December 15, 2010 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran Church – Mechanicsburg, PA
“Restore us again, O God of our salvation, and put away Your indignation toward us!”
A person’s track record gives an idea of how he or she will act in the future. It is why employers ask for résumés and curricula vitae. References are requested. They want to know what to expect, what to count on. A sketchy background does not breed confidence in a person. But seeing constancy and consistency does. This is so in our everyday, common lives. But is it so with the Lord?
The Psalmist surely thinks so. That belief is expressed in Psalm 85, the psalm for this Third Week of Advent. His words show a familiarity with what the Lord has done in the past: “O 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.” The Psalmist has the chronicles of Israel to review. Found in them is the Lord’s track record. Throughout Israel’s history is the Lord’s relenting from anger and forgiving sins.
Based upon what the Lord has done, the Psalmist knows how He will act in the present. That confidence and faith drives his petition: “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? Show us Your steadfast love, O Lord, and grant us Your salvation.” That prayer is based upon what the Lord has said and done in the past.
This petition is offered for good reason. It is a dreadful thing to be a recipient of divine wrath. To have the Lord withdraw His favor from you is to be condemned—an act with both temporal and eternal consequences. That was made evident in Israel’s history: when the nation wandered from the Lord and His ways, forsaking His Covenant with them, terrible results ensued. Great among such terrible results was the exiling of the people to Babylon.
It is believed by many that Psalm 85 was written at the time of the Babylonian Exile. The Psalmist’s experience is of having the Lord’s favor removed. But even in that experience, the Lord has given a promise: deliverance would be found in and through Him for His people. This you heard in the portion of Isaiah’s prophecy given before the exile: “Comfort, comfort My people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that her warfare is ended, that her iniquity is pardoned, that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.” Favor was removed, but now is being restored for the Lord’s people.
So the Psalmist desires what was promised, trusting the Lord’s track record. He desires to hear the words of favor meant for him and his fellow believers: “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.” The Psalmist has heard the words of judgment. Now he listens for the Lord’s words of forgiveness.
This is really no different for the Psalmist as it is for you. You also are the Lord’s people. And you hear what He speaks and has spoken, what He does and has done. You know the Lord’s track record. You know His decrees and statutes, as well as the statements of conviction and condemnation leveled against those who violate them. These are not unfamiliar to you, for you have heard them spoken against yourselves. Each time that the Lord’s Law is read or comes to memory or encountered, the divine condemnation comes against you.
But like the Psalmist, you also know what the Lord has promised for those who have been brought to desire His goodness: “Surely His salvation is near to those who fear Him.” You know because you have heard what the Lord would accomplish. It is what He promised through the Prophet Isaiah: “Behold, the Lord God comes with might, and His arm rules for Him; behold, His reward is with Him, and His recompense before Him. He will tend His flock like a shepherd; He will gather the lambs in His arms; He will carry them in His bosom, and gently lead those that are with young.” That’s the Lord’s salvation meant for you!
This is what you expect to receive based upon the Lord’s track record. This Advent Season is all about expectations, including the expectation of the Christ’s Coming. John asked Jesus: “Are You the One who is to come, or shall we look for another?” The answer is that Jesus is the Expected One. He has already come, giving sight to the blind, making crippled walk, healing lepers, restoring hearing to the deaf, even raising the dead to life. And He preaches good news to the poor. But He comes again to do this not only for thousands of ancient Israelites, but for innumerable people. That is the scale of the Lord’s salvation!
With the Psalmist and all of the Lord’s people, you wait for His actions. But you wait knowing what to expect. You already have the answers to the questions that the Psalmist asked: “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?” The track record shows the answers: “No, My anger with you will not last forever. In fact, My sending the Christ shows that it doesn’t. Yes, I will revive you again. I will raise you up in both body and soul. That is what the Christ did and shall do again.”
So you pray with the Psalmist for what you desire from the Lord: “Restore us again, O God of our salvation, and put away Your indignation toward us! . . . Show us Your steadfast love, O Lord, and grant us Your salvation.” Your trust the Lord’s character and also confess: “Surely His salvation is near to those who fear Him.” It is here for you in Christ’s Words spoken and received. He does speak peace to you, His people: “Your sins are forgiven. You were dead, but are alive again. I have delivered you from sin, death, and Satan.” But He will also bring that salvation nearer, as promised: “Behold, the Lord God comes with might, and His arm rules for Him; behold, His reward is with Him, and His recompense before Him.” And for you, that full measure of salvation is one day closer as the Christ’s Appearing draws ever nearer.
T In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.