“The Path of Life”
March 27, 2016
The resurrection of Jesus is the path of life.
I. David’s confidence from life to death (Psalm 16:1-11)
II. Jesus’s victory from death to life (Psalm 16:8-11 with Acts 2:22-38)
III Our confidence from life to death to life (Psalm 16:8-11 with Acts 13:32-41)
J.R.R. Tolkien, Tim Keller, C. S. Lewis, Andrew Peterson and I all have something in common. It’s not the number of books we’ve sold. It’s a phrase first found in the The Return of the King, just after Sauron’s defeat and the rescue of Sam and Frodo. Sam wakes up in Ithilien, a fair green land that he and Frodo passed through on the way to Mordor. He is lying under swaying beech trees, through which the sunlight glimmers, green and gold, and he imagines that all the horrors through which he passed have been just a dream. “‘l am glad to wake!’” he says. “He sat up and then he saw that Frodo was lying beside and slept peacefully, one hand behind his head, and the other resting upon the coverlet. It was the right hand, and the third finger was missing. Full memory flooded back, and Sam cried aloud: 'It wasn't a dream! Then where are we?'
A voice spoke softly behind him: 'In the land of Ithilien, and in the keeping of the King; and he awaits you.' With that Gandalf stood before him, robed in white, his beard gleaming like pure snow in the twinkling of the leafy sunlight. 'Well, Master Samwise, how do you feel?' he said. But Sam lay back, and stared with open mouth, and for a moment, between bewilderment and great joy, he could not answer. At last he gasped: 'Gandalf! I thought you were dead! But then I thought I was dead myself. Is everything sad going to come untrue? What's happened to the world?' 'A great Shadow has departed,' said Gandalf, and then he laughed. The sound was like music, or like water in a parched land; and as he listened the thought came to Sam that he had not heard laughter, the pure sound of merriment, for days upon days without count. It fell upon his ears like the echo of all the joys he had ever known.”
Tim Keller writes about resurrection in his book The Reason for God. "The Biblical view of things is resurrection - not a future that is just a consolation for the life we never had but a restoration of the life you always longed for.” A bit later he says, "Jesus insisted that his return will be with such power that the very material world and universe will be purged of all decay and brokenness. All will be healed and all might-have-beens will be.” Then he sets up the scene we just read and quotes Sam “I thought you were dead! But then I thought I was dead myself! Is everything sad going to come untrue?' The answer of Christianity to that question is - yes. Everything sad is going to come untrue and it will somehow be greater for having once been broken and lost." “Everything sad is going to come untrue.” As wonderful as that sounds, it would be hollow and empty, a bitter, traitorous lie, without the resurrection.
The resurrection of Jesus is the down-payment and seal of all that we hope for, and without it, everything sad would be sad forever. This morning we’re finishing our celebration of the passion and resurrection of Christ by looking at one more Psalm. Like the others, Psalm 16 is quoted by the New Testament writers to show that Jesus was the long awaited Messiah. In fact, the Psalm is used by Peter and by Paul to show that the resurrection of Jesus was true. The Psalm reveals us that the resurrection of Jesus is the path to life.
Let’s read the whole Psalm, so that we can look at it first from David’s point of view, seeing David’s confidence in God whether in life or in death. Then we’ll look at the use of the Psalm by Peter and Paul as they show us how Jesus’ victory gives us confidence in the path to life, that everything sad will come untrue.
Psalm 16:1-11 Preserve me, O God, for in you I take refuge. 2I say to the Lord, “You are my Lord; I have no good apart from you.” 3As for the saints in the land, they are the excellent ones, in whom is all my delight. 4The sorrows of those who run after another god shall multiply; their drink offerings of blood I will not pour out or take their names on my lips. 5The Lord is my chosen portion and my cup; you hold my lot. 6The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; indeed, I have a beautiful inheritance. 7I bless the Lord who gives me counsel; in the night also my heart instructs me. 8I have set the Lord always before me; because he is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken. 9Therefore my heart is glad, and my whole being rejoices; my flesh also dwells secure. 10For you will not abandon my soul to Sheol, or let your holy one see corruption. 11You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.
The preface to this Psalm says ‘A mitkam of David,’ and both Peter and Paul say that this is David speaking. We don’t know the circumstances. It could have been written almost any point in David’s long rocky journey. In verse 1, for example, we see David’s habit of taking refuge in God. The term is used 24 times in the Psalms, more if you count synonyms. The Psalmists perceive that in a metaphorical or spiritual or even physical sense, God is a place that they can hide. On the other hand, the King James version often translates this word as “trust.” “In you I trust.” If that’s part of the meaning, then David is affirming that he can always trust God. He’s a place to hide, a person to trust.
David goes on to say to the Lord, “you are my Lord. I have no good apart from you.” As Psalm 73:25 puts it, “Whom have I in heaven but You? And besides You, I desire nothing on earth.” It goes on to say “But as for me, the nearness of God is my good; I have made the Lord God my refuge,” A commentator said “Everything without God is pathetically inferior to God without everything.”
But the only way you can agree with that is if you agree with the verse’s first part: “I said to the Lord, ‘You are my Lord.’” The first Lord is Yahweh, the personal covenant name of God, revealed to Moses, the eternal, self-existent God. But the second lord means master, ruler or sovereign. When your sovereign ruler is the Lord God you experience Him as your only good.
Verses 3 and 4 show how this plays out on the horizontal level, human relationships: “As for the saints in the land, they are the excellent ones, in whom is all my delight. 4The sorrows of those who run after another god shall multiply; their drink offerings of blood I will not pour out or take their names on my lips.” David is saying that I delight in the people who are following God, but I will not participate in the excesses of those who follow other gods, because I know there is no pleasure or joy that direction, but rather multiplied sorrows.
Our primary relationship is vertical, and it’s in that relationship with the resurrected Jesus that we find refuge and life. But you know as well as I that most of us spend most of our time in horizontal relationships, and they deeply impact us. So, we need to delight in relationships which are good and positive, and to avoid the peer pressure that tempts us to embrace the wrong path. We won’t influence anyone positively if we get caught up in things that lead to sorrow.
The idea behind Psalm 16:5-6 is God’s dividing the land to the twelve tribes of Israel. They determined the boundaries by lot. But God didn’t give land to the priests. Rather, the Lord said to Aaron, “You shall have no inheritance in their land nor own any portion among them; I am your portion and your inheritance.” David applies this to himself. Having the Lord as his portion is better than any piece of land. John Calvin says “None are taught aright in true godliness but those who reckon God alone sufficient for their happiness, for he who has God as his portion is destitute of nothing which is requisite to a happy life.”
So David sees that all good things come from God. He also sees that God has given wisdom to see these things. Verse 7: “I bless the Lord who gives me counsel; in the night also my heart instructs me.” It’s tempting to fall into the trap of living our lives, in a practical sense, as if there was some greater good than God. But God is counseling David to see Him as greatest good.
Verses 8-11 are an even more focused celebration of a saving relationship with God. Verse 8, I’m always focusing on God and because he is at my right hand, nothing will shake me. Nothing in the news, no difficulties in relationships, no temptation can take my gaze off God. Verse 9: “Therefore my heart is glad, and my whole being rejoices.” Relationship with God is better than anything else. Do you believe that? Are you constantly distracted from that relationship, to your own sorrow? Relationship with God makes that sorrow come untrue!
In verse 10 David asserts a belief in eternal life, even in resurrection: “my flesh also dwells secure. For you will not abandon my soul to Sheol, or let your holy one see corruption.” One of the things we’ve seen before in these Psalms is that David begins to say more than the situation warrants, his vision expands to a prophetic perspective. We saw that near the end of Psalm 118 last week, and throughout Psalm 22 on Thursday. David could say these things from his own point of view: “I believe that death will not be forever. The grave and Sheol, this separation from God, isn’t forever. I won’t be abandoned.” But we’ll see that for Peter and Paul, these words speak of Jesus and his resurrection. Like many Old Testament prophets, David was speaking better than he knew.
As a result, our assurance can be even stronger than his was Verse 11: “You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” David is convinced God is his good, that there is no good apart from him, that God is a better inheritance and portion than any plot of land, that God is always with him and that he will not be shaken. Every sad thing is coming untrue for David. There is fullness of joy. Steven Cole says: “the core of the Christian life is to seek lasting joy and pleasure in God.” He quotes the Westminster Shorter Catechism, “the chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.” And then he quotes John Piper’s modification “The chief end of man is to glorify God by enjoying him forever” As we’ve heard Piper say, “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him.” David knew his sadness was already coming untrue.
OK, so that’s David’s point of view, and it’s wonderful. Not only are the sorrows of David life transformed into the joy of the Lord, but death itself is supposed to come untrue. You will not let your holy one see decay. Death, Paul tells us is the last enemy, so great an enemy that when Jesus stood before Lazarus’ tomb he wept at the wrongness of death. But David says this enemy will not have the last word, that the last word is forevermore, the last word of the Psalm.
But there are two problems. First, David rotted. That is, he died and was buried and in contradiction to verse 10, he did see corruption. So was his expectation unmet? At least in one sense, important to the New Testament authors, it was. The second problem is bigger. David was not righteous. He was a notorious sinner. He had no merit of his own by which to deserve God’s pleasure and favor. It seems obvious he did enjoy these things, and we learn elsewhere that he received forgiveness for his sins. But there is no basis for forgiveness, no reason for God to give him anything but wrath and hell. How does God get away with this? The New Testament, reflecting on these verses, tells us how. We’re going to see it, in the way Peter uses these verses, and in the way Paul does. First though, we have to remember what day it is.
It’s resurrection Sunday. Jesus suffered the cruel death of the cross. He bore, in his body on the cross, our sins. He bore God’s wrath and was separated from the Father, because of our sins, and David’s sins too. He died. He was buried. But then, on the third day, on Sunday morning, he rose. He appeared to Mary, to Peter, to the disciples, to Thomas. “Put your fingers in my scars, your hand in my side. Stop doubting and believe. And Thomas and the others did. Then Jesus told them they would be his witnesses. They saw him ascend to heaven. They waited in Jerusalem. And on the fiftieth day after his resurrection, they received his Holy Spirit, who empowered them to speak and allowed the hearers, a great crowd at the feast of Pentecost, to hear in their own tongues. As the crowd listened, Peter began to speak, and partly he spoke of Psalm 16.
Let’s join them in that Jerusalem street and see how Peter takes them from death to life through Jesus’s victory. Acts 2:22, Peter stood up and said Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know, 23this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. 24God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it. That’s Peter’s thesis: you killed him, but God raised him up. The pangs of death could not hold him. He is risen and he is alive.
But Peter wants to show this from Scripture. So he quotes Psalm 16. For David says concerning him, “‘I saw the Lord always before me, for he is at my right hand that I may not be shaken; 26therefore my heart was glad, and my tongue rejoiced; my flesh also will dwell in hope. 27For you will not abandon my soul to Hades, or let your Holy One see corruption. 28You have made known to me the paths of life; you will make me full of gladness with your presence.’ He quotes the end of the Psalm we just studied, but he’s going to point it at Jesus.
Acts 2:29, “Brothers, I may say to you with confidence about the patriarch David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. Like Jacob Marley, David is dead to begin with. Peter implies that the Psalm wasn’t fulfilled in David, at least not in a literal way. I think David’s expectation of eternal life was, or will be fulfilled, but he was not resurrected in his own day, and his body did see decay. Peter says ‘David rotted in the grave, but these verses are a prophecy, in fact a prophetic proof that the resurrection of Jesus was not unexpected in Scripture. Verse 30: “30Being therefore a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him that he would set one of his descendants on his throne, 31he foresaw and spoke about the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned to Hades, nor did his flesh see corruption. 32This Jesus God raised up, and of that we all are witnesses.
Psalm 16 was David’s prophecy. Jesus fulfilled it. Peter is saying ‘we’ve seen Jesus with our own eyes, but if that’s not enough proof, you should know this was in the plan of God all along.’ And Jesus has not only risen, but he is exalted into heaven, and Peter proves that from a Psalm of David as well, Psalm 110. “33Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you yourselves are seeing and hearing. 34For David did not ascend into the heavens, but he himself says, “‘The Lord said to my Lord, “Sit at my right hand, 35until I make your enemies your footstool.”’ 36Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.” Peter isn’t content to show the resurrection from prophecy and eyewitness accounts. He also shows that Jesus ascended to heaven and poured out the Holy Spirit. So God has made him both Lord and Christ. He is the Messiah, the promised rescuer while at the same time being Sovereign Lord in the strongest sense.
So the resurrection is true. David wasn’t raised but Jesus was. But remember, David had two problems. One, he rotted, But Jesus has been raised, and is reversing death. Two, like everybody else, like all of Peter’s listeners, like all of us, David was a sinner. Peter has just accused these people of crucifying the Messiah. What are they supposed to do about that? They ask. Peter tells them. Verse 37: 37Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” 38And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. Repent, turn from this sin. And to Jesus in faith. Peter doesn’t use what the New Testament would call the key word, faith. But it’s implied, because they turn to Jesus, they are baptized to show their trust in him, and they receive forgiveness of sins and the gift of the Holy Spirit.
The key is forgiveness of sins. David needed it. These people who conspired in the murder of Jesus needed it. And you and I, by our rebellion against God and by our selfishness and by our hurtful ways toward others, we needed it too. Jesus did it. He died to pay the price of forgiveness, and he’s alive to offer it to us. Now, for those who believe, everything valued by David, the presence of God, God as his good, God as his inheritance, God as fullness of joy, all these are ours, because Jesus rose to give them to us, to be them for us. Psalm 16 isn’t only prophecy of the resurrection it’s a prophecy of the resurrection’s blessing in the life of the believer, the moment when death was reversed and everything sad began to come untrue. This is the good news of Acts.
Eleven chapters later, as Good News spreads to the Gentile world, Paul uses Psalm 16 to prove the resurrection to Jews and God-fearing Gentiles at a synagogue in Pisidian Antioch, in modern day Turkey. He says “Brothers, sons of the family of Abraham, and those among you who fear God, to us has been sent the message of this salvation. 27For those who live in Jerusalem and their rulers, because they did not recognize him [Jesus] nor understand the utterances of the prophets, which are read every Sabbath, fulfilled them by condemning him. Paul doesn’t punches. The people and leaders of Jerusalem fulfilled prophecy by condemning Jesus. We saw that Thursday in Psalm 22.
Verse 28, “And though they found in him no guilt worthy of death, they asked Pilate to have him executed. 29And when they had carried out all that was written of him, they took him down from the tree and laid him in a tomb. 30But God raised him from the dead, 31and for many days he appeared to those who had come up with him from Galilee to Jerusalem, who are now his witnesses to the people. Paul says the same thing to the Corinthians. The key elements of the Good News are that Jesus was crucified according to the Scriptures, that he was buried and that he rose on the third day according to the Scriptures.
And one of the Scriptures he fulfilled, in Paul’s estimation as well as Peter’s, is Psalm 16. Paul says “32And we bring you the good news that what God promised to the fathers, 33this he has fulfilled to us their children by raising Jesus, as also it is written in the second Psalm, “‘You are my Son, today I have begotten you.’ 34And as for the fact that he raised him from the dead, no more to return to corruption, he has spoken in this way, “‘I will give you the holy and sure blessings of David.’ 35Therefore he says also in another psalm, “‘You will not let your Holy One see corruption.’ He quotes Psalm 2, Isaiah 55 and Psalm 16. The resurrection wasn’t unexpected. We saw evidence of it in Psalm 22, and if we had time we could go back to Isaiah 53 and find it there.
But Paul expands on Psalm 16: 36For David, after he had served the purpose of God in his own generation, fell asleep and was laid with his fathers and saw corruption, 37but he whom God raised up did not see corruption. David died and was buried and stayed dead. He saw corruption. He rotted. But Jesus didn’t. God raised him up to new life. In him eternal is offered to all people.
Paul also addresses directly David’s other problem. He didn’t deserve eternal life. He had no merit that would earn him joy in God’s presence, but rather had sin which would separate him from God. Paul says “38Let it be known to you therefore, brothers, that through this man, forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you, 39and by him everyone who believes is freed from everything from which you could not be freed by the law of Moses.
The resurrection of Jesus addresses both our problems, sin and death. The law couldn’t do this. The law convicts us of sin and pictures the need for sacrifice, but Jesus is the reality. Only by believing in Jesus, trusting what he did are we saved. Even David, as he made God his refuge and his trust received the benefit of this sacrifice, forgiveness, and joy in God’s presence.
Let it be known to you, brothers and sisters that through this man Jesus who was raised, forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you, and by him everyone who believes is freed from sin and death. In Him we can say with certainty “You are my Lord, I have no good apart from you.” “In you I take refuge.” “You are my portion and my cup and my inheritance.” “You are always before me. Sin no longer rules over me or shakes me.” “You will not abandon me to death. You’ve made known to me the path of life and set me on it.” “And in your living presence, your resurrected presence there is fullness of joy.”
Everything sad is coming untrue. It’s not all untrue yet, because we await his return. But sin and death are coming untrue in the resurrection and reign of Jesus. “Sam Gamgee laughed as he sprang from his bed. 'How do I feel?' he cried. 'Well, I don't know how to say it. I feel, I feel'- he waved his arms in the air —'I feel like spring after winter, and sun on the leaves; and like trumpets and harps and all the songs I have at heard!' C. S. Lewis made a similar point in The Great Divorce: “Some say of temporal suffering, “No future bliss can make up for it,” not knowing that Heaven, once attained, will work backwards and turn even that agony into a glory.” Andrew Peterson, in his song Don’t You Want to Thank Someone says “And when the world is new again, And the children of the King are ancient in their youth again, maybe it's a better thing, a better thing, to be more than merely innocent, but to be broken and redeemed by love. Maybe this old world is bent, but it's waking up, and I'm waking up. Everything sad is coming untrue, in the Resurrection. He has shown us the path of life.