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Sermon: Psalms 126-128

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Today is Ascension Sunday.  It’s the Sunday after Ascension Day which is always a Thursday.

It’s the day Jesus made the ultimate journey – He journeyed from earth to heaven in order to sit down on the throne of the universe and rule the world as our Brother, our Priest, our King.  On Ascension Day Christians remember we have a Friend in very high places.

On Good Friday we remember His death on the cross.  On Easter Sunday we remember His rising from the dead.  For 40 days afterwards He appeared to His followers, He gave “convincing proofs” of His resurrection (as we learnt this morning).  He ate and drank and walked and talked with His friends and He gave us a little snapshot of what resurrection life looks like.  It’s country walks, fishing with friends, barbecues on the beach, it’s feasting and friendship and glorious joy.  But then after 40 days, Jesus ascended to heaven.  And so there’s a sense of Christ’s absence in the world now.  Jesus is not here, He is not among us, and we miss Him.  But He also promised to send us His Spirit, which is the day we celebrate next Sunday.

Because 10 days after Jesus ascended is the day of Pentecost.  On that day He sent the gift of His Spirit in a special way upon the church so that the church can be Christ’s witnesses to the ends of the earth.  That’s what we learnt this morning.

So let me tell you that story again and let me use some language that might be familiar to you from our reading.

Today we celebrate ASCENSION – the ASCENT of Jesus.  On Good Friday, He had gone down into death and curse and hell.  On that cross He was EXILED from God’s presence – He was shut out, EXILED, from the presence and blessings of His Father and He endured the curses that we deserve for our disobedience.

In other words you might say He was like the temple torn down on the cross.  He is GOD’S HOUSE – the meeting place of God and man, and as He said in John chapter 2, He would be torn down on the cross only to be raised again in three days.  So He’s like God’s house torn down and raised up.

Or you could say He’s like a Seed that goes down into the ground.  That’s what He said in John 12.  He’s the Seed who gets planted into the ground.  But on Easter Sunday He sprang up from the ground into resurrection life.  He came through the exile and curses and was RESTORED.  And there was an incredible joy at His restoration.  It’s a joy that’s meant to be carried to the whole world.  The nations are meant to look on at this restoration and praise God for it.

And then Jesus tells His disciples to stay IN Jerusalem .  Another name for Jerusalem is ZION.  But in Zion, Jesus is going to give a blessing – His Holy Spirit.  And 10 days later the promised blessing from Jesus comes on His people:  The Spirit is given to equip Christ’s disciples to witness to the nations.  In ZION, the PEACE AND BLESSINGS of the LORD come upon His people.

So that’s the Gospel story.  It’s a story of Ascension, a story of Exile, a story of about God’s House torn down and raised up, of the Seed planted and then blossoming, it’s about a joyful restoration and it’s about peace and blessings that fall down upon Zion.  Are any of those words familiar?

Well our Psalms for this evening are called “Songs of Ascent.”  That’s interesting.  On Ascension Sunday.  There are 15 “songs of ascent” in the book of Psalms and we’re covering them at Souls at Seven, three at a time.


People has speculated that these Psalms were sung by Old Testament believers on their way up to Jerusalem for the festivals.  They went up to Zion and they sang about GOING UP on their way.

But we too are on our way up.  We’re on our way up to the Heavenly Jerusalem, the true Zion.  As we make our journey through life, these songs will help us too.

But ultimately Jesus is the One who made the true Ascent from earth to heaven.  He made the ultimate journey through the sins and sufferings of this world and into God’s presence.  And the Jews of the Old Testament and we today look to Jesus to make sense of our experiences of going up.

So let’s dip into our three songs for tonight.  We’ll give a very quick overview and we’ll try to unpack a couple of things.

So read with me Psalm 126:

Psalm 126:1 A song of ascents. When the LORD brought back the captives to Zion, we were like men who dreamed. 2 Our mouths were filled with laughter, our tongues with songs of joy. Then it was said among the nations, "The LORD has done great things for them." 3 The LORD has done great things for us, and we are filled with joy. 4 Restore our fortunes, O LORD, like streams in the Negev. 5 Those who sow in tears will reap with songs of joy. 6 He who goes out weeping, carrying seed to sow, will return with songs of joy, carrying sheaves with him.

This Psalm sings about RESTORATION.  It’s a word that’s in v1 and v4 – the fortunes of God’s people have been restored.  And they sing for joy.

This kind of restoration happened many times in the Old Testament.  Remember the Israelites in Egypt.  They were captive, slaves to Pharaoh.  But through adversity, the LORD brought them out.

But then there was the horror of exile.  The Babylonian super power came and besieged Jerusalem and then sacked the city, destroyed the temple and carried off the people far from their land.  For 70 years they were exiled and oppressed and pining for their land.

But then, while they’re in exile they receive a prophecy through Jeremiah.  Turn with me to Jeremiah 30:

Jeremiah 30:1 This is the word that came to Jeremiah from the LORD: 2 "This is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says: `Write in a book all the words I have spoken to you. 3 The days are coming,' declares the LORD, `when I will bring my people Israel and Judah back from captivity {Or will restore the fortunes of my people Israel and Judah} and restore them to the land I gave to their forefathers to possess,' says the LORD."

8 "`In that day,' declares the LORD Almighty, `I will break the yoke off their necks and will tear off their bonds; no longer will foreigners enslave them. 9 Instead, they will serve the LORD their God and David their king, whom I will raise up for them.

What’s strange about that?  David’s been dead for 400 years.  But here is another David is promised – another King.  And when the Son of David is RAISED UP the people will be restored from exile.

10 "`So do not fear, O Jacob my servant; do not be dismayed, O Israel,' declares the LORD. `I will surely save you out of a distant place, your descendants from the land of their exile. Jacob will again have peace and security, and no-one will make him afraid.

18 "This is what the LORD says: "`I will restore the fortunes of Jacob's tents and have compassion on his dwellings; the city will be rebuilt on her ruins, and the palace will stand in its proper place. 19 From them will come songs of thanksgiving and the sound of rejoicing. I will add to their numbers, and they will not be decreased; I will bring them honour, and they will not be disdained. 20 Their children will be as in days of old, and their community will be established before me; I will punish all who oppress them. 21 Their leader will be one of their own [Speaking about this New King David]; their ruler will arise from among them. I will bring him near and he will come close to me, for who is he who will devote himself to be close to me?' declares the LORD. 22 "`So you will be my people, and I will be your God.'"

The true RESTORATION will be the one in which God raises up a King from among the people and brings Him near.  Isn’t that suggestive on Ascension Sunday?  The true King, raised up and brought near to the Father and in HIM the people are brought near.

That’s a theme that’s picked up very strongly in the book of Hebrews.  Jesus is the true Ruler of God’s people who rises up from among the people in order to be their Priest.  He will represent them and bring them to the Father in heaven.  Jesus ends our true exile when He rises up at our Head and goes to heaven on our behalf.

Now come back to Psalm 126.  Here the Israelites are reflecting on their miniature experiences of restoration.  They could look to events when the LORD had restored their fortunes – He’d brought them through the Red Sea.  He’d brought them back from Babylon, and at those times there was such celebration.  Their joy was a global pandemic.  Verse 2 – it spread to the nations.

But verses 4-6 – the LORD may have secured our restoration in history, but we don’t always feel it here and now do we?  So we cry out:

4 Restore our fortunes, O LORD, like streams in the Negev.

The Negev was a desert area in the south west of Israel – its very name means “dry.”  And here is a prayer – LORD restore us like streams in the desert.

This is a prayer for spiritually thirsty people.  And we pray it as those who know that King Jesus has ended our exile.  He has ascended to the Father.  And He HAS poured out the Living Waters of His Spirit.  This restoration and refreshment IS ours in Jesus.  But we don’t always feel it, and so we ask for an experience of streams in the Negev.

Do you know that Jesus is a Fountain of Living Waters?  He ascended to the Father in order to shower us with His Spirit.  He is in the business of restoring thirsty souls.  He is more full of grace than you are of sin.  He is more full of comfort than you are of sorrow.  He’s more full of refreshment than you are of dryness.  He cares more for your problems than you do.  He has an overflowing fullness – like streams in the Negev.  So come to Him for restoration.  And keep coming.  And in the meantime, verses 5 and 6.  Keep going.

You might be shedding a lot of tears right now.  But if you belong to King Jesus, none of those tears are wasted.  None of them are forgotten.  They are like seeds that will one day bear fruit for joy.  When Jesus returns He will wipe them away and turn your sorrows into resurrection glory.

5 Those who sow in tears will reap with songs of joy. 6 He who goes out weeping, carrying seed to sow, will return with songs of joy, carrying sheaves with him.

It might not feel like it.  But think of the Israelites having come through the Red Sea, saved and singing for joy.  The path to joy was sorrow.

Or think of the Israelites returning from exile, saved and singing.  But how did they get there?  The path to joy was through sorrow.

Or think of Easter Sunday, the worship and awe and rejoicing.  But how did we get there.  Through Good Friday.  The path to joy is through sorrow.

The Apostle Paul could have been commenting on verses 4-6 when he said this in 2 Corinthians 4:

16 Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. 17 For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.

What about Psalm 127?

Well here’s something interesting.  It begins by saying:

A song of ascents. Of Solomon.

This song of ascent is by Solomon.  What do we know about Solomon?

He’s a King.  He’s the son of David, and he built God’s house.

And there’s two senses in which Solomon built God’s house.  He built the physical temple.  But he also built a household – a family.

The temple represented the meeting place of God and humanity.  At the temple, through sacrifices, people could meet with God.  There was a lot of ritual, there was a lot of blood shed, because we are a sinful people.  But at the temple, people could meet with God.

The King’s Family was vital as well and Solomon is given many promises in his life that his family was special.  He was the son of David and one of his sons would come as the Messiah.  So building his own house – his family – was also important.  Of course the trouble with Solomon is that he built his own household a little too much – 300 wives, 700 concubines.  But having an heir was absolutely vital.  So with those two houses in mind, read Psalm 127:

Unless the LORD builds the house, its builders labour in vain. Unless the LORD watches over the city, the watchmen stand guard in vain. 2 In vain you rise early and stay up late, toiling for food to eat-- for he grants sleep to those he loves. 3 Sons are a heritage from the LORD, children a reward from him. 4 Like arrows in the hands of a warrior are sons born in one's youth. 5 Blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them. They will not be put to shame when they contend with their enemies in the gate.

So as Solomon builds his house – the temple, and as he builds his house – his family, he is reminded – this is the LORD’s work.  Verse 1 – the LORD is building the house.  And verse 3 – sons are a heritage from the LORD.

And this is true in a very literal way. In the fullness of time the LORD would not only built the temple – He would BE the temple.  Jesus came as the true meeting place of God and man.  He would take into His own hands the entire responsibility for bringing us to God.

And He came as the true Son of Solomon, the true King David – to defeat all our enemies and usher in universal peace.  And when Jesus came as King all the genealogies stopped.  Jesus had no children because He’s not handing over the throne to anyone else.  He rules forever.

So Jesus takes the whole salvation thing into His hands and He takes the whole rule of the world into His hands.

THEREFORE, Solomon, and THEREFORE, Glen and everyone else: Verse 2: are there things in your life you need to relax about?  Verse 2 if you are toiling sleeplessly for something, maybe you’ve forgotten that the LORD HAS built the house.  The LORD has come as true Temple and He HAS sat down as the true King.  He has worked the ultimate salvation and He is ruling as eternal King.

So what are you worried about?

Do you worry about your standing with God?  Jesus IS the temple – if you’ve come to Jesus He has taken care of everything.  You have been brought to God.

Do you worry about how life is panning out?  Maybe you worry about child-lessness.  All these verses about children and big families, happy marriages.  God hasn’t promised children to everyone.  He promised kids to Solomon because one of them would be Christ.  He doesn’t promise us all kids, not physical ones anyway.  And He doesn’t promise us all wives or husbands.  Psalm 128:3 applies in particular to the true Son of David: it’s Christ whose wife is a vine because the vine is a picture in the bible of God’s people.  Christ’s bride is the church which is the fruitful vine.  These promises of marriage and family find fulfillment in Christ – they don’t always find fulfillment in us.  And maybe those are some of the tears we sow as we wait for Christ’s return.  But whatever happens, children or no children, marriage or no marriage, job or no job, Jesus is the Son of David who sits on the throne.  The One who died for you rules the world.  You can trust Him.  Don’t toil sleeplessly.  He IS the Temple – brining us perfectly to God, He IS the Son of David – ruling the world with justice and love.

Just quickly, let’s look at Psalm 128 and notice how much blessing there is washing around in this Psalm and where the blessing is found:

128:1 A song of ascents. Blessed are all who fear the LORD, who walk in his ways. 2 You will eat the fruit of your labour; blessings and prosperity will be yours. 3 Your wife will be like a fruitful vine within your house; your sons will be like olive shoots round your table. 4 Thus is the man blessed who fears the LORD. 5 May the LORD bless you from Zion all the days of your life; may you see the prosperity of Jerusalem, 6 and may you live to see your children's children. Peace be upon Israel.

Did you notice all the blessing language: Blessing, prosperity, fruitfulness, peace.  And notice, verse 5, it comes FROM Zion where the LORD is.  And this peace pours down ON Israel.  It’s from Zion – and here we’re talking about the heavenly Zion – and it crashes down on Israel, the people of God.

Don’t you want to be in on this heavenly blessing?  But how?  We don’t live in Jerusalem and most of us aren’t Jewish.  How do we benefit from this heavenly blessing?

Let’s look at one last Ascension Sunday text.  Here’s Ephesians chapter 1.

3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ.

Here Paul considers the meaning of the ascension.  And this is what it means:  The Son of David – the true Messiah – has been raised up by God to BE the true Israel.  Do you ever think like that?  Jesus IS the true Israel.  That makes sense when you realize that He is the KING of the Jews.  And Kings represent their people.  So in a very real sense, King Jesus IS Israel.  And AS Israel He goes through the ultimate EXILE for the sins of the people and He has been raised again in the ultimate RESTORATION.    He ascends to the right hand of the Father and heavenly blessing crashes down on His head.  And if you belong to Jesus you are in Him.  And that makes you a true Israelite.  Are you in Israel?  You better believe it – if you’re a Christian of course you’re in Israel, because you’re in Jesus.  And that blessing that is upon Jesus – it’s yours.

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ.

So all that stuff about Zion and Jerusalem and Israel in these Psalms – it’s yours in Jesus.  In Jesus all those blessings are yours.

You might not see them all right now.  You might not get married, you might not get kids or grandkids.  You will have to sow a lot of tears in this life.  But you ARE blessed with every spiritual blessing in Christ.  And when He physically returns, every physical blessing will be yours too.  An abundance of peace, blessing, prosperity and fruitfulness.

So these are songs of ascent.  We sing them in the light of Christ’s ascension and we sing them as we make our own journey to Zion.

Right now, we feel our absence from Jesus, we feel this wilderness time, we sow in tears and we cry out for streams in the desert.  But we know that our true King has ascended.  In Him we are blessed with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms.  And so soon:

Those who sow in tears will reap with songs of joy. He who goes out weeping, carrying seed to sow, will return with songs of joy, carrying sheaves with him.  (Psalm 126:5-6)

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