Chapter 6. Be at Peace Due to Your Position in God (Psalm 125)
"A SONG OF ASCENTS. Those who trust in the LORD are like Mount Zion, which cannot be moved, but abides forever. As the mountains surround Jerusalem, so the LORD surrounds his people, from this time forth and forevermore. For the scepter of wickedness shall not rest on the land allotted to the righteous, lest the righteous stretch out their hands to do wrong. Do good, O LORD, to those who are good, and to those who are upright in their hearts! But those who turn aside to their crooked ways the LORD will lead away with evildoers! Peace be upon Israel!" (Psalm 125).
In a famous episode during the life of Christ, He invited His disciples to cross the sea of Galilee with Him. "Let us go across to the other side," He said. One by one, they piled into the boat. Many of them had fished the lake for years, seasoned veterans of those waters. They'd seen it all out there. But not that day. That day, a massive storm arose, like nothing they'd ever seen.
The story fascinates us for many reasons, one of them being Jesus was asleep during the storm. He had so poured out His life and heart in serving others that His body, mind, and spirit were exhausted. So exhausted He could sleep through a raging storm. The disciples experienced the opposite of blissful sleep; they feared for their lives. Eventually, they woke Jesus, saying, "Teacher, don't you care that we are perishing?" They wanted Him to show the same panic they showed.
We know the end. Jesus arose, rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, "Peace! Be still!" The wind ceased. A great calm came upon the waters. We know He spoke to the wind and the waves, but it almost sounds like He addressed the disciples when He said, "Peace! Be still!" He then went on to question them about their faith. He had said, after all, that they'd go to the other side. Why not believe in His power to deliver them to the other side? Why all the panic?
Then "they came to the other side of the sea." They arrived. The journey was complete. Everyone in the boat, whether asleep or awake, in peace or panic, arrived safely on the other side. The attitude on those waters -- whether faith or fear -- was not their ticket to the other side. God was. He would deliver them. Jesus slept, they feared, but everyone went across.
And so it is in the Christian life. With Jesus, we get across. We might think our justification, sanctification, and glorification depends on us, but it doesn't. With Christ, we get across. Do you believe God will carry you through? Do you believe the Spirit is working hard to grow you, to shape you? Or do you believe God has saved you only to leave you to perfect yourself in your own strength? Not at all! The entire triune Godhead diligently works to intercede for you, to carry you to the other side.
This is part of the glory of the gospel. A simple faith in Christ unlocks the blessings of God upon the life of the believer. We have received every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 1:3). The benefits are each found in Christ, meaning they are ours through simple trust in Him and His work. They are not brought about through our efforts, but Christ's.
This next pilgrim song reminds us of this great fact, showing us some of the things God does for those who put simple trust in Christ. We trust — and it seems He helps us to do so — and then He unleashes Himself upon us for our great good. Though, hard for us to believe, when we put our trust in Christ, He gives us a radical and immovable position. God begins his diligent work for us.
The believer should have great peace in knowing God is operating on his or her behalf. God loves His children. Trust unlocks a world of God's blessing into our lives. Peace ought to flow from this knowledge. Psalm 125 reminds us of God's great work towards us.
God Makes You Immovable
"Those who trust in the LORD are like Mount Zion, which cannot be moved, but abides forever" (Psalm 125:1).
The first blessing God gives to His people is immovable permanency. In the song, we imagine our pilgrim cresting one of the hills leading toward Jerusalem, catching his first glimpse of the holy city. "Mount Zion" is what they called Jerusalem. To them, Jerusalem was concrete, a permanent fixture, so our pilgrim began to daydream about that eternal city. "That's what we, God's people, are like when we trust in God. He makes us permanent like Jerusalem!"
To the pilgrim, this isn't a song about how to trust God or develop more trust in God. No, this is a song about what God does with our simple trust in Him, His outrageous response to our mustard seed of faith. The first element our pilgrim sees is the immovability of the believer. They, like Mount Zion, cannot be moved but will abide forever.
The pilgrim felt this way about Jerusalem because of Israel's hope. God had promised David a descendant would sit his throne forever. David's throne was in Jerusalem. Thus, Jerusalem, in the pilgrim's mind, was forever. But as God's word unfolded over the centuries, Christians discovered an even deeper foreverness to Jerusalem. The Hebrew mind saw a physical and earthly Jerusalem, hoping it would last forever, but God saw something else. He sees an eternal city. And so do we, one "whose designer and builder is God" (Hebrews 11:10).
Even after physical Jerusalem's downfall at the hands of the Romans after the time of Christ, God had plans for Jerusalem. John wrote of eventual new heavens, new earth, and a new Jerusalem. The Revelator saw this Jerusalem in all its glory descending from the hand of God (Revelation 21-22). Jesus departed to prepare a place for us, and this new Mount Zion is part of that place He has prepared (John 14:1-3). So God, in every era of Jerusalem's development, has seen the glorified and eternal version of the city.
When you trust in Christ, you become as permanent and immovable as Jerusalem. God sees the eternal, complete, glorified you. In fact, "those whom God justified He also glorified" (Romans 8:30). To God, the work is done. You are in your growth stage — called sanctification — in the here and now. Friends and family members don't see the glorified you. They cannot see your new and resurrected body. They cannot experience your perfection and sinlessness. To them, you aren't yet complete. But God sees you as a finished work. He sees the glorified you. He has "raised us up with Him and seated us with Him in the heavenly places" (Ephesians 2:6). You might not feel you're already as good as seated with God in heaven. But the God who lives outside of time and space already experiences you as raised with Him. Your simple trust in Christ unlocked this profound blessing of God upon your life. You are immovable, permanent, and forever to Him.
But you don't feel immovable! Pay it no mind. Your feelings are no measure of facts. God's facts are stronger than your feelings. By faith, we are to understand our immovability in Christ.
God Surrounds You
"As the mountains surround Jerusalem, so the LORD surrounds his people, from this time forth and forevermore" (Psalm 125:2).
The second blessing God gives to His people is His surrounding presence. In the song, our pilgrim takes the imagery of Mount Zion a step further. He first saw the permanency of Jerusalem. But then he looked at all the other hilltops surrounding Jerusalem, for it is a city inside a circle of hills. As he looked at those encompassing mountains, our singer thought of God's relationship with his people. He wrote: "God will always surround us like those hills surround Jerusalem."
But what does it mean that God has surrounded His people? His surrounding presence is difficult to discern in the moment but is often seen by looking back on our lives. The fact He surrounds us is all grace, for His presence kindly guides us through life. God's surrounding of His people is a buffer of sorts, protecting us from sin, the devil, and ourselves, leading us across life and into His glorious presence.
The concept of God's surrounding presence can be illustrated by looking at three men — Abraham, David, and Peter. God called all three of these men. Each trusted Him. Abraham heard God's call out of Mesopotamia -- that through his seed all the nations of the earth would be blessed. David heard God's call to be the next king in Israel -- but also God's call to an eternal throne. Peter heard Jesus' call to follow Him -- he would become a fisher of men. In other words, God had a high calling and big plans for each of these men.
But after calling them, did God then leave them alone to execute the plan? Not at all! In fact, each man failed miserably at times. But God faithfully worked to bring about His desires.
Abraham delayed in his obedience, feared foreign powers, and stopped believing Sarah would bear him a child (Genesis 12:1-4, 10-20, Genesis 15, Genesis 20, Acts 7:3-4). But God surrounded Abraham and carried him along despite his failures. He became the father of a nation. Jesus Christ became the seed from Abraham, who would bless the whole world.
David lashed out at Nabal, became an adulterer with Bathsheba, and killed her husband (1 Samuel 25, 2 Samuel 11). But God surrounded David and carried him along despite his failures. He became the greatest king Israel had ever known, an author of divinely inspired psalms, and the ancestor to the eternal King Jesus.
Peter rebuked Jesus, sunk in the waters, denied Christ, and toyed with legalism against the Gentiles in Galatia (Matthew 16:21-23, Mark 14:53-72, Galatians 2:11-12). But God surrounded Peter and carried him along despite his failures. He became the great apostle who preached the first evangelistic message of the church age, the one who would unlock the gospel to the Gentile world, and an author of Holy Scripture.
God carried all these men along to His glorious purpose, and He does the same for all who trust in Christ. If you have trusted in God, look back on your life. See how He has surrounded you. "The eternal God is your dwelling place, and underneath are the everlasting arms. And he thrust out the enemy before you and said, 'Destroy.'" (Deuteronomy 33:27). If you have just started to trust in God, look forward. Imagine a day where you'll look back upon the great faithfulness of God.
God Defeats Wickedness for You
"For the scepter of wickedness shall not rest on the land allotted to the righteous, lest the righteous stretch out their hands to do wrong" (Psalm 125:3).
The third blessing God gives to His people is power over wickedness. In the song, the pilgrim goes beyond Jerusalem and the hills around it to the land of Israel. He thinks of the entirety of the land as the land of promise: "the land allotted to the righteous." God promised that trust in Him kept the "scepter of wickedness" away from their land. But Israel's history records many periods where the scepter of wickedness did rest upon the land. King Tiglath-Pilesar came from Assyria. King Nebuchadnezzar came from Babylon. Darius and Cyrus and others came from the Medo-Persian empire. And the Caesars ruled from Rome — does not this mean the scepter of wickedness did alight upon Israel?
There is a connection between their power over the foreign forces of wickedness and their trust in God. In that era, faith in God was manifested in three significant ways. First, they obeyed God through sexual fidelity (no intermarriage or fornication with the surrounding pagan nations). Second, through adhering to the sacrificial system as revealed in the Law. Third, by keeping the Sabbaths. To neglect these was an indication that Israel's trust in God had dried up. To intermarry with the surrounding nations demonstrated a desire to worship other gods. To hold back the tithe demonstrated disbelief in God's ability to provide for them even if they brought Him the firstfruits. To work on the Sabbath or neglect the annual pilgrimages demonstrated a lack of interest in placing God first in their collective lives. And when Israel congregationally decided to neglect their trust in God, God would deliver them up to the surrounding nations. His disciplinary action was meant to spur a revival amongst His people. With their repentance would come their restoration.
The modern reader, however, is moved by the thought that the "scepter of wickedness will not rest" on us as a result of simple trust in Christ. What does this mean? Every believer, even after conversion, has been targeted by evil. We have experienced abuse, persecution, and hatred, sometimes for being in Christ, at other times for merely being human. Wickedness comes our way, as it came the way of our Lord, and we seem to have little hope it won't. Even if we trust God in all the ancient categories -- in sexual fidelity, in finances, and priorities -- we still expect wickedness will come our way.
Though this is true, there is a great truth — wickedness has no ultimate resting place upon God's people, or even in the lives of God's people. For whatever abuse or neglect or pain has alighted upon us in this life, we have the promise of ultimate restoration and victory in the next life. Additionally, through Christ, there is the promise of redemption today. He can take the ugliest and harshest circumstances and sins of life and turn them around for His glory.
Recall the horrible story of Tamar, David's adult daughter (2 Samuel 13). Her half-brother, Amnon, lusted for her until he raped her. She left his home, violated, embarrassed, and broken. "So Tamar lives, a desolate woman" (2 Samuel 13:20). But God loves you, Tamar! You are still beautiful! He is a redeeming God! I cannot explain the travesty, but I know God hates it more than you do. His heart breaks at the injustice and wickedness humanity is capable of. He sees the harsh wickedness you have endured! He sent His Son to bear the wickedness — partly to give us ultimate escape from it, but also to redeem us from it right now.
What incredible wickedness has rested upon you? Know God loves you. Know He has more for you. Know He is a redeeming God who can turn the ugliest events of your life around for His glory. Events like rape, incest, and child abuse are harmful and wicked, but Christ knows how to take you through that pain and into beauty. It might be a lifelong journey, but He is faithful to walk with you through that journey.
God Does More Good to You
"Do good, O LORD, to those who are good, and to those who are upright in their hearts!" (Psalm 125:4).
The fourth blessing God gives to His people is this: He does good for us. The pilgrim prays for it, for God is good. "Do good, O Lord!" But the prayer does not stop there! Who does our pilgrim want God to do good for? "To those who are good, and to those who are upright in their hearts!" At first glance, the prayer tastes like classic legalism. If a person is good, if they are upright in their hearts, then God should do good for them. But this goodness of God is His grace, through and through. Our goodness is because of His grace. Consider how.
First, our good has been a response to His goodness. The Christian life is one which pursues good works, and every good work of ours lies in the shadow of His cross. We love Him because He first loved us (1 John 4:19). Our good works are a way to thank God for His indescribable goodness toward us. Anyone who's done an ounce of work for Christ has discovered His death is the finest motivation for good works. All other motives dry up, but our suffering Savior provides all the motivation we need.
Second, our good has been enabled by the new nature He has given to us by His goodness. Our good God causes us to be born again when we place our faith in the finished work of Christ on the cross. With our new birth, we become new creatures in Him, complete with a new nature. Yes, the body of sin remains, for now, but we have a new nature in Christ Jesus. I am to put off the old man and his deeds and put on the new man. The new nature enables me to do good, to be good, as I trust in Christ.
Third, our good has been empowered by His Spirit, which is God's goodness. At the moment of my conversion, I receive a new nature, but I also received the Spirit's presence within. He indwells me, and every believer (2 Corinthians 1:22, 5:5, Ephesians 1:14). Additionally, the Holy Spirit distributes spiritual gifts as He wills (1 Corinthians 12:11). So now my good works are fueled by the Holy Spirit, empowered and made effective by His gracious aid.
Fourth, our good has led to a good life -- by God's design -- which is His goodness. To live a life focused on good works leads to the best life possible, one full of peace and joy. Good works lead to a selflessness which is healthy to the soul, for much depression and misery is caused by undue focus on the self. To live in harmony with loved ones, with a church community, and with your city is a deep blessing. Good works lead to a good life.
Finally, our good -- which is a response to His goodness, made possible by our new nature, empowered by His Spirit, and which leads to the best life possible -- is also rewarded by God. It is unbelievable that He would reward us. We have already been rewarded. But God pours out generosity upon generosity. "Grace" is the only word that can describe God's outrageous reward. He would have every right to expect us to be as good as possible, but He instead delights over our goodness and pours out His good in response.
We will never catch up with the goodness of God! "For God is not unjust so as to overlook your work and the love that you have shown for His name in serving the saints, as you still do" (Hebrews 6:10). Our good cannot escape His sight and, even though He could take all the credit for all our good, He decides to bless us for it instead. We have no room to boast, for it has all been motivated and empowered by God's grace. He is outrageously kind and good to His people.
God Faithfully Endures With You
"But those who turn aside to their crooked ways the LORD will lead away with evildoers!" (Psalm 125:5).
The fifth blessing God gives to His people is His faithful endurance with us. The pilgrim sings of what God does with those who make a decided defection from God, those who quit Him. But in making the statement, the pilgrim helps our fearful hearts. We often worry that our little ups and downs will be enough for God to say, "Enough of you!" But God doesn't do that. The people He lets pursue the evildoing life are those who have decided to turn away from Him. Theirs was not an up or a down struggle, but a point of marked decision, premeditated defection. Even as God releases them to their plans and desires, He does so that they might return to Him.
We wonder at how easily we might lose the blessing of God on our lives, forgetting how "if we are faithless, He remains faithful— for He cannot deny himself." (2 Timothy 2:13). Sure, some "have turned back from following the Lord" (Zephaniah 1:6). But we don't have to walk around in paranoia. The backslidden state is not a hidden trap you might inadvertently fall into. To stumble and slip is part of the process of sanctification, but to consciously decide to quit God is quite another thing.
So Be at Peace
"Peace be upon Israel!" (Psalm 125:5).
All God does in response to simple faith in Him should lead us to a conclusion: peace. "Peace be upon Israel!" -- is the cry of the priest. Peace is the logical outflow of the truth in the song. If God takes my mustard seed of trust in Him and responds to it by unleashing Himself upon me, I ought to be at peace. Gone are the days of attempting to self-perfect, for God is working hard on my behalf. He is colluding within Himself to take all the events of my life and turn them into aids to my sanctification. The Father, Spirit, and Son all work to intercede for me, aiding in my growth, conforming me into Christlikeness (Romans 8:26-30). This song shows us how God makes us immovable, surrounds us, protects us, and does good to us. All these elements ought to bring us to a place of peace.
Relax, O believer! Rest in what God is doing for you. Cast off the yoke of legalism and condemnation, for there is none of that for you in Christ (Romans 8:1). You are free from the impossible demand of self-perfection through the law. You are called to holiness, but now it is a positional fact in the sight of God, and in practical life is helped by God. He is at work on your behalf. Peace is the only natural response to this truth.
An escalator carries you along. You can walk with it and arrive at your destination more quickly, or you can stand there and let it take you there a little more slowly. Either way, progress occurs. Unless you decide to run in the opposite direction, the escalator will get you there. Likewise, God is carrying you to His glorious destination. He sees you as glorified. He knows where He is carrying you.
Sometimes I will focus on, with the Spirit's help, a character trait I would like to grow in. "I want to be more (fill in the blank)," I might say to myself. Then I read about it, pray about it, confess about it, and fellowship about it. God helps me and grows me. But ninety-nine times out of a hundred it doesn't go like that. I simply look back on the past few years of life and realize, "As I walked with God, God surrounded me, and I have now become more (fill in the blank)." I wasn't as gentle as I needed to be, but He put circumstances in my life that would shape me to that end. I wasn't as loving as I needed to be, but as I walked with Him, He developed my heart. I wasn't as enduring as I needed to be, but the trials and pains, by His Spirit, gave me the endurance I needed. I wasn't running up those escalators, but God took me up anyhow.
Be at peace, knowing God is at work in you. Walk in the Spirit, enjoy Him, stay in the word and fellowship, and expect Him to grow you. He is making you immovable. He surrounds you. He protects you from the wickedness. He looks to do good for you. Let His peace come upon your heart. Whether you have fear or faith, He will get you to the other side.