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Good morning, my name is Kevin Labby, and I'm the Senior Pastor at Willow Creek Presbyterian Church. I want to welcome all of our guests here today! And I also want to welcome everyone watching this online either live or throughout the week. We know that most people will check us out online before they ever visit. We hope to see you soon.

Scripture Reading

Please open in your Bibles to our reading today, Psalm 123. This is the Word of God:

To you I lift up my eyes,

O you who are enthroned in the heavens!

2 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.

3 Have mercy upon us, O Lord, have mercy upon us,

for we have had more than enough of contempt.

4 Our soul has had more than enough

of the scorn of those who are at ease,

of the contempt of the proud.

- Psalm 123 (ESV)

This ends the reading of God's Word.

Prayer for Illumination

Let's pray.

Father, by the power of your Spirit, please open your Word to us this morning that we might see Jesus. Please encourage, equip, and entrust us with your truth for your glory and the good of others. We ask it in the precious Name of Jesus. Amen.

Introduction

This morning, the psalmist will show us that we persevere because God provides.

FOCUSED (v. 1)
Your Provider Is Greater.

As mentioned the past few Sundays, the Psalms of Ascent (the fourth of which we find here in Psalm 123) are sometimes called "Pilgrim Songs" because they were sung by pilgrims traveling (and ascending uphill) to the elevated city of Jerusalem for three annual Jewish festivals. Depending on the distance and point of origin, these travels could be dangerous. Bandits, wild animals, mishaps and more threatened vulnerable travelers.

However, it wasn't only what met these pilgrims on the way that troubled them; it was also what they left behind. Many believe this psalm was written later than the psalm of David considered last week, perhaps even after the Babylonian exile of the 6th century B.C. In other words, it describes a time when the Jews struggled and suffered under the powerful and arrogant nations around them. The zenith of their power under King David and King Solomon centuries before now long gone, these Jews survived as objects of contempt and scorn.

Some of us this morning know similar struggles. Maybe you worry that your best days are behind you. Perhaps the consequences of your past sins linger. Maybe there are those who even gloat over your lingering struggles and shame. If you know anything of that, or can at least empathize with those in your life who do, you have a glimpse into what later Jews felt as their once-great kingdom fell, people scattered to the wind, and meager efforts toward reconstruction seemed laughable to outsiders.

However, as these later pilgrims journeyed toward the remnants of the once-great Jerusalem, we notice something fascinating in their psalms of worship. They ultimately focus on their great Provider, not their problems. In the first verse, we read:

1 To you I lift up my eyes,

O you who are enthroned in the heavens!

If this psalm stems from a later date, after Babylonian conquest and Jewish exile, the psalmist knows there is no throne or king in Jerusalem. The monarchy is over; it's a thing of the past. Jerusalem is a dim reflection of its former glory. And yet, even so, the psalmist looks beyond the empty throne of Jerusalem to the One enthroned in the heavens. What an act of defiance and a source of reassurance!

This morning, you might be a dim reflection of your former glory. You might be plodding through the sad consequences of your past failings. You might be the object of another's ridicule and gloating. But know this: you have a Provider greater than your problems. He occupies the highest position of authority in creation. No one and nothing resists his will. Lift your eyes! Focus on your Provider, not your problems. He is greater.

FAITHFUL (v. 2)
Your Provider Is Generous.

I once led a youth mission and service trip to another country. We enjoyed the support of a retired pastor who traveled to our location ahead of us and handled the logistical aspects of our journey. His work involved securing a white 15-passenger van to transport our team to and fro during our week of ministry which included, among other projects, a week-long Vacation Bible School (VBS) for the community's children.

As the start of VBS approached, the pastor, perhaps a bit naive about appearances, decided to drive the van through the community and invite neighborhood children to attend. I don't know about you, but - as a parent - I don't want strange men in 15-passenger minivans approaching my children and inviting them anywhere. They didn't either - especially when a young member of our team had (unbeknownst to the pastor) already jokingly scrawled "Free Candy!" on the side of the van in duct tape! After speaking with the police, and narrowly averting an international incident, we offered a spectacular VBS program.

I remember a simpler time. When I was a kid, I'd take candy from almost anyone offering it - especially at church. Did any of you grow up with someone in the church known for giving away candy - maybe butterscotch or a Werther's Original or a Starlight mint? Those are all excellent church candy options.

My nieces and nephews had a guy at their church who, before he went home to the Lord, was known for giving away candy before and during worship. All the kids knew he was a dependable source. They'd walk into church, look for him, and wait for the inevitable and parent-approved blessing. They knew he was good for it. It might take a minute, but it would happen.

That's a small reflection of what the psalmist celebrates in the second verse of today's psalm. He or she praises the faithful generosity of God.

2 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.

Servants and maidservants were wholly dependent upon their masters and mistresses to sustain them. They looked to their hands, so to speak, for every form of provision.

However, like a child looking for candy on Sunday morning, notice the psalmist's confidence in the faithful generosity of God. There might be a delay, but no denial. God will show mercy. It's only a question of when not if.

This morning, your problems might seem more persistent than your Provider. They're not. God will, in time, show mercy. Look beyond your problems to your Provider. He is greater, and he is generous.

FIXED (v. 3-4)
Your Provider Is Good.

Let's continue with verses 3-4:

3 Have mercy upon us, O Lord, have mercy upon us,

for we have had more than enough of contempt.

4 Our soul has had more than enough

of the scorn of those who are at ease,

of the contempt of the proud.

In these final verses, the psalmist describes long-suffering. Twice, a sure sign of how debased and discouraged they were in their suffering, he comments that it is "more than enough." Enough for what?

Again, if this psalm is post-exilic - that is, after the time of Babylonian exile - we have a clue. The psalmist probably means that the scorn and contempt of their enemies are enough to correct the sinful pride and folly that led to exile in the first place. In other words, God accomplished good purpose even in bad things. The people of God are now again humble, at the end of themselves. God who opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble, can now show them mercy (James 4:6).

THREE PRINCIPLES

As we close this morning, I have three principles for you - three ways you can enjoy the freedom offered in these powerful promises of God.

#1. Fearing God rightly prevents fearing others wrongly.

The psalmist's perspective is decidedly God-focused. Sure, he sees his enemies. However, he doesn't focus on them. He looks beyond them to God. In short, he fears God.

Fearing God means believing God. It means taking him at his word, trusting him above all else for our sense of security, significance, and satisfaction.

This is important because what you fear will direct you. If you live in fear of your past, you'll either run from it or become paralyzed by it in the present. If you live in fear of others' mockery and scorn, you'll either pander for their approval or despair the lack of it.

However, if you fear God, you will be free. You won't be afraid of or paralyzed by your past because you'll trust that Christ atoned for it. You won't be scared of others' opinions of you because you have the approval and affection of God. The psalmist shows us that fear of God puts all other concerns in their proper perspective. He invites us to focus on our Provider, not our problems.

#2. The problem is sometimes the provision.

There is a second principle here, one that contradicts much of what we hear in America’s pulpits today. It’s this: our problems can be God’s provision.

Twice, the psalmist laments the scorn of other nations as "more than enough.” In other words, as we said before, it accomplished its purpose. Conquest and exile brought the once proud and idolatrous Israelites low, to a humble and proper fear of God.

As difficult and painful as this was, it had a redemptive purpose. The problems were provisions in disguise.

Today, many preachers act as though God only blesses us in our prosperity, not our problems - that suffering cannot be a form of blessing. That's not true. I know this is a hard teaching, but suffering is central - neither foreign or peripheral - to discipleship. Our suffering teaches us what our successes never could. In suffering, we come to share in the character of God. The Apostle Paul described this process in his letter to the Philippians (3:8-11):

8 Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— 10 that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.

Just as Israel's suffering showed the folly of trusting in idols, our trials often show us the folly of trusting in anything other than God for our salvation. Apart from these trials, we would not seek God. We would not find him able and willing to help us in our time of need. We would continue in the delusion of prideful self-reliance rather than turn to him in deepening faith and repentance.

#3. Overcoming is sometimes about outlasting.

There is at least one more principle to glean from this psalm. It's this: overcoming is sometimes more about outlasting than overpowering.

The Jews living in exile did not prevail over their captors. The Babylonian Empire collapsed during their exile, conquered by the Medes and the Persians. In fulfillment of prophecy, they were consequently allowed to return to their homeland. They didn't overpower their enemies, the Babylonians; they outlasted them.

God preserved the Jews in exile and eventually restored them to their land. No matter what the surrounding nations said or did, God's Word and works triumphed over them all.

The same is true of you. If you're facing the painful consequences of your past, don't lose heart. Keep going. If others condemn or mock you, don't despair. God’s love and care will outlast even the most unrelenting foe. If you can’t overcome, outlast.

CONCLUSION
We persevere because God provides.

The psalmist points us to One enthroned in heaven, providing for his people that they might persevere and even, in time, prosper. What joy to know the One enthroned at the right hand of God the Father, Jesus Christ, our Lord. What joy to know the Spirit he’s sent to strengthen and sustain us in times of affliction. What joy to know that we “with confidence [can] draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:16).

Just as God promised to preserve and eventually prosper Israel, he promises you the same. So don’t “grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up” (Galatians 6:9).

Your God is with you. He is for you. He will give you the mercy to persevere.

Let's pray.


SOURCES

Carl Friedrich Keil and Franz Delitzsch, Commentary on the Old Testament, vol. 5 (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1996).

John Calvin and James Anderson, Commentary on the Book of Psalms, vol. 5 (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2010).

John Peter Lange, Philip Schaff, et al., A Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Psalms (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2008), 611.

Matthew Henry, Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible: Complete and Unabridged in One Volume (Peabody: Hendrickson, 1994).

Robert Jamieson, A. R. Fausset, and David Brown, Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible, vol. 1 (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1997).

Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture quotations from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Text Edition: 2016. Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

SermonsKevin Labby