LORD’S DAY MORNING SERVICE, 26 July 2020
Sermon Text: Psalm 128:1-6
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Sermon Text: Psalm 128:1-6
I. Fearing God
II. Blessing with works
III. Blessing with marriage
This psalm we’ve opened today for meditation is our last psalm in this sermon series with the ‘Songs of Ascents.’ And I’d like to title this psalm we’ve just read as a ‘song of benediction’ or ‘blessing,’ as the entire psalm is about the Lord’s blessing that is promised for all who fear the LORD. It sounds exactly like a benediction you may hear at the end of a worship service, doesn’t it? So, we close the sermon series of Songs of Ascents with the 128th psalm that is a benediction.
I remember the time I used to sit in the pew, instead of standing before the congregation, and attend worship services. As much as I liked arriving at church on time and enjoyed being a part of the worshipping congregation, I loved hearing benediction the minister declared at the end of every service. In the early stage of my Christian life, I thought I liked to hear benediction because that was the end of the service. But as I grew in faith, at a certain point in my spiritual growth, I realised that hearing benediction at the end of each worship service was to receive God’s assured blessing with wisdom and strength so that I and all God’s people might go out into the world and walk together with the Lord. So, now, as I deliver benediction in each service and declare the Lord’s blessing, I’m so grateful to God for the words of benediction delivered to the ears and hearts of His own congregation.
Closing this sermon series with this 128th psalm is, therefore, a blessing to me, and I pray that it is so to all of you here this morning and all who are watching this livestream worship at home.
As I said, a benediction declared in God’s name becomes a blessing to all who come to God in worship, and know that He is the only God who can and willingly bless His beloved. None else but Christians receive it. This is, in fact, the beginning point of understanding this 128th psalm. So, we’ll begin from this point and then, we’ll see God’s blessing promised and given to all God-fearers and worshippers.
I. FEARING GOD
Firstly, God’s blessing is for everyone who fears the Lord. It is repeatedly said in vs. 1 and 4. What it points out is that this blessing is exclusive to God-fearers. God-haters or God-mockers or blasphemers or even those who are indifferent to God are excluded from this blessing. For this reason, a universalist or anyone who believes that all people on earth will eventually be saved disregarding one’s sin or faith in Jesus is wrong, absolutely wrong. I say this because the blessing this psalm talks about is not just a temporal materialistic prosperity, but an eternal salvific spiritual prosperity. You and I and every individual who fear the Lord are the only and exclusive recipients of this blessing.
But before we hear about this blessing, we need to know what ‘fearing God’ means. ‘Fearing God’ is the qualification of its beneficiaries. Then, what is to fear God? And who is the one that fears God?
Simply put, a God-fearer is the one who knows God; he knows that God is the Creator who created all things and living beings; she knows that God is holy – in other words, separate and different from all creatures; and he knows that God is righteous – that is, God is good in all He plans and does without sin; she knows that God is the Saviour God, gracious toward sinners and patient for them to repent from their sins and believe in His Son Jesus.
A God-fearer not only knows this nature and attribute of God, but also realises that God is worthy to receive thanks and praise and worship from all His creatures. So, he bows to his Creator and Saviour; she humbly listens to her Lord’s voice and follows what He teaches. Such a person is God-fearer. The psalm we have opened for today describes a God-fearer in v. 1 as the one who walks in or follows God’s ways. Ps. 119:1 gives more light and tells us that the way of God-fearer is ‘blameless.’ Being ‘blameless’ means something that is ‘completely devoted in following,’ not being astray.
Of course, no one can walk in God ‘s ways blamelessly; we go astray from time to time and cannot wholly devote oneself to following them. We know that, as the Bible clearly teaches us. ‘Walking in God’s ways blamelessly’ means that we do so in Jesus who is the Founder and Perfecter of our faith, and as the Holy Spirit enables us.
So, God-fearers are all who look to God and worship Him, knowing who He is and what He has done to sinners like them through Jesus, His Son, the only Saviour of the world, and devote themselves to following and walking in the Lord’s ways as the Spirit of God enables and guides them. To them alone, God has promised and given His blessing.
II. BLESSING WITH WORKS
Now, let’s move on to see what this blessing God gives to all who fear Him is. First of all, v. 2 tells us that a God-fearer is ‘blessed with his works,’ as it says, “You shall eat the fruit of the labour of your hands.” God’s blessing is that you will be successful with what you do with your hands. You get up in the morning and go to your work and do your job, and you’ll be successful with your work and you’ll receive a plentiful reward; you study and you’ll get a good mark for your work; you build and the work of your hands will stand; you sow and will harvest a good harvest. This is the blessing v. 2 talks about, and such a blessing is prepared for and promised to everyone who fears the Lord. So, come to the Lord, worship Him, listen to His words, and do all He teaches you to do, then, this blessing is yours.
Although this is a literal understanding of v. 2, although this interpretation is valid and legitimate, I cannot stop and leave the matter because what I’ve just said is not a complete picture of God’s blessing. But, unfortunately, a ‘prosperity gospel’ preacher will stop here. And by stopping here, he does not deliver a complete picture of God’s blessing to his people. The message a prosperity-gospel-preacher preaches is that if you do such and such things, God will fill your bank account with much credit, or He will fix your diseases or answer to your specific prayers. But that’s not the full picture of this blessing. In fact, if anyone limits this blessing in a materialistic sense only, he alters the nature of this blessing, thus, alters God’s word. For this reason, Reformed and confessional Christians and churches like us at St Columba’s criticise ‘prosperity gospel’ or ‘prosperity theology’ as a false teaching of God’s word.
The true and complete picture of God’s blessing with our works is much deeper than just a materialistic blessing. To understand this blessing fully, we need to turn our Bible all the way back in time to go to the beginning of time and what happened in Genesis. This blessing is related with the curse God laid on man especially with his work. To be more specific, when Adam and Eve, our common parents, fell in sin, God punished them. As His divine judgment for Adam and all descendants after him, God cursed the work of their hands. Listen to God’s word recorded in Gen. 3:17-19, “Because you have listened to the voice of your wife and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, ‘You shall not eat of it,’ cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground.” This curse is about toil and hardship with works. Man toils but the ground will resist and bear little. I remember a farmer once said that in the season of sowing seeds and their growth, you weed what you have before you in your field and, as you move on, more weeds come up behind you. Not only farming, but also all works fallen mankind does are under the curse of their sin.
But when God speaks here in this psalm about a ‘blessing’ of eating the fruit of the labour of a God-fearer’s hands, when He talks in the second half of v. 2, “you shall be blessed, and it [that is, ‘the labour of your hands’] shall be well with you,” He means cancellation and turnabout of that curse laid on men as the consequence of their sin, and restoration of the original purpose of man. What is that original purpose of man created in God’s image? We find that in Gen. 2:15 where God tells us that He created man, Adam, and took him and put him in the garden of Eden to ‘work’ it and keep it. He was created to tend, manage, keep God’s creation which was good to the eyes of the holy and righteous and all-knowing and omnipotent God. Whatever Adam did in God’s garden, it was ‘well’ with him and pleasing to his Creator’s eyes. So, the blessing that is promised and given to everyone who fears the Lord is ‘cancellation’ of the curse of sin and ‘restoration’ of his/her relationship with the God of creation.
So, if you fear God, knowing who He is and what He deserves from you and all men and women not only as their Creator, but also as the Father of the only Saviour Jesus Christ, then, God blesses you with your work by cancelling the curse that had laid on you, in other words, He restores your relationship with Him, and receives your work as that of Adam done in the garden of Eden. So, you work in this secular world, but God receives it as His, as if you’re God’s engineer, as if you’re God’s receptionist, as if you’re God’s student, as if you’re God’s manager or labourer or whatever in God’s good and beautiful garden. So, if God receives your work, your work would surely be well with you and absolutely fruitful!
For this reason, v. 2 begins and says that “You shall eat the fruit of [your work]”! You’ll be glad and satisfied and thankful to your gracious Father in heaven! Let me introduce you to a man who understood this well and said in Phil. 4, I mean, the Apostle Paul who said this: “I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. … the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need.” Paul doesn’t mean any secret herb or specially prescribed pill that kept him satisfied and content in all situations; he means this blessing Ps. 128:1-2 talk about.
If you grasp what the apostle means, then, you’d understand what he says in the following verse, that famous verse, Phil. 4:13, “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.” God has reverted, cancelled, the curse associated with what you and I do, and restored His original purpose for you and for me, and joyfully receives what our hands do, then, all we do with our hands, with our mouth, with our mind, with our whole being, will surely be well with us and bear much and sufficient fruit, and we’ll enjoy it in our Saviour God! So, I can do all things through Him who strengthens me; you can do all things through the same Lord who restores and renews you with His blessing!
III. BLESSING WITH MARRIAGE
If you see what this means, the next aspect of the Lord’s blessing is easy to grasp. V. 3 points out that this blessing is with marriage and family, saying, “Your wife will be like a fruitful vine within your house; your children will be like olive shoots around your table.” The Lord blesses all who fear Him with marriage and family. In a word, this blessing is a reiteration of the first point we’ve heard. It points out the same blessing from a different angle, the angle of relationship among family members.
Having said, I guess someone might not see this aspect as a blessing of God for God-fearers. They might think that this is for some Christians and not for all God-worshippers. They might see that marriage and family wouldn’t be a part of blessing for Christians, true worshippers of God. That’s because so many families have experienced division, separation and hatred. Disruption is what some Christians remember when they think of family or marriage. So, some might deny or refuse to see that a happy family is a blessing promised for and granted to all who fear the Lord.
This is, in fact, what the Apostle Paul talked about in Phil. 4:11-13. He didn’t say he was always in good situations– no, he said that he was in difficulties and hunger as well as in joy and abundance. But he said that in all those situations, in all those cases, he learned the secret of a God-fearer. He wasn’t always successful in evangelism and mission; in many occasions, he failed. More than once, his work led him so close to be stoned to death; in another occasion, he ran away from those people he had preached the Lord Jesus and His salvation. But all his works were well with him because God received them! Knowing that, seeing that in his life as a God-fearer, Paul called it a ‘secret’ of God’s blessing, because the unbelievers could never understand it.
Likewise, our works may not look successful, may not shine to our eyes as good and pleasant, but as God receives them, they’re good and fruitful and successful as they glorify the Lord!
The same principle applies to the area of marriage and family. Christians mighty experience divorce, separation and so on; God-worshippers could be discouraged with their bad and terrible relationships with their family members. Yet, that is exactly what this blessing is about. Once again, it is about ‘restoration of believer’s relationship with God.’ And because of that restoration, his/her relationship with other members of God’s household is restored.
To explain this more, let me take you back to Genesis again. We go back to Gen. 3, especially to v. 16 and onward where we read God’s words concerning the woman, Eve, our common mother. God said to her, “I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children. Your desire shall be [toward] your husband, but he shall rule over you.” Whereas the curse laid upon Adam was with his work, this curse on Eve was about relationship among family members. That perfect union the first family had had in the garden of Eden was broken in the curse of sin. In this new family relationship, children cause pain to their parent, wife and husband are under a strange relationship with ‘desiring and ruling.’ Previously, before their sin, man worked and managed and kept the garden and woman helped; she was together with her husband’s work, enabling him to accomplish that blessed task by helping him. There wasn’t any ‘ruling,’ there wasn’t any ‘desiring’ in a sense of either dominating or subduing or grabbing hold of. Whatever this ‘desire and rule’ means, the Eden relationship was gone and lost between them.
But, God’s promised blessing for His worshippers is the restoration of that broken relationship. This picture of wife and children is simply a depiction of their restored relationship with God, thus, with one another. If anyone suffers from an ill family relationship, a perfect family is prepared for him and, in fact, has been given to him. What is this family? The family of God! The church he attends as a Communicant member is a shadow of that perfect family that has already been given to him and awaits in heaven for a full and eternal fellowship. The love and fellowship a God-fearing woman enjoys in her church, among her fellow Christians, is a foretaste of her eternal family in God’s kingdom. That’s why this 128th psalm draws some typical terms of the covenant God made with His eternal church, such as a ‘fruitful vine,’ ‘house and table,’ and ‘olive shoots.’ These terms depict God’s kingdom and His blessings for all citizens of His eternal kingdom.
This is further culminated in vs. 5 and 6 where we read about ‘blessing coming from Zion’ and the ‘prosperity of Jerusalem.’ Also, seeing ‘children’s children’ is one of the important terms of explaining God’s covenant faithfulness to His beloved. This term describes the longevity of God’s blessing upon all His children!
Most of all, the ultimate picture of the Lord’s blessing for all God-fearers, for all God-worshippers, for all who walk in the ways of God, is the wedding banquet of Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God, with His bride! And this psalm leads our eyes and souls to that blessing we all wait with eager longing!
This blessing of the Lord is for all who fear God, for all who believe in His Son, Jesus Christ, the Lord and Saviour. No wonder why this song of benediction is classified as one of the 15 songs of ascents and our fellow members of God’s family in the OT sang as they were approaching the throne of God in worship.
So, I urge you, in the name of the Lord, walk in the ways of your God. Walking and following your Lord, enjoy His blessing with your works and with the family of God. Most of all, rejoice in your wait of the coming day of wedding with our Lord Jesus Christ! ***