The Comfort & Hope of Zion

adapted from message preached at our 10th Anniversary; 5 July 2009


11 My days are like a shadow that declineth; and I am withered like grass. 12 But thou, O LORD, shalt endure forever; and thy remembrance unto all generations. 13 Thou shalt arise, and have mercy upon Zion: for the time to favour her, yea, the set time, is come. 14 For thy servants take pleasure in her stones, and favour the dust thereof. 15 So the heathen shall fear the name of the LORD, and all the kings of the earth thy glory. 16 When the LORD shall build up Zion, he shall appear in his glory. 17 He will regard the prayer of the destitute, and not despise their prayer. 18 This shall be written for the generation to come: and the people which shall be created shall praise the LORD” (Psalm 102:11-18).

Psalm 102 is one of my favourite Psalms. And I think it is not only mine. It might be David Brainerd’s favourite too. David Brainerd was the famous missionary to the American Indians who lived in the first half of the 18th century. He was a good friend of Jonathan Edwards, who nearly became his son-in-law, had he not been overtaken by tuberculosis at age 30. He died on October 9, 1947, his heart being filled with comfort and hope as he listened to Psalm 102 being sung by his friends.

Psalm 102 is a psalm for the afflicted. We do not exactly know who wrote it. It could have been David the sweet psalmist of Israel. But the content of the psalm gives us a hint that it might be written towards the end of the period of Babylonian exile. So commentators suggest that it might have been written by Daniel or Jeremiah as they looked towards the restoration of Jerusalem.

But whatever might have been the personal intention of the writer, God the Spirit who inspired him had a higher purpose. For consider how the Holy Spirit interprets this psalm in the New Testament in Hebrews 1:5,10-12—

5 For unto which of the angels said he at any time, Thou art my Son, this day have I begotten thee? …10 And, Thou, Lord, in the beginning hast laid the foundation of the earth; and the heavens are the works of thine hands: 11 They shall perish; but thou remainest; and they all shall wax old as doth a garment; 12 And as a vesture shalt thou fold them up, and they shall be changed: but thou art the same, and thy years shall not fail.”

These words are quoted from verse 25-27 of this Psalm. Notice how the apostle to the Hebrews speaks of it as the word of God the Father unto the Son!

Now, it cannot be that this whole psalm contains the word of the Father to the Son, for the Father does not pray to the Son as in verse 1 of the Psalm! The most meaningful way to think of this psalm is that it is largely an expression of the prayer of the Son unto the Father, and the last few verses quoted by the writer of Hebrews are really the Father’s reply to the Son!

Indeed, does not verse 24 echo the sentiments expressed in the recorded prayer of the Lord in the garden of Gethsemane: Father, if it be possible, take this cup from me…

Thus Andrew Bonar entitles this Psalm as “Messiah’s complaint and comforts in the days of his humiliation.” “For,” he says, “here we see the Righteous One, the Lord Jesus, laying the foundation of his kingdom of redeemed ones, by fully satisfying the demands of justice in their room.”

This is how we may sing this Psalm. Indeed, it is with this in mind that we can sing this psalm with full assurance that the Father will hear our cries.

This morning, I do not propose to study the whole psalm, but on this special occasion of our 10th Anniversary, I want to highlight the heart of this psalm, which may be taken as our Lord prays for the church even as he faced the prospect of the Cross.

The Lord helping us, I would like to highlight just four sentiments from these words.


1. We Serve An Everlasting God (v. 11-12)

11 My days are like a shadow that declineth; and I am withered like grass. 12 But thou, O LORD, shalt endure forever; and thy remembrance unto all generations.

I believe the Spirit intends for us to take these as the words of Christ. I believe by these words, the psalmist was prophetically anticipating the thought of Christ, perhaps in the Garden of Gethsemane.

The earthly days of our Lord was drawing to a close. The shadow of the Cross was lengthening as the sun, as it were, set upon his earthly life. The poignant uncertainty that the prospect of death brings was beginning to invade the heart of our Lord. But the confidence of our Lord wavered not, for he knew that God would endure forever. He did not need to worry about what would happen. God’s people would continue to serve Him from generation to generation.

But now the words of our Lord are intended by the Spirit for us to take in our lips to sing in worship in union with Christ, to admonish one another.

“Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord” (Col 3:16).

We are singing the word of Christ when we sing:

11   My days are like a shade alway,

          Which doth declining swiftly pass;

     And I am withered away,

          Much like unto the fading grass.

12   But thou, O Lord, shalt still endure,

          From change and all mutation free,

     And to all generations sure

          Shall thy remembrance ever be.

As we sing these words, we need not remove ourselves from owning the pronoun. We need not sing the words dispassionately as if it does not have immediate relevance or application to us. Rather we may take the word of the Lord as our own word to apply in our own situation today.

Indeed, as soon as we sing these words, we find ourselves identifying with the words in our own lives. Are not our days like a declining shadow, do we not wither like grass? We are here today, and gone tomorrow. But God endures forever!

Every time we have birthdays and anniversaries, I am reminded of how quickly time flies for us and how soon it will be that we will be with the Lord. Time is short for us. But God will endure forever.

We began as a congregation of the Lord ten years ago. A lot has changed since then. We are worshipping in a different place from where we first started. Many of our original members have moved on, while others have been added. We have grown more mature, our families have grown larger. But don’t forget, we have grown older. I am today ten years nearer to the grave than when we started.

As a church we are ten years nearer to the return of the Lord than when we first began. Will we last this long? I have reason to believe so, for God has promised that He who has begun a good work in us will perform it unto the day of Christ. But will you last that long? Will I last that long? If not, then we are ten years nearer today to our last worship service together than when we first begun together.

It is not my intention to sound pessimistic. But my point is: time is short. Our lives are withering like grass. Our time together is declining like a shadow. We are, as it were, beset by changes and failures even as we pass rapidly from the scene both individually and corporately!

But thank God that He endures forever. Everything may change but God will never change. When my body is lying in the dust, when this building has finally been torn down, God will still be the same.

When I am not here to watch over my children, God will still be here. When all of us here are all gone to be with the Lord, God will still endure. He will be with our children and our children’s children as long as the Lord tarries. Thank God that he is everlasting and unchanging, and therefore He is trustworthy. Thank God we can place our hope on him, when everything else in this world are like shifting sand and fading grass.

Thank God that He endures despite our failures and despite any changes for good or for bad we may suffer as a congregation.

And thank God that He will not only endure, but He will vindicate and bless His people…


2. God will Vindicate & Bless His People

13 Thou shalt arise, and have mercy upon Zion: for the time to favour her, yea, the set time, is come. 14 For thy servants take pleasure in her stones, and favour the dust thereof.

Our Lord was in the Garden of Gethsemane thinking not only about the suffering that he had to endure. He was no doubt thinking about the church. This was why he came in the first place. This was the reason he was heading to the cross. During his earthly ministry, the Lord had repeatedly referred to the time that was approaching. “Mine hour is not yet come”, he told his mother when she asked him to help the bridegroom who lacked wine (Jn 2:4). About six and a half months before Gethsemane, the Lord told his brothers: “My time is not yet come” (Jn 7:6). Then he told his disciples who were going up to Jerusalem to celebrate the feast of Tabernacles: “Go ye up unto this feast: I go not up yet unto this feast; for my time is not yet full come” (Jn 7:8).

Later when the Lord went down to Jerusalem, some of his enemies sought to arrest him, but we are told “no man laid hands on him, because his hour was not yet come” (Jn 7:30). That happened again later when the Lord was in the treasury of the temple, where we are told, “no man laid hands on him; for his hour was not yet come” (Jn 8:20).

But now the hour had come.

The time had come for the Lord to go to the Cross. But the hours of tribulation for our Lord were also the beginning of the hour of blessing for His church. The time for the Father to favour Zion had come. The set time was come (v. 13) for the spiritual Jerusalem to experience the Lord’s blessings. It was time for the Father to bless and vindicate the Church.

It was time for the promises given to the people for generations to be fulfilled. It was time for the prayers which the people had uttered for generations to be fulfilled. God would vindicate his people. He would restore Zion according to the hope and desires of the people.

Today the time has indeed come. Christ our Lord has gone to the Cross. He paid for our sin, and he rose again for our justification. And He has ascended and sent His Spirit to fill the church.

Therefore today, more than even at the day when the Jews were in exile, and more than the day when our Lord was in the Garden of Gethsamane, the set time for God’s favour upon Zion has come.

Today we may sing this psalm with anticipation and expectation. We may expect great things from the Lord because we are in the time when God has promised great blessing.

Today when we feel that things are not going on as well as we wish it to go as a church, we may confidently sing:

13   Thou shalt arise, and mercy yet

          Thou to mount Sion shalt extend:

     Her time for favour which was set,

          Behold, is now come to an end.

And we can sing with great expectation believing that God is pleased to arise for his church when we desire for him to visit her with his blessing. For the Lord will arise to show mercy and favour for the sake of his elect who love the stone and dust of Jerusalem.

Beloved brethren, the saints of old took pleasure, as it were, in the stones and favour the dust of Zion. Their attitude toward Zion was one of positive hope and love. And for that reason they might confidently sing that God would restore Zion to them for God delights to arise for his people.

What about you? Do you love the church? Can you say you love her stones and favour her dusts? Can you say you love her every whit, even though she is far from perfect. Can you say the church is very important to you so that your heart goes out to her, and your prayers ascend to God for her and your eyes brim with tears when you see her sorry state?

Oh look to the Father together with Christ the King of the Church. The Father will yet grant us the desires of our heart. He will arise to vindicate His church and He will bless her for the sake of his son and all united to him in faith, love and hope!

And while he blesses us, he will glorify himself by drawing other sheep which he has unto Zion…


3. God will Glorify Himself by Drawing the Heathen to Zion

15 So the heathen shall fear the name of the LORD, and all the kings of the earth thy glory. 16 When the LORD shall build up Zion, he shall appear in his glory.

God will arise for the sake of his church. He will magnify His church for the sake of his children who love her. How does he arise for the church? He arises for the church by doing great things for the church. In the past, God arose for the church with great signs and wonders such as when He delivered her out of Egypt; or when he smote 185,000 of the Assyrian Army in one night; or when he enabled the congregation at Pentecost to speak in many languages of the world.

When he does so, then the heathen shall fear the name of the LORD, and even kings and powerful people on the earth will be affected by His glory, and drawn to Him.

For when God shows his mighty power through the church, then sinners are stopped in their tracks and made to consider if they should seek after him. So it happened during the days of Esther, where we read that after the king’s decree on behalf of the Jews went out, “many of the people of the land became Jews; for the fear of the Jews fell upon them.” (Est 8:17).

This same thing will repeat itself in our day if God arises on our behalf. Was not the Prophet Zechariah speaking about our own time when he declared:

“Thus saith the LORD of hosts; In those days it shall come to pass, that ten men shall take hold out of all languages of the nations, even shall take hold of the skirt of him that is a Jew, saying, We will go with you: for we have heard that God is with you” (Zec 8:23).

What a beautiful picture! In those days, the people from all languages will tug at the clothes of the Jew and plead with them, ‘We will go with you’! We have heard that God is with you. Bring us with you to Jerusalem, for we desire to worship Him.

But who is a Jew?

28 For he is not a Jew, which is one outwardly; neither is that circumcision, which is outward in the flesh: 29 But he is a Jew, which is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter; whose praise is not of men, but of God.” (Rom 2:28-29)

We are the Jews! We are the ones whom Zechariah is talking about. We are the ones whom the people of the world will ask to lead them to Jerusalem.

Today we do not see much of this happening, for the church is languishing. But do we not see it at the time of apostles when multitudes were crying out “What must we do to be saved?” And do we not see it at the time of the 16th century Reformation and times of revival that the Lord granted the church?

Will the Lord arise for us again? Will the Lord draw sinners to the church again? Will the Lord magnify his glory again by building up Zion?

Will He do so in this church? Will he send a time of reviving in our midst when our hearts are set aflame for the Lord, and our relatives, colleagues and neighbours notice that there is something we have that they do not have? Will the Lord cause this church to grow by leaps and bounds not just through olive shoots, but through ingrafting? “In nothing does the glory of God shine more conspicuously than in the increase of the Church,” says Calvin. Will the Lord call in the other sheep which Christ has laid down his life for through us, that He may glorify Himself through this congregation? Oh may the Lord do so!

Beloved brethren and children, is this your prayer? Is this your hope? Will you cast in your lot to labour to that end that the world may see that the God we worship is a mighty God who transforms lives and can build up a mighty people where the devices of man fails?

Will you not therefore join with me to pray to that end? The Lord will hear our humble prayers.


4. God will Hear the Cries of His People

17 He will regard the prayer of the destitute, and not despise their prayer. 18 This shall be written for the generation to come: and the people which shall be created shall praise the LORD.

Brethren, time is short, we will pass from this scene in no time. But what will we leave behind? Will we leave behind a rich heritage? Will our children yet unborn read of what happened in our generation with praise and thanksgiving in their hearts—just as we read of the days of the Reformation with praise and thanksgiving in our hearts?

Will our children and children’s children down the generations if the Lord tarries, have reason to read the annals of PCC and praise the Lord for what he did in our generation?

If they will, we must begin today with prayer. Everything that is worthy to talk about for generations to come always begins with prayer!

If we would pray, God will hear our prayers and do a mighty deed in our generation. “He will regard the prayer of the destitute, and not despise their prayer” (v. 17).

He will hear us when we come to Him and pour out our hearts to Him in regard to the church. Are we spiritually poverty stricken? Are we destitute of fruits? Are we existing only for the sake of existing? Shall we not begin to pray? Shall we not begin to labour? Shall we not add in the extra to make this an extra-ordinary congregation? Shall we not pray that the Lord will enlarge our coast as as Jabez of old did:

Oh that thou wouldest bless me indeed, and enlarge my coast, and that thine hand might be with me, and that thou wouldest keep me from evil, that it may not grieve me!” (1 Chr 4:10)

“And God granted him that which he requested.” God will hear our cries. And his mighty deeds that He will do through us will be recorded for our posterity to come that children yet unborn shall praise the Lord.

Today, beloved brethren and children, we have the opportunity to write history. We have the opportunity to do the extra that will magnify God’s name greatly and benefit our future generations.

Let us begin to pray and let us begin to do. What shall we do? That is something for us to think about. What can you do today that will have impact down the generations?

  • Could it be making a decision to be wholeheartedly committed to the work of the Lord here?
  • Could it be resolving to take your covenant seriously?
  • Could it be starting and maintaining family worship for some?
  • Could it be being active in inviting unbelieving friends to church?
  • Could it be starting and maintaining family worship for some?
  • Could it be being active in inviting unbelieving friends to church?
  • Could it be coming forward to serve as an officer in the church for others?
  • Could it be taking the initiative to do something greater: starting a translation fellowship; opening a covenant school?
  • Could it be opening a medical clinic for the poor?  Starting an old age home?
  • Could it be starting a Reformed seminary for training third world pastors?

Whatever we may think or dream of doing, let us remember to pray. The Lord will hear our cries. And then let us put our hand to doing what we desire to do with all our heart—serving the Lord out of a deep sense of gratitude for all that He has done for us.

God our Father will look down from the height of his sanctuary. He will have pity on us for the sake of His Son. He will never deny His Son. He will answer our cries to the end that his name may be praised from generation to generations.


Conclusion

Beloved brethren and children, what did we learn from the few verses we considered?

First, we are reminded that we serve an everlasting God (v. 11-12). All may change, but God does not, and that is what counts. Man may change, so it is not worth serving man. But God is everlasting, it is always worthwhile to serve Him.

Secondly, we are comforted to know that God loves His people and will vindicate and bless them (v. 13-14). We are not merely a society of people. We are the people redeemed by the precious blood of the Son of God. Therefore God will bless us.

Thirdly, we are encouraged that God would glorify himself by using us,—if we are willing to serve Him,— to draw the heathen to Zion (v. 15-16). May the Lord stir up in us a heart of compassion for the lost and a deep desire to see the name of our Saviour magnified in the world.

Finally, we are assured that God will hear the prayers of his people (v. 17-18). He will yet do great things through us if we would first apply to him in prayer.

Beloved brethren and children, what are these things to you? These past ten years have been amazing. We have gone through thick and thin. We have ridden the high places of joy and we have wandered through the valley of humiliation.

But we thank God that He has been with us through the mountains and the valleys. We thank God that he did not abandon us despite our failures.

And thank God for the promise that He will yet do great things through us.

Thank God for the opportunity to write history that glorifies God for our children.

May the Lord help us! May He draw us to himself and make us the instruments of His praise for generations to come. May He help us as we renew our covenant to the end that we may in a small way begin to contribute to the rich and godly heritage that we want to leave our children with!

The Father will glorify His beloved Son. Beloved brothers and sisters and children, if we are firmly resolved this day to take up the cross to magnify Christ with our lives in our decisions and efforts; then what great things will await us, for God has promised: Seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness. And look out with anticipation, beloved brethren and children, for what blessings the Lord will pour down upon us and our children and children’s children. Amen. Ω