Good morning! How’s it going today? Thumbs up, thumbs down – how about thumbs sideways? Today we continue our sermon series through the Penitential Psalms. I have to tell you when I first looked at our Psalm 102, I cringed. I thought, “Please Lord, not another one of these! Can’t we just skip this one and go right to Psalm 103?”
The Lord replied, “I could have skipped Good Friday and gone right to Easter, but I didn’t. Are you thankful for that?” “OK, Lord, I got it.” I tightened my belt and went to work. I was amazed at what I found. Can I share it with you? Are you ready? Let’s open our Bibles to Psalm 102.
Note no author is listed. The title only tells “The prayer of an afflicted man”. A prayer to use when things fall apart and our own words fail. If you’ve never been there, you will be.
Let me describe the situation behind this Psalm. Imagine a disaster has forced you to leave your home in the Flathead. All you have is the clothes on your back. Everything else, your home, wealth, family, friends, job, possessions, neighborhood, clothes are 700 miles behind you. But they haven’t just been left behind, they are gone, burned, destroyed.
You’ve been exiled from the beauty of the Flathead to the Mojave Desert where the nights are freezing cold, the days are blazing hot and the wind blows all the time. Sand is constantly in your eyes, nose, mouth. It’s in your food, your bed, your underwear. You want to go home, but there is no home to go back to.
That’s the condition Israel found themselves in during their exile in Babylon. I believe that’s the story behind this Psalm. Three important words to note are these. If you have your own Bible, I encourage you to circle them. Vs. 1 “Hear”. Vs. 12 “But”. Vs. 21 and 24 “So” or “Therefore”.
Psalm 102 is a cry for help. “Hear my prayer, O LORD; let my cry for help come to you” Psalm 102:1 Why do we wait so long to go to the Lord in prayer? Maybe because we know if we go to the Lord for help, we will have to make some changes in how we live. Are we willing?
“Don’t hide your face from me when I am in distress. Turn you ear to me; when I call, answer me quickly.” Psalm 102:2
There’s something here I don’t want you to miss! We can spend our whole life turning away from God, dismissing him, rebelling against him – until we run into trouble, then we cry out to him and expect him to instantly respond and save us. Isn’t there something a little twisted about that! What kind of God would put up with that? Only One who loves us!
Evidently, the Psalmist is in such agony that he dumps his pride and begs God for help. A place he should have been all along. In verses 3-11 he lists his complaints. Let’s look… “My days vanish like smoke. My life is meaningless. My bones burn within me. My body withers. My appetite is gone. I’m lonely. My enemies take advantage of my agony. My food is tasteless. Tears run down my face into my mouth. I feel like you’ve thrown me aside. I ‘m dried up like the grass in the field.”
If you’ve never felt those things, you will. It’s part of our human experience. Some of you are there right now. The painful truth is; it’s only in the desert that we learn to pray. Maybe that’s why the Lord brings us to these painful places? I know that’s been true for me.
Jesus knew about this. He left Paradise to be born into the spiritual desert of this world. He experienced all of this, especially on that Thursday night and Friday when he was crucified.
You might think the story would end there “They were exiled, abandoned in the desert sand where they all died and nobody knew or cared or even remembered.” But that’s not how the story ends.
Look at the first word of vs 12. “But” – this isn’t the end of the story. Should be, but it isn’t. The disciples thought Jesus’ death was the end of the story. It wasn’t. The Jews thought their exile in the sands of Babylon was the end of the story, but it wasn’t.
In verse 12 the prayer shifts gears. I think this is spirit prompted. When we begin to honesty seek the Lord in prayer, God sometimes answers us right in the middle of our prayer. This prayer of lament suddenly turns into a prayer of praise for who God is! “But you, O LORD, sit enthroned forever; your renown endures though all generations.” Ps 102:12
There is nothing that can threaten God’s sovereignty, nor hinder the triumph of his will. Not the devil, not evil men, not even our own sins or failures.
Look at vs 13. “You will arise and have compassion on Zion...” Psalm 102:13 Zion is the temple mound in Jerusalem. Babylonian engineers had destroyed Jerusalem so completely that they believed it would never be rebuilt. But they didn’t stop the Lord. He specializes in bringing dead things to life! He’s still brings lives, families, marriages, even nations, destroyed by sin back to life again when we call out to him.
Look at verse 14, “For her stones are dear to your servants’ her very dust moves them to pity.” The Lord loves all that he has made – and that includes you and me. One day everything in this creation will turn to dust, but even that dust is precious to the Lord. We might forget him, he will never forget us. He will come and save us and bring us to the home he’s prepared.
“The nations will fear the name of the LORD, all the kings of the earth will revere your glory. For the LORD will rebuild Zion and appear in his glory.” Psalm 102:15-16
70 years after this Psalm was written the Lord brought his people back to Israel. They rebuilt the Jerusalem and even the temple. But the real fulfillment of this promise began with the birth of Jesus. It will reach its conclusion when Jesus returns. In the meantime, Jesus is building a new Zion and a new temple not made of physical stones, but of people.
Both Peter and Paul write that we are living stones being built into a temple for the Lord. Jesus is gathering his people together from all over the world. Our sin like ancient Israel has led us into exile in the desert of sin and death. But even this morning, Jesus is gathering people from all over the world to worship him and they are a temple in which he lives by the Spirit. He’s here among us right now.
“He will respond to the prayer of the destitute; he will not despise their plea.” Ps 102:17 So why does the Lord take us into the desert? I believe the desert is the place we learn to pray, listen and even to praise. It’s where we learn to share with others who God is! “Let this be written for a future generation, that a people not yet created may praise the LORD.” Psalm 102:18
We are just like the man who wrote this Psalm, living in the desert sand, crying out for help. Our leaders tell us to trust them, that they have the power to get us home again. Yet they haven’t done it yet and we’re still eating sand. Where will our help come from? “The LORD looked down from his sanctuary on high, from heaven he viewed the earth, to hear the groans of the prisoners and release those condemn to death.” Psalm 102:19-20
If those words sound familiar, they should. These are the words Jesus used as the text for his first sermon. After he read them he said, “Today, these words are fulfilled in your hearing.” Shortest sermon ever given! It dumfounded the people who were listening. Some believed him, some scoffed. Is Jesus really the hope of the hopeless? Yes, he is! But most of the time, we only figure that out through our time in the desert. Would you agree?
Which brings to the third word. It’s the word “So”. How do we respond to God’s promise to save us? “So (therefore) the name of the LORD will be declared in Zion and his praise in Jerusalem when the peoples and the kingdoms assemble to worship the LORD.” Psalm 102:21-22
This is so amazing! Remember, at the time this man wrote this prayer, Zion didn’t exist anymore. The Babylonians had destroyed it completely. So how could he pray this? It’s as if in the midst of his prayer of lament about the past, he begins to prophesy about the future!
Jump down to vs 23 “In the course of my life, he broke my strength; he cut short my days.” Ps 102:23
It seems Jesus loves us enough to break our sinful ego and say “no” to all our vain attempts to be our own God. He uses the desert to do this. In the desert we are reminded that He is Creator, we are created. My body, mind, strength, wealth, influence, will pass away like the grass of the field and the stars of the universe. It’s all temporal. But God is eternal.
Look at vs 27. “(LORD) you remain the same and your years will never end.” This means the Lord’s unchanging, unrelenting steadfast love for sinners like you and me will never change! Because of that reality vs 28 “The children of your servants will live in your presence; their descendants will be established before you.” Ps 102:28 Do we have a future and a hope, even though we still have sand in our shorts and tears in our eyes? Yes we do!
The Lord promises to rescue us from the hopeless sands of Babylon, to restoration, salvation, and eternity with Jesus in a New Jerusalem. One day very soon he’s going to come and get us. He’s going to take us home to be with him forever. No more pain, no more tears in our mouth or sand in our shorts. I can’t wait! How about you?
Are you ready? Where are you looking to Jesus for your salvation? The reason God brings us into the desert places is to learn to pray, to earnestly seek him, and as we do, he will reveal himself to us and his praise for the future will begin to flow from our mouths!