The Songs of Ascent, Text: Psalm 124, Title: On Our Side

Introduction

As the worshipers leave behind the scorn of the world and approach the holy city they are reminded of the way in which the God of Israel has delivered them from their enemies. They are singing because he has enabled them to make this pilgrimage. Dr. Harold S. Laird preaching at our church reminded us that in the lives of all Christians Christ is present, but in some he is prominent and on a few he is pre-eminent. The entire focus of worship is the pre-eminence of Christ. We observe a Sunday Sabbath because it signifies the resurrection of Christ from the dead on the third day and his death and resurrection are our deliverance. Deliverance is the theme of worship as it is the theme of this Psalm. There are four distinct attributes of that deliverance identified in this Psalm. It is a particular deliverance, a powerful deliverance, a perfect deliverance and a permanent deliverance.

I Particular Deliverance

The psalmist begins in verses 1 and 2 with these words, If the LORD had not been on our side-let Israel say-if the LORD had not been on our side when men attacked us. The operative words here are that the Lord was on their side. Many would consider this presumptuous and say we are on God’s side, but they will not say God is on our side. The Bible, Old and New Testaments, does not teach that Jesus took the side of conquering sin and death and you need to take His side, the right side. In fact the Bible teaches that Israel did not choose God, he chose them to reveal Himself to the nations. Christians are first chosen by God before the foundation of the world as we read in  Ephesians 1:4-6, For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will-to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves. This, according to Paul, is the source of all our spiritual blessings. The gospel is freely offered to all but only those who are chosen by God respond in repentance and faith. In other words, God really is on your side and he chose that side before you were born and before he made the world. The Bible does not explain why except to say as Ephesians 1 states, “in accordance with his pleasure and will.” So if you say why did he choose me, the answer is always, because it pleased Him to do so. Thus the psalmist chooses to put the glory where it ought to be, on God alone. It is His grace and mercy, and this is the foundation of true worship and praise. We love Him because He first loved us.

II Powerful Deliverance

This is revealed in verses 2-5, If the LORD had not been on our side-let Israel say-if the LORD had not been on our side when men attacked us, when their anger flared against us, they would have swallowed us alive; the flood would have engulfed us, the torrent would have swept over us, the raging waters would have swept us away. Clearly the psalmist hearkens back to the great deliverance from Egypt through the Red Sea. There the people of Israel bewailing their difficulties ironically accuse Moses of bringing them out here to die because there were not graves enough in Egypt. And we read in Exodus 14:13 and 14, Moses answered the people, “Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the LORD will bring you today. The Egyptians you see today you will never see again. The LORD will fight for you; you need only to be still.” I remember the little boy who came home from Sunday School and was asked what he learned. He told a story about the children of Israel being protected by the armed forces equipped with all their jeeps and half tracks and battle tanks, and there were machine guns and cannons and amphibious vehicles to assist the army corps of engineers in putting up pontoon bridges, and then after Israel had crossed the army blew up the whole works, and his parents in dismay said, “is that really what they taught you in Sunday School. The boy said, “No, but if I told you what they said, you would never believe me.” Listen to the powerful deliverance to which the psalmist refers. Moses stretched forth his hand and the waters receded, and Moses stretched forth his hand and the sea returned and overthrew the Egyptians.The psalmist comes up to worship the God who delivers and we do the same in the church. True worship recognizes that its all of grace. We cannot cross the sea. We cannot build the bridge. Jesus did it all. He died and rose again so that the law and sin could no longer condemn us. As Paul says to Timothy in II Timothy 1:9 and 10, This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time, but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior, Christ Jesus, who has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.

III Perfect Deliverance

The perfection of this deliverance is shown in verses 6 and 7, Praise be to the LORD, who has not let us be torn by their teeth. We have escaped like a bird out of the fowler’s snare; the snare has been broken, and we have escaped. We just read that Jesus has destroyed death. Some versions say He abolished death. The psalmist says the same thing when he reminds us that the “snare has been broken.” Peter preaching on the day of Pentecost says of Jesus in Acts 2:22-24, Men of Israel, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know. This man was handed over to you by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him. Death could not hold Him because he had broken its power completely. Paul says in In Corinthians 15 that the sting of death is sin, but Jesus utterly destroyed the law of sin  and death, and perfectly liberated us. The snare has been broken. In I John 2: 1 and 2 we read, My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world. The best translation  of the Greek translated “atoning sacrifice” is propitiation. The Greek word is “hilasterion” and it means mercy seat, the place of atonement in the Old Testament located on the ark of the covenant in the holiest place of the tabernacle. It was understood that on the one annual day of atonement, Yom Kippur, the high priest made atonement for all of the sins of that year. The book of Hebrews in 10:11-14 teaches us that our great high priest Jesus did this once for all, Day after day every priest stands and performs his religious duties; again and again he offers the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But when this priest had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God. Since that time he waits for his enemies to be made his footstool,  because by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy. Jesus’ sacrifice assures us that the snare has been broken.

IV Permanent Deliverance

As day follows night, so permanence follows perfection. When the psalmist says in verse 8, Our help is in the name of the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth, he is reminding us that our deliverance from God is a permanent deliverance. As we just read in Hebrews 10, Jesus’ one sacrifice has made us perfect “forever.” We do not need another deliverance because the eternal God has acted on our behalf as his chosen  people. Hear what Paul says in Romans 8:28-32,  And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified. What, then, shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? By His death and resurrection Jesus has done everything to pave the way to a new heavens and new earth wherein righteousness dwells, and the Apostle adds in verses 38 and 39, For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. “Neither the present nor the future,” says Paul. The deliverance is permanent.