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Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.
This passage is the instruction that stands behind our text, Psalm 78. Deuteronomy uses the language of the home; the lying down and the rising up. Before we move into Psalm 78 it will be helpful first to ask two questions.
What are children?
We read in 2 Timothy that Lois and Eunice were the grandmother and mother of Timothy. It is from them that he learned the faith. But in the same chapter we see Paul calling Timothy “my beloved child.” Then, in 1 Timothy Paul calls Timothy “my true child in the faith.”
Our text, Psalm 78, uses both the language of passing on from parents to children as well as from generation to generation. It would be wise to pray that God would give you a true son or beloved daughter in the faith.
Can the home be reproduced elsewhere?
Is the home just a metaphor? Is the place of “rising” and “walking” and “laying down” re-definable? The home is not just a metaphor. Only the home is the home. The home under the care of a father and mother is the design of God for the instruction of the child?
But God has also designed assistants to the home. In these things we see a hint of God’s care for the fatherless and the widow (Psalm 68:5). These assistants are necessary in both homes with the whole, God-designed Christian witness of a father and a mother as well as in homes where the witness is broken or deficient in any way. Think of the impact of Christian friends, a youth leader or a mentor for a child from a Christian home. The home is assisted in coffee shops and basketball courts and Bible studies. Then think of Timothy’s home. Where was the witness of Timothy’s father? I am from one of these broken homes myself. My parents divorced when I was around the age of twelve. Dan Sigler, my brother’s youth pastor, called about a year after the divorce. During the course of the next three years we spent a great deal of time together as I was discipled under his care. Dan was not my home nor was he my father, but I was and am his true spiritual son in the faith.
Homes and parents are specifically defined and designed by God, but God has called many of you to become someone’s spiritual guardian.
Give ear, O my people, to my teaching; incline your ears to the words of my mouth!
I will open my mouth in a parable; I will utter dark sayings from of old,
things that we have heard and known, that our fathers have told us.
We will not hide them from their children, but tell to the coming generation
the glorious deeds of the LORD, and his might, and the wonders that he has done.
He established a testimony in Jacob and appointed a law in Israel,
which he commanded our fathers to teach to their children,
that the next generation might know them, the children yet unborn,
and arise and tell them to their children, so that they should set their hope in God
and not forget the works of God, but keep his commandments;
and that they should not be like their fathers, a stubborn and rebellious generation,
a generation whose heart was not steadfast, whose spirit was not faithful to God.
We must not hide the praiseworthy deeds of the Lord, but tell them to the next generation that they would put their trust in God and not forget. We get at the the heart of the purpose of this wise psalmist as we ask four questions of Psalm 78.
1) Is God worth talking about?
Psalm 78 is one of the longer psalms. It walks through many wonders that the Lord has done. It recounts the plagues with which God displays His power before Pharaoh: the blood, frogs, gnats, flies, death of livestock, boils, and the death of the firstborn. He tells of God’s great parting of the Red Sea. Not only do the waters pile up, but the people of God walk upon dry ground. And when the armies of Egypt attempt to cross they are crushed under the weight of the crashing waters. God leads them in the wilderness with a pillar of cloud and a pillar of fire. In the wilderness the Israelites begin to become afraid and complain and God silences their complaint by sending manna and quail by which they were fed. At the end of the Psalm God puts down the rebellious kingship of Saul and sets up a king of His own choosing. King David becomes the dynasty out of which would come the Messiah.
Elsewhere in scripture God uses the faithful obedience of Daniel to display His own power and glory. While the kings of Judah and Israel had shown themselves to be unfaithful, God shows Himself to their conqueror, the pagan, foreign King Nebuchadnezzar. God reveals His wonders such that Nebuchadnezzar confesses that God is the One True God.
The greatest of all the wonders of our God is the incarnation, life, death of Jesus according to God’s prophecy, humility, and provision. And Jesus is vindicated and triumphant in His resurrection in which all the redeemed find their only hope.
Are the deeds of God praiseworthy deeds? Is God worth talking about?
And what has the Lord done for you? Where have you seen the surety of the promises of the Word? Where have you seen the presence and power of the Holy Spirit.
God has taught me that in both His power and His compassion He will always provide for me and my family. One of the first Christmases after my parents divorced my mother found it very difficult to provide much in the way of presents. The gifts around the Christmas tree were very important to my mother and they had become important to my brother and I. Just days before Christmas I heard a knock at the door. I looked through the peep-hole and saw red, white, and green colors on our porch. Opening the door I saw gifts on the ground marked “To: each member of my family.” But it was the “From:” column that reminds me of God’s provision as every gift was marked “From: Jesus.” I looked up and about a quarter mile down Edson Ave. running as fast as he could was Dan Sigler. God used this faithful father in the faith to teach me a lesson about His praiseworthy deeds. This is a lesson that I have repeatedly had to remember in my own attempts to provide for my family as a husband and father. Jeremiah cannot provide for his family, but His God can!
God shows His power and wonders. You can believe that He is powerful. And make no mistake, He is powerful. Even the demons know well His power. But you only show He is praiseworthy if you regularly declare His praise to the next generation.
2) How do we hide?
Psalm 78 suggests that it is quite possible to hide the praiseworthy deeds of the Lord from the next generation. How is it that we hide His deeds?
First, we do not remember:
They forgot His works and the wonders that He had shown them.
They did not remember His power or the day when he redeemed them from their foe.
Could you tell the story that the Psalmist tells? Do you know these deeds by heart? Stephen was stoned by a mob as he recounted the history of the deeds of God (Acts 7). Peter in the first sermon at Pentecost recounted the story of redemption leading to Christ and thousands were added to the number of believers. Can you recount the story or have you forgotten?
Do you know what the Lord has done for you? I receive great joy when I am in a restaurant and one of my children reminds me that we need to pray. Often one of my children begins by praying, “Jesus, I am thankful for my brothers and for Granny and Bubba and for Mommy and Daddy and for this food.” Do you think it is by accident that they count their blessings? Did this come naturally or do you think that they have seen the previous generation counting their blessings before the Lord.
Second, we do not live:
They tested God in their heart by demanding the food they craved. They spoke against God, saying, “Can God spread a table in the wilderness?”
Are you content? Does your lack of a contented life show the next generation that God has not done enough for you? Do you live like you have forgotten what the Lord has done?
In spite of all this, they still sinned. Despite His wonders, they did not believe.
Every time we sin we show the next generation that we treasure sinful pleasure more than we treasure Christ. We delight in the momentary pleasure of sin more than we do in the law of the Lord.
Yet they tested and rebelled against the Most High God
and did not keep his testimonies
Do we live by arbitrary rules or rules our parents taught us? Is our aim to live up to the norms of civil society? Or do we show the next generation that the norms by which we live our lives are in keeping with the testimonies of the Lord?
What rules have you handed down to your children that you have you set above the law of the Lord. Have you told your children the source of the commands by which you live and you call them to live? Do you show the next generation that we obey out of reverence for the Lord?
Third, we do not believe:
because they did not believe in God and did not trust his saving power.
What do you hope in? Do you hope in a new job? If only you could get that pay raise then you would be able to make things work for your family. Do you hope in a bigger house, or a return to health? If only you could get control of your health then you could be happy. Maybe you hope in a balanced budget. If you could get the budget under control then you could go about the ministry to which you have been called. Does the next generation see you hoping in these things or does it see you dependent upon Christ, your King, as your only deliverer? Is Christ’s deliverance from sin enough? Is Christ enough?
Does the next generation see you watching carefully the wonders of God found in His Word? When my son was five he came down stairs during rest time and said that that he needed to make a bookmark for his Bible. Now, he was just learning how to read so I wasn’t sure what he needed a bookmark for, but we made one nonetheless. Out of curiosity I asked him what book he was reading. He said Genesis. And what chapter? He replied that he was on six. A bit shocked I pressed him on the issue and discovered that by six he meant the “little six”, as in verse six. I’m not sure that he needed a bookmark to mark verse six, but at least he is reading! Where do you think that he got this idea of reading during rest time? He sees his mother take a brief (well deserved) nap after lunch after which she opens the Word and begins to study. The next generation will believe as they see us go to the Word to meditate and read that the wonders of God would produce faith and belief.
Your Bible may be on the shelf, far from hidden. It may even be on your coffee table. But are the praiseworthy deeds of the Lord in your mind, in your life, and in your heart.
3) How do we tell?
First, we tell what we have heard and known:
things that we have heard and known, that our fathers have told us.
We must first find Jesus wonderful.
Do you find the Lord wonderful? If you do not find Him wonderful any sharing of the stories of redemption are simply deeds of a deity and not praiseworthy deeds of the Lord. If you find that the Lord is simply not wonderful to you this is a matter to be committed immediately to prayer. All your testimony will be to no effect if you do not first find Him wonderful.
They remembered that God was their rock, the Most High God their redeemer.
But they flattered him with their mouths; they lied to him with their tongues.
The next generation will see our hypocrisy and it will be abhorrent to them.
I remember in High School sitting with the youth group in church while looking over at the congregation as we sang these awesome hymns of the faith: Holy, Holy, Holy and How Great Though Art and A Might Fortress. The people of the congregation looked little more than alive. Many had sung these songs with no expression for so long that they could sing them in their sleep. You wonder why the next generation does not like hymns? Perhaps they have seen so many sing them for so long without even cracking a smile or shedding a tear at the wonder found therein.
But what about praise music? Sometimes I wonder why contemporary Christian music just doesn’t seem contemporary anymore? Perhaps the children have seen a whole generation singing and clapping their hands, but they don’t see a difference in their lives.
Hypocrisy will be a part of every generation. We are sinners saved by grace. There will be times that you go to Celebration Service on a Sunday morning and the only truthful statement on your lips is the prayer of confession. But this is the remedy for hypocrisy. We must join our striving for faithfulness with confession for faithlessness. The next generation must see us declaring His glory and living His commands while confessing our own rebellion.
Second, we tell more than stories:
I remember as a young child going to my father after hearing the story of Noah and the Ark again in Sunday School and telling him that I thought I could tell these stories better than my Sunday School teacher. I had heard them told so many times by people who taught them as little more than stories. If we are just telling stories to the next generation we might as well let them watch a Pixar cartoon for Sunday School. Hollywood will always tell stories better.
We must remember that what we utter are oracles. This is story of God’s creation from God’s perspective. We must remember that what we utter are parables. The history of redemption is revelatory. In the story of the the Word God has chosen to reveal Himself!
We are bearers of the greatest story ever told, the Gospel story! We must open our mouths. We must open our lives.
4) What will our children look like?
so that they should set their hope in God and not forget the works of God
We don’t tell the story just because our parents told us. Our purpose is to use the story to point them to the Savior. We found the Lord in the revelation of these stories and so must they.
but keep his commandments
Some parents use God, the church, and the Bible just to “get their kids to behave.” This is one of the most damning things a parent can do to a child. Is that what you want? Good kids with no knowledge of eternity or a Savior? We share the story not to get good kids but that they would become God’s kids, God worshippers. Our desire is that they would become a testimony to the children not yet born and to their children.
We are a “stubborn and rebellious generation” who are members of a stubborn and rebellious race. Every generation must remember again. Every generation must be told.
We Must Not Hide the Testimony
We must not hide the praiseworthy deeds of the Lord, but tell them to the next generation that they would put their trust in God and not forget.
Can you with honesty say that God is wonderful to you? Maybe He is not wonderful to you because He has not become your Savior? Maybe you need to trust in the wonderful deed of forgiveness by Jesus’ gracious work on the cross. Or maybe you need to remember by making some commitments for study and even meeting with others to get to know the story.
Does your life look like you are content in God? Does it look like He is powerful enough to warrant your faithfulness? Maybe you need to stop hiding God by the way that you live?
Do you know that the Lord is praiseworthy, powerful, and wonderful? Do you know what the Lord has done to save you? You need to open your mouth and begin to speak! You need to open your life and begin to live.