February 26, 2017
A note to readers: Today’s post is part of a Sunday Voice Series by Dr. Timothy C. Tennent, a close friend, mentor and colleague of mine. He serves as the President of Asbury Theological Seminary among other posts he holds across the global church. This Sunday Voice Series will cover the Psalms, beginning to end, by focusing on a Psalm each Sunday. I can’t tell you how excited I am for his interest in contributing here. This will be a huge blessing to us all.
Psalm 40 (NIV)
I waited patiently for the Lord;
he turned to me and heard my cry.
He lifted me out of the slimy pit,
out of the mud and mire;
he set my feet on a rock
and gave me a firm place to stand.
He put a new song in my mouth,
a hymn of praise to our God.
Many will see and fear the Lord
and put their trust in him.
Sacrifice and offering you did not desire—
but my ears you have opened—
burnt offerings and sin offerings you did not require.
Then I said, “Here I am, I have come—
it is written about me in the scroll.
I desire to do your will, my God;
your law is within my heart.”
Do not withhold your mercy from me, Lord;
may your love and faithfulness always protect me.
For troubles without number surround me;
my sins have overtaken me, and I cannot see.
They are more than the hairs of my head,
and my heart fails within me.
Be pleased to save me, Lord;
come quickly, Lord, to help me.
May all who want to take my life
be put to shame and confusion;
may all who desire my ruin
be turned back in disgrace.
May those who say to me, “Aha! Aha!”
be appalled at their own shame.
But may all who seek you
rejoice and be glad in you;
may those who long for your saving help always say,
“The Lord is great!”
But as for me, I am poor and needy;
may the Lord think of me.
You are my help and my deliverer;
you are my God, do not delay.
The journey of this psalm is rather unusual, especially as compared with many other psalms. We are accustomed to psalms depicting situations of trial, hardship, and even deep lament. However, the customary movement or “journey” is from peril to praise, or from hardship to hope. This psalm, in contrast, boldly opens with the servant of God rejoicing over God’s deliverance. He has “lifted me out of the slimy pit and set my feet on a rock” (vs. 2). He has “put a new song in my mouth” (vs 3). The psalmist declares the wonderful works of God, and he presents himself as the servant of God prepared to do God’s will. However, in verse 12, the tone dramatically shifts. David finds himself in grave difficulty. He says, “Troubles without number surround me” and “my heart fails within me” (vs. 12). The psalm then transitions to that famous prayer of deliverance (which also serves independently as Psalm 70) which constitutes the closing five verses of the psalm.
This “unexpected journey” is important to remember for this is, of course, the journey of our Lord Jesus Christ. Just as every Jewish sacrifice was like a promissory note awaiting a future fulfillment in Christ, so all the psalms are like promissory notes awaiting their fullest expression and fulfillment in Jesus Christ. The Psalms are simultaneously 150 journeys (representing the spiritual journeys of all of us) and the single journey of Christ who sings every psalm with us. The incarnation is the greatest example of God’s own journey. From all eternity, the Son of God dwelt in the midst of praise and rejoicing. Yet, in the incarnation, the second person of the Trinity came and dwelt among us as Jesus Christ. One of the driving themes of the New Testament is to demonstrate how Jesus fulfills all the great Old Testament themes. In particular, Jesus came to fulfill the law, the prophets, the priesthood, the kingship, the messianic hope, the sacrificial system, and the suffering servant, to name a few.
The book of Hebrews seeks to establish that Jesus came to fulfill all sacrifices by offering up himself as the final sacrifice. Hebrews 10:5 places Psalm 40:6-8 in the mouth of Christ by saying, “When Christ came into the world he said…” and then the verses from Psalm 40 are stated: “Sacrifice and offering you did not desire, but a body you prepared for me. With burnt offerings and sin offerings you were not pleased. Then I said ‘Here I am—it is written about me in the scroll—I have come to do your will, O God.’” All of the sacrifices are finally acceptable only because Jesus Christ offered up himself. Hebrews tells us that the blood of bulls and goats really had no power to take away sin. In the words of this psalm, Jesus could say to the Father, “I have come…to do your will, O God” (Psalm 40:7,8).
At his baptism, Jesus stood prepared to “fulfill all righteousness” (Matt. 3:15). Yet, that set the Son of God on a difficult and perilous journey which would, in time, lead to Gethsemane and to the cross. Jesus’ earthly ministry ended with that desperate prayer for deliverance (found in Psalm 40:13-17) on his lips. We know that, through the resurrection and ascension, God the Father answered that prayer. But, for now, it is important to remember that the passion of Jesus Christ did not begin at the time of his arrest in Gethsemane, but at his baptism as he stood in the cold waters of the Jordan River. It is at his baptism that Jesus publicly accepted a mission and a journey which would lead to all the great redemptive acts which we later commemorate.