LORD’S DAY MORNING WORSHIP SERVICE – 7 June 2020
Sermon Text: Psalm 120:1-7
I. The great truth of prayer (v. 1)
II. The earnest desire of the believer (v. 2)
III. The constant defiance of the perpetrator (vs. 3-4)
IV. The persistent strife on earth (vs. 5-7)
I believe it’s God leading us to listen to the words of this 120th psalm today; and, on the following Lord’s Days in June and July, of some psalms that are classified as the ‘Songs of Ascents.’ Saying, the ‘Songs of Ascents,’ I mean fifteen psalms from 120 to 134 which are songs the OT church sang as they approached the temple of the Lord for worship.
Having just returned today to our normal Sunday worship time at 10 am, having all of our congregation gathered together once again on this day, it is surprisingly timely for us to read and meditate on this first one of the fifteen psalms that are called the ‘Songs of Ascents.’ As those worshippers in the OT sang on their way to Jerusalem, the city of God, we read and meditate this psalm, this song, together with them, despite a several thousand years’ time gap between them and us. As much as they longed to be at the temple of the Lord, we have, for the past ten weeks, looked forward to being at this house of worship altogether. As much as the OT believers sought heavenly comfort in the midst of God worshippers, we’ve been looking forward to being in the midst of the Lord’s congregation, and having the comfort of praising and worshipping the Lord. And both of us – the worshippers of the Old and the NTs – sing the same song, that is, this 120th psalm and the rest of the Songs of Ascents. What a great and timely blessing of the Lord!
So, rejoicing in Christ our Lord, let us take a look at the very word of God given to us through the psalmist in this 120th psalm.
I. THE GREAT TRUTH OF PRAYER (v. 1)
Right in the beginning of this psalm, we hear the psalmist pouring out his heart, saying, “In my distress I called to the LORD.” Because of this ‘distress,’ and the cry for help in v. 2, “Deliver me, O LORD,” many people think that this psalm is a melancholy psalm. To be sure, it is downbeat, a blues, if you like to classify it in terms of musical genre. It is not a song of joyful dancing. But, it’s not a lament at all, nor is it a song for a defeated troop. This psalm declares a great truth all true worshippers of God uphold with full confidence.
So, it begins with this, “In my distress I called to the LORD,” then, reveals the great truth of prayer, saying, “and He [the Lord God Almighty] answered me.” Take note of the tense of its action word – ‘I made my petition to God and He answered me; I spoke to Him in prayer and He heard my words; I said, ‘I’m distressed,’ and God comforted me.’ The great truth for all true believers at all times is this, that our God hears us and answers us! I bring to Him, my distressed heart, and He removes my distress, and renews it, fills it, with His comfort and joy! Do you see why this psalm is not a dour psalm, but a lively and animated psalm?
If the first verse started, “In my distress I called to the LORD,” and went straight to v. 2, saying, “Deliver me, O LORD,” then, it would’ve been one of the gloomy and sad psalms. But that’s not the case; it has a truly delightful insert, that is, “and He answered me”! This truth our psalmist reveals is not, ‘God WILL answer someday,’ nor ‘He MIGHT answer,’ but ‘He ANSWERED me as I opened up my mouth, and poured out my distressed heart before Him’! What a delightful truth this is!
So, with this beginning, this psalm deserves to be positioned as the first and opening psalm of the fifteen Songs of Ascents. You don’t come to the Lord’s house with a long face. Rather, you come deeply excited. Of course, when you come to God, your face might occasionally be long, with your anxiety, with your worries and distress and various troubles. But your heart and soul are surely filled with hope and excitement, knowing that the Lord will hear you, and expecting to hear His answer to your prayers. Like the OT pilgrims sang this song of hope and excitement on their way to Jerusalem, to the Lord’s temple, we of the NT worshippers sing the same joyful truth. And altogether we sing and say, ‘In our distress we call to the Lord, and He answers us!’ This truth we share throughout the generations because it is the truth that covers the whole universe, and expands from both ends of eternity time.
So, our psalmist is excited in the very beginning of his song here. He doesn’t deny that he is distressed – no one in this world is free from distress. Especially true followers of Christ Jesus are extremely distressed in this world, as our psalmist describes in the following verses of this psalm. But, because of this fact that our gracious Lord hears us, and answers to us, we look to the place where God waits for us, we look to the presence of our great God, and desire to be there with Him. And so we come to His worship, gather together in this house of worship, just like our OT fellow believers congregated in the temple of the Lord in Jerusalem, the city of God.
Over the last ten weeks, we’ve experienced this longing for the house of God, haven’t we? We longed to be at church, in the house of worship, together with all fellow Christians. We yearned to be comforted by the Lord who hears our distress call and answers in His grace. This universal truth is the firm basis of the joy every believer embraces in his/her approach to God in worship!
II. THE EARNEST DESIRE OF THE BELIEVER (v. 2)
Approaching the Lord’s temple, calling the name of the Lord in worship, what does our psalmist seek? In other words, what is his earnest desire? The answer is given in v. 2 with these words, “Deliver me, O LORD”! In fact, this is the desire of all and every Christian. The earnest and ultimate desire of every soul who comes to God is for this prayer, “Deliver me, O LORD.”
Again, this prayer is not a downcast, heavyhearted sobbing. Rather, it is a calm plea made to God, based on this worshipper’s firm belief in his Lord, who will surely cover His children with His mighty hands and deliver them out of distress and troubles. If this prayer was made on a street or in the field or anywhere else, being engaged in the affairs of this world, it would’ve meant a slightly different nuance – possibly with sobbing, if not with tears, then, in spirit, with a heavy heart. But surely not in the case of coming to the Lord’s house for worship. Our psalmist is coming to the Lord, leaving all things behind. Walking uphill – as Jerusalem was on a hill, about 754 metres above the sea level – he is looking forward to having the Lord’s deliverance, and enjoying it in the presence of his heavenly Father. I don’t mean that any place on earth actually guarantees the Lord’s presence, thus, His tangible deliverance for any Christian; I mean, our spiritual encounter with the Father in worship. So, as our psalmist does, we too approach our Heavenly Father through Jesus our Lord, expecting firmly – not in a way of crossing fingers, but remembering the Lord’s promise made through Jesus – that our Father in heaven will deliver us from our distress, from our anxiety, from our troubles.
Then, from what do we seek the Lord’s deliverance? You’d pray, saying, ‘Oh, God, I’m troubled; so, save me, I earnestly pray! And I know that You’ll surely deliver me!’ Then, if God asks you, ‘From what trouble do you want Me to free you?’ What would be your answer? Would you answer like, ‘I’m greatly troubled because of this virus pandemic; so, save me from the virus’; ‘My trouble is my business; or I can’t cope with the mortgage; so please deliver me from this financial difficulty.’ Otherwise, would it be your health, or unclear future, or any relational strain?
No, none of those could be your answer. Your answer is ‘deliverance,’ rescue “from lying lips, from a deceitful tongue” as the psalmist says in v. 2. About this ‘lying lips,’ Prov. 12:22 enlightens us with its true identity in these words, “Lying lips are an abomination to the LORD.” Ps. 31:18 adds these words, “Let the lying lips be mute, which speak insolently against the righteous in pride and contempt.” The ancient serpent in the Garden of Eden had this ‘lying lips’; and, with its lying lips, drew our first parents into sin against God. So, the psalmist’s earnest desire for deliverance is from the evil, the enemy of the righteous, and from all his evil schemes. Our Lord Jesus taught us to pray the same, didn’t He? He said, “Pray … like this: Our Father in heaven … lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” ‘Deliver us from evil’ whose lips are full of lie, deceit and slander! ‘Deliver me, deliver us, gracious and mighty Father, from evil!’ is the earnest desire of all Christians.
Once we’re delivered from evil, freed from his temptations, then, we’d be able to worship with deep joy in our souls, love Christ our Saviour for His grace, love our fellow members of God’s household, love and serve Christ’s church with all our heart and mind and strength! So, ‘deliver me, Father; deliver us all, Father, from the devil!’
And how delightful it is that our Father in heaven hears us, and answers us, even this our earnest desire for deliverance from our enemy Satan! All true worshippers have this joy in their mind when they come to God in worship. Only difference is that, some are conscious of it, whereas some others are in the process of realising this joyful truth. Now, hearing this, I believe that you all are now aware of our common desire in our prayer which is the commonly shared joy in our Heavenly Father.
III. THE CONSTANT DEFIANCE OF THE PERPETRATOR (vs. 3-4)
Now, our psalmist turns our attention to God’s action toward the devil and all its followers. This could be a part of God’s answer to our prayer, our earnest desire for deliverance from evil. Listen to the words of vs. 3-4,
“What shall be given to you, and what more shall be done to you, you deceitful tongue?
A warrior’s sharp arrows, with glowing coals of the broom tree!”
We all know this expression by experience, don’t we? “What shall be given to you, and what more shall be done to you, you deceitful tongue?” It means nothing will straighten its bent, evil nature; so, complete destruction is the only option here. As we hear these words, a motion picture is rolling in my mind – God, in His anguish, shakes His head at the devil, and says these words, ‘You deserve a total and complete destruction!’ So, a warrior’s sharp arrows which penetrates its heart and eternally stops his lying lips and deceitful tongue! That’s not all in this picture; its corpse is to be burnt with ‘glowing coals of the broom tree,’ and its existence would be completely wiped away alongside any memory of it from the earth. It might sound cruel, but that’s how deep God’s anger is against the devil.
The psalmist’s point is that we who are true worshippers of God, being washed with the blood of the Lamb, Jesus Christ, ought to know that God’s deliverance is a complete deliverance. His salvation is not just for today; and for tomorrow, we might lose it, if we wouldn’t seek it fervently again. No, that’s not the salvation of God. He gave His only Son, Jesus, to die on the cross to save us. And His Son’s death was to pay the penalties of sin we owed to the devil. Then, you guess how deep the Father’s anger against the Satan would be. In addition, His children – that is, you and me and all true Christians – bring this petition to the loving Father, that is, ‘deliver us, Father, from the lying lips, deceitful tongue of our enemy Satan!’ Then, would God not say anything like these words of vs. 3-4?
“What shall be given to you, and what more shall be done to you, you deceitful tongue?
A warrior’s sharp arrows, with glowing coals of the broom tree!”
With the perpetrator’s constant defiance against God’s elect, His dear children like you and me, our Heavenly Father isn’t silent, but pronounces His righteous judgment. When we come to our Father in worship through the righteousness of Jesus Christ, we must remember this. This is an important part of our worship to God. No wonder why the Lord Jesus said in Jn. 16:33, “In the world you will have tribulation,” meaning, ‘you’ll be constantly defied by the devil in the world,’ but Jesus continued, saying, “But take heart; I have overcome the world,” meaning, He (alongside His Father, our Father in heaven) has already declared judgment on our enemy!
IV. THE PERSISTENT STRIFE ON EARTH (vs. 5-7)
The last three verses of this psalm are a reflection of our psalmist on his being in the world and his involvement in the affairs of this world. He sees his sojourning in the land of Meshech, and dwelling among the tents of Kedar. The people of Meshech lived north of Assyria and they were aggressive and pagan. The Kedarites were descendants of Ishmael and lived in the desert-like places south east of Judah, and they were also warring people. Both of these people had constantly been Israel’s enemies. They scarcely appear in the Bible, but their enmity toward Israel was constant.
The psalmist sees his going out and coming in in the world, as if he were living in the midst of those aggressive people who always sought war instead of peace. Wherever he turns his eyes, he sees quarrels, arguments, fights, slanders, hatred and even murders and wars! So, our psalmist says, “I am for peace, but when I speak, they are for war!” He also sees that it will never end; it’s the persistent strife on earth, until God finally shots the devil with a sharp warrior’s arrow ,and burns its presence along with its memory with the fire of hell!
So, like our psalmist, you and I turn our eyes to our gracious and loving Father, being always eager to come to Him in and through Jesus alone, as the Holy Spirit enables. And having come, bow in worship and take rest in our Father who alone is our salvation! This is why every and all true worshippers long deeply and joyfully to be in worship, in the presence of God. David knew this more than anyone, while he was in the wilderness, running away from King Saul. And listen to his words as he longed for the presence of God; it’s from Ps. 63:1-4,
“O God, You are my God; earnestly I seek You;
my soul thirsts for You; my flesh faints for You,
as in a dry and weary land where there is no water.
So I have looked upon You in the sanctuary, beholding Your power and glory.
Because Your steadfast love is better than life, my lips will praise You.
So I will bless You as long as I live; in Your name I will lift up my hands.”
Having listened to our psalmist, what is the lesson? What is the message for us in these words? Being inspired by the Spirit of God, our psalmist gives us a truly important question. That is, ‘Do you come to God in worship, embracing this truth?’ Do you come to God in worship, knowing and firmly believing that, when you pray, your Heavenly Father will listen and answer? Do you leave your distress to God, and leave the church rejoicing, because of this great truth of prayer? Also, when you come to the Lord in worship, do you earnestly seek for His deliverance from evil? Or anything other than that?
When you stand before your Heavenly Father in worship, do you know that Jesus has already overcome the world, the devil, our enemy, and the Father has already declared His final judgment on Satan? So, your salvation, your deliverance by the gracious hand of God in Christ, is for now and ever, to the eternity? And do you rejoice in this truth? And because of all this, do you, and will you long for His worship, while you live and continue your life on earth, looking forward to entering into your eternal home?
As I said earlier, no wonder why this psalm is positioned at the beginning of the collection of Songs of Ascents! It’s like an impressive opening of a drama that draws every reader’s eyes and minds to what follows! So, as the Lord blesses us, we’ll look into the 122nd psalm next Lord’s Day, and be excited with the word of the living God who sought His worshippers, and having called us, delights to receive from us a worship that is in spirit and truth! ***