Am I a Soldier of the Cross? A Message from Psalm 27

The Christian life is a life of undisturbed joy. The Christian life is a life of unending battles.

Both of these statements are true. And that calls for help. For it is humanly impossible to hold two such polarized truths in our hearts at the same time. We need help.

It is easy to go from the mountaintop of spiritual experiences to the valley with thoughts of unending and uncontested glory. Yet that is not the expectations we should have at RTS, after such a glorious inauguration and times of worship and thanksgiving, not the expectations you should have in your church, and not the expectation you should have in your life. It is not the history of the Church. It is not the pattern of the life of Jesus. The early church bore witness to this fact that the resurrection ushered in a time of immense diabolical activity through the fallen minds and evil intentions of madmen and idolatrous powers.

David fought a fight through all of his life against the raging battles of sin in the world, the flesh and the devil. And he wrote Psalm 27 to encourage himself in the Lord in the midst of the Battle. It is a militant hymn. It has been called the “Soldier’s Prayer.” Today is it is God’s Word for you. It is your Psalm, your hymn, our prayer, and it is the inerrant and infallible Word of God.

[The Lord Is My Light and My Salvation]

[OF DAVID.]

[27:1] The LORD is my [h]light and my [i]salvation;

[j]whom shall I fear?

The LORD is the stronghold[f1] of my life;

of whom shall I be afraid?

[2] When evildoers assail me

to [k]eat up my flesh,

my adversaries and foes,

it is they who stumble and fall.

[3] [l]Though an army encamp against me,

my heart shall not fear;

though war arise against me,

yet[f2] I will be confident.

[4] [m]One thing have I asked of the LORD,

that will I seek after:

that I may [n]dwell in the house of the LORD

all the days of my life,

to gaze upon [o]the beauty of the LORD

and to inquire[f3] in his temple.

[5] For he will [p]hide me in his shelter

in the day of trouble;

he will conceal me under the cover of his tent;

he will [q]lift me high upon a rock.

[6] And now my [r]head shall be lifted up

above my enemies all around me,

and I will offer in his tent

sacrifices with shouts of [s]joy;

[t]I will sing and make melody to the LORD.

[7] [u]Hear, O LORD, when I cry aloud;

be gracious to me and answer me!

[8] You have said, [v]“Seek[f4] my face.”

My heart says to you,

“Your face, LORD, do I seek.”[f5]

[9] [w]Hide not your face from me.

Turn not your servant away in anger,

O you who have been my help.

Cast me not off; forsake me not,

[x]O God of my salvation!

[10] For [y]my father and my mother have forsaken me,

but the LORD will [z]take me in.

[11] [a]Teach me your way, O LORD,

and lead me on [b]a level path

because of my enemies.

[12] [c]Give me not up to the will of my adversaries;

for [d]false witnesses have risen against me,

and they [e]breathe out violence.

[13] I believe[f6] that I shall look upon [f]the goodness of the LORD

in [g]the land of the living!

[14] [h]Wait for the LORD;

[i]be strong, and let your heart take courage;

wait for the LORD!

(Psalm 27 ESV)[i]

The grass withers and the flower fades, but the Word of the Lord will stand forever.

Today I want to bring a message from Psalm 27 I am calling, “Am I a Soldier of the Cross? Strengthening our Souls through Affirmation and Adversity.” But first let us pray.

Lord, let me preach as if never to preach again, as I dying man to dying men. In Jesus name. Amen.

Introduction

He sat in front of me weeping. He had been in the ministry for over thirty years. He was from another denomination. I was safe to approach to say what he had to say. “Mike, my entire life of ministry has been such a struggle. I am tired. I am exhausted. I dare say that I am clinically depressed. I don’t know where to go. I need direction.”

The confession of this fine minister, who had helped many in his career, is not unusual. Those who help most can be hurt the most. The story of faith is not unlike Christian in Pilgrim’s Progress. The story of faith is not unlike the life of our Lord, who went from John’s Baptism to being driven into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.

I have been there. Perhaps you are there today. I have no illusions that I have escaped the cycle of mountain top experiences and valleys by now being inaugurated as chancellor of the seminary. In fact, I rather expect that the cycle of closeness to God and fiery darts will intensity.

For some of you, you live today on a mountain top. Your career is going better than you ever imagined. Your family is well. Your life is as stable as a cozy corner at Starbucks on a care free Saturday morning. Yet for others, seated next to you, the cozy corner is obliterated beneath the falling ceiling of debt, loss, and self-doubt. For some of you the question, “Where is God in all of this?” is a constant specter haunting your faith.

God has given us a gift. David’s Psalm is a divine echo of the cry of hope shaped on the crucible of spiritual and real warfare that can be heard across the centuries down to our own day, and into this very moment. If you listen, you will hear the cadence of two great themes, a beat and a down beat, intensifying in the Psalm, like a troop marching up the hill, until at last there is a resolution.

I offer this Psalm to you as both reflection of your vexations and a renewal of your hope of victory in the battle.

This Psalm alternates between Affirmation and Adversity. Just like the Christian life, we too, must ground ourselves in both realities until the final victory is won.

There are three reverberating cadence calls in this Soldier’s Psalm. The first cadence call of the march of Psalm 27 is this:

AFFIRMATION

 

There is The Resounding Affirmation is the Overarching Theme that Brings Strength to the Christian Life.

[27:1] The LORD is my [h]light and my [i]salvation;

[j]whom shall I fear?

The LORD is the stronghold[f1] of my life;

of whom shall I be afraid?

David begins his Psalm with affirmation. He will get to the challenges. But the battle begins with an assessment of what you have going into the battle. If you have only yourself, then you are ill prepared to fight the devil, the flesh, and the world. Today is a good day to reassess your weaponry. Ephesians six tells us that we should arm ourselves in the full armor of God for our fight is not against humans but spiritual powers that masquerade beneath the veneer of more familiar powers.

I teach at chaplain school as a USAR chaplain. One of my jobs is to teach preaching to our chaplains. I ask them, “Do you have your ruck-sack filled with the repository of faith, a personal encounter with God, and a study of the Holy Scriptures, to be able to enter the battle fields of Afghanistan and North Africa and the Middle East to bring hope and healing and Gospel victory? If you are going on your own resources you are bound for defeat. Even worse, the soul of our genuine soldiers will be strengthened to take on the enemy.

As David strengthens himself in this affirmation we should. What is it?

That the Lord is “my light” and “my salvation.” The Church is a corporate Body. We are taught to pray “Our Father which art in heaven,” but the Body is made up of individual members. Each member must know the Light of Christ and His Life and Word as the very Salvation that he possesses. In this way, then, the Lord is the “stronghold,” the citadel or fortress, that is absolutely impenetrable. Thus, David and we can affirm rhetorically, “Of whom shall I be afraid?” The answer is, of course, no one! Be fearful, rather, as Jesus taught us, of the one who can kill the soul.

Look towards the light of Jesus. Repent of your sins. Receive Him as your Savior and then confidently affirm your faith: you are safe in Him. He is a Mighty Tower, a Strong Deliverer, and no one can ever snatch you out of his hand.

The second cadence call of this Soldier’s Psalm is before us now:

ADVERSITY

The Recurring Adversities are the Overarching Trials that Bring Sanctification in the Christian Life

[2] When evildoers assail me

to [k]eat up my flesh,

my adversaries and foes,

it is they who stumble and fall.

[3] [l]Though an army encamp against me,

my heart shall not fear;

though war arise against me,

yet[f2] I will be confident.

[4] [m]One thing have I asked of the LORD,

that will I seek after:

that I may [n]dwell in the house of the LORD

all the days of my life,

to gaze upon [o]the beauty of the LORD

and to inquire[f3] in his temple.

[5] For he will [p]hide me in his shelter

in the day of trouble;

he will conceal me under the cover of his tent;

he will [q]lift me high upon a rock.

[6] And now my [r]head shall be lifted up

above my enemies all around me,

and I will offer in his tent

sacrifices with shouts of [s]joy;

[t]I will sing and make melody to the LORD.

[7] [u]Hear, O LORD, when I cry aloud;

be gracious to me and answer me

[8] You have said, [v]Seek[f4] my face.

My heart says to you,

Your face, LORD, do I seek.[f5]

[9] [w]Hide not your face from me.

Turn not your servant away in anger,

O you who have been my help.

Cast me not off; forsake me not,

[x]O God of my salvation!

[10] For [y]my father and my mother have forsaken me,

but the LORD will [z]take me in.

[11] [a]Teach me your way, O LORD,

and lead me on [b]a level path

because of my enemies.

[12] [c]Give me not up to the will of my adversaries;

for [d]false witnesses have risen against me,

and they [e]breathe out violence.

In verses 2-12, David recounts the march of faith that alternates between adversity, enemies and trials and the resulting spiritual consequence. What we see if the motif of the Cross, that the instruments brought against him became the instruments in the hand of God that brought him to victory. No verse in this collection sums up the situation more than verse 11:

Teach me your way, O LORD,

and lead me on [b]a level path

because of my enemies.

David sees, now, as he looks back at the battle in his life, that he learned the ways of the Lord, he was even brought to a level path, that is a place where he could recover his balance and be able to continue the march forward, “because,” he says, “of my enemies.”

This is where the devil is defeated: when Jesus Christ the Lord of Glory causes the Cross to become a Crown the captives go free! Our hope is in God overcoming evil for good in our lives. The presence of evil or trials does not indict us, but invites us to see the glory of God at work in our midst. It is counter-intuitive, like the general who is told that the enemy has his unit surrounded and he responds, John Wayne-like, “Good, they won’t get away now!”

I have told this story before, but it bears repeating often. I had a surgeon oncologist friend of mine, one of my parishioners, to ask me to join him on his day at the chemotherapy ward. Patients were lined up in what looked like recliners, with IVs hooked up their veins, receiving the hopeful cure for their disease. My friend brought me to each of his patients and I heard their stories. He then whispered to me as we were approaching this certain lady, “Pastor, she is one of my favorites! You will soon learn why…” His comment peaked my interest. I leaned over to this middle aged lady and the doctor introduced me as his pastor. “Oh pastor!” She exclaimed, with not the slightest understanding it seemed to me that she should be more morose than jubilant, given her situation, “Oh Pastor, I am so glad to me you!” And before I could return her greeting, she continued, “Pastor, I thank God for my cancer!” I smiled at her, joining her rejoicing, but inside I was conflicted by her jubilation and her situation. She went on to become a living, a very much living, example of this passage, “You see Pastor if I had not had been given this cancer I would not know that the Church really was the ‘grace place.’ I would not have know the love of my husband who has cared for me so well. And I never would have met the best doctor in the whole world!” My friend looked at me and leaned in and said, “You see why I like this one!”

I liked her too! And I love the goodness of God that allows even you, today, in your life, to say,

Teach me your way, O LORD,
and lead me on [b]a level path
because of my enemies.

Now hear the third cadence call of this Soldier’s Psalm:

ASPIRATION

There is The Resurrection Aspiration that is the Hope that Brings Satisfaction in the Christian Life

[13] I believe[f6] that I shall look upon [f]the goodness of the LORD

in [g]the land of the living!

[14] [h]Wait for the LORD;

[i]be strong, and let your heart take courage;

wait for the LORD

Some thoughtful reader of theology might pause here at this point and think, “But I thought the liberals said that there was no resurrection in the Old Testament religion of Israel.” Yes, they do say that. They are wrong. Resurrection anticipation is everywhere in the Ancient Church! It is clearly embedded in the Psalms of David and is the very climax of this Soldier’s Psalm. The Affirmation, which led to Admission of Adversaries, which shows him this is how God sanctifies us now, leads him to the hope of “the land of the living” beyond the grave.

I am so thankful that my hope is not in the Egyptian gods that I saw when my family and I visited the British Museum this summer. The mummies were, as you well know, buried with ornaments of the earthly life to keep them company in the land of the dead. Yet when we visited the Dylan Thomas Museum in Swansea, Wales, we were told that Richard Burton was buried with a copy of Dylan Thomas’ poems in his hands. Dylan Thomas is hard to read when you are alive, much less in a coffin six feet under! No, my beloved, David had no such pagan ideas. His hope was in the living God and because God lived he would live. In fact, all of his trials and battles were leading him to, not just an inevitable death, but a portal to eternal life. How David’s Resurrection Aim in this Psalm reminds me of Job who exclaimed, like a brilliant sun bursting through a dark cloud, “I know that my Redeemer lives!” David joins his forefather in faith and declares,

I am STILL confident of this: I WILL see the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living.

Praise God for such faith! I once preached from this in a mausoleum where I was surrounded by bodies entombed in the wall, and a dark, ominous storm brewing outside. I never had a greater moment as a preacher than to declare that I am STILL confident of this: I WILL see the goodness of the LORD in the land of the Living!” I was thankful to know that several people were saved that day. People hearing about resurrection while seated in folding chairs in a mausoleum respond well, I think.

What is more, David comforts his own soul, as he comes back down to the place where he is living and the Sweet Psalmist of Israel, but also the Soldier of Zion, stills his heart on the words of hope:

Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord (14).

This is the Word of the Lord for you. You have affirmed your faith. Now your adversaries have assaulted your faith. But that has only worked to increase your faith. And now that is turning you to resurrection faith. And that settles your hearts back down. Let this Scripture simmer. Let the potent resurrection hope soak in the boiling water of your trials until the tea of good hope is fully dispersed. Then drink quietly from the cup of salvation.

Wait. Wait on the Lord.

Conclusion

Psalm 27 gives us divine perspective, and even better, Gospel strength, to balance the seemingly competing realities of adversity and promise. For we have seen the (1) Resounding Affirmation of the Believer in the Father’s constant care, as well as the (2) Realistic Adversity that we all face, yet which sanctifies our sorrows through the Holy Spirit, and (3) the Resurrection Aim of the Christian life which brings not only hope, but assurance of victory. That brings confidence.

Isaac Watts grew up in a very hard situation. His father was a Non Conformist minister, that is, he did not belong to the Established Church and was committed to the Reformed faith and the principles of representative government in matters of faith. This got him locked up, twice in his life. Young Isaac grew up visiting his father in prison and enduring the pain and poverty that came from his father’s absence. Years later, Dr. Watts the minister in London, would write about the life of the believer as the life of a soldier. He wrote that famous hymn, “Am I a Soldier of the Cross?” We can imagine that he recalled the trials of his childhood, the sorrows of his father, and the frequent hardships his family faced. He was, perhaps, not unlike the minister who visited me with his depression. Yet, as David strengthened himself for battle, so did Watts as he used soliloquy to speak the Word of God back to his own life. Listen and ask yourself the questions in this hymn?

“Am I a soldier of the cross, a follower of the Lamb, And shall I fear to own His cause, Or blush to speak His name?

Must I be carried to the skies on flowery beds of ease, While others fought to win the prize, And sailed through bloody seas?

Are there no foes for me to face? Must I not stem the flood? Is this vile world a friend to grace, To help me on to God?

Sure I must fight, if I would reign; Increase my courage, Lord; I’ll bear the toil, endure the pain, Supported by your Word. “

As prayerful reflection on the truths that we find in Psalm 27 brought divine perspective to Isaac Watts, it did so for David and for countless others Soldiers of the Cross. So let it bring optimistic hope to you in Jesus Christ our Lord. For this Psalm is about Him, anticipates Him, and follows the Gospel pattern of seeing that the things that come against us are really the things, like the Cross brought Resurrection, the things that lead us home. We end up blessing the adversary for his assaults drove us to Christ our Victor. This is the Gospel of Jesus Christ that we must live. This is the Gospel power that lives in us.

Will you receive this Gospel truth of Christ today? Will you renew your life in this Gospel truth today? To do so is to march forward with confidence against all odds as a Soldier of the Cross.

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

Note: This sermon was first preached at First Presbyterian Church of Jackson, Mississippi on the Lord’s Day, Sunday, October 7, 2012 in the Morning Worship Services.


[i] [Cross References]

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[h] Isa. 60:20; Mic. 7:8; [Ps. 84:11]

[i] Ps. 118:14; Ex. 15:2; Isa. 12:2; 62:11

[j] See Ps. 23:4

[k] Ps. 14:4

[l] Ps. 3:6

[m] [Ps. 26:8; 84:1, 2]

[n] Ps. 23:6; 65:4; [Luke 2:37]

[o] Ps. 90:17

[p] Ps. 31:20; [Ps. 91:1; Job 5:21; Isa. 4:6]

[q] Ps. 40:2

[r] Ps. 3:3

[s] [Num. 10:10]

[t] Eph. 5:19; Col. 3:16

[u] Ps. 30:10

[v] Ps. 24:6; 105:4

[w] Ps. 69:17; 102:2; 143:7

[x] See Ps. 24:5

[y] [Isa. 49:15; 63:16]

[z] [Isa. 40:11]

[a] See Ps. 25:4

[b] [Ps. 5:8]

[c] Ps. 41:2

[d] Ps. 35:11; [1 Kgs. 21:13; Matt. 26:59, 60; Mark 14:55, 56]

[e] Acts 9:1

[f] Ex. 33:19

[g] Ps. 52:5; 116:9; 142:5; Job 28:13

[h] Ps. 37:34; 62:5; Prov. 20:22

[i] Ps. 31:24; Deut. 31:7; Josh. 1:6, 9, 18

 

[Footnotes]

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[1] 27:1 Or refuge

[2] 27:3 Or in this

[3] 27:4 Or meditate

[4] 27:8 The command (seek) is addressed to more than one person

[5] 27:8 The meaning of the Hebrew verse is uncertain

[6] 27:13 Other Hebrew manuscripts Oh! Had I not believed