20230409 A TRIUMPHAL VICTORY
Psalm 20:1-9 NET.
1 May the LORD answer you when you are in trouble; may the God of Jacob make you secure! 2 May he send you help from his temple; from Zion may he give you support! 3 May he take notice of your offerings; may he accept your burnt sacrifice! (Selah) 4 May he grant your heart’s desire; may he bring all your plans to pass! 5 Then we will shout for joy over your victory; we will rejoice in the name of our God! May the LORD grant all your requests! 6 Now I am sure that the LORD will deliver his chosen king; he will intervene for him from his holy heavenly temple, and display his mighty ability to deliver. 7 Some trust in chariots and others in horses, but we depend on the LORD our God. 8 They will fall down, but we will stand firm. 9 The LORD will deliver the king; he will answer us when we call to him for help!
On this wonderful Easter morning, I have chosen for us to meditate on the words of an ancient prayer. Psalm 20 is a prayer for the Messiah. It was written during the time of king David, and successive generations prayed this prayer for his descendants when they came to the throne. As each new leader took charge, the people prayed these words for him. It was understood that from David’s line the Messiah would emerge. So, the people prayed these words in expectation that the king they were praying for might just be the one.
This prayer was particularly important when the king faced opposition or was in battle against his enemies. The people recognized how important it was for them to intercede for their king because they knew that God alone held his future and their future in his hands. Praying for the king was a tremendous responsibility.
Praying for the king was also an opportunity for the people to express their faith. This psalm is roughly split into two parts. One part intercedes for the king, the other part expresses confidence that God will answer the prayer, preserve the king and give victory.
Just like Psalm 118 that we looked at last week, this psalm is also prophetic because it always had the Messiah in mind ultimately. That is why it is appropriate for us to look at this psalm as we remember the events that we celebrate on Easter. The conflict that Jesus endured on Holy Week, his trials, crucifixion, death and resurrection, they are all foreshadowed by this ancient prayer.
When the people of God prayed for their king:
They were confident that God would answer his prayers and theirs (1a,9).
Our Lord went to a garden called Gethsemane. He told his disciples that he was deeply disturbed, even to the point of death. He asked them to stay with and pray with him. He knew what he was going to face that day. He prayed to his Father that somehow, he would be spared from this ordeal. But he knew that he would have to face it. He came into the world for this battle, and he would do battle.
He came back to his disciples and found them sleeping. He was disturbed by their indifference. He urged them to stay awake. For generations, the people of God had been praying for their king and this was the very event that the prayer of Psalm 20 predicted.
Jesus prayed alone. He found solace in this one thought. “Not what I want, but what the Father wants.” “My Father, if this cup cannot be taken away unless I drink it, your will must be done.” Jesus got his answer. His battle was not to keep him from the cross. His battle was for the courage to endure the cross.
Ultimately, you and I are the winners. By taking up his cross, Jesus answered our prayers. None of the blessings of God are available apart from that sacrifice. The LORD will answer us when we call to him for help because his Son became the bridge. Between us and our Holy God, there was a deep chasm, an expanse wider than the sky. Our sins kept us from reaching Almighty God. But Jesus bridged the gap. Now when we call on God, he will answer.
They were confident that God would protect him from his enemies (1b, 4).
The Davidic king would have enemies, foreign and domestic. He would have foreign kings who opposed his dominion, and local enemies who wanted to take his throne. The people prayed for God to make the king secure.
Jesus had enemies in Caesar’s palace, in Herod’s palace, among the council of elders, the Pharisees, and the Sadducees. He even had an enemy among his own disciples. He was the rightful ruler of all, and yet he faced opposition. During the week of that final Passover, the opposition gained ground. It was only a few days between the shouts of Hosanna and his triumphal entry and the shouts of “Crucify him” at his trial.
God had protected his Son all the years of his life. He protected him from being put to death by Herod the Great’s slaughter of the children. He protected him from being killed by the inhabitants of his own hometown when they turned against him. Jesus knew that none of his enemies would keep him from accomplishing his Father’s will.
They were confident that God would send him help and support him (2, 6, 7).
The people prayed for God to send the king help from his temple, the earthly symbol of his divine presence. They were confident that God would intervene for him from his holy heavenly temple – and display his mighty ability to deliver.
During his earthly life, angels attended Jesus and were always available to him. Jesus felt that support all during his life, but he appeared to question it as he was dying on the cross. People overheard his praying to his Father and saying “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” He was quoting from another psalm – Psalm 22. That psalm ends like this one – on a note of confidence in God’s accomplishment. When Jesus said “it is finished” it was not a declaration of his defeat. It was a victory cry because God had accomplished on the cross what none of us could ever do. He paid the price to redeem us from our sins. Jesus saw ahead into the empty cross, the empty tomb, and all of the empty tombs and graves to come.
They were confident that the king’s ordeal would end in victory and joy (5).
They prayed “we will shout for joy over your victory; we will rejoice in the name of our God!” The had looked ahead to the Messiah’s coming, the Messiah’s battles, and they saw the Messiah’s victory. They heard shouts that were even more glorious than the shouts of Hosannah. They heard the shouts of victory over death.
Listen to these words of the Apostle Paul: “Listen, I will tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed — in a moment, in the blinking of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. Now when this perishable puts on the imperishable, and this mortal puts on immortality, then the saying that is written will happen, “Death has been swallowed up in victory.” “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ!” (1 Corinthians 15:51-57).
On Easter, we celebrate our Lord’s victory over death. He came out of that tomb after three days’ rest never to sleep again. He conquered that which was unconquerable. He didn’t survive death. He overcame it. And because he lives, we also will live.
On Christmas, we celebrate a promise fulfilled – when Christ came for the first time. On Easter, we celebrate another promise fulfilled – Christ’s victory over death. We also celebrate a promise yet to be fulfilled when Christ will come a second time – in victory. His empty tomb is a symbol of that unfulfilled promise.
Why should we expect Jesus to come back and give us eternal life? We should expect it because Jesus has always set his heart to doing one thing: his Father’s will. He said “Now this is the will of the one who sent me — that I should not lose one person of every one he has given me, but raise them all up at the last day. For this is the will of my Father — for everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him to have eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. (John 6:39-40). He went to the cross and died because it was his Father’s will. He is coming back to raise the dead and give them eternal life because it is his Father’s will.
Imagine the joy that the disciples had when they saw their risen Master, heard his voice again, and realized that he who had been dead was now alive. Now, imagine the joy that all of us will experience on that day when our Master returns to complete the next phase in his Father’s will. He said, “a time is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and will come out — the ones who have done what is good to the resurrection resulting in life, and the ones who have done what is evil to the resurrection resulting in condemnation” (John 5:28-29). Everyone will be raised and judged. Some will be forgiven and experience eternal life. Others will be condemned and face the second death. Some will experience victory and joy; others will face defeat and permanent death.
That means that Easter is either a promise or a threat. God’s will is going to be accomplished. The man who came out of that tomb is coming back to bring us out of our graves. He is doing that because God is going to make everything new. For the king’s enemies, that means that they will be defeated and die forever. For the king’s loyal subjects, that means that they will be granted new life forever.
You and I can take part in our Lord’s victory over death. He has given us a choice. He has invited us into his eternal kingdom. If we are wise, we will accept his invitation. It is an invitation to eternal joy. It is an invitation to join him in his victory party. Those who refuse his invitation are unwise.