The Pilgrim’s Joy after Tears

a brief study of Psalm 126, adapted from PCC Prayer Meeting Exhortation on 8 July 2011 


Psalm 126 is another Pilgrim Psalm. It is one of the songs that the saints of old, going up to Jerusalem to celebrate the annual feasts, would sing. But it was obviously not used only for that purpose.

The Psalms are given by Christ our King to sing in union with Him, to praise God and to encourage one another. It is just that these pilgrim psalms reflect beautifully upon our Christian journey towards the rest of heavenly Jerusalem. And the anticipation and ardour of climbing to Jerusalem, and the joy that follows is also reminiscent of the same journey. And so the believing pilgrims sang these psalms to transform the mundane journey into a rich religious experience.

Psalm 126 is one of these pilgrim psalms that focus on the anticipated joy at the end of the journey. We may entitle it, “The Pilgrim’s Joy After Tears.”

It has two parts. In the first part (vv. 1-3), Christ and His Church reflect on past triumphs. In the second part (vv. 4-6), Christ and His Church pray for and anticipate future triumphs.


1. Past Triumph Reflected On (v. 1-3)

The church of the Lord Jesus Christ has always been led by Christ our Prophet, Priest and King. As a church, she has gone through many trials and battles. As a church she had experienced many sweet victories, for the gates of hell could not prevail against her.

We think of the victory that she had over the army of Sisera during the days of Barak and Deborah. We remember the deliverance from the fear of the Philistines led by Goliath. We think of the massive victory that the army led by David had at Baal-Perazim (2Sam 5:20). We remember how the Lord delivered Judah from the siege laid by Sennacherib, even how He slew 185,000 of the Assyrian army in one night (Isa 37:36).

In each of these instances, the church was faced with bondage and gloom, and all seemed hopeless. But the LORD wrought a great deliverance that called for celebration! It was a like a dream. God’s people had been filled with awe and gratitude. Their lips have overflowed with laughter, praises and thanksgiving. Even the heathen would have noticed and acknowledged the power and greatness of God demonstrated on behalf of His people.

Every remembrance of such moments of triumph should fill our hearts with words of rejoicing. It is to this end that the Lord has given us the words of the first part of this psalm to sing together with Him:

1 When the LORD turned again the captivity of Zion, we were like them that dream.  2 Then was our mouth filled with laughter, and our tongue with singing: then said they among the heathen, The LORD hath done great things for them.  3 The LORD hath done great things for us; whereof we are glad.

May our hearts be truly filled with joy as we reflect on the occasions of triumph and victory that the LORD has given to us and to our fathers in Christ!

More than that, I think it is especially essential for us who live under the New Covenant, to reflect on and to celebrate the greatest victory that God has given to the church, even the victory oven sin and death. This is the triumph that was displayed in the death and resurrection of Christ our Lord.

“Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory? But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor 15:54b-56).

Today we can live with joy and confidence in the Lord because Christ our King rose triumphant and we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. This joy and confidence that fills our heart as we think about what the Lord has done for us finds most beautiful expression in the first three verses of this psalm.

But this is only the first part of this psalm. The second part of this psalm anticipates future triumph…

2. Future Triumph Anticipated (v. 4-6)

We do not know when this psalm was written. Some think it was written during the Babylonian Captivity. Some think maybe not. It does not really matter.

It does not matter because this psalm will always be relevant while we are on this side of eternity. For is it not true that there is a sense that the church is still faced with captivity though victory is secured in Christ Jesus?

Sin and the remnant of corruption is our captor. Though Christ has freed us from the guilt and power of sin, yet there is still the presence and corruption of sin. Therefore, in this life, while we walk together to the celestial city, we will often experience sorrow, tears and weeping. Those who care not for the glory of God will not weep. Those whose homes are in this world will not weep. But those whose citizenship is in heaven, who know that this world of sin is passing away will weep and long for a better day.

Thank God that as we pour out our heart unto Him in union with His Son, He hears us. The ‘south’ (v. 4), the Negev (bg²n<) is the dry semi-arid desert wilderness. The LORD will hear us when in the midst of desert-like captivity we cry out to Him to restore us and refresh us with streams in the desert.

4 Turn again our captivity, O LORD, as the streams in the south.

The LORD who gave us victory upon victory in days past will surely hear our cries and have pity on our tears:

5 They that sow in tears shall reap in joy.  6 He that goeth forth and weepeth, bearing precious seed, shall doubtless come again with rejoicing, bringing his sheaves with him.

The farmer who diligently sows, even when sorrow attends his soul, will surely reap in joy. Think of the saints who returned from captivity. They look at the fallow and dry parched land. They remember the bountiful harvest of yesteryears. Their heart is overwhelmed. They cannot sow but with tears watering every precious seed they plant into the soil. At such times, seed is precious. Every seed planted is a grain less for the dinner bowl. What if the seed does not grow?

But thanks be to God, their effort will pay off. They will reap in joy. They will doubtless come again rejoicing, bringing in the sheaves.

This is generally true in farming. But this will especially be true in the spiritual realm.

“For his anger endureth but a moment; in his favour is life: weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning” (Ps 30:5).

They who sow in tears shall reap in joy, for God will surely not allow any drop of tear to fall unnoticed. How much more the tears of the Son of God. The Son of God, the Lord our King, wept for us. He “offered up prayers and supplications with strong crying and tears” (Heb 5:7).

He wept because He was bearing our sin. By dying for our sin, He was sowing in tears. The tears were real. The agony was intense. He suffered excruciating pain in His body. He suffered the pains of hell in His soul.

Thanks be to God, three days later, he rose from the dead. He “was delivered for our offences, and was raised again for our justification” says the apostle Paul (Rom 4:25).

Through much pain and sorrow, Christ our Lord has conquered sin and death. Victory is secured and inevitable. He will doubtless come again with rejoicing, bringing his sheaves with Him as we are reminded in His Parable of the Wheat and Tares.

But God has appointed that during the interim period, there will be some more sowing and some more tears for the church, the body of Christ. Paul speaks about filling up that which is lacking of the afflictions of Christ (Col 1:24). Of course, the suffering of Christ is sufficient for the atonement of the Church, His body. But God has appointed that we must through much tribulation enter into the Kingdom (Acts 14:22).

I believe that one of the reasons for this, is so that as the body of Christ we may experience something of what our head experienced, so that we may sing His word together with meaning and understanding until we reach our heavenly rest.


Conclusion

Beloved brethren and children, this is Psalm 126—“The Lord’s Pilgrim revelling in the experience and hope of joy after tears.”

Our journey in this life is one that is full of tears. God did not intend our journey to be smooth and heavenly. That will have to wait.

But let us not fret when sorrow attends our souls. Let us rather remember the past deliverance that the church of Christ has enjoyed. And let us remember especially, what Christ our Lord has experienced for us. He suffered and was tempted at all points like as we are so that He might be a compassionate great high priest. He understands. But he suffered also to provide us an example to follow in his steps. And he suffered to prove the divine principle that “They that sow in tears shall reap in joy.” May we find encouragement in this truth as we continue to walk with Him. Amen.