A sermon on Psalm 119:105 by Rev Richard Keith on Sunday 18 July 2021
In 1970 Joni Mitchell sang, “Don’t it always seem to go that you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone.” In the same way, it’s hard to realise how much we depend on electricity. In fact, it’s hard to imagine what people did before electricity. Before electricity, I suppose many people went to bed soon after it got dark. But with electricity we can read till midnight. We can watch the tennis until 3 am. With electricity factories can work 24 hours a day. We take it for granted until there is a blackout. We don’t know what we’ve got till it’s gone.
This morning our message focuses on Psalm 119 verse 105,
Your word is a lamp to my feet, and a light for my path.
In this simple verse of Scripture, we learn that electricity isn’t the only thing we take for granted.
Psalm 119, with 176 verses, is not only the longest psalm, but it is also the longest chapter in the whole Bible. From beginning to end it is a celebration of Scripture. A ballad broadcasting the brilliance of the Bible. Almost all of its verses contain one of a number or words that describe some part of the Bible. Verses 1 and 2 say,
Blessed are they whose ways are blameless, who walk according to the law of the Lord. Blessed are they who keep his statutes and seek him with all their heart.
Many of the verses focus on the commandments contained in the Bible. His law. His statutes. His precepts. But a number of them, instead, mention his ways or his promises or his word to show that it is not just some small part of the Scriptures that are meant.
Psalm 119 is not a dirge about legalism, of fault finding judgmentalism, or of teeth gritting, fist clenching, resentful conformity. It is, instead, a song, a celebration of the joy of obedience, the freedom and contentment and peace that come from fulfilling our life’s purpose, doing the will of our creator.
It’s a good reminder that the commandments aren’t a kind of entrance exam for heaven. Remember school? Some of the subjects, like maths and science, were great. Sure. But English and history and art? They were like the cabbage and cauliflower and brussels sprouts of school. They’d force feed you them every day and at the end of the year there would be a soul crushing exam just to prove how bad you were.
Is that what life is meant to be like? Did God give us his commandments to make us miserable and then to test us at the end of our life to see how miserable we had been, so we can go to some retirement home in the sky and learn to play the harp? No, there is no entrance exam for heaven. I mean, which one of us is good enough that instead of looking with faith to Jesus Christ and trusting in his death in the place of sinners, that instead of that can think that they can get into paradise on their own merit?
Nor is the Bible some kind of blunt instrument to bludgeon those who don’t measure up to its standard, as if we are any better. Because Bible bashing is not only a dreadful way to treat a person, a fellow human being made in the image of God. It’s a dreadful way to treat a book. Let alone the best book of all.
No, the Bible is not an instrument of darkness. It doesn’t restrict our options. It isn’t meant to confuse our minds or rob us of our hope or lead us astray or trip us up or imprison our souls. The Word of God is an instrument of light. It is a lamp to our feet. It is a light for our path. It sets us free from what is holding us back. It creates new options. It clarifies our choices. It restores our hope. It reveals the truth. It leads us along the right way. It leads us to Jesus Christ, God’s grace to us, his light that shines. It leads us along the way of Jesus Christ. His way of love for the poor and the outcast. His way of joy and health and strength. It is the world without Jesus Christ, without his faith and hope and love, without his example, without his power, without his Spirit, it is the world which is dark.
But the Scriptures teach us God’s truth. They are light. By them we are warned of sin and temptation. By them are exposed our own selfishness and pride. By them we see the Lord himself stoop low to our aide in Jesus when we needed him most. As Paul told Timothy in his second letter,
All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness.
The Scriptures are light. But their purpose is not to blind us like oncoming headlights left on high beam. Like sailing too close to a lighthouse. The Scriptures don’t light up the horizon. They are a lamp to my feet. They are a light for my path. We may not learn everything we want to know in the Bible. We may not learn how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. We may not learn how God made everything from nothing. We may not learn how the Lord Jesus was conceived in Mary’s womb. We may not learn the precise day and hour of the return of the Lord Jesus. But we learn everything we need to know. They give us enough information to make the next choice. To find the strength to take the next step. To choose the path at the next intersection. They warn us when we’ve taken a wrong step. They lead us to repentance and to a new commitment to the way of Christ. As the German pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer,
being a Christian is less about cautiously avoiding sin than about courageously and actively doing God’s will.
It’s about using the light of Bible for what it was designed for, to find courage to follow in the footsteps of Jesus.
We’ve been talking about taking things for granted, only missing them when they’re gone. So try this simple test. Drive for an hour in any direction. Then wait until dark. Leave your headlights off and then try to get home. You will find it not only next to impossible, but dangerous. In fact, it is so dangerous that it is illegal. So forget everything I just said. Leave your headlights on and try to imagine what it would be like driving without them. They don’t light up the distant hills. They’ll never show you what crops are being grown in the fields as you pass by. They’ll never help you admire the beautiful colours of the countryside. They simply show you the next 50 metres. But they will help you find your way home.
In the same way, the Bible, the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, are a lamp to our feet and a light to our path. The truth they contain is not for your admiration. It is not to increase your knowledge of facts. It’s not about knowing. It’s about doing. Their truth is there to guide you in your daily personal obedience, to help you to follow the way of Jesus Christ that brings blessing to the people around you and that leads to your eternal home. Not so you can see the horizon. Not so you can satisfy your curiosity and answer all your questions. But so that you can see the next step and seeing the next step, you can take it, and taking the next step you can take another and another to find your way along the path to your eternal home.
To deny yourself the chance to meditate each day on the law and commandments and promises of the Scriptures is as foolish and dangerous as trying to drive home at night without your headlights. I urge you, don’t take the Bible for granted. Don’t wait until it’s gone to appreciate the truth you find in its pages. Because it is a lamp to your feet and a light to your path, so that with those feet you can walk that path.