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Meditate on God's Word

God's Word points us to the perfect righteousness found in Jesus Christ.


When my wife and I lived in England, I remember bumping into Stephen Hawking. He was the Lucasian Professor of Mathematics then, a position he held for 30 years. He is a bestselling author and celebrated theoretical physicist. He and I met repeatedly during lunch in my years in Cambridge: maybe five or 10 times, maybe more. Well, I say "met"—we bumped into each other. Literally, we would eat in the same place, and he would be in his chair and I would be at the table next to him, and he would bump into me. We probably exchanged five, 10, 15 "excuse me's" over the years. It was strange to have such a close encounter with such a well-known person, and I don't think I ever even introduced myself. I don't think I ever said anything other than just "excuse me" or "that's okay." It's strange bumping into a giant.

That may be something like what you experience as we read and explore Psalm 119. The Bible's longest chapter can hardly be charted and explored, or its depths plumbed, in the amount of time we have together. But we can do a little more than just bump into a giant. We can ask questions of the psalm: what is God's law? What's it like? What does it do? What should we do in response?

Let me remind you of a bit of what we've said about it. We don't know who wrote it: it could have been David, it could have been somebody after the exile. Some have suggested it was the faithful Hebrew's journal that he had written down throughout his life, because you can see a progression through the psalm of things that sound more like a young person's reflections early on, followed by the trials of midlife, and then of later life toward the end.

It is composed of 1,064 words in Hebrew, arranged in 176 verses in 22 stanzas: one stanza for every letter of the Hebrew alphabet. Each letter has its own opportunity, as it were, to lead us in praising God for his laws and his testimony. All the letters are used to show us that his praise is full and complete, and yet the entire alphabet can be exhausted and gone through and used up before we'll ever come to the ends of the glories of God's law. So there are eight verses in each stanza, and each of those verses begins with the stanza signature letter.

We live in a culture of informality and spontaneity, so we value sincerity as showing that something is immediate and casual and therefore real and valuable. We are the kind of people—marked by our love for ease and convenience—to miss the beauty and the artfulness of this psalm. In Psalm 119, we see a striking artfulness that shows a deliberateness and a thoughtfulness about what the psalmist is expressing. The beauty of the expression itself reflects something of the beauty being reflected upon. Even in this chosen style, conforming to a freely chosen form produces beauty: just as our conforming to God's precepts brings a beauty, a rightness, an appropriateness, a blessedness, and a happiness in our own lives.

(Read Psalm 119:1-176.)

What is God's law?

It may surprise you to know that many Christians in the past have memorized this psalm. William Wilberforce memorized this whole psalm, and he would often recite it in the morning as he would begin his day. Others have taken a single verse of it to meditate on each morning and work through the psalm twice every year, taking one verse each morning to hang their meditations upon God's Word.

Four questions will help us understand and profit from this psalm. Number one: what is God's law? "Law" can have a narrower or broader meaning in the Bible. Sometimes it can mean specific rules or a collection of rules, so the collection of rules that God gave to Moses must be at least part of what the psalmist is referring to here: the Book of Deuteronomy, where Moses summarized the law for the Israelites right before they entered the Promised Land. Or it could be referring to everything from Mount Sinai in Exodus 19 on through Deuteronomy.

Given the fact that some of the words used in this psalm are broader words like "word" and "promise," it's clear the psalmist has in mind not only the Torah—the whole Pentateuch, the first five books of the Bible—but even other parts of God's Word which he would have known of. He seems to quote (or at least make allusions to) Isaiah, Jeremiah, Proverbs, and other parts of God's Word. The variety of words he uses for God's law throughout the psalm—"word," "judgement," "statute," "decree," "laws," "commands," "precepts," "ways," "promises"—evidence this broader understanding.

To put it simply, Psalm 119 is not just about the Ten Commandments: it's about the Bible. It's about God's Word. This believing poet is reflecting on the relationship he had with God, and it was all and only because God revealed himself to his people in his commands, his decrees, his promises, his statutes, and his Word—to Abraham, Moses, David, and to those who followed. God's Word has always been fundamental to the existence of his people. Of course, even the world itself was made by God's Word. It was God's Word that made Adam and Eve. But even more specially and more particularly, God's word of promise came to the Gentile Abraham and made him the father of the faithful. Again, God's Word came to Jacob and to Joseph and to Moses down the centuries. Through Moses, God's Word established the nation of Israel, and through the leaders that followed—from Joshua to David and beyond—God's Word led his people. Before there was ever a temple, it was the Torah—the Law, God's Word—that shaped God's people and made them his.

This is the Word, the commands and statutes, that are being celebrated in this great psalm. One reason some people think this was written later is because the exile was used in the providence of God to expose this great hope to God's people. The exile took them away from the temple, and yet they learned through the prophets that they are still God's people, because they still had God's Word. It was God's Word that made them his people.

As the coming Messiah, Jesus fulfilled the Law and the Prophets. A good picture of this is the way Jesus picked up the Passover meal and turned it into his own supper. He showed how it pointed to his own work and his own reign in the Last Supper. He fulfilled the Old Testament's laws, whether they were civil, ceremonial, or moral. After his ascension, he sent his Spirit to inspire and direct his apostles to reflect on the Old Testament and to instruct the Christians.

Do you want to know how to apply the Old Testament today as a Christian? Read your New Testament. It's a good summary of what God is teaching his people, inspired by his Spirit. A good summary of its teaching is Christ's own summary in Mark 12:28-31: to love God and neighbor. God's law, here in Psalm 119, is his Word.

What is God's Word like?

As extraordinary as what we've already been considering, here comes the really good news. Number two: what is God's Word like? If God's Word is the revelation of himself to us, then what is that revelation like? Here, Psalm 119 becomes a solemn but joyful celebration, as God's Word is revealed to be true, good, and everlasting. Lose any one of these, and God's Word would be greatly diminished. But with all three together, the future—which could otherwise be dark and foreboding—becomes flooded with light.

God's Word is true. Look at verse 29: you see God's ways are the opposite of false ways. Over in verse 142, the psalmist says, "Your law is true." Over in verse 151: "All your commands are true." Verse 116 puts it like this, "The sum of your word is truth." God has never spoken falsely to us. He didn't speak falsely to our first parents, Adam and Eve. Our enemy, Satan, lies constantly, attaching his lies to half-truths. We can have our puny wits about us and still be deceived by sin, but God is nothing like that. He is always and only truthful. All his law is true. All his commandments are true. The sum of his Word is truth. He never misleads us. He never lies to us. He never deceives us, even when we don't know things. That lack of knowledge gives us good ground to look to him, to trust him, to find out that what he speaks in his Word is always and only true.

God's Word is also good, which means the truth is good. He says again and again in this psalm that his rules are righteous. The promises he makes to us are righteous. There is nothing wrong or questionable about the way he has promised to save us only by faith. There is nothing wrong in the way he saved Abraham, and nothing wrong in the way he promises us by faith in Christ. His testimonies are righteous.

God defines what is good: understand that. Goodness or righteousness is not some external standard that God is able to effortlessly and perfectly conform to because he's so powerful. It's nothing like that. Goodness is a way of describing God, a way of describing all of his actions and commands. Good is not determined by a mayor in Houston, or a number of Twitter followers, or by what's fashionable, or by what's legal according to the Supreme Court. That court down the street has at one time or another declared it legal that two men may marry each other, that babies in the womb may be killed, and that people can own each other like property. Do you really think we should look to that court to decide what is good? That is not the way we decide what is good. It is hardly the final arbiter of goodness.

If it's not popularity, electability, or legality, then what is it that finally determines what is good? God does. He has revealed it to us honestly in his Word. Look at verse 164: "Seven times a day I praise you / for your righteous laws." If I'm at all confused about what's right or wrong, I can simply look to God's Word because all of his precepts are right. I don't have to worry about which ones are right and which ones are wrong. Verse 172 reads, "All your commands are righteous." Or verse 39: "Your laws are good." It makes sense that what would come from a good God would be good.

He puts it so simply there in the first half of verse 68: "You are good, and what you do is good." That is a good basic theology. As good as this is—"what's true is good" is good news for us—but it gets even better. God's Word is not only true and good, but the psalmist is not worried that this true and good word will change or expire or give out or need updating with some pact sent from the clouds of heaven.

"I remember, Lord, your ancient laws," he says in verse 52. They're not a new thing: there is no sense of God's Word lasting anything less than forever. Verse 152 says God's Word has been founded forever. We have to stop for a moment to take that in, because for us, our words and actions change every day. But for God, we read in verse 160, "All your righteous laws are eternal." That's why the psalmist can rejoice in verse 86 that there is no uncertainty in God's word: "All your commands are trustworthy." Or again in verse 89: "Your word, Lord, is eternal; / it stands firm in the heavens." It's unchanging.

It's true that when the psalmist wrote these words, God's specially revealing himself had not yet been concluded. Perhaps some of the Old Testament prophets were still to come. Certainly the Lord Jesus Christ and his apostles had not yet come, nor had they taught and written what they would under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. But none of these revelations would change what God had already revealed. The walls of the New Testament were to be built squarely on the foundations of the Old. Apart from them, the Old would have been incomplete, and without the Old, the New would make no sense. Isn't it wonderful to know that God's true and good Word is also eternal and unchanging? This Word is not a Word of a tentative, changing, fickle being. This is the Word of the one and only God: the eternal, unchanging, ever-good, always-true God.

This brings us to notice that God's Word is like this—true and good and eternal—for one reason and one reason only: because it's his Word. The Word is like him, the Word represents him. God is truthful, and God is good, and God is eternal. Throughout the psalm, the Word of God is identified very closely with God himself, and you can understand this. It's his Word, his message, his emissary, his ambassador: a revelation of himself and his will and his character, his statements about the future or his statements about the past and his judgments. This is why, back in verse two, the psalmist parallels keeping the Lord's testimonies with seeking the Lord. In verse 82, God's promise is understood to bring God's own comfort. Over in verse 137, we read, "You are righteous, Lord, / and your laws are right." They follow him, they are like him, and they reflect him, through the truth of God's commandments in verse 151: "You are near, Lord."

The Bible is not God. Be very clear: the Bible is not God. But apart from the Bible, we could know little of him, and we could not know him as we do. Please be clear: to attack the Word of God is to attack God, and to honor the Word of God is to honor the God whose Word it is.

Have you stopped to consider what the Lord has given us in his Word? What is true and good and unchanging is here for us. It is here for us to come to know him and his will by it. If you're here today and you're not a Christian, do you know what we would like to do with you? Study the Bible with you. That's what we do, because this is how we understand that God has revealed himself. This is how we've come to know God, so this is how we want to show you how you can come to know God: through what God has written and revealed about himself.

What does God's Word do?

There is so much more we could appreciate about what God's Word is like from this great psalm, but we should move on to our next question: what does God's Word do? Being the Word of the all-powerful God, we shouldn't be surprised to learn that God's Word is active and accomplishes things. It does stuff. Or perhaps, I should better say, God does stuff with it, by means of it, and through it.

Generally, what God's Word does is bless. We noticed that in verses one and two: "Blessed are those whose ways are blameless, / who walk according to the law of the Lord. / Blessed are those who keep his statutes / and seek him with all their heart." You'll note the kind of ironic benediction over in verse 135: "Make your face shine on your servant." How would God do that? Look at verse 135: "And teach me your decrees." Okay, so how would that bless someone? How would it bless someone to learn the Lord's Word? Oh, in so many ways. Let me name five.

God's Word inspires awe
Look at the second half of verse 161 again: "My heart trembles at your word." In the context there, I think that "your" is emphasized, as opposed to being awed by the words of the prince who is persecuting him, maybe even threatening his life. Even when he could be occupied by other things, like staying alive, he says in verse 164, "Seven times a day I praise you / for your righteous laws." Down in verse 171, he says, "May my lips overflow with praise, / for you teach me your decrees." God's Word inspires awe and causes us to pray and to praise him. It brings us into a relationship with him.

God's word causes us to grieve over sin
Look at verse 136: "Streams of tears flow from my eyes, / for your law is not obeyed." Or earlier, in verse 53: "Indignation grips me because of the wicked, / who have forsaken your law." Studying God's Word does not make you morally indifferent. It educates our consciences, directing and sharpening them, and causes us to see this world and the people in it more as God does.

God's Word helps us stay pure
Look at verse nine; it's well-known. "How can a young person stay on the path of purity? / By living according to your word." Then down in verse 11: "I have hidden your word in my heart / that I might not sign against you."

Do you have any doubt that God's Word encourages holiness? Look at verse 101: "I have kept my feet from every evil path / so that I might obey your word." Isn't that amazing? It's knowing God's Word that helped the psalmist not sin. Remember how the Lord Jesus met temptation in the day of his flesh? He quoted the Bible to Satan. Why would you think you stand in less need of knowing and using the Bible to help you with temptation than Jesus did? This book is a storehouse of what we need to help us very practically as Christians.

God gives through his Word
For those in various kinds of need, we find that if you study God's Word, he gives through his Word. He gives hope to the hopeless. Again and again, the psalmist says something like, "I hope in your word." To the afflicted, the Lord gives comfort. To those undergoing trials, he gives joy. I love verse 111: "Your statutes are my heritage forever; / they are the joy of my heart." Or verse 162: "I rejoice in your promise / like one who finds great spoil." To those who are going through hard times, he gives peace through his Word. Verse 165 says, "Great peace have those who love your law, / and nothing can make them stumble." To the young who read the Bible, he gives wisdom. Kids, do you want to have wisdom and understanding? Start with Psalm 119. It's not hard to understand.

We read in verse 104, "I gain understanding from your precepts." This is why it makes so much sense to conceive of the Bible as a kind of flashlight we turn on to understand our way before we step somewhere: to see what's there in a way we can't in our own wisdom. Verse 105 reads, "Your word is a lamp for my feet, / a light on my path." Or verse 130: "The unfolding of your words gives light." That is what is happening right now. As I'm unfolding God's Word, as you're unfolding it by paying attention, as God is ultimately unfolding it by giving it to us and giving us a time and opportunity, light and understanding is coming into your life right now. He is answering prayers that you may have prayed in humility to have better judgment.

Look at verse 66: "Teach me knowledge and good judgment, / for I trust your commands." We need to pray this, because God's Word can be savingly understood only by God's gift. This kind of psalm should never be read to be understood as anything like a call to save ourselves or to pull ourselves up by our own spiritual bootstraps. You remember when Jesus asked his disciples, "Who do men say that I am?" Peter said, "I know who you are: you are the Christ, the Messiah of God." Remember, Jesus didn't say, "Congratulations! I always knew you were the smart one, Peter." Instead, he said, "Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven" (Matt. 16:17).

Jesus, the Son of God incarnate, had been there teaching and speaking to Peter personally for three years, and still Jesus knew Peter wouldn't understand apart from the work of the Holy Spirit and God-given understanding. Do you really think you're so clever that by sitting down and giving an hour to look at Psalm 119, you've got it? That it's just in your ability? You pray for understanding to know God's Word. Psalm 119 is full of prayers to the Lord to teach us his Word, to open our eyes. Look there in verse 27, where he prays, "Cause me to understand the way of your precepts." Or the second half of verse 73: "Give me understanding to learn your commands." Or back to the second half of verse 29: "Be gracious to me and teach me your law." In fact, the psalmist even seems to be aware that his own worldly prophet might sometimes prejudice him against what God is teaching in his law. He prays specifically in verse 36—I love this prayer, and it's a good prayer for us to pray—"Turn my heart toward your statutes and not toward selfish gain." Why do you need to pray verse 36? Because you are as bad as I am. Because you, by nature, have an inclination for selfish gain, and you should pray that God would help you understand his Word despite that. God's Word is only to be learned by God's gift. I wonder if you pray about the Word when you come to study it.

I remember the father of one of our deacons telling me once that a crucial part of Bible study that too many Christians omit—in fact, I think he said to me, that too many seminarians omit—is asking God to reveal himself to us in his Word—asking God what he meant in his Word. Sometimes we can get a good book that somebody recommends, spend a long time reading it, and think that's the main way we understand it. You can do that with the Bible until you're blue in the face, and you will not understand it until God, the Holy Spirit, chooses to make its meaning clear and plain to you. I don't say that because it's an unusually complicated book, but it's a book that has to do with the things that are too close to our own hearts for us to read it very clearly. We need God to help us.

Why would you not spend your life getting to know this book better than you know it today? I love how the psalmist puts it in verse 24: "Your statutes are my delight; / they are my counselors." Are you taking the Bible as your counselor these days in your decisions and your questions? It is significant that through this psalm, the psalmist both trusts God and asks God to help him trust him more. There is no contradiction between those two. You can ask God for him to help you trust him while you are already trusting him. You wouldn't be asking him otherwise. But it makes sense that you ask him, because you need help to do that.

When I lived in England, I was a student worker for my church, and we were concerned about this one fellowship at a college there in Cambridge. A friend of mine went over to check it out. When he came back, he said it was really sad. He said there were a lot of students there: it was a pretty exciting meeting. The music was loud, the lights were low, and people were standing for a long time. But he said it was so sad to watch them pray. They prayed, "God, reveal yourself. God, show yourself to us." He said that the whole time, there were either no Bibles around or the Bibles there were on their seats. They were never opened during the entire meeting. Nobody ever read the Word or talked from the Word, even though they were praying just like God had never revealed himself.

Don't let that be you. Read God's Word: how kind it is of God to counsel us. To listen to God means to read his Word. Why would we not listen if he were speaking to us? He is speaking to us in his Word, and his Word is life. Verse 50 reads, "Your promise preserves my life." Or verse 93, a testimony of God's past goodness to him: "I will never forget your precepts, / for by them you have preserved my life."

God delivers us by his Word
What else do you think you're doing here this morning? Did you not realize that at some point in the past, if you're sitting here as a Christian, that God did this to you? That he gave you life? Maybe you were poorly enough taught that you thought you did it yourself, but you were still alive by God's grace. But that's what you're doing here. It's only by God's grace, his gift, and his Word that we have the means to give us spiritual life.

Romans 10:17 says, "Faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word about Christ." That's the only way somebody ever becomes a Christian. If you're here and you're not a Christian, you know what you need to do? You need to understand that there is a God, and that you've sinned against this God. And he has loved you and sent his own Son to die on the Cross, paying the penalty for the sins of everyone, like you who will ever turn and trust in him. God raised him from the dead and accepted that sacrifice. He calls everybody now to repent of our sins and trust in him, so we will be forgiven and be reconciled to him. Jesus even used the radical language of having a new birth. If you're here and you're not a Christian, that's how you can have a new birth today. That's how everybody around you who is really a Christian has come to care about what God says in his Word. It's through the Word coming to us.

I remember giving a lecture on Puritanism in a church in London. As I was explaining at this one point, I said, "Listen: have any of you ever been around the churches in East Anglia and noticed a wrought iron piece of metal coming up like this, with a circle right here?" A few people put up their hands. I asked, "Any idea what they are?" Nobody really had any idea what they were: maybe a place to hold a candle or something to light the notes. I said that it was actually a gift of the congregation to the preacher, usually in the mid- or late-1500s, and it would be to hold an hourglass because the congregation was giving the preacher one or two turns of the hourglass for his sermon.

When I said that, one lady sitting literally gasped out loud and said, "What time did that leave for worship?" I just saw the Reformation vanishing before my eyes. I composed myself and said, "Well, I think the people who were gathering there in the late 1500s understood that their chief act of worship was hearing God's Word and responding to it in faith." In many of those congregations, there would be somebody there old enough to have smelled burning human flesh because somebody had translated the Bible into a language they could understand. They understood that hearing God's Word in a language they knew was an amazing gift, and they would spend all day listening to God's Word and listening to somebody explain it to them, after they had been in a famine of being taught the truth. Faith comes by hearing God's Word.

The psalmist knew what it means to be in trouble: you see that throughout this psalm. If you're in trouble today, God's Word promises deliverance. That's the fifth thing I'll point out: God delivers us by his Word. He gives help, strength, protection, and salvation. The Lord shows us so much of himself by what he holds out to us in his Word. This is some of what Psalm 119 says God's Word does.

How should we respond?

Given that this is what God's Word is and is like and does, then how should we respond? I see five basic responses in this psalm.

Obey God's Word
First and most obviously, is obey God's Word. That's how the psalm begins in the first stanza. It's repeated again and again throughout the psalm. Why would we think that God would give us his Word and not call us to obey him? The psalmist prays in verse 88, "In your unfailing love preserve my life, / that I may obey the statutes of your mouth." No small part of God's reason for giving us new life is that we would, according to verse 115, "keep the commands of [our] God." Or look over in verse 145: "I call with all my heart; answer me, Lord, / and I will obey your decrees." Our basic response to God's Word is to obey it. You're actually to be resources for each other, according to Romans 15. You're to teach and encourage and instruct one another about this. Our basic response to God's Word is to obey it.

Love God's Word
But this obedience is clearly not a commitment to an arbitrary set of rules, or simply trying to please ourselves or other people. Rather, it seems that another basic response we are to have to God's Word is to love it. We are to love God's Word. The psalmist conveys that in so many ways.

Consider the sheer length of the psalm. It is so long. You would not write something that long about something you didn't care about, value, or love. Consider the intricacy of this acrostic structure. Look at verse 14: "I rejoice in following your statutes / as one rejoices in great riches." Just think about how much you care about whether or not you got a raise this year, or whether or not you'll get a raise next year. That's not all riches; that's just a little part of them. But the psalmist says he cares about God's Word as much as all riches. He loves God's Word.

The word "delight" is there again and again in this psalm, and he says in verse 129, "Your statutes are wonderful." Or in verse 103, he brings out that food comparison: "How sweet are your words to my taste, / sweeter than honey to my mouth!" He desires God's Word: he longs for it. In verse 131, he uses a powerful image: "I open my mouth and pant, / longing for your commands." Clearly, the psalmist values God's Word; in verse 72, he even says he values it more "than thousands of pieces of silver and gold." Basically, the psalmist loves God's Word. So should we. Is verse 47 your testimony? "For I delight in your commands / because I love them." Or over in verse 127: "Because I love your commands / more than gold, more than pure gold." We should obey God's Word and love it.

Meditate on God's Word
We should also meditate on it. Obey it, love it, and meditate on it. Verse 97 reads, "Oh, how I love your law! / I meditate on it all day long." If you love it, it makes sense and it will follow that you'll meditate on it. In verse 148, it appears the psalmist even got up early in order to meditate on the Bible, and he would sing it, too. Verse 54: "Your decrees are the theme of my song." Verse 172: "May my tongue sing of your word."

Now, you realize that many hymns deliberately reflect the Psalms and are often thick with biblical content and allusions. They're deliberately full of quotations and doctrines, because they are a good way for us to encourage one another and to express ourselves to the Lord and to others and to remember God's Word. Songs help us remember God's Word. How many times have I been near a saint when they're older, they're getting close to the end, and they may not be able to do much else, but you know what they can do? They can remember hymns. They remember every stanza of this hymn and that hymn and this other hymn. Because of the way the Lord has made us, singing along with the words works together to hardwire it into our memory.

Singing is not something you do because some people at church like to sing. Singing is part of our Creator's plan to catechize us, to teach us, to stick things in our minds that will last maybe even longer than we want them to, and they will be there when we need them, even if we don't realize we need them when we learn them. In verse 11, the psalmist says, "I have hidden your word in my heart / that I might not sin against you." Of course, one way to meditate on Scripture is to memorize it. However you do it—through sitting down and just hard memorizing, or through singing it or reading it and praying and pondering—meditate on God's Word.

Trust God's Word
We should also trust it. Verse 42 says, "I trust in your word." The psalmist was wise to do that. You know, some people's words you can't rely on, and so you shouldn't. But God's you always can, and therefore you always should. His Word is always worthy of trust because he is always worthy of trust. He is not going to mislead you or be unfaithful. If he says something is the case, it in fact will be the case. His Word is always worthy of trust.

Verse 90 reads, "Your faithfulness continues through all generations." Faithful is what God is, so we can count on God's Word. It won't let us down: we can be confident. One of my favorite verses in this psalm is 140. It's plain and simple. "Your promises have been thoroughly tested, / and your servant loves them." I think I would have believed that verse when I came here 20 years ago; I believe it more now. Can you imagine the promise? Kind of shiny, but beat up because it's been used a lot, but never failing. That's what God's promises are like: well-used, never failing. You just start listing all the trials this psalmist has been through. There are a lot: physical challenges, being despised, troubled, having enemies, dealing with criminals and immoral people, oppression, and many other things he mentioned in this psalm. I'm sure God's promises were well-tried in his hands. Have they been in your hands? Have you tried God's promises in the fire of your experiences?

Fear the God whose Word it is
We should obey God's Word and love it, we should meditate on God's Word and trust it, and we should also fear the God whose Word it is. I couldn't leave this out. Look at verse 120: "My flesh trembles in fear of you; / I stand in awe of your laws." You see, God's Word brings us into a kind of contact with God himself, and this contact by his grace wakes us up spiritually. As we begin to understand more of good and bad and of right and wrong, we begin to understand more of how we have been bad and wrong and how God is only what is good and right. That sense of moral distance between us and God—the God who created us, the God who will, in fact, judge us—is profoundly disorienting to me, and it confuses us before a new clarity comes with accepting it all. After we come to hear and believe the gospel, we are left with a true sense of the difference there is between God and us. Something of his holiness and our unworthiness, which makes us regard him and his Word with the most profound respect and with a trembling, as we marvel at his love and his mercy toward us.

Obey God's Word, love it, meditate on it, trust it, and come to fear the God whose Word it is. As Psalm 111:10 says, "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom." That's where it all starts.


In conclusion, I want to point out that Psalm 119 is not just talking about the Bible, the written Word of God. Some people of Jesus' day seemed to think that. But the way home for us, the ending of our exile that we've been in since Eden, was cursed: the completion of the true exodus that the real Moses is leading us through. That isn't fundamentally through our obeying God's written Word, but through the Word made flesh perfectly obeying in our place. It's no dishonor to God's written Word to say that it points to something greater than itself. Hebrews 1:1-2a reads, "In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son." We read in John 1:1 and 1:14 that, "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God … . The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth."

My Christian brothers and sisters, don't misunderstand Psalm 119. It's not that we obey God's Word perfectly. If we do obey God's Word if we're Christians, we obey it genuinely but imperfectly. Our lives being genuinely but imperfectly circumscribed by the law of God gives evidence of our truly trusting in the one whose life was perfectly circumscribed by the Word of God, and whose righteousness he gives to us as a gift. This is the gift of perfect righteousness that this psalm so wonderfully points out again and again: the perfect righteousness of Jesus Christ.

Go back to those first two verses of our great psalm: "Blessed are those whose ways are blameless, / who walk according to the law of the Lord. / Blessed are those who keep his statutes / and seek him with all their heart." Now, whose way has been more blameless? Who has more sought God with their whole heart than the Son of God, as he sought to do his Father's will when here on Earth? And who has done it more perfectly? Twice, the Father publically said that he was well pleased with his Son. Blessed should such a one be, our psalm begins by proclaiming. Surely more blessed than anyone who has ever lived should be the life of the only one who ever has perfectly, blamelessly followed in the way of his heavenly Father and sought him with his whole heart.

But that's not what happened to Jesus. In fact, his death by crucifixion is what God's Word, God's law, calls accursed. What an irony that the only one who perfectly kept the law was killed, and killed wrongly, as a lawbreaker. But Jesus taught that his death was predicted again and again in the Old Testament: that it was foreshadowed. After he arose from the dead, he told his disciples, "Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms" (Luke 24:44). What was written about the Word made flesh in Psalm 119? Did you notice these foreshadowings of the one who called himself the servant of the Lord? Who, even as a boy, said he must be about his Father's business?

Verses 99-100 read, "I have more insight than all my teachers, / for I meditate on your statutes. / I have more understanding than the elders, / for I obey your precepts." Did you hear of the One who wept over Jerusalem's rejection? Verse 136: "Streams of tears flow from my eyes, / for your law is not obeyed." Did you hear of his indignation at the sin and the temple courts in verse 53? Or did you notice in verse 110? "The wicked have set a snare for me." Verse 95: "The wicked are waiting to destroy me." Verse 157: "Many are the foes who persecute me, / but I have not turned from your statutes." I wonder if you hear any echoes of Gethsemane, of suffering for righteousness's sake, over in verse 143: "Trouble and distress have come upon me, / but your commands give me delight." Verse 69 references being smeared with lies. Verse 61 references being bound by the ropes of the wicked. Or consider verses 83-87.

(Read Psalm 119:83-87)

Or verses 121-124:

(Read Psalm 119:121-124)

Even Herod and Pontius Pilate laboring together to persecute Jesus can be seen in verse 161: "Rulers persecute me without cause." He knew it was somehow in faithfulness that the Lord afflicted him, though he had been perfectly faithful.

He was the One who performed the Lord's will forever, to the very end, as it is said in verse 112: "My heart is set on keeping your decrees / to the very end." He cried out on the cross, "It is finished." He was the One who was forsaken utterly so that we might not be. Look at verse 107: "I have suffered much; / preserve my life, Lord, according to your word." Or look at verse 149: "Hear my voice in accordance with your love; / preserve my life, Lord, according to your laws." From where could that be prayed more truly than from the tomb of Christ? Look again at verse 153: "Look on my suffering and deliver me, / for I have not forgotten your law."

Of course, the Lord did give him life. Through the sacrifice and resurrection of the Word made flesh—Immanuel, God with us—he gave all of us life who would come to trust in him. We are, as this psalm begins, blessed as we are in Christ, who was both cursed and blessed for us and in our place. Praise God for his Word.

Mark Dever is the senior pastor of Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, D.C., and president of 9Marks.

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Sermon Outline:


I. What is God's law?

II. What is God's Word like?

III. What does God's Word do?

IV. How should we respond?