumann.

And as he listened to both Eck and Luther debate, he began to realize that Luther was right, and the one he came to help, Johann Eck, was wrong.  And in the days that followed, he left Leipzig, joined the Reformation, and became a gospel preacher.  Six years later, in 1525, he wrote a hymn that’s endured even to today, a hymn he based on Psalm 103.

It goes like this:  “My soul, now praise your Maker!  Let all within me bless His name, who makes you full partaker of mercies more than you dare claim.”

Johann Graumann isn’t the only one who’s written a hymn based on Psalm 103.  Others have too--men like Joachim Neander, Isaac Watts, Henry Lyte, and even contemporary singer and songwriter, Matt Redman.  “Bless the Lord, oh my soul.  Worship His holy name.  Sing like never before, oh my soul.  I’ll worship Your holy name.”

Please turn in your Bible to page 673 as I read the words of our text.  Psalm 103:  “Of David.  Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless His holy name!  Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all His benefits, who forgives all your iniquity, who heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit, who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy, who satisfies you with good so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.”

As you probably already know, the book of Psalms is truly one of the most remarkable books of all.  It’s a collection of 150 songs that not only celebrates the history of the nation of Israel, it pronounces judgment on those who set themselves as enemies of God, and it points to the coming Messiah.  And while some of the psalms are filled with nothing but trouble and sorrow, others are filled with thanksgiving and praise.  And Psalm 103 is one of them.  In fact, Psalm 103 has even been called the “Mt. Everest” of praise psalms, because it stands so tall above the rest.

Look closely at this psalm and you’ll see that, among its twenty-two verses, there is no mention of foes, fears, threats, or enemies.  There are no requests and no complaints, and not even a hint of sadness or disappointment.  Instead, it’s one long song of pure, thankful, joy-filled, overflowing praise.  

Even more, you might find it interesting to know that the first verse of this psalm, “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless His holy name!” stands at the very center of the Old Testament!  You could start counting forward from the very first verse in Genesis, and backward from the very last verse in Malachi, and you would end up here in Psalm 103, verse 1.  It’s as if to say, just as there’s a song of praise at the heart and center of God’s revelation, so our Christian lives should be filled with praise.

Psalm 103 is what Spurgeon called, “The apple tree among the trees of the wood, its golden fruit...ripened in the full sunshine of mercy.”  And he wrote:  “There is too much in the psalm for a thousand pens to write...it’s a Bible in itself, and it might alone almost suffice for the hymnbook of the church.”  Another commentator, John Stevenson, wrote:  “In this psalm, David touches every chord of his harp and heart...and pours forth a spontaneous melody of sweetest sound and purest praise.”

And it all begins with this:  “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless His holy name!”

Notice, if you would, just how it begins--”Bless the Lord, O my soul.”  And turn a page to verse 20:  “Bless the Lord, O you His angels, you mighty ones who do His Word.”  Verse 21:  “Bless the Lord, all His hosts.”  And verse 22:  “Bless the Lord, all His works.”  Then finally at the very end again, “Bless the Lord, O my soul!”

It’s a song that begins as a quiet “pianissimo,” “My soul,” then it crescendos to a loud “fortissimo,” a song of the saints and the angels and all of creation.  Then it ends again with a quiet “My soul.”  And with that, David seems to say that everyone and everything should join in this glorious song of praise, but let it begin and end with me.

You know, if we were able to catch a glimpse into heaven today, we’d be astonished at its music.  We can only imagine the sound of heaven’s praise.  Also all around us, every morning and every night, there’s the music of a hundred birds and a thousand more insects.

But you know what is the best and most beautiful song of all?  It’s the song we sing.  It’s our redeemed and forgiven chorus of praise.

And what do we sing?  Verse 10:  “He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities.  For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is His steadfast love toward those who fear Him; as far as the east is from the west, so far does He remove our transgressions from us.”

Notice it doesn’t say as far as the north is from the south.  It says, “as far as the east is from the west.”

Why does it matter?  Because if you were to go north for a while, at some point, you’d come to the end of north, and start to go south.  And if you were to go south, at some point, you’d come to the end of south, and start to go north.

But you can’t do that with east and west.  In fact, you could circle the earth a thousand times, and you’d never find a place where east meets west.

Let me put it like this.  Suppose you went to Baltimore and hopped into the basket of a hot air balloon, then made your way across the Atlantic, and landed in Lisbon, Portugal.  Then you rented a car, and drove across Europe till you came to the edge of the Black Sea.  Then you hopped on a freighter that took you through the Black Sea, the Aegean Sea, the Mediterranean Sea, the Suez Canal, the Red Sea, the Gulf of Aden, and on through the Indian Ocean.  From there, you could catch a flight to Singapore, then down south to Perth, Australia, where you could hitchhike across the Outback, eventually arriving in Sydney where you could join a passenger ship heading for Easter Island.  From there you could fly to Santiago, Chile and take a Jeep all the way to Nome, Alaska.  And after running the Iditarod Race in reverse, you’d end up in Anchorage, where a cruise ship would take you to Vancouver, British Columbia.  And after riding the Trans-Canada Railway all the way to Halifax, Nova Scotia, you could buy a high-end road bike and start pedaling your way through Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, and Delaware.  Finally, you’d make it back to Baltimore.

Now besides having circumnavigated the globe, what did you prove?  You proved that no matter how far east you went, you never found west.

And if that’s not enough for you, consider the words, “As high as the heavens are above the earth.”

How far are the heavens above the earth?  The latest NASA is telling us is that if you were to hop in a rocket and travel at the speed of light, (that’s 186,000 miles per second), you could reach the end of the known universe in right about 225 trillion years.  But since they also say the universe is expanding, by the time you’d get there, it would probably take you another 225 trillion more.

You could go as far as you can go.  You could go as fast as you can go.  And when you’ve gone that far and that fast, you can look up and smile, because God’s love goes further still.  You’ll never reach the end of it.  It’s greater, vaster, larger, deeper, longer, broader, and bigger than even the universe itself!

That is, by the way, what David wrote in the words of Psalm 36:  “Your unfailing love, O Lord, is as vast as the heavens; Your faithfulness reaches beyond the clouds.”  And that’s what Paul wrote to the church in Rome:  “I am convinced that neither death nor life...nor anything else in all of creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

No wonder David couldn’t help but sing:  “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless His holy name!”

In a book called, Out of This World, authors Nancy Irland and Peter Beck tell of the Reuben Donnelly Company of Chicago, Illinois.  It’s an American Fortune 500 company, and one of the world’s largest printers of books, maps, and magazines.

But years ago, long before there were computers, they also handled magazine subscriptions for a number of publications.  And strangely enough, one day, a tiny spring snapped in a giant machine that sent out notices to those whose subscriptions had expired.  And because that little spring snapped, all of the notices were made out for the same address.  So, just a few days later, some poor, unsuspecting rancher in Powder Bluff, Colorado, received 9,734 notices that his subscription to National Geographic had expired.

What would you do if you received 9,734 notices in the mail?  He drove ten miles to the post office, tucked his money into an envelope, and wrote:  “Send me the magazine!  I give up!”

God has flooded your life with far more than 9,734 notices of His love and blessing.  And all He wants is for you to respond by giving up your self-seeking, stubborn ways, and by giving into His great goodness toward you in Christ.  He wants you to be filled with heartfelt worship every day as you think about His great goodness and your great need.

And that’s why, with saints and angels and with all of creation, even we can’t help but say:  “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless His holy name!”

 

Praise to the Lord!  O let all that is in me adore Him!  All that has life and breath, come now with praises before Him!  Let the Amen sound from His people again; gladly forever adore Him!  For Jesus’ sake.  Amen

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