Good morning! Welcome to the second week of Advent! Our theme is waiting on the Lord! Waiting is an incredibly important discipline, especially in the instant culture in which we live. A culture that is becoming increasingly narcissistic! More about that later.
God is patient. He’s described as long-suffering, steadfast, unfailing, dependable. How critical for fickle sinners like us. The Lord is never in a hurry. He’s never early, never late. He waits, he acts at the right time, in the right way and he wants to teach us to do the same.
Let’s open our Bibles to Psalm 80. This Psalm was composed for public prayer during a time of national crisis. It’s amazingly relevant for the times in which we live.
It was written some 800 years before Jesus, 200 years after King David. Israel is in the midst of a major refugee crisis. The Assyrian army is pressing in on the northern border. Thousands are fleeing from the north around Galilee, south to the area around Jerusalem. Fear, confusion, anxiety, and frustration are disrupting the lives of everyone.
So the worship leaders compose a liturgy of prayer to ask for God’s help. There are 4 petitions probably sung by a worship leader followed by a chorus sung by the people. The first petition is what theologians call an invocation, calling God to hear us.
“Hear us, O Shepherd of Israel, you who lead Joseph like a flock, you who sit enthroned between the cherubim, shine forth before Ephraim, Benjamin, and Manasseh. Awaken your might, come and save us!” Psalm 80:1-2
The image of God as a shepherd was utterly unique in the ancient world. All the other so called gods demanded that people pay attention to them and take care of them. They were completely narcissistic. They were in reality demons, fallen angels, disguised as gods. If you wanted their help, you had to first get their attention, then you had to pay for it.
Israel’s God, the true God of heaven and earth is completely different. He is like a Good Shepherd who cares for his sheep, provides for them, protects them even to the point of giving his life for them. The problem the One True God has is getting our attention!
The Psalmist cries out to God, “Wake up, come and save us!” But I don’t think it was God who was asleep! I think it was his people. Do you remember the time Jesus was accused of being asleep on the job! He was sleeping in the back of the boat and a storm was threatening to sink the boat. The disciples shook him awake. “Don’t you care if we drown?” Jesus stood up and said, “Be still” and it was. The disciples were terrified. They said, “Who is this guy!”
So Psalm 80 begins with a call to God. Wake up and save us! And the people responded, “Restore us, O God; make your face shine upon us, that we may be saved.” Psalm 80:3
Have you heard those words, “Make your face shine upon us” before? These words take us back to Moses and the Exodus. God had miraculously rescued his people from their slavery in Egypt and taken them out into the Sinai desert. There, at the foot of Mt Sinai, he gave them the 10 commandments. Then the LORD told Moses.
“Tell Aaron and his sons, ‘This is how you are to bless the Israelites. Say to them: ‘“The LORD bless you and keep you; the LORD make his face shine on you and be gracious to you; the LORD turn his face toward you and give you peace.’ So they will put my name on the Israelites, and I will bless them.” Num 6:22-27
Imagine for a moment you are standing before Aaron as he speaks this blessing. How will you respond to the LORD who is turning the radiance of his face toward you? Will you raise your arms and face to receive it or would you turn your back on him?
When this Psalm was written Israel was in trouble because instead of facing the LORD to receive his blessing, they had turned their back on him. They rejected his blessing in order to go their own way and disaster was overrunning them.
Now they are crying out to the One they had rejected. Let’s pray their words together! “Restore us, O God; make your face shine upon us, that we may be saved.” Psalm 80:3
Second petition, vs 4 – “O LORD, God Almighty, how long will your anger smolder against the prayers of your people? You have fed them with the bread of tears; you have made them drink tears by the bowlful. You have made us a source of contention to our neighbors and our enemies mock us.” Psalm 80: 4-6
Why is it that God doesn’t seem to answer our prayers? The first reason may be we are living in disobedience. Don’t expect God to bless you and answer your prayers if you turn your back on him and disobey his clear commandments for you!
The second reason it may seem God is not answering our prayers is that his timing is different than ours and his purpose is greater than ours. Like when Jesus prayed in the Garden, “Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me, yet, not my will but yours be done.”
The suffering we face may be God’s way of purifying us or it may have nothing to do with us. Like Job and Jesus, it may be part of God’s plan to save the world. If you’re a believer and you are walking in his will, there is no wasted suffering. Wait, it will all be used for good.
The Psalmist’s 3rd petition begins with a metaphor - “You transplanted a vine from Egypt; you drove out the nations and planted it. You cleared the ground for it, and it took root and filled the land. The mountains were covered with its shade, the mighty cedars with its branches...” Psalm 80:8-10
Over a period of 400 years, the Lord transformed Israel from a motley band of slaves to the incredible wealth and power of Solomon. The nation of Israel exerted power and influence from the Mediterranean to the Euphrates to Ethiopia.
But 200 years later, this beautiful vineyard of the Lord called Israel is crumbling before their eyes. The people ask the Lord, “Why have you broken down its walls so that all who pass by pick its grapes? Boars from the forest ravage it and the creatures of the field feed on it.” Ps 80:12-23
Here’s the question – did God break down the walls or did the people? What was the wall that protected Israel? It was the Word of God. The 10 commandments were the wall that protected them from the evil around them. The people rejected the Lord’s commands yet they still expected the Lord to bless and protect them. This teaches us two things about God. He has a sovereign will and a permissive will.
Nothing in this world happens outside of God’s sovereign will – that includes believers and unbelievers alike. God’s Word is his wall of protection for us. But when we refuse to trust and obey it; he allows that protection to be broken down. Evil is able to enter the vineyard.
God allows this so that we will repent, turn around, return to him, listen to him, obey him, face him so he can bless us again. Do we need this in America today? Do we need this in the church? Do we need this in our families, our own hearts? Everyday!
Let’s pray together “Return to us, O God Almighty! Look down from heaven and see! Watch over this vine, the root your right hand has planted, the son you have raised up for yourself.” Psalm 80:14-15
Vs 16 is an honest assessment of where our disobedience has brought us. “Your vine is cut down, it is burned with fire; at your rebuke your people perish.” Repentance and deliverance begin with a fearless inventory of where our sinful disobedience has brought us.
The Lord sent his prophets again and again, but the people refused to repent, turn around, and let the Lord’s face shine upon them. Now it seems the vine has died. Only a miracle, a resurrection from God himself can save them.
Look at what this Psalmist writes 700 years before Jesus. “Let your hand rest on the man at your right hand, the son of man you have raised up for yourself. Then we will not turn away from you; revive us, and we will call on your name.” Psalm 80:17-18
How amazing! This is clearly a prophetic word looking forward to Jesus.
He’s the One who sits at the right hand of God who will give his life on the cross and be raised from the dead for our salvation. He will change our hearts so that instead of turning away from God and his blessing, we turn and face him so he can bless us and restore us to the role he has for us in the coming of his kingdom.
The Bible says we have all in one way or another turned our back on the Lord. Morning by morning, we need to repent, turn around and face him in the same way we would face the rising sun so he can bless us again.
If that’s what you need, if that’s what you desire, will you stand as you are able and face the Lord. Will you wait on him, listen to him, obey him so he can bless you and restore you again today? Let’s open our hands, and raise our faces to receive his blessing right now.
“The LORD bless you and keep you; the LORD make his face shine on you and be gracious to you; the LORD turn his face toward you and give you peace.”
And the people responded. “Restore us, O LORD God Almighty! Make your face shine upon us, that we may be saved.” Psalm 80:19