As we draw near to Easter, the first verse in our stanza today is relevant.
The psalmist says: Rulers persecute me without cause, but my heart trembles at your word. (Psalm 119:161)
Sometimes, while living in Pakistan, I would talk about the hatred and animosity that is revealed in the Gospels against Jesus by the religious authorities of his time, and ask my Muslim friends why they thought this was so, particularly in the light of the similar reaction today if one of their own turns to Jesus.
Let me give a few examples:
[On one occasion] Jesus went into the synagogue, and a man with a shriveled hand was there. 2 Some of them [the religious authorities] were looking for a reason to accuse Jesus, so they watched him closely to see if he would heal him on the Sabbath. [Then after Jesus heals the man we read] … Then the Pharisees went out and began to plot with the Herodians how they might kill Jesus. (Mark 3:1-2, 6)
[Then on another occasion], Jesus entered the temple courts and began driving out those who were buying and selling there….The chief priests and the teachers of the law heard this and began looking for a way to kill him, for they feared him, because the whole crowd was amazed at his teaching. (Mark 11:15, 18)
Why was it that these leaders hated and persecuted someone who healed the sick, cared for the poor, drove out evil spirits from those in spiritual bondage, taught about the Kingdom of God and stood up against evil practices in the temple grounds? What was it that they feared concerning him?
Later, when these same religious leaders brought him to the Roman authorities to be judged they said “We have found this man subverting our nation. He opposes payment of taxes to Caesar and claims to be Messiah, a king.” And again, “He stirs up the people all over Judea by his teaching.” (Luke 23:3,5)
None of these charges impressed Pilate who could see through their schemes and so he said, “I find no basis for a charge against this man.” (Luke 23:4) And of course he was right, but he soon gave into pressure from the Jewish leaders and their cohorts.
It seems to me that the reason for their persecution of Jesus eventually came down to what they mentioned above, i.e., he claims to be Messiah, a king. They knew their Scriptures and so understood the significance of the signs and miracles and the teaching of Jesus, even if they were not willing to admit it. It all pointed to the truth that He was indeed the prophesied “son of man”, the “son of David”, the divine Son of God, the Messiah, and this made him dangerous in that he was going to upset their status quo.
Sadly, many people today react exactly the same way for similar reasons!
And so the psalmist, who like Jesus 1000 years later, was persecuted without cause, continues his story, finding his comfort and strength in God’s Word:
ש Sin and Shin
161 Rulers persecute me without cause,
but my heart trembles at your word.
162 I rejoice in your promise
like one who finds great spoil.
163 I hate and detest falsehood
but I love your law.
164 Seven times a day I praise you
for your righteous laws.
165 Great peace have those who love your law,
and nothing can make them stumble.
166 I wait for your salvation, Lord,
and I follow your commands.
167 I obey your statutes,
for I love them greatly.168 I obey your precepts and your statutes,
for all my ways are known to you.
In the midst of his suffering at the hands of his enemies he was able to speak of rejoicing in God’s promises (v. 162) and of finding great peace in loving God’s word (v. 165), confident that all his ways are known to the Lord (v. 168).
And Jesus? The author of Hebrews summarizes his attitude below:
For the joy set before him he [Jesus] endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:2)
And He did that for you and me! To give us new life in Him. This Easter give thanks for all that Jesus has done for us and determine to live for him, whatever the cost.
[So] … let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, 2 fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. 3 Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. (Hebrews 12:1-3)