Description / Transcription
Well, good evening. If you are joining us this evening for the first time, let me extend a special welcome to you. We’re so glad you’re here. We’re so glad that you have found yourself here to worship with us here tonight and maybe if you’re not a Christian, if you’re just here exploring the things of God, wanting to check out a church, let me add that you are especially welcome here. This is such a great place to learn about who God is and who Jesus is and we’re glad that you have found yourself here tonight.
This evening we’re continuing our series through the book of Psalms, the Psalms of Ascent to be specific, and we come to the fourth psalm in the series, Psalm 123. So if you have your Bibles, turn with me there. And if you don’t have a Bible, you can feel free to use the one in front of you or underneath you. If you don’t have a Bible, you can feel free to take that one home. It’s our gift to you.
“To you I lift up my eyes,
O you who are enthroned in the heavens!
Behold, as the eyes of servants
look to the hand of their master,
as the eyes of a maidservant
to the hand of her mistress,
so our eyes look to the Lord our God,
till He has mercy upon us.
Have mercy upon us, O Lord, have mercy upon us,
for we have had more than enough of contempt.
Our soul has had more than enough
of the scorn of those who are at ease,
of the contempt of the proud.”
Let’s pray. Father, we have just sung that mine our tears in times of sorrow, darkness not yet understood, through the valley I must travel, where I see no earthly good. Lord, it’s hard to know, even as a pastor or preacher, where everyone is here in this room tonight, but certainly, Lord, there are those here in times of sorrow, in times of darkness, not yet understood, through the valley some of us are traveling, where we see no earthly good. But may be it so that of what we just sung, that ours would be peace that flows from heaven and strength in time of need, that our pain will not be wasted for Christ completes His work in me. We ask that in faith in the name of Jesus. Amen.
Have you ever woken up in the morning with a pit in your stomach? Like everything in you just wants to call in sick for work that day, or not show up, or maybe skip that class or miss that test, or simply just avoid that person in the hallway. Because when you wake up you know what is in front of you, and it’s not pleasant and it’s not fun, and it would be so much easier if you could just hit fast forward from one day to the next. Many of you are thinking Monday is coming, that would be a convenient thing to do on a Monday.
We all have those feelings from time to time. We all have those moments of dread, of doom, of gloom in our hearts and souls. We have those days where your whole body aches just at thinking of the situation that awaits you coming up in the coming minutes, hours, days. And you have those days and those moments and they’re not fun, and you just have to grit your teeth and bear it and get through it.
Some of us have those days and we’re able to get through it. But some of us, that’s just life. There are some whose everyday existence is marked by this anguish.
I thought about titling this message “When You Don’t Want To Go Home.” Pastor Kevin began the series talking about our desire to go home and how the Psalms of Ascent are about heading home, and it’s true that for Christians this world is ultimately, this world is not ultimately our home, that we’re looking for another place, another city, whose builder is God, and that our home is ultimately in heaven with God.
But what do we do when our home, here on earth, is someplace we don’t want to go back to? What do we do when our home here on earth isn’t safe? What do we do when every single day we wake up and we have that pit in our stomach and it’s not going away? And it’s not getting better? What happens when you don’t want to go home?
That’s what Psalm 123 speaks to. Psalm 123 is a community lament. Notice the “us” and the “we” language. Look in verse 2 – our eyes look to the Lord, our God, til He has mercy upon us. Continues even in 3 and 4 – have mercy upon us, O Lord, have mercy upon us, for we have had more than enough of contempt, our soul has had more than enough.
Here we have in Psalm 123 a community that is in anguish, who knows what it’s like to experience loss, to have the tables slanted against them, to feel little to no hope each and every day, to wake up every morning knowing that it’s not going to get better.
Tonight we’re going to look at Psalm 123 and we’re going to look at three things. We’re going to look at what Psalm 123 teaches us about God, that’s where we’ll be first. What does this Psalm teach us about God and who He is?
Second, we’ll look at what this Psalm teaches us about the world around us.
Finally, we’ll look at what Psalm 123 teaches us about the Christian life. About you and me. Especially in light of who God is and what the world is like around us.
What does this Psalm teach us about God? What does this Psalm teach us about the world? And what does this Psalm teach us about you and me and being a Christian today?
First, we’ll look at what does this Psalm teach us about God. First we’ll see that God is our Master. Look back at verse 1 and 2 with me – to you I lift up my eyes, O you who are enthroned in the heavens! Behold, as the eyes of the servants look to the hand of their master, as the eyes of the maidservant to the hand of her mistress, so our eyes look to the Lord.
God is our Master, that’s what we see first. The psalmist acknowledges God place in the world, as our Master and our Maker. The servant looks to the master for provision and protection. And we know that there are many in this world who have throughout history twisted and distorted the master and servant dynamic. Many throughout history who have abused their power to mistreat, to hurt, and to subject their subservient. But this is not God. This is not how the psalmist approaches God. This is not what we see here. Here we see God as a benevolent master, someone who provides for His servants. He gives them work. He gives them shelter. He gives them their necessities. They look to him as the source for what they need. The hand of the master protects his servants from evil and harm.
And notice where this master sits. He sits enthroned in the heavens.
Spurgeon comments on this psalm, saying the higher the Lord is, the better for our faith, since that height represents power, glory, and excellent. God is in the heavens as a king in his palace. He is there revealed, adored, and glorified.
You know it’s easy to look at the world around us and marvel at the power of men. Their might, their status, and their influence. I had the opportunity on Friday to go to the golf tournament in town, the President’s Cup, and I got those tickets where you get to sit in the stadium of the first row and lo and behold, out comes President George W. Bush, and then comes out President Bill Clinton, two great men in our country who have served at the highest rank. And you know what I thought to myself? They’re just two guys, watching golf. President Bush especially was into it.
It’s easy to look at the world around us and marvel at men and women of power and might and status, but let us not forget that it is God and God alone who sits enthroned in the heavens.
Think back to Psalm 2. Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth set themselves and the rulers take counsel together, against the Lord and against His anointed, saying let us burst their bonds apart and cast their cords from us, but He who sits in the heavens laughs. The Lord holds them in derision.
Notice that the Lord our God is our Master. He is our God. Our eyes look to God, the Lord our God. This is not some generic god with a lower case “g.” This is our God, capital “G.” This is Yahweh. This is the covenantal God. He’s not just any master, He’s our Master.
God is both transcendent and He’s eminent. He’s both ultimate in His power and He is intimate in His person. He is enthroned in the heavens and yet He is still our God. God is our Master.
Second. We see that God is the source of mercy. In English, mercy typically means that we go not receive what we do deserve. This can be confusing sometimes. We do not receive what we do deserve. Compare that with grace, where we do receive what we do not deserve. So God demonstrates His mercy to us by pardoning us from the penalty of sin. We do not receive judgment when we do deserve it. That is mercy. We receive God’s grace when we receive forgiveness despite our sin. We do receive forgiveness even when we do not deserve it. Mercy and grace.
But the Hebrew word here, that is translated mercy, means far more than just that. It’s not just asking to spare us from what we do deserve, it’s more than that. Mercy is the Hebrew word chanan. It means to bend or to stoop in kindness. You can think of almost a parent to a child, especially to an inferior. Simply put, this word means favor. It means favor. And here we see that God is the source of favor. The psalmist sees it and he knows it and he looks to God and he says, “God, I need your favor in my life, that’s what I need. God, I need your mercy. I need your favor. I need your smile ever towards me and my life.”
We can think back to Exodus 33. Moses is praying for God’s people after the exodus and what does he pray for? He’s praying for God’s favor. He says, “God, as we set out on what is next, what we need most of all is You and Your favor, because without that we have nothing.” And the Lord said to Moses, “This very thing that you have spoken, I will do, for you have found favor in My sight and I know you by name.”
Moses goes on to say, “Lord, please show me Your glory,” and God responds and says, “I will make all My goodness pass before you and will proclaim before you My name, the Lord, and I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy.”
Notice what’s included in God’s favor. It’s His goodness, it’s His grace, it’s His mercy, it’s His glory. It’s a relationship with Moses. He says, “I know you.” This is God’s favor and this is what the psalmist sees in God. He says, “God, may Your favor, may Your smile, may Your goodness, may Your relationship ever be with me. May it be upon us. We’re going to look to You because we know that’s where favor comes from.”
God is the source of mercy. He’s the source of blessing. He’s the source of grace. He’s the source of favor.
So first we see God is our maker. Second we see God is the source of mercy. And third in this Psalm we see that God is mute.
He’s mute. Not that He can’t speak, not that He won’t speak, not that He’s never spoken, but in the sense that He doesn’t speak here. And it’s a strange thing. We read the psalm and at the end of verse 4, at least when I read it and probably you, too, we say, “That’s it? That’s where the psalm ends? There’s nothing else? There’s no hope? There’s no reassuring word? It’s just, Lord, give us mercy? We’re tired of contempt. That’s it?”
We expect at the end of this psalm that God would speak, at least that he might reassure us or maybe at least through the psalmist he would speak on behalf of what he knows about God.
The psalm begins much like Psalm 121. Psalm 121 begins this way: I lift up my eyes to the hills. From where does my help come? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.
It’s a very similar beginning, but it ends much differently. Psalm 121 and 123 both begin with a need and a look to God. They are both psalms borne out of crisis. They are both psalms that tell us to lift our eyes and look to God. But Psalm 121 ends with God speaking through the psalmist and reassuring His people of His character. He will not let your foot be moved. He neither sleeps nor slumbers. He will give you shade. He will not strike you. He will keep you.
Psalm 123. Nothing. It gives us no reassurances from God at the end. Our soul has had more than enough of the scorn of those who are at ease, of the contempt of the proud. Period. Psalm over.
Where’s the comforting word? Where’s the reassurance that He will never leave us or forsake us? Where’s the promise even of ultimate victory? There’s none of that. There’s none of that in this psalm. And that teaches us something about God. Sometimes He doesn’t respond. Sometimes God is silent. Sometimes there is nothing but scorn and shame and scoffers all around us, and we cry out to God, saying “God, I’m so tired of this. I can’t go to work one more day. I can’t do this one more time. Would You help me, God? Would You give me Your mercy? Would You give me Your favor?” And sometimes we don’t hear anything back. Sometimes we will be desperate to hear a word from God and we won’t hear anything back. Sometimes God is mute.
And as strange as it is to say, there is something about Psalm 123 that at least I find comforting. Because there’s something real about Psalm 123, because it’s actually connecting to my life and to my experience. There are times where there will be challenges or hardships or difficulties and days that I don’t want to wake up, and I have a pit in my stomach, and there won’t be a message from God written in the sky. There won’t be a divinely inspired special word for me. There will just be me, waking up, facing another day.
Now, friends, you and I know that Psalm 123 isn’t the whole counsel of God’s Word. Psalm 123 doesn’t negate all the assurances and reassurances that we receive in the Bible. The end of Psalm 121 is true and we should hold onto that and we should cling to that. The end of Romans 8 is true and we should hold to that, and we should cling to that.
But Psalm 123 teaches me that sometimes we don’t get those reassurances. Sometimes God is silent.
Derek Thomas, commenting on this psalm, says this. He says, “Waiting patiently on God’s timing can be very difficult, of course. Such delays, and they are delays from our perspective, not from God’s, keep us on our toes. They ensure that our faith is nourished rather than lulled to sleep. Abstinence creates appetite. Growing up in grace involves submission to God at every level, and lessons learned here will repay dividends.”
First, what does Psalm 123 teach us about God? He’s our Master. He’s the source of mercy. And sometimes He’s mute in that He doesn’t respond immediately to our requests. That’s what it teaches us about God.
What does it teach us about the world? What does this psalm teach us about the world that you and I find ourselves in? Primarily it teaches us this – that sometimes the world around us is going to win. Sometimes the world and the people of the world and the things of the world are going to seem like they are winning.
Notice the psalm describes two types of people in verse 4, those who are at ease and those who are proud. It describes the rich and the accomplished.
One of the things that we do with our college students is teach them how to share their testimonies. Typically something along the lines of here was my life before Christ and here’s how Christ entered my life, and now here’s what my life looks after Christ. And every time we do this, I feel the pull to talk about how amazing my life is now because of Jesus. My life was terrible, Jesus entered my life, and now it’s amazing. That can be a very easy temptation. Don’t you want to know Jesus? Because He can change your life and He can make it so much better than it is right now.
We may not be as bold as the prosperity gospel preachers, but there is a part of us in evangelism that can talk about how much peace and security and perspective we now have, and how even all of our problems aren’t really problems anymore because Jesus has fixed them all.
But the reality is that God has not promised a life of ease. In fact, He has promised us the very opposite of this, and Psalm 123 does not skirt that issue. There are going to be people in this world who have more money than you and I. There are going to be people who are more accomplished than you and I. And if that wasn’t enough, the rich in this world are going to deride you. They’re going to mock you, this psalm says. The proud, they are going to disrespect you. It’s not enough that they have more money, they have more prestige, they have more accomplishments, more respect in this world. They’re going to rub it in your face.
One of the things that my boys like to do is play baseball. So trying to be a decent father and a good member of the community, I’ve been helping coach some of their teams, and it’s a lot of work. In the past couple of years, we’ve actually had some decent teams, and a couple have made it to the championship game only for us to lose. Every time. We’ve lost in the championship game. And it’s hard for the kids. And there are some boys that are crying, and there are some that are mad and throwing their helmets, and I’m trying to say “don’t throw your helmets, please, don’t do that, you know, your parents are looking at me.” Some are pitching a fit. And it’s really hard, just to have, you know, a loss there, just to accept the fact that we did not win the game. We didn’t get the trophies.
But imagine if the other team, and boy, this would be awful for a youth baseball team, but just imagine for a second that they rubbed it in our faces at the end. Not only did we not win the game, but they came over and mocked us and taunted us. They treated us with scorn, with contempt, and with hostility. It’s hard enough to lose, but it’s just miserable when it gets rubbed in your face.
That’s what’s happening here to the psalmist and to this community. It’s not just that others have a life of ease, it’s that they’re openly mocking the psalmist and his community. That’s hard. That’s painful. And this side of heaven, friends, sometimes that’s life.
This isn’t a point that needs to be belabored because I think we’re aware of it. I think we’re becoming growingly prepared for this opposition, but it does bear repeating, just for a moment, just in case the message hasn’t hit home, that Christians need to be prepared for the scorn and the contempt of the world, in your workplace, in your communities, in your extended families, on your college campuses, in your high school. Some of you already know this and are experiencing it. For some of us it may be coming, but we need to be ready and prepared for the day when openly identifying with the God of the Bible, with Jesus Christ, will lead to scorn and contempt, disrespect and derision.
I was in Washington, D.C., last week and I was driving around with some of our fellow Campus Outreach staff workers up there, showing me around the city and Georgetown and George Washington and Howard University, and we drove by one of the buildings up on the Hill and it looked like it had a fresh coat of paint on it. It looked new but it also didn’t quite fit in with the other buildings on the block. Sure enough, it was the Capitol Hill Crisis Pregnancy Center. My friend had remarked that it had been vandalized after the Supreme Court decision to overturn Roe v. Wade. Scorn and contempt. Disrespect and derision.
Now we hope that’s not the case. We don’t need to bring that on ourselves more than is needed, but as Christians we need to be mentally and emotionally and spiritually prepared to meet that type of opposition. What does this psalm teach us about the world? Sometimes they’re not only going to win, they might even rub it in your face.
Third. What does this psalm teach us about the Christian life? What does this psalm teach us about you and me and how we should respond to both who God is and what the world around us is like?
First, that we are to be utterly dependent on God. What does this teach us about you and me? That we should be utterly dependent on God.
We looked at verse 2 earlier, but notice it again, and this time from the perspective of the psalmist.
Behold, as the eyes of servants
look to the hand of their master,
as the eyes of a maidservant
to the hand of her mistress,
so our eyes look to the Lord our God,
until He has mercy upon us.
God is the Master. You and I, nothing more than lowly servants. The psalmist rightly sees his place in the world. He is lowly and he is dependent and he is subservient to the Master. He is in need of provision and protection. He is patiently waiting on his Master. He is trusting. The servant has nothing without the Master. He is utterly dependent on God.
So, church family, how dependent are we on God? Do we look towards His hand when we need something? Do we look and say, “I don’t have anything, God, unless You give it to me from Your hand.” Are our eyes looking to Him when we have a great need or great challenge in our life? You say, “God, I need You. I can’t look anywhere else, God. My eyes are looking towards You.” Just as a servant would look to the hand of his master for everything he needs, God, I don’t know what else to do, so my eyes are going to be looking to You because I have no other answers.
Listen to what our former senior pastor Mike Ross once wrote about this psalm. He said Psalm 123 paints us as shameless, prideless, needy servants who keep staring at our Master in heaven until He notices us and provides for us, which He always does. For self-sufficient and self-love Americans to be poor in spirit is really excruciating.
One of the great obstacles in our community and our context, maybe not specifically Christ Covenant but certainly included in that in a broader, just affluent south Charlotte culture, just one of the great obstacles is self-sufficiency. When challenges arise, when obstacles come, when opposition presents itself, many of our eyes turn where? Turn inwardly. We look at ourselves, what resources do I have? We look to our resources. We look to our knowledge. We look to our intuition. We don’t look up to God.
And I’ve commented on this before and I know other pastors have, but with our great affluence comes with it a sense that we can provide for ourselves, that we’re not dependent on other people, that we have what it takes. Maybe that’s not you and maybe it is you, I’m speaking broadly, I’m not speaking specifically here, but broadly this is an affluent church and an affluent community, and so broadly when needs arise and challenges arise, we just tend to look inwardly. Okay, what resources do I have?
And there’s a part of that that’s good and noble. But in the sense that also can threaten us spiritually, when we respond spiritually the same way we respond materially.
Friends, are our eyes lifted to Jesus? Lifted up to the One who is enthroned in the heavens. Do we look to the hand of the Master? Are we looking to the Lord our God until He has mercy upon us? Until He has favor upon us?
The first thing we learn about ourselves is that we are to be utterly dependent on God.
Second, we learn that we are desperately in need of mercy. This is connected to being dependent on God, but with a slight nuance. The psalmist is crying out for mercy. Three times he cries out, “have mercy upon us, have mercy upon us, have mercy upon us.” You can almost hear the cry of desperation, of pain, of anguish in the psalmist’s voice as he pens this, have mercy upon us, God. O, Lord, have mercy.
The psalmist not only looks to the Master for provision, as it seems he’s doing in verse 2, he also looks to the Lord for salvation, as he does in verse 3. We don’t know what the sources of contempt were in the psalmist’s life or in that community, but they were enough to pen this psalm, begging God to help, begging Him for mercy, begging Him for grace, for favor to be with them once more.
So tonight, friends, no matter where you find yourself financially or relationally or vocationally. No matter where you find yourself, everyone here is in need of the mercy of God.
Do you see yourself as needing God in this way today? Tonight? Moving into Monday. God, I need Your mercy. And friends, if you find yourself here tonight, this could not be a more relevant question if you know that you are apart from Christ. Where will you find the mercy and grace that you need spiritually, eternally? You see, because the Bible teaches us that God created us. He created you and He created me, and He gave us life and He gave us breath and He made us to have a relationship with Him.
But you and I know that we have broken that relationship with God. We have sinned times without numbers. We have made mistakes. We have broken God’s commandments. We’ve sinned. We’ve erred from the path on which God has told us to walk. We’ve broken His commandments and Psalm 14 tells us this, it tells us that no one is righteous. No, not one. Not you and certainly not me.
So how can a sinful people, who have broken this relationship with God, be restored and once again made right with Him? Where can we find mercy and grace and favor when we’ve sinned times without numbers? And that’s where Christians say we can only find this mercy, we can only find this grace, we can only find this favor in the person and work of Jesus Christ, in Him alone.
You see, God sent His Son into the world to live the life that you and I could never have, and to die the death that you and I deserved, fully paying the penalty for our sin and our rebellion, and now this God of mercy, of grace, of favor, He stands and He offers it to you, if you would only believe that the Lord Jesus Christ is who He says He is, and He’s done what the Scriptures have said He has done.
Friends, tonight, if tonight is the first time of hearing this Good News, that you can find mercy, I would just invite you to come talk to myself or Pastor Eric or one of the other pastors here. We would love to share with you more about the Good News of the God of mercy and how He extends it to you.
What does this teach us about the Christian life? That we are utterly dependent on God, that we are desperately in need of mercy, and finally that we are to turn to Him in prayer.
Notice verse 3 and 4 is a prayer. It’s a prayer of desperation. Verse 1 and 2 may be considered the posture of prayer, but verse 3 and 4 it’s the substance of prayer. We don’t know all of the goings on in the psalmist’s life and what the hardships are and what his community was facing, but we do know that his response is this, it’s to turn to God in prayer.
Notice that he turns to God in prayer even when it seems like God is silent. We can look throughout the Scriptures and see that God’s silence is not something that’s unique. We long to hear God speak to us as He did Elijah in 1 Kings 19. We know that God is not ultimately silent as He has given us His Word and speaks to us. His Word is living and active, but sometimes as we mentioned, God does seem silent. That’s where the Scriptures press us to wrestle with Him in prayer.
Consider a few verses. Psalm 28:
To you, O Lord, I call;
my rock, be not deaf to me,
lest, if You be silent to me,
I become like those who go down to the pit.
O God, do not keep silence;
do not hold your peace or be still, O God!
I cry to You for help and You do not answer me;
I stand, and You only look at me.
Andrew Murray has written this – it is God’s Spirit who has begun the work in you of waiting upon God, and He will enable to wait. Waiting continually will be met and rewarded by God Himself, working continually.
Psalm 123 is probably not the first psalm that you turn to in times of distress. But it is a psalm for real life. When everything and everyone around you feels like it’s moving against you, for when you don’t want to go home. Psalm 123 may not end with any reassuring hope, but it does begin there. It does begin there.
Look again at the very beginning of this psalm. The psalmist says this: To You I lift up my eyes. Even in the disappointment, even in the scorn and contempt, even in the silence, Psalm 123 tells us to lift our eyes to Him, who is enthroned in the heavens.
In a moment we’ll sing Christ, the Sure and Steady Anchor. Hear these words in verse 3: Christ, the sure and steady anchor, through the floods of unbelief, hopeless somehow, O my soul now, lift my eyes to Calvary. This my ballast of assurance, see His love forever proved, I will hold fast to the anchor, it shall never be removed.
Let’s pray. Lord Jesus, You are our sure and steady anchor, even through the floods of unbelief, even through hopelessness, even through the valley of the shadow of death. Lord, we have learned about who You are, we have learned about the world around us, and we have learned a bit about what it means to be a Christian in this world. Help us to lift our eyes to Calvary, to You we lift our eyes. We look to Jesus, our sure and steady anchor. In His name we pray. Amen.