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June 9, 2019

Sermon Psalm 119 . . .“Bible songs:  A lamp for my feet”

“Bible songs:  A lamp for my feet”

Psalm 119

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

It all started rather innocently.  You see, back in November of 1951, a man by the name of Sir Hugh Beaver, the managing director of Guinness Breweries, went on a shooting party in northern Ireland.  And when he missed a shot on a bird called a golden plover, he got into an argument as to which was the fastest game bird in all of Europe--was it the golden plover or the red grouse?  When he got back home later that night, he looked in all of his books, but couldn’t find the answer.

That’s when he had an idea.  Seeing as how there must be countless other questions that were debated every night in Ireland and all around the world, and there was no book that had the answers, maybe he better write one.

So he took his idea to a fellow employee, who introduced him to a couple of his college friends.  And that’s when The Guinness Book of World Records was born.  The first copies were printed three years later in August of 1954.  Today, 100 million copies are printed in 100 different countries all around the world, making it the world’s best-selling copyrighted book ever.

And among its many categories of biggest, fastest, smallest, and strongest, there’s also a category called longest.

Think of the longest snake, for example.  It’s a ten-year-old reticulated python named, “Medusa,” that lives in Kansas, City, Missouri.  You could even hold it if you wanted to, along with fourteen of your closest friends.  After all, it is twenty-five feet long, making it the longest snake in captivity.

You know what the longest word in the English language is?  It’s not “antidisestablishmentarianism.”  And neither is it “supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.”  Those are too easy.  In fact, it’s a protein found in your muscles.  I’d tell you what it is, but you probably have something else to do for the next 3 ½ hours.

Do you know anyone who can talk for a really long time?  He probably can’t beat Ananta Ram of Kathmandu, Nepal.  He started talking on August 27th of 2018 at a little after six o’clock in the morning and kept going until a little after midnight on August 31st.  That’s a straight ninety hours, and two minutes, in case you’re counting.

The longest engagement was between Octavio Guillan and Adriana Martinez of Mexico City.  After waiting sixty-seven years, they finally tied the knot at the age of eighty-two!

And let’s not forget about sixty-year-old Ayanna Williams of Houston, Texas.  She holds the world record for the longest fingernails.  At last count, they were almost nineteen feet long!

The Bible also has its share of biggest, fastest, smallest, and longest.  For example, within the pages of its sixty-six books, originally written in three different languages, by forty different men, on three different continents, over a period of two thousand years, are right about 611,000 words.  The longest book is the book of Jeremiah.  The shortest is III John.

And even though it wasn’t divided up into chapters and verses until the mid-1500s, you’ll find it interesting to know that the very middle chapter of the Bible is Psalm 118.  And since there are 1,189 chapters in all, it means there are exactly 594 chapters before, and 594 chapters after.  (And, by the way, if you were to add up the numbers 594 and 594, you would get 1,188.)  And what seems to be more than just a coincidence, the very center verse of the Bible is Psalm 118:8!

And who wrote the Bible?  Prophets did, and so did shepherds, kings, scholars, government officials, a military general, a cupbearer, a priest, a doctor, a tax collector, and even farmers and fishermen.  And they wrote their works of history, prophecy, poetry, and proverbs while sitting in palaces, prisons, the wilderness, and places of exile.  And from their pen, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, came words of anger, joy, hope, and love.

And if you were to read it, non-stop, even at a slow pace of a hundred words a minute, you could finish it in just over seventy hours (which is just short of three days).

And the central theme of the Bible, the One who it’s all about, is Jesus, the Savior and Redeemer of all mankind.

There’s really nothing else like it!

And oddly enough, sitting right alongside the shortest chapter in the Bible, Psalm 117, and the center chapter, Psalm 118, is our song for today, Psalm 119, which just happens to be the longest chapter of all.

Please turn in your Bible to page 650, as I read the words of our text.  Psalm 119, beginning at verse 1:  “Your Word is a Lamp to My Feet.”  “Aleph.  Blessed are those whose way is blameless, who walk in the law of the Lord!  Blessed are those who keep His testimonies, who seek Him with their whole heart, who also do no wrong, but walk in His ways!  You have commanded Your precepts to be kept diligently.  Oh that my ways may be steadfast in keeping Your statutes!  Then I shall not be put to shame, having my eyes fixed on all Your commandments.  I will praise You with an upright heart, when I learn Your righteous rules.  I will keep Your statutes; do not utterly forsake me!”

Notice that first word for a moment, the word “Aleph.”  What’s it mean?  Actually, it’s not a word.  It’s a letter, the very first letter of the Hebrew alphabet.  Look at verse 9, and you’ll see the word “Beth.”  Verse 17 has the word “Gimel.”  And verse 25 has the word “Daleth.”

So what’s going on?  Aleph, Beth, Gimel, Daleth, He, Waw, and Zayin, are all letters of the Hebrew alphabet, just to name the first seven of the twenty-two.

So what the writer of Psalm 119 is doing here is beginning each section of the psalm, eight verses every time, with a letter of the Hebrew alphabet.  To better explain, the first word in verse 1 begins with the first letter in the Hebrew alphabet, the letter Aleph.  Verse 9 begins with the second letter, Beth.  Verse 17 begins with the third letter, Gimel.  And this continues all the way to verse 169 that starts with the very last letter, the letter Taw.

Technically, this psalm is called an acrostic, or alphabetic, psalm.  It’s the “A to Z” of God’s Word.

And throughout church history, many writers have had quite a lot to say about it.  In the late 1800s, for example, Charles Spurgeon devoted 398 pages to this psalm.  In the early 1920s, Charles Bridges wrote 480 pages on it.  And in the 1600s, a puritan preacher by the name of Thomas Manton preached 190 sermons on it.

And get this--in the 1600s, a church bishop by the name George Wishart was sentenced to death by hanging.  And when the day of his execution came, he was hoping for a pardon that hadn’t yet arrived.  But since he knew he could ask to sing any psalm before they put him to death, he asked to sing Psalm 119.  And when he made it about two-thirds of the way through, his pardon finally arrived, and his life was spared.

And it was of this psalm that Luther said, he would not exchange one leaf of it for the whole world.

So what’s it about?  It’s really all about the Word of God.  It’s a song of praise and adoration for Scripture.

Look at verse 9:  “How can a young man keep his way pure?  By guarding it according to Your Word.”  Verse 17:  “Deal bountifully with Your servant, that I may live and keep Your Word.”  Verse 25:  “My soul clings to the dust; give me life according to Your Word!”  And verse 33:  “Teach me, O Lord, the way of Your statutes; and I will keep it to the end.”

Psalm 119 is all about the Word of God.

And probably the most familiar verse of all comes to us on page 653, in verse 105:  “Your Word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.”

If you would, I’d like you to think, for just a moment, of the person you love most in all the world.  And let’s say that, for a period of time, they had to travel to the other side of the world.  They hopped on a plane and flew away, and went to a place where they couldn’t contact you--no email, no postal service, and no cell phone towers.  Months will pass, and you might not ever see or hear from them again.

Then one day, they were able to travel to a city, where they could send you one letter.  You didn’t know they’d be able to send it, but to your complete surprise, it arrived in the mail.

And as your heart skips a beat, you pull it out of the mailbox and look at the stamp.  It’s a foreign stamp, postmarked Timbuktu, dated six weeks ago.  You look at the return address.  It’s the handwriting of your loved one!  Oh, how you miss that handwriting.

You even sniff the envelope.  Does it smell like them?  Not really.  It’s been in the mail for six weeks.

Still, you’re so excited to receive that letter!  You run back to the house, frantically open the door, run into your bedroom, turn on the bedside lamp, open a dresser drawer, and toss in the unopened letter, all the while thinking, “It sure is nice to get a letter from a loved one!”

Is that what you’d do?  Of course not!  You’d tear it open and you’d read every word.  You’d read every line five times, ten times.  You’d even read between the lines, trying to understand everything they said and everything they didn’t say.  You might even memorize it and share some of it with others who might want to hear what your loved one had to say.  You’d probably even carry it around with you, so you could read it anytime and anywhere.

That’s what you do with a letter from a loved one.

You know what the Bible is?  It’s not just a book of history, prophecy, poetry, and proverbs.  It’s God’s love letter to you.

And in this letter, you know what He says?  He says that even though you were the worst of sinners, the chief of sinners, He loved you with an everlasting love, higher than the mountains, deeper than the sea, a love so strong and so powerful, absolutely nothing could stand in His way--not life or death, not angels or demons.  In fact, nothing in all of creation could separate you from His love.  He loved you so much, He even sent His Son.

And it’s this Word, as the psalmist wrote, that’s a lamp for our feet and a light for our path.

And it’s a good thing it is!  For as sinners living with other sinners in a fallen world, we encounter darkness every day.  While we might hope for a sunny Sunday afternoon picnic, our reality is more like a midnight walk through the woods.

On a trip to Turkey, Pastor David Lamb and his wife Renee stopped to see the city of Ephesus, a city once known for its banking and trade, that sits on the coast of the Aegean Sea.

And as they walked among those ancient ruins, they couldn’t help but notice round holes carved at certain intervals into those ancient marble stones.  They had no idea what they were for, so they asked their tour guide to explain.

She said that in ancient times, there were no such things as flashlights and streetlights.  Instead at dusk, the people placed lamps, (bowls filled with a wick and olive oil), so people could find their way in the dark.

So it is with us.  We need light in our marriage and in our parenting.  We need light in our job and in our relationships.  We need light in our struggles and temptations.  We need light for the times we feel alone and overwhelmed.

And it is this Word that we are so blessed to hold in our hands, that guides us, step by step, day by day.

In the words of hymn writer Fanny Crosby:  “Thy Word is a lamp to my feet, O Lord, And trusting in Thee as my all, Whatever of evil may cross my path, I never, no, never can fall.  O wonderful, wonderful Word, My treasure, my hope, and my stay; each promise recorded delights my soul, and brightens each step of my way.”

 

Teach us, lead us, and guide us, dear Lord.  Let Your steadfast love fill us that we may know Your truth and walk in Your way, for Jesus’ sake.  Amen

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