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Author:Rev. George van Popta
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Congregation:Jubilee Canadian Reformed Church
 Ottawa, Ontario
Title:The Outsider
Text:Psalms 120 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Living in a sinful world

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Reading and Text: Psalm 120
Songs: Ps. 147:1,2; Ps. 147:6; Ps. 120; Hy. 54; Ps. 124
* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. George van Popta, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Beloved congregation of the Lord Jesus Christ:

The Book of Psalms contains a little book within the Book, the 15 Psalms of Ascent. These were pilgrim songs that the Israelites sang as they travelled from various places in the land to the temple in Jerusalem for the three great pilgrimage festivals. There is progression in the collection from 120 to 134–a progression worth noting.

In Ps. 120, the first of the songs, the pilgrim is far away from Jerusalem and the temple. Even though he is likely in the land of Israel, he feels so far way, he says he is dwelling in Meshech and Kedar. I will tell you later about these places and where they were.

In Ps. 121, he begins the trip. He speaks about how the Lord will protect him on the way.

In Ps. 122, he is standing at the gates of the city (see v. 2). He admires the walls, the citadels, the king's palace, and the temple.

In Pss 123 & 124, he speaks about how safe he is near the Lord in Jerusalem.

In Ps. 125, he gazes at the mountains that surround the city. Jerusalem was built up in the hills.

In the next Pss, he speaks about how richly God has blessed him; by way of family; by way of daily work; in the forgiveness of his sins.

And then, at Ps. 132, he has moved from the gates of Jerusalem to the temple. He speaks about God's dwelling place, the ark of the covenant, the priestly ministry of sacrifice for sin, He speaks, in Ps. 132, about the Son who would be born in the house of David; i.e, about the Messiah, the Lord Jesus Christ.

In Ps. 133, he rejoices in the fellowship he has with God's people. He sings about the unity they have in the priesthood, in the sacrificial ministry in which they have the forgiveness of sins.

And then, in the last of the songs, Ps. 134, he takes leave of the temple. The festival is over. He urges the priests who minister in the temple to praise the Lord. And the priests, in turn, bless him and all the worshipping pilgrims. The 15 pilgrim songs end with a priestly blessing: May the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth, bless you from Zion.

When we go back to Ps. 120, then we hear a pilgrim who is still far away. A pilgrim who is experiencing distress. Distress from those who live around him. Distress from those whom he says are liars and slanderers. He feels like an outsider. And outsider living in the midst of war-mongering liars.


We hear his:

1. Prayer for deliverance (vv 1-2)

2. Threat of punishment (vv 3-4)

3. Complaint about peace-haters (vv 5-7)

1. Pilgrim called to the Lord in his distress.

What is "distress?" That word is used in different ways in scripture. It can refer to the fear one experiences when he suffers a life-threatening illness. Or, it can refer to one’s emotional state during a time of war. Distress is a feeling of helplessness and hopelessness. It is a kind of psychological misery by which you are filled with fear–fear that clutches your heart and oppresses you.

Pilgrim experienced distress–fear and horror–because of the lies of those around him. Those around him had lying lips and deceitful tongues.

You can be distressed by liars in two different ways: being lied to and being lied about. The thing about lies and liars is that you can do so little about it. If someone lies to you or about you, it is hard to do anything about it. It's hard to guard against lies. You cannot repel a lie by force. It is often hard to discover the origin of a lie. Even when slander is refuted, the effects of the lie can linger. Even if a man is vindicated, the hints of suspicion can stick to him. And a second round of slander will hurt him doubly.

Lies come from deep down in the unregenerate heart. The Lord Jesus taught that in Matthew 15:17ff, where he said: "… out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. These are what make a man 'unclean….'"

The Lord ended his list of thing that come from the depths of the evildoer's heart with "false testimony and slander." Lies and slander. They make one unclean, says Jesus.

The only thing Pilgrim can do in the face of the lies is pray for deliverance: "Save me, O Lord, from lying lips." The things about lies and liars is that, by nature (in our fallen state) we are all guilty of breaking every commandment, also the 9th. We need to be saved even from our own lying lips. By the sheer grace of God, the Lord does save us. Our Lord Jesus died for us and in our place, also for our sin against the 9th commandment.

He suffered at the hands of liars. He was subjected to lies and slander. At his trial false witnesses testified against him. Slandered him. That slander, which distressed him, sealed his execution on the cross. But he died for us and in our place, bearing the punishment we deserved.

As those for whom Christ paid the ultimate price to set us free from guilt against the breaking of the 9th commandment, we will now live as outlined in Lord's Day 43: We will not give false testimony against anyone, twist no one's words, not gossip or slander, nor condemn or join in condemning anyone rashly and unheard. Rather, we will avoid all lying and deceit as the devil's own works, under penalty of God's heavy wrath. In court and everywhere else, we will love the truth, speak and confess it honestly, and do what we can to defend and promote our neighbour's honour and reputation.

2. Threat of punishment (vv 3-4).

God will answer Pilgrim's prayer. In vv 3 & 4 Pilgrim says that God will punish Liar with a warrior's sharp arrows and with burning coals of a broom tree (LD 43–God’s heavy wrath). The punishment is similar to the offence. Liar is punished in kind. That often happens. The book of Proverb says that the fellow that digs a pit for his neighbour to fall into will himself fall into it. The man that gets a stone rolling in an attempt to crush his brother will himself be flattened underneath the stone.

Liar's tongue is like a sharp arrow. Psa 64:3,4: They … aim their words like deadly arrows. They shoot from ambush at the innocent man; they shoot at him suddenly, without fear. Jer 9:8: Their tongue is a deadly arrow; it speaks with deceit. With his mouth each speaks cordially to his neighbor, but in his heart he sets a trap for him.

Also, Liar's tongue is a fire. James 3:6 says that … the tongue … is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole person, sets the whole course of his life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.

The liar whose tongue is a sharp arrow which he uses to shoot lies around at others will, himself, be shot with a warrior's sharp arrows. Who is this warrior? It is God himself. Psalm 64:7 says that God will shoot them with arrows; suddenly they will be struck down. God will shoot down those who use their tongues as sharp arrows to destroy their neighbour. The liar uses his words to destroy others. God will use his word of truth to destroy the liar.

Pilgrim says that God is going to punish them with burning coals of the broom tree. When you build a campfire, and you want to roast something in it, you do well to be patient and wait until the wood has burned down to a bed coals. A bed of simmering coals is so much hotter than a flame. Often the coals are so hot that in the morning, if you hold your hand down to where the fire was, it's still hot. And if you throw a few pieces of wood in the fire pit, before long the wood will be burning.

The broom tree is a large desert shrub whose wood makes the best charcoal. The charcoal would burn hot and long.

Pilgrim says that they who use their mouths to get a hellish fire going to burn up the lives of others will have fiery coals poured out upon them. Fire is often used as a symbol for judgment. Ps. 140: Let the heads of those who surround me be covered with the trouble their lips have caused. Let burning coals fall upon them; may they be thrown into the fire… Let slanderers not be established in the land….

It is a warning to all. A warning to speak the truth and not the lie. For all liars and slanderers will be shot by God's arrows of truth and have burning coals poured out upon them.

3. The last thing we hear is Pilgrim's complaint about peace-haters (vv 5-7).

What does he mean when he says, in v. 5, that he dwells in Meshech and lives among the tents of Kedar. Where were these places?

Meshech was, by Israelite standards, way up in the far north. Way up in Turkey, near the Black Sea. It was Gentile country.

Kedar was in the opposite direction, SE of Israel in the Arabian desert. Kedar was named after one of Ishmael’s sons (“Kedar”) The clan of Kedar settled in the Arabian desert SE of Israel. Kedar was Ishmaelite country.

Because Meshech and Kedar were in opposite directions, clearly Pilgrim does not mean that he, literally, lived in these places. What does he mean, then, when he says: Woe to me that I dwell in Meshech, that I live among the tents of Kedar! What he means is that he, a godly Pilgrim, is living among people who live like Gentiles and Ishmaelites.

There is something else we must say about Meshech. We read about Meshech in Ezekiel 38 & 39. And we read, there, that a man name Gog is king of Meshech. King Gog, of the land of Magog, is king of Meshech. As you read through Ezekiel 38 & 39, you read that Gog, king of Meshech, will come and attack Israel. But God will defend Israel and destroy Gog of Meshech.

You read about Gog again in Rev. 20:7. In Rev. 20, Gog and Magog symbolize all the hostile forces of man arrayed, throughout the millennia, against the church. Rev. 20:7ff says that Gog will march against the church, but fire will come down from heaven to destroy him. Meshech, the world that attacks the church, will be destroyed.

As for Kedar, we read more about Kedar in Isaiah 21:16, 17. Kedar was famous for its pomp and its warriors. Kedar was a mighty nation. An impressive nation. But, says Isaiah, pompous Kedar will be brought down and its military strength wiped out.

Pilgrim lived in the midst of people who lived like pagans, who were pompous and powerful. He lived among them as an alien, a stranger, a sojourner, an outsider. He made that point well by way of the words he used. The word "dwell" in v. 5 describes the existence of a man who leaves his homeland because of, say, war, famine or pestilence, and who seeks shelter in another country as a refugee where he has few rights. That's the word Pilgrim used here. He lives like a homesick foreigner among people living like Gentiles.

The other words used to describe his existence–"live among the tents"–also brings out that he realizes his existence is very temporary. Like a tent. You know the difference between a permanent house and a temporary tent.

Because he has to dwell among the ungodly, he utters a woe. Woe is me.

We too live among the ungodly as temporary residents. Even as we live in our own country, in some ways, we live like foreigners. That's the existence of Christians in the world. Peter starts off his first letter by greeting the Christians as God's elect, strangers in the world. James begins his letter by addressing his readers as those scattered among the nations.

Pilgrim says: the people among whom he lives hated peace. He was for peace but they were for war. The peace he loved was the peace of Jerusalem. Pilgrim will sing about that in Psalm 122:

Pray for the peace of Jerusalem: May those who love you be secure. May there be peace within your walls and security within your citadels. For the sake of my brothers and friends, I will say, "Peace be within you."

Peace with God through the sacrificial ministry of the priests. Peace with fellow believers. That's what Pilgrim wanted above anything else.

But the people among whom he lived were not for peace. They were for war–war with God; war with their fellow man.

The Bible praises peace. Christ is the Prince of Peace. Peacemakers are blessed by God. There are too many warmongers in the world–peace-disturbers. People who, because of lies and slander, disturb the peace. The Bible does not speak well of warmongers. But it does speak well of peacemakers. Make sure you are a peacemaker and not a warmonger!

In these last verses we see, very clearly, the antithesis between the light and darkness, peace and war, faith and unbelief, obedience and lawlessness.

Will you live on the right side of that line? The right side of the antithesis? The side of light, of peace, of faith, of obedience? The side of truth?

How do you know whether you are on the right side of the line? The line drawn by Christ?

Do you love the Lord Jesus Christ, He who is the Way, the Life and the Truth? Do you show that by following him? Do you love his people, the church? Do you love the peace of the church? Do you pray for it and foster it? Are you a man, a woman, of peace? Do you obey the Word of God? You know the Ten Commandments. Do you strive to obey them?

There is no compromise between peace and war, light and darkness, faith and unbelief; obedience and lawlessness. Where are you in all of this? Are you with Pilgrim?

Do you live as a stranger in this world? As a temporary alien?

Yes, we need to build houses to live in. A tent just won't do for 12 months of the year in Canada. You wouldn’t last.

Yes, we need to work, long and hard. We have many financial commitments to meet.

But as you build house and work at your job, you need to realize that it is all very temporary. Do not place any stock in pomp and power. Do not be impressed by your earthly wealth. Live as an outsider, a foreigner.

As Christians we love the world God created because he loves it. As Christians we love our unbelieving neighbour because Christ told us to. But we are no longer part of that world. Our mind, our heart, are somewhere else. In another land. Across the river. In Jerusalem, the holy city. In heaven, where our Lord Jesus Christ is. We belong to that city. And we are Pilgrims who long for it to come from heaven so that we can physically enter it.

Meshech and Kedar, the city of man, will be brought down and destroyed,

In the mean time, strive always for peace. Peace with God through faith in Jesus Christ. Peace with your brother and sister in Christ. Not least in how we speak to and about each other. AMEN

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. George van Popta, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2010, Rev. George van Popta

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