A Message of Hope in the Midst of Suffering
Bible Text: Psalm 116 | Preacher: Mark Penrith | Series: Stand Alone Sermons | Scripture Reading – Psalms 116
I love the Lord because he has heard my appeal for mercy.
Because he has turned his ear to me, I will call out to him as long as I live.
The ropes of death were wrapped around me, and the torments of Sheol overcame me; I encountered trouble and sorrow.
Then I called on the name of the Lord: “Lord, save me!”
The Lord is gracious and righteous; our God is compassionate.
The Lord guards the inexperienced; I was helpless, and he saved me.
Return to your rest, my soul, for the Lord has been good to you.
For you, Lord, rescued me from death, my eyes from tears, my feet from stumbling.
I will walk before the Lord in the land of the living.
I believed, even when I said, “I am severely oppressed.”
In my alarm I said, “Everyone is a liar.”
How can I repay the Lord for all the good he has done for me?
I will take the cup of salvation and call on the name of the Lord.
I will fulfill my vows to the Lord in the presence of all his people.
The death of his faithful ones is valuable in the Lord’s sight.
Lord, I am indeed your servant; I am your servant, the son of your female servant.
You have loosened my bonds.
I will offer you a thanksgiving sacrifice and call on the name of the Lord.
I will fulfill my vows to the Lord in the presence of all his people,
in the courts of the Lord’s house— within you, Jerusalem.
Well friends I once again greet you in the wonderful Name of Jesus Christ our Lord and Saviour. Let’s bow our heads as we prepare our hearts, our minds to receive God’s word.
Lord God, I am reminded that your word says that the glories of men are like the grass of the fields or men are and their glories are like the flower. That the grass withers and flowers fall but your word stands forever. Father this morning, our desire is to stand upon your word, fixed. Cause our minds to be renewed as we read and as we hear the teaching of your word. Cause our hearts to be stirred by your Holy Spirit within us that we might be reawakened, invigorated, prepared, made fit. Father God, please conform our lives toward the image of your son Jesus Christ, our Lord and our Saviour in this life that our lives might point to your glorious grace at work within us. These things we pray in the wonderful name of Jesus Christ, our Lord and our Saviour. Amen
Are you going through a period of suffering?
For most of the world, 2020 has been anything but “20-Plenty”. Liezl said to me last night, it’s more felt like “20-Empty”. A season of bitter providence.
Have you been spared for the moment?
I am glad for you. Yet, you do understand, it is inevitable that sooner or later, you will face a calamity, a turmoil of one kind or another. Together with the rest of Adam’s helpless race you too will walk through a valley of the shadow of death. Suffering arrives at our doorstep for different reasons and in varying forms: Some sufferings that we experience could be called Deserved Suffering. We sin, and we suffer the consequence of that sin, the penalty of that sin, the wage of that sin. And the consequences that we feel are often painful. A smaller pain which warns of a greater pain to come. What do I mean by that, you may ask? You rush a child to the hospital because of sharp abdominal pain and possibly save them from a burst appendix. Or you call for an ambulance because of great discomfort in your chest and catch a heart attack just in time. Or a loving parent gives a child a small yet painful consequence to prevent a much greater pain in life to come. So, for a believer, a small pain, a discipline, calls them away from a greater pain to come. For unbelievers, wilful sin resulting in deserved suffering. It is a divine alarm bell. A reminder that the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23). A warning of the eternal pain to come.
Some sufferings we experience could be called Innocent Suffering. Even if you were careful not to sin, you abstained from wrongdoing, you would still suffer. Natural disasters, floods, whirlwinds, earthquakes, pandemics and terminal disease. These calamities come to all man. Catastrophe strikes even the best of men and brings suffering on those who did nothing to deserve it. But that is not all. The people that we love die and we suffer and grieve. Our relationships fall apart, and it creates suffering and grief. Racial prejudice, unjust laws and social injustice brings innocent suffering. When 200,000 abortions per year in South Africa, the innocent suffer. When a drunk drive’s his car into another vehicle, the innocent suffer. When robbers murder a family during a home invasion, the innocent suffer. When a man rapes a child, the innocent suffer. When a man strikes a woman, the innocent suffer. The innocent suffers because we live in a broken world.
And then there is Righteous Suffering. Believers, who have not sinned, who have done what is right, who have stood for up for the Gospel, suffer for it. We heard and prayed for Kenya earlier in our service. There is present righteous suffering in that country. It has always been this way. Cain murdered Abel because his deeds were evil, and his brothers were righteous (1 John 3:12). In fact, all who want to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted (2 Timothy 3:12). God’s people are those who are persecuted because of righteousness (Matthew 5:10).
Are you going through a period of suffering?
2020 is a time of multiplication and intensification of calamity, turmoil and distress. Many around us feel as if they are walking through a valley of the shadow of death.
Do you too?
Is your health affected by Coronavirus and its impact? Do you fear it will be? Are your finances affected because of the lockdown? Do you fear they will be? This morning when I woke up, I read of 18,011,845 Coronavirus cases worldwide. 688,683 deaths. In South Africa, we have just past the 500,000 mark of Coronavirus cases. 8,153 deaths. Alarming is the report on weekly deaths in South Africa. It indicates that people are dying at even a higher rate then that. We have not remained unscathed at Crystal Park Baptist Church Benoni. This week I read that around three million people lost their jobs over the lockdown period. That is an 18% decline in unemployment. The economy might contract by 7.2% in 2020. It could take two years for the South African economy to recover to pre-Covid-19 levels. There were 21% fewer salary payments in June. Daily and weekly wage earners were worst affected. Salaries have also declined. Our economy is in shambles. Businesses are under pressure, companies are closing. And we have not remained unscathed at Crystal Park Baptist Church.
Are you going through a period of suffering?
It seems that suffering is on the cards for many of us in the short term. And even if you remain unscathed for the moment eventually suffering will knock at your door too. We are people acquainted and familiar with suffering, are we not?
And yet, “we know that all things work together for the good of those who love God, who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28). This verse is like a beautiful, bright beam of sun piecing a dark cloud. All things. Good things, like getting married, or having a child, or being in good health, having money in the bank. And other things like getting sick, getting robbed, losing your job. All things work together for the good of those who love God. So, how can this bright beam shed light on your present suffering? The suffering that you will face tomorrow. Some attempt to resolve the difficulty by relegating the answer to mystery. “These things cannot be understood,” they say. For sure, some suffering is hidden away from us in the secret counsel of God. Others point to the distant future, “The scales will be balanced in the sweet by and by,” they say. “Pie in the sky when we die.” But this morning, the Psalmist in 116, under divine inspiration, dishes up for us “Steak on our plate while we wait.” Our suffering is not pointless. There is a ray of hope even in the midst of suffering, in the midst of death, turmoil and torment. Suffering is a unique opportunity to stir up love for the Lord in this present age and that love fuels a glorified life.
What can we learn in the midst of suffering? (verse 1-8)
1. Our Lord is Merciful (1)
The text reads, “I love the Lord because he has heard my appeal for mercy.”
What is mercy? Mercy is “God withholding from us what we deserve.” Biblically mercy is God withholding His wrath until a sinner comes to repentance. What does the Psalmist deserve? I do not know. We don’t know who wrote this Psalm. We don’t know when this Psalm was written. We don’t know the particular circumstances of its writing. But we do know this, the Psalmist was in need of God’s mercy, “what he did not deserve.” The Psalmist appealed for God’s mercy “what he did not deserve.” And the Psalmist received God’s mercy “what he did not deserve.” And this mercy from the Lord stirred love within the Psalmist’s heart toward the Lord. “I love the Lord because he has heard my appeal for mercy.”
What can we learn in the midst of suffering? That Our Lord is Merciful.
2. Our Lord is Hears our Cry (2)
Our text reads, “Because he has turned his ear to me, I will call out to him as long as I live.”
Friends, we must be careful in the midst trial, in the midst of suffering not to think of God as somehow detached from us. As if He does not care about the difficulty and tribulation that we are going through. As if He is absent from the here and now. A million miles up, seated on some cloud in the sky, without any real connection with the earth below. That’s not our Lord. Rather God is present in all His creation while remaining distinct from it. There is no place where God is not. His Sovereign control extends everywhere simultaneously. In the midst of our darkest hour, He is there, attentive to our cry for help. He knows your business is crashing. That you have lost your job. That you have lost your loved one. That you have tested positive for Coronavirus. He knows what you are going through. In Egypt, The Israelites groaned because of their difficult labour, they cried out, and their cry for help because of the difficult labour ascended to God. God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob. God saw the Israelites, and God knew (Exodus 2:23-24). The Lord is near the broken-hearted; He saves those crushed in spirit (Psalm 34:18). Psalm 139:1-6 captures this thought with poetic beauty. Meditate on these words today over lunch with your family, after lunch by yourself, “Lord, you have searched me and known me. You know when I sit down and when I stand up; you understand my thoughts from far away. You observe my travels and my rest; you are aware of all my ways. Before a word is on my tongue, you know all about it, Lord. You have encircled me; you have placed your hand on me. This wondrous knowledge is beyond me. It is lofty; I am unable to reach it.” Psalm 116 says, “Because he has turned his ear to me, I will call out to him as long as I live.”
What can we learn in the midst of suffering? We can learn that; Our Lord Hears Our Cry.
3. Our Lord is Mighty to Save (3-4)
“The ropes of death were wrapped around me, and the torments of Sheol overcame me; I encountered trouble and sorrow. Then I called on the name of the Lord: “Lord, save me!”
The Psalmist had a near-death experience. He talks of a time when the ropes of death wrapped around him, and the torments of Sheol overcame him; that he encountered trouble and sorrow. And so, he cries out to the One who has all power over all things at all times and in all ways. The creator of the heavens and the earth. The creator and the sustainer of the world. In the midst of his pain, of his fear, of his suffering, he does not call out God, save me, but “Lord, save me!” The word God, Elohim, is a generic name or title for a deity. But the Lord, Yehovah, Yahweh, is the proper name of the one true God. The covenant name is used to denote an intimate relationship with the nation of Israel. In the midst of suffering, when we cry out to the Lord, our plea is, do not fall upon deaf ears. They ring in the ear of our Heavenly Father. His disposition towards us is one of covenant relational love. Then I called on the name of the Lord: “Lord, save me!”
What can we learn in the midst of suffering? We can learn that Our Lord is Mighty to save.
4. Our Lord is Gracious (5a)
“The Lord is gracious”
Whereas the mercy of God, is God withholding what we do deserve. Grace is God giving what we do not deserve. We do not deserve His tender mercies, and yet He lavishes them upon repentant sinners. God’s grace is not earned by our efforts or work, it is a gift which He freely gives. And for this, we love Him more and more and more. God’s grace to us is not a hat tip, a trinket, some kind of vain sentimentality. He gives us everything we need and more to endure in and glorify Him in the midst of our suffering. It is in suffering that we can experience the fullness of His presence and the perfection of His peace. His extravagant love toward us through the person of His Son is on exhibition in suffering. The Lord is gracious
What can we learn in the midst of suffering? The Lord is Gracious.
5. Our Lord is Righteous (5b)
Here is a fact, you would probably not know: Remember I said we don’t know who wrote this Psalm, when it was written or circumstances of its writing. But we do know when the Psalm was sung regularly in worship. Psalm 116 is part of the Hallel. We get the word Hallelujah from the word “Hallel”. The Hallel consists of six Psalms (psalm 113–118). They are sung on joyous occasions such as the Passover. The Passover celebrates the exodus from Egypt, freedom from Egyptian slavery. In Matthew 26:30 we read that after the Passover meal before He was arrested, put on trial and crucified, Jesus and His disciples sang a hymn. On the night that Christ died, one of the Psalms sung would have been Psalm 116. Give some thought to the words of this Psalm that we’ve already read, and the words that are to come. I love the Lord because he has heard my appeal for mercy. Because he has turned his ear to me, I will call out to him as long as I live. The ropes of death were wrapped around me, and the torments of Sheol overcame me; I encountered trouble and sorrow. Then I called on the name of the Lord: “Lord, save me!” The Lord is gracious and righteous; our God is compassionate. The Lord guards the inexperienced; I was helpless, and he saved me. That night Jesus Christ our Lord and Saviour, the Holy One of God (John 6:69), the righteousness of God revealed to man (Romans 1:17) was to go and perform one righteous act (Romans 5:18) and satisfy the righteousness of God (Romans 3:21) and receive the gift of righteousness (Romans 5:17) and so through the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous (Romans 5:19) On the cross, Jesus exchanged our sin for His perfect righteousness. So that, one day we may stand before God and He will see not our sin, but the holy righteousness of our Lord Jesus. In our suffering, as we dwell upon the Person and Work of Christ, and His own suffering, something of the righteousness of God is revealed to us in a unique way.
What can we learn in the midst of suffering? The Lord is Righteous.
6. Our Lord is Compassionate (5c)
“our God is compassionate.”
God is emotionally invested in His creation. He is involved. He cares. He feels wrath against sin (Psalm 38:3) and is pained by the rejection of His love and grace (Luke 19:41-42). Jesus Christ who is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact expression of his nature (Hebrews 1:3), who showed us the Father (John 14:8-10), wept at Lazarus’s tomb (John 11:35). He sympathizes with our weaknesses (Hebrews 4:15) and is described as a man of suffering who knew what sickness was (Isaiah 53:3). God is emotionally invested in His creation. He is involved and He cares. In our sufferings, we learn of God’s compassion for His people (Isaiah 14:1). He takes pity on us. He takes care of us. Our God is compassionate.
In the midst of our suffering we learn God is compassionate.
7. The Lord is a Refuge (6)
“The Lord guards the inexperienced; e.g. I was helpless, and he saved me.”
When I read these words, I’m reminded of that pilgrim walking towards Jerusalem. Through the dangerous hilly road where bandits would hide out waiting to descend upon travellers. As he walks, he says a familiar psalm “I lift my eyes toward the mountains, he says with fear. Where will my help come from? My help comes from the Maker of the heavens and the earth” (Psalm 121:1-2). The Lord guards the inexperienced. precisely when “I was helpless, He saved me.”
What can we learn in the midst of suffering? We can learn that Our Lord is Refuge, a mighty tower, a strong tower that we might run into and they are saved.
8. The Lord is Good. All the Time. (7-8)
“Return to your rest, my soul, for the Lord has been good to you. e.g. 8 For you, Lord, rescued me from death, my eyes from tears, my feet from stumbling.”
The Psalmist is praising the Lord for the good He has done. He has been rescued. The Lord, Yahweh, has been good towards him. Goodness is a property of who God is. It is one of His attributes. One of His perfections. “Milk is white.” White is an attribute of milk. Goodness is an attribute of who God is. God is good. Goodness is a definition of God.
Andrew Wilson writes, “Now imagine, instead of saying “milk is white,” I said, “milk is a whitish liquid containing proteins, fats, lactose, and various vitamins and minerals produced by the mammary glands of all mature female mammals after they have given birth.”
Suddenly my statement has become larger. It’s not just a description, but a definition; Anywhere you find this type of substance, you will, by definition have milk, and vice versa. In the same way, God is good by definition; Anywhere you find goodness you will, by definition, have God, and vice versa. You can’t have God without goodness, and you can’t have goodness without God.” So, what God made in Genesis 1:31 was very good. No one is good except God is good in Mark 10:18. Those who seek the Lord will not lack any good thing (Psalm 34:10). All things work together for the good of those who love God (Romans 8:28). Goodness is a property of who God is, and goodness is a definition of God. Goodness is also a description of our experience of God. “A glass of cold milk is yummy.” That is a description of my personal experience of milk. Taste and see that the Lord is good (Psalm 34:8). That is a description of a personal experience of God. “Knowing God is good but never experiencing his goodness is as useless as knowing the definition of milk and never drinking it” It is through suffering that we experience the fullness of God’s goodness towards us.
During easy times we can rejoice in the blessings of God, but it is in dark times where we can truly experience goodness flowing from our Father above. It is when we go through the afflictions of the righteous that we can experience the Lord rescuing us from them all (Psalm 34:19). Return to your rest, my soul, for the Lord has been good to you. For you, Lord, rescued me from death, my eyes from tears, my feet from stumbling
What can we learn in the midst of suffering? The Lord is Good. All the Time.
How do we draw this to conclusion? We apply psalm 116 from verse 1-8. This morning we have been talking about the attributes, the perfections, the characteristics of God and how we experience them in suffering. Now you can read all day long about God’s mercy, about His attentiveness towards our cries, His power, His graciousness, His righteousness, His compassion, His safety and His goodness. You can read all of that in a book. I have plenty of good books on my bookshelf that I can lend to you. Systematic Theologies which will lay these truths out before you. But it is through suffering and through trial that these properties and these definitions become our lived experiences. You don’t just know that God is merciful, you experience His mercy. You don’t just know God is Powerful, you experience His power. Compassionate, you experience His compassion. Don’t waste your suffering. Suffer well. In the midst of it, taste and see that God is good.
We discussed 8 attributes of God from this Psalm. God’s mercy, God’s hearing our cry, His power, His graciousness, His righteous, His compassion, His safety and His goodness. but I can tell you that in the midst of suffering there are other attributes, other perfections, other characteristics, other beauties of God which will be revealed to you. God’s sovereignty was revealed to Joseph as he went through sufferings and grief (Genesis 50:40). God’s wisdom was revealed to Job in the midst of his affliction and turmoil (Job 38). God’s wrath was revealed to the prophet Isaiah as he pondered upon the suffering servant that was to come (Isaiah 53:10). Suffering reveals God to our hearts. And so, don’t waste your suffering. Suffer well. Taste and see that God is good.
Seek Him in the midst of your pain and you will find him in the midst of what you are going through. Also be sure to turn your anxiety and fear over to Him at the start of your trial so that anxiousness doesn’t rob you of the opportunity to learn about Him. Anxiety will keep you focused on things below, earthly things. To see God in the midst of suffering, you must be heavenly minded. And so, bring your anxiety before God as an item of prayer. Ask friends, family and church members to pray for you. Ask God to blind you to the things of this world and open the eyes of your heart. Turn your eyes upon Jesus and look full in His wonderful face and the things of earth will grow strangely dim In the light of his glory and grace.
As you go through a period of suffering be careful that, in pride, you don’t try and save yourself. To play the role of God, to rescue Him from His own Sovereignty in the midst of your calamity. Whatever you are facing, cry out to the Lord in the midst of it. He will hear you; He will know, and He will respond to you for His own praise and glory.
Lastly if you are an unbeliever here this morning, you can hear about God until the cows come home but you will never know Him until you repent of your sins and put your faith and trust in Jesus Christ as your Lord and your Saviour. When you do that, the Holy Spirit will be given to you as a deposit until that final day, a seal of redemption. And the Spirit in you, will begin to reveal the God of heaven above. Friend, you are a sinner that has fallen short of the glory of God and because God is Holy, He will justly judge you of your sin. The wages of sin is death. The gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord and our Saviour. This day, hear the call upon your life, repent and believe in Jesus Christ the son of God, the Holy one of God. Put your faith and trust in Him and you will live.
Let’s close in a word of prayer.
Father God in heaven, I do thank you for revealing yourself to us through your word. It is a comfort to read of your compassion, your mercy and your grace on display. But Lord even as I pray today I ask, would these wonderful attributes be extended to your people in their hour of need, for your own glory sake I pray. Amen.
Well friends I do thank you for being with us today. Whether you are in zoom about to enjoy fellowship together with the rest of the brethren, whether you are on YouTube, whether you are on Facebook, it is good to have you. Please do leave a comment so we can mark your attendance. Like the pages and share them, host a watch party, invite your family and friends to subscribe on YouTube and like on Facebook and follow our page. Get the word out by sharing the content that we are creating via Facebook and WhatsApp so we can reach our city together for the Gospel.
I am going to close in a benediction and the benediction this morning is taken from 1 Peter 5: 10-11:
“The God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, establish, strengthen, and support you after you have suffered a little while. To him be dominion forever. Amen”