Psalm 103, Remembering
Updated: Nov 7, 2022
Through this week of Remembrance, we are happy to recall with gratitude the sacrifice that others have made on our behalf. We are moved by the tales of ordinary men and women who forfeited their futures so we could live our presents. We think of our own Harry from Charlestown, who has raised so much personally that a memorial to his fallen comrades is being built. He has become something of a media star, and it is refreshing how he never misses the opportunity to speak well of Christ. Well, we have our poppies, we have our collecting boxes, we have our services, we have our last posts, we have our silences - all to the end, lest we forget. Quite right too. But there is a deep sadness in me that there is something (or better, Someone) I forget all too readily. It’s not that my mental powers are failing rapidly or anything like that. Rather, it’s the decline in gratitude that I note in my heart to Jesus Christ. It appears almost impossible, but it’s true. Surely it can’t be so that those who have been redeemed from the bitter pains of eternal hell, should so quickly forget all that the Saviour has done for them. And yet such gross negligence is found in me - and I suspect in you too. It seems almost impossible that those who have been redeemed by the blood of the dying Lamb of God should ever forget their Ransomer; that those who have been loved with an everlasting love by the eternal Son of God should ever forget this. Forget him who has never once forgotten us?! Such unmindfulness is caused by many things. We busy ourselves with the daily stuff of life, and before long, it’s all too easy to forget the many kind providences God has shown us - in our creation, preservation and all the blessings of this life: the simple pleasures of this life - the waking and sleeping, our minds, bodies and energy; our beds, homes, fresh water, food, drink, family, neighbours, friends; plants, trees, flowers, grasses, animals and birds; earth, sky, sea; sunshine, clouds, rain; books and music, laughter - but above all else for God’s immeasurable love in the redemption of the world by our Lord Jesus Christ. We have no poppies to prompt our memories of these blessings and the One great Sacrifice where men and women were saved from everlasting destruction. We find it difficult to be even quiet for a moment to recall all these blessings that our generous God has given us. O Lord, have mercy on us pitiful sinners. David knew this and to help him he decided he must talk to himself (a sign of profound spiritual health in this case): “Praise the Lord, o my soul, all my inmost being praise his holy name. Praise the Lord, o my soul, and forget not all his benefits.” What, you too, David! You too have forgotten the very great number of blessings the Lord poured out on you! But now he speaks sternly to himself - ‘Come on David, think; come on David, recall all that the Lord has done for you’. And so he does. And to our great edification, he has penned a psalm which is like a mini-Bible in itself. So vast and extensive are its themes, it could well suffice as the hymn book of the Church for all time! It is a song of pure praise, addressing the personal, the communal and the universal. The note struck throughout as he recalls and remembers the many blessings God has poured out on him and on the community of God’s people and on the world, seen and unseen, is ADMIRING ADORING GRATITUDE. The Psalm nicely falls into five parts: verses 1-5; verses 6-10; verses 11-14; verses15-18; and verses 19-22.
Part one, verses 1-5, a Call to Worship the Merciful God: To bless the Lord is to appreciate, honour, respect, praise, worship, and be thankful to; ‘soul’ here means all that is within me, all that i freely lay down at God’s feet, as I present myself “a living sacrifice”. And David states that memory is one of the best aids in worship. We are to recall, and remember; we are to call to mind all the blessings God has given us that we might all the more readily appreciate his grace and loving kindness shown to us. And helpfully David lists five that come to his mind:
The forgiveness of sins: here is the foundation of our friendship and fellowship with God. Unless these be forgiven and done away with, we are lost; we are enemies of God, and he can have nothing to do with us.
The healing of our diseases: there is a link that is being increasingly recognised by the medical community between the health of our souls and the health of our bodies - God was there first. And the healing of our bodies and minds and souls is part of what it means when we proclaim Jesus Christ as our Saviour.
The redeeming from the Pit: he rescues us from death and destruction. There are pleasures for us at the right hand of God, and we need not fear death.
The empowering: he crowns us with love and compassion. From life’s first cry to our final breath and beyond we have had blessings more than we can number showered upon us - not least the Holy Spirit who makes God’s presence and power real and available.
The satisfaction: our empty hearts are filled, and we find renewed strength, renewed liveliness and revived lives as we spend time with him, blessing and praising him, from whom all good things come. God’s benefits are full and satisfying and cover us from birth to death and throughout all eternity. How can we forget such blessings?
Part two, verses 6-10, the Triumph of God’s mercy: The Lord works his righteousness towards those who are oppressed. In other words, in his covenant love, he will vindicate his own. He will bring deliverance to his people and bring judgement on his enemies. It seems clear to me that David must have been meditating on the events of the Exodus before penning this psalm. God is known by both what he says and what he does. And how wonderful it is that he will not always accuse, though our sins against us cry. He has not put us in a law court and he is not prosecuting us. One - our Lord Jesus Christ - has fulfilled all righteousness on our behalf. And so we know that the “Lord is compassionate and gracious”; we see him as one not easily provoked (though we have given him much cause); we know him slow to anger, “abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin.” (Exodus 34:6,7) If God gave a us what we deserved, we would all perish.
Part three, verses 11-14, the Greatness of God’s Mercy: David now lyrically meditates on the dimensions of God’s mercy: • It is as high as the heavens; it towers over us; looming, soaring and standing out and over all our weakness and sin. It is bigger than the highest mountain. As east and west will always be opposites and separated from each other, so too will we always be separated from our sins. “There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 8:1) These are the very dimensions of the cross. “But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gibe astray; each of us has turned to our own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.” (Isaiah 53:5,6) His love is the love of a father, moved with divine pity, for he remembers (he doesn’t forget) of what we are made, that we are but dust. In other words, he looks at our frailty and weaknesses and our struggles and he has mercy on us. As the writer to the Hebrews says, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to feel sympathy for our weakness, ...let us therefore approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” (4;15,16)
Part four, verses 15-18, the Eternity of God’s Mercy: There’s not much to say here. Our days are as grass. Most of us will not make our mark in history such that we will be talked about or remembered for many generations to come. We live anonymously and die anonymously, a long chain of forgotten humanity. We are born; we may even flourish for a while - but the wind of time blows, adversity or illness strikes, and we are remembered no more. This is the tragedy of the human condition. But as true as this is - this is not the whole truth for the Christian. We don’t think about death outside of our being in Christ. Christ has destroyed the one who had the power over death, that is, the devil. A One stronger than death has plundered its depths and released all those held in its thrall. So though our days are like flowers in the field, yet God remembers us. He will not let us perish. He will bring us to life in his Risen Son Jesus Christ. Our lives are hid with Christ in God and in him they are eternally significant and they count. God’s mercy is truly over all his works - even the death of his faithful people, and as David said elsewhere, in Psalm 16, “You will not abandon me to the realm of the dead, nor will you let your faithful one see decay. You make known to men the path of life’ you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand.” (verse10,11)
Part five, verses 19-22, a Call to Worship the eternal King of Mercy: We all live under God’s benevolent sovereignty. If we do not yet see all submitted to his just and glorious rule - we will. There will not be a millimetre not given over to the glory of God. And the knowledge of the glory of God will cover the earth as the waters cover the sea. Since God is King, all must join in. All must worship him - including angels, mighty ministers of God who exercise his will on behalf of his people; and all of creation. And as he started, so he ends. “Praise the Lord, o my soul.”
Conclusion: Think of what we deserved:
• Rejection • Wrath • Hell
• The Devil
Now think and remember what we get:
• Acceptance • Mercy • Heaven • Jesus Christ himself
May God increase in us an appreciation of all we owe him. And may our lives overflow with gratitude to him whose mercy is assuredly over all his works! And God deliver us from forgetting - not only at this time of Remembrance but for all time. To his praise and glory, Amen.