OAKRIDGE BIBLE CHAPEL

A Prayer for Peace in a Peaceless World (Psalm 122:1–9)

Our world is not at peace. Over one hundred wars are currently being fought around the globe with thousands of casualties in dozens of countries. There is tension within our own country around immigration and taxation, ideology and poverty, politics and economics. Many homes are battlefields characterized by abuse, neglect, betrayal, debt, selfishness, and neediness. And then there are personal fights with addiction, loneliness, guilt, shame, sadness, failure, illness, aging, self-loathing, and self-doubt. Christians knowingly add the reality of spiritual warfare to the mix, the invisible struggle that ceaselessly rages around us and in us. Our world is not at peace … but we can be. Like a boat with a strong anchor, a tree with deep roots, or a house with a sure foundation, God’s people can have rock-solid peace in an otherwise peaceless world. And Psalm 122 is going to show us how.

SERMON MANUSCRIPT 

 

Our world is not at peace. Over 100 wars are currently being fought around the globe with thousands of casualties in dozens of countries. There’s tension within our own country around immigration and taxation, ideology and poverty, politics and economics. Our cities aren’t exactly bastions of peace either, what with never-ending construction, ever-increasing home prices, and steadily rising crime rates. 

Many homes are battlefields characterized by abuse, neglect, betrayal, debt, restlessness, and neediness. Many personal lives are riddled with addiction, loneliness, guilt, shame, sadness, failure, illness, aging, self-loathing, and self-doubt. Our world is not at peace.

As Christians we have to add to all of that the reality of spiritual warfare, the invisible struggle that ceaselessly rages around us and in us, one “not against flesh and blood, but …  against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places” (Eph 6:12).

So, there’s conflict in our world, our country, our cities, our homes, our lives, our hearts. Our world is not at peace. But we can be. Like a boat with a strong anchor, a tree with deep roots, or a house with a sure foundation, God’s people can have rock-solid peace in an otherwise peaceless world. And Psalm 122 is going to show us how.

Psalm 122 sits in a section of the Psalter often referred to as the songs of ascents. In fact, if you scan through the surrounding chapters you’ll see that very title given to Psalm 120 through Psalm 134. These fifteen Psalms were likely sung by the Jewish faithful as they “ascended,” or went up each year, to Jerusalem to observe the religious feasts. 

In what we just read, the pilgrims seem to be getting close and their longing to “go to the house of the Lord,” that is, the temple in the city, is growing. Perhaps they can even see it as they step into the streets of Jerusalem.

PROBLEM: THE PEACELESSNESS OF THE WORLD

But as they enter into Jerusalem, a city whose name means “city of peace,” the people of Israel are reminded of the peacelessness of the world around them. 

[122:2] Obviously, gates control who gets in and who stays out. Add to that, [122:7]. The “palaces” here are less “Disney Princess” and more “royal fortress.” They were protective strongholds for the king and his officials.

Now, why would Jerusalem, the “city of peace,” need gates, walls, and fortresses? Because they faced the same problem we do: their world was not at peace. There were threats outside the city. 

But there were also threats inside the city. [122:5] It’s in Jerusalem that God had established authoritative seats of justice, courts to govern, rule, and protect from within. [Jer 21:11–12] God demanded, enacted, and guarded justice within his people.

God’s people knew that peace in the “city of peace” was not a given. There were threats outside and inside the city. So, as they arrived, they prayed: [122:6a, 7a, 8b]. That they’re asking God for peace means either they don’t have it or they know they could lose it. You don’t pray for healing when you’re healthy and you don’t pray for peace when it’s a sure thing. 

The scene reminds me of buying a vehicle because of its safety rating. It’s a reality that reassures but also reminds you of the danger of driving! It’s great to have airbags but their necessity highlights the possibility of collision. 

As God’s people arrive in Jerusalem, the “city of peace,” and they’re reminded of their need for peace. They see the walls, the battlements, the impenetrable castle in which the divine courts gather to protect justice, and they’re reminded of the problem we all face: the peacelessness of the world.

You and I don’t see city gates but we see flashing sirens, we hear car alarms, and we make insurance payments. We’re surrounded by reminders of peacelessness, of the threats and dangers coming from outside our lives and from inside.

SOLUTION: THE PRESENCE OF THE LORD

So, what’s the solution? Well, according to Psalm 122, the solution to the problem of peacelessness in the world is the presence of the Lord.

The direction of the songs of ascents and, more specifically, this Psalm of ascents, is toward the presence of God. Ultimately, the pilgrims want to be near God. David needs to draw close to the Lord. It’s about his presence and the comfort and power that it brings.

It may seem at first that this Psalm idolizes a particular city. But looking closer, the psalmist isn’t concerned about Jerusalem for Jerusalem’s sake. This isn’t a celebration of the streets and stones, the markets and homes. No! David loves Jerusalem because of what’s inside of Jerusalem: God’s house! 

[122:1–2] They aren’t scrambling just to get back to the capital city, they’re joyfully approaching what’s in the city: the temple. The psalmist ends by speaking to the city itself: [122:9]. He’s saying, “for the sake of the temple, I’ll pray for the good of the city.” The city’s just the shell that houses the nut, the wrapping paper around the gift. 

As most of you know, my wife’s parents live in Puerto Rico and, once in a while, we’ll visit. We look forward to it. The sun is great, the palms are relaxing, the mountains are nice, the lizards are creepy. But, for us, the true value of the island is not the island, as beautiful as it is. What we really want, what we really look forward to, is the presence of family. It just so happens that to enjoy their presence we get to go to the Caribbean!

For the ancient travellers singing Psalm 122, it wasn’t about the city, per se, it was about whats was in the city: the house of the Lord; the place in which God’s presence uniquely dwelled and the place to which God’s people would go to meet with their Creator. 

This was true of the portable temple called the tabernacle: [Ex 40:34]. It was also true of the more permanent structure eventually built in Jerusalem: [1 Kgs 8:10–11]. 

God lived, in some unique, special, and powerful way, in that earthly house. And, the closer you came to that house and the further into that house you moved, the closer you drew to the very presence of God. 

It was in the temple that offerings and sacrifices were made, restoring fellowship with God. It was in the temple that the God-appointed priests worked, representing the people before himself. It was in the temple, God’s holiness was most potently manifest.

No wonder David says, “I was glad when they said to me, ‘Let us go to the house of the Lord’” (122:1). I was full of joy when you agreed that we should draw near to the presence of the Almighty, he who has delivered us in the past and who has promised to deliver us again. 

Like a frightened child snuggles into a parent for safety, so God’s people, seeing and experiencing the peacelessness of this world, seek to snuggle into the presence of their God.

And as they did that, they realized they aren’t alone. [122:3] As the people entered Jerusalem, not only do they see the gates and walls, but they see a city structured so as to house a great population. 

And it needs to be able to do that because, [122:4]. The twelve tribes of Israel are, by God’s command, gathering in this city, behind its walls, under its divine justice, and approaching God’s presence together. They’d been scattered but now they’re reunited in this place, standing shoulder-to-shoulder in the shadow of God as his chosen people. 

Yes, there’s peacelessness everywhere, but we’re together, we’re God’s people. There is safety in numbers, no? Mob mentality can be a terrible thing but, set to holy purposes, it can be a great thing. Joe Israelite looks around and realizes, “I’m not alone in this fight.” Jane Israelite sees the crowds of God’s people and says, “We’re in this together with the God who dwells right over there.” 

There are many weeks I experience that in this very room. Like many of you, I limp in here on a Sunday morning, nursing wounds from the front lines, and I look around and am reminded, as we gather in God’s presence “to give thanks to the name of the Lord” that I’m not alone. 

God has other soldiers. My trials aren’t novel. My burdens can be shared. Our God unites his people. We share marching orders. In his presence he gives us songs to sing together, words to heed together, needs to declare together, hope to remember together.

As God’s people came into Jerusalem they drew near God’s presence and as they did, they inescapably drew near to one another also. And, what do they do? They pursue the peace they’re now reminded they need. Back to verse 6: “Pray for the peace of Jerusalem,” the city of peace in which the house of God sits, he who is the source of our peace. [122:6b–9]

The original hearers and singers of this Psalm had a problem: there was no peace in the world. There was no peace in Israel. There was no peace in their homes or in their hearts. But God gave them the solution, it was his presence.

FIND PEACE IN GOD’S PRESENCE!

And it’s the same for us today. We who live in a peaceless world are being invited to find peace in God’s presence! 

Now, the question is, what does that look like? We don’t need to sojourn to the Middle East and, even if we did, there’s no temple at which to gather. We’re not members of the tribes of Israel nor under to the justice of David’s throne. So, what does it look like for Christians today to find peace in God’s presence? Well, I want to make five suggestions, ways that you and I, this week, can take steps to responding appropriately to the invitation of Psalm 122.

The first way you may find peace in God’s presence this week is to trust Christ. You may be here today and you aren’t a Christian. To you I want to lovingly suggest that you’ll never have peace, not true peace that withstands the peacelessness of our world, our minds, our families, and our mortality. You need, more than anything, peace with God. 

Speaking to Christians, Paul says, [Rom 5:1]. To have peace with God we must be justified before God. What that means is that we must be declared holy, righteous, forgiven. It has to be declared because we simply aren’t, left to ourselves. But the Bible says that Jesus came and died for our lack of righteousness and now offers us his righteousness. He says, if you want it, take it. But it only comes through faith. If you’ve never done that before, you can do that today and find peace in God’s presence now and forevermore. Trust Christ.

Another way we can find peace in God’s presence is to gather together. I realize I’m preaching to the converted in that we’re gathered together but it’s worth highlighting. We need one another. We’re an army, a family, a body. We must not, “forsak[e] our … assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another” with our presence, service, and words. Sometimes I need to be reminded that gathering together isn’t primarily about me, what I get out of this time, what I enjoy, what I hear, how I grow, how I’m encouraged. Some of that can be done from a distance. 

Gathering together is about contributing the whole. It’s about what I can bring, what I can do, how I can serve, how I can encourage. And as we press into our church family, as imperfect as it is, we can find a shared peace in God’s pleasure, power, and provision. Gather together.

Number three: obey God. It is hard to have peace with anyone if we’re rebelling against them, undermining them, and denigrating them. That’s what we do when we claim to belong to God and then walk in disobedience to his word. [1 John 1:6–7]

In our Psalm today, the people obeyed the ordinance, put their preferences aside, and traveled to be closer to God. As they did, they celebrated his justice represented by the thrones of David. We’re called to similar obedience. [2 Pet 3:14] Obey God.

Fourth: say thank you. David writes of Israel gathering together, packed into Jerusalem, “to give thanks to the name of the Lord.” Gratitude for God’s goodness in your life is a way to fight against the peacelessness of our world. You may not feel you have much to be thankful for but that’s not true. If you’re saved, you have an infinite storehouse of ammunition for thankfulness. So, say thank you.

Finally, we can find peace in God’s presence by praying for peace. “You do not have because you do not ask” (Jas 4:2).

How do we endure the peacelessness of our world? We flee to God’s presence. We can do that by trusting Christ, by gathering together, obeying God, saying ‘thank you,’ and praying for peace.

 



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Josiah Boyd

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