Sermons

A Year of Ascent Pt. 3

by Reagan McClenny

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Scripture: Psa 124 Feb 4, 2024

The psalmist gives thanks to God for delivering Israel from enemies that wanted to destroy them, comparing their plight without God's help to being swallowed alive or swept away in a flood. This reminds us that without God we are helpless against the dangers of this world, but with God on our side we can have gratitude and hope. The psalmist calls us to realize God's blessings, express gratitude, and have an outlook of thankfulness that changes our lives.

Transcript

Would you take out your Bible, please, and turn to Psalm 124. The 124th Psalm will be the text for our lesson this morning, and if you'll make the effort to turn to that psalm, all of our points are going to come from the text of that psalm. We'll turn to a few other passages as we go. But our primary points, our outline for the lesson will come from Psalm 124.

Psalm 124 is next in our progression as we are focusing on this idea of ascent this year with our congregational focus. A year of ascent. And we, we talked about at the beginning of the year how the first of the three psalms of ascent really give us the The framework for all of the Psalms that come after.

That we, just as they were, are sojourners in this world. That this world is not our home. And the place where we're going to find refuge in this really hostile world, so often, is in the Lord. In the Lord is where we're going to find our hope and our peace and our comfort and our purpose. The Lord is going to show us where we really belong.

If we don't belong in this world, where do we belong? Well, that's with Him. And that's why and, and how we as Christians should enter the city and house of the Lord with gladness. Just as we have done this morning. Not, not this physical building, of course, but, but these people. These people that we're a part of.

We are the house of the Lord. We are the city of the Lord in many ways. And we are the temple of the Lord when we come together to worship Him. And so if we are able to focus on those three things, there are all sorts of areas of our life that are impacted. And so as we think about the rest of the Psalms of Ascent, this section of Scripture in the book of Psalms, we see that there are specific action areas where we can look in our lives and say, this is how I need to ascend.

This is how I need to know that I'm a sojourner. This is where I need to find refuge in the Lord. And in all of those things, I need to be a part of God's people worshiping God with gladness because we are going to His house. And so, last month we began this, this study in this quarter of the refuge of God's relationship while in the Lord.

That we have a relationship with Him. And that provides us refuge, and, and Psalms 123 through 125 talk about that. So, for the month of January, we looked at Psalm 123. And we look to God's mercy in prayer in the face of the world's contempt. That prayer allows us to come to the Lord and find refuge in the Lord, despite all of the madness that we see in this world around us.

Which brings us to our psalm this morning. In Psalm 124, a psalm that I'm really excited about sharing a few thoughts from. To all of us as we think about Psalm 1 24. Psalm 1 24 is really about thanksgiving and gratitude. We thank God for his help and deliverance in the face of the world's attacks. Yes, in Psalm 1 23, the world has contempt for us, but so often it's not enough for the world to just look down on us as Christians, as followers of God.

Too often those that contempt turns into attacks, and yet in the midst of those attacks, we can be grateful and thankful for God's help. For his deliverance, for his guidance, and for his love. And so for the month of February, our emphasis is going to be on gratitude as we seek to be the kind of people who thank God and praise God and bless God for what he has done for us at all times, even in those times where we are under.

So let's read together Psalm 1 24 and then we'll go back through the Psalm and make some comments. So Psalm 1 24, a song of a sense of David beginning in verse one. If it had not been the Lord who was on our side, let Israel now say, If it had not been the Lord who was on our side, when men rose up against us, then they would have swallowed us alive, when their wrath was kindled against us.

Then the waters would have overwhelmed us, the stream would have gone over our soul. Then the swollen waters would have gone over our souls. Blessed be the Lord, who has not given us this prey to their teeth. Our soul has escaped as a bird from the snare of the fowlers. The snare is broken, and we have escaped.

Our help is in the name of the Lord, who made heaven and earth. At first glance, this doesn't seem like a particularly relatable, I mean, we're not under physical attack, at least not in this way, and I know metaphorically and spiritually we're under attack from the devil, we're under attack from the world, but it certainly seems, at least on first reading, that they're experiencing some sort of physical attack, or they did experience a physical attack, and now they're thanking God for that.

And the psalm heading says that this is a psalm of David, and there are any number of instances where we could go back and look at the text and see. David was experiencing physical attacks, and God delivers him from the hand of Saul, from the hand of Absalom, over and over and over, from the hand of Goliath.

God delivered David from those physical attacks. Now, more on that later. I think maybe there's more happening here. But as we so often do, what we must do is look beyond the specific circumstances, whatever they might have been. to the principles and concepts that are used in the text so that we might make right application to us.

And what we see in this text, well, we see, first of all, that there are two images for the precariousness of life without God. I mean, this is how dangerous, this is how much you're living on the edge if you're striving to live your life without God. This is how close we constantly are to spiritual disaster.

When we are trying to direct our own life without God. Without God, it's like being swallowed alive by a creature. Isn't that what we see there in verse 3? Then they would have swallowed us alive. When their wrath was kindled against us. We think about creatures Brooklyn and I went to the zoo yesterday, and we saw the animals in the, the wild cats, the big cats, they were really active yesterday.

So you've got this, this, I can't, I can't remember if it's a panther or a leopard. So you got this leopard that's going back and forth, this jaguar, thank you, this jaguar that's going back and forth, and then you go right next door and you've got this giant lion. And that, the lion was really active yesterday.

It was kind of odd. At one point he's standing up like this, and, and he's like, he knows how big and bad he is. And it's grateful that we have all these cables and glass in between us and him, right? And I thought to myself, We would not dare get this close if we didn't have this barrier between us.

And that's exactly the way the d the devil is described. One Peter describes him that way. In one Peter, chapter five in verse eight, the the devil goes about as a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour. And so we think about that in literal terms. There are animals that have eaten people, maybe even eaten people alive, lions and bears and anacondas and that sort of thing.

But that's not really what the text says. It says, swallowed alive. And, and although we think about a lion and its ferocity, that is not, that is not a big enough, or scary enough, or powerful enough animal to really get the gist of the image that's being used here. Imagine if you were swallowed alive, whole.

What kind of animal would be able to do that? Maybe we think about in the Bible, and we think about Jonah and the great fish, right, to be swallowed alive. Maybe we think about And we think about Jurassic Park and some T Rex is going to swallow us alive. And so when we say a creature, that's what we're talking about here.

A creature that is far beyond our capabilities to defeat on our own. That's the point. On our own, we are helpless before this kind of power. 51 and verse 34. You can turn there if you want or you can listen carefully. Jeremiah was talking about King Nebuchadnezzar and all of his power and all of his armies, the most powerful man in the world.

In Jeremiah 51, verse 34, he says this, Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon, has devoured me. He has crushed me. He has made me an empty vessel. He has swallowed me up like a monster. He has filled his stomach with my delicacies and he has spit me. Yes, in the New King James it says monster. Because that's what's being described here.

It's the, it's the old Hebrew word for a sea serpent. Something that would come and swallow you whole. And that's the image of where we are in our life without God. You think about Jurassic Park. And when all the fences went down, and all the power went out, and all the people got eaten. That's where we are when God is not by our side.

The second image is found in verses 4 and 5. This image is of a flood, if you read with me. Then the waters would have overwhelmed us. The stream would have gone over our soul. Maybe your translation says would have swept over our soul. Then the swollen waters would have gone over our soul. What that describes, this sweeping of the waters, describes a flash flood.

Anybody in here ever seen a flash flood? I, I'm surprised by the hands. That must be because y'all are from East Texas. In West Texas, we know about flash floods, right? Because it rains like three times a year, and it rains, all the rain for the whole year in those three days, usually. And so you would see these flash floods.

We had a, we had a canyon on the property where my grandparents worked the farm. We had a canyon that, that went through there. And you could walk through the bottom of that canyon, and it was It was dry. It was dusty. But if you see, if you see clouds on the horizon and a big storm coming in, you got up out of the canyon.

Because you could see along both banks where the water had been in times past. Ten, twelve feet up. You didn't want to be caught in that. Can you imagine being swept away in a flash flood? That is the image of our life without God. Safe one minute, everything is destroyed the next. Swept over. But it's interesting, isn't it?

What is swept away in this passage? Did you, did you notice that? The stream would have gone over our head, our body? No, our soul. When the swollen waters would have gone over our soul. It is interesting that it is our soul that is swept over. Perhaps this indicates more than just physical danger in the mind of the psalmist.

Perhaps the attacks of the world on God's people here aren't so different after all from the attacks Notice another Psalm of David, Psalm 38. If you'd like to turn there with me, please. Marking your spot there in Psalm 124.

In Psalm 38, David is reminding himself of the pain and consequences that were caused by his sin. And beginning in verse 1 of Psalm 38, David describes how he feels when he is in sin in these terms. Lord, do not rebuke me in your wrath, nor chasten me. For your arrows pierce me deeply and your hand presses me down.

There is no soundness in my flesh because of your anger, nor any health in my bones because of my sin. For my iniquities, Now, whether like me you grew up in West Texas and you didn't learn how to swim until you went to Florida at 18, or whether like my daughters you grew up in East Texas and you've learned how to swim from before you remember, you've swum, swam, swam?

Swam your whole life? Most of us, at some point in our life, have had that feeling. Where you go under the water, and in that brief moment of panic, you're not sure if you're going to come back up out of the water again. And that's what David says it feels like when he was in sin. He's drowning in his sin.

Like a heavy burden, using a slightly different metaphor, they are too heavy for me, and he goes on to talk about how he is troubled and bowed down greatly. Because of the things that he has done to himself. And this is all, verse 5, My wounds are foul and festering because of my foolishness. I have brought this upon myself because of my own sin, and I am drowning in it.

Many of us have been there. Many of us have felt that. We have enemies that we cannot defeat on our own. Sin, and death, and Satan. And each one of those, by themselves, are stronger than us. Together they are all conspiring, striving to destroy our soul. And all of these enemies have ensnared many before and will ensnare many if the world continues.

But the, but the God of heaven above is able to help and deliver us from all of these dangers even in the midst of the flood. Psalm 38 and verse 21 puts it this way. Do not forsake me, O Lord, O my God, be not far from me. Make haste to help me, O Lord, my salvation. Which brings us to the next two things that we see.

For each of these two images where there's this precariousness of you want to live your life without God, you're going to be eaten alive and swept away. On the other hand, we have these two contrasts, these other two images, that emphasizes that emphasize God's power to help, that God is able to help us.

If you look there in verse 6, if you go back to Psalm 124, the first image is that God spares us. Read verse 6, Blessed be the Lord who has not given us as prey. To their teeth. So there are these creatures, monsters, representative of the world, sin, death, and Satan, and they desire to swallow us whole. But God is able to spare us where we are not given over as prey to their teeth.

God is able to rescue us even though we are prey. We are preserved and we are protected by God. I think sometimes we have a hard time thinking of ourselves as prey. Especially if we're confident, and I don't mean arrogant, especially if we're confident in ourselves to imagine ourselves as prey, sometimes is a difficult thing.

Speaking of the zoo, did you know for Valentine's Day, this is a free plug for the zoo. They have this thing called Quit Pestering Me for Valentine's Day. And for 5 you see that there's a mealworm there. For 15, there's some sort of cricket. And for 25, there's a rodent. And you can sign up at our local zoo here, and you can name one of these things after someone.

And they will feed it to an animal as prey. Now, notice on here that you can name it in honor of your loved one or your ex. And I think that's the way it's marketed, right? I'm mad at my ex and so I'm gonna spend 25 to name a rodent that they will then feed to the crocodiles or whatever and they'll send me a certificate saying my ex Wouldn't you like to know her name?

No. My ex has been fed to the crocodiles. Well, that's a little vindictive, isn't it? But that's a pretty good image of what we actually are.

When it comes to the enemies we cannot defeat, we're like the mealworm, the cricket, and the rodent. We are not the lion. We're more like a lamb. We're not the apex alpha predator. We're the helpless prey. And it is not by accident that the animal that is used most often to describe the people of God, both Old and New Testament, is sheep.

Because we need protecting. Because we need help. Because we need deliverance. We're vulnerable. And God, as a loving shepherd, does not give us over to the devil as prey. He protects us. He spares us. As Matthew 6 and verse 13 says, Do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one. It is God who promises in 1 Corinthians 10 and verse 13, to those who are Christians, that we will not be tempted beyond that which we are able to bear, but with the temptation, God will make a way of escape.

Who escapes? Prey escapes. The, the clutches and the teeth of the predator, that's us. And God has the power to spare us. And God has the power to free us. Look back in Psalm 124 and verse 7. Our soul has escaped as a bird from the snare of fowlers. The snare is broken and we have escaped. We escape like a bird when the snare is broken by God.

And the thing is if we have reached the age of accountability and, and we have committed sin, we have, we're already caught. We're caught in sin. How helpless is an animal in a trap, a bird in a snare, or a fish on a hook? That's us in the world and in our sin. In thinking about and talking about Billy Meinecke one of the things the family pointed out is that he loved to fish.

But, but it did my heart good to know that I'm not the only one who feels this way. He loved to fish. But whenever he was doing catch and release, he was always, you know, most people just rip the hook out. He was always very careful to take the hook out and gently put the fish back in. Why? Because he had a soft heart toward the fish.

And maybe that seems silly, but it's not silly if you're the fish. And God has a soft heart toward us, even in our foolishness, even in our shortcomings, as we get hooked by the same bait over and over again. He has the power to set us free over and over again. And how grateful we should be for that freedom to overcome sin, to live though we may die, and to defeat Satan through the blood and power of Jesus Christ.

As the text says in verse 6, Blessed be the Lord. Thank God for what He has done and be grateful. And it is that call to gratitude that, that sandwiches these thoughts in Psalm 124. So we have looked down through verse 3 through verse 7. We've seen these images of where we are without God and where we can be if we seek refuge in Him, as the psalmist calls out, if the Lord had not been by our side.

But notice verses 1 and 2 and verse 8, and how they show us our reaction to this reality of God's deliverance of us in our oh so helpless state. Three realities of gratitude toward God, and we'll make some application in this section. Number one, gratitude must be realized. You're going to be grateful, you have to have something to be grateful for.

And if you're going to be grateful for something, you have to realize what has been done for you. Isn't that exactly what we see in verse 1? If the Lord had not, if it had not been the Lord who was on our side, and then I love this little aside, let Israel now say. A number of times in the book of Psalms we see a phrase like that, or even that exact phrase.

Even here in the Psalms of Ascent, we see it at least one other time. And the idea behind that is, here the one reading the psalm in public worship, or the one singing the song, perhaps there is one who calls out first, but then everybody is supposed to reply back. You need to realize what it is God has done for you.

The New Living Translation expresses the statement as a question. What if the Lord had not been on our side? Have you ever considered that? What if, indeed? What if, what if physically? Think about this. What if physically I just had what I am promised by God physically and nothing more? Food, shelter, clothing.

With these, we shall be content. And yet every single person in this room has so much more, so much more than that. What if, what if that was all I had? You know what? I would still be abundantly blessed. No doubt compared to so many. But don't we have so much more than just our daily necessities? Because the Lord is on our side.

What if? What if I didn't even have those promises physically? What if I was outside of God? Can you imagine how horrible that would be? How many times have people gone through attacks like this? Attacks by Satan, attacks by the world, and they've said something like, I can't imagine having to go through this without Christ.

I can't imagine having to go through this without my brethren. And yet, that is the reality for so many people. What if we did not have the promises from God? What if, to paraphrase Paul in 1 Corinthians, I only had hope in this life without any of the spiritual blessings in Jesus Christ?

Does that not help us to realize what we have? You know, sometimes we say to people how you doing? And they say, in fact I said it this morning because it was on my mind, I can't complain, right? I can't complain. What does that mean? Well, I think for most of us what that means is, I could complain, but I have enough perspective to realize that I have far more to be grateful for than I have to complain about.

So gratitude must be realized, and by extension, gratitude should be expressed. In order to have gratitude, we have to realize what we have, and then we should express it. Let Israel now say, If it had not been the Lord who was on our side when all of these things happened to us, Then we would have been lost.

We would have been overrun. We would have been swallowed whole. Gratitude for blessings this great should be expressed by us. As Paul said in Ephesians 1 and verse 3, Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ.

And his prayer for the brethren in Ephesus is that they would see that. And he spends a whole chapter, all of chapter 1, And to be honest, much of the rest of the book of Ephesians talking about and enumerating all of those blessings. Every spiritual blessing in the heavenly place is in Christ. Paul expressed it to them so that then they might see it and realize it and express it themselves to God and others.

And we need an outlet to express our gratitude. Maybe, like Paul, we need to write these things down. Practically, what does that look like this month for you? As you think about the month of February, We picked the shortest month to be grateful. Well, that's just the way it fell, right? And we're already a few days into this month.

But, but consider the rest of this month. How can you express your gratitude to God? Maybe it's your writing those things down. We bought at Home Depot those big sticky pads, you know. I'm not talking about the little sticky notes. I'm talking about the big pads, and they're super sticky, and you can put them up on the wall.

And as a family, we're writing down every day, what do I have beyond my necessities? And we could go not just the rest of this month, we could probably go the rest of the year with that. Maybe you write those things down in a little notebook or a little journal. You're writing down to express the things that you have, the blessings that you have beyond the necessities of life.

Maybe it's something we need to express by saying it out loud. Maybe we express those blessings at the dinner table or in the car. I've shared with you before, when I was growing up and my sister and I started arguing in the car, and maybe we're being a little bit ungrateful, a little entitled, my parents would always say, okay, everybody's got to say ten things that we're grateful for.

We're grateful we get to say ten things instead of getting a spanking. Maybe that would be one of the things, right? But we had to say ten things that we're grateful for. And we had to go around the car and we would alternate until everybody had said ten things. I mean, It makes you stop, makes you think.

Just as an aside, with the grandkids, they talked about twelve things you're thankful for. And I asked my parents, I said, have you upped the ante? Are you doing twelve things now? And they're like, oh no. With the grandkids, we just do twelve things total, you know. Everybody does three things instead of ten things each.

But what if we did that? What if we went through that kind of exercise where I say to myself, maybe at the beginning, maybe as His mercies are new every morning, I say to myself, what am I grateful for today? What do I have that I should express gratitude for? And certainly, we need to express our gratitude and our praise to God.

Why do we sing? Of all of the things that God could have done for us to worship Him, He specifies that we are to sing. Why do we sing? Because, usually, people sing when they have joy. They sing when they're grateful. And we are joyful about what God has done for us. And so I encourage you this month, as we think about coming to the house of the Lord, sing out!

Smile, and thank God through your song. Sing to be heard. Sing to express what's in your heart. Not to be heard by the people around you, though that would be true, but to be heard by Him. To be heard by God, because you are thankful for what He has done. But perhaps most importantly, we need to pray to God to express our gratitude.

As we focused on prayer in January, so now we combine that with this idea of gratitude. Thank you, dear God, for what? How do we pray to God with this kind of spirit and heart of gratitude? Let me suggest this to you. And anybody who's ever had kids or grandkids that didn't want to go to bed, and you're saying your prayers before bed, you know what I'm about to say, right?

I want you to pray Like a kid who doesn't want to go to bed. What does that look like? Thank you, God, for my house, and for my teddy bear, and for the fan, and for Nana, and for the light, and for the window, and for the locks. Shouldn't we be thankful for every single one of those things?

Maybe sometimes we need that kind of childlike thought and faith. Everything that I see, basically, I don't deserve, and yet God has seen fit to bless me. Can we express our gratitude and prayer like that to God this month? I call you to do that. Because if we have the kind of hearts that realize how blessed we are and express that gratitude to God and others, then that gratitude will impact our outlook.

You noticed that this entire psalm, verses 1 through 7, speaks about things that have happened in the past if it had not been the Lord who was on our side. And yet we get to verse 8, and what does it say? Our help is in the name of the Lord who made heaven. Notice how the psalmist switches from the past tense to the present tense.

If God has done all of this for us in the past, doesn't that mean He will be with us now? And if God did all of those things for the psalmist, how much more should we express gratitude who live under the covenant of Jesus Christ, who have seen the sacrifice of His Son? Being grateful wards off our hopelessness.

Being grateful destroys our entitlement. Being grateful suffocates our self righteousness. Being grateful makes us more who God would have us to be. It changes our attitude. It changes our outlook. It changes our actions because it changes our hearts. Gratitude about the past leads to contentment in the present and expected hope of the future.

And if we are thankful about what God has done, we will see more clearly what God is doing and believe the promises about what He says He will do. Being grateful changes our life. It changes our outlook if we will only allow that gratitude to penetrate our hearts. And as we have said, the greatest example of this is found in Jesus Christ.

Turn to Romans chapter 8. Oh, what a wonderful reminder we've had in the memorial emblems that we have. And what wonderful words Tommy shared with us. But I want us to read just a couple of verses from Romans chapter 8 and the lesson will be yours to do with what you will.

In Romans chapter 8, drop down to verse 31, please.

In the context of, well, the attacks of the world. Attacks of suffering, attacks of hardship, attacks of persecution. This is what the Apostle Paul says. What shall, what then shall we say to these things? All of these things that we suffer and go through, the attacks of the world, if God is for us, who can be against us?

God is the one who is on our side, and we thank God that He is. But then notice verse 32, the greatest proof of this. He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things? Well, that's what God has done, and that's what God is doing. Is God for you this morning?

Do you know Him? Well, there is refuge from the world's attacks in a relationship with Him. If you do know Him, give thanks. But if you don't know Him, know that you are alone in the flood. You are prey to the monsters of this world. That you can come to Him now, before the floods, lions of sin and death, and Satan can claim your soul.

Establish that relationship with God through His Son, Jesus Christ. That just as He died and was buried and rose again, won't you die to sin, be buried in Christ, with Christ in baptism, and rise to walk in newness of life. And He will spare you, and He will free you, and He will bring you safe home. We can help you with that even this morning.

Come now, while together we stand, and while we sing.

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