Christ in the Psalms: The Psalm of the Incarnation—Psalm 40

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In John’s Gospel, Jesus tells Israel’s religious leaders: “You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me,” (John 5:39, NIV84). The Scriptures he is referring to are of course what we call the Old Testament. The Jews call it the Tanakh. It’s an acronym formed by the initial Hebrew letters of the three traditional subdivisions of their bible: Torah—Ta (the Law), Nevium—Na (the Prophets), and Ketuvim—Kh, (the Writings). Jesus clearly tells the scholars of his day, that the Messianic prophecies of the Tanakh refer to him.

This Christmas season, I want to preach Christ to you from the vantage point of the Apostles. Within ten to fifteen years after the resurrection of Jesus, the Lord’s brother, James, and the Apostle Paul are authoring the earliest letters that would become part of our New Testament. Within twenty to thirty years after our Lord’s resurrection Matthew has penned his Gospel. Luke, Mark, and John would all follow. All of them tuned to their Scripture—our Old Testament—to see the life and ministry of Jesus foretold.

One of the very best sources for them were the Psalms, and that’s where we our attention will be focused through Christmas morning. The New Testament directly quotes 79 Psalm passages and paraphrases 333 other verses. This makes the Psalms the most quoted of the Jewish Scriptures in the New Testament.

We’re going to start with the 40th Psalm which teaches us that The Anointed One—the Messiah—would come to dwell among men.

In Psalm 40, verses 6-10 predict that a day will come when Deity Will Dwell with Men (vv. 6-10). "Sacrifice and offering you did not desire, but my ears you have pierced; burnt offerings and sin offerings you did not require. Then I said, “Here I am, I have come—it is written about me in the scroll. I desire to do your will, O my God; your law is within my heart.” I proclaim righteousness in the great assembly; I do not seal my lips, as you know, O Lord. I do not hide your righteousness in my heart; I speak of your faithfulness and salvation. I do not conceal your love and your truth from the great assembly." (Psalm 40:6-10, NIV)

This central section of the Psalm is in four parts, with the incarnation clause in the center—“Here I am, I have come ... “


    • "Sacrifice and offering you did not desire, but my ears you have pierced; burnt offerings and sin offerings you did not require." (Psalm 40:6, NIV)
            1. since the dawn of creation, people have sought to worship by offering sacrifices to their deities
                1. sometimes the sacrifices were from the fruit of the land and sometimes they were animals that they had slain
                2. from the Moabites in the Middle East to the Aztecs in South America, people have sacrificed to placate the gods they served, hoping that they would produce good crops, prosper throughout the year, enjoy good health, and be victorious over hostile peoples living around them
            2. sacrifice originated in the mind of God and was intended to provide an atonement for sin so that people could approach Him
                1. this is pictured in the Garden of Eden, when God made coverings for Adam and Eve
                2. sacrifices were to be offered as a vicarious and substitutionary expiation for people’s sins, which were symbolically transferred to animals used to make atonement and propitiate the wrath of God against the sinners
                3. but faith was always the key element in the sacrifice—not the sacrifice itself


            1. in Psalm 40:6 there are four Hebrew words in this verse that refer to the principal offerings of the Levitical code
                1. sacrifice is a general term for all the thanksgiving sacrifices in the Old Testament
                2. offering refers to the meal offering
                3. burnt offering
                    1. in the burnt offering (Lev. 1), a whole animal was consumed on the altar, signifying the complete and voluntary consecration of the Israelites
                        1. this was the most important of all the offerings
                    2. when the Israelites presented the animal to the priest, they pressed their hands on the head of the animal, signifying an identification with the animal about to be sacrificed
                        1. the animals were substituting their lives for those of the Israelites
                    3. a double identification took place:
                        1. the sin of the Israelites were committed to the animals, and the acceptability of the offerings were transmitted to the Israelites
                        2. the shed blood of the animals symbolically represented the sinner’s life freely surrendered
                        3. thus, the sacrifices were accepted by God as an atonement (v. 4) for the sinner, protecting them from divine wrath
                    4. it symbolized Christ’s voluntarily surrender to the Father’s will when He offered Himself on the cross
                        1. John the Apostle would proclaim in Revelatin that Jesus was the Lamb of God slain from the foundation of the world
                4. sin offerings
                    1. the sin offering (Lev. 4) was brought by the Israelites as a substitute to make atonement for their sins
                    2. it typified Christ becoming sin for sinners, dying in their place to take away their sins
            2. these offerings were divided into two groups
                1. the first are "sweet savor" offerings, consisting of the burnt offering, meal offering, and peace offerings
                    1. Paul spoke of Christ’s sacrificial work as a “sweet-smelling savor” (Eph. 5:2)
                    2. our Lord’s perfect obedience to the Father was like a sweet aroma before God
                2. the second is the “sin offerings”
                    1. the sin offering was the foundation for all other offerings; without it, the Israelites could not be make amends for their sin
            3. all of these offerings were a foreshadowing of Jesus and death on the cross
              • "For since the law has but a shadow of the good things to come instead of the true form of these realities, it can never, by the same sacrifices that are continually offered every year, make perfect those who draw near. Otherwise, would they not have ceased to be offered, since the worshipers, having once been cleansed, would no longer have any consciousness of sins? But in these sacrifices there is a reminder of sins every year. For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins." (Hebrews 10:1-4, ESV)
            4. the sacrifices were God’s kindergarten to the nation
                1. they pointed forward to a coming Messiah who was to suffer and die for the sins of the nation, indeed, for the whole world
                2. the offerings were profoundly educational and spiritual
                    1. unfortunately, they degenerated from this ideal into mere external performances
                    2. the Hebrews forgot that obedience to God and faith in His promises were the saving principles behind the sacrifices
                    3. the result is that God came to detest the sacrifices of His people
                      • "And Samuel said, “Has the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to listen than the fat of rams." (1 Samuel 15:22, ESV)
                      • “I hate, I despise your feasts, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies. Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them; and the peace offerings of your fattened animals, I will not look upon them. Take away from me the noise of your songs; to the melody of your harps I will not listen. But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream." (Amos 5:21-24, ESV)
                      • "They serve a copy and shadow of the heavenly things. For when Moses was about to erect the tent, he was instructed by God, saying, “See that you make everything according to the pattern that was shown you on the mountain.” But as it is, Christ has obtained a ministry that is as much more excellent than the old as the covenant he mediates is better, since it is enacted on better promises. For if that first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no occasion to look for a second." (Hebrews 8:5-7, ESV)
            5. in the Mosaic sacrificial system, millions of animals were sacrificed and rivers of blood flowed over the centuries
                1. but Psalm 40 renders a twofold verdict:
                    1. "Sacrifice and offering Thou didst not desire”
                    2. “Burnt offering and sin offering hast Thou not required"
                2. the Epistle to the Hebrews gives us the reasons
                  • "Consequently, when Christ came into the world, he said, “Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired, but a body have you prepared for me; in burnt offerings and sin offerings you have taken no pleasure. Then I said, ‘Behold, I have come to do your will, O God, as it is written of me in the scroll of the book.’ ” (Hebrews 10:5-7, ESV)
            6. the incarnation was always God’s plan—not a fall-back position
              • “Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know— this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men." (Acts 2:22-23, ESV)
                1. these verses reveal why the Messiah had to come into the world
                2. Jesus came in the flesh because the ritual sacrifices of the Jews were never meant to atone for sin, but to point the Hebrews to faith in God’s ultimate provision—the Anointed One


            1. the second clause of the 6th verse is a little difficult to translate
                1. the KJV has it:
                  • "Sacrifice and offering thou didst not desire; mine ears hast thou opened: burnt offering and sin offering hast thou not required." (Psalm 40:6, KJV)
                2. the NIV has it:
                  • "Sacrifice and offering you did not desire, but my ears you have pierced; burnt offerings and sin offerings you did not require." (Psalm 40:6, NIV)
                3. literally the phrase read: you have dug two ears for me!
                    1. the key word is dug
                    2. it can mean digged, opened, or pierced
            2. the better translation is pierced and is a reference the Law of the Hebrew bondservant
                1. Hebrews could sell themselves into slavery in order to pay off a debt or bankruptcy
                    1. at the end of six years of servitude they were to be set free
                    2. however, if they liked their master, they could choose to remain a slave
                        1. if so, they were brought before a judge to testify to their choice, and their ear was pierced with an awl to indicated that they were a bondslave for life
                2. if this is the meaning of the verse, it is a picture of our Lord’s servanthood
                  • "but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness." (Philippians 2:7, NIV)
                    1. the picture of Christ as a bondservant is a wonderful picture of the incarnation and the wounds he voluntarily took on our behalf
            3. the bondservant’s perforated ear—the token of perpetual service and obedience—is a true picture of our Lord’s fidelity to his Father’s business
                1. Jesus irrevocably gave himself up to be the servant of servants for our sake and God’s glory
                2. this verse, in a very brief, but very significant way, reveals the kind of Messiah that would come into the world


    • "Then I said, “Behold, I have come; in the scroll of the book it is written of me:" (Psalm 40:7, ESV)
            1. this verse reveals a conversation between God the Son and God the Father
                1. the Anointed One, who is the Eternal Son of God, declares His coming into the world of time and space
            2. to say that the incarnation is a profound mystery is an understatement
              • "Beyond all question, the mystery of godliness is great: He appeared in a body, was vindicated by the Spirit, was seen by angels, was preached among the nations, was believed on in the world, was taken up in glory." (1 Timothy 3:16, NIV)
            3. by the supernatural work of the Holy Spirit in Mary’s womb, Jesus became God manifest in flesh
                1. the Apostle John uses just four words to describe the incarnation: "The Word became flesh"
                2. Luke, on the other hand, goes into detail, using 2,500 words to tell us the birth narrative
            4. while assuming sinless humanity, Jesus never for a moment ceased to be God
              • ILLUS. Gregory of Naziansen, one of the Church Fathers, describes the incarnation. Speaking of Jesus, Gregory wrote: “Remaining what he was, he assumed what he was not”
                1. the orthodox position of the church for 2,000 has been that Jesus was totally God and totally man
                2. Deity, with all its attributes, joined with Flesh with all its attributes
                  • ILLUS. Charles Wesley, the great hymn writer, said it like this: "Veiled in flesh the Godhead see; Hail th' incarnate Deity, Pleased with us in flesh to dwell"
            5. this incarnation was prophesied by the Scriptures
              • "Then I said, “Here I am, I have come—it is written about me in the scroll." (Psalm 40:7, NIV)
                1. throughout the Old Testament there is a long series of predictions of the coming of the Messiah
                    1. at least forty major prophesies were fulfilled by the life and ministry of Jesus
                2. amazingly, the complete story of Jesus’ life, even in minutest detail, was foretold in the Old Testament, centuries before the events actually happened
                    1. it is impossible that 40 different men, from different nations, who spoke different languages, and lived during different times, could all contribute to one Book that perfectly harmonizes in meaning and fulfilled prophecy
                3. and all these prophecies point to one man
            6. in Jesus’ day, the people were looking for the fulfillment of Psalm 40:7
                1. after Jesus performed the miracle of the loaves and the fish, the people perceived it as a sign, and they began to ask the say: " ... This is indeed the Prophet who is to come into the world!” (John 6:14, ESV)


    • "I have told the glad news of deliverance in the great congregation; behold, I have not restrained my lips, as you know, O Lord. I have not hidden your deliverance within my heart; I have spoken of your faithfulness and your salvation; I have not concealed your steadfast love and your faithfulness from the great congregation." (Psalm 40:9-10, ESV)
            1. when Jesus began his public ministry, he came preaching the good news of the Kingdom of God
              • "Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” (Mark 1:14-15, ESV)



            1. we are never told what David’s “pit” is all about, just as we are never told what the Apostle Paul’s “thorn in the flesh” is all about
                1. I think the Holy Spirit purposely does not reveal the identity of David’s plight or Paul’s malady
                  • ILLUS. In his commentary on this Psalm, James Boice, senior pastor of the Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia for 30 years, writes: “It is good that we do not know the literal meaning of this pit, because we can the more easily see our own slimy pits in David’s reference.
                2. I think that there are any number of possibilities that we might be able to relate to
                    1. The Pit of Sin—Some people are caught in the mud and mire of sin
                    2. The Pit of Defeat—Some people feel as though they are a failure. Life and life-events have discouraged them
                    3. The Pit of Bad Habits—Some of these habits are terribly destructive, like addictive drugs. Others are merely unsuitable or inadvisable, like regular outbursts of anger or overeating
                    4. The Pit of Circumstances—Some people get caught up in trials, or difficulties through no fault of their own
            2. David’s testimony is that God heard him and helped him step by step
                1. that what verse 1-3 are all about
                    1. God turned to him
                    2. God heard his cry
                    3. God lifted him out of the pit
                    4. God set his feet on a rock
                    5. God placed a new song of praise in his mouth
                2. the result is that David has a deep-settled conviction that anyone who trusts in the Lord is blessed of the Lord
            3. one of the reasons for the incarnation was so God could experience slimy pits for Himself
              • "Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted." (Hebrews 2:17-18, ESV)
              • "Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need." (Hebrews 4:14-16, ESV)
            4. the good news is that if you cry out to the Lord and wait patiently on Him, He’ll lift you out of your slimy pit as well
                1. He will set your feet upon a rock and give you a firm place to stand
                2. He will put a new song in your mouth—a hymn of praise to our God
                3. others will see and fear and will put their trust in the Lord


            1. the final section of this psalm is a prayer for future deliverance
                1. David had been in a situation so hopeless that he could only describe it as being in a slimy, muddy pit
                2. he had waited on God and God had delivered him
                3. yet now, even though he has been delivered from great trouble, Israel’s great King and Poet knows that other troubles lie ahead
                    1. this pit was probably not his last pit
                    2. David is also honest enough to admit that he is at least partially to blame for his pits
            2. David has absolute confidence in God’s grace and mercy
                1. this confidence leads him to say ...
                  • "As for you, O Lord, you will not restrain your mercy from me; your steadfast love and your faithfulness will ever preserve me!" (Psalm 40:11, ESV)
                  • ILLUS. Come, ye sinner, poor and needy, Weak and wounded, sick and sore, Jesus ready stands to save you, Full of pity, love, and pow’r.

Martin Luther had a dream in which he stood on the day of judgment before God Himself--and Satan was there to accuse him. When Satan opened his books full of accusations, he pointed to transgression after transgression of which Luther was guilty. As the proceedings went on, Luther’s heart sunk in despair. Then he remembered the cross of Christ--and turning upon Satan, he said, "There is one entry which you have not made, Satan." The Devil retorted, "What is that?" And Luther answered, "It is this--the blood of Jesus Christ, his Son, cleanseth us from all sins."

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