Sermon Notes

May 23rd 2018

Thoughts on the Sunday School Lesson May 27th

Rejoicing in Restoration — Psalm 34:1-10 and Hebrews 2:17-18 (NRSV/MSG)

34 1I bless God every chance I get;
my lungs expand with his praise.
2 I live and breathe God;
if things aren’t going well, hear this and be happy:
3 Join me in spreading the news;
together let’s get the word out.
4 God met me more than halfway,
he freed me from my anxious fears.
5 Look at him; give him your warmest smile.
Never hide your feelings from him.
6 When I was desperate, I called out,
and God got me out of a tight spot.
7 God’s angel sets up a circle
of protection around us while we pray.
8 Open your mouth and taste, open your eyes and see—
how good God is. Blessed are you who run to him.
9 Worship God if you want the best;
worship opens doors to all his goodness.
10 Young lions on the prowl get hungry,
but God-seekers are full of God.

2 17-18That’s why he had to enter into every detail of human life. Then, when he came before God as high priest to get rid of the people’s sins, he would have already experienced it all himself—all the pain, all the testing—and would be able to help where help was needed.

INTRODUCTION & BACKGROUND ON THE LESSON

Psalm 34 is a poetic song of thanksgiving for God’s act of deliverance from distress. Although the psalmist does not specifically detail the preceding danger, it is clear that the writer rejoices in the Divine’s timely provision of rescue from trouble—so much so, that he launches into a didactic lesson on the wisdom of fearing the Lord (v. 11-22.) The psalmist pens this psalm to remind ancient Hebrews that they should praise and thank God at all times, in all things, and through all times because God consistently liberated them from trouble.
Likewise, the writer of Hebrews convincingly argues that Christians should bless the name of Jesus because He is the source of our deliverance and salvation. Jesus alone is our priest because he experienced the full complement of human trials and tribulations, lived by faith in God (Hebrews 2:13a) , and triumphed over human suffering by His resurrection. According to James Earl Massey, Jesus best represents us to God because he personally identified with our sufferings. “He is before us as a victorious winner and with us as the sympathetic helper. The believer need only cry out for his assistance.” Like the children of Israel, Christians should ever rejoice with songs of thanksgiving because, “Jesus is on the mainline”—we simply have to tell Him what we want.
As literary background on Psalm 34, it is important to note that it is an acrostic poem—similar to Psalm 25—which uses successive letters of the Hebrew alphabet to introduce new verses of poetry. (See page 4 and 5 of this document for an example.) Psalm 34 is also a psalm of thanksgiving, which is either a promise of praise included within the concluding portions of a psalm of lament, or a stand alone praise song that looks back to previous times of distress. Because of its similarities with components of lament psalms, biblical scholars often have difficulty classifying these types of psalms as either laments or thanksgiving songs. According to McCann, psalms of thanksgiving typically include the following four components:
1. Expressions of praise and gratitude to God
2. Descriptions of trouble or distress from which the psalmist has been delivered
3. Testimony to others concerning God’s saving deeds
4. Exhortation to others to join in praising God and acknowledging God’s ways.
Regardless of its constituent elements, thanksgiving psalms reveal to readers the importance of developing and expressing an attitude of gratitude towards God.

INTO THE LESSON

1 I bless God every chance I get; my lungs expand with his praise.
2 I live and breathe God; if things aren’t going well, hear this and be happy:
3 Join me in spreading the news; together let’s get the word out.

In Psalm 34:1-3, the psalmist begins his thanksgiving psalm with a declaration that his life is fully dependent upon God. In verse 1, the psalmist says at every opportunity he blesses (barak in Hebrew) the Lord as his lungs and lips literally explode with praise. Blessing God involves symbolically prostrating oneself before God as the supreme sovereign and submitting one’s whole being to God. In verse 2, the psalmist says he lives, breathes and exists to praise the Lord. Initially God is the conversation partner in this song of thanksgiving, with the psalmist addressing the Lord. But soon, his horizontal praise evolves into a vertical challenge. The psalmist takes on the function of praise team leader, as he pauses his praise to parenthetically insert an exhortation to the community saying, “if you’re upset, not having a good day, or things are not going quite right in your life, I dare you to stop and hear what I have to say—you will be blessed.”
In verse 3, the psalmist then enlists the community in praising God. He says, “magnify the Lord with me. Let’s spread the news and exalt God’s name together.” With the understanding that praise is contagious, the psalmist invokes communal participation in blessing the name of God. As one, then two, followed by three or four join in to praise God, others are bound to follow. Why should the community, and by extension the readers join in the praise? Because they are in need of a blessing. As the humble or downtrodden hear of, and participate in, the praise of God, they then become beneficiaries of the blessings of God. As the psalmist(s) offer their own lives as a praise offering before God, their testimonies encourage others to testify to God’s goodness as well.

4 God met me more than halfway, he freed me from my anxious fears.
5 Look at him; give him your warmest smile. Never hide your feelings from him.
6 When I was desperate, I called out, and God got me out of a tight spot.
7 God’s angel sets up a circle of protection around us while we pray.
8 Open your mouth and taste, open your eyes and see—how good God is. Blessed are you who run to him.
9 Worship God if you want the best; worship opens doors to all his goodness.
10 Young lions on the prowl get hungry, but God-seekers are full of God.
In verses 4-10, the psalmist recounts his personal experience with God’s delivering grace with the sole intention of sharing his story so others will be encouraged. He says trouble and hard times found him, and he personally sought after God. God not only answered his prayers, but “met him more than halfway,” as expressed in the beautifully contemporized poetic translation of Eugene Peterson. God freed him from his fears, and delivered him to a place of sure-footed peace. This is why he can shine on God with a warm smile, radiant heart and transparent honesty. As the psalmist stands in a place of freedom instead of fear, peace instead of confusion, he is released to bless God with abandon. Circumstances of trouble and turmoil become teachable moments for praise and worship.
In verse 6 and 7, the psalmist says he was desperate, but God delivered. He was in a tight spot, but God saved his life, plucking him from doom and despair. God sent an angel—that is a heavenly emissary—that encircled him with protection as he prayed to the Lord. Note: the historical context for this psalm was likely communal worship, therefore it is plausible to assume that by way of exhortation, the psalmist likely pauses to say, “if God did it for me, God will do it for you! Look to God as your source of deliverance and the object of your thanksgiving”. In verse 8 he says, “taste and perceive for yourself that God is good,” which leads to the theological truth revealed in verse 9: God’s goodness is both the motivation for, and the by-product of, worship. Verse 10 then provides the community, and by extension the readers, with a metaphor for a properly aligned relationship with God. Young lions are animals that rely on their own resources to sustain themselves. Therefore, they often go hungry because they only rely on themselves. In contrast, those who rely on God—literally trust God—are so full of God, that they lack nothing of necessity.
Hebrews 2
17-18 That’s why he had to enter into every detail of human life. Then, when he came before God as high priest to get rid of the people’s sins, he would have already experienced it all himself—all the pain, all the testing—and would be able to help where help was needed.
As the lesson text moves to Hebrews chapter 2, these final two verses of the printed lesson outline that Christians, like the ancient Hebrews, have access to Divine help when they trust in God through Christ Jesus. When we trust in Jesus we lack nothing. Jesus knows what we need before we ever ask, because he was human. He experienced “every detail of human life,” so he is intimately qualified to petition God on humanity’s behalf. Jesus not only “paid it all” on Calvary, he experienced it all before he journeyed to Calvary and while he hung on Calvary. Jesus knows what it feels like to be hungry, thirsty, tired, aggravated, misunderstood, disappointed, betrayed, denied and abandoned. We can trust Jesus, because he “knows all about our sorrows,” and we thank Jesus because died for our sins and we worship Jesus because he is our resurrected Lord. That’s why we should offer Christ Jesus sacrifices of praise and hymns of thanksgiving. In Him we live, move and have our being.  

NOTE

1) In Hebrews 2:13a, the writer of Hebrews presents Jesus as appealing to Isaiah 8:17-18 to evidence his trust in God.

2) See James Earl Massey’s article, “Hebrews” in Brian Blunt, et al, True to Our Native Land: An African American Commentary, (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2007), 444-460.

3) For more information on the classification of psalms, see C.S. Rodd’s article, “Psalms,” in John Barton and John Muddiman’s, The Oxford Bible Commentary (Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2007), p. 355-366, and J. Clinton McCann Jr.’s article “The Book of Psalms: Introduction, Commentary and Reflections,” in The New Interpreter’s Study Bible (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2003) p. 273-297.
4) See McCann, p. 277.

Note: In the original Hebrew language of the Psalms in the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament expanded titles of the Psalms are included as a separate verse. English translations do not number expanded titles as separate verses, therefore in English Psalm 34 begin with the Hebrew verse 2.

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