Psalm 74:20 Have regard for the covenant,
for the dark places of the land are full of the habitations of violence.
21 Let not the downtrodden turn back in shame;
let the poor and needy praise your name.
The Gospel is an answer to prayer. The Gospel is God’s idea before it is anything else so when I say that the Gospel is an answer to prayer I do not mean that a mere human came up with it and somehow, through prayer, convinced God that it was a good idea. But God brings to fruition, plans made from before the creation of the world, by answering prayer. He does it all the time. He does it every time a prayer is answered. God, in answer to prayer, brings about things that He had planned to bring about long before the one who prays had ancestors. It is how God works and it is a stunning thing that should make us bow.
The entrance of sin into the world wreaked havoc upon mankind, the planet earth and the whole created order. And they are all in dire need of rescue. God covenanted with a sinful and undeserving people to save them. For the glory of His own name He will, in the words of this Psalm, in the words of the prayer of the Psalmist Asaph, enter the dark places of the world and rescue His chosen ones from themselves. He will prevent them from becoming victims of the horrors that life in a sin twisted world has become by going to where they are and getting them out.
The writer of this Psalm would have made this plea for rescue regarding the people of Israel of course. He calls upon God to remember the Abrahamic covenant and the Mosaic covenant. It seemed then, as it seems now, that the darkness of the land was going to triumph over the covenant that God had made. But Asaph knows that when God makes a covenant, God can keep it; that He cannot but keep it. If God will remember the covenant He has made with Israel, and enter into the places where sin has darkened even the lives of the covenant people, there is hope. If He will come down and do what only God can do, then the people will come back to keep their side of the covenant promises of God. What must happen is that God must enter into the dark places, and Asaph knows that God is full of mercy and grace and love for His people and is willing to tread the moral sewers of humanity in order to rescue His covenant people from sins effects. And God answered Asaph’s prayer. He answered it in old covenant Israel when He came down and restored His people from Assyria and Babylon and Persia.
But there would be greater ways than that, whereby He would answer this inspired request. God Himself would do the unfathomably great work of actually becoming one of us. He would send His eternal divine Son to enter the darkness in ways far beyond what Asaph envisioned when he made the request in the first place. Asaph would never have dared to request that God become human and live life here in all its hardships, and actually endure the punishment of His heavenly Father reserved for those who had committed untold atrocities against Him, and remove forever the wrath that must abide upon a sinful people. But that is what the God to whom Asaph prayed did in answer to this prayer.
That is how God answered this prayer. It is how He answers it still. But it does not stop there. The God who heard Asaph’s prayer and answered it in the incarnation, crucifixion, resurrection, ascension, and intercession, is still entering the dark places of the world today to rescue His covenant people from the effects of their own sin and the sins of others upon them. The Son of God has all power in heaven and on earth and since He does we are commanded to go into the dark places of the planet as His ambassadors and give the news that people do not have to stay in the darkness. The Son of God came into the darkness because He is a covenant keeping God. He made a covenant to rescue chosen people from their sins and the effects of sin on them. He came because He is the God who cannot lie and He promised to make Abraham the father of a great nation so that all the nations of the world would be blessed through him. And every time a soul wakes up and sees the darkness it is in and sees the light of the Gospel of God in the face of Jesus Christ, He is keeping His covenant and answering Asaph’s prayer.
But they will not become aware of the darkness if no one tells them. And they will not come out of the darkness on their own. Someone has to go into the darkness and be there with the people who dwell there and help them and urge upon them and be one of them except in the practices of the darkness. And the only ones who will do that are those who have been rescued out of the darkness themselves. Asaph prayed a thousand years before Jesus was born that God would enter the darkness and rescue the people of the covenant. God heard him. He is hearing him still and believers today need not fear entering the darkness. God sends us nowhere He does not go Himself. He sends us nowhere He has not already been. He sends us nowhere without the power and authority of Jesus Christ.
II Corinthians 4:3 And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. 4 In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. 5 For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. 6 For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.
Getting people out of the darkness is a creative act of God. We cannot do that. But we are called to give the Gospel in dark places and God chooses, through that proclamation of the Christ honouring Gospel, to create life. Because God has made a covenant. Because Asaph prayed.
What stops us from entering the dark places when we do not go there? Fear? Love of self? Contentment with our salvation while harbouring a callous disregard for the souls of those in the dark? A false gospel hidden in the heart that prevents some from knowing that they are in the darkness themselves? Would it help us to give the Gospel if we could see it in the light of God keeping an eternal covenant and bringing to pass a plan hatched before the world was made and being a part of the work that Jesus finished on the cross? Would it help to know that entering the dark places is what God Himself did and what others did for us? Would it help to know that when we give the Gospel in whatever dark places we are sent, that God is answering prayers offered thousands of years ago? All those things are true.
It is a stunning thing to remember that God is still answering prayers such as Asaph’s. It is even more stunning to consider that God uses us to bring those prayers to be answered. May such incredible truth help us to give this glorious Gospel to whomever God puts in our pathways.