Date: June 2, 2019
Speaker: Rodrigo Sanchez
Scripture: Psalm 90:1–90:17
Have you ever been homesick before? Not just the feeling of nostalgia that is normally part of missing home. I’m talking about that deep knot in your stomach that physically makes you sick. Have you ever felt homesick like that? I certainly did last week. I was out of town for a week in a place where I felt like I didn’t belong. A welcoming, beautiful place, to be sure. But it wasn’t home. And in fact, it was the first time away from home by myself. After a busy first day I headed up to my hotel room to video call Tori and kids. My heart was pounding hearing their voices and seeing them on the screen. And when I finally went to bed and turn off the lights that night I was literally sick to my stomach. I was homesick. I missed my family terribly and I missed my home. Our text this morning, Psalm 90, is a prayer from Moses for those who are homesick.
Think about it, what comes to your mind when you think about Moses? Perhaps it is his separation from his family as he is adopted into the household of the king of Egypt. Or his rejection by his own people so that he has to flee away from them to Midian. Or maybe you think about him and the people of God as they spend 40 years wandering in the desert without a place to rest their heads. The title of Psalm 90 connects us to the people of God from the past through the penmanship of Moses, the servant of God. And in this way, Psalm 90 invites us to identify ourselves with Moses and with God’s people as they wander in the desert, hoping for God’s salvation, and longing to find a home.
We need to remember that since the expulsion of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden the story of God’s people has been one marked by exile down to this very day. That is why we read from 1 Peter this morning, because Peter interprets our lives and the trials that believers face today as an experience of exile. The point is that God’s people are not at home in this world. And this creates a tension for us, doesn’t it? Being in the world but not from it. Being home-ward and yet somehow home-less. Experiencing both the goodness of life in this world and at the same time its difficulties, pains and sorrows. There is a tension in our souls that all of us feel at one level or another.
Psalm 90 then helps us to understand our homesickness in this world and calls us to trust and hope in God. As an outline I have three points this morning. 1) The Reality of the Everlasting God, vv. 1-2. 2) The Problem of Our Fleeting Life, vv.3-12. And 3) The Hope of God’s Mercy, vv.13-17. With that outline in mind, let’s look at vv.1-2, The Reality of the Everlasting God.
The Reality of the Everlasting God
Moses begins his prayer reflecting on the nature of God and his relationship to his people. In a way, you can say that the entire Psalm is Moses’ reflection on the first chapters of Genesis applied to the life of God’s people in exile. And he begins in v. 1where the Scriptures begin, with the reality of God. “Lord, you have been our dwelling place in all generations. Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever you had formed the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God.” As far back as you can think in the Scriptures, God has been in relationship to his people. To be sure, God is eternal. There was a time when God was and God’s people were not. God’s relationship to his people is not fundamentally what makes him God. The fact that he is everlasting is what makes him God.
But the Scriptures do not give us much insight into the being or life of God before the creation of the world. From the very beginning in the creation account the Scriptures connect the reality and existence of God to the life and experience of God’s people in God’s world. The pinnacle of creation is the creation of the man and the woman who exist from the beginning in relationship with God. In other words, to say that God is everlasting is not merely a philosophical or theological exercise. No, the eternal nature of God, his character, and his works are realities revealed to us not so that we would just talk about them but so that we would treasure them and live them out in relationship to God. Moses connects us to the everlasting God so that we may trust him and hope in him. Because God was and is before everything else, we can bank our lives on him. In other words, as far back as the life of God reaches, that far, that much we can trust him, brothers and sisters. God is everlasting, so we can never out-trust him.
As the everlasting, God is the creator and therefore the Lord of the universe. Look again in v. 2, God is before all things and therefore he is above all things. The mountains, the earth, the sky, the entire world exists because the everlasting God willed it into existence. From the beginning it is clear that mankind was created to live with God and for God. That is, we were created to live for God’s glory and we cannot live rightly apart from him. That is why Moses says that God himself is our dwelling place. This world was meant to be our home as long as the presence of God dwells in it. That is precisely what you have in the Garden of Eden: God’s people, in God’s presence, under God’s loving rule. That is what we have been made for: to know and love God and to be known and loved by him. That’s why the writer of Ecclesiastes says that God has “put eternity into man’s heart” (Ecc. 3:11). Because everything in us knows that we exist to be in relationship with the everlasting God. The conclusion is, as C.S Lewis wrote, “If I find in myself desires which nothing in this world can satisfy, the only logical explanation is that I was made for another world.” I trust that quote resonates with you as it does with me. Every unfulfilled longing of your heart is pointing you to the reality of the everlasting God. You and I were created to be at home with God.
And yet that is not our experience in this world. We are not at home, and any philosophical or theological system that hopes to make this world as we know it our ultimate place of rest is incomplete at best and misleading at worst. And this leads us to our second point this morning. The Problem of Our Fleeting Life in vv.3-12.
The Problem of Our Fleeting Life
We were made to be at home in this world with God. And yet there is a big ugly problem that stares at our faces. Isn’t there? Death. It is the problem of the fleeting nature of our lives.
This is what Moses is getting at in vv.3-4, “You return man to dust and say, ‘Return, O children of man! For a thousand years in your sight are but as yesterday when it is past, or as a watch in the night.” Compared to the everlasting life of God, the brevity of our lives pales in comparison. Moses compares our lives to a flood, a dream, and grass. Look there in vv. 5 and 6. “You sweep them away as with a flood, they are like a dream, like grass that is renewed in the morning: in the morning it flourishes and is renewed; in the evening it fades and withers.” Have you ever been woken up in the middle of a dream? In one split second, the snapping of your fingers, and the dream is gone. And so it is with our lives. They are indeed like the waters of a flood that cover the land in a matter of minutes as we saw this week here in Arkansas. Or like the weedy grass in desert places, full of green in the morning but gone at sunset. Our lives are fleeting.
But not only are our lives short, they are also full of many troubles. Look in vv. 9-10, “For all our days pass away under your wrath. We bring our years to an end like a sigh. The years of our life are seventy, or even by reason of strength eighty; yet their span is but toil and trouble.” Even if we do really well and make it to eighty, they will be eighty years filled with toil and trouble. You do not have to live that long to realize that life is not as easy as it looks on Instagram. Life is full of pain, tears, broken relationships, broken things, awkward moments, sleepless nights and on and on and on. Our lives are not only fleeting but troublesome.
Now, the reality of the everlasting God is meant to be a comforting truth for us, but the brevity of our lives and its troubles are a constant reminder that something is wrong. Things are not the way they were meant to be. Work should not be burdensome, and yet our experience of any kind of labor includes both satisfaction and frustration. Studying for an exam is both a stimulating experience and yet one filled with anxiety and fear. Marriages and families experience both joy and brokenness. There are parents that rejoice in the life of their children, parents that mourn the children who never saw the light of day, and parents who do both at the same time. And our bodies were created to function in their prime, and yet they slowly deteriorate, we experience aching and sickness, and some of us get up every morning to face the light of day with the permanent effects of a spinal cord injury. Things are not the way they were meant to be. And we know it very well.
So the question is, why? Why do we, like grass, flourish in the morning but whither in the evening? Why all the toil and trouble? The answer in Psalm 90 is that the problem of our fleeting lives is the problem of sin.
Now, to be sure, Moses is not saying that your specific trouble is because of a specific sin that you committed. He is not giving us a narrow answer to the problem of sin but a broad answer. He is giving us a reason as to why the world at large is broken and why things are not the way they ought to be. And that broad answer is sin. Sin has broken what God called “good.” Psalm 90 does not answer all our questions but it does give us truthful categories that help us understand our situation and experience in this world.
Look again in v.3, “You return man to dust and say, ‘Return, O children of man!” This is language straight out of Genesis 3 as God curses the man, do you remember that? “For you are dust, and to dust you shall return” God says to Adam. In other words, the consequences of the sentence of death given to Adam continue to this day. The wages of sin is a troublesome life that eventually leads to death. We continue to experience the effects of humanity’s separation from God.
Look also with me in vv.7-8. “For we are brought to an end by your anger; by your wrath we are dismayed. You have set our iniquities before you, our secret sins in the light of your presence.” The problem of sin is that our guilt before the everlasting God is inescapable, our iniquities are set before him. And we cannot hide our sin and our guilt. All of humanity stands under God’s righteous anger and just wrath. And even if you are here this morning, and you don’t care about God or what the Bible says about anything, your very experience of life testifies to your heart that this is indeed true. Something has gone horribly wrong. And so, like v. 9 says, “All our days pass away under [God’s] wrath; [and] we bring our years to and end like a sigh.” We are not at home in this world because through sin humanity has been exiled or expelled away from the presence of the one who gives life, the everlasting God.
And if all this sounds pessimistic it’s because it is. It is pessimistic, if you understand that word correctly. Pessimistic doesn’t mean resigned or fatalistic. But it does mean that we, like Moses, understand ourselves and our experience in the world according to God’s Word and what it says about our condition. That is the only way to make sense of the deep-seated homesickness that we experience even in the best of times. It is the only way to understand the reason our hearts ache when we hear echoes of that which is eternally true, beautiful, and right.
And I get it, this view of humanity and of life is very unpopular and at some level downright offensive to some people. It goes against the grain of everything our culture wants us to believe to be true. That somehow we can make ourselves better. The history of the world is the story of humankind saying to ourselves, “this time we will get it right.” But we never do. Why? Because of the problem of sin. It is the big elephant in the living room of humanity.
There are really two options before us this morning. The first option is to dismiss both the reality of God and the problem of sin, to simply ignore all our guilt, trouble, and sorrow, and to convince ourselves that there is nothing wrong, that life is as it was meant to be. So in v.11, Moses asks, “Who considers the power of your anger, and your wrath according to the fear of you?” And the answer is, not many people. Not most. Do you know many people who consider the reality of God and the problem of sin as they think about their lives and the world at large? Do you? Do you consider life according to the fear of God?
That’s the first option, to ignore the everlasting God and the problem of sin. The second option is to consider these things by faith as we look to God for mercy. And that leads us to our third and final point, The Hope of God’s Mercy in vv. 12-17.
The Hope of God’s Mercy
We saw in v.1 that God is a place of refuge for his people, so we not only consider the power of his anger and wrath, but we also consider his faithfulness and loving kindness towards those who trust in him. And so we look to God for mercy.
First, we look to God to show us mercy today. Look with me in v. 12, “So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom.” A heart of wisdom is the heart that considers the fleeting nature of life but instead of being resigned to the troubles of this world looks to God to teach us how to live in the midst of these trials. A heart of wisdom is a heart that fears God before it fears anything or anyone else. It is the heart that leans not in the understanding and wisdom of man, but on the wisdom and power of God. The heart of wisdom looks to God by faith and says, “Lord, you are everlasting, you have been our dwelling place in all generations, and I trust that you will be a place of refuge for me in the midst of today’s troubles.”
But we not only look to God for mercy today but also hope for mercy tomorrow. Look with me in v. 13, “Return, O Lord! How long? Have pity on your servants!” This verse is a beautiful play on words. That word there, return, is the same word Moses uses in verse 3 when he says that God returns man to dust. Moses is asking God to turn back his curse on sin and to pity his people instead. It is a bold prayer, yes. But that is what faith does. It casts itself upon the mercy of God boldly because it knows that God is a dwelling place for his people. It knows that God is a God full of mercy, loving-kindness, and steadfast love.
Brothers and sisters, have you ever asked God, how long? How long will I go on in the dark? How long will you remain silent, God? How long, O Lord? This question is one the most-often-asked questions in the book of Psalms. And it demonstrates for us what hoping in God looks like. Hope is not a virtue only for the strong in faith. But an instrument of grace for those who are weak in their faith. Sometimes the trials of this life feel like a punch to the gut that leave us breathless. And when we are knocked down like that what we need most is hope. Hope that God will have enough mercy for us, today and tomorrow.
Moses continues to pray for the reversal of God’s curse in vv.14-15, “Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love, that we may rejoice and be glad all our days. Make us glad for as many days as you have afflicted us, and for as many years as we have seen evil.” Brothers and sisters, our fleeting lives are like grass that grows in the morning and vanish at night. But God’s mercy is like the dawn of a new day, like a bright-yellowed sun, shining on the earth with rays that never set. And this is what our homesick-hearts long for, isn’t it? We long for joy and gladness that will never end. And brothers and sister, there will be a day when all the tears will be wiped from our eyes. The fleeting nature of our lives, filled with toils and troubles will one day give way to gladness for as many days as we have been afflicted and more.
Finally, hope in the mercy of God is hope in God’s salvation. Look with me in v. 16, “Let your work be shown to your servants, and your glorious power to their children.” From the very beginning God’s people have been acquainted with his glorious works. We have seen God’s deliverance of his people at the exodus. We have seen God’s deliverance of his people from exile. And we can now hope that we will see God’s salvation yet once more.
And our hope is not abstract but definite because we have seen God’s glorious work of salvation in the Lord Jesus Christ. God has in fact answered Moses’s prayer. He has turned back the curse of sin. And he has done it in a most unexpected way. At the cross we see the climax of the world gone wrong. That is, the world turns against its maker and kills the author of life. And yet the cross is precisely the means that God uses to undo what has gone wrong in the world and to make all things right again. God has dealt with the problem of sin in the person of Christ. Surely, the whole creation still awaits the final consummation of God’s work of redemption. But God has turned his wrath away from those who through repentance of sin and faith in Christ hope in his mercy. If you are in Christ, God is not against you. How could he be? If he did not spare his Son, but through him has reconciled you to himself, how could he now turn his face against you in anger again?
So we can hope in God’s mercy to help us walk by faith as our lives bear fruit that will outlast the fleeting nature of life in this world. We can trust that God is making all things new in Christ and that one day we will be at home with him at last. The deep knot in our stomachs, that feeling of homesickness will one day give way to joy and gladness without measure as we rejoice in the everlasting God. Until then, let us pray with Moses in v. 17, “Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us, and establish the work of our hands upon us; yes, establish the work of our hands!” Amen.