If Not For The Lord
The Congregational preacher of old, D.L. Moody, tells the story of an incident that occurred during the last mutiny on the land of India, while under British control. The English were besieged in the city of Lucknow, and were in momentary expectation of perishing at the hands of the fiends that surrounded them. There was a little Scotch lassie in this fort, and, while lying on the ground, she suddenly shouted, her face aglow with joy, “Dinna ye hear them comin'; Dinna ye hear them comin'?” “Hear what?” they asked, “Dinna ye hear them comin?” And she sprang to her feet. It was the bagpipes of her native Scotland she heard. It was a native air she heard that was being played by a regiment of her countrymen marching to the relief of those captives, and these deliverers made them free. Oh, my friends, don't you hear Jesus Christ crying to you to-night?
Do you not hear the declaration of God’s glory, the tumult of His praise rising from the pages of Holy Scripture?! The sound of His voice rises from the scroll of the Psalms which was scratched by the pen of the Psalmist which resonates in the hearts of His covenant people from the days of old to this very moment. Do you not hear the sound?!
Today we explore a worthy topic indeed. Just a few chapters before our text for today, the writer of Psalms 121 declares, “I lift up my eyes to the hills. From where does my help come? My help comes from the LORD, who made heaven and earth.”
Today we discuss the truth declared in Psalms 124: our help comes from the Lord!
The Psalms are rich in theology. Often I am afraid that we neglect the importance of the Psalms theologically. We use them often in liturgy or devotion and it is right to do so. However, the Psalms are rich in Christo-centric God exalting theology. The Psalms are not all alike.
They are a collection of various types of worship genres. The Psalms, in the strictest sense, is the song book of Israel. It is that and more.
There are Psalms of lament (sorrow), Psalms of praise or thanksgiving, like the one we are studying today; some Psalms are based on community while others are individual. There are penitential Psalms, specialized thanksgiving (Todah) Psalms which speak of salvation history or songs of trust. There are hymnic Psalms, hymn and doxology Psalms, liturgical Psalms (for Public Worship), covenant songs, temple liturgies, wisdom Psalms, Torah poems, and others.
The Psalms are as varied as any hymn book of the Christian era. The Psalms are collections of writings of various worship types. As such, they contain wonderful accounts of God’s dealings with His people.
They even contain prophecy. Most notable for our discussion here is the reality that Psalms of praise contain worship theology. Psalms 124 tells the story of God’s deliverance of His people from the hand of a great enemy. It is entirely likely that this enemy is the Philistines.
Just as our hymns retell the wonderful stories of salvation, many of the Psalms likewise tell of the salvation of God.
“When the Philistines heard that David had been anointed king over Israel, all the Philistines went up to search for David. But David heard of it and went down to the stronghold. Now the Philistines had come and spread out in the Valley of Rephaim. And David inquired of the LORD, "Shall I go up against the Philistines? Will you give them into my hand?" And the LORD said to David, "Go up, for I will certainly give the Philistines into your hand." And David came to Baal-perazim, and David defeated them there. And he said, "The LORD has burst through my enemies before me like a bursting flood." Therefore the name of that place is called Baal-perazim. And the Philistines left their idols there, and David and his men carried them away. And the Philistines came up yet again and spread out in the Valley of Rephaim.
And when David inquired of the LORD, he said, "You shall not go up; go around to their rear, and come against them opposite the balsam trees. And when you hear the sound of marching in the tops of the balsam trees, then rouse yourself, for then the LORD has gone out before you to strike down the army of the Philistines." And David did as the LORD commanded him, and struck down the Philistines from Geba to Gezer.” (II Samuel 5:17-25)
It is not certain that this is the events that are spoken of in Psalms 124 but there is a striking literary parallel between II Samuel 5:20 and Psalms 124:4-5: the raging or bursting waters. Regardless of what specific enemy the Israel’s had been saved from, Psalms 124 is a Psalm of declarative praise.
It is a declaration of the worth and goodness of God! Worship matters. How we worship matters. Why we worship matters. It matters because it is not simply music and words on a page. Worship is the act of God’s covenant people declaring the goodness of the God who saves!
Worship is the bursting forth of the raging waters of the flood of thanksgiving that springs forth from a heart that recognizes and is thankful for the work of God in covenant. He is the savior of His covenant people in this life and in matters of eternity.
Worship is not for the sake of a nice experience for unbelievers, for example. Worship is the activity of those who reside within the safety and security of the covenant of God. How, why, and who we worship matters.
In the modern church era there are many who dumb down the worship, the liturgy, music style, teaching of the Bible, in order to meet the perceived needs of the culture. The idea is that we must remove all that may offend a non believer from the life of the worship service on Sunday morning in order to more effectively reach and attract “seekers” into the church.
This mentality belies a total and complete misunderstanding about the nature and point of worship. Worship in the house of God is the time for celebrating the worth of God and offering thanksgiving to Him for saving His covenant people.
Our focus must be squarely upon Him who saved us!
We desire seekers to be attracted. Indeed, evangelism is a major part of the church life. But attracted to what? Is our goal to attract the world into the church as though by some mystical formula their lives with change by their presence among we who are “holy?” Is our mandate to teach a few life skills? Is our mission simply to encourage with light words, big vain smiles, and platitudes?
Our mandate is to proclaim the worth of God and thank Him for saving His people! When we do that we look so different from the world that the world is invariably attracted to our source: Christ.
We are encouraged because we are in Christ! We are joyful because we are thankful of the radical and unmerited favor of Almighty God which He has chosen of His own sovereign will to shower upon us!
“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.” (Romans 15:13)
God alone is our help in matters of both temporal affairs and eternal security. Our salvation is not in our hands. While the Psalmist is speaking specifically of the temporal, physical salvation from destruction at the hands of the Philistines, he is alluding to a much greater theological reality.
God alone is our security. This is true of this life and the life to come. Here is a question which I am compelled to ask in light of my personal salvation, the very existence of the Church, and in light of our own national moral and spiritual distress: Had it not been for the Lord, where would we be? (v.1)
A. Personal Salvation: God is our personal help in our individual distress.
a. God saves us from a lifestyle of incurring wrath. “When others sin, godly men see what they themselves were before conversion; or what they would have been – but for the restraints of God's grace. Bradford, an eminent servant of Christ, seeing a criminal led to execution said, "There goes John Bradford – but for the grace of God!”
b. God saves all who He saves from eternal wrath. “I tell you, my friends, do not fear those who kill the body, and after that have nothing more that they can do. But I will warn you whom to fear: fear him who, after he has killed, has authority to cast into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him!” (Luke 12:4-5) Though many abhor the doctrine in the modern body of Christ, when we are saved unto a life in Christ we are saved from the wrath of God which humanities collective sin and our personal sin had incurred.
B. Church History: Had it not been for the sovereign hand of God helping through Church through her trials which she incurred from the very beginning, should would not have survived. God has always saved, maintained, and restored His covenant people. This was true of Israel in the Old Testament, it remains true of Israel today, and it is plainly apparent that in our weakness He is strong. Whether it was Roman persecution, our own misguided failings through the Middle Ages, or when God restored the doctrines of grace during the protestant reformation, God has protected His Church.
C. National Distress: What of this great land? It is plain that the Lord has had the most unique purpose and plan for this great land. If we will but turn our hearts toward Him will He not restore our land? “Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a reproach to any people.” (Proverbs 14:34) God is still sovereign upon His throne. His word endures forever. Let us seek Him as a people that He may revive and restore our land.
The Savoy Declaration of 1658, that is the earliest and most articulate articles of theological confession of the Congregational Churches, says it this way: “This effectual call is of God's free and special grace alone, not from anything at all foreseen in man, who is altogether passive therein, until being quickened and renewed by the Holy Spirit he is thereby enabled to answer this call, and to embrace the grace offered and conveyed in it.”
The Sovereign Lord saves absolutely. What He does, He does perfectly. What Savoy is saying is that what and whom God chooses to save He saves perfectly. If you are in Christ you are like a tree rooted in solid ground which cannot be moved by even the strongest winds of this world.
If you are in Christ you are completely unlike the leaf which blows in the wind. “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father's hand.” (John 10:27-29)
The God who saved Israel from certain destruction in Psalm 124 has saved us as well. When He saves He saves perfectly, according to His sovereign will. That which He does is done perfectly, according to His divine plan and order.
How can our hearts not extol the goodness and majesty of the Lord when we recognize how perfectly He has saved us in Christ?! The Apostle Paul said to his son in the faith Timothy, “Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord, nor of me his prisoner, but share in suffering for the gospel by the power of God, who saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began.” (II Timothy 1:8-9)
Eyes which have seen, a mind which has been awakened, and a heart which has been flooded by the appearing of the mercy of God in Christ must leap forth praise as a fountain which bubbles with great bursting pressure from the clear spring beneath the ground when it is tapped!
Our trust is in the Lord because He is our help. We raise praises unto His throne because He is intrinsically worthy because of who He is. We sing praises as we celebrate His goodness. We declare His worth. We celebrate His goodness.
We rejoice in what He has done for us. This simple formula is the biblical way of worship. It is our primary purpose. It is the central mission of our existence. It is why He has saved us; to make His glory known in the earth through us. Amen.