Wineskins Archive

December 19, 2013

Let the Redeemed of the Lord Say So (Sept-Oct 1997)

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by John Willis
September – October, 1997

28Jack Melton and Fred Hodges were rough, well-trained, experienced sailors and fishermen. They loved to fish several miles out into the Pacific off the northern island of New Zealand. Today was no different. They had left early in the morning, and were enjoying a good catch. About mid-afternoon, dark clouds gathered quickly, and Jack and Fred found themselves in the midst of the powerful typhoon. In spite of all their efforts, their boat tossed frighteningly up and down in the ruthless storm. They realized that the situation was far beyond their abilities to cope, and they cried out in prayer for God to deliver them.

When Jack and Fred had not returned home several hours past their expected arrival time, their wives contacted the coast guard and expressed their deep concerns about the safety of the two men. Several search teams went out in boats and helicopters, but without success. A week passed, and the families and friends of the two fishermen imagined the worst. But on the ninth day of their ordeal, a ship from South Africa spotted them over 200 miles away from the area where the searchers thought they should be, and its captain sent a message to the New Zealand authorities that Jack and Fred were safe. When the authorities relayed this good news to the distressed wives, they immediately called the other members of the family and their friends and neighbors. It was impossible to keep this joyous news to themselves; they had to tell everyone they saw that Jack and Fred had been rescued and were headed home. One of the neighbors observed: “This is such a wonderful occasion! I wonder if anything like this has ever happened before! It is incredible to think how these two men somehow survived that terrible storm!”

As a matter of fact, SOMETHING LIKE THIS HAD HAPPENED BEFORE! The author of Psalm 107 describes it this way:

Some went out on the sea in ships;
they were merchants on the mighty waters.
They saw the works of the LORD,
his wonderful deeds in the deep.
For he spoke and stirred up a tempest
that lifted high the waves.
They mounted up to the heavens and went down to the depths;
in their peril their courage melted away.
They reeled and staggered like drunkards;
they were at their wits’ end.
Then they cried out to the LORD in their trouble,
and he brought them out of their distress.
He stilled the storm to a whisper;
the waves of the sea were hushed.
They were glad when it grew calm,
and he guided them to their desired haven.
Let them give thanks to the LORD for his unfailing love
and his wonderful deeds for humankind.
Let them exalt him in the assembly of the people
and praise him in the council of the elders.

These sailors are the last of four groups whom the author of Psalm 107 uses as examples of people who found themselves in dangerous circumstances far beyond their human capabilities to cope, and cried to the Lord for deliverance. The Lord delivered them, and psalmist admonishes them to thank him for his steadfast love manifested in his intervention and deliverance, and to “extol” and “praise” him for what he has done when God’s people assemble for worship and fellowship. The other three groups are hungry and thirsty lost travelers (vss. 4-9), guilty, chained, depressed prisoners (vss. 10-16), and sick people who almost died (vss. 17-22).

Psalm 107 teaches the importance of God’s people “witnessing” or “testifying” to God’s mighty acts in their lives. Four significant particulars concerning “witnessing” stand out in this text. First, one can witness or testify only to that which has actually happened. Witnessing assumes that God is constantly working in his world: in nature, in nations and other groups of people, and in individuals. According to the Bible, the basic characteristic which distinguishes the one true God from all other alleged gods is that he is alive and acts unceasingly to carry out his purposes in his world (Psalms 115:2-7; 135:13-17; Jeremiah 10:1-16). Asking God for something or thanking him is mockery if the one praying does not believe firmly that God can do things which human beings cannot do (James 1:5-8).

Second, when God does something for us, it is natural to share what God has done with others. In fact, it is unnatural to keep to oneself a wonderful thing that has happened in one’s life. Therefore, it is not surprising that there are many examples in the Bible of individuals and groups witnessing to God’s mighty acts in their lives when God’s people gathered for worship. The author who composed Psalm 66 says to his hearers:

Come and hear, all you who fear God, and I will tell you what he has done for me. (v. 16).

Psalm 68:24-27 describes a common scene in an Israelite worship experience:

Your solemn processions are seen, O God,
the processions of my God, my King,
into the sanctuary –
the singers in front, the musicians last,
between them girls playing tambourines:
“Bless God in the great congregation,
the Lord, O you who are of Israel’s fountain!”
There is Benjamin, the least of them, in the lead,
the princes of Judah in a body, the princes of Zebulon, the princes of Naphtali.

Here, those who had experienced firsthand God’s victory of Israel’s enemies (see vss. 11-14, 17-18, 21-23) go in procession before the entire congregation of God’s people, celebrating the victory and calling on their fellow worshipers to join them in praising God for what he has done. Similarly, the early Christians witnessed to Gd’s working in their lives when the local church gathered for worship. For example, when Jesus healed the lame man at the Beautiful Gate of the Jerusalem temple through Peter, and Peter and John preached Jesus to the crowds that gathered, the Jewish authorities put them in prison. After strictly admonishing them to quit preaching in the name of Jesus, the authorities released them (Acts 3:1-4:22). Peter and John went to “their friends” (Acts 4:23) who had “gathered together” at a designated “place” (Acts 4:31) to worship God, and “reported” what the Jewish authorities had said to them (Acts 4:23). These sisters and brothers praised God, because he had announced that enemies would attempt to overthrow God’s work, and Herod and Pontius Pilate gathered together “to do whatever your (God’s) hand and your (God’s) plan had predestined to take place.” Now, these Christians pray that God will look at the threats of the Jewish authorities against Peter and John and grant his servants the boldness to speak his word with boldness (Acts 4:24-30).

Third, there are at least three ways that a person or group may “witness” to a mighty act of God in their lives.

a) They may tell their fellow-worshipers what God did. The author of Psalm 107 begins his poem with this admonition: “Let the redeemed of the Lord say so” (v. 2), i.e., let them “say” or tell how God “redeemed” them or delivered them from their troubles (see Psalm 73:28; 118:17; 145:6, 10-12, 21)

b) They may sing to the assembled worshipers about God’s deliverance. The author of Psalm 107 admonishes those whom God had healed from severe illness:
Let them offer thanksgiving sacrifices,
and tell of his deeds with songs of joy

God’s people have always composed and sung songs to celebrate and commemorate God’s mighty deeds. Moses and the Israelites sang a song praising Yahweh for defeating the Egyptians and delivering his people at the Sea of Reeds (Exodus 15:1-18). “The ballad singers” sang about Israel’s victory over Sihon of Hesh-bon and over Moab (Numbers 21:27-30). The “musicians at the watering places” … “repeated the triumphs of the Lord” over Israel’s enemies (Judges 5:11). Philippians 2:6-11, 1 Timothy 3:16, Revelation 4:11, and many other New Testament passages are songs which the first century church composed and sang. Those who are talented musicians and poets among God’s people in each generation should write songs celebrating and commemorating God’s mighty acts in their lives and in the lives of the people of God whose experiences they know.

c) They may write and perform dramatic productions to communicate God’s great message. The Passover with the Feast of Unleavened Bread (Exodus 12:1-28; 12:43-13:10; 2 Chronicles 30; 35:1-19), the Feast of Tabernacles (Leviticus 23:33-43; Numbers 29:12-40; Deuteronomy 16:13-17; Nehemiah 8:13-18) and the Day of Atonement (Leviticus 16) are examples of festivals involving dramatic activity to “relive” God’s mighty deeds for the present generation. The obvious dramatic nature of the Gospel narratives calls for dramatic performances, as modern Passion Plays show.

Fourth and finally, the purpose of “witnessing” is to encourage God’s people to pray to, trust in, and be thankful to “the living God” for his unceasing faithfulness and care for those who love him and seek to serve him. In Psalm 107, after the four groups witness to God’s mighty deeds in their lives (vss. 4-32), the author sums up the great truths these mighty deeds communicate to the present audience (vss. 34-43). He concludes by saying:
The upright see it and are glad,
and all the wickedness stops its mouth.
Let those who are wise give heed to these things,
and consider the steadfast love of the Lord
(vss. 42-43).

Worship assemblies of the church should include testimonies or witnessing to God’s mighty acts by men and women as they experience clear evidence of his working in nature, in their individual lives, in the life of the corporate group of believers, and in the world. There is ample precedent for this in Scripture, and it is a major means of building up and encouraging God’s people.Wineskins Magazine

John Willis

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