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Psalm 29, the Flood, the Baptism of Our Lord, & Our Own Baptisms

Written by Paul Warneke. Posted in PastorPage

 

Text: Psalm 29

            The Words of the Psalmist recall our Xmas theme that we celebrated not too long ago. Maybe it’s a continuation of that theme as our Psalm seems to echo the angels' words to the shepherds that first Xmas night: Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men.

 The Psalm begins with:

Ascribe to the Lord, O heavenly beings,
    ascribe to the Lord glory and strength.

…and ends with: May the Lord bless his people with peace!

             And this theme stretches across the Psalm, stretches across it … kinda like a rainbow. I’m using that analogy very purposefully. And before we’re done with our study this morning, you’re going to know why.

             But let’s begin by talking about verse 1, where the Psalmist (David) calls upon the heavenly beings to:

 “Ascribe to the LORD glory and strength,

Ascribe to the LORD the glory due His name.

Worship the LORD in the splendor of holiness.”

             These heavenly beings are angels. The original Hebrew is actually rendered: “Sons of God”, the same phrase used in Job 1 when the sons of God (angels) came to present themselves before the LORD.

            And these sons of God, these angels, are being called upon to give unto God glory and might, to render back to him, cheerfully and joyfully, vocally and loudly… by echo, His glory and might, which is revealed… and is going to be revealed… in the created world.

            And a revelation of His glory and might… His mighty power (according to the Psalmist) is about to BE revealed! So these heavenly spirits, these angels are to prepare themselves for this revelation with an outward display of worship and praise to God.

            I’m imagining something along the lines of what’s described in Isaiah 6, where the Seraphim were flying around calling to one another: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty! The whole world is filled with His glory!” (remember?...)

             Well, like I said before, a revelation of the power of God is about to be revealed. And here it is in vv. 3-9:

The voice of the Lord is over the waters;
    the God of glory thunders,
    the Lord, over many waters.
The voice of the Lord is powerful;
    the voice of the Lord is full of majesty.

The voice of the Lord breaks the cedars;
    the Lord breaks the cedars of Lebanon.
He makes Lebanon to skip like a calf,
    and Sirion like a young wild ox.

The voice of the Lord flashes forth flames of fire.
The voice of the Lord shakes the wilderness;
    the Lord shakes the wilderness of Kadesh.

The voice of the Lord makes the deer give birth
    and strips the forests bare,
    and in his temple all cry, “Glory!”

             In these verses we’ve got a description of the revelation of God’s power. And this power is made known through His voice. And His voice uses the language of thunder! In this Psalm, God is revealing Himself in a sort of a storm!

            God announces Himself from heaven. And His voice then moves into the world. It makes itself known in the thunder of the storm. But not only that, the voice of the Lord makes itself known in the rumbling of the earthquake, and the roar of the tempest.

            We’re talking about the glory of God. But it’s not the glory that we like to hear about. This is the wrathful side of God’s glory. This is the side that reveals itself in His hatred toward sin, and the affects of sin in His created world.

             Now when it says in verse 3 that the voice of the LORD is over the waters, we might be tempted to think of some huge body of water, like an ocean or a sea or a like or a river, maybe even like the Jordan river in our Gospel lesson. But what the Psalmist is really talking about is the waters above, the waters in the clouds, big, black, billowing storm clouds, threatening to deluge the earth!

            And then we hear that the God of glory thunders. At first it’s just kind of a rumble. But then those rumblings become stronger as the storm gets closer, or perhaps, more accurately, as the storm gets more intense… building and building and building until it bursts forth with its full fury as (v. 5) “the voice of the LORD breaks the cedars” … shattering them like toothpicks!

            And we’re not talking about ordinary cedars here. We’re not talking about those scrub brushes that grow like weeds in our pastures. We’re talking about the Cedars of Lebanon… those strong, mighty trees that Solomon (the son of our Psalmist) will one day use to build the temple.

             But for now, the Cedars of Lebanon are shattered by the voice of the LORD, booming, thundering, shaking the ground… so much so that in v. 6 Lebanon and Sirion skip.

            Our translation says, “like a calf… like a young wild ox” … but a better illustration would be like an antelope, or something we may be more familiar with, a deer. Most people here probably have an idea about how a deer can be in one place at a particular moment, and then in another place the next moment.

            Maybe those who hunt know about how a deer can be right in your sites one moment, and then NOT in your sites the next.

           And those of us who drive on the highways and byways of Nebraska can probably relate to how a deer can be on the side of the road one moment, or even in the woods on the side of the road one moment, and directly in front of our car the next.

             The point is that a deer is very quick and agile, never in the same spot for very long. Which is the exact opposite of what you would expect from a mountain… or a mountain range like Lebanon or Sirion (aka Mt. Hermon).

             These are mountains that do not move. They’re strong and steadfast. But because of the Voice of the LORD, they’re not strong. They’re not steadfast. There’s no stability about them. They’re shaky, unsteady, unpredictable.

            And now, we’re not just talking about thunder (crashing and booming, causing things to jump). Now there’s that thing that so often goes along with thunder, and which causes so much damage: lightning!

 v. 7 The voice of the Lord flashes forth flames of fire. (Say that 3 times fast!)

             Now we might think that the Psalm is progressing in such a way that first there’s thunder and then there’s lightning. But the fact is (and we know from our own experience) that with every peal of thunder there’s a flash of lightning. And the text uses this illustration to show forth the omnipotence of God. (Confirmands, remember what omnipotent means: omni potent?… all powerfull?!)

             I suppose this is one of the proof texts for the joke that if you do something wrong, you’re going to get struck by lightning.

           And that really is the gist of what’s going on here. The lightning in our text (flashing flames of fire) and the damage it causes, and the thundering, and the shaking… covers not only the northern part of the area (Lebanon and Sirion) but reaches all the way down to the southern part, Kadesh Barnea, which is quite a ways south of the Dead Sea, on the eastern edge of the Sinai Peninsula.

The voice of the Lord shakes the wilderness;
    the Lord shakes the wilderness of Kadesh.

The voice of the Lord makes the deer give birth
    and strips the forests bare,

            The affect of this storm is devastating. Much damage is being done here. The branches of the trees of the forest are decimated. Animals are shaking with fear… to the point that those females who are pregnant give birth prematurely.

             And as this is all takes place, (last part of v. 9) “…in his temple all cry ‘Glory!’”

             What the Psalmist said to do at the beginning of the Psalm is now taking place. The heavenly beings are praising God. They’re ascribing to the LORD glory and strength. They’re ascribing to the LORD the glory due his name. They’re worshipping the LORD in the splendor of his holiness.

            And since this worship takes place while the land is being decimated by this storm, we can only conclude then that this decimation is the will of God.

             God is revealing himself in this storm of thunder and lightning. And the reaction of the heavenly host is to shout glory and praise.

             But the storm does not consist only of thunder and lightning. No, there’s rain too. And so in v. 10 we see that the Lord sits enthroned over… “the flood.”

             What do you think of when you’re reading the Old Testament, and there’s a reference to “the Flood”? I don’t know about you, but I can’t help but think of THE Flood, recorded in the book of Genesis… the flood of Noah we sometimes call it.

             It was a flood that covered the entire earth. It was a flood, sent by God, that drowned and killed all the living, except for those in the ark.

            Something we need to keep in mind about the Flood. It was a terrible event. We’ve been talking today about devastation. Well the Flood was devastating, not just for a certain region, but for the entire world. It was a terrible, cataclysmic event.

             And at the same time we need to acknowledge that (v. 10)

The Lord sits enthroned over the flood; the Lord sits enthroned … forever.

             You know what that means? It means that God is responsible for this. It is God who is causing this devastation. It’s God who is causing this destruction. After all, whoever sits enthroned as King is the one in charge. He’s the one in control. He’s the one who makes things happen.

            So what kind of a God is this, who sits enthroned while all this damage is taking place?! What kind of a God is this that not only lets these terrible things happen, but actually makes them happen with the thundering of His voice?!

 A cruel God?

 No. Not a cruel God. A MERCIFUL God, who comes to our rescue.

             There’s a reason for referencing Noah’s flood. I didn’t bring it up just for fun. And neither did David in our text. For in the flood of Noah we see the wrath of God poured out… poured out upon sin; poured out upon sinners! Poured out on evil! Poured out in judgment!

            But it wasn’t just judgment that was meted out in the Flood. There was mercy… to a small group of 8 people in the boat. In 1 Peter 3, Peter says that 8 people in all were saved, through water. “And this water” Peter says, “symbolizes baptism, which now saves you.”

            You didn’t think I was going to get through this whole sermon, on the day we celebrate the Baptism of our Lord, without mentioning Baptism, did you? And really, that’s what this Psalm is all about. It describes for us what happens in Baptism.

            In the Baptism of our Lord, as described in our Gospel lesson, some of the same things take place. Matthew says the heaven were opened, literally torn open, and the voice of the Lord spoke.

             And in our own Baptisms, what happens? God, in his glorious splendor, enthroned on high in heaven, comes to us with his word… speaks to us with his voice: thundering, shaking, burning, drowning.

            We don’t always see that thundering, shaking, burning, and drowning described in our Psalm when a baptism takes place. But believe me, that IS what’s happening. The Old Adam in us, our sinful nature, is drowned! Killed! Destroyed!

             He’s destroyed by the voice of God, the Word of God that he attaches to the natural element of water. Just like the flood that destroyed the evil of the world, and saved Noah and his family, so do the waters of Holy Baptism destroy our sinful nature, saving us from the wrath of God.

 But where did the wrath of God go? Did it just disappear?

            No, it didn’t just disappear. We read about it in our Psalm. And we see the affects of it even today, in the storms we go through day after day in our lives. Literal storms that Tim Jones or Kent Boughton talk about on TV. And the storms of life we go through physically, spiritually, emotionally.

             But most importantly, we see the wrath of God poured out on Jesus Christ. In his suffering and death on the cross. In our Gospel lesson, at Jesus’ baptism, the event of his crucifixion was still 3 years in the future. But at that point he was preparing for for that cataclysmic event.

             In his baptism he was identifying himself with sinful man. He was identifying himself with you and me. He was declaring himself to be our brother, human flesh and blood, who would take upon himself the guilt of our sins… and 3 years later, take upon himself the punishment for those sins… death by crucifixion.

 And the result? V. 11

11 May the Lord give strength to his people!
    May the Lord blesshis people with peace!

 Actually, a better rendition of that verse would be to state it as absolute fact:

The LORD WILL give strength to his people!

The LORD WILL bless his people with peace!

             Remember how I said the Psalm recalls the angel’s message to the shepherds that first Christmas night? Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men?

 Remember how I said that that theme stretches across the Psalm, kind of like a rainbow? The Psalm began with the Psalmist telling the heavenly host to give God the glory. And it ends with God blessing his people with peace.

             A bow reaches across this Psalm, from one end of the Psalm to the other, reminding us of the rainbow God put in the sky after the flood, promising to never destroy the earth like that again.

             And we’ve got the promise of God too, that as Jesus identified himself with sinful man at his baptism, taking our sins upon himself, suffering and dying for those sins, he was raised again for our justification, and reigns victorious over sin, death, and the power of the devil.

             Likewise will we rise from the dead on the last day too, even as we were buried with Christ by Baptism into death, and raised with him by the glory of the Father in the waters of our baptisms.

The LORD does give strength to his people.

He does bless his people with peace. Amen.