Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever. Let Israel say: “His love endures forever.” Open for me the gates of the righteous; I will enter and give thanks to the Lord. This is the gate of the Lord through which the righteous may enter. I will give you thanks, for you answered me; you have become my salvation. The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; the Lord has done this, and it is marvelous in our eyes. The Lord has done it this very day; let us rejoice today and be glad. Lord, save us! Lord, grant us success! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. From the house of the Lord we bless you. The Lord is God, and he has made his light shine on us. With boughs in hand, join in the festal procession up to the horns of the altar. You are my God, and I will praise you; you are my God, and I will exalt you. Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever. Psalm 118:1-2, 19-29
Well, this morning, we're looking at this Psalm 118, which is a Psalm of praise, and it falls in a collection of six Psalms, Psalms 113 through 118 that are called a hallel, and these are psalms of praise that were sung by those who were going on pilgrimage to Jerusalem during the Passover. And it's no coincidence that much of this psalm has some connections to the Gospels, particularly the Gospel that I read this morning of this Palm Sunday, or the triumphal entry into Jerusalem of Jesus arriving on the donkey. In fact, as we'll talk about in a little while, that Verse 26, “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord”. All four of the gospel writers used and picked up on this phrase in reference to what they experienced and saw going on on that first Palm Sunday. So how do we learn and glean something from this for who we are as Christians today, it's easy and tempting sometimes to go back to the Old Testament and read a passage like this through our Jesus color glasses and insert Jesus into the Psalm. But I wanna suggest that we need to look at it from the other side of it, in the order that it would have been presented, that this psalm had been around for generations, if not centuries, prior to Jesus making this entrance in the Jerusalem...
This was a song that was sung by those who went on pilgrimage, it's a song that Jesus probably sang with his family from the time he was a small boy until the final entry into Jerusalem for His last Passover. And so this psalm was influential, formative and shaped the thoughts and the views of the people, and it would have been probably a song that became one of those ear worms that got stuck in your head, you know that song? The one that you hear on the radio, and even as you're laying down to go to bed at night, you can't get rid of it, unfortunately, sometimes those aren't always the best songs to be stuck with either, are they... But the fact that people would have been gathering and coming to Jerusalem and singing this collection of psalms as they approached, probably had it in their minds on that Palm Sunday, when Jesus was preparing to enter. Now, this particular Psalm does not tell us who the Psalmist is, but in this whole Psalm, there are some clues that indicate that this may have been a person of influence, possibly royalty, possibly a king, talking about being pressed by all nations and all sides.
But it begins with this invitation, this call for all people to give thanks... Oh, give thanks to the Lord, for He is good, His steadfast love endures forever. This refrain, this chorus is echoed throughout the Psalms, and in fact, it's Psalm 139, I believe, where every verse has this refrain after it, but this refrain is one that praises God for who God is. Oh, give thanks to the Lord, for He is good, His steadfast love endures forever. Let all of Israel say His steadfast love endures forever. This God, this God of love, they cared for his people. Who cared for them when he delivered them from Egypt?
The Passover celebration is one in which they would have been going to Jerusalem to celebrate and remember all that God had done for their ancestors and all that God continued to do for them. Now, Martin Luther called his beloved psalm, and scholars think based on his writing, it was probably his favorite, and while it wasn't... In our reading this morning, Martin Luther said of verse 17, which reads, “I shall not die, but I shall live and recount the deeds of the Lord”. Martin Luther said that not only was this probably the prayer of Jesus, but he said, it's the prayer of all the saints that I shall not die, but I shall live and recount the deeds of the Lord.
This is the hope of eternal life that we will be proclaiming and celebrating because of our risen Savior, but what's more, one of the scholars that I was reading this week suggested that... Well, Luther had that particular verse in mind, really, this Psalm from beginning to end, is one that we could say that about, that this is a Psalm that has been sung in the past and will be sung to the end of the times by all the Saints. A Psalm that says, God is good and His steadfast love knows no ends. The steadfast love of the God who has brought us through the last year, the steadfast love of God who brings us to this moment, to this morning, as we gather in worship, and then we have this collection of verses, and in some ways they almost seem like kind of random thoughts, they kind of get strung together here, but yet they're all powerful and meaningful to us. This is the day that the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it. We begin worship with those words sometimes, we begin that thought with days that are meaningful and important, surely Christmas and Easter, our days in which we speak those words, This is the day the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it.
When a child is born, when we celebrate a birthday, when we celebrate an anniversary, when we have those milestone moments in life... It's easy to say this is the day that the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it. But can we still say those same words on Good Friday, when Jesus is executed on a cross, can we still proclaim... This is the day the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it. Or on the day, that a loved one passes for a day that shakes us to the core like 9/11. Can we say, each and every day, no matter what's going on, this is the day that the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it? Now, it's easy on the good days, it's challenging on the hard days, but it's possible because of that first verse that reminds us to give thanks to the Lord for He is good, His steadfast love in spite of circumstances, endures forever. I suspect this may have been on Jesus mind on that Palm Sunday. Because He knew where this journey was taking Him, and while the crowds were enthusiastic, while they laid their cloaks and branches on the ground, and while they shouted their loud, “Hosannas”, Having sung this psalm on their way to Jerusalem, it was probably still in their minds when they said, Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord, blessed is the coming King, thinking about the one who was still to come.
Now, as we begin to move into this coming week and further on in the gospels, after this procession, after this parade, you remember parades, we used to have those before this past year.
After this procession in this parade into Jerusalem, the Pharisees came to Jesus and said, You need to tell them to stop seeing all of that, they're gonna get you in trouble knowing that they had quoted from this Psalm, Jesus quotes to the Pharisees from this Psalm as well. And He goes back to verse 22, and He says, The stone that the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone. This is the Lord's doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes. Now, Jesus is kind of poking at the bear at this point, saying, the stone that the builders rejected, this person that you're rejecting is gonna become the chief cornerstone. In fact, Peter recites this verse as well in Acts Chapter 4 and when he's talking to the Pharisees, the stone, Jesus, that you, the builders rejected has now become the chief cornerstone. This song keeps finding his way back into the gospels, these thoughts, these ideas that are expressed here because... Well, it was what the people knew... Again, this was a prayer, this was a psalm, this was something that had been formative to this particular group of people, and it would be like you or I quoting from lyrics of a song that we know very well to make a point. That they're touching on their scriptures and saying, You know what, you've heard this thought before, and here it is.
So Jesus challenges them and says, the one that's been rejected is gonna become the chief cornerstone, but the truth of it is, there are often times when this good God uses the least likely things to accomplish His ends. Recently, Roy and I had an opportunity to go down to the brand new Fort Wayne Rescue Mission, which is a spectacular facility and incredibly well thought out, and we got to have a tour of those facilities, and we met a gentleman in there who was coming out of one of the classrooms and had been leading the group, and he handed us a postcard that had a picture of him on it, and a picture from a couple of years ago, when he had first gone to the rescue mission as a client. His life was changed, his life was turned around. And now he was doing the work of changing other people's lives, it's the addict who goes through a recovery program, thinking all was lost, looked upon and despised by everyone around them, thinking there's no hope for them, and yet they are saved and redeemed from their addiction, and able to help others who are still struggling in it. It’s the woman who's been free from sex trafficking, who goes on to be an advocate to help other women that find themselves still stuck there.
It's a young man by the name of Ishmael Bea, who was a child soldier and Sir Leon, who was told that the only value of his life was to join this cause and yet found purpose and meaning in his life. One that's told in a book titled, “A Long Way Gone, Memoirs of a child soldier” who now works for UNICEF, advocating for safety and security and well-being for children. You probably know similar stories where there are things... There are people that have been considered worthless and despised and ready to be cast aside, and yet that which is rejected becomes of significance of value, of meaning and purpose in a way that nobody could have expected. And so it will be with Jesus, the teacher who will be betrayed and tortured and executed and cast aside in a tomb will eventually become the chief cornerstone upon which not just our faith, but our hope and our very lives will be built. And so that call, that call of this psalm, to give thanks to the Lord for He is good, His steadfast love endures forever. Is one that plays out on the cross and in the empty tomb, in the Rescue Mission, in the support groups, in classrooms, in homes, in coffee shops, in settings where people come together, this good God continues to declare His love to this world through that which many despise and reject, and if there is anything worth giving thanks for, it surely is that. This God who loves, this God who will reject and waste nothing and not a single life, this God who desires that all would come to know the wholeness and the possibilities of a life consumed by and surrounded in his unending love.
May we be a people who walk alongside of the One who will be rejected, and may we find ourselves walking with Him still when he emerges triumphant on the other side. Today, we give thanks, but the only reason we can give thanks today is because we know that Easter is coming. This week, we walk into the valley of the shadow of death, witnessing what will take place in Jesus' life, but knowing that even through Him, the steadfast love of God endured on that journey, so may we give thanks, even in the midst of the difficulties and the challenges, and the things we'd rather avoid, give thanks. Amen