The following is my notes from a sermon I preached at Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, D.C on March 18, 2012. Click HERE for the sermon audio.
“Though the Lord is on high, he looks upon the lowly, but the proud he knows from afar.” (Psalm 138:6)
Fundamental # 1: An Encounter With the Lord on High
“The Lord is on high”
Our text begins with one of the most basic and foundational truths of the Bible. That is, the God of the Bible is “high and lofty, he lives forever, and his name is holy.” (Isaiah 57:15)
Everything that is true and good in this world begins right here with the Lord on high, totally and completely independent of us, in perfect loving fellowship with the other members of the Godhead.
The bible does not begin with you. Have you ever noticed that? Why don’t we see mention of you in the first chapters of Genesis?
“Where were you when the earth’s foundation was laid? Who marked off its dimensions? Who stretched a measuring line across it? Surely you know!” (Job 38:4-5)
You are never going to understand the bible or what it means to be a Christian until you realize that the bible is not about you. The world does not revolve around you.
God As Ultimate Reality
But it is not enough to know about God and even believe you are not the center of the universe.
What I mean by this is that God cannot be merely a concept or an idea that you make some intellectual ascent to. He needs to become the ultimate reality in your life.
Do you know the difference? Do you know what it means to have an encounter with the Lord on High? Do you know what happens in the Bible when someone comes into God’s prescence?
In Exodus 34, Moses saw the glory of the Lord on Mount Sanai and he bowed down at once and worshiped. In Leviticus 9, an entire congregation of people were at the tent of the meeting and when the people saw the presence of the Lord it says they shouted for joy and fell facedown. In Isaiah 6, it says when Isaiah saw the Lord seated on a throne, high and exalted he cried out Woe to me! I am ruined! In Ezekiel chapter 1, Ezekiel saw visions of God and heaven and when he saw it he fell facedown. In Revelation chapter 1, John said when he saw a vision of Christ he fell at his feet as though dead.
When you have an encounter with the Lord on high you do not remain the same?
This is because God’s glory is ultimate. And there is a difference between believing there is a god and having a personal encounter with this God who is on high.
The Weight of God
Let my try and illustrate this. My fist is lighter than this pulpit. No matter how hard I punch I am not going to change this pulpit because its weight is greater than my fist. If I punch too hard, then the greater weight of the pulpit is going to start changing my hand.
But if I were to bring on stage a 20 pound sledgehammer and swing it with all my might. The weight and force of that swing will change this pulpit.
In the same way, when the Lord on high is just a concept in your life, then he is lighter than you. You shape him. You fit him into your life patterns and rhythms. God does not change much about who you are or what you believe. In sum, you do not have a real God. He is just a concept.
If you think I am mainly talking about some change in moral behaviors or religious activity, I am not!
Is God a Means or the End?
Plenty of people use god and religious activity to help them get their goals. In other words, they simply fit God into their agenda. As James says, “They pray, but for the wrong motives.”
The reality is that the Lord on High is not lighter than you. He is infinitely heavier than you so that when you encounter the real God of the Bible everything in your life gives way to his superior glory. Things you may have believed your entire life are now drastically changed by his word.
When you encounter the Lord on high, he does not fit into your agenda. He becomes your new agenda. He radically changes your priorities.
Has this ever happened to you? Is God just a means to some end goal of yours or he is he the end? Has this fundamental shift taken place in your life?
And for those of you whom it has, don’t you see how we never leave this truth. Don’t we daily need to encounter the superior weight of the Lord on high?
For when we fail to have regular and constant encounters with the Lord on high, we fail to see ourselves as we truly are.
Fundamental # 2: An Encounter With the Lowliness of Your Soul
If you know the Lord on high you will know yourself to be “lowly.”
I am guessing many of us here know what it is like to be humbled in terms of our human relationships, right? Haven’t you ever thought very highly of yourself about a particular skill or ability until you ran into someone far greater than you?
I don’t even know how many George Washington University students I have met over the past year who were the top students in the high school, the big man on campus, they want to change the world so they move to DC and get an internship on the Hill where they are a nobody who enters data into a computer and gets Starbucks for everyone else in the office.
It’s humbling isn’t it? I had a similar experience going from playing High School to College basketball my freshman year.
But don’t you see those experiences pale in comparison to the infinite distance there is between us and the Lord?
Examine Your Prayers
If you want a litmus test to see if you really getting it. Then examine your prayers. As J.I. Packer said in his book Knowing God. “A man’s prayers are always the best evidence for a man’s view of God.”
Do your prayers look at all like the publican whom Jesus said went home justified? The one who beat his breast, and cried out “God be merciful to me a sinner.”
Or like the prodigal son, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.”
Friends, our souls are in a lowly condition and the worst part about it is how blind we are to it. How good have we become at suppressing this truth?
We busy our lives with work and hobbies and addicting entertainment in order to quiet our consciences and keep us from thinking about these things.
“I Am Doing Pretty Good”
If we go around DC and ask 100 people how they are doing and what God thinks about them I would guess most would say they are doing pretty good. Right?
Are we really doing pretty good? You know why we say that?
…because we only think about the wrongs we have done against one another (horizontally) and we neglect to consider the countless ways we have wronged God (vertically).
…because we only think God will judge us for our external actions and not our thoughts, attitudes, and motives of our heart.
…because we only think about sins of commission (doing something you should not) and we forget about the sins of omission (failure to do something you should have done). (James 4:17)
…because we think that our main problem is the bad things we have done. When the truth is that our main problem is that we are BAD and that is why we do bad things. It is out of the overflow of our badness that we do the bad things we do. (Luke 6:45)
…because we have not learned that pretty good is just not good enough. Was it not the Lord Jesus who said, “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matt. 5:48)
Do you know yourself to be lowly, weak, helpless, pitiful, etc…?
But we must not linger on this point too long. As Richard Sibbes so wisely put it in his wonderful series of sermons that are printed in The Bruised Reed:
“It is dangerous, I confess, in some cases, with some spirits, to press too much and too long this bruising, because they may die under the wound and burden before they be raised up again. Therefore it is good in mixed assemblies to mingle comfort that every soul may have its due portion. But if we have this for a foundation truth, that there is more mercy in Christ than sin in us, there can be no danger in thorough dealing. It is better to go bruised to heaven than sound to hell. Therefore let us not take off ourselves too soon, nor pull off the plaster before the cure be wrought, but keep ourselves under this work till sin be the sourest, and Christ the sweetest, of all things.”
This brings us to our third and final and most important fundamental truth.
Fundamental # 3: An Encounter With the Tender Mercies of Jesus
“He looks upon the lowly, but the proud he knows from afar.”
Who does our Lord regard? To whom does he have his special eye on?
The weak and the lowly.
“Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him.” (1 Corinthians 1:26-29)
Have you had an encountered the tender mercies of Christ?
I Am Too Unworthy
“But you do not know what I have done. You do not know how long I have been addicted to this sin.”
Oh my friend, “None are fitter for comfort than those that think themselves furthest off. His tenderest care is over the weakest.” (Sibbes)
This is Christianity! This is the very heart and essence of our faith. It is this truth that sets us apart from every other religion in the world.
Only the Christian faith has at its central message a gospel that says “The same Lord who is on high, looks upon the lowly.”
When you see that the God on High came down the mountain, met us right where we are at and looked with mercy on us lowly people lying there at the bottom of the mountain dead in our sin with no hope.
Christ Died for YOU!!!
Being a Christian is not merely accepting the concept that Christ died for sins.
Being a Christian is having an encounter with Jesus so that you see that Christ died for YOU!!!
Being a Christian is not watching him be patient those who spit on him.
Being a Christian is watching him be patient your spitting on him, with your trampling of his courts.
This is the essence of the Christian faith is a message of news.
Christ has done something for you. He through his body in front of our enemy. Christ fought for you. He gave his life for you and triumphed.
There they are. There are the basics, the fundamentals.
Whether you are a hard cold skeptic, curiously trying to learn more about Christianity, a brand new Christian, or been a Christian for over 80 years it makes no difference. Your greatest need today and everyday is to remember the basics.
We are consumed with hearing new things, but we cannot forget the basics.
It Is Finished! by James Proctor
When He, from His lofty throne,
Stooped to do and die,
Ev’rything was fully done;
Hearken to His cry!
Weary, working, burdened one,
Wherefore toil you so?
Cease your doing; all was done
Long, long ago.
Cast your deadly “doing” down—
Down at Jesus’ feet;
Stand in Him, in Him alone,
“It is finished!” yes, indeed,
Finished, ev’ry jot;
Sinner, this is all you need,
Tell me, is it not?