Old Testament: Psalm 66:8-20 (Easter 6: Series A)

Reading Time: 8 mins

He is the one who saves us at just the right time.

If you are fan of theatre, whether classical or contemporary, you are no doubt familiar with the concept of Deus ex Machina. In the ancient world it is the moment in theatre where a character, usually a god or goddess, intervenes in an action to resolve a problem. It resolves the final conflict, and it fixes the plot. It is the solution to the overwhelming problem at the end and, without this intervention, the conflict could not have been resolved otherwise. You actually know this plot device. It is the scene where Gandalf comes in on the Eagles at Mount Doom in the 2003 Lord of the Rings: Return of the King. It is the bridge scene with Tom Hanks at the end of the 1998 blockbuster Saving Private Ryan or it is one of my personal favorites as the closing scene in the 2009 film Terminator Salvation.

For those of you who missed it, spoiler alert, Sam Worthington plays Marcus Wright a man who comes back from the dead to discover he is more than a man. He is a machine with nearly unstoppable, divine-like powers, and he has come to save all of humanity. It is an action flick so do not read too much into it. Being an action movie, the plot moves along because you cannot kill him. The discovery that he is a man who is really an apocalyptic machine puts him in direct conflict with John Connor, played by Christian Bale, who believes Marcus Wright has come to destroy them all. He does not trust the machine, though he wants to trust the man. In the end, John Connor needed Marcus Wright because of a grievous and fatal wound. John Connor was going to die unless he could get a new heart by transplant. Fortunately for John Connor, Marcus Wright (conveniently) had a human heart and was willing to give it to John Connor to save him and the rest of humanity. Again, do not read too much into it.

This act of “self-giving” puts the Salvation part to the title of this Terminator franchise movie. It is also a prime example of the Deus ex Machina moment with the added bonus of Sam Worthington’s character being quite literally a machine as well. This act of giving his life and heart for another out of pure grace is what saved humanity, after a fair number of theatrical explosions, from the literal apocalypse. Deus ex Machina by definition is a “person or thing that appears or is introduced suddenly and unexpectedly and provides a solution to an apparently insoluble difficulty.”[1]

Our text from Psalm 66:16-19 contains a Deus ex Machina moment which is no fiction or literary device. Instead, by the truth of God’s Word, it is a moment of pure grace which literally happened for you in your true and living savior Jesus Christ. This psalm of thanksgiving belongs to the second major collection within the Psalter (Psalms 42–72) and is a perfect Psalm to preach in the Easter season. If we were to break down the Psalm, we would notice the first section (verses 8–12) includes an introductory statement of thanksgiving (verse 8), and a description of God’s deliverance (verses 9–12). The second section (verses 13–15) focuses on a sacrifice of thanksgiving. The third section, which we will focus on for this sermon (verses 16–19), confesses God as our deliverer by means of the gift of life found in His grace towards sinners.

To zero in on the preachable part of our text, we will notice the chiastic structure of verses 16-19. I will underline the words and list them chiastically (A1-A2-B1-B2-C) so you can see it.

16 Come and hear (A1), all you who fear God,

and I will tell what he has done for my soul (B1).

17 I cried to him with my mouth (C),

and high praise was on my tongue (C).

18 If I had cherished iniquity in my heart (B2),

the Lord would not have listened.

19 But truly God has listened (A2);

he has attended to the voice of my prayer.

Or in summary:

A1 Hear and I will tell.

            B1 Soul (he has done for my soul) [Gospel].

                        C Mouth and Tongue both confess need and praise for Good News.

            B2 I have sin in my heart which prevents God from hearing me.

A2 Listen and know that He has attended to our prayer by saving us.

At this point you might cry FOUL! B1 and B2 are not the same! This is not a chiastic structure!

However, according to the Bible, the heart is the center not only of spiritual activity, but of all the operations of human life which includes the soul. In Hebrew Poetry, you can have “heart” and “soul” in parallel to each other, because “heart” and “soul” are often used interchangeably. Like soul and spirit, heart is a Biblical term which occasionally represents the individual (Genesis 18:5; Leviticus 19:17; Psalm 104:15; also see Matthew 13:15 with 1 Corinthians 2:10).

However, according to the Bible, the heart is the center not only of spiritual activity, but of all the operations of human life which includes the soul.

But there is an even bigger problem with B2. My heart has the ability and desire to cherish sin. In fact, which is exactly what our hearts have done. We have hearts full of sin and the dire wound of sin is fatal (Romans 6:23). In direct defiance to every Valentine’s Day platitude and almost every 80’s rock ballad, God’s Word tells us: Do not trust your heart. In fact, listen to God’s Word from Jeremiah 17:9-13:

“The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it? I the Lord search the heart and test the mind, to give every man according to his ways, according to the fruit of his deeds. Like the partridge that gathers a brood that she did not hatch, so is he who gets riches but not by justice; in the midst of his days they will leave him, and at his end he will be a fool. A glorious throne set on high from the beginning is the place of our sanctuary. O Lord, the hope of Israel, all who forsake You shall be put to shame; those who turn away from You shall be written in the earth, for they have forsaken the Lord, the fountain of living water.”

That is the sentence your heart has earned before a righteous God. It always reminds me of Bo Giertz in his work The Hammer of God. The scene where poor pietistic Fridfeldt was almost in tears saying:

“But sir, if you do not give your heart to Jesus, you cannot be saved.” The older wiser pastor responds: “You are right, my boy. And it is just as true that, if you think you are saved because you give Jesus your heart, you will not be saved. You see, my boy,” he continued reassuringly, as he continued to look at the young pastor’s face, in which uncertainty and resentment were shown in a struggle for the upper hand, “it is one thing to choose Jesus as one’s Lord and Savior, to give him one’s heart and commit oneself to him, and that he now accepts one into his little flock; it is a very different thing to believe on him as a Redeemer of sinners, of whom one is chief. One does not choose a Redeemer for oneself, you understand, nor give one’s heart to him. The heart is a rusty old can on a junk heap. A fine birthday gift, indeed! But a wonderful Lord passes by, and has mercy on the wretched tin can, sticks his walking cane through it, and rescues it from the junk pile and takes it home with him. That is how it is.”[2]

Jeremiah says as much in verse 14 of chapter 17: “Heal me, O Lord, and I shall be healed; save me, and I shall be saved, for You are my praise.”

Psalm 66 and Jeremiah 17 show us we need a transplant. God, who at first when we were in sin was our enemy bent on the ending of our world for sin, has now become the God who saves us at just the right time, at Easter time! He is not Deus ex Machina, but Deus Pro Nobis in Christi (God for us in Christ). He is the one who saves us at just the right time (Galatians 4:4). He gave His life and His very heart for you on the cross and God removes your heart of stone and gives you the heart of Jesus which beats with resurrection life eternally by the power of the Holy Spirit who gives you the faith to believe this good news (Ezekiel 36:26-27).

God, who at first when we were in sin was our enemy bent on the ending of our world for sin, has now become the God who saves us at just the right time, at Easter time.

A possible structure to help preach this text might be the Classical Argument Structure.

“This structure interprets the teaching of the sermon as a point at issue in contemporary argument. In response, the sermon progresses according to the five parts of an argumentative discourse in classical rhetoric:  exordiumnarratioconfirmatiorefutatio, and peroratio.

The introduction (exordium) fosters goodwill with the hearers and leads them to the general theme of the sermon. The narration (narratio) offers the basic facts under consideration in this argument. The preacher focuses upon the material that needs to be known and states it briefly, clearly, and plausibly for the hearers. He then leads the hearers from that material to a confession (confirmatio) and a defense (refutatio) of the teaching. In situations where the hearers are congenial, the speaker usually moves from a confession of the teaching to a defense of that teaching in the face of opposing arguments. In situations where the hearers are less congenial but not hostile, the preacher may need to begin with a defense of the teaching (that names and refutes the opposing viewpoints) before moving to the confession of the teaching. This way, the argument that would prevent hearers from considering the teaching is dismissed before the teaching is then fully examined and confessed. Regardless of the order of these two sections, the confirmation (confirmatio) offers the hearers the material that supports the teaching of the sermon. Usually, the arrangement of these points begins with the strongest argument to be made for the case, lest the hearers feel that the argument is getting weaker as the sermon progresses. The refutation (refutatio) names and refutes the arguments opposing the teaching. In this section, the preacher anticipates the objections of his hearers (or the culture in which his hearers live) and seeks to portray such objections honestly. The preacher seeks to refute the opposition and thereby strengthen his own argument. The conclusion (peroratio) offers the hearers a summary of the main points supporting the theme of the sermon and seeks to form an appropriate response in the hearers. The conclusion, therefore, keeps the teaching of the sermon central in the minds of the hearers and appeals both to the head and to the heart.”[3]

Sermon Outline

  • Exordium
    • Explore the concept of the Deus ex Machina and list examples from movies they like.
      • The more common the movie selection the more buy in your hearers have.
  • Narratio 
    • In Psalm 66:16-19 we see that we have a heart problem. We need deliverance.
      • Problem of cherishing iniquity in our heart.
  • Confirmatio 
    • Jeremiah 17:9-13 nails the problem down. We need a Savior.
      • The strongest point for law development
  • Refutatio (This is the point at issue in the contemporary argument)
    • But here we use Fridfeldt’s story to exploit the common problem of people giving Jesus their heart.
      • This move anticipates the objections of the hearers (treats fairly). But it drives the point home. We need a new heart. Only Christ’s heart will do! On the Cross, Jesus gives His heart to you. There is the surgery site on Golgotha and transplant center for you in the Gospel. Only the Resurrection makes it a living beating heart for you. The resurrection is resuscitation, revivification, and the successful bypass of your heart. The total transplant and the new life which saved you and all of humanity.

  • Peroratio
    • The truth is greater than fiction. God is not a Deus ex Machina, but a Deus Pro Nobis Christi. Your heart fatally filled with sin has been removed by the open-hearted, self-giving of Christ on the cross for you. Now, in His resurrection, you have His life-giving heart beating in your chest by the power of the Holy Spirit who created your new heart by faith in Christ alone.
      • Romans 5:6 and Galatians 4:4


Additional Resources:

Craft of Preaching-Check out our previous articles on Acts 17:16-31.

Concordia Theology-Various helps from Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, MO to assist you in preaching Acts 17:16-31.

Text Week-A treasury of resources from various traditions to help you preach Acts 17:16-31.


[1] Inc Merriam-Webster, Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary. (Springfield, MA: Merriam-Webster, Inc., 2003).

[2] Bo Giertz, Hammer of God, (Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Books, 2004), 146-147.

[3] https://concordiatheology.org/sermon-structs/thematic/classical-argument/