“A meditation on the love, mercy, and healing grace of the Lord as celebrated in Psalm 103”
The Festival of St. Luke the Evangelist, Patron Saint of this Parish, falls on Thursday October 18th. In view of St. Luke’s healing and evangelistic ministry, since he was a physician as well as the writer of the third gospel account that bears his name, and its significance for the vision and purpose of our Parish, I shall remind you all of some of the treasures that we find in Psalm 103, which celebrates the love, mercy and healing grace of the Lord.
The psalm begins with King David calling on his soul and all his being to bless the Lord and bless his holy name, and not to forget all God’s benefits, that is, all the good things God has done for him. In reading this, I am reminded of Acts 3:1-10, where the man who had been lame from birth, received from the Lord Jesus Christ, by faith in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, the health to stand up and walk, in fact, to enter the temple, “walking, and leaping, and praising God” (Acts 3:8b). The right reaction of the soul of every Christian to all that God has done, for all He is and does, is to bless the Lord. Many of us have trials and difficulties in life, and obstacles to overcome, but none of these gives us an excuse to blame God at all.
If we think that it is King David alone, or only those that feel blessed, that should bless the Lord, while the rest of us are excused from doing so, we should look at the end of this psalm. Whereas the psalm begins with a call for one individual, the psalmist himself, to bless the Lord, it ends with a call for all God’s works everywhere in God’s dominion to bless the Lord (Ps. 103:22). Universal blessing of the Lord is a message and a call that is spread through the world today by the preaching, teaching and sharing of the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ, which is “the sacred and imperishable message of eternal salvation” (Mark 16:8b).
The opening call of this Psalm for the soul to bless the Lord is also a test for each Christian. Do words of praise and blessing for the Lord spring up spontaneously every day in our prayer life? If we pray the office of Morning Prayer daily, the first two verses of the Venite, exultemus Domino (based on Pss. 95 & 96) stir us up to such praise:
O come, let us sing unto the Lord; let us heartily rejoice in the strength of our salvation. Let us come before his presence with thanksgiving; and show ourselves glad in him with psalms.
(vv. 1-2, Venite, p. 9, Book of Common Prayer, 1928)
This call to praise and worship God must be something we respond to daily, and it must issue in our praise and worship of God. In our relationship with God, just as confession of our sins is necessary in the presence of God who is holy and righteous, so are our praise and our thanksgiving for redemption and forgiveness.
By praising God, we are giving him the worship that is due to Him alone. It also helps to remember all God’s benefits (Ps. 103:2), all the good things he has done for us. Since we are alive on earth now, we have a history of the good deeds God has done for us. In verse 3, the first of these is that God forgives all our iniquities, all our sins. There is no need for any of us to live with a burden of guilt from some sin we have committed in the past. Once we confess and repent of what we have done wrong, once we have made a genuine attempt to reconcile with anyone we have offended, and we come to God in penitence, He forgives us of it all, and wipes our slate clean, as if we had never committed that sin. We cannot have complete healing from anything else without the healing God gives us when he forgives our sins.
Not only does God forgive sins, but he heals all the diseases of the one who loves him and remains in covenant with him (v. 3). Let us hold fast to God in faith, believing for His healing at all times! Let us also continually give him thanks for the sicknesses of which God has healed us. Long ago, when I was 17, I contracted Hepatitis A. I was sick with it for six weeks. One day my doctor said, “At this point you will either die of this illness or recover from it.” I prayed to the Lord, then rather urgently, that I would recover, and God showed me his mercy and healing grace, and I did recover. Praised be His name!
In different ways, God has redeemed our lives from destruction, and crowns us with loving kindness and tender mercies (v. 4). We have been redeemed by the blood of the Lord Jesus Christ from eternal destruction (Romans 5:9), and our lives saved by the Lord and protected by him on this earth.
In addition to his salvation and protection, the Lord sustains and provides for us daily, so as to renew our youth like the eagle’s (v. 5). This provision is not only that of material benefits, such as food, clothing and housing, but the spiritual renewal of everyone who worships the Lord. The Holy Spirit who lives in every Christian will give life even to his mortal body (Romans 8:11). A very great part of healing is the renewal of body and soul through the Spirit’s daily ministry in us and to us, as we worship and serve the Lord.
The grace, mercy, salvation and healing given by God also will be shown in the life of the oppressed (v. 6), and all who have been treated unjustly, whether by church, individuals, society, or governments. For all these the Lord executes righteousness and judgment. Sometimes it may take years for this to happen, but in the end it always does.
The Psalmist relates that God made his ways known to Moses and to the children of Israel (v. 7). To learn more about God’s nature and character, we must know his laws, and his history in dealing with Israel. When we read that history and learn about God’s laws, we shall discover that the Lord is kind and gracious, slow to anger, and very merciful (v. 8). If God had dealt with Israel according to their sins, they would have been completely destroyed, and the same goes for us. God does not keep his anger forever (v. 9), nor does he reward us according to our sinfulness (v. 10). Just as we cannot measure the heavens’ height above the earth, so we cannot measure God’s mercy toward those who fear and obey him (v.11).
When he forgives us, he removes our sins from us as far as the east from the west.
These images of God’s mercy and forgiveness are very encouraging and reassuring for all who love him. God remembers the weakness of human beings, and he pities those who live their lives in reverence for him (v. 13).
Though man’s life is so short and transient on this earth, the Lord’s mercy is everlasting on all who fear him, and live their lives in reverence for him. The implication of this teaching is everlasting life for all who love God and do his will (vv. 17-18). A further aspect of this teaching about God’s showing his mercy and righteousness to those that fear him is that he will show such mercy and righteousness to their descendants provided that they also live within his covenant (v. 18). If our descendants are to be recipients of God’s mercy and salvation, parents must teach their children the Christian faith, and tell them to pass it on to the next generation.
The psalm ends with the statement that God has prepared his throne in the heavens and his kingdom rules over all (v. 19); therefore all are called upon to bless him, his angels, his hosts, and all his works throughout all of creation (vv. 20-22).
How does this Psalm describe the ultimate goal of God’s people? It is to live in the praise of God, in thankfulness, in love for Him, and to trust in Him continually, passing on to others, particularly our families, this life goal of praising God continually and thanking Him for all He has done for us through His Son, our Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.