As with all of the sermons here on my site, I post this and all of them for the glory of God with complete permission for you to use them as the Lord leads you. You may deliver any of them as they are, alter them, or pull parts from them. No citing of sources is necessary. Praying for blessings upon your calling.
A couple of weeks ago Diane and I went hiking in the Dolly Sods Wilderness area. We were hoping for a view on our hike, which never materialized. After hiking some smaller ups and downs and then a major up we got to what appeared to be the top of where we were going and we could see a little view, but then the path started down again -a deep down with a thin path with weeds brushing our legs on both sides. We were already 2 ½ miles in and knew we had 2 ½ miles back and it was really hiking – as in some unsteady, ankle twisting risking footing. We had had enough. So we turned back and finished our 5 mile hike. Shortly after turning back we heard from a couple with a more detailed map that the place we were looking for with the view was well over a mile ahead of where we turned back, so obviously it was another down down and then another up up. We were happy we had turned back and we decided we would try it another time when it was not so warm and long pants would be the attire of the day.
This journey through the Psalms of Ascent is turning out to be a little like that hike. Ups and downs and ups and downs, but we are not turning back.
We began in Week 1 in distress– In my distress I cried to the Lord and He heard me.
Week 2 – headed up – – – I lift my eyes to the hills, does my help come from the hills? No. My help comes from the Lord, and He will not allow your foot to be moved.
Week 3 and up – I was glad when they said to me “Let us go into the house of the Lord”
Week 4 is a downward turn, yet still forward.
I lift my eyes to you, the one enthroned in heaven.
Like a servant’s eyes on his master’s hand, like a servant girl’s eyes on her mistress’s hand,
so our eyes are on the Lord our God until he shows us mercy.
Show us mercy, Lord, show us mercy, for we’ve had more than enough contempt.
We’ve had more than enough scorn from the arrogant and contempt from the proud.
Eugene Peterson in A Long Obedience in the Same Direction, and Diane pointed out that Peterson does the same in his Biblical paraphrase The Message, really hits this psalm from the perspective of service. I get where he gets it, the author says, “like a servant” and “like a servant girl” looking at the hand of their master, so our eyes are on God until He shows us mercy.
Peterson writes that the psalm has nothing in it about serving others, but it focuses on being a servant to God. Yet, he makes the great argument that serving God leads us to serve others. Jesus Himself said, “whatever you have done to the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you have done to me.”
But, as much as I like serving – so much so that I believe people who serve at the church should not be called volunteers, but servants, I do not see this as the main point of the psalm.
Many of the psalms are going to appear similar, and I do not want to make them something they are not just to make them appear different. The gist of this psalm is that we seek mercy from God. Is it like a servant looks at his master, and as a servant girl looks at her mistress? Yes. It is also like our cat looks at us before bedtime as he looks for his bed time treat.
Here is my take on the 123rd psalm –
Jewish people were often scattered throughout the Old Testament and wherever they lived they faced contempt.
Think the Jewish people enslaved in Egypt.
Think Daniel – In exile from Babylon and they plotted against him and had him thrown in the Lion’s den.
Think Esther and Mordecai and the plot against them and the rest of the Jewish people by Haman.
And not much has changed in thousands of years.
In and just before World War II, estimates are about 5-6 million Jews were exterminated, about 2/3 of the Jewish people in Europe and 1/3 of the Jewish population of the entire world. The extermination began with boycotts of Jewish owned businesses and ended in their deaths.
And even today, Jewish people still face contempt. Most of the Middle East does not think Israel has the right to exist. Nick Cannon from the Masked Singer has, in the last two weeks, apologized for his anti-Jewish remarks.
So at the time of the Psalm when they were ascending to the Temple, and for Jewish people today, the summary of this psalm seems to be this:
I have not yet seen the mercy of the Lord manifest in the way I am praying, but I will continue to look to the Lord.
This word for mercy here is the same word for showing favor and being gracious as in the exchange between God and Moses from Exodus 33:17-19 –
The LORD said to Moses, “I will also do this thing of which you have spoken; for you have found favor in My sight and I have known you by name.” Then Moses said, “I pray You, show me Your glory!” And He said, “I Myself will make all My goodness pass before you, and will proclaim the name of the LORD before you; and I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show compassion on whom I will show compassion.”
We as Christians can proclaim the same – I have not yet seen the mercy of the Lord manifest in the way I am praying, but I will continue to look to the Lord. Like the disciples said – Where else can we go Jesus? You have the words of life.
So just as the Jewish people did and do sing the Psalm asking for mercy from being looked down upon:
- Those followers of Jesus who are being persecuted around the world can repeat Psalm 123 in their situation and proclaim – Show us mercy, Lord, show us mercy, for we’ve had more than enough persecution. I have not yet seen the mercy of the Lord manifest in the way I am praying, but I will continue to look to the Lord.
- Those followers of Jesus who are fighting battles for their health can repeat Psalm 123 in their situation and proclaim – Show us mercy, Lord, show us mercy, for we’ve had more than enough sickness. I have not yet seen the mercy of the Lord manifest in the way I am praying, but I will continue to look to the Lord.
- Those followers of Jesus who are fighting battles in their finances can repeat Psalm 123 in their situation and proclaim – Show us mercy, Lord, show us mercy, for we’ve had more than enough financial setbacks. I have not yet seen the mercy of the Lord manifest in the way I am praying, but I will continue to look to the Lord.
- Those followers of Jesus who are fighting battles in addiction can repeat Psalm 123 in their situation and proclaim – Show us mercy, Lord, show us mercy, for we’ve had more than enough addiction. I have not yet seen the mercy of the Lord manifest in the way I am praying, but I will continue to look to the Lord.
- Those followers of Jesus who are fighting battles with depression can repeat Psalm 123 in their situation and proclaim – Show us mercy, Lord, show us mercy, for we’ve had more than enough depression. I have not yet seen the mercy of the Lord manifest in the way I am praying, but I will continue to look to the Lord.
- Those followers of Jesus who are fighting battles in dealing with the loss of loved ones can repeat Psalm 123 in their situation and proclaim – Show us mercy, Lord, show us mercy, for we’ve had more than enough loss. I have not yet seen the mercy of the Lord manifest in the way I am praying, but I will continue to look to the Lord.
Yesterday morning things came together for today’s message on Psalm 123. I had the beginning and then yesterday the Lord gave me the ending and then the Lord filled in the middle – in that order. The ending is a story from 1981 I want to share from a guy named Joshua Rogers who wrote it this past week:
The phone rang and my mom answered. She never imagined the horrific news my grandfather was about to share: My dad’s two children from his first marriage had died in a plane crash.
Scottie and Rhonie Rogers (ages 10 and 14) were last seen with their mom and stepdad on July 5, 1981, when they took off in a light airplane en route to Florida for a vacation. The plane never made it there.
The newspaper reported that the plane was flying through a thunderstorm when it plunged from 11,000 feet to 4,000 feet. It dropped off the radar and crashed into the Gulf of Mexico, leaving no trace of wreckage.
When my mom got off the phone and told my dad, he walked out of the room and found a cassette tape with the old hymn “It is Well with My Soul” on it. He pressed play and sang the song, which was written in 1873 by Horatio Spafford, a prominent Chicago lawyer whose four daughters drowned in the Atlantic Ocean when their ship crashed into another vessel. The song starts with a verse that is fitting for a father who has lost his children at sea:
When peace like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll
Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say
It is well, it is well, with my soul
Jesus is the only one who can speak authoritatively into our pain.
Spafford actually wrote the lyrics to the song while crossing the Atlantic to meet his grieving wife, who had survived the shipwreck. He never dreamed that the song would bring comfort to a dad who was grieving a similar loss over 100 years later.
(In 1994) Thirteen years after Rhonie and Scottie died, my dad spent a frigid day with my brother Caleb and me in Biloxi, Miss. After eating breakfast at Shoney’s, we walked to the beach, stopped, and looked out onto the Gulf of Mexico — that same, vast space where Dad’s children had disappeared.
We talked and sang old hymns together until suddenly my dad halted, unable to sing or speak anymore. He then put his short arms around our teenage frames and pulled us close to him, squeezing a little too tightly. And then I heard him gasp for air, with an achy cry coming from somewhere deep within him, like he was dying of a heart attack.
Tears streamed down his face and then they began streaming down ours as well. We somehow understood that we, his two remaining children, were standing next to our siblings’ graveside, that we were hearing the sounds of a grown man’s broken heart.
Looking out onto the Gulf, Dad finally managed to sob the words, “Ain’t God good, boys?” and wept some more. We shook our heads up and down and let him hold us tightly.
Later on that night, Caleb was driving home with me and suddenly, he blurted out with a sob: “That’s screwed up! His kids are dead and he’s talking about how good God is.”
Caleb’s outburst is the cry of so many people whose hearts who are breaking over their own losses. It might be the loss of innocence, the shame of unemployment, a devastating diagnosis, rejection by people you love, your failures as a parent, all kinds of open wounds that haven’t healed. Whatever your loss may be, it will be a test of faith — yours and mine — as we ask ourselves: Can God really be good if He will allow me to hurt this much?
When some of Jesus’ disciples deserted him, Jesus asked Peter, “Do you also want to go away?” To this, Simon Peter responded, “’Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life” (John 6:67-68, NKJV).
And so we must ask ourselves: If there’s no good answer for our pain, will we leave Christ behind? God forbid. Jesus is the only one who can speak authoritatively into our pain. He is “a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief” — the one who willingly plunged into suffering, drowning in our sin in order to save us (Isaiah 53:3, ESV).
Surely, we can wait with heartbroken anticipation, trusting that Jesus will return to make every sad story come untrue, that resurrection will finally be realized upon His return. Until then, we stand on the shore of our own grief, singing:
And Lord, haste the day when our faith shall be sight,
The clouds be rolled back as a scroll;
The trump shall resound, and the Lord shall descend,
Even so, it is well with my soul