Reversals of Fortune

Dr. Phil Ryken, Speaker

Psalms 126 | June 2 - Sunday Morning,

Sunday Morning,
June 2
Reversals of Fortune | Psalms 126
Dr. Phil Ryken, Speaker

Lord, it’s a good word that we sang together earlier in this service.  You are Your own interpreter and You will make it plain.  That’s true of Your providence in what we see happening in the world and it is surely true when we open Your Word to read it.  We ask now that the same Holy Spirit that revealed these words would make them plain to us through the preaching of Your Word and apply them for our encouragement and edification in every mind and heart.  We pray this in Jesus’ name.  Amen.   

Please turn in your Bibles to Psalm 126 and as you turn there may I say how grateful I am for the ministry or this church, for what it means to Charlotte, to North Carolina, for what it means to the Presbyterian Church in America, and especially grateful that this is a great church home for Wheaton students and alumni, and also for the very generous way you share the wider ministry of Kevin DeYoung.  Such a blessing in The Gospel Coalition, all the places where Kevin preaches through his writing ministry.  That’s really part of the extension of what God is doing in this congregation, so be encouraged at its wider fruitfulness.

Will you now attend to Psalm 126, which is title for us “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 Negeb!  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.”

This is the Word of God which He has promised to bless to our minds and hearts.

For 14 long months, Petr Jasek had languished in a Sudanese prison.  Perhaps this had not taken him completely by surprise.  He had grown up as the son of a pastor in communist Czechoslovakia.  He knew the cost that sometimes the faithful witnesses of Jesus Christ may bear.  He had been captured at the Khartoum Airport by the Sudanese Intelligence.  He had been placed in a small prison cell with five members of ISIS and they had subjected him to mockery for his faith in Christ, they had called him a filthy pig, they had broken his ribs, they had bruised his face.  As the months passed, Jasek grew in faith and courage, especially after he was given a Bible, which he was when able to read from cover to cover, and he began to testify to his captors and to his fellow prisoners.

He became so confident of God’s calling in the place that he stopped that God would let him out of prison if only he would have an opportunity to testify to the Gospel of the grace of God.

Then Petr suffered a terrible setback.  He was found guilty and sentenced to long years in prison.  He was not certain whether he would ever see his family again.  Frankly, he wondered at times whether he would even make it.  The next month he sat in the prison yard and he turned in his Bible to Psalm 126 and he read the same words that we read.  When the Lord brought back the captivity of Zion, we were like those who dream.  Our mouth was filled with laughter, our tongue with singing, and within moments of reading those words, the prison commander walked up to him and said, “Petr, you are getting released today.” 

He could hardly believe it.  Psalm 126 was coming true for him, the captive set free.  Later he wrote these words:  “I felt like I was dreaming.  When my fellow prisoners heard the news, they rejoiced with me and shouted for joy.  That was a moment of joy as the other prisoners hugged me and rejoiced over my release.” 

He went on to say, “Although I gave my life to Christ when I was 15 years old, I think it has more meaning now when I say, ‘Lord, the rest of my life is Yours.  You brought me out of prison, you saved me from a life sentence.  The rest of my life is Yours.  It is in Your hands.  Here I am.  I want to serve You for the rest of my life.'”

Psalm 126 came true for Petr Jasek and it can come true for you in your life.  You can have the same kind of rejoicing and also make the same kind of joyful lifelong commitment to Jesus Christ.  This psalm is about flipping the script.  It is for times when you feel trapped in your circumstances.  It is for times when you feel like nothing you do will really make a difference, and then you find out actually it does count for eternity.  It’s a song to use when you need to remember what God did in the past and ask Him to do it again.

Now to feel the full weight of the joy of this psalm, and to experience your own happy answers to prayer, it helps to know the backstory.

Like the other songs in this section of the Psalter, Psalm 126 is a pilgrim psalm.  It’s a song of ascent.  It’s one of the rising songs that the Israelites sang when they traveled up to Jerusalem.

You might think of this part of the Psalter as the playlist of worship songs that the Israelites used for their road trips to Jerusalem.  Although eventually this was sung every time the Israelites went to that holy city, it refers to one journey in particular, and it helps to understand that this part of the Psalter, book 5, running from Psalm 107 all the way to Psalm 150, these songs were composed in the context of Israel’s exile and return.  It’s one of the big events of the Old Testament. 

The armies of Babylon had besieged Jerusalem in 598 B.C., again in 587 B.C.  By the time they were through, all of Israel’s leaders, many of her man as well as many women and children, had been dragged to Babylon in chains.  It was an absolute nightmare.  The Israelites languished there for more than 50 years until finally Cyrus the Great began sending them back home in 537.

If you want to know what it was like to be an Israelite in those days, all you need to do is turn a page or two further in your Bible to Psalm 137 and you will see how freely the tears flowed.  “By the waters of Babylon, there we sat down and wept, when we remembered Zion.”  Were they singing any songs of praise in those days?  It was hard to.  “On the willows there we hung up our lyres,” our harps, “For there our captors required of us songs, and our tormentors, mirth, saying, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!””

What cruel persecution it was.  The Babylonians taunting the Israelites by demanding them to sing one of their joyful worship songs, something that was centered in Jerusalem.  But how could they do that?  They loved the lost city of Jerusalem far too much to sing some happy tune.  So they protested the Babylonians.  They said, “How shall we sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land?”

Thankfully, praise God, that captivity did not last forever.  With the decree of Cyrus, the Israelites began to move back home, about 50,000 of them.  This is all part of the backstory.  It’s a story you can read more about in Ezra chapter 1 and 2.  What I can tell you about that time period is that agony was turned to ecstasy.  One commentator writes, “The permission to return to Jerusalem had been so unexpected, the circumstances which had led to it so wonderful and so unforeseen, that when it came it could hardly be believed.  To those who found themselves actually restored to the land of their fathers, it seemed like a dream.  It was a joy,” the commentator concludes, “beyond all words to utter.”  A joy beyond words.

I read that in the commentary.  I smiled a little and said to myself, “Not quite.”  Because there was one person at least that was able to put that joy into words, and that’s why we have Psalm 126.  This songwriter found words to express those emotions and even to begin singing again and we see his words from the beginning of this psalm.  What was it like?  When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion, we were like those who dream, our mouth was filled with laughter and our tongue with shouts of joy.  That’s what it was like.

This word “Zion” connects this psalm to other psalms in this part of the biblical psalms, and refers to an iconic location.  Zion is the hill in Jerusalem where the city of David was built, and to this day it represents the forever city of the people of God.  The word “fortune” here is not meant to suggest that somehow the Israelites were lucky to be there.  No, their return was coordinated by their almighty Lord.  In this instance, the word “fortune” refers to a divine favor.  The Israelites were saved the way anyone ever gets saved – by the grace of God.

What the psalmist mainly remembered is what it felt like when they went back home.  People were so surprised.  It seemed way too good to be true.  It was like the championship you never expected your team to win followed by the victory parade you never expected to see.  It’s like, I suppose, the panthers winning the Super Bowl this year.  I mean, it’s not going to happen, but if it did you wouldn’t believe it.  Right?

People said they felt like they were dreaming.  They had to pinch themselves to make sure they were awake, and when they did, they discovered that they were living the dream.  It made them feel so good they laughed out loud.  Many of these people had been captives their whole lives, and at their homecoming they felt so euphoric, the laughter came easily and they shouted for all the world to hear.

The Good News version begins verse 2 like this, it captures the mood really well:  How we laughed, how we sang for joy.

This was the fulfillment of ancient prophecies that the people of God would return back home.  We get more shouting and more singing.  By the time we get to verses 5 and 6 you might think of Psalm 126 as one of the loudest songs in the Bible.  What it challenges us to do is be very joyful for the salvation that we have in Jesus Christ, and to be loud in our praise and bold in our witness and in our testimony.  God has done a great thing for us. 

What reversals of fortune have you received?  What stories of God’s grace compel you to laugh and sing and shout?  You’re not dreaming, you really do have a Savior.  Your sins have been forgiven.  Your bondage to addiction is beginning to break.  Your deep wounds by the grace of God are starting to heal.  There is a home for you with God and what joy it brings.

This joy is not merely personal.  We see in Psalm 126 that it was international news.  Other nations heard that Israel had returned to its ancient homeland.  When they talked about this, you can see this at the end of verse 2, what was said, what people were saying in the newspapers, was the Lord has done great things for Israel.  Evidently, these other nations were surprised as well. 

For an emperor to release people that he had subjugated was rare in the ancient world and I suppose just as rare today.  All through human history deportation is much more common than repatriation.  It was newsworthy to see a nation set free.

What I think is more surprising is the theological conclusion that these other nations reach.  They recognize that this was an act of God.  It wasn’t something Cyrus did.  It was an obvious case of divine intervention.

Can you see how important it is for us to bear witness to what God is doing in the world and what He has done in our lives?  Because it makes other people take notice and they comment on what God has done, and maybe they will reach, by the work of the Holy Spirit, this same conclusion – this is something that only God can do.

I’ve heard testimonies like this from among the people of God.  People see such a change, it has to be something that God can do.  It makes them curious to know more about the Bible and about the God of the Bible.

The Israelites were able to make the some testimony.  The nations could see that God was on their side and they could see it as well.

So you see in verse 3 they just can only agree with what the nations are saying.  Yes, the Lord has done great things for us.  We are glad about it.

In his book, Longing for Home, Stephen Yuille explains that when the Bible talks about the great things God has done, it is referring, and I love the way he describes this, to miraculous and marvelous manifestations of God’s power, to unexpected and undeserved manifestations of His grace, to inscrutable and inexplicable manifestations of His wisdom.  He’s just piling up the vocabulary words to describe how wonderful this is and also how surprising it is that God has done this great thing.

There are many ways that we could apply just these few verses before we proceed to the rest of the psalm.  I think we have a wonderful reminder here that God is sovereign over the affairs of state.  What happens in the world is not beyond His control, as maybe sometimes we are tempted to think.  It is all under His authority.  One nation rises to greatness, another falls into the hands of enemies.  People run for their lives, they are forced to move from one place to another, countries are contending with one another on a global stage. 

You can analyze all of that and understand it from social and military and political perspectives, but is also God’s doing.  The struggle for Sudan, the plight of Syrian refugees scattered across the world now, the battle for Ukraine, the struggle over Gaza, Trump versus Biden, whatever the future holds for the United States – it is all in God’s hands.  The most important thing we can say politically or otherwise about the affairs of state is that Jesus is Lord.

That’s what the Israelites had experienced in their own time and they wanted to testify to the greatness of God in His work among the nations. 

Surely, here’s another way we can apply this verse, verse 3, this testimony that Israel gives, we, too, should bear witness to what God has done.  Verse 3 begins with this theological declaration – God has done great things for His people.

There were times, admittedly, when they doubted that this was the case.  Sometimes the Israelites themselves had doubted this.  They looked at what God was doing and they said, in fact you can see it in the psalms, you know God’s not going up with us the way that He used to go up with us.  He doesn’t seem to be for us.

They had these worries and concerns, but when all was said and done, they saw God work and then they gave Him the honor that He deserves.  To God be the glory, great things He has done.  That’s the message of verse 3.  And indeed, God had done great things for them, delivering them from bondage to one of the most powerful nations in the world.  Amazing that the Israelites were set free by the Babylonians.

But you know, we have an even greater deliverance to celebrate in Jesus Christ.  Through His crucifixion, through His resurrection, God has done great things for us.  That is the ultimate reversal of fortune.  Jesus going into the tomb dead and buried but coming back out again three days later alive forever.

You know, the first disciples were so surprised by that and so happy about it, as if they were almost dreaming, that when they saw the risen Christ, the Gospel says they disbelieved for joy.  It’s the same mood, the same emotion that we find in Psalm 126.

It’s still our joy today.  Our many sins have been forgiven.  We live in the hope of eternity.  Therefore we respond.  We’ve done it in worship this morning, the same way the Israelites did when they came back to Jerusalem, a God-centered emotional response, the gift of a joyful heart.  It’s also a vocal response as we testify aloud to the great things that God has done for us.

You know, some Christians, maybe some Presbyterians, to be honest with you, maybe some Dutchmen, Dr. DeYoung, are a little just quieter about what God has done in our lives than we could be and ought to be.  But Psalm 126:3 sets the tone for us – The Lord has done great things for me and I am glad.  We’re not just saying, “You know, the Lord has done a few things that I was hoping He would do and I feel pretty good about it.”  The psalmist is calling us to higher praise, praise that gives greatness to God, that lifts our heart to gladness for His grace.  If God has done great things, our praise should rise to the level of His greatness.  Whatever gladness looks like for us, with our different temperaments and backgrounds and cultural context, but whatever it looks like for us, that is what God deserves in our worship.

Now everything the psalmist has said so far took place in the past, and there’s a big shift in the middle of this psalm.  The psalmist had looked back to the good old days, to the happy time, those were the days, verses 1 through 3.  But in the second half of this psalm, his focus shifts to the present and the future.  That was then, this was now.  This is going to be relevant for us because we’re living in the now, not just in the past.

You can see the pivot point in verse 4:  Restore our fortunes, O Lord, like streams in the Negeb! 

Now the opening verses are about the fact that God has restored fortunes, but now there is a plea that God would do this restoring again.  Notice specifically the word “restore” and also the word “fortune.”  You look back, you see those same words in verse 1.  Now we’re starting a second stanza of the song and you see the same words again, restore and fortune.

The psalmist is moving from a happy memory to an expectant hope, believing that if God did it before, He can do it again.  What encouragement this will be for our prayers.  If we’ve seen God do something in the past, He can do it again.

Verses 1 through 3 were about a specific time when God restored His people’s fortunes, but evidently they found themselves in trouble again because verse 4 is a prayer for God to do the same thing again that He had done before.

Have you ever been at this place in your own spiritual life?  There is something you prayed for, it seemed to be worked out, God did it, then you discover that actually you need Him to do it again.  Or you find yourself in a similar situation to something you’ve faced in the past and it’s almost like déjà vu because you find yourself offering very similar prayers.  God answered your prayer before, you praised Him for it, but life in Christ is not a one and done.  Soon we find ourselves in another situation that needs God’s provision, that requires God’s protection, that demands His perspective.  Then we pray for God to rescue us again, in the same or in a similar way, that He has helped us before.

I wonder what your biggest prayer need is this morning.  I wonder if it might be the same need you’ve had in the past, or maybe something similar, and something that you need God to do again.  I like the paraphrase that Eugene Peterson gives in his book The Message.  It really captures the mood of this second half of the psalm.   “And now, Yahweh, do it again.  Bring rains to our drought-stricken lives so those who planted their crops in despair will shout “Hurrah” at the harvest, so those who went off with heavy hearts will come home laughing with armloads of blessing.”

To understand this part of the psalm, again it helps to understand the context.  In this case, not so much the historical context but the geographical context, the hydrological context of Palestine.  The Negeb is the driest part of Israel, the arid desert-like wilderness in the south.  It runs from the Dead Sea down to the Red Sea.  The word itself simply means “dry.”  That was the easiest way to put it on the map – let’s just call that the dry place.  A place so parched that no one can live there without the gift of water.      

But streams do sometimes run in the desert.  What the psalmist has in mind here are dry riverbeds that the wadis that run fast after a rainstorm.  Streams in the desert are rare, but they also come quickly and rivers rush across the dirt and the sand.  They create muddy gulches, like we see in the American Southwest.  What at first was maybe barely a trickle becomes a refreshing river, flowers spring up and there is beauty in the desert.  It’s a beautiful analogy for the refreshing grace that we need when we are walking through one of the parched places of the Christian life.

I would be shocked if there aren’t people here this morning that can relate to that sense of spiritual dryness.  You’re looking for something refreshing, you know something is missing in your spiritual experience.  Sometimes it can feel that way for an entire community.  It feels like a wilderness.  The Israelites certainly felt that way after their exile.  Their nation needed to be restored.

In a way, for example, we see Gaza needing to be reconstructed.  It’ll be a challenge in the coming years.  That’s a kind of contemporary analogy of what the Israelites were facing in Jerusalem.  Their numbers were few, their enemies were strong.  Jerusalem lay in ruins.  They didn’t have a wall of protection around the city in those days.  They had no temple for the worship of God.  These we all things that people were grieving over in the days when they came back from Babylon to Jerusalem. 

God raised up men like Ezra, Nehemiah, to rebuild the city, but those were dry and dusty days when people prayed for streams of living water.  Psalm 126:4 is a wonderful prayer to use when you are in a spiritual desert.  It’s a prayer to offer, if I can say this the right way, when you feel kind of unlucky in life, when you feel as if the hand of God’s providence has been against you, it’s been a hard season.  In your workplace perhaps, or at your school or in your family.  It’s been challenging with regard to your health and well-being.  If you’re in that kind of situation, the psalmist has a prayer for you – Restore my fortunes, Lord.  Send rivers of living water to run through this dry and desolate soul.

Even though, of course, we believe that God has a purpose for our suffering, this doesn’t prevent us from praying for our hardships to end and for happy days to come again.

Notice here that the psalmist prays in the plural – Restore our fortunes, Lord.  It’s not a self-centered prayer, although it’s certainly appropriate to pray for ourselves, but here is a man interceding for his whole community.  It’s a prayer to use when we are praying not just for ourselves but for the people we love.  It’s what we can pray for family members who are wandering in a spiritual wilderness – Lord, restore her spiritual, restore his spiritual, fortunes.  It’s for a church that’s been through a time of crisis and needs revival.  It’s for a nation that’s lost its way.  For ourselves and for anyone else who needs to be renewed and restored – We pray, “Restore our fortunes, Lord.”

Well, Psalm 126 closes with a final image of reversal and restoration, this time drawn from the world of agriculture.  Looking forward to the future, the psalmist states principles of sowing and reaping that sound like a promise, or at least like a proverb, and maybe you know these familiar verses.

Those who sow in tears shall reap with shouts of joy.

He who goes out weeping, burying the seed for sowing, shall come home with shouts of joy, there are the shouts again, bringing his sheaves with him.

This is a life cycle that takes place pretty much everywhere in the world.  The farmer sows, the rain falls, the seed germinates, a plant grows, eventually it becomes fruitful and a harvest is realized, a harvest which always contains seeds which then in turn can be planted again.

What seems a little surprising here, though, is the farmer’s mood.  Did you notice this?  The farmer is sad as he is sowing his seed.  If that seems surprising, imagine a famine so severe that a family must eat its last remaining seeds to survive.  But then imagine the head of that household taking some of those precious life-giving seeds and just putting them in the ground where they are wasted, where they cannot be tasted.  A farmer knows that to have any hope for the future, he needs to bury those life-giving seeds in the ground, which he does through his tears.

The Israelites felt the same way when they got back home to Jerusalem.  They were sad when they saw their ruined city.  Before the temple was rebuilt, they suffered a severe famine.  Haggai talks about this in his prophecies.  They were sad again when they rebuilt their temple and saw that it fell far short of its former glory.  Ezra tells us that people wept with a loud voice when they saw the foundation of this house, the second temple, being laid.  The work of rebuilding the city walls was arduous.

I’m just talking about all of the hardships that the Israelites faced in this season of sowing.  They were not always happy in those days.  They sometimes shed bitter tears.  In fact, at a certain point Nehemiah, the governor, had to go to people and say, “You’re crying too much.  You’ve got to stop grieving.  You’ve got to find your strength in the joy of the Lord.” 

You can forgive the Israelites during those difficult days if sometimes they wondered if the happy days would come again.  They had many specific promises to reassure them that their fortunes would be restored, but sometimes they found it hard to believe.

We face similar struggles in life and ministry.  Do you ever find yourself longing for a past time, what seemed to be a better time, spiritually and maybe in other ways related to your well-being?  Kingdom work is as difficult as farming is.  Sometimes our service for the Lord doesn’t seem to bear much fruit.  We go through seasons of sadness and there are all kinds of reasons for it.  Mothers stuck at home with small children, teenagers feeling alone at school, workers in dead-end jobs, pastors who want to quit.  Many of us find it hard to keep going.  It all feels like sowing and no reaping, all tears and no joy.  Nothing seems to make a difference.  We feel as if we have nothing left to give.

If that’s the way we feel, then Psalm 126 is here to help us be our consolation.  I think the words of repetition here give a strong sense of reassurance.  If you think about it, what you see in verse 5 is pretty much the same as what you see in verse 6.  It’s different language, it’s expanded a bit, but the point really is the repetition.  God is promising an abundant harvest, and if it’s hard to believe, He promises it again, in effect, at the end of Psalm 126 God is doubling down on the promise of the harvest.  Your prayers will be answered by the grace of God.  That lost one will find his way, will find her way, back home.  The church will renew its ministry.  The nation will turn back to God.  Whatever struggling circumstance you’re in, happy days will come again.  God has a plan and a purpose.

You may not see the joy right away, it may not happen this afternoon, but people who persevere experience God’s blessing.  This hope gives us the courage to keep praying, keep serving, keep doing what we know is right, keep working in the work of the Lord knowing that one day the harvest will come.  Our tears will nourish the soil of our kingdom labor and they serve as the sign of future joy at the coming harvest.

This is why the Apostle Paul told the Galatians, “Let us not grow weary of doing good for in due season we will reap if we do not give up.”  Similarly, to the Corinthians, “Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully.”

Carol Kent writes about reaping the harvest in her heart-wrenching book, When I Lay My Isaac Down.  She and her husband Gene had endured the unimaginable agony of seeing their beloved son, a US Naval officer with an impeccable record, tried and convicted for killing his wife’s ex-husband.  In the middle of her son’s lengthy legal trials, the author accepted a keynote speaking engagement near Frankfort, Germany.  She had an opportunity to minister to 500 military wives and active-duty women from all over Europe.  They were going to gather for spiritual encouragement.

On her flight over the Atlantic, Carol broke down.  She sobbed inconsolably.  She was worried what other people on the plane would think.  She had nothing left to give.  She had only tears because of what she was going through personally in her life, in her family.  She made it to Frankfort and as she stood up to speak, she sensed the Holy Spirit whispering a life-giving message to her.  Not audibly, but just the sense of it – “Carol, I’m not through with you yet.  You have a job to do.  Look at all these spiritually needy women.  There are women just like this all over the world.  Keep doing what I’ve called you to do.  I can work much more effectively through your broken spirit.  Trust Me.”

The conference turned out to be one of the most uplifting of her life in ministry.  She saw military wives give their lives to Christ.  She saw women release the burden of separation from loved ones.  They found healing for broken relationships.  She realized in that moment, “I am living Psalm 126.”  This is what came to mind.  It’s the story of the reversal of fortune.  “Those who sow in tears,” she certainly had done that, “will reap with songs of joy.”  She was starting to see the fruit.

Friends, we serve a God of reversal, who turns wadis into rivers, seed into harvest, tears of sorrow into songs of joy.  That’s really the story of our salvation.  It’s really the story of Jesus shedding His bloody tears in Gethsemane, knowing that joy was coming His way if only He could endure the cross.  God proved it at the garden tomb.  The women came that morning, they were weeping, early in the morning on that first Easter Sunday, they were looking for the dead body of Jesus when they saw Him raised immortal.  Mourning was turned to laughter.

The same thing will happen.  It’ll happen a million, maybe a billion, times in the last of all days.  The Spirit has promised that another change is coming.  The reversal of all our fortunes.  What a happy day it will be when the body, the bodies of believers will rise to everlasting life.  The Bible promises that in that day all the tears will be wiped away because of the harvest of salvation.  If you think you’re dreaming that day, you can pinch your resurrection body and know that you’re not dreaming.  You are alive, as alive as ever, alive forever.  You will find that you are living the dream, that everlasting glory is more real than anything you have ever seen or felt before.

I wonder this morning what restoration your life needs in Jesus Christ, where you need to see a reversal of fortune.  What hope the Gospel can give you as you keep working for a coming harvest, as you keep praying towards the coming laughter.

I want to close with this story.  It’s the story of a missionary couple who went out in 1921, David and Svea Flood.  They left their native Sweden to proclaim the Gospel in the Belgian Congo, the heart of Africa.  Unfortunately, their missionary adventure ended in tragedy and despair.  The local chief of the remote village of N’dolera was so afraid of alienating the tribal deities that he refused to let this couple live in their community.  He said if you’re going to be here, you’ve got to be in this place that’s half a mile away.  No one from the tribe was allowed to have contact with this couple except for one young boy, kind of junior high age, he was allowed to go once a day or a couple times a week to sell them a few eggs and occasionally a chicken.

Well, it was their only opportunity for gospel witness, so Svea befriended the boy and told him about Jesus every time he came to the house.  Sadly, Svea contracted malaria while she was pregnant with the couple’s first-born daughter, their little girl Aina.  She died 17 days after giving birth.  David was convinced in that moment that their work would never bear fruit.  He was angry with God, he was angry about his missionary service, he was so furious about it he walked down off the mountain, handed his baby girl to another missionary family, and went back to Sweden.  He abandoned his faith with angry tears. 

The daughter ended up eventually in the United States, never saw her father again.  But decades later when she had grown up, she chanced upon a Swedish language magazine and she was just flipping through it, looking at the pictures, she couldn’t read Swedish but she saw something that amazed her, something she could hardly believe.  It was the photograph of a grave marker with the name Svea Flood.  She knew right away, “That’s my mother, that’s my mother’s grave.  I don’t know her story, but that’s my mother.  Who else would be named Svea Flood?” 

So she raced to find somebody that could speak Swedish.  She found a college professor who could translate the article, and he’s skimming through the pages and she’s so interested to know about it.  She’s telling him, “Tell me what you’re reading.  Tell me about it.”  He’s flipping through and he says, “It’s about missionaries.  They went to Africa a long time ago.  A baby was born.  The mother died.  One little African boy was led to Jesus before that,” he read, “and after the missionaries had all left, the boy all grown up, finally persuaded the chief to let him build a school in the village and he gradually won those young children to Christ.  And the children led their parents to Christ, even the chief became a follower of Jesus.”  As he got to the end of the story, he discovered that over 600 believers were in that village, all because of the life sacrifice of David and Svea Flood.

Now that’s not the end of the story.  What would you do if you were Aina?  She went and found her father in Sweden, told him the end of the story.  She led her father back to Christ.  Then she went to Africa and she went to the little village.  She wanted to see it for herself, the community that had been rescued through her mother’s faithful witness.  They welcomed her with open arms.  Here was the honored daughter of the woman who first brought them the Gospel and the first place they took her was to her mother’s gravesite.  She knelt there in grateful praise. 

They had a worship service, led by the local pastor, who formerly had been an egg salesman and a chicken salesman.  That little boy had grown up.  He had become the pastor of the village.  He opened his Bible and he was thinking, “What Scripture should I read?  What would be appropriate to this kind of occasion, to what we’re experiencing as a community?”  He opened his Bible to the Psalms, ran his finger down to Psalm 126, verse 5 –  “Those who sow in tears shall reap with shouts of joy, he who goes out weeping burying the seed for sowing shall come home with shouts of joy, bringing his sheaves with him.” 

That’s the Gospel in a nutshell in the Old Testament.  Jesus repeated it.  He said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone.  But if it dies, it bears much fruit.” 

It’s the story of our Savior’s life, death, and life-giving resurrection.  It’s also the story of every believer who makes costly sacrifices for the kingdom.  You may go out weeping as you sow, you will come home rejoicing in the harvest.   

Our Father, we give You praise for the promises of Your Word which give us the hope to persevere.  You did it for the Israelites, You did it in the life and death and resurrection of Jesus, You do it in our lives as we serve You.  We believe this and we live in hope of the coming harvest, which we pray for in Jesus’ name.  Amen.