This sermon (click for link to the video) by Mr. Thabiti Anyabwile, an exposition of Psalm 11, is one of the most encouraging and challenging sermons I’ve heard in a very long time. He preached it at a Ligonier conference in 2010, but its words seem to be targeted directly at the position of the church this 2015-2016 political climate of hate and moral promiscuity. What’s important? Not the foundations of our culture, Mr. Anyabwile reminds us, but the foundations of God’s kingdom. Below I transcribed most of the latter half of the sermon. Occasionally I added video times in brackets so his words can be checked more easily in case I made mistakes.
After quoting a lengthy passage from A.W. Tozer’s Knowledge of the Holy about the church’s too-low view of the supreme God, Mr. Anyabwile continues at about 26:40 of the video:
“I fear that this describes too many evangelical churches today. It’s as though we repeatedly hear many of the professing church asking this question: “What can the righteous do?”
The church looks out and sees the apparent success of the wicked, and with its head hung low, basically concludes, like this questioner of David, that God and His people are losing. Admits defeat. I think this is a real temptation for us evangelicals. Among evangelicals, like on the radio program I listened to on the drive in today, there is a lot of fear rather than confidence and faith. We’re afraid. We’re afraid the unrighteous will win, we’re afraid the country will be lost, we’re afraid that history and culture will be lost or changed, we’re afraid that the next election won’t go our way…But there’s not a single verse in the Bible that justifies fear among God’s people.
How does our Master put it, in Matthew ch. 10 v. 28? He says, “Do not fear those who can destroy the body and after that can do nothing. But fear the one who can destroy both body and soul in hell.” The only legitimate fear that we can have is a reverence, an awe, a trembling, a respect, a filial love for God. That’s the fear God’s people ought to be animated with.
Now I think as we think about these various ways in which the foundations are being destroyed, are under attack among us, I feel as though we ought to remember two things. I want to say this gently, but I want to say it clearly. First, the foundations of God’s kingdom and the church are not the same as the foundations of America. And the fortunes and futures of America are not the same as the fortunes and futures of God’s kingdom and God’s people! We belong to a city, and we look to a city whose builder and architect is God! He established those foundations, and those foundations will not be shaken. And the second thing we should keep in mind: Therefore, if America were to fall tomorrow—we pray she doesn’t, we work that she doesn’t—but if she should fall tomorrow, not one thing would be lost of all God’s kingdom, and power, and might. It is God who raises up kingdoms and pulls down kingdoms. It is God who establishes the foundations and who shakes the very foundations of Creation when He wills.
And so, when we think about these things, we begin to see David’s response in a different light, and David’s response then sort of frames the response that we should have. It’s okay to have concerns about the safety of the righteous; it’s okay to have a concern about the safety of society, to work for a biblically good life and good culture and good society. But David’s response here in Psalm 11 teaches us how to do that without losing our heads…without losing sight of what’s really happening. Let’s look at David’s response in Ps. 11.
David, notice, is confident. Announces that right from the beginning. “In the Lord I take refuge.” Now, his questioner says, “Flee like a bird, run to the mountains!” His questioner says, “All is being destroyed!”
We need to ask ourselves…do we sound more like David’s questioner or more like David? [31:10]
So the first thing to notice is David’s posture of trust, confidence, dependence upon the Lord. And notice what David does not do.… He does not quickly pass a new law! He does not mobilize the military. Notice that David doesn’t hunt down his enemies or start running dirty attack ads….I’m afraid David would never do as a dictator or as a politician in our setting, would he?
You know why? Because this King David points us to His greater Son, Jesus Christ. Christ did not run from rebel sinners or crush them with the laws of heaven. Instead, He came to us, dwelt among us, took upon Himself our likeness, suffered God’s wrath in our place. The arrow that pierced His heart was the arrow that God fired in justice and righteousness against a sinful, wicked world. And on that cross, Christ bore our shame, He bore our guilt, He turned the Father’s wrath away so that sinners united to Him in faith and repentance receive not God’s crushing, but God’s love. Not God’s condemnation, but God’s forgiveness. Not the death that we deserve, but eternal life.
[32:54] In Christ, God comes to us, He sees the foundations of our lives being destroyed by our sin…and He redeems us…
…So when the voices of unbelief and doubt ring out in the streets, David says, “In the Lord I take refuge.” Now notice what David does. Three things here that…he remembers that help us in our engagement with society. Number one, he remembers God’s sovereignty. See there in the first part of verse 4, David sings this, “The LORD is in his holy temple; the LORD is on his heavenly throne.”
When David refers to God being in His holy temple, he as much as says that wickedness does not and cannot eclipse the holiness of God. [34:00] Whatever is happening in the society, however much the wicked and unrighteous seem to be winning, a holy God continues to fill His holy temple with holiness. The purity and the goodness of God are never threatened by the rebellion of His creatures. And guess who continues to reign?
When David pictures God on His holy throne, see there, the foundations of the culture may be destroyed or may be shaken, but not the least little tremor disturbs the throne room of God. His throne is secure. And God sits there, reigning. A holy God continues to watch over, and to orchestrate, and to rule over His creation, however rebellious. Even if there were millions of the righteous killed every day, guess who continues to be in charge? This God, who reigns on the throne of heaven. The one who sits comfortably on a God-sized throne that no rebel could ever take. So David pictures, amidst all of the chaos that’s being spoken of to him, he remembers who’s holy and who’s sovereign. He focuses on this God.
Secondly, look what David remembers in v. 4-6. He remembers the fate of the wicked. When v. 4 says, “The Lord observes the sons of men, His eyes examine them,” I don’t know about you, but I find that utterly and soberly terrifying. It is more terrifying to me that a holy, sovereign God observes the hearts and actions of men to the depths than it is that men should make a chaos of the world. These are frightening words. [36:00] For the sovereign God sees and keeps account of the sons of men. Who can stand before Him? Moreover, look at v. 5. David says that God’s soul hates the wicked and those who love violence. Does that not send a shudder up your spine? That God’s soul hates the wicked and those who love violence? We read these words and we meet a God with sharp edges. He’s no teddy bear. He’s not soft and cuddly. He’s not the God of our own imagining, of our own making. [Here he contrasts the popular statement, “God hates the sin but loves the sinner” with numerous verses in Psalms.] And notice how that holy hatred, that righteous anger expressed toward the sinner is manifest in v. 6:
“On the wicked He will rain fiery coals and burning sulfur. A scorching wind will be their lot.” What a horrible and terrifying word picture. What a horrible and terrible fate. David…is persuaded of the terrors of the Lord. He sees very clearly that it is a terrible thing to fall into the hands of a holy God, that our God is a consuming fire. And beloved, this holy judgement against sinners is what makes caring more about ideals and cultures and politics, more than caring about the souls of men, so desperately tragic. [38:30]
It isn’t that the church, I would argue, is under-engaged with the culture. It is that the church is over-engaged in the wrong ways with the culture. What does it profit us to win every election, and billions, billions meet God in judgment? What does it profit us to reform and to reshape the music industry and the entertainment industry, and to do things that we ought to do there, and leave off the most central thing of proclaiming this gospel of God’s love in His Son, Christ, and proclaiming the way of escape from the judgment to come through faith in Christ. What does it profit us to be a church that is effective in those ways and yet…and yet! Watch millions upon millions, and hundreds of millions, made in God’s image, suffer eternal and agonizing wrath.
It’s striking to me that in this psalm, where David’s being questioned about the foundations being destroyed, he doesn’t launch a repair program for the foundations. He remembers who God is, and He remembers the fate, the destiny, the judgment of the wicked. And I think he writes these words with tears in his eyes. I think he mourns for the judgment of the lost here.
I had the shocking displeasure…of speaking with a man once who knew my background as a former Muslim. As often is the case, he had questions about Islam, and sharing the gospel with Muslims, and understanding Muslims, and so forth….I think fundamentally, though, he betrayed the kind of fear that’s beneath the question here in v. 3 and I think is in the hearts of so many of God’s people, when he asked me… ‘Since they don’t really want Christians over there anyway and don’t really want to hear the gospel, wouldn’t it be better if we just stayed over here and they stayed over there, and we just protected our own little country and culture and just let them all go to hell?’
It’d be a funny question if he wasn’t so serious.
Would it have been better, for Christ to remain in the glories of heaven and to leave us all bereft of a Savior? Would it have been better for the Son of God to simply condemn us in our unrighteousness than to become righteousness for us? Would it have been better for him to leave us to suffer the certain and the earned judgement that we deserved, or for him to come and be the propitiation for our sins, to turn away the wrath of God. Suppose Christ took this man’s attitude? [42:07]
The foundations are being destroyed when the righteous forget who God is and they forget the destiny of the wicked. The foundations are being destroyed when we forget to mourn the condition of the lost. The foundations are being destroyed when we don’t have enough confidence in the gospel, which is the power of God unto salvation, to take that gospel to the ends of the earth. The foundations are being destroyed when we want to protect our lives rather than risk our lives and give our lives and go with our lives to the ends of the earth with this gospel, which creates new foundations…of a new heaven and a new earth! A new city, where new people, redeemed by the blood of the Lamb, live. It’s when we surrender and lose our grip on the gospel that the foundations are being destroyed, beloved. Only then.
Notice, third, what David remembers at the end of the psalm…v. 7. “For the LORD is righteous, He loves justice; upright men will see His face.” What sweet words…In other words, the inheritance of the righteous is…the beatific vision. It is as the psalmist puts it in Ps. 17, to wake up in our righteousness, to wake up in the resurrection, to wake up in this new life and to behold the face of God and be satisfied. The curse…is to have God turn His face away…Oh, but the rich blessing, the great hope, the great delight of God’s people, the sustaining idea when the foundations are being attacked and the people of God are persecuted and we feel ourselves to be sheep among wolves—the thing that propels us forward and draws us upward is this great promise, this great hope, this great reality: that we will behold the face of God.
John, the beloved apostle, tells us when we see Him, we’ll be like Him. Lord, haste the day when our faith shall be made sight. David is looking at the report of the wicked, destroying the foundations, and it seems to me that David is remembering the gospel in outline before the time of Christ. It seems to me that his thoughts run along the chorus of the gospel. He remembers what God is like, that there is a God who is Creator and who reigns over all things. This God is just, and holy, and true. And he remembers, number two, that there are men in the world who are sinners who are in danger of God’s holy wrath. That man has rebelled, and yes, he has rebelled against the very foundations of society, but for his rebellion, this holy God has pledged to bring a holy judgment against him. And it seems to me that David, though he didn’t see it as clearly as we did…did see glimpses of this Savior…[refers to prophetic psalms] It is this Son who redeems the wicked by His blood…who will reign on David’s throne for all of eternity…redeeming for Himself a new kingdom.
And David saw, and we must remember, that those who turn from sin and trust in Christ, who believe upon the Lord Jesus and follow Him in the obedience of faith, will live eternally before the face of God.
What am I saying, beloved? In one bulletpoint: The way in which we protect the true foundations, not of the passing civilization and a fading culture, not of politics that changes with the wind, but the way in which we protect and advance the true foundations, the foundations of God’s Word, the foundations of God’s rulership, the foundations of this rulership which God has promised—is to advance, to remember, to meditate on, to share, to proclaim the gospel itself. It is the gospel that we need to hear when the foundations are being destroyed. It is the gospel that we need to meditate upon when the wicked one moves. [?] It is the gospel that we need to take abroad in order to be that salt and that light…that redeems, not just the culture and its productions, not just the civilization and its politics, but redeems people and preserves people for all of eternity. May we be gospel people in the midst of a culture that is under attack by those who do not love God, or know God, or submit to Him as God. And may we proclaim that gospel so that their knees will bow in this life and [they will] confess in this life, that Jesus is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.