March 5, 2017
I’ve often heard it said that Christians must hold the Bible in one hand, and the newspaper in the other. The quote was attributed to Karl Barth, but has been widely used over the years. I think the advice is solid – though we should probably update it a bit and say that Christians should check their Bible app as much as they check their news app. It is good for Christians to stay informed – as long as we’re interpreting the events of our world through the lens of Scripture. I completely agree with the heart of the advice, but I tend to misapply it. I have wrongfully used this advice to not only check the news, but to indulge in the news. I’ve discovered that I can be an information addict. I came close to overdosing on information a few times during last year’s election cycle. I’m deeply concerned about the state of our country. I am devouring books on the state of our world and the Christian response. I want to know. Scott was taking a playful jab at me last week, but he was closer to the truth than he knew: I do spend too much time on sites like Babylon Bee. It comes from a desire to be informed. I want to see the world clearly.
In the Internet age, this might seem like a virtue. We’re supposed to digest as much info as we can. But I am slowly learning that God wants to cultivate something better in his people. We need to do more than simply see the world. We need to learn how to see him. We need to cultivate a captivating vision of God. Listen to Paul’s prayer for the Ephesian church: “I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened that you may know the hope to which you have been called, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe.” Augustine said it well: “Our whole business in this life is to restore to health the eye of the heart whereby God may be seen.” Observing the world with our eyes is good. But if we want to act like the people of God – if we want to have confidence in the midst of the chaotic world that we see – we must first cultivate a vision with the eyes of our heart. At the center of this reality is a throne. And on this throne is a king. This king is the holy and sovereign God of the universe. May we learn to behold his face!
At various times throughout history, God has peeled back the heavens and revealed this reality to his people – when they needed it most. When things are chaotic down here, we are supposed to find comfort in God’s loving and sovereign control of the universe. God is on his throne. He is in control. Over the next few weeks, I’d like to explore this vision from three different angles. We’re going to look at the throne of God from the perspectives of David, Isaiah, and John. As we’ll find, each of these men know what it was like to live in a chaotic world. David faced adversity from every side – his mentor, his son, and his enemies: they all wanted him dead. Isaiah was living in a city on the brink of destruction. He was one of the few sane voices crying out to a deaf and dying country. John was the last surviving apostle. All the others had been murdered. They literally couldn’t kill John, so they sent him to an island to rot. Each of these men found strength and courage from a compelling vision of God on his throne. They recorded their experience for our benefit. My prayer over the next few weeks is that we’ll begin to cultivate this vision with the eyes of our heart. I don’t want us to simply learn about this reality. I want us to go there.
So lets jump in. This morning I want to start with David. If you have your Bible, turn to Psalm chapter 11. The text that we’re going to study this morning is slightly different from the next two weeks. Isaiah and John were given a stunning picture of God’s throne. We’re not sure that David ever had that experience. But we can tell from this text that David worshipped before God’s throne. It fueled him and gave him great confidence. Let’s read it.
To the choirmaster. Of David.
 In the LORD I take refuge;
How can you say to my soul,
“Flee like a bird to your mountain,
 For behold, the wicked bend the bow;
They have fitted their arrow to the string
To shoot in the dark at the upright in heart;
 If the foundations are destroyed,
What can the righteous do?”
 The LORD is in his holy temple;
The LORD’s throne is in heaven;
His eyes see, his eyelids test the children of man.
 The LORD tests the righteous,
But his soul hates the wicked and the one who loves violence.
 Let him rain coals on the wicked;
Fire and sulfur and a scorching wind shall be the portion of their cup.
 For the LORD is righteous;
He loves righteous deeds;
The upright shall behold his face.
This psalm is divided into two parts. The first part of the outline (1-3) describes the chaos of David’s world. David’s world was spiraling out of control, so his friends offered him some practical advice. David would not listen to them because he was grounded in a better reality. The second part of the outline (4-7) describes the confidence in David’s God. He trusted God because God was in control. God was on his throne. Let’s explore each part.
1. The chaos of David’s world (1-3)
David clearly wrote this psalm about a difficult situation. Most commentators believe David wrote this when he was running from King Saul, but that is only speculation. The truth is: we don’t really know what was going on in David’s life. This is the great thing about the psalms. We are rarely given context. Now, I realize that context is a crucial part of interpretation. In most cases, we want as much context as possible. But we don’t have any context in this case. All we know is that David wrote this for the choirmaster. He didn’t give any details about the specific scenario because he wanted God’s people to sing it in a variety of situations. It could have been personal turmoil or it could have been political turmoil. We don’t know. Either way, the truth remains: David’s world was falling apart.
His well-meaning friends refused to let their leader suffer, so they stepped in to offer some helpful advice. Listen to v 1-3 again.
“Flee like a bird to your mountain, for behold, the wicked bend the bow; They have fitted their arrow to the string to shoot in the dark at the upright in heart; If the foundations are destroyed, what can the righteous do?”
Can I confess something this morning? I have deeply identified with the advice of these well-meaning friends this week. I’m certain that I wouldn’t have been one of David’s mighty men. I wasn’t gifted with the physique of a mighty man. But if I were somehow granted access to David’s inner circle, I would have put in my advice: We have to get out now. They are getting ready to kill us! If we let them win, we have nothing.
Let’s be honest: It’s good advice. The friends have done their research and they’re a bit freaked out. Their opponents were literally stringing their bows to take down the king. The king’s advisers were well informed, but their information translated into bad advice. Information is helpful, but it is limited. In fact, I have found that information – seeing the world clearly–almost always leads to fear. And fear usually leads to bad advice.
Think about it: Do you ever feel comforted after watching an hour of news? Do you ever feel encouraged after scrolling through twitter? Or after catching a talk show on the way home from work? Do you really feel better after you self-diagnose your ailment on Web-md? Are you in a better frame of mind? Are you ready to make a solid life decision? Information is good, but information is limited. David’s advisers had a lot of information about the tactics of their enemies. They knew how David should respond. And they knew the catastrophic results if David failed to react in time. Let’s briefly diagnose their advice.
They knew their enemy quite well. They were bending their bow and fitting their arrows. They meant to do lethal harm to God’s anointed king. But they didn’t the courage to come out in the open. They were hiding in the dark. This is how the enemy works. They are not easy to recognize because they’re cowering in the shadows.
David’s friends knew that his enemies were not merely seeking to destroy the king; they wanted to overthrow the foundations of God’s created order. They wanted anarchy and they would stop at nothing less. They wanted to tear down the institutions and the very order of society. David’s friends came to a logical conclusion: run for the hills. If they take out the foundations, we have nothing left. We must find refuge now.
Again, this sounds like solid advice. What can we do if the foundations are destroyed? Answer it. What happens if our laws change? What happens if our institutions continue to crumble? Have you thought about the possibility that democracy might fail? What if the church is persecuted? What if your family falls apart? What if you lose your health? What if you lose your healthcare? What can we do if the foundations are destroyed? Do we have anything if we don’t have our laws and structure and health and peace? David’s advisers wanted to preserve the king’s life. They wanted to preserve law and order. These are good things. But again, they were motivated by fear.
With these words lingering in the air, David gave a brilliant and courageous response. In the Lord I take refuge; how can you say to my soul, “flee like a bird to your mountain.” David knew the threat, but he was unshaken. How could David confidently say this? Was he ignoring the facts? No. David was certainly aware of the threat. He certainly didn’t want the foundations to crumble. And yet, he was unmoved. He had developed a courageous attitude from years of beholding God’s face in worship. He was a man after God’s own heart that had worshipped God as a young boy in the fields. David had a better vision of reality. He wasn’t simply seeing the world; he was seeing God on his throne.
This leads to the second part of our outline – Confidence in David’s God. Let’s read the text again. This is the ground on which David stood.
The LORD is in his holy temple; the LORD’s throne is in heaven; his eyes see, his eyelids test the children of man. The LORD tests the righteous, but his soul hates the wicked and the one who loves violence. Let him rain coals on the wicked; fire and sulfur and a scorching wind shall be the portion of their cup. For the LORD is righteous; he loves righteous deeds; the upright shall behold his face.
David isn’t worried about the enemy lurking in the dark because he is grounded in a better reality. Now, this compelling vision of God doesn’t magically change any of the facts on the ground: the enemy is still there. They still seek to overthrow the king. They still want to destroy the foundations. They are still powerful. David might not make it out alive. But unlike his servants, he isn’t scared. He has hope and courage. He will not fly to the mountains like a little bird. He will refuge in God because God is in his holy temple. He is on his throne in heaven.
The vision that David has cultivated over years of worship absolutely demolishes the well-informed advice of his friends. They tell him to run. But David knows that God is not in flight – he is a very present help in times of trouble. They tell him that the foundations are about to collapse. But David knows that the foundations of God’s throne will never be moved. As Hebrews 11 says, he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God. They tell David that the wicked hide in the dark. But David knows that God sees everything.
Look at the last part of verse 4. His eyes see; his eyelids test the children of man. They might be able to blindside us, but they can’t blindside God. David expresses this twice to emphasize the point. His eyes see, and his eyelids test. The term eyelid is confusing and doesn’t translate well, but most commentators think David is simply employing a feature in Hebrew poetry called parallelism. He’s saying the same thing twice to emphasize the point: nothing gets past God’s all-seeing eye.
David’s advisers may have concluded that God was inactive. Didn’t he care? Why is he letting the wicked get away with evil? We must run! We must take matters into our own hands. David knew that God’s watchfulness was not inactivity. He was examining. He was testing. And David was convinced that God would judge when the time was right.
Let’s explore verse 5 and 6 for a moment. From his holy throne, God observes the children of man. He sees everything. But the text is clear that he treats the righteous and the wicked in profoundly different ways. He tests the righteous, but he hates the wicked. Let’s explore this a bit.
God tests the righteous. This is not like an SAT exam. God is not walking up and down the isles, judging you according to your merit. He’s not simply waiting for you to fail. Is this your perception of God on his throne? Is this the vision that you are cultivating? Because if it is, you are cultivating a vision of a different god. The God of the Bible is not waiting for you to fail. Psalm 130 says, “If you, O Lord, kept a record of sins, who could stand?” This is not how God tests the righteous. The word test is the same word that is used in process of purifying precious metals. God examines – He tries and proves the righteous. This is the kind of testing that refines us and makes us stronger. This testing comes from the gentle, loving hands of God. This testing brings out our character. It makes us shine. This theme is all over the Bible. In fact the authors of the NT are so thankful for God’s gracious, gentle testing that they encourage us to rejoice when sufferings come our way. Listen to Romans 5:3-5
 Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance,  and endurance produces character, and character produces hope,  and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.
What would we be if God refused to test us? Our church has gone through a tremendous amount of suffering lately. I haven’t experienced anything like this in my five short years here. We’re hurting. And yet, the faith that God has produced in his children here has been stunning. God is refining our faith and producing endurance and character and hope. David’s friends looked out the window and saw the enemy’s hand; David saw God’s hand.
As the text moves on, we find that God doesn’t test the wicked. He judges them. Verse 6 describes the fires of judgment that will fall on the heads of those who love violence. Let him rain coals on the wicked; fire and sulfur and a scorching wind shall be the portion of their cup. This language recalls the judgment of Sodom and Gomorrah – the classic example of perversion and wickedness in the Bible. They will not be refined by his fire; they will be consumed by it. They will drink the cup of God’s wrath to the bottom. David’s friends looked out the window and said, “David, they’re going to win.” David confidently said, “No they’re not.” God is on his throne. He is in control.
David’s confidence was grounded in God’s nature. Listen to verse 7 again: For the Lord is righteous; he loves righteous deeds; the upright shall behold his face.
This verse is a powerful answer to the advisors’ question in verse 3. If the foundations are destroyed, what can the righteous do? Should we run? Should we fight? No. The righteous will do what the righteous love to do: they will behold God’s face in worship. His friends wanted safety. I’m sure all of us want safety. Safety is good. But let us not make safety our god. The righteous don’t run to God for safety; they run to God to behold his glorious face.
Derick Kidner says it well: God as ‘refuge’ may be sought from motives that are all too self-regarding; but to behold His face is a goal in which only love has any interest. We are to seek first his kingdom and his righteousness. And only after we learn to do that will anything else be added to us. We cannot mix up the order.
Think about it this way: there were a lot of people in the Bible that witnessed miracles. They cried out to God for safety or healing or protection and God granted it. But in many cases, the people that received the miracle eventually forgot. When Hezekiah was king, God miraculously protected his city from the Assyrians. A few years later, God miraculously healed his body. And yet, at the end of his miraculous life, he let the Babylonians inventory the temple. Miracles may change our circumstances, but they don’t always change our heart.
The men and women that fell before God in worship, however, were fundamentally changed. While safety is good, the goal is never safety; the goal is God. And we seek him in worship. What can the righteous do if the foundations are destroyed? We will behold his face in worship. Let us strengthen the eye of our heart, by which God may be seen. This morning we have access to that throne of grace because Jesus opened the way. The cup of wrath in verse 6 was prepared for us, but Jesus drank it. He satisfied the cup of God’s wrath and offered us the cup of salvation.
Let’s pray. Lord, draw us to Yourself. We simply want to know You. We want to be like David and respond to adversity with great confidence, but we admit that we often fail. We run. We defend. We accuse. God, may we take refuge in You, not in anything else. May our hearts be drawn so closely to your heart, as was David’s, that the impulse to flee will be tempered – then replaced – by a desire to seek your face in total trust. We want to see you Jesus. We want to know you. May it be so without the slightest trace of self-interest. Please cause your Spirit to mold us into the image of your Son from one degree of glory to another as we simply behold your face in worship.