God’s Word for You
Psalm 102:18-22 He set free those condemned to death
by Pastor Timothy Smith on Thursday, July 25, 2019
18 Let this be written for a future generation,
that a people yet to be created may praise the LORD:
Sometimes one hears the claim that wherever the Hebrew verb bara’ occurs with God as the subject, it always refers to something being created out of nothing. Since bara’ is the verb here (it is a nifal passive participle), it seems like a good place to point out that such a distinction, if true, is an application and not a grammatical rule. I have personally never counted every instance of bara’ to see if this claim is correct, but nothing in the verb or its form would lead us to think that there is an exceptional quality to this word depending upon its subject.
Here, the “people yet to be created” included most of those who are reading this devotion today. Some people, like my friend Rabbi Kahn (who is today a Christian and a WELS Lutheran) come from a people, a nation, that was already created when this Psalm was written. Others, like myself and my family, come from family groups and nations that did not form until just a few hundred years ago as a result of wars and migrations and the Great Potato Famine. And yet, everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved (Joel 2:32; Acts 2:21; Romans 10:13). Lateness to the march of time is neither a benefit nor a hindrance. God has placed us in the moment of our existence because that is when he needs us to be here.
19 The LORD looked down from his high holy place,
from heaven he looked on the earth,
20 to hear the groans of the prisoners
and set free those condemned to death.
21 So the name of the LORD will be proclaimed in Zion
and his praise proclaimed in Jerusalem
22 when the peoples and the kingdoms assemble
to worship the LORD.
Some translations encase some or all of these verses as the content of the “praise” in verse 18. This is an appropriate way to take the section, although it would be wrong to insist that it can’t be taken any other way. It’s important for most human beings to think of God dwelling in a location. In a couple of the Psalms, God is depicted on a throne in his holy temple (Psalm 11:4, 47:8), and Isaiah saw a vision of the Lord seated on a throne in the temple (Isaiah 6:1). In the throne scenes in Job, we are not told where God is, but only that the angels go to present themselves before him, and that sometimes the devil comes as well (Job 1:6, 2:1). Those scenes in Job could be taking place anywhere in the world or outside it.
Here, the king relates by divine inspiration that God looks down from heaven, from his “high holy place,” and sees the earth and everything that takes place here. I think that it’s more important for us to recognize the truth that God sees us and knows our lives; knows our struggles, griefs, and joys, than it is for us always to think of the meaning of a king. We are a people without any earthly king, and the image of God as a chairman or a president would do God an injustice; it would be too petty a rank for the Lord. Verse 20 shows our great confession of faith in God: He sets free those condemned to death. This is God’s judgment on all mankind through Christ. The penalty for sin is death (Romans 6:23), and God overturned that judgment when Christ took the penalty on himself.
In verses 21-22, the true church is depicted. Wherever the gospel is preached (“the name of the Lord will be proclaimed”) and people put their faith in him (“his praise is proclaimed”), there is the true Zion, the spiritual Jerusalem; the city of God. This is where peoples and kingdoms from all over the world, from every tribe and language and people and nation (Revelation 5:9), have gathered to confess their faith in Christ. He has freed us from the grip of our sins, from the clutches of the devil, and from the mouth of the grave. This is the invisible church, truly seen only by God, made up only of those who revere the Son of God and who are the dwelling place of God’s Holy Spirit. We treasure the Son as our dearest gift and our dear Master. Why? When we say that he removed the penalty for our sins, that’s a quick way of saying what truly took place. He did not remove the penalty itself; he only removed it from us so that we do not have to pay it. It still had to be paid. He is the one who took the full force of the penalty, which was both death and hell, and he suffered them willingly and innocently in our place. The nature of hell is that it is the torture of being separated from God, or at least from God’s love. This is what Jesus Christ experienced on the cross, finally crying out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Of all the things spoken by Jesus on the cross, this is the only one recorded twice (Matthew 27:46; Mark 15:34). Perhaps the reason for this is that all of what Jesus said on the cross is important and good for us to know, and the Spirit wants us to have these things. But the testimony from the lips of God himself that he was suffering the agony of hell is seen as a legally binding testimony, and everything must be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses (Deuteronomy 19:15). Therefore Jesus removed the penalty we owed, and took it all on himself. Had he been nothing more than a man, then his suffering would have been his own payment for sin. Had he been nothing more than a single sinless man, his death would have been a tragedy, and nothing more. But Jesus is not merely a man, more merely a sinless man. He is also God. The Son of God has the same divinity as the Father, and is fully God in every way that the Father is God. Jesus suffered on the cross as both God and man, and because his flesh is divine as well as human, his suffering and death had infinite value, just as God’s word has infinite value and power. God has declared that everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved (Joel 2:32); all who turn to him in faith will be saved (Isaiah 45:22). This is the nature of the true Zion, the spiritual Jerusalem. This is the Holy Christian Church, the communion of saints. And of this you are a part.
Pastor Timothy Smith