Jesus: Despised and Rejected: Psalm 89

Story of Hudson Taylor and the CIM… [1]

On the surface a seeming disaster of epic proportions. What would become of the Church in China? How do you think the Chinese Christians prayed 55 years ago today? How could a sovereign Lord allow all foreign mission work to be shut down, banned, the staff deported? Why would he allow the indigenous Chinese Church to be persecuted for decades? These are the same questions Ethan the Ezrahite asks in Psalm 89. Please turn to it with me. Psalm 89 is the prayer of a godly believer who is overwhelmed by the suffering of his people. What can we learn from his example?

First – let us get the context. The date is some time after 597BC. Jerusalem has been attacked by Nebuchadnezzar and the king Jehoiachin has been exiled to Babylon along with 10,000 people of Judah. Then in 586BC, after the rebellion of Zedekiah, Jerusalem is ransacked and burned and the rest of the people are exiled in Babylon. After 70 years God would restore their descendents to their homeland but that was a long way off. So Psalm 89 fits somewhere into that 70 year exile.

1.    The Supreme God and His Wonders (Psalm 89:1-18)

2.    The Saving God and His Covenants (Psalm 89:19-37)

3.    The Severe God and His Disciplines (Psalm 89:38-52)

As you read this psalm, it almost looks as if it were penned by different writers. The first half praises God for his love and faithfulness, his covenant promises and for raising up David the king and for his successors. But in verse 38 the tone changes dramatically. The writer breaks down in deep emotion. From his sobbing lips come question after question in quick succession – where has God’s love gone to? What has happened to his covenant promises? Why have his people been defeated? Where is God in all this? Yet, Ethan the believer concludes “Praise be to the LORD forever! Amen and Amen.” (Psalm 89:52). Let us find out how we too can praise God whatever our circumstances.

1.    The Supreme God and His Wonders (Psalm 89:1-18)

“I will sing of the LORD’s great love forever; with my mouth I will make your faithfulness known through all generations. I will declare that your love stands firm forever, that you have established your faithfulness in heaven itself… In the council of the holy ones God is greatly feared; he is more awesome than all who surround him. Who is like you, LORD God Almighty? You, LORD, are mighty, and your faithfulness surrounds you.” (Psalm 89:1-2, 7-8)

There are here in these verses three hallmarks of genuine, healthy Christ followers.

1.1         We will Sing of His Love in Worship

“I will sing of the LORD’s great love forever” (Psalm 89:1).

Consistent praise and worship is instinctive to those who have received Jesus as their Lord and Saviour – of those who have a daily walk with God – who recognise his sovereign hand in creation, salvation and our daily provision. Praise of God is spontaneous among Christ followers and absent among those who do not. We will sing of his love.

1.2         We will Speak of His Faithfulness in Witness

“with my mouth I will make your faithfulness known through all generations. I will declare that your love stands firm forever,” (Psalm 89:2)

Notice praise and evangelism go together. Wanting to thank God for his love and tell others of his faithfulness go together! They flow from the same heart and the same motive.
That is because we glorify God as we share what he has done for us with other people. In the Autumn, one of our Thursday night courses is entitled “Becoming a Contagious Christian”
You will discover it is not about learning evangelistic techniques or good arguments. It is simply about learning how to express  what God has done for us in Christ. Worship and witness go together hand in hand.

You cannot worship with your teeth gritted. And you cannot witness with your mouth closed.  Healthy followers of Christ will sing of his love in worship and speak of his faithfulness in witness. Both, however, are authenticated when we:

1.3         We will Submit to his Authority in our Walk

“In the council of the holy ones God is greatly feared; he is more awesome than all who surround him. Who is like you, LORD God Almighty? You, LORD, are mighty, and your faithfulness surrounds you.” (Psalm 89:7-8)

Notice who it is who fear God. His ‘holy ones’. Why? Because they are close to him and recognise He is awesome, Holy, Almighty God.  When I witness to Muslim audiences, especially, you know the greatest impediment to them coming to know Jesus? The public image of the Church. It is hard to say, “Don’t look at the Church, look at Jesus” That is not what Jesus and the Apostles taught. Jesus said, “Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord’ and do not do what I say?” (Luke 6:46). The Apostle Paul wrote, “Follow my example as I follow the example of Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1). The Apostle Peter said, “Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example that you should follow in his steps” (1 Peter 2:21). The writer of Hebrews urged “Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith.” (Hebrews 13:7). Our witness for Jesus is most powerful, most authentic and most compelling when we submit to his will. His will expressed in the Bible - in our convictions, in our decisions, our choices and our lifestyles. For it is here we are truly blessed. The psalmist explains why we will want to praise God, long to share him and desire to follow him.

“Blessed are those who have learned to acclaim you, who walk in the light of your presence, LORD. 16 They rejoice in your name all day long; they exult in your righteousness. 17 For you are their glory and strength.” (Psalm 89:15-17)


So, the hallmarks of genuine, healthy Christ followers?

We will Sing of His Love in Worship
We will Speak of His Faithfulness in Witness
We will Submit to his Authority in our Walk

The 1st part of this psalm extols the Supreme God and His wonders (Psalm 89:1-18). The 2nd part of this psalm describes:

2.    The Saving God and His Covenants (Psalm 89:19-37)

“I have raised up a young man from among the people. 20 I have found David my servant; with my sacred oil I have anointed him. 21 My hand will sustain him; surely my arm will strengthen him… He will call out to me, ‘You are my Father, my God, the Rock my Savior.’ 27 And I will appoint him to be my firstborn, the most exalted of the kings of the earth. 28 I will maintain my love to him forever, and my covenant with him will never fail.” (Psalm 89:19-21, 27-28)


This section looks back to the covenant God made with David and his dynasty in 2 Samuel 7:4-16. God is a God who keeps his covenants and in the psalm, it is God who speaks repeatedly “I will set… I will appoint… I will maintain…

I will establish… I will publish. It is God who intervenes. God who takes the initiative. It is God who saves.

2.1         God anointed David to serve his people (89:19-21)

2.2         God defeated David’s enemies (89:22-23)

2.3         God extended David’s kingdom (89:24-25)

2.4         God exalted David above all kings (89:26-27). And…

2.5         God would perpetuate David’s dynasty for ever (89:28-29)

If God’s covenant with David is the subject of verses 19-29, God’s continuing faithfulness to his covenant with David’s successors are the focus of verses 30-37. A promise that was ultimately fulfilled in David’s greater Son, the Son of David, the Lord Jesus Christ (See John 12:34). The Apostle John, in the introduction his Revelation, takes the language of Psalm 89:26-27 and delivers this greeting from the Lord:

“Grace and peace to you from him who is, and who was, and who is to come, and from the seven spirits before his throne, 5 and from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth. To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood, :6 and has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father—to him be glory and power for ever and ever! Amen.” (Revelation 1:4-6)


This is how the covenant with David was fulfilled. Not in reviving a national kingdom in Israel, but in a kingdom embracing all nations; through a new and lasting covenant sealed in his blood (Isaiah 42:6; Jer. 31:31-34; Luke 22:20). Yes, God keeps his covenant, not sparing his own Son to demonstrate his love and rescue us from death and judgement. 

The Supreme God and His Wonders (Psalm 89:1-18)

The Saving God and His Covenants (Psalm 89:19-37)


3.    The Severe God and His Discipline (Psalm 89:38-52)

“But you have rejected, you have spurned, you have been very angry with your anointed one. 39 You have renounced the covenant with your servant and have defiled his crown in the dust… 46 How long, LORD? Will you hide yourself forever? How long will your wrath burn like fire? 47 Remember how fleeting is my life. For what futility you have created all humanity!” (Psalm 89:38-39, 46-47)


Notice the ‘subtle’ shift in language? Well its not subtle is it? Ethan probably wrote these verses in capitals. He is shouting at God. Is this contradicting what he wrote earlier in the psalm? No its not. He is telling us what he feels, his emotions, his frustration, his anger.  You must not believe everything in the Bible. Not everything in the Bible is true!


Despite what Ethan felt, God had not broken his covenant. God’s people were suffering precisely because God was keeping his covenant. Sure, Ethan felt God had broken his covenant. Well he would wouldn’t he! Like the Israelites of Jesus day and like many today, they wanted the promises of the covenant without the conditions. They wanted a king and territory and children and health and peace and prosperity – just like many Christians today – but they didn’t want the ethical and moral stipulations that went with the covenant.   In the covenant God made with David he expressly promised, 


“I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. 14 I will be his father, and he will be my son. When he does wrong, I will punish him with a rod wielded by human beings, with floggings inflicted by human hands.  15 But my love will never be taken away from him.” (2 Samuel 7:13-14)


That is why in Psalm 89 God says, “If his sons forsake my law and do not follow my statutes, 31 if they violate my decrees and fail to keep my commands, 32 I will punish their sin with the rod, their iniquity with flogging; 33 but I will not take my love from him, nor will I ever betray my faithfulness.” (Psalm 89:30-33)


They were suffering from occupation and exile because of they violated God’s decrees and failed to keep God’s commands. It was because God loved them that he must discipline them to bring them back to himself (See also Hebrews 12:4-11).

We read why the exile took place in 2 Chronicles 36.

“The LORD, the God of their ancestors, sent word to them through his messengers again and again, because he had pity on his people and on his dwelling place.  16 But they mocked God’s messengers, despised his words and scoffed at his prophets until the wrath of the LORD was aroused against his people and there was no remedy…He carried into exile to Babylon the remnant, who escaped from the sword, and they became servants to him and his successors until the kingdom of Persia came to power.  21 The land enjoyed its sabbath rests; all the time of its desolation it rested, until the seventy years were completed in fulfillment of the word of the LORD spoken by Jeremiah.” (2 Chronicles 36:15-17, 20-21)


The Supreme God and His Wonders.

The Saving God and His Covenants.

The Severe God and His Discipline.

And what about us? What lessons do we learn?

1.    The Faithful Remnant may Suffer

The faithful remnant had to endure exile along with those who had rebelled against God. So likewise we will not necessarily be immune from what God is doing in our world today. But like Ethan, if we stand for the Bible, we may very well be mocked and ridiculed as well.

“Remember, Lord, how your servant has been mocked, how I bear in my heart the taunts of all the nations, the taunts with which your enemies, LORD, have mocked, with which they have mocked every step of your anointed one.” (Ps 89:50-51).

This week the Archbishops and Bishops of the Anglican Communion are meeting at Lambeth. I am praying for them, as I trust you are too. Praying that the sovereign Spirit of God falls on them, and purifies them and empowers them to be witnesses of Jesus Christ to the world. I’m praying that those who have departed from the Bible on matters of faith and morality will be brought to deep and lasting repentance and work to repair the divisions they have caused in the Anglican communion. I’m praying that the Lord removes those who refuse to repent. That he raises up godly leaders to succeed them who will be bold and fearless.

Fearless in proclaiming the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ to a world that is perishing. It is not a popular position to take but we have no choice. The faithful remnant may suffer.

2.    The Faithful Remnant are not Immune from Doubts

Like Ethan, its OK to have questions about what God is doing to us and express our frustrations and doubts to God. He can handle them. As long as we trust him for the answers.

3.    The Faithful Remnant will rely on God’s Word

The principle lesson I learn from this psalm is of the importance of trusting God’s Word whatever our circumstances, knowing that if he disciplines it is because he loves us. Lets personalise

“I will sing of the LORD’s great love forever; with my mouth I will make your faithfulness known through all generations. I will declare that your love stands firm forever, that you have established your faithfulness in heaven itself.” (Psalm 89:1-2)

Lets sing of his love – be joyful in worship.

Lets speak of his faithfulness – be loving in witness.

Lets submit to his will – have peace in our walk.

A sweet sense of his love. A habitual confidence of his care and an assured prospect of his glory. Today is indeed an auspicious day in the life of the Church in China. 55 years ago God allowed a persecution to break out against the Church. But God used it for good…. (complete story of CIM). “Praise be to the LORD forever! Amen and Amen.” (Psalm 89:52)



With grateful thanks to Todd Riley (, Michael Wilcock, The Message of Psalms 73-150 (IVP) and Warren Wersbie, Prayer, Praise and Promises (Back to the Bible) for ideas used in this sermon.

[1] Michael and Sharon Rusten. The One Year Book of Christian History (Tyndale, 2003)