Summary: Many churches link Remembrance Day and the Suffering Church finding help in both life situations in David’s testimony of God who Forgives, Heals, Preserve, Provides and Satisfies
On Remembrance Day we’re reminded by the two minutes silence of the suffering and sacrifice by ordinary men and women in the interests of their nation and cherished values. It’s also appropriate to link Remembrance with the Persecuted and Suffering Church. Here in Britain the Christian Church isn’t persecuted but this is far from the case in many countries. So with the joint themes of Remembrance and the Suffering Church in mind, I’d like us to think about the opening verses of Psalm 103, because we like David have much to be thankful for.
Do you ever talk to yourself? In Psalm 103 King David is addressing himself. “Bless the Lord”, he exclaims, “Bless the Lord, O my soul”. It’s clear that he’s holding a conversation with himself. This isn’t by any means a unique experience for a believer. In fact it’s often a sign that a Christian thinks deeply about the realities of life and that he or she doesn’t take them for granted.
We seem to have caught David in one of these private moments of making known his innermost thoughts. He’s suddenly become aware of God’s great gifts to him and his whole being wells up in an expression of thankfulness.
David issues himself an instruction, “Bless the Lord, O my soul”. So let’s step within earshot as David begins speaking to himself. Let’s listen as the inspired poet opens his heart on the most important relationship a person can have – with God. David knew how easy it was for him to forget the gracious way in which the Lord had blessed him. This was despite his failings, so he recalls five great blessings the Lord grants to all who put their trust in him. Five benefits the Lord has bestowed upon us as believers in the Lord Jesus Christ.
David records that his relationship with God has revealed him as:
THE GOD WHO FORGIVES
“Bless the Lord” he urges his whole being, “the Lord, who forgives all your iniquity.” David knew his need of forgiveness. Although he was a great man who had done much good for his country, he had fallen into temptation and had committed some terrible sins that are recorded in the Bible, in addition to the lesser failings common to all. And yet he’d found that the Lord was merciful to those who repented and looked to him for forgiveness.
When God forgives, he really forgives. I read that a former Mayor of New York, Ed Koch, kept this saying on his desk calendar: "Forgive your enemies, but never forget their names!" But God isn’t like that. David goes on to say in this psalm, "As far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us" (12). How was this made possible? Jesus came to make atonement for our sin on the Cross. The Lord Jesus has borne the penalty that we should have suffered. In fact he offers a free pardon which is even better than being forgiven.
No wonder that David urges himself to bless or praise the God who forgives. He then turns to praise:
THE GOD WHO HEALS
Does God heal today? Yes, indeed he does. There can’t be many Christians, who at a time of physical weakness haven’t lifted up their hearts to God in earnest, believing prayer. The fact that their recovery may not have been instantaneous or that the sickness appears to have run its course or that medical aid has been used, is no argument against divine healing. God doesn’t bind himself as to how he operates. Jesus didn’t come into the world to stop suffering, nor to explain it, nor to take it away, but to fill it with his presence. But having said that, we can also take heart that he has given us specific promises in his Word to encourage us to look to him for healing - for indeed he is able.
Healing is a gift from God. He is sovereign in its distribution. We might be tempted to think it would be so much simpler if the gift of healing could be received on request like reaching out for a bottle of medicine. But that isn’t so. It isn’t God’s way. A balanced view of Scripture indicates that God plans for us. He has the best in mind for us and, in his permissive will, may allow health and strength, or weakness and suffering, long life or short life. It’s not for us to question his decision. C S Lewis wrote that God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our consciences, but shouts in our pains. Sickness can be God’s megaphone to draw our attention back to him.
Remember how an oyster makes a pearl? When a grain of sand gets into its shell and irritates it, instead of resisting and resenting it, the oyster wraps it in a layer of beauty until a pearl is formed. God works through all our circumstances, for our good and to his glory. How does this square up with David’s confident assertion that the Lord is he "who heals all your diseases"? It would seem that the reference here is primarily to the healing of our souls. Conversion is but the start of the journey of faith. We need the work of the Holy Spirit to heal our soul’s diseases - our failures and faults. But we have a responsibility to live positively.