LORD’S DAY MORNING SERVICE, 28 June 2020
Sermon Text: Psalm 124:1-8
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I. A song in recognition of our weakness
II. A song in remembrance of God’s deliverance
III. A song of contentment in our Saviour God
Since the end of last year, close to a half million people have died in the world by the COVID-19 outbreak. This number of death is twice of the death toll of the First Gulf War in 1990-91 and similar to that of the Second Gulf War which took place over the period of 8 years from 2003 to 2011. In only six or so months, about a half million people have died. There was no noise of firing rifle or missile, nor the smell of explosives, but the invisible coronavirus has taken away so many lives. CBS, a well-known American mass media company, posted last week a news article in memory of various victims of COVID-19 which included White House staff, police officer, illusionist, nurse, community leader, business owner, church pastor, war veteran, baseball legend, teacher, father, grandmother and so on, just to name a few. There have been no discrimination on race, age, wealth or education level; anyone and everyone is under the threat of this virus. We Australians feel quite blessed as we’ve faced not too many casualties unlike many other nations. Yet, who can give us a word of guarantee that we’d be like this for a long time on this island-continent?
David of this 124th psalm knew the answer, that is, ‘No one can, because no one knows what lies ahead.’ That’s what he means when he begins this psalm with these words: “If it had not been the LORD who was on our side”! If God didn’t care, all would’ve been doomed; if the Lord was not with us, we would’ve been gone long ago. Saying this, David felt blessed – like you and I do at this particular moment in time – because he was spared, because he wasn’t swept away unlike many others.
Heaving a sigh of relief, David turns his eyes to God, his Deliverer, and sings this song of thanks. Moreover, being inspired by the Holy Spirit, he invites and urges all his fellow worshippers, including us, to sing this song together with him. Inviting others, he speaks on behalf of the Holy Spirit that it is right and appropriate for worshippers to give thanks and appreciation to God for His merciful deliverance from all troubles and dangers. God delights in receiving from His worshippers their humble and contrite heart. And this song David sings and invites others to join him is a song for the contrite and lowly in spirit to sing when they, when we come to worship Him. This is a song God delights to hear from his worshippers.
No wonder why this psalm is included in the so-called Songs of Ascents which we’ve been looking at as a sermon series. We as God’s church are invited to sing this song in worship; as we sing this song, we present our contrite heart to God and give thanks to Him for His grace.
Having said, I want you to pick up three elements in this song of our thanks to God as introduced by David. They are, recognition of our weakness, remembrance of God’s deliverance and contentment in our Deliverer, the God of heaven and earth. So, when we come to God in worship, we sing to God our song of thankfulness with these three elements.
I. A SONG IN RECOGNITION OF OUR WEAKNESS
And it begins with our recognition of our own weakness. Our appreciation to God rises from this; our understanding of our own weakness is the fountain from which our gratitude to God springs. After all, if anyone thinks he’s strong and able to save himself, he cannot thank anybody, not even God. Anyone who realises his weakness can notice God’s favour and goodwill toward him, and appreciate Him for it.
David, our psalmist, has seen his weakness in many occasions in his life and, through the Holy Spirit’s ministry, realised his total inability to save himself. So, he begins and says in v. 1, “If it had not been the LORD who was on our side.” I believe you’d know what I mean if I say I could almost see him shivering as he said this. More than once in the early phase of his life in the palace of King Saul, David had to quickly react and avoid Saul’s spear hurled at him. A few days later, his wife, Michal, had to lower him down through the window at night to save his life from the king. Then, caves in the wilderness were his haven for some years; he sought political asylum at Israel’s enemies. After many years’ trouble, he finally sat on the king’s throne, yet, fierce enemies of Israel like Philistines and Moabites constantly came against him and threatened the nation. Once the attacks from without were settled down, he had to run again swiftly from a deadly threat from within, that is, from his own son, Absalom. At every turn in his life, he found his weakness, his inability to keep even his own life. So he says, “If it had not been the LORD who was on our side.”
Moreover, through the Holy Spirit’s wisdom, David realised that all men on earth as well as the nation Israel, God’s chosen nation, were altogether weak. None is strong; none has power to save oneself. Everyone is like a light before the wind, before a mighty storm. So he urges Israel to repeat after him, saying, “let Israel now say – if it had not been the LORD who was on our side.” He means that all of Israel must recognise how weak and vulnerable they are before this wind and, unless God was on their side, unless God saved them from all troubles, they would’ve been gone, swept away from the surface of the earth and forgotten forever as if they had never existed.
David explains in this psalm how threatening the wind is and how weak everyone is. He puts it in various ways. The first two illustrations are in v. 3 and it begins with a dreadful beast which could swallow all up alive. Because of its size and speed and power, no possibility is there for escape. The next picture is fire that would quickly rise and engulf everyone and everything nearby.
I believe many of you have seen on TV or internet at least one video clip about the disastrous Boxing Day tsunami happened in Thailand in 2004. Everyone who happened to be on the beach at the time of that tsunami was swept away; there wasn’t any time for run or escape from the raging water. Such a sudden rush of water is another picture David draws in v. 4 as the troubles and calamities that come to all people, even to God’s chosen nation Israel. It’s a flood, torrent and raging waters. Before such troubles, everyone is in imminent peril with no escape.
Coronavirus is a good example of such an unexpected and unavoidable destruction. All of us alike are vulnerable to this kind of threat. Even protective gears for medical practitioners cannot give a guaranteed protection.
Not only such major troubles of man, but also tiny things of each one’s everyday living could turn individual’s fate around. While driving, for example, in just a second or two, as you turn your eyes away from your path, anything could happen. As you walk, a jagged edge of the pavement could trip you; as you do your gardening, a spider bite could turn everything you’ve been doing around to a completely different direction. Out of blue, your doctor could say to you, ‘I’m sorry, there’s nothing I can do for you.’ We’re, all of us are weak as a bubble, as David says in another psalm, Ps. 39:5, “Surely, all mankind stands as a mere breath!” and in Ps. 144:2, “[our] days are like a passing shadow.”
So, recognition of our weakness lifts our eyes up, away from ourselves, to look at the One who guards us and keeps us safe from all troubles and calamities. Coming to Him in worship with this understanding is to come with a ‘broken’ heart.
Yet, this ‘broken’ heart comes more importantly from our realisation of our inability to resist sin and avoid its devastating price, that is, death and eternal damnation. Sin is like a ‘snare’ as David puts in v. 7. This sin is invisible to our eyes and undetectable with our senses. It’s cunning and deceitful and deadly.
More stunningly, we fly into this deadly snare. In another word, we’re prone to fly into it; we’re born to like falling into it. See the illustration David uses in this psalm. We’re like a ‘bird,’ says David. Fowlers know the nature of the birds they’re after. So, they spread their nets according to the nature of the birds. They don’t run after the birds, swinging butterfly nets – no; but the birds fly into the fowlers’ net. This is our ultimate and deadly weakness. No bird is special; no bird outwits the fowlers; all flock into the net, into the deadly snare. This is our fatal weakness and realising this weakness of ours is the beginning of our thanks to our God, our Deliverer, and every heart that approaches God in worship with this understanding is a ‘broken and contrite’ heart. David is inviting all true worshippers to sing this song of thanks, based on our common weakness.
II. A SONG IN REMEMBRANCE OF GOD’S DELIVERANCE
So far, I’ve explained our need of recognising our weakness in our approach God in worship. And I’ve spent almost 2/3 of my time allocated for delivering today’s message.
But this is necessary simply because when a worshipper realises that all things come not by ‘chance,’ not by ‘luck,’ not by his ‘wit,’ but only by his Deliverer’s mercy and grace, he could look back in his life and find God’s care, protection, guidance and blessing at every second in his life. And he falls on his knees, having his arms outstretched toward heaven and declares, “if it had not been the LORD who was on our side / when people rose up against us, / then they would have swallowed us up alive, / when their anger was kindled against us; / then the flood would have swept us away, / the torrent would have gone over us; / then over us would have gone the raging waters”!
Moreover, remembering how God saved him/her from the snare of sin, thus, freed the worshipper from death, delivered from eternal damnation, by breaking the snare – that is, through tearing the flesh of Jesus, the Son of God, and shedding His blood on the cross – the worshipper repeats after David’s words in v. 6, “Blessed be the LORD, / who has not given us as prey to their teeth!”
This is why most of this psalm is in the past tense (except the last verse and that’s, of course, with a purpose which I’ll explain in a minute). Almost entire psalm is about what happened in the past and its result at the present. The point is that God delivered us from sin and we now live; God granted His grace to us and we have our being at the present; Jesus broke the power of Satan and we’re now able to call upon the name of God, and more, in the Spirit, cry, ‘Abba, Father!’ What we are now is the result of what God has done in the past, and this includes every second that passes by even now.
So, every worshipper comes to God with a broken and contrite heart, that is, a heart that realises his/her weakness toward sin and its temptations, a heart that understands that he/she cannot resist the devil unless God helps and delivers him/her. Having come with this broken heart, then, the only thing left with the worshipper is to give thanks to the Lord for all things. So begins this song of thankfulness from the heart of all true Christians in worship.
Someone explained the basic difference between a prisoner and a Christian. The difference is between griping and gratitude. Undoubtedly this is true. Imprisoned criminals spend every waking moment griping; and Christians spend every waking moment offering thanks. When a criminal becomes a Christian, a prison may become a church. But when a Christian gives up gratitude, a church may become a prison.
So, look at these words of Ps. 124 that are saturated with the depth of David’s thankful heart toward God, and join him in the Spirit and say, “If it had not been the LORD who was on our side / when people rose up against us, / then they would have swallowed us up alive. … Blessed be the LORD, who has not given us as prey to their teeth!” As it makes David’s hair stand on end, his spirit remembers God’s deliverance and rejoices to the end!
III. A SONG OF CONTENTMENT IN OUR SAVIOUR GOD
Having said, David our psalmist draws our attention to God one last time as their Helper who will always be on our side. He’ll provide us an inexhaustible help, based on His inextinguishable love for us, His children. In this psalm, David has been calling God by this specific name, that is, Jehovah or Yahweh, the name God introduced Himself to Israel when He made a covenant, promise, with them, saying, ‘I’ll be your God and you’ll be My people.’
Also, this God whose name is Jehovah is the Creator God of all things that exist. Heavens are His and things on earth and under the water belong to Him alone. Our God’s power is limitless, and His wisdom and wealth are immeasurable. Most importantly, He is faithful to His dear ones. And He promised to us that He’d be our Helper now and always. So, find contentment in Him, David joyfully urges all.
David emphasises this in another psalm, that is, Ps. 20:7, saying that “some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the LORD [here again, ‘Jehovah’] our God.” In this way, Ps. 124 is a song of contentment in our Saviour God who made heaven and earth.
Now, let me summarise what we’ve heard so far in a simple way. When you and I enter this house of worship on every Lord’s Day to worship our God, we should remember our weakness in body and soul. We ought to remember how many occasions we could’ve said during the past week, ‘Whew, that was close!’ We must remember how many temptations, snares of the devil, we’ve faced, and could’ve fallen, unless God protected us in His marvellous grace. Then, remember these words of Ps. 124, “If it had not been the LORD who was on our side … they would have swallowed us up alive”!
Then, the Spirit of God will lead you and me to confess and say, following the next line of this psalm, “Blessed be the LORD, who has not given us as prey to [the devil]”!
Then, again, the Spirit of God will fill our hearts with the joy of our Saviour God, and lead our soul to find contentment in Him through Jesus who enabled all these in us through His death and resurrection! ***