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Author:Rev. Mark Chen
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Congregation:First Evangelical Reformed Church in Singapore
Preached At:
Title:Teach Us to Number our Days
Text:Psalms 90:1-17 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:God's Providence

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Trinity Hymnal Revised 1990, The Psalter 1912

TH 3 - Give to Our God Immortal Praise
Psalter 198 - The Blessings of Immanuel's Reign (stanzas 1-5)
Psalter 396 - The Goodness of God
TH 30 - Our God, Our Help in Ages Past

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Mark Chen, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Life is full of change and calamity. We just look at the past year. Millions have died. Many have perished without Christ in India. Even our own nation - infections have increased. We were singing in church and discussing return to full church attendance. I intended to write about Christian hospitality in the pastoral voice. 

Alas, things have not turned out as expected. By law, we can’t gather to worship or eat as before. Even plans for a mini church camp are tenuous. As I prepared this sermon, I didn’t know if I would be speaking to people or to a camera. Working from home and home based learning are default. And all of these will try our families. I pray our sermons on husbands and wives, parents and children will be applied.

But these are serious times. An aftermath is more than likely. There will be more change and calamity. But how do we face them? Some people will react with anxiety, others with nonchalance, many will misbehave, and others will react with foolish hope. But how must Christians react? We must face these changes with awe in God, seriousness, and humility. 

Psalm 90 was written by Moses. It was his prayer to God for a people facing many changes. And he pointed to three truths to embrace in times of change. These are ours to embrace too. Firstly, we should be in awe that God is our permanence; secondly, we should soberly admit that sin is the source of sorrow; thirdly, we must humbly cry for God’s mercy.  

Firstly, we should be in awe that God is our permanence. In Psalm 90:1-2, Moses says, “Lord, thou hast been our dwelling place in all generations. Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever thou hadst formed the earth and the world, even from everlasting to everlasting, thou art God.” Moses sets forth this truth - God is eternal and permanent - nothing else is. And he is our dwelling place - our permanence - our security.

Hopefully, COVID19 has taught us that there’s no certainty. Things keep changing. Phase 3, Phase 3 heightened, Phase 2 heightened. There’s also no certainty in death. In India, those who died had hoped to be cremated. But crematoriums are overwhelmed, and costs have forced families to abandon their loved ones. But God never changes. Before the world was created, God was there. From everlasting to everlasting he is God. When we talk about eternity, timelessness and it’s hard to describe. St Augustine once wrote, “If no one asks me what eternity is, I know what it is. If someone asks me to explain what eternity is, I cannot.” 

But take for example, that your life from birth to death is represented by a single black dot. Now take 2 black markers, and in opposite directions, draw from that black dot, on the ground; first, a line that leads out of this worship hall, downstairs into the carpark, keep drawing until you get out of the carpark, onto the main road, and keep on drawing until you’re at the CTE, drawing until you get on the TPE, and all the way to Changi. From there still drawing as it were, down into the ocean floor, all the way until you get to California, crossing the country until you get to Cape Canaveral, where you, if you could, take a rocket into space towards the furthest reaches of the universe - still drawing. 

And if you were to take the other marker and draw all the way to Tuas, and keep drawing, if possible, crossing borders during this time into Malaysia, into Myanmar, India, up and down the Himalayas, through Central Asia, all the way into Kazakhstan, and launching into space in the opposite direction. That picture of a time line is just the beginning of eternity. This point in time - a dot! But from everlasting to everlasting, God is there! Even his name - the Lord - meaning, I am that I am - shows that God does not change.

But if God is eternal, then what are we? We’re fleeting. Our lives at this time, with the changes and flux, is but a dot in the scheme of eternity. It’s very short. Verse 4 says, a thousand years to God is a watch in the night, 4 hours. If you sleep from 10 pm to 2 am, you don’t even notice it. And if a thousand years are a night watch, then how about our lives? They are a tick of the minute hand. As soon as we’re born, we die. As verse 3 says - it’s time to return to dust! So from God’s perspective, we don’t live long. 

We’re like weeds. Verses 5-6 say out life is like a weed that grows in the morning but in the evening the weed whacker cuts it down. Verse 5 describes our lives like waves. When a wave comes in, it quickly goes out. Verse 10 says our lives are short - around 70-80 rough years. This is how life is - it’s short, rough, and filled with waves of changes. 

But why does Moses compare God and man? What’s his purpose? His aim can be seen in verse 12 - “So teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom.” Remember, Moses was leading God’s people through the wilderness. Their journey consisted of waking up, gathering manna, breaking camp, walking, setting up camp, having dinner, and going to sleep. They would repeat this daily. Death was also a daily affair. 2 million Israelites came out of Egypt. So those 40 years included daily deaths. 1 Corinthian 10:5 tells us the desert was littered with their bodies. So aside from traveling, eating, packing and unpacking, they were burying their dead every day. They also experienced calamities - they were attacked by enemies, there was civil unrest, there were plagues. More people died. So Moses brought up God’s eternity so that they would turn to him. He was their dwelling place - their home, their hope.

Beloved, it’s fine to live with the hope that things will get better in this short life. I believe they will. And we all need to plan. But these times of change and calamity are given by God so that we would settle in our hearts what we’re living for. Many of the Israelites were not living for God or the Promised Land. In times of change, they reacted with panic and despair; and in their despair, they wanted to return to Egypt for immediate relief. They didn’t have a long view of things because their hope was not in God.

So what’s the application for us? We’re facing calamity and uncertainty. But some hope in medicine - once we’re vaccinated, everything will be okay - doesn’t seem exactly so yet. Others hope in the state - our government will keep the economy afloat - SIA has lost $4 billion. Some hope in our resources - our jobs, assets, and qualifications will see us through - but some here are struggling. Some hope in a better future - that we can travel at the end of the year - go Hong Kong - if they’ll let us. 

But the Bible says it’s wave after wave. If it is eradicated, there will be something else in the future. There was the Spanish flu, Asian flu, Russian flu, swine flu, SARS. There was the Great Depression, OPEC stagnation, Asian Contagion, Great Recession. Wave upon wave. So consider why these times are given to us. So that we would number our short days and to be wise, looking beyond the here and now, to God and entrusting our lives to him. It’s also a call to be sober.

That’s our second point. We should soberly admit the source of all these calamities is sin. As we look at our ever changing policies, as we read of the millions infected and thousands dying in India, what should it tell us? As the Israelites saw their family and friends dying, and the calamities, what was it supposed to tell them? It was to tell them that their misery was a result of sin. Remember, there is a God in heaven.

Verses 7-8 say, “For we are consumed by thine anger, and by thy wrath are we troubled. Thou hast set our iniquities before thee, our secret sins in the light of thy countenance.” There are those who see suffering and conclude there’s no God. On the contrary, when Moses saw the suffering, he concluded the problem was man. “We are consumed by thine anger” - we suffer because of God’s anger. Because of sin. Verse 8 tells us that our sins are laid bare before God. Even our secret sins are revealed under God’s penetrating light. Moses wanted God’s people to look at their suffering and connect it with God’s judgment on sin. 

Why did Israel face their trial? Why did they bury their dead daily for 40 years? Verse 3 says that God turns men into destruction. The word “destruction” speaks of a scraping action; like scraping dead skin from your foot. It signifies cleansing. We often forget in today’s modern world the wrath of God against sinners. But this was something the Israelites faced daily. Do you remember why they had to wander for 40 years in the wilderness? Because of unbelief and sin. They had the chance to enter the Promised Land. God gave it to them. But out of fear and unbelief, they wanted to return to Egypt - the land of bondage. And so because of this ingratitude, God declared that those 20 and above would not enter the Promised Land. They would die. And so those 40 years of wandering in the wilderness was meant to kill them off. The Israelites experienced this reality - each time a body was lowered into the earth, they remembered God’s judgment on sin. Verse 9 says they would experience God’s anger every day until they breathed their last sigh. So what was Moses’ purpose in bringing up God’s anger against sin? It was to get them to count the shortness of their days, to apply their hearts to wisdom, to urgently repent. 

This is the urgency today as we see the misery around us. Is COVID19 sent by God? Most certainly. All things happen because of God. But do we believers look at it and consider our sins? We are not more righteous that they who died. We deserve the same judgment. But such calamity is given to us to consider our sins. In Luke 13, Jesus called on the people to repent. He pointed to 2 catastrophic events. One, there was a riot in the temple by men from Galilee against the Roman government. Pilate stopped the rebellion and killed these men. Their blood mingling with the blood of the sacrifices. The other was the Tower of Siloam. It collapsed and killed 18 people. Jesus asked - were these that died - these Galileans and these 18, more sinful than others? And Jesus’ answer was this - No, but except you repent, you will all likewise perish. We should be sober at this time.

But calamity doesn’t always produce sobriety. There was once a terrible plague that came upon ancient Athens; people there committed every horrible crime and engaged in every lustful pleasure they could. Why? Because they believed life was short and they’d never pay any penalty. But we know God will require their lives one day.

But this should be different for us believers. The Israelites were to look at the graves and examine themselves before God. We, who are safe from ever lasting judgment, who have trusted in Christ to deliver us from God’s anger - must still examine ourselves. How can we forget our sins? Maybe we’re distracted - by our gadgets, our entertainment, our safety here in Singapore. But when our lives are shaken, we start to ask the important questions. God is giving us opportunity to get right with him - to make sure of our salvation, to get right with one another. This pandemic has defied the ability of medicine and governments to stem it. But God’s people are still at odds with one another; you still indulge in secret sins; you live like there’s no judgment. These times should spur us to confess our secret sins; to reconcile with your brothers, to be sober. And what’s odd is that you’re making plans for an uncertain future, when you haven’t even made right with God now!

Knowing the shortness of life, knowing God’s anger against sin, what are we to do? Thirdly, we must humbly cry for God’s mercy. Here, Moses cries for mercy. He asks God to have pity on his servants and to forgive them their sins. Verses 13-14 - “Return, O LORD, how long? and let it repent thee concerning thy servants. O satisfy us early with thy mercy; that we may rejoice and be glad all our days.” In verse 3, the judgment of God was that he would return men to dust. And so Moses prayed that God would not do that. That he wouldn’t leave them, but to return to them - to forgive them. That he would not wait long before he satisfied them and granted them joy. Remember, such a cry for joy and salvation is always predicated upon repentance. There is no relief and mercy without repentance. And it’s ironic right now, to pray for relief without wanting to get right with God.

Moses also cries for resolution. In verse 15 he says, “Make us glad according to the days wherein thou hast afflicted us, and the years wherein we have seen evil.” He prays that God would give his people gladness in proportion to the misery they had experienced - that God would replace the evil years with good ones. That God would also show it clearly - verse 16. That their life would count for something - verse 17.

So it is right that during this time, we pray for God’s mercy.  We ask for resolution of this calamity. But because of sin, there may be no resolution here on earth. Remember, we may need to take the long view of things. Even if COVID is eradicated, there will be the aftermath. There will be another pandemic. Wave upon wave. You may have your own personal struggle - injustice, family issues, hurts. But when is that time of resolution? Might it be now? Maybe, maybe not.

We need to take the long view of things. A thousand years are but a watch. This Psalm is a prayer of Moses. And this prayer may have been very personal to Moses. At the end of his life, Moses was led up to Mount Pisgah. God showed him the Promised Land and said to Moses that he would see it with his eyes but would not set foot in it. All his service to God, and no earthly reward. He died and was buried on that mountain beside the Promised Land. There was no earthly resolution. So how was his prayer answered? How did he experience mercy? How would he be made glad for the years he was afflicted?

The next time we see Moses is in Luke 9. There we find him on another mountain, this time inside the Promised Land, talking with the transfigured Christ. Of all men, he was most fortunate - face to face with his loving God. God answered Moses’ prayer in a way that he never could’ve imagined, far beyond all that he could ask or think. In his surrendering to God, he got something far better. 

Will COVID be resolved? Will your individual struggle be resolved? Will it be resolved in the way you envision? I don’t know. But God has given this struggle, this calamity, this time of flux and change to you so you would find rest and comfort in him, to repent, and come to him. And resolution may come in this life, but certainly in the life to come. Until then, let us take the long view of things, cry out for mercy, numbering our days, all the way to the better Promised Land.

Sermon Outline:

  1. Be In Awe that God Is Our Permanence
    1. He is eternal
    2. We are fleeting
  2. Soberly Admit that Sin Is the Source of Sorrow
    1. Man’s sin leads to misery
    2. Misery leads to urgency
  3. Humbly Cry for God’s mercy
    1. A cry for mercy
    2. A cry for resolution


* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Mark Chen, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2021, Rev. Mark Chen

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