For our faith ancestors, Psalm 126 was traditionally known as a “Psalm of Ascent,” which meant that it was sung by travelers as they made their way to the Temple. Of particular interest is the understanding that this is not a Psalm of David, but one that was probably written during the return to Jerusalem around the time of Ezra and Nehemiah. However, one caution would be to hinder the usefulness of the Psalm by tying it too tightly to its historical circumstances. While historical context is enlightening, God’s people are always in need of salvation and the Lord’s strength to restore us from our chaos and terrible choices.
126:1 When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion,
we were like those who dream.
2 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.”
3 The Lord has done great things for us;
we are glad.
4 Restore our fortunes, O Lord,
like streams in the Negeb!
5 Those who sow in tears
shall reap with shouts of joy!
6 He who goes out weeping,
bearing the seed for sowing,
shall come home with shouts of joy,
bringing his sheaves with him.
A Note about the Streams of Negeb (or Negev in the NIV) - These streams are well-known for being dry and being dry often. However, these stream beds can suddenly be rushing floods when the seasonal rains arrive. So, we can see the imagery here of a lack of hope suddenly turning into the arrival of life-giving deliverance.
The point of this Psalm is that we as God’s people live by both memory and hope. During this Christmas time, we remember the story of Jesus’ birth and what his coming means for us. We reflect on the cross and the resurrection as we take the Lord’s Supper. We hear the teachings of Jesus proclaimed and lived out as we interpret the Scriptures. We try to become like him as we live in the community of the church. And yet, through the tears, sorrow, and hard times—we hope. We hope that Christ is coming again, and our memory of what Jesus has done compels our belief in what He will do! Like the memory of Jesus burst on the scene unexpectedly and without warning, so we prepare ourselves for the hope of Jesus’ coming that will complete all things. Within these boundaries, we are a glad and joyful people!
I wasn’t around at the time of the Revolutionary War, but I have read about it in the history books and its effects can be experienced to this day in my life. There is a freedom I have because of what happened so long ago. Today, I will gather my family and go visit friends and watch fireworks tonight to celebrate Independence Day. It will be a good time and a needed rest for my family in the middle of the crazy summer months.
As I think about my faith, I must also understand a different meaning of “independence day” that also has much bearing on my life. I wasn’t present on that day either, but I have read about it both as a matter of pure history and in the gospel accounts in the Bible. I was reminded last week during our Vacation Bible School that Jesus was a soldier against our greatest enemies - sin, death, and Satan…and there was a day he won that battle. Most of us think that it was when he when to the cross, but in going to the cross, Jesus surrendered to the world of sin, death, and Satan to be willingly defeated. But by the power of God, Jesus resurrected from the dead and it is in this event that the world was changed…it was made free. It was this “independence day” that freed us from the shackles of sin, death, and Satan.
Paul writes regarding the resurrection of Jesus: 1 Corinthians 15:
20 But in fact, Christ has been raised from the dead. He is the first of a great harvest of all who have died.
21 So you see, just as death came into the world through a man, now the resurrection from the dead has begun through another man. 22 Just as everyone dies because we all belong to Adam, everyone who belongs to Christ will be given new life. 23 But there is an order to this resurrection: Christ was raised as the first of the harvest; then all who belong to Christ will be raised when he comes back.
24 After that the end will come, when he will turn the Kingdom over to God the Father, having destroyed every ruler and authority and power. 25 For Christ must reign until he humbles all his enemies beneath his feet. 26 And the last enemy to be destroyed is death. 27 For the Scriptures say, “God has put all things under his authority.” (Of course, when it says, “all things are under his authority,” that does not include God himself, who gave Christ his authority.) 28 Then, when all things are under his authority, the Son will put himself under God’s authority, so that God, who gave his Son authority over all things, will be utterly supreme over everything everywhere.
I can’t wait for the beauty of this display by our Lord, but until that day comes, I will gather my family and take them to see the fireworks, enjoy the food, and thank my country for the freedom I experience as an American and thank my God for the freedom I experience as a Christian, which I must admit transcends nation and people and position. This freedom we have in Christ, Paul would write later in the same chapter, motivates our lives… “58 So, my dear brothers and sisters, be strong and immovable. Always work enthusiastically for the Lord, for you know that nothing you do for the Lord is ever useless.” AMEN! Happy Independence Day to you…Come, Lord Jesus!
I was reading in Acts 7 this morning where Stephen is preaching to a very hostile crowd. If you know the story in Acts, Stephen gets stoned to death by those listening to his words, and while being stoned that Bible records that he looked up to heaven to see, “the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God.” The crowd of the high priest and synagogue attendees was so angry at Stephen that the text says they “ground their teeth” at him and were “enraged.” So, what did Stephen say? Well, there were several aspects of the old system of religion that Stephen criticized, but I think the nail in Stephen’s coffin happened when he spoke of the Temple in Jerusalem. He said this:
46 “David found favor with God and asked for the privilege of building a permanent Temple for the God of Jacob. 47 But it was Solomon who actually built it. 48 However, the Most High doesn’t live in temples made by human hands. As the prophet says,
49 ‘Heaven is my throne,
and the earth is my footstool.
Could you build me a temple as good as that?’
asks the Lord.
‘Could you build me such a resting place?
50 Didn’t my hands make both heaven and earth?’”
The Most High doesn’t live in temples made by human hands… God lives in the heaven and the earth, God created his throne and God crafted his dwelling place. God lives with us, not separated from some stone barrier. …and this didn’t go over all that well, but we should understand why. In fact, that mound that still exists in Jerusalem sure does continue to get a lot of attention from religious people. Stephen tells them that they resist the Holy Spirit…that is God’s indwelling, God’s presence among his people. They resist it because they have put their faith, trust, and allegiance in the Temple.
God is bigger than that temple, and maybe we might say that God is bigger than our temples. I know we don’t have stone structures that contain God, but we all have boxes that contain God. I know how God thinks and I know how God acts. I know given a particular situation God would do this…and I know that if we don’t fully do what God wants then God will respond in this way. But Jesus changes all of that, we are talking "law" and Jesus came to SAVE…which the law only condemns.
So, let’s check our “temples” today and not try to contain the Most High in boxes created by human hands (or minds). Lord God, show us your glory as high as the heavens and may we see your throne not as a temple, box, or doctrine, but as a Kingdom where you reign and a Kingdom we live today, now, and forevermore in your presence! Amen.
Matthew 27:32–34; Mark 15:20-24; Luke 23:26
Jesus taught in the Sermon on the Mount the idea of service, he said if anyone asks us to walk a mile with them, go another mile. Roman soldiers were able to command those they protected to carry their belongings for one mile…a repayment to their service. Simon of Cyrene stumbled upon this as he entered Jerusalem at the end of his pilgrimage. A man who lacked the ability to walk his cross to the place of death needed help.
The Roman soldiers, recognizing that Jesus didn't have sufficient strength to carry his cross by himself, "seized" Simon and demanded that he carry the cross of Jesus. No doubt Simon was hesitant, fearing that he might end up sharing Jesus' fate. Yet he knew enough not to provoke the soldiers, so he took the cross as ordered. We don't know much more about Simon than this, since he disappears from the biblical record at this point.
There is much writing regarding what happened to Simon after this event. Most Christian thinkers are compelled because of their knowledge of the Savior and their passion for the narrative to connect Simon with the scattered church both in the writings of Acts and of Romans. Yet, we forfeit that search today to focus on what we know. Simon joined Jesus in his moment of shame, and for that we remember him today…this Good Friday.
We ought to identify with Simon of Cyrene, who found himself a surprised participant in the crucifixion of Christ. This is especially true since many of us became Christians without really knowing that we were dying to our old selves so that we might live anew in Christ. We were pitched a gospel of salvation and eternal life without the implications of servanthood, sacrifice, and death to sin and self.
Yet what is the thought we should take from Simon of Cyrene?
“If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will save it" (Luke 9:23-24) We All have a cross to bear…yes.
Perhaps the words of this hymn will penetrate our hearts today: Must Jesus Bear the cross Alone?
Must Jesus bear the cross alone,
And all the world go free?
No, there’s a cross for everyone,
And there’s a cross for me.
How happy are the saints above,
Who once went sorrowing here!
But now they taste unmingled love,
And joy without a tear.
The consecrated cross I’ll bear
Till death shall set me free;
And then go home my crown to wear,
For there’s a crown for me.
Upon the crystal pavement down
At Jesus’ pierced feet,
Joyful I’ll cast my golden crown
And His dear Name repeat.
O precious cross! O glorious crown!
O resurrection day!
When Christ the Lord from heaven comes down
And bears my soul away.
Yet, this take goes a step further because Simon wasn’t carrying his own cross, but was joining Jesus in the shame of sin and condemnation…Like the other hymn sings: I’ll cherish the old rugged cross, its shame and reproach gladly bare…
It’s one thing to suffer for our own sins, and to pay our own consequences. But Jesus asks us to suffer for the sins of others, to take up crosses all around us and in so doing…we have served the Lord. Jesus says, “Whatever you do to the least of these, you have done for me.” The day of carrying Jesus’s cross has passed, and we are thankful for Simon of Cyrene and his service to the Lord…
But are we equally thankful for a Savior and Lord that commands us to search for the shame and reproach around us and to reach out to the hurting, broken, hungry, and forgotten…After all, we have to at some point acknowledge our mistake in thinking that this cross was actually Jesus’ to begin with…the perfect Son of God, carried a cross…but not his cross. It was more Simon’s cross or my cross than Jesus’ cross…
Jesus carried our shame, our sin, and when he chose to put that upon himself and go to the cross, then the old rugged cross became the Cross of Christ, and it transformed into something beautiful and Holy…Just like our lives when given over to Jesus, they too are transformed from shameful and rugged to beautiful and holy.
This was shared at a station of the cross during the Elizabethtown Carry the Cross Event, Friday, April 14. I pray that on this Saturday between death and life, we might ponder the ways of Jesus and seek to pick up crosses.
I was struck, probably by a strong dose of reality, the other day reading through this Psalm. It speaks of the entirety of forgiveness and a life lived in complete relationship with the Lord. It is a Psalm of David, but a song springing up from what event I wondered? What led to such confidence in God? What led to the outpouring of true and authentic confession and “complete honesty” as David says it in the verses below?
James Gray seems to agree with Jewish tradition that this Psalm, “Is thought to have been written after his sin with Bathsheba (you can read that in 2 Sam. 11-12). He has been brought to repentance for that sin and forgiven (David is said to have written Psalm 51 in his repentance for that sin), and now is praising God for that forgiveness, and telling what led up to it.” Christian Worker’s Commentary
Here are David’s words:
1 Oh, what joy for those
whose disobedience is forgiven,
whose sin is put out of sight!
2 Yes, what joy for those
whose record the Lord has cleared of guilt,
whose lives are lived in complete honesty!
3 When I refused to confess my sin,
my body wasted away,
and I groaned all day long.
4 Day and night your hand of discipline was heavy on me.
My strength evaporated like water in the summer heat. Interlude
5 Finally, I confessed all my sins to you
and stopped trying to hide my guilt.
I said to myself, “I will confess my rebellion to the Lord.”
And you forgave me! All my guilt is gone. (Selah)
6 Therefore, let all the godly pray to you while there is still time,
that they may not drown in the floodwaters of judgment.
7 For you are my hiding place;
you protect me from trouble.
You surround me with songs of victory. (Selah)
8 The Lord says, “I will guide you along the best pathway for your life.
I will advise you and watch over you.
9 Do not be like a senseless horse or mule
that needs a bit and bridle to keep it under control.”
10 Many sorrows come to the wicked,
but unfailing love surrounds those who trust the Lord.
11 So rejoice in the Lord and be glad, all you who obey him!
Shout for joy, all you whose hearts are pure!
I think what struck me about this Psalm was that when God is confronted with the reality of our sin, God doesn’t react like we expect him to react. God forgives, puts it out of sight, clears our guilt, protects us from trouble, gives us victory, and refreshes us in His unfailing love.
Because of the shame and guilt of sin, perhaps what we have been taught about sin, and many other factors…we often think that we have to rationalize our sin away or spend energy trying to hide it. Just focus on our strengths and eventually the weaknesses will be untraceable. Maybe we could even spend more time taking the focus off of “me” and start helping “them” live a better life. David is not the first or last leader who fell for this one…ministers, pastors, elders, bishops, and deacons beware of this. (I am too aware of the hiddenness and secrecy of sin in the lives of our most beloved church leaders.) So, conceal it and don’t feel it in the words of “Frozen” Don’t let them in, don’t let them see…be the good person you always have to be…
Yep, and there we are frozen to God’s work and our growth because like David we are wasting away and groaning, our strength being evaporated like water in the summer heat. If you find yourself in this picture, then understand a few truths about God:
God knows we sin, and God knows the effects of our sin and that is why at an excruciating personal cost Jesus was sent to live the life we are incapable of living and die the righteous death that we could never die.
God forgives sin through Jesus, and that forgiveness is complete and absolute for those who live in gratitude of this reality (Listen to David’s thankfulness above!)
The only power sin has in our lives is the power we give to it by pretending we are perfect and not taking advantage of the avenues provided to us through repentance and confession.
Christians are not perfect people, we are people who trust God’s promises and run to God for forgiveness, protection, and unfailing love.
Churches and faith communities must reflect these things and practice deep faith in God. If you find yourself among a group of people and leaders who say, “I’m sorry” and understand the supreme reign of Jesus Christ, then count yourself blessed!
Finally, this concluding thought from the Psalm of David, and if true in his heart than how much more true for those in Christ Jesus our Lord. “So rejoice in the Lord and be glad, all you who obey him! Shout for joy, all you whose hearts are pure!”
I want to share thoughts, insights, and scriptures that lead us in the direction of Christ.