Answer Me When I Call (Psalm 4)
1. God is a righteous God. But David reminds us in our psalm this morning that He is also the “God of my righteousness” (v1). He is the God that declares you righteous. That’s why you know that God listens to your prayers. Because Jesus has taken everything unrighteous in you to the Cross. You can now speak to God as dear children speak to their dear Father. Just like David does. David begs YHWH, “Answer me when I call.” After all, God had come to his rescue in the past. David declares, “You have given me relief when I was in distress” (v1). What is this relief in distress? What causes you distress today? David’s life had always been filled with distress. David visits his older brothers serving in the Israelite army. He hears the great boasts and blasphemies being spouted about by Goliath. David becomes righteously indignant. The little shepherd boy goes out against a seasoned war veteran with just a shepherd’s staff and sling. Or later, King Saul grew so jealous of David’s accomplishments and popularity that Saul tried to kill David repeatedly. David’s own son Absalom rebelled against him and tried to kill him. I’m sure that’s how Jeremiah must have felt when the priests wanted to kill him because they didn’t like what God had told Jeremiah to say. In each time of trial, David trusted the Lord even in the face of great distress. And God never failed David. When David says, “Answer me when I call,” he’s remembering how God had worked in his life before. He’s begging God to be gracious to him once again. “Answer me when I call.” David shows us what St. Paul means when he writes, “Pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17). God not only invites you to call upon Him in prayer, but He also invites you to remember His past works as you pray for what you need now. When you travel, pray for a safe journey, remembering how many others He has protected during their travels. When you’re sick, pray for healing, knowing how many people He has cured from cancer, heart disease and other diseases. But simply saying, “You’ve done it before, God. I expect you to do it again,” is not a magic formula guaranteeing you’ll get what you want. But basing your prayer on His promises and past performance does show trust in an unchanging God.
2. The world around us gives us plenty of reasons to pray. Men and women of God love His sure promises and seek after the truth. Men and women of the world “love vain words and seek after lies” (v2). Men and women of the world enjoy turning honor into shame. As St. Paul writes in our Epistle, “their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things” (Philippians 3:19). What once was viewed as good and honorable has been tarnished in our fallen world. The truth of the Bible used to be treated as good and honorable. Now, people try to shame you for believing what the Bible says about Jesus dying for sinners. Most recently, it’s the finding of bone boxes that they now say disprove Jesus’ resurrection. Not too many years ago, marriage was still considered a noble estate that everyone should aspire to. Divorce was embarrassing. Martin Luther once said that marriage was only surpassed in supremacy by religion as the most noble estate (WLS #2780). Now, people consider marriage nothing more than a piece of paper and live together without the slightest qualm. People realize that their actions lead to nothing but heartache and strife. But they don’t seem to mind the pain. As Garth Brooks put it, “I might have missed the pain, but I’d have had to miss the dance.” The world wants the experience—whether good or bad. They want to take the vain words and empty lies so that they can turn what is honorable into something shameful. It may be a very subtle shift in thinking over time, but the shift starts with a desire to go against the will of God with the idea that they don’t need God—at least not all the time. We’re tempted by the same idea. So we pray.
3. David says, “The Lord has set apart the godly for Himself” (v3). That is the purpose of God’s intervention. That’s why we need God—to separate the godly from the ungodly. To keep us from the ungodly life that comes so naturally for us. Jesus speaks about separating the godly from the ungodly in His judgment parables—the sheep and goats, wheat and tares, and the net of good and bad fish. All these parables show God separating the godly for Himself. What’s the difference between the godly and the ungodly? Have the godly done something to deserve God’s favor? Absolutely not. In almost every respect, they are just like the ungodly. The only difference is the godly can echo David’s address of God in the opening verse of our psalm: “the God of my righteousness.” By faith, we are certain that we are godly. We are certain that we are righteous. We are certain that God hears us. Not because of our works—because they aren’t righteous—but because of Christ’s work. Hebrews echoes this understanding when it declares Jesus to be “the founder and perfecter of our faith” (12:2). Jesus makes us godly and righteous. He formed the basis of the faith with His death and resurrection. He perfected our faith by embodying our faith in His active obedience—He fulfilled the Law perfectly during His life and ministry on earth. And what He did is counted by God as if you had done it. His righteousness—His godliness—was given to David and is given to you by faith. The Holy Spirit gives you faith and so gives you the confidence and boldness that David had—the confidence and boldness to come before God, knowing that He will hear you when you pray because Jesus has made you His own dear child—just as we pray in the Lord’s Prayer. All because Jesus has made His righteousness yours.
4. No wonder David continues his psalm with the words: “Ponder in your own hearts on your beds, and be silent” (v4). The sons of Korah, in another psalm, echo the same words: “Be still, and know that I am God” (46:10). Habakkuk also echoes these words: “The Lord is in His holy temple; let all the earth keep silent before Him” (2:20). Even the Virgin Mary understood the value of being quiet and pondering. After Jesus was born, the angels sang and the shepherds visited, “Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart” (Luke 2:19). This great message that God has declared us sinners righteous is something truly marvelous to ponder. The more we study about this great message, the more unfathomable it becomes. It’s true. The more we begin to understand about our salvation through Christ, the more we realize how little we know. But this lack of knowledge need not deter us from continuing our study or praising our God. In fact, it should encourage even more study and praise. As you read your devotions, spend time simply pondering over the meaning of the text. It’s a good study tool just to sit there and absorb the words of the Bible while you are reading it. And always keep in mind St. Paul’s words to the Romans, “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and how inscrutable His ways” (11:33). No matter how much we study, we know that we’ll never understand everything. But that’s the basis of faith as Hebrews defines it: “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (11:1). Faith takes God’s words and promises to heart even when we don’t understand them simply because they are God’s words and promises. He has taken care of everything we need for everlasting life in Heaven. There is no reason to doubt. There are lots of reasons to pray with thanks and praise.
5. David can find no reason to doubt. He continues, “Offer right sacrifices, and put your trust in the Lord” (v5). We’re discussing the Old Testament sacrifices in our Sunday morning Bible study. As we look through the rituals behind the sacrifices, we see that “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise” (Psalm 51:19). The “right sacrifices” that David encourages us to offer revolve around the season of Lent just as the sacrifices of the Old Testament revolved around the themes of Lent: repentance and confession. To “offer right sacrifices” we must first understand that we are broken by sin. Our spirits cry out to be mended. That’s repentance. Confessing that we need something more than we can give ourselves. God repeats the message throughout the Bible: “The soul that sins is the one who will die” (Ezekiel 18:4). Death is in the world because of our sin. We deserve to die because of our sins, but God had a plan. God instituted the Old Testament sacrifices to foreshadow His sacrifice of His Son on the Cross for our sins. Our confession points to the sacrifice of Jesus and says, “That was for me. That is the only reason I can say these things to You, O God.” So we pray, trusting that God has brought about the promised atonement foreshadowed in the sacrifices. We leave our sin-filled baggage with Jesus and take His holiness and wrap it around ourselves and clutch it tight to ourselves as the only thing that can mend our broken spirit.
6. Prayer looks both forward and backward. Prayer also encourages you to bask in the glory of YHWH. David restates part of the Benediction with the words, “Lift up the light of Your face upon us, O Lord” (v6). He says this in response to the question asked by “many”: “Who will show us some good?” This shows the relationship between saint and sinner among Christians. We get anxious about life. There are times when life seems so overwhelming that you feel like screaming, “Who will show us SOME good? Is there NO good to be had in this world?” Anxiety seeks to seize your soul and envelope it in worry that need not be there. Pray. The light of your Lord’s loving face is shining on you. Even in the darkest of night, there is the promise of light. Jesus’ return is frequently likened to dawn breaking. We especially see this as we look forward to Easter as our dead and buried Savior rose from His grave and brought to light an eternal morning. This is why Jeremiah, even in the midst of the darkness surrounding his writing of Lamentations can say, “Your mercies are new every morning” (3:23). He continues, “Great is Your faithfulness. God is faithful with His promises. We know by faith—faith that trusts His faithfulness—that God’s favor and glory shine on you. He declares you His righteous chjild through the washing of Baptism and as He feeds you the Body and Blood of Jesus given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins. The light of His face shines on you shifts your focus—not on the anxieties and worries of this world—but to God and His promises for you and His care for you.
7. God’s face shining on you fills you with “more joy in my heart than they have when their grain and wine abound” (v7). We can speak to God about anything because He gives us joy beyond measure. The world seeks after this type of joy in whatever means it can find it, but it always falls short. The stock market cannot give us that type of joy—it keeps going up and down. Collecting precious metals and jewels cannot give us that type of joy—it can be stolen from us. Other people cannot give us that type of joy—we can’t count on them always being there. Just over the last year or two, many in this congregation have been faced with the departure of a loved one from this life. Even with all the joy we had with this person, it has come to an end. They are no longer here for us to share our joy. However, we rejoice for those loved ones who also had the joy of being called God’s children and receiving the abundant joy that awaits His children after their life on earth is done. This joy is not temporal or fleeting. It is your permanent reality. As a child of God, you have this joy so that we can live our lives in peace.
8. David ends our psalm this morning with a statement of that peace and security. “You alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety” (v8). It’s similar to the very familiar ending of the twenty-third psalm: “And I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever” (23:6). Also, St. Paul writes in our Epistle: “But our citizenship is in Heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ” (Philippians 3:20). Only God can make you dwell in safety. This safety comes not with some great security system or an enormous nest egg to keep you afloat. This safety comes from three spikes, two pieces of wood and a crown made of thorns. This safety does not come because you have made yourself secure. It comes because your destiny is secure. No matter what our adversary, the devil, throws at us we’ll be able to overcome because we have God our Father on our side. His sending of Jesus into the flesh to die for the sins of the world has made this possible. Therefore, you can lie down in peace and sleep knowing that God is always there for you. You can pray with confidence. You can pray in peace.
9. “Answer me when I call, O God of my righteousness!” What a great line for this Lenten season. Rest assured, Christians, your Lord and God has given you the security you so greatly desire because of His Son Jesus Christ. He is listening to you. Pray to Him. Beg for His forgiveness. Ask for His help. Give thanks for His goodness. He will answer because, like David, you are His forgiven and chosen child. In the name of Jesus. Amen.