Sunday, November 21, 2010

Jesus Christ: Supernatural Bread for Weary Pilgrims --- Psalm 111

Psalm 111

Great Are the LORD’s Works

1 Praise the LORD! I will give thanks to the LORD with my whole heart,
in the company of the upright, in the congregation.
2Great are the works of the LORD,
studied by all who delight in them.
3 Full of splendor and majesty is his work,
and his righteousness endures forever.
4He has caused his wondrous works to be remembered;
the LORD is gracious and merciful.
5He provides food for those who fear him;
he remembers his covenant forever.
6He has shown his people the power of his works,
in giving them the inheritance of the nations.
7The works of his hands are faithful and just;
all his precepts are trustworthy;
8they are established forever and ever,
to be performed with faithfulness and uprightness.
9He sent redemption to his people;
he has commanded his covenant forever.
Holy and awesome is his name!
10 The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom;
all those who practice it have a good understanding.
His praise endures forever!

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Psalm 111 is an acrostic poem, which means that each line of the poem begins with the successive letter from the Hebrew alphabet. The fact that the psalmists would use things like acrostics, points to the literary design that is found in the Psalms.

Chiasm is another device that biblical writers often used. Chiasm involves the repetition of ideas so that there are matching parts in the psalm. This explains why the line of thought in the psalms sometimes seems disjointed to us. We are reading a chiasm, but are not perceptive enough to realize the chiastic structure.

Although this is just an amateur analysis, I would analyze Psalm 111 as a chiasm that culminates in a central section which is emphasized. While there is some overlap of ideas between the verses, here is my division of Psalm 111:

v. 1a and v. 10b: Praise of the Lord is our purpose:

1a: 1 Praise the LORD!
10 b: His praise endures forever!

v. 1b-3 and v9-10a: A right response to the works of the Lord and His character.

I will give thanks to the LORD with my whole heart,
in the company of the upright, in the congregation.
2Great are the works of the LORD,
studied by all who delight in them.
3 Full of splendor and majesty is his work,
and his righteousness endures forever.

9He sent redemption to his people;
he has commanded his covenant forever.
Holy and awesome is his name!
10 The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom;
all those who practice it have a good understanding.


v. 4 and v. 6-8: We know the works and character of the Lord through His Word.

4He has caused his wondrous works to be remembered;
the LORD is gracious and merciful.

6He has shown his people the power of his works,
in giving them the inheritance of the nations.
7The works of his hands are faithful and just;
all his precepts are trustworthy;
8they are established forever and ever,
to be performed with faithfulness and uprightness.

Finally, in the center of the psalm, and the position of emphasis is verse 5: v. 5: The Lord provides heavenly food for those in covenant relationship with Him.

5He provides food for those who fear him;
he remembers his covenant forever.

Why do I say that the food in verse 5 is heavenly food? For a couple of reasons. First, the Lord provides food for even people outside of a covenant relationship with Him. If this is the case, then the food provided for his covenant people must be more than the mere earthly food that all people receive. Second, from the New Testament we learn that the bread Jesus provides His people is Himself! Jesus is the bread sent from heaven! Each time we open the Word and Christ is offered to us in Word and sacrament, heavenly, supernatural bread is offered to us. The bread is Jesus Christ given to us for forgiveness and strength.

When we consider the two verses around verse 5, we learn how this bread is for both grace and strength:
4He has caused his wondrous works to be remembered;
the LORD is gracious and merciful.


6He has shown his people the power of his works,
in giving them the inheritance of the nations.
Old Testament Israel’s inheritance was the land of the nations in Palestine. But our inheritance under the new covenant is in the heavenly realms with our Lord Jesus Christ. He is our inheritance, He is our food, and we eat of Him. Here is where true strength and power lie! If we learn to feed on Jesus Christ by faith, we will have strength for this pilgrim life we live as we make our way to heaven and the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ.

As the people of God who belong to Jesus Christ, there is a reason why Word and sacrament ought to be at the center of our worship. We are pilgrims on this earth. This world is not our true home. We need forgiveness and strength as we live in the world. Only Jesus Christ, the Bread that was given for us, can bring us the forgiveness and strength we need on our journey. The Bread we receive is supernatural bread. It is heavenly bread. It is the bread that can alone satisfy our souls.

Four points of application, I would bring out.

1. The Bread, Jesus Christ, comes to us through both Word and sacrament. Both the Word and the visible Word (sacraments) offer us the same Christ. But the Word has a priority over the sacrament, because the Word can exist by itself, but a sacrament cannot exist without the Word.


2. Both Word and sacrament should be offered to us each Sunday. Even though the Reformation emphasized the Word above the sacraments, this does not mean that we should not observe the Lord’s Supper each Lord’s Day. When Jesus said, “Do this in remembrance of me,” He was alluding to the “remembrance” of the Sabbath, which was weekly. Protestant churches have erred in not giving Jesus Christ in the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper each Sunday.


3. When we go to church, we should seek to feed on Christ by faith. First and foremost, this is what our gatherings are about. God in His grace offers His Son to us in Word and sacrament. As we journey through this world, only Christ the Bread of heaven can bring us the grace and strength we need for this journey.


4. We can feed on Christ each day. While there is something special that takes place when we meet together, for Christ promises to meet us in a special way when we meet as a body, still, through our time with Christ each day in the Word, we can eat of Him by faith. Thus, each day our “[Lord] provides food for those who fear him; he remembers his covenant forever.”

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