Big Idea: In God’s Time we will Ascend the Steps of the New Jerusalem
Intro: Well morning friends, visitors and those joining online. My name is Matt Johnson and today we are finishing our Sermon Series on Psalms of Lament, remembering that our hope as Christians is not in this world, but in the glorious world to come when Jesus returns. So lets pray as we begin today…
Prayer: Well friends what I “LAMENT” the most in Australia today is the growing hostility towards Jesus and God’s Word in the Bible. Modern secular Australia is so puffed up by their pride that we now think we know better than God. When God says “DON’T!” Secularism says “do”. When God says he made us male and female. The world says “gender” is a man-made construct. God says – save the world by preaching Jesus. Man says – save the world by recycling your plastics. And sadly, too often I hear the church echoing the worlds wisdom.
But friends, there is no real fear of the LORD in Sydney. No one really trembles at God’s Word. So if the Bible is correct and the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom (and yet we discern almost zero fear of LORD in modern Sydney) what does that say about Sydney? Wise or foolish? (PAUSE). The secular world is not wise. It has knowledge and perhaps some limited understanding of life. But it has rejected the fear of the Lord and God has given it over to an increasingly DEPRAVED mind. So why are we so quick to trust and follow? I’d say, the church would be significantly HEALTHIER if Christians were A) just a little bit more cynical when listening to the secular world, and B) a little bit less cynical when listening to the Bible.
Sadly, (and I mean sadly) the church is aligning itself more and more with the world’s VALUES, the world’s PRIORITIES and even the world’s FEARS. Christians now fear EXACTLY the same things the world fears. Even though the Bible specifically tells us on more than one occasion; “Do not fear what they fear.” (Isa.8:12; 1Pet.3:14). Yet most Christians now fear exactly the same things the world fears. WHY?
What does that tell us? As I mentioned last week Israel – let go of God’s word and started blending Judaism with other religions; idolatry and sexual immorality and their whole society started to wobble. It started slowly 1) like a beautiful sandcastle drying out in the sun and crumbling at the edges. Then, 2) the wind began to blow and the sand-castle started to lose its shape and form. It was little more than a pile of sand. But then, 3) the tide came in – in the form of Babylon in 597BC – and everything that God created in Israel – was washed away. The glory was gone and all that remained was lament…
Now, while the Jews were in Babylon – they wrote many LAMENT PSALMS – lamenting their stupidity, their apathy and the heavy hand of God’s discipline. But the true believers among them – never gave up their hope in God’s promise of return to Jerusalem. The Jewish Mishnah tell us that 15 Psalms, Psalm 120-134 – known as the PSALMS OF ASCENT – were grouped together during the Babylonian exile – acknowledging that one day God would bring them back to Mt Zion in Jerusalem. That’s why ascent. Climbing back up Mt Zion. Then there were 15 steps up to the front door of the Jewish temple. And each Psalm of Ascent 120, 121, 122 etc corresponded to one of the 15 steps up to the temple and back into Gods presence. Gods people always lament in hope of return, not despair of abandonment.
So today we are looking at the 11th Psalm of Ascent (Psalm 130) – that looks forward in hope to the great day we climb the stairs of the New Jerusalem that comes down from heaven. But if we are in exile or find ourselves in Babylon…
Point 1: We must first acknowledge our Sin and ask God for Mercy
Show: Ps.130:1-4 (READ)
Explain: Well as you can see this Psalm is also A LAMENT. The person praying or singing cries out; “Out of the depths I call to you Lord.” It is a place of desperation. You can perhaps imagine SHADRACH, MESHACH AND ABEDNEGO crying out these words – as they were thrown into the depths of the fiery furnace in Babylon. Or perhaps DANIEL as he was thrown into the depths of the lion’s den in Babylon. In a way this is also the cry of the Apostle Paul in Romans 7; “O what a wretched man – I am. Who will rescue me from this body of death?” (Rom.7:24).
As the Psalmist looks at his life – he reaches the honest and humble opinion that he is utterly stuffed. He can’t save himself. And without God’s supernatural intervention there is no hope. So recognizing his desperate plight the speaker asks God to show him MERCY in verse 2..
Now mercy and grace go together. MERCY is when God withholds a bad that we deserve. GRACE is when God gives us a good that we don’t deserve. Now the person in this Psalm admits he or she needs mercy – to escape the bad they are experiencing and deserve in Babylon. This is an acknowledgment of guilt. The speaker goes on and says in verse 3; “if you kept a record of sins Lord, who could stand?” – ie who could stand in the final judgment.
If God added up all our sins and judged us fairly – we’d all deserve to be sent directly to hell. Do not pass go, do not collect $200. This is what our sin deserves. No one can expect to stand (and get a not guilty verdict) in the final judgment based on our own conduct.
(GOSPEL) But there is some GOOD NEWS that the Psalmist didn’t really know in Babylon. You see, you could answer the question “who could stand” – by saying – Jesus. Jesus is the one person in the history of the world who has no record of sin. Against your name (and my name) – there is a record of sin longer than Al Capone or Ted Bundy. But Jesus can stand in the final judgment and get a not guilty verdict – because he has no sin. So here’s the good news of Christianity. Jesus is holding out his hands to you right now – saying do you want to swap positions. If you say yes, Jesus will take what your sin deserves (death and hell) and deal with it at the cross AND in return he will give you as a gift what his sinless perfection deserves which is heaven and eternal life. This is the GREAT EXCHANGE. It’s a one-time offer. Its Gods mercy. If you give your sin to Jesus – then God will accept Jesus death on the cross as a full and final payment for everything you’ve done wrong. Then you will be able to stand in the final judgment because your record of sin will be paid in full.
Apply: But the problem we now face in Australia is that lots of people don’t believe anything is sin. And with increasing hostility from the world – the church is going quiet on sin and Gods coming wrath, often under the pretence of showing grace and being compassionate.
Now I admit that getting the BALANCE RIGHT between A) speaking the truth and B) speaking the truth in love, is not easy. For example, the Bible makes it clear that ABORTION is not a woman’s right. It is sin. In Exodus, the Bible says anyone who hurts or kills a baby in utero must be punished – eye for eye, tooth for tooth, life for life. God is saying the baby in utero is a full and valid person. But the sanctity of life in the womb and the sanctity of life started in IVF – is now gone.
Not so long ago I had a young Christian doctor – (who used IVF to have a baby) rebuke me for suggesting in a sermon – that destroying unwanted IVF embryos or donating them to science was sin. In his Christian medical opinion – he claimed it’s only a few embryonic cells and it was wrong of me to make his wife feel guilty about something that he believed was trivial.
Now I know that in this BROKEN WORLD – where men get women pregnant and then abdicate all responsibility – it often puts women in hard places. I get that.
I also know that not being able to have children because of fertility issues is painful. I get it. But this doesn’t give people a right to do whatever they want. Anything the New Testament says is sin or Jesus forbids, or the overall thrust of the Bible tells us is wrong – is sin. Yes, God will forgive us of almost anything. But he then calls us to repent, trust Him and obey Him.
Now the same is true when it comes to SEXUAL IMMORALITY, both heterosexual and homosexual. Of course, you can REJECT what the Bible says and go your own way. That’s your choice. But the Bible says that if you believe Jesus died for you and you call yourself a Christian – you need to repent of your sins before you meet your Maker. But today we make all sorts of excuses for things the Bible calls sin. The holiness or morality bar is getting lower and lower and lower… BRIAN ROSNER head of Ridley Bible College in Melbourne wrote a book called “BEYOND GREED”, printed by Matthias Media in 2016. In it Rosner writes; (Slide 3). Personally, I think this is perhaps the biggest problem of all in the modern Christian church.
So I lament because I think Sydney Christians are being compromised by Babylon’s values and beliefs and fears. Sydney is now hostile to Gods Word (and just like Babylon) – the city is starting to 1) set limits on what Christians can say, 2) what we can and can’t do and 3) what we all have to agree with in the WORKPLACE. It’s not much different to SHADRACH, MESHACH AND ABEDNEGO being told they must bow down in worship of the giant rainbow image – every time they hear the horn, flute, zither and lyre play in the workplace. Of course, I mean gold image. But what will most Christians choose in the workplace? It may soon test what we love more – Jesus or money? So I think now is perhaps a time to recognize we are far, far from Jerusalem. Storm clouds are on the horizon. And I’m not convinced the average Christian (or even minister) is ready to do a Shadrach, Meshach, Abednego or Daniel. I think I’m going to need help. So perhaps now is the time to lament and cry out to God for mercy
Point 2: We Must Wait on the Lord and put our Hope in His Word
Show: Ps.130:5-6 (READ)
Explain: Well sometimes there is ABSOLUTELY NOTHING we can do to change our circumstances except wait for the Lord’s deliverance. When we dig a hole for ourselves that is too deep to climb out of – there’s nothing we can do except wait for Gods deliverance. That is simply the nature of mercy and deliverance. It is dependent on God, not us.
So the Psalmist admits their in a hole, admits they are guilty, cries out to God for mercy and then waits, and waits and waits for God’s deliverance. And while they are waiting they put their HOPE (verse 5) in God’s Word. Now God’s Word promises in Deuteronomy 28-29 (and through Jeremiah) that if the people 1) acknowledged their sin, 2) called out to God for mercy and 3) turned back to His Word – deliverance would eventually come. That was God’s promise.
God even told Jeremiah the time frame. God told Israel through Jeremiah (that after 70 years) a guy called CYRUS would let the Jews go back to Jerusalem. But 70 years is a long time to wait. Its a long time to remain faithful to God in difficult circumstances. But there is no other way back to Jerusalem. So this is what Shadrach, Meshach, Abednego, Daniel and Ezekiel – all had to do. They put their hope in God’s Word, tried to remain faithful (even though it was super hard) and they waited, and they waited, and they waited…
But in the days of Isaiah, Jeremiah and Micah as judgment loomed large the vast majority of Israel didn’t want to repent of sin and they didn’t want to wait on God’s deliverance. So they became intent on avoiding Gods judgment and securing their own deliverance – through man made solutions. At first they thought if only we have more chariots and more horses – (more nuclear submarines and Apache helicopters) we will not end up in slavery in Babylon – as Jeremiah says.
Then they thought if only we FORM AN ALLIANCE with Egypt or Assyria OR perhaps turn off all coal-fired electricity and drive electric cars – we will avert Gods wrath. If we drop interest rates to the floor and engage in money printing maybe we will avoid the bankruptcy that inevitably comes with insatiable greed. Seriously, this is the story of Jeremiah. He tells them God’s judgment is coming and then rebukes them for trying to find natural solutions to avoid
Now I am making no political, scientific or economic comment – on the rightness or wrongness of 1) our military spending, 2) our green policy or 3) our recent monetary policy. But I am saying that if and when Gods judgment starts to fall on the western world (like it did on Israel) – natural, man-made solutions; (whether it be climate action, or alliances with certain nations) will not be the answer. And I think the church should be very wary of joining with the world (and being yoked with unbelievers) in non-gospel causes, no matter how important those causes may appear to be. The only hope for our world is to know Jesus Christ, receive the Holy Spirit and obey Gods Word.
Apply: Now I think this leaves Christians in a very difficult place because 1) our gospel cause is not 2) the worlds self-preserving environmental cause. Now I am not against science that preserves or redeems what God says is good. But I do now see science rapidly moving in an anti-god, anti-life and even man enslaving direction. So I know I can’t trust science, the way I trust God in the Bible. I think good economics and monetary policy is necessary to regulate the fears, economic inequality and greed of society. But it’s hard to discern when economic models are being used to serve or exploit. Nor am I against politics and the rule of law – when it constrains what is evil and promotes what is good. But when politics and the rule of law start to promote evil and restrain good (as it is now doing) Christians need to stand apart. In such circumstances, I lament that there may be little we can do but put our hope in Gods’ Word, quietly share the gospel in the background, while we wait and watch for Gods deliverance. But if we do this…
Point 3: We Will Enter the New Jerusalem with full Redemption from Sin
Show: Ps.130:7-8 (READ)
Explain: Well I love the phrase “FULL REDEMPTION.” It’s the only place in the Bible where this phrase is spoken. What would full redemption from sin look like? How would it feel? We get a sense of full redemption in Revelation 21 – where it talks about the New Jerusalem and God wiping every tear from our eyes, because there is no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things is passed away.
Full redemption is Daniel and Ezekiel running and skipping up the 15 stairs of the Jerusalem temple – to behold God’s shekinah glory in the Holy of Holies. Full redemption is no longer seeing God as in a mirror dimly, but seeing God face to face. And full redemption is so utopian and other-worldly that no eye has seen, ear heard or mind conceived what God has prepared for those who love Him. This is what the church must hold out for – through trial and tribulation in Babylon. There is full redemption coming for all those who TRUST in Jesus as Saviour and Lord. REPENT of their sin and WAIT and WATCH and PRAY for his return. Jesus will come again on the clouds to gather to himself all the elect – and then all the laments, sorrows and difficulties we are told to expect in the last days – will fade away, forever.
Apply: Now you don’t need to be a prophet to see that difficult days are coming for the church. You just have to open your eyes. 5 years ago – who would have thought that Andrew Thorburn, CEO of Essendon football would be forced to resign as CEO (one day after he was appointed) simply because he attended a Bible believing church that didn’t support LGBTQIA ideology or abortion. So yes, I am lamenting because I already see Christians wobbling and compromising on things – where we need to stand firm. Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego said to Nebuchadnezzar; “O King we will not worship your rainbow image, even if everyone else bows down. Our God will save us from your fiery furnace. But even if he does not – we want you to know O King – we will NOT obey you, we will NOT serve your gods.”
I think we need to recognize the difficulties, lament our loss of freedom and cry out to God for mercy – because I don’t think we should be so PROUD to think that we will naturally have the courage of Shadrach, Meshach or Abednego to defy the laws of the land or the rules of our employer when the time comes.
As I said you don’t need to be a prophet to see that difficult days are coming. You just have to open your eyes. We are not in Jerusalem anymore. As Martin Illes (and others have been saying) this is Babylon and there is no longer any Judaeo-Christian ethic for us to take for granted. This, I lament. I don’t really know how to live in Babylon. This is a first for most western Christians. So I find myself asking a little bit more seriously am I ready to take up my cross for Jesus. I find myself becoming a little bit more direct about sin, salvation in Jesus and the final judgment – because I think the time for dancing is over. And I find myself asking the Diocese, my Bishop and other pastors – are you ready to disobey the laws of the land, or the rules of your company to remain faithful to Jesus.
As many of you know I recently submitted a paper to the Doctrine Commission of our Diocese asking whether we are ready to disobey the laws of the land for the sake of Christ? Dr Mark Thompson, Principal of Moore Theological College and Chair of the Doctrine Commission wrote back to me saying (Slide 8). This is new for the Australian church. So I do lament. I grieve. But I lament in hope – that one of two good things will happen in the coming years. 1) Either the church will be purified of our syncretism and compromise through these difficulties and we’ll come out the other side into a new era of God’s blessing and gospel advance. Or 2) Jesus will return. Either way – I am incredibly hopeful for the future of the church. So yes, I lament the losses and the troubles I see. But like all biblical lament, I lament in glorious hope that Jesus is readying those who truly believe to climb Mt Zion, enter the New Jerusalem and see God face to face – with no more lament and no more tears – forever. Quote; Psalm 130:7 (READ).