Revive Us Again, Psalm 85, Third Sunday in Lent, March 24, 2019
The text for this morning is Psalm 85. Bible scholars tell us that this Psalm goes back to somewhere between 600 and 500 B.C. Israel had returned from 70 years of exile in Babylon, the area we now know as Iraq. When Israel got back to their own land, things were definitely not what they expected.
Indeed, part of the nation did returned, but to a ruined city, a fallen temple, and a mourning land, where they were surrounded by jealous and powerful enemies. It seems God’s people find themselves in this place from time to time, and this beautiful Psalm is appropriate for such times.
Psalm 85 is divided into three parts. In the first part, the people remember times when God’s blessings were abundant. In the second part, they lament their present difficulties. And in the third part of the Psalm, they seek God’s will for the future and prays for God’s richest blessing.
The first part can be seen in verses one through three and begins: Lord, you were favorable to your land; you restored the fortunes of Jacob. You forgave the iniquity of your people; you covered all their sin. You withdrew all your wrath; you turned from your hot anger. (1-3)
This is not pining for past glories, which are often only an optical illusion, but remembering the past mercies and God’s forgiveness. This is not an idolization of the past, it’s realistic, it’s restoration. It’s also motivating because it leads to prayers rather than simple pipe-dreams.
The Psalmist is recalling how God had brought their forefathers out of Egypt. He is remembering how God had made a way for them to cross the Red Sea and had destroyed their enemies in the chaotic waters. He is remembering how God had given manna to His people while they were in the desert. He is remembering the time when God had given them water from a rock. He is rejoicing to remember how God had made a way for His people to enter the promised land. And then, in the more recent past, he is remembering how God had graciously delivered His people from exile in Babylon. As the Psalm-writer put it, in many times and in many places, God had “revived” His people. He had “covered” their sins.
In these first three verses of Psalm 85, we see a recounting of the holy history of Israel. In pure grace, God had chosen Israel. And then, down through the years, He had continually blessed and kept them. From the very beginning, He had promised one day to send them a Messiah, a Savior, to rescue them from their sins.
God does not forgive by dismissing sin, but rather by covering it, or atoning for it. Later, God the Son would atone for the world’s sin in the same way, by covering it with His blood. All of it, every spot, and wrinkle, His veil of love has covered all. Sin has been divinely put out of sight. These verses looks forward to the complete work of Jesus on the cross, where He satisfied God’s righteous requirement with a once for all sacrifice. Some of the strongest salvation language in Scripture is present here.
The Psalm continues expressing the present distress and suffering with a plea for God to restore them, and begging for forgiveness and grace, yet again. In light of that past goodness, now there is a prayer for continued and sustained revival and restoration.
Restore us again, O God of our salvation, and put away your indignation toward us! Will you be angry with us forever? Will you prolong your anger to all generations? Will you not revive us again, that your people may rejoice in you? (4-6)
This prayer for revival implies that the people have died in a spiritual sense, and now need to be given a spiritual renewal of life again. This is what the church almost always needs, and it is how revivals come. Many think of revivals as only being a movement of God in the world so that unchurched unbelievers come to Christ. But revivals do not start in the world. They start in the church, it’s in the church where a spiritual renewal begins.
We should pray for revival as we remember the great things God has done in the past. We should pray for revival when we sense we are under a cloud of divine displeasure, or an evident lack of blessing. We should pray for revival as the world around us needs to hear Christ’s message of repentance and forgiveness so desperately.
Praying for revival means praying that God would work among His people, and cause them to find their joy in nothing else other than in Him. These verses are a simple and wonderful prayer that recognizes a revival is not man-made, but God given. Yet they also recognize that we may, and should, always pray for revival, and pray with a godly expectation of faith.
Psalm 85 continues Show us your steadfast love, O Lord, and grant us your salvation. Let me hear what God the Lord will speak, for he will speak peace to his people, to his saints; but let them not turn back to folly. Surely his salvation is near to those who fear him, that glory may dwell in our land. (7-9)
Verse 7 has my favorite Hebrew word, hesed. It is sometimes translated as love or mercy, but it’s much more than simply love. I like the way the ESV translates it as steadfast love. It is a great Hebrew word that has the idea of God’s amazing grace or His loyal love to us. It is a greater love than you or I can accomplish. It is a love that would cause a Father to give His only Son, so that you might live.
We can think about it with the idea of it being His amazing grace. It has been suggested that it may have been the inspiration for what the Apostle John later wrote: The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth (John 1:14). For the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ (John 1:17).
Yet the Psalmist adds, but let them not turn back to folly (8). The humility and surrender that is proper of God’s people also means that they should turn to Him in true repentance, and not turn back to foolishness. It is the humble and surrendered people of God that enjoy the nearness of His salvation. As God moves among His people this way, glory may dwell in our land.
Within the midst of this Psalm, somebody, probably a prophet, stepped forward and began to speak. This prophet foretold a salvation for the people. At this moment of crisis, at this moment when their faith was wavering, when they were in danger of falling into folly and doubting God’s salvation, God’s prophet intervened, directly proclaiming God’s Word in order to revive and strengthen their faith.
Which leads us to, what I think is the most beautiful verse in this Psalm. Verse 10 says steadfast love and faithfulness meet; righteousness and peace kiss each other. What a picture! In beautiful terms the Psalmist describes the salvation God brings to His people. What was once separated at the fall of Adam and Eve, met again when our Lord poured out His life on Calvary.
Paul later expressed this idea in Romans. At the cross, God demonstrated His righteousness by offering man justification, a legal verdict of “not guilty”. It might seem that righteousness would condemn us and prevent God’s peace, or shalom, from ever reaching us. Yet the penalty of sin was paid by Jesus. In God’s great work of salvation, His steadfast love and our faithfulness, His righteousness and our peace are the best of friends.
So, I’ve got a question for you this morning. What do God’s people do when they are faced with major disappointments?
At times like this, God’s people express their faith, they trust in the Lord. They say, “Not our will but yours be done.” They never give up! They may be down, but we’re certainly not out!
In this final part of Psalm 85, those who listen to the voice of God are blessed by, and become witnesses to, His love and peace. God eagerly longs to give what is good. The psalmist began with a reflection of God’s past acts of salvation and leaves us with a hope as God’s righteousness advances His kingdom.
Faithfulness springs up from the ground, and righteousness looks down from the sky. Yes, the Lord will give what is good, and our land will yield its increase. Righteousness will go before him and make his footsteps a way. (11-13)
Psalm 85 speaks of God’s gracious intervention in the lives of His people. It describes how God’s love shines down on the earth and the earth responds.
God’s people, no matter the circumstances, are sustained by His amazing grace. In this Psalm, God takes His people through the glories of the past, through the valley of humiliation, despair and disappointment, to the no-less-certain glories of the future. In this Psalm, we are reminded again that God’s grace sustains His people, in all ages and in all generations. This Psalm presents us with an expectant picture of life lived under God’s grace.
There is a prayer from Sir Francis Drake, who was a famous British explorer who lived around the time of Martin Luther. In his prayer, Francis Drake says:
Disturb us, Lord, when we are too well pleased with ourselves, when our dreams have come true because we have dreamed too little, when we arrive safely because we have sailed too close to the shore.
Disturb us, Lord, when, with the abundance of things we possess, we have lost our thirst for the waters of life; having fallen in love with life, we have ceased to dream of eternity; and in our efforts to build a new Earth, we have allowed our vision of the new heaven to dim.
Disturb us, Lord, to dare more boldly, to venture on wider seas where storms will show your mastery; where losing sight of land, we shall find the stars. We ask you to push back the horizons of our hopes; and to push into the future in strength, courage, hope, and love.
May God bless us and keep us in the very center of His will. May He turn our disappointments into joy and enable us to serve Him boldly and courageously. Amen.