“The Night’s Third Hour” (Series: The Dark Night of the Soul)
Scripture: Psalm 43:1-5
Psalms 42 and 43 offer tremendous honesty about the hardships in life while also offering tremendous hope for believers to endure them. Although there are various thorns and thistles that poke and pierce Christians through the dark night of the soul, there is always a reason to rejoice. In these two psalms, the psalmist is constantly fighting to believe. He has to exhort himself again and again to “hope in God”. It’s important to understand that Christian maturity isn’t evidenced in the increasing infrequency by which you need to exhort yourself in this way. It’s quite the opposite. Spiritual growth is evidenced by how quickly a believer runs to God in their time of need. This is why after each of his three laments, the psalmist returns to his exhortation three times.
By the end of Psalm 43, although the night gets darker and troubles keep visiting the psalmist, there is clear evidence of amazing inward renewal and revival in his soul. Despite all that he’s endured, the author is finally able to confess that God is his exceeding joy. How did he get to this point? And how can believers get there as well? The psalmist engages in three actions: remembrance, resolution, and anticipation.
Remember (42:4). There is incredible power in remembering. Christians are called to remember the gospel. To recall what Jesus Christ, the Savior of the world, did for sinners upon the cross 2,000 years ago. In the midst of the dark night, it’s easy to forget what was accomplished by Jesus for those who would believe in him. In trials, forgetting simple truths like God’s love, his care, and his presence is all too common. But to remember the gospel is to see the clear evidence that God loves his people so much that he sent his Son to die for them; God’s care is so incredible that he came to the world to experience and sympathize with his people in their suffering; and he’s present with believers always and until the end of the age because he sent his Holy Spirit to indwell them. You must remember the gospel.
Resolve (42:8). But remembrance cannot remain in the past. Christians must act upon and respond to the gospel with new resolve. Not because the gospel is lacking but because the benefits of the gospel need to be seized and believed. Acquiring information alone is not enough to bring about change and transformation. There must be a response of new resolves to trust, commit, obey, or repent. The Bible is not afraid of these kinds of imperatives that flow out of the gospel. In the dark night, remembering the gospel triggers a response to the gospel such as going to God with your tears, surrounding yourself with godly company, singing songs until you believe, and running to God as your rock.
Anticipate (43:3-4). Remembering the past and responding in the present helps anticipate the glorious hope God has called believers to. The psalmist lamented in Psalm 42:4, “When shall I come and appear before God?” By the end of the third refrain, he speaks with confidence, “Then I will go to the altar of God, to God my exceeding joy.” His hopeful future anticipation is enough for him to endure his present circumstances (he is far from Jerusalem) and his present experience (he is at the hands of ungodly people). And yet for the Christian, the promises of God are far greater than appearing before the altar of God. Through the work of Christ, Christians have gained access to a place past the altar, into the Holy Place, through the curtain now torn in two, and into the Holy of Holies. In the Jerusalem temple, this was the place that only the high priest could go. But Jesus, through offering himself up as our sacrifice, has made this way possible. He has given us access to God’s throne of grace, where we will one day be with him forever. This is the glorious future where believers are being led by God’s light and truth through the present dark night. This gives us reason to rejoice even in the darkest hour.
Suggested Group Discussion Questions
- Faith is not a walk in the park. The psalmist has to exhort himself again and again to “believe” what he knows. This question is in two parts. 1) What goes wrong when we think having faith is “easy”? 2) What is helpful knowing that sometimes Christians need to exhort themselves again and again to hope in God?
- Of the three actions – remembrance, resolution and anticipation – which of these is easiest for you to do? Or what is most “natural” or “familiar” to do? Why do you think that is? Of the three actions, which do you need to commit to do more regularly?
- Are there any dangers when you focus on any one of the three actions more than the others? What would the consequences be? What is powerful about seeing the psalmist doing all three?
- Doxology: Express how this sermon helps you understand, appreciate and worship Jesus more. In what ways has the gospel become more alive to you having read this passage and heard this sermon?
- Response: Formulate a one sentence prayer that’s informed by the passage and the sermon. This prayer should articulate what you desire to walk away and how you want God to apply it in your life. Have a few people share what they came up with.