Christ Revealed in the Psalms

Mark L. Ward, Jr.
Occasional Messages  •  Sermon  •  Submitted   •  Presented   •  45:15
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Psalm 40:1–3 ESV
I waited patiently for the LORD; he inclined to me and heard my cry. He drew me up from the pit of destruction, out of the miry bog, and set my feet upon a rock, making my steps secure. He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God. Many will see and fear, and put their trust in the LORD.
Psalm 40 is so beautiful. I have meditated on the first paragraph so many times, especially as a young man. I felt as if my struggle against sin was a miry bog; and God's forgiveness was a rock I could stand on. And when I stood on that rock, I wanted to sing! I wanted to sing praise to God. And I wanted that praise to result in others seeing and fearing and putting their trust in the Lord. I knelt by my bed with Psalm 40 under my nose and asked that God do these things described here.
I also took comfort in the words of the next paragraph, beginning in v. 4:
Psalm 40:4–5 ESV
Blessed is the man who makes the LORD his trust, who does not turn to the proud, to those who go astray after a lie! You have multiplied, O LORD my God, your wondrous deeds and your thoughts toward us; none can compare with you! I will proclaim and tell of them, yet they are more than can be told.
It really struck me that God actually thought about me. His thoughts toward us were "many." As a young person not sure of my place in the world, it meant a lot to me—and still does—that God would inspire the psalmist to say this.

"In sacrifice you have not delighted"

But it's Psalm 40:6–8 that we'll be focusing on today, along with one passage in the New Testament that quotes it, Hebrews 10. We'll be training our attention on these words about sacrifice, about delighting to do God's will.
I have never made a sacrifice. I say that not in the sense of missionary David Livingstone, who meant that compared to the reward of Christ none of his hard physical and spiritual labors in Africa were truly difficult. Whatever hardships I’ve undergone in life, it’s true, are nothing compared to the surpassing value of knowing Christ. But when I say I’ve never made a sacrifice, I mean I’ve never killed a goat. I’ve never wrung the neck of a dove. I’ve never sprinkled blood on anything with a hyssop branch or waved grain over an altar. I am a New Covenant Christian, and all those old sacrificial laws were fulfilled on my behalf long before I was born. The closest I’ve come to watching a lamb die was on a flannelgraph board in 1985. And I’m pretty sure there wasn’t even any blood. And it was brought back from the dead the next week. Or maybe that was it's twin.
But believers in the one true God, taken as a whole, have spent more time under these sacrificial requirements than we have spent free from them. Even Noah, more than 2,000 years before Christ, made sacrifices and somehow knew the difference between clean and unclean animals, Genesis tells us. For countless men and women and children among the “B.C.” people of God, sacrifices were something they dared not give up.
So you can imagine being an ancient worshiper of Yahweh in the kingdom of David and being pretty shocked and confused when your king writes,
Psalm 40:6 ESV
In sacrifice and offering you have not delighted, but you have given me an open ear. Burnt offering and sin offering you have not required.
You, ancient Jewish person, would say, What, David? God opened your ears to tell you he didn’t mean all that stuff about blood sacrifices? There goes Leviticus. Or, King David, do you mean that God gave you deliverance in some individual circumstance—some pit, some miry bog—without requiring any sacrifice that particular time? Or are you just saying that something else is more important than sacrifice? Now, that would be okay: Samuel already told us that “to obey is better than sacrifice, and to listen than the fat of rams” (1 Sam. 15:22).
But no, David seems to be going further than this. Glance at the next two verses, which we'll spend more time on later:
Psalm 40:7–8 ESV
Then I said, “Behold, I have come; in the scroll of the book it is written of me: I delight to do your will, O my God; your law is within my heart.”
David is almost pitting sacrifices against delighting to do God’s will and having it in his heart. The two are in some kind of tension here. He seems to be planting the seed of a tree which will one day grow taller than the sacrificial system and overshadow it, even starve it of light.

"You have given me an open ear"

And David insists not only that what he's saying about God is true, but that he got this truth from God. That's what he means by, "You have given me an open ear." That may not be obvious, so let's talk about it a bit.
If you make a habit of comparing Bible translations whenever a phrase strikes you—and the internet makes this so easy—then you might notice something a little strange about this verse. Most translations say, "My ears you have opened." But a few say things like, "My ears you have pierced," or even "My ears you have dug"! Whenever you see the translations vary that much, you can guess that one of two things is going on: 1) either this is very difficult language and they're doing their best to understand it, or 2) this is an idiom, a figure of speech like "you're pulling my leg," that some translations translate literally and others choose not to. It is not a sign of unfaithfulness to the Bible to give an interpretive translation of an idiom. Neither is it necessarily more faithful or righteous to be literal, because literal translations can sometimes be meaningless if the idiom just doesn't translate well. Translate "holy cow" literally into Spanish and you get "santa vaca," which is gobbledygook. Meaningless. Translate "you're pulling my leg" literally into German, and you'll get very funny looks in Berlin, or indignant denials. "I'm not even touching your leg!"
In this case, the text does literally say, "My ears you have dug." What could this mean? Yesterday, all three of our kids got haircuts at a ritzy salon called Great Clips. As the curls fell off of good little Ellery's ears, it became apparent that there was an excess of a waxy substance in there that we hadn't noticed. Poor kid. Needed a few Q-tips. That may be the picture here. Or I think of the time a puppet on a show I remember watching 30 years ago accidentally left cotton balls in his ears and started misunderstanding everything people said. Once he dug them out he could hear again just fine.
I don't usually mention ear wax in sermons, in fact, "Don't mention ear wax in sermons" was one of the first things they taught us in school. But I'm just trying to explain what David said! David is talking as if there was a blockage that the Lord rid him of. God opened up his ears. Why? Apparently so he could hear a truth that he wanted to make sure David got.
And here's that truth again; look at it.
Psalm 40:6 ESV
In sacrifice and offering you have not delighted, but you have given me an open ear. Burnt offering and sin offering you have not required.
God hasn't delighted in sacrifice and offering; he hasn't asked for burnt offerings and sin offerings.
You can see why even a faithful person like David would need to have his ears cleared out to really hear this, because it is very easy to let religious duties form a hard crust all over the soft heart of love for God that is supposed to be driving them. It sometimes takes shocking language to get people to really listen—like when Jesus says that if you don't "hate father and mother and sister and lands for my sake, you won't inherit the kingdom of heaven." That's shocking. So is Psalm 40:6, I believe, for an ancient Jewish person.
God is not here trying to overturn the sacrificial system that, in his own plan, would last for another thousand years. And there's simply no way David, the man whose heart’s desire it was to build the temple, was purposefully seeking to overturn, then and there, the entire sacrificial system.

"Behold, I have come"

It would take someone far more powerful to do that. And in the very next lines, David transposes his psalm into a higher key and presages the arrival, the revelation, of just such a powerful person.
Psalm 40:7–8 ESV
Then I said, “Behold, I have come; in the scroll of the book it is written of me: I delight to do your will, O my God; your law is within my heart.”
This is Jesus talking. And I know it’s Jesus. I’ll tell you why in a moment.
But I'm not saying David couldn't have said such things. It’s perfectly true that it’s precisely David, of all Old Testament figures, who most delighted to do God’s will. It’s true that it’s David, a man after God’s own heart, who had God’s law in his heart as much or more than anyone. It’s David who wrote Psalm 119, a huge and effervescent list of praise to that divine law. It's David who tells us in my favorite Psalm, Psalm 51, what precisely it was that God wanted instead of sacrifices, namely,
Psalm 51:17 ESV
The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.
And in Psalm 40:7–8 it sounds like David is saying the same thing: inner heart delight in doing God's will is the thing that's more important than sacrifices. That, of course, is true.
But there’s still something in vv.7–8 that transcends David. This is Jesus, because it is only Jesus who could take the seed David planted here and make it grow. It is only he who could undo the sacrificial system and institute doing God’s law from the delight of the heart.
I have to pause and press this home just a bit on you: do you do God's will from the heart? Is God's law written on your heart, so that even when you do sin, your conscience always accuses you? It is not true to say that the Old Testament made doing good works the way to get into God's kingdom and the New Testament shifted the requirement to faith, hope, and love. Both testaments make human heart change the real goal of God's work in the world. The whole Bible shows over and over, from Jacob in Genesis to Paul in Acts, that a change of heart is absolutely necessary for all people.
But hearts don't like to change. They're naturally tougher than gristle. Just go on the internet and try to persuade someone else of anything. Anything. You'll run into gristle, or, better, granite. (Not so incidentally, that may be the way they feel about you, too!) It took the divine power of David's greater son, Jesus, to make it possible for anyone to say, "I delight to do your will, O my God." Psalm 40:7–8 are Jesus talking.

Hebrews 10

And here’s the ultimate, authoritative proof that Psalm 40 refers to Jesus: the author of the book of Hebrews, who carefully quotes the Old Testament time and time again, quotes this very passage from Psalm 40 in Hebrews 10, and draws specific lessons from it.
We will spend the rest of our time in Hebrews 10, because it sheds light on Psalm 40:6–8. This part of Hebrews glories in Christ's once-for-all sacrifice for the sins of mankind. Let's begin reading at the start of chapter 10.
Hebrews 10:1–2 ESV
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?
The author of Hebrews is explaining one of the reasons David could speak almost dismissively of the sacrificial system. It had no real power to cleanse people. As one writer said,
Hebrews for Everyone The Stopping of the Sacrifices (Hebrews 10:1–10)

If I have to take my car back to the mechanic every week with the same problem, that’s a fair indication that he hasn’t succeeded in fixing it.

The writer of Hebrews tells us in verse 3 that the actual effect of these sacrifices was to remind people that they were sinning, not absolve them of those sins:
Hebrews 10:3 ESV
But in these sacrifices there is a reminder of sins every year.
Thinking that the sacrifices took away sin is sort of like thinking that your tax refund is the government giving you money. That's a major misunderstanding, though a natural one if you're not careful. No, if you're really thinking, your tax refund every year (if you even get one) should be a reminder that you're paying the IRS a big chunk of your paycheck. It's a reminder of a somewhat sad and negative truth.
The Bible says categorically, and look at verse 4,
Hebrews 10:4 ESV
For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.
And this all leads us up to the place where the author of Hebrews quotes Psalm 40:6–8.
Hebrews 10:5–9 ESV
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.’ ” When he said above, “You have neither desired nor taken pleasure in sacrifices and offerings and burnt offerings and sin offerings” (these are offered according to the law), then he added, “Behold, I have come to do your will.” He does away with the first in order to establish the second.
This is pretty dense, and I can't and won't untangle every last element. In particular, I'm simply not going to explain why it says "body" here instead of "ear." If you're curious, I can give you the lowdown later. It's complicated. My goal is to help us understand Psalm 40:6–8.
Let's focus, then, on the author of Hebrews' interpretation of Psalm 40:6–8. Let's see what he does with those statements from David.
Hebrews 10:8–9 ESV
When he said above, “You have neither desired nor taken pleasure in sacrifices and offerings and burnt offerings and sin offerings” (these are offered according to the law), then he added, “Behold, I have come to do your will.” He does away with the first in order to establish the second.
The “first” is the sacrifices and offerings—the Messiah does away with these so that the "second," Christ's "doing of God’s will” can be established. And what was that will? The next sentence, verse 10, tells us it was to die to sanctify us with a once for all sacrifice.
Hebrews 10:10 ESV
And by that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.
Let me go over that again. The Messiah does away with something. What? Look at verse 8. He does away with "sacrifices and offerings and burnt offerings and sin offerings" that are "offered according to the law."
This is why you and I have never made a sacrifice. The visceral feel of twisting the neck of a dove or slitting the jugular of a lamb—the mess and the gravity of it—we haven't had to experience. Jesus absolutely did away with those sacrifices. They're not necessary, because of his own once-for-all sacrifice. It's almost like the invention of a spot-welding machine that instantaneously puts 10,000 guys on car factory lines around the country out of a job. Or it's like the advent of the telephone, which forces telegraph operators to find a new profession. In an instant, as it were, there's just no need for their work. They're obsolete. When Jesus died on the cross and rose again, every Jewish priest on the planet might as well have just closed up shop.
That's what Jesus' coming did away with. But what did it put in its place? The author of Hebrews says that Jesus "established the second." He abolishes one thing and establishes another. And what is that? Look at the beginning of v. 9.
Hebrews 10:9 ESV
then he added, “Behold, I have come to do your will.” He does away with the first in order to establish the second.
It's "I have come to do your will" that Jesus establishes. As one careful student of the Bible put it,
The Epistle to the Hebrews c. Sacrifice—“To Do Your Will, O God” (10:5–10)

the whole New Covenant arrangement for cleansing and entrance into God’s presence through Christ’s obedience is the “will” of God established by his perfect submission

The point

And now we can zero in on the point of Psalm 40 and Hebrew 10, the point of Jesus’ entire coming. Insightful commentator William Lane says,

The old sacrifices were deficient because they did not entail the genuine consecration of the one who offered them.

God cannot truly take pleasure in sacrifices made without love for him and sorrow for sin. The law must be written on the heart, not just some dead stone tablets, or people aren’t really delighting to do God’s will. So that heart, the one with the law written on it, is what the New Covenant inaugurated by Jesus—and described in Hebrews—does. Its whole point is to give us the new hearts enabling us to do God’s will the way Psalm 40 describes.
It was only Jesus who could truly say, every moment of his life with no exceptions, “I delight to do God’s will.” It was Jesus who, preeminently, lived a life which showed God’s law written on his heart. And now by offering his body, once for all, he has brought a covenant which enables us to do the same.


I don’t automatically enjoy Christian movies. I’m very sensitive to hokiness, bad acting, and Christian wish-fulfillment on screen. But one theme from a Christian movie has always stuck with me. The main character is a jerk to his wife, and she basically decides to leave him. He, however, decides to win his wife back, and he works hard to do whatever pleases her. The decisive moment comes when you just know her hard shell is going to crack, and sure enough, there on the foyer table is a note from her to him! Yes! The emotional payoff Christian movies are required to give is right around the corner! But when he opens it, it’s paperwork for a divorce.
It’s only after this that the main character becomes a Christian, delighting to do God’s will from the heart. And his wife can tell. Much later, when the man finally does woo his wife into (spoiler alert) reuniting with him, he says to her that halfway through his efforts to win her back, “God [gave] me a love for you that I had never had before.” And she observes, “Something has changed in you.”
People know whether someone else’s love comes from the heart. They sense it. The man’s first sacrifices for his wife were deficient because they did not entail the genuine consecration of the one who offered them. It wasn’t truly written on his heart to love his wife; he only did those things to prove to himself that he could win a contest, to avoid an insult to his honor. But when God gave him a new heart, she could see it. His work to win her took on a sincerity it didn’t have before. He truly gave himself.
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