If you have your Bibles, I would invite you to turn with me to Psalm 126 as we continue our way through the fifth book of the Psalms together. And as you’re turning there, to Psalm 126, I want to make a lost and found announcement. When Barbara Porter sat down tonight, there was an ancient Bible sitting on this front pew. It's inscribed 1854, affectionately to someone named “Hood.” So if you left a Bible inscribed 1854, a family heirloom, it's sitting right down there on the pew. If you didn't and you know someone looking for it please let us know and we’ll keep it in some place safe. Brister, I’ll commission you to keep your eyes on it so it doesn't go walking off with somebody that it shouldn't go walking off with. But if the proper claimant is here we would love for you to have your Bible!
Now if you’ll look at Psalm 126 with me, before we read it I want to draw your attention to just a few things. It's a short psalm and it comes in two parts. If you look at this psalm and you look at the first three verses, it is apparent that these verses contain expressions of gratitude to God for a past deliverance. They are the memory of a time when God, in some powerful way, has delivered Israel from her distress. They’re not specific enough to tell us exactly what the occasion of that delivery was. Calvin is absolutely certain that this is the deliverance from the children of Israel out of exile to Babylon and that maybe this is Ezra writing this song. And he's looking back to the deliverance from Babylon and he's asking God for a deliverance in his specific time. Most of the other commentators though aren't quite sure when this deliverance occurred. They point out, for instance, that even though the language “restored the fortunes” — you see that in the first verse – even though that language is used of the deliverance of Israel out of the exile and the captivity in Babylon, it's also used to talk about the restoration of Job's fortune after the assault of Satan on him had been finally remedied by God and he had been given back blessings many fold times what he had lost. The beautiful thing about this is, of course, this makes this psalm generally applicable to all the people of God. We don't know exactly what the circumstance of deliverance is and that helps us actually in terms of the application of it to our own lives. So the first three verses look back to a great deliverance.
The last three verses, verses 4 to 6, are a prayer, a prayer for God to come and do it again, to give another deliverance. That's actually the context of the psalm. If you notice how often that happens — the psalm starts out one way and it ends another way. And you have to remember it's the way the song ends that tells you the context even of the first part of the song. So clearly the psalmist is in a situation in which he and the people of God in general need a deliverance from God and this sets him a thinking. And he recounts the memory of God's past deliverance in the first three verses and then he prays, he petitions, he supplicates, he lifts up a prayer of intercession to God asking for Him to give deliverance now. So keep on lookout for that as we work through this psalm together. And before we read it, let's pray and ask for God's help and blessing.
Our heavenly Father, this is Your Word and at the end of this Lord's Day, we thank You that this is the Word You have for us. When we hear Your ancient people, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, lifting up their hearts and their voices with their voices cracking, asking for Your deliverance, we immediately share a community of feeling with them. We know this need. We can identify it not secondhand; we know it firsthand. And so we wait expectantly for You to speak again through a Word written more than twenty-five hundred years ago, as fresh as if it had been penned twenty-three minutes before this service tonight for us because this is Your living Word. So open our eyes to behold wonderful things in it and our hearts to receive it, in Jesus' name, amen.
This is God's Word from Psalm 126:
“A SONG OF ASCENTS.
When the LORD restored the fortunes of Zion, we were like those who dream. Then our mouth was filled with laughter, and our tongue with shouts of joy; then they said among the nations, ‘The LORD has done great things for them.’ The LORD has done great things for us; we are glad.
Restore our fortunes, O LORD, like streams in the Negev! Those who sow in tears shall reap with shouts of joy! He who goes out weeping, bearing the seed for sowing, shall come home with shouts of joy, bringing his sheaves with him.”
Amen, and thus ends this reading of God's holy, inspired, and inerrant Word. May He write its eternal truth upon all our hearts.
Have you ever had a deliverance of the Lord in your life that was almost too good to be true? You really wondered if you were dreaming. And then years later you looked back on that time, you looked back on that time years later when you needed to be delivered again and you wondered if you would ever feel that way again because the memory is vivid and you can almost feel it, you can almost taste it. But the place you are now is so hard that you wonder if it could ever come again like that. You could picture in your heart's memory the feelings of that old deliverance and you silently cried out, “Do it again, Lord. Do it again. I need You as much now as I needed You then. I need this deliverance now as much as I needed it then, maybe more.” That's what this psalm is about, and I can remember — fourteen, nineteen, twenty-two, twenty-six, twenty-nine, forty-nine — and the Lord delivered and sometimes I could hardly open my mouth and speak in the way He did it. But those deliverances didn't mean that I didn't need to be delivered again and this is what this psalm is about.
And I want you to look at it with me tonight because this psalm is a memory turned into prayer. I want you to think about that for a minute. It's a memory turned into prayer. You know what we often do is the memory is there even if it's faded in its vividness, the memory is there, and it turns us to nostalgia or to sentiment but we don't let us take us all the way to prayer. And this psalm is standing here like a stone of testimony saying, “Don't let those memories enter your mind without moving on to prayer because if He was faithful to you then, He will be faithful to you again. And He will leave you overwhelmed at His deliverance.” And so the psalmist in this hard time, and the time is not specified, we’ll talk about some of the hints when we get to verses 4 to 6, but the psalmist in this time of difficulty begins to reflect on that past deliverance and as he reflects on that past deliverance, and you see this especially in verses 1 to 3, he reflects on the effect of the Lord's marvelous restoration of the hearts of His people. And four things in particular stand out to me as I look at these words.
THE EFFECT OF THE LORD’S MARVELOUS RESTORATION ON THE HEARTS OF HIS PEOPLE
First of all, in verse 1, here's what he says the effect is. “When the LORD restored the fortunes of Zion, we were like those who dream.” Have you ever had one of those experiences? You've had those times when your dreams were so vivid that you wondered if they were real, but this is a time when what has happened is so stunning, it's so overwhelming, you begin to think the other direction — “Is this a dream? Could this really be happening? Could the Lord have delivered in this way?” And the psalmist is saying that this restoration was so surprising, so overwhelming, that we were like those who were dreaming. We couldn't believe it was true. It felt almost too good to be true.
And then he says there was a second effect. You see this in verse 2. “Then our mouth was filled with laughter and our tongue with shouts of joy.” So whereas we were burdened in our distress and perhaps even in our hopelessness, in our despair, even bitterness, to the point that the only thing we could choke through our throats was our tears, our cries, but now those same mouths are filled with laugher and with joy. We just didn't think we could laugh that way again. We didn't think we could smile that way again. We didn't think we’d have that kind of joy again. We thought we were past that — too much water under the bridge; too many straws on the camel's back, couldn't happen again. And then the Lord delivered and there was laughter and joy.
And not only that, the second part of verse 2 — “Then they said among the nations, ‘The LORD has done great things for them.’” It results in the nations testifying to the Lord's power in restoring His people. Don't you love that? Don't you love when fellow believers have a deliverance like this and unbelievers even see it and they wonder what's going on? You know, at a very superficial level in some ways haven't you enjoyed that young man, Jeremy Lin? Haven't you just enjoyed what the Lord is doing in his life right now? You know, he's not recruited out of high school, he's not drafted out of college; he's cut from the Golden State Warriors and suddenly he's the toast of the town and the talk of the NBA and he's a humble believer in the Lord Jesus Christ and every time he's asked he's giving testimony to the Lord. And what an amazing response the world has given to that. What an opportunity to exalt the Lord, not to exalt himself but to exalt the Lord.
Hasn't that been an encouragement for you to see and haven't you seen that happen in the congregation? Haven't you seen that? And hasn't it encouraged you? Because again, your trials and your distresses don't belong to you alone. They belong to the people of God. And the lessons that the Lord is teaching you in those things are lessons that are meant for all of us, and when He delivers you in those things He means for all of your brothers and sisters to rejoice in and with you and to praise Him when those deliverances come. And so we ought to give testimony. We ought not let those memories fade. We ought to retell those stories often. It's why I love to talk to new members that I've not gotten to know before and hear how the Lord brought them to faith in Christ. And it never gets old hearing how the Lord redeems people out of sin and into His family, out of darkness and into light, out of condemnation and into pardon and acceptance and adoption and new life. But every deliverance ought to give us that kind of joy.
And it bears witness to the nations. “And even the nations say, ‘The LORD has done great things for them.’” And then, and then the psalmist says, “You know what? We sang of that restoration too. We weren't going to let the nations be the ones to say the Lord has done great things. No, we're going to take up that chorus ourselves” and so you see it in verse 3. Here's the song, “The LORD has done great things for us and we are glad.” And so the psalmist has that memory vividly in his mind. “I remember it, Lord.” Whether it was coming out of Babylon in captivity, whether it was a deliverance from siege or famine, whether it was a deliverance from going after other gods, whatever it was, there was a deliverance. And the psalmist says, “I remember that. I know what that felt like to be delivered.”
A PRAYER FOR THE LORD TO RESTORE THE FORTUNES OF HIS PEOPLE, AGAIN
And then suddenly from that past the psalmist comes back into a present in which he needs that deliverance just as must now as he needed it then, and the memory becomes a prayer. And the prayer is very simple but it comes with two powerful illustrations. Look at the prayer. “Restore our fortunes, O LORD.” Now look at that language. Go back up to verse 1. Right after the label of the psalm is given, it's a psalm of ascents, the pilgrims are singing this on the way to Jerusalem, they say, “When the LORD restored the fortunes of Zion.” Now that memory has been fully taken into the heart of the psalmist and he just blurts out, “Restore our fortunes, O Lord. Do it again, Lord. I remember when You did it before. I never thought I'd open my eyes without tears again and You did it. You filled my heart with laughter, You filled my mouth with praise, You filled my days with joy; do it again.”
And he's got two pictures in his mind for what he wants the Lord to do. The first one is interesting. Look at verse 4. “Like streams in the Negev.” The Negev, the south country, is that arid, parched desert south of Judah that abuts up to the wilderness of Sinai. It's wilderness! And in the summer, it's dry. And the places where the winter streams ran, where the waddies flowed, are just dried, cracked, gutters on the floor of the desert. And so the psalmist is thinking, “That's where I am. I'm in the summer, in the Negev, and it's dry as a bone and there's not a green branch in sight and there's no grass; there's no sign of life. But when the winter rains come, these gullies will overflow with water and almost overnight grass and flowers will grow up around these waddies. Lord, would you do that in my life because I feel like I'm in the Negev in the summer and I need those winter rains to flow. I need to see some green grass and some flowers and it needs to be a place where I can get a drink of water.” It's a vivid, vivid picture.
You know, you never get to a point in the Christian life when you don't have to cry that out to the Lord. It doesn't matter how far along you've gone — you've been walking with Him twenty years, thirty years, forty years, fifty years, seventy years, eighty years — you never get to a point where you don't have to cry that out. And isn't it kind, isn't it kind that the Lord said, “Okay pilgrims on the way to worship in Jerusalem, some of you, some of you your souls are as dry as the Negev in summer, so you sing this song to Me and you pray that I’ll make the waters flow again. And who knows, I may fill up your mouth with laughter and joy when you least expect it.”
And then the image switches and you see it there in verses 5 and then repeated and elaborated on in verse 6. “Those who sow in tears shall reap with shouts of joy.” Now first of all, immediately he goes to the farming metaphor and if you have friends who farm, if you have friends up in the Delta and land up in that way, you know what an act of faith farming is. The ground is prepared, the seed has been planted, all the preparations have been taken, but so much of the return, so much of the harvest, is entirely up to things over which you have no control whatsoever – too little rain, too much rain; rain at the right time, rain at the wrong time. And the farmer has to work and work and work some more and then pray and pray and pray and wait.
But there's something even on top of the agricultural metaphor here, isn't there? It's not just sowing and waiting to reap; it's sowing in tears. What does that mean? Does it mean that this believer is faithfully going about his work, her work, doing the Lord's business, doing the Lord's bidding, doing what he can to take care of his family, but the tears are flowing and the hope is quenched? And the psalmist is saying, “Lord, though we are sowing now in tears, would you give us a harvest that comes with joy?”
And then he elaborates on that. Look at verse 6. “He who goes out weeping, bearing the seed for sowing, shall come home with shouts of joy bringing his sheaves with him.” It's a statement of faith. It's a statement of hope. It's absolutely true for every believer, for we may sow in this world with tears, but we will reap in the world to come with joy. But the psalmist is hoping for this prayer even to be answered here, for the Lord to give us just a little foretaste of what's coming. And so he prays and so he hopes. It was a memory; it was a memory that was so powerful, of a rescue that was so dramatic that he had to pinch himself to believe that he was awake. And then he wondered, “Is it possible that the Lord could do that again?” And so he prayed, “Lord, do it again.”
Do you hear that word, believer? An Old Testament saint, five hundred years before your Savior trod this earth, can pray with that kind of faith and that kind of hope. Will you let him out-do you? Will you let him out-trust you? Will you let him out-hope you? You, you who have seen the Son of God spill His own blood for your joy, will you not have this hope and greater? Oh brothers and sisters, this psalm does not promise that we will not face these kinds of moments in life, but it does promise this: we need not face them without hope and without the prospect of a joy that we remember being experienced again. It's God's Word; it's not my word. It's God's Word; believe it. And if you believe it, pray it. Let's pray.
Lord, O Lord, You know how to get right to parts of our heart that we're working so hard to protect that we think that if anybody ever gets there we're going to fall apart on the spot. Thank You for going after us there. Tonight we need Your Spirit to give us faith because there are circumstances in life that make this Word — we know it's Your inspired Word, we know it's Your infallible Word, we know it's Your inerrant Word, we know it's Your sufficient Word, we know it's Your living Word, we know it's Your searching Word, we know it's Your practical Word — but there are circumstances in life that make this Word really hard for us to believe. So by the Spirit, help everyone, everyone in this room who's a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ be able to say, “Do it again, Lord.” In Jesus' name, amen.
Would you stand for God's blessing?
Peace be to the brethren, and love with faith, from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, until the daybreak and the shadows flee away. Amen.