May 27 lesson: Rejoicing in Restoration

5/14/2018

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Rejoicing in Restoration
 
Sunday school lesson for the week of May 27, 2018
By Dr. Hal Brady
 
Spring Quarter: Acknowledging God
Unit 3: Give Praise to God

 
Lesson Scripture: Psalm 34:1-10; Hebrews 2:17, 18
 
Lesson Aims

  1. Describe the connection between Psalm 34 and Hebrews 2:17,18.
  2. Give examples of God’s desire and ability to provide for his people.
  3. Encourage one person in the week ahead who feels as though God doesn’t care about his or her suffering.
 
The Apostle Paul referred to himself and the other apostles in very unflattering terms as “the scum of the earth” (1 Corinthians 4:13). The writer of the lesson points out that through the years many followers of Jesus have felt much the same way. They stuck to their faith regardless of whether it was popular or not. These followers have steadfastly proclaimed Christ even when it led to terribly adverse circumstances for themselves. Simply put, this world does not claim them. It does not appreciate their integrity and commitment to purity and truth. However, God claims them. He recognizes them as his children, for he is the father of the afflicted.
 
There are times during rejection and scorn from the world that it can be difficult to sense God’s parental love. In these times, we are much more likely to experience anger and resentment within.  Yet, we can still know that the pain is only temporary, and we can be encouraged by those who have been there and persevered. Two of those who have been there and persevered were David and Jesus. Both of them faced affliction, experienced God’s favor, and left behind a powerful witness and testimony. 
    
Lesson Background: Psalm 34
 
The title to Psalm 34 indicates that it was written of the time when David “pretended to be insane before Abimelech, who drove him away, and he left.” The incident referred to here is recorded in 1 Samuel 21:10-15. David was fleeing from his great enemy, King Saul, who wanted to kill him. His circumstances seemed to be so desperate that he left his own land and went to the coastal area of the Philistines to seek asylum with Achish, the king of Gath. But his reputation for killing “tens of thousands” of Philistines had preceded him. Moreover, David seems to have been in danger, because the story points out that he was so afraid of Achish that he pretended to be insane in his presence, making meaningless marks on the gates of the city and letting the saliva run down his beard. The king berated his servants for even bringing such a man into his presence, and David was allowed to leave. Undoubtedly, it was a time of great distress for David, one when he desperately needed God’s help. And as Psalm 34 makes clear, David received that help and was delivered.
 
The writer points out that Psalm 34 is an alphabetic “acrostic” poem. This means that each verse begins with a letter of the Hebrew alphabet, in consecutive order. In English this would mean beginning the first verse with A and beginning the last verse with Z. There are 22 letters in the Hebrew alphabet, thus there are 22 verses in Psalm 34.
 
One further word here about Psalm 34. The first 10 verses contain elements of an individual thanksgiving hymn. These verses are a testimony coupled with encouragement to praise and trust God. The remaining verses are a set of wise observations based on the psalmist’s experiences. The verse before us in our text fall within the thanksgiving section.
 
Lesson Background: Hebrews
 
The writer informs us that the two verses from Hebrews come from a different setting altogether.  We are reminded that the book of Hebrews was written to Christians from a Jewish background who were suffering their own version of rejection. They were being ostracized for choosing to follow Jesus as Messiah, and the pressure to return to Judaism was intense. 
 
The author of Hebrews, however, urges these Christians to remain steadfast, lest they abandon all they have received in Christ (Hebrews 10:32-39). According to the writer, this is why the word “better” occurs so often (11 times) in Hebrews: the author of Hebrews is trying to persuade his readers that what Christ provides through the new covenant is much better than what the old covenant was able to provide. In our text, Hebrews 2:17-18, we see the author’s effort to show why Jesus is better (in fact, the perfect) high priest.
 
Call to Praise (Psalm 34:1-3)
 
The writer notes that the defining characteristic of Hebrew poetry is “parallelism.” This means making a statement and then repeating the thought in slightly different words. We should not understand the author to be talking about two different topics. The action of the first half of the verse is the same action in the second half.
 
The beginning verses of Psalm 34 are a testimony by David to God’s goodness, starting with David himself praising God and only then inviting others to join him as they exalt God’s name together.
 
The person who has experienced God’s mercy will naturally look to others to praise God with him or her. Corporate worship is one of the natural instincts of the new life of Christ in God’s people.
 
David makes it clear that he has chosen to adopt a posture of continual “praise” to God. He emphasizes that situations of distress and despair (such as described in the psalm’s heading) are occasions when God should be blessed and not forgotten or discarded. This is quite a testimony for a man on the run to say. He sings a song of praise to God when others might be tempted to curse their enemies and feel nothing but self-pity. Therefore, David strives to exalt God at all times – even the worst of times.
 
You and I normally find it easy to praise God in good times, when everything seems to be going our way, but hard to boast in the Lord when our circumstances are difficult. Yet David was prepared to praise God even when he was in fear for his life. David may have acted like a fool, but he was not so foolish as to neglect praise of him who was his only true wisdom. He may have been hiding in a cave, but he was also hiding in the palm of God’s hand.
 
As noted already, David does not keep his rescue to himself. He wants us to know about it. Verse 2 introduces another party who will be present throughout the verses to follow. The plural Hebrew word translated “afflicted” appears also in singular form in verse 6 translated “poor.” Notice that verse 6 begins with the specific “this poor man.” David is talking about himself, thus identifying with the poverty of his audience.
 
“Glorify the Lord with me; let us exalt his name together” (verse 3).  The idea here is that we should glorify and exalt the Lord together, remembering that he will not be magnified and exalted as he should be until we do it together. This should also be our unity in the church – glorifying and exalting God together.
 
Caring God (Psalm 34:4-10)
 
Again, the psalmist shares his own testimony and indirectly invites his audience to seek God. The Lord is responsive when his people seek him out (Jeremiah 29:13).
 
At this point, we see the spiritual content of David’s song of thanksgiving, what he has learned from his own experience. Before the worshipping congregation stands a poor man, an ordinary, fairly representative Israelite. He (David), simple person that he is, called in great stress to God and his prayer for deliverance was answered. David feels that he is a living example of just what God can do and is ready to do for all. So let them look at him in their need and have their souls made radiant with joy at the strong evidence of God’s help and at the hope that they too may be similarly delivered. That they may be also be lifted out of the sense of any sense of shame with which their misfortunes have filled them.
 
Then around the one who looks in reverent dependence on God for help is encamped His angel to protect and deliver him. Here the language presumes a more military context. The Angel of the Lord forms a protective perimeter “around those who fear” God. “Fear” is a term of reverence and respect for God. The passage is reminiscent of Joshua 5:13-15, where Joshua encounters the commander of the Lord’s army. Joshua want to know whose side the angel is on. The angel refuses to pick sides; God’s angel simply fights for or against whomever God says. If we want God to fight for us, we must fear him. Only then can we be confident that he will deliver us. Now, the Lord’s protection may not take a visible form (2 Kings 6:15-17), but it is there.
 
David extols the Lord for his deliverance and answer to prayer (verses 1-7). He declares, “His praise will always be on my lips” (verse 1). David’s excitement in the Lord makes him want to share with others the joy he has found. So his words of invitation echo through the years, “Taste and see that the Lord is good…” (verse 8).
 
There is no joy that surpasses a personal relationship of trust in God. And such a relationship simply must not be kept to ourselves. David knows that any who call upon God will also discover his goodness. Therefore, David invites us to eat at God’s table, for only God truly satisfies.
 
The state of being “blessed” that is experienced by those who take refuge in God is one of sustained satisfaction and contentment. The Psalms begin with this same word (Psalm 1:1).
 
So the psalmist or David summarizes his appeal. Let the members of the congregation of the Lord’s holy people revere (fear) Him, for then they will lack nothing, but the godless will experience want and hunger. As the writer of Proverbs stated it, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (Proverbs 9:10).
 
Compassionate Savior (Hebrews 2:17,18)
 
Psalm 34 focuses on God’s desire and ability to provide for those in need. David experienced this reality and eagerly invites his followers to trust the Lord in a likewise fashion. But as the writer of the lesson points out, one might reasonably ask how God can know what we really need since he himself has never needed anything (Psalm 50:9-13). One might respond by pointing out that since God created us, of course he knows what we need. God knows what we need to flourish.
 
Even so, the writer continues, it is particularly reasonable to ask how God knows what it is like to suffer oppression. No one can oppress God. His greatest enemies tremble before him. So God may know what our bodies need on a biological level, but how can he relate to us on an emotional level?  How could he identify with being afflicted?
 
That’s precisely where the author of Hebrews comes in. He provides us a most convincing reply.  When God became flesh in Jesus, he entered personally into all the frailty of human existence. In the flesh, he suffered everything we do – hunger, poverty, neglect, betrayal, torture, and a terrible death. So what God knew to be true as the all-knowing God, he actually experienced as a vulnerable human being.
 
Right there, that experience qualified Jesus to be the perfect “high priest” to mediate between humanity and God. As we understand, like us, he experienced temptation; unlike us, he remained “faithful” and did not sin (Hebrews 4:15). Therefore, Jesus could become the perfect sacrifice for our sins. He was different from the high priest of the old covenant, who had to offer sacrifices for their own sins (Hebrews 7:26,27).
 
So God raised Jesus from the dead, and having ascended into Heaven, Jesus intercedes on our behalf (Hebrews 7:25). And though our sin separated and separates us from God, Jesus has provided atonement to reconcile us to God by his death on the cross. 
 
We read in Hebrews 2:18, “Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.” But Jesus didn’t sin, someone says, that disqualifies him. The author of Hebrews would disagree. One does not have to sin to relate to sinners. It is enough that Jesus was “tempted in every way, just as we are…” (Hebrews 4:15).
 
Beyond our comprehension, Jesus’ temptations in the wilderness following his baptism (Matthew 3:13-4:11) and in Gethsemane prior to the cross (Matthew 26:39) had to have been terribly severe. But Jesus fully surrendered to his Father’s will. And because Jesus overcame his temptations, he became someone who “is able to help those who are being tempted.” That, of course, includes us all.
 
Action Plan
  1. Have the class discuss the connection between Psalm 34 and Hebrews 2;17,18.
  2. What life-lessons have you learned about God’s provision?
  3. What practical steps would help our church members to exalt God’s name together?
 
Dr. Hal Brady is a retired pastor who continues to present the Good News of Jesus Christ and offer encouragement in a fresh and vital way though Hal Brady Ministries (halbradyministries.com).