He Will Speak Peace
Rev. Kurt Lantz Proper 10 B Psalm 85
July 11, 2021 Resurrection Lutheran Church St. Catharines, ON
Dear people of the LORD,
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
“Let me hear what God the LORD will speak, for He will speak peace to His people, to His saints; but let them not turn back to folly” (Psalm 85:8). Yes, the Lord has a word of peace to speak to you now, only do not turn again to folly, to foolishness, to stupidity. He spoke peace to His people of old through the prophets, forgiving their sins, covering their iniquities, bringing them back from captivity.
They deserved their exile, by the way. The LORD had brought His people out of Egypt with incredible wonders, proving that He was an almighty God whose desire it is to save people from sin, slavery, and death. He promised that He would be their faithful God if they would remain faithful to Him and not turn away to other gods who did not want to save them, but to enslave them. The LORD sent prophets to His people to continually warn them from turning to the gods of the peoples around them, gods who permitted sin, but demanded so much more.
You would have to be stupid to turn away from a loving and faithful Saviour to go after a demonic, oppressive, slaver, but that is what the people did repeatedly. They turned away from the LORD who saved them by the blood of a substitutionary lamb, and gave themselves to the demons who demanded the sacrifice of their children.
And still, when they called out to the LORD from exile in Babylon, the LORD who had delivered them from bondage in Egypt brought them home again, speaking the peace of forgiveness and cleansing. They could pray with confidence that the LORD would save them because He had done it before. They could pray expecting His mercy and grace because He had shown it to them before. They could cry out to Him for salvation because He had saved His people from slavery and death in Egypt, and from the nations surrounding them who raided and attacked and oppressed them.
So when they had been taken into exile in Babylon, they cried out to Him in prayer and song and awaited with faith His reply. “Let me hear what God the LORD will speak, for He will speak peace to His people, to His saints; but let them not turn back to folly.” And the psalm ends stating with firm confidence that the LORD will be good to His people. He will restore them. He will forgive them. He will bless them.
This psalm gives us words to pray in our own situations of life. We continue to pray for the LORD to have mercy and deliver us from the consequences of our sins. We wait faithfully to hear His answer of forgiveness and grace. That is why we are here today. We are calling out to the LORD to save us from our sins, from His wrath and punishment which we have deserved, to save us from the demons to whom we have turned, to give us His blessing for this life and that which is to come.
But it would be a grave mistake for us to not include the admonition: “let them not turn back to folly”, to foolishness, to stupidity, to the false gods who tempt us to indulge in our sins and are leading us away from the LORD’s grace and mercy, into His wrath against those who pledge themselves to demons of destruction. The LORD is a merciful and gracious God, and because He is so He will not tolerate anything that may lead His people away from Him or cause them to surrender the holiness that He has shared with them.
He is righteous and just, holding a strict plumb line (Amos 7:8) to our lives and demanding that we keep them straight and pure. Any little sin throws us off level and out of true. It destroys the blessings that God has given. It exchanges His mercy and grace for slavery and death.
Our God who is gracious and merciful is faithful and righteous and true. They all go together. His righteousness is absolute. There can be no sin, not even one. If He tolerated even one, He would not be righteous. He would not be true, but a liar. If He permitted even one sin, He Himself would be an unholy, unrighteous sinner. For sin kills us. It may bring momentary gratification, even pleasure, but it brings a life of enslavement and an eternity of suffering.
But we want to indulge in a little a sin here and there. We want Him to overlook just a few. We want to be His people but still gamble with a demon or two who promises to satisfy our cravings. In the Gospel reading we heard about King Herod who had thrown John the Baptist into prison, and the arrangement sounds a little strange to us, but perhaps it hits the mark rather closely. “Herod feared John, knowing that he was a righteous and holy man, and he kept him safe. When he heard him, he was greatly perplexed, and yet he heard him gladly” (Mark 6:20).
Herod wanted to keep the Lord’s prophet, but he also wanted to indulge in his forbidden desires. He was glad enough to hear the prophet as long as he could still keep on turning to the demons that were luring him into all kinds of debauchery. Do we find ourselves doing the same thing, trying to go in two different directions, hearing the Word of God gladly but playing adultery on the side, having the prophet and his word contained to a cell where we can go and listen as the Lord’s people, but then turn away and enjoy the demonic dance?
It doesn’t work because the LORD is righteous and faithful and true. He sets a plumb line for holiness and does not tolerate when we try to let a few things go out of line. He doesn’t tolerate them because those things hurt us, even though they might give momentary pleasure. Our sins destroy us and enslave us and result in our destruction. They hurt the people around us, causing them pain and grief, and tempting them to join in our sins or find sins of their own to turn to.
For more than a year now, our lives have been altered by restrictions and isolation and lockdowns, and it is not good for us. This is the kind of situation where it is far too easy to turn to one or two little sins to find pleasure, relief, an outlet that has otherwise been denied. We find that the demons are not keeping their distance, but enticing us to play. Although we want to be the LORD’s people, we also want to turn to the demons who promise to scratch the itch, whether it be through sexual immorality, substance abuse, gossip, or slander. Like King Herod, we can go to hear our prophet but we keep him restrained so that we can also play with our demons.
This is what the psalm warns about in the midst of our cry for the LORD to rescue us and restore our fortunes, restore our freedom, bless our land, and forgive our sins. “Let me hear what God the LORD will speak, for He will speak peace to His people, to His saints; but let them not turn back to folly.”
As Herod found out, these follies get out of control. They are never under our control to begin with. When we turn back to folly we are turning to demons who are bent on our destruction. It is a stupid thing to do, since we have a gracious God who is full of love and mercy, who is righteous and faithful and true. And although His Word warns us, we think that we can control that too (keep the prophet in the box, have a listen on Sunday, and tune in to something more tantalizing at other times).
We cannot restrain the LORD or His Word as we think. Herodias managed to have the prophet John the Baptist beheaded. But the Word came anyway, uninvited even, and when King Herod heard what Jesus was preaching and doing, he was sure that John the Baptist had come back from the dead. Well, he will on the Last Day in the great resurrection, but the Word that John preached can never die. “For the Word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and spirit” (Hebrews 4:12).
The Word of God pierces like a scalpel to reveal the cancerous spiritual tumours of sin in our soul. These are the inclinations that turn us away from the LORD to go after the demons, that turn us away from God’s steadfast love and faithfulness to stupidity and foolishness. The Word of God cuts deep enough to expose it, and deep enough to remove it.
For the Word of God is Jesus Himself. He is the Word that the prophets preached to Israel. He is the Word who became flesh and dwelt among us (John 1:14). He is the Word that Herod could not silence and neither can you. He is the Word that cuts to the depths of your sin, removes it, and speaks healing and restoration. This is what Herod heard Jesus was doing. He was preaching in the synagogues and healing the sick, and His disciples were starting to do the same, as we heard in last week’s Gospel (Mark 6:12-13).
This is good and glad news, so good that it comes with a warning lest you throw it away. It is the Gospel that brings God’s favour and restoration, forgiveness and cleansing. You are forgiven by the LORD God almighty, who in His steadfast love and faithfulness has sent His Son to save you. The sacrifice of Jesus on the cross, as our substitutionary Lamb, takes away all of our sin and ransoms us from the demons who have taken us into captivity.
Because of Jesus sacrificing His own life for us on the cross, our sins are forgiven. They are all removed. Our lives are straightened out. The LORD’s plumb line shows us to be faithful and true in Christ Jesus. And God remains righteous and holy, not excusing any sin, but having delivered His wrath upon each and every one of those sins as Jesus cried out from the cross.
That is what allows us to cry out to the LORD to rescue us from the demonic trap of our sins. In Jesus God’s righteous demands are met and we have peace with the LORD, allowing us to pray with confidence for our rescue yet again. “Show us Your steadfast love, O LORD, and grant us Your salvation. Let me hear what God the LORD will speak, for He will speak peace to His people, to His saints; but let them not turn back to folly.”