Loving that which condemns us

Preaching the psalms can be tricky business. On the one hand, there are few better ways to help people see the “human” side of Scripture. So many psalms are almost shockingly emotional. They’re full of beauty and drama and imaginative poetic language…

And that’s also why they’re tricky.

While they’re incredibly human, beautiful and emotional, they’re also easy to misinterpret. If you don’t read them appropriately—as poetry, songs and prayers—you can wind up developing some pretty whack theology, thinking God the Father has a physical body (He doesn’t) or thinking God approves of dashing babies heads against rocks (ditto).

Worst of all, it’s really easy to miss an important truth:

The psalms are all about Jesus. 

In Psalm 19, for example, we see David exclaim the amazing reality of creation proclaiming God’s existence and work. “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork,” he writes (Psalm 19:1). When we see amazing images from super-powered telescopes, we can’t help but be in awe of God’s creative power.

Source: NASA

Source: NASA

Even more down to earth, we have the consistent routine of the sun’s rising and setting, and can recognize that God is precise. He doesn’t do things willy-nilly. He abhors chaos.

And then the scene shifts to David extolling the virtues of the Law. “The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul; the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple…” (19:7). David loves the Law. He loves God’s Word, as should we all. He loves it because it brings life. He loves it because it reveals God’s commands and HIs promises.

He loves it even as it condemns him in his sin.

This is where we can get into trouble, if we’re not careful. Remember, the Law itself cannot save—it’s not intended to do such a thing. The Law reveals our sin, but has not the power to free us from bondage to sin.

And yet, when we get to the end of the psalm, we see David throwing himself upon the mercy of his Redeemer. He pleads that God would declare him innocent of hidden faults and keep him away from overt, arrogant rebellion. He prays that he would be blameless before God.

So how did he get there?

Because he sees Jesus in the Law. David sees there’s no way for him to keep the perfect Law of God, nor can he possibly meet its standards. He is condemned under the Law—and yet it brings life. It “revives the soul.”

Why? Because from beginning to end, Jesus is there:

  • Jesus is the promised seed of the woman in Genesis 3.
  • Jesus is the true offspring of Abraham who would be a blessing to all nations
  • Jesus is the true Lamb, offered in place of Abraham’s son.
  • Jesus is the perfect sacrifice the imperfect sacrifices of the Law point to.
  • Jesus is the better priest in whose shadow the Levites stand.
  • Jesus is the greater prophet Moses promised would come.
  • Jesus is the faithful king to whom even Israel’s greatest king pledges allegiance.

And David, reading the Law, sees his Rescuer and Redeemer there. He knows this faithful King, this better Priest and greater Prophet is also the perfect sacrifice. Even in the midst of the Law’s righteous condemnation of David does he see his redemption. David loves that which condemns him because it holds out the hope of his salvation. When we read, preach or teach the psalms, we need to do the same.