Description / Transcription
So Father we come before You now, before Your Word, to put our hope in You. We pray that You would work that by the power of Your Spirit, that You would fix our eyes on You. We say to You, speak, O Lord, speak, for Your servants are listening. We pray this in Jesus’ name. Amen.
Well, good morning. We are continuing something I think of an informal theme around the new year, reflecting and thinking about not just 2024 but thinking about our lives as well. Big picture perspective on our lives and perhaps there’s not a better scripture for that than Psalm 90. So you can be turning in your Bibles there.
I was praying and thinking about this text. When you kind of have a one-off sermon, you’re always thinking, “Did I choose the right text? Is this the right text for the right occasion?” A friend of mine, on New Year’s Eve, a pastor friend of mine, he tweeted the following. He said this: “Written by Moses when he led the children of Israel through the wilderness, Psalm 90 is the perfect New Year’s psalm.” Whether that’s divine confirmation or not I don’t know, but I hope, my prayer, is that this psalm will help you and that you will carry this psalm into not only this year but years beyond in your life.
So with that, let’s read Psalm 90. Hear the word of the Lord.
“Lord, You have been our dwelling place
in all generations.
Before the mountains were brought forth,
or ever You had formed the earth and the world,
from everlasting to everlasting You are God.
You return man to dust
and say, “Return, O children of man!”
For a thousand years in Your sight
are but as yesterday when it is past,
or as a watch in the night.
You sweep them away as with a flood; they are like a dream,
like grass that is renewed in the morning:
in the morning it flourishes and is renewed;
in the evening it fades and withers.
For we are brought to an end by Your anger;
by Your wrath we are dismayed.
You have set our iniquities before You,
our secret sins in the light of Your presence.
For all our days pass away under Your wrath;
we bring our years to an end like a sigh.
The years of our life are seventy,
or even by reason of strength eighty;
yet their span is but toil and trouble;
they are soon gone, and we fly away.
Who considers the power of Your anger,
and Your wrath according to the fear of You?
So teach us to number our days
that we may get a heart of wisdom.
Return, O Lord! How long?
Have pity on Your servants!
Satisfy us in the morning with Your steadfast love,
that we may rejoice and be glad all our days.
Make us glad for as many days as You have afflicted us,
and for as many years as we have seen evil.
Let Your work be shown to Your servants,
and Your glorious power to their children.
Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us,
and establish the work of our hands upon us;
yes, establish the work of our hands!”
Well, church of God, when we preach through the psalms, we usually acknowledge that there’s a great variety in the psalms. There are psalms of praise, there are psalms of thanksgiving, there are psalms of repentance, there are psalms of lament. There’s a psalm for almost, just about any occasion and any emotion as well, but occasionally you come across a psalm where you’re not quite sure what to feel. I wonder if you felt that as I was reading Psalm 90. It’s a bit like that.
If I were to ask you, would you say this is an uplifting psalm? What would you say? Would you say this psalm is a bit of a downer? How would you answer that question?
What is the purpose of Psalm 90? Well, at heart, this is a psalm about wisdom and it begs the question, “Do we have an eternal perspective on our lives?” As you think about your life and you think about this year, that question is set before you, “Do you have an eternal perspective on your life?”
There are so many things that can preoccupy and busy us, can reduce life to the next headline, the next tweet, the next deadline, the next game, the next item on the shopping list, what am I going to have for lunch. Some of you are trying to elbow those thoughts out right now. I get it.
We can pass our days without ever really seeing life with an eternal horizon in view. That’s what Psalm 90 brings us to. It helps us. We might even say that it confronts us that we might gain an eternal perspective on our lives. That’s the goal of this sermon. The goal of this sermon is that we might gain or either grow in an eternal perspective on our lives.
I want us to observe in this chapter. It begins by giving us a big answer. Psalm 90 gives a big answer and then it confronts us with a big problem and then it helps us see the big picture. So big answer, big problem, and then big picture.
If you look at verses 1 and 2, we see that Psalm 90 begins with a big answer. That might seem strange to put it that way. We haven’t even seen the problem yet. But if we look at where the psalm is placed in the book of Psalms, it leads us in that direction. The standard Hebrew text divides the psalms into five books. You have book one, chapters 1 through 41; book two, 42 through 72; book three, 73 through 89; book four, 90 through 106; and book five, 107 through 150.
Psalm 90 launches the beginning of book four of the psalms and there’s a consensus that this arrangement has a certain purpose to it and that book four forms something of a response, a response to the agonizing questions that are posed in books one through three, especially the chapters immediately preceding this one. So think about this. Questions like how long, O Lord? Will You hide Yourself forever? Where is Your steadfast love, O Lord? Searching questions about God’s care and God’s justice and God’s love. Questions that we might ask when we are confronted with the hard realities of life.
So being a psalm of Moses, Psalm 90 offers to us ancient wisdom, ancient wisdom in answer to these questions.
With that in mind, verses 1 and 2, they carry a heightened significance. They mark, actually, the high point of this psalm in affirming God’s covenantal faithfulness to His people.
Look at what it says: “O Lord, You have been our dwelling place.” We might hear this in a call to worship sometimes. And the psalm closes with, “Let the favor of the Lord, our God, be upon us.” So right away we see it’s set within this covenantal framework. This is the people of God talking to God about God, rehearsing their history, reminding themselves of certain things. It’s quite instructive, actually, think about that. Maybe similar to something that you do in keeping a prayer journal where you weave Scripture in with experience.
So it begins with this affirmation, “O Lord, You have been our dwelling place.” Now when you think of a dwelling place, what do you think of? Probably your home, right? Or maybe a mountain house or a beach house, but more than a location, a dwelling place is a place where you find refuge. A dwelling place is a place where you find safety and you find rest. Moses is telling us that’s who God is for His people. He’s a dwelling place. Moreover, we might say that a dwelling place is a place where we are rooted, even giving you a sense of identity. So the picture here is one of the people of God resting in God and rooted in good.
This might be a bad illustration with all the thunderstorms this week, it’s a common illustration, just think of a tree firmly planted and rooted in the ground. The wind blows and it might lose some branches, but it’s held fast by a solid foundation. Moses is saying that is who God is for His people. His presence, His character, His promises, hold them fast.
Moses says this has been the case from generation to generation, again pointing to God’s covenantal faithfulness. But verse 2 goes on: “Before the mountains were brought forth or ever You had formed the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting, You are God.”
So verse 1 points to God’s covenantal faithfulness and verse 2 points to God’s eternality, from everlasting to everlasting, You are god.
Psalm 90 begins by placing two truths before us this morning.
Truth number 1 – God is a refuge.
Truth number 2 – God is eternal.
When you put these two truths together, we see the answer that Psalm 90 is giving us, and the answer is God is an eternal refuge for His people. That’s the big answer.
It’s echoed by Moses in Deuteronomy 33:27. He states it just in a different way. Moses says to Israel: “The eternal God is your refuge.” So whatever you’re facing this morning, if you belong to Christ, God is your eternal refuge. Sometimes all you need is to be reminded of that, to go to the refuge, when there’s a time of trouble just to be refreshed by that. Sometimes that’s all you need is to remember that God is your eternal refuge.
We could end the sermon right now and I could be your favorite preacher. I’m serious. I remember in my first sermon here a lady came up to me after the sermon and she said, “My son just told me that you are now his favorite preacher,” and I thought, “Wow, first sermon, that’s pretty encouraging.” She asked him why and he said, “Because he ended the sermon at 10 til 12.” I’ll take what I can get.
But we need to ask that great application question. You know the great application question, “So what?” We can hear that language about God. We can assent to that language, but so what? Why should that change my perspective on life? Why should that affect how I look at my coming days? Why should that affect 2024 for me?
In order to answer that question, we need to understand the problem, and that brings us point two, the big problem.
Moses confronts us with a tension here. He begins by introducing a juxtaposition between God and man in verses 3 and 4. He says, “You return man to dust and say, ‘Return, O children of man, for a thousand years in Your sight are but as yesterday when it is past, or as a watch in the night.'”
So verses 3 and 4, Moses is talking to God but he turns his attention to man. Notice that when he turns his attention to man, you can almost see just the downward spiral of the psalm. He gives us a little dose of reality. He says, “You return man to dust.” That should make us think of the curse of death that came with the fall of man. God says to Adam in Genesis chapter 3, verse 19, He says: “By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread until you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken, for you are dust and to dust you shall return.”
Moses is highlighting the temporal nature of our lives, but he also highlights the temporal perspective of our lives as well. He says, “For a thousand years in Your sight are but as yesterday when it is past or as a watch in the night.”
Here we see the wisdom key of this psalm reminding us, this humble consideration of our temporality, our finitude, our perceptions, compared to God’s eternality, God’s greatness, and God’s wisdom. God was here before us and He will be here after us. We know, you and I, our lives, we know our 70, 80 years is just a sliver of time. All of our perceptions come from that sliver, but God holds the expanse of time in His hands.
This juxtaposition reminds me, it’s like a parent and a child. If you have teenagers, I’ve got some bad news for you – your 16-year-old knows more than you do, at least they think they do. We have one who’s had her driving permit, about to get her license, and it’s amazing how much more she knows about driving than I do. It’s unbelievable. I want to say, “Do you know how long I’ve been driving? Do you know I was driving before you were born?” There’s your perceptions and then there’s my perceptions and there’s really, there’s no comparison when you think about the expanse of time.
Friends, how much more could God say that to us and our perceptions of life and wisdom?
So there’s this humbling consideration, this wisdom key here.
But he goes a step further in verses 5 and 6 and the tension builds. He says, “You sweep them away as with a flood. They are like a dream, like grass that is renewed in the morning. In the morning it flourishes and is renewed and in the evening it fades.”
So Moses is talking about our lives. We are like a dream. Our lives, we’re like grass that springs up and then we wither and we’re gone, just like that. But notice in these verses, who’s the active agent in Moses’ mind? Who is it? It’s God. God is the active agent in Moses’ mind in all of this. Listen, he doesn’t place the frailty of our lives, he doesn’t place the brevity of our lives, under chance or nature or circumstance. No, he places it under God’s sovereignty, and that is key.
It seems that Moses presents these realities not as some random development, but as a consequence of something. He explains further in verses 7 and 8: “For we are brought to an end by Your anger, and by Your wrath we are dismayed. You have set our iniquities before You, our secret sins in the light of your presence for all our days pass away under Your wrath and we bring our years to an end like a sigh.”
I’ve been a pastor for a while and sometimes do counseling calls and go out to the graveyard. I look at the tombstones. I’ve never seen a tombstone with Psalm 90, verses 7 through 9 on it. I don’t think I’m going to. All our days pass away under Your wrath and we bring our years to an end like a sigh.
At this point you might be rightly thinking, you might be thinking, “Wait a second. What’s all this language about being dismayed, about God’s anger and God’s wrath? Isn’t he talking about the people of God? Is he talking about us?”
It seems strange until you consider the immediate context. For Moses is leading the people of Israel into the Promised Land and not only had they seen God’s salvation and deliverance from Egypt, but they had also seen God’s judgment over the rebellion in the wilderness. Israel had seen God’s wrath and they had been dismayed, and certainly there were no secret sins for them as they were chastened by God.
So there’s the immediate context. But the greater context, and perhaps even more disturbing, is Moses is talking about the reality of death that comes to you and to me. Again, this is connected to the Fall in Genesis 2:17 where God says to Adam, “In the day that you eat thereof, you shall surely die.” It’s the case for Adam and for his descendants, for you and for me. It’s echoed by Paul in Romans 5, specifically verse 12: “We are sons of Adam, we are partakers in Adam’s sin and death comes to us all.”
I’m stating the obvious here, but every single person in this room will die, both the righteous and the unrighteous. It rains on the just and the unjust. This universal reality of death just hangs over us like a shadow, does it not? We feel it, we see it at times, we try to avoid it.
By the way, this means that we should not think of every sickness or calamity as a direct action of divine judgment against a person, but rather these things are ultimately a consequence of the universal judgment that comes in connection with the Fall.
So Moses lays the sobering reality in front of us, of human sinfulness and God’s wrath, and the subsequent frailty of our lives and the relative brevity of our lives. All of this is connected to judgment, and that’s the big problem.
In verse 10 he says, “The years of our life are 70 or even by reason of strength 80, and their span is but toil and trouble. They are soon gone and we fly away.”
Isn’t it true that time escapes us? Doesn’t it escape you? Aren’t there moments in your life that you wish you could go back and just recapture? Have you ever had those moments where you think, “If I could just stop the clock, I would just hold, I would hold it right here.” Being a parent is like that. You think about your children when they were younger and it just kind of slips through your fingers and you’re nostalgic. It just escapes you. Time escapes us, our bodies fail us.
I just turned 50 in November. It feels a bit like I’m limping there. Hair is thinner and grayer, for sure. Tendons are tighter. Pants are tighter. Keeps getting harder to lose weight, to stay in shape. Thought I had a breakthrough. I saw this exercise bike online. It was quite an expensive bike and in order to get Michelle to go along with the purchase of it, I gave it a name. I called it “The Game Changer.” Because I told Michelle, I said, “Look, here’s why we need to buy this bike, here’s why. Because when I buy this bike, it is going to be a game changer, let me tell you.” My kids keep reminding me, it’s not enough just to buy the bike and put it in the house, actually use it. You have to use it, Dad.
But the truth is no matter how hard we work, our bodies are going to fail us. Time will escape us. We are mortal. We will soon be gone. When you hit 50+, you start thinking about it. Michelle and I, we’re talking the other day and she just mentioned to me that she doesn’t want to be buried up north. She’s from Akron, Ohio. We have family up north. It might make sense for us to be buried up there. I asked her why and she told me while acknowledging the irrationality of this, she told me, she said, “Because I don’t want to be cold.” Won’t matter! You’re not there! Yeah, but just the thought of it, right?
I understand. So we’ll be buried down South.
But the truth is no matter where you are buried, or when it happens, your body will fail you, your mind will betray you. Listen, whatever vitality and vibrancy that you bring into this room this morning, it will slowly be taken with age. Moment by moment, day by day, year by year, we decline.
The world might give us the fantasy that we can go down in a blaze of glory, but the Bible gives us the reality that our years will come to an end like a sigh. I don’t care how glorious your funeral is going to be. I don’t care how great your retirement is going to be. All of these things slowly slip away from us and every single one of us, our years will come to an end, like a sigh.
So much for the high note of Psalm 90, right? But I want you to see this, church of God. Herein lies the wisdom of this psalm. Do you see it? Listen, confronting us with these realities, confronting us with these realities because what is our temptation? You know what our temptation is. It’s just to distract ourselves, to resort to escapism and avoidance. That’s so easy to do in today’s time, it’s so easy to avoid these realities. People spend their entire life avoiding the reality of death, but here we have Moses’ Psalm 90, God confronting us with this reality. He’s saying, “Look at it, stare at it, know it. Don’t ignore the problem.”
What does Moses do? Does he fall into depression and despair? No. Pay attention to this. Moses does not avoid the problem, rather he confesses the problem. Do you see that? He’s praying to God. He’s confessing these realities. Think about what we do in weekly worship, every Sunday morning we have a prayer of confession. We’re confessing our sins and sometimes our mortality. Sometimes we confess the brevity of our life, and we confess God’s greatness, God’s eternality, God’s wisdom. All of those things.
Here’s the question for you and me – why do we need to confess those things? Why do we need to confront these realities? Why do we bring them forward in confession?
The answer is this – because when we confess these things, it brings us to see our need for God.
If you’re here this morning and you think you don’t need God, look in the mirror. Watch yourself age. Watch your grandparents die. Watch your parents die. Watch tragedy unfold. These things bring us to see our need for God.
That brings us to see the big picture. Verses 11 and 12, the pivot point of this passage. He says, “Who considers the power of Your anger and Your wrath according to the fear of You? So teach us to number our days that we might gain a heart of wisdom.”
Moses is praying that we might consider these things. He tells us these hard realities of life, these hard realities of life are intended to teach us something. Not to lead us to despair, but that we might seek God and gain an eternal perspective and that is what a heart of wisdom does. That is the response to the hard realities that we see in our lives.
Look at what Moses does in verses 13 through 15. It’s in some ways the embodiment of wisdom. Here’s what he does: “Return, O Lord! How long? Have pity on your servants. Satisfy us in the morning with Your steadfast love, that we might rejoice and be glad all our days. Make us glad for as many days as You have afflicted us, and for as many years as we have seen evil.” Return, O Lord! How long?
How many of us have been confronted with the frailty of our lives, the brevity of our lives? Not just confronted with our sin, but the consequences of our sins, and our cry is, “Return, O Lord! How long?” Have you been there? Are you there this morning? You’re in good company. You’re with Moses.
This prompting is a turn of wisdom. Moses representing the people of God, humbled, repentant, chastened by these things, he now looks to the Lord as his refuge. He says, “Have pity on Your servants.” Moses appeals to God’s mercy and note what he says about God’s mercy. This is not just Moses cowering before a begrudging and reluctant God. No. Just begging for a morsel. No. That’s not what’s happening. Look at the language: “Satisfy us in the morning with Your steadfast love, that we might rejoice and be glad all our days. Make us glad for as many days as You have afflicted us, and for as many years as we have seen evil.”
You have this radical change in the tone and feel of this psalm. We move from sobriety to satisfaction. By the way, that’s the trajectory of wisdom, from sobriety to satisfaction.
We should be wondering to ourselves, how can this be? How can Moses speak of joy and satisfaction and gladness given our sinfulness and amidst the frailty and brevity of our lives. Everything that he’s just confronted us with. How can he speak of joy and gladness and satisfaction? Answer – the steadfast love of God. That’s how.
The critical question for you this morning and for me, for us to ask ourselves, “What can satisfy you?” I don’t mean just a Snicker’s bar, I mean what can satisfy your soul? The answer we’re finding here is the love of God. That’s the only thing that will satisfy you as you live as a fallen creature in a fallen world, it’s the love of God, that love which is faithful, that love which is merciful. God’s covenantal love. That is what stands over and against sin and its consequences in our lives.
That’s what Moses looks to. He says, “Make us glad for as many days as you have afflicted us, and for as many years as we have seen evil.”
Moses says, “O Lord, displace the days of sin and sorrow with joy and gladness.” This appears to be a modest request just for earthly joys and sorrows to balance out. We all know that can be a pretty tricky proposition because it doesn’t always seem to work that way. But of course, the fulfillment of this request can only be seen from an eternal perspective.
That’s why we read 2 Corinthians 4. As we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen, and that’s the big picture, Christ Covenant, that’s what a heart of wisdom does. A heart of wisdom sees an eternal horizon before it. Before your days, before your years, you see an eternal horizon.
Now maybe this morning for you that horizon might be a bit blurry. I don’t know. Maybe sin has made it blurry, or maybe suffering has made it blurry. You may be thinking to yourself, “I know where he’s going with this. Don’t do that pastoral thing. Don’t just, I’m suffering right now, don’t just lay some distant heaven off in the future in front of me. I can’t, I can’t, I can’t see that right now. It’s too fuzzy.” That’s not always the case, but sometimes that is the case, and the question is, “How does it become clear?”
If that’s you, how does it become, how does the eternal horizon become clearer? It becomes clearer when we look to Christ. When we look to Christ because in Christ I see God’s steadfast love revealed, forgiving my sins, reconciling me to Himself, giving me His promises, saving me not from physical death but from spiritual and eternal death. It’s in Christ that we truly see that God is an eternal refuge for us.
So church of God, when the wind blows on my life, what do I do? The answer is I seek to be rooted in Him. He is my foundation. God’s love and mercy revealed in Christ, that is my foundation, and when life leaves me empty, completely empty, I seek satisfaction in Him, not my circumstances, as difficult and painful as they may be. It doesn’t make us immune from pain. It just means that we respond differently.
Sinclair Ferguson says of this passage that even when we have been emptied by life’s providences, we may be full of Christ’s grace. That’s the goodness of God, my friends. Moses ends this sobering yet uplifting psalm on a high note. He says, “Let your work be shown to Your servants, and Your glorious power to their children. Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us, and establish the work of our hands upon us; yes, establish the work of our hands!”
This prayer harkens back to the presence of God with His people in a fallen world. You say what was Israel’s work? Israel’s work was taking the Promised Land. That’s what the people of Israel had before them. That was their work, but their work was about one fundamental reality and truth, and that reality and truth is that God is at work.
So it is with us. As we look to the Promised Land and as we ask the Lord to establish the work of our hands, we open ourselves up to His working in our lives, to His working in and through us, that His work, that His glorious power, that His favor can be seen and known, and not just by us but by our children and their children as well.
Psalm 90 gives us an eternal horizon. It leaves us with an eternal heritage.
That’s what I would say to you by way of application. Keep this eternal horizon and eternal heritage in front of you this year. Let’s look to the Lord and ask for His favor, that He might establish the work of our hands.
Let’s pray. O Lord, You have not left us empty. You have not left us uprooted. You have not left us spiritually homeless. But You have given us a dwelling place. You have given us a refuge. O Lord, I pray that You would prompt us, even now, in response to Your Word to seek You as our refuge, and may You, Lord, teach us to number our days that we would gain a heart of wisdom, and place before us, O Lord, an eternal horizon before our lives and help us see that we can leave an eternal heritage, not because of us but because of what You are doing. We pray this in Jesus’ name. Amen.