Virus, Violence, vengeance, Vandalism, More violence …

These topics have demanded our attention over the past couple of months.  Headlines, top stories, breaking news have each centered on these topics.  News cycle after news cycle has hyped us into chaos and near anarchy.  Many factions are screaming for attention – trying to get their point across, but very few are listening.  Folks are angry, feeling deceived and betrayed, frustrated, and confused.

In my recent reading, I came across these words: “In my distress, I called to the Lord…” This is likely a common response when confronting circumstances that are out of our control.  We come to the end of ourselves.  We recognize that there is not much we can do and so, finally we call out to God!

The biblical book of Psalms contains a 15-song collection (Psalms 120 – 134) that probably were sung by travelers making their way to Jerusalem for annual pilgrims feasts.  This little songbook contains this collection of “Pilgrim Praise” called, songs of ascent.  These 15 songs are divided into 5 triads that follow the same pattern.  Each initial Psalm describes current trouble or distress; the next, God’s power to keep, bless, or deliver.  The final song of each group highlights the security of God’s people.  (New Bible Commentary, DA Carson, et al.)

Psalm 120 reflects some themes with which we are all too familiar:

  • distress – the author clearly states that he is in distress and needs to be delivered or rescued.  (VS.1, 2)

This is the focus of each of the current headline stories.  It seems that everyone is distressed about something – the pandemic, racial tension, systemic racism, economic uncertainty, etc. I suppose that almost everyone recognizes his/her need to be delivered from these situations.  But how many of us are calling out to the Lord?  Do we pray to the only one who is able to do anything about it?

  • deceit –lying lips and a deceitful tongue are presented as the source of the author’s distress.  (VS.2, 3) the writer is slandered unmercifully.  He is hurt by sharp arrows of false accusations.

It is very difficult to discern the facts amid this chaos.  Truth has been redefined as the assertion of the loudest voice.  Sides have been drawn.  Positions, not to mention opinions, need to be protected, careers saved, or advanced, immediate change must be demanded. 

Words have become weapons utilized to distort, misrepresent, and slander.  Reputations, justly, and unjustly, have become victims of deceit.  The impact of such deception is rarely considered.  Nevertheless, slander, twisting or distorting the truth, misrepresentation of facts not only mar reputations but also brings personal hurt.  Several years ago, I spent some time in Australia and was appalled at the lack of civility of political figures toward one another.  Today, we are worse – much worse.

Deceit is not only a wrong against another person, but it is also a sin against God, who commanded, “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.”  (Exodus 5.16) Jesus told us that we are accountable to God for every word which we speak.

  • discord – the Pilgrim is continually in a state of upheaval and conflict.  (VS.  5 – 7).  Facing constant opposition, the writer wrestles with his situation and recognizes his personal conflict in the context of a greater, cosmic conflict.  Woe to me!  He confesses that he is living in an accursed situation and in fact, he admits his personal culpability – guilt.  So, he travels on towards Jerusalem where he will seek forgiveness by offering a lamb for a sacrifice, as required of God’s Old Testament people.  Okay

The New Testament clearly teaches that God’s people find forgiveness only through faith in Jesus Christ.  Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, confessed John the Baptist.

Later in the New Testament, the Apostle John explained Jesus’ death by writing: He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.  (1 John 2:2) This word propitiation indicates that God’s anger against sin has been removed.  When Jesus experienced the penalty of death for sinners, by his suffering on the cross, he secured forgiveness by satisfying God’s wrath against sinners.  Thus, Jesus purchased salvation (from God’s wrath) for everyone who trusts in him.

A time is coming, maybe soon, when everyone – you and I included – will be called to give an account of ourselves before God.  Those who have found forgiveness in Christ alone will go to be with him forever.  Those who have not sought forgiveness in Jesus will suffer eternal death.  God’s invitation is quite clear: Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved.

Sojourner – When you trust in Jesus Christ, things change.  One change is that you are adopted into the family of God.  This means that you will have a new home – with Jesus in heaven.  In the meantime, God will continue his work in you.  He will make you more like your older brother, Jesus.  As you journey towards your new home in heaven, you remain in the conflict of this world.  You will wrestle with distress, deceit and, discord as you sojourn here.

Meanwhile, we are to think of ourselves as sojourners. In vs. 5 – 7 the singer reflects the continued conflict he endured.  There is a hint of this in the name Meshech, which means “black” and is a town located on the coast of the Black Sea.  The ongoing struggle with darkness is in view.  In this context of hostility, the New Testament admonishes us: Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted.

Therefore, let us look to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. 

Notice one final but vital point.  Verse 1 reads: In my distress, I called to the Lord and he answered me.  When we face hostile situations and darkness seems to have the upper hand.  Remember these words: … I called to the Lord and he answered me.

Be encouraged and call out to the Lord and he will answer.

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