The King Who Wins Us Joy in God's Presence
Topic: Advent Passage: Acts 13:13–43, Psalm 16:1–11
We’re in week three of Advent. Each week we’ve returned to Acts 13. But Paul has sent us to several Old Testament passages. If anything, I hope you realize the gospel wasn’t invented by Paul. Paul preaches Christ according to the Scriptures. It’s God working out his revealed plan to save the world. Creation, sin, sacrifice, exodus, law, covenant, temple, promise, kingship, Adam, Israel, David, exile—these Old Testament categories give context for knowing God’s Son rightly.
As we’ve paused in Acts 13 to study these quotations, we’ve struck it rich. Psalm 2 reveals Jesus as God’s unstoppable King who inherits the nations and spreads his rule to the ends of the earth. Isaiah 55 reveals how God’s manifold kindness in the Davidic covenant becomes ours through Jesus’ death and resurrection. What will God reveal from Paul’s use of Psalm 16? That’s his next quotation. But let’s give it some context by first reading from verse 32 to 43…
32 And we bring you the good news that what God promised to the fathers, 33 this he has fulfilled to us their children by raising Jesus, as also it is written in the second Psalm, “You are my Son, today I have begotten you.” 34 And as for the fact that he raised him from the dead, no more to return to corruption, he has spoken in this way, “I will give you the holy and sure blessings of David.” 35 Therefore he says also in another psalm, “You will not let your Holy One see corruption.” 36 For David, after he had served the purpose of God in his own generation, fell asleep and was laid with his fathers and saw corruption, 37 but he whom God raised up did not see corruption. 38 Let it be known to you therefore, brothers, that through this man forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you, 39 and by him everyone who believes is freed from everything from which you could not be freed by the law of Moses. 40 Beware, therefore, lest what is said in the Prophets should come about: 41 “Look, you scoffers, be astounded and perish; for I am doing a work in your days, a work that you will not believe, even if one tells it to you.” 42 As they went out, the people begged that these things might be told them the next Sabbath. 43 And after the meeting of the synagogue broke up, many Jews and devout converts to Judaism followed Paul and Barnabas, who, as they spoke with them, urged them to continue in the grace of God.
Perhaps you’ve heard this slogan: “God is more interested in your holiness than in your happiness.” Christians mean well. Depending on what’s meant by happiness and the object of happiness, there may be some truth here. Someone may be rather miffed over the circumstances God dealt them; someone else then uses that slogan to help them see the greater purpose of holiness. But the thing with slogans is that they’re often inadequate, and they’re often applied so badly.
Moreover, what if I told you that Paul’s use of Psalm 16 actually reveals no dichotomy between our holiness and our happiness, but that God sent his Son to make us happy in his holiness? Advent is about God pursuing our joy in the holy by sending his Son. That’s where we’ll end today. But it’s going to take a few steps to get there.
So let’s go to Psalm 16. Some of you are most familiar with Psalm 16:11, “in your presence there’s fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” That’s gloriously true. But we shouldn’t skip the steps it takes to understand how such joys can become ours. Psalm 16 first applied to David, and then to Christ, before it ever can apply to us. That’s the journey I want to pursue this morning.
1. God faithfully blesses his loyal king in life and in death.
Let’s take five steps together, beginning with this one: God faithfully blesses his loyal king in life and in death. Psalm 16 is written by King David. It’s a cry for God to preserve him. But as the prayer develops we observe an important relationship: David interacts with God in terms of the covenant relationship God made with him.
Deuteronomy 17 and 2 Samuel 7 lay out the nature of the king’s relationship to God—or at least what the king’s relationship should be. As Israel’s representative, the king must devote himself to God’s law. And by devoting himself to God’s law, he would represent God’s rule. As the king was loyal, God would faithfully bless him.
In Psalm 16 we see David’s loyalty followed by God’s covenant faithfulness in life; then another picture of David’s loyalty followed by God’s covenant faithfulness in death. Look at verses 1-4 where we get the first portrait of David’s loyalty: “Preserve me, O God, for in you I take refuge. I say to the LORD, ‘You are my Lord; I have no good apart from you.’ As for the saints in the land, they are the excellent ones, in whom is all my delight.[i] The sorrows of those who run after another god shall multiply; their drink offerings of blood I will not pour out or take their names on my lips.”
David’s loyalty can be seen in that he takes refuge in God alone. He doesn’t depend on himself. He doesn’t depend on other nations. He doesn’t depend on foreign gods. Yahweh is his refuge. He also submits to God’s authority: “You are my Lord [my Adonai]”—his sovereign Master. He also looks to God as his treasure: “I have no good apart from you.” Compared to other things, God alone is the good he needs most.
Then we also see his loyalty in that he delights in the saints (i.e., godliness). He makes friends with those who pursue the Lord. [And just as a parenthesis, my friends, it would be wise that you take note of that. Your love for the Lord will show itself in a longing to be with godly people.] David not only delights in the saints; he refuses the idolatry of others. He’s not even going to say the idols’ names. Just let their memory pass out of existence altogether, is the idea.
Because of this loyalty, David then rehearses God’s covenant faithfulness to bless him in life. Verse 5, “The LORD is my chosen portion and my cup.” Meaning, God himself is David’s sustenance. He adds, “You hold my lot. The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; indeed, I have a beautiful inheritance.” The imagery comes from when Joshua cast lots in portioning out the Promised Land. Here God casts the lot in David’s favor, so that he’s blessed with security in the Land. David observes the borders of his kingdom and sees all God has done for him. It’s beautiful.
The Psalm then gives us another picture of David’s loyalty. Verse 7, “I bless the LORD who gives me counsel; in the night also my heart instructs me.” Again, David’s loyalty appears in that he looks to God as his Counselor. Even throughout his nights, the Lord’s word so fills David’s heart that it instructs him. He’s the example of what Israel’s king was supposed to be in Deuteronomy 17. He exemplifies how the king should reflect God’s rule on earth. It’s no wonder why God says of David, “I have found in David…a man after my heart, who will do all my will” (Acts 13:22).
Verse 8 says, “I have set the LORD always before me.” This stands in contrast with idolaters, who set other things before their eyes, who make other things their chief pursuit. God is David’s chief pursuit. He goes on in verse 8, “because he is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken.” Normally the king stands at God’s right hand; but here God commits himself to the king’s right hand. God so stands at David’s side in covenant faithfulness that David has absolute confidence of not being shaken.
The question, though, is, what’s about to shake David? Why the cry to preserve him in the first place? Because David will face death. Death is attempting to rattle David. There are lots of things people can escape; perhaps some of them even by their own strength or will power. But death? Nobody can escape death. Since Adam rebelled, death spread to all people because all sinned. Death knocks on David’s door.
So what does he do? David rehearses God’s covenant faithfulness to him in life; and that reassures him that God will be faithful to him in death. Look at the way he puts it in verses 9-10. “Therefore my heart is glad, and my whole being rejoices; my flesh also dwells secure. For you will not abandon my soul to Sheol [i.e., the place of the dead], or let your holy one see corruption.”
Now, some will say David is simply praying God protects him from death. He needs to keep reigning as king, so “Protect me from premature death.” Some people read it that way. Others have said No, this is one of the few places in the Old Testament that reveals resurrection hope. David expects to die and be buried; and in this case he’s expressing hope beyond death. The specifics of how or when, he doesn’t know fully. But he’s confident they will—God will be faithful to him in and beyond death.
That’s the way I take his words; and there are several reasons why. A couple have to do with the Davidic covenant and the New Testament’s use of Psalm 16—we’ll get to that in just a minute. But another reason is the general tone of verses 10-11. David basically reveals three things. One, death won’t get the last word on him—God won’t forsake him in Sheol. His body might lie in the grave, but somehow God’ll rescue him. If God has bound himself to you in covenant, he’s not going to forsake you even in death.
Two, God won’t let his holy one see corruption. Now there’s a question about who this holy one is. Is it David himself?[ii] Or is it someone greater than David, perhaps the Messiah? Or is it in some way both—David pointing to a much greater David? In Acts 2—which I’ll read in a minute—Peter gives us good reason to believe the referent is to someone beyond David. That even David himself was looking beyond to a holy one who was like him in some ways but vastly greater in other ways. In particular, this holy one wouldn’t even experience the corruption of his body. In that sense, David’s hope beyond the grave ultimately relies on the victory of God’s holy one over the grave.
And then three: God’s faithfulness to David and God’s faithfulness to the holy one leads to life in God’s presence. Verse 11, “You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” In other words, David’s hope goes beyond the grave to the manifold pleasures of life in God’s presence. So what have we seen in Psalm 16?
God faithfully blesses his loyal king in life and in death. Because of the terms of his covenant, God is not going to forsake David even when death itself swallows him up. David’s hope lies beyond the grave. That’s the first step.
2. David serves as a type of Christ, who was to come.
But let’s now take a second step. David serves as a type of Christ, who was to come. That is, God made David’s life a prophetic pointer to the future messiah. The way David represents the nation, the way David relates to God as Father, the way David prays and suffers and triumphs—these aspects of David’s life establish trajectories that anticipate a future and greater Son of David.
Take David defeating Goliath, for example. The whole point of that story is not bravery. It’s to teach us that God rescues his covenant people through the victory of his anointed king. That pattern in David’s life points us to the ultimate King, Jesus Christ—God delivers us through Jesus’ victory over sin and death and the devil. Get the idea?
So when we read of God faithfully blessing his loyal king in life and in death, you need to note that pattern. That pattern establishes a prophetic trajectory that finds its fulfillment even beyond David. It has to find a fulfillment beyond David, because even David himself expected a future holy one who wouldn’t see corruption.
Even if you take the “holy one” as David’s own self-reference—which it could be—you have to admit that he’s using a bit of hyperbole. Was it the case the Lord was always before David when he slept with Bathsheba? Or lied and killed her husband? Was he always before David then too? Is David the superior holy one? No, sometimes David will describe his own sufferings or victories in exaggerated ways; and that might very well be the case here. But in the end the hyperbole points people beyond David to a king whose loyalty and sufferings and triumphs were far greater than David’s ever were.
So, however you take the holy one in verse 10, we have to at least agree that it ultimately points well beyond David to a much greater loyal King that God would reward in life and in death. In fact, there are hints that his loyalty will be so great that not even death itself will be able to hold and decay his body.
3. David knew God would raise up a future Holy One to defeat death.
Step three: David knew God would raise up a future Holy One to defeat death. Here’s where we circle back to the Davidic covenant and Peter’s words in Acts 2. Last Sunday we looked at 2 Samuel 7—the Davidic covenant. But part of God’s covenant with David was this: “When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you.” What’s he saying in the covenant? “David, you’re going to die. But I promise a future offspring for the forever kingdom.”
Now look at what Peter says in Acts 2:30. And what’s important to remember is that Peter has also just quoted Psalm 16. He explains the same verse Paul uses in Acts 13—“For you will not abandon my soul to Hades, or let your Holy One see corruption.” But notice what Peter adds in verse 30: “Being therefore a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him that he would set one of his descendants on his throne, he foresaw and spoke about the resurrection of Christ.”
Get what he’s saying? David had this covenant oath in mind when he wrote Psalm 16:10. In fact, the title David gives the king in Psalm 16 is really peculiar. You might recall the discussion last Sunday on God’s hesed. That’s the Hebrew behind “steadfast love” or “loving-kindness.” It conveys God’s loving resolve to fulfill his obligations to his covenant with David. The Hebrew behind “holy one” in Psalm 16:10 is hasid. Hear the similarities? Hesed and hasid. In other words, David seems to understand that God will display his covenant loyalty most supremely in the holy one of Psalm 16:10. Which means that even David’s hope for victory over the grave was tied to the promise God made to raise up a forever king on a forever throne.
4. The ultimate, loyal, Davidic King to defeat death & reign forever is Jesus Christ.
Step four: the ultimate, loyal, Davidic King to defeat death & reign forever is Jesus Christ. If we return to Acts 13, notice that Paul quotes Psalm 16:10 right after he quotes Isaiah 55:3. It’s a great example of how the apostles saw the Old Testament giving one coherent message. We’re dealing here with different authors (Isaiah and David), different genres (Prophecy and Psalms), and different generations (over 300 years apart)—yet the Spirit inspires one coherent message about the Messiah.
Paul links these quotes at the beginning of verse 35 with therefore: “therefore [God] says in another psalm…” But what’s the connection? It becomes more obvious when you notice that the word behind “holy” in the Isaiah quote—you see it there: “the holy and sure blessings of David.” That’s the same word in the Psalm 16 quote for “your Holy One.” In other words, Paul makes the connection between God’s hesed and God’s hasid explicit. God promised to bring the holy blessings of the Davidic covenant through the Holy One who wouldn’t see corruption.
So the logic of Paul’s argument goes like this. God spoke in this way: “I will give you the holy and sure blessings of David.” Implied in those holy blessings is God’s commitment to a forever king. Therefore God also spoke this way in Psalm 16:10—“You will not let your Holy One see corruption.” He has to defeat death and reign forever if those promises will reach their fulfillment.
Verses 36-37 then show why Psalm 16 couldn’t refer merely to David; it has to refer to Jesus. “For David, after he had served the purpose of God in his own generation, fell asleep and was laid with his fathers and saw corruption, but he whom God raised up did not see corruption.” Death held David’s body in the grave and it decayed. Conclusion? Psalm 16 couldn’t have been talking about David ultimately; the holy one had to be someone else. It’s Jesus. The disciples knew it was Jesus, because Jesus died and three days later appeared to them bodily. They saw his body. They saw it and felt it and watched him eat fish with it. Death couldn’t keep his body in the grave.
Why? One answer is that God said so: “You will not let your holy one see corruption.” God said that through David (cf. Acts 13:35), and God was faithful to his word. Three days later, he rose without corruption. Another answer is that while Jesus was truly human, he never shared Adam’s sin. Jesus had no actual sin—he did nothing wrong and everything right. And Jesus had no inherent sin. He was free from sin in the entire structure of his being. It’s like the angel told Mary, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy…” (Luke 1:35). The virgin birth makes Christ unique from all others born in Adam. The humanity of Christ was created by the Spirit himself; and all that the Spirit makes is good and holy.
If Jesus’ body decayed in the grave, it would prove that he was in fact guilty of sin. Death and all that entails is the consequence of sin. But he didn’t stay dead and he couldn’t, because he was in fact righteous. The resurrection vindicates Jesus as the Holy One. He is the holy one of Psalm 16 who wouldn’t see corruption. He is that King who gives us the assurance beyond the grave that God won’t abandon us in death.
5. Jesus wins for us forgiveness from sin, freedom from condemnation, and felicity in God’s presence.
So what does this mean? Paul draws a couple of conclusions in Acts 13; and I find another conclusion implied in Psalm 16. So let’s take one final step, step five: Jesus wins for us forgiveness from sin, freedom from condemnation, and felicity in God’s presence. Let’s start with forgiveness from sin. We see it in Acts 13:38, “Let it be known to you therefore, brothers, that through this man [i.e., this man and no other man] forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you.”
If Jesus is truly the holy one, if the resurrection vindicates Jesus as being free from all sin, then we have to ask why he chose to die. The answer is that he died for others. He suffered and died for our sins and the penalty due our sins. If we identify with him by faith, then God forgives our sins in Christ.
We need God to forgive us. God is holy. We have offended him by our wayward desires and attitudes toward his law. We stand guilty before the Judge; and the consequence is eternal death. When God the Judge forgives somebody in Christ, he does more than simply pardon us. Pardoning means he frees us from the punishment—we can escape punishment because God punished Jesus in our place. But forgiveness also extends to the removal of sin. God cleanses all that makes us guilty before him. All your wretched deeds. All your shameful acts. All your rebel passions.
Then there’s also freedom from condemnation. That comes in verse 39, “and by [Jesus] everyone who believes is freed from everything from which you could not be freed by the law of Moses. Beware, therefore, lest what is said in the Prophets should come about: ‘Look, you scoffers, be astounded and perish; for I’m doing a work in your days, a work that you will not believe, even if one tells it to you.’”
That’s another Old Testament quotation. It comes from Habakkuk 1:5. People sometimes quote this in a positive light. But it’s actually threatening judgment. In context, people are rejecting God’s law; they’re perverting justice. Habakkuk wonders whether God will do anything about the ungodly. Then God answers him and shows he’s certainly doing something about it. He’s raising up the Chaldeans to destroy them.
In other words, the very condemnation the law outlined for covenant-breakers—they were about to get it. Paul plays off this judgment text to show these Jews that as long as they don’t believe in Christ, they remain under God’s condemnation. The law condemns them as covenant-breakers. That’s all the law can do when it comes to salvation. The law can’t save; it points the finger and condemns. So Paul warns them. Condemnation will destroy them, unless they believe in Jesus.
If you believe in Jesus, he says, you’re “freed from everything from which you could not be freed by the law of Moses.” If you work your hardest to obey the law, if you try to earn God’s favor by working, then you’ll only experience God’s wrath. But if you trust in Christ who fulfilled God’s law for you and won your righteousness and suffered your condemnation and died your death, then you’ll only experience God’s grace. In Christ, God forgives sins and God frees us from the law’s condemnation.
But that’s still not the end. The end of the forgiveness and the freedom is felicity in God’s presence. Where did David’s hope in Psalm 16 climax? Right here: “in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” It was for the joy set before him that Jesus endured the cross, despising its shame and now sits at the right hand of the throne of God. As King, he represents a people that he will bring with him into that joy he pursued and won through his death and resurrection.
And O what joys they must be! I was reminded of Isaiah seeing the Lord sitting upon a towering throne. The train of his robe filled the temple—the idea being that the Lord is so majestic, Isaiah simply stands in awe of just the hem of his garment!
Or, as John walks us to the throne in Revelation, he can’t help but see every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth bowing in worship; myriads upon myriads and thousands upon thousands of angelic hosts praising Jesus. The point isn’t that God created these creatures to run like a broken record. No, the sheer majesty of God the Father’s glory revealed in his Son compels their endless praise.*
The throne is wrapped in rainbow-like emerald beauty, with jasper and carnelian decorating the royal majesty. Many diadems are on his crown. He has eyes like flames of fire; his face shines like the sun in full strength. His glory is so brilliant there’s no need for sun or moon to shine in his kingdom. He carries all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge, honor and power; the fullness of deity dwells bodily in Jesus; he dwells in unapproachable light, with springs of water never ceasing to give life to all the nations.
All who share David’s hope in the Holy One get these pleasures. The King of kings wins them for his people. Sorrows abound when you chase after idols. But eternal joys abound for those who make Christ their hope.
Joy, on this side of eternity, is often mixed with sorrow. Life right now is like a rose with thorns—the flower smells sweet but the blasted thorns still hurt. Like when my parents arrived on Wednesday, I was thrilled but had also just hung up the phone with a brother whose daughter was having unexplained seizures. Or, maybe your face hurts because you laughed so hard one evening. But then it ends—people go home, lights go out, friends move on, sickness prevails, people die.
One day, brothers and sisters, joy will no longer be mixed with sorrow. Joy will be unmixed and full as we see God face to face. You don’t get higher joys or better pleasures than those at God’s right hand. You can’t improve on these pleasures, or add to these pleasures whatsoever. If you think you can improve them, then you’ve got a small view of God and sin has shriveled your capacities to discern true glory.
God is infinite in glory and beauty and holiness. He has pleasures that last forevermore. They don’t grow old. We won’t get bored. You cannot number the pleasures. They will be constant and without interruption. We will forever be satisfied in a perpetual vision of God’s glory in the person of Christ.
So what should you do? Trust in Jesus for the forgiveness of your sins and freedom from condemnation. Then pursue your pleasure in God. The pursuit of God is the pursuit of pleasure. He sent his Son to bring us pleasure in what is holy, namely, himself. Delight in him as your refuge. Delight in him as your ultimate good. Delight in him as your Counselor. Delight in him as your Lord. Delight in him as the Faithful One, who raised up Jesus like he said he would.
Finally, when you approach death, preach to yourself God’s covenant faithfulness. God’s covenant faithfulness in life is your hope that he will not abandon your soul to Sheol. Death will not have the last word over you. God will be faithful to you in death. Jesus will raise you from the dead to see God face to face, and to experience God in new bodies with perfected capacities to enjoy God rightly and fully forever. This Supper reminds us of that coming day. Eat this bread and drink this cup to your eternal pleasure in the Holy One.
[i]Some ancient versions read “I say to the Lord” (followed by the ESV), but the Hebrew actually has “You say to the Lord.” The idea would then be to group verses 2-3, wherein David depicts the syncretistic ways of others in the land. That is, on the one hand they say “You are my Lord; I have no good apart from you,” while on the other hand “all their delight” is in “the excellent ones.” I have followed the ESV. In either case, the overall point remains identical: David describes his loyalty to the Lord.
[ii]The superscription of Psalm 4 reveals it to be a Psalm of David. In Psalm 4:3, David then uses the same title that appears in Psalm 16:10 (i.e., hasid) to speak about himself: “But know that the LORD has set apart the godly [hasid, “holy one”] for himself; the LORD hears when I [i.e., David] call to him.”
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