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Pastor Scott L. Harris
Grace Bible Church, NY
December 31, 2006
Our Hope in Our Eternal God
Today is New Year’s Eve. Tomorrow begins 2007. I admit that I always have mixed emotions this time of year as I reflect back on the old year and consider what changes I need to make in the new one. There are so many things I am glad are behind me, but there is also the anticipation of so many possibilities of the future. There is a certain sense of truth to the idea that the celebration tonight is as much about the survival of the old year as it is the arrival of the new one.
Since this is the time of year that is natural for us to be reflective as we plan for the future, I want to challenge you to do that in a way that keeps the proper perspective. If it has been a hard year, and it has been for many of us, it is easy to become bit melancholy or even depressed if you do not get your eyes up off the problems and gain a more balanced perspective that also includes the good things that happened and a hope for the future. If it has been a good year, and it was for many people, it is easy to become nonchalant and then fail to properly plan for the future. What keeps us balanced is having a proper understanding of and relationship with our God. Psalm 90 can help us do just that. Please turn there with me.
Psalm 90 is one of the oldest Psalms and was written by Moses. The heading of the Psalm says it is “A Prayer of Moses the man of God.” It is a prayer (tephillah) for it begins with meditations in preparation for supplications and concludes with petitions. Moses is specifically called here, “the man of God,” a title used for him in other places (Deut. 33:1; Joshua 14:6) and gained because of his close relationship with God. A relationship so close Moses felt he could request to see God’s glory, and though God could not let him see the fullness of it and live, He did have it pass before Moses and allow him to see His afterglow. Even that was so powerful that Moses’ face shined for sometime after in reflection of it (Exod. 33:14-19). The theme of Psalm 90 is the eternity of God and the transitoriness of man, and it is exactly those two truths that keep us balanced as we reflect on the past and plan for the future.
A Prayer of Moses the man of God.
1 LORD, Thou has been our dwelling place in all generations. 2 Before the mountains were born, Or Thou didst give birth to the earth and the world, Even from everlasting to everlasting, Thou art God. 3 Thou dost turn man back into dust, And dost say, “Return, O children of men.” 4For a thousand years in Thy sight Are like yesterday when it passes by, Or as a watch in the night. 5 Thou has swept them away like a flood, they fall asleep; In the morning they are like grass which sprouts anew. 6 In the morning it flourishes, and sprouts anew; Toward evening it fades, and withers away. 7 For we have been consumed by Thine anger, And by Thy wrath we have been dismayed. 8 Thou hast placed our iniquities before Thee, Our secret sins in the light of Thy presence. 9 For all our days have declined in Thy fury; We have finished our years like a sigh. 10 As for the days of our life, they contain seventy years, Or id due to strength, eighty years, Yet their pride is but labor and sorrow; For soon it is gone and we fly away. 11 Who understand the power of Thine anger, And Thy fury, according to the fear that is due Thee? 12 So teach us to number our days, That we may present to Thee a heart of wisdom.
13 Do return, O LORD; how long will it be? And be sorry for Thy servants. 14 O satisfy us in the morning with Thy lovingkidness, That we may sing for joy and be glad all our days. 15 Make us glad according to the days Thou has afflicted us, And the years we have seen evil. 16 Let Thy work appear to Thy servants, and Thy majesty to their children. 17 And let they favor of the Lord our God be upon us; And do confirm for us the work of our hands; Yes, confirm the work of our hands.
This Psalm can be broken down into three sections: God as the true abode of man in his transitoriness (vs. 1-6); Man’s sin and God’s wrath as the explanation for the limitation on life (vs. 7-12), and concluding with a prayer that God may redeem our lives from its transitoriness (vs. 13-17).
A. The Eternal God & Transitory Man
The Psalm begins with a statement regarding the relationship of God and man. 1 “Lord, Thou has been our dwelling place in all generations.” The idea is similar to what Paul expressed to the Greek philosophers in Acts 17:28 when he told them that in God “we live and move and exist.” While many modern philosophers claim that God is the creation of man’s imagination, the truth is completely the opposite. It is God that came up with the idea of man and so created him in physical reality. Man can have no existence apart from God. In fact, as Paul declares in Colossians 1:16,17, not only is Jesus Christ the creator of all things, but He is also the one that keeps all of the Creation held together. It continues to exist only because of Him.
Moses adds that this is something that has been true “for all generations.” The fact that man exists in “generations” introduces already the idea that the life of man is finite. Life has continued since creation but only because it is passed down from parents to their children who then grow up to become parents who have their own children even while their parents continue to become aged and eventually die. Even the record in Genesis 5 of those first generations in which people lived to more than 900 years old still ends with the successive deaths of each one. Man’s life is limited, but God is not, as seen in verse 2.
2 “Before the mountains were born, Or Thou didst give birth to the earth and the world, Even from everlasting to everlasting, Thou art God.” God was God before He created anything. He is self-existent, self-sufficient and self-sustaining. He is eternal past and future.
Science philosophers foolishly claim the earth and the universe are billions of years old as if somehow time is the magic ingredient to cause them to come into existence. We all know that the formula of a frog + kiss from a princess = a handsome prince is a fairytale. Yet, these philosophers (and that is what they are despite their claims to be scientists) want you to believe that a frog + time = handsome prince. They can muse, rant and rave all they want but they cannot change the hard truth that the world could not come into existence on its own regardless of how much time they want to claim for it. The universe and all that exists within it came into being when the eternal God that exists outside of time created it. An even harder reality to deal with for those that deny God is found in verse 3.
3 “Thou dost turn man back into dust, And dost say, ‘Return, O children of men.’” God has set a limit for man for he is a mere creature formed from the dust of the earth to which he will return. That is the harsh reality that those that deny God do not want to deal with. I am not speaking of death itself, for that they cannot escape, but the fact that there is a God who is in control of it. A God to whom they will be held accountable as Moses will explain later in the Psalm.
Moses re-emphasizes these differences between God and man in verses 4-6.
4 “For a thousand years in Thy sight Are like yesterday when it passes by, Or as a watch in the night.” The apostle Peter makes a similar statement in 2 Peter 3:8,9 saying that, “with the Lord one day is as a thousand years and a thousand years as one day.” God’s relationship to time is completely different from our own. Even a thousand years are of no consequence to God.
Only a few days ago we celebrated Christmas, a very special day usually filled with many wonderful memories. But how quickly did that day pass, especially now that you are looking back on it as a memory? Or even more fleeting, how quickly did one of the “watches”of the night pass for you last night? A “watch” was the four hour period a guard would be on duty before passing it on to the next guard. While time can seem to drag on under certain circumstances, even the most boring or troublesome of circumstances seem to have been but a brief moment when it is past. Moses says that is how a thousand years are to God.
What can occur in a 1,000 years? Empires can rise and fall. Philosophies can come and go. Not even Methuselah, the longest lived man in history, made it to 1,000. He only lived for 969 years before he died. His entire life span before God was about the equivalent of that of a Mayfly to us. Here today, but gone tomorrow. Moses expands on that very point in verses 5 & 6.
5 “Thou has swept them away like a flood, they fall asleep; In the morning they are like grass which sprouts anew. 6 In the morning it flourishes, and sprouts anew; Toward evening it fades, and withers away.” This same analogy of man’s life span compared to grass is used in Matthew 6:30; James 1:10,11 & 1 Peter 1:24,25. As one person put it, the history of grass is sow, grow, mow, blow – Gone! So it is with man. As James 4:14 puts it, man’s life is but a morning vapor that disappears with the rising sun.
But the statement in verse 5 is more than just one of showing the short duration of life. It also shows how quickly even the evidence of that life having been present is also removed. Moses says God “has swept them away like a flood.” Our tendency is to think of a flood in terms of a stream or river rising and sweeping away the things that were along its banks. While that could be in view since Moses spent his first forty years in Egypt and no doubt would have recalled the yearly flooding. However, the flooding of large rivers is usually not as destructive as described here. The Egyptians considered the yearly flooding to be a blessing because it would bring fresh nutrients to the farm land. The only things destroyed by it were things stupidly left by the river bank.
I think Moses had in mind a different kind of flood which he would have seen many times during the 80 years he lived in desert regions. The areas I grew up were similar in nature. We were taught to be very careful when camping or hiking because the river and stream beds would be dry most of the year. They give the illusion of being a safe place, yet a rain storm up in the mountains could turn the very place you were walking or camping into a raging torrent in just a few minutes and that flood carries away everything in its path – people, animals, cars, and buildings. No evidence is left of what was prior.
The same is true for people. As much as people can get concerned about their fame and legacy those things are more fleeting that even their lives. The college bowl games are tomorrow – but what team was number one in 1965? What team won Superbowl III and who made the winning touchdown? Or how about someone of more significance? Who was the fourth President of the United States and what is his legacy? Or perhaps something more personal? Who was your great, great, great paternal grandfather? And what did he accomplish in his life? No wonder King Solomon wrote in Ecclesiastes 1:10,11, “Is there anything of which one might say, “See this, it is new”? Already it has existed for ages Which were before us. 11 There is no remembrance of earlier things; And also of the later things which will occur, There will be for them no remembrance Among those who will come later [still.]”
God and man are very different from each other. God is eternal. Man is transitory. His life is limited and fleeting.
B. The Reason Life is Limited
Verses 7 – 9 give us the reason for man’s limited life.
7 “For we have been consumed by Thine anger, And by Thy wrath we have been dismayed. 8 Thou hast placed our iniquities before Thee, Our secret sins in the light of Thy presence. 9 For all our days have declined in Thy fury; We have finished our years like a sigh.”
The reason in one word is “sin.” When we remember that Moses wrote this Psalm and that it would have been written near the end of his life it becomes even more powerful. What would have the children of Israel thought of this after wandering around in the desert for so many years. The few remaining of that first generation knew well their own sin and that they were cursed to die wandering in the desert without ever going into the promised land because of their constant grumbling and disobedience to God. Among the many expressions of God’s wrath during those year were the judgement of plagues on Egypt (Exodus 4-12); The 3,000 killed because of the sin with the Golden Calf (Exod. 32); the death of Nadab & Abihu for offering unholy incense before God (Num. 10); the plague that came with the quail in Num. 11; the earth opening up and swallowing the 250 people that rebelled with Korah along with another 14,700 that died of a plague following that because they murmured against God’s judgement (Num. 16); and those that died in Numbers 21 due to the fiery serpents God sent as a result of their continued speaking against Him and Moses. The second generation grew up watching the rest of their parents generation die one by one because of the curse upon them for disobedience (Numbers 14).
Those that think this somehow shows God to be some sort of cruel ogre need to be reminded that this is only the execution of justice. God keeps His promises, both those that are blessings upon us and those that are curses, for God is truthful, impartial and just. From the beginning He said that disobedience to His commands would result in death (Gen. 2:17). In Ezekiel 18:20 He stated it plainly, “The soul who sins shall die.” The apostle Paul also expressed this clearly in the New Testament saying, “For the wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6:23).
While the next three verses also recognize the transitory nature of human life, they also are accepting of it with a simple plea to God for help in using those years properly.
10 “As for the days of our life, they contain seventy years, Or if due to strength, eighty years, Yet their pride is but labor and sorrow; For soon it is gone and we fly away. 11 Who understands the power of Thine anger, And Thy fury, according to the fear that is due Thee? 12 So teach us to number our days, That we may present to Thee a heart of wisdom.”
In some ways this section almost sounds like Ecclesiastes in expressing the futility of life for it is so soon gone. Moses gives the analogy of life flying away quickly which would be much like a bird flitting away. Moses remarks that a normal life span would be 70-80 years, but that is so inconsequential in length when contrasted with eternity. Yet Moses does not express any futility to life as did Solomon. Instead, he calls on the wise use of the years that are given. He recognizes that it is proper for God to have fury on those who sin against Him and so man should have a proper fear of God. For that reason he calls out for God’s help to “number our days.” The meaning of this expression is not one of calculating how much time you might have left, for no one knows how long they will live, but one of making wise use of every day. It is as Ephesians 5:15-17 states, “Therefore be careful how you walk, not as unwise men, but as wise, making the most of your time, because the days are evil. So then do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.” There is an old adage that states it this way, “Improve Time in time, while the Time doth last, For all Time is no time, when the Time is past.” We want to be wise with the use of our time that we might present to God a “heart of wisdom,” a life lived well within His will.
Moses concludes the Psalm with a prayer for redemption, a plea for God’s mercy upon His frail creatures.
C. The Prayer for Redemption
13 “Do return, O LORD; how long will it be? And be sorry for Thy servants. 14 O satisfy us in the morning with Thy lovingkidness, That we may sing for joy and be glad all our days. 15 Make us glad according to the days Thou has afflicted us, And the years we have seen evil. 16 Let Thy work appear to Thy servants, and Thy majesty to their children. 17 And let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us; And do confirm for us the work of our hands; Yes, confirm the work of our hands.”
These are petitions for God’s mercy and grace. In verse 13 there is a plea for God to withhold what is deserved and be sorry, compassionate upon His servants. And there are several pleas for God to extend undeserved blessings including His return (vs. 13), His satisfying lovingkindness (vs. 14), His majesty (vs. 16), and His favor (vs. 17). If Moses did not have a confidence that the Lord was merciful and gracious he would not seek His return for that would only bring judgement. Moses does have that confidence because he has seen it over and over toward him in his own life as well as God’s dealing with the nation of Israel even in its rebellion.
But you say, but didn’t God chastise and punish Israel for its rebellion? How then could Moses think God was merciful and gracious to them? Because Moses knew the bigger picture. He knew that God would have been just to destroy the whole nation and had even considered that at one time (Exod. 32), yet God was longsuffering with them and even provided what they needed though they were complaining (Exod. 17; Num. 20) even to the point that their clothing did not wear out during their forty years in the wilderness (Deut. 8:4). Moses also understood something that is important to us. The Lord’s chastisement is a blessing. In verse 15 he says, Make us glad according to the days Thou has afflicted us.” God’s anger is only momentary (Ps. 30:5) to bring correction upon those that belong to Him that they may then know His favor and comfort (Isa. 12:1f). As the writer of Hebrews put it quoting from various Old Testament passages, “My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, Nor faint when you are reproved by Him; 6 For those whom the Lord loves He disciplines, And He scourges every son whom He receives” (12:5,6), adding a few verses later, “He [disciplines us] for [our] good, that we may share His holiness. All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness” (vs. 10,11).
I don’t know what all you have been through this year, but I do know in any typical year there will always be good things and bad things. From the negative side we must remember that we live in a sin fallen world and will have to deal with the consequences of our own sin, the sin of other people against us and the curse of sin upon creation itself that result in sickness, disease and natural disasters. If you become pessimistic or fatalistic you can easily succumb to depression. However, there is also a positive side that brings joy and hope to us in two different ways.
First, in dealing with the negative, God uses even the bad things to mature us into the image of His son. That is what James 1 and Romans 5 are both about. We can rejoice when we encounter the various trials of life that test our faith because the result is perseverance, the maturity of a proven character and a rock solid hope based in the fact that God loves you and proved it beyond doubt when Jesus died in your place on Calvary. That is why we know that God does indeed work all things together for good for those that love Him and are called according to His purpose (Rom. 8:28).
Second, we also know the character of our God and that not only can nothing separate us from the love of Christ (Rom. 8:35-39), but that God who did not spare His own son but delivered Him up on our behalf will therefore also freely provide for all things we need (Rom. 8:32) because He is able to do exceeding abundantly beyond all that we ask or think (Eph. 3:20).
It is because of these two reasons that though I should be a realist when it comes to what people will do, I do not have to descend into pessimism, because I know God is greater and can change anything, even evil people, therefore I can always be optimistic in Him.
My concluding challenge to you is to take a serious look back at the past year to learn from it. Note well your own sin, errors, and mistakes so that you can figure out ways to keep from repeating them. Rejoice in the fact that any guilt that comes with that can be removed through confession (1 John 1:9). Consider the habits that need to be changed and make specific plans for changing them by replacing them with better habits. But also reflect on the many blessings God had given to you and be sure to praise Him for each one.
It is with these two things in view that we can boldly enter into 2007 with joy, optimism and hope. Perhaps 2007 will be the year that we may find ourselves in heaven either in Christ’s return, or as a friend of our says, cheer up, tomorrow you could die – and what could be better than being with Jesus Christ? (Phil. 1:23).
Most of you know a few lines from Alfred Tennyson’s poem, “Ring Out,” but few know the whole thing. It is a fitting conclusion to our study this morning and preparation for the new year.
Ring out, wild bells, to the wild sky,
the flying cloud, the frost light;
The year is dying in the night,
Ring out, wild bells, and let Him die.
Ring out the old, ring in the new,
Ring happy bells across the snow:
The year is going, let him go;
Ring out the false, ring in the true. . .
Ring out old shapes of foul disease;
Ring out the narrowing lust of gold;
Ring out the thousand wars of old,
Ring in the thousand years of peace.
Ring in the valiant men and free,
The larger heart, the kindlier hand;
Ring out the darkness of the land;
Ring in the Christ that is to be.
Parents, you are responsible to apply God’s Word to your children’s lives. Here is some help. Young Children – draw a picture about something you hear during the sermon. Explain your picture(s) to your parents at lunch. Older Children – Do one or more of the following: 1) Count the references to “time” in the sermon. 2) Talk with your parents about your use of time & the things you can change in your life next year. Make specific plans for making changing.
THINK ABOUT IT!
Questions to consider in discussing the sermon with others.
Why is Moses called a “man of God”? What men receive that title in the Scriptures? What qualities does it take to be considered a “man of God”? In what way is God man’s dwelling place? When were the “mountains born”? As the Creator, what is God’s relationship to time? Can “scientists” every get enough time to explain why everything exists? Why or why not? What is the destiny of man’s physical body? What does it mean that to God a thousand years are as yesterday or a watch in the night? What can occur in a thousand years? What is the significance of man being swept away “as a flood.” What is the relative length of man’s lifespan? Why is man’s life limited? Why is “fear due” to God? What kind of fear is this? What does it mean to “number our days”? Explain. What are the petitions for mercy in verses 13-17? What are the petitions for grace in verses 13-17? Moses asks God to “Make us glad according to the days Thou has afflicted us?” How can we be glad in the midst of affliction? Explain. What difficulties did you face in 2006? How did you get through them? What changes did they make in your life? Your character? What habits do you want to change in 2007? What specific plans have you made to accomplish those changes? Who will encourage you / hold you accountable? What blessings did you receive in 2006? Spend time praising God for each one.
Sermon Notes – December 31, 2006
Our Hope in Our Eternal God – Psalm 90
A. The Eternal God & Transitory Man (vs. 1-6)
Man’s Dependence on God (1)
God: Eternal, Creator (2)
Man’s Finite Life (3)
God is Not Bound by Time (4)
Man’s Life is Brief (5,6)
B. The Reason for Man’s Limited Life (vs. 7-12)
Man’s Sin & God’s Judgement (7-9)
Recognition & Plea for Help (10-12)
C. The Prayer for Redemption (13-17)
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